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Gen’l,

During the mid-19th Century, the United States was a world power, challenging the status of the more traditional European empires of the time. According to the Monroe Doctrine (1823), the United States would oppose any European interference in the Americas. But things have changed, with the Union dissolved, and a Civil War raging between the North and South.

European Empires.

In Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) there are three European Empires, that could play a role in the Civil War. While Spain has lost many colonies in the early 19th Century, they still hold Cuba (or do they with 100% certainty?), and have the mindset of an Empire. The more prominent British and French empires are stronger, but exhausted by the Crimean War fought between 1853-1856 against the Russian Empire. In that war, where the Americans sent their own observers like one Captain George B. McClellan, warfare saw the emergence of iron plated ships and rifled muskets. The war also revealed some real problems with the traditional European military organization and tactics, usually associated with the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Battle of Balaclava.

The British, the former colonial masters and opponents in the War of 1812 still hold the Province of Canada north of the Great Lakes. During the Crimean War the regular troops from Canada were shipped to Europe, and have not returned. Instead, the province’s defenses rely on militia, with numbers and training being questionable at best. When the Civil War erupted, the British military took a neutral stance, observing the situation as it developed. This neutral stance took a sharp turn with the Trent Affair, where, in November 1861, a U.S. ship stopped and boarded British vessel Trent, taking Confederate diplomats into custody. This caused a great diplomatic uproar and the British started making plans for a possible intervention in North America, strengthening the forces in Canada and preparing an Expeditionary Force in Europe. While the British had some sympathy for the Southern cause, they remained neutral throughout the War. The existence of slavery in the South was seen as a moral issue, but cotton was direly needed in the British textile mills – a fact the Confederacy could try to take advantage of.

The French under Emperor Napoleon III had their own continental issues with Prussia, which made their intervention unlikely. While more sympathetic to the Confederacy, the French did not either officially recognize the Confederacy. But with the Civil War creating a power vacuum in North America, the French, along with British and Spanish see their opportunity to intervene in Middle American affairs. Mexico, still recovering from the stinging defeat in the war against United States between 1846-48, where they lost large part of their land, owes money to the Europeans. With the United States unable to intervene, a European expeditionary force is sent to Mexico to force President Juárez to pay. While the intervention begins as a joint European effort, it soon becomes clear that the French have far larger ambitions. The British and Spanish forces eventually withdraw, with the French pushing inland to conquer Mexico.

The French operation in Mexico is a large one, with troops numbers exceeding 30 000, almost one fifth of the French Army at the time. If the French are successful, it could be that the Confederacy would have a sympathetic southern neighbor, with interest to become the leading European cotton importer via Texas. And what if the Confederacy would be in position to directly support the French operation, allowing a stunning victory, and freeing up the French Expeditionary Force to other operations?

Diplomacy.

In the game it’s possible to try to influence the foreign relations with Europe. This is done by investing dollars in diplomacy, and also following policies that are appealing to the European nations. At that time, as Europe was exhausted by the Crimean War, feeding the citizen was a problem. The United States with their vast farmlands expanding to mid-West was a solution, and the Northern player could make the Union a true breadbasket of the world. Who would bite the feeding hand?

The Confederacy also holds an advantage, which is the majority of the world’s cotton production – at least for the time being. With industrial revolution, the textile mills in Europe need to be fed with cotton from the South. It is widely believed in Southern States that the King Cotton would be the decisive force, preventing a war with the North and bringing the Europeans to their aid if needed.

As the player you must weight the different political possibilities carefully, as you cannot be strong in all areas. During the game the possibility of an European intervention will change. And in case the Europeans are convinced that the Confederacy has a fighting chance, maybe a sympathetic nation would see their opportunity to grow their influence in North America, by siding with the South? The British position in Canada is not strong, but that direction offers a possibility to strike the Union’s heartlands from behind. A movement via Mexico would also be possible for the French, if the Mexican resistance is crushed.

The forces we use for the Europeans are such as they could have been during the Civil War. The capability to move huge armies to North America was limited, and the Europeans really understood the value of converting their fleets to ironclad ships after observing the Civil War naval operations. But they will not be a pushover, as the soldiers will be experienced and well drilled. In the image above you see some of the historical European commanders, operating in the American Theater at the time of the Civil War. If you play your cards right, you could see some of them on your side. And in the worst case, you may see some of them joining forces with the enemy! How many of them do you recognize?

