Thursday, April 12, 2012

Great Campaigns of the American Civil War

The Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (GCACW) series remains, after ASL, my most often played collection of games.  Since the publication of Stonewall Jackson's Way in 1992 I have remained a devoted follower of Joe Balkoski's inspired operational system.  In the years that have followed, Ed Beach has continuted to develop and refine the project.  In my opinion, there is no better duo than Joe and Ed when it comes to writing concise and understandable rules.  They have proven time and again their individual technical skills by writing some of the most accessible rules of modern wargaming.  Balkoski's inception for the system came about with his 1988 release Lee vs. Grant, which created a blueprint for the command and control model that would be the centerpiece of the series, albeit at a slightly higer unit scale.  Since that time, the system has grown to include almost every major campaign in the Eastern theater and has recently moved out West with the release of Battle Above the Clouds. 

The great enjoyment of the game, as is often said of ASL, is that it creates such memorable narratives in the course of play.  Playing ASL creates a narrative that resonates with people's experience at reading, hearing and watching World War II small unit war stories.  In a similar vein, the GCACW builds an operational narrative that replicates the tensions of Civil War command as we encouter them in army and unit histories from the period.  In spite of being an operational level game, the system smartly relegates logistical concerns to simple procedures and instead places the emphasis squarely on that part of the ACW that we most often consider: the performance of individual corps and army commanders.  As anyone who has ever participated in a discussion of Civil War leaders knows, much blood and ink is spilled by devotees and detractors of the various personalities from the age.  The game system expertly generates these same command controversies by placing the player largely in the role of the army commander.  You too will be elated by Stonewall Jackson pulling off a lengthy flank march or exasperated by Burnside marching all of four miles in one day.  The impuse initiative die roll and variable movement rate subsystems elegantly recreate the tensions found at the army command level of the ACW.  It remains to this day my favorite treatment of the ACW. 

Beginning this week, fellow PAASLite Mike L. has expressed an interest in learning the game and we plan on holding weekly sessions at Games Plus in Mount Prospect, Il.  This week was our first session where we did two quick introductory scenarios: The Race For Spotsylvania from Grant Takes Command and Salem's Church from Stonewall's Last Battle.  My plan is to offer session reports on our weekly confrontations starting soon.

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