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Subject: Dare to Compare: Three Strategic Games on the American Civil War rss

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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I decided to compare the strategic Civil War games The Civil War, The War for the Union, and For the People and how they model key aspects of the conflict. I have yet to play A House Divided and The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865, so no comments are offered on these games. This review was inspired by these comments made by Richard Berg in his review of The War for the Union:

"The American Civil War is an extremely difficult topic on which to design a "game". A simulation? Easy; a game? a major challenge. There are, at least, two major reasons for this. One, there are an awful lot of people who know an awful lot about the ACW, and an awful lot of those often awful people are often quite "secure", shall we say, in their knowledge. And may the Ghost of Braxton Bragg reside in your briefs if you don't get it exactly the way they securely envision it to have happened.

Secondly - and more importantly - the ACW was an inexorable war. Oh yes, there are places where it could have gone differently, and there are opportunities for "changing" history. But, as an operational exercise, these opportunities are usually "evened out" by the fact that the Union Player is aware where - and why - they will occur. And he is rarely as ineffective as the Union leadership was for the first two years.

And thirdly (we said "at least", didn't we), the ACW is a war of maneuver - not combat. Yes, there were several, huge set-piece battles of major historical import, but, with certain exceptions and with the clear vision of hindsight, these big battles did not have the lasting impact that being maneuvered out of position usually did. Just ask Albert Sidney Johnston, of whom, more below."

All of that being said, here is my take on how each of these three games succeed and fail in simulating a popular but difficult situation to game.

Leaders
The Civil War: This one of the game's weaker points, because there is no reason to use bad leaders like McClellan and Butler once the good ones come. This leads to infamous leader depots where McDowell are bunched together and left to themselves. Maybe they are having a poker tournament? There are some good house rules to fix this problem that can be easily applied to the system. See this entry's comments for details: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/185928 or check this post: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/248155 That being said, I like that building a dream team is a viable option and that bad commanders often give the opponent a re-roll. It is a nice touch that adds a reasonable level of chance. Some of the ratings trouble me, but mostly they are fair and I like that if Jackson and Lyon can survive into the late war they get upgraded pieces.

The War for the Union: This a strong point for the game. A wealth of leaders are offered and some can be promoted from army to corps command. There are a few bunglers, like Butler, but most leaders are given neutral ratings and only a few have strong stats, like Lee and Grant of course. Leaders do not stick around for the Union, and every few turns some must be removed which is an excellent touch that considers that politics and health often forced key generals out of the war. I love the aggressive leader ability. It allows a leader to remove fatigue at a faster rate and thus shows the greatest difference between Grant and McClellan. However, there is no reason to remove McClellan until much later in the game and no way you'll ever try out Burnside or Hooker in army command. This is a weakness, but overall leadership is well handled.

For the People: The other games are far better in this regard. For one, leaders come out in a rigid fashion and many of the ratings leave me baffled. Halleck is better than Curtis and the equal of Rosecrans? Joseph E. Johnston is as easy to move as Albert Sidney Johnston and Longstreet? These are just a few that had me scratching my head. This is not to say For the People doesn't do somethings right. Leaders have political ratings, something forgotten in the other games, and these political ratings have repercussions upon your side's strategic will, which is the way the war effort is gaged. Also the games gets McClellan right. He isn't a great general by any means, but if he is in DC the Union receives an extra strength point and his promotion to command adds 5 to the Union's Strategic Will. This perfectly captures McClellan's importance in 1861, but when he leaves DC to invade Virginia, his removal will probably be the next step.

Ground Combat
The Civil War: One excellent touch is reaction. If an enemy army moves into your area, you can react to him, thus capturing much of Robert E. Lee's success, since most of his campaign were reactionary. Combat takes into consideration terrain and strength, but having good leaders helps a lot. I like this as it makes the generalship of men like Lee, Longstreet, Thomas, and Grant worth a lot to the war's outcome. Who would dispute that fact?

