Washington’s War Session Report: The British Perspective, 1778-1779…and the End

November 2, 2011

This report continues the Washington’s War game between Rick and me.  Check out the links below for the previous parts:
American 1775
British 1775
American 1776-1777
British 1776-1777
American 1778-1779

Year: 1778
British Hand: Major Campaign, 1 op, 1 op, 3 op, 2 op, Hortelez,  Thomas Paine

Hm, this looks like a slightly better hand for moving troops around the board, but I still have to deal with American events. I open with Major Campaign, execute a landing party in Baltimore, and move Clinton down from Canada to Baltimore. Meanwhile Cornwallis and company move to attack Gates’ force in Alexandria, VA, where they win easily. Rick raises a decently sized American army in Delaware, so I bring more reinforcements into Baltimore (it’s now my central supply depot…). After some PC placement in Virginia, Cornwallis moves through Baltimore to get reinforcements, and proceeds to boot Lee’s army out of Delaware. After a few more PC placements, I am in control of Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, and Canada. And as the year comes to a close, Maryland is soon to fall into my hands…

The end of 1778/start of 1779.

Year: 1779
British Hand: Minor Campaign, 1 op, 1 op, 1 op, Marblehead Regiment,  Thaddeus Kosciuszko Constructs Engineering Works, War Ends in 1779

Finally we see a “War Ends” card. Now I just need to time things correctly and victory should be mine. I take the initiative with a Minor Campaign and knock out the Continental Congress right away. Howe and his large army finally move out of Boston and take Rhode Island easily. Okay, 1 more colony in my hands and Rick has no easy way to place PC markers. Things are looking good. Rick raises troops in South Carolina, but I’m pretty sure he can’t do too much damage down there at this point in the game. So I begin placing PC markers in New Hampshire to distract him. He reinforces his New England armies and I start worrying Howe might get attacked, but I decide to keep him off balance by going on the offensive once again. General Burgoyne moves deeper into Maryland and knocks out Gates–at the end of the turn Maryland will now flip to British control.

As the turn is coming to a close, Rick comments “Where are all the ‘War Ends’ cards?” “Funny you should say that,” I reply, and play at long last The War Ends in 1779. The final tally is 8 British colonies to 5 American colonies. Rick probably summed it up best: “Poor America. Back to tea at 4pm, driving on the left side of the road, horse races run clockwise, and erasers called rubbers…”

This Washington’s War match was strange for several reasons. We never saw a single “War Ends” card until turn five, there were very few American attacks, and the British were very aggressive. Maybe this just goes to show us how replayable this game really is. We did have a lot of fun doing this, and hope that you, dear readers, found it to be a lot of fun too. Feel free to tell us all about our many sub-optimal moves in the comments. And look for more PBEM action to come!

The war ends. Victory!



Washington’s War Session Report: The American Perspective, 1778-1779

October 24, 2011

This report will continue the Washington’s War game between John and I.  See the links below for the other parts:
American 1775
British 1775
American 1776-1777
British 1776-1777
Now on to the next two years.

Year: 1778
American Hand: 3op, 1op, 1op, Nathan Hale, American Martyr, Lord George Germaine Offers Royal Amnesty, Jane McCrea Indian Atrocity Sparks Outrage, Joseph Brant Indian Leads an Iroquois Raid
I end up with several event cards this turn. That’s probably good since it looks like I may be without the Continental Congress this turn.

And the British start their advance with a Major Campaign. John moves his forces into Baltimore and takes out Arnold. I’m a bit confused why John didn’t just move straight into Delaware. So I take advantage and bring in some reinforcements there. But then the British advance slows. I use my events and the rest of my ops trying to add more American control to the board and reverse some of the British gains in the South. With no end to the war in sight and the British poised to pounce next turn, things aren’t looking good.