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Ilja Varha,
Chief Designer, &c.

P.S. After a request from a follower, we made the interventions optional. In options menu you may choose to have the Europeans remain neutral no matter what.

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Gen’l,

In this devblog we have a very special guest writer. So far we have not shown the game to outsiders of the development team, except in the official updates like these dev blogs. But when a renown strategy game designer Philippe Thibaut asks to have a look at the game… Well, you show the game! You may know Philippe as the author and designer of the original board-game and PC-title Europe Universalis, or the founder and lead designer of AGEOD, including titles like Birth of America, Civil War, and the gigantic Civil War II, the most comprehensive strategy game of the American Civil War to date!

So, let Philippe himself describe his first impressions after having a look at Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) alpha-version, the campaign and battle game-play, behind the scenes.

– Ilja Varha, Designer, The Grand Tactician -Team.

Meylan, France, May 12, 2020, 9 p.m.

Tonight, I was very lucky and had the honor to have a personal presentation of the brand-new game Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) directly by its lead designer and author Ilja Varha.

First impression? Well, I am missing words…may be “Woahh…!!” is looking most appropriate.

I have been in video games for the last 22 years, worked on Europa Universalis and all the AGEOD titles, and many more other games, like the one I am doing now with my new venture Avalon Digital. I have played many monster games, including the Total War saga… but I must say that I am baffled!

This is, in my opinion and based on what I just saw, probably the best grand strategy game I have seen so far.

It has everything you can desire and dream of in such a venture. The level of details and the clarity and precision of the content is stunning. I thought we had done a lot in AGEOD’s American Civil War, but these guys did better… the content is impressive. No wonder it took so much time to design and produce, this is a treasure chest for any Civil War historian.

But even better, the game is exactly what a grand strategy game should be: you are not controlling everything, far from it, but you find yourself playing with two main levels of personification.


Player can steer his nation via different policies and Acts, like introducing conscription or, like here, investing in industrialization.

First, at the grand strategic level, you are a key member of your nation’s War Cabinet. You intervene on a lot of fields, from domestic politics and trade acts to foreign diplomacy or industrial conduct of the war effort. You are immersed in the huge task of creating your army from scratch (I saw the early 1862 Union side). And you also decide where to conscript, which units to raise, which commanders to appoint – The game has an encyclopedic list of over 1,300 commanders to assign to the various commands, both on land and at sea.

Fortunately, for the non-micromanagement fans (like me), a lot can be delegated to the AI (like running the economy) and that’s better like this. Speaking of economy, remember we are in the land of free enterprise, so the show is run by private businesses and it’s both realistic and ideal (no burden of choosing which little stupid building to build here or there)…

Second, you also get in command on the operational and semi-tactical levels: you have a wide range of realistic options and orders at your disposal as the Army’s High Command, and you shall have to decide on many issues and choices such as training troops, choosing deployments postures or trans-theater transfers. Preparing to battle is almost as important (if not more) as running the fight itself. Knowing (well, actually learning, like most commanders of the time) how to dispose and disperse your corps and divisions, how to make sure they can march to the sound of guns in good order, how to dispatch your orders so that they can be reached – and executed – in time, etc… the list is as long as a real Civil War general agenda… all beautifully displayed in a great art style.

And last, but not least, even for a grand-strategy only amateur like me, the part where you jump into the fray, finding yourself on the battlefield is even better thought. You enjoy – if I could say so – the torment of General Meade trying to guess where the Rebs are on this day of July 1863, and more generally trying to sort out reports in the midst of a very well rendered fog of war, weather constraints, fatigue and disorganization… you really feel you are there, and it is almost disturbingly real.


We also took a staff ride around one of the historic battles.

We spent 3 hours on this game, I had the impression it lasted 10 minutes so big was my astonishment and marvel at such a vast game. I would even dare say a masterpiece.

I even wonder if I should take the risk of playing that game… it would capture my mind and soul and I could not leave it. I wish I had the means, knowledge and tools to have done something like that before (but my game was 13 years ago, an eternity…)

Bravo guys, keep up the good work, you just did immensely great and I expect a huge success for your game.

