Gaming Conventions

Gaming Conventions

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Gaming Clubs/Organizations

Gaming Clubs and Organizations

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Spotlight Articles

Outstanding articles that are not necessarily linked to one particular game, but may have broad appeal to gamers.

Electronic Cardboard v2.1

Spotlight Article Graphic

Resurrected by designer Rich Hogen, "Electronic Cardboard" was originally conceived as a Game Assist Program (GAP) for the Play-By-Electronic-Mail (PBEM) community. It was created to address the need for non-destructive overlay of bitmaps atop bitmaps. Although features are based on gaming needs, EC may be universally useful for overlaying tasks.
In the modern computing environment EC can be used in conjunction with Netmeeting or Webex or similar desktop sharing software to play a game in real time, i.e. synchronously. Gaming references in this Help file assume asynchronous play (e.g. PBEM).

Poster: Mark D.
Post Date: 9/16/2017


Great source of publication and knowledge about the British aviation.

Spotlight Article Graphic

Was searching about air wargames and found this site with very interesting publications and stories about the war aviation. Will keep it in my bookmarks. Happy reading!

Poster: Yannick Stoneage
Post Date: 9/14/2017


Atomic Games Legacy: Video #1

Spotlight Article Graphic

First video in a series covering the incredible wargaming legacy left by Atomic Games. This first video covers the creation of Atomic Games in 1989 and the development and release of their first game in the V for Victory series, D-Day: Utah Beach. Videos produced by Ikrananka for his YouTube Channel...

Poster: Mark D.
Post Date: 9/7/2017


Lexington & Concord 1775

Spotlight Article Graphic

What is "The Myth of the Embattled Farmer"? Jeff Berry, in his Obscure Battles blog, examines the fascinating details behind Lexington & Concord, and shows how circumstances actually "… gave the 'embattled farmers' an overwhelming tactical victory in this first battle."

Poster: Doug Holt
Post Date: 8/30/2017


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Grognard Originals

In addition to our links to great content all around the internet, expect to see more Grognard.com "originals" in the future.

Fifth Corps: NATO Player Aid sheet (PDF)

NATO player aid sheet that allows for tracking of Electronic Warfare Points, Air Points, Tactical Nuclear Points and the locations of Hidden Static Territorial Units. Created by Mark D. for Grognard.com.

Fifth Corps: Warsaw Pact Player Aid sheet (PDF)

Warsaw Pact player aid sheet that allows for tracking of Electronic Warfare Points, Air Points and Tactical Nuclear Points for the Warsaw Pact player. Created by Mark D. for Grognard.com.

Perfect Opening - Axis Strategy for Leningrad '41

"Perfect"? We'll see about that... Mark D. pens a strategy article proposing a series of moves that the Axis player should make on the first Impulse of the July 1941 game turn. Whether the moves turn out to be perfect or not, Leningrad '41 is a fun and challenging game and is highly recommended for newbies and grognards alike.

Academy Games Announces a New Game!

Uwe Eickert, of Academy Games, announces a new game at the 2017 Origins Game Fair...

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S T U V W X Y Z 0-9

The U.S. Civil War: Comparison


Civil War: Then and Now

A Brief Comparison of Victory Games' "Civil War" and GMT Games' "The U.S. Civil War"


The U.S. Civil War - Comparisons - title image
by Mark D.  *  21-Dec-2015

May the Better Game Win


When I first heard that GMT Games had plans to re-release a Civil War game based on the 1983 classic "The Civil War: 1861-1865" originally published by Victory Games, I was in hog heaven. I'm a huge Victory Games fan, and "The Civil War" has always been 3rd on my all-time favorite wargames list, right behind "Vietnam: 1965-1975" at #2 and "The Korean War" at #1 (both also published by Victory Games). I thought for sure what they had in mind was to use "The Civil War's" unofficial 3rd edition rulebook (compiled by the Wargame Academy), and give the components a major facelift. Which would have been just perfect because my original copy of "The Civil War" is just about worn out from excessive usage. But that's not what happened...

Veteran designer Mark Simonitch, also a big fan of "The Civil War" and "We the People", decided to incorporate some elements from both those games while charting his own course for the new game. While the overall experience of playing Mark's new Civil War game was not terrible, one couldn't help but draw unfavorable comparisons to the Victory Games classic (except for the component quality, which is stellar).