The start of 1779

Year: 1779
American Hand: 3op, 2op, 1op, 1op, Hessian Infantry Bayonet Charge, Lord North Offers a Royal Amnesty, Don Bernardo Galvez Captures Pensacola
Dang… three worthless event cards. I’ll have to be careful about how I get rid of the Lord North card I really don’t want to see that played against me. I’m still surprised we haven’t seen any the War Ends cards.

John is able to strike right away again starting with a Minor Campaign that targets Philly and the Continental Congress as well as Rhode Island. The Congress is dispersed and I’ve lost more colonies. The only silver lining is that I am able to discard the British events during the battles. Although, in hindsight I probably should have considered using them.

I then focus on a counter attack for next turn. I don’t have the strength this turn but I may be able to turn things around then next. My Generals are positioned to flip afew more PC markers at the end of the turn. The South is one turn away from really getting turned around. Hopefully I can turn it around in the next turn because right now it’s not looking so good.

Washington’s War Session Report: The British Perspective, 1776-1777

October 19, 2011

This report is my perspective of the next two years of the Washington’s War game with Rick.  The first two parts can be found here and here.

Year: 1776
British Hand: 2 op, 2 op, 1 op, 1 op, Minor Campaign, Hortelez et Cie, Josiah Martin Rallies Loyalists

As the British player, this is an okay hand. I really like the Minor Campaign, but the lack of 3 op cards is getting a bit frustrating. As Rick mentioned, he had forgotten to move Mr. Washington to winter quarters and thus has to spend his first card getting his army reinforced. I decide to move aggressively and send Burgoyne and company to Charleston, SC to kick out the pesky rebels. This is pretty easily done. After flipping and placing markers in both SC and MA to keep General Rick guessing, I land Cornwallis in New Bern, NC. Eventually this force moves to Norfolk, VA to kick Gates and his force out. Meanwhile, Rick is placing markers as quickly as he can in VA. He sees that I’ve locked up the South and is trying to set up a barrier of PC markers in VA to slow me down. But I will not be stopped!

The end of the 1776.

Year: 1777
3 op, 3 op, 2 op, 2 op, 1 op, 1 op, Light Infantry (discarded and picked up The Gamecock)

This is a hand on par with last time, and I’m happy about getting a fun British battle card too! It’s tempting to use the 3 op cards to move around some of my slower generals, but I think that Howe is best kept in Boston as an “army in being” and there’s not a lot of damage that Carleton can do up in Canada. So I use two consecutive plays of 3 ops cards to drop PC markers all over the place. Some of these are immediately countered (like my play in Genessee, NY), but Rick is countering by moving armies onto the spaces and letting them sit there. That just means fewer armies coming south to deal with my heavy hitters.

I move Burgoyne and his small army to Charlottsville, VA, hoping Rick will attack, and attack he does! We both lay down combat cards, but I get the better of him. Then it is time to move Cornwallis further north. The year ends with an American army popping up behind me in SC, but I can at least bring in reinforcements down there to deal with it.

At the end of the year, I feel like the game is starting to swing in my favor…

The end of 1777.

Washington’s War Session Report: The American Perspective, 1776-1777

October 11, 2011

This report will cover the next two years of the Washington’s War game between John and I.  The first two parts can be found here and here.

Year: 1776
American Hand: 3op, 3op, 3op, 2op, 1op, 1op, Minor Campaign
This time my hand is much better operations point-wise.  I again opt to go first to continue to act and hopefully force John to react.  But my first move is to put 3cu with Washingtonto try and recover from my big first turn mistake.  If I don’t reinforce Washington I risk Howe taking him out.  The mistake is quite costly.  I use the rest of my turn to place PC markers.

Near the end of the turn I move Lafayette and his 3cu to Fort Detroit to score an easy American victory.  The French alliance marker is now at 5.  The British meanwhile continue to slowly creep up from the south and take out Arnold on the way.  I’m not too worried about that though as the American troops just act as speed bumps in this game.

