How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Strategic Command: American Civil War gives you the opportunity to battle for the future of the United States in this grand strategy game. Command the Confederacy in a desperate struggle for independence, or lead the Union armies in a march on Richmond.

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JWW
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How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by JWW »

*This started out as a comment intended for the beta test section and grew to this essay. Sorry for the length. I don't intend to argue any of the points I make here, though I respect those who disagree and encourage you to post your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree with me.

When I joined the beta test of Strategic Command American Civil War, I was skeptical about the ability of the game to represent the Civil War in a viable, believable manner. I was concerned that the Strategic Command standard limitations of no stacking and no unit combinations, which have been criticized by some in Fury's other games as well as this one, would provide a totally unrealistic and "broken" playing experience for the Civil War. I was wrong.

What I found in playing the game extensively in the beta test is that on a strategic and operational level the game feels "right." It presents the challenges and decisions one would expect from a strategic level Civil War game. That is in line with the description of the game from the Matrix site: "In this turn-based strategy game, you will control the armies, research, production and diplomatic policy of either the Union or the Confederacy during a time of great innovation and dramatic battles."

The game does not present a realistic tactical level of play, but then it is not a tactical level game. Instead the game abstracts the tactical level of play to provide a remarkable game at the operational and strategic level. I went in skeptical, and by the time I had finished my first game, I was convinced the game developers got it right.

There will certainly be detractors, including those who see the failure to allow stacking and unit combination as indefensible shortcomings. The same criticisms have been made about other SC games, but will be made more about a game based on 19th Century warfare. There is concern that due to the no stacking rules that the game will bog down into a WWI style affair with long continuous fronts. I understand those criticisms, and I know sometimes it just comes down to personal preference. But beyond personal preference, let me briefly relate how SC ACW provides a wonderful strategic and operational game experience while abstracting tactical combat.

First let me define some terms. Department of the Army Field Manual 1-02.1,
Operational Terms, March 2021 (link at end of post), contains the following definitions:

Strategic level of warfare – The level of warfare at which a nation, often as a member of a group of nations, determines national or multinational (alliance or coalition) strategic security objectives and guidance, then develops and uses national resources to achieve those objectives.

Operational level of warfare – The level of warfare at which campaigns and major operations are planned, conducted, and sustained to achieve strategic objectives within theaters or other operational areas.

Tactical level of warfare – The level of warfare at which battles and engagements are planned and executed to achieve military objectives assigned to tactical units or task forces.

Let's start with the strategic level. SC ACW provides an excellent strategic level experience on a huge map. Per the game description: "Strategic Command: American Civil War comes with a massive 66,000 hex map, covering all of North America from Canada and New Mexico to the Caribbean at a 15km/9mi scale. This is the largest hex-based map ever offered by the Strategic Command series!" On this huge map, players have to determine their strategic objectives.

As the Union player, you will have to decide what your main objectives are. How much effort will you put into the blockade? Will you conduct amphibious operations? Where will you make your main offensive efforts? Toward Richmond? Nashville? The Mississippi River? The player will then have to develop and use national resources to achieve those objectives, through unit production and placement and research, as well as replacements and unit upgrades. The player will also have to conduct diplomacy with European nations and Native American tribes.

The CSA player will be faced with similar decisions and choices, mostly involving defending key objectives, but CSA players must also determine to what extent they will conduct offensive operations. There is also the question of whether the blockade will be challenged and how much emphasis to place on research and diplomacy.

At the operational level, once the strategic objectives have been determined, the player will have to bring military forces to bear in major campaigns and other operations to sustain those strategic objectives. If seizing Nashville is a strategic Union objective, then how to do it? Go straight at it? Use the rivers and advance on the flanks? How much combat power will you put into taking Nashville, and at what cost to other offensive operations? What generals will you place in command of the operation?

Likewise, if holding Nashville is a stategic CSA objective, how will that be done? By advancing forward into Kentucky at the earliest opportunity? By establishing a strong defensive line along the Cumberland River? By attacking the Union supply line?

At the same time, each player must ensure forces are deployed to prevent the opposing side from using weak points and openings to attain their own strategic goals or to exploit an operational opportunity, and there are many openings to exploit in this game. This is the core of the operational game -- building forces to seize or hold strategic objectives and then moving those forces into position to attain those objectives through maneuver and combat.

