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Preview -- Lincoln's War

23 May 2011 02:00 #197064 by Sagrilarus

A few years back I was standing at the World Boardgaming Championships looking at the games table in the open gaming room when somebody behind me said, "does anybody want to try out a new game?" The offer wasn't to play the newest title from an established publisher, this was an offer to play-test a game still in development and the guy asking was its designer. I'm not the biggest fan of playing half-baked games with strangers so my initial reaction was to stay quiet until other people claimed all the spots and then go back to what I was doing. But a quick look around me indicated there were exactly two of us within earshot, so I was pretty much on the hook to answer one way or the other. The man making the request had an honest face, so I decided to go for it. Five minutes later I was in the war room, sitting down to a map of the Middle East with several piles of chits and cards on the table beside it. This was a Dudes-on-a-Map game, one that worked political, economic and military aspects into a single unified play. World War I? North Africa Campaign? No to both. This was set in the age of the Caliphates, when struggles for power happened in grand palaces as much as on front lines, and this prototype game before me worked that into the mix. I grabbed (and held onto) the Caliph card early in the game but it wasn’t enough. Despite controlling much of the game flow from this powerful position I came in third of three players, victorious in the back rooms but defeated in the field. I wanted to play again, and still do. Though still in development, this was a good game about a time and place most gamers know nothing about.

Such is the nature of John Poniske's brain, where no conflict is too small or too obscure to be ignored. A middle school Social Studies teacher, John is more likely to be creating games for lesser-known moments in history (and bringing well-considered historical perspectives to them) than working on the conflicts that overwhelm the shelves of your friendly-Internet-wargaming-store. His King Philip's War generated a bit of controversy last year due to its subject-matter -- the first war on the North American continent between English settlers and the indigenous nations of New England in the 1670s. In spite of being a pivotal moment in American history the war had not been consimmed and perhaps for good reason -- the tribes local to the area took exception to the very concept of the game in spite of having no personal experience with it. Once the local press got a hold of the story Mr. Poniske found himself in a unique position, having to add ambassador, educator, and public relations representative to the list of roles a wargame developer needs proficiency in.

His most recent effort is Lincoln’s War, bringing him back to more familiar territory for most gamers and doing so just as the American Civil War enters into its 150th anniversary. Given my personal interest in the subject matter (I have significant familial ties to the war) I took the time to pose a few questions to John, in an attempt to find out what Lincoln’s War is, how it works, and what obstacles lie between where it is now and where he’d like it to be – published and spread out on your kitchen table.

This would be a silly question for any other designer, but given his tastes for obscure conflicts I opened my conversation with Mr. Poniske with this simple question –

Why the Civil War this time? You’re actively working titles set in Haiti and New Zealand, what made you decide to revisit one of the most widely simmed wars in history?

For starters, I grew up in Springfield, Illinois, surrounded by Lincolnmania. Shoot, our license plates sported “Land of Lincoln” on them. Every time relatives visited, we visited all the Lincoln sites. I lived five miles away from New Salem where Lincoln lived and worked as a young man. My best friend is caretaker of the building where Lincoln tried his first legal case.

Beyond that, I’ve always been piqued by the Civil War as our country's historical turning point, our societal hinge, so to speak. So much of who we are had its origins in the conflict. It became the subject of my first game design although it was not until years later that I saw the need for a political approach to the war. I’ve never been much on the minutia of battle but I was always fascinated by the amazing colorful personalities produced by the Civil War. I felt more of these characters needed to be exposed to our hobby.

LW_Image_1_Box_Cover When I began Lincoln’s War I did it with politics in mind. I wanted to approach the war from a Presidential point of view, having decisions hinge on the amount of political support a player could garner. From the very beginning I wanted to counterbalance that support with the many detractors both Lincoln and Davis were forced to deal with.

Civil War seditionists are a concept rarely seen or discussed. I thought their story needed to be told. At the same time I wanted to invent a different approach to combat, one that was a bit more chess like and less reliant on luck. For this reason I introduced the twin mechanics of battle resources and Enthusiastic Support Points or political backing for specific Generals or campaign strategies.

