With some 28mm models from the Galloping Major WargamesAllies on the Frontier Kickstarter from 2019, I decided to mix up my ranger forces with a representation of Gorham’s Rangers. With brown coats, red facings and a mix of hats, the models brought the opportunity to create a real mixed force of poses and styles in a different color scheme from all my other models of the period.
Painting galloping major figures is always a joy, with big chunky sculpts brimming with detail and personality. Adding some Gorham’s Rangers to my collection allows for not only some welcome variety, but will also opportunities to game even early periods in North American colonial history on the tabletop.
The Braddock Expedition in the summer of 1755 was one of the greatest military campaigns (and follies) in 18th-century North America up to that point in history. After diplomatic attempts to oust the French from Fort Duquesne by a young British officer named George Washington were rebuffed a year prior, British General Edward Braddock sought to move an army of some 2,000 through the wilderness and lay siege to the fort. The Battle of the Monongahela on July 9th ended the expedition and Braddock’s life.
Three years later, Washington and 6,000 soldiers returned to the region as part of an army led by General John Forbes. Once again, Fort Duquesne was the target as the Forbes Campaign which set out from Carlisle, PA in September 1758 and cut a new road to the west, just north of Braddock’s doomed route. Along the way, the expedition constructed a string of forts across the wilderness as safe havens for the British. As 1758 drew near to a close, Forbes would succeed where Braddock had failed in removing the French from the Forks of the Ohio forever.
The failures and successes of these men and their soldiers defined the story of the French and Indian War and the decades after in this corner of the 18th-century British Empire. In the aftermath, Pontiac’s Rebellion would rage through the same region, eventually leading to the decimation and removal of the native people who occupied the land well before the French or British came. In these two wars, the British emerged as the dominant power in the region. Unbeknownst to the Crown and Parliament safely at a distance in London, the seeds had also been sown for the eventual colonial rebellion against British rule less than two decades later.
In late September 2018 I set out to retrace these campaigns and stories by train, car and on foot. Over the course of a week, I made my way from my home in Brooklyn, NY to Alexandria, VA and then zig-zagged my way to Pittsburgh, PA and back again. Along the way I sought to get a sense of these historic, out-of-the-way places where armies once moved and pivotal battles were fought over 250 years ago. I also captured a number of videos and photos of the sites, allowing others to visit these places from a digital distance. For me, breathing the air, hiking the trails and camping amid the trees and mountains of what was then known as the Ohio Country was my opportunity to engage with history first-hand.
George Washington in the Ohio Country
Much of the story of the Ohio Country in the mid-18th-century is also the story of one person: George Washington. As an ambitious, twenty-something Virginia Provincial officer, he was eager to prove his worth and earn a place as a full British officer in service of the Crown and Empire.
To that end, in 1753 Washington was appointed as an envoy tasked with delivering a message to the French at Fort Duquesne. The order unceremoniously commanded the French to vacate the region, one the British felt they rightly claimed. The arduous winter journey through mountains, rivers and thick forests had challenged Washington’s physical fortitude. The French commander’s refusal of Washington’s carried message challenged his spirits and ambitions of taking a place among elite society. On his first assignment as a designated representative of the British colonial government, Washington had failed.
The following spring, Washington returned to the region for a second try at forcing the French from their further-developed positions. This time, Washington was at the head of his first command of some 300 Virginians. Camping in a meadow some distance from Fort Duquesne, Washington was tipped off by an Mingo ally, Tanacharison (“Half King”), to the presence of a French advance guard camped in a nearby wood.
Early in the morning on May 28, 1754, Washington approached the French camp with some 40 colonials and a dozen allied Mingo warriors. Surprising the French (actually French Canadians led by Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville) in their morning camp, a quick firefight erupted. In the subsequent surrender negotiation between Jumonville and Washington, Tanacharison killed the French officer. By all accounts, Washington had blundered into a brief firefight and further lost control of the situation after the smoke had cleared. The encounter at what became known as Jumonville Glen had the potential to be yet another bad mark on the young officer’s record.
When I visited Jumonville Glen in September 2018, I had not been to the site in over two decades. On the morning I was there, I had the site to myself and its still, secluded quiet in a cool morning rain is eerie. Standing at the rocky prospect above at the British position and then at the base of the glen where the French camped, you get a true sense of the intimacy of the place where a major event occurred.
The event at Jumonville Glen didn’t immediately reveal its long term significance, but Washington sensed a French reprisal would be imminent. With that, he returned to the meadows and had a small “fort of necessity” constructed. Some 50′ in diameter, the split-log stockade was surrounded by earth ditches dug into the damp ground near an adjacent trace of a stream.
On July 3, 1754, around 600 French Regulars and Canadians accompanied by perhaps 100 or more Indian allies appeared at the treeline surrounding Washington’s hasty defense. With may only 400 men, many of whom were sick, drunk or otherwise unfit to fight, Washington was vastly outnumbered as Indian and French musket volleys rang out from the trees throughout the day. When rain fell in the afternoon, Washington’s shattered force eventually surrendered. In the negotiation of terms relying on questionable translations, Washington signed his name to a document in which he inadvertently admitted responsibility for the assassination of Jumonville.
