Players of the original version of the game at AvalonCon í98 were unfamiliar with the design (i.e., it was released at the show) which resulted in several games experiencing early captures of Washington DC. Several people were already suggesting special rules to fix a perceived problem. I would say informally that more than half of the situations occurred because the players had not had time to understand all of the rules. The combat results table in For The People has an asterisk result that gives victory to the attacker in cases where both sides lose equal number of troops. However, this result is not applicable if the battlefield is either a Southern resource space or either sideís Capital. The other situation revolved around the Union players understandably not fully comprehending all aspects of a design they were playing for the first time and the fact that For The People handles the situation very differently than Victory Gamesí excellent Civil War. Based on this experience I thought it would be appropriate to lay out the design dynamics for the Eastern Theater of operations. As a player I usually like to discover these subtleties on my own and if you are so inclined you may not want to read further, but in the interests of maximizing playing time it may still be a good idea to proceed.
Being the Counsel of Your Fears
The game design explicitly focuses the player on being Lincoln or Davis if you are the Southern player. As Lincoln you are focused on offensively conquering the South while avoiding Southern counter attacks that will embarrass your administration and both reduce Union resolve and encourage foreign intervention. Lincolnís highest priority is the protection of the capital city, Washington DC.
Loss of the capital for either side is not a game ending event, but a very painful one. The Union stands to lose thirty percent of its initial Strategic will if Washington DC is captured. Just as Lincoln did historically the design is trying to focus your attention on this potential problem. You must not only be afraid of losing Washington, you must be very afraid. Once you achieve this level of Zen like focus you are where I want you to be mentally. If despite your best efforts you still lose Washington to the rebels your situation is more difficult, but not impossible. Assuming you relocate Washington somewhere in the West and out of harms way it is very unlikely to lose your capital twice in a game.
For the record it is my belief that Washington DC was vulnerable to capture several times during the war. The Confederacy never focused on the Union capital as an objective, except very briefly after 1st Manassas (or 1st Bull Run) and in late 1864 to draw off Union forces from the siege of Petersburg. The forts that protected Washington DC were not close enough to give fully interlocking fires and required a field force to man them. Unlike ancient Rome there did not exist a continuous wall surrounding the city. When Early launched his 1864 attack on Washington after his victory at Monocacy he probably would have taken the city if it hadnít been for the timely arrival of a Union Corps. With this in mind the first dynamic is defending Washington from its space is dangerous and can lead to its capture if the Union is faced with a combination of superior Confederate die roll modifiers (DRMs). This is most likely during 1862 when the Army of Northern Virginia can have an automatic maximum result.
The general level of entrenching that went on during the war is reflected in the CRT. The forces under your control automatically build field fortifications. The forts in the game represent the more significant structures built to protect key locations. During the war forts that werenít supported by field armies fell very quickly given the time scale of the game. The epic sieges, such as Vicksburg and Petersburg, occurred because field armies were involved. Even then only Petersburg lasted more than one game turn. In For The People, forts give a plus two DRM which is significant, but insufficient to guarantee success unless the DRMs are in your favor. Petersburg is possible under this circumstance because of the presence of Lee to oppose Grant. In conclusion, forts are a big help, but they wonít save you if they arenít seriously supported by field forces.
One of the designs other intents is to use the simulation dynamics to give the player good reasons to take historically motivated decisions. If Washington were fairly invulnerable to capture, as it is in most other Strategic Civil War designs, the player can use the Army of the Potomac in fairly unrealistic manners. I have seen this result in few game reasons to conduct a Shenandoah valley campaign by small forces since the main Armies for both sides can just shuttle over to the Valley and clean it out with superior numbers. The reason this didnít happen historically, unless a Southern offensive was in progress, is because uncovering the capitals was a high risk situation. If a design effectively eliminates this possibility then the risk is very small and unhistorical actions become more likely. McClellenís Peninsula campaign was a high risk operation in game terms. Lincoln insisted that a strong covering force remain to prevent a Confederate thrust at DC. It was the Confederacyís desire not to trade capitals and the Union covering force, which prevented Lee from moving North. Lincolnís decision to withhold McDowellís corps from McClellen will occur in the game because to do otherwise is to court disaster. In game terms the Peninsula campaign finds the Army of the Potomac in the Williamsburg space and the Army of Northern Virginia in Richmond while McDowell sits in Manassas with four strength points (SPs). The best move for the Confederates in this situation is to attack, this results in the Seven Days battle.
