PC Game Review: Ageod's American Civil War: The Blue and the Gray
Will Trotter loads up that Springfield and heads for the fields as he takes a look at AGEOD's American Civil War: The Blue and the Gray.
FORGING THE CHAIN OF COMMAND
Much of the “planning phase” of each turn will go into grouping, organizing, and imposing an effective command structure on your “elements” (that’s AGEOD’s term for the individual companies, batteries, squadrons and supply trains that comprise the game’s smallest constituent forces).
As I’ve said, this was a time of technological transitions, and it over-lapped the Napoleonic ideal of generalship-by-personal-example. To a great extent (and even without CNN or Fox News to spread his public persona!) the Commander In Chief’s personal style, charisma, and strategic priorities dictated the posture, mood, and capabilities of his units, and the telegraph vastly extended the radius of his personal influence, so the C.I.C. of an “Army” could influence events many times more distant than would have been the case thirty or even twenty years previous.
It is therefore imperative – in fact, it’s a fundamental pillar of the game’s design – that you take the time to group your “elements” into coherent corps and divisions. Fortunately, AGEOD has made this process as intuitive as possible, and has included a first-rate tutorial devoted entirely to that aspect of the game. I think, at this point, a good hypothetical example of how this works, would be much clearer, and (cough, cough) far less verbose, than a written description of each detail. Let’s assume that…
- You’ve chosen to command the Confederate side.
- One of the main pillars of your overall strategy is NOT to lose control over the Upper Mississippi River, while simultaneously strengthening pro-Richmond sentiment in the State of Kentucky (the CSA’s primary source of sour-mash bourbon, and therefore a strategic prize of the first magnitude!). It’s also a state where pro- and anti-rebellion sentiments are strong and evenly balanced, at least for the first 8-12 months of hostilities. Seizing a couple of Objectives within Kentucky’s borders, and then garrisoning them with troops and commanders who are highly rated for “Police” work (i.e., they make friends with the local inhabitants rather than pillaging their crops and having their rough way with farmers’ daughters in every haystack west of Paducah), could be the tipping point that brings Kentucky back into the Confederate fold, which will confer a great many benefits: supply depots, a large, fresh source of manpower, improved rail and river communications, and a launching pad for devastating cavalry raids into deeper Yankee territory. So this element of your Western Theater strategy is not only sound and historically justified, it’s also a major, multi-stage operation that will progress only by small increments and (almost certainly) your concentration of forces will be interrupted many times by the enemy – the AI may not be von Clausewitz, but isn’t so dumb that it can’t figure out your intentions. To create favorable conditions for this offensive, you’ve been gradually feeding “activated” new units north, ordering them to concentrate around Corinth, MS., where there’s a big enough supply depot to keep them all fed while you wait for the right time to launch your master-stroke.
- As these newly formed and trained “elements” trickle into Corinth from the deep south, the AI – rather like a traffic cop – has been grouping them in loose but appropriate stacks around Corinth. It is now the “Late June, 1861” turn. The message log has finally informed you that most of the units and high-ranking officers gathered around Corinth have been “activated” – i.e., their T.O.& E. stats for ammo, supply, and cohesion are now high enough that you can maneuver and fight them. You DO have the option of just throwing units, willy-nilly, the day they go “active”, in the direction of your objective – Paducah, remember? – but without further cohesion and leadership such a gaggle of raw, inexperienced troops isn’t likely to perform very well, even against raw militia companies (but “raw militia companies”, remember, that are fighting on their home turf!). Your first task as Commander in Chief, then, is to change their “activated” status into “organized”.
- Clicking on Corinth will fill up the horizontal, centrally located “Unit Panel” at the bottom of the main screen, a scrollable array where newly arrived aggregation of “elements” has been assigned a tab, which can be manipulated just like the unit icons themselves. Like a good bureaucratic factotum, the AI had conveniently grouped the largest assortments of full-strength elements under the tab “First Reserve”. That looks like a good place to begin your pre-campaign organizing, so click on it and observe the list of Elements grouped under that “First Reserve” rubric. Ah, yes; very good! You now see 3 infantry battalions (one “heavy” infantry and two ordinary but full-strength “line infantry” battalions; you also see 2 artillery symbols, one for cavalry, and two for dedicated supply wagons. Together, these Elements give you a good foundation on which to flesh-out your first Western Theater Corps, the “mailed fist” outfit of your offensive, you want this corps to be an easily manipulated (a.k.a. “a container” for the strongest Elements now grouped around Corinth.
