For the People

This article is a work in progress.

Copyright ©Rodger B. MacGowan

For the People, currently my favorite game of any genre, is a card driven game(CDG) designed by Mark Herman and published by GMT Games. Mark Acres and I will be creating an after action report(AAR) soon, which is the next project for this website.

The Deluxe edition of the game is currently in GMT’s P500 program. If this article or our AAR pique your interest, I hope you’ll consider pre-ordering the game so I can get my fancy set all the sooner!

I wrote this article to give a general summary of what happens in a turn of For the People, as well as an overview of the major components of the game. The intent is to make it easier to follow along with our AAR and not so much to recreate the rulebook. Experienced players will notice many details and special cases that have been left out. When necessary, unusual circumstances will be highlighted as they come up during the game. All screenshots were taken using the excellent Vassal module by Steve Petras.

Here’s the game board. Click for a larger image.

Here we see some famous generals from both sides. The small blue number is the generals political rating and is mostly relevant in determining who will be in command of armies. The number to the upper right is the strategy rating, and indicates the minimum ops value card which must be played to activate the general. The two numbers on the bottom are attack and defense ratings and are used as die roll modifiers (DRM) in combat.
The red counter next to Stuart shows the famous cavalry leader as part of a cavalry brigade, married to an SP.

Here are all the generals in the game with the turn they enter play. Generals on Turn 1 start on the board.

Counter Key

These are some of the most used counters in the game.The armies are the best fighting formations in the game and can hold up to 15 SP and a great many generals.The Strength Points(SP) are used for troops which aren’t part of armies.The forts provide a +2 defensive DRM and will block enemy crossings when built on a river. Incidentally, the Union can build up to 12 forts for any value OPs card, while the South is limited to 6 forts and must spend a 3 Ops. This simulates the great economic investment of fortifications and how much easier the North can afford the cost. Certain event cards also allow placements of more than 1 fort at a time and are of great use to the South, which often cannot spare a 3 OPS card.
The Political Control(PC) markers indicate who has control of each space. PC markers are only used in enemy or neutral states, as players control spaces of their own states by default.

The destroyed markers track which Confederate resource spaces have been destroyed by the Union. Simply entering a resource space is not sufficient. A Union PC marker must be placed there.


Union Naval Control

One of the Unions most important advantages was overwhelming naval superiority. This is modeled in the game through the concept of Union naval control, which I’ll call UNC. UNC is absolute on the ocean and will flow through all navigable rivers on the map if unchecked by Confederate defenses. UNC is treated like an electrical current which only stops where the Rebels can create a break in the line.

UNC flows downstream from the northern edge of the map through the Mississippi, Wabash, and Ohio rivers and tries to spread upstream from the ocean wherever navigable rivers empty out. Where the Union has naval control it is impossible for the Rebels to cross or trace supply over a river.

The South can deny UNC in specific river spaces by building forts or ironclads. Any stretches of river isolated between such spaces are also free of UNC. Note that the Confederates will never have naval control over any body of water. They can only deny it to the Union. Any rivers with denied UNC can be used equally by both sides. LOS can be traced, troops can cross, etc., with one exception. Crossing a river into a space with an enemy fort is impossible.

To cross a river into an enemy space, the connecting line linking both spaces must cross a blue bar in the destination space. A fort in such a destination space renders it an impossible target. Crossing a blue bar in either the origin or destination space is impossible for the Confederates if the Union has naval control of that space. Note that forts are only impregnable to river crossings. Rebel forts can still be amphibiously assaulted.

In the image above, it is assumed that the Confederacy has not managed to isolate this stretch of river from UNC. The rebels wish to invade Bloomington, Indiana. Unfortunately, the Confederate Army of Tennessee is unable to cross the Ohio river as the Union has naval control. Unless UNC is denied, Indiana and Ohio are impregnable from Kentucky. What can the Rebel’s do to cross the river?

Now, after the South builds a fort at Louisville, UNC is denied and the Rebel army can cross here. Even if the South manages to convert Bloomington, Vernon, and Cincinnati, they will still be unable to cross between Cincinnati and Falmouth unless they also build a fort in Cincinnati. Building a fort in Falmouth will not enable a crossing as the blue bar in Cincinnati indicates that that is where the river lies.

