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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Lee vs. Grant is an operational game covering the first phase of Grant’s 1864 offensive into Virginia and the supporting drive by Butler against Richmond. This continues to be a controversial subject among military historians and Civil War buffs, in part because it featured a series of battles fought by the premier general of each side, but also because both Lee and Grant made many mistakes, giving detractors a lot of ammunition.

Made by veteran designer Joseph M. Balkoski during the heyday of Victory Games, Lee vs. Grant was the basis for the popular Great Campaigns of the American Civil series (GCACW), which officially began with Stonewall Jackson's Way and has continued to this day, the latest title being Battle Above the Clouds. Lee vs. Grant though is not officially part of this system, and I believe it to be actually superior to its more acclaimed descendants.

Gameplay (25 out of 28): Lee vs. Grant covers the 1864 Virginia campaign from the Wilderness to the failed attack on Petersburg that ended mobile operations and brought on a siege. The game can last up to nine turns, each turn being made up of three action cycles, where formations, mostly infantry corps and cavalry divisions, move across the map and fight battles, or they may entrench their position or reorganize their troops, the later being particularly important. Each commander as a movement modifier, with generals such as Hancock generally being able to out-march Baldy Smith. The key to the game is maneuver, and it is not necessary to brawl with each other as the armies historically did, although that too is a possibility.

The other main feature of the game is supplies. For the Confederates this comes from railroad depots, and therefore it is necessary to defend some key depots from raiding cavalry. For the Union, supplies can come from the railroads, but this is not advisable. It is far better to draw it from the sea, however, one cannot simply move their supplies at will. Rather, the port supply depots must be prepared, and this requires planning from the Union player. When you also consider that reinforcements only slightly favor the North, I’d say the burden lies with the Yankees. This does not mean the game is imbalanced, but mostly that the sharper and/or more experienced player should take the role of Grant.

The Union does have two significant bonuses. One is the Shenandoah Valley, which is handled through a die roll. I find that over time the results will favor the Union, giving them victory points if the South does not send troops to counter the victory. Also, in the later turns Union infantry can use ships to move from port to port, opening up the game if a stalemate has ensued.

Marching Through Central Virginia:


Operational (5 out of 5): The game avoids a rigid IGO-UGO structure, favoring initiative rolls whereby one formation can be moved, so the campaign develops in a staggered way, much like the battles it covers, where engagements opened with limited fighting that expanded into the grand battles that would dot the landscape. This creates an interesting dynamic, as out of position forces on the map can lead to opportunistic attacks, however, the CRT makes the success of such attacks no easy thing, thus eliminating the possibility of the game devolving into a session of run and gun. However, by making battles a corps level affair, Lee vs. Grant avoids GCACW's penchant for creating World War I style shoving engagements. In Lee vs. Grant there exists the possibility for battles both in the mold of Austerlitz and Verdun, because the combat system allows for dramatic swings in fortune, but it makes them rare enough that it feels like the Civil War, a conflict that almost reinvented the expression Pyrrhic victory.

Accessibility (5 out of 5): Lee vs. Grant might have the best written rule book for a game at this scale. The rulebook, sporting a length of some 64 pages, at first looks daunting. However, the rules are easy to read, and the length is due to exhaustive notes and examples of play featured throughout the book. While clearly not an introductory game by any stretch, it is not a great leap in complexity for the veteran.

Components (4 out of 5): The pieces were a step up from the usual 1980s fare. The map is a mess of brown and green, but functional and not drab. The best praise must be reserved for the counters though, which feature small illustrations of the various commanders, giving the pieces a flair usually lacking from this era in wargaming.

Union Pieces:


Originality (2 out of 2): To my knowledge Lee vs. Grant was the first game to cover the topic and the earliest operational Civil War game. Refreshingly, Balkoski did not simply lean upon Kevin Zucker’s Campaigns of Napoleon system.