To prep for this interview I spent the time to read the draft rules from cover to cover. One of the things that struck me is how beautifully that "Presidential point of view" you speak of blends into the mechanics of the game. Thematically your concept of Political Currency is a nice representation of the reality of history (modern day politics as well) and lifts the game above a simple combat title. Presidents can only act with the support of their constituency. This game is about managing your resources, and Political Currency points are the energy, the life blood of the play. Generally when I'm playing wargames I have a pretty good idea of what troops and firepower I'm going to have to work with. It's not so simple with Lincoln's War, is it?

I suppose the mechanics are pretty simple. The sequence of play may be a bit longer than players expect, but still, players quickly move through each bit until they come to the Operations Phase, or card play and combat. Here the rubber meets the road.

I designed the game to offer the player the widest array of options possible. However, every choice revolves around ensuring a stable flow of Political Currency. If the President does not have the backing of his administration he is left scrambling for support in the face of an enemy whose will to win overshadows his own. Each turn players must allocate a certain amount of their political capital to savings or they will find themselves in political poverty in the following turn with increasingly limited options. At the same time allocating too much political capital is akin to making too many promises and getting nothing done. It is, as you say, a delicate balancing act.

A delicate balancing act indeed, especially since Political Currency is the prime way to win the game. From the draft rule book:

If at the end of any campaign season(i.e., any turn) a player has driven his opponent to 0 PCs, he has achieved victory. This represents political collapse.

This is auto-win; this is the game ending on turn two because you reached too far and your opponent got some lucky breaks on the battlefield, eh? Essentially 0 PCs means you’ve been so disgraced in the eyes of the people that you have no choice but to withdraw from the war. This isn’t just about chits in the field, this is about Lincoln overreaching, about Davis failing to deliver on his promises.

Operations on the battlefield are likely to cost you Political Currency mid-turn (after you’ve already spent), so you have two actions that are in direct conflict with each other. You want to spend Political Currency to empower your Generals in the field, but how far do you push? You don’t know what your battlefield costs are going to be until after you’ve invested, so the more you invest to increase your combat capabilities the closer you stand to the edge if things go badly in the field. Losing battles is not popular – it costs you in public support (i.e., additional loss of Political Currency mid-turn) and you begin to spiral down. How do you break that spiral?

First and foremost, if you have a seditionist in your hand, get him out early. You don't want to be facing a deficit at the end of the turn and then have to play Joseph Brown's negative points.


A quick backfill for the studio audience -- we’ve talked about the broadest concept of ruleset -- Political Currency and its use to build capability. But we haven’t described where it comes from or what it does. Let’s put up a couple cards to look at:


This is card-driven wargaming. Most cards look like the two shown here, and each serves multiple purposes in the game. The number in the upper-left indicates Political Currency points. If you like you can play the card and just bank them – bump up your Political Currency total to prevent running out later in the turn and discard. But you also can use the points to improve your strategic position on the board. This is the part of the game where you spend points (from cards, from your reserve, or a combination of both) to promote or reassign Generals, purchase Naval fleets, generate support, resupply troops, etc. These two conflicting goals, keeping a solid PC reserve versus spending to build military capabilities is the primary conflict in the game – the risk/reward balance you need to strike on each turn. In the case Samuel Curtis on the left, that tough choice is good news – playing this card gives you positive options to choose from. In the case of Joseph Brown (that John mentioned above) the tough choice is bad news. LW_Image_3_Brown_CardThe negative number of this guy’s card means he’s nothing but trouble for Jefferson Davis, and in real life that’s just what he was. When you draw this card you have to deal with the consequences. Just hold on to it? Well . . . you see there’s text at the bottom of some of the cards too, like on the Curtis card above, and sometimes that text gives your opponent the opportunity to stuff those negative points someplace you don’t want them to be. He may choose to use that part of the card instead of its Political Currency value -- each card can be played in multiple ways. So it sucks to play Brown early, but at least you get to manage the bad news yourself. As in Twilight Struggle, a card draw can be just what the doctor ordered, or it could be a dose of the plague.


