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Subject: A chance to explore your inner Abe Lincoln...or Jefferson Davis rss

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Brian Morris
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In firing his gun, John Brown has merely told what time of day it is. It is high noon. -- William Lloyd Garrison

I've always been an avid history buff with a general interest in the American Civil War. It was a trip over 10 years ago to Gettysburg however that made me a true civil war buff. My wife and I were at a convention in Pennsylvania and I only went because she promised me that if I went she would go with me to Gettysburg. We were doing the traditional auto tour when we stopped so I could look at some artillery pieces. When I got out of the car I noticed there was a large open area about 50 yards away so I wandered over. I had had my nose in a guide book in the car so I had lost track of exactly where we were. As I came out onto this open area I noticed a copse of trees about a mile away with a lot of monuments. To my right were two hills. It dawned on me at that moment I had wandered onto the field of Pickett's Charge and the hill on the left was Little Round Top. I was hooked at that moment. Since then I have read around 400 books on the conflict and visited dozens of museums and battlefields across the country.

I tell you this because I want to put this review in context. For me a wargame on the civil war, especially one at the strategic level needs to be more than just a game of tactical conflict. It needs to be a true historical simulation. I want to place myself within the confines of the game in a situation that the historical leaders faced. I want to come away from the game with more than just a good time but a better understanding of the conflict and the choices the men involved faced. In short I want to hear the sound of the cannons and smell the smoke. With this game I can smell the smoke.



General Overview:

Players: 2
Playing time: 2 hours for a single year scenario. 6 for the campaign.

For The People is a strategic simulation of the American civil war. It covers the conflict from it's beginnings in 1861 to it's conclusion in 1865. The game was originally published in 1998 by Avalon Hill and later republished by GMT. This review covers the GMT edition.

The game uses Mark Herman's classic card driven game mechanic he invented for the game We The People and has now been used for several dozen other strategic level wargames such as Sword of Rome, Paths of Glory and Shifting Sands. If you have played any of those types of games in the past you already have a legs up to learning For The People.



Components:

The components of For The People are pretty much your standard GMT wargame stuff. The game was published by GMT about 10 years ago and the components are pretty much of that era in terms of GMT's history i.e. not bad but not quite as good as we see GMT come out with today. The counters are a touch small and average in terms of artwork but functional and easy to read. The cards are of decent quality although players will likely wish to use card sleeves. Basically you won't go "wow!" when you see them but you won't complain much about them either.

The map is a paper map and like the rest of the components its functional if not outstanding graphically. Keep in mind that at the time GMT was basically only using paper maps for it's games. That's changed in recent years and GMT recently released a hard mapboard for the game. The mapboard is of extremely nice quality and I do recommend picking it up if you enjoy the game. The only drawback is the mapboard is thick to the point that you will have trouble fitting it in the box with the game's cards.



Game Mechanics:

The game mechanics themselves will as I said above be very familiar with to anyone with experience playing other CDGs. Players can play either scenarios or the full campaign. The scenarios cover one year in the conflict and the campaign as you would expect covers the entire war.

The campaign game is basically all the scenarios played end to end from 1861 to 1865. Each year of the game is split into three turns (there is only one turn in 1865) where a player receives a number of cards. In 1861 the game begins with each player receiving 4 cards but eventually players will receive 7 cards per turn.

The cards themselves are very much the standard CDG type cards. The cards consist of operational points aka OPS and events. Players can either use the cards for the events or use the ops for things like troops movements, appointing generals to army command or army and fort construction.

In terms of complexity I think the game's mechanics are middle of the road for a CDG. Some of the rules covering the rivers and movement can be a bit tricky to get your mind around at first but actually make good sense. If you have trouble with those rules I recommend you think about the conflict itself and why the rivers were important. Once you understand what the designer is trying to simulate the rules kind of fall into place in your mind.



Strategic Will:

One unique feature of For The People is something called Strategic Will. Strategic Will is basically the ability of that side to continue to wage warfare. In the campaign game each player begins with 100 SW points. This total will fluctuate throughout the game and can be effected by a variety of events both politically (generally through event cards) and militarily. For example if you win a major battle you receive 3 SW points. Lose it and you lose 5 SW points. Remove a general from Army command and you lose SW equal to their political value. Yes you too will have to wrestle with the political consequences of firing George McClellan.