At the tactical level, the game is abstracted. For a game played with units primarily representing large formations, especially once corps are available, and with leaders representing primarily army level leaders, and with the scale of the map, this is to be expected. But within the limitations of the map scale, the force sizes, and the game rules (no stacking, no combining units, etc.), the game abstracts the tactical level very well. Operations even on a large scale will often involve "battles" that come down to an attempt to seize or defend a single hex. This situation is abstracted well with attacks from multiple hexes on a single turn allowed, and with the swapping of adjacent units to continue combat against a single hex in waves. If you can accept this abstraction and just play the game, you will find that on an operational and strategic level, the game is oustanding.

To give an example, in a recent game as the CSA, I made a strategic decision to seize Ft. Monroe from the Union. Operationally I then moved four infantry divisions under Lee to face the Union brigade defending in fortifications outside Ft. Monroe. I placed two divisions adjacent to the Union brigade with a division behind each front line division. Then I attacked, first with each frontline division, and then via the swapping mechanism with each reserve division. It took all four attacks, backed by Lee's leadership values, to eliminate the fortified Union brigade and seize the fortifications. After that, eliminating the Union headquarters unit in Ft. Monroe was easy. The abstracted battle involved four divisions assaulting one hex in waves, an abstracted tactical battle that was the culmination of the operation resulting from the strategic decision to take Ft. Monroe.

Finally, let's discuss the idea that the game will bog down into a WWI style game of lengthy extended lines. To be honest, in some respects this will indeed happen in the East and happened in the war itself to some extent. I'll get back to that. In the West, however, the map is so large in comparison to the number of units available, that a continuous line never develops, and there is always room to conduct extended operations into the enemy's rear. It is just a matter of finding areas that can be exploited. The AI is very good at this, by the way.

But back to the East, the distance from Alexandria VA to Cumberland MD is 11 hexes. This provides avenues of approach straight from Alexandria to Richmond, to the west from Frederick toward Culpepper, and further west down the Shenandoah Valley from Antietam toward Winchester and further south. But it is still just 11 hexes, so both sides will be able to position units in a continuous line on that front if they are do inclined. By comparison, the distance from London KY to the Mississippi River south of Cairo IL is 26 hexes. And the distance from New Madrid MO to Joplin MO is 24 hexes.

Considering the size of the forces that will be deployed in the East to protect Washington and Richmond, it will be much harder to conduct extended operations with deep penetrations, though they can occur with careful planning or if your opponent leaves an opening. If one side does try to form a continuous line, it can be broken if the other side masses forces to create an opening and then exploit it, but the exploitation of the opening will likely be difficult because the East is a narrow area of operations in the northern Virginia area that will likely be heavily defended by both sides.

And in the actual war, despite the fact that there were no long, continuous lines, there just weren't very many large, extended operations conducted in the East, though many were attempted, in part because the terrain compared to the forces involved prevented many successful operations. With the exception of the Gettysburg campaign, there is really no good example of a large force making a deep penetration in the East before 1864. Several offensives were attempted, but most failed.

In game map distance, most of the campaigns in the East were conducted within a 7-hex radius of Manassas, which includes Antietam, Little Round Top south of Gettysburg, and Richmond. For most of the period from 1861 to Grant's 1864 offensive and the 1864 Shenandoah campaigns, the situation was essentially a stalemate in the East with no significant strategic gains by either side. And Grant's 1864 campaign devolved into a stalemate along a 30-mile front for nearly a year.

Meanwhile, in the West, there are many ways both sides can conduct operations. The Union AI will often conduct offensives southward along the Mississippi River toward Memphis, southward and then eastward along the Cumberland River, directly toward Nashville, and east of Nashville along a couple of different possible paths, often simulaneously. Likewise the trans-Mississippi has multiple widely separated avenues of advance. The Confederacy can also use these same avenues to conduct offensives to disrupt US plans and possibly seize key locations. The same offensive and defensive operational possibilities available during the war are available to both sides.

A look at the attached National Geographic Civil War map gives a good idea of the major offensive operations conducted in the war. Look at the East compared to the West.

In, conclusion, after taking part in the beta test and playing several full games as both North and South, I believe SC ACW does an outstanding job of portraying the Civil War as a wargame at the strategic and operational levels. That is what it is meant to do, and it does that well.