A player has to have a good idea of what kind of cushion he will be comfortable with... 5 points (pretty shaky)? 10 points (won't buy you much in the coming year)? 15? 20? Then plan accordingly. Identify the cards that will afford that cushion and plot military campaigns based on the card resources that remain.

If field maneuvers go awry, as they often do, sometimes you will have to cut your overall plan short. Sometimes you will need to use valuable PC cards for their combat resource and the replacement you receive is less valuable (or worse, a seditionist). If you don't start to reverse that downward spiral by the 6th card, it could very well be too late.

I suppose that’s the nature of wargames. You need to take risks, but you need to make sure “bad” doesn’t turn into “worse” by sticking to a plan that isn’t working. What are your chances if you choose not to engage? You can bank a lot of points if you’re not building armies, right? Can you win without waging war?

This is a very good question. Once upon a time I would have said yes, but it was such an unsatisfying win, changes have been made to avoid that possibility. Now I would have to say no, not at all.

I have never personally attempted to win a conservative card victory, but I have seen others do it. The result is not pretty. Nothing stops you from banking all your PCs, or from skimping on your purchases. In fact it is incumbent on the Confederate to be very frugal. Still, if you do not spend Political Currency on promoting your Generals and take the occasional opportunity into your opponent’s territory there will be consequences; some could be fatal.


John Poniske on the right, playing a recent prototype copy of Lincoln’s War

In the Eastern Theater the Union player must either attack a Confederate force or army or enter a new Confederate held hex each card hand or suffer -2 PC point penalty, every campaign season. If a Union army moves adjacent to Richmond (either by march movement or by advancing after combat), the Union player is awarded 1 PC. If the Union player attacked a Confederate army in Richmond, the Union player would receive 2 PCs points -- one for being next to Richmond and one for attacking a Confederate army. These awards are made once per campaign season. The Confederate player is not under the same restrictions and need not attack in the East. In fact, due to internal disagreements, whenever the Confederate player attacks into or attacks a Union force or army in Northern territory in the Easter Theater he is restricted from using Enthusiastic Support Points.

You could certainly play a “Scrooge McDuck strategy” but you will be punished and learn the error of your ways. Sooner or later you have to lock horns with your opponent.

Presumably these Eastern Theater penalties on the Union side are a reflection of the pressure Lincoln was under to show progress in the war?

Correct. The Southern capital was so close and the North was so sure that the rebellion would fail if Richmond fell that there was enormous pressure to fight in the East.

But capturing Richmond isn’t auto-win . . .

To recreate that in game terms was problematical. In the beginning, I made capture of an opponent's capital a game-ender. This meant that players either did a 'do or die' kamikaze attack very early in the game OR they squatted and did nothing in the East for the entire game for fear of failure. A significant number of reinforcements enter in either DC or Richmond. Players see this gradual build and reflect on how devastating the loss of their respective capital would be if they go off campaigning (Lincoln expressed this fear time and again, while still keeping the pressure on his General in Chief to "March on Richmond"). For the longest time, play-testers would simply stack units in the East and dare their opponent to attack.

I next removed the capture of a capital as a game objective and instead over-priced the capitals making each worth 10 points. Since capture of an enemy city means the victor gains the city's supply points in PCs and the defeated player loses them this was a point swing of 20 points, essentially still a game-ender. I reduced it to five but the point swing was still too great. I finally came to the conclusion that forcing the North to act, as Lincoln was forced to do by public opinion was the answer. If the Northern player is forced to act (braving political fallout or a Political Currency loss if he does not) and the point gain is more modest, he would do it more cautiously. This in turn would force the Southern player to react in kind. Capture of a capital, obviously a huge moral boost, still had to be addressed. I did so in the geographic objectives at the end of a scenario, by giving a player a one-time three-victory-point bonus for capture of an opponent's capital.

