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[Review] Civil War 2061

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  • Tom Vasel
    When I first heard of Civil War 2061 (Oxford Street Board Games, 2003 – John Wiley Davis), the idea was certainly intriguing. A war game about a futuristic
    Message 1 of 1 , May 20, 2004
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      When I first heard of Civil War 2061 (Oxford Street Board
      Games, 2003 – John Wiley Davis), the idea was certainly intriguing.
      A war game about a futuristic struggle of the United States of
      America was certainly interesting. I don't have many games that
      deal with war and the USA – Fortress America being a notable
      exception. Once I got the rules, and read them over, I was a little
      happier – as the game rules sounded like they had the simplicity of
      Risk, but with a little bit more complexity. I'm not a huge fan of
      complicated war games, but am often willing to step up to the plate
      to try out a "light" war game, which this one seemed.

      And, upon playing, I really do enjoy the game, and see vast
      potential for playing it. The combat in the game is very similar
      (if not almost identical) to that of your Risk family of games, but
      many things are different. Future events always interest me, and I
      really enjoyed the storyline behind the different factions that have
      sprung up in the game. In a letter from the designer, he states
      that, "I tried to create a board game that had many elements of the
      Risk war game, yet included much more…A player might learn
      geography, strategy, values, aggression, and history while playing
      Civil War 2061." And of course, he's proud of his own creation; but
      he's not too far off the mark. The components are decent – being of
      an independent company, gameplay is light – which may not please
      fans of "heavy" war games, but I think that the theme and easy
      gameplay will appeal to many.

      The theme of the game revolves around a possible future
      where, once again, states are clamoring for their rights. Chief
      amongst these are the "New South", and like a bunch of copycats,
      other states – The Yankee Militia (New England), New Industrialists
      (Midwest), Texas Rangers, Montana Vigilantes, and Opportunists of
      California – have followed suit. Each player picks which militia
      they will play (one player MUST pick the New South). A large board
      is placed in the middle of the table, a map of the United States
      (only 48 states – Alaska and Hawaii were sold) along with part of
      Canada and Mexico. The territories in all three countries are
      defined by state lines, etc., so some territories, like Texas, are
      quite a bit larger than others. Each player receives a pile of
      pieces in the color of their faction, and state cards for the states
      they control (denoted by the states on the board being colored the
      same as their pieces). The flagging US military still gets to place
      units at various locations around the board (as stated in the
      rules), but nobody plays them – at least at game start. Each player
      starts with seventeen divisions (units), placing them in the states
      that they control. If a faction is currently not being played by
      anybody – 16 divisions are distributed equally in that faction's
      states. A deck of "surprise" cards are shuffled and placed by the
      game board. The New South militia player takes the first turn, and
      then play proceeds clockwise.

      A player's turn consists of three parts: building divisions,
      attacking, and moving. When building divisions (adding
      reinforcements), a player receives divisions equal to the total
      amount listed on each state card they have. Also, if a player has
      two or more State cards (out of four possible) that have the
      word "God" in their state motto (listed on every card), they get
      additional divisions. Players also receive a bonus if they have
      enough state cards (i.e. 4 states controlled gives 4 extra
      divisions, 7 states – 7 divisions, 9 states – 14 divisions, 12
      states – 21 divisions, and 15 states – 28 divisions). All
      reinforcing divisions can be placed on any states that the player
      currently controls.

      When attacking, a player states from which state the attack
      will commence and the target of the attack. The combat which then
      occurs is similar to Risk, with both players rolling six-sided dice,
      with the highest die results being compared (defenders losing
      ties). For each "loss" with a die, a player must lose one
      division. Several factors can contribute to how many dice are
      rolled (although normally the attacker rolls three, and the defender
      two). The attacker rolls one die for each division, but a maximum
      of three dice total. When attacking over mountains or rivers
      (depicted on the board), the attacker can only roll a maximum of two
      dice. The defender uses one die for each division, with a maximum
      of two dice, except when defending across rivers and mountains. If
      they have four or more units when doing so, the defender will use
      three dice. The attacker can retreat at any time, otherwise the
      battle ends when one of the two sides is totally destroyed.

      If the attacker won the battle, he may move his troops into
      the conquered state, but only after drawing a surprise card and
      following the instructions listed on it. There are different types
      of surprise cards:
      - Deserter cards: This card will cause the attacker to
      temporarily lose some divisions, which leave the country, taking up
      residence in a Canadian or Mexican territory, as indicated on the
      card. These deserters can be possibly picked up by other armies
      that march through those territories.
      - Pass-through cards: These cards can be kept and played on a
      players turn. These cards allow a player to pass through
      territories in either Canada or Mexico for the remainder of the
      game. Using these cards, a player can pick up any deserters who are
      living in these territories.
      - Peace card: A player may keep this card and play it when
      needed. This card forces a peace – no attacking – between two or
      more players for one round.
      - United card: Any state with the words "union", "united",
      or "unity" in their motto receive 50% more divisions. Players must
      recite the state mottos out loud; however, or they cannot take their
      units.
      - Natural disaster cards: Six events are shown on the card,
      and a die is rolled to determine which one occurs. They are usually
      negative effects, destroying a percentage of units in certain states.
      - Fly divisions cards: A player can move their divisions
      around from the states that they control.
      If after drawing the surprise card, the aggressor still has units;
      they may move into the state, forcing the defender to hand the state
      card over. States that had no defenders in them in the first place
      may be captured without battle or surprise card.