The War for the Union: Basically you have a series of modifiers, including leadership and entrenchments. However, the modifier cannot exceed plus or minus 2, which makes the numerous modifiers seem very redundant. The bad part is this prevents the historic concentration of great combat leaders, as seen in the Army of North Virginia and the Army of the Tennessee. On the plus side I like the CRT and lose ratios, which are realistic in terms of the attritional nature of the fighting.

For the People: A few good touches are lost within a giant flaw. One one hand the game differentiates between small battles (Wilson's Creek), medium battles (Nashville), and giant battles (Gettysburg). Each side rolls and inflicts that amount of losses on the enemy. This works well in the small and medium battle charts, but the large one is particularly bloody on the defender and denies the possibility of a Cold Harbor or a Fredericksburg. Also the Overland Campaign's 2:1 ratio of Union to Confederate losses will not occur, as Grant, Meade, and Hancock's ratings are too good to allow Lee to get off easy in any battle. The table needs fixing to show the importance of entrenchments in the later war. This facet is not covered and is a major problem. I do like the cavalry rules, which illustrate the main use of cavalry during the war: recon and raiding.

Naval Operations
The Civil War: This is one of the game's great virtues. Naval operations are streamlined and relatively easy to do. There are many pages of rules devoted to this section, but the rules are exact and clear away some of the murkiness that might otherwise have made this part clogged. The blockade gets naturally stronger, but there is no substitute for the capture of enemy ports.

The War for the Union: This might be the weakest part of the game. The naval rules are complicated and involved, and given that the blockade doesn't naturally get stronger and ease with which heavy guns can stop ships is a bit overblown. Overall, the federals will have a harder time scoring major naval victories. No one doubts the importance of naval operations in the war, but few players want a detailed naval system. Truth is this is where the game bogs down instead of moving right along. Another complaint is the frequency of Confederate reinforcements allow the rebs to build up very strong forces which can guard the coast quite readily.

For the People: I have my biggest problems here. The naval rules are a mess and a muddle and even after finishing a full game I still had problems digesting them. The blockade is handled through cards, which can be a nice touch, but you might find yourself using the card for land operations rather than sea operations. This goes to the heart of CDG's main weakness: cards sometimes abstract events that were going to happen regardless. In this way many CDGs rely upon cards to make events happen rather than relying upon special rules. A brutal example of this is the way cards must be played in a special order to get Russian to fall in Paths of Glory, which in turn means that without “fixes” to the game it rarely if ever happens. Regardless, this is a minor gripe I have with CDGs. I still see Paths of Glory as a classic, and in For the People it is simply a minor mistake, and certainly I can see the logic of using cards to simulate the blockade.

Logistics
The Civil War: I found this part was good. Supply can be maintained through rivers, depots, and particularly through railroads. The Confederates have an even bigger issue with supply, because as cities fall and the blockade gets worse so does their ability to maintain the war effort. This is a great touch since I contend that the Confederacy's center of gravity was not Richmond or her armies, but her fragile infrastructure, although this is not to say the armies and Richmond were not important. Reinforcements are rigid, which is a bit artificial and it would make sense if reinforcements were tied into the loss of supplies.

The War for the Union: The supply rules are simple and clear but still effective . Lighting Union advances are disgorged through the need to secure the railroad with MRR units, while these raillines always offer tempting targets to Southern cavalry. The supply centers for the Confederates illustrate the Confederate need to defend supply points. The lack of supply doesn't destroy an army, but it does cause attrition. The big problem is that the Rebel receive massive reinforments on a fixed schedule, allowing them to field slightly larger armies than they historically could.

For the People: The rules are point blank and simple and the addition of automatic attrition is excellent, as both armies fought desertion and disease as much as the enemy. Reinforcements are fixed, something that seems a bit artificial, but nonetheless can be excused.

