That’s not as sarcastic as it sounds. First, let’s look at the victory conditions. To win, the CSA player must do several things, but they all revolve around SW (Strategic Will). For instance, he can drive the Federal SW (Strategic Will) to half the CSA SW. He can force the Federal SW to 50 or less by the end of game turn 12. Or, he can simply last to the end of the game (13 turns) with a positive SW and control of a sufficient number of Confederate states as compared to the Union player. This does not cover all the combinations, but as you can guess, SW is the measure of victory in this game. It literally represents the will of the people to continue the fight.
At the start of the game, both nations’ SW starts at 100. It can go up or down for many reasons: winning/losing large battles, gaining control of states, destroying confederate CSA resource hexes, naval blockades, and others. By far, the biggest swing in SW can occur when one captures the opposing nation’s capitol. Losing DC cost the Federal player 30 SW. Losing Richmond VA cost the CSA player only 15 SW, but the city of Richmond itself is a 12-point resource center (the largest on the board). If the Federal can also destroy the resource center – which is not automatic – the CSA player loses an additional 12 SW while the Federal player gains 12 SW! Losing your capitol is a demoralizing, but not necessarily game losing, experience.
Looking at the map, one can quickly see that there are several obvious pressure points. The line between DC and Richmond is the most obvious. Historically, both sides expended a considerable amount of energy in this area, and it should be the same in the game. But there are other areas to consider. Consider the so-called blockade runner ports. These were CSA ports from which the CSA attempted to maintain contact with the outside world. Goods flowed out, while supplies flowed in. The Union player needs to shut them down either by capture of specific ports, or the forts that guard them, or increases in the naval blockade. There is nothing the CSA player can do about the constricting blockade other than hope he can find ways to make the Federal player want to use his precious blockade cards to activate an obstinate general. Direct defense of the ports is another matter I’ll cover later.
There are several less obvious pressure points. First is the greater Mississippi River. In game terms this includes the Ohio River clear to Wheeling WV. The Federal navy controls the river up to any space not covered by or between CSA forts. At the start of the game, CSA control includes the area from New Orleans LA to Columbus KY, with a small branch of the Tennessee River south of Dover TN. The Federal player has several incentives to control the entire river, not the least of which is preventing the CSA player from crossing into Ohio, Indiana or Illinois in force! For all practical purposes, the CSA has only two points of access, or choke points, to the Far West: Memphis and Vicksburg.
There are several other spaces on the map that are choke points. For the Union, the most sensitive point is the rail line running through Coshocton Ohio and Pittsburgh PA. CSA control of either of those two spaces cuts Federal east-west rail. Also, CSA occupation of DC, Baltimore or York PA disrupts and reduces Federal reinforcements. Otherwise, points along the greater Mississippi River where the CSA player can build a fort and attempt to cross need to be watched by the Federals.
South of the Ohio River there are additional pressure points that the CSA player must guard. One such point is Knoxville, TN. Knoxville sits on a rail line that easily connects the eastern and central theaters, as well as locations to the south. Along the border between KY and TN the entire string of spaces from Nashville TN to Columbus KY serve as locations from which the Federal player can stage campaigns deep into the heart of the south. In fact, control of KY and TN is key to both player’s strategies. Once the CSA player loses TN, it is only a matter of time before he’ll lose the war. Another pressure point is Columbus GA. Besides being a blockade-runner port, Federal forces that manage to get here from the sea have immediate and easy access to several CSA resource areas.
In the Far West, the states of MO, AR, LA and Texas look deceptively inviting for Federal conquest. But good CSA play can make the Federal player wish he’d done otherwise until he has gained control of the Mississippi River. First, there is only one way in and out of Texas by land. A Federal force that works its way that far before the port of Sabine City TX is controlled risks losing his army if caught without a LOC when attacked. Even further north, there is a single space of entry into lower AR at Little Rock that the CSA player can threaten from Memphis TN.
Finally, in the far south there is a single land entry into lower Florida at Lantin, GA. The Federal player may find getting into Florida by sea easy, but getting out by land should be a different matter.
Is there some way the CSA player can take advantage of all this information? The answer is definitely “yes.”
