Frustration is the word of the day. Frustration at not being able to activateyour generals. Frustration at watching the CSA generals race about the map. Frustration with all those politicians who are telling you who should be incommand. Playing the USA player in For the People is like trying to kill a beewith a hammer. A lot of electronic ink has already been spilt discussing various strategies for both players. For the purposes of this article I will assume the reader has read the Confederate Strategy brief I wrote some time ago. There are also the excellent articles available on the web site maintained by the designer, Mark Herman. Much of the analysis I made in the article on Confederate strategy of the map and the CSA position applies for the USA player.
However, there are some key points that the USA player needs to consider in particular. First what are the Union objectives for winning. Essentially, they revolve around one thing: driving the Confederate SW to zero. This means that the USA player's strategy should be long term and progressively more aggressive. You are very unlikely to win this game early. Additionally, you must strive to keep a higher SW than the Confederate player's SW. Having your SW drop to half the Confederate SW ends the game immediately. Fortunately, the only event that can cause this quickly is the loss of DC, and then only if your SW has already been abused. Also, the Union SW needs to be above 50 by the end of turn 12 to avoidlosing and allow the war to continue into the spring of 1865.There are several things the Union player should keep in mind early on, and they all involve the concepts of distraction and consolidation.
The first and most important is the defense of DC. This point can not be stressed enough, but is often not well executed in this game. After this the Union player can and should focus on other areas such as KY, the blockade runner ports, and the acquisition and defense of key terrain points such as river crossings and the rail pressure points. Capture of Richmond is nice, but does not win the game.
The number one Union Objective is the defense of DC. Though it is true that one can defend DC by stacking 20 SP in the DC space, it is truer still that a goodbdefense involves a good offense. The best way to defend DC is forward, ensuring that it is never attacked in the first place. With this in mind it is critical that Manassas and points in the Valley west of the DC to Richmond axis be controlled. This is best accomplished by finding the 2-0 generals quickly and getting them in independent command. Use a force commanded by one of these generals, converted to an army when convenient, to flank the Confederate forces and present a threat to Richmond. Often, the Confederate strength will not allow him to both screen this force and present a serious threat to DC, so even the existence of such a force in Winchester is enough to aid the defense of DC far better than an additional 6 SP in the capitol itself.
It is imperative that the Union gain control of KY. Control of KY prevents Confederate access to Union states, denies the CSA reinforcements, and offers routes of advance south. Control of KY allows you to make moves against VA, TN, or the Mississippi River. Once the Federal player gains control of TN, the entire south becomes a target. Control of river spaces prevents Confederate moves into Union states at the least and control of the entire Mississippi allows unrestricted maneuver in TX, AR and MO. It also provides the Union player with a mobility advantage the Confederate player can only dream of, as a Corp stationed in Wheeling WV could move all the way to New Orleans if unimpeded.
Once the Federal player gains control of the Mississippi River,conversion of TX, AR and MO become almost assured. MO is secondary, if only because it provides another route into and out of the northern states, but it is difficult for the CSA player to send reinforcements into MO due to the lack of rail lines. It should not be ignored, because denying control denies the Confederate player extra SP reinforcements, so at least contesting control is required. WV, on the other hand, is hardly worth the fight. If he is at all serious about defending DC, the Federal player should be operating in the area of WV anyway. Control is easy and can provide a needed SW boost, but the Union player must then guard against the all to easy access by Confederate forces seeking to control 3 spaces and cause a 10 point SW swing.
As soon as possible collect strong forces in the west and use them to fight theConfederate player there. Key initial targets should be the Confederate forts at Columbus KY and Dover TN. Attacks during turns two and three on these forts are useful for reducing the Confederate position early while he has less strength to oppose such moves. Once these forts fall Confederate access to KY is severely restricted. You might even be rewarded with quick access to a couple of Confederate resource spaces such as Memphis or Nashville, but do not let yourself be caught out of supply just to burn these spaces. It is more important to convert KY at this point. Once KY is converted, and not before,you can then begin the reduction of TN and the Mississippi River.
