Michael Eckenfels, 30 April 2020
The American Civil War was not a simple affair. Mention this event, or any battle during those bloody years of American history, and you’re sure to have a debate on your hands – political or otherwise. The period evokes a certain amount of interest from those of us uninterested in the political side of things and more interested in the combat and strategic decisions made. There’s also a certain amount of fascination with a war fought with deadly weapons yet using massed tactics that harken back to the days of Napoleon and before, ensuring mass slaughter and a nation that took years to lick its wounds – and in some places, still licking them.
This game, Victory & Glory (V&G) is a Lock n’ Load title that puts you in firm control of either the North or the South. While it is a simple game at first glance, it has a lot of moving parts that the player needs to be aware of under the surface. Things like the Will to Fight (a measure of each side’s willingness to continue the war), European involvement (which brings much-needed help for the Confederacy, more likely to happen if things go well for the South), leadership, foundries, riots, Event Cards, and many other things enrich this game to the point that makes it deep enough to be immersive, yet shallow enough where it’s not a burden to learn (or remember how to play, at a later date).
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The game reminds me, at first glance, of the old Civil War board game by Eagle Games. It had a similar large and somewhat aged-looking map, in brown and sepia tones, where players pushed infantry, cavalry, artillery, and Leader counters about. This game has the exact same kinds of units, though Leaders are actually Generals, and named from historical ones; each is rated differently, as are military units.
Armies are represented by a flag-toting individual from their side, with a small number next to it indicating how many units are part of that army. It’s easy to merge or split off units to form other armies if the player wishes, but that number is very hard to read. On top of that, the artwork on the map, while quite attractive and eye-catching, should not in my opinion use soldiers as, at a glance, the eye does not easily pick out such armies. I think the art on the map should have been left to the woods, mountains, encampments, and other inanimate objects that immerse you in the time just as well. This is a relatively minor issue, but it’s up to the player to see if it really bugs them or not.
The Battle Map, which shows up when two enemy armies collide, even reminds me of the battle board from that old Eagle Games title. Each side lines up units upon this board, with terrain squares appearing at random for either side to take advantage of (for protection from enemy fire).
The game is played in a series of turns; each turn is one month, and each side gets to act during that turn. One side will move units, play Event cards, and fight battles, then the other side does the same. After both play, the month ends and a new month begins.
To move units, each side uses a limited amount of Activations. The number of Activations for a side is displayed in the game and is randomly determined each turn, numbering from three to six. With each Activation, the player can move an army one space on the board. The Forced March Event Card lets you move two spaces if you wish, so there’s ways to manipulate that. Players can also move units via their railroad network, though the North can do this much more easily than the South, which has a paltry infrastructure in that regard compared to their Northern cousins.
Event Cards can make a big difference in the game, and while some are short-term events (such as Forced March), others can have lasting effects. For example, the South can choose to play their ‘Grayback’ card, which gives them $20 instantly, but means they’ll lose $4 if they lose a major battle. That can be really bad later on in the game.
Each quarter (every three months), each side can recruit new infantry, cavalry, or artillery units, though the cost of money to do this is not the only cost. Recruits are limited for each side, though the North has a deeper pool to draw from. Moreover, horses are a limited quantity for either side. Casualties and little things like having a state entirely occupied will negatively affect a player’s ability to have an impact on the battlefield with numbers. The South is at a bit of a disadvantage here, as they were historically, meaning movement is going to be a big part of keeping the North out of Southern cities. That’s not to say, though, the North has an unending supply of men; if they bungle enough battles and lose enough troops, the Northern populace will get quite mad, causing riots that can cause friendly cities to become occupied and not generate income.
Battles are relatively simple. Each side places their units on their side of the battle board, taking advantage of terrain on their side, assigning Generals, and then starting the fight. Players can choose to automate things entirely, partially automate them, or take full control. It might be best when first starting out to let the computer run things and watch, as it’s easy to forget or overlook things, such as not assigning a General to command a corps on the battlefield. Oops.
The after-battle report helps you put your victory or defeat into perspective, summarizing how many casualties (lost units) each side suffers, and then tells you the scope of your victory or defeat. This can be quite disheartening if the enemy is constantly beating you on the battlefield. And let me say this – the AI is incredibly competent.
