Heavily Engaged: Sid Meier’s Gettysburg!

By Tim Stone on April 25th, 2011 at 4:29 pm.

Being the oldest RPS contributor has certain advantages. You can attend preview events in un-ironic cardigans, you can admit to finding 90% of manshoots deadly dull, and best of all, you get to sit in the RPS rocking chair and regale the young’uns with tales of wargaming glory. That’s what Heavily Engaged is all about. Over the next month or so, I’ll be giving a selection of the worthiest military strategy games on my shelves, the AAR treatment. Expect lashings of martial drama, tactical blunders aplenty (it’s a while since I last played some of these), and maybe even a little dash of post-result historical analysis.

Let’s get the cannonball rolling with Sid Meier’s Gettysburg!, a 1997 turnless wargame so elegant, atmospheric, and plausibly challenging, it makes Creative Assembly’s depictions of Nineteenth Century warfare seem positively pantomimic.

After blind-picking “Golden Opportunity: Will’s Wood” from the long scenario list, I find myself in the midst of one of SMG’s characteristically evocative briefings. Blue and red rectangles shuffle across a map paperweighted with revolver and percussion caps. Out of shot, richly accented Rebel commanders discuss an attack, an attack in which I’m to play a small but vital part. It’s 1.30 on the afternoon of July 1, 1863, and my five Confederate brigades are just about to lead an assault on Union positions north of the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.

The preamble ends with a whistle-stop survey of those five brigades. Mr. Narrator is keen to remind me that the components of my army are by no means equal. Daniel’s North Carolinians (“Your best brigade”) and Doles’ Georgians are veterans, Ramseur’s force is small but experienced, Iverson’s and O’Neal’s men numerous but green. In other games these facts would be of minor importance. In SMG they’re at the forefront of my mind as I survey the battlefield and devise a plan.


 
That plan is trident shaped. I intend to split my 8000 men into three strike forces. Daniel’s brigade backed by Iverson’s will attack Will’s Woods (the most valuable of the two victory locations) from the north. Doles’ brigade supported by O’Neal’s will b-line south-west for Pennsylvania College (a less valuable secondary objective). Ramseur will hook south through the streets of Gettysburg, hopefully causing mischief in the enemy’s rear. While all this is going on, my five cannon batteries will be searching-out promising vantage points from which to bombard the bluecoats.

Initial orders are issued, the GUI clock prodded from its slumbers. Manoeuvre columns of tiny grey-clad soldiers begin snaking their way towards unknown fates.

1.35 First contact. Marching west towards Oak Ridge, Daniel and Iverson’s men come under long-range cannon fire from a battery in Will’s Woods. Not wishing to be distracted from my plan (an assault along the crest of the ridge rather than up its steep face) I respond by sending a single skirmish line across the hill to harass the guns.

1.37 As Doles’ force approaches Pennsylvania College, ranks of defenders come into view. It looks like the foe has both VLs heavily picketed.

1.40 The skirmishers on the ridge are pulling back after attracting the attention of a second battery. Severely shaken, they’ll be out of the fight for a while, but their probe has done some good. Daniel’s brigade is now on high ground ready to surge south.

1.42 Three enemy batteries ensconced in Will’s Woods are now spewing shot in Daniel’s direction. I can stick to the script and wait for Iverson and a supporting cannon battery (still climbing the ridge) before launching the attack, or go early. Well Stone, what’s it to be? I order Daniel’s brigade to advance to contact.

1.44 On the bank of a stream near the College, Doles’ men shake-out into a mean-looking battle line. Behind them O’Neal’s recruits do the same. As these lines begin edging southward, the first of (hopefully) many Rebel cannonballs smashes into the flanks of the Union position. One of my five batteries has found a cracking spot in an orchard to the east of the College.

1.46 Daniel has entered the lion’s den. The vanguard brigade of my northern strike-force is now exchanging frantic musket fire with the dense overlapping lines of Union troops defending Will’s Woods. In an attempt to add some breadth to my attack I extend Daniel’s curved line westward with the newly arrived Iverson’s brigade. Will the noobs be able to take the heat?

