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SPI's Battle of Corinth: Standoff on the Tennessee


by Russ Gifford

Photos by Russ Gifford


The Battle of Corinth was the 6th entry into the Great Battles of the American Civil War series. It also marked Richard Berg's return as designer, though Eric Lee Smith developed the final game as delivered.

At this point, the GBACW system was a year old, and the original Terrible Swift Sword system was pushing five! Between the two, Berg's other effort in the system was the bloody mess known as Bloody April. It was released to great sales but also loud moans as the cluttered terrain and the equally cluttered paperwork made it less thrilling than TSS.

On the other hand, the first Great Battles game, Pea Ridge, developed and designed by Smith, was released to thunderous approval. It incorporated new line of sight rules that improved the feel of the game – and gave you the feeling of being in the Ozarks. But best of all, they were easy enough to play. Smith also streamlined the TSS rules well, preserving the feel though sometimes straining the memory of players of the original TSS system. If perhaps he'd taken a bit too much out, he certainly cleaned up the tracking portion of the system, and made it all work together well. Pea Ridge had excitement and tension throughout the game.

Wilson's Creek and Drive on Washington had their moments, but were clearly small games. If less stellar achievements, they were still pleasing to the players. Volume 4, Cedar Mountain, released only in S&T, was an instant hit. It showed that the streamlined TSS system could be delivered in a magazine game, as had Wilson’s Creek, but Cedar Mountain was a straightforward battle, with fewer special rules – which was always a plus.

So, the star of the Great Battles system appeared to be rising. Antietam, the third "big box" TSS style game, was in design and development, pairing Berg with the GBACW developer Eric Lee Smith. But before they could do Antietam, they first had Corinth to contend with.

So, how did the pairing of the original creative genius of TSS with the star developer of the GBACW system work out? About like you'd expect - a whopping big battle, with lots of additional rules - but all of it neatly sorted and massaged into place.

Corinth starts with the same frustrating feel as Bloody April: this time it is the Confederates tripping over each other in the woods trying to reach the Union. It takes almost 5 turns to shake out the brigades and the commanders into a functioning army. About the same amount of time it takes the Union to decide there really is something going on, and start releasing the reserves. The collision that follows decides the course of the battle.

So - if you are playing Corinth, expect it to feel more like Bloody April than Pea Ridge or Cedar Mountain. But unlike Bloody April, expect the rules intrusions to be minor, and the excitement level to be high. Do the Confederates have a chance to really take Corinth? Yes, but it is better in the free set up than in the historical version. But either way, the effort and excitement is the payoff. This is a BIG game - much bigger in size than the rest of the GBACW series (before Antietam, anyway). There's plenty of excitement to go around!

The decision to release Jackson at the Crossroads (Volume 5) and Battle of Corinth (Volume 6) together in the same box likely reflected business issues for SPI. With a year of financial disaster thanks to the famous 1" box fiasco - (it cost $8.55 alone, no artwork, for games designed to sell for only $10!) - SPI was likely looking to draw as much money as possible at the least cost. The combined games appeared in a normal 2" box, but the list price was $25. In 1981, with the paper shortage and the Reagan recession in full swing, that was almost as much as TSS had cost a few years before. So the result seemed to be that not much was heard about these two games. They got a moment in the sun in S&T articles, and then they were gone.

Of course, much of that was the result of SPI's disappearance as well. Distribution issues may have raised their head in the run-up the company's demise. I saw only one copy of this game on the shelf. Blink and you missed it. And within a year of the release, SPI would be gone. There was really no time for these games to gain a following. While TSS 2nd edition and Antietam (A Gleam of Bayonets) went on to see the light of day under TSR, none of the Great Battles games were reprinted.

The good news is - Corinth and all the rest of the GBACW system are simply gems waiting to be discovered. Solid and dependable, these games deliver excitement with every playing. Corinth gives the feel of a 'mini-monster,' filling the slot between a month of play to hit TSS, and a long day for Pea Ridge. Corinth, at the most is a weekend affair. A great game, and fun to play! Not a bad legacy to leave behind!

© 2005, by Russ Gifford