Friday, July 21, 2017

Gaming the Secession Crisis and Ft. Sumter

Mark Herman is a world-renowned strategy boardgame designer who has some background in Civil War related topics (his We The People is one of his most highly regarded designs). I am not familiar enough with his body of work to speak from experience, but it seems like he's best known for his streamlined elegance in design (and the playability that comes from that) and for being one of the pioneers of the card-driven game (CDG).

One of his newest designs, Fort Sumter: The Secession Crisis 1860-61, has reached its P500 goal and has been greenlit for production. Depending on the validity of the historical assumptions made and the design itself, games can be an interesting way to look at contingency. To give prospective buyers a taste of what to expect, Herman is posting an After Action Report series on publisher GMT's website. So far, there have been two entries [Part 1, Part 2]. Given Fort Sumter's design goal of finishing each game in less than 40 minutes (and in as little as 20-25 minutes), this might be a useful tool for interactive teacher-student engagement.

Number three of the four "crisis dimensions" the simulation is designed around is a puzzlement. It would make more historical sense to have the Border States, Upper South, and Deep South as the game's "three basic axes" of secession rather than the Border States, Deep South, and Texas. In game terms, the Border States category combines the true Border States and Upper South into a single political bloc (at least that's what the map suggests).

I'll look forward to reading how things play out with the rest of Herman's AAR. It's a bit hard to follow for me given my complete unfamiliarity with the mechanics of this type of game.


  1. I think I agree with your view about the correct "axes" but it appears Herman is inordinately focused on the role of Sam Houston. I'd personally opt for a distinction between the "Border States" and the "Upper South" since that is in fact what played out and there are significant differences between (most of) Virginia and (most of) North Carolina, on the one hand, and Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri, on the other.

    1. Herman was probably enamored with Houston's stance against secession and wanted to put that into the game. Kind of a trademark of designers to shoehorn in pet themes of theirs into their games.

    2. "Chrome"


If you wish to comment, please sign your name. Otherwise, your submission may be rejected, at the moderator's discretion. Comments containing outside promotions and/or links will be deleted.