the cards with the photos and info is worth the price of the game."
Perfidious Albion 98
the game of the year for me."
Perfidious Albion 98
Berg's Review of Games
-Mike Siggins, Reviews Editor
G3 magazine/Game Cabinet
Brett & Board
- JIM SANDEFUR'S NEWSLETTER
(JAN. 31, 1999)
|.||and editor for Perfidious Albion, says, "Quick to play, full of atmosphere
cutting through the bookkeeping that usually masquerades as historical
design, it is undoubtedly the game of the year for me. All the more astonishing
for coming from designers of whom one knows nothing.... Get it, play it,
enjoy it!!".... STASH ($16.80) is a game about pushing drugs in New York
City. Comes in a large tube, attractive laminated 22 x 28 inch map, drug
cards, Stash cash, cards for smuggling, corrupt officials, rock concerts,
Link to the above as of 3-11-99:
- MIK'S ESSEN REVIEW
|.||has been my strongest side I didn't buy a set,
but I was really tempted as it looked so great. My friend Erik bought a
whole box though, so I guess I'll get a chance to play it.”
Link to the above as of 3-11-99:
- ESSEN '98 BY MIKE SIGGINS
|.|| to make my apologies for running off to find it. I am introduced
to the designer. He is American and has a business card with Mad Scientist
on it. He stands up and salutes me, and is amazed I know what butternut
is. On the table is a game of my dreams. Not only is a card game, it is
strategic. I pinch myself. This is not happening, but since it happens
every year it must be true. I see the time and say I want to buy it. It
is too expensive (DM45), but all composure has gone, as have my Marks.
I buy it anyway and will starve tomorrow on the train. He leads me across
to a stand that I must have passed twenty times, but which of course I
had not seen. Cloaking device, remember? It is manned by someone from Bedford,
UK called Gargoyle Games. Woooh, wobblies. Twiglet zone. The game looks
incredible. It must have cost them a fortune, but it has all the signs
of something that might be very very good. It is called Blue vs Gray and
you need two packs of the lovely cards and nothing else. I am about to
go and pull someone off the street to play it.”
Link to the above as of 3-11-99:
- CHARLES VASEY'S REVIEW
(DEC. 25, 1998)
Blue vs Gray is a card game but not (I am pleased to say) a collectible. For about £15 you get two boxes of cards (one in blue, the other in butternut). Each pack contains some splendidly finished sepia illustrations together with game play and historical information. The Ist Corps may be just a 5 in battle but you can read the names of all its commanders and actions. There are also some sheets of circular markers for control of the map. The rules, which are a bit wishy-washy, are also on the cards. Try http://www.gmtgames.com/ for a bit of extra detail.
Did I say map, well yes but there is no board. The map is made of eleven cards dealt and played by the players. Both sides have a starting hand the Union having the Washington and Cincinnati cards, and the Rebels the Richmond and Lynchburg-Cumberland gap maps. Each map has marked on it the starting status of the cities. Cumberland Gap and Wheeling are marked in white (neutral) with blue background for the Union cities and butternut for the Rebs. The map cards run in offset patterns south; the third tier giving Vicksburg, and the fourth New Orleans over to Florida. The map is divided into eastern and western theatres. The Mississippi is the Western edge of the map. The Appalachians and the Georgia border giving the division. Each map contains various cities connected by road or rail. For example from the Wilderness you can swing north via the Shenandoah and Harpers Ferry to get to Washington, or push straight up through Manassas Junction. Cities can be fortified, ports or “pestholes” usually centres of rural activity like Selma or the Wilderness. There is, very wisely, no stated time-scale.
This starting set up effectively prevents any western theatre as the
Union cities have roads or rails only going south into Kentucky (which
The map cards must be played if drawn by the Rebels but may be played if drawn by the Union. This strategic depth for the Union is important as the pack contains a number of alternative possibilities. Kentucky (for example) appears as Confederate, Union or Neutral, and some of the coastal cities can be received already in Union hands. The play of cards represents, I suppose, the widening of strategical options.
The effective units in each theatre are organized as either independent units or suits of cards led by a Leader card. Cards not in play are retained in the hand. The Leaders range through Corps Commanders (CSA – may lead divisions), Army Commanders (both sides, may command Corps) and Army Group Commanders (both sides, may command armies). As Leaders and units are drawn one may build commands as available. The Rebels can have (for example) six divisions led (two each) by Hill, Ewell and Early (corps commanders all) all commanded by Lee (an Army Commander). As Leaders arrive randomly (with the exception of the Late War leaders) you can find yourselves fielding strange formations. Each leader is rated for combat value and the number of subordinates he can command as Leader or as a subordinate of another Leader. Leaders also have an Initiative rating which is some cases is different if the unit is on attack or defence. Fighting Joe Hooker, for example, is as good as Lee providing Hooker is doing the attacking.
