French and Indian War: Building Fort Necessity in 28mm

Twenty-three years ago I found myself interning for a summer in southwestern Pennsylvania. While researching and writing National Register of Historic Places historic district nominations for three towns along Route 40 (The National Road) I found myself driving past Fort Necessity National Battlefield countless times. I wound up visiting and revisiting the site numerous times that summer, and I was fortunate to return to the site a couple summers ago (photo from that visit above).

Fort Necessity holds a particular place in my heart as a site marking a military loss and a long-misinterpreted oddball fortification. This is American history at its small and messy best. And so, with a big current interest in modeling and wargaming the French and Indian War at the 28mm scale, I needed to build Fort Necessity.

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Mid-20th-century archeology formed the basis for my fort

In building my fort in 28mm, I relied heavily on the historic and archeological work from J.C. Harrington’s New Light On Washington’s Fort Necessity. The report is available for free and makes for some fairly detailed reading on the campaign leading up to the construction of the stockade and battle. The Battle of Fort Necessity on July 3, 1754 is notable for being a foundational experience for a young George Washington commanding British Colonial forces. The defense in an open field was accomplished with a simple “Fort of Necessity” of split upright logs and a small central storage building. The battle was overly one-sided with the French Canadians and their Indian allies dealing a loss to Washington. The hastily-built stockade, having served its one-time purpose, was burned to the ground at a later date.

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Scale drawing of the fort as based on archeology of the 1950s

From there, the site passed through a number of unremarkable ownerships over the centuries until the National Park Service took over the site in 1933. First-hand accounts and contemporaneous documentation of the battle site and fort is minimal. The NPS recreated a fort in a vaguely diamond-shape, erroneously interpreting the remains of earthen ramparts as firing steps inside the stockade. Subsequent investigations of the site in the late 1950s revealed a round shape for the stockade, and the NPS built a new version of the fort in the 1970s. Visitors to the site today see the fort in a much closer approximation to what the original must have been like some 260 years ago.

Timbers were split lengthwise with the flat side pointed outward. This is thought to have been done largely as a time saver as only half the number of trees had to be felled when building the fort. Live musket tests at the site in the video above demonstrate how little protection the logs would have provided with hundreds of French and Indians firing from the surrounding woods. Standing in the stockade under fire would have been a mix of smoke, splinters and metal ripping through the air.

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Scaled drawings for the fort construction

I used the scale drawings from the report to create a scaled building plan. With the fort estimated at 53′ in diameter, I converted the size to about 12″ in diameter for the model. Going on my own visits to the site, I estimated the palisade height at about 7 1/2′ which I scaled to about 1 1/2″ for the cut timbers. Finally, the small storage house at the center of the fort of about 14′ square in real life was scaled to a 3″ square model size.

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Twigs being cut and split into scale timbers

With all this research and inspiration in my head, I spent a sunny afternoon collecting fallen twigs in a nearby park. I cut selected twigs into 1 1/2″ pieces and split them lengthwise with a sharp knife. Once cut and split, one end of each was clipped to a point using small hobby cutters.

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The stockade goes up six inches at a time

The base of the fort consisted of a rigid plastic circle I found discarded on the street. Using a pencil, I traced the outline of a 12″ circle toward the outer edge of the base. Working about six inches at a time, I applied a heavy bead of construction adhesive along the line and stuck my cut timbers side by side in the glue.

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Superglue adds strength to the wall

Although the adhesive eventually dries very hard, it does cure a bit slowly. This allowed me to wiggle and straighten the wall pieces as I went along. When a section began to firm up, I spread a small amount of superglue between each timber. Once dry, the whole wall was nice and rigid. I continued this process around the whole fort, leaving a 1 1/2″ gap for the door with a solid round timber on each side.

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Woodworker’s putty forms the ground around the stockade

As sections of the wall were completed, I filled in the ground. I used woodworkers putty to slope up gently to the wall on either side and cover the bead of adhesive holding the wall in place. I made sure to maintain an irregular texture with the putty to add some realism to the ground surrounding the fort.

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The full fort built and ready for some ground cover

When dry, I covered the ground in a thick layer of brown paint and ground cover. I left the gate area muddy, dry-brushing some lighter browns over the dark basecoat. With everything dry, I soaked the whole fort in some heavy coats of sprayed matte finish.

