Thursday, December 30, 2010

Washington wins his war - again

As promised last week, on the table this time was Washington's War (BGG entry) from GMT, a remake of the old Avalon Hill game, We The People (BGG entry). I'd never played the original before, but had played WW once with Chris B, but it was far enough back that I don't recall a huge deal about it. I think I played the Americans, and I recorded that Chris won, but that's about it.

Looking at the game itself first, like C&C:Nappy from last week, it's a great production. A sumptuous hard board worthy of any Euro game, a good deck of cards and some colorful pieces. There are two sets of counters provided for the generals - large ones that fit in the provided stands, and smaller ones like more traditional war-game counters. More pieces for the combat strength points (CUs) and double sided Political Control (PC) markers. There are also some area control markers, some of which were printed with the same nationality on both sides of the counter, which means that you can't correctly mark control of the areas if one side gets more than 8 areas. Replacement counters were provided in their magazine, C3i, but they're of the smaller 1/2" size. OK, that's a minor issue, but still a trifle annoying. All well and good so far, then, but how does it play?

Let's start with a brief overview of the basic mechanisms for those of you unfamiliar with this CDG. The map features 14 Areas (the 13 Colonies plus Canada), with each area containing a number of Spaces. These Spaces are connected by lines which allow movement between the Spaces. There are three types of cards; Event cards; Battle cards; and Operation Cards (Ops), which have a number from 1-3. Each player is dealt a hand of 7 at the start of each game turn, and they take turns to play an Ops or Event card, with the American player deciding who plays first (unless the British player has a Campaign Event card, and chooses to reveal it). In CDG terms it's closer to Unhappy King Charles (BGG entry) than WW2: Barbarossa to Berlin (BGG entry), where the cards have both Ops and Events, and you choose to use one or the other.

An Event card allows the player to take a special action as detailed on the cards, which may allow the placement or removal of one or more Political Control (PC) markers, or other special event to occur, including activating multiple generals in a play (Campaign). These are separated by nationality, and getting a hand of your opponent's event cards is not good as they can only be used for very limited actions.

An Ops card allows you to do one of several things; place PC markers; take reinforcements; or move a general/army. The first are used to take control of Spaces, with each of the 13 Colonies (plus Canada) having a varying number of Spaces. The player with the most controlled Spaces has control of the Colony. What's interesting here is that the placement rules are asymmetrical, with the British player needing to place PC markers adjacent to an existing PC, but the American player can place them in any empty Space. Both players may place a PC marker in a Space occupied by a friendly army, removing any opposing PC marker.

Reinforcements are also asymmetrical. The British player gets a varying number of CUs by game turn (listed on the game turn track, e.g. 3 in GT1, 8 in GT2, 1 in GT3), but they are placed in a Reinforcement box, and once during the game turn may move any number of CUs from the box to a port, along with a general. Do do this, however, the player must play an Ops card of any value. The American player, however, can receive reinforcements up to twice per turn, again paying an Ops card to do so, but receives CUs to the value of the Ops card each time, and they can be placed in any single space not containing a British playing piece. A general may also be placed at the same time.

Finally, the Ops card may be used to activate a general, but the Ops card value must be equal to or higher than the general's Strategy Rating. Most of the American generals have a value of 1, so any Ops card can be used, but most of the British generals have a 3 rating so they are harder to get moving.

Battles are fairly abstracted, and occur when an army moves into the Space occupied by an opposing army. The Americans may attempt to intercept a British army moving into an adjacent Space, as well as evade combat, at the cost of retreating and giving up the Space. If a battle does occur, each side calculates their strength - the number of CUs, plus modifiers for control of the Colony (militia), if it's a port Space (for the British player - British Navy intervention), British regulars, and play of a Battle card - which gives a +2. There is also a modifier for the Battle Rating of the general (which are from 1-6), but the actual rating may be either full or half, depending on a die roll for that battle (1-3 = half; 4-6=full), but may never be more than the number of CUs in the army. To this total is added a d6 die roll for each side, and the player with the higher grand total wins the battle. The loser of the battle has to retreat one space, and loses a variable number of CUs (1-3=1; 4-5=2; 6=3), and the winner may lose a CU based on the Agility Rating of the opposing general and a die roll (AR3:1-4; AR2:1-3; AR1:1-2). Battles are the biggest change from the original version of the game, which used battle cards in the same manner as Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage (BGG entry).

The end of each turn has a supply/attrition phase, where isolated PC markers are removed, each British army north of the wintering line loses half its CUs if not in a wintering space, and all American armies lose a CU (except for any army with Washington). The French may also come in on the side of the Americans.

The game ends at the end of the ninth turn (1783), unless a special Event card is played, which makes the game end earlier, representing the fall of the British government. There are 5 such cards in the game, and they have to be played as events, they may not be discarded, and they cause the game to end either in 1779, 1780, 1781, 1782, or 1783, i.e the game may be as short as 5 turns or run as long as the full 9 turns. Having a majority of the spaces in a Colony gives the player control of the Colony, and the winner is the player with control of the most Colonies.

In our game my opening hand consisted of 2 2Ops cards, a 1Ops card, a British Event card, 2 American Event cards, and an American Battle card. Not exactly a great starting hand. Eric opened by using Washington to attack my single general on the map, Howe. With both armies having 5CUs, he gained the advantage with a full Battle Rating to my half, and the die rolls gave him the battle win. To exacerbate the result, my roll caused 2CU losses, but despite facing Howe's 3 Agility Rating he did not suffer any CU losses.

