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Battleground: Gettysburg

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By Talonsoft
Battleground: Gettysburg is Talonsoft's second entry in its Battleground series, covering all three days of the largest battle ever fought on the North American continent. If you've ever read The Killer Angels or watched Ted Turner's Gettysburg movie or Ken Burn's Civil War documentary, you're familiar with the drama of the situation - Lee's Confederate army loose in Pennsylvania in a desperate attempt to win the war by invading the North, the Union frantically trying to find and engage the rebels, the accidental meeting of the armies at Gettysburg. What followed left us with names and events still shrouded in legend - Devil's Den, Little Round Top, Pickett's Charge, the 20th Maine, the Wheatfield. And they're all here in Battleground: Gettysburg.

OK, Battleground: Gettysburg is a wargame - but one, like Panzer General or Steel Panthers, that should appeal to non-wargamers as well. It's a turn-based regimental-level game that can be played face-to-face, over the modem, or against the computer's AI (more on which later). You have the choice of playing several scenarios, from the short initial meeting engagement to the whole three-day enchilada. The program loaded smoothly and easily, the manual is complete and comprehensive, there's a decent tutorial , and I ran into no bugs or hang-ups after hours of playing. So give Talonsoft an A+ for development.

The Look: The game looks great. You can shift among 5 different map scales of the battle in progress - a large strategic view of the entire battle, two 2D maps that look much like a typical board wargame, and two 3D maps (as above) that give the look and feel of a game using real miniatures. The Battleview 3D screen is a terrific innovation; when the lines of blue and butternut soldiers line up and blast away on the screen, you really get a gut feel for how Civil War battles were fought. The bottom of the screen (which can be hidden) is taken up with the terrain info and unit list boxes. The terrain info box gives information on the hotboxed hex, as well as an actual photo of that battlefield location (a nice touch), and the unit list box gives you information on your units and a nicely-rendered drawing of the unit's uniform. I really liked this feature; it added color to the game and personality to the units. It was a kick sending Barksdale's raggedy Mississippians up against a regiment of flashy Federal Zouaves.

Gameplay: As good as the graphics are, the most remarkable accomplishment by the Talonsoft team is that they have produced a state-of-the-art wargame of the sort preferred by hardcore boardgamers (it reminded me of the Gamer's Civil War Brigade Series) and made it playable and fun for beginners. Make no mistake, the game is "deep" - it takes into account such factors as supply, fatigue, morale, leadership, formation, and facing - but it does so elegantly. If this were a boardgame, you'd be faced with reams of charts and many die rolls; here the computer takes care of all that, leaving you free to command your army rather than play file clerk. You must attend to these factors - sending an out of ammo, fatigued unit into a melee will cost you bigtime - but this just adds realism with no cost in playability.

This combination of detail and graphics adds up to one of the best and most fun simulations of Civil War warfare I've played. Units line up, flags flying, and fire away at each other at close range; sometimes the enemy breaks and routs immediately, sometimes the skirmish becomes an extended slugging match that is only settled after one unit tires or runs out of ammo. Melee is bloody and decisive. Artillery fire is devastating. Inspirational leaders can be the difference between victory and defeat, and they die a lot.

I do, however, have a few quibbles with the gameplay. The Battleview 3D screen only covers a relatively small portion of the playing area, especially in the large, full-battlefield scenarios, and it's easy to lose track of where you are and what the overall situation is. This can be remedied by shifting back and forth between the 3D and 2D map, but this is a rather clunky necessity in an otherwise seamless interface. I got used to this eventually, but at first it was aggravating. The other quibble I have is with the AI. If you do play against the computer, be sure to use the Fog of War option; this only allows you to see enemy units that are in your unit's line of sight, eliminating the "God's eye view" problem. It also gives the computer a bit more of an edge. It needs it, because the AI, while better than most computer wargames, is still a little dense. It's pretty easy to win decisive victories - the computer sometimes abandons objective hexes, it doesn't protect artillery very well, and it passes up on shots that it really should take. On the other hand, it can surprise you, especially with the fog of war option on. In one game, I overconfidently advanced my fatigued Alabamans off the newly-captured Little Round Top, only to be taken in the flank and routed by some hidden Federals. Ouch.

Talonsoft has just come out with the next game in this series, on Waterloo, and judging from the screen shots I've seen, they've cranked the graphics up another notch. I can't wait to play it, or their soon-to be released Shiloh and Antietam games.

Overall: Excellent game that really gives you the feel of "being there." Like Panzer General, this is a great crossover game; even those who don't usually enjoy wargames ought to find this game entertaining, and it is a must-buy for wargamers or anyone interested in the Civil War.

--Rick Fehrenbacher