As Washington retreated his force from the field, he had delivered a third failure on his third assignment as a want-to-be British officer. With these personal failures, the 22-year-old Virginian had also set in motion events which would erupt in the French and Indian War.
The Braddock Campaign
Following on the failures of Washington in 1753 and 1754, an escalated show of British force was determined to be the solution to finally oust the French from the region. The person tapped for the job was British General Edward Braddock, a veteran in the ways of European warfare and campaigns. The disconnect between Braddock’s military experience and the fighting in the forests of the Ohio Country would prove to be disastrous.
The Carlyle House
In the spring of 1755, Braddock had arrived in Alexandria, VA with 1,200 troops and set up his headquarters at the Carlyle House. There on April 15th, he convened a “congress” of colonial governors from Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts to seek shared funding of the campaign against the French ensconced in the Ohio Country. The governors pushed back on funding Braddock’s expedition but did agree a multi-front campaign against France was the key to their removal from the contintent.
A visit to the Carlyle House today in downtown Alexandria is largely a tour of a grand 18th-century home, not unlike many historic house museums. For someone like me, imagining the heated conversation and planning for what was to become the Braddock campaign and the French and Indian War at large makes it an important part of the era’s story.
By late May 1755, Braddock and his force now numbering over 2,000 set off from Fort Cumberland, MD with the destination of Fort Duquesne over 100 miles to the west and north. Among the troops and working wagon teams recruited by Benjamin Franklin, Braddock’s army contained a who’s who of people who would play a large part in the events over the coming decades. These included the back woodsmen Daniel Boone and Daniel Morgan as well as Thomas Gage; Charles Lee, Horatio Gates and Washington as Braddock’s personal aide.
Braddock’s route was challenging from the beginning. The landscape ahead presented dense forests, rushing streams and steep, rocky hills and mountains. His long column consisted of advance work parties cutting and building a road at the head of the slow-moving army. In some areas rock needed to be blasted and cleared and at other points wagons and cannon were broken down to be hauled over inclines or cross waterways.
The route of the campaign today (much along what would be come the National Road and later US Route 40) is traced with dozens of roadside historical markers. Getting off the road, there are opportunities to hike short remnant portions of the road. The experience of walking some of Braddock’s route shows the closeness and seclusion experienced by a massive European army moving through wilderness for which they were completely unprepared.
The Battle of the Monongehela
After some five weeks of slow advance at a pace of what could be less than five miles a day, Braddock’s column arrived near the banks of the Monongahela River. On July 9, 1755, the head of the British force was attacked by over 200 French and Canadian militia along perhaps 600 or more Indian allies. In the bloody confusion and surrounding crossfire, the British were thrown into disarray as multiple officers fell and troops were engaged at close range attacks. Braddock himself fell to a musket wound, and Washington managed to organize a hasty retreat, saving what he could of British line that had been wrecked with nearly 900 dead and wounded.
Thus, just ten miles from Fort Duquense, yet another British force was thrown back by the French. Again, Washington had been a participant and this time he buried his commanding officer and mentor near the ruins of Fort Necessity.
Leaving the Braddock story at its natural and tragic end, I had the opportunity to also visit a number of other mid-18th-century sites of historical significance in the region. With these I followed other travelers, settlers and campaigns of the era from the French and Indian War to the follow-up conflict of Pontiac’s Rebellion.
The entire region is dotted with sites of former stops along major routes of 18th-century travel and trade. In Washington County, MD, I spent the evening at Fort Frederick State Park. After an evening camping in a downpour in an otherwise empty campground along a rising Potomac River, I awoke to an overcast day and a visit to the recreated Fort Frederick. Originally built in 1756-1758, the large stone Vauban-style fortress is today represented as rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. Initially used for defense and a trading hub for local settlers during the period of the French and Indian War and Pontiac’s Rebellion, the fortress was later used as a prison during the American Revolution and then garrisoned again by Union troops during the US Civil War.
Travelling about 100 miles northwest from Fort Fredrick, is the site of Fort Bedford. Built in 1758 by British troops under Colonel Henry Bouquet, the log star-shaped fort served as one of the string of supply points during the campaign led by General Forbes to take Fort Duquesne. The original fort is long gone but the site today is marked by the Fort Bedford Museum which is home to the fort’s original 1758 flag and a nice scale model of the fort as it once looked.
Following the route of Forbes and his army fifty more miles to the northwest, I arrived at Fort Ligonier. Some fifty miles southeast of present-day Pittsburgh, the fort was the final jumping-off point for eventual siege and taking of Fort Duquesne in late November 1758. During Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763, the fort continued as an important British outpost and was attacked twice by united Indian forces during that conflict. Today’s fort is a fine reproduction of the 18th-century log fort and the museum houses the absolute best collection of exhibits on the period I’ve visited.