This gave me 3 problems; Howe is now in a non-wintering space, so will suffer attrition in the winter; as Howe has a Strategy Rating of 3, I have no Ops cards to activate him with; and I'm at risk from Washington attacking again and totally eliminating Howe. If I reinforce Howe with my 3CUs available in the reinforcement box I'll probably persuade Washington not to attack, but I'm going to lose half of them to winter attrition. In the end I choose to place PC markers in the south, taking away the American control. We jockey back and fore for control for the rest of the turn, and I use the 1Ops card to bring in an army in the south, and I lose 1CU from Howe from attrition in the wintering phase.

The second turn sees the British get 8CUs in reinforcements, and with a pair of 3Ops cards in hand I use my one reinforcement action to boost Howe with a 1Ops card. I then try to hunt down an American army, but he successfully evades (required 1-4 on d6). At this point I make a really stupid mistake, using my other 3Ops card to place PC markers, forgetting that Howe is still on a non-wintering space, so he loses another 2CUs to attrition at the end of the turn.

In the third turn Eric chooses to move first before I can get Howe out of harm's way, and pounds him good. I place a new army in New York Colony to try to cause a diversion, but Eric isn't falling for it, and over the two actions Howe's lost his army and is removed from the board. He then moves to block my army I just placed, while I can to little but place PC markers and actually gain control of a couple more Colonies. We'd missed placing the extra cards (the Declaration of Independence and Benjamin Franklin) into the deck on the second turn so shuffled them at the start of this turn, and Eric immediately draws both of them. The former allows him to place a PC marker in each Colony, swinging the balance to him. (I think that put it at 7-6 Colonies in his favor.), and the latter moves the French intervention marker 4 spaces up the track. (There are 10 spaces on the track, and it moves forward for each battle won by the Americans.) With all the battles I'd lost this was enough to have French intervention at the end of the turn.

However, I also had drawn one of the Special Event cards that indicates the fall of the British government in 1780, which shortens the game by 3 turns. Even worse, Eric had drawn the card that ends the game in 1779, meaning that the game will end in the earliest possible turn and there are only 2 more turns to play, unless another Special Event card is drawn.

The fourth turn sees me draw another four American Event Cards, a 3Ops, a 2Ops, and a 1Ops card, and I know the game is over for me, barring some sort of miracle. That ain't happening as Eric draws a full hand of Ops cards, and his armies go a-hunting. With the board almost full of PC markers, and with the limitations on the placement of PC markers for the British, the Event cards are useless to me, and I have to watch as Eric takes control of Colony after Colony. Indeed, even my last 2Ops card is played as a discard, as I am unable to do anything with it.

At the start of the final turn Eric is up 9-4 on Colonies, with one undecided, and way more CUs on the board. Neither of us draws any Special Event cards, and although I gain a Colony in the North, I lose the one in the south when Eric pounds my army there in a continual wave of attacks, as although I win the first battle (the first time in the game) we both lose a single CU. He also takes the undecided Colony to run out a solid 10-4 winner.

Here's the ending position:

We only missed two things in our game:

  • two extra Event cards are added to the deck at the start of the second turn - we added them at the start of the third turn
  • the British CU in the NW of the map isn't on a wintering space, and should have been rolling for attrition each turn

However, I missed several rules that might have helped me:

  • after playing a Battle card you draw a replacement (I missed that only once, but it meant that Eric had 2 plays at the end of the second turn when I had no cards in hand)
  • you can play an opponent's Event card in a battle for a +1 modifier, but don't draw a replacement card (this would have helped me in the first two turns)
  • there are overruns of weak forces - I left 1CU in the north, thinking that it would block him, but needed more, which I did have available
  • you can create a queue of Ops card play to activate a general - this would have allowed me to activate Howe in the first turn, although I'm not sure what I could have done with him that was useful, and it uses up 2 actions
  • discarding an Event Card allows the removal of an American PC marker adjacent to a British PC marker (I would have expected this to be included in the list of available 'PC Actions' for discarding an opponent's Event card)
  • ports are considered adjacent to each other for the British player - this means that all my discards for no use could have been used to place British PC markers, and, when combined with the above, to remove American PC markers

Pretty much everything in the game went wrong for me. From the die rolls to the card draws. Going back and looking at the deck, there are 12 Event cards each, 4 British Battle cards to 5 American, 2 Mandatory Events, 5 game end Special Events, and 4 Campaign Event cards (3 Minor, 1 Major), leaving 66 Ops cards (22 of each value). From my draws, I think this one is another statistical outlier, so I'm not going to hold too much over it.

WW is certainly at the simpler end of the CDG scale in my view. Unlike Twilight Struggle (BGG entry) or Labyrinth (BGG entry), there is less in the cards themselves, and you don't need to be aware of potential 'killer' combos, it's more in the Ops.

I really enjoy playing this one, as I do Unhappy King Charles, and all the CDGs, really. It's certainly a very interesting game, and I like the options available, the jockeying for position of the PC markers, the maneuvering of the armies. Every card play feels important.

Another great point is the game length. We finished in just around 2 hours, but really only played half a game, so it could run up to ~4 hours, likely less, but it easily plays in an evening. Knowing the rules better, I'd really like to take another swing at it. If you're thinking of trying a CDG I think this is a great starting choice.

Next up, after a week's break, is Fury in the East (BGG entry) from MMP, a one-map WW2 East Front game that gets gets good buzz. I'm looking forward to that one.


Dug said...

I think you don't roll for single CUs for Winter Attrition. At least you didn't in the original game.

FYI, I've played this one quite a bit and I can say that the game rarely ends in 1783. I've seen it get to 1782, but never all the way. Too may Lord North cards that come up.

Eric said...

We actually ended up playing this correct by accident. Solitary British CUs do not suffer Winter Attrition. They hang around. Single American CUs without an accompanying general have a 50/50 die roll for Winter Attrition.