- To find out if these ARE, in fact, the best Elements for the neighborhood, you’ll need to examine their stats in detail; AGEOD has made that easy, too, since every discrete constituent Element has been assigned its own NATO symbol icon, along with its formal designation, and these are all now conveniently arrayed in a vertical column inside a tall, oblong window to the right of the Display Panel. By clicking on each Element’s NATO symbol in turn, you’ll open a big new window (trust me; this isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds, even in a condensed summary!) where every aspect of that Element’s current status and effectiveness are shown in all the detail you require to judiciously evaluate them. Many of the stats are self-explanatory: “range”, “ammo” (two figures flanking a slash mark, one for the nominal full ammo allotment, the other for the rounds actually on hand at that moment), ditto for “general supplies”; “offensive” and “defensive” fire, etc. For most wargamers, this is nothing new or novel, just a sic common sense convention. Other stats need explanation (which the game will give you, in the form of detailed “tooltips” whenever you position your cursor over any significant image on the map; I suggest you READ THESE CAREFULLY, as they sometimes contain useful hints and suggestions not spelled-out in either the Manual or the Tutorials), such as “Police rating” (a measure of how well-trained that unit is for maintaining security within a newly conquered region; units with high stats easily win the loyalty of local citizens, which translate into more advanced warnings should a Yankee raiding party try to sneak in and attempt to “neck-tie” your railroad lines) and “weight” (which is not a literal measure of poundage, but an indication of how suitable that Element is for riverine movement or transport by rail). And perhaps most vital of all, each Element’s “Cohesion” rating.
- In this hypothetical reorganization, the Second Swamp Rats from Gator’s Breath, Louisiana have Cohesion of “70 / 67” , which basically means they’re good-to-go, with only a handful of men out due to sickness or an overwhelming sudden urge to reconsider their enlistment agreements. After examining each Element in turn, you see that except for the lack of field experience (and the Yankees will be just as raw, of course), all of these Elements are at or close to full strength, trained to a uniform standard (they know which end of a rifle the ball comes out of), and in reasonably stable, disciplined condition. Except for one could-be-fatal weakness: Because each Element lacks a commander, it is burdened with a combat-effectiveness penalty, ranging from 5 % to a woeful 30%. While unattached, leaderless outfits CAN march and fight, they always do so at a disadvantage (unless they’re “Irregular” units intended to be used as bushwhackers, partisan rangers, or “raiders” – all units composed of men who perform better when they’re independent and free to move about as they like. Well, at this time you don’t have any irregular Elements, so it’s time to resume organizing the Regular Elements you DO have.
- Turning back to the Display Panel, you also observe a number of “activated” but currently unemployed officers, including one of three-star rank and several with one or two, and icons identified as “Corps Staff” and “Division Staff”. The ranking three-star general, Aloyshus T. Shotbag, isn’t exactly the Second Coming of Napoleon (he’s 64, gouty, and deaf in one ear; his overall stats are low-ish, if not mired in the bottom twenty per cent; a veteran of both the Mexican and Seminole Wars, nobody’s ever described him as “brilliant”, but he’s known as an honest gentleman and his military career shows at least a general sort of all-around competence, unblemished by any tales of cowardice or reluctance to engage the enemy. And the clincher is his really, really low “Seniority” number, which means he is very well connected politically. In sum, he is no worse than the majority of his likely Yankee opponents, and a good bit sharper than many of them are known to be! If you prevaricate for a month or two, of course, there’s always a good chance someone younger and more able will get promoted, but on the other hand, if you want to reassert Rebel control over Kentucky, you can’t wait that long before making your move. And who knows what sort of puffed-up nincompoop has bribed and weaseled and slithered his way into command up there in Kentucky? Could be a confirmed sot like Grant, or a puffed-up peacock like McClellan! And Shotbag might turn out to be Alexander the Great in comparison to, say, that nakedly ambitious, but notoriously corrupt toad Ben Butler. The matter is settled, then. Shotbag will be named Commander of the Army of the Upper Bluegrass (actually, the game will chose a newly created Army’s name for you; I’m just having a little fun with this…) You’ll know you have the resources to do this when the “Create Army” icon lights up in the Special Orders group of icons, just to the left of the Display Panel, Highlight General Shotbag, the “Army Staff” icon (multiple units can be highlighted by holding down the Control Key whilst clicking on them), and any units, such as Engineers, Signals, Medical, cavalry or heavy artillery, you’d like to retain under Army control, as general reserves or specialists-in-waiting that you can dispatch when and where they’re suddenly needed), then click on “Form Army”. It is done, and the General now wears a “star icon” and a unique “army icon” appears on top of the Display Panel’s right end, every time you’ve highlighted the Army Commander or any of his units.
- One final detail: highlight Shotbag and press the <shift> Key; his radius of command now appears over a large area, and any Stack operating within that area will never suffer an Out of Command Penalty. Now that you know Shotbag, for all his mediocrity, can influence positively the strategy you plan to execute, it’s time to form the Corps that will be the instrument of that strategy. If, for all your coddling of him, Shotbag doesn’t pull the plow, you can easily dismiss him and reform the Army under a better man – be aware, though, that due to his extreme “Seniority” rating, your National Morale will take a pretty nasty hit, although not a permanent one (the public is so fickle!). Don’t let it get you down; Lincoln got used to the slings and brickbats of hostile editorial writers and you will, too. At this particular point in the war, however, action to redeem Kentucky seems imperative, and there IS nobody better than gouty old Shotbag in this whole department of the Confederacy…not yet.