Playing Games

Many people who read this blog are familiar with wargaming/simulation gaming. In most cases those games concern military campaigns, battles, or the entire war. Although a good number of these games can be played on a computer (and there are a handful of so-so video games), there are still enough traditional board games, utilizing some combination of a board, pieces (often called counters), cards, charts and tables, and a die (or dice).

There are games, however, that cover other themes.  One is Divided Republic, on the 1860 presidential contest.

Here’s a video review of that game:

Then there is Freedom: The Underground Railroad. The publisher’s offered a series of videos showing how the game is played, and so you might go there to see what’s up.

I wonder what a Reconstruction game would look like. A well-designed one might do a better job than most accounts of Reconstruction in illustrating the challenges faced by policymakers and politicians.



21 thoughts on “Playing Games

  1. Rob Baker April 19, 2014 / 1:11 pm

    I’m a fan. I’ve got a few war simulation games. Digitally I have a couple versions of Civilization (IV namely) which is political, social and war. I’ve also got Empire: Total War and Napoleonic: Total War. The Civil War versions “2nd Manassas” and the two Gettysburg games (Gettysburg & Scourge of Fire) are pretty cool.

    Board games are a little more fun to me though. There is the ever famous “Risk” and my personal favorite, “Axis and Allies.”

    Implementing strategy games is an excellent teaching technique. I have my students engage in a classroom war simulation to teach the “Scramble for Africa” and the Berlin Conference. They seemed to learn a lot from it.

    • John Foskett April 19, 2014 / 1:34 pm

      I definitely agree on the teaching value of a well-designed simulation. I am categorically not a “gamer” but I nonetheless own a large number of ACW games. The Civil War Brigade Series, the Line of Battle series (formerly RSS), and the GCACW series, for example, reflect excellent research and in some cases provide the most insightful battlefield and campaign maps around. Besides, it’s fun to see what happens when Stonewall gets a leader “rating” of only 1 or 2 🙂 Although I don’t have any of the games focused on grand strategy or on non-military subjects, I’d wager that they, too, can perform the education function well. The devil’s always in the design, of course, but most of these simulations go through extensive play-testing and refinement.

      • Rob Baker April 19, 2014 / 3:12 pm

        Yes. Not to mention time limitations. A class period is probably enough time to set up the board and maybe make it through one round of Axis and Allies.

  2. E.A. Mayer April 19, 2014 / 1:43 pm

    Maybe a little off topic, but I’ve been playing these sort of games since I was in grade school in the early 70’s. I think I bought Avalon Hill’s Panzer Blitz when I like 5th grade. It took me a about a year until I sat down and carefully went through with the rules and started slowly playing some of it out when something clicked, and in an what I only describe as an epiphany I could fully grasped the concept and never looked back. I’d say that these games had a lot to do with me becoming a history teacher as I wanted to learn more and more, not only about the battles themselves, but the stories behind those battles and people, the common and famous people, in them and what milieu of the times was all about. Giving a list of all that I’ve gamed out would be exhausting, I probably myself own 50 of them or more, I don’t even know anymore. I have almost every major conflict covered, from Alexander at Gaugamela modern day. But unfortunately I don’t get the opportunity to play much anymore except a solitaire game once in a while. Nobody wants to read 15-20 pages of rules anymore, they just want to turn on a switch and have screen flash fancy and useless graphics. But computer games can never really give you that strategic and tactical level of play and simulation that a map game can.
    I’ve played some Great Civil War games against some very skilled opponents. Perhaps my favorite though is this one:

    • Andy Hall April 20, 2014 / 11:21 am

      I had a friend who had that game. Four map sheets as I recall. Took longer to play than the real war. 😉

  3. Andy Hall April 19, 2014 / 2:10 pm

    It’s a great question. There are board games that simulate political maneuvering and plotting; many years back I played Jim Dunnigan’s The Plot to Assassinate Hitler that dealt with those very abstract things in a practical way. (You can get an idea of how it plays here.)

    The trick to game design is not how precisely you can model every facet of the thing you’re trying to simulate, but in getting the players to face the same kind of decisions that their real-life counterparts did, and be pushed toward behaving the same way. It might be fun to play a scenario of the third day at Gettysburg in which Pickett’s charge sweeps over the Union line with minimal casualties and send the Yankees skedaddling for Washington like at Bull Run, but that would not be an especially plausible outcome.

    Who would the actors be? Freedmen, Johnson, Grant, Freedmen’s Bureau, Radical Republicans, Democrats, Klan, Carpetbagers, Red Shirts, it’s a long list.

    What might the “win” conditions be for Reconstruction.

  4. jfepperson April 19, 2014 / 3:02 pm

    I’m a wargamer from long ago. Wish I had more time for it now.

    • John Foskett April 21, 2014 / 7:47 am

      Well, you can take some pride in BRS. That one has nice solutions to some challenging design issues. It sounds as though the same topic is on the distant hotizon for the LOB series.

      • jfepperson April 21, 2014 / 8:57 am

        Thank you!