1.47 I’m starting to think I may have thrown too many resources at the secondary objective. With  Doles approaching the College from the north, Ramseur from the south, it looks like there will be little need for O’Neal’s raw recruits. It’s very tempting to use the latter to link-up Daniel’s left with Doles’ right, thus creating one massive angry curlicue of Rebel muskets. Yes, that’s what I’ll do. O’Neal’s greenhorns can have a crack at the steep eastern edge of Will’s Wood.

1.55 Doles’ troopers are heavily engaged now. Harried by the cannons in the orchard (now two batteries) the easternmost regiment in the Union defences is looking decidedly vulnerable. Good-good.

1.57 Ah. Trouble at Will’s Woods. Iverson’s callow Carolinians aren’t coping well with the challenges in their sector. One regiment retreats of its own volition. The flag of another droops worryingly (flags function as morale indicators).  In an effort to stop the rot I gallop my biggest cheese, Major General Robert E. Rodes, towards the wavering units.

2.02 Down at the College prospects look brighter. Shattered by enfilade fire, one of the four Union regiments flees westward.

2.05 Having made its way through the hot dusty streets of Gettysburg without incident, Ramseur’s small but sturdy southern force are finally ready to join in the assault on the College. The federal defenders may end up caught between a rock and a hard place. Splendid.

2.06 Or perhaps not. There appear to be bluecoat reinforcements approaching from the sw.

2.12  Time to pause and ponder. O’Neal’s men, like Iverson’s on the other side of the woods, are showing their rawness. A yellow retreat arrow has appeared, and the flags of other regiments  are looking disturbingly limp. There seems little hope the boys from Alabama will penetrate the eastern treeline.

2.13 That’s good to see. The AI has sent one of his commanders down to the College in the hope of firming up the crumbling defences there. Happily, I suspect it’s too late. Unless Union reinforcements can battle their way past Ramseur’s position, the VL looks lost.

2.15 Sitrep: O’Neal’s forces are looking increasingly ragged. Doles’ and Ramseur’s lines are closing like crocodile jaws around the College. There are small but promising signs of progress at the northern tip of Will’s Woods (a Union regiment in the middle of Daniel’s Crescent of Kill has taken to its heels).

2.18 A rebel yell goes up. We’ve taken Pennsylvania College!

2.20 That’s what comes of getting cocky with cannons. In an effort to give artillery assistance to Iverson, I ordered a battery to deploy too close to Union lines. Raked by musket fire while unlimbering, the gunners sensibly routed. Clumsiness like that could easily cost me the battle.

2.27 Daniel’s doggedness in the north is definitely starting to pay-off. I’ve just edged several of his regiments into the corpse-strewn hem of the copse.

2.33  Aided by the two batteries now firing from Englehart Farm, Ramseur and Doles roll westward towards the ridge. The Union reinforcements arrived in exactly the right spot (the weak junction between Doles and O’Neal) but came a few minutes too late to derail my advance.

2.40 O’Neal’s and Iverson’s brigades are both alarmingly close to collapse. Pushing them closer to the wood would be suicidal. It’s up to Daniel, Doles and Ramseur now.

2.42 In an effort to steady the nerve of some of Daniel’s shakier units, I move a couple of O’Neal’s retreated regiments up behind them. SMG troops draw confidence from a range of different sources, including  nearby commanders, protective terrain and friendlies to the flank and rear.

2.45 Carrington’s battery relocates to a position from where it can bombard a growing knot of  broken-but-rallying Union troops. The knot disperses in panic.  

2.50 With Doles and Ramseur moving into Will’s Woods from the south and east, things are looking increasingly desperate for the federals. I could attempt to complete the encirclement, but I’m not sure Iverson and O’Neal’s sections of the noose would hold.

2.57 The foe still have some fight in them. Rallied(?) units are hitting Ramseur’s left flank. A regiment I’d left at Mrs Thompson’s House, in case of just such an eventuality is forced to retreat. Limbered cannons rush south in attempt to break-up the counter-attack.