Historical Quality (4 out of 5): Lee vs. Grant’s greatest strength is that each commander has a variable movement value, which simulates the mobility of these commanders. It is a feature I have found lacking in GCACW, in which most commanders are the same. This feature works particularly well with Butler’s commanders, who have no modifier. This effectively simulates that while Butler led a large force aganist Richmond, his caution made the proper use of this force impossible. The CRT is especially effective as well, showing the difficulty in attacking, but also making it to where the defender can easily suffer from battle was well. This encourages rolling attacks on one position. However, there are two gripes with the history. One is that Grant does nothing for the Union, while Lee gives you a bonus in battle. Also, Meade is absent from the proceedings. However, the biggest problem lies with the reinforcement die rolls. Although the Confederates receive a -1 and the Unions get a +1 to their rolls, it is not uncommon for the rebels to receive a wave of reinforcements. I’m not saying the Union should receive hordes of men. Indeed, Grant was hemorrhaging troops throughout the campaign as veterans mustered out of service. However, the South was on its last legs in terms of manpower, and their ability to receive reinforcements ought to be far more limited.

Overall (45 out of 50): Lee vs. Grant is a solid wargame that captures the vital elements of the Civil War at the operational level: maneuver, command, supplies, and inconclusive battles. Although overshadowed by GCACW, it is still worth the attention of any wargamer. I wish the system as presented here had been used to simulate Sherman's advance on Atlanta, the Red River Campaign, and a host of other operations. It will not happen though and I am reminded of wishes and fishes. At least I can still enjoy this underrated classic of wargaming.

Choose Your Destiny:
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Pone McPoneface
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Outstanding review of what I consider and often underrated game of the genre! The initiative system for movement and actions makes for excellent solitaire play.
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Gerald Todd
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Agreed with everything, and especially:

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I wish the system as presented here had been used to simulate Sherman's advance on Atlanta, the Red River Campaign, and a host of other operations.


Those two are as good as untouched by a game - and a Vicksburg campaign on this line would be great also.

Excellent review!
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David
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Great review of a game I know little about.
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gittes wrote:

Originality (2 out of 2): To my knowledge Lee vs. Grant was the first game to cover the topic and the earliest operational Civil War game.

I like you review in general, and agree with much of it. I still have a soft spot for the game and like you, like it better than GCACW. It is also the first foray into operational ACW with Balkoski's signature interactive impulse system, so I wouldn't disagree with the originality rating.

But for being "the earliest operational Civil War game" it is a dozen years and few games late, and SPI's The Wilderness Campaign: Lee vs. Grant, 1864 covered the same topic 15 years earlier.

Games that I can think of that precede it would be The Wilderness Campaign: Lee vs. Grant, 1864, Lee Moves North, Atlanta: Civil War Campaign Game, Objective: Atlanta, Killer Angels, The Great Invasion: The Gettysburg Campaign June 24 – July 3, 1863 (which doesn't have a publication date in the components but my copy includes official errata dated 1987).

Even in the same year a couple of comparable operational systems debuted such as The Campaigns of Robert E. Lee (which also has scenarios covering this campaign) and Lee Invades the North/Campaigns in the Valley. Can't tell which of those would have come earlier but most likely they were all done in parallel.
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SgtTodd wrote:

Agreed with everything, and especially:

Quote:
I wish the system as presented here had been used to simulate Sherman's advance on Atlanta, the Red River Campaign, and a host of other operations.


Those two are as good as untouched by a game


True for the Red River campaign, but not for the Atlanta campaign which has been done a number of times and some of these are easy to find: Atlanta: Civil War Campaign Game, Objective: Atlanta, Marching Through Georgia, and To Make Georgia Howl!. I'd consider the last two to be very good and with a fix to the combat system I'd consider the 'Campaigns of the Civil War' system used in Marching to Georgia the best ACW operational system I've seen.

In the same system, there is also already a game on the Vicksburg campaign: Mississippi Fortress.
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Pete Belli
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SPI's The Wilderness Campaign: Lee vs. Grant, 1864 covered the same topic 15 years earlier.


Yes, this game could qualify as a somewhat primitive ancestor of Lee vs. Grant. It actually included the Shenandoah Valley and used a system similar to Lee Moves North.
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Pete Belli
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The 1864 Red River Campaign would be an excellent choice for the Victory Point Games solitaire series.

The Confederate player would respond to multiple Union thrusts and the event cards could reflect the complex military, political, and economic factors involved.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Quote:
But for being "the earliest operational Civil War game" it is a dozen years and few games late, and SPI's The Wilderness Campaign: Lee vs. Grant, 1864 covered the same topic 15 years earlier.

