HexWar Games has ported to PC their prequel to Civil War: 1863 – which we reviewed here a while ago – now time-warping back into 1862. (Civil War: 1861 also recently released for PC/Steam; we plan a review soon.) Other than the battles/scenarios, not much has changed besides aesthetics and few relatively minor bugs plus one that’s fairly serious (see later on); the UI is virtually identical, with everything seemingly in the same place, only icon colours and styles altered a bit – perhaps to make it easier to tell what year you’re in? <ahem>
Although I’ve made prior mention that this ‘familiarity’ is a good thing – leastwise when we’re dealing with other HexWar titles I’ve reviewed – it begins to wear thin when I run out of new things to say about their products. Conversely, neither is this situation ‘bad’; I simply don’t wish to repeat myself, especially to those who may have read my review of 1863. If not, I recommend you do so now (I had to remind myself what I wrote!), because essentially everything therein applies to 1862 other than what I’m about to write. I’ll wait.
Back? OK! I’ll start off with a few changes. First, Difficulty has been ‘renamed’ to Easy, Medium, and Hard, albeit that shouldn’t cause too much confusion. However, actual difficulty of the scenarios also seems to have ramped up; even though I was able to claim Silver and Gold victories fairly easily in most scenarios of 1863 even on Hard, this ‘year’ it’s not so simple. In fact, while I have not had time to complete nearly all campaigns/scenarios – more on these in a bit – much less at all three Difficulties, I found a couple of them I randomly picked to test for this review, virtually impossible on ‘Hard’. At least, I didn’t have unlimited time to attempt them again and again – but that’s a good thing, I affirm. What I mean is, since I did almost the same for 1863, and didn’t run into much trouble, I suggest this bodes well for players meeting a bit more challenge this iteration.
CHOOSE YOUR SIDE
The game offers six campaigns that can be played as either Confederate or Union – no multiplayer – each comprising eight scenarios except the first, which has five (not including the Tutorial). Some scenarios mention certain famous battles such as Shiloh and Williamsburg, but most deal with much smaller pieces of these greater engagements, for example “Lee’s Mill”, part of the Siege of Yorktown, 05 April-04 May, the second scenario of the “Steel and Thunder” Campaign. Similarly, the first scenario of the same campaign is “Glorieta Pass”, a two-day battle of the so-called ‘New Mexico Campaign’ (which also demonstrates that the scenarios, while chronological, are far from linked in any kind of player-progression system; see below).
Complexity and size seem rather uniform; once more like 1863, most are fairly small-scale – appropriately, given the game’s overall scale just mentioned – at around 12×12 hexes, with a few up to 14 or 16 hexes x y, while units number a couple of dozen aside on the virtual board at most.
I encountered a few problems, none of which make the game unplayable but detract from it nonetheless. First, some of the ‘How to Play’ text is half-missing or lines are completely cut off at the bottom of the window. Victory medals are missing as well from the Scenario selection screen, but this appeared due to my having the Unlock All option checked; once I turned it off, they came back. Still, a bug; if one doesn’t wish to complete them in order, it prevents a player from seeing those completed unless one goes back to the Campaign screen and selects it again, then once more to Scenario selection. Another annoyance I encountered while perusing the Keyboard Shortcuts menu: it oddly scrolls in reverse, unless one checks the ‘Invert-X-Scroll’ box on the Mouse/Trackpad screen. Speaking of which, sadly, not all assignable Hotkeys work, such as Face Anti-Clockwise and Face Clockwise – this one especially would be nice, since facing is now considered in combat for flanking bonuses. This is quite serious, especially since the in-game Summary asserts, “core change[s] from… 1863” such as “flank attacks, a focus on melee combat… improved combat logic and AI”. The latter, at least, seem verified.
The last problem I noted – not quite as serious – was that, upon completing a campaign, I was awarded a score of 0 (zero, zilch, zip, nada, sweet &!?# all)! Surely this has to be a bug, and not fair comment on my competence.
AHH… THAT’S BETTER…
One thing 1862 has going for it over 1863 is that apparently the scenarios are much more ‘historical’, and seem to progress chronologically – assuming one does not Unlock All and bounce around, of course. This preserves a little immersion I had noted as lacking in the latter game. Additionally, I found the UI changes more appealing from a simple aesthetic perspective, while the original music is quite appropriate and, at times, rousing.
Victory conditions have hardly changed from 1863, although I happened upon a ‘chase the wagons’ scenario – a little different from the usual fare of ‘Hold/Take objective; destroy (##%) enemy army; don’t lose (##%) of your army’. As to these percentages, I noted that 1862 seemed a lot more ‘bloody’ than the former; I saw them set as high as 80% (aside from the ‘Destroy/Do not lose [entire] army’ condition), and I don’t recall anything over 60% from the latter game – albeit I repeat, I have not played all scenarios of either. Yet, that’s not far from historical in many ACW engagements; as research would confirm of many battles, entire regiments, brigades, and even divisions suffered near-annihilation, not to mention its overall totals. “Taken as a percentage of today’s population, the toll [of 620,000] would have risen as high as 6 million souls.” [Source: American Civil War Trust]
Not to end on such a downer, I hear readers asking for my recommendation of Civil War: 1862. I have to once more dodge the question, replying instead for the 196th time, “What are you looking for?” At $10.99 CDN, especially if you liked 1863, I think more of “Have at ya, Billy Yank!” might be in order. If they’d just fix that facing thingy while I fix bayonets…