Politics
The Civil War: Basically you fight this war in a political vacuum, which is a sad fact of many excellent pre-1990 wargames. As it is this is the Achilles heel of the game, but the fixes for the leader rules help erase some of this. Also the rebels gain victory points each time the command table is used, representing in part the Northern public's realistic demand for military action to have some positive results. The 1864 election must have Lincoln win or the war is lost. This thesis doesn't entirely sit right with me because Little Mac was devoted to the war effort, but not the means with which Lincoln was prosecuting it. I suppose it is the only way to keep the game balanced and it is worth noting that I'm sure McClellan's peace would have been a disaster. Not that the historic peace was any better...

The War for the Union: Politics is a very abstract idea, incorporated mostly through the removal of Union leaders and the effect of strategic defeat upon the 1864 election. However, by having Lincoln lose the election the war is officially lost upon McClellan's assumption of power. In the end this game does a very poor job of illustrating the politics of the war.

For the People: This is the game's main bragging right over older strategic Civil War games. Politics is not an after thought, but made integral through cards, political ratings for generals, and through strategic will. Basically Mark Herman puts the war as a contest of wills, with the securing of states, results of battle, and numerous other factors effecting the will to fight. The table is constantly swinging, and a reversal of fortune in of itself will cause further damage since the people were used to victory. This is a psychological component I like. Positive reversals in fortune are good, but they gain 2 points, while negative reversals cost you 3.

Accessibility
The Civil War: As big as the rulebook is I found it easy to digest. I think anyone making a strategic wargame should study this rulebook and how it is written and presented.

The War for the Union The rules are dry and rambling. For a veteran wargamer they aren't a problem, but anyone else will have difficulties. There are charts provided and they do a good job.

For the People: This is one of the heaviest CDGs, and as such familiarity with the subject matter and the mechanics is advised before you dive into this game. As it is the rules can very clear on some points (supply) and poor on others (naval operations).

Components
The Civil War: The map is a good one, certainly great for its time. The counters are drab but not hideous, which is all you can ask of counters from this era.

The War for the Union: The pieces have an appealing and cartoonish quality and the hand-drawn map style is unique and visually pleasing. Unfortunately small hexes and counters make for crowding and the counters themselves can be a real pain to punch; several of mine came apart.

For the People: This part is a bit of a disappointment. Usually GMT makes a very good-looking product, but the map and cards struck me as plain. If it was from MMP or Avalanche, this might not be an issue coming from me, but in terms of components I expect the best from GMT because that is what we usually get. I guess I am spoiled!

Originality
The Civil War: My small review of the game said that this was still fresh after all these years. The actions you can carry out are decided by a dice role for initiative, with the difference between each player's creating the action points either player can spend. This captures, to borrow from von Clausewitz, the friction of war through abstraction. Some turns are quiet, others bustle with activity, and while the real factors for this in war varied from supplies to politics, The Civil War doesn’t get bogged down in this fact. Secondly it captures that for every enemy action, there is a reaction, thus preventing a player from making sweeping moves that the opponent cannot react to. On the negative side this makes the Union blitz of early 1862 almost impossible, but is in keeping with most of the other campaigns. The abstraction does a great job of protecting the game from collapsing under the weight of the subject matter while remaining true to the inherent friction of warfare.

The War for the Union: Richard Berg's review claimed that this design was from the 1970s but not published until the 1990s, making it stale upon arrival. I agree with Berg, particularly as the IGO-UGO system makes turns dry and actually prevents First Bull Run from happening, while perpetually giving the Union the initiative. This is the Achilles heel of the game.

For the People: No Civil War game has integrated cards and politics so well. It is unlike any other CDG I've played, since it retains some aspects of We the People like political control and strategy ratings for leaders, but in its complexity and CRT, it is reaching for Paths of Glory. One thing it could have befitted from were separate decks for each side, with early and late war cards. It would not be until Paths of Glory that a CDG did this though it would have been nice here.

