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The Civil War saw the use of many novel technologies, one being photography. Thanks to Mathew Brady and other photographers of the time, we can see snapshots of the war, and of the people who lived and fought through it. To-day re-enactors bring the battle-fields of the Civil War alive in grand Living History spectacles around the U.S. And to-day’s Mathew Bradys are there to film it and to produce amazing footage to be used in news stories, documentaries… and even video games!

Let us introduce to you Kevin R. Hershberger of LionHeart FilmWorks, LLC, the Man behind the camera of the combat footage in Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865)!

The Man Behind the Camera.

Kevin shares a love for history with the rest of the Grand Tactician -team. Film-making has been his other love for as long as he remembers:

“Of course, it’s a cliche to say it, but I grew up watching movies like the original Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark and I always thought that I wanted to work with model building and special effects. In school I wasn’t great with math and science, so perhaps that wasn’t my destiny.”

Kevin is a re-enactor since the giant 125th anniversary series of events in 1987, even choosing to attend Virginia Military Institute (V.M.I.) after High School because of the Cadet Corps involvement in the Civil War battle of New Market. It would be the combination of re-enactment enthusiasm and interest in film-making, that would make him known for his first feature film, award-winning Wicked Spring (2002), telling a story of Confederate and Union soldiers, trapped between the lines, during the Battle of Wilderness in 1864.

But before that, there would be working behind the scenes of other productions and 8 years of service in the U.S. Army as a Military Intelligence Officer – making him the other member of Grand Tactician -Team with a military background. During his time at V.M.I. Kevin started writing feature film screenplays and seriously learning the how-to of film-making. This included working on the set of the movie Gettysburg, filmed in Maryland where Kevin grew up. This was the summer of 1992. The next year, Kevin worked in a Showtime TV movie set at West Point in the 1880s, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Sam Waterston, which was filming at V.M.I. Talking his way through to working for the production as “Cadet Wrangler” – organizing and training the cadet extras – he also got a speaking part on camera. Working one-on-one with the director and production team for several weeks on location got Kevin hooked. And the pay wasn’t bad either!

“I didn’t want to jump out of Helicopters in the Army anymore, I wanted to stay on set and make movies… about Soldiers jumping out of helicopters!”

After serving in the U.S. Army, Kevin dove head-first into learning the craft of screenwriting: “…by writing many bad scripts and learning from each one and getting better, page after page.” His first project to direct was a short film titled The Nest (1999), shot on location in Pennsylvania, on 16mm film. The Nest premiered in New York City, in September 1999, in a film festival. It was only four months later Kevin found himself on set directing Wicked Spring, with a hefty $500K budget! The film would win ‘Best Action Film’ at New York International Film and TV Festival in 2002.

“Things moved fast between 1999-2000, but everything was much harder after that! By 2004 I was officially self-employed, without a safety-net and have been able to stay self-employed and growing since then. No plans to go back to a ‘real job’!”

LionHeart FilmWorks.

Few years later, in 2006, Kevin refocused his attention back to his greatest interest, which was the filming, now on Digital video, of historical recreations of historical events. This started his series of re-enactment documentaries: In 2010 Kevin began producing a long series of multi-part docu-series about American history subjects.

My channel is a hybrid of both a showcase of all of my original historical film and documentary work, along with a celebration and curation of other historical films and documentaries that I most admire or were most influenced by. It’s really a curated collection of some of the best and most interesting history-related content I can find and if anyone wanted to see what I’m most interested in or what influenced my work – this is the place to go!”

And it’s not just any YouTube channel. By now it has 165,000 subscribers and 35 million views. The content found there is a true treasure chest to anyone interested in American history and wishing to keep current with the past. The channel is growing steadily, adding three videos per week. And while he is running the channel, let’s hope new ideas for films of his own will spring.

“Hopefully, I’ll be turning back to feature film-making of some sort in the 2020s…”

Even if playing a major role in video game development with his involvement in Grand Tactician, when talking about his experience in video games, Kevin admits he’s a bit late to the game. “If someone were to ask me what video games I play, my answer would probably be Atari and Nintendo 64!” Kevin does have a PlayStation, which allows him to return to the world he left behind, playing historical and military games like the older Call of Duty sort that are set in World War 2.

“I’m extremely pleased and excited to be part of this new Grand Tactician: The Civil War game, and I hope that the players find a new passion to study this history and I am proud to be able to play a small part. I hope fellow history buffs playing this game check out my YouTube channel and subscribe and learn even more about this part of American history – as well as the entirely of the American experience since 1607.”

We couldn’t be happier to have Kevin’s talent and epic footage onboard in our humble project!

Most Respy,

Gen’l. Ilja Varha,
The Grand Tactician -Team

Comments 11


As Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) release is getting close, it’s time to take a look behind the scenes of the game’s development, and to introduce the core team of people behind the project. It’s safe to say, that the development of this game has been very different compared to the game dev industry norm. And it will continue to be so.

From Eager Amateurs to Determined Veterans.