2.58 In an effort to dislodge the last few regiments still stubbornly hanging on in the heart of Will’s Woods, I order my first charge of the battle. The bayonet brandishers make it half way before scurrying back. A failure? Perhaps not. Seconds after this abortive assault, an enemy regiment  breaks and flees.

3.00 The hills to the west are now scattered with retreating bluecoats. Most gratifying.

3.01 With one eye on the clock, I order another charge. This time the charge goes the distance, and after a brief scuffle, the chargees make themselves scarce.

3.05 A reassembled Union battery begins pounding one of Iverson’s fragile flanks. Almost certainly too little, too late.

3.08 Sweeping through the trees from the south Ramseur and and Doles finally evict the last Union unit from the VL. At last Will’s Woods is in Confederate hands. We’ve done it.

But at what cost? What the results screen calls a “Decisive Confederate Victory” is, on examination of the kill stats, a rather close-run thing. Both sides ended-up leaving the field with around 1300 fewer sprite soldiers than they started with. The always-interesting “Most Effective Unit” award went to the 45th North Carolinians, one of the regiments spearpointing Daniel’s slow and difficult northern assault. “Most Effective Brigade” and “Hardest Fighting Unit” titles went to Union units that weathered that assault for so long.

Watching the replay rectangles jostle and realign I’m struck by how closely the battle followed my original plan. SMG scraps rarely go this smoothly. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time a plan of attack required fewer tweaks. Usually on ‘Doubleday’ difficulty, my lines end-up writhing like a speared eel. Perhaps I got lucky today.

What about the real Rebel assault – did that go like clockwork too? A rummage through online reference material suggests not. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the real Rodes decided to lead with Iverson’s and O’Neal’s brigades. Woefully commanded by their respective leaders (and without the benefit of a pause button or an omniscient overseer in the sky) both brigades all but disintegrated on first contact with the foe.

, , , .

61 Comments »

  1. Zaboomafoozarg says:

    This is moist exciting, I am a young civil war buff and am enthralled to learn this game exists. Must play immedicately!

    • MrMud says:

      Three moves ahead just recently did a podcast on US civil war games due to the 150 years anniversary.
      http://flashofsteel.com/index.php/2011/04/14/three-moves-ahead-episode-112-a-special-secession-session/

    • Vinraith says:

      AGEOD’s American Civil War warrants a mention as a good, modern, grand strategy game based in the era. Similarly, Take Command: Second Manassas warrants a mention as a good, modern tactical game based in the era. Civil War games can be a bit thin on the ground, but there are some really good ones lurking in the niches.

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      @Vinraith: Don’t forget that the developers of Take Command: Second Manassas have a new-ish follow-up, Scourge of War: Gettysburg, that tramps the same fields SMG tramped so memorably. (They developed it under a new corporate name, but it’s the same people.)

      As to the AGEOD Civil War game, I don’t know what it is about AGEOD’s titles but they leave me completely cold. Something about their engine just feels inaccessible to me, and figuring out what it is would require putting in more time with them than I want to. This is probably a character flaw on my part, I understand. At the grand-strategic level I’ve enjoyed Gary Grigsby’s War Between the States more, though it suffers from the complexity/learning-curve problem that’s endemic to strategy as a genre.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Jason

      I’m aware of Scourge of War, it’s even on my to-purchase list, but since I haven’t played it I didn’t feel I could vouch for it.

      AGEOD games are definitely unique, and I can easily understand how you might find them cold and unengaging. I really like the underlying mechanics, myself. It’s also worth noting that, as with Paradox games, if you can get a grip on one of them all the others are markedly easier to handle.

      I haven’t played War Between the States, in fact I must confess that to date I haven’t played anything in the Grigsby strategy line. If I can ever find the time, I’ll definitely look into it.

  2. Abbas says:

    Great game, you need to run a story on Darklands by Microprose!