  5. Jimmy Dick April 19, 2014 / 3:41 pm

    I love war games. I used to play a lot of the Avalon Hill games in high school. Here it is 32 years after graduation and my high school friend and I have scheduled a day to play Rise and Decline of the Third Reich in May. It was one of the most complicated games they made and one of the few WWII strategy games that was not strictly a tactical contest. I would like to see a Civil War game constructed along the same lines. There may be one out there, but I don’t know of it.

    Something that would involve economics, industrial capacity, transportation, grand strategy, terrain, and military capability into one cohesive game that could mimic the actual historical contest or branch off into new strategies to enjoy a lot of what if scenarios within the realistic framework of the actual capabilities available to either side.

    • Tom P April 19, 2014 / 5:10 pm

      I cut my teeth back in 70’s on tactical level games such as AH’s Panzer Blitz and Squad Leader, however Third Reich was by far the best grand strategy simulation that I can recall. I agree that it would be great if someone developed a grand strategy simulation of the American Civil War.

    • jfepperson April 20, 2014 / 9:54 am

      Sounds like SPI’s old “War Between the States.” Or maybe the simpler, more recent (but still old) “Grand Army of the Republic.”

  6. tmheaney April 19, 2014 / 5:18 pm

    I guess the meeting has already started.. “Hi. I’m Thomas. And I’m a wargamer.”

    I too have tried using games in my classroom, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they just aren’t as effective as I would want (at least in the community college context). Instead, I’ve designed some online activities that are kind of game-like (e.g. being George Washington during the 1776 campaign and having to make decisions or being an adviser to FDR during 1935-41 and helping to guide American foreign policy). I’ve also helped the designer of Founding Fathers do a graphical face lift of his great game of American politics where you control different factions of American statements and score points by influencing major events and pushing through legislation. It is based on “The Republic of Rome;” someday I MIGHT try it in an American history class. (

    I could see a game on Reconstruction, but I suspect it would be too complicated for classroom use. In my mind, such a game might be “card driven” and be like Ted Torgerson’a “1989: Dawn of Freedom”; he’s also designed a game on the Civil Rights Movement (“Free at Last”) demonstrating that such a game could be designed. ( The two players would represent the two extremes of American politics at the time and seek to, among other things, influence and control the various political factions and positions and popular opinion in order to implement their respective agendas.

  7. Stephen Graham April 19, 2014 / 10:26 pm

    I suspect that Reconstruction might work better as a different GMT game series: the COIN series ( These are two to four faction games, where it’s easy to have groups generally aligned with or against each other, but with ultimately different goals victory conditions. Thus you could readily have the mainstream Republicans, who want to maintain national electoral control without sapping resources unduly, the freedmen and their white allies who want to fundamentally alter the political balance in the states, the moderate Southern whites who are willing to make some concessions, and the extremists, who will use terror to dominate the political scene.

    • Andy Hall April 20, 2014 / 7:02 am

      Yup. COIN is the right framework for this conceptually.

      • tmheaney April 20, 2014 / 10:44 am

        Yea, that is pretty brilliant.

    • Matt McKeon April 21, 2014 / 1:12 pm

      I like this idea.

  8. Matt McKeon April 21, 2014 / 1:10 pm

    I’ve done a 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and a simulation of the 1920s stock market, both with success. In a classroom setting, having the ability to divide the students into at least four teams is a must. The Versailles game is rigged to produce a treaty that resembles the historic treaty, the point isn’t to explore alternatives, but to demonstrate why smart people produced a subpar treaty.

    So are you trying to demonstrate for “victory conditions” why Reconstruction was less than 100% successful, or there was a combination of strategies that would have worked better than the historical outcome?

    • Brooks D. Simpson April 21, 2014 / 2:20 pm

      “Better” is a relative term. I don’t see how a “best” result doesn’t include a divided South, with a few Republican strongholds … and they only survive if the government remains in Republican hands.

      In the two class simulations in which I was involved as an eighth grader, I was Alexander Hamilton at the Constitutional Convention (typecasting) and John C. Breckenridge in the election of 1860, which was indeed rigged, much to my unhappiness. Our campaign theme song was “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

  9. gregdehler April 26, 2014 / 5:58 am

    I am another historian and veteran grognard. The Victory Games Civil War game already mentioned is a very fun game. However, I would recommend Mark Herman’s “For The People” (FTP) for a Civil War game because it incorporates political and economic events through its card riven mechanic (CDG). Here is a more on FTP

    A Reconstruction game would be a lot of fun. I would recommend GMT’s Labyrinth as a model. Labyrinth is a CDG on the War on Terror. The Jihadist player uses plots and jihad war to destabilize governments. The USA player tries to create stable and friendly governments. There are terrorist cells and US troops, but the focus of the game is on political control. European countries and the USA are rated as either “hard” or “soft” in their terrorist policies. Card events cover the growth of terrorist cells, changes in policy in European countries for certain leaders, drone strikes, the Patriot Act, elections, etc., to give the players many options. I imagine that this would translate to Reconstruction. The northern states and their attitudes towards Reconstruction could take the place of the Europeans. The hard/soft policy stances could represent pro- or anti- civil rights. The federal and white supremacist player could battle to control governments, with ranges from “redeemed” to “radical”. Cards could include events like “swing around the circle,” “Enforcement Act,” and cover events such as elections, corruption, amendments, etc. For more on Labyrinth see:

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