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The door comes together using more split timbers

For the stockade door, I split small timbers into boards flat on both sides. Cross pieces on the back held the boards together, and a final bead of superglue between each board firmed the door up. To make the door functional, I cut two small pieces of leathery cloth into thin hinges and glued them to the door and a round post to one side.

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Logs are glued up on the cardboard base

For the small interior storage building, I began with thin cardboard cut to 3″ on a side and tapering from 1 1/2″ at the front to 1″ at the back. A small door opening 1″ across was cut at the front.

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The log walls are completed

The building’s walls were made inside and out with logs glued over one another. I cut alternating lengths to provide joint overlaps at the corners to approximate actual speculated construction of the period.

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The roof is laid out and completed

For the removable roof, another piece of cardboard cut about 3 1/2″ square was laid on top. Beams were laid out and then the roof was covered with roughly cut thin pieces of leather to represent skins used to cover the roof. Finally, a few random poles were glued on top to hold everything in place.

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Colonel George Washington inspects the completed Fort Necessity

With the build completed over just a couple days, I had a fairly good model of Fort Necessity built at a 28mm tabletop wargaming scale. My plan is to use the new model in a recreation of the battle at the upcoming Fire In The East NJ Con this coming June. I’ll have another post on the scenario as I playtest it in the coming month.

French and Indian War: British Regular Infantry from Blue Moon Manufacturing

 

In continuing to build out my collection of  British Redcoats for the French and Indian War, I’ve turned to Blue Moon Manufacturing — an old standard in wargaming miniatures.

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Blue Moon produces a tight selection of metal 28mm figures in a line called “Drums In The Ohio Valley.” I picked up a box of 30 marching British which includes two commanders, two NCOs, four flag bearers, two drummers and 20 soldiers marching at shoulder arms. The officers all come resting with pole arms, something commonly found in FIW miniatures but little seen in the wooded areas of battle of the period. Four flag bearers were twice as many as I needed and the drummers are nice to have but not necessary at the skirmish scale and rulesets I play. I set these figures aside for another day and turned to the many body of troops.

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Since these models are going to be sharing the table with my other British from Conquest Miniatures sold by Warlord Games, I made some immediate comparisons in casting and scales. The Conquest figures tend to be a bit thin and lean toward 25mm. The chunkier Blue Moon miniatures are a full 28mm and more heroic in scale. My Virginia Provincials from Galloping Major scale more equally with these Blue Moon models.

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Thick base (right) filed to a thinner height (left)

A main factor in driving the size differential among manufacturers is that the Blue Moon British stand overly tall on thick bases. I had been forewarned of this but I was pretty surprised at how this little extra amount of metal made the size noticeably different. With some tedious cutting and filing, I brought them down a bit in height to be a bit more in line with the height of the Conquest models.

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Brass rod inserted as a flag pole

The flag bearers also required some small brass rod to be cut and inserted through holes I drilled through their hands. This gave me the excuse to acquire a pin vise drill, a long overdue addition to my hobby kit. In all, there was a lot of prep work on the Blue Moon figures before I could start any painting.

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My painting area swarming with British being prepped for painting

The Blue Moon line of figures fits exactly with my focus for the war. I’m painting all my British soldiers of the period to represent the 44th Regiment of Foot mostly for their presence in the Ohio Country, specifically in the Braddock Expedition and the Battle of the Monongahela.

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Based and ready for priming

After basing the models on washers, filling the bases with rough wood filler and spraying a black primer coat, I blocked in the colors. I didn’t get carried away on exact colors, relying on a basic red for the coats, waistcoats and pants, basic yellow for the facings and a brown buff for the leggings.

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Coats and leggings blocked in starting on hat trim

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Details begun on the lapels, turn backs and cuffs

The cuffs were done in two steps, first with a thick bright white stripe and then finished with a thin line of yellow. With a fine brush, white details were added on the basic black tricorn hats and on trim to the waistcoats and lapels.

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Equipment straps and white uniform detail progressing

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Most colors blocked in and just needing some final details, clean-up and shading

Details were finished off with the same brown buff on stripes and belts, a basic brown to the guns and metal to finish off the guns, bayonets and officer swords. Finally, flesh and eyes were painted. Exposed skin and the leather leggings and straps got a careful light coat of brown wash to finish the painting. I had leftover flag photocopies from my previous British so my standards would all blend together nicely. Finally, the bases were covered with my favorite groundcover – Green Adirondack from Scenic Express.

