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For The People - Civil War Classic Long Endures

John Goode
Falkland Islands
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From gallery of FinalWord

There are few conflicts that interest me less than the American Civil War. The only one that comes immediately to mind is the war on drugs in Columbia, i.e. Andean Abyss. The ACW just always seemed like the most foregone of conclusions and most games on it tend to focus on the meatgrinder aspects. GDW’s A House Divided was an exception, but as a simulation it's in the same class as War at Sea.

This is why I ignored the well-received The Civil War from Victory Games. And I would have ignored For the People too if a friend hadn’t wanted to play it so much he bought me a copy. Gaming etiquette therefore demanded I play it with him. Damn gaming etiquette! Grudgingly, I plowed through the rules, never feeling that little tingle you get in your stomach when a game seems like it will be particularly fun.

But it was a Mark Herman design, for my money the best in the business. And it had already gone through its trial by fire with a previously published edition. I’d received the first edition of FTP published by GMT and released in 2000 (FTP was originally released by Avalon Hill the day after Avalon Hill was sold to Hasbro in 1998).

Our experience was typical of first edition FTP play: We were largely stumped by the clunky in the extreme river crossing rules, and the CSA ran roughshod over the border states and crossed into Ohio. The CSA won, though through political means not military conquest.

In our second playing we found ways to defend against Panzer Division Robert E. Lee but still the CSA seemed a bit too powerful with its ability to park in border states and clobber the USA’s strategic will. The game seemed a trifle unbalanced in the CSA’s favor in its 2000 edition, though not overwhelmingly so. But FTP was a big seller and GMT republished it in 2006 with some significant rules changes, one being that border states no longer ding US strategic will.

Fixing issues with a game when reprinting should be a no-brainer, but it's a lesson lost on many companies -- yea I'm looking at you Decision Games.

The takeaway here being to make sure you are using the current living rules when playing FtP, not the rules printed with the 2000 edition. If you do that you’re in for a real treat.

FTP uses the simpler version of the card-driven mechanic, a la Hannibal. The cards can only be used as the event or for ops. Reinforcements are largely fixed and this where the Union manpower advantage manifests itself.

Though it’s a ‘parts bin’ game with all its major elements coming from previous titles, the whole thing just meshes. It completely erased my prejudice against the ACW as a wargaming topic. Not to say I’m jonesing for a go at Terrible Swift Sword, but FTP hits the table at least once a year now.

It appears your chances of agreeing with me that FTP is an A-grade game are inversely proportional to how much you think you know about the war of the rebellion/war of northern aggression (take your pick).

Translating a four year war into something playable in a day is going to require ample judgment calls and much condensing of information and events. The haters seem to have real issues with the former. Even 150+ years later some folks are still fighting over some of this stuff and take great offense if you don't agree with their interpretation. It's a bit of a minefield for any designer.

So if you find any of the following terribly misguided you may be an FTP hater and may want to avoid the game.

1. Grant and Lee are complete equals militarily, though Grant appears a year later, in the Spring of 1963 (historically during the Vicksburg campaign). CSA’s Forrest and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson are also militarily equal to Lee/Grant.

2. Attackers win ties, which happen frequently, unless battling for a key objective, when they don’t. This tends to send the Rebs a runnin' more often than the Yanks.

3. General casualties can only happen during very successful combats.

4. Both sides could have reassigned their key generals to any theater without restriction, and further they would have performed similarly to their historical effort.

Since I came to FTP with a high school level knowledge of the ACW, point #1 didn’t bother me and #4 didn’t even cross my mind. Points #2 and #3 I can write off to design-for-effect, of which Mark Herman is a master.

FTP is certainly more game than definitive simulation. But it gives you all the interesting bits in the proper proportion. It’s also very well balanced, having gone through two full editions of playtesting by the gaming public.

Now haters are gonna hate, but unless you’re a card carrying member of the James and Walter Kennedy Fan Club, odds are that you’re gonna like FTP. It's in my top 20 of all time and induced me to reading several ACW books, including Grant's classic memoirs.

GMT is releasing this game again in 2015 with a mounted map. It also won the 1998 Charles S. Roberts Best Pre-World War II Board Game Winner, though that's the AH edition which is a fair bit different.

From gallery of FinalWord

For the People
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