Chapeau Bas Messieurs!

Philippe Thibaut

CEO, Avalon Digital,
Head of Development and Lead Designer, SGS,
AGEOD : Founder and lead designer,
Europa Universalis: Game Author and Designer, &c.

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Gen’l,

The American Civil War officially ended in May 1865, four long and bloody years after the rebellion turned into armed confrontation. Though it was quite clear from the onset that the Confederacy had no real chance for victory, it took four years and hundreds of thousands of casualties to finish the war of the rebellion. But, at many points, the war could have taken a very different turn – and that’s what Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) is all about.

Chapters & Objectives.

In our previous blog we discussed the story of the game, showing one of the chapter videos. The War, our main character, is divided into four chapters. Some followers of the blog were concerned we would use these chapters to steer the War along the historical lines, from 1st Manassas to Vicksburg to Petersburg, &c. But fear not! The chapters are there to carry the story, not the decisions made by the player.

Like revealed previously, each chapter will have some objectives to complete and to keep alive the war effort of your nation. Instead of directing the player to move certain direction, the objectives can be achieved in multiple ways. The main objective is to crush the enemy’s morale. Once the other side breaks, the game will end. This could happen early on in the game, or later than historically. It all depends on the campaign events, orchestrated by the player and the opposing AI.

Chapter I is the time before open hostilities, but the game cannot be won there. What’s the point of a Civil War game, if there is no Civil War? There are certain historical facts we are following to make sure the Civil War will erupt. For example, the southern player cannot simply choose to abolish slavery before secession – as then there most probably would not have been a secession in the first place? There will be a chance to do this later, though, but even then it’s not a simple thing to do, nor without drawbacks.

In Chapter II, as described in previous blog, there will be objectives to direct how the war will evolve. For example, winning the first major battle in the war will be an objective for both sides, and this battle will have more weight than any later battles in what comes to morale of the citizen. In general, the morale will continue to go down on both sides, the speed being dependent on campaign events like victories, losses, casualties… Some objectives will boost morale, for example by winning multiple consecutive battles, or taking the fight to the enemy’s territory.

Then there are historical objectives that player can try to achieve to gain the upper hand, like for Confederacy to capture border states and make them secede and officially join the Confederacy. In Chapters II and III there are also objectives to influence the Union elections. During the War there were two main elections: the House of Representatives election of 1862 and the presidential election of 1864. In either case, if Republicans, Mr. Lincoln’s party, would have lost, there would have been a chance of turmoil in Union policy making. If the Union support can be lowered enough, the elections will not play out as they did historically, and the nation would be further divided, driving the Union towards peace with Confederacy – which is one way for the south to win the game.

If events follow the historical lines, in the end, the war will end in exhaustion, with one side breaking first. And for the Confederacy, the underdog in the game, there is for example an objective to cause great enough casualties to make the northern spirits waver – even if own casualties would also be high.

Policies.

Many readers of the Engineer Log have been asking about how we will implement research or politics in the game. Regarding the latter you see some hints above. But in the big picture we will not handle internal or partisan policies any further. This is something that happens in the background. Instead, we have a game mechanic called “policies”, where player can set the guidelines for his nation to follow.

The policies are linked to finances. Player, whose actions are government funded, will need money for the war effort. With the collected funds player will recruit and pay military upkeep, but there is more. With government subsidies player can influence the economy of the nation, trade, diplomatic relations with the European superpowers, recruiting, public order and policy making. From these, let’s take a closer look at the policies.

Both sides have a policy tree available, with some twenty policies and similar amount of acts in them. Policies provide certain bonuses to the nation, but only a limited number of them can be chosen at a time. This forces the player to prioritize, as he cannot have it all. Funding -branch of policies allows new means of collecting government funds, military policies allow new means of recruitment, and so on. With industrial focus player can unlock new weapon types to produce, and with diplomacy policies new imported weapon types become available. Each policy “branch” has multiple levels in it, and these levels are unlocked when moving to next Chapters. Player can change the policies to follow, but this will take some time, which simulates the political debate needed. Diverting money to policy making shortens the delays and allows more policies simultaneously.