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French and Indian War: Compagnie Franches de la Marine from Conquest Miniatures

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By the time open conflict between French and British forces erupted in the French and Indian War in 1754, the French were well experienced with the challenges posed by the North American wilderness. In varying forms, the Compagnies Franches de la Marine made up the majority of the defenders of the colonies of New France for about 100 years. Operating from Canada, their skill in adaptive combat made them ubiquitous in engagements large and small throughout the FIW, including the Battle of the Monongahela, the Siege of Fort William Henry, Battle of Snowshoes and the Battle of Fort Carillion.

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WarlordlogoWarlord Games offers a boxed set of Compagnies Franches de la Marine featuring twenty metal models from Conquest Miniatures. Conquest’s castings tend to be on the smaller side of 28mm scale — a bit closer to 25mm in my experience. That said, I’ve found my experience with their various FIW ranges to be excellent and full of detail. This set of one officer and nineteen soldiers armed with muskets is a fantastic way to get a couple units on the table usable in a variety of scenarios throughout the FIW.

Work in progress of the Conquest miniatures Compagnies Franches de la Marine boxed set from Warlord Games

Uniforms for the Compagnies Franches de la Marine were officially quite similar to regular French troops with white jackets with blue cuffs and turnbacks, blue waistcoats, blue breeches and white trousers, all topped with a yellow-laced tricorne hat. More commonly the irregular nature of these units assignments in the field led to more adaptive uniforms and gear. Slouched  blue and white forage hats, loose shirts, leather leggings and colorful sashes were used in a combination of looks. Daggers, hatchets and short swords filled provided practical frontier weaponry. Bags, satchels and jewelry — often traded with close Indian allies — allowed individual French soldiers to individually kit themselves out as they saw fit.

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The lack of formal uniforms in these soldiers makes for a lot of the fun in painting them. Using my imagination allowed me to field a model who could be used as a scout dressed in a long fringed leather buckskin coat (above, left). The included officer model (above, right) maintains his more formal appearance with his tricorne hat and dress uniform while gesturing a command with his left hand and leaning on his musket with the right.

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The remainder of the models each carry a unique poses of their own, making these Frenchmen pleasure to paint and a nice break in the action from the regular 18th-century uniforms so present during the FIW and on the gaming table.

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French and Indian War: Woodland Indians from Conquest Miniatures

After facing my fear of painting all the details on my first 18th-century British Redcoats, I turned next to North American Indians and another challenge – painting lots of flesh. Getting Indians in the mix with my French and Indian War gaming project was key, and my focus on the era of the Braddock Expedition and the Battle of the Monongahela meant I was going to need lots of Indians. In addition and since both the British and the French allied with different tribes throughout the war, I was going to need a fair amount of variety from the figures I chose.

 

As I entered into modelling my first North American Indians of the 18th-century, I went to two books. Jill Lepore’s The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity (1998) focuses on how warfare in New England in the 1670s shaped the mindsets of European settlers as well the native people they encountered. In a follow-up of sorts, Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America (2007) by Peter Silver picks up this thread in the Mid-Atlantic colonies of the 1700s as multiple nationalities and ethnicities of Europeans again ran up against a population of natives set on halting the expansion of these new arrivals. Both books are remarkable and still ring as relevant to this day as fear and violence remain a cultural and poltical driver as we Americans continue to grapple with new cultures of people looking to share space.

