by Greg Nichols
Well I made the plunge on this game a few weeks ago and I must say that after several hours of playing it, I can confidently say that this is a monster computer game. And therefore, it's a LONG game. Yeah, you can play short scenarios (1861, 1862, or 1863) but of course the full flavor is in the entire bloody four year struggle. Observations: This is not a game for the casual ACW gamer (probably Sierra's Robert E. Lee: Civil War General would be a better choice). It's a very deep system and you wear many hats. It's characterized as putting you in the chair of Lincoln or Davis and yes, you sit there from time to time but you are also the Secretary of War, Secretary of the Navy, Political advisor, Commanding General on down to Brigade commander and you also run Supply depots. I mean if my job was half as demanding as this game, well I'd be looking harder than I am for a new job. Fighting seems about the last thing you typically do in this system. You spend much of your time figuring out how to supply people (railroad, roads, scavange?) and from where. If you're the CSA player, this is particularly difficult because one has to deal with running cotton and supplies to and from Jamaica or St.George. Building runners to do this and other ships to protect harbors. Then there's all the promoting and demoting up and down the chain of command and where to recruit (and at what level). The supplies are many faceted and your choice of what to arm troops with can be a game in itself. Combat is done quickly and stays at a strategic scale with your only battlefield input being the intensity that your side of the battle will fight at (eg. skirmish, low or medium intensity). Results tell of the numbers dead and weapons captured and the most important info - morale of your side. Lots of draws and inconclusive results are often the report. Many, many factors go into the computation of the battle. Leadership ratings, morale, supply, terrain, weather, who's territory, types and numbers of weapons and on and on. It's a daunting task to have the correct mix of things when going into a battle. The graphics are fair with an acceptable map and many menu screens that use public domain photos from the Library of Congress. Limited sound effects (guns of battle) but a sizable sound track of say 16-18 songs to be played from the cd as you strategize. The menus interface is an obstacle to overcome. This is not an intuitive GUI. You'll be left and right clicking and dragging, popping and opening. Reports are a plenty but take some time to digest. The information is a bit overwhelming and I think more bar graphs along with raw numbers may have been more useful to the gamer. The 80+ page manual has a few useful things in it but getting to them is a task because much of the manual seems to just repeat what's on or in the menus but doesn't do a good job at describing what this means to the bewildered player. The AI seems fair and does a reasonable job (pbem is possible with the system). I'd recommend that the computer play the Union side after the player is comfortable with the system. The Rebs are always harder to play and that is as it should be. You're looking to swing that 1864 election against old Abe as the Southern aggressor so you have plenty of things to accomplish with limit resources. Also, there is a very complete multimedia ACW encyclopaedia that comes with the package and could probably be sold separately. It's a nice bonus. Each product is on a separate cd-rom disk and requires a high-end machine (Pentium; at least 8 megabytes of RAM; double-speed cd-rom drive or better; at least 20 megabytes of hard disk space; and a decent sound card). Conclusion: Overall, I'd say this (the third incarnation of this game)will reward the ACW buff with many hours of interesting play but the player must love to be immersed in the details and full flavor of the war. After the learning curve of the interface is reached, pieces fall into place (but remember, there are lots and LOTS of pieces). To the casual ACW gamer I say - stay away because you probably don't care about the level of detail that this system offers and you won't want to spend the many hours labouring over the many details of the war. (c) Gregory Nichols This review may not be reprinted without the author's permission.
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