Hutsell’s Civil War Strategy gets a makeover


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

  1. Once you’ve downloaded the game, run the executable (.EXE file) to install the game on your c: drive at c:\vgastrat (the default).
  2. You’ll need DOSBox to run the game, an x86 emulator available for download here. Once you’ve downloaded DOSBox, simply run the installer.
  3. Launch DOSBox, and at the DOS prompt, type mount c c:\vgastrat and press enter.
  4. Type c:\ at the next prompt and press enter.
  5. 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.

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8 Responses to Hutsell’s Civil War Strategy gets a makeover

  1. Mike says:

    dear John,
    How do I get Hutsell’s WWII to work on a windows 7 64 bit. Please don’t overload me with jargon or complicated instructions. I used DOSBOX on a long since gone computer and can get Civil War to play on current computer but it won’t play WWII. Back then I could not use DOSBOX for WWII; I didn’t know directory or file (vgastrat and cws as in civil war game.

    Any help you can provide would be appreciated. It’s a great way to kill 20 minutes.


  2. John M says:

    Hi Mike,

    You will need to use DOSBox to run the game.

    1. Download the EXE file here:
    2. Place the EXE file in the c:\ root directory. DO NOT create a ww2 directory yourself and put the EXE file in it! (The install will fail if you do.)
    3. Double click on the EXE file to run it and install the game. It will create a c:\ww2 directory with all the files in it. There is an MS Word file in the ww2 directory with the game instructions.
    4. To run the game, follow the same steps 3 through 5 used to run cws shown above on this page, except type “ww2” instead of “vgastrat” and “cws” at steps 3 and 5, respectively.

    Let me know how it works for you or if I’ve missed anything. Have fun!

    John M

  3. mike says:

    Thanks for writing back.
    I was able to mount it in dosbox but cws is not the file name. and it is not: ww2, WW2, worldwar2, exe, worldwar2.exe. what file name did you use when you mounted it? Thanks for help and for going out of your way.

  4. John M says:

    Hi Mike,

    To clarify things a bit I wrote a new post specifically for World War II in Europe. Have a look and see if it answers your questions.


    John M

  5. mike says:

    Thanks for your help. I was forgetting the second prompt or step, which opens the c drive. Thanks for everything. real cool of you.


  6. John M says:

    You’re welcome! You’ve prompted me to revisit World War II in Europe myself. Still a lot of life left in these classics!

    All the best,

    John M

  7. Paul says:

    I do like this game, but I hate the supply situation whenever you’re playing as the union. Frequently you’re stuck with no supply armies under Mclellan, Pope, Grant et al while the confederates seem to have unlimited supplies which they’re presumably drawing from the land.

    Doesn’t bear much basis to reality. The Union had abundant supplies usually funnelled to them by railroads, while the south was frequently scrounging for every bit of green corn they could lay their hands on.

  8. John M says:

    Hey there,

    Thanks for visiting and for your thoughtful comments!

    The Union forces actually start the game in a little better supply position than the Confederates. After that, supply accumulation, distribution, expenditure, and penalties are treated the same for both sides. Both sides use railroads for supply distribution in the game, so as long as the Confederates have plenty of cities to provide supplies, they’ll be in supply. So…the Union problem is to reduce Confederate accumulation of supplies by taking cities from them, but to do that, Union forces consume supplies about three times as fast, by moving, attacking, and simply existing! (Except during summer and autumn months, during which armies do not consume supplies by their mere presence. They’re eating green corn.)

    At an operational level, I would agree that Union forces typically remained tied to the end of the rail line for supplies, while the Confederates often cut loose and wandered around the countryside without much of any supply train, relying entirely on forage. That is not to say the Confederates did not rely on railroads to supply their armies; they did, but foraging often resulted in contested areas like Northern Virginia being denuded of supplies by early summer. At that point, if the Confederates wanted to continue to maneuver and fight, they had to do it somewhere else. Hence, their invasions of Maryland and Pennsylvania, for example.

    In strategic level game terms, the cities are the sources of supplies, and the railroads move the supplies between them. In order to reflect the operational constraint you’re describing, there would have to be a mechanism for cities to become incapable of providing supplies, even if connected to other cities by rail. This might force the Confederates to conduct invasions to supply their armies, but it seems like it would have the same effect on the Union forces as well. I have to assume Hutsell felt trying to model this level of detail was beyond the scope of the game.

    Thanks again & all the best,
    John M

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