Eastern Balancing Act
Moving from the philosophical to the practical, here is how the situation broadly works. Since the capitals are vulnerable moving the armies from an opposition spatial position is not a good idea. Essentially imagine a line between Washington to Richmond. The three spaces are Manasass, Fredericksburg, and Hannover. These three spaces define the main Eastern Theater axis. A typical situation is to see the Army of the Potomac in Manasass and the Army of Northern Virginia in Fredericksburg, which is where the armies usually resided when they werenít conducting offensive operations. Itís a standoff situation where the side that moves off the line first loses because his army is out of position to stop a thrust at his capital. What happens if the Union plays unhistorically during 1862 in the Campaign game or the opening of the 1863 scenario is Lee moves and attacks the Army of the Potomac driving it into Washington. Since Lee is less than 2 to 1 stronger than the Union his move is finished. The Union moves reinforcements into DC and then Lee activates again and takes Washington, the Union capital is displaced, plus Lee has won two Large battles with a net effect on the Union of at least minus 40 Strategic Will Points.
The question on the table is how is a different result generated. There are two key concepts in the Eastern Theater. First, Washington always has top priority on resources until it is secure. Second, never ignore the first concept.
To secure Washington the Union player must do several things. First, the Army of the Potomac must start every Strategy phase at 15 SPs. Second, Washington must contain at least 8 and probably 10 SPs. Third, never let the Army of Northern Virginia start the Strategy phase in Manassas. Fourth, maintain a fort in Manassas whenever possible. Fifth, mainain the capability to launch forces into the Valley (Harpers Ferry, Winchester and Stanton). I will now explain why these are important considerations.
The Army of the Potomac is going to get the raw end of the historical stick during 1862 and early 1863. This means that with few exceptions the Army of the Potomac will lose 5 or 6 SPs per battle if they are facing the historical Army of Northern Virginia command combination (e.g., Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, and Stuart). The good news is the Army of Northern Virginia will be taking from 3 to 4 losses per battle. A twelve-point army can sustain two large battles per game turn. This simulates the basic historical limits that were achieved in this theater (e.g., Chancellorsville and Gettysburg or 2nd Manassas and Antietam). Therefore the Union goal is to force the Confederate player to expend one of these two opportunities by attacking at his first opportunity. Since the Union usually goes first, the Army of the Potomac should be activated on the first card play. The way to conduct this attack is to first leave 6 SPs in Manassas, move into Washington and pick up 6 SPs, then move back through Manassas and attack the Army of Northern Virginia. The result will be a 6 SP loss for the Union and a 3 or 4 SP loss for the Confederate. The Union Army will retreat back into Manassas and its strength will go back up to 15 SPs. Since the Army of Northern Virginia rolled a ten there is a fifty percent chance that one of the key commanders will be killed.
Assuming that the Confederate response is to try and take DC the Army of Northern Virginia attacks and wins another large battle. Due to the fort in Manassas the Confederate losses are probably 4 and possibly 5 reducing Lee down to 3 or 4 SPs. Now Lee is in Manassas and should have lost at least one key general, but the danger is not over yet. The Army of the Potomac is around 12 SPs and has a 3 to 1 advantage over Lee. The fact is that medium size battles have an historical bias in favor of the attacker (e.g., 2nd Manassas, the Seven Days battle, and a whole host of Western Theater battles). The Union assuming it has the card now launches an attack on Lee resulting in his retaking Manassas (e.g., battle or Lee retreats) or in the Army of Northern Virginia being reduced to a couple of SPs. Washington has been saved and the Army of Northern Virginia will take at least two turns before it is back in shape to go at it again.