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With a bit of reading under my belt, I was fortunate to have a fellow member at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY who had piles of extra Indians from Conquest Miniatures sitting in a box. These metal cast models are now carried by Warlord Games in both boxed sets like the Woodland Indian War Party and in smaller packages. From my friend’s stash and without duplicating poses, I was able to pull out a couple dozen different models to build my initial Indian force. The models show a lot of unique personality and equipment with both traditional weapons (bows, war clubs, knives and hatchets) and European guns. The mode of dress also varies, with some figures wearing only the minimum of a loincloth and leggings while others are in long-sleeved shirts.
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My first Indians get their base flesh coat
As per my usual process at this scale, all the metal was cleaned up, the figures were based on washers and the bases were filled in roughly with wood putty. After a black spray coat, the first challenge was in finding a proper flesh tone to represent Native woodland Indians of northeastern North America. I read a lot online debate on how to capture the skin tone of a varied people, so I settled on a two-part process of my own.
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A second lighter flesh coat is added
Over the black primer I applied a first coat to exposed skin areas using a 50/50 mix of red and dark brown paints. As the paint was drying, I immediately noticed the skin was a good dark color but translating as overly red even at arm’s length. In order to preserve the richness of the color while also tempering the bright redness, I gently dry brushed a coat of light brown over all the skin areas again. Once dried a second time, I felt I had a fairly decent tabletop rendition of skin tone capturing the creases, shadows and shape of the bared muscles without tipping into caricature.
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Details in equipment and clothing begin to be blocked out
As opposed to the sameness of European uniforms of the FIW period, the real fun in painting these Indian models is in the imagination that can be put into them. Not surprisingly, there’s not much of a detailed historic visual record of exact modes of dress for Native Americans of this period. With that, I let my creativity reign. Most leggings, loincloths and satchels got a basic leather brown color with fringe highlighted in slightly lighter brown. Jewelry such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets got a mix of metallic and red, blue or green colors to represent precious stones or trade beads.
Since decoration was very prominent with most tribes of the Northeast, all bags, leggings, belts and other gear got a mix of geometric patterns applied to represent this native craftsmanship. Detail also extended to some of the flesh on the models, with most receiving body paints or tattoos in red, dark blue, black and white. In the end some of the figures wound up with their arms, heads or even entire torsos covered in paint.
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Painted models are finished off in a woodland-like basing mix
While half the models carried the look of their native cultures, the other models sported more European-style clothing with long shirts, blankets and leggings, all of which were done in various colors. I especially liked one figure who seems to be striding along proudly wearing a captured British red coat. With everything painted, the bases were finished with Green Adirondack ground cover from Scenic Express.
My first two dozen completed Indians wound up dividing nicely into two groups of twelve. This will make them easier to identify as diffrent units on the same side or different tribes altogther choosing to swing their aliance to the opposing British and French.
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French and Indian War: British Regular Infantry from Conquest Miniatures

French Indian War 1754-1763: British Regular Infantry boxed set

I’m a longtime miniatures painter in multiple scales and periods, but the 18th-century has always intimidated me. Large masses of European troops standing in lines, a sameness of pose and uniform bedecked with multicolored facings and detail all seemed a bit much. And if I was going to be playing the French and Indian War I was going to need British Redcoats – lots of British Redcoats.

I turned to a couple books to stoke my interest I turned to a couple books focused on my soon-to-be subjects. An old standby in the hobby is Osprey Publishing, and I picked up a copy of 1996’s British Redcoat, 1740-93 by Stuart Reid. While good for a few detailed illustrations by Richard Hook, the slim volume also gives a solid intro into the recruitment, training and life of a British soldier of the period. My interest piqued, I dove deeper into the topic with Stephen Brumwell’s Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763 from 2002. The book is scholarly yet very readable, and Brumwell goes a long way in smashing common myths about English soldiering during the FIW.

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With inspiration fired, I picked my first set of metal figures in the British Regular Infantry box offered by Warlord Games. Made from castings by Conquest Miniatures, the box comes with a nice selection of 18 models: four men firing, eight marching aggressively forward and a six-man command group including two flag bearers, a drummer, two junior officers and a commander.

I decided to paint my first British soldiers of the period to represent the 44th Regiment of Foot due to their role in the Braddock Expedition, the Battle of the Monongahela and other major engagements of the FIW. For my first time painting facings, I also thought the bright yellow against the red of the 44th Foot would also pop nicely on the table.

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My first test redcoat with basic colors blocked in

After basing the models on washers, filling the bases with rough wood filler and spraying a black primer coat, I blocked in the colors. I didn’t get carried away on exact colors, relying on a basic red for the coats, waistcoats and pants, basic yellow for the facings and a brown buff for the leggings. The cuffs were done in two steps, first with a bright white and then finished with a thin line of yellow. With a fine brush, white details were added on the basic black tricorn hats and on trim to the waistcoats and lapels.

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Halfway through my first batch of British Redcoats

Details were finished off with the same brown buff on stripes and belts, a basic brown to the guns and metal to finish off the guns, bayonets and officer swords. Finally, flesh and eyes were painted. Exposed skin and the leather leggings and straps got a careful light coat of brown wash to finish the painting. Flags were made by photocopying those included in the Warlord box, the bases were covered in my new favorite groundcover – Green Adirondack from Scenic Express.