In general your SW will erode as the game progresses and it's how players fair with their strategic will that will eventually determine their fate.

I think the Strategic Will feature is what truly sets this game apart from other strategic civil war games. I have often said that no military conflict was fought in a vacuum. They are all to some degree effected by the social and political events that surround them. The American civil war if anything was even more so in this regard. In this game the tactical military part is only a part of the whole. Players must not just be good tactical commanders but they also have to make good use of the events on their cards to help manage their Strategic Will. Thus you aren't just being a military commander but you are also being a political one.



The Generals:

The American Civil War was in many ways a general's conflict. Who commanded what and where had an extreme effect on the outcome of the war. This was in part because commanders in the field had very limited communication with Washington and Richmond respectively. They were in effect often little emperors. Putting in place the right commander was extremely important and that importance is reflected in For The People.

Every general in the game has 4 ratings. The first is their political value. This is used to reflect their status in many respects. Functionally in the game this value is used in reflecting the effect on Strategic Will placing a certain commander in charge of an army or firing him.

For example, Robert E Lee has a political value of 8, James Longstreet has a value of 2 and A P Hill a value of 1. Let's say I have all three of the men in the Army of Northern Virginia with Lee in command. I've gone insane and decided to fire Robert E Lee (this is an example. Firing Robert E Lee is not recommended if you don't want to see Richmond turned into a smoldering pile of rubble). Lee with his political value of 8 would cost me 8 strategic will to fire him although if he's recently lost a major battle that cost is halved. Now I have to appoint a new commander for the army. Longstreet with a value of 2 is higher than Hill's 1 so if I put Longstreet in command I will receive no penalty. If I place Hill in command however I suffer a 2 point strategic will penalty for promoting the lower level Hill over Longstreet.

McClellan by the way has a political value of 10. Yes, you will have as much trouble getting rid of Little Mac as Lincoln did.

The other three ratings of generals are strategy rating, offense rating and defense rating. Offense rating and defense rating are pretty self explanatory. Those ratings can range from 0 to 3. Some generals like Grants and Lee have ratings of 3-3 while some others are 0-0.

Strategy rating on the other hand reflects your ability to activate a general using operation points on your cards. Operation points on the cards range from 1-3. To activate a general you need a card equal to or higher ops points than their strategy rating. Thus a general with a rating of 1 you can move with pretty much any card in your hand while a general with a 3 you will have to spend one of your highest level cards to activate.



Overall in the game I think the ratings of the generals are pretty fair and representative of historical performance. I do disagree on two of them however.

The first is Henry Halleck who has a offense/defense rating of 1-1. Considering Halleck was pretty much a paper pusher for most of the war and the only real time he had a significant command in the field he basically did nothing with it I find it very odd that he should have an offensive rating of 1. Especially when you see other commanders like McDowell and Burnside have 0 offensive ratings. Ok, McDowell and Burnside weren't exactly military powerhouses but at least they attacked something.

The second general that bugs me is George Meade. He has a 3 strategy rating and a 1-2 offense/defense rating. I think a more accurate rating for Meade would have been 2-2-2. This was the man who was put into command of the Army of the Potomac because of his aggressiveness at places like Fredericksburg, South Mountain and Antietam. Yes he fought a defensive battle at Gettysburg (and smart he was to do so) but when you look at his overall record he did pretty well in offensive operations and did a good job maneuvering during the Overland Campaign. I just find it a bit historically inaccurate that Meade and Halleck both have the same offensive combat rating.

Compared to The Civil War:

One of the big things with For The People is it's comparison to the Victory Games The Civil War. Both are superb games. I prefer For The People however because of the card driven mechanics which as I said before bring into the game the political and social events surrounding the conflict. The Civil War in many ways is more of a pure tactical simulation. If the tactical Xs and Os of the conflict are your biggest interest then The Civil War would be a fine choice. If however you find the political and social aspects surrounding the conflict also of interest then I would recommend For The People.



Summary:

For me For The People is the meeting of two of my favorite things. The American Civil War and strategic level wargaming. While the game is not perfect in my mind it still deals with the conflict at the strategic level with a great deal of historical flavor. The game covers the conflict from both a political and military aspect and thus will appeal to both the casual and hardcore civil war buff. The scale of game is not overpowering and the entire conflict from beginning to end can be played in an afternoon by two experienced players.