Combat is based on selecting an attacking force (with supply) and stating you are attacking an enemy held city adjacent to a friendly city (the better leaders, initiative of 2, can strike out two cities but with supply problems). The defender may then select one Leader who has not fought this turn and use him to defend the city. (He may also elect not to defend if he wishes, an undefended city, or one in which the defender is defeated changes sides).
Each Leader can attack and defend once only, but attacking requires supply. If supply is not saved from turn to turn (where it will be at risk from cavalry) both sides can manage only three attacks a turn. If, therefore, you mass your forces in one major command you will defend against only one of three more diffuse attacks, this means two cities will fall unopposed. It is therefore better to have at least three Leaders operating in each theatre to cover the strategic width available to the ACW commanders.
Combat is very interesting indeed. Once you have opposed your armies you add up the combat values. These values come not only from the units (1-3 for Confederate divisions, 3-5 for Union Corps) but also from Leaders. For example, Robert E. Lee adds four to combat while Breckinridge adds two. The number of units influences the result in only two circumstances. Firstly, if you have ten more points than the other side (equivalent to a margin of two crack Union Corps) you get a modifier of one. Secondly, if you have at least five more points and the result is “Soldiers Battle” you win irrespective of Leader values. This has much the same feel as Mark Herman’s much criticised combat modifiers in For The People, much criticised I would note by those who have not done the full study of the campaigns.
2d6 decide combat with the red dice giving the result, and the white dice giving the loss level. There is no connection between the two results, the violence of losses is beyond the control of our commanders. Loss Levels run at Light 1-3 (one step loss than usual), Normal 4-5 (per the CRT) and Heavy 6 only (one extra loss). Loss levels are independent of numbers or leaders, they just happen. The normal loss levels are determined by the number of unit cards (not strength so this counts against those charging Rebel boys with their divisions) and the result of combat (Victory, Stalemate and Defeat). Let’s assume Fighting Joe Hooker and three corps clash with Lee with six divisions. The result is a defeat for the Union with Light losses, and the CRT dictates 2 steps lost from the Union and the same from the Confederates (and the Union attack fails or, if on defence, the city is captured). The Confederates are suffering from having more units in action than the Union. Had the result been a Victory for Hooker with heavy losses then the Union would lose two steps and the Rebels six! One simply cannot predict what the loss level would be, although it is unlikely to be heavy. Clearly piling in extra units will impact on losses negatively before it improves your chances of victory and a big army routed with heavy losses is an awful sight to see. Each unit (division or Corps) can absorb two step losses so the last result could remove half of Lee’s units, or deplete all of them.
Victory or defeat is (apart from the few modifiers for numbers and fortresses) very dicey. On a 1 the attacker routs (extra losses for him or lower losses for the defender), on a 2 the attacker is defeated, and a 5 and 6 cause symmetrical results for the defender. A four gives a Soldiers Battle where number do count, and three a General’s Battle where higher initiative will cover the day. A good leader can therefore only influence one in six results, and a bigger army (unless much bigger) only one. The model is one of inexperienced armies that tend to usually fight desultory actions but occasionally stand and die. It lacks therefore the certainty of For The People and brings the Fear back into Fighting.
The dice also generate Leader losses (routs can cause sackings) with doubles leading to CSA losses (17% of the time) and sevens to Union losses (19% of battles), and a third die roll determines the effect of such losses.
The game has therefore presented a system that shows the effect of combat together with encouraging some diffusion of effort. You need to maintain spare commands to deal with multiple attacks in your theatre. This is particularly necessary because the system does not deploy your “units” on the map, instead any attack in a theatre can be answered by any as yet unactivated Leader and his cards. A drive on Washington might therefore meet the Army of the Potomac, but equally this may be held back for another attack, especially as Washington has its own 10 value “Department of Washington” card. Attacks from the sea are limited in numbers, but a single corps landing in Savannah may still meet the Army of North Virginia. Similarly, there was some discussion as to how large an army could attack out of just such a captured port. I reckon, that apart from non-supply sources like Pensacola, the answer is any number, the Peninsula Campaign being a good model. It does the beg the question since only one corps (or is it two the rules move a bit, perhaps only one per flotilla, but with two flotillas available one can do two) could land to establish the base how come another four suddenly appeared. The ACW was not a war of cheek by jowl fronts, so some flexibility would occur. Some of you may find this a little odd though.