Naval warfare is handled abstractly. The North has Warships, Ironclads, River Gunboats, and Naval Transports, while the South has Ironclads and Blockade Runners. For the North, new ship builds are placed in a northern Naval Box, and are then deployed to Naval Boxes that are opposite each major Confederate port. Northern Warships are used to blockade Southern ports, and Ironclads are used (by the North) to help protect their Warships. Southern Ironclads are used to defeat Union Ironclads and Warships blockading their Ports. These are all represented by Warship and Ironclad icons on the map itself.
River Gunboats are used by the North to attempt to reduce Southern fortresses along the major river systems in the West. There is a ‘pecking order’ in which these cities are attacked, starting with Cincinnati (if Southern-controlled, of course) and then moving down the line to New Orleans. The effect of a successful Union attack on a Southern-held river fort is to reduce that fort, making it easier to conquer for land-based forces.
The South’s Blockade Runners are used to earn money for their war effort. For each one in a Southern port, the Southern player decides how many to send out to Europe. There is a chance they will be captured heading out, but if not, between two to four turns later (each turn being a month), the Blockade Runner will return, and if it manages again to evade any blockading Northern Warships (Ironclads don’t count in this effort), each one to return will add $4 to the Southern war chest. This represents the selling of cotton to European markets, a very valuable commodity overseas.
The North can also conduct amphibious moves against Southern port cities. Leaving a Southern port city open and unguarded is certain to invite a Union AI player to invade it and occupy it; the AI is not stupid in this regard, that’s for certain.
As mentioned, the AI is pretty astoundingly good, which is significant, because there is no multi-player option. This is strictly a one-player game. There are three difficulty levels in the game – Corporal, Major, and General – where the lower the rank, the easier it is on the human player, though mostly from a logistical side. Going in at Corporal level, say, grants the player more Event Cards, more resources, and reduces the effectiveness of enemy Generals a tad, but the AI still fights competently. I learned a lot about how this game is played just watching it make its moves, which are done right there in front of the player. For example, if you play as the South, you can find out really quickly if you managed to occupy all your coastal cities quickly, because if you don’t, the Northern AI will come after them with a vengeance. This means fewer ports for your Blockade Runners and therefore fewer options to send them to Europe to sell that cotton for much-needed currency.
European neutrality will shift depending on a RNG (random number generator), which is in turn affected by outcomes. If the South wins battles, that’ll help Europeans become more sympathetic; losing battles will have the opposite effect.
It’s all very much common sense, and it’s laid out well in the 52-page manual, explaining not just this but just about every calculation the game makes in determining things. I like this approach, as it’s nice to see what happens under the hood. Plus it somewhat douses the age old argument of blaming the computer for cheating.
There are four scenarios to choose from, two for each side. The Historical Scenario starts off in May 1861 with the Border States neutral; players can choose either the Union or Confederate side for this one.
The other scenario is hypothetical; it’s called the Border States scenario, and it assumes the border states have all voted to secede and join the Confederacy. This means Washington, D.C. is under Confederate control at start, and the Union capitol is moved to New York City. While this gives the South a definite advantage to winning European support, they need to win a lot to keep things moving in that direction. And with the Border States now Confederate, the entire Mason-Dixon Line becomes a battleground, whereas in the Historical Scenario, it just lies there for the taking by either side. I’d thought there would be some kind of penalty for entering a Border State first, but apparently not.
I call out the interface just to point out that it feels a bit clunky; the point-and-click to order (or point-and-right-click to cancel) is intuitive, but finding just the right spot to click to move a unit can be a pain at times. Feedback in the form of why a move is not legal would be a good addition as there were times I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why I couldn’t move an army out of a city some times, but others, it worked fine. I might have been missing an activation, who knows.
Clicking an army will display its component units in a window below the map. These units are rated by experience levels, so zero-level units are entirely green, 1-level units have experience, and 2-level units can be considered veterans. Units gain experience through battles and losing your best units can be a very sad day for your side, indeed.
The game is simple, but there’s plenty here for ACW aficionados to find glory and enjoyment. There are a few issues, as I outlined above, but not nearly enough to not make this an enjoyable experience. I’m not a hardcore ACW fan, but I do have some interest, and there’s just enough deep detail to make it interesting without being overwhelming.
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