Thursday, November 8, 2007

Featured Game: Avalon Hill's Civil War (1961)

Back in the dim mists of wargame time, way before ASL, computer games, block games, card-driven games, Commands & Colours or even James Dunnigan -- The Avalon Hill Game Company pioneered the very first modern board wargames.
Like any pioneering effort, there were false starts, mistakes and dead ends. Among those was Avalon Hill's 1961 title Civil War. Apparently timed to take advantage of the centennial of the American War Between The States, Avalon Hill's Civil War was one of two games published that year with that title and covering the entire war on a strategic scale. Neither was much of a simulation in the sense we'd understand it today, but at least the Milton Bradley one (later renamed Battle-cry) has cute little infantry, cavalry and cannon figures.
The Avalon Hill game, on the other hand, was a peculiar hybrid of the very simple family game(red and blue generic plastic pawns for units, a page of rules) and the real wargame (hexagons, classic D-Elim combat result table). It was a slight advance over Charles Roberts' Tactics wargame in that it dealt with an actual historical situation, but it was almost as abstract as the purely fictionalized game. It was the later Gettysburg game that really launched the historical board wargame hobby by depicting a historical battle with an authentic order of battle and map.
Civil War was evidently intended to be an introductory game, being priced at $2.95 instead of the standard $4.95 of other titles in the AH catalog at the time.
It wasn't a success, however, and was soon dropped from the line.
While the game map is a reasonably accurate one, the coarseness of the OB prevents the game from developing in interesting ways. Each army has a number of pawns (of the type seen in any number of 60s-era games) that are each worth "1" in battle. There's a considerable amount of terrain that doubles defense (rivers, mountains, ports) so it's hard to achieve a 3-1. This results in a lot of risky 1-1 and 2-1 attacks. The lack of any kind of zone of control rule means that retreats aren't as deadly as they would be in later games like Afrika Korps, further reducing the utility of 1-1 and 2-1 attacks in the classic CRT.
The game often departs from history. The victory conditions and initial parity between the Union and Rebel forces encourages the CSA to attempt a quick victory by seizing two of the four federal replacement areas. Some early luck can mean a CSA win in the first few months against and unwary Union player.
If that initial Confederate offensive fails, the Union player has the edge over the long haul, with a 3-2 edge in bi-monthly replacements and a maximum army strength of 15 units compared to 9 for the Rebels. The lack of zones of control, the large frontages and small number of pieces will generally mean that a patient Union player can capture the three CSA replacement centers needed to win in plenty of time. So long as the Federal player remembers that maneuver is more useful than combat, he should be able to prevail.
From a modern player's perspective, there's little to recommend Civil War. It's primarily of interest as part of a collection for game historians.


  1. I have this "game" also, and was initially disappointed with it once I looked it over. Someone ELSE had seen fit to write up an excellent 'article' about this, and here is one -besides your OWN- about it then:

    Is there some way in which to create a direct LINK from that in here?

    Anyways, WHO is to 'say' that we couldn't create something ELSE with just using the "gamemap" as only ONE 'feature' for it all then?

  2. I am looking to buy the 1961 version of Gettysburg by Avalon Hill, if have one and intertesed in sellign, please email me at