by Marcus Mulkins
reviewed on PC
The real strategy games
Before there was a Graphic User Interface to provide a point-and-click approach to games, strategy games relied on a medium called "board game". Basically, it was usually a map on stiff fiber board, with some kind of movement grid to regulate the movement of the pieces. Most such games utilized hexagons or squares, but some used variable areas such as counties or provinces. Such games covered a broad spectrum of subject matter, ranging from historical subjects to futuristic science fiction to full-blown fantasy.
The games usually involved two or more opponents, with forces more or less balanced, starting from opposing sides of the board, with the objective of winning by eliminating all or most of the opposing pieces. Most such games usually involved at most several dozen pieces per side, with rules amounting to less than 10 pages. But there were some games that were downright HUGE, with an enormous playing board with hundreds or even thousands of pieces in play. My favorite of these "monster" games was a series published by Game Designers' Workshop, and was named the Europa series, based on the German military operations of WWII. These games had literally tens of thousands of pieces PER SIDE. And each turn equaled about two weeks. Figuring that the war started on September 1, 1939, and ended May 8, 1945, that means that a complete game from beginning to end would be _only_ 148 turns.
Of course, when these games were finally brought on the PC platform, the playing times shortened tremendously and, with online gameplay, removed much of the social interaction involved.
Which brings us to this game
AGEOD (Athena Games Entertainment Online Distribution) is a French company that seems to be fascinated by American history. Headed up by Philippe Thibaut (of Europa Universalis fame) and François Claustres, their first game, published in 2006, was Birth of a Nation, which was a turn-based game that covered from the start of the French & Indian War (1754-1763). Those of you that have played Europa Universalis will immediately see a strong similarity between the two games. Whereas EU was a real-time strategy game, BoaN actually allows the player the luxury of thinking about all of the details of a turn before committing to his strategy. AACW is a worthy successor to BoaN – which itself is a much praised game amongst strategy gamers.
AGEOD’s American Civil War, The Blue And The Gray (AACW), is something of a “retro” game. For one thing, the manual is _66_ pages long, which is partially elaborated upon through several tutorials. (There's a better, illustrated manual to be found in the AGEod ACW/Docs folder).
Overall, this is a pretty good game – for those that like LARGE games. The game sprawls from the Atlantic to the North American Plains (West of the Mississippi River in an area known as the Indian Territories) and has some distant points like California, the Pacific Northwest, France, Great Britain etc. denoted with zoomed in mini-maps that surround the main map. Unit movement is by regions (a region’s size varies, but would be equivalent to a cluster of State counties) instead of hexes. Movement may be by land, rail, or ship, depending on which travel mode you wish to employ. The program does a very good job of determining the optimal path to follow from Point A to Point B, depending on which travel mode a given unit or stack of units employs. That is, if you travel strictly by marching, you’ll be given one path. If you encounter bodies of water where your ship transports can reach, you may make better time along a different path. Utilize rail traffic in areas you control, and still another option appears. Add both rail and ship options and your absolutely most optimal path will appear. If you happen to be deep in enemy territory, or if enemy forces have been busy ripping up your rail network, you may not see any alternate paths offered.
A nice feature in the graphical presentation is the information provided by tooltips. Nearly everything on the map is explained if you simply hover the mouse cursor over anything you’re wondering about. The information is tiered according to the graphical layers. In the case of a unit parked on a city icon positioned on the map, if you place the mouse cursor on the unit, you’ll receive all of the relevant numbers about that unit. Scoot slightly to the side of the unit, but still on the city icon and you’ll get the city info. Slide off the city icon entirely and you be told most everything you need to know about that region.
No Pros and Cons at this time