Thursday, December 30, 2010

Valley Forge wasn't needed this time

Most categories of wargames can point to a single game that started them off. For block wargames, for example, you can point to either L'attaque or Napoleon as being the starting points. For hex-n-counter, many point to Tactics as the originator.

For card-driven wargames, there's a clear start: We the People. Published by Avalon Hill in 1994, Mark Herman's design paved new ground for what was possible in a wargame. Looking back on it now, it is still the simplest game in the genre (maybe... 1960's rather simple as well) and holds up pretty well given how different it was at the time.

That said, availability of We the People is a bit lacking. Herman had wanted to reprint it. As Hasbro now owns the rights, it appears the negotiations weren't going well. So, Herman re-designed it as Washington's War. He tweaked a few things (not many) from the original to the new release. Here's the differences:

  • Battle cards are gone. You used to play cards from your hand to resolve battles. That mechanic – which I hated – is now gone in favor of a contested die roll with modifiers.

  • You can now discard opponent events during a battle for a modifier.

  • If your opponent plays one of your events for any purpose other than discarding, you can swap an Ops card for it to play the event later in the turn.

  • An overrun rule was added that keeps 1-strength armies from being an overly strong blockade.

And that's really about it. If you know how to play We the People, you know how to play this. A quick run-through on the rules should be all you need. That said, I'd only played WtP a couple times, and not for many years.

Things to watch for if you're playing for the first time:

  • Take care about winter quarters

  • Watch for political isolation

  • The Brits get a LOT of positive combat modifiers

I randomly drew the Americans, and off we went.

Early in the first turn, Mike attacked Washington's forces with Howe, trying to take advantage of those early British modifiers. Combat in the late 18th century was a bit of an unknown affair. You never knew how well your forces (or commander) for that matter would perform. To sort of simulate this, one of the first things you do is roll for commander effectiveness. It's a 50/50 roll that if you fail cuts your commander's rating in half. Mike failed his roll on this first attack while I passed mine. This effectively eliminated the British DRM advantage and made the combat essentially a toss up. I won it, forced him to retreat, then pressed the advantage before he could reinforce.

From that point forward in the game, I held a military advantage. My cards matched well with what I was trying to do, Mike's did not. I think I only drew three British events the entire game, Mike had four American events in a single turn.

Mike did a pretty good job early on forcing the political control. I think he had 8 colonies at one point. Turned out after the fact he really didn't have much of a choice due to his card draws. Turns 3 and 4 saw me methodically reducing that advantage.

Between winning battles and events (including getting Benjamin Franklin into play pretty early on) I was able to get the French into the conflict in the fourth turn (1778).

We drew a 1779 “Government Falls” card in the second turn or so, and the way I was able to keep Mike on his heels meant the French helped lay the coup-de-grace early that year. When we hit the end of 1779, I think I had 9 colonies, Mike had 4 (including Canada), and one was drawn. It was a pretty significant victory for the Americans.

I had evicted Mike from the South, and he didn't have much left in the way of forces in the North. Even without a government falls card, it was going to be very hard for him to recover.

My thoughts on the game?

Production quality is good. Mounted board, thick cards, attractive (standard GMT) counters. It played very cleanly. We only had a few questions, and they were all handled by the rulebook. The game doesn't break any new ground, really, but it wasn't meant to. It was meant to be a refresh of a game that broke a whole lot of ground when it came out. And it does that very well.


If you're looking for a good, simple 2-hour CDG, this is it. It is the wargaming equivalent of an appetizer, though, so if you're looking for something a bit more substantial, you might want to temper your expectations. But appetizers are usually pretty tasty, and this is as well. It's one I'm happy to have in my library.

We're taking the week between Christmas and New Years off as I've got family coming to town. Our next game up will be Fury in the East from the MMP 2010 Operations Special Issue. More East Front goodness.

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