The Best American Civil War Strategy Games17 Oct 2019 15
Wargame developers love the American Civil War, with its romantic notions of 'brother against brother' and the development of warfare from line battles to quasi-trench warfare slugfests. It probably also helps that a lot of war game designers are American. There are plenty to choose from over the years, so here’s some of Wargamer’s favorite American Civil War digital strategy games to make your choice easier.
John Tiller Software did a series called Civil War Battles, which cover specific battles and campaigns during the American Civil War. They're old-school hex-and-counter affairs, but they're currently being remastered by Wargame Design Studio with new graphics and engines updates. We're looking into these now and as we evaluate them, we'll add them to the main list below. We've put this here though so that you're aware they also exist, and are considered pretty good ACW war games for what they are.
As was pointed out below, we'd also be remiss not to mention Sid Meier's Gettysburg! & Antietam! games from the late 90's. Gettysburg! especially was considered one of the best strategy/war games of the time, and is a bench mark for many ACW and Gettysburg-themed games that have come out in the decades since. We haven't listed them below, mainly because they are fairly old now and there's not any official support for them, but it's not hard to find a digital copy via Abandonware websites. If you're interested in exploring one of the gold standards of digital ACW wargames, you'll want to check it out.
Ultimate General: Civil War (Review)
Developer: Game-Labs LLC
Tags: Real-Time, Tactical, Brigade/Division/Corps/Army, American Civil War, 3D
Available from: Steam
Ultimate General: Civil War is a wonderful follow-up to Game-Labs LLC’s already wonderful Ultimate General: Gettysburg. Civil War puts the player in command of either Confederate or Union armies throughout the entirety of the war, allowing the player to build their army composition, from unit size to weaponry of individual units. The title brings Total War-style tactics (the lead on this game did make several mods for Total War games) to the well-known battlefields of Antietam and Gettysburg, as well as battles with less coverage in games, such as Gaines’ Mill and Chickamauga.
The ability to follow individual brigades and their officers throughout the war is one I learned to miss after playing this game. Seeing a unit you created during the first year of the war get utterly dissolved by enemy canister rounds is heartbreaking, but following an officer’s career path from lowly Captain to Major General brings pride I rarely get from playing games. It’s easy to connect with your army on a personal level, as you can name each unit in addition to being able to manage their training and outfitting.
Gettysburg: The Tide Turns (Review)
Speaking of Gettysburg, it’s impossible to list off the best American Civil War games without mentioning a game about Gettysburg at least once. Gettysburg marked the high-water mark of the Confederacy during the war, and The Tide Turns is a beautiful display of… well, how the tide turned. The map is wonderful, drawing inspiration from old Engineer Corps maps, with unit markers distinctly popping out against the backdrop.
What makes The Tide Turns such an interesting game is the turn system. Units have their turn order decided by the random drawing of “lots” from the total amount of units on the field. This leads to an uncertainty of combat that is not present in IGOUGO or WEGO type games, but is certainly more representative of the chaos of Gettysburg.
Civil War: 1863 (Review)
HexWar’s charming Civil War: 186x series made the jump to PC from Android and iOS, bringing what our reviewer Jeff Renaud called a “quick hit” wargame. It’s easy to jump into a scenario pulled from the many different battles of 1863 (or any of the other years of the war, there are companion games featuring all of them!), with combat frequently beginning on the first turn. A single scenario can take less than an hour, but the brevity of the games can’t be mistaken for easiness. The AI can be downright painful to play against on the higher difficulties, which is a refreshing change of pace from other “quick hit” wargames.
Civil War II (Review)
Ageod’s Civil War II (note: not about an upcoming second civil war) pulls back from the close, action-oriented look of many other American Civil War titles. The player is instead put into the boots of president / commander-in-chief of the operational aspects of the war. The WEGO style of play makes running into the enemy challenging and frequently surprising, forcing you to plan well in advance for future offensives.
