Risk, Memoir '44, and Game of Thrones the Board Game, but those games are hardly even considered wargames. It's not that I don't enjoy the concept and strategy of war games, it's mostly learning the game, playing the game, and finding someone to play the game with. All of these aspects are very time consuming for most war games. Even a simpler game, such as Memoir 44 was difficult to find playing partners. So, that has left me with little-to-no war gaming for me. So, when Mayfair sent me A House Divided, I was happy and sad all at the same time. I was going to get to learn a new war game, but I also was going to have to learn a new war game. Long complex rule book, long playtime, and the search for a playing partner began. Oh, the game within the game.
A House Divided is a two-player, Civil War, area-control game. The game was designed by Frank Chadwick and Alan Emrich. The Mayfair box says the game takes 60 minutes to play, but the BGG says it takes 240 minutes (4 hours). One player takes the side of the Union army and the other player plays the Confederacy during the United States' Civil War. The game plays over the course of the war with each round taking one month, except for the months which are combined. This results in a maximum number of 40 turns. You play shorter scenarios and the game can end quicker, if other victory conditions are met. The one I lost by was the South taking control of Washington D.C.
Each round of the game is separated into a North turn, followed by a South turn. Each player will then have four phases on their turn; these consist of movement, battle, promotion, and recruitment. Each of the phases does exactly what the name would suggest. You start by rolling a die. You can then create order for that many cities to be marched on. If any of the marches ends with troops from both armies in the same city, a battle ensues. Dice rolling is used to resolve the battle with the winner receiving the city and a promotion for one of the troops that was in the battle. After the battle phase you can promote one of your troops and then you may recruit a new troops to the battlefield. Play continues in this matter until the end of 40 turns, or one of the other victory conditions is met.
Components and Value
First, I have to speak on the components of this game because they are sub-par. The box is the somewhat standard box that Mayfair has been using recently. These boxes are a nice size, the only problem is that this game doesn't fit in the box. When I received my copy, the lid wasn't on all the way because the board was taller than the lid, so it had a nice convex look. The second problem I had was the artwork. It just looks old and unexciting. Artwork should draw your attention to a game, not make you want to never play it. I know that war game artwork is a little different than your standard board games, but I think it's time for a change. Some updated graphics in the war game genre could go along way. The graphic design for A House Divided also had a major error. The rules and game tracker state that the Union army should start with 34 reinforcement spots; the only problem is there are only 33 on the board. This is a big problem, since reinforcement locations are one of the victory conditions. I wouldn't have been surprised to see this on a first printing by a small company, but this is a fourth edition by a major company. It made me wonder how much Mayfair is behind this game. The game pieces themselves were also lacking-- they were simple cardboard tokens. Finally, the rule book was somewhat difficult to understand. My only advice is that even if you are just playing the Basic Rules, read the full rule book--don't even bother with the Basic Rulebook, unless you are using it to reference something. Other than that, I found it to be pretty worthless.
The game play for A House Divided is good. There is a lot of strategy, and if you try for a quick victory, or advancing your troops too fast, you will leave massive gaps in your line. We found this out with our first play. Both players built strongholds and then tried to attack out of those. However, if one of these was ever overtaken, the line was broken. We even had huge gaps in our lines which made it easy for enemy flanks. Therefore, this game is not a quick game, and it's not an easy game. It takes a good amount of skill, and several plays before you can become and expert at it. I wouldn't suggest breaking this out with new gamers, but someone who enjoys Risk or Axis and Allies, may find this one enjoyable. This is also one that would be fun to play with the same person over and over again, or at least a war gaming group, since it can be a difficult task to learn a game of this nature, for the non-wargamer. And because of that, I personally did not enjoy it. If I am playing a war game, I want something a little lighter, and one that focuses on a single battle. I believe that is why I love Memoir 44 so much, and if you are Civil War buff, there is a game that plays like Memoir called Battle Cry.
This is was not an easy game to learn or play. It is made for a specific niche in the board gaming community, and I am not really in that niche. Mrs. Games with Two is even further away from that niche, and refused to even try this one with me. And I can't imagine that many wives and girlfriends would be interested in playing this one. So, before you go out and buy this one to play with your significant other, you may want to have her take a look at it and see if is something she would be interested in (and that really goes for purchasing any war game to play with that special someone). In the end, I am glad I tried this one, and I am glad that I was able to explore a new genre, but it just wasn't for me.