All roads lead to the the Forks of the Ohio at present day Pittsburgh, PA where the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers come together. After years of attempts by the British through diplomacy and a failed militia campaign with a young Washington followed by Braddock’s fateful end, the Forbes expedition succeeded in taking the site. Ultimately, British seizure of the point was anticlimactic with the French burning the fort before retreating to the north in late November 1758.
The British set to work redeveloping the site with Fort Pitt between 1759 and 1761 where it served as the anchor of the British Empire’s western edge for the remainder of the war. The fort was besieged by Indians during Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763 and then used by Virginian’s during the brief Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774 which many know view as a precursor to the Revolutionary war.
Jutting out from the the modern city of Pittsburgh, a visit to the site easily reveals the important strategic location of the point at the intersection of three mighty rivers. While the Indian villages, trading posts and forts which once crowded to the river banks are long gone, the park and Fort Pitt Museum there offer a marvelous experience and transport back in time.
Battle of Bushy Run
Squeezed between the little known French and Indian War and the mythic American War of Independence is the almost completely forgotten Pontiac’s Rebellion. From 1763 to 1766 a confederation of Indian nations from the Great Lakes and Ohio Country united to push back the tide of European settlers encroaching westward following the French and Indian War. By the spring and early summer of 1763 dozens of settlements, forts and outposts fell to Indian forces across the entire region, and once-inconceivable Indian sieges of Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt were underway.
In the hopes of relieving the siege at Fort Pitt, British veteran of the region Henry Bouquet led about 600 men over the route once used by Forbes and his army just a few years prior. On August 5, 1763 Bouquet’s force was about 25 miles from the fort when attacked by hundreds of Indians from the thick woods. After a first bloody and disastrous day of defeat, Bouquet’s men rallied the second day in a surprise flanking attack through the woods. The narrow defeat by the British threw back the native rebellion, effectively ending the brief war and assuring British supremacy in the region.
A visit to Bushy Run Battlefield today is a long, winding, out of the way trip to beautifully preserved grounds over rolling hills and wooded trails. The small museum does an out sized job in defining the battle and overall period in context, and its annual reenactments are some of the most picturesque recreations of the period.
While the empires of the British, French and Indian people of the region clashed over the grounds I visited for decades of the 18th-century and involved tens off thousands of participants, my trip allowed me to quietly consider the region from a singular observer’s point of view. Over a week of travel and contemplation, I sought and found a journey back in time to the 18th-century found no so far off my usual 21st-century trail.
As I have researched, played and traveled sites of 18th-century in America, I’ve amassed a reference library of books, pamphlets and websites I’ve found most useful to those interested in the period. Below is a personal, albeit not comprehensive, list of references useful to amateur historians of the decisive era that shaped the continent and world.
If I were to read just one book, I would suggest Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War which not only covers the major military actions of the French and Indian War but also goes into the effects of the conflict on world politics and conditions that led to the American Revolution. Start with this book and take it from there, and I’ll be certain to update as my reading makes new discoveries in the American wilderness.
Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
———. The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War. New York: Viking, 2005.
Anderson, Niles. The Battle of Bushy Run. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, 1975.
Baker, Norman L. Braddock’s Road: Mapping the British Expedition from Alexandria to the Monongahela. Stroud, UK: The History Press, 2013.
Bellico, Russell P. Empires in the Mountains: French and Indian War Campaigns and Forts in the Lake Champlain, Lake George, and Hudson River Corridor. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2010.
Berleth, Richard. Bloody Mohawk: The French and Indian War & American Revolution on New York’s Frontier. Delmar, NY: Black Dome Press, 2009.
Borneman, Walter R. The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
Kummerow, Burton K. and Christine H. O’Toole and R. Scott Stephenson. Pennsylvania’s Forbes Trail: Gateways and Getaways Along the Legendary Route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2008.
The Last of the Mohicans. 20th Century Fox, 1992.
Leckie, Robert. A Few Acres of Snow: The Saga of the French and Indian Wars. New York: Wiley, 1999.
Loescher, Burt Garfield. The History of Rogers’ Rangers, Volumes I-IV. Berwyn Heights, MD: Heritage Books, 2006.
c, 1754-1760. New York: Routledge, 2003.
May, Robin, and Gerry Embleton. Wolfe’s Army. London: Osprey Publishing, 1998.
McCulloch, Ian MacPherson. Highlander in the French-Indian War: 1756–67. London: Osprey Publishing, 2008.
McDonnell, Michael. Masters of Empire: Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America. New York: Hill & Wang, 2016.
Silver, Peter. Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 200
Stark, Peter. Young Washington: How Wilderness and War Forged America’s Founding Father. New York: Ecco Press, 2018.
Tanner, Helen Hornbeck. Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.
Taylor, Alan. American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.
Tilberg, Frederick. Fort Necessity National Battlefield Site, Pennsylvania. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service, 1956
Todish, Timothy J. and Todd E. Harburn. A “Most Troublesome Situation”: The British Military and the Pontiac Indian Uprising of 1763-1764. Fleischmanns, NY: Purple Mountain Press, 2006.