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Boardgames of the French and Indian War

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To understand the founding of the United States, you have to understand the American Revolution, and to understand the American Revolution, you need to understand the French and Indian War. As I’ve learned more about these wars in my adult life, I’m increasingly surprised the FIW gets such short shrift in American education and the general cultural conversations of the country’s history.

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Major campaigns and battles of the French and Indian War, 1754-1763

As I’ve written about previously, I’ve spent a lot of time touring many sites where the French and British vied for control of the continent in the mid-18th-century. In that era the French held much of the country west and north of the Alleghenies while the British possessed the eastern regions of the coast. As an extension of the Seven Years War in Europe and around the globe, the French and British empires fought over territory in America during the FIW and pulled numerous native Indian tribes into complicated alliances along the way. The clash of cultures and motives among Europeans and native peoples carried ripple effects for years to come and old grudges from the period led directly to the American Revolution some two decades later.

FIWBooksSome of my recent reading on the French and Indian War

My time spent touring various sites around the company has been supplemented by a stack of books. Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War (2001) weighs in at over 900 pages and provides a super comprehensive treatment of the war in depth. The French and Indian War (2006) by Walter Borneman provides a similar overview with detail stripped way back into a more historical narrative. For a focus on how Indian peoples shaped the 18th-century European settlement and wars for the continent, Peter Silver’s Our Savage Neighbors (2007) gives some fantastic insights which are usually breezed over in most histories. Finally, I’ve recently picked up a copy of Braddock’s Defeat (2015) by David Preston. This book provides a great bridge story on how a key campaign on the western frontier of Pennsylvania in 1755 echoed through the events of the FIW into the American Revolution and history beyond.

With many miles traveled and pages read, getting to play boardgames of the FIW — both tactically and strategically — has provided me the opportunity to roll up my sleeves and experience the wilderness roads, forts, settlements and battlefields of this fascinating period.

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Wilderness War (GMT Games)

My longtime favorite of FIW games is GMT’s Wilderness War from 2001. Designed by Volko Ruhnke, WW is not only the standout game of the period but also ranks among the best of modern wargames depicting any period. The game’s gorgeous hardbound game board defines the game as the war was fought amid the geography of the Northeast with point-to-point connections between major landmarks, cities, settlements and forts.

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Sample strategy cards from GMT’s Wilderness War

Strategy cards featuring both abstracted military actions like recruiting troops and militia, building siege works or conducting campaigns and period-specific events and personalities drive the game. Alternatively cards are played for points to activate leaders, forces stacked with a leader or individual units. Points may also be spent to construct stockades and forts to defend against attack a provide a safe haven during wintering periods.

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Wilderness War by GMT Games

For me, the three key strategies to WW are in defending the important interior frontier, remaining exceedingly mindful of troop positions as winter seasons approach and playing a long game of carefully-planned campaigns. All of these factors are incredibly well factored into a game which balances abstraction with historic events, all of which can be experienced with a solid few hours of play.

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The French and Indian War (Decision Games)

For another grand strategic experience of the FIW, Strategy & Tactics magazine issue #231 from Nov/Dec 2005 by Decision Games offers up a full campaign level game with The French and Indian War. Traditional wargamers will feel right at home with this hefty game although it does offer some unique elements.

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S&T’s FIW map and counters organized in tray

Right off the bat, experienced gamers will notice a departure with the game map laid out on a square grid instead of the more typical hex style. Past the square grid, the map itself is gorgeous with well-delineated terrain, clear colonial control boundaries and abstracted French and British home country holding areas across the Atlantic in Europe. Charts and tables for terrain effects, supply points, balance of power and colonial control displayed right around the board. The tiny cardboard playing chits likewise feature some simple and colorful art clearly differentiating units types and nationalities. In all, there’s a lot to love visually in this magazine game.

Gameplay goes a long way toward representing the build up of tensions and eventual outbreak of war between the French and British in North America. Yearly turns between 1758 and 1762 are split into four seasons each, and the results of battles occupation of cities and towns shifts the Balance of Power track which drives income, initiative, random events and negotiating strength. The relatively weak and poor British at the start of the game quickly gain strength as the Seven Years War breaks out and men, money and ships begin to arrive from Europe. For the French, they have to take some early victories and then hold key cities like Quebec through the late game. Victory in one of the three included scenarios is determined by a straight points system accumulated during the game largely by capturing cities and settlements.