Victory Conditions
The Civil War: For the Union points are gathered through the capture of cities, resource hexes, and the conversion of states to Union control. Confederates gain victory points each time the command point table is used as the more actions the Union takes the more is expected of them. Also they gain victory points for destroying merchant vessels, capturing cities, and either isolating or capturing Washington DC. I like the victory point system, in part because it agrees with my contention about the importance of supplies, but also that Union actions must make military gains.

The War for the Union: Points are awarded solely to the Confederates for geographical victories, like the capture of major cities. The capture or isolation of Washington DC doesn't grant automatic Confederate victory, but the results are deadly for the Union. The same is true with any division of the Confederacy, which denies the rebels victory points. Meanwhile the Union improves Lincoln's reelection by gaining Atlanta, Richmond, destroying a rebel army, or dividing the Confederacy. Otherwise the advantage gained for the Yanks is that by taking cities they make the rebel supply situation worse. The victory conditions make a rebel offensive victory possible but unlikely; ultimately the path to victory lies in the 1864 election. However, what is frustrating is that the Union victory conditions which that if the Confederacy is not conquered by December 1864, then the game is a draw! This is in keeping with the game's historical notes on the war, which are more critical of the Union cause then you'll find in recent histories.

For the People: Victory is decided by a contest of strategic will, and with so many events modifying it there is a lot of things to consider. It feels like Herman has embraced the complexity of victory and defeat and how events great and small effected the outcome. It isn't simply a question of capturing armies and the capital; [For the People embraces a kind of mosaic of strategy, in which everything effects the outcome from political events to simply capturing a fort. I love this part of the game.

Conclusions
The Civil War: Clearly this game has some holes and the abstraction of friction turns some away, but not me. I think this game is an accessible monster that simulates the war well enough while not getting clogged in rules hell. It remains one of my favorite wargames and the best game I own on the War Between the States.

The War for the Union: There is a lot to like in the game, especially how leaders and supplies are handled. However, there are some grave holes in the history and the gameplay. First Bull Run cannot occur as it did historically because of the rigid IGU, UGO system. Naval rules are way too complicated and the blockade is not well handled at all. Also according to the game the war ended in a draw. That is very silly. What is surprising is that adherents to this game argue that it has more historical value than The Civil War. I must firmly disagree, while conceding that it does have some merit. This game needs a second edition in the worst kind of way.

For the People: The complexity of strategic will is the best part and you have to admire the use of cards and especially the importance of politics. However, the CRT is flawed and the naval rules a mess. It seems that the little things are lacking, but these little things get worse under the pressure of play. As it is this is a solid game, but it just doesn't feel right enough.
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Bill Lawson
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I have never played The War for the Union so I cannot comment on it. I agree with you though about The Civil War and I do not care much for For the People.
I think The Civil War is an excellent game. For the People on the other hand was a huge disappointment to me.
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Michael Lavoie
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I have all three games. Here on BGG, I've made it clear on multiple Geek Lists and Forum posts that The Civil War is my favorite wargame. As was Billyboy, I was disappointed in For the People. It's a fine game, but I really hoped for more. As for The War for the Union, I still have never gotten that one to the table. I dug it off the shelf a couple of days ago to read the rules one more time, hoping that I might finally be motivated to actually play it. Nothing happening there yet.
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Jeremy Strope
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Excellent review! I love seeing the games compared side by side like this. It really helps seeing the various systems described and compared to each other. I just picked up a copy The Civil War and have been going through the rule book. I can't wait to get it to the table. Thanks for the hard work.
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Scott G
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I enjoyed your review and was inspired to go and read Berg's review as well. http://www.thewargamer.com/brog/war_for_the_union.htm

While both you and Berg are down on the naval rules, I really enjoy them, though I agree, The Civil War's blockade system is better. I like the batteries and the variance between rivers, tidal rivers, and coasts.

