Bought it on Saturday, figured I'd share my observations, and ask a few questions (on the latter, please bear with me-- I'm sure that every answer is in the rulebook somewhere, but I have yet to digest everything there).
Again, everything I say below is based on my earliest first impressions (I completed one game as Confederate on easy, and I'm in the middle of my second game with the same parameters).
Bottom line-- GREAT work! As an "out of the box" game, this is remarkably bug free, straightforward to play, and appears to deliver consistent results. I hope that is intent on delivering strong after-market support-- the mark of a great gaming company, and IMHO a move guaranteed to generate repeat business and strong word of mouth. But again, big kudos to the developers for putting together an incredibly polished release (I know, we should take this as a given that a product works as advertised upon release, but let's be real-- how many games ever do?).
Before my observations continue, a few stage-setters: I've been playing computer wargames for twenty years, all breeds (Talonsoft, HPS, Matrix, you name it). I'm also a dedicated Civil War buff, and that extends to computer wargaming-- from tactical to strategic, I've played pretty much every major Civil War game out there (with one noticeable recent exception-- I haven't bought Forge of Freedom, I instead chose AGEOD's ACW). When it comes to Gary Grisby's Civil War, I approached it from a legacy extending back to Frank Hunter's buggy-but-seminal Civil War game, the AGEOD game (which I admire greatly), and paper wargames like the classic Victory Games Civil War boxgame.
I admit, I was wary of picking up the Grigsby game. Given the sudden (wonderful) glut of strategic Civil War games, I wondered whether the Grigsby game would give us anything new, especially in relation to AGEOD's effort, which is an A/A+ game in my book.
My short verdict? I don't see the Grigsby game as doing anything that hasn't been done before at least as equally well. In some areas, it's better; in some areas, a little more pizzazz would go far.
What's best about the game:
1. Stable out of the box. If the game was lousy, this wouldn't matter, but it's nice to be able to play a good game on the first day.
2. Command rules: Still a little fuzzy for me, but more intuitive than AGEOD's effort. Half the fun of any strategic game like this is in setting up command, building units, fleshing them out, etc. I like how leaders are modeled, I like the way they improve or degrade based on performance, I like how the more important leaders seem to pay off. I also dig the activation routine-- I like having to make decisions on which leaders (of which type) I activate and where I do so. Gives me a greater flavor for being the "Commander-in-Chief".
3. Combat: I know it's all just dice calculations under the hood, but the command screen is a nice abstraction. I'd watch battles with rapt attention, hoping that my cannons would score hits, and my infantry would succeed in their charges (and no leaders get hurt!). I dug the suspense. And the results *feel* right.
4. Mechanics: It's an intimidating game at first, but after a single run-through, I got the hang of it pretty well.
What's not so good:
5. I know this is a subjective opinion, but I doubt I'm alone: did you have to make it this ugly?
Now, I'm an old hex-paper wargamer, so things like "chrome" don't sway me if the game underneath isn't solid, replayable and enjoyable. But given that it *is* a great game, what's wrong with spending a little money on a graphics department? AGEOD has an equally solid game, but it looks so much better. I'll give the Grigsby game credit in some areas-- the menu screens are attractive-- but the basic map is bland, the units (whether 3D or NATO counters) are bland, and we don't get anything as pleasant as the AGEOD leader portraits.
Oh, and yeah-- when the game ends, the game ends with a victory score screen, that's it. No victory music or animation? A little reward is welcome after putting in a lot of hours of work.
Now, none of the chrome would matter if the game underneath it wasn't any good. But the game *is* good, so it's a shame that we couldn't get something more attractive.
6. Still not the most intuitive game. Playing as the Confederacy, I'm working under the assumption that, rating for rating, my leaders are better than those of the Union. But how does that aggregate? If a Union stack of 50 brigades of all types is on open ground, and I attack it with a (notionally better-led) stack of 35 Rebel brigades, am I going to have an equal chance of winning? What about versus 60 brigades? How much "math" do I have to look at under the hood in order to understand my chances for success? Any rules of thumb here? I'm looking for "historical results," and the engine *appears* to deliver them, but understanding the engine is key to winning the game long-term.
7. Strange AI choices.
Wow, this game forces you to build a LOT of artillery. I routinely witnessed major battles with 200+ guns on each side, some with even 300. These numbers are quite high in comparison to history (Even the largest battles rarely featured more than 300 guns *total* between both sides, and most far, far less).
Similarly, the Union loves to build a lot more gunboats and transports on rivers than appears historically accurate.
8. I'm not sure whether it's because I'm using them wrong, but some elements appear useless no matter how they're employed.
For instance, heavy artillery appears to be a huge waste of money. They rarely get hits in against enemy ships, and with the large fleets the Union deploys, even multiple batterys of 20 guns each (let alone a single battery) stands to quickly lose out against a fleet of multiple ships. Even putting a heavy artillery battery in a fort doesn't appear to increase their chances for survival that much, and even with an artillery commander leading them, they remain fairly ineffective against passing ships. While the story of the war contains tales of times when ships made it past shore guns (the running of Vicksburg, the Battle of Mobile Bay), these were exceptional events, and are correctly noted for their historic achievements. The routine norm instead was that ships were extremely vulnerable to shore-base artillery, so much so to the point they did not challenge it unless there was a ground force able to silence them (see Fort Donelson, see Vicksburg, etc.).
Right now, the game's lesson is that shore batteries always lose, and lose quickly, against naval forces, while the opposite was far closer to the truth during the war (at least to the point that it largely dictated Union strategy).
Also, how come regular artillery has no impact on passing naval forces? Regular guns were just as effective against bombarding ships, especially along rivers. In Grigsby, only heavy artillery fires at passing ships, even on rivers. Bizarre engine choice if you ask me.
9. Forts are too cheap/unrealistic.
Obviously, Level 1 forts are routine field fortifications, Level 2 represent major fieldworks, and Level 3 are pre-war forts.
But Level 1 fortifications were not routine for most of the war, and anything that would be categorized as routine breastworks/terrain advantages is almost certainly captured by whatever benefits a defending unit already has. If anything Level 1 fieldworks didn't appear en masse until the 1864 campaigns (Spotsylvania, Atlanta, Nashville) and Level 2 fieldworks probably capture Vicksburg, Fort Donelson (which ironically is limited to Level 1)
10. That's about it. I've got specific questions to follow that I'll put in a separate post.
Anyway, bottom line: great game, worth the money, but as a matter of *personal* preference, I don't see much fundamentally different between Grigsby and AACW that requires you to purchase both games. If you're a fan of the Civil War, you might as well get both, you won't be burned. If you're a casual gamer counting your pennies. . . well, you might as well flip one of them to figure out which one you want.
Thanks for the game!