Two boardgames and one pc game.
A house divided
The American Civil War
No greater glory (this is a pc game)
I’ve selected these because they are all turn based, they all cover the entire war. All three were created in the 80’s or early 90’s. At first glance they offer a lot of realism. The individual importance given to the many cities in the game is a fair representation of those cities actual worth, the railroad links are mostly historical, even though their complexity is reduced for the gameplay the effective result is historically accurate. Important matters such as foreign diplomacy are given consideration. What you can accomplish in one turn reflects what both sides could accomplish in the same period of time in reality. It’s clear that these games were all heavily researched. Though certain mistakes can be found, these are clearly there only for practical purposes. These games already take up to 10 or 12 hours to finish with experienced players, so to have an even more detailed game map and an even more complicated game play would make these games impossible to play except by the most dedicated armchair generals.
The three different game maps are essentially the same. The same cities are important, the same troop concentrations are possible. Although in the case of A House Divided it’s a little harder to pull together a huge Confederate army in Tennessee (a move which gives you the best hopes of victory in both the other games).
In all three games the Union wins if it can capture certain key cities in the Confederacy such as Atlanta, Richmond, New Orleans, … It has to do so before the end of 1865 or it’s assumed the Northern population will lack the will to continue the fight.
In the case of No greater glory the war is also lost if Lincoln is not reelected in november 1864. There is an optional rules in the American Civil war where the war needs to be going well for the North by that time. A House Divided does not mention Lincoln’s reelection.
The North has only one victory condition, it needs to conquer those key Confederate cities. In the case of No Greater Glory it’s also possible to win if Jefferson Davis does not get reelected in 1866. This is so late in the game however that it’s almost never a factor. It’s also an anomaly, since the Confederate president was allowed to serve only one six year term. A rule that many consider to be an improvement as most presidents spend a significant part of their first term campaigning and trying to be reelected. We can pretend that in the game the election of a Confederate pro-war president needs to win in 1866 for the game to go on.
Confederate victory conditions are more mixed. In all three games they can win by controlling enough key northern cities without losing too many of their own. They also win if the North fails to win by the end of 1865. This is different in No Greater Glory, the war goes on as long as the Union has the will to fight. In the case of No Greater Glory the Confederacy automatically wins in case France and/or England intervene on behalf of the Confederacy.
In the two other games foreign intervention is far less decisive. In A House Divided it’s almost impossible to trigger. The Confederacy must already be well on its way to winning the war on its own. In The American Civil War there’s a far bigger chance to see France and England intervene. Again it’s not decisive. Both countries send few troops. In the case of France they are even held up in Mexico by rebels under Juarez. This is a nice historical touch.
In the case of No Greater Glory foreign intervention seems to only happen if the Union player actively provokes the European nations. If it abolishes slavery intervention seems impossible.
In the basic game of a House Divided the Confederacy automatically wins if it captures Washington. Only catastrophic mistakes on the part of the Union player could ever allow that to happen though. In the advanced game the fall of Washington is a painful setback for the North, but it does not end the game. The fall of Washington is one of many preconditions to see France and England intervene however.
Abolishing slavery is not possible in a House Divided.
In No Greater Glory the Confederacy sometimes gets the offer to abolish slavery when the war is going very badly. If it chooses to do so it can recruit blacks. It also helps to win favor with France and England, making covert aid and recognition more likely. It comes with a harsh political penalty though. Support for the Confederacy in the South drops off immediately. This affects recruiting. Support can only be regained by winning battles. This makes abolishing slavery a catch-22 for the Confederacy. It’s a last ditch defense that does not immediately pay off. It’s only worth it if the military situation stabilizes, which will be hard, because immediately after Confederate emancipation it’s hard to recruit.
In the American Civil War the chance of having England and France intervene goes up dramatically. Once every three months the Confederacy can ask for help. If it abolishes slavery it wins intervention if it scores a dice roll of eight or more. (Rolling two dice). However, when the Confederacy abolishes slavery it has to roll a dice for every one of its units in play. Statistically speaking it will lose one in three of its units. Although not in the original rules, it can also add 12 production points to its production total. It starts with a total of 80. The 12 points represent black recruits. It has the added benefit that the North can no longer abolish slavery, which would make foreign intervention almost impossible as then the Confederacy needs to win three major battles to have even the slightest chance. When the North abolishes slavery the Confederacy immediately gets 5 infantry units (something like 60,000 men in total) because the Confederates are so angered over this move it galvanizes support. If the North abolishes slavery it gets the 12 production points.