Games that I can think of that precede it would be The Wilderness Campaign: Lee vs. Grant, 1864, Lee Moves North, Atlanta: Civil War Campaign Game, Objective: Atlanta, Killer Angels, Great Invasion, the: The Gettysburg Campaign June 24 - July 3, 1863 (which doesn't have a publication date in the components but my copy includes official errata dated 1987).

Even in the same year a couple of comparable operational systems debuted such as The Campaigns of Robert E. Lee (which also has scenarios covering this campaign) and Lee Invades the North/Campaigns in the Valley. Can't tell which of those would have come earlier but most likely they were all done in parallel.


The phrase "to my knowledge" implies a lack of definitive proof. I thought at least someone would bring up a few obscure titles, but I really should have said "if you know of any tell me." So I'm glad you brought up these earlier games. I knew about The Wilderness Campaign, but did not know it was operational. The Campaigns of Robert E. Lee I also knew of but I thought it was made in 1990 and did not think twice about it.

That being said, the other games you listed never even crossed my mind, and a few of them I have never even heard of. They all appear to have been either duds or forgotten as the years wear on. Lee vs. Grant does not have the status of classic, but it has aged far better it seems.

In your opinion, do any of the games you listed hold up?
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Great review Sean! I've always had a fondness for this game. It is not complex at all. A game where die rolls effect movement!
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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The 1864 Red River Campaign would be an excellent choice for the Victory Point Games solitaire series.

The Confederate player would respond to multiple Union thrusts and the event cards could reflect the complex military, political, and economic factors involved.


That is one of the best Ideas I have ever heard for a game. Alas, such an obscure topic could only see a magazine game release. So maybe someone should pass this on to VPG so they try to sneak something into C3i.ninja
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gittes wrote:

The phrase "to my knowledge" implies a lack of definitive proof. I thought at least someone would bring up a few obscure titles, but I really should have said "if you know of any tell me." So I'm glad you brought up these earlier games. I knew about The Wilderness Campaign, but did not know it was operational. The Campaigns of Robert E. Lee I also knew of but I thought it was made in 1990 and did not think twice about it.

That being said, the other games you listed never even crossed my mind, and a few of them I have never even heard of. They all appear to have been either duds or forgotten as the years wear on.

You seem quick to judge games that you say you even don't know. But you can check for yourself; most of them have BGG ratings close to 7. Which given the bias towards new games that tends to be evident on BGG is quite impressive for games on a relatively obscure type of topic that are over 30 years old.

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Lee vs. Grant does not have the status of classic, but it has aged far better it seems.

Well, it is the newest of the list. :-) There are games in there that are older again by half.

Quote:
In your opinion, do any of the games you listed hold up?

I haven't played all of them, but I'm more likely to play Campaigns of Robert E Lee than Lee vs Grant. However, that's partly because of the different scope - COREL has a larger scale and gives you the option to play all the eastern theatre campaigns out of one box. (It also has IMO wonderful graphics - those of LvG are fine but not outstanding.) Its drawback is the complex rule set (which is the main reason . However it spawned several sequels, the third one just a few years ago.

I did miss one game in the list above - the Civil War Campaign Series from Clash of Arms has an extension module for its Seven Days game, titled Grant Takes Command (yes, MMP "overprinted" the title - one of the more blatant examples that I've seen of muscling a smaller competitor out of a topic) that covers the later stages of the Overland campaign after the North Anna. Haven't played that one yet though.
 
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You seem quick to judge games that you say you even don't know. But you can check for yourself; most of them have BGG ratings close to 7. Which given the bias towards new games that tends to be evident on BGG is quite impressive for games on a relatively obscure type of topic that are over 30 years old.


That is why the word "appear" was included in that sentence, followed by a question. Are they just gems that have been forgotten? Hardly what I'd call judging a game. However, only one of them (Atlanta: Civil War Campaign Game) has a rating of 7.00. The rest are below that number. The forums for these games are dead. Few of them are ranked in the system and the one that is (Campaigns of Robert E. Lee) is ranked below 4,000. If they were classics or at least popular, might their forums be as active as those for ASL? Would they have staunch fans like War at Sea or Third Reich? What about Eric Lee Smith's The Civil War, which I am playing tomorrow. These games you listed might be good, but they certainly lack mystique and longevity.

