Wednesday, June 07, 2006
American Civil War: Gettysburg
I'm always looking for games to install on my laptop, games you can play in short play sessions when traveling and stuck in some airport or hotel. World of Warcraft is running on the laptop, just not very fast, and when traveling I don't always have internet access. So I tried to install some of my older games on the laptop. That works, but turned up a new problem: copy protection. Most games require you to have the original CD in the drive to play them, for copy protection reasons. That is rather inconvenient, because I don't want to travel with a stack of discs, and because the CD/DVD drive in a laptop is a major drain on the battery. I buy my games completely legit, and I don't really like to search the seedier side of the internet for noCD game cracks for games that I have bought.
Then I found one good solution: downloadable games. There are now quite a number of websites where you can download games legally, sometimes getting a free 1-hour trial, and then being able to unlock the full game over the internet by paying for the game with your credit card. The games you can buy are often a bit older than what you see in the stores, or not exactly triple A titles. But with some searching you can find reasonably priced games that are nice enough, and you don't need a CD to run them.
The game I found now is American Civil War: Gettysburg (ACWG), downloaded from Trygames for $15.99. It is a kind of "wargame lite", from a company that makes lot of educational titles. Thus the game is packed with educational historical information, like the Gettysburg address or paintings and photos from the civil war. But there is also a classic turn-based wargame on a hex map, with a campaign and scenarios.
I do like strategy games, but I am not a "grognard", a serious wargamer. I never really played the kind of games where the hex map takes up all of your living room and you have a million little cardboard counters for your units. Fortunately ACWG is designed for the beginner, with very few different unit types, and stressing playability over realism. It covers all the major points, morale, flanking, height advantage, fortifying positions, and so on, to allow an interesting game in which you feel that your tactical decisions can make a difference. But a serious wargamer would probably laugh at the game for being too primitive and easy.
ACWG is turn-based, that is you give orders to all of your units while the game is in order mode and nothing moves. Then when you press done, all of your units and the enemy units perform their orders simultaneously. Orders you would usually give when completely zoomed out, at which point your units appear as icons on a hex map. But when you zoom in, you see them as little 3D soldiers on 3D terrain, and during the execution phase you can watch how they are moving and shooting. The game being educational minded, the tutorial and early scenarios are doing their best to explain to you the different concepts of moving in column, line, or scatter formation, of the importance to take cover, to fortify, and why standing in line formation in range of enemy artillery is not really a good idea. Sometimes the outcome of some move seems a bit random (I would have expected 200 cavalry to be able to charge 15 artillery and smash them, but the result was that both units lost about half of their strength), but in general what I saw in the game was close enough to what I know about warfare in that era.
American Civil War: Gettysburg is not an extraordinary game, but nice enough, cheap, and you can even download and try it for free for 1 hour before deciding whether to buy it. And it runs on a standard laptop with no problems and no CD needed in the drive. Recommended.