Aside from the game rules themselves, the magazine holds over 20 pages of background on the FIW, major battles and quick bios on some of the conflict’s major personalities. This plus some nice maps and a short bibliography makes for a great package for those wanting a relatively comprehensive experience of the war. Being a magazine game, there are a couple discrepancies in the rules here and there, but the design and heft of the game is entirely satisfying.

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Hold The Line: French and Indian War (Worthington Publishing)

The 2008 French and Indian War Expansion Set for the popular Hold The Line series by Worthington Publishing downshifts into a more tactical presentation of the war without sacrificing the flavor of the era.

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Scenario set-up for the Battle of Snowshoes for the HTL FIW expansion

Adding to the HTL base game components,  the FIW expansion comes with Indian, Ranger and French unit tiles to be played with using the British and Militia pieces in the original. Additional terrain hex tiles  are included to represent lakes, boats forts and Indian villages, all of which played important roles in the wilderness battleground of the FIW. Five historic scenarios round out gameplay which will be any lover of the original HTL.

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The 2016 remastered HTL French and Indian War game

The HTL series has been remastered in 2016 with a successfully funded recent Kickstarter campaign. The new version has some serious upgrades with plastic miniatures from the Plastic Soldier Company and redesigned board and tile artwork. For both the American Revolution and FIW sets there were a bunch of extra scenarios and options to buy add-on miniatures. The new game looks fantastic and breathes new life into an already immensely enjoyable game on the era of 18th-century American colonial conflict.

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A Few Acres of Snow (Treefrog Games)

A Few Acres of Snow, designed by Martin Wallace and published in 2011 by Treefrog Games, is my other go-to game on the period. While not strictly a game confined to the FIW, AFAOS takes two players through the broader French-British colonial period in North America.

Playable in just over an hour, AFAOS is an area control deck-building game where British and French players draft cards into and out of their hands in order to move, settle, construct, skirmish and conduct sieges. Managing cards gives the game a campaign feel as several turns may be taken up getting all the right cards in place before executing a plan. The British player generally has more financial and naval strength while the French are much more agile and open to trade opportunities in the wilderness interior. Essentially, the game captures the overall character of the opposing forces and provides for a ton of strategic play within a simple, gorgeous design.

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A recent game of  A Few Acres of Snow by Treefrog Games

The major downside to AFAOS that many critics will bring up is a broken mechanic within the game where one side can all but sew up a victory through a specific series of opening moves. I’m not going to provide any details since players agreeing to play fairly and ignoring this one issue with an otherwise perfect and wildly popular game is how I choose to play the game. The look and flow of AFAOS makes it what I consider to be the best at introducing even inexperienced gamers to the period.

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Struggle For New France (Schutze Games)

I picked up a copy of 2013’s Struggle For New France designed by Bill Molyneaux and published by Schutze Games in a charity auction at HMGS Fall In! 2015. It’s a super simple beginner’s game playable in about 90 minutes with event cards and point to point movement. With just a few pages of rules, including a solo game option, SFNF is a lean game designed for swift play while still reflecting the basic character of the war.

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Set-up for a play through Struggle For New France by Schutze Games

The relatively inexpensive game has a compact yet beautiful 11″ x 17″ color map, over 60 cards and over 175 small printed wooden tiles. Play is quick with a hand of five cards for each player, of which one can be played per season. In a season, both sides move and battle using standardized movement for regulars and Indians plus bonuses for having a leader stacked with a force. Forts, fortresses and Indian villages give defensive modifiers in battle along with leaders present and any cards added to the battle modifiers. Areas won or lost provide victory points, all tracked on either side of the map. After four seasons of play, cards are refreshed and the next turn year begins. Playing from the entire course of the war, British win at 50 points and taking Quebec, Montreal and Louisburg, and the French win with 45 points. While by no means as rich an experience as the offerings from GMT and Decision Games, SFNF achieves a remarkable amount in strategic experience of the FIW.

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French & Indian War Battle Collection (Two Buck Games)

Another charity auction win at Fall In last year was 2014’s French & Indian War Battle Collection by Two Buck Games. The game makes a nice companion to SFNF and is also designed by Molyneaux. Like SFNF, this is an easy game but with a pack of twelve major battles and engagements of the war instead of a grand campaign style of play. Each scenario is playable in anywhere from well under an hour to maybe two hours maximum. While not big on design, the game does allow a player to get down to the tactical level in some very small engagements including some personal favorites like Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity and the Mary Jeminson Raid.