Now this formula has a few key uncertainties. What if the Union player doesnít get any 3 operations cards? What if the Confederate player goes first with a campaign card? Well the answer is then it gets very exciting and if the Confederate player is a Carpe Diem kind of guy, Lincoln could get an earlier than historical trip back to Illinois when the capital is re-located during the Political phase.
This is where the valley campaign comes into play. One thing that both players need to have in their For The People kit bag is the ability to create a credible diversion. This is where the Valley campaign comes into its own. If the player can move through the valley astride Leeís LOC the Confederate attacks out of supply giving the Union a plus two DRM and a potential defeat for Lee in a battle. This little trick has saved DC more than once during playtesting and in the early post publication games. Another imperative is to replace McDowell with a two rated leader as early in the game as possible increasing the probability that the Union player will be able to move the Army of the Potomac several times in the game turn. Lastly, whenever possible intercept Army of Northern Virginia offensives to garner the plus 2 DRM. What this tells you is that despite the best laid plans things can go wrong. The key is donít panic and find ways to get the Confederate player to use up his cards doing other things while you attempt to recover the situation.
How to avoid problems in 1861
If you have been paying attention DC has the first call on resources before all other locations. On the first turn of the game the main Eastern Theater objective is to get the Confederates under Beauregard out of Manassas and build a fort there. This can be accomplished because the Army of the Potomac can collect the local forces and attack Beauregardís 3 SP force with 9 SPs. The die modifiers should do it, but if not attack a second time and its almost guaranteed. This means that you will give up some opportunities in the west, but you will have three or four other cards so the border states wonít totally be ignored.
Now one Confederate strategy is to build the Army of Northern Virginia on game turn two with 8 or 9 SPs by using the entire Southern strategic transport capability for the Summer of 1861. The Southern player then places Stuart and another plus one General in the army to launch an attack on DC. The Union during the Summer of 1861 should be paying attention to this situation by first securing his capital. First, use Strategic Transport to bring the Army of the Potomac up to 15 SPs and reinforcing Washington. This is done by sending 14 of his 18 SPs to the Union capital area. Leave 4 SPs and a General in Cairo. Shift another SP into Cairo or St Louis depending on the situation. When the turn begins immediately attack the Army of Northern Virginia and all should be fine since the Confederates will only be capable of sustaining one more battle with the Army of the Potomac. By using the tactics described for fighting Lee in 1862 both engagements will be large battles avoiding the medium battle attacker statistical bias. The combined losses should end the threat for the remainder of the year since there are no new reinforcements in the fall of 1861.
One key point, since the Confederates used all of their strategic transport capability to pursue an Eastern Theater strategy the West is wide open. There should be only 2 SPs in Nashville and 1 SP in Memphis. The Cairo force should be capable of either taking Dover and then destroying Nashville as a single operation or take Columbus and then destroy Memphis. Either attack will increase the Union SW level by 5 with a corresponding reduction to the Confederate. These attacks will mostly erase any SW loss generated by losing a large battle in the East.
The basic message of this article is Washington is no more vulnerable in For The People than it was historically, but you must think and react like the Union forces to protect the Union capital. The design has built into it the dynamics that give the Union good reasons to attack in the East which was the historical situation. The Army of the Potomacís objective is the Army of Northern Virginia and the player canít use historical hindsight to avoid the defeats and casualties likely from these early encounters. My objective was to create dynamics that gave the Union good reasons to follow an historical path, but its not mandated. If the historical Army of Northern Virginia is built in the West, then the Union can accept more risk in the East. If the Union wants to pursue an extensive Western strategy early in the war then he has decided to accept risk, if the South responds in the East. In the end itís the choices and the respective styles of the players that will drive each Campaign game to be a little bit different, so no perfect strategy is possible. However having said that, its an appreciation on how the game was constructed that enables Lincoln to avoid surprise and keep the Confederates from marching down Pennsylvania Avenue.