HPS Campaign Peninsula – Game Review (PC)
On 31st May 1861 General Joe Johnston launched his attempt to save Richmond, and the Confederacy, by attacking the Union Army of the Potomac under General George B. McClellan arrayed before him at Seven Pines. By close of day, Johnston was severely wounded and off the field and the battle was degenerating into bloody confusion. The following afternoon, as the battle petered out, General Robert E. Lee rode up the Nine Mile Road and into History as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. Twenty five days later Lee launched into a series of bloody battles known as The Seven Days, and a legend was born.
Although named "Campaign Peninsula" this is somewhat of a misnomer, as this game really only covers the Seven Days, rather than the full Peninsula Campaign which commenced at the beginning of April with the siege of Yorktown, but it is no less enjoyable for that.
The Game Mechanics
Many of you will already be familiar with the HPS Civil War Battles Series, which includes 5 other titles, (Corinth, Ozark, Franklin, Gettysburg and Shiloh) and may want to skip this section, but for those of you new to the series I’ll lay out the basics below.
The HPS Civil War Battles Series, designed by John Tiller, is an American Civil War tactical wargaming system allowing the player to re-fight specific campaigns and battles against the computer, or a human opponent. The majority of the game is devoted to the fighting of actual engagements, but it does have an important Campaign element linking the battles together. This is a regimental sized tactical game, with daytime turns covering 20 minutes and hexes 125 yards. The game incorporates 129 scenarios, many being variations on a theme and "what ifs", representing all of the Seven Days battles plus Seven Pines. Also the Campaign element allows for starting from any day in the Seven Days, plus even a "what if" campaign for a resurgent Union attack in July. Scenario length varies from 15 Turns to a massive 407!
An interesting additional feature is the Scenario Editor, which allows the design and creation of new scenarios, either for inclusion in the existing campaigns, or as stand alone. However, there is no Map Editor included, so scenario design is limited to the existing available maps.
The game can be played either in Campaign or Single Battle Mode, depending on the wishes of the player, and I will describe the Campaign Mode first.
Campaigns are played by means of offering players strategic options and then branching to an appropriate battle scenario based on the combined choices they make. There are several/many variations of each campaign scenario and computer selection is random, within the choices available, thereby providing originality of gameplay each time you play. These variations encompass such things as initial placement of units, arrival times of reinforcements, etc., so that there are distinct differences in the way each plays, and strategy required, thus guaranteeing that replaying a campaign again and again never works out the same.
When an engagement is completed, by time limit or agreement, the computer evaluates the win/loss situation and then branches to the appropriate strategic situation where the above process is repeated. Although a Campaign may nominally cover several days, it may conclude earlier if the computer evaluates a strategic win or draw has occurred.
Casualties incurred in battle are carried forward to succeeding engagements, so there is a strong requirement for players to take the longer term view and not allow their forces to be chewed up in minor engagements. This provides an interesting additional element to the game which is lacking in many other single engagement wargames
Single Scenario/Battle Mode
When starting a scenario or campaign battle players choose first from Options covering such things as Fog of War and a variety of modified rules affecting combat results and such.
Unit types comprise Infantry Regiments, Cavalry Regiments, Artillery Batteries, Supply Wagons and Leaders- there are even some gunboats on the rivers, albeit these are effectively floating batteries. Leaders for Brigades/Divisions/Corps/Army are all present, and they, with organizational unit cohesion, play a critical part in the game and combat decisions are based heavily on these.
The game is turn based, although the movement and combat phasing can be interlinked or separate, as chosen. Game play can be controlled by drop down menus, or icon selection, as desired, and unit movement is controlled by mouse, with a number of options available to assist and vary according to preference, and also some use of Hotkeys.
This is not a game where constant attacking, and disregard for the exhaustion and state of your own units, will result in success. Rather this is a game where maneuver and the careful build up of defensive lines and attacking forces, carefully organized in their higher unit formations, supported by adequate reserves and carefully sited artillery, is the way to achieve results. In fact, the way to fight a successful battle is to replicate carefully the approach and methods of the real Civil War Generals! This, and the bold use of maneuver and flanking moves makes for a rewarding and exciting game.
Victory is assessed on achieving set target totals of points, which are awarded for casualties and possession of designated locations.
The HPS Campaign games are all excellent, in my view, but the feel varies considerably depending on the particular confines of the Campaign itself. Peninsula is, by its nature, a more confining game (particularly compared to Gettysburg or Shiloh) in that all battles are fought within a specified area/map, although individual battles may be fought out on smaller segments thereof. There are very large forces involved, with Lee never achieving such numbers again in the war – in fact the Rebs can often have a superiority of numbers on the field, albeit small.
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