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Civil War Bull Run Take Command 1861

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Title: Civil War Bull Run Take Command 1861
Publisher: Activision and the History Channel
Designers: Mad Minute Games
Price: $19.99 - Buy It At Amazon
Reviewer: Dan Masterson

When I was first asked to review Civil War Bull Run: Take Command 1861 I was a bit skeptical. I had seen games put out by the likes of the History Channel before. They had always been high on content and low on game play. The pricing also made me wary. When a game comes out for under $20 it usually means it’s a piece of junk and the publisher is just trying to get the cheapskates that won’t put out $39.95 for a real game to buy it. I have been pleasantly surprised by Bull Run. No! Actually more than pleasantly surprised, the game has eaten into some of my Battlefield Vietnam playtime and I am seriously addicted to BFV.

Bull Run is a 3-D real-time regimental level game. Amazingly, just two gentlemen produced the game.

Game System

The system lets you play out a number of scenarios of the 1st Battle of Bull Run. The intriguing thing about the game is that you can play at 3 different levels using basically the same mechanics. You can start out playing scenarios that have you in the role of one of the Brigade commanders where you command from 3 to 5 regiments. From there you can move to playing a divisional commander commanding several brigades and finally move to an army commander where you have command of the entire battlefield.

I really like the fact that you start out with a small number of units to command and then can move up in complexity. It’s also interesting to watch the battle progress as peer elements fight along side of you. In fact the “living battlefield” is one the more appealing aspects of the game for me. I felt like I was on a battlefield in the middle of something bigger. During one of the scenarios I looked across the battlefield and saw Jackson “standing like a stonewall.”

One of the unique elements in the game is couriers moving around the battlefield. Division commander’s orders do not happen immediately; instead a courier is dispatched to give the order to subordinate units.

AI

AI is a big part of the game. You are loosely in control of your subordinate units. Each subordinate in the game will react to your orders but they will carry them out according to their own characteristics and react to game events. You can override the subordinates and give direct commands but you do so at your own risk as the units will not react as well to game events when you are in direct command.

Even more interesting is that each individual soldier has a bit of AI. Individual soldiers don’t just shot at the opposite regiment as a group but pick out other individual soldiers to target.

Graphics

The graphics are true 3-D, meaning the game view is not fixed and the game camera can be rotated to different angles and flown around. The graphics themselves are not amazing, but they are good enough and do not detract from game play.

Interface and Manuals

The interface is simple to master. They have implemented several nice features like letting you remove trees that can get in the way of things but yet letting you see where the trees are still on the battlefield. It is very easy command both individual units and entire groups.

There is a large overview map that you can bring up so you can gain infomation about entire battlefield. The map is marked with a number of icons that allow you to get information on happenings on the battlefield. You can also move your mouse around and gain information about various units. You cannot give orders from the overview map it is purely informational.

Also, when in the 3D mode there are floating icons that appear over units that give you information about their status and events happening to them. Once you learn what the icons means it is easy to keep track of your unit status this way.

I have to give the guys an ‘A’ for easy of use, and this means a lot as I consider myself somewhat of a usability expert (at least that is what I tell my students that take usability classes from me).

The on disk manual is a bit sparse but adequate. One thing I wish they had done was given more information about how fighting is resolved and some of the numbers involved in the simulation.

Lessons to Be Learned

The game is a good simulation of how hard it is to control subordinate units. Also, use of terrain features and tactics is important in the game. Your units being flanked will ensure their breaking and routing.

The real-time element gives you a sense of the time it takes for the battlefield to be shaped. The couriers give you a better feel for how long it takes for orders to be implemented in a non-radio era.

Looking Forward

Mad Minute Games has built in MODing capabilities similar to those that you see in first-person shooters. It will be interesting to see what users come up with. Other games have had long lives because of the MODing elements and I am hoping this is the case with Bull Run.

Summary

I could go on and on about the game and the game elements but time doesn’t allow it. If you even have even just a bit of interest in the Civil War era this is a game that you should pick up, especially since it’s only $20. The game is quick to learn but has a lot of replay value. This is a game I know I will be playing again and again. I am sure it will stay on the hard drive for sometime. I am excited to see what the guys do next. I have visions of being able to play any battle at the regimental level during the Civil War.


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