Part of what’s really captured my interest in this game is that kind of connection to the political realities of the war. Neither Lincoln nor Davis got to conduct their war in a vacuum. Each was dealing with the kind of external pressures that we see affecting our leaders today. Often what they want to do simply isn’t an option. Reality intervenes and compromises need to be made. US presidents go after big projects in their second year in office for a reason – it’s generally when they’re in the strongest political position both inside the beltway and out. Conducting a war across 4+ years means actively managing morale nonstop through the entire lifecycle of the presidency, and throughout the entire region of the war. As I read the rulebook (and everyone here on F:At knows how I feel about rulebooks now) I found myself reading passages that not only made the game more interesting, but made perfect sense historically.

Maryland and Delaware are for all intents and purposes under US control.

Missouri is under nominal control of the Confederacy. Springfield, Jefferson City, and Hannibal begin rebel-controlled and remain so until captured by Union forces.

Kentucky belongs to no one. The first player to invade Kentucky is penalized 5 PCs and for the remainder of the game all uncaptured Kentucky cities are considered controlled by the opposing player. Until a player invades and controls at least one Kentucky city, railroads and rivers (with the exception of the Ohio and the Mississippi) within its borders may not be added to a player’s rail or supply net. Control of Kentucky means controlling 3 or more of its 4 cities.

The rulebook is rough right now, the victim of dozens of revisions, but it’s there. The nature of the war is there. The first guy to move troops into Kentucky is going to pay, and that’s a pretty solid reflection of how Kentuckians felt about the conflict.

You’re really showing us the inside picture here John. There’s a lot of paint layers on the canvass. How long has this been in the works?

I have been working on Lincoln’s War since the year 2000. I created the first play-test components sometime during 2001-2002. My original approach was a card game played on a geometric mat. This morphed into a card driven board game I called A Peculiar Conflict, a play on the Southern phrase “peculiar institution.” My initial decks held 100 cards apiece and contained equal numbers of historical politicians, military officers, and civilian movers and shakers (among them John Brown, John Greenleaf Whittier, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harriet Tubman).

Along the way I’ve had to shed many characters; sadly most of my civilians. I’ve eliminated a series of complicated siege rules and in an effort to streamline the rules, also did away with more expansive riverboat and cavalry rules. Many of the optional rules have been integrated into the trunk rules whereas a key component of the game (Peculiar Traits) was relegated optional status. Originating in Pittsburgh, I’ve play-tested the game in New York, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Rhode Island, Maryland, Virginia as well as Pennsylvania. Lincoln’s War has come a long way, and looks much different from its predecessors.

I gotta be honest with you John, I really like maps. I’m glad that got worked into the mix. But I’m a little freaked out that if I play the Union I’ll be looking at it upside-down. It just feels so . . . Canadian . . .

Regarding the city names, the end result should allow each player to read his own cities right side up. I'm with you, I always felt that printing from one perspective always seemed to give one side or the other a moral leg-up in a game.

You know Labyrinth: The War on Terror has the players sitting side-by-side. That may be worth a look.


So you spend ten years and the game grows, and changes, and starts to settle in to a form that can become a marketable product. In theory the hard part is done, right? All that’s left is getting it to the printer . . .

Hard part?! Designing may be frustrating but I don't consider it hard, fulfilling is more like it. The hardest part about designing is that a game never seems to be done. It's not as if an idea is born and flows out fully-matured and then the tap is shut off. It's more like the creative spigot is twisted slowly shut but continues to drip new ideas that spring from new experiences, new readings, new game mechanics, and so on. Just yesterday, it occurred to me that railing large bodies of troops from one district to another should be a political football and as a result a PC expenditure. We are play-testing the concept now. No I think the hardest part of game design is getting the word out. Marketing has never been my strong suit and I've had to rely on my friends to guide me through it.