Union Blockade

Historically, President Lincoln declared a blockade of the Confederate coast to strangle the South’s economy. While his choice of terminology was a political blunder, granting an implicit recognition that the South was an independent nation, the blockade proved more and more effective over time.

The game simulates the blockade through the blockade level. This number starts at zero but can rise to a maximum of five through the play of certain event cards. The south has four blockade zones, two in the Gulf of Mexico and two in the Atlantic Ocean.

Each turn during the reinforcement phase, the Confederate player rolls a die for each zone and gains a single Strength Point (SP) if he rolls higher than the current blockade level. This must be placed in a blockade runner port in that zone of which each has a minimum of two. If all blockade runner ports in a zone are Union controlled or isolated, then the die roll is assumed to fail automatically. Proactively capturing all blockade runner ports in a zone is a good way for the Union to speed things along or compensate for few or no blockade increasing card draws.

Failing a blockade roll not only costs the South an SP, it also assesses a penalty of two Strategic Will (SW). The gradually increasing blockade level literally strangles the Southern ability and will to wage war, an appropriate and elegant game mechanic.

The Union is not wholly dependent on cards to increase the blockade level as will have the same result as a failed Confederate die roll.

Strategic Will

Strategic Will (SW) is a numeric value representing each sides will to continue fighting the war as well as the overall morale of their civilian populations. Many game events result in changes to SW, including losing your capital, converting or losing a state, losing an army, winning or losing a major battle, etc.  SW is the determining factor for all instant win conditions.

Fortunes of War

Changes in SW are exaggerated when the overall direction of change switches from positive to negative or vice versa. In other words, if the last change was positive, a loss in SW will result in extra SW being lost and if the last change was negative, a gain of SW will result in extra SW being gained. A change in direction from plus to minus results in 3 extra SW being lost. A change from negative to positive results in 2 extra SW being gained. The SW markers have a negative and positive side to track the last change in value. Note that 100- does not equal -100.


The Union will win instantly if the Confederate SW is ever reduced to zero. The Confederacy will win at the end of any turn in which the Union SW is less than half that of the Confederacy’s. There are several other ways to win but these two are by far the most common in my experience.


In order to be in supply, a unit must be able to trace a Line of Communication(LOC) to an “ultimate supply source.” An LOC is a line of controlled or neutral spaces which starts in or adjacent to the space containing the unit in question and leads to the supply source.

Along with land spaces, LOC can also be traced through any number of river spaces, even enemy controlled spaces, with some caveats. Union LOC cannot trace through a river space containing a Rebel fort or ironclad, and Confederate LOC can only trace through river spaces where Union naval control is denied and no Union fort is present.

Ultimate supply sources are different for each side. For the Union these include any rail line or river that exits the north edge of the map and any Union controlled coastal ports. For the Confederacy, a supply source consists of any combination of two or more resource spaces and/or open blockade runner ports. Note that Confederate controlled coastal forts block Union LOC from their associated coastal ports.

Sequence of Play

1. Reinforcement Phase

2. Deal Strategy Cards

3. Conduct Strategy Rounds

4. Political Control Phase

5. Attrition Phase


Starting with the Union, each player places Strength Point(SP) reinforcements. Each SP represents roughly 6000 men. The Union receives 18 per turn, while the Rebels can get a maximum of 15 under ideal circumstances. SP’s which cannot legally be placed due to spaces being enemy controlled or out of LOC are forfeited.

The reinforcement summaries printed on the map.

After placing reinforcements, both sides carry out Strategic Redeployment. Again, the Union goes first. SP’s can be moved by rail or water, but the same SP cannot use both types of movement unless it is being sent into an army. Additionally, SP’s don’t even need a rail connection as long as they are going into an army which has an LOC, and a path between them of any length is open. This ability of armies to suck in SP’s from virtually anywhere is very useful, especially when they’re campaigning in enemy territory.

The Union can redeploy up to 15 SP while the Confederates are limited to 7. The South cannot ship troops by river if the Union has naval control, and never by sea.

Finally, both sides place their generals for the turn, Union first. Generals are randomized, placed  face down on the map, and then revealed simultaneously. Distinctions are made between regular and cavalry generals. If you receive 1 cavalry general and 2 regulars, for example, you can simply place the cavalry general where you want but must randomize the other 2.