Treganza, Adan E., and J. C. Harrington. “New Light on Washington’s Fort Necessity: A Report on the Archeological Explorations at Fort Necessity National Battlefield Site.” American Journal of Archaeology 63.2 (1959)
Waddell, Ward and Bruce D. Bomberger. The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania, 1753-1763: Fortification and Struggle. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1997.
Ward, Matthew C. Breaking the Backcountry: The Seven Years’ War in Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1754-1765. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003.
West, J. Martin (editor). War for Empire in Western Pennsylvania. Ligonier, PA: Fort Ligonier Association, 1993.
Windrow, Martin, and Michael Roffe. Montcalm’s Army. London: Osprey Publishing, 1973.
Wullf, Matt. Henry Bouquet’s Destiny – The March To Bushy Run. Lewisburg, PA: Wennawoods Publishing, 2014.
The War That Made America–Parts 1-4, A Country Between. PBS, 2005.
My French and Indian War 28mm collection spans a lot of manufacturers in an effort to avoid duplication of poses as much as possible. I’m not a fan of plastic miniatures and I stick to metal models which tend toward poses with little opportunity for customization short of a lot of additional hacking and kitbashing.
One of the few exceptions to this is Kings Mountain Miniatures which offers a broad line of figures which can span any number of conflicts including FIW, American Revolution, War of 1812 and other eras. With dozens of base models and over 250 head options, the interchangeability is nearly endless.
I have a dozen of Kings Mountains figures in my collection, fielding them as irregular British colonial militia and settlers. To start, I choose twelve poses in a variety of firing, charging and loading styles and then added two packs of heads wearing tricornes and floppy hats.
Six of the figures received red uniforms and tricornes and the remainder were painted to reflect a more rustic, irregular militia unit. My favorite of the group is the animated officer with arms broadly outstretched with a pistol in one hand and sword in the other. While uniform and equipment details can be somewhat spare, the sheer action of these figures more than compensate.
With so hundreds of FIW miniatures in my collection, these Kings Mountain casts really stand out for their flexibility in modeling, variety of pose and pure personality. With just a dozen on my table so far, I look forward to adding more to my tabletop forces.
Quite some time ago, I wrote a round-up of my favorite boardgames of the French and Indian War. Since then I’ve been focusing pretty exclusively on the FIW using 28mm miniatures and Muskets & Tomahawks. I’ve also spent a lot of time over the past year reading about the period and visiting historic sites in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia that tell the story of the FIW.
Between travel, research, painting miniatures, building scenery and running through tabletop scenarios of the period, I’ve continued to build up my collection of FIW-themed boardgames. With that, I have a second list of more of my favorites from this empire-defining conflict in North America.
Released in 1972, Quebec 1759 was one of the first block wargames produced and has remained in print for 45 years as a game perfect for entry level players as well as those experienced in the hobby. I’ve been trying to track down a first printing of the game for a while for the embossed blocks, but I couldn’t pass up a great deal on a 1980s edition with 50 stickered blocks for $20 at a convention flea market a couple years back.
Map and wooden blocks from Quebec 1759
Playable in about an hour or so, this classic abstractly captures the meeting of the British forces led by James Wolfe and the French defenders commanded by Louis-Joseph de Montcalm in September 1759. The decisive Battle of the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City left both men dead and was the beginning of the end of French rule in North America.
Typical stickered wooden blocks from a mid-1980s edition of Quebec 1759
My near perfect copy captures the charm of the original edition with its signature wooden blocks, 10″ x 32″ elongated heavy cardboard map and a mere four pages of rules. The game is played over 16 turns with each side — British and French — plotting their moves in advance on paper and then simultaneously revealing them. There are no spaces on the map. Instead ten road-connected land zones and a bisected St. Lawrence River.
The game has remained a classic for a reason, notably its fast play that rewards numerous replays and taking turns on either side.
My copy of Command #46 featuring End of Empire just prior to punching the counters
End of Empire covers a wide period from King George’s War, FIW and the American Revolution. Over a dozen scenarios allows play of specific conflicts or campaigns in a few hours, and a full game is playable over the whole period that will run to more than 15 hours for truly committed players. The game is regimental in scope with a huge hex map spanning the entire North American East Coast and contains hundreds of color counters representing British, French, Spanish, Indian and Colonial forces. For a real deep dive into nearly 40 years of colonial conflict, this is the game.
Wilderness Empires (Worthington Publishing)
I’m a big fan of Worthington Publishing’s games. I have three of their American Revolution games – New York 1776, Trenton 1776 and their latest, Saratoga 1777. The simple graphic maps and wooden blocks make Worthington’s games easy to grasp while also providing some great strategic play specific to the conditions of certain battles and campaigns.