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The Fort Necessity scenario from The French & Indian War Battle Collection

A brief set of rules is supplemented with specific scenario outlines for set-up and play. Maps for each scenario are printed front and back on card stock, and 88 counters come with generic information to make for flexible use representing a variety of regular and irregular French, British and Indian units at each battle or skirmish. As this is a tactical game, units move just one hex and may only by stacked alone or with an officer. Leaders die easily in combat, Indians are dangerously flexible on the attack and terrain can play a big role in a game’s outcome. All these factors make planning an attack or defense finicky down at the ground level and FIBWBC goes a long way toward mimicking the feel of up-close engagements during the period.

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Empires In America (Victory Point Games)

My latest addition to my FIW games is the recent second edition reprint of Empires In America from the States of Siege series by Victory Point Games. This one stands apart from the others here as a purely solo game with the player’s French and Indian allies pitted against the game’s British and their allied Indian forces.

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My first try at the re-issue of Empires In America by Victory Point Games

It took me a few times to get a handle on the single player flow of the game and I was beaten by the non-player AI in my first two games. Having played through it about a half dozen times now, I’ve finally got the hang of it with quick play and a fairly rich experience. Leaders wind up being key in winning the game much as leadership could make the difference during battles during the war.

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Photo from my visit to Fort Necessity in the summer of 2014

So where to start with the French and Indian War?

The 21st-century has already given us a bunch of fantastic games to take us back to the forest, rivers and battles of the French and Indian War of some 260 years ago. Despite having a half-dozen of the recent FIW games under my belt, there area always more games to play. Wilderness Empires, also by Worthington Publishing, puts the war in a block game format with beautifully-illustrated event cards and game board. Columbia Games re-released its 1972 classic block game of Quebec 1759 in 2009, and the game still stands as probably the best way to experience this pivotal siege of the war.

For me, Wilderness War sits at the top of the list for its design and depth, not only for the FIW but among all the games I play. A Few Acres of Snow, Empires In America and Hold The Line likewise win big design points for me, and their speed of play sacrifices nothing in telling the story of the period. A gamer wishing to get into the FIW with a couple very different yet always rewarding gaming sessions could hardly do better by starting with these games.

New Game Weekend: Wilderness War

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I wound up spending a fair amount of time this past year touring sites related to the French and Indian War period while feeding my gamer’s appetite for the Seven Years War period with A Few Acres of Snow. With a little research and talking with some of the members at Metropolitan Wargamers, I decided I needed to go bigger and dive into a game focused on the French and Indian War. All trails led to GMT’s Wilderness War, and I had a chance to play my first game this past weekend.

Published in 2001, Wilderness War is a game that causes a lot of the gamers I know to glaze over with wide grins. The game is designed by Volko Ruhnke and uses a card-driven mechanic much like his COIN games series also published by GMT. I have a few games of the Runke-designed Cuba Libre and Fire In The Lake under my belt, so I knew that a French and Indian War game from him was certain to be a mix of relatively simple rules wrapped up in a rich historic board game experience.

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Wilderness War game board

The gorgeous map – hardbound in the latest edition – presents the Northeastern colonial areas of North America in the mid 18th-century. As with the war itself, the game is largely defined by geography. “Cultivated” (ie settled) areas are indicated with boxes, and “wilderness” areas and Indian settlements are printed as circles. Mountainous areas are also depicted with chains spreading through western and central Pennsylvania, the Hudson Valley region and portions of central New England. Connecting these areas are roads or trails and the more important waterways which served as the superhighways of the period. Many of the larger cultivated settlements begin with heavy fortresses protecting the space, while the game set up places a series of French and British forts and stockades throughout the map.

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Sample Wilderness War game counters

Game components consist primarily of 70 cards and 271 cardboard counters. The counters generally depict movement and combat ratings, with reduced values on the flip side once a unit takes damage in battle, during a wintering period or from an event card. Command markers also carry tactics numbers, which help during combat, and a command value. Cards allow activation of units equal to the number printed or by command rating. Special events may also be played for British (red), French (blue) or either side (red/blue), and cards with a brown-red band are events which may be played at any point during either side’s actions.

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Sample Wilderness War cards

The game plays with year-long turns each containing an early and late season, each approximating about six months of time. In each season, players begin by being dealt eight cards apiece. Later events and actions may modify a player’s hand size, but in general the French and British player then take turns playing cards to move forces, engage in battle, construct defenses or play out events as depicted on the cards. With some pre-planning, each season moves relatively swiftly toward the conclusion of a year of war. At the end of each year, victory points are tallied and units are checked to see if they suffer losses during the winter period between each yearly season of fighting.