Berg is also down on promotion, and you are silent on it, but I like it and don't find the counter swaps too tedious.

My friend and I played The Civil War for years, but once we got this we didn't go back for a long time.

For the People was a big disappointment, but you are right to give it credit for the political track.

If this game is as long in the tooth as Berg suggests, we are in dire need of another modern attempt at a one map ACW game.
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Tom Willcockson
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Enjoyed reading this review and while I think you are a little hard on For the People I do agree with many of your points. Although Mark Herman is a superb designer and will have very good reasons why he designed the game the way he did, I just can't get past the feeling that many aspects of the game just don't feel like the Civil War to me. That said however I'm not sure it is entirely fair to put this game in the same category as Civil War, because while both are 1 map sheet games (if you ignore the Far West map sheet), I think that FtP is much quicker to play and although I have both games FtP is far more likely to hit the table for me. Of course this is strictly my own opinion, but with some tweaking I think that FtP could be made just as great a classic as CW while being a faster and more approachable game to play.
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Severus Snape
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Paul, I am really disappointed. There used to be depth to your articles and originality to your ideas. Now you cut & paste, hack & slash. In other words, you have given into the masses on BGG and become one of them. robot

I will be happy to once again contribute to your posts when you go back to being the Gittes we once knew and loved.

goo
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Paul, I am really disappointed. There used to be depth to your articles and originality to your ideas. Now you cut & paste, hack & slash. In other words, you have given into the masses on BGG and become one of them. robot

I will be happy to once again contribute to your posts when you go back to being the Gittes we once knew and loved.

goo


I am sorry to hear about your feelings, but I'm at a loss to understand why. Of all my reviews the most thought and work went into this one.

If you want to offer more thoughts on a lack of originality feel free. Regardless, I am sorry to hear your feelings on this matter.
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Mark Herman
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However, the CRT is flawed...


It is ever the privilege of anyone to like or dislike any aspect of my designs, but I continue to see this comment which is why I am replying specifically to this point and no other.

The comment is just put out there with no commentary or information to support it, so I will judge it as an ascertain of opinion and not based on any analysis.

I will state that the For The People CRT is based on some very detailed historical and mathematical analysis. It is based on very detailed Operations Research papers and analyses of the Civil War and consequently when I see this comment without any support I like to point this out. I have had the CRT confirmed by several PhD mathematicians and statisticians, so a one liner of this nature is uninformed. The CRT will produce every historical result in the war and the fact that it is not monotonic or intuitive to the casual observer does not make it flawed, just not properly understood.

Thanks for hearing me out.

Mark
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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The comment is just put out there with no commentary or information to support it, so I will judge it as an ascertain of opinion and not based on any analysis.


I would like to draw your attention to this, which was in the review and offers historical commentary on the CRT:

A few good touches are lost within a giant flaw. On one hand the game differentiates between small battles (Wilson's Creek), medium battles (Nashville), and giant battles (Gettysburg). Each side rolls and inflicts that amount of losses on the enemy. This works well in the small and medium battle charts, but the large one is particularly bloody on the defender and denies the possibility of a Cold Harbor or a Fredericksburg. Also the Overland Campaign's 2:1 ratio of Union to Confederate losses will not occur, as Grant, Meade, and Hancock's ratings are too good to allow Lee to get off easy in any battle. The table needs fixing to show the importance of entrenchments in the later war. This facet is not covered and is a major problem. I do like the cavalry rules, which illustrate the main use of cavalry during the war: recon and raiding.

As a postscript: I think mathematics and averages are flawed in this case. 1864 battles tended to be more lopsided in the causalities department, but with much of the early war resembling a series of grinding Napoleonic battles, any averages for the entire war would back up your CRT. Point is, the CRT works in '61-63, but it does not later on.

