Blue and the Gray logo

Stevie Kennedy dons his unifrom as the war gamer's favourite slaughter subject makes an appearance on the Amiga.


The American Civil War has long vied with the exploits of Napoleon and Wellington as the war gamer's favourite gaming period, and there have been a few mostly ill-fated attempts to bring the sweep of this continental struggle to the small screen over the years.

Impressions, whose games have in the past covered just about every other area of conflict, have entered the fray with a game aimed at those who enjoy marshalling lead figures around a tabletop, and those who prefer a more behind-the-lines strategic involvement.

Creating a playable computer game which mimics the movement of thousands of troops on a battlefield is notoriously difficult, and when this is paired with a strategic overview of a four-year war, the task becomes a little daunting. Can Impressions pull it off?


When the South began the bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston, in April 1861, they were taking the first armed steps in a war which was to last four years and cost the lives of 617,000 Americans, two-thirds of whom were destined to die in the charnel houses that were the hospitals of the time.

Despite the initial successes of the Confederate forces, their early military superiority, dashing tactics (particularly in the Shenandoah valley under Jackson and Longstreet), and fanatical commitment could only delay the day when northern industrial and numerical superiority ground them into the dust.

Bull Run, where Stonewall Jackson earned his nickname, was to be followed by a succession of victories and defeats until the turning point of the war at Gettysburg. There the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania died, along with 23,000 Union troops and 28,000 Confederates, and Robert E Lee had suffered his first defeat.

The psychological effect of the battle on both sides was immense, and the North gradually pushed the Rebs back until, on April 9, 1865, Lee signed the terms of his surrender to his old rival Ulysses S Grant in the courthouse of a tiny town called Appomattox.

It had been the bloodiest war in US history, more costly even than World War 2 was to prove.


There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths
General Robert E Lee just before his surrender to Grant



Split into strategical and tactical sections, the game's simulation of the Civil War is by no means perfect, but it is good enough given the limitations of a two-disk package and a four-year continental war.

Strategy is probably the weakest section, and players are limited in what they can do to affect the outcome of the war. Using train and ship transports properly, destroying railway lines, and judging where and when to commit reserves or raise new divisions are the only real strategic decisions.

As the north's victory was so dependent upon its numerical and economic strength aided by a naval blockade, some sort of economic dimension to the game would have helped. However, as the war itself consisted mostly of attempts to locate and destroy as many enemy troops as possible, the lack of more subtle elements is acceptable.

In battle mode, poor graphics don't help much, but the battle system itself is well worked out. Troops can be grouped into large formations or used as individual units, and they can be told to form lines two deep, assume skirmishing formation, or even squares.

Each unit has its own firepower, attack, and defence ratings as well as troop quality and morale, all of which have a direct result on gameplay, and different weapons can have an effect too.

Union troops, for example, have the Sharps and Enfield carbines whereas Confederates use mostly older muskets, and cavalry can be told to use either sabres for maximum effect in charges, or carbines for more static manoeuvres.

In play, moving troops around can be a real pain, and the control system during battles is rather clunky at times. However, so long as the battle speed is kept down (there are ten settings), tabletop players should feel at home with most elements.

If you can see past the graphics and have the patience to play a full battle, then there is a good war gaming system trying to break free of the game design, and fans fo the genre should find enough depth to keep them going.




Without becoming too gruesome, the game does make an attempt at battle noises, with musket volleys, neighing horses and booming cannons at the appropriate moment, but there's a distinct lack of other touches.

I would have liked a Rebel Yell when the Confederates charge (which, true to life, they often do in this game), and some sort of general battle hubbub, but overall the sound isn't too bad. Music is OK, as far as it goes,which isn't far, and there are a couple of attempts at the battle hymns of the time.




The game's graphics vary in quality and consistency depending upon which screen is being viewed, so while the static information screens and the strategic maps are quite well drawn, the representation of battle is poor and based entirely on the existing Impressions battle system which hasn't changed much for a couple of years.

To the tabletop fanatic used to pushing immaculately modelled and painted figures across intricately detailed fake countryside the battle scenes will be a particular disappointment. Soldiers are drawn in blocky lo-res and move jerkily across the screen, and the battlefields themselves are about as basic as one can get.

On the other hand, information screens showing historical events from the war itself are easy on the eye, and the map of North America is up to the task.

Graphics during the manoeuvre and strategic phases of the game don't impress in an artistic sense, but they are good enough and the various control options are presented clearly and neatly.

More realistic battle scenes would have given The Blue and the Gray a much better visual appeal, but as this is a more cerebral game than most, it is not as damaging a weakness as it might otherwise have been.




Sixty per cent might seem a generous score for a game which falls over in the graphics side and has a few simulation flaws, but as Impressions are aiming at the war gaming fan and as the battle system is basically sound, The Blue and the Gray comes over as a reasonable attempt at an extensive and unwieldy subject.

