W.R. Hutsell’s VGA Civil War Strategy, a wonderful little MS-DOS gem, has been available as a free download for quite some time at Hutsell’s Games. The game’s no-nonsense graphics were a bit dated even when the game was first released, but completely adequate for the elegant point-to-point movement strategic wargame Mr. Hutsell laid underneath. The intuitive interface lets you jump right into and play without a lot of fuss, elaborate tutorials, or continuous references to a rulebook. Everything needed to cover the fundamentals of the American Civil War is present: armies and leaders with variable experience and supply, fortifications, rail and naval movement and naval invasions and commerce raiding. Interaction between all the game objects is well thought out; a lot of functional decomposition and design apparently took place long before coding began.
How to install and run the game with DOSBox
- Once you’ve downloaded the game, run the executable (.EXE file) to install the game on your c: drive at c:\vgastrat (the default).
- You’ll need DOSBox to run the game, an x86 emulator available for download here. Once you’ve downloaded DOSBox, simply run the installer.
- Launch DOSBox, and at the DOS prompt, type mount c c:\vgastrat and press enter.
- Type c:\ at the next prompt and press enter.
- Type cws at the next prompt to run the game. Here’s a screenshot of these last three steps:
What’s coming in the future
This is already great gaming as it stands, but that’s just for starters. Dave Mackey, who runs the Hutsell’s Games website, has been hard at work porting this gem from MS-DOS so it can run without DOSBox, and released beta version 1.58 on December 17, available for download here. Beyond the beta limitations he notes in advance, it looks and plays just like the original. With the DOSBox hamstring out of the way, he will be free not only to add the graphics bells and whistles gamers have come to expect, but possibly to add in subroutines allowing players to fight out the battles the game currently resolves on its own using troop strengths, levels of experience and fortification, leadership, etc. Beyond that, he potentially could apply the game engine to similar conflicts. The Second Anglo-Boer War comes immediately to my mind, since it took place in roughly the same technological environment.
A clean interface and coherent design are things you just don’t see much of these days. Some developers release strategic and operational level games in an almost unplayable state with inadequate documentation. It’s an irritating paradox — players are left reading forum posts trying to identify fundamental relationships between game objects that should have defined as part of the design process, but instead are changed in subsequent releases.
Hat tip to Mr. Mackey for quite a positive development to keep an eye on over the coming year. His effort polishing up this gem is sure to bear fruit.