There are several spaces that are sensitive to the Union effort. CSA occupation of DC, Baltimore or York PA disrupts and reduces Federal reinforcements. There is a Confederate event that can place a PC marker in Baltimore, so priority should be given to physical occupation of that space. Another pressure point is the rail line running through OH and PA. CSA control of certain spaces along this line -- sometimes just a single space such as at Coshocton or Pittsburgh --can cut Federal east-west rail. There is even a Confederate event that can place 2 PC markers in Ohio. Thus, while garrisoning Baltimore has the priority, be sure to maintain a line of garrisoned spaces through OH to Pittsburgh. Finally, points along the greater Mississippi River where the CSA player can build a fort and attempt to cross into Union states need to be watched by the Federals.
In the Far West, the states of MO, AR, LA and Texas look deceptively inviting for early Federal conquest. But good CSA play can make the Federal player wish he'd done otherwise until he has gained even partial 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 by a force issuing forth from Vicksburg MS. 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. Serious efforts to control these states by land should wait until control of the Mississippi is gained. Finally, anytime the Confederate SW approaches or passes 110 the Federal player must do everything in his power to force it back down lest the Foreign Intervention appear. This is one of the most damaging cards to the Union cause, and is one of the few justifications for playing a SW modifier card on the Confederate player. Such cards are also useful if the Union SW is approaching half the Confederate total, but such actions are no more than Band-Aids and a more permanent solution should be sought to adjust the SW balance.
The Union's most important tool is his navy. The Union player wins, or fails to win, based on his use of the naval advantage. Unless you absolutely have to use one to defend DC, every blockade card should be played as an event. Even one such card played during 1861 can result in an average loss to the CSA of more than 6 SP and 13 SW over the course of the game. Those cards that provide amphibious assault modifiers are almost required to take even ungarrisoned coastal forts. However, since it is impossible for the Confederate player to cover even half the ports until late in the game, it is easy to make an unopposed landing in several locations. States such as TX and FL are easy to convert since they are isolated and easy to get to for the Union player. Also, McClellan's special naval move ability should not be overlooked, if only as a threat that is never actually used.
The Union player must look for his 2-0 generals and get them into action immediately. Despite their lack of any battle DRM, they are essential for undertaking any activities as they represent the few mobile generals the Union player has to work with for half the war. Since they are at a significant disadvantage versus most Confederate generals I do not believe that the best move is to replace McDowell with one of these generals. Instead, once they are revealed position them to form new armies around them. Leave McDowell in the AoP, hopefully in Manassas at least, to defend DC, but use one 2-0 general to strike at Richmond from the west and use the other 2-0 general out west in the fight for KY and TN. Note that the turn 2 reinforcements include two 3-1 generals whose political ratings are less than those of Burnside or Pope, Buell and Rosecrans respectively. Pairing these generals and only these generals can provide a +1 DRM for armies formed under the 2-0 generals even in the face of superior Confederate generalship.
The Richmond flanking force serves the additional purpose of screening Confederate thrust to the North through western VA and WV, while providing a means to convert spaces in VA. As such, it needs to be more mobile than the AoP, which has the main job of the direct defense of DC itself. For this purpose, a 3-1 commander such as McDowell is sufficient and no better than a 2-0 when defending DC against a Confederate Army with a cavalry general. The Confederate player may be able to realize some benefits of the cavalry generals to stage raids into Union territory and cut LOC or rail. However, I generally feel that their worth as subordinates to Corp and Army commanders outweigh their uses wandering about the map alone. Particularly for the Union player, as his cavalry generals are fewer and more difficult to activate, he should leave them in army positions. Even Meade was able to match Lee at Gettysburg partly because Lee lacked a cavalry general while Meade did not.
Naval Assaults are a key action that the Union player can take. In the firstyear, it is difficult for the Confederates to garrison just the coastal forts, much less all the open ports. Moving a force to occupy an open port as the last action of a turn allows this force to be reinforced by strategic movement on the following turn before the Confederate player has time to react and drive it back into the sea. Again, Sabine City TX and lower FL are particularly vulnerable. There are certain cards that the Union player must play or consider playing as events.