Deal Strategy Cards

This is one the most exciting points in the game, where you receive your hand of cards and get an idea of what your options are going to be for the turn. Each player only receives 4 cards on turn 1, with 1 additional card being added to this number per turn until the max of 7 is reached on turn 4. This simulates the slow gearing up to total war which occurred historically.

Operations Phase

Players take turns playing cards. The Union normally goes first but the Confederates can take the first play if they have a Major or Minor Campaign card and choose to use it first. Going first for the South is usually an act of desperation or the seizing of a great opportunity. The downside is that this usually results in the Union getting the last card play, which can be bad when they also get the first card play of the following turn.

Like Twilight Struggle and many other Card Driven Games, strategy cards can be played either for their event or the associated operations points(OP). Unlike Twilight Struggle, you are not forced to play opponents events except for rare exceptions. OP have many uses but the primary one is moving your forces.

For the People does a great job of putting players in the shoes of a supreme commander. Multiple theaters must be juggled while weighing options with every card play. There is always a question of what your opponent is holding and what price he can make you pay for your next move! Bluffing is sometimes effective when you have weak cards.

As in real war, seizing and holding the initiative are vital to long term success. In the game, this means making your opponent spend his cards reacting to what you do, rather than doing what he wants with them.

The card deck includes 2 Major and 6 Minor Campaign cards. These have no associated event but allow for 3 and 2 activations respectively. Campaign cards are a great way to seize the initiative as they give you an opportunity to present your opponent with 2 or more crises to deal with. Used wisely, these cards will force the other side to make hard decisions.

Moving your forces

There are basically five movement types: army, corps, division, cavalry brigade and naval/riverine. Army, corps, and cavalry brigade movements are initiated by activating the relevant general in charge of the moving force. Generals are activated by play of OP cards and the OP value must be equal or greater than the strategy rating of the general being activated. This highlights the Unions single greatest weakness. Most Union generals have higher strategy ratings(SR) than their counterparts in the South. Fully 14 of the Unions total of 20 generals require 3 OP cards to activate! They have 4 generals with an SR of 2, and only 2 generals with an SR of 1, Grant and Sherman, who don’t even enter play until the mid and late war respectively. On the other hand, the South has a total of 17 generals, only 4 of which require 3 OP cards. 8 have an SR of 2, and a whopping 5 are ready to fight at the drop of a hat with SR’s of only 1.

I haven’t counted cavalry generals in the previous totals. They rarely move alone, being normally kept as part of armies, so their SR’s are mostly irrelevant.

Army moves

An army is moved by activating the commanding general(CG). Armies can contain up to 15 SP’s and several generals, with the CG and up to 2 additional generals contributing to the DRM for a battle. Attaching a cavalry brigade to an army is almost mandatory if one is available as they increase the armies ability to react to enemy moves, and can cripple an enemy armies DRM’s if they don’t have cavalry of their own. Armies are clearly the most powerful fighting formations and each side is limited to a max of 4.

Armies have 6 movement points(MP) and so can move up to 6 spaces. Armies also have the unique ability to convert political control(PC) of spaces to their side as they move by expending 1 additional MP in each space. This is an extremely valuable ability!

Generals and SP’s can be picked up and dropped off during the move, with the exception being that the CG and the second in command general(2iC) in the army cannot leave it. The 2iC is the general with the highest political rating(PR) who is not the CG. Any general with a PR higher than the 2iC of an army that it  joins automatically becomes the new 2iC and frees up the former one to leave the army if desired.

Corps moves

A corps is simply an ad hoc formation which consists of 1-2 generals and up to 6 SP’s. Generals and SP’s can be picked up and dropped off as long as there are never more than 2 generals and 6 SP’s moving at once. Movement is limited to 8 spaces and the general commanding the corps (the one activated for the move) stays with it the entire time.

Division moves

Division moves consist of 1-3 SP’s moving alone up to 5 spaces. The maximum number of SP’s is limited to the OP value of the card. SP’s can be dropped off but not picked up and enemy spaces of enemy controlled states cannot be entered.