When I spoke of the design being the hard part it was a straight-line, because in the wargame genre it seems the real hard part is getting the game to actually print. 300-600 pre-orders needed depending on the publisher, and often a marketing budget of $0. It's a miracle any of them at all get printed.

To a large extent I think part of that is due to a truly insular meeting place on the Internet -- Consimworld. It simply is not designed to provide the kind of cross-pollination that BGG or even smaller satellite sites like this one can. No single dominant publisher to unify the message doesn’t help any either.

So the straight-line was this -- you've got the game largely worked out, you’re detailing the art and the little bits and pieces. Though a joyous labor, design is the part of the process is supposed to be the most difficult to do -- where the real work needs to be done. But what follows, the marketing, seems much harder in this genre. The potential purchaser population is so small . . . how do you expand it? Where do you market? How do you reach potential new players? Do you publish a game like Lincoln's War through the National Park Service? How do you get a preorder list to move beyond the 275 people that seem to sign up for everything? This is an honest question and not just for you. I’m looking for anyone reading this to chime in. How do you sell a game people aren’t specifically looking for, and how do you sell that game when it doesn’t exist yet?

Wow, the million dollar question! Gamers are only a small percentage of our population, but then again, we have a big population. Now, war gamers are only one faction in a hobby that embraces computer-gamers, RPG-ers, Euro-gamers, word-play gamers, miniature enthusiasts, and traditional gamers (Chess, Dominoes, Bridge, Rummy, etc.). A particular theme might interest those in another segment of the hobby just as it might interest those outside the hobby. I am hoping that the Civil War Sesquicentennial will excite renewed interest in our history and incidentally in Lincoln's War.

It is no mistake that MMP moved the game to preorder status prior to the Sesquicentennial. Excellent timing. Still, as you said, the real problem is letting people know that Lincoln's War exists. I have to say that word of mouth is the biggest factor in any enterprise. Ours is not a business that relies heavily on advertising or the media (newspaper coverage of King Philip's War was a fluke of major proportion and unlikely to happen again), at least not in the U.S. So far I have posted on the usual computer sites but I have also made personal appeals to fans who show keen interest in the game to spread the word. I will continue to do so. National Parks rarely commit to preorders but I have written to Civil War Round Tables around the country, and will continue to do so.

If I could obtain a list of game groups around the country I would make every effort to contact them as well. I realize game groups are pretty ephemeral but would anyone have a source for game group contact information? I also plan on visiting and displaying Lincoln's War at the major conventions this year, at least the ones I can afford.

Ultimately I think the success of any pastime is its ability to attract new people. At some point there needs to be a broader outreach, some level of visibility that captures the attention of people not familiar with the hobby.

Here’s how I originally got into Wargames – my buddy up the street sat me down across the table from him with PanzerBlitz in between. We were maybe twelve. He had never played a wargame before, nor had I, nor had his Dad, the owner of that copy of PanzerBlitz. His Dad had stumbled across it in the military history section of a local book store and bought it solely based on the graphics and liner notes. This was a cold-sale, an impulse-buy, a significant risk of his dollars considering how undefined and obscure the industry was at the time. It was a considerable risk for Avalon Hill as well, who in the 1970s needed to take chances, needed to print on gut feel and hope for the best. But it paid off. Thirty years later I’m still spending money on PanzerBlitz’s descendants because someone shoe-stringed a production run and found a way to get a real-live copy of that game into a potential customers hands; someone found a way to enable the impulse buy. That option doesn’t appear to be economically viable anymore.

The point is this -- a certain amount of cold-sales (real ones or preorders) have to happen each year as word-of-mouth channels reach their logical dead-ends.

King Philip’s War caught fire because someone got upset and caused a fuss. People that didn’t even know what a wargame was took notice of the concept. So I think the next question is obvious here John: who are you planning to offend this time, and how do you plan to draw their attention to Lincoln’s War? I’m thinking you may need to grow mutton-chops.