Let’s start the sequence. After the set-up is completed the Union start play. They always draw two cards, and can then draw any mixture of supply and further cards up to three more. This total of five is a vital limit. The Confederates (before their economy starts to collapse) have only four such “supply/cards” of which only one must be drawn as a card. It is possible therefore for both sides to attack each other equally, although the Confederates will not amass large armies. Cards may also be used to draw cards out of the cadre dead piles.
|.|| Armed with cards and supply our players then deploy
cards to the table and make any free transfers (essentially reorganise
one force) and can ship Leaders from one theatre to the other. The long
train journey prevents them attacking this turn but does allow them to
defend next turn. You may then make as many attacks (in either or both
theatres) as you have supply. Since supply denies you extra cards you can
see the usual limited resources problem which we all enjoy. During battles
both sides may play units from their hands as reserves. Forces then reorganise
(if they neither attacked nor raided) and regroup (by spending supply in
undepleting three half-dead unit cards per unit of supply). It is a simple
and swift system with a number of key decisions. Does one concentrate in
one theatre or spread the attacks, what amount of supply can one take,
and how many reserve units can de deploy?
The number of Confederate cards and amount of free undepletes is dependent on the status of the blockade (Porter, Farragut and the “Monitor” can all help establish this, and Foote’s Mississippi squadron supports riparian attacks in the West). The CSA economy is derived from three key sectors, food, industry and contraband. The loss of each one reduces the Confederate position. The Union occupying all cities on the Mississippi can “capture” the Contraband production. Industry is centred on Richmond and Atlanta (which will require offensives in both theatres). Finally, food comes from the Shenandoah Valley and the CSA railnet. The latter requires that the number of CSA controlled native Confederate cities linked by railroad must exceed the number of map panels in play. I assumed that ports were not counted in this, probably wrongly. Usually only a large Western offensive slicing up part of the Confederacy can achieve the latter, however a Union attack from the sea can also help.
It is worth noting that the Confederates start in Manassass Junction adjacent to Washington, and the Union can attack Richmond directly from Fort Monroe (which starts in Union hands) or by rolling through Manassass Junction and The Wilderness. This closeness in the East makes it vital that offensives are met by counter-offensives, and this will reduce the opportunities to attack in the West.
The scripted nature of the game (see the notes on the Enigma™ cards below) is strongly evident in the Late War concept. The Late War cards if drawn before the Late War starts go to the bottom of the pack. The first of them is placed face up so as to alert you. The Late War cards tend to produce the hard men of the war (like Little Phil), as well as giving the Union an extra supply. The deck running out is linked (like the 1864 elections) to the victory conditions.
The victory conditions are extremely impressive. Each side has a number of objectives, and at any stage the net number of objectives (deduct Confederate from Union) held determines the victory position.
The CSA objectives are 1. Each Native USA City occupied except for Kentucky and certain coastal forts 2. Reducing the USA rail-net to 8 or fewer cities.
The USA objectives are 1. Control the Mississippi (all the cities including New Orleans and a naval squadron in the West) 2. Establish the blockade 3. Occupy Richmond 4. Occupy Atlanta 5. Occupy the Shenandoah Valley 6. Destroy the CSA rail-net (as in production) 7. Occupy all the Atlantic ports 8. Occupy all the Gulf Ports
If Washington is captured the game immediately ends in a CSA Strategic Victory. This is (of course) a very possible end to the first turn if the Confederates push in from Manassas. Of course being a fortress (modifier of one) and with the 10 strong Department of Washington this is going to be a dicey business. Otherwise a score of minus 4 does the same (probably four USA cities taken). However, if the score is minus three AND Emancipation has not been granted then the Royal Navy turns up and helps enforce a Confederate Diplomatic Victory. All these are possible with a poor Union start (simulating a less than wholehearted pro-War stance).
If the score if plus three or less by the 1864 Election which (see below) you can see coming then McClellan wins the election and a CSA Operational Victory ensues. A score of plus four or five at election time ends nothing and keeps the war going. A plus six score before the election will halt things and give an USA Operational Victory. But plus five after the USA has emptied its deck plus one bonus turn is a CSA Attritional Victory. Plus six after the election gives the historical result an USA Attritional Victory.
The game thus moves through a period where the Confederates can win, into one where the Union must win in good time or face the possibility of its own war-weariness defeating it. We found the victory conditions of a piece with the design, simple effective and pretty tough.
