Review: Clash of Giants: Civil War by GMT Games

It seems I just can’t quit Ted Raicer because I’m playing/reviewing another title of his. This time it’s the American Civil War variation of his Clash of Giants series, a design that showcases Gettysburg and Second Bull Run, two meeting engagements of that war.

Not having played the previous titles, I understand they share distinctive DNA with one another, mainly the chit-pull mechanism. Like many of Raicer’s other designs, the use of the chit-pull effectively simulates the issue of command control and fog of war but instead on the operational scale, it’s been applied to individual battles, covering much less physical ground. And it works wonderfully.

Principally, a turn compromises of pulling formation chits, moving them into place and deciding whether to attack any adjacent units. The caveat is that you can only initiate combat a single time during a turn. Do it too soon and you won’t have the punch to turn a flank or destroy units. Wait too long, and the initiative may pass over to the enemy, who can thwart your plans with ideations of their own. This tension not only makes the game solitaire friendly, but it also puts more weight on the decision space.

Another neat addition is the use of variable movement points. Once activated, a formation will roll to determine the amount of movement points it has and every brigade will move accordingly. And each corps has subtle differences between the movement charts, with more organized and efficient corps/divisions having greater odds to move farther distances. This combined with the variable entry time and place of new corps /divisions adds a welcomed layer to the fog of war. This is especially true of the Gettysburg scenario where the familiar order of appearance can be livened up.

Combat also functions differently than usual. There is a combat results table, but it modifies another feature, the Tactical Efficiency Rating (TER henceforth). When two forces fight, they roll against their own TER, beginning with the defender and then every eligible attacker (attacking with high odds will limit the number of brigades that have to check). Roll equal or below (with 1’s being automatic passes), nothing occurs, and the brigade has stood its ground. Any result above the TER (with 6’s being automatic failures), the brigade takes a step loss and must retreat a number of hexes equal to the difference with the TER. This set of combat rules allows bloody contests to unfold, with no guarantee that even if the attacker inflicts losses that they will necessarily take the position. This allows more variety in combat outcomes and rewards judicious use of lower morale brigades and not using them as fodder.

The design also wisely abstracts artillery, using single reusable chits to add a combat factor to battles. Artillery superiority and chit availability is determined randomly at the beginning of every turn by way of chit pull.

The efficiency of command control is also reflected in how many units are part of a formation’s activations. For instance, the U.S. III Corps is split along multiple activations, with some formations with as little as three brigades activating at once. Conversely, another Confederate division may have twice the number of brigades but will activate all at the same time (and often with better movement charts as well). This helps maintain parity between the U.S. forces and Confederacy despite the numerical superiority afforded to the former.

Victory is determined by mostly inflicting losses on the enemy, but if a certain threshold is not met at game’s end the side with the highest number of points wins. It’s straight forward and emphasizes defeating the enemy army, rather than focusing on arbitrary geographic hexes where the battles were historically fought. Some geographic points are awarded but that is more to incentivize certain behaviors, like having Sickles wander out to the Wheatfield. Delay points are awarded when a formation is delayed, essentially rewarding the player with fighting more with less.

Like most the designs I’ve played by Raicer, Clash of Giants: Civil War strips out superfluous systems, focuses on two or three primary mechanisms and abstracts the rest, all tied together with the chit pull mechanism. It’s sublime and he’s mastered it.

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