The CSA player has to look first to his tools. His main asset is his pool of generals. Overall, they are more effective both in initiative and skill. While he does have some less than stellar performers, he should never find himself in a position in which he can’t activate at least one army or corp. Use this advantage to spread the Federal forces out. Particularly in the early game, the Federal player will find it exceedingly difficult to activate more than a couple of generals each turn as most of them have a ‘3’ strategy rating. Use this advantage to keep him from forming large armies.
His next set of tools is the cards. A significant number of the cards provide SP reinforcements for the CSA. Unless there is an emergency, every card that provides reinforcements must be taken. Eventually, with competent Federal play, the flow of reinforcements will drop to a trickle. If nothing else, while early in the game the CSA might get nearly as many SP as the Union each turn, the CSA rail capacity is so limited that it is difficult to concentrate them. The cards provide the CSA player with a means to provide extra SP to a critical location. Other cards provide additional defensive bonuses such as ironclads and torpedoes that can be used to bolster the defense of key ports or coastal forts that must be held, while still others remove Union SP.
Besides those cards which provide Confederate SP (or remove Union SP), there are several cards that the CSA player must play or strongly consider playing as events. “Baltimore Revolts” (card 92), is a powerful card played as the last card play, as it disrupts and reduces Union reinforcements to DC (assuming Baltimore is not garrisoned). Since it accounts for 4 Union SP, it is more effective than any successful battle. “Foreign Intervention” (card 82) must be played at some point during the turn upon fulfillment of its conditions; you have no choice. However, its benefits are so great that its play should not be delayed (unless the current Union blockade level is ‘0’ and you’re sure you can hold your SW level until the end of the turn). Finally, “Forward to Richmond” (card 3) can provide great discomfort to the Union player who has placed his only nearby army in DC itself. The CSA player must be careful with this card. I have never seen an effective Confederate play of this card. Often, as the Union player, I welcome any chance to move my otherwise lethargic army. Careful play means that a) the only Federal army nearby is in DC, b) you can defend Richmond from said army, and c) you can take immediate advantage of the denuding of the defenses of DC.
Again looking to the map, there are certain priorities. Richmond must be defended. The blockade runner ports must be kept open. The Mississippi River must be held. KY must be fought for. Everything else is secondary.
Attacking DC in 1861 is rarely a good idea. At best, the odds will be against you. At worst, you’ll lose Richmond. Certainly, if it is lightly defended and you can defend Richmond, then take it. But a good Federal player will strongly garrison DC and still get in your face. The goal here is to threaten DC to keep the AoP small when it does come after you. Attrition usually favors the Union, so avoid attacking unless the results are worth the losses. Build an army in front of Richmond as soon as it is convenient to add subordinate generals, particularly the cavalry general Stuart who should always get placed in this army when he arrives. Use a strong Corp to clear Fort Monroe and then swing west to threaten DC from the west through Harper’s Ferry. Both J Johnston and Beauregard are 2-1 generals, so for the first few turns you should be able to out maneuver Federal generals, forcing them back away from Richmond just to cover DC. If the Federal player does get one of his turn 2 2-0 generals revealed and into command early, you still out general him in a stand up fight. Finally, if a 3-1 general is otherwise unoccupied, place him in Richmond for point defense.
After the defense of Richmond, the next priority is manning the forts that cover the blockade-runner ports. New reinforcements should go first to defending at least one such port per blockade-runner zone. Usually, you’ll only have enough SP to cover one such port per zone until turn 4, as Richmond and TN will desperately need the additional forces. If you are lucky, a card may provide additional SP that can be placed in coastal forts. But, by turn four you should garrison every fort that you still control that covers a blockade-runner port. Late in the game, if the Federal blockade level is such that you are rarely making blockade-runner die rolls anyway and find you need those fort garrisons elsewhere, it might be useful move those SP out for other uses. The Federal player would still need to assault the fort to close the port, and he may not make the effort if the blockade level is at 4 or 5.
Otherwise, it is futile to try to defend all the open ports (those without coastal forts). The Federal navy can land just about anywhere. Florida and Texas are particularly vulnerable because they are isolated and easily converted. As soon as possible, place 2 SP in Sabine City TX and form a strong Corp with a general somewhere in GA as a mobile coastal defense. Millen GA is a good choice as a force here can reach points as far away as Pollard GA to Goldsboro NC, or even north to Cleveland TN (to cover Knoxville), without the assistance of rail, and provides a defense for the cluster of resource spaces in GA. This mobile coastal defense force should react to any landings the Federal might make in the southeast. Usually, any such Federal force will be isolated and small because the opportunities for such Union activities are constricted by his need to use 3 OC to activate his generals for other campaigns. A quick reaction can easily push the Federal force back into the sea. Don’t forget to replace it should it be sent off to counter some threat.
