HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDIn the chaotic days that immediately followed the Southern attack on Fort Sumter, in April 1861, clashes between the breakaway South and the Unionist North flared up repeatedly, particularly in the border-states; however, these actions were typically limited to relatively small-scale skirmishes between hastily-raised bands of opposing militias. And although war had come in the spring, there had not been a single major battle between Confederate and Federal troops in the four months that followed the surrender of the Union garrison in Charleston Harbor.
Finally, in mid-July, the 35,000 Union troops bivouacked around Washington, D.C., stirred to action and began to clumsily wend their way south. The Union commander, Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, although worried about the battle-worthiness of his freshly-minted army, had at last reluctantly succumbed to political pressure and ordered his army to march against the Confederate Capital in Richmond, Virginia. Barring McDowell’s path were 20,000 Confederates under General P. T. Beauregard. Unbeknownst to the Union commander, however, an additional 12,000 rebel soldiers from the Shenandoah Valley, under J. E. Johnston, were already rushing by train to Beauregard’s aid. By the time the slowly advancing Union troops at last encountered the first Confederate pickets on the 18th, Confederate reinforcements were rapidly nearing Manassas Junction. McDowell allowed three days to pass while he completed his army’s concentration. And although he could have attacked the still outnumbered Beauregard on the 20th, the Union commander decided to wait another full day.
The two armies — composed mainly of green recruits and 90-day enlistees — finally crashed into each other near Centerville, Virginia on the morning of 21 July, 1861. The Union opened with a surprisingly well-conceived attack against the Confederate left, and for a time, the Rebels were forced to give ground. Unfortunately for McDowell, Johnston’s troops were beginning to arrive just in time to shore up the wavering Confederate line. McDowell's and Beauregard's armies were now almost evenly-matched, but the initiative gradually shifted to Beauregard as Johnston’s fresh troops continued to enter the fight against the tiring Yankees. The seesaw battle continued through most of the day, but by late afternoon, both the battlefield and the victory belonged to the Confederates. Fortunately for the North, the Rebels were too spent to pursue the retiring Yankees.
From McDowell's standpoint, the aftermath of the bloody Union defeat was bad enough. The shock of the unexpected Federal loss quickly led to a breakdown in the discipline of many of the green Union regiments. As General McDowell's beaten and exhausted army began to retrace its route back towards the safety of Washington, command and control largely disintegrated, and for many of his withdrawing units, the Union retreat quickly turned into a rout. And the confident army that had marched out of the capital only a few days before, now fled back towards the same city as little more than a disordered mob.
The summer battle at Centerville was the first real preview, for both sides of the months-old conflict, of the true cost of the long war that lay before them. Fourteen hundred and ninety-two Union troops were killed and 1,600 taken prisoner, while the victorious Confederates’ losses numbered 1,752. “Manassas” — also known as the “First Battle of Bull Run” — would produce rejoicing in the South, and shocked disbelief in the North; a Union officer named William T. Sherman would distinguish himself on the Manassas battlefield, and an obscure Confederate officer would, following this battle, ever after be known as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Tragically for both sides, a political argument between countrymen had become a war between states. And although none of the men from either army who fought at Manassas on 21 July, 1861, could have known it at the time, the fight at Centerville had only been the first of many major battles in what would ultimately become the costliest war in American history.
WAR BETWEEN THE STATES is a two-player historical simulation, at the operational (brigade/division) level, of the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history, the American Civil War, 1861-1865. The game focuses on military operations in the Eastern and Western Theaters and thus, covers a wide geographical area that stretches from Philadelphia, Pa. to Galveston, Tx. and from St. Joseph, Mo. to Jacksonville, Fl. Because of their minimal impact on the overall outcome of the war, the game does not attempt to simulate military operations in the Far West. One player commands the forces of the Confederate States of America (CSA) while the other player controls the armies of the United States (Union).