*Link to FM 1-02.1 https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs ... -WEB-1.pdf

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gekkoguy35
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by gekkoguy35 »

Great perspectives presented here. I count myself among the skeptical, but you raise some really great counter arguments worthy of consideration. Definitely going to pick this up at some point :)
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by Darrell999 »

These issues were my main hesitation about purchasing this game. Thanks for posting this perspective!
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by Hubert Cater »

Thanks JWW, really appreciate the post and very glad to hear that you've enjoyed the game as much as you did :D
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devoncop
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by devoncop »

Truly outstanding post.

Thank you for taking the time to do this.

I was hugely sceptical as to whether the SC system could be adapted to the ACW but I have done a lot of research including speaking to players involved in the beta and even with very limited time in the game to date myself I think the team have totally nailed it for all the reasons you laid out.
"I do not agree with what you say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it"
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by OldCrowBalthazor »

Glad you saved this post for the open forum instead of it hidden on the closed beta so everyone else in the community can read this, KKW!
Excellent write up and thanks for the map image too. 🤠
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by Patrat »

I was part of the beta test team, and I concur with JWW. I even posted something similar (though not as thorough), some time ago. But unfortunately it was in the beta forums.
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by BiteNibbleChomp »

I think you wrote out my thoughts in making the game better than I could have!. :lol: Fantastic post!

Funnily enough I have had a copy of that exact map hanging on my wall, I referred to it more times than I care to count while making the game :D

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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by Pocus »

I'll enjoy it this week end :D
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by arditidagger »

Can someone direct me to where I can find this wondrous map please? Is it a publication? Many thanks, Russ
Author of: "Italy at War: Uniforms, Weapons and Ephemera". "Japan at War: Uniforms, Weapons and Ephemera". "Italy's Battle Rifle" and "Germany at War: Uniforms, Weapons and Ephemera".
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by JWW »

arditidagger wrote: Fri Jul 01, 2022 7:08 pm Can someone direct me to where I can find this wondrous map please? Is it a publication? Many thanks, Russ
Here is the link I used to post it.

https://www.maptrove.com/media/catalog/ ... ar-map.jpg

And here is the link to the map on National Geographic's site if you are interested in the physical map.

https://www.natgeomaps.com/re-battles-of-the-civil-war

When thinking about the post that eventually became the terribly long essay I posted above, I went online looking for a map that showed major offensive operations of the war with arrows, and the National Geographic map was the best one I could find. It has a lot more information, too, if you zoom it.

I hope this helps.
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by arditidagger »

Thank you Sir. I'd like to find someplace to purchase a copy. Thanks for you reply good Sir. Russ
Author of: "Italy at War: Uniforms, Weapons and Ephemera". "Japan at War: Uniforms, Weapons and Ephemera". "Italy's Battle Rifle" and "Germany at War: Uniforms, Weapons and Ephemera".
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by arditidagger »

Just purchased off ebay.
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by redrum68 »

Just wanted to say great overview and pretty much agree with everything posted.

The one thing that I do wonder is whether the east theater would be better as a separate cut out map blow up to 1.5-2x so that there is more space to maneuver and it was a little less continuous lines. But that isn't an easy thing to do and to figure out where to end the cut out and how to connect it back into the main map.
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by OldCrowBalthazor »

redrum68 wrote: Sat Jul 02, 2022 3:32 pm Just wanted to say great overview and pretty much agree with everything posted.

The one thing that I do wonder is whether the east theater would be better as a separate cut out map blow up to 1.5-2x so that there is more space to maneuver and it was a little less continuous lines. But that isn't an easy thing to do and to figure out where to end the cut out and how to connect it back into the main map.
Actually have a AO scenario like the Ludendorff and Race to Paris scenarios for SC-WW1.
Both of those operational games are fantastic.

I could imagine quite a few locations and time frames that could be featured in the future.
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by Hubert Cater »

Pocus wrote: Fri Jul 01, 2022 2:02 pm I'll enjoy it this week end :D
Great to hear Pocus, and I hope you enjoy it :)
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by Patrat »

To any that are interested, there is a thread on the Steam Grand Tactician forum that discusses this game and even has a link to JWWs post.

It seems that more than a few people have doubts about how well the SC system works with the Civil War. Since they are fans of civil war games like us here. It might be nice for people who have actually played this game to offer their opinions of it in that Steam thread.