The superb manuals help a great deal, and as there are good campaign and battle tutorials the game should be approachable by non-war gamers as well as the experienced weekend general.

To aid the beginner, there's also an excellent 180-page history of the Civil War which covers the material in some depth and in a very readable style.

It takes some time and lots of patience to get to grips with this game, particularly as the early battles are made more infuriating by the difficult mouse control across the battlefield.
After a few practice battles, though (in one of which my three division Union army was routed by a single under-strength Rebel infantry division) the pieces start to fall into place and the depth of the battle system starts to show.

Fighting out a huge affair, such as the first battle of Bull Run, can take a very long time, because when there are 30,000 soldiers on each side you have to knock speed right down and scroll back and forward like a mad thing to keep track of what's going on.
Add the fog of war option and unit re-supply and things become even trickier and time-consuming.

On the whole, though, the war gaming fan will find enough in this game to warrant buying it, particularly as the tabletop variety takes even longer to organise and play. Other gamers will scratch their chins in a thoughtful manner and give it a wide berth, but that's only to be expected.

Blue and the Gray logo

There can be fewer more fascinating slices of modern history than the American Civil War. Between 1860 and 1865, the Confederate armies of the south and the Yankee forces of the north fought it out over the future direction of the American state. Now Cohort 2 programmer Edward Grabowski has created a historically accurate re-enactment of the conflict with The Blue And The Grey.

You can choose to play either Yankee or Confederate forces, controlling a number of key strategic cities, complete with cavalry, infantry and artillery. You also have an increasing number of recruits and transports at your disposal to help swing the conflict in your direction.

Yankee Doodle Dandy
There are two main menus where you plan your strategy. The first is a simple map screen showing all the cities, states and armies at your disposal, the second portrays a battlefield using Cohort 2's Micro Miniature system which lets you move individual troops, units or battalions across the wargaming area.

It's blindingly obvious right from the start you're in for a very dull time. Scrolling around the map screen is tear-inducingly slow and you spend more time staring at the ceiling in frustration than you do looking at the events unfolding in front of you. And you can look forward to almost constant disk accesses as you try to swap between the different menus.
Even the battle sections are tedious with dozens of soldier sprites jerking around the battlefield with all the fluidity of a robots champion at a Japanese disco.

The sound effects are pretty laughable too - get more than a couple of units of cavalry on screen at the same time and the neighing sounds degenerate into a series of peculiar piggish oinks.

But by far the worst thing about this game are the controls. All of the commands are a series of buttons requiring only left or right mouse clicks to activate them.

Finger clickin' bad
The system is so insensitive you find yourself having to click three or four times get something to work and then, more often than not, the stupid game selects the wrong option, especially when the pull down menus are concerned. It's enough to make you start a war of your own.

It's not (nearly) all bad though. The longer you play, the more you actually begin to care about the fate of the troop and cities at your command, and you get to learn quite a bit about American history thanks to the Gazetteer which pops up from time to time.

Blue and the Gray logo

Die PC-Strategen leiden schon einen Monat länger unter der Impressions-Variante des amerikanischen Bürgerkriegs - zum Ausgleich werden die bis jetzt davongekommen Amiga-Generäle noch schlechter bedient!

Ein oder zwei Spieler bewegen ihre Kavallerie, Infanterie und Artillerie hier rundenweise per Maus über eine an die ganz alten "SSI"-Werke erinnernde Nordamerikakarte. Wichtig ist dabei vor allem die Städteeroberung, denn nur dort können neue Truppen rekrutiert werden, außerdem wird beim Ertönen des Schlußgongs derjenige zum Sieger erklärt, der dann die meisten Städte besetzt hält.

Für die eigentlichen Kampfhandlungen wird zu einem Extrascreen mit leicht schräger Vogelperspektive und unzähligen Befehlsicons gewechselt. Hier darf man nun in schlechter alter "Cohort"-Tradition seine einzeln dargestellten Soldaten in Divisionen oder kleine Kampfgruppen einteilen und ihnen Marsch- bzw. Angriffsbefehle verpassen.

Nach geschlagener Schlacht informiert eine Statistik über oft höchst erstaunliche Ergebnisse. Es ist z.B. ohne weiteres drin, daß man in einem Kampf mehr Männer verliert, als angetreten wäre - aber trotzdem gewinnt! Ähliche Resultate liefert auch der alternative Automatik-Kampfmodus: Daß eine Handvoll Desperados eine komplette Armee aufreibt, ist keine Seltenheit beim Autofight...

Noch ein paar Gründe gefällig, warum man um diese Digi-Krieg besser einen großen Bogen schlägt? Die Grafik ist trotz ihrer Detailarmut im Kampf höllisch unübersichtlich, es gibt bloß ein Szenario, und das Spieltempo ist so unglaublich niedrig, daß sich as Geschehen praktisch nicht mehr vernünftig steuern läßt. Nur die Musik ist halbwegs gelungen - echt beruhigend, was?! (md)

Blue and the Gray logo

"When two sides go to war, one is all that you will score." Never a truer word spoken in a vest.

