Anaconda (1864)
Fast Play Strategic Civil War Blockade Game

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By Pete Pellegrino (Naval War College)

Background:  United States, 1864.  The civil war that both sides had expected to end swiftly has dragged into its third year.  The Union blockade of the South, the Anaconda Plan developed by General Winfield Scott and established in 1861, has finally started to take its toll on the Confederate military and its civilian population.  Southern logisticians estimate that with current supplies, the South will be forced to surrender due to inability to maintain its military and severe economic hardships in five months.  Meanwhile, in the North, mounting casualties among Federal troops threatens public support for the war.  Northern war casualties are approaching 600,000; Washington politicians conjecture that if the figure rises to 700,000, their constituents will demand an end to hostilities and an accommodation with the South.    

 Objective:  Be the first side to drive their opponent to the breaking point through a careful combination of naval strategy and army operations - force the surrender of the Confederacy by exhausting their war stocks (zero weeks remaining), or inflict an unacceptable additional 100,000 casualties on the Union (700,000 total), forcing the North to sue for peace.

 Set Up:  Players of the same side sit side by side on one side of a table (or the floor), facing their opponents.  Each player along the line plays a regional military commander with one army regiment and one navy squadron assigned to his control.  Players can assume the identities of historic Union and Confederate generals and admirals, or simply be referred to as Commander 1, Commander 2, etc. down the lines.  This opposing line of players stretches from Virginia down the southern Atlantic and Gulf Coast to Texas and then up the Mississippi River Valley.  Any map of the eastern United States can be used, or an outline of the coast created with masking tape, but is not required for play.  Each commander has six cards; two navy, two army and two special cards described below along with representative interactions from the Civil War:



North South Representative Action from the War Result
Strengthen Blockade Lift Blockade USS Monitor and CSS Virginia fight to a stalemate, but the Northern blockade remains in place. -4 weeks of supplies
Strengthen Blockade Raid Commerce Slow moving ironclads are no match for swift raiders like the CSS Alabama, which pounces on Northern merchant shipping. +3 weeks of supplies
Pursue Raiders Lift Blockade While the North diverts ships to hunt raiders, CSS Virginia rams USS Cumberland and burns USS Congress, threatening to break the blockade.  +2 weeks of supplies
Pursue Raiders Raid Commerce Southern raiders are no match for the more heavily armed Northern warships as USS Kearsarge sinks CSS Alabama. -2 weeks of supplies


North South Representative Action from the War Result
Campaign Campaign After two days of maneuvering, skirmishing, and long range artillery exchanges, General Lee’s army faces General McClellan’s Army of the Potomac along side Antietam Creek.  Artillery shells break the silence of the morning, signaling the start of the bloodiest single day of the Civil War. South uses 3 weeks of supplies, North suffers 10,000 casualties
Campaign Garrison General Grant's armies converge on Vicksburg, investing the city and entrapping a Confederate army.  Vicksburg surrenders after prolonged siege operations.  With the loss of Southern General Pemberton's army and this vital stronghold on the Mississippi, the Confederacy is effectively split in half. South loses 2 weeks of supplies, North suffers 5,000 casualties
Garrison Campaign General “Stonewall” Jackson surprises the right flank of General Hooker’s Federal line at Chancellorsville. Many of the Federals are captured without a shot fired, the rest are driven into a full rout. South uses 1 weeks of supplies, North suffers 15,000 casualties
Garrison Garrison Minor skirmishes and disease, spread from long periods of inactivity in camp, takes its toll on the troops. No supplies lost, North suffers 2,000 casualties.

 The sixth card is simply a quick reference card showing the scoring matrix for the various card combinations. 

Play:  Players start by placing their Army Garrison card and their Navy Raider in front of them, head to head with their opponent’s army and navy cards.    Each turn commanders can elect to change one of their strategies, i.e. replace either their current army card with the one in their hand, or change out the navy card.  Players must have one navy and one army card in play at all times.  After deciding which card to change, the new card is placed face down in front of the player.  Once their opponent has selected their card, both new cards are flipped over and the appropriate old card placed back in their hand.  Notice that at the top of each card, only one color (or if the cards are printed in black and white, one patterned) area will match the corresponding area on their opponent’s card.  This indicates the outcome of that card pairing.  Players then tally up the results for BOTH their navy-to-navy pairing and army-to-army pairing based on either the score on the cards, or by using the Scoring Table card.  Note that naval action only affects Southern war stocks, while army action affects both stocks and Northern casualties. 

 Note that if a player does not want to change any cards, he plays the special “No Change to Orders” card, and simply leaves the existing cards in play. 

 In multi-player games, players can only communicate by passing messages verbally to other commanders seated immediately beside them, similar to the “Telephone Game (”  Washington and Richmond can attempt to pass a grand strategy to the rest of the team at the beginning of a turn, but the word must be passed “down the line.”  In games with four or more players per side, local commanders will need to communicate as no more than three consecutive Union commanders can play “Strengthen Blockade” the same turn; and no more than two adjacent Confederate commanders can play “Lift Blockade” the same turn.  To launch a major land Campaign, at least two adjacent commanders on either side must play the Campaign card.


Scoring Example:  In a single pair of facing players, the Northern player ends the previous turn with his navy card “Strengthen Blockade” and his army card “Campaign” in play.  The Southern player has his navy “Raid Commerce” card and his army “Campaign” card in play.  Each player picks one card from his hand and places in face down before him.  When ready, both players flip their new card over.  The Southern player reveals a “Garrison” card, while the Northern player has played “Pursue Raider.”  Looking at the tops of the navy cards, -2 weeks worth of southern supplies match, and -2 weeks of Southern supplies and 5,000 Northern casualties match on the army cards.  Net result: South loses 4 weeks from their counter, North adds 5,000 casualties to theirs.  Here is a simple score card; use pennies to keep track of the score.

 With multiple player-pairs, the score can be calculated one of three ways:

Average: Results of each North vs. South pair are mathematically averaged (rounding down) to produce the final score for a given hand.

Cumulative: Results for each North vs. South pair are simply added together.  Makes for a very fast game!

Elimination: Each opposing pair plays until there is a winner.  The team with the most number of ‘winners’ is the overall victor. 

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References and Notes for Educators

 Civil War resources abound on the internet!  A good all round site is  

 The toll of the Civil War is staggering, particularly in light of modern day conflicts and what is consider “unacceptable” in terms of casualties.  See Civil War Statistics

 Maps of key Southern ports as they appeared in Harper’s Weekly, Oct 1861.  Downloaded and printed on buff paper, the images and articles have an “authentic artifact” feel.

 Large scale map images of the United States from the 1800’s are available at

 For a chronology of naval events in the Civil War, see

 Several of the game play “Orders” were based on actual reports and messages from the Civil War (see  Where possible, authentic text has been used, and an attempt made to keep the appearance of 19th century correspondence, complete with period signatures.

 If you study the “payoffs” for the various move combinations, you’ll conclude that the South is at a distinct disadvantage.  Using purely random moves, the South will lose 70% of the time, usually around the tenth turn.  If on the other hand, the South shifts their naval strategy to pure commerce raiding and does not attempt direct confrontation with the Union navy, their chances of winning go up to 40%, given that all other moves remain random.  If the South additionally shifts their land strategy to Garrison and avoids the resource draining Campaigns, odds of winning shift to just over 50%, again assuming the North remains random.  If, however, the North catches on to the Southern raider/garrison strategy and counters with pursuing the raiders and either campaigning or garrisoning, the South’s fate is sealed between Turns 5 and 10.  You can also improve the South’s odd by simply increasing the number of weeks remaining at the game’s start from 20 to 30.

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