ACW Solitaire is a game from the same designer as Solitaire Caesar, which I played and enjoyed last year. The reviews seemed to be good, so I downloaded it and, after out New Year party yesterday, mounted the counters so that I could try it out during my day-off today.
In ACW Solitaire you play the Union against a programmed Confederacy. Essentially you win by achieving four goals - establishing a blockade, capturing as many ports as possible, controlling the Mississippi and capturing both Richmond and Atlanta. You have 20 turns in which to do this. In each turn you get to build up to five things from a list including armies, generals, gunboats or fleets. You them move your troops, with some limits as to how you can invade enemy-controlled areas. The Confederates then get four builds, one for each of the goals you haven't achieved. They then roll to activate each of their three generals. Lee is very active, and will constantly maneuver and attack. In the west Bragg will be relatively inert. Kirby-Smith is restricted to the Trans-Mississippi, but is more active than Bragg. Finally there is an Indian Phase, where various Native American groups fight it out in the Far-West.
Here's the map at the start.
By Turn 10 the Union war-effort had barely got going. They had a strong blockade (the ships at the bottom right) and held four Confederate ports of the six they needed to be assured of a win in that area. However the drive on Atlanta had barely started, and the Confederates still held a fort at Vicksburg and were operating a strong gunboat flotilla around New Orleans. This was due to string of flukey reinforcement rolls, which had seen them emphasise naval operations over land. At the top right McClellan had captured Richmond, sidestepping Lee through the Valley. This left the programmed Lee stuck with trying to retake the Confederate capital rather than head north, so meant I could start stripping the Washington defences.
Turn 15. In the Trans-Mississippi Kirby-Smith had swept through Kansas, but had then become embroiled in fighting Apaches out in the far-west. This bogged him down for most of the game. Lee was still fixed in front of Richmond, and Sherman had now joined the fight, marching down through Virginia to capture ports along the Confederacy's Atlantic seaboard in a near reversal of the March to the Sea. Grant had finally captured Vicksburg, and was building up strength for a drive across Mississippi and Alabama to Atlanta. A massive naval action had seen the Confederate gunboats driven from New Orleans.
Turn 20. For the last five turns I had two priorities. The first was to keep McClellan supplied with reinforcements in order to prevent Lee from retaking Richmond. The combat system in this game favours good generals, and can allow them to win against very long odds indeed. The only way of being sure that Lee couldn't retake Richmond was to keep the odds against him so high that he wouldn't attack, The second priority was to move as many troops as possible to Grant in his drive to Atlanta. If I could take the city, I would win; I had an impenetrable blockade, and enough ports to stop the Confederates getting builds from them. But Bragg was sat on Atlanta, and was lucky enough to get troops from the only Confederate build of the final turn.
Atlanta fell, giving me a win on the very last turn. I was lucky that Kirby-Smith chose not to move that turn; he had finally dealt with the Apaches, and was heading towards Union-occupied Galveston with a strong force that would certainly have retaken it. This would have given the Confederates one small chance of getting a build on their last turn, thus preventing the Union victory. I had tried to forestall it by capturing Mobile, but two invasions (Turns 19 and 20) were seen off by the fort there.
As the Union you have everything you need to grind down the Confederacy, except time. With unlimited time you can alternate between advancing, consolidating and reinforcing, but time is a luxury you don't have. However if you don't consolidate and reinforce, a suddenly active Confederate general can set you back a couple of turn, or unexpected reinforcements can appear on your supply lines.
This is a fun little game. It's advertised as only needing an hour to play. I took much longer, but was trying to figure out the rules (which are OK, but lack clarity in a couple places). I reckon a couple of hours is about right for a game though.
I saw that this has actually been redesigned and re-released under a different title in the last few years, with tidied up rules and a nicer map. I may consider getting it at some stage, but at the moment this version seems to be well-worth the 5USD I paid for it. Recommended.