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Blue vs. Gray: The Civil War Card Game
USA (North) deck
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Refight the War Between the States with Blue vs Gray: The Civil War Card Game. Build your army from cards that represent every important general, infantry corps, cavalry corps, and naval squadron in the war from the Mississippi River east to the Atlantic Ocean. Capture the flavor of the war with the unique Enigma Cards which represent important events like the Emancipation Proclamation and the 1864 Elections.
The is the complete USA North deck. It consists of every card you need to play the war from start to finish: 78 map and playing cards and 22 support cards (combat / supply / rules / Order of Battle), as well as 15 control tokens. There are no rare cards, no other cards to buy. In order to play, however, you will need to find a Rebel who has a CSA Deck, as well as a red and a white die (dice and Rebels not included).
- 78 map and playing cards
- 22 support cards (combat / supply / rules / Order of Battle)
- 15 control tokens
I should, perhaps, qualify "lousy rule set". Although incomplete, and frustratingly vague, experienced gamers will be able to determine the game's premise without undue delay. For example: The set-up rule is blurry at best, but as the map is marked only "East" or "West" it is self-evident how to expedite matters. On a more encouraging note, QED Games have begun to address these problems via their web site, are personable to deal with and acknowledge the quandary non-gamers might find themselves in. Having administered a minor slap on the wrist, what will you accrue for your 15 sovs?
Blue vs Gray (henceforth BvG) comes to you as two complete packs of cards (one for each side), is non-collectible and requires only the provision of dice to work. There are around 80 cards per pack, including the rules and map sections. They are of the highest quality, and feature full biographical details of the personalities involved as well as historical data on the event cards. In theory, this acts as a mini-chronicle, and is, I suppose, an entertaining way to expand your knowledge of this conflict. As QED's intended market is the civil war enthusiast who visits the battle sites and seeks out the souvenir booths, it seems a well-calculated gamble. War games, however, are inherently about education (whether absorbed or not), and gamers will inevitably take the record of events and people for granted.
There are 22 rule and order of battle cards, but you can get straight down to business because, (thank you Lord!), card one has an index, and its reverse provides starting conditions. In a first run through, Mike Siggins and I applied common sense (he more than I) and went for it. As our interpretation was mostly correct, "heads down and gritted teeth" will see you through.
The starting map (four cards) comprises an area running from Toledo and Cleveland in the North, down as far as Knoxville, Greensboro and Raleigh in the South. As mentioned earlier, it is East and West that are paramount, and the play cards are marked if they feature in a specific theatre. East is the Atlantic seaboard, east of the Appalachians and including the Shenandoah and Savannah. West is the rest. Commanders and troops are placed from the initial draw (off map, but are considered to be anywhere as long as supply lines and control definitions are met). Understanding this element of BvG is crucial. Troops under your supervision can steam off and cause havoc as long as you are connected to a supply base or city within your command.
Looking now at the Order of Play card, it does seem that designer Jones has done the almost impossible by "editing" the play mechanism to a set of simple instructions. Each turn, both players draw cards (which enable the map to expand), deploy and move, initiate combat, reorganise (if you didn't attack) and re-group.
I did make a note of one factor in the initial examination of BvG, being that of the map draw. If you have a heavy presence in, say, the West, and this area is sluggish to develop, your tactical options will (I think) be restricted. Apart from this, there was always plenty to engage the mind in assessing events and command possibilities. Using the hapless Burnside as an example of the latter (Lincoln's description -- "A brave soldier but a third-rate field leader"), we note that he can command five corps, is not restricted to one particular theatre and will not subordinate, which means he cannot feature as a No. 2 and therefore replace a defeated leader. The two other pertinent ratings are the ubiquitous strength and initiative, which, in a design coup, feature twice on the card for instant reference.
War games live and die on their combat resolution, which was not intended as a mixed metaphor but rather my own opinion having suffered at the hands of a myriad of esoteric combat tables. BvG gets this part of the game absolutely right. Assuming you have met the supply criteria, pick a target (city, fort, port, or a combination thereof) add troops from the hand as required (one at a time), and then roll the red (outcome) and white (casualties) die. If a Generals' or Soldiers' battle is noted, higher initiative wins for the former, whilst an advantage of five or more (strength) earns the laurels for the latter. Doubles and sevens spell curtains for leaders (killed, wounded or sacked). Casualties are removed dependent on the number of cards (and not strength points) in battle. The white die will indicate light, normal or heavy losses, which is cross-referenced with the conflict effect.
This element of BvG comprehensively illustrates what a slick piece of original thinking can achieve. The temptation to "dress up" the combat element must have been hugely tempting, but it amounts to no more than steam in or defend, roll the dice and refer to the perfunctory combat card. Swift and exciting.
The movement segment, whilst equally frugal, caused most problems and simply because it did not appear logical to have your troops stacked "off map" as it were. But, as you mark your gains (with the tokens supplied) the grand sweep of BvG becomes apparent. Simply remember that you might appear to be restricted to Washington, but as long as the conditions are met, Savannah is within your grasp. This truncated movement system allows a full campaign to be completed in as little as two hours. I see many of you salivating at the thought.
Enigma cards (events) are a little harder to invoke. Some require play in sequence (ie Habeas Corpus, which changes the 1864 election conditions), whilst others will be immediately familiar (add 1 to combat results, spare leader, etc). And the text on all is delightful, Union spy Pauline Cushman being "denied a pension, but got a swell funeral". By the way, she's the lady that permits a peek at the Confederate hand.
Victory conditions are clearly defined, and are typical of this type of game. The USA should look to striking hard at Richmond, Atlanta and the Shenandoah Valley and attempting a naval blockade (controlling the Gulf and Atlantic ports). The CSA needs to occupy any native USA city, or curtail the Union's railnet (the crucial supply line).
Optional rules are at a minimum, but one (as stated on the rule card) is a must and that is Theater Deployment, whereby a unit MUST join the war in either the East or West.
As with any card game of this type, replay options are limitless. In one game, I was quick to blame my loss (as the CSA) on the slow advancement of the Western map, but these qualifications are what make BvG so entertaining.
It struck me that the game's enthusiastic designer Evan Jones might be entirely absorbed by his country's civil war, making a series expansion unlikely. But with a delightful system like this ready and waiting, it would be tantamount to criminality if he didn't at least explore the possibility.