The three games have different ways of factoring in leadership abilities, but all three clearly claim the Confederacy had the better military leaders.
In the American Civil War players can buy generals during production rounds. These leaders are far cheaper for the Confederate player. In fact, every unit is cheaper for the Confederate player except for artillery, suggesting that the Confederacy had not only the best leaders, but also the best infantry and cavalry. As the war goes on things do get more expensive for the Confederacy. The difference in the price of military leadership hugely favors the Confederacy though.
In a House Divided it’s suggested that Lee was initially twice as good as either Grant or Sherman. And three times as good as long as Jackson served under him. When Jackson dies Lee loses some value, and Grant and Sherman improve, making all three of them equal. The game also gives more military initiative to the Confederacy initially. I find this to be at odds with the historical record. The South suffered some essential defeats early on. Only three generals are represented in the game, Lee, Sherman and Grant. The game claims this is a realistic simulation of both sides military abilities. In reality I would argue that Lee was so good, because his opponents were so utterly incompetent (McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker…). Sherman becomes a factor in the game as of May 1862. This seems a little early. Even so, the Confederacy is assumed to have had the better leaders, at least initially. The three generals have no major impact on the game though.
In A House Divived the Confederates gain experience more rapidly, because raw Confederate recruits were assigned to existing regiments so they learned from veterans. Raw Union recruits were thrown into new regiments together, so they had nobody to learn from. This is a nice feature. For a game that overall tries its best to be historically accurate it’s odd that blacks are in no ways a factor in the game.
The most obvious Confederate superiority in terms of leadership is seen in No Greater Glory. Not only are Confederate generals better, they are also far more likely to move when ordered to move. On top of this it is clear that the game engine heavily favors the Confederacy in battles. When the Confederates are the attackers they can often win even if they are a little outnumbered. The Northern attacker can almost never win if outnumbered, not even when defending. It’s actually harder to win No Greater Glory playing with the Union than with the Confederacy.
Players of equal ability should see the North win in A House Divided, especially if all optional rules apply which give the Union player some massive advantages which are historical. It seems these advantages are only put in optional rules to give the Confederacy a chance to win by playing without these optional rules. Players of equal ability might see the South win in The American Civil War, mostly because there’s a big chance of foreign intervention and Confederate units are much cheaper initially. There’s no crucial difference in production points, so the Confederacy can buy crucial amounts of units early on.
In No Greater Glory and A House Divided the Confederacy can not move troops over sea and it cannot perform naval invasions. It can move troops over sea in A House Divived, but only when England and France intervene.
Naval movement is possible for the Confederacy in The American Civil but it’s very limited.
In No Greater Glory the Confederacy can move supplies along rivers, but never troops. The Union player can move both, which is a strong advantage. Since there are only useful rivers on the western front this front becomes super important in this game. The Confederacy has far better options to concentrate huge armies out west than in the east. Historically their biggest army was in the East. This also ensures that this game is almost always decided in the west. (Kentucky, Tennessee…)
Rivers are not factor in The American Civil War, which is a pity.
In A House Divided the Confederacy can use rivers for troop movement easily, which is probably historically inaccurate. I know of no case where large Confederate armies were transported by river.
Politics other than emancipation, Lincoln’s election or foreign intervention
In No greater glory there’s a small political price to pay if you are the first to violate Kentucky’s neutrality. If you’re the Confederacy it’s totally worth it to immediately invade Kentucky with everything you can muster. In reality the Confederacy also violated Kentucky’s neutrality, but with too little troops to become the dominating force in that vital area.
In the other games there’s no price to pay at all for invading Kentucky. The area is a little less important in these two games, meaning, for example, that the North can win without controlling it, which would be a challenge in No Greater Glory.