Acts on the other hand are one time political decisions that player will need to live with for the rest of the game. You can see a number of Union Acts in the bottom row of the image above. Acts are not limited in number, but they can be accessed only via certain policy, act, or a combination. Each act will bring a benefit, but also some drawbacks, so choose wisely. For with Militia Acts, player can introduce longer contracts to volunteer service to make his armies more effective in the long run, but this will reduce the amount of men willing to volunteer. And when out of volunteers, there’s the possibility to introduce recruitment bounties, with more volunteers available for money, but also introducing disciplinary issues in the ranks. Or maybe one wishes to introduce conscription, allowing drafting…

The policies and acts also allow changing the course of history. The north could end up with great relations with the natives or Europeans, while the south could try to industrialize and, at a later stage, even moderate or abolish slavery, with the possibility to recruit Confederate States Colored Troops. But, like said, all this will come with a price, and could also cause the player’s side to lose the game in the long run!

Grand Tacticians Against Micromanagement.

Like described, player has a manageable amount of tools available to change the course of history without the need to micromanage minor details. But, if the player feels even this is too much responsibility to bear, both the finances and policies can be given to the AI to handle.

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Ilja Varha,
Chief Designer, &c.

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Gen’l,

The main character in Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) is the War itself. To make the War come to life for the players of the game, the game features cutscene videos with epic reenactment footage from Richmond, VA based LionHeart FilmWorks and a soundtrack created just for the game by Wasel and the Weasels. With these tools, among others, we wish to create an atmosphere true to the period.

In Their Words.

The campaign will have multiple starting dates, with the earliest one being set before the secession of the southern states. The pre-war scenario allows player to choose political guidelines that will effect how the United States looks like when the war erupts. For example, the South could try to industrialize or hail King Cotton like was done historically. The chosen policies will also effect the border states and diplomatic relations with Europe. The later scenarios will allow jumping off from a historical situation, from where the War will develop according to choices made by the player and the campaign AI of the enemy.

The War is divided into Chapters, each with their own objectives and possibilities for the Union and the Confederacy. Thinking again about the South, for example, during early war it could be possible to have the European superpowers intervene offering substantial military potential in the fight for independence. And later in the war, even if the fighting focuses on survival, it could be possible to demoralize the Union population by inflicting unbearable casualties, grinding the northern advance to a halt.

Each Chapter will start with with a video, telling the story. The above example is from Chapter II, named The Demon of War, where fighting has just erupted and the next step will be a major confrontation between the inexperienced volunteer armies. The videos are produced by our in-house director and editor Matti Veekamo, featuring epic Civil War reenactment footage from LionHeart FilmWorks, and music from the game’s soundtrack recorded by Wasel and the Weasels.

Writing the videos, I wanted them to give voice to the people that lived and fought during the war. In this we got great help from our friend and author Jonathan R. Allen, whose work 501 Civil War Quotes and Notes: Learn Civil War History From The Words Of Those Who Lived It And Made It we were allowed to use in the making of the game.

And as the war progresses, the atmosphere changes as well. From the fervor before the first major engagements, to the realization that the war would not be over by Christmas, to the shock of the new industrial war becoming total war.

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Ilja Varha,
Chief Designer, Video Writer, &c.

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Gen’l,

The War was not over by Christmas, like some of the more optimistic Engineer Corps officers made you believe earlier. But as the last full development year of the game draws to an end, it’s time to take a quick peek at the campaign side of the game. Sometimes a few images tell more than a wall of text, so let’s jump right into it!

In Command of the Armies.

In the campaign, player takes a role in the high command of his chosen side’s leadership. In the above image you can see the power balance between North and South – this balance is what you are trying to tip over to your favor! Here, playing as the Union, good ‘ole Honest Abe is running the show, with good, though a lot older All-American was hero Scott in command of the northern armies. Most important thing is to keep the morale of the citizen and support high. Only this way can the Union rely on volunteers to fill the ranks, and the citizen to keep carrying the weight of the war. The listed numbers control this balance, so winning battles is just one part of the puzzle, that the population is trying to figure out from the news.

As it’s 1861, the means for funding the war are quite different from to-day:

Your government is funded by land sales and taxes, and by loans and bonds when needed. As the player, you can influence how funds are collected and then distributed – or you can leave this to the all-so-trustworthy politicians (automanage). After the fixed costs of military upkeep, the surplus can be diverted as government subsidies to support the kind of policies you choose to follow. More about the policies later. You can also compare the economic success with that of the foe.