      A player may then move divisions around – up to one or two
      adjacent states. They can only move through states that they
      control, and can move units from only one state. Play then passes
      to the next player. When a player is removed from the game, by
      losing all their units, they should roll a die on their turn. If
      the die is a "1", they take control of the left over US forces, and
      take the Washington DC card. Also, if any player at any time
      attacks Washington DC, the first player eliminated from the game
      takes control. The first player to capture all 48 states with their
      faction is the winner!

      Some comments on the game…

      1.) Components: Since the game is independently produced, the
      components are less than stellar; but because of the high costs of
      production, this is to be expected. The board is nicely done with
      each state in the six original militias colored for ease of starting
      setup. I only wish that the state names were on the board; but
      maybe they were left out deliberately – my wife noted that I should
      KNOW the states of my home country. The cards are of low quality
      but are functional and have easy-to-read, clear graphics on them.
      The pieces are all obviously beads, with polyhedral beads used for
      single division, triangular beads for five divisions, and star beads
      for ten divisions. Visually, the beads are all in bright colors and
      look pretty cool when the game is in mid-play. Functionally,
      however, the polyhedral beads are rounded, so that major bumps of
      the board can displace units. I know that these pieces were used to
      alleviate costs, but less rounded pieces would have been better.
      Still, all of the components (in plastic bags so nicely provided
      with the game) fit well in the box – a nicely designed, fairly large
      box of decent quality.

      2.) Rules: A sheet of rule changes (some of them major) was
      included in the game, so I was constantly referencing between the
      sheet and the rulebook. It took me a few readings before I
      understood exactly how the game played (layout could have been
      smoother); but once I played through a game, I understood the game
      quite easily. If one has played Risk before, the game mechanics
      (especially combat) should come intuitively. The cards do need to
      be explained, and at first, players will forget exactly what
      reinforcing units come on each turn. A reference sheet would be
      nice, and I think that I'll custom make one for my game.

      3.) Theme: Of course, almost all war games have theme, but
      futuristic or fantasy war gamers need a good theme to keep them
      alive. And I really enjoyed the theme of this game (a futuristic
      Civil War fought over almost the exact same reasons that the first
      American Civil War); it certainly caught my attention. The designer
      wrote that "a game like this has been challenging to market
      since "9/11". Why, I ask? Nothing in the game promotes terrorism,
      or "American Imperialism". The game is fun historical fluff, pure
      and simple; and the fact that the designer included mottos for each
      state – some of them current, others expanded to fit the history –
      really helps the flavor of the game. The rulebook also talks about
      the history of each militia, and I really enjoyed this attention to
      detail when theming Civil War 2061.

      4.) Elimination: Every multi-player war game has a problem with
      elimination. What do you do if you are eliminated from Risk?
      Usually the answer is to slink back in the shadows, bored until the
      game finally ends, or another player is eliminated and you can play
      a two-player game. But here, the player who is eliminated first has
      a chance to command the remaining US forces. These forces, while
      fairly weak, still wield a huge power in the game and have a real
      chance of winning. It may actually benefit someone to be the first
      eliminated, and then come back and win the game! I really enjoyed
      this mechanic.

      5.) Surprise cards: I'm still not sure how I feel about the
      surprise cards. Most of them, especially the pass-through cards,
      were very thematic and fun to play with. The deserters' cards could
      be strange (why would a 3 Texan divisions desert to Nova Scotia?),
      and they added a degree of uncertainty to the game. The natural
      disaster cards were extremely random, and no place on the board was
      safe from them – several times many divisions were wiped out by one
      card. However, if the cards annoyed players, they could easily
      throw the deck out of the game and play. I think the cards' good
      benefits outweigh the bad, so I enjoyed using them (for the most
      part.)

      6.) Strategy: Each player gets a pile of units on their turn;
      and unlike Risk, you can't be wiped off the board in only one turn –
      unless you're REALLY stupid. At the same time, Risk players might
      be thrown off by the pacing of the game, which could get really slow
      with some stodgy players. And if anything, I think that's why
      surprise cards should be kept in the game; because they shake the
      game up enough that a stalemate should not occur. I doubt anyone
      would ever lose to a surprise card, but it just might be the first
      domino to bring their empire crashing down.

      7.) Fun Factor: The game is a lot of fun to play – especially
      if you pick up the flavor. Forcing players to shout state mottos
      may seem silly, but it becomes a lot of fun, and helps make this
      something more than just a "Risk" game. And people who like rolling
      dice should have a blast, because there is quite a bit of that in
      this game!

      This game is a very well done, light war game, produced by an
      independent company. There isn't a lot of press for the game; it
      didn't even have a boardgamegeek entry when I checked, but it's
      worth finding out about. Quite a bit of information about the game
      can be found at the website, http://www.civilwar2061.com/ , which
      tells a bit about the theme of the game and shows a picture of the
      box. If you are a big fan of Civil War type games (future), or like
      Risk, then this just might be up your alley. If you disdain light
      war games because of die rolling, or just that they are
      too "simple", then you would probably dislike this title. But for
      the everyman, the average "Joe" looking for a war game, this is an
      excellent choice.

      Tom Vasel
      "Real men play board games."
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