The chain-of-command in armies can be customized by the player, allowing obsessive micromanagers to truly fine-tune their army. Decisions don’t stop with merely military matters; determining how much money should be printed or placing embargos also fall into the rhythm of gameplay. Wargamers with a taste for grand strategy could comfortably find themselves at home with Civil War II.
Scourge of War: Chancellorsville (Review)
Tags: Real-Time, Tactical, American Civil War, Brigade/Division/Corps, Strategy
Available from: Direct
The Scourge of War series feature some of the most realistic depictions of generalship of the 19th century, and Chancellorsville is no exception. The player can take command of different units within either the Union or Confederate forces; from commanding a lone Brigade to commanding the entire army. Orders given and received are a nice touch, as virtual couriers will arrive with and send out letters you can pen yourself. Units can be directed to form into specific formations and have several different movement options, including instructions to travel via road and to form into a certain formation type upon arrival. These options are necessary to success, as the AI may have read ahead in the history book, and will prove to be a fierce opponent.
Chancellorsville was an important prelude to Gettysburg, but is not as frequently covered as the latter. However, if you are looking to get your fix of Chamberlains and Picketts, you may also be interested in Scourge of War: Gettysburg.
Brother against Brother
Developer: Western Civilization Software
Tags: Turn-Based, Tactical, Hex, Company/Brigade, IGOUGO
Available from: Direct
Brother against Brother has a great nostalgic feel to it. The sprites and the maps are reminiscent of wargames a generation or two ago, but the game packs several unique features that make it worth mentioning. The first is the inclusion of Wilson’s Creek, a battle in the Western Theatre of the war. Any battle not on the east coast is normally glossed over, so kudos to Western Civilization Software for broadening our collective horizons.
The title also packs an “active ability” feature that generals can use on their units to encourage them to fight harder, à la the more recent Total War offerings. This coupled with a novel movement system, where units can sometimes refuse to move in a representation of orders being jumbled and lost, brings a refreshing yet familiar take on some less covered battles of the war.
The Operational Art of War 4 (Review)
Before you all storm to the comments to yell at us for TOAW4 not being an American Civil War game, we know the whole game is not about the American Civil War. However, there are several great scenarios to choose from that take place during the war, using TOAW4’s excellent systems to simulate battles such as Antietam, as well as whole campaigning seasons, particularly highlighting the Chancellorsville/ Gettysburg campaign. Should you not be in the mood for the several scenarios TOAW4 has to offer, there are community scenarios available for download, as well as a scenario editor, so you can finally simulate a brawl at Appomattox Court House.
Reinforcements! Promising Games in Development:
Grand Tactician: The Civil War 1861 - 1865
Developer: Oliver Keppelmüller
Tags: RTS, Strategic layer, Tactical Battles, Logistics
Available from: Steam
This game gets more of a token mention because it's not available to play or buy like, unlike War of Rights below which is at least in Early Access. Grand Tactician is a real-time strategy game that primarily focuses on the strategic side of the war, but allows for tactical control over engagements due to the nature of how you move your units around the map. We're reminded of one of our favourite ancients war games, Hegemony III, if you're looking for a quick comparison. Current release date is simply listed as 'Late 2019'.
War of Rights
Developer: Campfire Games
Tags: First-Person Shooter, American Civil War
Available from: Steam
War of Rights is an Early Access FPS that looks quite impressive so far. 150 players can duke it out on the battlefield, which so far includes Antietam and Harper’s Ferry. The gameplay looks and feels solid, like a cross of Mount & Blade and Holdfast’s combat style, while bringing a more realistic visual fidelity to the fight. A chain-of-command system is currently under development, so far with higher ranking officers passing down orders to their subordinates, who can in turn order their men to follow their lead. The game is primarily multiplayer, so the experience does depend on other players, but players do tend to actually work together. War of Rights has a development roadmap laid out, and it looks to have a promising future ahead.
What are your favourite ACW games? Let us know in the comments!