The end of the 1776

Year: 1777
American Hand: 3op, 2op, 2op, 1op, 1op, Minor Campaign, “Mad” Anthony Wayne, 2op
The Americans usually do better off when they aren’t aggressive militarily.  Just use the American forces to slow down the British advance.  However, with the French Alliance at 5 and the +2 drm battle card, all I am thinking is where is my next battle going to be!  I start by reinforcing the south by moving Arnold back into Virginia.

Then John starts hitting me with 2 consective plays of placing PC markers in 6 locations.  The board is getting red.  I start to look for ways to isolate those markers.  I see two spots and take one with a one op card.  Moving Lafayette to Genesee, NY, cuts off one British PC marker and it’s bait to set a trap for Carlton.

John doesn’t bite and instead sets his own by moving Burgoyne into Virginia.  I take my chances and attack with the help of “Mad” Anthony Wayne.  However, the British bring their Light Cavalry so it turns into a straight up die roll and I lose.  Losses are minimal though.  John continues to press north so I bring in Lincoln and 2cu into South Carolina to try to shake things up a bit and reclaim parts of the south.  The distraction seems to work as John brings in his reinforcements into the south.

With my last plays I try to position my armies to avoid too much isolation but it’s not looking good. But then The Gamecock: Thomas Sumter is discarded and I grab that to shore up any isolated PC markers in the south. I’m still feeling OK, but I think the tide is turning.

Washington’s War Session Report: The British Perspective, 1775

October 8, 2011

As mentioned in Rick’s previous post, we played a game of Washington’s War via ACTS and VASSAL from August to September. What follows is my perspective during the first turn.

I’ve played the Americans far more than the British (6 v.s. 3), so I decide to play against type and choose the forces of the grand 18th century empire. Rule Britannia, down with the rebels!

British Initial Marker Placement (For the King!):
Wake, NC
Fort Niagra, NY

My strategy here was to open up the backcountry a bit up north, and to force Rick to keep spending points in North Carolina to keep up with me.

Year: 1775
British Hand: 2 ops, 2 ops, 2 ops, 1 ops, Pennsylvania and New Jersey Line Mutinies, Nathan Hale: American Martyr, Benjamin Franklin Appointed Minister to France

Ick, ick, ick! Already I have no good way to move generals Carleton (Quebec) and Howe (Boston). This means Clinton will likely stay in the leader box too. Also, I’ve got to deal with two American event cards. The Mutiny card is a godsend, however. I’ll wait until near the end of the turn to ditch Nathan Hale and hope Rick doesn’t have an ops card to snatch it up.

I’m a little surprised that Rick’s first play is to raise an army in VA; this is usually the time to start plunking down political control (PC) markers right away. I adopt the southern strategy and bring General Burgoyne and 3 combat units (CUs) into St. Mary’s, GA. My plan is to lock up the larger southern states first, then strike north from a position of strength. I spend the next few card plays locking up all of Georgia and linking up to the Loyalist backwater towns in South Carolina. (In hindsight, it would have been better for me to cause Rick’s lines to Mutiny first…this was a misstep on my part.)

By the end of the first turn, I’ve got a pretty strong position, holding GA, SC, NC, and Canada. While it isn’t enough to win the game at the end of 1775, it’s about what I hoped for. And Washington’s failure to move into winter quarters just makes me smile a bit. The only downside is that the French Alliance track is moving in the wrong direction…

The end of turn one...

Washington’s War Session Report: The American Perspective, 1775

September 29, 2011

Over the next week or two John and I will be posting a session report of our recent game of Washington’s War. We decided to play-by-email (PBEM) using ACTS and VASSAL for a few reasons. First, it gave me a chance to use VASSAL. I’ve used Cyberboard in all of my other PBEM games but hadn’t tried VASSAL yet. Second, as John and I have both mentioned before, PBEM is a great chance to dive deep into a game and understand the rules. This was especially helpful for me since John has a few more plays of the game than I do. Third, we are both busy guys so getting together for a game can be tough. Playing this way allowed us to get game turns in between work, family and other obligation. Finally, it allowed us to take some notes as we played so that we could post a bit more in detail session report… so here we go!