I rate this game a 10
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Matt
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Nice review. Late coming given that you've been a long time fan of the game.
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Randy C
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Agree. It's a 10.
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Steve Herron
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If for some reason I were to lose my game collection and had to build it back, For The People would be the first game I would purchase.
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Mark Ashton
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Thanks for your review. It was really well-written: clear and engaging! Thorough and detailed as well, without getting boring.
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Mark Herman
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Thank you for taking the time to write this thoughtful review,

Mark
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Marc Puig
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Peso Pete wrote:
Great review, Brian. I traded this game away because I believed at the time that it didn't accurately convey the difficulties in doing amphibious invasions during this period (which would put it in the same league as almost every other strategic-level ACW game I have played). A friend of mine explained to me the error of my belief (it is actually much harder to pull off such an invasion in FtP than other games), so now I'm on the hunt for another copy.


!There are rumours of a GMT reprint with mounted board!

Maybe Mark Hermann could tell us something more...
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Rauli Kettunen
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This game was on the scope when I was looking for a ACW CDG, but in the end, I think it is too long and based on the rules section of these forums, very, very dense from a rules standpoint. Length being the main issue since when playing the ACW, I want to play the whole war in one go and 6 hours just isn't available in one sitting. So in the end I went with The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865, which gets the job done in 2 hours or less.
 
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Chris Bailey
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The new mounted board for For the People is shipping this week.
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Pete Belli
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Good summary of a classic game!

Quote:
The second general that bugs me is George Meade. He has a 3 strategy rating and a 1-2 offense/defense rating. I think a more accurate rating for Meade would have been 2-2-2. This was the man who was put into command of the Army of the Potomac because of his aggressiveness at places like Fredericksburg, South Mountain and Antietam. Yes he fought a defensive battle at Gettysburg (and smart he was to do so) but when you look at his overall record he did pretty well in offensive operations and did a good job maneuvering during the Overland Campaign. I just find it a bit historically inaccurate that Meade and Halleck both have the same offensive combat rating.


Fooling around with ACW leadership ratings could become a hobby within a hobby.

I agree with your analysis of Meade. If we look at Meade's performance during the Bristoe Station - Mine Run campaign we see a commander who can hold his own against Robert E. Lee where other Union generals had faltered and been vanquished. True, Lee's army was battered but so was the Army of the Potomac. The Quest for Annihilation by wargame designer Chris Perello contains a superb chapter on the subject.

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Brian Morris
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Dam the Man wrote:
This game was on the scope when I was looking for a ACW CDG, but in the end, I think it is too long and based on the rules section of these forums, very, very dense from a rules standpoint. Length being the main issue since when playing the ACW, I want to play the whole war in one go and 6 hours just isn't available in one sitting. So in the end I went with The Price of Freedom: The American Civil War 1861-1865, which gets the job done in 2 hours or less.


I don't find the rules to be dense at all. As I said in the review once you understand what the designer is trying to simulate the river rules just sort of click in your mind. I find the rules very much in the same league with games like Paths of Glory or Sword of Rome and a lot less difficult than Empire of the Sun. Mind you it often comes down to a person's personal preference. For some a 40 page rulebook will leave them running for the hills while others see it as a gourmet meal.

Six hours is indeed a long game but for me with that length comes depth. Again as with the rules it's a matter of comfort zone. Wargaming is often a hobby of trade offs. You can for example play Pickett's Charge with Battle Cry: 150th Civil War Anniversary Edition in 30 minutes or you could take hours doing it using This Hallowed Ground. Both fun games but it all depends on what is the best balance for you in terms of depth versus time.

For me personally I love longer games. Games like Britannia and Sword of Rome are high on my top 10 list along with For The People. All are longer games. On the other hand there are plenty of good 2 hour wargames like Washington's War. It all comes down to personal preference.
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Andy Andersen
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Great review. I love the Civil War era and will take a harder look at this one now.
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Chris Montgomery
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Great review - thanks.

I think it might just be me, but my campaign games last much longer than 6 hours. The fastest f-t-f game I played was 10 hours for the campaign, but then again, I'm not necessary an "experienced" player, either, having only played the game about 6 or 7 times, most via e-mail.
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Michael Debije
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Great. Now you made me want to play again.
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Michael Novak
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Nice review and comparison to The Civil War, both of which satisfy my Civil War strategic cravings.

