For the People
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Yes, I know I'm about twelve months late, but imagine if this had been written when Avalon Hill were being absorbed into the fatty tissue of Lord Hasbro. I could have regaled you with an opening paragraph like "And even in their death throes, Avalon Hill maintain their outstanding legacy of supreme strategic wargames never bettered in four decades......".
The good news from Tubby Hasbro is that there will be a trickle of AH titles, that the company will remain autonomous and that the all-powerful Hasbro board have relinquished Advanced Squad Leader to our baseball buddy Curt Schilling who will publish the scenarios independently. If Hasbro pick their spots, then the powerful retail division might well place these ?????? titles in the big stores, and then, who knows?
Irrespective of the future, For The People (American Civil War, full campaign and scenarios) certainly confirmed AH's reputation in the marketplace they dominated for about forty years. And I am delighted that this game does not represent an RIP post.
For The People is the third game in the AH trio of card-generated tactical wargames, following We The People and Hannibal, although the latter's designer Richard Berg pronounced within these pages that had not been his original intention.
Like its predecessors, FTP is driven by a deck of Strategy cards which have a dual purpose. They can be used as either Event Cards or as an Operational device. In both cases, the choices are clearly illustrated, with text and graphics for the various incidents and occurrences and a card value (OC) which allows movement, the placement of forts, the restitution of Generals, the addition of army markers and, what is at the game's core, the placement of Political Control Markers.
All of the above will be familiar to veterans of the series, as will the gameboard, in which key spaces (NOT hexes) are connected by road and rail. I was reminded of GDW's brilliant A House Divided when we laid out the mounted map. It is both colourful and intelligible, and is ambiguity-free. Movement across the board is activated by the Strategy Cards (using their OC value), and in this case Generals and supporting casts can traverse between 6 (Army) and 10 (Cavalry) spaces.
Rapid movement is a pre-requisite. You cannot pussyfoot in this game, and a nervous Union player anxious to hold Washington will be spat on from all corners. Similarly, the Confederate player must strike hard and beware a frisky Union opponent looking to strike using the hugely effective river movement.
The play of cards continues until both players have exhausted their hands. At this point, all gains are marked with Political Control markers and the assessment of States begins. Each player starts with 100 Strategic Will points, and this total is adjusted to account for territorial gains or losses. In all scenarios bar the introductory 1861 game, a variable advantage of SW points determines the winner. The 1861 engagement requires specific state control. So, be extremely wary of surreptitious PC placement, and note that these markers can be placed wherever friendly armies (Strength Points) are in place.
Combat, and there will soon be plenty of it, is determined by comparing the aforementioned Strength Points. Elite Units and Generals provide the nucleus on any Die Roll Modifiers. Initially, this provides a battle size, either large, medium or small. Losses are then established on the Combat Results Table, remembering to verify numbers in the appropriate column. Most losses, and you're a goner and must retreat. Because of the expanse of FTP, recovering ground is very difficult, as you are likely to be fervently engaged elsewhere on the map to worry about reinforcements.
The final act of the sequence of play is Attrition, and a horrible penalty is paid for the encampment of excessive SPs in a space, 3-6 meaning a one step loss, with more than 6 incurring a double penalty. Even worse befalls weary units if they cannot trace Lines Of Communication and are out of supply.
I hesitate to describe FTP as "fast-paced", because players will need to assess their cards, deciding which of the options is more favourable, although if you have events specific to the opposite camp, these can be set aside for the Operations phase. The events are loquacious, as you would expect from veteran designer Mark Herman, and he has encapsulated this well-trodden war in a refined and unpretentious manner.
Blues Guitarist BB King was once asked (not by me) the secret of his style. "It's the notes I leave out", he replied. I sense similar editorial skills within Mr. Herman.