TalonSoft is no stranger when it comes to American civil war titles. They crafted a series of games under the Battlegrounds title but none in that series boasted 3D graphics. American Civil War: Gettysburg (ACWG), which takes one of the momentous battles of the civil war period, offers a 3D take on the material without sacrificing the strategy.
Of course, 3D strategy titles are a dime a dozen these days. At its core, though, ACWG is still a wargame. That’s evident by the fact that every map is divided into hexagonal squares and you cannot stray from the grid. Battles are also conducted in classic turn-based style. Once you give orders to your troops, they are executed in turn. During the execution is where the 3D actually comes into play. Otherwise, in the planning session, your units are represented by icons typical of wargames.
ACWG is not difficult to pick up. Wargames typically suggest you need a degree from West Point to play them. ACWG keeps it simple. There are only several units available: cannon, soldier, militia, cavalry and general. Some of these are available in half or full battalion modes. Two halves, of course, equal a full battalion but separating your troops will allow you to be more flexible on the battlefield. You could use units to bait the enemy or encircle them.
The interface is also easy to grasp. There are some statistics available but you’re given two general indicators of your army’s health and their morale. When moving, the game will automatically calculate what the terrain will offer the troops occupying the area. In wooded areas, against fences or on hills, you will gain offensive and defensive modifiers depending on the conditions.
This makes positioning an important part of the game. Hills, for example, will be defended because it extends the range and effectiveness of your unit’s fire. Where and how you fire will also have an effect. Charging into your enemy’s rear is a sure way to rout them.
All of the units in the game complement each other. Artillery is viciously effective but it requires you to get into range. It is difficult to position and requires an extra turn to fortify and get ready. Soldiers and militia are pretty much the grunts of the game. Cavalry battalions are mobile and can be used to chase units down or flank them.
There are some quirks about the turn based nature of the game. If you want to fire on a unit, your unit begins firing right as the turn executes. But what if the enemy moves away? Your unit will continue firing on the hexagon the enemy previously occupied. I wasn’t sure whether this was a tactic but it would let me fool the computer by baiting them with a weak sacrificial unit while other friendly units rush in from behind.
Some of the match-ups are also a little unbelievable. I had a half strength cavalry unit rush straight into a full strength cannon crew. Remarkably, my cavalry emerged for the worst while the artillery crew emerged with half strength. A second try resulted in my cavalry being eliminated. In another incident, I had a full complement of soldiers unload volleys into the rear of another soldier while they were distracted by cavalry. Yet the damage was hardly as devastating as you would imagine.
In single player, ACWG offers a campaign mode that strings together scenarios in chronological order. You can elect to play Union or Confederate sides so that offers some replay value. Each mission begins with narration on the significance of the battle but the narrator comes off as flat; the History Channel documentaries will actually sound more exciting. A skirmish mode allows you to play battles on mission maps with units of your choosing. You can allot a certain amount of points to either side to customize the conflict.
ACWG offers multiplayer too, but when I tried it, I couldn’t find anyone to play against. Most likely you will have to pair up with a buddy and join some sort of community for this game – although that was hard to find even with the help of Google. ACWG also lets you play against people on a LAN.
Overall, ACWG is not a terrible game. It is easy to grasp and the addition of 3D definitely makes the title more accessible. Instead of seeing statistics and sprites go at it, you can actually see the battle being acted out. One disappointing part of the game was the strict adherence to the ‘you plan, I plan, then we move’ formula. I would have liked to see ACWG adopt a model like Combat Mission where time is continuous but you have to pause the game to issue orders. That’s also ‘turn-based’ and more flexible if you think about it.
Luckily, it does not take a long time for you to see action in ACWG. The maps themselves are relatively small. It’s not like the old grand war games where you could be on turn number 10 and you still haven’t met the enemy.
Admittedly, I am not a civil war buff. My last civil war title was Sid Meier’s Antietam. Antietam may have taken some liberty with the authenticity license but it was real-time, easy to grasp and exciting to play even for a novice. Unfortunately, my experience with ACWG did not measure up to that classic.