I’ve been interested in the American Civil War for a good while, ever since I saw Gettysburg the film, and then listened to the audiobook entitled “The Killer Angels” on which the film was based. I’ve dabbled in a lot of ACW strategy and wargames. One which has eluded my attention because I could never quite grasp its concepts was Ageod’s offering The American Civil War: The Blue and the Gray.

I’ve heard many good things about AGEOD‘s gaming system, and they have a number of titles out that follow similar rules and mechanisms, so I thought it was about time I knuckled down and made the effort to ingest the details and play this game. One which looks deliciously complex from the out of supply boundaries of ignorance.

Its taken me a day and a half to become comfortable enough to run through a short 10 turn scenario on easy difficulty. So please, don’t expect this to be an education in the strategic nuances of the game. My AAR is pitched more at the  “Newbie has a go” level. I hope with this commentary I can open the AGEOD box for others who have been daunted by their titles in the past, but also spark some debate from people who know the game, and want to share their knowledge and experience with us all.

The Shiloh scenario follows the in-game tutorial, more or less, and familiarity with the geography and the characters involved was a big hook into learning this scenario. I chose to tackle it from the Union side.

To win the scenario you have to have control of key objective towns (Corinth and Memphis) or break the morale of the Confederacy.

At the beginning of the scenario, here is the lie of the land, with the “who controls what” area overlaid, so the Union territory is light blue and the Confederacy is a light murky gray.

I like to turn above filter on initially because it gives my brain time to work out initial boundaries without becoming dazzled by all the detail and colours ladelled on the map in its unfiltered mode. Since I’m a native of England rather than the good ole U S of A, I also need  to turn on the “highlight objectives” overlay to show me where the main objective towns/cities reside.

You can clearly see the two Union held regions in the North (Henry and Montgomery), and Confederate Memphis in the West. However, because fog of war is on, Corinth doesn’t seem to show up in the overlay (when I took the screenshot I had my cursor on it – which is why its highlighted as the current region in green!). If you have particularly good eyesight, you should be able to make out small silver star icons to the right of the names Memphis and Corinth – another objective indicator.

From what I’ve gathered the game centers around dividing up your armies as efficiently as you can, and then planning manoeuvres to get them settled in defensive positions when the enemy comes a-knocking. Obviously offensives are meant to be mounted as such,  but the advantage is always given to the defender, so if you can second guess where the enemy is going to travel you can set up choke points to contain them, and force them to waste their numbers against your defensive walls.

Before I describe my initial troop movements, I need to try and explain how to best configure your troops. This is where I have struggled previously, so I’ll try and make it as simple as possible – please correct me in the comments if I’ve got this wrong at all.

You have the following military structures – Army, Corps, Division and Brigades. You lead an Army with a three star General, a Corps with two star Generals and Divisions with one star Generals. Each unit in any of the structures have a Command Cost, and each General has a Command Points rating. To have an effective formation without any penalties applied, you need to balance the two. Brigades are the lowest atomic unit, and as you assemble them into Divisions their Command Costs are reduced (to simulate the power of a military infrastructure affording you the luxury of commanding more men with ease). Similarly collating Divisions together into a Corps has a similar effect. So, the upshot of this, is that you really should be scaling up and building your organisational structures, heading them up with an appropriate General.

In this scenario, you start off with two Armies. The Army of Ohio (AoO) and The Army of the Tenessee (AotT). AoO is headed by General Don Carlos Buell (***) has two Corps, “Left Wing” headed by General Thomas L. Crittenden (**) and a “Right Wing” headed by General George H. Thomas (**). AoO is more or less organised the way you’d probably want it.  AotT has no Corps and a whole slew of Divisions underneath it. AotT is headed by General Ulysees S. Grant (***), the standout two star Generals currently heading Divisions are General John A. McClernand (**) and General Lew Wallace (**). Organising my forces into Corps beneath these two seemed like the most obvious setup to follow.

The actual physical process is a little long winded within the games UI, you have to split the Division currently attached to the two star General, then drag the other Divisions onto the unit tab of that General’s Command (metering the Divisions out as I thought best) and then set the General to form a Corps  (in the Special Operations button pad).

After all this, I still had some troops in Brigades left over (the ones from the originally disbanded Division of the two star General). I took these into the Divisions within the Corps, by selecting the Division in the unit ribbon and using the Ctrl+Left click method of cumulatively adding the stragglers, one by one, until the Combine units button was greyed out. Then I’d deselect the last one, and combine the selected Brigades into the Divisions. I’m sure theres a better way. And I haven’t quite fathomed out why the Divisions under the Corps can only take so many of the spare Brigades – I’m sure some knowledgeable folk out there will come to my aid.

Anyway, finally, I had four Corps, two Armies and was ready to begin my plan to secure my backyard in Nashville, but also sweep South and Westwards towards Corinth and ultimately to take Memphis.

Another point to note, is that as long as the Corps stays in Command range of its associated Army, they can come to each others aid if necessary – something about “Marching to the sound of the Guns”. So the AoO operations push my Right Wing (Thomas) to Nashville to set up a defensive base there, and then push my Left Wing (Crittenden) southwards to Waverly to block upward movement towards Montgomery (where Buell is stationed). I have some gunboats stationed at Nashville and I bring them out into the immediate river (imagining that they may help block crossings over the river – but I’m not sure if this the case – it felt like a good move).

The AotT wants to get McClernand Corps ensconced in Humboldt as soon as possible. It seems to be a key crossing area between the Objectives and Henry (where Grants is stationed).  Wallace leads his Corps southwards to take Decatur. They’re both moving in defensive mode and are ordered to enter the towns when they get there. I move some of my gunboats stationed North down into the river crossing between Decatur and Linden. Again, I’m  not sure whether there is any strategic bonus to this action, but if nothing else I could attempt to bombard Decaturville if the Confederacy take it off me.

All I need to do is put in for some replacements (I just add a few envelopes to the pidgeon-holes based on the numbers of troops already out in the field – line infantry, militia, cavalry and field artillery). There doesn’t seem to be the option to call in some reinforcements on this scenario. I’m very wooly on how these replacements are handled, but I presume they’ll be readied somewhere, and will turn up to replace any casualties my forces will take.

The scene is set. The turn is ready to run. Come back for the next installment and see how it all went. With simultaneous turn resolution (WEGO) and the fog of war only being lifted if my troops have high enought detection when compared to the enemy’s hide values  – it could be quite unpredictable!