There are many types of strategy games out there. There are those that focus on both huge theatres of war, and provide an almost baffling level of detail. There are games that focus in on a battle, with  mechanics to make that fight as true as possible. But perhaps the most rare bird in strategy is the fast play strategy game, which aims to balance a certain level of realism, with a very approachable level of speed of play.

Battleplan: American Civil War falls firmly in the latter camp. You can play an entire battle say, the first day of Shiloh, in around ten minutes or less. The game features a branching campaign system that leads you through the major engagements, with a win, loss or draw affecting the outcome and order of the next battles.

It’s no Total War, with its open grand campaign, but it does its job very well. It’s actually really nice to have a strategy game that doesn’t lock you to your keyboard for hours on end.

It also offers a relatively unique graphical style. Playing a game of Battleplan is not unlike watching an animated version of the 18th century training tool, Kriegspiel, come to life. Units are stylised blocks of grey and blue, either infantry, cavalry or artillery. Terrain is presented in 3D, but is again abstracted somewhat for clarity. You click and drag units for movement, but you can drag them in a more detail path, which makes ordering units on wide flanking maneuvers quite elegant. Movement intentions are presented with arrows on the map, too, so you can keep track of not only where troops are, but where they will be.

This is important because one of the truly unique mechanics of the game is the need to time your orders. Like many games of this scale, leader units are very important, but in Battleplan they literally need to have their orders delivered. If you order a unit on your far right flank forward, a messenger will move from your general, to the unit, and then it starts off. This means that co-ordinating your units requires more forethought that just drag selecting a bunch of them and ordering them en-masse. And it’s very accurate to the period, too; generals would literally spend most of a battle scribbling orders in notebooks, and getting adjutants to dash off to where they had to be relayed.

Like in many games, troop morale needs to be considered, as well as keeping your artillery in supply, which is a bit trickier than it needs to be. The simple mechanics all flow together to create an elegant whole, one of those classic games that is easy to learn, but can be difficult to master, especially as battles get more complex. The aforementioned two day battle of Shiloh includes a night-phase, when you can rest troops; but, if you’re happy to have your brave boys a little tired, you can move
them around.

Taken altogether this is quite the breath of fresh air, offering a range of pure tactical challenges that aren’t going to stress your PC or let you get distracted by pretty graphics. It would be nice to see more choices in the campaign mode, but then you really are getting into Total War territory.

Some kind of multiplayer would be welcome also, but, again, for a casual $10 wargame, Battleplan is doing far more right than it is wrong. If you’re looking for a way to get into wargaming, or a quick and easy game between month long bouts with Hearts of Iron, this is a game that’s easy to like.