LOL. Who am I planning to offend, probably anyone who has a favorite General in the war. I've noticed that we ACW enthusiasts are drawn to the study of a particular campaign and out of that campaign we choose to champion a particular officer, a hero if you will. At the same time we usually single out another officer for villain status. Wargame designers rate Generals on their historical performance, at least the performance as seen by the historians who influence the designer. Inevitably, ACW fans will dispute their statistics. Already Adam and I have had to agree to disagree on the relative effectiveness (ineffectiveness) of certain Generals. I expect I haven't heard the last General comparisons. Regarding muttonchops, I have a narrow face so I imagine muttonchops would not sit well on me - good suggestion though.

Yeah, well you haven’t indicated that my relative General William Baker Curtis is in the game so for the moment this one could go either way for me.

Sorry, but I only included Generals of note . . .

This interview isOVER.


. . . Generals of note and out of necessity, not all of them. I did include Union General Samuel Curtis, does he count?

Black sheep of the family. Actually William Baker’s son Josiah was the Medal of Honor winner, carrying the U.S. flag over the top of Fort Greg as the Union busted its walls. I can’t imagine rushing at four-year veterans with nothing but a flagpole in your hands, but I suppose that was business as usual at this point in the war. A different world really.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the economic aspects of the gameplay but fundamentally all of that is in order to support the troops in the field. Let’s spend one last section addressing the combat. My first question is pretty basic – how are “the men” represented? I’ve read the rulebook (found here in draft form by the way -- but I don’t see clear references to chits that represent troops other than the Generals’ chits. The men appear to be part and parcel of his numbers. Is this the case? Is the entire army consolidated on the General’s chit? This wouldn’t surprise me in a grand-strat-level wargame, but I want to make sure I’m reading it correctly.

Regarding troop representation, you read correctly. The game revolves around personalities and their abilities, troop numbers are secondary.


Curtis and Johnstone markers, one side displaying their numbers as a one-star General, the other as a two-star.

Each General enters the game as a one star General. He carries three stats, activation, offensive capability, and defensive capability. How he reacted and fought historically is represented by these three factors. Overall, each star represents a brigade or 3-6 regiments. When a General is promoted, he is assigned additional men and his stats increase. A General can only be promoted to three stars, and then only those Generals who carried the General-in-Chief Baton or who had any hope of carrying it can be promoted to three stars. Each side has the ability to promote one General to General-in-Chief at the beginning of the game (this General carries special abilities) and as the game progresses other Generals may replace him -- but you will pay the price in Political Currency points to do so.

Activation numbers range from 1-3, but the RELUCTANT GENERAL card may be played on an opponent's General which would increase his activation to 5, in effect, making him an anchor. Offensive and Defensive numbers range from 1-6, based on the way a General handled his troops. To throw in some surprises, I have included what I call Erratic Generals for whom a player has to roll in combat. The roll result is found on the General's table on the Player's Aid. This would allow a General to add any factor including 0, between -2 and +4 depending on his rank. There is a correlating effect for erratic personalities in the cards in which political "assistance" must be rolled for. In this case the individual might offer advice to the tune of 0-4 PCs.


“They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance.” –General John Sedgewick's last words.

Bad things appear to happen to you in two ways: Generals getting shot in the head (always a crowd pleaser) and armies getting damaged and bogged down via Immobilization Tokens. The first is the more visceral. Generals get shot in this game, don’t they? Anyone who’s visited a Civil War battlefield understands that there were an awful lot of Generals in the war and they had a habit of catching bullets. If the troops are embedded in the General’s marker, what happens to them when he dies?

When a General dies in combat, as happens every game (more likely for Confederates -- you gotta admire brave Southern officers cavorting on the front lines) the General marker is removed and each of his stars is replaced with what I call a Transition Troop marker. These troops, although technically not leaderless, must endure a period of time in which they are reeling from the death of their commander, a time of transition for the men and a time of command restructure. TT troops cannot be activated on their own but are nominally attached to another commander. In addition, they fight as would an erratic General, so their worth varies widely. TT troops can be absorbed into surrounding commanders at a much reduced promotion cost of 1 PC per star - that is their advantage. Another disadvantage is that a player continues the game short one of his few effective Generals.

