The hall closet in our apartment is, much to my wife’s dismay, stacked high with boardgames I’ve acquired throughout my sordid life as a gamer. Both of the adults in the family have degrees in archaeology, so perhaps it makes sense to view the tall stack of games in the closet as a sort of stratigraphy of my gaming life: the uppermost strata contain such recent artifacts as Arkham Horror and a few of the latest Axis and Allies releases; moving down the stack and back through time, one comes across Civilization, Gulf Strike, and Squad Leader; and buried in the bottommost layers are relics from my junior high and high school gaming days: B-17: Queen of the Skies, Battletroops, and other classics of yesteryear.
Today I want to reminisce about one of the games from the very earliest strata of that gaming pile–a curious and nearly-forgotten boardgame with which I was obsessed throughout junior high, and which eventually served as an entrypoint for me to the world of roleplaying games. The game is The Fellowship of the Ring, published in 1983 by Iron Crown Enterprises, and–like some of the Iron Crown RPGs I would later play–I loved it, although I didn’t always completely understand it.
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.