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[Review] Civil War 2061

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Joined: 03/23/2011

When I first heard of Civil War 2061 (Oxford Street Board Games, 2003 – John Wiley Davis), the idea was certainly intriguing. A war game about a futuristic struggle of the United States of America was certainly interesting. I don’t have many games that deal with war and the USA – Fortress America being a notable exception. Once I got the rules, and read them over, I was a little happier – as the game rules sounded like they had the simplicity of Risk, but with a little bit more complexity. I’m not a huge fan of complicated war games, but am often willing to step up to the plate to try out a “light” war game, which this one seemed.

And, upon playing, I really do enjoy the game, and see vast potential for playing it. The combat in the game is very similar (if not almost identical) to that of your Risk family of games, but many things are different. Future events always interest me, and I really enjoyed the storyline behind the different factions that have sprung up in the game. In a letter from the designer, he states that, “I tried to create a board game that had many elements of the Risk war game, yet included much more…A player might learn geography, strategy, values, aggression, and history while playing Civil War 2061.” And of course, he’s proud of his own creation; but he’s not too far off the mark. The components are decent – being of an independent company, gameplay is light – which may not please fans of “heavy” war games, but I think that the theme and easy gameplay will appeal to many.
The theme of the game revolves around a possible future where, once again, states are clamoring for their rights. Chief amongst these are the “New South”, and like a bunch of copycats, other states – The Yankee Militia (New England), New Industrialists (Midwest), Texas Rangers, Montana Vigilantes, and Opportunists of California – have followed suit. Each player picks which militia they will play (one player MUST pick the New South). A large board is placed in the middle of the table, a map of the United States (only 48 states – Alaska and Hawaii were sold) along with part of Canada and Mexico. The territories in all three countries are defined by state lines, etc., so some territories, like Texas, are quite a bit larger than others. Each player receives a pile of pieces in the color of their faction, and state cards for the states they control (denoted by the states on the board being colored the same as their pieces). The flagging US military still gets to place units at various locations around the board (as stated in the rules), but nobody plays them – at least at game start. Each player starts with seventeen divisions (units), placing them in the states that they control. If a faction is currently not being played by anybody – 16 divisions are distributed equally in that faction’s states. A deck of “surprise” cards are shuffled and placed by the game board. The New South militia player takes the first turn, and then play proceeds clockwise.

A player’s turn consists of three parts: building divisions, attacking, and moving. When building divisions (adding reinforcements), a player receives divisions equal to the total amount listed on each state card they have. Also, if a player has two or more State cards (out of four possible) that have the word “God” in their state motto (listed on every card), they get additional divisions. Players also receive a bonus if they have enough state cards (i.e. 4 states controlled gives 4 extra divisions, 7 states – 7 divisions, 9 states – 14 divisions, 12 states – 21 divisions, and 15 states – 28 divisions). All reinforcing divisions can be placed on any states that the player currently controls.

When attacking, a player states from which state the attack will commence and the target of the attack. The combat which then occurs is similar to Risk, with both players rolling six-sided dice, with the highest die results being compared (defenders losing ties). For each “loss” with a die, a player must lose one division. Several factors can contribute to how many dice are rolled (although normally the attacker rolls three, and the defender two). The attacker rolls one die for each division, but a maximum of three dice total. When attacking over mountains or rivers (depicted on the board), the attacker can only roll a maximum of two dice. The defender uses one die for each division, with a maximum of two dice, except when defending across rivers and mountains. If they have four or more units when doing so, the defender will use three dice. The attacker can retreat at any time, otherwise the battle ends when one of the two sides is totally destroyed.

If the attacker won the battle, he may move his troops into the conquered state, but only after drawing a surprise card and following the instructions listed on it. There are different types of surprise cards:
- Deserter cards: This card will cause the attacker to temporarily lose some divisions, which leave the country, taking up residence in a Canadian or Mexican territory, as indicated on the card. These deserters can be possibly picked up by other armies that march through those territories.
- Pass-through cards: These cards can be kept and played on a players turn. These cards allow a player to pass through territories in either Canada or Mexico for the remainder of the game. Using these cards, a player can pick up any deserters who are living in these territories.
- Peace card: A player may keep this card and play it when needed. This card forces a peace – no attacking – between two or more players for one round.
- United card: Any state with the words “union”, “united”, or “unity” in their motto receive 50% more divisions. Players must recite the state mottos out loud; however, or they cannot take their units.
- Natural disaster cards: Six events are shown on the card, and a die is rolled to determine which one occurs. They are usually negative effects, destroying a percentage of units in certain states.
- Fly divisions cards: A player can move their divisions around from the states that they control.
If after drawing the surprise card, the aggressor still has units; they may move into the state, forcing the defender to hand the state card over. States that had no defenders in them in the first place may be captured without battle or surprise card.