    • MiniTrue says:

      +1. Still the greatest cRPG ever in my humble opinion. Always nice to see other true believers scattered across the interwebz.

    • sinister agent says:

      I’m not even a big RPG fan, and I adore Darklands. Discovered it via HOTU (all bow) back in about 2006 and loved it ever since. Wonderful game, great setting and some brilliant devices. It’s a terrible shame the planned expansions/sequels never became.

  3. X_kot says:

    I fully endorse this Sid Meier renaissance on RPS today! Am waiting with baited breath for the Pirates! retrospective.

  4. skinlo says:

    I love watching people play these type of things, although less keen on playing them myself for some reason.

    • Sassenach says:

      I think it must come from thinking at least someone knows what is happening. I tried one of the Combat Mission games and got hopelessly lost. Without an idea of what exactly I’m doing such games degenerate into arbitrarily telling units to simply advance, like I’m role playing the worst commander in history.

  5. Wednesday says:

    Great, I love a good AAR.

    Can you do some Hearts of Iron 3 for us?

  6. JuJuCam says:

    I used to see kids in the school library play this game during lunch. Research for some sort of history class I guess?

  7. D.H. Lawrence says:

    SMG!!!!!! This was my absolute favorite game back in the day. It’s still got the best AI of any RTS I’ve played.

  8. GenBanks says:

    It literally made my day to see this article, thanks Mr Stone!!
    Sid Meier’s Gettysburg is one of the first proper games I can remember playing, when I was about 10 years old and a massive civil war buff, and it’s certainly the first multiplayer game I ever played, on my mum’s pentium 1, windows 95 laptop with a 56k modem. That’s when I picked the username I still use to this day on the old Mplayer.com service :D (General Banks was a somewhat obscure general, all the other generals’ names were already taken!)
    Such a good game. Very original too, it’s surprising that its gameplay mechanics were not imitated more by subsequent games.
    I would LOVE a sequel. Actually, I’d even be ecstatic with a Steam/GOG release!
    Hopefully since we’re now exactly 150 years since the civil war someone out there will feel it’s worth the effort to get it onto digital distribution.

  9. Kaira- says:

    I remember when the gaming papers here used to publish these kinds of texts, usually two writers playing against each other and commenting the actions of each turn/certain time perioid. Good times.

    • Dozer says:

      Yep, like some kind of two-player Boatmurdered. We need more of that!

  10. Premium User Badge

    Hypocee says:

    Loved SMG, thanks for writing it up. Wonderfully-balanced and researched scenarios, supported by a peerless interface. It was not just the only game but the only thing that has ever made 19th-century tactics not seem silly to me, by brutally demonstrating that they were not the Hollywood version (‘Line up in a field and get shot’). I can only assume that was one of Meier’s major goals for the project; if so, Decisive Victory.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    I’ve been playing Scourge of War: Gettysburg with Monty from the forums, and it’s great fun playing these battles in the context of a command chain with AI you can (mostly) trust to make sensible decisions.

    Actually, if anyone is interested in Scourge of War then you could PM him, as I think he’s keen to recruit new generals.

    • Alikchi says:

      I’m definitely interested! Long-time SOW:G player here, would love to give multiplayer a shot.

    • MMMMMONTYKILL says:

      That would be great! We’re organising a game for sometime this weekend (Friday and/or Sunday).

  12. PersianImm0rtal says:

    THIS GAME WAS AWESOME! I remember this game back in the day, and it was so much fun! That is cool that people actually care about this game, I hope they release it on Steam soon, if anyone wants to add me on steam my steamname is PersianImm0rtal.

    Does anyone know how to get this game to work on Windows 7? I tried installing it on windows vista but i kept getting errors.

  13. Sobric says:

    Pfft, I’m 23 Old Timer and I played this game a lot when I was younger. I think I even managed to beat it on a lower difficulty! The battles towards the end of the campaign (that all take place to the south of the city) were epic and bloody if my memory is correct.

  14. Novotny says:

    Hurrah! I’m going to enjoy this series. Tim Stone rocks.