WAR BETWEEN THE STATES is played in (monthly) Game-Cycles each of which is composed of a Strategic Turn followed by four regular (weekly) game turns. During the Strategic Turn, both players perform the various economic, logistical, production, command, and political operations necessary both to raise and maintain their forces in the field and to continue the war. After both players complete the Strategic Turn, play then continues with four regular game turns each of which is further divided into a Union and a Confederate player turn. Before a regular game turn begins, however, the Determination of the First Player to act must be made by (blindly) drawing for Initiative. Once the player order for the game turn has been established, the turn continues with the First Player Movement Phase which is split between the Movement Command Allotment Segment and the Individual Leader Initiative Segment; next comes the First Player Combat Phase which is again divided into two segments: the Combat Initiative Segment and the Battle Segment. As soon as the First Player completes his Combat Phase, the Second Player then repeats the exact same sequence of player actions as his opponent. Once both sides have completed their player turns, the game turn ends and the turn marker is advanced one space of the Turn Record Track and the turn cycle begins again.
The WBTS game system is detailed and richly-textured, but not unmanageable. The heart of the military ground game is leadership and command and control. To move and fight effectively, an army requires both leaders and headquarters. At the beginning of the game, both are in short supply; however, as play proceeds, both players periodically get the opportunity to randomly draw for new leaders and additional headquarters. Interestingly, in the Campaign Scenario, at least, it is quite possible for the game to play out to the bitter end, and not have either Lee or Grant ever enter the game! Besides leadership and command and control, the other element crucial to ground operations is logistics: armies must be supplied, and when those armies move, supplies must move with them. Armies without supply are restricted in their operations and subject to attrition. Supplies can be carried by headquarters, railroads, naval transport, and slow-moving supply trains.
The naval component of WAR BETWEEN THE STATES, although not overly complicated, is none-the-less, almost a separate game in its own right. Naval and river flotillas, as was the case historically, play a critical role in how the game develops. Moreover, sea power is one of the Northern player’s biggest built-in advantages; the Union navy, almost from the very beginning of the game, will dominate the sea. For this reason, the Yankee player should study and master this aspect of the game even before beginning play. Typically, the Union player, because of his greater capacity to build naval and river flotillas, will be able to conduct naval operations freely along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts; he will also be able to blockade Confederate ports for much of the war. The one slender chance that the Confederate player has to lift the Union blockade is through the construction and aggressive use of ironclads.
While there are a number of design features in WBTS that are innovative and new, many elements of the game system are also quite familiar: terrain effects, rail movement, and zones of control, for example, are all handled in conventional ways, and naval combat is resolved using a traditional “odds-differential” combat results table (CRT). Ground combat, on the other hand, is resolved using a “split results” combat system reminiscent of the one used in FREDERICH THE GREAT. Another unusual wrinkle in the combat system is the use of “Battle Intensity” chits. These chits, which are limited by the initiative levels of the two opposing battlefield commanders — in most cases, the player with the superior force and better commander will want a higher intensity battle, by the way — are secretly chosen by each player prior to combat. When revealed and added together, their sum determines which of four CRTs will be used to resolve the battle. The greater the battle’s “intensity” the bloodier the action will be for both sides. Players will quickly discover, in the course of a typical game of WBTS, that decisive Napoleonic-style battlefield victories will be few and far between. Most land battles, just as Civil War engagements were historically, will tend to be bloody and — unless an enemy army can be completely surrounded by attacking units — inconclusive.
The one design feature that really differentiates WAR BETWEEN THE STATES from other strategic-level Civil War games is the all-important role that the “Production Routine” plays in the direction and outcome of the game’s different scenarios. Coordinating the various factors of production, and then planning and building the forces necessary to meet future strategic goals is absolutely crucial to both players’ prospects for ultimate victory. For my own part, I really enjoy this type of game-within-a-game. However, for those players who don’t, there is still some good news: Redmond Simonsen’s ingenious design innovation, the “production spiral,” makes the whole production process much clearer, much easier to manage, and a lot faster to execute than previous SPI production systems.
The victory conditions in WBTS will vary from scenario to scenario, but typically will be awarded on the basis of geographical objectives captured or held, enemy casualties, and enemy forces besieged at the end of a scenario. Victory conditions in the Campaign Scenario are a little different: players, of course, will typically play for a conventional Historical Victory, but they may also attempt to win a Personal Victory by making a single die roll on the “Political Events Matrix.” The threat posed by the “Political Events Matrix” will tend to restrain the actions of both players (postponing draft calls, for example) as each tries to prevent the other from gaining enough victory points to make such an appeal worthwhile.