A player may then move divisions around – up to one or two adjacent states. They can only move through states that they control, and can move units from only one state. Play then passes to the next player. When a player is removed from the game, by losing all their units, they should roll a die on their turn. If the die is a “1”, they take control of the left over US forces, and take the Washington DC card. Also, if any player at any time attacks Washington DC, the first player eliminated from the game takes control. The first player to capture all 48 states with their faction is the winner!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: Since the game is independently produced, the components are less than stellar; but because of the high costs of production, this is to be expected. The board is nicely done with each state in the six original militias colored for ease of starting setup. I only wish that the state names were on the board; but maybe they were left out deliberately – my wife noted that I should KNOW the states of my home country. The cards are of low quality but are functional and have easy-to-read, clear graphics on them. The pieces are all obviously beads, with polyhedral beads used for single division, triangular beads for five divisions, and star beads for ten divisions. Visually, the beads are all in bright colors and look pretty cool when the game is in mid-play. Functionally, however, the polyhedral beads are rounded, so that major bumps of the board can displace units. I know that these pieces were used to alleviate costs, but less rounded pieces would have been better. Still, all of the components (in plastic bags so nicely provided with the game) fit well in the box – a nicely designed, fairly large box of decent quality.

2.) Rules: A sheet of rule changes (some of them major) was included in the game, so I was constantly referencing between the sheet and the rulebook. It took me a few readings before I understood exactly how the game played (layout could have been smoother); but once I played through a game, I understood the game quite easily. If one has played Risk before, the game mechanics (especially combat) should come intuitively. The cards do need to be explained, and at first, players will forget exactly what reinforcing units come on each turn. A reference sheet would be nice, and I think that I’ll custom make one for my game.

3.) Theme: Of course, almost all war games have theme, but futuristic or fantasy war gamers need a good theme to keep them alive. And I really enjoyed the theme of this game (a futuristic Civil War fought over almost the exact same reasons that the first American Civil War); it certainly caught my attention. The designer wrote that “a game like this has been challenging to market since “9/11”. Why, I ask? Nothing in the game promotes terrorism, or “American Imperialism”. The game is fun historical fluff, pure and simple; and the fact that the designer included mottos for each state – some of them current, others expanded to fit the history – really helps the flavor of the game. The rulebook also talks about the history of each militia, and I really enjoyed this attention to detail when theming Civil War 2061.

4.) Elimination: Every multi-player war game has a problem with elimination. What do you do if you are eliminated from Risk? Usually the answer is to slink back in the shadows, bored until the game finally ends, or another player is eliminated and you can play a two-player game. But here, the player who is eliminated first has a chance to command the remaining US forces. These forces, while fairly weak, still wield a huge power in the game and have a real chance of winning. It may actually benefit someone to be the first eliminated, and then come back and win the game! I really enjoyed this mechanic.

5.) Surprise cards: I’m still not sure how I feel about the surprise cards. Most of them, especially the pass-through cards, were very thematic and fun to play with. The deserters’ cards could be strange (why would a 3 Texan divisions desert to Nova Scotia?), and they added a degree of uncertainty to the game. The natural disaster cards were extremely random, and no place on the board was safe from them – several times many divisions were wiped out by one card. However, if the cards annoyed players, they could easily throw the deck out of the game and play. I think the cards’ good benefits outweigh the bad, so I enjoyed using them (for the most part.)

6.) Strategy: Each player gets a pile of units on their turn; and unlike Risk, you can’t be wiped off the board in only one turn – unless you’re REALLY stupid. At the same time, Risk players might be thrown off by the pacing of the game, which could get really slow with some stodgy players. And if anything, I think that’s why surprise cards should be kept in the game; because they shake the game up enough that a stalemate should not occur. I doubt anyone would ever lose to a surprise card, but it just might be the first domino to bring their empire crashing down.

7.) Fun Factor: The game is a lot of fun to play – especially if you pick up the flavor. Forcing players to shout state mottos may seem silly, but it becomes a lot of fun, and helps make this something more than just a “Risk” game. And people who like rolling dice should have a blast, because there is quite a bit of that in this game!

8.) BGDF: Here is a classic example of someone following their dream and creating their own board game. Now, they really made a bad choice for units, as the rounded pieces can get very annoying - but they did it to save money. Is this always worth it? Sometimes the extra amount of money can go a long way...

This game is a very well done, light war game, produced by an independent company. There isn’t a lot of press for the game; it didn’t even have a boardgamegeek entry when I checked, but it’s worth finding out about. Quite a bit of information about the game can be found at the website, , which tells a bit about the theme of the game and shows a picture of the box. If you are a big fan of Civil War type games (future), or like Risk, then this just might be up your alley. If you disdain light war games because of die rolling, or just that they are too “simple”, then you would probably dislike this title. But for the everyman, the average “Joe” looking for a war game, this is an excellent choice.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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