The biggest playability down-side to the GCACW system is counter clutter. In the board game each combat unit almost always carries two markers (strength and fatigue) and can often carry several more (demoralized, out of supply, entrenched, and an attached leader).
When two-thirds (or more) of the counters on the board are status markers, maneuver planning is confusing and physical handling is cumbersome. So my solution (with the physical games) was to create roster sheets to hold all these status markers off the board, where they are arrayed (unstacked) by unit and viewable at a glance.
Aside: I lay claim to the invention of roster sheets back in the early 1990s: MS Word documents in three columns, with a 1 x 3 table for each combat unit to hold strength, fatigue, and one other marker. They are still found today as BGG file downloads using the same basic layout. My original roster for Cedar Mountain (from my dot-matrix printer) is shown on the MMP website (clip at right).
First Generation Modules
Most of the first-generation modules for GCACW went to great lengths trying to replicate the marker handling of the board games. But why replicate the biggest downside of the system? One module required that each unit "owns" its fatigue marker (which is ostensibly generic) in order for the automated recovery phase button to work properly. The myriad of prototyping and triggering necessary to accomplish this just makes the module buggy, and the user experience frustrating if a game gets off track in its fatigue marker handling.
A Different Way
There are two best practices listed in the VASSAL Designers Guide that apply here:
- Limit Automation
- Leverage Programmatic Efficiencies
VASSAL has two features that are ideally suited for handling games with lots of status markers, i.e. Game-piece Layers and Dynamic Properties. My approach to the GCACW modules has been to replace each type of status marker with a Game-piece layer that is keyed to a Dynamic Property (leverage programmatic efficiencies). A side effect of this is to greatly simplify the Global Key Commands of the recovery phase vs existing modules (limit automation).
These are my resulting no-markers modules, all using a common system of right-click menu commands for unit status layers.
- Here Come the Rebels
- Hood Strikes North
- Grant Takes Command
- Lee vs Grant
- Roads to Gettysburg
- Stonewall in the Valley
- Stonewall Jackson's Way
- Stonewall's Last Battle
Yes, I include Lee vs Grant in the GCACW series. It has all of the core design elements, just zoomed out from division to corps level (and from 1 mile per hex to 2). It is ideal for learning the game engine and you can play the whole campaign in a day. There are some nuances in the rules that can trap the unwary GCACW player, however.
The only modules currently available for download on Consim Comment are LvG and SJW as proof-of concept examples of the no-markers method. The other modules may be available on request.
On to Richmond: Re-acquired this game as a pandemic purchase. Interested in the campaign, but not a fan of the map. The only available module uses low quality scans and a patchwork image. When trying to overlay a hex grid you can't get alignment in all parts of the map. (Sold in early 2021.)
The next eastern theater GCACW game (and the last) will combine OTR, GTC and a new Petersburg campaign. If that gets published in my lifetime, it would be the first wargame ever to cover the Petersburg and Appomattox campaigns, too. Not sure how much fun it will be to play the Confederates in these late war operations. Perhaps these will be good solitaire campaigns, since Confederate options will likely be narrowly constrained.
Battle Above the Clouds, Atlanta is Ours: Not interested in the Atlanta campaign. BAC maps are quite hideous with all the mountain terrain - it looks like the aftermath of a forest fire. (This is also a mark against Stonewall in the Valley, too.)
Hood Strikes North: Went ahead and made a module for this one, since it is billed as a one-map game intended for players new to the system. Even in late 1864 the system is biased toward the Confederates - they still have a movement, extended march, and tactical advantage that was resonable only for 1862 in the east.
All Green Alike: Not particularly interested in this as a campaign. I recently acquired the 2nd printing of SJW2. I would not include First Bull Run as a "great" campaign. The scenarios are highly scripted. I'd rather play Bull Run (Avalon Hill), which is actually a very solid Rich Hamblen design despite bad box art.
Sheridan in the Valley: Minimal interest because of the historical mis-match. Don't have a big enough table for the staggered three-map layout of the campaign.
Burnside Takes Command: Uses one map from GTC and one from SJW. The clash of map styles is jarring.
Rebels in the White House: This was included in RTG2. Another campaign that just doesn't interest me.
Washington's Crossing (Revolution Games) ports the GCACW activation scheme to the Revolutionary War, namely the Winter campaign of 1776-77.