Brother against Brother – The Drawing of the Sword Review

By James Cobb 15 Jun 2015 0

Western Civilization Software’s Forge of Freedom is the best grand strategy game of the American Civil War, delving into all aspects of nations at war. However, the tactical mode is extremely abstract. The developer seeks to remedy this with a tactical game, Brother against Brother –The Drawing of the Sword. However, the computer gaming pool is crowded with tactical American Civil War games. What would make this game float or not be eaten by the sharks?

 

A Graphical Work in Progress

This game is a regimental level turn-based depiction of the early battles of the war. Gameplay was roundly appreciated but the map was disparaged for being crowded and messy. The developers have worked on graphics since the problems appeared on forums. Patch 1.05 and beta patch 1.06 have improved unit graphics some but unit icons are uniform and bland. Union infantry form in columns and lines of blue and confederate troops look the same in grey. Skirmishers are shown as small figures at the bottom of the hex. Calvary and headquarters have horses while artillery has blurry cannon. Big red or green check marks indicate movement status, marring the clarity of troop icons. Another option uses NATO chits, always shown at zoomed out levels. Each brigade, division and army - called “echelons” - has its own colored symbol: square marks for combat units and circles for commanders. Clicking on a commander shows his command range as a brown outline.  A missed graphic opportunity is the omission of the colorful uniforms early battles had:  no Zouaves here. Animation is acceptable with fire issuing from firearms and cannon. Accumulated gun smoke obscures line of sight, leaving haze on the map. If turned on, rain can be seen falling on the sides of the screen in certain scenarios. Casualties are visualized by red digits floating from stricken units.

 

             

Union infantry form up near Wilson’s Creek. Note the red check marks indicating units that have moved.

 

     

Zoomed in, the artillery pieces are hard to see but the echelon colors are clear.

 

     

Confederate cavalry waiting for the Yanks are clear enough.

 

  

Chits show Union position early in the Wilson’s Creek fight.

 

     

Floating red numbers show units’ casualties.

 

The zoomable map is rural with some buildings that were important in the battle. Fields, streams, fences, trees and other foliage are displayed clearly as are redoubts and other field works. Victory hexes are pulsating stars and black stars denote units out of command. Units running low on supply also pulsate. Yellow questionmarks have historical notes – interesting but cluttering a crowded map. Ridges and ravines can be discerned from the map but their effects can only be understood by looking at an information area to the upper left. This area shows the kind of terrain and elevation. The same area yields information on units under the mouse. Unfortunately, this information is presented in small white font, making it opaque over light map colors.

 

  

A confederate encampment looks very sleepy.

 

The Bloody Hill victory hex is being approached by an out-of-command Union regiment.

 

Selecting units makes the map come alive with cyan hexes indicating possible movement with facing at movement’s end, white crosses for hexes the unit can see and crosses in the white circle for hexes where the unit can fire. Mousing over a possible destination shows how many movement points a unit will have left after moving there. Other symbols are big red hexes denoting areas prohibiting movement and enemy national flags for enemy units suspected but not clearly identified.

 

           

A cavalry regiment will have 41 movement points left if it moves to this hex. Enemy units prevent from moving on the hexes with red Xs but it could fire into hexes with the white circled crosses.

 

Sound is the usual tramp of men to drumbeats, rumble of wheels and the clip-clop of horses. Artillery booms and rifles rattle. When present, rain sounds like bacon frying and can thankfully be turned off. Voice acting is very nice with formation changes called out and combat sequences sprinkled with orders like “Aim low!” and “Hip, Hip, Huzzah!”  Music is nice but loud.

Yet, terrain and unit features show only a third of the information necessary to play. The crucial data is visible by info bars, sliding panels and right clicks. The three areas on top of the screen show each side’s strength in cavalry, infantry and artillery as well as players’ forces’ average morale and breaking point along with victory hex scores. Stretching across the bottom of the screen is a control bar. The first part of this bar has six data points: the unit’s manpower, morale, available movement points, number of junior officers, supply and weapon effectiveness at different ranges. A picture of the unit’s weapons is next and clicking on it brings up the weapons’ information. Symbols indicating a unit’s special abilities such as “shooters” or “dreaded” appear next. Following the unit commander’s portrait is a series of buttons for commands to the unit.  Infantry can be ordered into column, line or skirmishers. Cavalry can go from column to line and dismount. Artillery deploy from column into line with an order to concentrate fire on enemy cannon. Infantry and cavalry units can also be ordered to charge from this bar. Other orders are forced march, entrench, split into two battalions and surrender. These orders use movement points including the order to change facing.