  15. Eraysor says:

    I remember installing the demo from an ancient PC magazine demo disc and playing it to death over and over. I was only about 8 at the time but I think this game is mostly responsible for my love of the Total War games (though to be honest, I think Gettysburg is better!)

    • GenBanks says:

      Yeah I wish Empire Total War/ Napoelon Total War had taken a few pointers from SMG, not that their interpretation of musket warfare wasn’t fun.

  16. phanatic62 says:

    I just signed up specifically to post about this article. I absolutely LOVED this game – I think I got it when I was about 14 and played it until I got a computer I couldn’t install it on. It was followed by Sid Meier’s Antietam, but I don’t think that was as good as Gettysburg. The only thing this game was missing was a strategic level for the game that would allow the overall battle to play out in a way other than the historical manner. In other words, if you played as the Confederates and you repeatedly won decisive victories you could have pushed the Union to less favorable positions after the first day of battle. It was still a blast though – I would by this game in a heatbeat if they put it on GOG..

    • GenBanks says:

      Same! If it comes out on GoG/Steam I will not only buy it for myself but buy it for my friends. There are hardly any old games I feel as enthusiastic about as I do about SMG.

  17. JFS says:

    Great article. I never got into Sid Meier’s Gettysburg, probably as it wasn’t turn-based. Back when I was young and there was not a lot of internet and stuff, here in Germany we only had Robert E. Lee: Civil War General (or maybe its sequel). It took me years to finally win a battle, but boy was I proud when I did.

    • GenBanks says:

      Oh dear, you just gave me such a massive burst of nostalgia by mentioning that game…

    • GenBanks says:

      Found this on youtube http://youtu.be/nzG6hwb5l64

    • JFS says:

      Aww yes, complete with those quirky reenactment video clips and the midi-sound war songs. I really loved it. And, by the way, it really was part 1 I had, borrowed from a friend. Thank you for the video :)

  18. Text_Fish says:

    Hah! I remember playing the Gettysburg demo with a friend of mine because we’d been completely enthralled by Age of Empires and assumed that because they were both top-down strategy games that they’d share other similarities too. As I recall, we both managed to pretend to love it pretty well, but judging by how appallingly we played it I guess our enthusiasm was probably just for show.

  19. trooperdx3117 says:

    If these are going to become regular articles from tim stone then hear hear, I could read articles like these all day

  20. Torgen says:

    Speaking of the American Civil War, I am doing a “This Day in the Civil War” on my twitter account, historical_docs. Two of the things I really want to do before I die is to walk Gettysburg and Normandy.

  21. Keith Nemitz says:

    Finding a copy of the combined, Antitem / Gettysburg is pretty hard, unless you pay a premium.

    Here’s a vote for the Close Combat series for a future article!

  22. OJ287 says:

    It rankled that you couldn’t chase the enemy from the field before the timer decided the battle was over. After the victory message you can go back and play several extra seconds, which I did repeatedly, so I must have enjoyed it.

    The only problems I had were it seemed that putting every battalion in the line to skirmish formation would win the fight and cavalry would only fight as dragoons (dismount and use their carbines) and couldn’t use their swords to attack the infantry. Apart from that, good game.

    • Eightball says:

      Don’t know about the validity of skirmisher spam (didn’t try it myself) but American cavalry didn’t fight much in melee (at least not against infantry). They would’ve been butchered in a frontal charge anyway against 1860′s rifles (as opposed to 1820′s muskets).

    • GenBanks says:

      Didn’t skirmishers automatically retreat or something like that? So you’d end up losing if you tried to hold a victory point with them as the enemy might just charge.

  23. amandachen says:

    Don’t forget the Napoleonic games based on the same engine. I found those pretty fun too.

  24. Eightball says:

    Oh man I loved SMG when I was growing up. Probably the biggest impact on my gaming youth after TIE fighter and maybe Age of Empires. I was awful at it – could only complete the main campaign on the lowest setting and was murdered on the first level on the next difficulty setting. Too bad that by the time I got better at strategy games the disc I had stopped working with XP.

