A House Divided

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Peleg and I had a go at A House Divided, a Frank Chadwick design about the American Civil War. It was originally published by Game Designers’ Workshop (in two versions) and then by Phalanx Games. We used the Phalanx version, which comes with superb euro quality pieces: a mounted board, jigsaw cut color counters, and a color rulebook. It uses monthly turns (two-monthly over winter) and there are several scenarios as well as the campaign game.

It has a box to box movement system, with differing connections – road, river, and rail – that quite nicely sets out the advantages and disadvantages of the terrain. For example, Washington DC is agonizingly close to Richmond, but the terrain (and enemy) do not make it that easy to get to. And some boxes have recruitment values – necessary for victory and army recruitment – as well as in built fortifications and defensive river lines.

The game turn is “I go, you go” with each player rolling a dice to determine the number of marches – boxes he can activate. The Union player gets to use naval invasions on a ‘6’. It’s cool – for the Union – and if he rolls high he will do well. Of course, at the basic version it’s unfair to expect any more. But there are layers of complexity which allow you to reflect the operational and strategic realities. For example, Union movement becomes sluggish in the early parts of the war, but improves.

You can also use moves to entrench, adding a defensive benefit that comes in handy in combat.

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The system, even at the basic level, differentiates between infantry and cavalry in movement. Part of this requires the players to track control of each box, but that is easily done with plenty of nice markers.

In combat, which takes place in a box with competing forces, in a series of rounds – at least one round. Units inflict a step loss by rolling their combat strength or under. All pieces have two sides, and after the first round of combat you can retreat or reinforce (if friends are adjacent), so there’s a decent amount of decision making.

One especially notable feature of the game, which I have not seen too much of elsewhere, is the different quality of units. At the start they are all militia – cavalry are ‘1’ and infantry are ‘2’ – but can improve by promotion. So, cavalry go to ‘2’ and then ‘3’ and infantry go to ‘3’ and then ‘3’ with a defensive bonus. The beautiful twist is that, as well as the automatic promotion each turn, the winner of each battle gets to promote a piece each time. So, win a lot of battles, gain a lot of veterans. You can already see the strategic need for the outnumbered South to win early before the North’s later manpower recruitment takes its toll.

It plays quickly, and is fun and easy. There are only a couple of detailed rules to remember at the basic level, and the add-ons allow someone wanting more detail to layer as required.

For the record, we played the first year scenario, at which Peleg as the North flattened me. I won the early battles, but he then steamrollered me after I blew a couple of decisive exchanges. He took Richmond, and even though I got it back, his army maximum size – a measure of victory based on recruitment cities held – was way more than mine. But it was great fun.

Highly recommended as an accessible, playable, and challenging wargame. It also has a short scenario (or two), though you can beef it up as you wish. This is one of Frank Chadwick‘s many great contributions to the hobby, for which I am eternally grateful.