THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR: A HOLD THE LINE GAME (Worthington Publishing, 2018) or alternatively Hold the Line: The American Civil War is my first Hold the Line series game. I have missed out on nearly 15 years of this series that started with Clash for a Continent: Battles of the American Revolution and French & Indian War (2005) then to Hold the Line (2008) and Hold the Line: The American Revolution (2016). I have to admit I was a bit confused when I first saw this game as it looks very similar to a Richard Borg Commands & Colors series game. Well, Hold the Line is similar in many ways to Commands & Colors but C&C it ain’t. Much has been written on BoardGameGeek comparing the two systems and I am not about to step into the middle of that (unwinnable) fight. Suffice it to say The American Civil War is an excellent introductory wargame that sticks to proven classic wargame mechanics to deliver a historical-enough and very enjoyable play experience with little rules overhead.
TLDR version – beautiful. The blocks and stickers in The American Civil War are all nearly flawless in shape and paint coverage. The stickers are strong but easy to apply. If I have a complaint it is that the colors are a bit muted; play this game under good lighting to see unit differences. The board actually lays flat when unfolded. At first I thought the dice may be too big but I found that, although a bit larger than I usually play with, they are light enough to roll directly on the board and not feel like they are destroying it.
Dirt simple. The eight-page Rule Book does a good job of communicating the game mechanics in a direct yet easy-to-read manner. At least it did for this old Grognard. I can see inexperienced players picking this game up as their first wargame finding some ambiguity in the rules.
One of those ambiguous areas is the Flag Unit. One unit in each formation is the Flag Unit which tells you the morale level of that formation. The rules are silent as to which direction the Flag Unit should face. I automatically assumed it was towards the owner but the rules are silent. It makes sense to me; I can see the morale level of MY unit but my opponent will only be able to tell if they engage in Close Combat and force a morale roll.
Each Game Turn in The American Civil War is very simple. The first player rolls a d6 to determine how many extra Action Points they have for the turn. The die roll is added to the scenario AP staring total. Yes, that can create some very swingy situations where one gets six extra AP one turn and only 1 AP the next. Call it the fortunes of war! Each AP can be used to Move or Fire with Close Combat costing 2 AP. Every unit gets one action in a turn (so no moving AND firing).
As much as I wanted to avoid comparing Hold the Line with Commands & Colors the comparison is inevitable. First is the AP. Where C&C uses Command Cards to move or fight, in The American Civil War it’s the classic wargame AP that enables the commander. This makes the game more solo-friendly; no Command Cards to worry about just execute your AP. Hold the Line is also more abstract than Commands & Colors. In The American Civil War you only have three morale gradations of each unit type – Green, Black, and Gold (or inexperienced, veteran-standard, and elite).
Combat itself is simple dice-chucking. Roll your dice and see if you get a hit. The closer to a target unit the better. Dead simple. Retreat can only happen in Close Combat (adjacent hexes). When combined with the abstractions of only four types of units (Infantry, Artillery, Cavalry, and Leaders) and three morale levels there is little to define the differences in units. Maybe it’s enough for an introductory wargame.
First Game – First Bull Run
In this scenario, the first player to 6 VP wins. If no player has won by the end of Turn 18 then the Confederates win. In my game the Confederates got their sixth VP at the end of Turn 7; one turn before their reinforcements arrived. Apparently the dice were rolling hot for the Confederates as they destroyed three of four Union units at the ford (along with a Leader) for 4 VP. Not helping was an infantry unit on Buck Hill (north of the Stone House) that eliminated a Union artillery battery and infantry formation. Indeed, the Confederates never lost this hill.
The American Civil War will not replace a Commands & Colors game in my collection. They are two similar, yet importantly different, games. I see myself playing The American Civil War for a quick, fun battle or to introduce a new player to the world of wargames. I might also hand this one off to the RockyMountainNavy Boys who can use this game as during the summer as an afternoon filler.