 

          

Information about units ‘weapons abound along with other information.

 

       

Right click on an identified enemy unit yields some intelligence.

 

Stacked above the control bar are the unit’s brigade, corps/division and army commanders’ portraits. Biographical information on commanders may be present. Mousing over their portraits shows six capabilities such as initiative and tactical savvy. Another button by brigade commanders’ portraits is an option to change any of the seven brigade orders. Running along the top of the control bar are fifteen buttons that create map overlays depicting units’ health, command status, brigade order and other game information. Many of these options can be accessed via hotkeys.

Another innovation is the sliding roster panel on the left side of the screen. The first click shows all units with their echelon colors with commanders’ names in blue along with their command status. Clicking on a name or a regiment brings the cursor to the unit’s map location. Clicking on the gold arrows expands the panel to show the units’ strength, morale, movement points and supply status. A similar panel details reinforcements.

 

     

The orders of battle show every unit and commander.

 

All this data and rules make the learning curve daunting. The manual consists of 214 pages with 77 devoted to the game and the rest are descriptions of the battles.  Although detailed, the manual is written in a form of legalese. Fortunately, a very good tutorial comes with hints under question marks on the map. Another great way to learn is to watch Erik Rutins’ excellent walkthrough at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJI9L2yh9uE .

 

Everybody’s Green and Clueless

Using a scale of twenty minutes per turn and seventy-five yards per hex, the game presents Manassas/First Bull Run, Williamsburg, Wilsons Creek and Mill Springs. If this selection seems sparse, remember that the battles can have anywhere from four to nine scenarios and variations, including alternate history and different phases of the fights. Modding is possible using the guide at http://www.matrixgames.com/forums/tm.asp?m=3873728 .

Although manipulating regiments, players should focus on brigades and corps. Command and control is the heart of this game, making the chain of command crucial. Units need to be in the brigade commander’s range of control; those commanders should, in turn, be in their superior’s command range. Out-of-command units suffer activation, movement, morale and combat penalties. On the other hand, commanders can boost morale and give special commands. Most of these commands are brigade level. Of seven brigade orders, the ones used most are “advance” for moving with some firing and “assault” for more consistent fire. Individual units can go in with bayonets using the “charge” button. Other brigade orders are “march/column”, “hold”, “withdraw”, “rally” and the risky “mass charge”, sending the entire brigade in. Chances for any of these orders and formation changes succeeding depend on the number of junior officers in the unit and fifteen difficulty levels; at Lt. Colonel and up, units may simply go their own way. The “urge unit” command boosts unit morale and discipline and adds movement points. Corps/division commanders pinpoint an enemy unit for several units to attack using “focus hex” and “division coordination: will, after a turn or two, give divisions more movement points and better discipline. Army commanders can chivvy divisions along with “speed divisions” and check on a hex ten hexes away with “send scouts”.

 

       

Picking the right brigade order determines the game.

 

The reason these preparatory orders are important is that, after clicking “end turn”, players become spectators. Units move and fire at targets of opportunity and receive reaction fire. Combat results include casualties, loss of morale and ammunition, withdraw, disorder, panic and rout. Morale usually begins at 2.5 or 2 but losses can drive this to a breaking point somewhere below 1. Larger units’ morale is less affected by loss. Units can be rallied by commanders. Stationary units inflict more damage after targeting the same unit more than once. Charges should only be made on demoralized enemies with victorious units sometimes occupying the hex of retreating units. Other events are random such as lucky shots killing officers or blowing up supply. Each attack, denoted by lines to targets, can be seen during a turn with descriptions of what happened and a string of combat modifiers. Optionally, only the end of turn combat report can be shown. This report is important because not only does it show individual actions but accumulated losses per side, signs pointing to which side will break first and lose. The AI or PBEM opponent then goes through the same ritual. Messages on causalities appear on the map.

 

        

The first half of a combat report lists units engaged.

 

        

Scrolling down shows why things turned out as they did along with that action’s losses and total casualties.

 

  

When something special occurs, a soldier explains. The headline is under the pop-up.

 

In conclusion

Brother against Brother –The Drawing of the Sword’s emphasis on morale, leadership and discipline is perfect for describing the trials and tribulations of early war leaders. The fragility of formations from army to regiment is accurate and the mechanics and AI are fine, although an “Undo” button would be welcome. A few more swipes at graphics and the game will rise to the top of its genre.

 

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, Grogheads and Gamesquad.

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