Washington’s War: John vs. Rick
John chose the British forces and I took the Americans. I have only played as the Americans so far so I felt pretty comfortable with them.

American Initial Control Placement:
Savannah, GA
Camden, SC
Salem, NC
Richmond, VA
Frederick Town, MA
Reading, PA
Morristown, NJ
New York, NY
New Haven, CT
Falmouth, MA
Concord, NH
And RI and DE
My initial placement strategy was to put in places where the Brits would have to work to get them back. A specific example is Falmouth, MA. If John wanted to flip that he’s going to have to move somebody over there and I don’t think he would expend resources to do it. I soon realize I probably should have covered some of the ports better to prevent Brits from showing up where I don’t want them.

Year: 1775
American Hand: 3op, 2op, 1op, 1op, 1op, 1op, 1op
This hand highlights my biggest problem with this game. The deck of cards is very large because of the separation of events, end of turn, battle cards, and operation points. This means hand you are dealt each round can vary wildly. In other games you can usually do damage control with each hand, but I find this game less forgiving. But it’s early in the game so time to just start plopping down control markers.

I choose to go first and put Arnold and 3cu to Alexandria, VA, to protect the Congress from the south. Then with my 2nd card I put PC markers into Baltimore and Long Island to protect my ports. Playing my only two big cards right away my have hurt me but I wanted to start off strong. I’ll bring in my other reinforcements later when I have a better handle on what John is up to. I put down another PC marker and then John hits me with Pennsylvania and New Jersey Line Mutinies – no more PC markers this turn. I bring on Gates and 1cu to Albany to put a speed bump in the way from any northern aggression. I then move Arnold down to Norfolk, VA, to flip that at the end of the turn. John discards “Nathan Hale, American Martyr” but I can’t grab it with my remaining 1op card so I just discard it. John then is forced to play “Benjamin Franklin: Minister to France.”

The game board at the end of 1775. So far so good.

Then John points out my big mistake: I forgot that Washington is not in a Winter Quarters space so Washington is now down to 2cu. That discarded card DID have a use and I missed it. But with the French Alliance up 4 spaces I’ve got my sights set on the lone unit in Fort Detroit.

I’ll pause here and let John update you on his side of the story.

Colonists Crushed in 1777: Lessons Learned

December 27, 2010

I played what might be the shortest game of Washington’s War ever yesterday afternoon. And in an effort to make sure that my opponent and I both learn from the experience, I’ve decided to write down a few lessons learned here:

  1. Don’t throw good cards after bad: Perhaps one of us should have stopped hurling colonial troops at Boston after the first defeat. Definitely after the second battle, when Howe inflicted maximum casualties on Washington’s army. Doing “more of the same” gets troops killed in an unnecessary fashion. Final count after three assaults on Boston: Brits lose 2 troops, Americans lose 7.
  2. Armies have multiple uses: Sure we like duking it out, but that’s not really the point of the game, is it? Armies can anchor vulnerable lines of political control markers or threaten territories an opponent would have otherwise considered safe. Each army is a “force-in-being,” that is, if it is on the board, the opponent has to stress out over it a bit, and sometimes that’s enough. For example: the British landing Cornwallis in Maryland on turn one forced the Americans to defend the Congress in Philadelphia by raising an army there. Conrwallis never attacked, but slowly made his way up the coast, taking MD and DE away from American control.
  3. Act, don’t always react: Almost every move the Americans made was in response to something the British had done earlier. Had the Americans raised a force in the south, say placing a small army in Georgia, they could have taken the initiative and forced the British to do a bit of reacting. Instead, the Americans reacted to Cornwallis landing in MD by raising an army in Philly (when perhaps dispersing the Congress might have been a better long term strategy). They reacted to Carleton coming into NY by moving Gates out of RI. They reacted to Clinton landing in NY by raising more troops in MA. Sometimes such reactions are necessary. Perhaps even in two of these three situations a reaction was necessary. But certainly not in all of these cases.
  4. End a turn ready for the next turn: This is one I often have trouble with. If an army ends its turn on an enemy-controlled space, it flips to friendly control at the end of the turn. It’s basically a free PC action. This, I have found, is what wins games. Similarly, one can never be too cautious when ending a turn. Our game ended on the first card play of 1777. The British played a minor campaign, used a small force to block off Washington’s retreat, then maneuvered a large force to crush him. Result: army destroyed, Washington captured, the American player cedes the game. Had the American player moved Washington to a decent winter quarters space late in 1776, this would not have happened (too many escape routes to block).
  5. Try something new: This is what keeps me coming back to particular boardgames–the knowledge that there is always another strategy to try. I think this is particularly true in Washington’s War, where the interactions between the war and the politics offer endless possibilities. In this most recent game, the British player purposely avoided his usual strategy (which involves landing troops in the south right away and working up the coast) and tried something new (landing Cornwallis in MD). It ended up successful, though who knows if that will happen again.