In The American Civil War and No greater glory you can order a conscription act to raise more troops. Especially in The American Civil War you can suffer an annoying backlash. You can’t order conscription in A House Divided. For the North it happens automatically, for the Confederacy it’s not even mentioned.
In all three games the number of soldiers both sides can recruit is realistic. Meaning that the North might get to 1,000,000 at times and the Confederacy will rarely get to 500,000.
In No Greater Glory you can select your own capital as the Confederate player. You are not forced to have Richmond as your capital. It’s safer to move it elsewhere.
In all games there’s some political price to pay for losing your capital. The worst price is to be paid in No Greater Glory as morale collapses and any foreign help is cancelled for the time being.
In a House Divived it’s very hard to prevent the loss of Richmond almost immediately at the start of the game.
In a House Divided you don’t pay a direct political price for losing battles, but the winning army grows stronger as it gains experience.
Important gameplay differences
In The American Civil War you can destroy the opponent’s ability to move troops along railroads, although the railroads themselves are never destroyed.
In the American Civil War you can capture the opponent’s artillery which can heavily influence the game.
In A House Divided the number of armies you can move in one turn is left to chance.
Railroad links are never permanently destroyed in any of the games, which makes no sense as one of the most annoying things an enemy could do in the Civil War was to tear up railroad tracks.
Support for the Confederacy up north
In the American Civil War the Confederacy has zero support up North. Not even if the Confederacy conquers important Union cities.
In No greater glory there is vital support for the Confederacy if the Confederacy controls key areas there. If the Confederacy has a good military reputation it can easily recruit tens of thousands of soldiers up North, massively boosting its armies. Especially since those recruits will already be close to the front lines and don’t require many trains to get them there. So they are doubly useful.
In A House Divided the Confederacy can recruit in Southern Illinois, Southern Indiana and Southern Ohio. This can be a decisive factor in the game, just as it is in The American Civil War.
Historically this active support for the Confederacy up North is dubious. The Confederacy never controlled those areas, so we don’t know if it could have recruited there. The historical record rather suggests that Confederate recruitment up North would not have been possible. However, as mentioned, we don’t know what would have happened if those areas had been under firm Confederate control. It’s true that those areas in the southern part of Indiana, Illinois and Ohio had Confederate sympathies and got very war weary. This war weariness was heavily influenced by Union setbacks on the battlefield. It’s a questionable aspect of two out of the three games discussed here, but it’s impossible to rule them out as a possibility. What becomes strange in A House Divided is that there are cities up North where the Confederacy can recruit and the Union can’t. This was done for reasons of gameplay only.
Support for the Union down south
Although the Confederacy can recruit in many Northern cities and in at least one city in every border state, the Union can only recruit down south if it controls Knoxville. In reality the Union could form regiments in every Southern city except for South Carolina. In A House Divided southerners never rebel against the Confederacy. In No Greater Glory you can easily lose important areas if you lose battles. Support for the north is high in East Tennessee and Western Virginia and fairly high in Western North Carolina and Northern Alabama. If you don’t leave troops in those areas and you lose battles, the local population will rise up, they may even defeat small armies you left behind. This Civil War within the Confederacy is entirely lacking in A House Divided and mostly absent in The American Civil War. What’s unfair is that riots up North are an optional rule in a House Divided, but no anti-Confederate activity is apparent in the game, except that the Union can recruit in Knoxville. This is a major argument against the game’s reality. In this No Greater Glory is more realistic.
The most important gameplay difference concerns logistics. In No Greater Glory you need to make sure you supply all your troops. If you have 40,000 troops in a city you need to get 40,000 supplies to them every turn (=four months). If you do not a substantial portion will desert or die from disease. The attrition rate is particularly severe if you play the game on the very hard level.
Logistics are automatic in A House Divided, you just need to make sure there’s a railroad linking your army and at least two important cities. Even if this is not the case you lose only one unit (=12,000) men. If you have a large army this is an insignificant loss. In No Greater Glory you can lose far, far more men if they are not adequately supplied. Even the smallest lack will cost you dearly.
Logistics are not a factor in the American Civil War.
