Remembering Gettysburg! (the game, that is)

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Jeff Shaara, author of several excellent Civil War (and other) novels. My interest in the American Civil War thus stirred up, I resolved to do something to capitalize on said interest. I’m not really into the Civil War re-enactment thing, and the movie Gettysburg, while an excellent film, seemed a bit too long and melodramatic at the time.

The solution? I dug through my computer desk drawer and found my old copy of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg!, a fine strategy game if ever there was one. I was a bit startled to learn that it’s nearly a decade old; and I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that it’s just as fun to play now as it was ten years ago. Meier is best (and justly) known for the Civilization series; but I happen to think that his game-design genius is just as evident in some of his lesser-known titles–games like Covert Action (if you remember that one, I salute you) and Gettysburg.

If ever there were a game that desperately needed to be remade today (with updated graphics and an improved interface, perhaps), it’s Gettysburg. The Civil War is generally only touched on by games that are set firmly in the hardcore-wargame genre; but Meier’s Gettysburg (and its follow-up Antietam) are so fun and simple to learn that anyone can be replaying the battle within fifteen minutes of installing it, even if you’ve never touched a wargame in your life. You don’t need to worry about memorizing your units’ attack ratings, tracking their remaining movement points, or dragging game pieces with obscure military symbols around a hex grid; Meier’s game is all about fast manuvers and outflanking the enemy before he does the same to you.

The game engine was even used, I believe, by BreakAway Games to create one or two Napoleonic battle games. Back when I was addicted to Gettysburg, I would’ve killed for a “Great Battles of the Civil War” collection using the same game engine. But alas; the Civil War has once again largely disappeared from the gaming scene. Matrix Games has recently released Forge of Freedom, but I think that’s about it as far as notable Civil War games go. (If you know otherwise, please let me know.)

It’s not easy to find a fresh copy of Gettysburg these days–your best bet is to pick up a used copy of the Civil War Collection–but if you should come across a copy and have even the slightest interest in strategy gaming, I highly recommend it.

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