The second bad thing that can happen may take you a bit more explaining, the Immobilization Tokens, or ITs. This concept was new to me. It appears that Immobilization Tokens represent an overall loss of effectiveness for the unit. That is, instead of removing unit chits like you do in most wargames you add IT chits that indicate damage, or fatigue, lack of supply, etc. Honestly, I love the abstraction. The unit doesn’t go away but it is penalized at battle time by its Immobilization Token count. (I'm envisioning a differently shaped chit so that it's easy to assess the health of the stacks by the way.) Does this Immobilization Chit concept derive from a tradition in other games or is it conceptually unique to Lincoln’s War? My knowledge of wargames is narrower than most.

Regarding Immobilization Tokens, these are markers that indicate a myriad of difficulties a commander might face. ITs represent anything from supply shortage to disease to fear to political obstructionism as well as battle casualties. Many war games utilize damage markers which erode force effectiveness (which ITs do) but none that I know of, here I use your own word, abstract a commander’s problems in quite the same way. In most games I’ve seen damage is typically permanent or leads to step reduction or elimination.

By using ITs, I allow a player to allocate resources to reduce the effect of ITs during a campaign season. If a player is unable or unwilling to reduce their effect, ITs could still reduce a unit. By this I mean, if the total ITs remaining on a General at the end of a campaign season is 5 or greater, that General will be demoted one star and will probably lose command of his army.

I think the word “abstract” is particularly useful here because ITs represent many different things, even though they all boil down to a single measure – unit readiness. Lack of supply, politics, loss of men, each has its place in the game, and each helps to weave the narrative, to provide emotional context. Looking at Lee’s column you see IT chits with your eyes, but you see lack of supply with your heart. You’re losing the war because you’ve advanced too far. Having all of these features handled separately would be unwieldy. Handling them with a single abstract concept of “trouble” lets the game flow, but the story remains rich. It allows all those real-world aspects of war to appear in a simple form of complexity (if I dare utter such a phrase). The rules stay simple, but you had better pay attention to details because they’ll build on each other to destroy your army.

But ITs are not permanent. They are removed as fresh troops or fresh supplies pour in during the campaign season, and at the end of every campaign season there is a period of rest and refitting. Each campaign season all armies begin fully renewed. Of course the South must deal with the effects of the U.S. blockade which places ITs at the beginning of the campaign season. These are allocated by the Jefferson Davis player, simulating which Generals he feels need supplies and which will have to do without. This is a rule of which I am particularly proud.

I think there’s plenty to be proud of here. Currently 285 preorders in the bank, the real battle that remains is to get this critter printed and I think you said it above pretty succinctly – the challenge is getting people to know the game exists. That’s a tougher sell when the game doesn’t actually exist yet, but that’s the nature of the wargame business.

Thanks for taking the time sir.

Given this game’s blend of streamlined econo-engine mechanics and direct two-player combat, Lincoln’s War straddles the line between euro and wargame, a foot firmly planted on each side. Reading its rules expands that unlikely marriage even further, as it weaves historic details into the play that give it “thematic game” bonifides as well. Maritime commerce raiders, rail interdictions, “peculiar” Generals and more than a few other crunchy bits add richness and complexity that has me very much looking forward to this game and violating one of my cardinal rules – thou shalt not preorder early. But the proof ultimately will be in the playing and for the moment Lincoln’s War is still in development. Given its scope and complexity this one will be more difficult than most to pull off, likely part of the reason it’s been on the drawing board for 10 years. But getting the game right will only be half the battle. The long charge across the fields of P500 await, and there’s plenty of good games out there that never got a chance. With luck a surging U.S. economy and the Sesquicentennial may get this title some needed exposure and, with luck, into stores in time for Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary. If not, don’t be surprised if you find a lanky guy with mutton chops selling homemade copies from his trunk on the summit of Little Round Top. If need be, I’ll make the trip to buy one.


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