I only have two games of "The U.S. Civil War" under my belt, so I'm the first to say that I really haven't given it a full and fair hearing. I may grow to thoroughly enjoy it as a separate and distinct Civil War gaming experience. But, as compared to the 1980's predecessor, it leaves much to be desired.

In this article, I will list some of the differences between the two games and give my opinion as to which I prefer and why. It's not an attempt to provide an exhaustive list of differences; just the ones that are important to me. This article assumes that players are somewhat familiar with some of the game concepts and will not go into a detailed explanation of game mechanics.

Leaders


Some of the most glaring differences in rule sets appear in the treatment of leaders. Leader effectiveness, promotion and demotion process, method of becoming casualties, and overall purpose has been changed dramatically.

Leader Casualties
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
Every time a leader takes part in combat, he risks being wounded or killed. If he nevers commands in battle, he'll never risk becoming a casualty; but he won't be much use either. Leaders become casualties on a strict historical schedule, which both players are aware of at the start of the game.
Opinion: The Victory Games method results in a lot more variability from game to game. For example, although the Union will want Grant promoted to 4-star rank as quickly as possible, each combat risks getting him killed. This is a far more realistic situation, although it may lead to less historical results. Remember that, in both these games, the players actually fill the roles of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, so the worry of not knowing if your best battlefield commanders might get themselves killed should always be present.

Otherwise you end up with ridiculous circumstances such as planning your next moves based on the fact that you know your opponents commander is going to be dead the following turn.
Leader Promotions and Demotions
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
In order to be promoted, leaders must first take part in a combat, which risks the leader being wounded or killed (see "Leader Casualties", above). To demote, or replace, an army leader, there is a penalty in the form of Command Point expenditure (2 CP). Leaders are promoted on a strict historical schedule. Both players know exactly when these promotions, demotions and replacements will happen. There is no decision for the player to make, and therefore no consequence or cost for a demotion/replacement.
Opinion: The Victory Games method is far superior. One of Abraham Lincoln's thorniest problems was ego management of his senior commanders. The army was as political as any other government institution of the time, and a leader demotion of any army commander would not happen without consequences. Politial consequences severe enough that Lincoln thought long and hard before using this prerogative, to the detriment of the war effort. This dynamic is completely absent from the GMT version. While the 2 CP penalty for demoting/replacing an army commander may not seem like much, understand that you can move and initiate combat with an entire army under Lee, Grant or any other 2-rated leader for the same cost that you'll pay to demote an army commander.
Leader Initiative
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
To activate a leader for movement/combat, there is an associated Command Point cost (appearing on the leader counter) ranging from 2 to 4. The better leaders, like Lee and Grant, only cost 2 to activate. More cautious, or less capable leaders cost as many as 4 CP to set in motion. Again, this accurately reflects the problems that Lincoln faced in getting his commanders to take the fight to the enemy. In addition, no combat strength points are allowed to move into enemy territory without a leader, so good leaders are worth their weight in gold. Leaders all cost 1 Action Point to activate for movement/combat. There are a (very) few leaders identified as "cautious" who require 2 Action Points to activate, but only if potentially moving into contact with the enemy; they may activate for 1 Action Point otherwise. But it is not a serious impediment to either army. As an example, it costs the same Action Point expenditure to set Union General Rosecrans in motion as it does General Grant. In addition, up to 3 combat strength points are eligible to move, even in to enemy territory, without any leader at all.
Opinion: Once again, I prefer the Victory Games method. The ability for the Union player to move combat strength points into enemy territory without leaders just throws the game balance completely out of whack in my opinion. In both the game and actual history, the number of troops the Union could field exceeded those of the Confederacy. This numerical advantage just got more and more exaggerated as the years went by. What allowed the Confederacy to function as effectively as it did, for as long as it did, was good leadership, plain and simple. By allowing the Union to have combat units, representing up to 15,000 troops, run around leaderless and combat-effective tilts the game too much in favor of the North. The Victory Games method makes you feel the same frustration that Lincoln did, being unable to get his armies to move and fight at his command. No matter how badly you want General Halleck to get his army on the move, the 4 Command Points that it costs to activate him will make actual motion a rare occurrence...
Leader Combat Effectiveness
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
An army commander (i.e. 3 or 4-star leader) has three ratings printed on his counter: 1) Initiative Rating - e.g., Command Point cost to activate, 2) Army Command Rating which determines the # of re-rolls he may call for in combat (or the # of re-rolls he must concede), and 3) Tactical Rating which determines die roll pluses (or minuses) in combat. While the tactical rating may force a +/- 1 or 2 to the die roll, which is helpful in winning battles, the army commander re-roll options are much more important. 3-star leaders have separate offensive and defensive ratings that range from 0 to +2. There is no concept of a re-roll option.
Opinion: I prefer the Victory Games method, hands down. This is probably the one area that I feel most impacted the overall balance of the new game. In the new GMT version, the only difference between Robert E. Lee and any of the Union 3-star generals (except Grant) is a +1 on the combat die roll, which does not make Lee the rock star he was in history and in the Victory Games version. In both game versions, the Union player has numerical superiority in the vicinity of Washington DC. The difference is that, in the GMT Games version, the Union player is not really all that worried about Lee invading the north or attacking Washington. While in the Victory Games version, the Union player is terrified to move a single strength point out of the Washington fortifications until much further along in the game. Lee's Army Command Rating of 3 (i.e. # of re-roll options) means that after each combat roll, he is allowed to re-roll his die up to 3 times to achieve a more preferable result! Add to that Lee's ability to cheaply Rally his troops and then immediately attack again (forbidden by the new GMT rules), and THAT is how Eric Lee Smith (designer of the Victory Games version) baked into the game Lee's ability to take on numerically superior enemy forces and win time and time again.