The Theaters of War.

In the game, the campaign takes place on an epic campaign map, spanning from Maine to Texas, from Florida to Dakota territory. The map is created from period surveys, and most important routes can be seen dotting the countryside, along with hundreds of towns, ports, ferries… The rail lines can be expanded during the game, too, as can be seen in this comparison picture (also from editor) from 1850 to 1865:

And below is the campaign map in action. You see the roads and rail lines, along with canals, mountain passes and ferries – and the dynamic weather system creating different weather on different parts of the map.

On this fine July day, the General, whose name is on every lips right now, and in a good way for now, does not need to worry about rain and muddy roads. Though he may be worried more about the untrained troops he is going to lead into battle soon, in the scorching heat.

When zooming out from the terrain, you, again, can use the paper map to see the big picture. When zooming all the way out, you have also tools to visualize how the campaign map lives behind the scenes. While you can see the state lines running neatly in the map, this is not the military reality. To see who is in command of what areas, player can choose to view the dynamic front lines, as they move. Here you can, for example see, how controlling forts in Virginia places parts of that state and North Carolina under Union control – a true thorn in the side. When the armies move and cities are conquered, the front lines move as well. Area and infrastructure under your control is blocked from the enemy to use freely – this includes and allows cutting supply lines!

Here Patterson, who still is one of the top Generals in Union Army, has his troops camped on the northern entry to Shenandoah Valley, over watching Harper’s Ferry. As the town is under Union command, northern supplies and trade flow there freely. In case it would be blocked by the Confederates of Johnston, the flow of supplies would cease, and the transport capacity in this area would suffer. This means raiding will be an important tactic, which will not only deny the enemy important routes for the time being, but will also effect the area for a longer time, as replacing equipment, roads, railroads, etc. are needed. A well placed raid deep into enemy territory could have severe consequences, not only in cutting supply lines, but also affecting the morale and support of the population in the longer term!

Here, on the map, Union Army intelligence gathering is shown in a heat-map. Though McDowell rates his intelligence as excellent, he has no idea what is happening beyond the Confederate armies, and even the information about those armies is sketchy. Also seen are the combat and command radii of the army. Within the combat radius (inner circle), enemy units are engaged if the unit stance is set to offensive – if defensive, the unit will stop and start digging in. Within the command radius (outer ring) other armies can reinforce this army, in case it goes to battle. Though, the further away the other armies are, the longer it takes for them to reach the battlefield. In this position it’s even possible that Johnston’s Army would reach Manassas quicker than Patterson? Patterson could move in and hold Johnston in place (both on defensive stance and close together will fortify positions and are considered “locked” to one another), but if he’s cunning, he could slip away regardless?

In the Chesapeake Bay, Union has a fleet ready to sail out to meet the Confederate Navy, or to support land operations by bombarding forts or escorting transports to, say, the Peninsula? But who would go on that God-forbidden swampy wasteland? At least any time soon…

Army Management Made Easy.

Keeping the armies in shape for fighting is vital. This means also recruitment and management. Here McDowell’s ranks are bolstered with a new Brigade. Volunteers are available where support is high, and population is available. States can, and will, provide troops for both sides of the war if the population’s support is divided. At least in Maine the rebel cause has not won many hearts, so the recruits will be heading to D.C. in blue uniform. But only for 3 months for now, as that’s what Abe said it would take to quell this pesky rebellion – and that’s how long the contract is.

Once the required regiments are mustered, the shiny new brigade will march to join McDowell’s 4th Division under Runyon. Depending on distance, the time can be from days to weeks. Commanders can also transfer units within the army, or between armies, by simply dragging and dropping, and off they march:

And in case you’re not happy with the weapons the unit is carrying, upgrading is possible. But bear in mind, you will need functioning weapon industry or good relations with European superpowers willing to export their weapons. Standardization plays a role, so throwing expensive repeating rifles at every unit is – in addition to complete waste of ammunition – handled within the economy.

OK, that’s it for this year, General! More campaigning will be coming your way soon! Have a Happy New Year!

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Ilja Varha,
Chief Designer, &c.