I’m an American now! (Serious thanks to everyone that supported me during this journey). The American Civil War, or I suppose now just The Civil War, is a period of history that the two of us don’t really game all that much. Grant has a pretty extensive knowledge of the conflict (I don’t know where he got that from and extensive is certainly a reach! -Grant), but for one reason or another it feels like we haven’t gamed it to the extent we have other conflicts such as WWII or Vietnam, etc. We’ve played a couple ACW games together, like Mayfair’s dice masher “Test of Fire – Bull Run”, and the new Gettysburg game from Mark Herman that’s appearing in the upcoming C3i Magazine #32. I own AH’s classic “The Civil War”, but haven’t played it yet, and Grant has played The US Civil War from GMT Games, and Pub Battles: Antietam, with another friend. But that’s really it. So when Lincoln arrived I was eagerly anticipating a US Civil War game that I could easily learn and play, and that might teach me the basics of the conflict that I can then take into some of those larger games we need to play.
Lincoln is a two player Card Driven Game that was published through a collaboration between PSC Games and Worthington Publishing. As you might imagine the game is a beautiful production and the map is worthy of framing and hanging on a wall. Designed by Martin Wallace I had high expectations going into this one as a game that was engaging, well designed and accessible. I was not disappointed.
We posted a video review of this a few weeks ago, and I was surprised by a slew of comments about the game being broken and unplayable, and asking for my thoughts on the matter. Honestly, I had no idea what they were talking about, and I was referred to a preview video done by the illustrious Marco Arnaudo. Marco got a hold of a copy of Lincoln before it was ever released and put on Kickstarter, and he very rightly found a fatal flaw in the game. Basically, the Confederate army could build up quickly in Manassas, VA and then March either on Washington, DC or entirely hold the the Union in place, forcing them to lose after the deck of cards runs out the first time because they would be unable to reach their VP seizure requirement.
Fear not though. This issue was fixed before it was even released onto Kickstarter. Originally Washington had a defensive value of only +4 when being attacked from Manassas. Now it has a +10. That means the Union player has a little breathing room with regards to defending DC right from the outset. They’ll still need to, especially if Gettysburg falls, but the game is in no way, shape or form broken. Just, wanted to get that out of the way.
The Card Driven aspect of this game is pretty straight forward. The cards have a variety of symbols on them that you can use to either move (and attack), move by ship (Union only), recruit new military units, or sometimes there’s a text based event as well that can be used. The last symbol is a numbered General’s star that you play face down in a combat and which adds to the combat value of your stack. That might seem like a lot, but based on the size of the board, the decision making is fast paced. There really aren’t that many routes that you need to defend, and so reinforcing those, or tactically withdrawing should be obvious, so there isn’t that much downtime pondering moves and calculating odds. The toughest decision to be made are choosing which symbols on which cards to use when. Because I might be able to build a 3 strength army with this one card, but that’s also my 5 star General card which I’ll need in combat..and that kind of hand analysis is where a good deal of thought is needed.
All that being said, again, it’s nothing overwhelming and is a great introduction to the CDG style system and would make an excellent gateway into other CDG’s out there.
Combat is resolved simply. You count the number of units you have, then you each play a face down General (or not) and that is added to the value. Then each player has an option to play another special action card (like High Ground, which gives a bonus if you’re the defender, for example). Highest total wins. Note: There’s no dice rolling. That small card play is really the only randomizing factor in combat. But there are no General’s stronger than 5, and those are very rare. So you can, with some decent certainty predict the outcome of a combat if you have a stack big enough. Is that boring? No. And here’s why; losses are attributed to both sides as follows – the winner removes half their counters, rounded down, and the loser removes half their counters rounded up.
And this is also where the card play is really important, because you need to make sure you played a few of those 1 strength units into your stacks to take as body-bag losses. If you have a stack of three, 3 strength units, and you need to take two losses it can be catastrophic. If, however you had a stack that also had nine strength but the composition was a 3 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1, suddenly loosing half the stack rounded up isn’t quite so bad.
The one thing that surprised me was the lack of unit composition – there’s not artillery or cavalry on the board. Heavy guns are just non existent, I suppose they’re just calculated in with the infantry. Cavalry on the other hand are a card played out of the hand, unrelated to combat. One of the actions you take on your turn can be to play a cavalry charge card, which simply forces the opponent to discard cards from their hand. This can limit their flexibility on their subsequent turn, or you might “kill their general” card out of their hand before you initiate a combat, or out flank them on the battlefield forcing them to discard their high ground card. It’s a neat little way of doing cavalry without extra obnoxious rule-sets. Obviously a random discard is a little swingy, but I think it’s fun and helps to level the playing field in a tough spot and create a new paradigm with regard to the way this elite unit affects battle.
Should I get this one?
Lincoln is an excellent ACW game, it plays quickly, it’s tense, and very easy to learn and teach. You don’t get the richest levels of historical accuracy in the sense that there’s no named Generals, or different unit types etc., but the game plays out with a decent amount of historical accuracy from a strategic stand point. The game’s built in victory conditions for the Confederacy means that the Union must be aggressive and push south. When the game gets tight a small counter attack here or there, or a desperate defense in the Shenandoah Valley can turn the tide of the game. You have to be wary of the victory point level, and wily with your unit movements to maximize your attack efficiency.
There’s some great history in the momentum of the gameplay. The Union starts out with a weaker deck that gets seeded with better cards each re-shuffle. The Confederate deck starts out tip-top, but gets seeded with much worse cards each reshuffle. The deck composition becomes noticeable especially the longer the game goes on. The South will have a tough time in those final few turns, but getting there means they’ve staved off crushing defeat for along time and can get a better-than-historical outcome.
I highly recommend this game, especially if the ACW isn’t “your thing”. I didn’t think it was mine, but this title is a good intro to the subject and a really slick and highly playable game with some interesting twists and turns (such as the Union effort to blockade the CSA limiting their hand size the more successful they are). The artwork is also top notch the decision making is always excruciating and the tension can be palpable. With no dice rolling the cards decide your destiny and how you play them will decide your fate.