However, I do like the GMT version's separation of Offensive and Defensive capabilities, which allows for a particular leader's strengths and weaknesses to be more accurately reflected.
It seems as if certain aspects of the new game were designed to mimic history as closely as possible, which would explain the fixed time table for Leader casualties, promotions, etc. In my opinion, the leader events should have been left variable, as they were in the Victory Games version, but the historical time table could have been presented as an option for those who want to test their mettle given the exact same conditions as the real Civil War leaders faced.

Game Turn Structure


Both games use the concept of Action Phases which form the heart of the movement/combat portion of the game turn. The amount of activity that may occur during a single Action Phase is based on the "dice difference" between the two players die rolls (2d6 in the Victory Games version; 1d6 in the GMT). The player with the higher roll wins the "Initiative" for the Action Phase (gets to move first) and the amount of activity that may be conducted is governed by the "difference" in the die rolls.

Action Phases
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
A game turn is constructed of an variable number of Action Phases. A single turn could go on for quite a while, and could end very abruptly. There is no certainty as to the duration of the game turn. The game turn is fixed at 4 Action Phases. This could possibly be extended by card play.
Opinion: I much prefer the Victory Games method. The variability introduced by the Action Cards in the GMT version does not produce the same strategic tension that is present in the Victory Games version. With the GMT version, you get four Action Phases per game turn. Period. And you may hold a maximum hand of 5 Action Cards. So, at the very most, you will be allowed 9 activations. And your opponent knows this. In the Victory Games version, every time you roll a tie during the "dice difference" roll, one of two things will happen: 1) you will be awarded more Command Points and the game turn is extended, or 2) the game turn will end immediately. In the first instance, your seemingly exhausted opponent will now be flush with new vigor (in the form of new Command Points). So you always have to prepare for this possibility. Conversely, in the second instance, the game turn is immediately over and all your careful plans for the turn are done, and you forfeit any remaining Command Points.

I'm not sure which version makes for a more historically accurate game... but I know for sure which makes for a more exciting game.

Supply


Both games have pretty basic Supply rules. It only gets a bit tricky when trying to determine who controls certain key hexes like railroads and towns.