Map detail and wooden playing pieces from Wilderness Empires
With Wilderness Empires, most recently reprinted in 2016, Worthington captures the larger scope of the grand strategy of the FIW in a mix of point-to-point movement, blocks and cards. Designed by my pal Bill Molyneaux, a FIW reenactor and game designer, the game is steeped in real history while producing introductory level play of the period for 2-4 players.
French (top) and British (bottom) cards from Wilderness Empire featuring original art by Don Troiani
The components are hefty 1″ wooden blocks with nicely rounded corners representing French, British and Indian forces. Indian towns, special wood dice, a large board and cards featuring beautiful original art by Don Troiani round out what’s in the box. Their artwork aside, the cards provide tactical play of reinforcements, leaders, campaign actions and specific play of historical units such as Rogers Rangers and Indian allies.
If you’re lucky, you can track down this recently out of print game in gift shops at various historical sites and forts in the northeast for a great intro to the period.
1759: Siege of Quebec (Worthington Publishing)
Worthington has also produced a new spin on the famed siege of the era with 1759: Siege of Quebec. The game presents a bit like the classic Columbia game covering the same battle but with a unique 2-in-1 package that allows for both 2-player and solo play, a rarity for games of the period.
The beautiful map for Worthington’s 1759: Siege of Quebec
This game is gorgeous. The area movement map is bisected with by the St. Lawrence River and has defined deployment areas for stickerless blue (French) and red (British) blocks. In the 2-player game, separate hands of Command Decision cards and Command Field Orders books allow each side to make selections on what they do each turn. Cards are revealed and resolved, with casualties and morale tracked toward victory. The solitaire game uses a separate set of cards but plays out in a similar way.
The game falls into the modern string of fast-play “lunchtime games” which typically run less than a half-hour, making 1759 a great modern spin on the often-covered battle.
1754: Conquest – The French and Indian War (Academy Games)
The game, 1754: Conquest, follows the same basic mechanics of 1775 and 1812 and rounds out Academy’s trilogy from their “Birth of America” game series. All three games feature wonderfully colorful maps with area movement of small cubes using small hands of action cards keyed to historical events and personalities.
One of my many plays through 1754: Conquest
In multiple plays of 1754, I’ve found it to be the most challenging in the series. Fortifications, muster points for militia and harbors for arriving British and French reinforcements all reflect the major points of control important to the war. As with all games in the series, this one serves as a great entry into wargaming the period while also providing a challenge to more experienced gamers.
Bayonets & Tomahawks (GMT Games)
One of my most anxiously-anticipated games is GMT’s Bayonets & Tomahawks which has been on their P500 pre-order since 2015. There’s been a steady drip of development and playtesting articles over the game’s long gestation, and in late 2019 some near-final box art was made available.
A 2018 playtest map for Bayonets & Tomahawks, slated for delivery in late 2020
As with all things that come out of GMT, the looks like its going to be a beauty with custom dice supporting a unique battle system and full-color round, square and triangular counters for different forces, fleets, forts and game conditions. The playtest map looks stunning. The game will play over shorter scenarios or the full war with raids, battles, construction, sieges and naval actions. Cards will support historical events and military actions. Having not gotten my hands on it as of yet, I can’t wait to unpack and punch this game when it becomes available, hopefully in late 2020.
The past ten years have been a big decade for gaming and for me as a gamer. I launched this blog (which I haven’t posted to in more than two years). I became president of Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, NYC’s oldest continuously active gaming group, now in its fourth decade. And, I played a lot of games.
So, here’s my oddball list of 16 games I deem as my favorite of the 2010s. My list isn’t necessarily the most innovative games of the past ten years (although some are) and many are not widely popular (again, some are). These are the games that got back to the table over and over again as other new games came and went.
First up are a few games that capture my love of Marvel comic books and Star Wars from my 1970s childhood. Fantasy Flight Games has really exploded with Star Wars games over the past decade, and while I’ve played most of them, Rebellion and Imperial Assault are my standouts for capturing the story of Star Wars at the epic interplanetary level and as a sci-fi adventure campaign. Both games have incredible design, artwork and plastic miniatures which really speak to the toy nerd in me. The deck-builder Marvel Legendary also captures the teamwork which is the hallmark of Marvel heroes and villains. All three games take me deep into the real storytelling feel of being in the pages of a comic book or a movie.
My other childhood obsession was Dungeons & Dragons. Lords of Waterdeep captures the flavor of D&D within one its most fabled campaign settings dropped into a boardgame that feels like an adventure quest. Back to the classic RPG style of play, the D&D 5th Edition Starter Set brought me back to the table for the first time in years with a slimmed down all-in-one boxed rule set that felt akin to the fast-moving games of my childhood.
From superheroes, science fiction and fantasy, my love swings to American history. The American War of Independence plays out n my two favorite games of that period — Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection and 1775: Rebellion. In 1775, a simple block, card and dice mechanic allows play of the entire war in about 90-minutes and serves as a fantastic entry into the period and wargaming. With LOD, GMT’s COIN (counterinsurgency) mechanic of asymmetric conflict breathes new and nuanced complexity of the often-simplified formative American story.