There is a cult of the new on BGG. I can point out some older games that I like that are not all that high ranked (Battle of the Bulge, Napoleon at Bay). However, I think the real golden age of wargaming is happening right now. Before 2005 I could never get anyone to actually play a wargame. Now I can do it with ease. Gamers like what is being put out now. The games cover more diverse topics, feature sharper graphics, and more engrossing narrative gameplay. That does not mean I agree with what is popular, espcially GCACW and GCWB series, both of which do little for me. It just means that I think it is not just some cult of the new. Actually, these newer wargames are generally superior to the oldies.

I would never say the same thing about contemporary music or film though.

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I haven't played all of them, but I'm more likely to play Campaigns of Robert E Lee than Lee vs Grant. However, that's partly because of the different scope - COREL has a larger scale and gives you the option to play all the eastern theatre campaigns out of one box. (It also has IMO wonderful graphics - those of LvG are fine but not outstanding.) Its drawback is the complex rule set (which is the main reason . However it spawned several sequels, the third one just a few years ago.


I tried to play the newest game in the series, Look Away! and I ran the other way.

Quote:
I did miss one game in the list above - the Civil War Campaign Series from Clash of Arms has an extension module for its Seven Days game, titled Grant Takes Command (yes, MMP "overprinted" the title - one of the more blatant examples that I've seen of muscling a smaller competitor out of a topic) that covers the later stages of the Overland campaign after the North Anna. Haven't played that one yet though.


I like the COACW series a lot actually and I have wanted a copy of Grant Takes Command. However, this series came out after LVG.

So MMP aggressively muscled COA out?
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Great review and glad to see someone give this one a fresh look. As the granddaddy of the GCACW series, it deserves classic status and may get there. It still gets play time on my table from time to time. I think you rightly point out that the difference in scale gives the game a different flow. The difference is not just in units, but in ground scale as well--it's 2 miles per hex vs. 1 mile per hex in the GCACW series.

I remember playing SPI's Wilderness Campaign several times, but it never really grabbed me. Campaigns of REL is a great game with good period feel, but I remember it being strongly criticized because of the way unit strengths were tilted to make the system work. Actually, that probably happens more often than anybody wants to admit.

Anyhow, spot-on review of game that deserves an updated edition.
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Nice review Sean. I enjoy this game - had it on the table for a play of the campaign game just a few months ago.
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Nice review Sean. I enjoy this game - had it on the table for a play of the campaign game just a few months ago.


In between all the new games I have been playing, this one has not hit the table as often as I would like. Hopefully that will change!
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gittes wrote:

That is why the word "appear" was included in that sentence, followed by a question. Are they just gems that have been forgotten? Hardly what I'd call judging a game. However, only one of them (Atlanta: Civil War Campaign Game) has a rating of 7.00. The rest are below that number.

Well, I don't think 7.00 has any magic meaning associated with it. I use numbers as a general indicator of what people think, but a rating of 6.86 doesn't tell me that I'll like a game and a rating of 7.00 doesn't mean it must be great.

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The forums for these games are dead.

Well, on BGG... but that's true for many wargames I play and see played around me.

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Few of them are ranked in the system and the one that is (Campaigns of Robert E. Lee) is ranked below 4,000. If they were classics or at least popular, might their forums be as active as those for ASL?

Certainly not; it seems to me that to demand the single most successful tactical system ever as the minimum threshold is simply far too strict. (Also, I'm not fond of ASL; why should I make its fandom a model for games I find good?)

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Would they have staunch fans like War at Sea or Third Reich?

I know fans for most of these games (yes, including the SPI and Yaquinto ones) though I guess they don't hang around on BGG.

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What about Eric Lee Smith's The Civil War, which I am playing tomorrow. These games you listed might be good, but they certainly lack mystique and longevity.

I don't understand the reference to mystique, but I note that the games you cite as counterexamples are all strategic games. I suspect you are mixing topic and game quality here. As far as longevity is concerned, I see these games played if not frequently. Longevity in the public mind, which seems to be what we're talking about here, is as much a question of being pushed out by a long-living publishers as of game quality.

