Reincarnation of a Classic
It is the summer of 1982 and the place is
Birmingham, Alabama. At a session of the War
Eagles Gaming Club two gamers proudly exclaim
the merits of SPI’s War Between
“Look at the three maps. Each as big
as a normal game. And all those counters!”
one proudly proclaims.
“Yes,” his partner says, “imagine
all the research alone for the leadership
values. This must be the greatest Civil War
game ever designed!”
A much younger Mike Bennighof and William
Sariego overhear this exchange, sitting at
a gaming table playing GDW’s A House
William lifts his eyebrow in his best Mr.
Spock imitation: “Greatest ever?”
Mike replies loud enough to be overheard,
“That game looks like it’s never
The first two gamers indeed hear, and stare
briefly at their mint copy of War Between
the States before packing it away without
another word. It is never seen again at the
club. A Housed Divided continues
to be played on a regular basis. . . .
Frank Chadwick’s Gem
When A House Divided first released
in 1981, the “Big Game” trend
was still in fashion. Monster games were the
epitome of the strategy game hobby. Some gamers
who purchased A House Divided recall
being put off that such a small game came
in a standard, bookcase box. Yet any disappointment
vanished upon playing. A House Divided
constantly received praise in the hobby
press, from Campaign to The Wargamer.
It was released in a second edition in 1989
(in a smaller box) with some expanded rules
for optional detail and a rather weird, interlocking
mounted map (that warped over time). After
the demise of Game Designer’s Workshop
it appeared that this remarkable little game
would fade into history.
Then in 2001 Phalanx
Games, a Netherlands-based company, released
A House Divided in the “Euro”
game format, giving an old classic new life,
and putting it before the eyes of a new generation
The Phalanx Edition
In an era when wargames easily cost from $60-$70 for flimsy
paper maps and little counters, A
House Divided is an incredible bargain
at $49.99. You get 160 beautifully illustrated
1-inch game pieces, a large 28 x 20-inch mounted
mapboard, three rulebooks (basic rules, advanced
rules, scenarios and optionals), three stand-up
leader markers (Grant, Lee, Sherman), a wooden
peg to use as a turn marker (which wraps around
the edge of the map), and six large dice (appropriately
three gray and three blue!).
All in all, the game is a visual treat.
But Have You Ever Played
I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t
count! A House Divided is one of
the most playable, and most replayable
games ever designed. Here is a capsule summary
of how it works, starting with what you are
trying to accomplish. My summary refers to
the Basic Game. Advanced and optional rules
will be mentioned afterwards.
The game begins in July, 1861. The Union
starts the game with a 12 unit to eight advantage,
command of the sea and a superior rail network.
The Union is attempting to capture all Confederate
cities which have a recruitment value of “2”
or “3.” These are Atlanta, Charleston,
Memphis, Mobile, New Orleans, Richmond and
Wilmington. The South can win aggressively
by either capturing Washington or capturing
enough Northern recruitment cities so that
his Army Maximum (that is, manpower base)
is greater than the Union’s. The South
can also win if the North has not accomplished
its victory condition by the end of turn 40
The American Civil War was characterized by periods of inactivity
punctuated by spurts of movement and major
battles. This is simulated by each side having
a variable number (two to six) of “Marches”
to activate stacks for movement. Movement
on the area-based map (no hexes here) is based
on lines of communication: road, rail, and
river. Sea movement and amphibious invasions
are also possible for the North. The former
costs one March per unit (not stack) from
friendly port to friendly port; the latter
is only possible if rolling a six to determine
Unit type determines how far a unit can move
per March (and a unit can be given two Marches
per turn). Infantry moving by road or unfriendly
rail move one area; two by river or friendly
rail. Cavalry move two regardless. You must
stop in an area with enemy units and fight
in the combat phase with two exceptions. Union
units (only) moving downriver, as indicated
on the map, may move two areas, jumping over
a Confederate stack in the first area. Cavalry
of both sides can jump once per turn over
an enemy stack if that stack does not also
Combat occurs when units of both sides occupy the same area.
You remove the units from the map and line
them up opposite one another. Each unit has
a combat value from one to three and gets
to shoot once each round, hitting by rolling
its combat value or less. The defender gets
to fire first, gaining a tactical advantage.
Each unit can take one hit (flip the game
piece). A second hit eliminates it.
Terrain and unit quality can modify the “to
hit” number. If a defending unit is
entrenched (either in a fortress city or by
digging in by expending a March in the movement
phase) a “-1” modifier is assessed
on the attackers chance to hit (so a unit
that would hit on a three or less hits on
a two or less instead). A “Crack”
infantry unit is an elite unit that also modifies
fire directed at it by “-1.” A
Crack infantry under an entrenchment is going
to be tough to hit! Attacking across rivers
helps the defender by increasing his To Hit
range by +1 on the first two rounds of battle.
Naval invasions count as crossing rivers,
After the first round is over, players can
reinforce from adjacent areas or retreat in
lieu of firing in subsequent rounds. The side
which wins the battle gets a free promotion,
which leads me to . . .
Promotion and Recruitment
Units are rated as Militia, Veteran, or Crack. The higher
up the food chain, the better they fight!
All units start out as Militia. You get to
promote one survivor immediately after a battle
if you win. You also get one free promotion
per turn. Both players will have a pool of
unrecruited Militia that can thus be recruited
in that phase.
Recruited units are placed one per recruitment
city. The Recruitment level for the Union
at the start of the game is 34, the Confederacy
is 28. This is the value of all Recruitment
cities controlled. This level can go up (max
of 36) or down as cities are captured. Neither
side may have more units on the board than
its Recruitment level.
Advanced and Optional Rules
These are many and varied, adding detail
at the cost of playing time. These rules run
an amazing spectrum and make A House Divided
as realistic as any game on the subject if
you play with them. Leaders and battlefield
morale, various recruitment differences between
North and South, coastal garrisons (important
for the South!) and even foreign intervention
forces are covered!
Strategy and Summary
An aggressive win for the South is possible early on, if you
are fortunate on Marches. This possibility
rapidly fades as a realistic alternative to
victory after April 1862 (when the Union adds
four more Militia to their recruitment pool).
The most common way to Southern independence
is a win on time by denying the Union your
key Recruitment cities. One thorn in the side
of Mr. Lincoln is the vulnerability of his
rear area recruitment cities to cavalry raids.
(Remember the Jump move mentioned earlier?)
The Union also can win early, but stands
to be hurt in the long run by bad luck with
early, aggressive play (remember 1st Manassas!).
A slow buildup and encroachment of the Southern
heartland akin to General Scott’s Anaconda
Plan is the solid avenue to victory. Taking
advantage of naval opportunities is a must
— Mr. Davis simply cannot garrison the
long, vulnerable coastline everywhere. Indeed,
three of those vital “2” recruitment
cities are on the coast!
For two to three hours of playing time,
A House Divided simply cannot be
beat. There are games out there that take
that long just to set up! Those are the games
that never get played.
Owners of previous editions cannot go wrong
with this lavish update to one of the greatest
wargames of all times. It is a perfect introduction
for newcomers to our hobby.