Finally, it is imperative that the CSA player fight for control of KY and TN. MO is secondary, if only because it provides another route into and out of the northern states, but it is difficult to send reinforcements into MO due to the lack of rail lines. Fighting just for the extra SP is usually not worth it. WV is not worth the fight at all. If he is at all serious about defending Richmond, the CSA player should be operating in the area of WV anyway (more on this later). But KY has the virtue of having somewhat restricted routes of advance south, screening the vulnerable CSA center, and provides direct access to the heart of the Federal position. Once the Federal player gains control of TN, the entire south becomes a target. Historically, Federal forces quickly forced a path through western TN, which led to the control of the entire stretch of the Mississippi River. Only Union strategic blunders kept the Union from taking further immediate advantage of this situation, but a good Federal player should not make the same mistakes.
Thus, as soon as possible form a second army in TN and use it, along with a strong Corp or two, to fight the Federal player there. The initial keys to constricting Federal mobility are the forts at Columbus KY and Dover TN. Place at least 2 SP each in these forts. Eventually, you’ll want to build an additional fort at Memphis as a backup to the eventual fall of Columbus. Otherwise, build a strong Corp in Bowling Green KY to oppose Federal forces moving south and eventually turn it into an army.
Replace A.S. Johnston with a more mobile general as soon as one is available, hopefully before forming an army in TN to avoid the SW penalty required to remove him from Army command. As with all 3-1 generals, A.S. Johnston is fine for point defense so move him into a fort you intend to hold.
Besides providing access to the Federal rail coke point at Pittsburgh, the state of WV provides the crafty CSA player with other alternatives. Once the Union player gains control of WV, it becomes very easy to cause a 10-point SW swing in the CSA player’s favor during the political control phase by occupying three spaces in WV. Further, this is on the way to occupation of the rail coke point Pittsburgh. It is great to try to do both in one move as the last play of the turn, as this prevents a Union reaction before the Political Control phase and the next turn’s reinforcements.
The CSA should avoid building armies for the sake of building them. Rarely does he have enough SP to fully man three, let alone four armies. Also, the need for them is not as great as he has less a need to convert spaces and the skill of his generals compensates for the lack of subordinate support. The CSA player should build an army in front of Richmond as soon as possible and a second one in TN during turn four or five. Forming the second (and possible third) army should probably wait until the CSA player has had a chance to assign a mobile general to command them. Replacing A.S. Johnston or Bragg will be painful and should be avoided.
On turn four the CSA player will have to deal with the question of what to do with Lee. Almost everyone’s gut reaction would be to place him in command of the army operating in front of Richmond, but there are good reasons for assigning him elsewhere. If Richmond is being well guarded by the likes of Beauregard and J. Johnston, consider an assignment out west where the issue of maneuver is more critical. There is a good chance you are going to want to replace one of the 3-x generals out there anyway, so you might was well pay the SW penalty where it will do the most good. Besides, on turn five Longstreet and Jackson appear and one of those can be used to bolster the forces in VA long before Grant ever shows up.
Regardless of where Lee or the others go, never, ever form the “dream team.” Placing two generals with battle ratings of 3 in the same army is asking for one of them to get killed. Further, the 1-3 generals are far too useful – and safe – in army or Corp command. The CSA player should have no trouble finding a couple of lesser generals to assist Lee, Longstreet and Jackson to provide good die roll modifiers, so the CSA player is just reducing his options by not using them independently. If you have to, use a division move to displace a 3-x general (hopefully to someplace useful like a fort) before creating an army under one of these generals.
Finally, consider that the CSA eventually gets a total of six generals with an initiative of 1, not even counting the cavalry generals (which, unlike the Federal cavalry generals, all have an initiative of 1 also). The three best, all rated 1-3, appear long before the best Federal generals appear. Try to avoid doubling these generals up as they provide the CSA with a significant mobility advantage over the Federal army, which only gets two such generals. Even Van Dorn, with a lousy battle rating of 0, can be used to dash about with a couple of SP and cut Federal LOC, retreat paths, gather reinforcements or otherwise react to a threat.
