Civil War II: The Bloody Road South – PC Game Review
Passed Inspection: Great graphics, fine AI, exquisite historical detail
Failed Basic: Steep learning curve, long processing time, small font, lack of editor
AGEOD’s Civil War II has established itself as one of the top strategic American Civil War simultaneous-move games. The original release was criticized a bit for resolving turns slowly and limited scenarios. The add-on cum patch, The Bloody Road South, addresses both issues. The game still presents problems for gamers who prefer fast games.
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Drag-and-Drop to Savannah
Robert Mackey’s ACG preview of Civil War II covers the original release’s crucial command structure and new strategic layer very well. Charles Devore’s AAR portrays the strategic, logistical and political concerns of a game in depth. Yet, a word about mechanics may help newcomers. Division, corps and armies are combined or detached by clicking and dragging either on-map icons or tabs in the stack panel. Movement on the map is also click-and-drag to regions and sea zones. Clicking on a unit icon or tab will display that entity’s commanders and regiments with their power and status. Individual commanders can have some of many special abilities within the game, while regiments are rated for 27 factors. Lines show routes to destinations and the time required to reach them. Movement decisions are aided by eight map overlays showing variables such as terrain, supply, control and weather. Movement is not guaranteed, due to commander activation and enemy actions. Additional help comes from the ten-tabbed strategy atlas that allows locating and sorting forces, and shows economic, political and diplomatic options as well. A button brings up regiments available for recruitment while another button shows 24 possible regional decisions ranging from raising and using guerillas to improving infrastructure. All of these features are presented in pleasing graphics, although the tooltip text could be better than darkish blue on black. All actions and features can be activated via on-screen buttons and icons or through shortcut keys.
The 129-page PDF manual is clear and thorough and includes a list of shortcuts. The three tutorial scenarios cover the basics well but another could have delved into more advanced topics, including naval warfare and off-map movement. Charles Cummings’s video tutorials on YouTube provide excellent insight into strategy as well as game mechanics. Players are also advised to read the “What’s New” PDF in the game folder. Patch 1.02 introduced six new regional decisions: cavalry screen, build depot, spies, disinformation, deep recon and sabotage railways along with many other enhancements and fixes. Patch 1.03 improved the AI and game balance along with minor unit and infrastructure additions. Public beta patch 1.04 RC4, http://www.ageod-forum.com/showthread.php?35072-Public-Beta-Patch-1-04-RC4 continues the tidying up process.
Making the Game Shorter than the War
The one Strategic scenario covering the entire conflict in the original release could play out for 114 turns, giving even the most devoted American Civil War buff pause before taking it on. Gamers often have lives away from their games. With The Bloody Road South, AGEOD has addressed this issue by introducing two new battle scenarios (Gettysburg and Atlanta), two one-theater campaign scenarios and three Grand Campaign scenarios. The latter cover both the Eastern and Western theaters but each begins in a different year, thus staggering the possible length of the game. The battle scenarios are a slight misnomer as they represent short campaigns. The victory conditions for them are misleading as the Gettysburg text says the Confederates can win by controlling Gettysburg, when they actually must take Washington and Baltimore. Players are advised to check out the objectives tab at the start of play.
The battle scenarios are short: five turns for Gettysburg and eleven for Atlanta. Recruitment and decisions play no part, leaving only movement and combat. At the lowest levels of the four AI competencies, these battles are walkthroughs for players. Matters get tougher at the higher levels as the AI learns to concentrate and defend or attack objectives. George Meade gathers the Army of Potomac quickly at higher AI levels and Joe Johnston can do a better job of keeping William Tecumseh Sherman off balance before Atlanta. However, neither scenario deals with regional decisions or recruitment—they are both “come as you are” games concentrating on combat and movement with some command and control elements.
The two single-year campaigns use the engine’s entire repertoire. Both start in 1862 but have different end dates. The West Campaign ends in February of 1863 while the East Campaign can go on into 1867. (ACG asked about this “extended” campaign and were told historic events end after December 1865 but there is no limit to the number of turns and, hence, no time limit.–Ed.) The West Campaign consists of 24 turns and focuses primarily on Union attempts to control Tennessee and Confederate moves to block the North in Tennessee while attempting to regain Missouri. River gunboats and transports are crucial to the Union while the South will want to create partisan units to harass the Yankee rear areas and even mine a river. Play also can be spread to New Mexico and Arizona. The North can use its force like a bludgeon but the South should be like a fencing master, looking for opportunities to distract the enemy and to deliver rapid blows.
The East Campaign represents the long game. Its 117 turns begin with George B. McClellan’s move to the Peninsula to take on Joseph Johnston, who is defending Richmond. The North’s overall goals are to take the eastern seaboard and Richmond while the Rebels try to prevent this and maintain control of the Mississippi. Due to its length, all of the game’s features come into play: unpopular political moves such as the draft may have to be used, infrastructure must be maintained for the economy, diplomacy should be used on the European powers and blockades established or broken. The Union must become an amphibious creature to take coastal areas, and the Confederacy may resort to raids and sabotage to halt the Yankee juggernaut. With the exception of the first year of the war and the Far West, this campaign is quite like the huge Grand Campaign.
The two-theater Grand Campaigns have the usual goals of the North overwhelming the South and the South hoping to erode Yankee morale by surviving, embarrassing Abraham Lincoln and inflicting heavy casualties. The beginning point of each, though, indicates good historical sensibility by the designers, in that each begins with the most important operations for that year. The 1862 Grand Campaign is called “Struggle for the Heartland” and revolves around control of the border states of Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky. Kentucky is particularly tricky as it’s initially neutral with both sides trying to woo it. The 1863 Grand Campaign (“Triumph & Defeat”) of 67 turns has the Union trying to gain the coast and take Vicksburg with the Confederates countering with demoralizing invasions of the North. The 42-turn 1864 Grand Campaign, “Bloody Road South,” covers Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland campaign, Sherman’s march through Georgia and Lincoln’s re-election. The South can overcome Union might by winning enough battles to insure Lincoln’s defeat. Naturally, taking important Northern cities is also a plus.
By adding smaller campaigns that don’t overwhelm gamers with their length but still use the engine’s plethora of features, The Bloody Road South makes this extraordinary series more accessible. Newcomers might still be daunted by all the options but a little patience will yield grand rewards in terms of education and fun.
Armchair General Rating: 89%
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad.