Brother Against Brother – PC Game Review
Brother Against Brother: The Drawing of the Sword. PC game review. Publishers: Matrix Games and Slitherine, Ltd. Developed by Western Civilization Software. Download price: $49.99; Boxed and download: $64.99
Passed Inspection: High historical accuracy, interesting combat system, good replay value.
Failed Basic: High cost, steep learning curve, no real tutorial.
Brother against Brother: The Drawing of the Sword is a highly detailed, historically accurate, turn-based tactical wargame that examines some of the early battles of the American Civil War. The unique combat system allows the player to gain an in-depth look at mid-nineteenth century combat. Further, the game looks at some of the smaller and lesser known battles, like Wilson’s Creek and Williamsburg from the start of the war, instead of diving right into the much overdone Gettysburg or Antietam.
“The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.”
—General Ulysses S. Grant
Battles in the Civil War tended to be very bloody affairs because the linear tactics employed failed to take into account the advanced and devastating nature of the new weapons available, such as the rifled musket. The early battles of the war, like as the First Battle of Manassas (First Bull Run) were also extremely disorganized, as both armies were untrained and inexperienced. As Lincoln told his commanding general before First Manassas: “You are green, it is true; but they are green, also; you are green alike.”
The depth and scope of Brother against Brother is impressive. The maps can be 50 square miles in size with each hex representing approximately 75 yards (meters) of ground. Every fence rail, turn in the road, farmhouse and bend in a creek seems to be depicted.
This attention to detail continues to the various units as well. The basic units of play are infantry and cavalry regiments, which may be split in two, if the player wants. In the smaller battles, individual companies may function as whole units, not just elements of a large formation. The basic artillery unit is the battery. To give an example of the detailed level of modeling, the effects of individual pieces of artillery are taken into account. That is to say if a battery has two different kinds of guns, than the effects of the fire is averaged between those two types of weapons. Also, the units start a battle with a historically accurate level of ammo and men.
The map graphics are nice and clean, without a lot of useless chrome. The player may dial in and out from the tactical map using the mouse wheel. Close-up on the tactical map, the units are depicted as soldiers in the correct formation (column, line, etc). Dialed out from the map and the unit icons switch to standard NATO symbols. There is also a handy strategic map for tracking the entire battle in the lower right half of the screen.
There are twenty-five scenarios in the game: Eight for First Manassas, four for the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, five for the Battle of Mill Springs and two for Mill Springs at Beech Grove, and six for the Battle of Williamsburg. Some scenarios are historical and some are counter-factual, “what if” ones. The scenarios range from a small, two- or three-regiment engagement, like Williamsburg, all the way to the massive division-level battle of First Manassas.
The game has fourteen difficulty levels (yes, fourteen), going from Corporal to full General. The difficulty level affects movement, casualties and morale, and so on. At difficulty levels below Lieutenant-Colonel, units do not misinterpret movement orders. What this means is that at the LTC level and higher the game becomes more historically accurate, as many time during Civil War battles, orders were lost, misinterpreted, or simply ignored by subordinated commanders.
All battles may be played from either the USA or CSA side. There are also hot-seat and Play By E-Mail (PBEM) options.
The game lacks a true tutorial, although one scenario is designated as such. The so-called tutorial battle is really just a regular, small, low-difficulty level scenario without actual directions on how to move and fight. Therefore, reading the extensive game manual first and then playing some of the smaller battles on the lower difficult settings is a must for the player. There are many subtleties to the game that new players will miss if they attempt to dive right in.
The player will soon discover that even at a low difficulty setting the AI can be rather unforgiving, and at the higher levels the AI makes for a worthy opponent.
Brother Against Brother has a unique movement system. The player issues movement and facing orders, but not firing orders. That is to say, the decision to fire and at which unit is left in the hands of the unit commanders and is based on weapons’ ranges and unit facing. Further, players give their divisions marching orders and at the end of that turn, the units than “roll” a check to see if it will obey that order or not. Whither or not a unit follows its orders is highly influenced by the commander’s ratings: having good unit commanders directly determines how well that unit, from brigade on up, performs.
Leadership also effects unit morale; a good unit commander raises a unit’s morale and may rally units more effectively than a poor leader. Players need to watch and mange individual units. Having units drop out of the frontlines to rest, rally and resupply restores their combat power. If the overall morale of an army drops too much, then the whole army will break and rout.
Leaders are represented by small, mounted units of five or so. They move independently from the larger units. Movement and placement of these leaders is important. If a unit is too far from higher headquarters it goes “out of command” and becomes even less likely to obey orders. Further, leaders can be killed, or driven out of position, which may disorder whole echelons of the army.
Supply plays an important part in the game as well. Supply wagons are separate maneuverable units and must be placed properly so that units can resupply as needed. Having the supply wagons out of place, or destroyed, limits resupply and will lower a unit’s combat abilities.
The Bottom Line
While the nearly $50 US dollars price is somewhat steep and mastering the various intricacies of the game is difficult, ultimately, playing Brother Against Brother: The Drawing of the Sword is an engaging and absorbing experience.
Armchair General Rating: 93%
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in History, European History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He continues to use all his education to play more games and annoy his family.