Here's a link to that thread.
https://steamcommunity.com/app/654890/d ... 277480361/
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by eightroomofelixir »

Very much agree with the sentiment. Anyone who has played SC:WiE and/or SC:WWI might already notice that, sometimes it's not easy to form a continuous frontline on the Eastern Front of the map - Eastern Europe-Russia is too big to be covered early in the game. By enlarging the ACW Western Theather even bigger, the operational choice will matter much more.

That said, I feel like the Eastern Theather could be made bigger. Having a continuous frontline in the East before 1864 still feels not right, considering that IRL every time Lee moved north (1862, 1863), the majority of the Army of Potomac needed to move *away* from D.C. to catch him.

Additionally, the terrains in Central-Western Maryland and Pennsylvania are too flat compared to real-life; since the map only offers a very limited amount of hexes for MD and PA, as a result, there are not enough spaces for mountain hexes. South Mountain in MD and PA is entirely absent, meaning Cumberland Valley does not exist in the game. That alone would cancel out some crucial operational decisions - for instance, Lee always went through Cumberland Valley to invade north, as South Mountain would at least partly protect his flank, and twice did he concentrated his force near South Mountain passes before accepting/giving a major battle; and Union forces acted accordingly as well.

I know that in the world map for SC:WaW, the European portion of the map has been enlarged significantly compared to IRL (as well as the rest of the map), to portray the European theater in detail. I wonder if the same can be applied to the U.S. map - enlarging Eastern VA, MD, and PA with more hexes, while shrinking the size of other non-front states and regions. Of course, this still means a dramatic rework of the map, event scripts, and AI scripts. Realistically speaking, I can only hope that later patches can address the hilly/mountainous terrain of Western MD and Southern PA.
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by havoc1371 »

Sorry, but the argument made for the game being a good representation of the military operations falls short. Gettysburg battlefield would fit in one hex, yet the game has regiments, brigades, divisions and corps, all with the same limit of one per hex. So in essence, one regiment would "hold" the Gettysburg battlefield. The Eastern campaigns bogged down into a siege of Richmond/Petersburg late in the war, otherwise, most operations (campaigns) were fluid affairs, with divisions and corps marching to a point on a map where they would concentrate for a battle. Instead, the game in the East bogs down into a WW I style line running from the Shenandoah Valley to the Potomac River with very little maneuver other than swapping out units trying to punch a hole.

I do think it does a good job of representing the strategic military and political decision making, but the operational scale is off when it comes to units and map. Out West, where there is wider spaces between towns, a player can maneuver units and get a "feel" for Civil War operations. Naval operations seem to work well, as do amphibious operations to seize Confederate ports. But this doesn't fully compensate for the game falling short of being a true representation of the American Civil War. Still fun to play, if you just want a competitive PBEM game and aren't so concerned with flawed historical accuracy of the military operations.
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Re: How Strategic Command American Civil War succeeds as a strategic and operational game

Post by *Lava* »

havoc1371 wrote: Fri Jul 08, 2022 10:09 pm Sorry, but the argument made for the game being a good representation of the military operations falls short. Gettysburg battlefield would fit in one hex, yet the game has regiments, brigades, divisions and corps, all with the same limit of one per hex. So in essence, one regiment would "hold" the Gettysburg battlefield. The Eastern campaigns bogged down into a siege of Richmond/Petersburg late in the war, otherwise, most operations (campaigns) were fluid affairs, with divisions and corps marching to a point on a map where they would concentrate for a battle. Instead, the game in the East bogs down into a WW I style line running from the Shenandoah Valley to the Potomac River with very little maneuver other than swapping out units trying to punch a hole.
Actually, although the war in the East was not a WWI continuous line of units, it pretty much behaved that way. The Union tried many times to attack Lee, but the Rebs were able to track the Yankees movement and concentrate against them on favorable ground. The Yankees would then commit to catastrophic frontal attacks with enormous losses.

This is a time when the battlefield favored the defense and wave attacks in the open against rifles were suicidal. Even Lee, when he marched North and encountered his enemy at Gettysburg, found that attacking an enemy in favorable ground was sheer madness.

So the war in the East eventually took on a WWI style attrition warfare, with the Yankees lead by Grant, accepting high losses IOT to destroy the Army of North Virginia.

So yea, from a tactical POV I can understand being a bit disappointed that there isn't room to maneuver, but from an Operational POV, sounds like it portrays the war the way it was actually fought.
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