Just a few thoughts after this very strange session of Washington’s War. If you want more details on the game itself, check out our Twitter feed for the play-by-play.

Not All Card Driven War Games Are Created Equal

November 8, 2010

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that not all Card Driven War Games are created equal, that they are endowed by their Designer with certain unalienable Mechanics, that among these are Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points. — That to secure these mechanics, Games are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the players, — That whenever any Form of Game becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Players to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Games , laying their foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Hand Management and Victory.

Whew! Working board games into the Declaration of Independence was getting a little tough there. But did you like the part about “Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points”? I’m quite fond of that one.

I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering Washington’s War and whether I really like it as a game. Or if I just keep playing it and saying to myself, “That was fun,” it will one day come true.

Card-driven war games seem to fall into two camps with card design. In one camp is the likes of Washington’s War and Wilderness Wars (despite overwhelming evidence, you do not need to have two words starting with W in your title to fall into this camp). In the other are the likes of Twilight Struggle and Here I Stand. In the former, card are either event cards or operations cards, we’ll call these isolated cards. In the latter, cards are both event cards and operations cards, we’ll call these combination cards.

Decks made of isolated cards usually consist of half or more operations cards. The idea being that in any given hand a player  will have enough operations cards to do something. So, even the player gets poor events or the opponents events, the turn won’t be fruitless. However, experience has shown otherwise. And memory seems to latch on to the really bad hands even if they are a small minority of all hands played.

Contrasted with combination cards, even bad hands can be managed or turned out good. Twilight Struggle uses this idea to its fullest. Opponent events must occur, but you get the operations points to manage the situation before or after the event, your choice. Cards with your event may be played for the event or the operations points.

From my play experience, I favor games with combination cards over isolated cards. I prefer the decision making and hand management that comes from combination cards. Every hand, no matter how bad, seems playable. Every hand can build on the last to create a strategy for winning. Isolated cards feel like they take that decision making power away from me. Too much is dictated on the specific hand I am dealt and strategy seems like it doesn’t last much beyond a single hand of cards.

So, will I ever like Washington’s War? I think so. I just need to adjust my play style to account for isolated cards. But, it won’t be knocking Twilight Struggle from it’s throne. And knowing that not all card driven war games are create equal will help when buying future board games.

Disagree? Like isolated cards better? Let me hear about it in the comments.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that Wilderness War may not fit in the first camp. Until I can verify my original statement, it has been struck out.

Closing Ceremonies at the Summer of Victory III

September 20, 2010

Between Memorial and Labor Day, those most American of holidays, I always make it a point to declare, “This summer is the summer of victory!” Alas, it was not so this summer. But the fates were against me, I tell you. Not only was I busy writing my master’s thesis, but my wife ended up on bedrest too as we awaited the birth of our first child. And Her Royal Cuteness came a few weeks early, roughly eight days before the summer was over. So it’s not my fault, I swear.

