The Union Forever.

Firing on Fort Sumter, Currier & Ives Print 1861

I generally don't play American Civil War (ACW) games, but sometimes along comes a little game and though the era doesn't grab me by the ears, I have to put aside my dislikes, really look at it, read the rules, and play it a few times.

In this case, it is an ACW era game called "The Union Forever", which is pocket battle game #11. Design by Paul Rohrbaugh with artwork by Luke T. Moore and copyright © 2012 by LPS, Inc, second reprint. (LPS, Inc is known by several other names, such as Against The Odds magazine, Turning Point Simulations and Last Stand Games)

I'll be honest, I am not sure why I picked it up, or read the rules or studied the artwork (ok, it's a graphic design, but truly awesome map art). The more I read the rules, the more impressed I became, that here is another version of Paul's unique card driven combat system, different enough from his other games, that I had to play it. I was not disappointed.

Please do note, I am not going to go into all of the rules. I will hit the main ones and generally describe the rest.  This does two fold purpose - 1) it doesn't present all the rules to be copied and 2)  hopefully will get your interest up enough to request this  pocket game the next time you purchase something from LPS, Inc and I believe High Flying Dice Games has a limited supply too.

34 Star Flag used during the ACW
"WUT, no history???"
That's right, not going to go into a lot of the history on this game or the ACW, as every one has anywhere between 3 or more books on the subject. With that in mind, on to the game...

The Game:
The Union Forever game map
"The Union Forever" is a grand strategic treatment of the American Civil War. It is presented in the pocket game style (i.e. post card size) format of a whopping 4" by 6" in size. That's it. The game map is printed on the front, the rules are on the back and the counters run along the edge, waiting to be cut out. With the Union in blue and the boys of the South in Butternut brown.

Note: Butternut is a somewhat light brown/tan color. It was made from nut shells (walnut to pecan), acorns, and lye. I have heard and read of rusty iron nails being thrown into the mixture, along with bark, roots, branches, leaves, etc. Different qualities and quantities of materials in the making of the dye solution, along with normal fading of the material, would lead to the various shades of butternut.

The game map is very interesting. It shows the majority of the CSA states, missing Texas, but that's AOK as the pocket game would need to be re-formatted to about 5" x16" in size to show Texas correctly (yes, Texas is BIG at least another 10" in this scale to truly display the state correctly. I am a Texan, I know these things :D ).

The game map is well designed, with each of the states further divided into 2 areas along with several mountain ranges that block movement. On the lower right of the game map, Charleston Harbor is present, representing the naval blockade of the CSA, and is labeled "The Anaconda Plan".

Yup, looking closely, one can even see McCrady's restaurant, yeah, see that little bright dot over yonder. George Washington actually ate there. Each of the armies have their setup indicated on the game map.

On the right side of the game map, there are 14 counters, six double-sided counters representing the Union and six counters for the CSA (note that only three CSA Army counters are double sided). The flip side is a reduce state for the Union and a "-1" to the CRL for the South. CSA Militia has no flip-side and are eliminated when called for a flipping. The counters are very well design too.   I would like to mention at this point that there is no mistake for both the Cumberland Army and the Mississippi Armies of the North. Yes, those reduced (flip side) numbers are correct.

General Scotts plan for winning the war
There are two additional markers. One is called "The Anaconda Plan," which goes on it's square. The flip side of it is "Blockade Broken". And of course, the "CRL" marker used for tracking the progression of "Confederate Resistance Level" (CRL) thru-out the game. No game turn counter is provided, as one is told in the rules to use a penny as a turn marker, Mr. Lincoln's head up please.

Record Track:
The record track along the bottom edge of the game map serves a dual purpose, both as Game Turn (GT) record keeping and the Confederate Resistance Level (CRL) progression tracking. Each game turn is divided into 6 month periods of time with Summer/Fall and Winter/Spring, starting of course, with Summer/Fall 1861.

The Confederate Resistance Level (CRL), shows the attack/defense number for the CSA Armies for that turn and starts on GT8 with a CRL 4. The CRL marker can go down (to the left) or up (to the right) depending on Rebel Invasions, Anaconda Plan/Blockade Broken and carpetbagging, oops, I mean Union Pacification.

