All new games, especially ones that have high degrees of variability, require a lot of playing experience before the more workable strategies become evident. Long ago when I could count the number of games I owned on both hands, I used to play my games many times slowly learning all of the subtleties built into the system. In todayís world of computers and hectic schedules it isnít possible to achieve this level of comfort with any one design. It is in this spirit that I offer some thoughts on Union campaign strategy.
If you happen to have a copy of Command(TM) magazines July-August 1992 issue and look at page 13, you will see an interesting map of the Union position at mid-May 1863. What this map reveals is how little of the South had been subjugated by this point in the war. The Union "front line" runs from Fredericksburg to Harpers Ferry, then along the West Virginia border into Western Tennessee (e.g., Nashville and Memphis) with a thin thrust down the Mississippi to Vicksburg which hasnít yet fallen. There are also five Union coastal incursions due to amphibious invasion (e.g., New Orleans, Pensacola, Ft Gadson, Jacksonville, and the New Bern area). That is as far as the Union had gone by the end of game turn seven. The point is that with over one half of the game completed the historical Union position, if carried forward will lose the game.
The lesson being presented here is that the Union needs to view the first half of the game in terms of limited objectives while setting the environment for rapid advances during 1864. The environment I am referring to is the relative rates of reinforcements and the rate at which Southern SW will begin to drop to bring Union victory by game turn thirteen.
The Union player must have certain key objectives that are pre-requisites, that need to be achieved by the end of game turn seven. Failure to achieve this position by the mid point in the game will create severe difficulties for the Union during the critical last six game turns. The first Union objective is to protect the capital. This is covered in detail in my Eastern theater article on the official "For The People" website, but the key tenets of that article are the need for the Union to maintain 22 or so SPs in that theater coupled with constant offensive action against the AoNVa whenever it begins to build up for offensive operations.
Second, is the campaign for the border states. As Lincoln noted the key is Kentucky. In the early turns the Union must fight for Kentucky. Missouri and West Virginia are secondary objectives relative to keeping the South out of Kentucky. There are several ways to do this, but the most effective is a drive from Cairo to Nashville coupled with the ability to strike out of Cincinnati or Louisville.
One of the keys to Union maneuverability in the early turns is to find Pope or Burnside. The Union should look for any opportunity to launch Corps attacks to obtain key objectives and reveal their Generals. The first 2 rated General revealed should replace McDowell as the commanding general of the AoP which frees up 3 OC cards for use in the West.
Getting a 2 rated leader in command of the AoP is a important point. With average card distribution the Union can expect from 7 to 9 three OC cards by mid-1863. There should also have been at least one and possibly two Campaign cards during this same period. The Union wants to use these cards in the West, but that is only possible if the AoP can be activated with two OC cards. If the AoP can be activated with two cards this should give the Union at least two activations per turn in the East which is sufficient to protect DC.
Once Kentucky is at least stalemated then the Union can turn its attention to West Virginia. St. Louis should be held, but losing Missouri in the early game is not a big deal, since it will draw off Confederate resources and can be taken back later.
The third Union campaign objective is to penetrate Western Tennessee and destroy Memphis and Nashville while eliminating the forts at Columbus, KY and Dover, TN. Once this has been accomplished slowly convert Tennessee spaces until the state is Union controlled. Do not try to accomplish much else in this area besides keeping the Confederacy out of Union territory. Most important do not let the South build forts on the Ohio river to cross into the Union. If that is all the Union accomplishes in this sector by game turn seven, life is good.
Fourth, use the Union naval advantage to close down at least one Southern blockade zone. The most productive zone to close is the Western Gulf. It is comprised of two spaces (e.g., New Orleans and Sabine City) and the Union needs to capture New Orleans eventually to open the Mississippi. This will guarantee a Confederate loss of 2 SW per turn for the entire game. Assuming this is accomplished by the end of 1861 this tactic adds up to a Southern loss of 20 SW points for the expenditure of two cards and around 6 SPs of effort. At all times raise the blockade level when it is possible to do so. Only use the naval blockade cards for Operational cards in emergency situations. Even modest results in the naval domain will generate at least an additional 20 SW points of Southern misery.
Last, gain a reinforcement advantage over the Confederacy. At the beginning of the game, the Union will have 18 SPs per game turn which is constant for the entire game. The South starts with 13 SPs per game turn with a possible 2 additional for Missouri and Kentucky. The loss of one blockade zone and Tennessee reduces the South to 11 SPs per turn with an average one additional loss for the Union blockade level by mid-1863. The Union achievement of an almost 2 to 1 advantage in reinforcements (18 vs. 10) is a important dimension of Southern defeat. This part of the Union strategy should be coupled with aggressive Union action; whenever possible bleed the South of its SPs. The Union losses will be replaced, but the South will find it hard to maintain several strong armies by late 1863.
With the introduction of Grant and later Sherman the game takes on a new focus. The key is to get Grant poised for offensive operations. The Union should strive to activate two or three offensive axes at this point in the game. If Richmond is left vulnerable, by all means take it. The loss of Richmond accounts for a loss of 27 SW plus the Union gains 12 for a net delta of 39 SW points. If the South is not resourcing the East march on Richmond. If the South is resourcing the East then there are few SPs available for the West. The opening of the Mississippi is an important way for the Union to recover lost SW points to strengthen the Lincoln election chances in the fall of 1864.
The goal is to get a Union army loose in the Confederate rear areas. It becomes very difficult for the Confederacy to stop such a thrust, especially in 1864 when the Union doesn't require an LOC to burn down Southern resource spaces. Don't worry too much about converting Confederate states, destroy the resource centers. Couple these offensives with Naval invasions to capture coastal forts which open up LOCs when the invading armies reach the coast.
There are a few Confederate states that should be converted if possible. Florida, Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana can be converted for low cost, but not at the expense of slowing down the critical penetration of the South. The loss of two or three states will further lower the Confederate reinforcement rate to an anemic level. If the North ever achieves a three to one reinforcement advantage coupled with aggressive offensive action, the South will become a hollow shell ripe for the taking.
Where possible close down blockade zones by capturing ports, which increases the Southern SW leakage while the destruction of resource spaces bolsters Union SW. It is possible to see 50 point SW deltas in a single turn during 1864. If the South launches attacks into the North try and block them, but don't let the Union penetrations languish while Southern invasions are chased through the expenditure of precious strategy cards.
It is important to remember every card played is precious, don't waste them trying to lower general casualties, cavalry raids, or excessive leader re-organizations. Focus on the Union objective of eliminating Southern SW by burning the resource centers to the ground.
Once the North gets these multiple axes of advance going the South will have a very hard time of maintaining a defense. Attack the South where they are weak and never relinquish the initiative. Make the Confederacy react to the Union. If the Union loses the initiative, each card expended brings the South closer to victory.
Over the course of the game the burden of attack is on the Union, but this is not true in the first half of the game. The Union emphasis in the opening must be on focused advancement, but never over extension. The goal of the first half of the game for the Union is to create the conditions from which the North can prevail in the second half of the game. If the Union remains focused on its limited objectives, even bad card distribution will be significantly ameliorated.