Wilderness War comes with a playbook outlining several small to mid-sized games featuring particular periods in the war or a set-up for the entire war from 1755 to 1762. For my first game, we jumped in with both feet and started from the outset of the war  with me playing as the British and my experienced opponent using the French. The French begin the game with a small force stretched across the Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River and western Pennsylvania regions. British forces start poised on three fronts along the Hudson River, stretching west toward the eastern tip of Lake Ontario at Oswego and just south of western Pennsylvania. The French are buoyed with their strong alliances with several Indian nations while the British hold enormous access to colonial, regular British troops and numerous commanding officers waiting to be called into service.

Using the swift wilderness movement and  raiding capabilities in the 1755 and 1756 turns, the French sent Indian forces into Pennsylvania, Virginia and New England to raid unprotected British cultivated areas. The British quickly moved to redeploy their meager regulars throughout these areas to build stockades and push back further raids. At the same time, the French massed their forces and captured Fort Oswego. By the end of the second year of play, the French were already sitting on six victory points.

With a string of stockaded defenses set up to the west by the beginning of 1757, the British began to land troops at their coastal port arrivals to offset negative British political effects which stymied the use of more Colonial regulars and militia units. British troops commenced the long march into the Pennsylvania mountains and the nearby target French fort at the Ohio Forks (today’s Pittsburgh). Back to the east, the French began using their new base at Oswego to launch a push to the southeast into the Hudson Valley and the ill-defended areas around Albany, Schenectady and the Oneida region. All the while, the French continued to recruit additional Indian forces to buffer their defenses at the Ohio Forks and continue raids toward the east. The 1757 late season ended with my leaving too many British marooned in the mountains of Pennsylvania in a clear rookie mistake which led to my mass of troops taking heavy losses in the winter season.

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The British stockade defenses on the western frontier lay the groundwork for a push on the French at the Ohio Forks in my first game of Wilderness War

By 1758, my British luck seemed to change a bit for the better. Drawing and playing the William Pitt event card, I was able to increase my card hand size to nine cards and gain access to more British forces. Rushing more British reinforcements west into Pennsylvania, the French fell during a siege at the fort protecting the Ohio Forks, giving the British a firm foothold on the western frontier and awarding two victory points. Additional British troops rushed up the Hudson River Valley to hold back the French push toward Albany. As the British remained engaged in fights, the French began shifting their forces along Lake Ontario and the northern frontier while also raising a large force from the Iroquois in central New York. With 1758 at an end, my British forces were safely wintering on two fronts but in a severely weakened state and still way behind on victory points.

We called the game at its midpoint, deciding to restart another time now that I had been introduced to the general game. I still hadn’t experienced some major facets of the game such as naval movement and amphibious warfare, but I had quickly come to understand some of the major drivers of how the game plays. As a beginner, here are some lessons learned from my first game of Wilderness War:

  1. Defend the frontier. Especially for the British, but for both players, keeping the frontier defended by building stockades and forts is a must. Regular troops caught in wilderness areas are easy targets for Indians and other non-regulars, so having defenses built is key to defending territory. Having a network of stockades and forts to defend from, retreat to and maintain supply line coherence is a necessity if an army is going to succeed in the wilds of North America.
  2. Don’t get caught out in the cold. Open country and mountains are a strong enemy, particularly to 18th-century European armies. Paying attention to stacking limits as each year ends is important to keeping a force at strength. When conducting operations, players need to keep in mind where their troops will all wind up as a year ends and forces settle in for the winter. Nothing is worse than spending a series of turns marching troops into position only to have a portion of them die from starvation, disease and exposure in the period following each year’s turn.
  3. Play the long game. The full game goes to eight years of warfare, so strategy needs to take a long view. The first half of the game most probably belongs to the French as they and their Indian allies sack the wide open and undefended frontier. The British simply can’t be everywhere in the early years of the war, so spending time building defenses while also waiting to get the right cards to call in reinforcements is important. Massing and moving large forces on both sides to be strong enough to siege and capture forts takes a fair amount of planning but pays off in victory points.

Wilderness War is a fantastic playable document of the French and Indian War. The shifting alliances, opportunistic events, geography of the country itself intertwine to capture the period with a realness that might be familiar to any French or British commander on the 18th-century American frontier.

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