Gary Grigsby's War Between The States

Games are story machines. They are designed to create narratives in which the real has been replaced with symbols and the manipulation of these symbols in the course of gameplay produces an imaginary reality.

I have been playing a game for the last few days instead of doing my assigned Civil War reading: Gary Grigsby's War Between The States and here are a few elements of the story it tells...

The war is about managing people - not just about putting the right person with the right attributes in the right position, not just about assembling talent pools, but principally about managing the interactions of people on the same side of the war. This is most intriguing and cuts to the heart of my interest in the ACW.

The war is a political balancing act - here it is represented by a point scale with the player trading off political credits for losses in an attempt to maintain equilibrium.

The war is won opportunistically not strategically - as Hattaway and Jones formulated it, here in play is the politician's concept of war: the accrual of a succession of victories (wherever, however) leading to political strength on one side and political debility on the other.

The enemy's army is not your object - a steady-state recruitment engine regenerates armies over time so as the North your object must be territory with factories and resources, elements that assist or impede loss replacement.

The regular reader of this blog can tell how much reading Grigsby and I have done in common and a number of conclusions we might share. Working through the game you notice his thumb in the eyes of a number of Centennial commonplaces. There is one, however, that does survive, albeit in modified form:

Lincoln's re-election is crucial - McClellan's election does not end the game but entails a turn-by-turn political points penalty on the North and a bonus for the South. One could say Grigsby had failed to heed McMurry's The Fourth Battle of Winchester but he is holding true to his view of the war being a political balancing act. While he seems to reject McMurry's premise that politics could not reverse the military course of the war by '64/65, neither does he make McClellan out to be a peacemaker or appeaser (which would be nonsense). I interpret the political "cost" of a McClellan election here to represent (a) a fundamental discrediting of the Republican conduct of the war (a major election theme in '64) such that the ability to prosecute the war on any terms is harmed and (b) that the political divide of a Democratic president and a (largely Radical) Republican Congress would here be unworkable (as the accession of Johnson proved).

All in all, this game was designed by a reader you would want to spend time with. I'll give some gameplay specific notes in a later post, particularly looking at how the interactions among commanders are managed.

Brett had a couple of posts up about the game, which is how I noticed it.