Battleplan: American Civil War – PC Game Review
Passed inspection: Historically accurate, clever command and movement features.
Failed basic: Simple graphics, obscure combat modifiers, no manual.
Osprey, the prolific publisher of military history books, has teamed with The Mustard Corporation to create the former’s first foray into electronic wargames: Battleplan: American Civil War. (Osprey began publishing miniatures wargame rules sets in 2012.—Editor) BACW is described by Mustard’s creative director as a “new kind of strategic simulation game, where’s there’s no resource management or micromanagement…” and “it’s a hybrid…part RTS, part turn-based strategy, and part old-school tabletop wargame. We call it fastplay wargaming.” Now, experienced gamers know that games attempting such a mash-up of genres usually end up falling flat. Does Battleplan do the same?
BACW recreates the Civil War in ten chronologically connected battles. Each battle can be played at three different difficulty levels before progressing to the next. Mustard’s description of BACW as a hybrid RTS/turn-based/tabletop game is more marketing than reality, however. Games run at real time at a ratio on one minute = two hours real time but can be paused at will to give orders. Game speed can be adjusted but only in the options menu (in version 1.3). As for BACW being a “tabletop” game, well, the unit counters are neither miniatures nor standard NATO symbols. They are small squares of approximately 100 men each that move in column and change into double-line formation when engaged. These units march across a rather simple top-down representation of each historical battlefield’s terrain. Rivers, streams, forests, hills, roads, bridges, and fords are represented but even applying the engine’s limited low-angled view doesn’t do much to enhance the engine’s rather crude appearance. It is unclear exactly what effect the terrain has. Although the tutorial indicates that trees and buildings provide cover and both can be destroyed, the firing range circles that appear when units are selected do not appear to be affected by terrain at all. However, terrain does affect unit movement rates. Units moving through forests and across streams slow down noticeably, while moving on a road speeds movement appreciably.
Movement is handled in an unusual way, but is actually quite clever and gives you more control. In most games you select your unit, then click on a destination hex—and then trust the engine’s path-routing algorithm to not lead your men off a cliff. In BACW, you select your unit then hold the mouse button and trace the exact path you want your column to take. Not very realistic for a 19th-century communications system, but very nice if you like total control. Select more than one unit and you may also chose concentric over consecutive movements; very helpful in plotting multi-unit flanking maneuvers. Your infantry can also build pontoons over rivers, enhancing flanking opportunities.
In spite of its simplistic appearance BACW does have a few interestingly advanced features for a wargame that obviously was built for a smartphone/tablet interface. A rudimentary supply system is in force but only for artillery (which can fire for a pitifully short time before exhausting its ammunition). Order a supply unit close to a battery and the battery is automatically resupplied. Commanding generals also apply combat modifiers. Select your general and a command radius circle appears. Units within this circle receive morale and combat modifiers and can be affected by your general’s “rally” command if broken or disrupted. Another clever feature is that commands are sent via couriers, so there is a delay as your messenger travels through the rain of fire—sometimes unsuccessfully—to deliver your orders. Even if your messenger arrives alive, there’s a chance your subordinate commander may ignore or delay depending on his historical level of initiative (aggressive, steady, cautious). This feature in particular adds a bit of uncertainty to your battle plan—which is needed as I have found the AI easy to fool.
To win a battle, you have to occupy and hold an objective, e.g.. Pittsburgh Landing, the Hornet’s Nest, and Shiloh Church at the Battle of Shiloh. This is pretty simple to do as the AI is easily distracted and flanked. Even battles I shouldn’t win, such as playing Albert Sidney Johnson at Shiloh on “regular” difficulty, is an easy win by sending a few thousand cavalry sweeping around the Federal right to take out their artillery. Follow your horsemen with a couple of small brigades and the entire line can be hit from the rear. On your right, cavalry and infantry hug the river and sweep around the Federal left. Before the day is out, your infantry is at Pittsburgh Landing and your artillery is destroying the pontoon bridges, keeping Don Carlos Buell’s troops from crossing to reinforce Grant’s routed army. However, you must take care; capturing a victory objective isn’t good enough, you must also have a unit occupy it at the end of the game to gain credit toward the victory conditions. If you vacate an objective, it’s thrown up for grabs. The enemy doesn’t have to recapture it, only drive you off. I’ve lost more battles to that quirk than through enemy AI.
Battleplan: American Civil War is not a bad game, just too simple for most experienced gamers. Its origins as an iPod game is obvious with its simple graphics, but it does have some interesting features: morale, endurance, command initiative, command radius, couriers, supply, fording, and others that provides some fun. Young adults could enjoy this game. It’s simple, easy to learn, quickly played, and historically accurate. On the minus side of the scale there’s no manual, no stats on weapon/terrain/command modifiers and wonky victory conditions.
Overall, experienced gamers can take a pass and even casual gamers will likely be quickly bored.
Armchair General Score: 63%
About the Author
Neal West is a retired Air Force NCO with an MA in Civil War Military History. He lives in Southern Maryland and was a volunteer at Manassas National Battlefield for over a decade.