Gaming Gettysburg

An Interview With Mercury Games

The Civil War Trust has partnered with Mercury Games, the publishers of the board game "The Guns of Gettysburg," in order to continue the campaign to save the hallowed ground of the Civil War's bloodiest battlefield.  A recent discussion with the folks at Mercury delved into questions of strategy, design, and preservation. 

in actionCivil War Trust: What is The Guns of Gettysburg?

Mercury: Just in time for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, The Guns of Gettysburg is a new game that lets players experience the same decisions faced by the commanders during the real conflict.

It's the latest design from Bowen Simmons, known for his previous works Bonaparte at Marengo and Napoleon's Triumph.  This is a block-style wargame, which in general means that the units are represented by wooden blocks which add a "fog of war" element to the game, but also give the game its unique "map-like" appearance.

Civil War Trust: What sets The Guns of Gettysburg apart from other war games?

Mercury: What immediately strikes most people about The Guns of Gettysburg is the map and the playing pieces.  The topographical map makes the players feel like they are involved in the planning of the battle.  The wooden blocks serving as units, with their unusual stick shape, closely mirrors the maps we are all so familiar with for such battles. 

Once players look beyond the visually-pleasing elements of the game, there are still more unusual features to discover.  Perhaps most important is that this game does not have any dice.  Planning and execution become more of a central focus than sheer luck, and this means that gaining experience with the game will result in sharpening your skills as an armchair general.

Also of particular note, The Guns of Gettysburg isn't designed to simulate the exact progression of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Each play will have differences - perhaps a general's forces are late to the battle, or enter on a slightly different road.   These slight changes from the historical battle mean that players must be prepared to deal with setbacks or changes in the plan, just as the real generals would have had to.   Of course, the game has proper constraints to ensure that most games will resolve within the realm of possibilities for the battle, but no two battles will be identical.

Civil War Trust: What does The Guns of Gettysburg contribute to the academic study of the battle?

Mercury: The biggest question that The Guns of Gettysburg seems to answer is why the commanders may have chosen their actions in the way that they did.  Since the players in this game will have to cope with unknown elements such as troop arrivals or the availability of artillery, it may become clear that the historic decisions were made out of lack of knowledge, a need for safety, or even a fear of the unknown.  

If there would be only one thing to take away from The Guns of Gettysburg, it's probably the immense pressure to come up with the right decision despite not having all the necessary information. 

Civil War Trust: Are there any particularly effective strategies?  Can players change the course of history?

Mercury: Absolutely, players can change the course of history, but within the context of what would have been possible at Gettysburg. What makes The Guns of Gettysburg special is the way that it recreates history without necessarily repeating it.

With two players of roughly equal skill matched together, the typical experience should be what we would call a "Gettysburg-like" experience.  By this we mean that players will likely want to use the terrain and their forces much the same as the real commanders did.  However, simply mimicking the strategies of your real-life counterparts won't normally be enough.  The opposing player may surprise you by pushing extra hard at Cemetery Hill, or perhaps your own forces won't quite arrive in time to save the day at the Round Tops!  

Civil War Trust: Are significant portions of the battlefield now developed?

Mercury: The Gettysburg battlefield is an amazing place to visit and learn about the battle.  It's quite a shock to learn that such important ground is under constant threat from development and has been so since almost immediately after the battle ended. 

The Civil War Trust lists an upsetting fact:  20% of American Civil War battlefields are already lost, and of those that remain, only 15% are protected by National Parks.  That's a chilling warning of the price of inaction.

It didn't take long for Cemetery Hill to have significant portions  lost to development.  As the city advanced, it seems to have swallowed up the view that would have made the hill such an obvious place to defend.  Now we're left to largely imagine what it would have looked like.

Other areas are threatened too.  Even just a casual internet search will turn up a paper trail of public outcries over casinos, hotels, and other profit-seeking ventures threatening the landscape.  Sometimes history wins out, and sometimes it doesn't, it seems.

It's because of this that Mercury Games is proud to team with the Civil War Trust to help highlight the attempt to save important historic tracts that up until now have managed to escape the threat of the developer's bulldozers.  History comes alive when we walk experience it, and any effort to preserve these important places should be applauded and supported.

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The 1863 battlefield, beautifully reproduced for "The Guns of Gettysburg," is threatened by modern development.  Learn more about how you can save this hallowed ground »

Civil War Trust: How can The Guns of Gettysburg be purchased?

Mercury: Up until March 10th, 2013, we invite everyone to head over to Kickstarter where we've setup a preorder effort for the game.  These preorders help fund not only The Guns of Gettysburg but also other games that help bring people closer to history.

If you miss out on the Kickstarter effort, we also expect the game to be on game store shelves in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle on July 1st, 2013.  Just visit your favorite game store and ask for it by name.  We also welcome purchases from our website at

The Civil War Trust is proud to call Mercury Games a partner in the ongoing campaign to save Gettysburg.  For a limited time, those who purchase a copy of "The Guns of Gettysburg" will also receive a free souvenir insert from the Trust!

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