Up to this point the "look" of the Great Campaigns of the American Civil War has been remarkably stable since the first game (Stonewall Jackson's Way) appeared in 1992, even despite the demise of Avalon Hill and the migration of the GCACW line to Multi-man Publishing. The first volume of the series to appear under MMP, Grant Takes Command, was fully consistent with the AH versions, as were the supplements Skirmisher No. 1 and No. 2.
So I'll admit I was pretty surprised by how extensively the look of the game changed with Vol. VIII, Battle Above the Clouds. It's important to note, however, that nearly all the changes are cosmetic, with only minor changes in the Standard Rules that cover all the games in the series.
First off, the box is different. Grant Takes Command was a direct copy of the standard Avalon Hill bookcase game format in every way. Only the MMP logo was different. The new Battle Above the Clouds box is thinner and slightly wider than the old box, so it will stick out a bit on the shelf. It appears to be the same size as other MMP boxes, so I suspect this change was made for ease of production.
Inside the box, almost the entire graphic approach as also changed. The paper is glossy, rather than matte. Color is used liberally and the type is slightly smaller, with some differences in fonts and layout that mark a break from the past. New rules are shown to the left, old style to the right.
All the player aids are also on glossy cardboard and overall there's been a number of changes in presentation that give the rules a little more of a more modern look and easier to read. Overall the effect is enough to give BAC a distinctive look, but not too different from what has gone before.
On the other hand, the new counters are a big departure from what has gone before, featuring much bolder use of icons and type. With perhaps greater confidence in the quality of their die-cutters than the old Avalon Hill had, the new counters fill out a bigger portion of the available space, resulting in the markers being easier to read.
The new counters
On the other hand, my initial impression of the unit counters is not as positive. They appear rather too "busy" to my eye, compared to the uncluttered look of the old counters. The bold typeface used is also no easier to read than the older lightface style, so players will still have to peer closely in order to see which unit is in the hex.
Map detail around Chattanooga
On one critical piece of game equipment, however, BAC does not innovate -- the map. Charles Kibler continues as the map artist and the map in BAC retains the same style that GCACW players fell in love with. This was a wise decision, because it's the exceptional maps that first captured player attention and gave them the incentive to discover the beauty of the underlying rules set. Aside from some changes required by the rougher topography of the region changes to the look have been minimized. About the only noticeable change is that the map, like all the other paper components, is not printed on a glossy paper, instead of the matte finish used for the eastern maps. As these maps will never overlay each other this is unimportant.
A welcome return feature is the Gazetteer, not seen since Vol. III (Roads to Gettysburg), exploring cats and trivia about some of the locations on the map. There's also a very extensive Game as History section, which may very well be the longest published so far in the entire series. This is due in no small part to the fact that Battle Above the Clouds is basically two games in one, as it cover both the entire Chickamauga campaign from Aug. 29 to Oct. 6, 1863, but also the Chattanooga campaign from Oct. 28 to Dec. 6.
Overall the components seem first-rate in every way. I think some long-time players may not care for the changed look, but none of the changes affect game play and the maps are the same, so I don't think this will be a big issue.