Notice that the first square on the Record Track is labeled as  "C.S.A. Surrenders" with a CRL of 0. If the CRL marker gets to that space anytime, the game is over, the South loses.

There is a  tenth square on the Record Track (GT 9), if the game does go past GT 8 and there is at least a CRL of 1, the C.S.A wins. No Spanish-American War, no WW1 as we know it and certainly, there would not have been a WW2, but probably a series of regional wars thru-out the world.

The CRL is the heart and soul of the game for the CSA player. As such, it is pure genius, as far as I am concern. Paul coming up with such a simple system to show the deterioration of the CSA armies over the long haul of the war without the use of extensive complicated rules is simply amazing.

The players do need to provide the following: a 1D6, though to be honest both players need 1D6 as passing the die back and forth gets old, FAST. A deck of regular playing cards and 16 pennies. These pennies are used in-addition to the game turn marker, as territory markers to show what areas the Union controls.

In the game it is called "Pacification" when the Union controls an area, though I tend to think of it as "Yankee Carpet Bagging". One is reminded to please use the Lincoln head up on the penny. Paul does have a wicked sense of humor at times, lol.

The deck of cards is prepared for the game by removing all the cards (all Kings, one Joker, and all six to ten) except Ace to Five cards, the four Jacks, the four Queens and one Joker. This will be a deck of 29 cards for this game. Shuffle the hell out of that deck, make sure there are red cards. You know how sneaky them Yankee devils can be and place the deck of cards where each player can access it.

Union Forever card set
At this point, I went to look on High Flying Dice Games, LLC web site and look what I found - yes, a card set for "The Union Forever". Cost is very reasonable at $8.00. Best bet is to buy 4 games and get this card set for free. That way shipping won't eat you alive.

The three starting Union Armies are placed on the starting area, off the map, that blue belly blue edge on the northern edge, and a penny is placed (Lincoln head up, please) in the NW portion of Virginia as it was pacified by the Union (this being West Virginia) at the start. The CSA player places his three starting Armies on their start areas. The three State Militia counters, can go anywhere, except Ky and Mo. The three extra Union Armies are reinforcements coming into play on turns 2, 3, and 4.

A turn is comprised of several rounds of drawing a card and ending when the Joker is drawn or all the cards have been played (yes, in case the Joker card is the first or second card drawn, discard the Joker as both players need to have performed an ACT and re-draw a card). Play will continue at this point and the current game turn will end when all the cards are drawn .

ACTs, are used by the players to move units and have combat. Each player alternates performing a card draw from the deck:

1) If the card is red, the Confederate player is allowed an activation (ACT),
2) If the card is black, the Union player an activation (ACT).
3) If the card is odd (Ace, three, five), one Act is allowed.
4) If the card is even (two or four), then two Acts are allowed for that side. Also please note a single unit can not perform two acts in a round from an even card draw, such as move then attack. It can do this under the special activation of a face card.

5) Face cards are considered to be a "Special Activation"  by allowing the following:
(a) Attempt to remove (CSA) or restore (Union) the Anaconda Plan or
(b) Perform two acts (in this case the same unit may be selected for each act) or
(c) Restore a weaken unit to full strength (flip it back) or
(d) Return an eliminated unit to play at full strength.

Movement is very simple - an ACT allows a unit to move into an adjacent area.  Areas are denoted by solid lines for state borders or dashed lines dividing up a state into smaller areas. Units cannot move thru the mountain borders. There are no stacking limitations.

There are certain restrictions for movement, such as CSA Army units can only enter those areas labeled with that Army's designation, Union Armies cannot leave an area until it has been carpet bagged (i.e. in game speak "Pacified", come under Union control) unless the unit is moving off the map to the North. Off map movement is not allowed in any other direction.

An Act allows one friendly unit to attack all of the enemy unit(s) in the same area. The active player declares the attacking unit and must target all the enemy units in that area. Then both sides will roll 1D6 each,  with the results added or subtracted. The final outcome can be 1) attacker retreats, 2) no result, 3) defender loses a step, 4) defender retreats or5) defender loses step and has to retreat.

