Nicholas Wernert, 27 June 2022
Strategic Command: American Civil War (SC:ACW), the upcoming next installment in the Strategic Command digital turn-based strategy series, is set to release at the end of the month. While the setting is a departure from the series’ previous focus on the World Wars, SC:ACW promises to be another solid digital hex-and-counter game. We were able to get our hands on a preview copy, so let’s jump right in and give you a glimpse at what you can expect from it.
The game has two main game modes: standard single-player and hot-seat multiplayer which allows you to search for an opponent online. For both game modes, there is an assortment of pre-made campaigns that start the player at different points during the Civil War. For example, the main ‘Blue and Gray’ campaign starts with the bombardment of Fort Sumter, while the ‘Make Georgia Howl’ start date is fittingly on the eve of Sherman’s March to the Sea.
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SC:ACW also offers a significant amount of customization in terms of scenarios. Although this is primarily done through the option to enable and disable certain mechanics – such as unit build limits – and scripted events – such as the mobilization of the Missouri National Guard – the game is also mod-friendly for hardcore players looking to create their own campaigns and events.
Once you start up a campaign, you are presented with a lot of options to choose from. While the campaign UI is not the most intuitive (or attractive) to ever grace the screen it gets the job done. Your main strategic actions (e.g., diplomacy, unit purchasing, research, etc.) are listed in tabs across the top of the screen while the info panel for individual units is at the bottom. In the top left corner of the screen is listed your faction’s fighting spirit and MPP balance (the main currency used for all in-game actions).
Taking a closer look at the diplomacy tab reveals a map showing the capitals of all the factions in the game. By clicking on their capitals and investing your MPPs into diplomacy you can gain the support of European powers, Native American tribes, and border states.
The production tab is similarly straightforward; on the left side of the panel, you can view all the units available for production, the build limit for each unit type, as well as the number of turns between purchase and deployment. On the right side, you can view the attack, defense, and movement values for the selected unit type.
In the research tab, you can invest in a variety of technological advancements. Some can be used to upgrade individual units while others provide faction-wide bonuses.
Aside from spending your MPPs on diplomacy, production, or research, most of each turn is comprised of moving your troops on the campaign map to capture strategic areas and engage in combat. SC:ACW’s familiar system of hex tiles, action points, and terrain costs should make veteran wargamers feel right at home.
Combat in SC:ACW is fairly simple; unit effectiveness is determined by several factors including unit size and type, terrain, supply, researched technologies, and upgrades among other things. The player aide included with the game explains the details, but most of it is common sense if you don’t want to worry too much about the math.
Beyond player-driven actions, there are also a number of scripted events and decisions that allow the player to deviate significantly, but realistically from the historical course of the war, such as deciding to respect Missouri and Kentucky’s declarations of neutrality or deciding to withhold cotton exports as a bargaining chip with the European powers.
While the majority of gameplay is focused on land battles, the naval side of things plays an important role as well. The strength (or lack thereof) of the Union blockade makes a decisive difference in the course of the war, particularly in terms of the South’s MPP production and the Union’s ability to conduct amphibious landings.
That’s more or less how you wage war in SC:ACW; but how do you end it? This can be done though whittling away at the opponent’s “fighting spirit”. By capturing fighting spirit objectives, such as industrial centers and state capitals, you can force the enemy to capitulate and end the conflict.
Overall, SC:ACW provides a nice mix of classic tabletop wargame mechanics and historical flavor, while still allowing the player the freedom to deviate from history in interesting ways. We can’t wait to dig in deeper and play around more with the alternate history elements that the game offers. Perhaps the Union could collapse under British and French intervention or maybe the Stars and Stripes will fly over Richmond by 1862. Only more gameplay will tell!
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