I respect your work Mark, and I preordered Washington's War, but next time don't say "a one liner of this nature is uninformed" when the commentary is in the review. Keep up the good work, because I playtested Washington's War, and it is going to rock.
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gittes wrote:
Quote:
The comment is just put out there with no commentary or information to support it, so I will judge it as an ascertain of opinion and not based on any analysis.


I would like to draw your attention to this, which was in the review and offers historical commentary on the CRT:

A few good touches are lost within a giant flaw. On one hand the game differentiates between small battles (Wilson's Creek), medium battles (Nashville), and giant battles (Gettysburg). Each side rolls and inflicts that amount of losses on the enemy. This works well in the small and medium battle charts, but the large one is particularly bloody on the defender and denies the possibility of a Cold Harbor or a Fredericksburg. Also the Overland Campaign's 2:1 ratio of Union to Confederate losses will not occur, as Grant, Meade, and Hancock's ratings are too good to allow Lee to get off easy in any battle. The table needs fixing to show the importance of entrenchments in the later war. This facet is not covered and is a major problem. I do like the cavalry rules, which illustrate the main use of cavalry during the war: recon and raiding.

As a postscript: I think mathematics and averages are flawed in this case. 1864 battles tended to be more lopsided in the causalities department, but with much of the early war resembling a series of grinding Napoleonic battles, any averages for the entire war would back up your CRT. Point is, the CRT works in '61-63, but it does not later on.

I respect your work Mark, and I preordered Washington's War, but next time don't say "a one liner of this nature is uninformed" when the commentary is in the review. Keep up the good work, because I playtested Washington's War, and it is going to rock.


I am actually very careful on details of this nature. The FTP CRT was designed to handle all of the war, which includes 1864. So to take on the issue of Cold Harbor exactly, the combat algorithm has an SP combat ineffective at 40% and the losses at Cold Harbor equate to a 5/3 result on the large battle CRT, which tracks the historical outcome. Anyway, I must remember to just let these things go. I appreciate that you respect my work, which I hope is based on my attention to such details. I am very happy that you are looking forward to Washington's War.

Mark
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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I am actually very careful on details of this nature. The FTP CRT was designed to handle all of the war, which includes 1864. So to take on the issue of Cold Harbor exactly, the combat algorithm has an SP combat ineffective at 40% and the losses at Cold Harbor equate to a 5/3 result on the large battle CRT, which tracks the historical outcome. Anyway, I must remember to just let these things go. I appreciate that you respect my work, which I hope is based on my attention to such details. I am very happy that you are looking forward to Washington's War.


Thanks for the quick and respectful reply Mark. We can agree to disagree. Mostly I just wanted to be clear that when I did critique the CRT, it was not just a throw away line, but a problem I had with regards to history.

When Washington's War comes out and write up my positive review, be sure to stop by.
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gittes wrote:
Quote:
I am actually very careful on details of this nature. The FTP CRT was designed to handle all of the war, which includes 1864. So to take on the issue of Cold Harbor exactly, the combat algorithm has an SP combat ineffective at 40% and the losses at Cold Harbor equate to a 5/3 result on the large battle CRT, which tracks the historical outcome. Anyway, I must remember to just let these things go. I appreciate that you respect my work, which I hope is based on my attention to such details. I am very happy that you are looking forward to Washington's War.


Thanks for the quick and respectful reply Mark. We can agree to disagree. Mostly I just wanted to be clear that when I did critique the CRT, it was not just a throw away line, but a problem I had with regards to history.

When Washington's War comes out and write up my positive review, be sure to stop by.


Good enough, I look forward to your next review...

Mark
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Paul Regulski
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..the " issue " i have with basing a CRT combat system almost entirely on statistic results { of the actual battles } is it does not take into account that the most " analyzed battles " MAY have been " statistical anomalies " or " freak " results in the 1st place...a design can then be " trapped " by history...rather than being a game of possibilities....which is why i prefer " roll to hit " combat systems - within an acceptable { by gaming standards } range...
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