First up we have here one of the most tortuously written manuals I have ever seen. I think one example will do: 'You can see how there are two different statistics next to each troop type. The larger number represents the number of men that you have of that type, but a much smaller number indicates the number of divisions in that category.
The large mass of soldiers that you have are divided into a number of units called divisions'. Thank God they explained that. I'd never have worked it out on my lonesome.

The Blue and the Gray is a wargame. Based on the American Civil War you have the opportunity to take control of either the southern, Confederate forces of the northern, Federal forces. You move your little units (Infantry, Cavalry or Artillery, each representing a division) around the map and into the cities. You can move them on to trains and boats and zoom them around quicker.

At the beginning of every month you get new troops to deploy, either in new divisions or as reinforcements to your old. Your objective is to capture cities. When you move one of your units onto an enemy you have a battle.

When a battle happens you have two options, you either take command of the battle yourself, or let it happen automatically. The automatic play feature of the battle seems heavily biased towards the computer. On one occasion I had over 20,000 infantry supported by 240 cannon up against under 10,000 enemy infantry with no support. I lost 3,500 men, the computer lost 1,500 and won the battle. Shurely some misundershtanding?

This was by no means an isolated incident and you need to have odds of over 2 to 1 to go for the automatic option, and even then your losses will be ridiculously out of proportion to the odds.

The other battle method, where you take direct control of the troops yourself, is just like table-top wargaming. With the effects of hills, trees and fortifications being the only terrain factors, your tactics are a little limited. Also, although there is an overview facility, it's impossible to differentiate your units, which renders it almost useless. The units are quite nicely animated, however, and the sampled sounds add a definite atmosphere to this section of the game.

All the usual tactics work well. Occupy the hills, let the enemy come onto you, outflank them with your cavalry, etc, etc. It all happens a bit too slowly though.

Blue and the Gray logo

>Ever the patriot, Paul Presly turns his nose up at the American Civil War and stomps off muttering something about "Roundheads and Cavaliers" and "That was a real war".

Edward Grabowski may not be the most familiar name on this 'side of the pond', but Stateside he's renowned from Baltimore to Yazzo County for his Micro Miniatures wargame system and he's turned up again with The Blue And The Gray, your chance to be General Lee or Stonewall Jackson.

Quite a few of Impressions' strategy titles have employed this top-down tabletop-style engine and frankly, in my opinion, it doesn't work half as well as they think it does.

The initial stages of forming armies and planning strategies on the big ol' American map, checking on resources and second-guessing the enemy is both engrossing and friendly to use.

The trouble is that you eventually have to get into a fight - and then the Micro Miniatures section pops up and manages to spoil the party for everyone.

This is a shame because The Blue And The Gray is in fact a very absorbing look into the American Civil War until the direct combat system rears its ugly head.

Edward Grabowski has attempted to produce the most comprehensive account of America's biggest internal conflict, using real-life history from the period to add colour to the actual game. You even have the option of reading about important historical moments in the conflict as and when you get to them in the game. There is also a rather thick booklet in the package, recounting the whole war and its effect on America today.

So why is it bad? Userunfriendliness is the plain and simple answer.

Graphically it is not so hot either but that's never really been a problem as far as wargames are concerned. I've yet to see one that looks as good as the average beat 'em up, shoot 'em up or any other kind of 'em up that populates the Amiga market. Instead, we seem to be cursed to live with poorly animated sprites that have no real sense of proportion to their surroundings.

Graphics aside, the Micro Miniatures system is one that seems to have been designed with the artificial intelligence factor at the top of its list of priorities - while decent control has taken a back seat. From setting up your troops to keeping track of them all on the field, the whole system just doesn't allow you to get comfortable - and with a strategy game this is very important.

Issuing orders, strategic battle methods and realism aren't this game's strong points: You can tell everyone, a particular group or a single unit to go to a set position on screen and then engage the enemy, but little else. You can't issue orders to take cover, to set up ambushes, to make hit and run attacks or any other tactic that is so often the cause of a great victory. Sure, it is a fine system for calculating the results of X number of men on one side, fighting Y number on the other, but that's it.

You do have the option of not playing the battle sections at all, instead allowing the computer to make the calculations and just tell you the result. Ordinarily, this might have been enough for me, concentrating on getting the strategic elements right.

The trouble is that the subject matter is one that begs you to play out each conflict, as the period was rife with battlefield heroism and strong, enigmatic characters leading the fight against overwhelming odds. Plus it doesn't do your strategic planning and operation any justice to see it all result in a number crunching battle when you know that by clever on-field tactics you could outwit a much larger foe.

The Blue And The Gray needs a more useable battle interface. One that allows for all sorts of situations and events. Without it, it's a hollow fight.