Old Gamers Never Die: Getting Acquainted with ‘Ultimate General: Civil War’

The Battle of Philippi started well, but it is about to take a nasty turn for the worse. (C) 2017 Game-Labs.

Hi there, Dear Reader. It is early afternoon here in New Hometown, Florida on Thursday, August 5, 2021. It is warm and muggy outside; the current temperature is 85˚F (30˚C) under partly sunny skies. With relative humidity at 70% and the wind blowing from the south at 13 MPH (21 KM/H), the heat index is 93˚F (34˚C). Today’s forecast calls for scattered rain showers. The high will be 85˚F (30˚C). Tonight, scattered rain will continue, and the low will be 74˚F (24˚C). There is a flood watch for our area, and the Air Quality Index (AQI) is 50 or Good.

As I mentioned yesterday in my post Old Gamers Never Die: A Quick Look at ‘Ultimate General: Civil War’, I bought a Civil War-based war game published by Ukraine-based Game-Labs in 2017. It was reasonably priced, I thought, and since I was intrigued by some of the gameplay videos on The Historical Gamer’s YouTube channel, I decided to add it to my library of computer games on Steam.

(C) 2017 Game-Labs

Until I acquired Ultimate General: Civil War – which is a sequel to Ultimate General: Gettysburg (which Game-Labs released in 2014) – I had not owned a game that depicts the American Civil War since my friend Raci De Armas gave me Sierra On-Line’s Grant, Lee, Sherman: Civil War Generals 2 back in the late 1990s.

As I said yesterday, I usually like war games that are set in more modern conflicts, especially World War II and hypothetical Cold War-turned-hot strategy games and weapons systems simulations. I’m particularly fond of simulations that allow me to fly modern combat aircraft or command nuclear fast-attack subs, so for me Ultimate General: Civil War is a modest step out of my gaming comfort zone.

A screengrab from First Bull Run. (C) 2017 Game-Labs

So far, I have played a couple of scenarios based on two early battles between Union and Confederate forces: the First Battle of Bull Run (July 1861) and the grandly-named skirmish “Battle of Philippi”  (June 1861). Both took place in parts of the Commonwealth of Virginia as it existed at the time, although the Battle of Philippi – where Gen. George B. McClellan first became a public hero for the North – was fought in the northwest area that broke away from the Confederacy in 1863 and joined the Union as West Virginia.

I don’t know how to record my own gaming sessions, and even if I did figure out how to “tape” the video part, I don’t think I could pull off the commentary part. So, here’s a playthrough by The Historical Gamer.

Last night I played the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861) three times. Since the game has no tutorials and First Bull Run is the first listed in the Historical Battles submenu, I figured I’d use it as my “basic training” scenario. I chose to play it as the Union commander on Colonel difficulty level (the easiest of Ultimate General: Civil War’s three difficulty levels; the other two are Brigadier General and Major General) because natch, I am a newbie and didn’t want the game’s artificial intelligence (AI) to whip me easily during my first engagement.

I played as Brigadier General Irwin McDowell – you can create your own commanding general’s name and choose command attributes in the Campaign game, but in Historical Battle games your avatar is the historical commander who led the unit you command in real life. Historically, McDowell lost at First Bull Run (or, as the Confederates called it, First Manassas), but I was determined to do better than he did.

I have Ken Burns’ 1990 documentary The Civil War and its companion book, and when I was a kid I read several books about America’s bloodiest war, but I am no expert on the war or its battles, so I lacked the advantage of knowing what the opposing commanders did at First Bull Run. The game gave me two objectives – distract one wing of the Confederate Army led by Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard by capturing a stone bridge and capture the strategic high ground at Henry Hill.

I  will not bore you with a play-by-play account of my version of First Bull Run. I don’t take notes or a ton of screen grabs, so even if I wanted to give you an accurate report of my experiences as a Civil War general, I can’t. I can tell you that on the whole, I did better than the Union commander did in July of 1861: of my three playthroughs of First Bull Run, I fought the Confederates to a draw twice and winning a close victory once.

So far, I am enjoying Ultimate General: Civil War. I played the Battle of Philippi this morning (despite being a bit groggy from a restless night and a too-early wake-up) and did all right at first. I beat the AI in the first phase and captured the town of Philippi. However, because my troops were tired and depleted after a hard fight for the town (one of my regimental commanders was wounded, and many regiments and battalions of infantry, cavalry, and artillery batteries had suffered casualties), the Confederates launched a successful counterattack and took Philippi back.

I will probably write a review of Ultimate General: Civil War at some point in the future. For now, I will just say that it is not a hard game to play as far as moving the units on the battlefield is concerned: you just click on a unit (be it skirmishers, cavalry, infantry, artillery, or even your command group) and point-and-drag it on a specific path. You can repeat the process to issue marching orders to various units as fast as you can, and the units will then follow the route you gave them and go to their destination. (How fast they get there, and how tired your men will be then, depends on the terrain they march through)

Well, I better wrap this post up; I have to take my shower, get dressed, shave, and do other things that are on my To-Do list. And if it is not raining at the end of my workday, I might try the Battle of Philippi scenario again tonight.

So, Dear Reader, this is where you and I part company. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the less rainy side of things.  

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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