As mentioned above, any card that provides a boost to the blockade level must be played except during an emergency, while cards which boost the amphibious assault modifier are required to consider taking garrisoned coastal forts. Also, the special naval move cards that provide a DRM bonus to amphibious assault are too important to let pass by without considerable reason to use otherwise.
The Emancipation Proclamation can provide an additional SW penalty to the Confederate cause, but it should not distract the Union player. Increasing the Blockade or Amphibious Assault levels provide more long term benefits, while rushing to win a medium or large battle may delay more important goals such as control of key locations required for later use. On the other hand, many of these activities should produce a medium battle anyway, so its play should be a matter of course.
The "ON to Richmond" card is an interesting card. The errata are essential to understanding it. Activation of said army is total. You may not leave any SP or generals behind, though you may convert spaces on your path. Thus, it is important that the AoP either not be in DC or that a second army be available to take the fall. On the other hand, this card can be used to activate any Army commander, not just one with a strategy rating of 1. Thus, in the hands of a Union player it can provide an extra activation of the AoP. Finally, the elite brigade cards can provide a needed boost to your armies, which are often suffering from lack of good battle DRMs. There really is no downside to taking these special markers unless it is necessary to activate a general or army instead. Also, the Union may build up to 10 forts, twice as many as the Confederate player. Do not over look them when trying to defend key locations.
Turn 1: The Opening Moves
Look at your first card hand. Despite appearances, you actually have several alternatives. If you have any "3" cards, use one to activate the AoP and attack something. The safest move is to immediately attack the force in Manassas as your first action before the Confederate player builds a fort in Manassas. Move back to pick up one of the SP in Harper's Ferry and then attack Manassas at 2-1odds. A win, while not likely, allows you to convert the space, drop off acouple of SP in Manassas and return to DC, while a loss simply returns the entire force to DC. Note that a SP each in Harper's Ferry and Fredrick are required to keep J. Johnston out of mischief. Another option is to immediately activate the AoP and crush J. Johnston in Winchester. Leave 2 SP behind in DC and pick up the two up in Harper's Ferry before attacking J Johnston. This can be done and still return the AoP to DC, bringing the AoP up to 6 SP. Remember to drop off an SP in Winchester as a flank screen. (The garrison in DC is required in case the Confederate player plays a "Mud March" card to stop the AoP in Fredrick or the AoP actually loses the battle with J. Johnston.)
It is possible to build the AoP up to 9 SP before undertaking any attacks. Use a division move to get the single SP from Philadelphia to DC and then when activating the AoP move it back to get the 3 SP in Fredrick and Harper's Ferry before making the attack on Manassas. But this move allows the Confederateplayer time to react, most likely building a fort in Manassas or activating J Johnston who can converge with Beauregard, or other mischief. A high-risk alternative is to attack J Johnston and continue through the valley, converting Winchester and Strasbourg. This leaves the AoP behind the Confederate force in Manassas and poised to march on Richmond. The Confederate player, unable to take DC with a single attack because it would be a small battle against 2 SP in a fort, must move to block the AoP. Be warned, however,that this is a high risk move as the CSA player could have a reinforcement card that he can use to beef up his forces, allowing him to possibly take DC and still retreat to screen Richmond.
Another possible opening move involves activating Fremont out west. Pick up the single SP in Cairo and attack the fort at Columbus KY at 3-1 odds. This attack actually has more of a chance of succeeding than an attack on Manassas. In addition, a successful attack clears the Mississippi River clear to Fort Phillip-Jackson and should cause the Confederate player to panic. At the very least, even a failed attack will occupy a space in KY, remove the fort garrisonand cause the Confederate player to reinforce it to the detriment of operations directed at DC or other important points. The remaining cards should be used for their events or placing PC markers in KY and making division moves to garrison Baltimore and Coshocton.