I’m sorry to report it was a summer of defeat, though by a relatively small margin. I played 38 games and won 17, a respectable .447 win average. I also played a nice mix of games, from Cribbage and Carcassonne to the World at War series and Washington’s War.  And there actually is a small glimmer of hope in all the number crunching. In two player games, I was 15-1-2, a phenomenal record in a wide variety of war and deep strategy games. I’m hoping this means good things when Joe returns from active duty (though he’ll probably still stomp me).

So although it wasn’t a “summer of victory” in the way I wanted, it was still an enjoyable few months of gaming. And these days, I’m learning all sorts of new tricks, including…how to game with a newborn in my arms. Awesome.

Inside the Box: Washington’s War

August 24, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Washington’s War is Mark Herman’s re-imagination of the first true card-driven wargame, We the People. It is a medium complexity war game of area control set during the American Revolution. I glimpsed the prototype at the  WBC 2009 and have been interested ever since. It retails for US $60, but can be found online for around $40 or so.

As with all of GMT Games’ recent releases, the box is sturdy and appealing, boasting a beautiful detail of John Trumbull’s Battle of Princeton. The back of the box states that the game can be played in 90 minutes, but in my experience, this would be after a few longer plays of 2-3 hours.

The box itself contains two counter sheets, a large poster-sized map, 110 cards, full-color rule and play books, two player aid cards, and two dice. In all, the production quality is very high for a war game, rivaling the components of most Euro games (minus the wooden pieces, of course).

The contents of the box.

The rulebook is slightly above average in terms of its style and layout. I always like to see a table of contents and index, and the color illustrations break up the text quite nicely. I also appreciate the section defining terms. However, some of the section placement seems odd. For instance, there is a whole section on movement which talks a lot about moving into battle, then there’s a break for how to place reinforcements on the board, which is then followed by those battles that were talked about earlier. Here I Stand is my gold standard for a rulebook with its easy to reference bullet-pointed procedures, and Washington’s War isn’t quite up to the task. There are a few mechanics that have different rules for the Americans and British, and it would have been nice to see a summary table of the differences between the two sides and ditto for the player aid cards. Also, there are several exceptions buried in the rules which did not make their way onto the final map, and a small reminder box would be very helpful.

The playbook is excellent, and it comes with a lengthy example of play, two pages of strategy tips, and two pages of design notes. What I like about the example of play is that it shows a few blunders on the part of the players, and this represents a real departure from the latest Twilight Struggle playbook, which shows two world champions duking it out. The player aid cards are also in color, and help out with the combat, but still don’t contain the key differences between the two sides. (I’d suggest Major Sholto’s Player Aid instead, which quickly summarizes the differences.)

The 110 cards are usual GMT fare–rather thick and glossy, with some nice period artwork. The layout is reminiscent of  We the People and Wilderness War, and they aren’t as clean as Here I Stand. I’d recommend putting these in card sleeves as soon as possible. The cardboard counters are of very high quality. Generals have nice portraits with detail and depth, and the round army counters are bright without being garish. My bad eyes have no trouble distinguishing any of the counters at a glance. There was one misprint; some of the square colony control markers weren’t printed correctly, which means you’ll have to use extra hexagonal ones. This is a small gripe, but with such low counter density, I’m not sure how that one made it through the final editing process.

One of the two countersheets. Dig that French navy!

The map itself is very thick with a nice black border running around it. I’d say the board is on par with Power Grid or several over Euro games. It’s beautifully done, and it feels like you’re looking at a quality color map out of an encyclopedia or textbook. The artists avoided putting similar colors next to each other, and it doesn’t feel too busy like the Wilderness War map. I think the low counter density helps a lot too; you can just sit and admire the map, and unlike a lot of earlier GMT games, this will definitely get people’s attention if you’re playing in public.

Overall, I am very impressed with the artwork and production value of Washington’s War. Upon opening the box,  most people will think, “Wow, I got my 40-60 bucks worth here.” Hopefully this is just another sign of where GMT is headed with all their future games!