MANASSAS: The First Battle of Bull Run is a tactical/operational level simulation of the first major battle of the American Civil War. MANASSAS was designed by Thomas Eller and originally published by Historical Simulations, Ltd. in 1974. This version of the game was republished by Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) in 1976.


MANASSAS is a complex brigade level treatment of the clash between 35,000 Union troops under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell and 20,000 Confederates under General P. T. Beauregard reinforced, on the day of the battle, by 12,000 rebel soldiers from the Shenandoah Valley, under J. E. Johnston. The two armies, composed mainly of green recruits and 90-day enlistees, crashed into each other near Centerville, Virginia on 21 July, 1861. This action was the first real preview, for both sides of the conflict, of the true cost of the war that lay before them. Fourteen hundred and ninety-two Union troops would be killed and 1,600 taken prisoner, while the victorious Confederates’ losses would number 1,752. “Manassas” — also known as the “First Battle of Bull Run” — would produce rejoicing in the South, and shocked disbelief in the North; and an obscure Confederate officer would, after this battle, ever after be known as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

The MANASSAS game system is quite interesting and very reminiscent of miniatures and naval games. Headquarters and lines of communication, as well as limited intelligence, are emphasized in the game mechanics. Movement and combat are simultaneous: both players secretly plot their moves on their own operations sheets (any piece of paper will do, although a spiral notebook is probably best) and then execute their moves simultaneously, with each of their units moving in exactly the order in which they are listed. Two general types of operations may be ordered: maneuver or combat. Only units that begin a phase adjacent to an enemy unit may conduct combat operations; all others must maneuver. Movement is divided into two phases: an initial movement phase and a final movement phase; during each of these phases, units may only expend up to six movement points. In order to avoid confusion or mistakes, units in congested areas are moved in small (one or two hex) increments until each phase is completed. Combat may come at the beginning of a turn, or at the end of the initial movement phase. Maneuver orders may involve changes in formation, facing, or hex location, all of which expend movement points. This description probably makes the game system seem slow and cumbersome. But it should be remembered that the unit count is really very low, and the record keeping required doesn’t appear any more demanding than that required to keep track of defensive air assignments in a game like DNO/UNT.

MANASSAS begins with the 6:00 am game turn on 20 July (when McDowell should have attacked; before Johnston’s arrival with reinforcements) and can continue through the 4:00 pm turn on the 25th: a total of 36 game turns. Only the historical situation is presented in the game, but MANASSAS does offer a number of optional rules. These include: Night Disengagement; Weather; and strangely enough, Artillery. The designer, not surprisingly, recommends the use of all of the optional rules once players have become comfortable with the game system.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 2 hours per game turn
  • Map Scale: 1/6th mile per hex
  • Unit Size: brigade/regiment
  • Unit Types: headquarters, infantry, cavalry, artillery, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: medium/above average
  • Solitaire Suitability: low
  • Average Playing Time: 3+ hours (but with a potential game length of 36 turns, don’t make any other plans for the day)

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map
  • 240 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 5½” x 8½” Rules Booklet
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed Combat Results Table/Artillery Range Table/Artillery Bombardment Table
  • One 8½” x 11” back-printed Terrain Effects Chart/Union Order of Appearance/Confederate Order of Appearance
  • One Zip-lock Bag (original packaging)

Recommended Reading

See my blog post Book Review of this title which is strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU .

Also see my blog post Book Review of this definitive three volume work on the officers of the Army of Northern Virginia by Douglas S. Freeman.

Also, for those interested in battlefield maps, the "museum book" collection of historical Civil War maps by William J. Miller, released in  2004, or the atlas compiled by Stephen Hyslop in 2009 of Civil war battlefields are worth collecting.


  • I haven't played this game in decades which is sad since I even had the original version before the GDW edition. I got a smile when I saw the SPI flat tray for the game.That's what I did with all my GDW ziplock games-soter them in the SPI boxes.

    I didn make it Ygo-Igo since playing solo is sort of hard with the Simultaneous system.

    Gosh,Everyone of your reviews take me down meomory lane with the games and I even have them all too. But it's sure nice seeing a good take on old favorites that I starting digging many of them back out again. I think Manassas will be brought out also

  • Greetings Kim:

    This was an interesting little game that turned out to be less awkward than an initial reading of the rules might suggest. The only problem with this game system that I can see is that it would probably be a little too cumbersome and time-consuming -- for me, at least -- if it were used to simulate a bigger battle, such as Gettysburg, for instance.

    Best Regards, Joe

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