These are truly the best of times for Civil War gamers; first Firaxis comes up big with Sid Meier's Gettysburg!, with its real-time tactical combat engine, and now Sierra delivers the goods with Civil War Generals 2, a turn-based game that allows you to refight the entire Civil War - battle by battle, campaign by campaign. Make no mistake: the two games are very different, both in scale and in gameplay, and in many ways Civil War Generals comes off looking less sophisticated than SMG. The graphics are a bit dated, the game's mechanics are scarcely revolutionary, and the game interface is oh so Windows 3.1 - but the bottom line is that CWG2 does what it sets out to do. That is to produce a fun, historically accurate, good-looking game that allows you to fight every major and most minor battles of the American Civil War at the regiment/brigade level. And that, my friends, is quite an accomplishment. In fact, one of most attractive things about this game is its amazing breadth. You can fight as the Yanks or Rebs, and the game includes 40 historical battles, with several what-if scenarios for each - over 160 scenarios in all. Not only can you fight such battles as Gettysburg and Antietam, but also those too-often-ignored but major Western battles like Vicksburg and Chattanooga. And, joy of joys for the hardcore Civil War gamer, you can even find scenarios for such battles as Stone's River, Front Royal, Champion Hill and Resaca - even Resaca! If that's not enough for you, CWG2 includes an easy-to-use map editor for those do-it-yourself scenarios. And for real fun, play a campaign. You can refight the entire war in the East or West, or several smaller campaigns. But beware. The campaign is dynamic, and will proceed according to the results of your games. You can lose Bull Run and Washington in the first month of the war. The game runs at 640x480 res in SVGA and it looks good, but not great. The terrain is lush, well-defined and has a nice feel to it; no complaints there. Troops, on the other hand, are a bit of a disappointment. All Confederate infantry - in fact all units of the same type in the game - look alike, and the units are surprisingly static. And yeah, while I know that animation isn't a must in games like this, it's hard not to expect it after SMG, which has raised the ACW graphics bar to a new level. And of course I have some quibbles about the dated and unsightly dialogue box interface. The sound is OK, even good, but not spectacular.
But gameplay is the bottom line, and playing CWG2 is a fast-paced and engrossing experience. Game mechanics will be familiar to grognards and are easy to master for beginners, since they're modeled on the venerable turn-based I go/you go system with hex movement. While at first I was a bit disappointed by the dated feel of the system, by the end of the first game I was thoroughly enjoying it - mostly, I think, because under the simple mechanics lies a very complex but manageable combat system. In this game, you can't just throw your regiments or brigades into combat again and again, you must keep a careful eye on your troops' condition - and this includes not just the number of casualties they've taken, but also the state of their morale, organization, health and leadership. To win a battle, you'll have to pull hard-pressed units out of line for rest and resupply before they rout, and every time you do this your limited army supplies will dwindle. This makes for lots of tough tactical decisions and exciting, nail-biting gameplay. I give Impressions very high marks for not only making supply as important in the game as it was historically, but also for implementing supply rules that - unbelievable as this sounds - are actually fun. And while tactical combat is not nearly as detailed as in the Talonsoft ACW series (for example, there's no distinction between melee and fire combat in the game) I didn't feel it was really an issue at this scale.
As far as bugs and glitches go, the game does tend to crash during campaign play. Fortunately, Sierra has a patch out which corrects this and other less serious bugs. Get it at www.sierra.com. The box includes a couple of game tutorials, but more impressive is the very substantial game manual - over 150 pages. The standard multiplay options are available, and there are lots of bells and whistles. The game includes a multimedia history of the Civil War (very introductory, but nice), original paintings by Mort Kunstler, and film clips of reenactors. Overall, Civil War Generals 2 is very good game. I'd recommend it to any war or strategy gamer, and for the Civil War gamer it's a must-have. And hey, this game has a very high fun factor; who knows, even non-strategy gamers might enjoy this one. Bottom line: even though everything about the game seems just a little dated - graphics, interface, mechanics - it manages to pull these all together with such skill that the sum is much more than the total of the parts. And where else can you play the Battle of Resaca?