The maps and a number of Enigma™ cards (yes the producers believe they can trademark Enigma, what would the Kriegsmarine say!) make up the rest of the pack. The latter are Event cards, but they are not as numerous as the Mark Herman system but are very effective indeed.
For example, the Confederates will gain vital material from their coloured population via the “Digging for the South” card until the Union plays the “Freedom Sickness” card, a very simple but dramatic way of demonstrating the economic realities of the war. “The Slows” damages Union initiative (the game’s measure of generalship) and can cause attacks to be aborted. After a big Union defeat “Draft Riots” will end his turn, give you extra supply and cause units to be withdrawn from the Front. The “Partisan Rangers” appear creating extra cards and supply. Belle Boyd can help you spy on the Union hand, but more usefully gives a dice modifier in the Shenandoah Valley. “Rebel Yell” gives a further dice modifier (although this need not always be helpful, I assume you can play it after the dice falls). “Ironclads” celebrates those few Rebel vessels who kept supply lines moving, it ends its effect when the “Monitor” card is played. In the Late War the Confederates can play “Degataga” (better known as Stand Watie) and waste Union resources in the Trans-Mississippi theatre against those Rebel Indians. Both sides have a card that can stay a fatal bullet.
The Union has its own jolly events. “The Blue Mountain Boys” celebrate the blue Appalachian boxes in For The People the inhabitants of which turn up to support Union attacks in the central spine of the map. “Pauline Cushman” turns up to her own bit of spying for the Union. “Old Abe The Battle Eagle” is the blue version of “rebel Yell” referring, apparently, to the Eagle mascot of a Western unit. The sappers turn up with “Infernal Machines” which can assist on fortifications other than Richmond but only in the Late War, such swinishness not be allowed before. “Habeas Corpus”, referring to the President’s habits with opponents, must be in play before “Emancipation” and “Copperheads” (a Confederate card that gives the CSA a free turn) or the victory tariff goes up by one objective. “Emancipation” like “Draft Riots” requires a military precondition to be met following which Kentucky and West Virginia go pro-Union (if not already played as Confederate) and the possibility of a Confederate Diplomatic Victory passes. “John Brown’s Body” reminds us that the fervour was not all on the rebel side as the card undepletes any number of Union cards. “Monitor” not only cancels the CSA “Ironclads” but if played first can act as a blockading squadron freeing up Farragut to act in the Gulf, it also captures Norfolk for the Union, opening up the otherwise rather cluttered Virginian theatre. “The Swamp Angel” commemorates a siege gun used against Charleston, and assists amphibious attacks. “The Freedom Sickness” covers the Negro flight towards the Union. It can only be played after “Emancipation” and gives dice modifiers in open battles for that turn. “Special Orders No 191” is a variety of the Three Cigars event in For The People delaying a CSA attack into the North and aiding in the counter-offensive. Finally, there is the “1864 Elections” which acts as an immediate Victory Condition count. The card is a Late War card so on first drawing is put back at the bottom of the pack but sticking out so that both sides can see the Elections looming as the Union consumes cards.
All cards are in the packs and players only draw from their own packs. This means that, unlike in For The People the events (subject to pre-conditions) are bound to occur. Eventually (for example) the USA will establish naval domination, the question is how long will it take and will the rebel Ironclads establish a brief period of strength. The smaller number of such cards, but their guaranteed appearance is, I believe, a better way to handle such matters than that in For The People.
If you can stomach the combat’s violence, the weak rules and floating units of Blue vs Gray there is little doubt that this is a splendid piece of work. We played it twice in a session and it gave the sort of tight non-mechanistic game we enjoy. Furthermore one could see the story unfolding in a historically pleasing fashion. Was it though just the appeal of cards with their appearance and fashionability? Clearly the speed of entering play did appeal. Additionally, the somewhat chaotic feel of the card draw did approximate to the effects of a civil war. One would not, for example, use this system for two nations at war. Quick to play, full of atmosphere cutting through the bookkeeping that usually masquerades as historical design it is undoubtedly the game of the year for me. All the more astonishing for coming from designers of whom one knows nothing (apart from a mention of Al Nofi). Get it, play it, enjoy it!!
End of the review, apologies for its draft status.”
Link to the above as of 3-11-99:
Back to the Blue vs GrayTM HQ.
Copyright 1999 Q.E.D. Games, Inc. All rights reserved. BLUE vs GRAY: THE CIVIL WAR CARD GAME, STASH, and the term ENIGMA are TM Evan Jones.