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There is a cult of the new on BGG. I can point out some older games that I like that are not all that high ranked (Battle of the Bulge, Napoleon at Bay). However, I think the real golden age of wargaming is happening right now. Before 2005 I could never get anyone to actually play a wargame. Now I can do it with ease.

Interesting. For the last 20 years I've always had more opponents than I've had time to play. YMMV.

Quote:
Gamers like what is being put out now. The games cover more diverse topics, feature sharper graphics, and more engrossing narrative gameplay.

I can't help it, I think gamers have always liked what was being put out. Of the three aspects you list, I think the first is probably true, but ironically the best sellers still focus on the same old topics. I'll certainly agree with the second, though it is IMO secondary to enjoyment as long as the graphics are not ugly. I continue to play and enjoy many old games. Lastly, the third is the most important but as always is something that can only be judged on the individual game level and as a general rule I would not agree. I continue to see new games come out that are excellent and sometimes the best on their topic, but there are also many substandard games being produced (as are merely visually upgraded rehashes of really bad or tired old systems) and I find there are many topics on which older games (whether that is 5 years, or 25 years) are still the best.

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That does not mean I agree with what is popular, espcially GCACW and GCWB series, both of which do little for me. It just means that I think it is not just some cult of the new. Actually, these newer wargames are generally superior to the oldies.

Hmmm... not necessarily my experience. There's new games I like, there's old games I like. Apart from graphics, I don't see a clear trend. (Not helped by the fact that some of the most clamored for games appear to be oldie reprints with new graphics, and then not necessarily the best oldies either.)

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I tried to play the newest game in the series, Look Away! and I ran the other way.

I haven't tried that one myself because I found the map quite offputting, especially in contrast to the beautiful maps in the earlier games.

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So MMP aggressively muscled COA out?

"Agressively" implies knowledge of motive which I don't have; I just commented on the act. Inadvertent title collisions happen not so infrequently, but reusing the title of a game that's in print on the same subject is an unusual thing, and with a series as well established as GCACW there seems to be no doubt which way the pecking order went.
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As always Mr. Stumptner you are a contrarian without equal.

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Well, I don't think 7.00 has any magic meaning associated with it. I use numbers as a general indicator of what people think, but a rating of 6.86 doesn't tell me that I'll like a game and a rating of 7.00 doesn't mean it must be great.


7.00 goes matter. Below that number is generally where the lesser known games go. There lots of games below 7.00 that I like (Race for Tunis) and plenty above 7.00 that I do not like (Combat commander). However, the games you listed are generally forgotten. Whether that is right or not is beyond me, but the inactivity of their forums, their low or nonexistent rankings, and the fact that when people ask for Civil War game suggestions these titles do not come up, speaks volumes. So I forgot about them in this review, and generally speaking, so have most people.

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Certainly not; it seems to me that to demand the single most successful tactical system ever as the minimum threshold is simply far too strict. (Also, I'm not fond of ASL; why should I make its fandom a model for games I find good?)


Here you ascribe to me the idea that ASL is the minimum threshold of forum activity, which is not all what I said. I pointed to ASl because it is an old game that has held up. HI could easily use the forums for other old games as an example: Victory in the Pacific, War at Sea, Midway, The Civil War, etc. Hell, Terrible Swift Sword gets more action.

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I don't understand the reference to mystique, but I note that the games you cite as counterexamples are all strategic games. I suspect you are mixing topic and game quality here. As far as longevity is concerned, I see these games played if not frequently. Longevity in the public mind, which seems to be what we're talking about here, is as much a question of being pushed out by a long-living publishers as of game quality.


I am lost on the details as to how I am mixing quality and game topic or why it even matters. Simply put, The Civil is an older game on the conflict that has stood the test of time. The ones you name appear to have not. That is not an indictment of their quality. The world is filled with old books and movies that are good but generally forgotten.

You may not understand mystique and longevity. Sure there are people who play them. There are people who still play Atari 2600. That does not mean the that game system has held up anymore than these games, which are largely forgotten.

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Interesting. For the last 20 years I've always had more opponents than I've had time to play. YMMV.


This might be an age gap thing. I am 29 years old. My friends are young. They were uninterested in the older games I owned before 2005. When I bought some newer ones they got interested.

