History: The American Civil War (ACW) was one of the bloodiest wars in all history except for the war among purists as to what is the correct way to portray a war game about the Civil War. There have been many forays into this fertile area, but those that give their opinions and silent brooding masses that dole out cash to buy the games, can never agree on which one is the most authentic, easiest to use, historically accurate in a million categories, and most fun when killing more persons in all the wars that have been conducted since.
Over the years many have tried to portray the sweep and drama of this epic battle including Impressionsí The Blue and the Gray, Strategic Simulationsí No Greater Glory, Strategic Studies Groupís Decisive Battle from Sumter to Appomattox, and Dagger Interactive Technologiesí The Civil War (TCW). Like ACW, Adan Earleís TCW has an extensive database of civil war pictures and data on the people, events, and times. Frank Hunter, ACW developer who also fashioned The Road From Sumter to Appomattox another game on this subject, has spent a large slice of his life studying this time in history.
Plot: Command the Confederate or Union Troops from the start of the war at Fort Sumter in April 1861, the Spring of 1862 or 1863 through the end of the war by political, economic or military victory. The game ends when the war ends either in April 1865 or at whatever date your game play leads it to an end. You do not command individual tactical decisions from within the battles, but you do control the logistics and strategy decisions that lead up to, support, and end battles.
Supporting the game is an immense database of information, included on a totally separate multimedia CD ROM, Fateful Lightning, at no extra cost, The database of over 125 historical leader and military commanders rated for aggressiveness, combat skills, inspiration, and other skills is also use in the game since it is from these Civil War leaders that you have to select your staff and commanders.
Modify the statistics to historical, slight variation or random for more play value. Many believe that if Grant started the war instead of Meade and McClelland that the South would not have lasted nearly as long. The current design allows you to try this set of circumstances. Military commanders have the option of refusing orders and depending on their characteristics will do so.
The ACW battle is fought out in cotton, weapons, supplies, manpower, slavery, politics, industry, and many of the larger issues of war that individual commanders normally have no control over but fall to chance or lesser men. You balance of and complete control over the outcome of elections, foreign alliances, rail lines, capitol cities, military, political and industrial leaders, troop movements, and many other factors decides the conflict.
Interface: This is the weakest area of the product, and designer, Frank Hunter, is burning the midnight oil to bring out a scenario editor (now available on IMís website - Ed.), and patches to eliminate the bugs (also on IMís website - Ed.), and give the user a more functional front end on the program. The graphics display slowly, the scrolling is slow, clicking icons is imprecise.. If you can get past the interface, by using a high end machine, patches, and a lot of patience, the underlying game is worth the effort.
The top down perspective scrolling map shows a large, 200 x 300 mile, window with pull down menus under a Windows 3.11 standard bar interface. The window into the entire map which encompasses the entire east coast, and western theater of the Mississippi is divided into optional 15-mile diameter hexes. Units are shown on the map in square counters, which you will swear smell and look like Simulations Publications Incorporated (SPI was a famous war game maker from the 60s and 70s who used paper maps and cardboard counters - Ed.) cardboard.
Game play: The one-week-per-turn, turn-based combat, economic, and political system covers a vast scope. Choices determine the emancipation of slaves, slave troops, bounty for recruits, political campaigning and are much more sweeping in effect than other games about this period. News reports tell of happenings in the world that have impact on the game, including election results, treaties with England and France, riots back home, and other factors that change the outcome of wars, which are often not considered. An apparent glaring omission is a lack of Gettysburg on the game map.
The purpose and effect of many commands and moves is poorly explained in the manual. Many of the normal war game elements have no purpose, such as movement points. Those who are confused by the events are encouraged to spend a lot of time viewing the events in the multimedia CD ROM portion of the game, which was included for just this purpose. Other items left out of the manual are available on the Interactive Magic (IM) website in files written by the designer.
Graphics: The graphic resolution is 256-color 640x480 pixels which is very attractive but pales when compared to some of the three dimensional graphics available. There are no zoom views of animated cannon and men like that seen in TCW or Talonís Battleground series.
Multiplayer: The game has no multiplayer elements, which would increase the fun level of the game playing against one or more humans. We do not know of any plans for multiplayer options
Multimedia CD: Fateful Lightning has 175,000 word historical summary from events that lead up to those of the aftermath of the war. Video clips of reenactments of the epic battles of the war include Pickettís Charge, Hornetís Nest and Stones River. Like TCW there are also dozens of pictures of the war from a variety of sources. Unfortunately, the songs from the war are not included, you will need TCW to hear and sing along to these.
Cheat: Many have reported a stacking error which allows an invincible force of hundreds of thousands to fit into one 15-mile hex. This force can march anywhere and defeat anything. Thankfully, the computer is not astute enough to exploit this bug.
Hints: The Union blockade was effective in the war and is effective in the game. The confederates get an extra boost for using slaves as soldiers.
Tom Chick, www.cnet.com/Gamecenter/Reviews/Civilwar, not recommended
Editors, www.cdaccess.com/html/pc/civilwim.htm, no rating.
Chad Charowhas, www.gamepen.com/softwarepen/pc/civilwar.html, C, (75%)
Jeff lckey, Computer Games Strategy Plus, September, 1996, pg. 78. 4/5, (80%).
Andrew Miller, PC Games, volume 3, number 9, September, 1996, pg. 86, C, (75%).
Andrew Hooper, www.happypuppy.com/pulse/reviews/pc/07_96/civilwar.html.
Al Giovetti, The Civil War, Computer Player, volume 2, number 5, October, 1995, pg. 58-59.