I am glad I ordered the mounted map for this (and EotS).
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Joel Tamburo
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I likewise agree Meade gets shortchanged a little in the ratings department, but I can also see (at least in the Strategy Rating department) the need for him to be a 3. If he is a 2 the Union gains greater offensive mobility ahead of historical schedule so to speak.

Another strength of this game is its view of things naval. Although the mechanics are abstracted the effect encourages Union investment in naval operations (Blockade and Amphibious Assault modifiers) as a strong naval approach will put the CSA in a stranglehold, with their reinforcements cut and political will dropping every turn.
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Sean Conroy
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This review really makes me want to play this all the way through for the first time. I really do hope to rope a couple of my gamer friends into a day learning this game.
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michael confoy
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Good review for a game that has been out for at least a decade. But you will find one flaw that the Herminator admits is there --go to WBC and play the Union against one of the FTP sharks who play the game every day. They will allow you to capture Richmond as they move forces up into the Pittsburgh area, grab the locations to cut off all the Union east-west rail, game over, you lose even though you own Richmond. Kind of bogus that Union would be ripping Richmond to shreds but lose.
 
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Sean Conroy
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papahoth wrote:
Kind of bogus that Union would be ripping Richmond to shreds but lose.


Yes and no, Richmond is the "Rebel Base" and while important, not as important as Washington D.C. the very seat/symbol of Federal power. Historically Richmond fell in 1865 when the war was practically over. I'd wager that had it been captured in 1862 or even '63 They would have simply relocated and fought on.

If the CSA had captured Washington D.C., that would have been a mighty blow that I am not sure the Union would have been able to recover from. Unless, say in '63, it occurred very close to the Federal Gettysburg/Vicksburg victories. Lincoln would then probably be able to shrug it off by stating that even though D.C. was lost the tide was turning.

All hypothetical, but that's my analysis.
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Brian Morris
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Not a bad analysis really. The thing is in the south all the power was held with the effluent slave holding class and there wasn't a lot of organized opposition politically to that group. They weren't going to give up their slaves and through that their wealth without a fight. In the north you had the anti-war democrats who could have used the loss of Washington to extreme advantage. So indeed the north had a lot more to lose from losing Washington versus the south losing Richmond.
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roger cox
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I used to be oppoesed to the card-driven war games, but I'm not quite as curmudgeonly as I once was, and Napoleonic Wars made me a believer. I just wish there was a way to solo games like For the People.
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Chris Montgomery
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mrbeankc wrote:
Not a bad analysis really. The thing is in the south all the power was held with the effluent slave holding class and there wasn't a lot of organized opposition politically to that group. They weren't going to give up their slaves and through that their wealth without a fight. In the north you had the anti-war democrats who could have used the loss of Washington to extreme advantage. So indeed the north had a lot more to lose from losing Washington versus the south losing Richmond.


Drastic events can have the opposite effects intended. Capturing or sacking Washington, D.C. could actually have forced the anti-war Dems to side with the unionist argument - it's hard to say to citizens, "Well, they sacked our capital . . . so . . ."

I think such an event would have galvanized Northern opposition. Washington was much more politically valuable to the South if it were THREATENED - then anti-war politicians can say that Lincoln was not doing enough to protect the capital . . .

In any case, I do agree that it would have probably guaranteed that Lincoln would not have been re-elected. But even then, his opponent wanted to continue the war - and that position would have hardened if Washington had fallen.

IMO.
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Mark Herman
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papahoth wrote:
Good review for a game that has been out for at least a decade. But you will find one flaw that the Herminator admits is there --go to WBC and play the Union against one of the FTP sharks who play the game every day. They will allow you to capture Richmond as they move forces up into the Pittsburgh area, grab the locations to cut off all the Union east-west rail, game over, you lose even though you own Richmond. Kind of bogus that Union would be ripping Richmond to shreds but lose.


I appreciate your view, but please do not speak for me as I have never admitted such a thing. For the record the tactic that you spoke about was a surprise strategy that won the WBC championship. I warned James Pei what was coming and how to easily neutralize it, but he chose another path. Since that time it has disappeared from the WBC tournament scene as it is a one trick pony that requires Union complicity to work.

As far as whether a trade of Richmond for a sustained invasion of the North would play out, I will respectively have to disagree.

Good gaming all,

Mark
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