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I can't help it, I think gamers have always liked what was being put out. Of the three aspects you list, I think the first is probably true, but ironically the best sellers still focus on the same old topics. I'll certainly agree with the second, though it is IMO secondary to enjoyment as long as the graphics are not ugly. I continue to play and enjoy many old games. Lastly, the third is the most important but as always is something that can only be judged on the individual game level and as a general rule I would not agree. I continue to see new games come out that are excellent and sometimes the best on their topic, but there are also many substandard games being produced (as are merely visually upgraded rehashes of really bad or tired old systems) and I find there are many topics on which older games (whether that is 5 years, or 25 years) are still the best.


Actually I think the willingness to go to new topics restored a vitality missing from an over-emphasis upon World War II and the Civil War. Indeed, I got into the hobby through my interest in the American Revolution and GMT's tactical series on that war. Few older games covered those battles. People like the old topics, but the new ones sell very well too. See Wilderness War and Here I Stand for permanent examples. Sure, these topics had been covered before, but only sparingly. The difference now is that companies are willing to put these more risky topics at the center of their marketing. Add in the prevalence of cards and the better graphics, and I think the best in gaming is happening now. It is a matter of taste though.

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Hmmm... not necessarily my experience. There's new games I like, there's old games I like. Apart from graphics, I don't see a clear trend. (Not helped by the fact that some of the most clamored for games appear to be oldie reprints with new graphics, and then not necessarily the best oldies either.)


I think this is an age gap thing. Younger wargamers do not really know the older titles. However, I think you are forgetting the most important trend in gaming: cards. By taking the chrome out of the rules, but not out of the game, you appease those who are interested in the history while making the game generally more user-friendly. I'm sure you'll find all sorts of exceptions to this, and I can point quite a few myself, but that is the trend in gaming. People my age want something that has pleasant graphics and fluid game play. The oldies just don't excite people, which really frustrates me when I want to play Midway. But there it is.
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Jeremy Fridy
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gittes wrote:
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The 1864 Red River Campaign would be an excellent choice for the Victory Point Games solitaire series.

The Confederate player would respond to multiple Union thrusts and the event cards could reflect the complex military, political, and economic factors involved.


That is one of the best Ideas I have ever heard for a game. Alas, such an obscure topic could only see a magazine game release. So maybe someone should pass this on to VPG so they try to sneak something into C3i.ninja


I don't know, Victory Points just put out a game on Arron Burr's conspiracy against President Jefferson. If it can be made playable, they would make a run at selling it.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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pete belli wrote:
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SPI's The Wilderness Campaign: Lee vs. Grant, 1864 covered the same topic 15 years earlier.


Yes, this game could qualify as a somewhat primitive ancestor of Lee vs. Grant. It actually included the Shenandoah Valley and used a system similar to Lee Moves North.

Which reminds me of another extremely interesting operational Civil War game published in 1975: Shenandoah. I see there's not a single thread in its forum, so I guess it is 'long forgotten' for some and 'never heard of' for others, but it incorporated some very advanced design ideas for its era.


(My apologies to those who don't like people posting in old threads, but I've just received a lovely unpunched copy of Lee vs. Grant in the mail, and re-acquainting myself with it after an absence of 25 years has me poking around in this forum.)
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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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Actually I like it when old threads get postings. Shows that someone has been reading the post long after its debut.

What did you like about Shenandoah?
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gittes wrote:
What did you like about Shenandoah?

Funny you should mention this; I was thinking just this morning that it was a shame the Shenandoah forum here was empty as a tomb, so I decided to do something about that: For those seeking more information. I didn't say much there, but I did provide a link to a review that's worth reading.

Basically what I liked was how you had to protect your supply wagons to get anything accomplished, and how you had to do so in a hidden movement environment where you couldn't be sure of your opponent's location. I've always been a big fan of games that take us out of our perfect information comfort zone and force us to consider what ifs.

The Wilderness Campaign: Lee vs. Grant, 1864 and Shenandoah accomplished this by different means. Both systems were slightly awkward in practice, but if you want fog of war without a referee you have to pay some price. I was far more interested in these games than the Blue & Gray quads, which were far more popular but were really nothing more than Napoleon at Waterloo with neutered cavalry.

[edit] I probably should have left out the sour grapes comparison with Blue & Gray, which was grand tactical rather than operational.
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