Cavalry Brigade moves

Cavalry brigade moves are a single cavalry brigade moving alone. The max move is 10 spaces. Cavalry brigades with an LOC have the ability to remove enemy PC markers in friendly or neutral states but cannot place markers themselves. Removing enemy PC markers in neutral states results in the space returning to neutral status, while removing them in their own states causes the space to revert to friendly control by default. Cavalry brigades normally remain with armies so this type of movement doesn’t seem to be used much in my experience.

Naval/Riverine moves

Naval/Riverine moves are carried out differently for each side. The Union player can play a 3 OP to move up to 3 SP’s with up to 1 general, either by sea or river. Confederate forts can be bypassed by successfully “running the guns”. If the target space is friendly then this is simply a relocation; otherwise it’s an amphibious assault and a battle is fought if enemy forces and/or a fort are present.

The Confederate player can play any value OP, but is limited to moving 1 SP (no generals) by river. This cannot be used to make amphibious attacks, only relocation moves.

Fighting Battles


Political Control Phase

Several different things can occur here, including the conversion of states to one side or the other

Each player now takes political control of any enemy or neutral spaces which his forces occupy and can trace an LOC to. Because enemy control blocks LOC, these PC flips can be done in whichever order the occupying player wishes to maximize territorial gains.

Each side can now convert any neutral states in which they have political control of sufficient spaces. The number of spaces needed for each state is printed on the map. Neutral states first converted by the Union become immune to later conversion by the Confederacy no matter how many spaces the rebels capture. Confederate converted neutral states can always be converted later by the Union, at which point they stay Union, no matter what happens after.

Missouri and Kentucky provide the Confederacy with 1 additional SP each in the reinforcement phase for as long as the South controls them and a rebel controlled space with valid LOC exists in the state where it can be placed. Union control does not confer additional SP’s to the North.

The Union can now convert any Confederate states in which they have managed to capture sufficient spaces as indicated on the map and have also destroyed all resource spaces and isolated/captured all blockade runner ports in the state. Resource spaces are destroyed when the Union gains political control of the space. Once destroyed, resource spaces can never be rebuilt even if the South manages to recapture the space. Blockade runner ports are isolated when they can no longer trace an LOC. Since these port spaces constitute half of a valid supply source themselves, this means that they’re isolated if they cannot trace to another blockade runner port or friendly controlled, non destroyed resource space.

States which convert to a player will result in SW changes. The first player to convert a neutral state gains SW as indicated on the map. If the South takes a neutral state first, and then the Union takes it from them, the South loses the SW that they’d gained and the Union gets the same amount. When the Union converts an original Confederate state, the Confederates lose SW as indicated on the map. (there is no Union gain in this case) Destruction of a Southern resource space results in a loss of SW for the South and a gain for the Union of SW equal to the value of the space.

Arkansas, an original Confederate state. As the circled numbers indicate, if the Union manages to have 6 spaces converted, as well as having destroyed the Little Rock resource space, they will convert Arkansas back to the Union and the South will lose 5 SW and 1 SP reinforcement per turn.
Note that if the Confederates build a fort in Little Rock it will become immune to land attack from the north. Only an amphibious assault from the Arkansas river or land attack from the south through Camden will be possible.

Confederate raids are assessed in any original (not converted neutral) Union state in which the South has 3 or more PC markers. Each raid increases Confederate SW by 5 points and decreases Union SW by the same number. Unless the Union already has a substantial lead in SW, raids are a great way for the South to grab the initiative by forcing the Union to deal with matters in his own backyard rather than prosecuting the war in the south. Raids can also impact future Union reinforcements by capturing Union state capitals (one lost SP each) or in extreme cases by capturing entire geographical regions and forcing Union forfeiture of whole segments of their reinforcements.

Most victory conditions are checked in the Political Control Phase.

Attrition Phase

The final phase of each turn; all forces now suffer attrition. Each space containing between 3 and 6 SP’s loses 1 SP, with forces of 7 or greater losing 2. Forces without an LOC have to undergo the process twice to simulate the foraging they must do. Each attrition procedure affects the force at its current size, so a force of 4-6 without an LOC would lose 2 SP’s, a force of 7-8 would lose 3 SP’s while one of 9 or more SP’s would lose 4! Forces of 1-2 SP’s are immune to attrition and foraging, so a force of 3 SP’s without an LOC would only lose 1 SP (only the first of the two attrition processes would have an effect).