Supply Determination
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
A unit's Supply status is determined just before it is activated for movement, and maintains that supply status throughout its activation. For defenders in combat, supply status is determined just before the attacker enters the defender's hex. Also, Confederate Supply efficiency is linked to northern success with Blockading southern ports. As the north shuts down more and more ports, the efficiency of southern actions is reduced. For example, the command point cost to build a fort will be increased; the movement point allowance of all forces is reduced by 1; tracing of supply lines is more restricted, etc. Supply is determined during a distinct Supply Segment, which occurs at the end of the game turn's Activation Phase. This game also has rules for diminishment of the Confederate War Industry and Blockade Running, but those effects are felt by the southern player in different ways (i.e. mainly in reduced reinforcements).
Opinion: It's a close call, but I prefer the GMT Games version. I find it a bit more complicated because it has two different levels of supply; Limited Supply and Full Supply. But it also streamlines the "control" rules along railroads, and supply line tracing in a way that I find very intuitive. It also eliminates the need to place control markers all over the place, as is often the case with the Victory Games version.

Resource Allocation


The Victory Games version uses the concept of Command Points (CP) that are used to initiate all activities such as activating leaders/troops, building forts, Rallying, etc. The process by which these Command Points are acquired and allocated is a key component of the game. The new GMT version does not use Command Points at all, but relies on assignment of Action Points instead which serve a similar function.

Command Points
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
Each Game Turn, both players are given the opportunity to secretly identify each of the three Theaters (East, West, Trans-Mississippi) as their Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary focus for the following game turn. The Primary theater will receive the lion's share of the Command Points allocated, and the Tertiary theater will receive the least. There is no formal method of resource allocation. Both players are free to spend the "dice difference" in Action Points in any theater they want (except in cases of a dice difference of zero, in which case they may spend one Action Point in each of the three theaters).
Opinion: I prefer the Victory Games method. The GMT Games process does not allow the Confederate player to really put emphasis on the Trans-Mississippi theater. Although it's true that the GMT Games rules technically allow a player to spend all of his actions in the Trans-Mississippi, without a corresponding ability to heavily reinforce that theater (see "Reinforcements", below), there would really be nothing to spend the action points on!

I really like the mechanic of secretly allocating resources each turn. It added even more strategic tension and allowed for breakthrough in a theater that may not have been anticipated by your opponent. Is having a major Confederate breakthrough in the Trans-Mississippi realistic? Not sure. But it's definitely great fun!

Reinforcements


Reinforcements are allowed in both games and, not surprisingly, the Union's reinforcement schedule is a lot more aggressive than the Confederacy. But there are significant differences in how they are apportioned and deployed.

Reinforcement Assignment
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
Both Union and Confederacy have a static number of reinforcement strength points assigned for each game turn at the beginning of the the game, which are indicated on the Reinforcement Availability Track. Both sides therefore know how many reinforcements will be coming, and when. However, reinforcements are brought on to the map during the course of the game turn. Each point of "dice difference" may be used to either spend Command Points or to bring in Reinforcements. The Union has a static number of reinforcements available for each game turn. Confederate reinforcements are not static, but rather are keyed to Confederate control of southern Build Point (BP) hexes, as well as control of Border States and success in Blockade Running.
Opinion: I prefer the Victory Games method. First of all, I prefer bringing in reinforcements throughout the game turn rather than having them all appear in one shot during a "reinforcement phase". This gives you more flexibility in responding to evolving situations. In addition to reinforcements earmarked for the "East", "West" and "Trans-Mississippi" theaters, the Victory Games version also has a "Discretionary" reinforcements category. These discretionary reinforcements can be placed in any theater, without restriction. In the GMT Games version, every turn the Union gets 2 reinforcement strength points in the Trans-Mississippi theater and the Confederacy gets 1. That's a fixed 2:1 reinforcement ratio and you don't have to be a math wiz to figure out how things end in the Trans! But with Discretionary Reinforcements (and discretionary Resource Allocation, above), the Confederacy has a fighting chance in the Trans-Mississippi theater.

I do believe that the GMT method of linking Confederate reinforcements to control of cities, arsenals, ports, etc., also works very well. But I just hate the fact that the Union is not given discretionary reinforcements that could be placed in any theater, even the Trans-Mississippi, followed up by discretionary Resource Allocation that will allow him to actually move and fight with those units. Instead there is a mandate to place 6 strength points in the East, 6 strength points in the West (further restricted to 3 in Ohio/Indiana and 3 in Illinois), and 2 strength points in the Trans-Mississippi, which I feel is too constraining.