    Fun fact, there’s a great 3-regiment Union brigade under a General Stone. Each regiment is 400+ strong and veteran – both rarities for Union units. I loved messing around with them in the scenario creator.

  25. Bhazor says:

    So any bets on the next Heavily Engaged article?

    My guess would be something from the Combat Mission series but I don’t really know much about classic war games. The original Combat Mission was the first one I spent any real time with and its still seems pretty special.

  26. Sinky says:

    Bitmap images?
    The increased hosting costs will surely destroy the sites finances.

    This sort of article allows me to imagine what it would be like to have a brain compatible with strategy games.

  27. magichicken says:

    This is the first video game I played. That is all.

  28. Premium User Badge

    Zephro says:

    SMG was a classic, it’s still basically the standard I hold most RTS games against before watching them fail.

    It’s refreshing to fight to exhaustion at maybe 10-20% casualties rather than the usual approach of total annihilation.

  29. Tom Camfield says:

    More overhead shots please, so the action is easier to follow. Thanks! :-)

  30. TC-27 says:

    Also mark me down as a huge fan of this game.

    I especially liked all the video and audio trimmings that came with it which really helped set the mood which were sadly missing from the Antietnam and Napoleonic games which followed.

    Also the branching scenerio tree which allowed you to alter historical events was rewarding and made the scenerios compelling (you really wanted to make sure Early was able to take Culps Hill on the first day).

    Scourge of War is a worthy successor and a damn impressive game in its own right – I am looking for some decent multiplayer action so would be interested if any over RPSers are into this

  31. Chunga says:

    Yep, I loved this game and would love to play it again. Another favourite alongside Civ II and Alpha Centauri.

  32. Jake says:

    I love this game…have the original CD still. Anyone got it running on XP/WIndows 7? Anyone? Bueller…?

  33. Tams80 says:

    I think I played a demo of this game! I thought back about a few years ago, but couldn’t remember what it was called. I was young (well, still am) and found it really difficult, yet was slightly addicted. I might try and find that demo disk again… Cannon fodder! (right game I think?).

  34. TC-27 says:

    I have it on CD still fortunately – there were lots of mods for it including new graphics and new battles.

  35. stupid_mcgee says:

    I don’t normally do this, as grammar nazis are annoying as hell, but I thought I’d correct this since it seems to be an error of knowledge and not just a mixup or mental slip.

    … will b-line south-west…

    The proper word is beeline. It is a slang term for the route of shortest distance between two points. It comes from the notion that a bee, once it has collected its pollen, will fly directly back to its hive using the straightest and, thus, quickest route possible.

    As for the review (retrospective? editorial?) itself, it made we want to check out Total War: Napoleon. I’ve never really been able to get into the TW games, despite them having quite a bit of appeal to me. I think the slow pace of combat just turns me off. I dunno. Or maybe I just need to try different war sims, like some of Sid’s older stuff. I wish he’d do more thna just Civ games. They’re fun and all, but a decent, modern contender to the Total War series would be nice.

  36. RegisteredUser says:

    I applaud anyone who can survive, let alone still enjoy a game with these gfx.

    (And I play HOI2/EU etc)

  37. lunarplasma says:

    It’s saddening that “modern” games like the Total War series still can’t capture the same epic nature of combat like SMG does.

    • MMMMMONTYKILL says:

      You should check out Scourge of War: Gettysburg (find the thread in the forum) – it’s SMG, but in third person. If it had a replay feature and a branching campaign like SMG it would be perfect.

  38. Berzee says:

    I played the demo of this game endlessly as a small lad =) Along with a freeware capture-the-flag strategy game featuring little guys in yellow(?) shorts and color-coded t-shirts…which to my mind back then was “basically the same” as the Gettysburg thing.

  39. Premium User Badge

    Hypocee says:

    Bah. Reply Khaaaan!

  40. US_Rosecrans says:

    Does anybody still play this? I’ve been hanging out at the Gamespy lobby hoping someone might wander in for a game. Anybody out there?