From the American Revolution, my interest stepped back to the French and Indian War. This was the period that really fired my imagination the past few years with a dive into dozens of books and several long trips visiting historic sites of the era in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and New York. A Few Acres of Snow was my first game of the period and remains one of hands-down favorites with its two player asymmetric, deck building that still challenges over multiple plays as the French and British. My miniatures wargaming interest also swung heavily to the FIW with Muskets & Tomahawks. The quick-playing, card-driven mechanics of the game really captures the clash of British, Indian, French and Canadian forces, and I’ve spent countless hours researching and writing historic scenarios for significant engagements of the period which I’ve run at multiple miniatures gaming conventions as well as my club. A new version of the long out-of-print rules is due in 2020, so I’m very much looking forward to what the game brings next.
Two other historical games I’ve loved deal with two difficult subjects that have significantly shaped American history. Freedom: The Underground Railroad tackles slavery and the fight of abolitionists to bring it to its end through exceedingly challenging gameplay that involves often heartbreaking choices of who does and doesn’t make it to freedom in Canada. Fast-forwarding to the 21st-century, Labyrinth: The War On Terror covers the endless war of the US and coalition forces in the Middle East. As the wars continue, the game has received updated expansions bringing the game’s events and mechanics right up to the current news of the day from the 9/11 attacks to the Arab Spring to today. Both games show the power of games as tools to model and understand history ways few others do.
With time at a premium, there were a few games that filled the gap for 30-minute or less time slots at the beginning or end of a long evening’s game session or when a quick game just fits the bill. The patterned tile placement in a Azul is great for my non-gamer friends as well as experienced players, plus, it has my favorite mechanic of pulling the very satisfying heavy tiles out of a bag. Fuse also has a tactile angle with fast rolls of dice placed into patterned puzzles to be solved against a nerve-wracking countdown app. Finally, The Mind takes a super simple deck of 100 chronologically numbered cards and turns it into a really interesting exercise in how we play collaboratively with others without the benefit of verbal communication.
I play a lot of the above games and others with my family, and one we’ve returned to repeatedly is Five Tribes. The game, set in a fantasy sultanate, scratches all the Eurogame itches of colorful wooden meeples, a modular board, beautiful card artwork and some easy to grasp but hard to master strategies. We’ve taken this game on the road more than just about any game in my collection.
Finally, I wasn’t alone in my obsession with the wildly-popular Root. The game combines so many things I love about games — fantasy, adventure, great art — in an asymmetric clash of woodland animals. With what it presents simply on the surface, the game taps into a wargaming feel that bridges all the games I’ve enjoyed so much over the past ten years.
Aside from all the games above I’ve enjoyed, I have to also celebrate the 2010s coming to a close on a personal gaming note. After some fours decades as a gamer, I was thrilled to co-found Campaign Games and launch a successful Kickstarter in the late summer of 2019 for Forts & Frontiers: The Feast of the Dead Deluxe. Combining the mechanics of D&D 5th Edition with my love for the story of 17th-century European-Indian history in North America, the game was well-received during Free RPG Day 2019 and continues to playtest well at conventions. To end the year and decade on the other side of the table as a game creator is a thrill I’ll watch unfold over the coming year and into the 2020s.
Leading the two-hour tour were the cemetery’s resident historian, Jeff Richman, and Barnet Schecter, historian and author of The Battle for New York. Schecter’s book is the long-held standard text on the battle, variously known as the Battle of Long Island or the Battle of Brooklyn. I’ve had a copy of his book for years and I’ve heard him lecture previously, but the tour offered a great chance to get up close with both Schecter and Richman as they spun a narrative of the battle’s events more than two centuries previous.
Barnet Schecter presents the view toward eastern Long Island where British troops were observed landing in August 1776
One of the first stops on the tour was along a ridge affording an southeast-facing view from the cemetery out into Long Island. From this position, the historians presented with some certainty, General George Washington and his staff were able to make their first accounting of the landing of General William Howe’s British forces at Gravesend Bay August 22nd-24th. The prospect sits atop a terminal moraine known as the Heights of Guan, the furthest point of a glacier’s advance millennia ago, and opens into a wide view across the flatlands of Brooklyn where only farms, fields and open ground stood between British and Continental forces. On the beautiful, clear morning of the tour, our view stretched to the horizon, making it easy to imagine how important the high ground had been in an era when first-hand observation was often the only information a commander had to go on in the field. From this view, Washington’s observations came to the (incorrect) conclusion the bulk of the British force would march here to his west flank and attack. The British command had other plans.
The mausoleum of Robert Troup, lieutenant colonel of the Continental Army
Green-Wood being the final resting place of many prominent New Yorkers of the past couple hundred years, there were several stops along the tour at notable graves. One example was at the mausoleum of Robert Troup. A college roommate of Alexander Hamilton and junior officer in the Continental Army at the time of the battle, Troup was one of just five men sent to stand watch at the far east flank of Washington’s position at the Jamaica Pass on the eve of the battle. Unfortunately for the Colonials, the British secretly divided their force on the evening of August 26th and silently marched some 10,000 men, 40 guns and a long baggage train through the darkness to Jamaica Pass. In this audacious flanking maneuver, the British would capture Troup and his comrades and begin closing on an unsuspecting Washington from the east.
