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Three Moves Ahead Episode 112 – A Special Secession Session

April 14th, 2011 by Rob Zacny · 18 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


On the 150th anniversary of the attack on Fort Sumter, Troy and Rob rally around the bonnie blue flag and find Gamers With Jobs’ Erik Hanson waiting for them there. Then they march off to discuss the American Civil War and its gaming legacy. They discuss how changes in a game’s scale also change how the war is presented, why the war has such a hold on the imagination, and what were its defining features.

Along the way, Rob calls the Shenandoah campaign the Cumberland campaign, incorrectly places Cutler in command of the Iron Brigade at 2nd Manassas, and leaves his window open to let listeners hear the sounds of the Cambridge police. Embarrassing errors, or a subtle homage to Burnside?

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18 Comments so far ↓

  • Hawkeye Fierce

    Enjoyed this one a lot. My father and I are both Civil War buffs, and we have a sort of joke similar to what Troy said early on: when you first learn about the Civil War, you’re taught that it was about slavery – the North fighting to free the slaves, the South fighting to keep them. Then, later, you learn that there were actually a whole host of political, economic, and social issues that underlie the war. Then, later, you learn that all of THAT stuff was really just due to slavery.

  • Erik Hanson

    Apologies for consistently drawing discussion away from games.

  • skshrews

    It is interesting that none of the big three Civil War strategy games, Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States, AGEod’s American Civil War, and Forge of Freedom could ever bridge the strategic-tactical divide successfully.

    Of course FOF did try, but the AI was not up to snuff on the tactical maps. All 3 relied on area movement strategically, which to me at least, gave a sense of playing “Risk” over 19th century America.

    You can’t recreate Grant’s flanking of Lee in Virginia, or Rosecran’s outmaneuvering Bragg in Tennessee, on an area map. With “War in the East” managing to produce a capable AI opponent, maybe a publisher can produce a strategic Civil War game with an AI capable of defending over a hex map.

  • codicier

    Apologies for being the be the clueless European in the room but it was fascinating to hear history we don’t pay much attention too on this side of the Atlantic discussed in the context of gamification (sorry Troy, had to get that word in somehow!) .

    Mostly i was wondering what happened in the years following the civil war which helped produce such a long lasting peace between two factions who had seem so drastically culturally different?
    What did the you guys get so right that Europeans got so wrong after WWI?
    (Actually the list of what Europe did wrong in that situation is probably to big and to tragic to think about for too long)
    Specifically did the manner of the north’s victory over the south have any bearing on this?

    Finally if anyone has a good book (or game)they can recommend to someone with virtually no prior knowledge of the conflict now my interest has been piqued, would find me very grateful.

  • Rob Zacny

    A good, single-volume history is always a good place to start. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom would be my suggestion, but I’m sure other commenters will have some additional recommendations.

    The European and American situations aren’t really comparable. When the American Civil War ended, the Union had won a decisive victory, and the South was forcibly re-incorporated in the United States. There was no other power in the hemisphere to destabilize the balance, and the South had no further means of resistance.

    Very different from the way Germany was defeated, yet remained more populous and economically potent than most of its rivals. Russia was about to transform its potential into actual power. France and the British Empire remained powers on the wane, and the United States went right back to denying its role in European affairs.

    It’s important to bear in mind, however, that in many ways the secessionists won the peace. Emancipation only led to another set of travesties, with their own toxic legacies. The US made a fine hash of the peace that any European statesman could envy.

  • Otis

    Great podcast, as always. It’s strange, I used to be a big Civil War buff, and it still has a special hold on me though my history-related interests have largely moved on, but I’d never heard of any of these Civil War games until hearing you all talk about them on 3MA. The wonders of the internet I suppose.

    The only Civil War games I’ve ever played were from the Civil War Generals series. I have no idea if they were any good – or if anyone else played them – but my younger self enjoyed them immensely.

  • Quinten

    I really liked Civil War Generals 2, but I played that when I was ten or eleven. I own the first game, but haven’t gotten an XP computer to run it yet. I remember it being a lot like Panzer General, your units were historical, sort of, and would level up and follow you in campaigns. My favorite part that still sticks out in my mind is the ability to upgrade your units weapons. That and hitting the resupply button caused the sound of spooning something out of a tin pot. The game also had a map editor so you could create your own scenarios.

