Richard Berg's Glory American Civil War system, published by GMT, has so far produced three games, covering the battles of First and Second Manassas, Chickamauga, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam and Cedar Creek. The first installment was published in 1995, the second in 2002 and the third in 2007. As one would expect from a series that has been around this long, the rules have undergone some revision since they first appeared. This is a good thing. The system takes a straightforward and uncomplicated approach to hex-and-counter ACW warfare.
As another positive, the series rules are intuitive and easy to learn, meaning that the game can be quickly brought to table. While there are a few modifiers (mainly terrain-centric) to get used to, there is no need to get hung up about whether you're playing the line of sight rules correctly or have got the turn order right.
The scale in Glory II is 315 yards per hex and each strength point is worth 200 men or 3-4 guns. Individual units are brigades, brigades are activated by division, and in the bigger scenarios divisions are activated individually within a larger corps activation.
Each turn equates to about 45 minutes. Units will typically activate twice within a game turn.
Infantry moves 4 hexes per turn, cavalry 6, and artillery 5. Movement can be increased if at a distance from the enemy, and actual distance moved is (as usual in wargames...) reduced depending upon the type of terrain encountered. In clear ground the maximum movement rate for infantry works out to about 2 miles per hour, but extended movement will increase that by up to a third.
There are three types of combat: artillery, defensive fire and charge. All are resolved on the roll of a single d10, with applicable modifiers. Results include disorder, retreat, and cohesion tests, often in combination.
Units which perform no movement or fire during an activation can attempt to rally from disorder, but a unit that takes a second hit while disordered is withdrawn from the board. Withdrawn units get one reform opportunity, and if this test is failed will be permanently eliminated.
Non-artillery combat follows a simple and speedy procedure: active units adjacent to the enemy may, if desired, initiate a 'charge'. When they do so, the defender gets to roll defensive fire and if this fails to halt the attacker(s) a charge will be made, with its result, for good or ill, depending on another d10 roll. Odds change according to terrain, troop quality and troop numbers, but with all things being equal a charging attacker that makes it through the defensive fire stage will get a good result about 50% if the time and a bad one the rest of the time. Brigades take disorder hits and retreats, and if they are forced to retreat into the path of enemy units will take an extra hit, which will usually result in the withdrawal of the unit.
There is a neat little covering rule that prevents attackers from ganging up unrealistically on one defender, so players are rewarded for keeping good defensive lives. As this makes it difficult to get significant odds-shifts in the attackers' favour the ideal tactic is to exploit open flanks, but where that is impossible (and it usually is) units must hammer away grimly at the line trying to make a hole that can be exploited by following waves of troops.
So far so good.
But there is a potential downside, and this is that the Glory system does not track casualties at the unit level, so on-table combat attrition is understood only in terms of disorder. For those used to tracking both casualties and morale states, this is quite an abstraction. It can be disconcerting to see a brigade spend all day fighting - rallying each disorder suffered - but still ending the day at the same strength it started. The effect of casualties is felt at divisional and corps level, in eliminated units, rather than at the brigade level through loss of strength points.
Not tracking casualties may be an abstraction too far for some, but on the whole this broad-brush approach seems to give generally realistic results. I'm not expert in the ACW, but the tactics players are encouraged / forced to use seem to me not entirely dissimilar to those of their historical counterparts.
The combat system is chaotic; it is important to maintain reserves to follow up attacks or replace disordered units with fresh ones. Attacks are never sure; it is difficult to coordinate with units from different divisions. There is a joyous frustration to it all as again and again troops on the verge of a great success are forced to stop and reform, giving the defenders time do the same.
This all seems to accord reasonably well with my (limited) reading on the subject.
So, in summary, we've got plenty of different battles, simple rules and a realistic feel - though I'd want to research casualty rates before making any unequivocal pronouncements on that score. While it is possibly too abstract for some, for me it does not have the inertia-inducing detail I find in more complex systems so this - in addition to its other virtues - makes it well-suited for solo play.
What follows is a quick replay of the Salem Church scenario from Glory II: Across the Rappahannock. This is one of the smallest scenarios, taking just four turns and using only about thirty units all told. The Confederates, under McLaws, are dug in on the ridge either side of Salem church, while Sedgwick is trying to get through or around them to take control of the pike behind.
Brooks' men come down the pike towards the Confederate position (note the nicely detailed map and refreshing lack of marker-clutter).
The rest of the Union force arrives. Brooks' troops aim to outflank McLaws on his left, but the ground there is woody and criss-crossed with streams and manoeuvre is slow.
The Confederates consolidate their position and await the Union assault.
Union troops make attacks at key points along the line but McLaws' men hold under the pressure and their defensive fire disrupts most of the attacks on their approach. Those that are not disrupted are thrown back in the charge.
The Union men throw in fresh troops and one of Newton's Brigades manages to fight its way up the hill and into the Confederate lines.
Fighting is desperate on the Confederate left as Howe's division attempts to get around the far flank. Cabels' artillery does stirling work in holding up the enemy assault. The Confederates on the far left are disordered and there are few reserves to throw in.
A shot of the whole battle, clearly showing the union troops that have been pulled back from the line to rally from disorder, and the penetration of the Confederate position.
With time running out Howe's men finally get around the flank, and the road to Zion Church is open behind them. McLaws has miscalculated - he has not thought to defend his rear.
Howe's men in the woods north of the Confederate position.
McLaws repositions to protect his flank, but cannot prevent Howe's men from taking Zion Church
The Confederate position is suddenly precarious; squeezed on all sides. But Newton and Brooks' divisions are mostly spent, and the Confederates are still in reasonable order, so they will likely be able to extricate themselves. With the light deteriorating the firing eases off.
Zion Church has been taken, and the pike is open - Union minor victory is secured.
The fighting stops as darkness falls on the scene: McLaws has taken 1200 casualties; Sedgwick 2400.
This scenario took me about three hours to set up and fight, and was quite engrossing once it got started. The Union had some pretty terrible luck with their attacks early on and as as consequence I thought they had no show. It therefore took me by surprise to discover on the last turn that Howe had the movement to reach Zion Church and achieve the Union minor objective.
I was a slightly red-faced soloist after this, but could console myself with the thought that if I was unsettled then McLaws must have been feeling it a lot worse!
If you are interested in the series, Glory III is the only one of the games still in print and currently available. You can get it from GMT themselves or from the NWS online game store, which has it at a bargain price. You can probably also get Glory II from NWS is you search there for it.