While I realize the benefits of the cavalry generals to stage raids into Union territory and cut LOC, generally I feel that their worth as subordinates to Corp and Army commanders outweigh their uses wandering about the map alone. Otherwise, like Lee, you’ll have to explain to Davis just exactly why he could not out fight Meade at Gettysburg.
So, how does one gather his men to cover the above points?
A typical turn one should see most CSA forces still in their starting positions. The exceptions are in VA, where Union activities have a good chance of reducing the forces there to one general and 4 SP. With just 7 rail points, concentration is difficult, but good positioning can offset this. Assuming that this is the case, and further assuming Beauregard with three SP is in Hanover and 1 SP is in Richmond, put the following state reinforcements in the indicated places:
1. One in Richmond, VA
2. One in Sabine City, TX
3. One in Dover, TN
4. One in Fort Phillips-Jackson, LA
5. One in Fort Gadson, FL
6. One in Fort Fisher, NC
7. One in Vicksburg, MS (to be moved by division move into Sabine City TX or elsewhere as needed by rail)
8. One in Millen GA.
The remaining 5 SP reinforcements, including blockade-runners, can be placed on any rail space within placement restrictions. Rail one to Columbus KY, one to Millen GA and three to Hanover VA. This should give the force in Hanover 7 SP. On the other hand, if the Union player concentrates his force in and around DC, forget the Millen GA forces and move them and maybe even the SP in Vicksburg, to Hanover. As for the generals, Stuart should go to Hanover. Place the others such as to minimize shuffling generals when you want to form your army in VA or move forces about in TN and GA.
From there, Federal activities will dictate the course of action. Look to where he moved his reinforcements and try to determine what his main axis of advance might be. Use division moves to get that second SP from Vicksburg to Sabine City and concentrate Price with the SP in Little Rock and maybe Memphis. The first priority, however, is forming an army in VA, reducing Fort Monroe, and facing the AoP. Additional turns should follow the same pattern. Place reinforcements to minimize the need for the use of rail. For instance, placing a blockade runner in Norfolk VA and a state reinforcement in Weldon NC allows both to be picked up by a quick general operating out of Richmond to add to its defense in one move.
Be wary of McClellan’s special naval move ability. He is the only Union general that can move an Army by sea until Grant and Sherman arrive and it is easy to forget this.
On turn 7 the nature of the game starts to change with the appearance of Grant, the first really good Federal general. Where Grant goes, so goes the main Federal effort. He (and later Sherman) is particularly dangerous because of his dual ability to move an Army by Riverine Movement, which can be used to suddenly produce an army deep in your rear. It is doubly important that Grant be kept reacting to threats rather than making them.
By late mid game (turn 9 or 10), a typical game with good Union play should see the CSA player on the ropes. The Mississippi River should be closed and MO, AR and TX converted, Federal forces should be threatening resource centers throughout the south, the blockade-runner ports should be squeezed, and VA should be a war zone bleeding the CSA dry. It is at this point when CSA actions and card choices come home to roost as the flow of SP diminishes and options become limited. If SP have been husbanded well, you should have some strong forces to work with, but even lacking these there are some things the CSA can do.
First, recognize that any border state converted is one the Union player must protect, and both KY and WV are still reachable. Three Confederate PC markers in the right place can provide a 10-point SW shift for the CSA. Use your mobility to trap Federal forces before attacking. If you’re desperate for SP, don’t forget coastal fort garrisons that may be pointlessly guarding blockade-runner ports. Choose a few key resource centers and fortify them. Georgia is a good choice as a last redoubt because of its central location, collection of resource centers, and limited access. Use it as a base to launch raids into Federal controlled states and maintain a line of communications between VA and MS. Once GA falls the game is probably over anyway.
The nature of the game prevents listing a turn by turn list of activities to perform. The main rule is to be flexible and have forces available to take advantage of fleeting opportunities. Keeping the Federal player reacting to your movements keeps him from striking at your week points, and you have the mobility to do so. By mid game, the Federal player should be able to threaten from far more directions than the CSA player can cover without taking advantage of his extra mobility. Unfortunately, it is far too easy to fall into the trap of fighting battles of attrition, which in the end can only favor the Federal player. Avoid pitched battles unless you have carefully considered the alternatives and found no other way. Remember. To win, you simply have to avoid losing.