An ACT allows the Union to attack an empty uncontrolled area in order to pacify it (bring the area under Union Control).  Again, both sides will roll a 1D6, with adds to both die rolls. If the Union result is greater, then the area is pacified and has train loads of carpet baggers swarming all over, lying and cheating the good people out of their land.

Area Control Effects:
The CSA can never regain control of an area the Union has pacified. This also affects the CLR track.

Battle of Gettysburg
Anaconda Plan & Rebel Invasions:
Again here is where some incredible thinking has gone into this game to simplify blockades and CSA invasions of the North but to show the effects of having or not having blockades can do as well as Invasions of the homelands of the Northern Aggressors.  Very impressive.

End of Turn:
When the Joker is turned over or last card is drawn, the game turn is over. Shuffle the cards again. The CRL is moved 1 space to the left if the Anaconda Plan is still in effect (i.e. not blockade broken).

Winning the Game: 
The Union wins the game by reducing the CRL to "0" by the end of any turn, but not later than GT 8. If by the end of GT 8 the South still has a CRL of 1 or more, the South wins.  

Well, that's it for what the game is. Now it's time to talk about it.

Time for the buns ratings:
•  Complexity of the game = LOW
•  Solitaire = MED
•  Enjoyment Level = HIGH (imho). If you know me, you know I like these little games. Each doesn't take all week to play or a master's degree to figure out how to play.
•  Nail biting = 8 fingers worth. Will the die rolled the way you want or not, will you sack the die like Lincoln did to the Union Generals, for other dice in your collection?
•  Historical Level = It's good.  It's grand strategic in scope. You have some state militia and some armies. Can't find fault with the history.
•  Length of typical full game = about 1 to 2 hours.
•  Out of the 6 games played = the South was full of carpet baggers by turns 6, 7, or 8. I lost 5 games, but then the fickle finger of fate smile once upon the South and "Dixie" became the new National Anthem. The Yellow Rose of Texas almost made it, but now we know why Texas wasn't included.

After Thoughts: 
During the writing of this review, I interspersed my thoughts in with the rules.  Pocket games are hard to design with having to pack "fun" and history into such a small format. A game needs to be both historic accurate and very fun to play to bring people back to play it often or request it when buying other merchandise. 

Making a game on the entire American Civil War and including such things as Lee invading the North, Blockades, the effect of support and supply on an entire national level of the C.S.A that affected morale, troops, ammunition, etc, with such simple rules, makes this game to me, an outstanding success. It may not be one I will play all the time (not having Texicans whipping on dem Yankees, is a bit of a let down to me), it does raise the bar in game design of small games on an entire war.  It is different (and more difficult) to do this type of pocket game versus say a specific battle like The Bulge (and Paul used 4 pocket games to game that one) and succeed, as I believe he has with this game.

new counters
And yes, I did make my own counters for this game and here is why. As beautiful as the game map and counters are by Luke, a lot of red is used. I can't see red/green. My usual fix is to re-scan everything into B&W. However, I wanted some color (I tend to use blue, yellows, greys, whites and blacks (just like I dress) these days) I made bigger counters, using only red for the flags (US Flag for the Union, 1st CSA Flag for the Confederates).
I also don't have 16 or so pennies to use, as they are quickly confiscated by my carpet baggin' yankee 6 year old grand daughter, so I made up a set of 16 Union Control counters, Game Turn and CRL counters, and a new Game Turn/CRL Record Track, removing as much red as possible, for other folks and I who suffer from red/green color blindness, can see better. You don't need these, but they are available for you to download if you want.  Enjoy.  And yes, as mentioned above, the flip side is correct for Union Armies Mississippi 4/3 and Cumberland 5/2. I checked with Paul and he ensured me that those counters are correct. 

Note: You may copy them to 8.5x11 letter or 11x17 ledger for even larger counters. 

What I would like to see in the pocket game format from Paul is the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.  Now those would be some pocket games! 

Sure, there are other ACW games out there, but not at this scale, compactness, and need I mention "fun"?  Nah Suh, I didn't think so.   Thanks for reading

This blog is considered to be a living blog. Changes will be made to it as needed to clarify, correct errors or update with new information.

War of the Rebellion Uniform Atlas Plate 172 Library of Congress