    Mosby’s Confederacy is an interesting game, but incredibly abstract. You could apply the gameplay to Star Wars without much lost (except Mosby would have a lightsaber instead of a saber). The RPG elements made the game for me, more so than the town and tactical parts.

    Has anyone read John Keegan’s Civil War book? I loved his “The Second World War,” and was hoping this one was also good.

  • Chris King

    I think one of the biggest problems with historical games is history itself. My opinion is that the American civil war is by 1836 a fairly likely outcome. This creates the problem that historical immersion demands that the American civil war should be a fairly common occurrence. The obvious design solution is to create steering towards the conflict. The more steering you put in the harder it is to avoid, which makes Troy’s comment about historical foreknowledge in Victoria 2 highly valid, but is difficult to avoid.

  • Erik Hanson

    Codicier, that’s an interesting question. I think that there are many Americans who would argue that the South’s reincorporation (which certainly was a messy struggle in its own) was greatly eased by the fact that the South was and continues to be a very powerful voting bloc, so national politics has often had to at least partially cater to the political will of the South (made all the more difficult when such catering meant being very slow to act against things like “Jim Crow” laws).

    As a side note, John Oliver’s recent joke (here at 2:20 http://comedians.jokes.com/john-oliver/videos/john-oliver—race-relations/) was definitely in my head while we were recording this.

  • Matt Warren

    As usual, there’s more great information here then I have time to fully explore and appreciate. I literally just posted about the civil war today, and now I’m being pointed toward all this way cooler stuff (thanks Daniel Reid).

    Now, to finish listening to the dang podcast that all these comments ostensibly relate to. :)

  • Bruce

    Anyone play Frank Hunter’s ACW: Sumter to Appomattox? That was the default ACW game when I was playing more wargames. Very buggy and disappointing because it could have been much better, even after patching. Apparently, someone is providing a download, not sure if it’s legit.


    Board games have done the Civil War much, much better than computer games, at all levels. What was the tabletop game Erik mentioned? I’ve listened several times but still cannot make it out.

  • Erik Hanson

    That was Eric Lee Smith’s unhelpfully titled “The Civil War,” published in the early ’80s by Victory Games.

  • Sarkus

    Hunter’s game was a mess, but I did (sort of) like the mechanic where you never knew if your army commanders would do what you ordered or not. And I liked how it handled the optional “who knows how good your generals really are” system.

    Of the more recent titles, Ageod’s is my favorite. And it seems to be the only one of the three to have any kind of active community, which is usually a sign that it worked for a lot of people.

  • Jason Lefkowitz

    Oh my god! Frank Hunter’s From Sumter to Appomattox. I played the hell out of that back in the mid-’90s. It was terribly broken, but had so many interesting ideas that the brokenness seemed not to matter so much.

    The big thing I remember from that game is the way that you gave orders as broad outlines that your subordinate generals would interpret — you define an objective point, the general figures out how to seize it — rather than directly pushing units around on the map. It didn’t work very well, but it was such an interesting idea. I waited fifteen years for someone to pick it up and run with it, which Hearts of Iron III finally did.

    I wish I could share the love for the Ageod Civil War games, but I find Ageod’s system completely unapproachable for some reason. Perhaps this is a personal failing on my part, I dunno. It just leaves me cold.

  • Erik Hanson

    What a wonderful blast from the past, thinking about Sumter to Appomattox. Maybe I just like broken games, and seeing how each new treatment of the ACW tries to add or fix something different.

  • Oh! Be Joyful. | East Pillage

    […] at Flash of Steel, Rob and Troy discuss the war in games, and why it is such a compelling calling for so many […]

  • Iain

    Just an interesting note that there was a scenario to play the full Gettysburg battle (broke down into days) multiplayer. Me and my brother played it cooperative commanding different wings.

    We’re British though, and about 14 at the time, so we didn’t know what Lee was going to do beforehand.

  • kenny b

    Hey there, just got around to listening to this.

    Someone brought up how no-one touches WWI or trench warfare, and asks whether there are games that try to make trench-digging fun. Although I haven’t played it, here’s a game that I think tries to do that, though it’s very abstract:

    “Intense, trench building, action for 1-4 players” — Wow! I guess we’re missing out on something, I never knew trenches could be so intense!