WAR BETWEEN THE STATES offers six Yearly Scenarios as well as a Campaign Scenario. The six Yearly Scenarios use only a portion of the game’s counters, either one or two map sections, and each give a snapshot of the Civil War in either the East or the West in 1862, 1863, or 1864. These shorter games are also an excellent way for players to master the WBTS Game System before moving on to the two hundred turn Campaign Scenario. The Campaign Scenario, as might be expected, begins in July 1861 (First Battle of Manassas), and covers the entire war — assuming the game continues all the way to the bitter end — through April, 1865. In addition, players may opt to experiment with a number of different optional rules. These include special rules for, among other things: a fighting Retreat after Combat Option for surrounded units, Leader Effect on Combat, (automatic) Confederate Initiative Pick, Lee Stays East (no big deal for the Confederates), Grant Stays West (a big deal for the Union), Entrenchments, Partisans, and a Special Initiative Restriction on leaders outside of their army’s regular “chain of command.”
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONI had forgotten what a good game WAR BETWEEN THE STATES (WBTS) actually is until I pulled my long-neglected copy off the shelf and began to write up this profile. In fact, even acknowledging its several flaws (unhistorical dearth of leaders and headquarters during the first two years of the war, for example) I still consider this title to be the best strategic-level Civil War game I have ever played. As monster titles go, WBTS is also probably one of the most playable “big” games ever published. The game system is intuitively logical, reasonably easy-to-learn and once learned, is surprisingly fast-moving considering the game’s scale. Command and control, initiative, and leadership are both handled nicely, and the army and corps organization charts are a real plus for players (like me) who are interested in the strategic challenges of planning, supporting, and conducting a major military campaign. Even the naval and river flotilla rules are not that difficult to understand and master.
The graphics (hat tip to Redmond A. Simonsen) are attractive to the eye and unambiguous, and the various game tracks, tables, and charts are all about as clear and useable as one could reasonably expect. One thing that really sets WBTS apart from most other strategic-level Civil War games is the opportunity (or necessity) that it creates for both the Union and the Confederate players to choose and then produce the types of forces that they actually want. And even this process is not all that unfamiliar: for those players who have played either WAR IN THE EAST (2nd. Ed.) or WAR IN THE WEST, there will be much that is instantly recognizable about the “production” subroutine used in WBTS.
Finally, it goes without saying that WAR BETWEEN THE STATES, in spite of its many virtues, is not a simple game. However, unlike most other games its size, WBTS does not require weeks to familiarize oneself with the rules and game system; often, at least for experienced players, this can be accomplished in a single sitting. For this reason, while I strongly recommend the game for experienced players, WAR BETWEEN THE STATES is one of the very few monster games that, I sincerely believe, even a casual or comparatively inexperienced player can learn to play and enjoy.
- Time Scale: 1 week per turn (1 strategic Phase at the beginning of every four game turns)
- Map Scale: 12.25 miles per hex (estimated)
- Unit Size: brigade, division, flotilla
- Unit Types: military department, headquarters, leader, infantry, cavalry, militia, garrison, partisan, siege train, rail repair, supply depot, supply train, fort, fortress, naval base, naval flotilla, river flotilla, naval transport flotilla, river transport flotilla, ironclads, and information markers
- Number of Players: two or more (teams highly recommended)
- Complexity: above average
- Solitaire Suitability: average (if pushing around 1,000+ unit counters doesn’t bother you)
- Average Playing Time: 10+ hours (quadruple the playing time for the Campaign Game)
- Three 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (with Terrain Effects Chart and Movement Cost for “Boats” Chart incorporated)
- 1,200 back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” WAR BETWEEN THE STATES Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions incorporated)
- Two 8½” x 11” identical WAR BETWEEN THE STATES Charts and Tables Booklets
- One Union back-printed 17½” x 23” Combined (Scenario) Deployment Chart and Cycle/Turn Record Track (with Army and Depot Displays incorporated)
- One Confederate back-printed 17½” x 23” Combined (Scenario) Deployment Chart and Cycle/Turn Record Track (with Army and Depot Displays incorporated)
- One 17” x 22” Union Production Spiral
- One 17” x 22” Confederate Production Spiral
- One small six-sided Die
- Two SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Boxes (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic Box Covers with Title Sheets
Recommended ReadingSee 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.
Recommended ArtworkThis Giclee print of a map of the Battle of Gettysburg is suitable for framing and makes a nice wall decoration for a game room with a Civil War theme.