You can change Civil War history on a keyboard

September 07, 1992|By Charles Haddad | Charles Haddad,Cox News Service

ATLANTA -- Once again, Robert E. Lee studies the thin blue line of soldiers huddled behind a field of boulders just outside Gettysburg.

Dare he send 12,000 Confederates out across a vast field against this beleaguered center of the Union army? Or is it better to retreat -- even though victory appears a bayonet thrust away.

We all know what Lee decided. Now it's your turn. Will you change history or blunder worse than Lee did 129 years ago.

At last, the Civil War has come to the world of Macintosh. Strategic Studies Group Inc., the Australian war game software company, has released two of what is expected to be a three-volume set on Civil War battle scenarios.

With the first two volumes, you can refight every major battle between First Bull Run and Chattanooga. It was there the Union broke a Confederate siege that opened Georgia to invasion.

Volume III is to include the Atlanta campaign.

These scenarios are colorful and exhilarating. Your computer will roar with the sound of cannon fire. The game will even keep a running tally of your casualties.

But you don't need one of the new expensive Macs to play these games. They run fine on a Mac Classic with 1 megabyte of RAM.

Nor do you need to know anything about the Civil War. A teen-ager I know who was not interested in the war started playing this game and now -- eight battles and 200,000 casualties later -- is a battle-weary expert.

But any knowledge of the war makes the game especially enjoyable. Each battle is accurate down to the competence of the brigade commander. They're all here -- from Lee to Union Gen. Daniel Sickles, who disobeyed his commander and led his troops into open ground at Gettysburg and was blown to pieces.

What makes the game exciting is knowing where the mistakes were made and trying to correct them. It's not easy, for the Sickles of the game will still get in your way.

The games are computer versions of the old Avalon Hill board games -- but with lots of electronic twists. The units are represented by little tiles. Each tile represents a brigade, which is assigned to a division and corps. The brigades all have different levels of morale, fighting prowess and leadership.

You move the tiles around on a map consisting of the wilderness, small towns and fields where most of the Civil War was fought.

You command -- North, South or both -- the overall movement and strategy of your army. You also control the fighting.

Victory lies in getting your best and strongest units into the best and strongest position ahead of the enemy. A front line manned by incompetent generals and demoralized brigades will crumble quickly.

While there is much you can control, there are some things you cannot -- and that's a big part of the fun. Strategic Studies has tried hard to capture the unpredictability and sheer dumb luck -- or misfortune -- that dominated many Civil War battles. In this game, whole divisions will defy your orders, stumbling into the enemy's stronghold.

A brilliant battle plan is not enough to win. You also have to be able to recover quickly from unexpected mistakes.

If all this sounds intimidating, don't worry. Strategic Studies lets vTC you cheat. Every battle scenario is changeable. In fact, you can design battles that never occurred or redirect the whole course of the war.

Who says the South will never rise again -- at least on computer?

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