Again, I can't say whether or not the Victory Games method makes the game more believable as a simulation, but it surely makes it a lot more fun...

Naval Rules


Both games showcase Naval rules that are more than just an afterthought. Naval activity is a key component of a winning strategy for the Union, and the Confederacy's ability to stave off Union naval supremacy is critical for Southern survival.

Naval Rules
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
There are a number of naval units of varying types: Ocean-going, Riverine, Iron Clads, Transports, etc., that have strength points just like the ground units. 1 point of Naval transport is required to move 1 strength point of infantry, for example. Naval units are required for the key tasks of port and river control. While there are a number of different types of naval units, including some that don't exist in the Victory Games version (such as Naval Batteries), the capacities are more abstracted.
Opinion: This is another close call, but I prefer the GMT Games version. The full (and optional) naval rules are no more complicated than the Victory Games version. But what tips the scales for me is that the GMT Games version has a "Basic" set of Naval Rules that is completely abstract and does not require the use of any physical naval units at all. It's not that I mind the more advanced naval rules, but if the game's outcome is not skewed terribly by the elimination of naval units and rules, I say why not opt for simplicity?

I don't have enough experience with the game to say for certain that the "basic" naval rules don't skew things, but I'm certainly evaluating the possibility...

Forts/Fortresses


Fortresses (in the old game) or Forts (in the new) are strong defensive structures that enhance a force's ability to defend a hex. Both games have multiple levels of defensive structures.

Fort/Fortress Effect on Combat
Civil War (Victory Games) U.S. Civil War (GMT Games)
There are Entrenchments, which are hastily built defensive works, and Fortresses, which are more permanent and elaborate. Some Fortresses are printed directly on the game map and are permanent. Others can be constructed as an upgrade to an existing Entrenchment. This game also contains Entrenchments and Forts, but the Forts have multiple levels of defensive strength (designated as "F1", "F2" and "F3" Forts).
Opinion: In general, I like GMT Games fortification rules better. They contain all the same basic rules as the old game, but introduce the new concept of multiple levels of Fort strength, which models Civil War fortress construction more accurately (as far as I can tell). However, the enhanced Fort rules are just nullified by the new combat rules! In the Victory Games version, a defender in a supplied Fortress is never required to retreat. In the GMT game, a force in a Fort that loses a battle is required to retreat from it just as if the battle took place out in the open! A force can even be Overrun while inside a Fort!

It makes the costly effort of building Forts a lot less attractive. I think this was a huge oversight in the new rules and hope that some future errata corrects it.

Summary


I am not a Civil War expert. Not even a Civil War buff. It was the Victory Games game that drew me to become more interested in the conflict; not the other way around. But you don't have to be a Civil War expert to express a preference about a wargame system. And, at this point, my preference is clearly for the original Victory Games version. I'm really not trying to influence anyone's opinion about the new GMT version, other than to make it clear that "it's not your father's Civil War game". If you are expecting a spiffed up version of the Victory Games classic, you will be sorely disappointed. This is a very different game. There are many, many other rules differences that I didn't even mention. The combat charts and calculations are completely different and the rules regarding movement and combat across navigable rivers are completely different. But I didn't feel that either of these altered play balance to any significant degree.

I'm sure that the game was thoughfully designed and I know it was playtested by far more experienced gamers than I. But I'm just not crazy about it, so far. In the games I've played, or seen played, the Confederacy has not lasted past mid-1862. I have read a few tidbits here and there that explain some of the subtleties of the game and express opinions that if you are seeing the results that I'm seeing then "you just don't understand how to play the game". Maybe so. But I've never had a problem making a competitive game playing either side with the Victory Games original...

I'd be very interested to hear other players experiences playing GMT's recent title "The U.S. Civil War". It's entirely possible that I'm misinterpreting the rules or missing some other vital piece of information, and I'd certainly like to hear about that. So please feel free to email me and let me know.


[I mentioned it earlier, but it's worth repeating: this comparison used the unofficial 3rd edition rules for the Victory Games version that can be found on the Wargame Academy web site. In my opinion, this rule set fixed the small number of problems that were present in the original rules, and should always be used for competitive play.]