The Delaware Regiment monument at Green-Wood Cemetery
Washington had thrown the bulk of his force on the west flank, led by William Alexander (aka “Lord Stirling”). Just as the British were moving in from the east, a British decoy force led by James Grant had made its way toward Stirling’s lines. Our tour traced Grant’s advance and made our next stop near the approximate site of the first clash of Stirling and Grant late on August 26th. The skirmish, now remembered in a typical mixture of fact and folklore, was recounted as being fought through near a watermelon patch at the now-vanished Red Lion Inn. This far edge of the cemetery property now houses a parking lot and maintenance sheds, so it really takes a stretch of the imagination to transport oneself to those opening shots of the battle. The one nod to the historic events there is in a relatively recent monument to the the Delaware Regiment which would play a part near this spot the following day as the Battle of Brooklyn commenced.
Our guides for the morning, Jeff Richman (left) and Barnet Schecter (right)
It was here, Richman and Schecter both pointed out, that American troops for the first time in the war formed European-styled firing lines and exchanged volleys with British soldiers, then the most powerful military force in the world. Our tour then followed the action of the Colonial’s right flank as Stirling’s men -including the Delaware regiment and Pennsylvanians — repositioned at an angled rise, firing into Grant’s advancing troops. It was there that two distant cannon blasts, far to east, signaled the surprise advance of the main British lines that had snuck through the Jamaica Pass overnight. In one echoing report, the British had announced themselves and the Americans found themselves enveloped by a force more than twice its size.
The statue of Minerva, placed atop Battle Hill by Charles Higgins in 1920
Following the retreat of Stirling’s troops, we made our way to our final tour stop at what became known as Battle Hill in the 20th-century. Standing before the statue of the goddess Minerva, Richman recounted the story of the monument’s placement by Charles Higgins, an Irish immigrant who made his fortune in India ink. Archival research unveiled Higgins’s original intent to have the statue face the Woolworth Building although we can be thankful today for its dramatic placement facing of the Statue of Liberty across the harbor.
And it was on the hill 241 years ago this past weekend where a couple hundred Americans seized the 200-foot hill and held off 2000 British troops over several attacks. Out of ammunition, the Colonials eventually surrendered but they allowed for the majority of Stirling’s men to slip toward the Gowanus Creek. There, outgunned and outnumbered, the Americans (led by the 1st Maryland Regiment) made head-on attacks British dug in at the Vechte–Cortelyou House, known today as the Old Stone House. Once again, the sacrifices and delaying actions of Stirling’s force against the British allowed the vast majority of the Americans to flee toward the East River. Two evenings later, on August 29, 1776, Washington led a nighttime evacuation to Manhattan. Not only had the young Continental Army and most of its leadership been saved, but most probably the Revolution was saved, too.
I’ve lived in Brooklyn for more than twenty years and I’m an avid history fan, but sharing a morning with two passionate guides walking historic ground really brought long-ago events alive anew. New York and Brooklyn are not places that evoke the Revolution for most Americans. Boston, Lexington-Concord, Bunker Hill, Saratoga and Yorktown — those are sites of the War of Independence we all learn as children, not Brooklyn. But both Richman and Schecter hit on the importance of the Battle of Brooklyn over and over again on the tour — the first battle after the Declaration of Independence as Americans; the largest battle of the American Revolution; the first time Americans faced British in traditional open field battle; and, the event where Washington managed to snatch a victory (of sorts) out of a defeat. The war continued another seven years, but had the events in Brooklyn gone differently it may very well have ended less than two months after tAmericans had taken the radical first steps toward independence. One thing we Brooklynites are good at is promoting our local brand, but when it comes to the Battle of Brooklyn, it most certainly warrants repeated commemoration every August.
In the early 1700s, Scots from clans loyal to the British ruling government had been recruited into local law keeping forces and later as more formal militia. Allowed to dress and employ traditional Highland garb and weapons, Scottish forces would serve the British military cause from the European mainland to Egypt to the Caribbean to India over the next two centuries. Three Highlander regiments — the 42nd, 77th and 78th — would distinguish themselves in service of the Crown’s rule in the first major 18th-century conflict of British North America, the French and Indian War (1756-1763).
The Highland Regiment Exercising on Glasgow Green, 1758 (artist unknown)
Aside from a general collection of FIW books, I turned to a copy of Osprey Publishing’s Highlander in the French-Indian War, 1756–67 by Ian Macpherson McCulloch. The book focuses on three Highlander regiments of the period, including the 42nd Foot I’ve chosen to model. The historic background, period illustrations and contemporary plates make this a great foundation for anyone wanting to learn a bit more about the Highland regiments of the period. One plate in particular portrays detail of uniform and equipment of a typical c. 1756 private of the 42nd Foot — just the inspiration I needed as I worked on fielding my very first Highlander models.