In 2016, two men in Austria were thinking to themselves, that the strategy game niche was missing a game. The American Civil War is a very interesting topic to read about, and to learn about, but no-one had made a comprehensive game about the whole war. Of course there are the great titles like Sid Meier’s Gettysburg, AGEOD’s Civil War II, and more recent Ultimate General, and so on. But one title to grasp the story and the operational level of the conflict was still missing. There and then a decision was made to create one.

Oliver Keppelmüller, a 40 years old treasury banker from Austria, had already tried his wings in game development. He created a strategy game called The Seven Years War (1756-1763), alone, from scratch, releasing in late 2015. This game received 2 DLCs during 2016, expanding the battle game-play and adding a Swedish themed campaign of the Pomeranian War.

TSYW, as it’s called among friends, already included the elements that would be the cornerstones of Grand Tactician: strategic campaign layer with simulation of economy and military management, and a tactical battle layer where battles are fought when armies meet on the campaign map. The game also includes historic battles from the war, and a custom battle generator. Though, the dream was always to make a game about the American Civil War. (“I tried to create a Civil War strategy game since the mid 90’s in different coding languages and engines, but never finished… until NOW.”)

Ilja Varha, now a 36 years old Finnish Army officer and a military history buff, ran into Oliver’s game while working for a gaming magazine as a freelance writer. While the game was rough around the edges, it was very intriguing, as it did many things right, that other games usually ignored. Ilja, with a history of modding, wargaming and simulators, both entertainment and military use, got involved in Oliver’s project and designed the Pomeranian War DLC. It was after the release of this DLC that the seed for Grand Tactician was planted.

Peter Lebek, a 41 years old Control Room Operator in the Chemical Industry in Germany, joined the team in 2017 plugging a gaping hole in the team’s line. Now we had a full-time artist to improve the game’s visuals, especially the UI. Peter was previously involved in the Europa Barbarorum II mod for Total War, creating units and coding.

There was but one problem: none of us was a professional game developer within the industry, making a living developing games. This was, and still is, a caveat in a way: making the game would not make a living, so the development would need to take place during spare time, after the workdays and while supporting the families – Oliver and Ilja both had their first child right after the development started, who are now 3 years old, while Peter’s son is a few years older. Also during the development Ilja was accepted to General Staff studies in the Finnish Defence University, spending 2 years studying the art of war while developing the game… Even if this means time for development is always limited – and believe us when we say the boundaries have been pushed on many occasions – it also gave a freedom which professional game developers do not always have: as the game was not the livelihood, we were free to do whatever and however we wanted, without any outside pressure to make things one way or another, or by a certain date.

While inexperience made certain things difficult at first, during the years we’ve learned more than a few things while creating the game. But the most important lesson is that with the freedom we’ve enjoyed, we’ve been able to develop the game our way. And from the feedback we’ve received from the followers of the project and the game’s volunteer testing team, we’ve managed to do emphasize the things we wanted in the game design, from the historic looks and atmosphere to the realistic mechanisms that run under the hood.

The Underdogs with Future Plans.

The release of Grand Tactician: The Civil War (1861-1865) is approaching fast. But the release of the game is not meant to set the game in stone, only to be patched later on with a DLC or two released later. Instead, as the project is a true fruit of passion for us, we are determined to keep it alive, and improving it along the way.

For a gigantic project like this with the limited development time, and basically without any resources, it’s clear, that every feature we planned in 2016 is not yet included or polished. We plan on finalizing our vision by supporting the game for years to come, adding the missing features in the upgrades and patches – for free – while improving the game. At the same time we’ll keep expanding the existing content, like the number of battle-fields players can encounter in the campaign.

Post-release, the players will also have their say in the direction the project will steer from thereon. While Grand Tactician is planned to become a series of strategy games, we’re not in a hurry to go onwards with a new title, even if a few interesting ones are already discussed. Hopefully after the release we can also make the game more moddable, so fans can adjust it to their liking.

And we’re not in this alone. The Volunteers, from freelance artists to history buffs helping in research, have helped us immensely, increasing the game’s quality and atmosphere from the soundtrack recorded just for this game to the video cut-scenes and historical map drawing styles – none of this was planned in 2016. We’re humbled by the talent and morale of the volunteers, as well as the impact their work have had had on our small, but ambitious project!

So, as you can see, Grand Tactician is a true underdog in the game development industry. With full freedom of maneuver we are going to keep the project alive, improving it along the way, as we believe it could be the American Civil War strategy game for years to come.

Most Respy,

The Grand Tactician -Team:

The Grand Tactician -Team

Oliver Keppelmüller, 40, Austria, treasury banker.
“I think in 0s and 1s, hardly sleep and the 100k lines of code chase me in my dreams.”

Ilja Varha, 36, Finland, officer, FDF.
“Still got some great ideas to improve the game, though Oliver said he would die of old age before finishing my list…”

Peter Lebek, 41, Germany, Control Room Operator.
“Years ago: do you know a way how to adjust 50 black & white commander photos in one shape? Last week: we have now 1400 commanders in the database and some 1000 will have a colored portrait…”

Comments 48


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?


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.

Comments 24


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.

Comments 10


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.


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.