On turn one it is unlikely you'll gain control of KY, as you'll simply lack the PC markers needed. Instead, try to prevent CSA control. However, turn two should be a different matter. Once a 2-0 general is found place him in command of local forces and begin the fight for KY in earnest. Personally, I consider a blockade card more useful as a blockade event rather than being used to activate a general during turn 1, as it is very unlikely that the Confederate forces can clear DC at this point.
Turn 2: Things Heat Up
A typical turn one should see most forces on both sides still in or near their starting positions. Even should it have occurred that it was not possible to activate the AoP on turn one, the Union position is still good. With 15 railpoints, it is very easy to concentrate Union forces and move over to the offensive. Place the western 4 SP in Cairo and the eastern 8 in DC. Place the Midwestern 6 anywhere convenient and then rail 3 to Cairo and 3 to DC. Rail the three OH (but not Pittsburgh) garrisons to DC also. This should give Cairo 8 SP and DC at least 18 SP. Place all new generals in the AoP. Do not forget to replace the rail garrisons in later turns. As the first card play, assuming you are able, activate the AoP and attack a Confederate force. This is one occasion to use a blockade card if it is your only 3 card. This move will reveal the generals and cause the Confederate forces in front of Richmond considerable damage even if you lose. (Ed Note: Another alternative is to move 3 SPs from DC to Fort Monroe to create a flank threat against Richmond or the ability to cut off a newly formed AoNVa)
As your nextplay you should take advantage of the mobility of the 2-0 generals by moving a strong Corp with a 2-0/3-1 pair west out of the AoP and around the Confederate position, threatening to flank them and attack Richmond. Deploy the other 2-0/3-1 pair to Cairo for operations against the forts nearby. As soon as possible create armies under these 2-0/3-1 pairs to begin conversion operations. You have two turns to work with before Lee shows up, so make the best of your situation with aggressive action. Try to make at least one naval assault to capture an isolated port. Such a port can be reinforced by sea during turn 4 to produce a needed distraction during 1862. You should have an extra 3-1 general available to land with this force to provide local defense, and may even consider building a fort to reinforce it. The force in Cairo should assault the nearby forts in Columbus KY and Dover TN. If you're keeping the heat on Richmond, it is unlikely that the CSA player will have much in the way of strength to oppose you, even if his generals are better. At the very least, this should force the Confederate player to build another fort further south to retain control of the river, giving you the initiative in KY and TN. If you have not reduced these forts and gained or at least prevented control of KY by the end of turn 3 you will be at a significant disadvantage.
Turn 4: The Fire Breaks Out
In 1862 the Union position gets desperate as the Confederate 1-3 generals show up. If at all possible, during turns three and four make an attack that may displace a mediocre general and confuse the placement of these good generals. It is a gamy tactic, but worth some risk to prevent the Confederate player from simply deciding where to place Lee and doing so with 100% certainty. Regardless, once these generals come into play the Union player's goal should be one of containment and distraction. The more SP the confederate player has to disperse to fight in far away places, the less SP these generals will have to cause mischief. Fight Lee, Jackson and Longstreet not with direct attack but indirect action. Longstreet in Mobile AL is far less frightening than in VA, WV, or KY. He may be able to reduce a bridgehead (did you remember to build a fort for point defense), but it will take at least one card play to get him back to the "front".
If the Confederate player forms a single army with two or more of these good generals, do not despair. Forcing two or three medium battles against this "dream team" should quickly see one or more funerals on the part of the Southern leadership. A +8 DRM from, say, Lee, Stuart and Longstreet gives a 42% chance each battle that a subordinate general will get killed, and suddenly the Confederate player will find he has lost a significant mobility or cavalry advantage. For the next six turns a naval assault should be made almost every turn. Avoid garrisoned coastal forts unless you have at least a +3 DRM. You have two objectives here. First are the blockade-runner ports. Occupation of such ports or their associated forts closes them to blockade-runner activities, and occupation of all such ports in a single zone closes that zone to blockade runner reinforcements altogether.
