Blue vs. Gray: The Civil War Card Game
CSA (South) 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 division, and cavalry corps 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 people and events like the Draft Riots, Partisan Rangers, Copperheads and the Rebel Yell.
The is the complete CSA South deck. It consists of every card you need to play the war from start to finish: 83 map and playing cards and 17 support cards (combat / supply / rules), 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 Yankee who has a USA Deck, as well as a red and a white die (dice and Yankees not included).
A clever game, that does a good job of modeling the civil war in an abstract way. It takes a couple of playings, 1 per side, to get a real sense of what's going on and what to do.
Very well done.
The only negative is the rules are poorly organized, and you can get a better redone version from QEDs website or better yet, Richard Wein's redone rules.
I originally saw this game at Origins '99, but avoided it because I looked at the combo of cards and counters and feared the worst. At Gencon '99 I was stuck with no room key and 2 hours before any friends would look for me, so I went to learn the demo. I bought the game the moment the Dealer's Room opened the next day. Since then I have taught it to friends and we play it regularly.
The biggest featues to the game were the speed (3 hours to fight the Entire War, after the Union Deck runs out they get one turn before the North decides the war is too bloody) and the simplicity (I could teach a friend quickly). The cards are well designed and the historical text alone could sell it to some players (unit cards have full command and battle histories, Generals have biographies).
The game pushes the north for a historical victory, using their superior firepower to sieze land as the south tries to win the battles they can afford to fight. The beauty of the system is the way numbers matter, but casualties are based on winner AND size of army (in cards, the Union uses Corps, the CSA Divisions), a large Union army can win almost any battle late in the war, but can often take as many losses as the smaller southern loser in the exchange.
The theater based combat system keeps to the speed of the game, though it can seem unrealistic at times. The North attacks from a city they control in the theater (or from the east if it's a naval invasion,) and sends in an army. The defender chooses a force to respond, and the fighting begins. Any unit used in a battle is spent for the turn (unless the defender is attacked in the same area). This keeps you from having to keep track of where units are on a map made of cards and keeps the game moving.
The Map cards are an unusual feature, but if you think about it and they make since. At first, only the east along the Virginia front matters, people thought it would be a short war. The player who gets Kentucky out will deside who controls it, and then the west opens up. Attacking the Deep south by sea isn't in the original Union battle plans, so it's not on the map, you just gun for Richmond. The player who plays a map card also gets an edge (more of less forts, etc.) This helps keep the war contained in the beginning, and it develops slowly to engulf the country.
In short, this game is truly fantastic. It's fairly balanced, realistic, easy (check the web page for clearer rules than the rulebook), and fast (3-3 1/2 hours is really about the limit). I play it almost every week now, and the game keeps us coming back for more.
I enjoy the game, and as stated before teh website has some great additional ideas and rule clarifications, but therein lies the problem, no more website. They have merged with GMT, and done away with the QED website, therfore saying goodbye to any help you might have had. I enjoyed the QED website and wish it was back.
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.