As many students of military history know, logistics are crucial. That two of these games do not really pay attention to them is the main argument against their realism. However, in reality both armies almost always managed to keep their armies supplied. Even Confederate armies didn’t lose battles because they ran out of ammo.
Only No Greater Glory factors in the effect of the naval blockade. You have to get supplies through the blockade to maintain your armies. The effect of the blockade is not a factor in the other two games. In those two games the Confederacy is never threatened with starvation.
In reality not the quantity, but the quality of certain materiel was an important factor. The poor quality of Confederate artillery made Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg an even more desperate undertaking, for example. The inferiority of Confederate arms is not reflected in any of these three games. In The American Civil war the Union can buy artillery a little bit cheaper, but that’s all.
In No greater Glory: if the Confederacy has more troops in a battle it almost always wins. If it’s not too outnumbered it almost always wins, even when attacking… The outcome of a battle is automatically decided by the AI. It favors the Confederacy.
In the American Civil War: battles are played out in detail. You win a battle by breaking through on a flank or in the center. This is a very realistic representation of how Civil War battles were fought. The larger army doesn’t necesssarily win. This game has the most realistic battles. Although dice are a part of the battles, the odds are very realistic and balanced. If dice are rolled for initiative before a battle – an option – too much is left to chance and the game can become quite silly and unrealistic. The less things left to chance the better.
In A House Divived: battles are played out in detail. To apply all the rules makes for very cumbersome gameplay, but the basic rules or agreed upon house rules make it manageable. Outcomes are realistic. The larger armies usually win, but entrenchments and experienced troops can drive back a much larger army.
None of the games simulate a historical command structure, which would probably only be possible in a much more modern, much more complicated pc game. What I mean by this is: a Civil War general could not possibly order around every regiment, not even every brigade and not even every division personally. He had to delegate. This gives a player much more control than a commanding general had in reality. All in all both board games manage to render a simplified, yet realistic representation of Civil War battles.
- Two out of three games assume there was vital sympathy for the Confederacy up North
- None of the three have separate black troops. In reality blacks were not mixed with white troops. Perhaps this is done because it would be meaningless for the gameplay
- In only one of the three games foreign intervention immediately sparks a Confederate victory
- The quality of weaponry is not a factor
- Logistics are a major factor in only one out of the three games, unsurprisingly it’s the pc game. Perhaps it would be too cumbersome to feature logistics in a board game
- In one of the games, A House Divided, which is highly accurate in some aspects, completely ignores the issue of emancipation
- In two out of the three games the Confederate player is likely to win. In A House Divided an inexperienced Union player will almost certainly lose early in the game, although the Union enjoys some massive advantages. The game even has an optional rule to prevent an inexperienced Union player from losing. The clear suggestion is that the Confederacy had a very good chance of winning the war in the first two years of the war
- In all three games the Confederacy enjoys far superior military leadership (which is historically inaccurate, as the success that the Confederacy enjoyed was mostly limited to the Shenandoah valley and the small area between Richmond and Washington, everywhere else everything went rather badly for the Confederacy)
- Only No Greater Glory allows for the destruction of towns and this damage is usually very limited. In reality you can of course burn an entire town to the ground as happened to Chambersburg up north, and Atlanta and Colombia in the south. This makes raids useless in all three games. You can’t burn the other player’s supplies for example. In reality Grant had to postpone an attack on Vicksburg because Earl Van Dorn raided his supply depot.
- Someone who is not very familiar with the American Civil War will be introduced to almost every aspect of the conflict
- No Greater Glory is the most realistic in most aspects of the conflict, but very unrealistic is how easy it is for the Confederacy to win battles. Even on the hardest level you can conquer the entire north if you focus on conquering Kentucky and the Northwest first. This offsets the realism in the other aspects.
- The most realistic is probably The American Civil War by Eagle Games. Movement is restricted. The fall of cities destroys railroad transport points (though not the actual railroads) and the effects of emancipation and of foreign intervention are realistic. Also the battles come closest to resembling the challenges of actual Civil War battles. Its rules are far harder to master than those of A House Divided and the game map is badly designed (it’s hard to locate things).
- None of three devote any kind of attention to the suffering the war cost. Buying artificial limbs for the amputees in your army is not a feature.