The other objective is conversion of vulnerable states such as TX and FL. Sabine City TX is a prime target, as well as any space in lower FL, as they are easily isolated from Confederate counter moves and easily converted. Placing a general with each force provides mobility and a threat of additional reinforcements turning such into an army that the Confederate player simply can not ignore. You should also not overlook Riverine moves that can provide a swift strike past Confederate blocking positions on the Mississippi.
Turn 7: The Rot Sets In
On turn 7 the nature of the game starts to change with the appearance of Grant, the first good Federal general. Where General Grant goes, so should go 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 the Confederate rear. Have a goal in mind for Grant and stick to it. Do not let his force be distracted by Confederate diversions. Do not overlook opportunities to build forts to help screen Confederate actions while other operations are taking place.
Up to this point, Union activities should have been focused on limited objectives. Protection of DC, occupation of KY and TN, control of the Ohio River and possibly Mississippi River, and reduction of blockade-runner ports. Now it becomes important to prosecute actions that deny the Confederate player reinforcements. Because it is easy to isolate the Western states, efforts should focus on control of the Mississippi. Even if you can't clear all the forts from the river, screening Confederate crossing points is easy since they are restricted to certain points such as Memphis and Vicksburg. Such action cuts MO, AR and TX off from the Confederacy, allowing conversion that reduces Confederate SW and reinforcements and opens up a route to Eastern LA.
Once this is accomplished, actions to clear the remaining blockade-runner ports from land are possible and easily reinforced by sea, further reducing Confederate SW and reinforcement rates.
Turn 10: Hold him by the Nose and Kick him in the Pants
By 1864 a typical game with good Union play should see the CSA player on the ropes. The Mississippi River should be closed and FL, 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. If Union activity has been focused on these objectives, the flow of Confederate SP should be a trickle and his options limited. Even with better generals to use, Lee, Jackson and Longstreet are of no use if they have no SP to command.
Union armies should be able to roam almost at will to burn resource spaces and convert states. However, be careful not to allow a Confederate force to catch you without a LOC. Even a Corp lead by Longstreet can quickly reduce a small army to junk in such a situation. Thus, while armies are roaming about be sure to work in cooperation to keep Confederate forces spread out and restricted. Note that Confederate forces must trace supply to resource centers, so burning them denies their use to the Confederate forces. Remember that any border state converted is one the Union player must protect,and both KY and WV remain vulnerable until the end of the game. Three Confederate PC markers in the right place can provide a 10-point SW shift for the CSA. Because your mobility is limited when compared to the Confederates, position strong Corps in key blocking positions and consider building a fort at such places as Knoxville TN.
Use your more mobile armies to attack Confederate forces whenever convenient as attrition should greatly favor you at this point. A thrust through GA can cut Confederate movements and prevent concentration of his forces altogether.
The Union player's main weakness is his generals. Avoid shuffling to replace poor commanders with mediocre commanders. Priority for Army command should be given to Pope, Burnside, Hooker, Sherman and Grant. Replacing a 3-0 with a 3-1 is simply not worth the effort. Instead, arrange to never have a 3-0 in army command to begin with. On the other hand, a 3-1 general used to accompany a naval assault is very cost effective since it requires a "3" card to activate these generals anyway and dealing with them will force the Confederate player to use good 2-1 generals he'd rather use elsewhere. When you are unable to activate a general, which is very possible during the first two or even three turns, even then all is not lost. Utilize the cards you are dealt to maximum effect to play events and convert Border States.
If the Confederate player is active around DC then he is not active in other areas. Many cards provide benefits such as elite units, extra SP, naval moves and otherevents that allow you activity. An unknown general popping up in Pensacola FL with three SP is sure to distract most Confederate players. Otherwise, whenever possible launch attacks against key positions. Do not attack just to make an attack unless such action will reduce the threat to a keypoint such as DC. Instead, concentrate on those locations that will reduce the Confederate reinforcement rate. While your reinforcement rate remains constant, every converted state and reduction in blockade-runner activities means that the Confederate player will lose the war of attrition. A combination of attrition, blockade, and occupation of key locations will win the game. Failure in any one of these three areas will mean the establishment of a new nation.