The 18th-century is fun to paint for the diversity of uniforms, weapons and mode of dress, and these Highlanders were no exceptions. This was my first go at tartan kilts, so I sunk some time into watching how-to videos online. I went with a simple technique of dark blue undercoat followed by layered grids of varying greens and greys to approximate the signature tartan of the 42nd Foot. Close-up it looks a bit pointillistic, but at arm’s length on the table I was pretty satisfied with the results.
The rest of the figures were a bit more straight forward with red jackets and blue bonnets (or “tams”) with red balls on the top and red lacing at the brim. The officer also got some fancy stockings with an angled cross-hatched plaid of white and red. Having just six of the North Star Highlander models completed, I wish I had bought more before they became impossible to get. That said, I’ll be tracking down some more from other manufacturers so I can better field a large force of the 42nd Royal Highlanders.
The French and Indian War (1754-1763) called for new tactics for old, professional armies steeped in traditional European warfare. With hostilities among French, French-allied Indians and Canadians, British and colonists of all stripes erupting over territorial disputes on the frontier of North America, locally-mustered soldiers were of paramount importance to all sides.
Robert Rogers, born in Massachusetts of Irish immigrants in 1731, was key in raising forces in New Hampshire for the British in the mid 1750s on the eve of the conflict. With animosity toward Indians in the region, his recruits formed what came to be known as Rogers’ Rangers. Operating out of Northeastern and Central New York, the company of some 600 men who formed Rogers’ Rangers participated in some of the key actions of the war including the Battles on Snowshoes and the Battle of Carillon, both in 1758.
Aside from his leadership during the FIW, he also contributed significantly with his “Rules of Ranging.” Written in 1757, the 28 rules provide an outline for the discipline and tactics which defined Rogers’ own brand of guerilla-style wilderness war. So visionary in their combination of Native American style warfare with some European principles for the rules of war, some version of these have been used by US Army Rangers to this day.
Following the end of the FIW, Rogers continued to work with the British military during Pontiac’s Rebellion that swept through the Great Lakes in 1763-1766 and finally during the American War of Independence in the 1770s and 1780s. Despite having devoted his entire adult life to warring on behalf of the British in North America, Rogers died in 1795 poor and in obscurity in England at the age of 63.
Rogers’ Rangers in Popular Culture
Robert Rogers has managed to hold considerable space in pop culture for generations. Even though his alliances were with British rule during his decades-long career, his legend rests squarely within a particular type of colorful American frontier character who succeeds by breaking the rules and forging his own path. The persistence of his legacy has been helped by comics, books, movies and TV shows that continue to today.
The modern iteration of Robert Rogers appears in the AMC series TURN: Washington’s Spies, now into a fourth season. While the story focuses on the spy network surrounding New York City in the early days of the American Revolution, considerable space is given to Rogers and his complicated relationship with the British a decade after the FIW.
Modelling Rogers’ Rangers
For my Rogers’ Rangers, I’ve turned again to Galloping Major Wargames. GM figures, like those I modeled as my FIW Virginia Provincials, have a chunkier heroic 28mm scale I love for their detail and personality. The ranger miniatures offer some variety of irregular outfits and weapons including muskets and hatchets. Headgear include the signature bonnets as well as tricorn and rounded jockey hats with fronts cut and cocked back to the crown and detailed with white edging.
The famed short forest green jackets are detailed with lighter green lapels and cuffs finished with silver buttons over earthy red vests. For leggings, I mixed the figures up with colors ranging from a light brown buckskin to a more colorful blue.
Together, I feel my painted Rogers’ Rangers typify how they would have looked as they fought in the fields and forests of 18th-century North America.
Major Robert Rogers and “Duke” Jacob, a freed former slave who is said to have been a member of Rogers’ Rangers
Away from the tabletop, I’ve been swept up in the fervor of Hamilton: The Musical and have been fortunate to catch the show twice on its record-setting Broadway run here in NYC. I’ve also recently revisited 1776 from 1969 and it’s 1972 movie adaptation. As luck would have it a new production will run for one weekend in early April at City Center here in the city, and yes, I’ve already got my tickets. A side note of Broadway trivia is that 1776‘s Tony Award-winning Broadway debut was in the same theater where Hamilton is currently running, and it too seems destined to sweep the awards in June.
But, back to games.
In this Part II, I take a look at more games of the Revolution I’ve managed to acquire and/or play in the past six months. Like the last time, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list. Despite my best efforts there are a lot more games I have yet to touch. What this round presents is again a variety in scope, mechanics and time commitment for gaming the Revolution.
We The People (Avalon Hill)
Avalon Hill’sWe The People from 1994 is a landmark in the history of modern wargaming. In taking on the well-worn American Revolution, designer Mark Herman created a number of innovations which have provided the basis for some of the most successful games of the past two decades.
Breaking from the standard hex maps of most prior wargames, WTP’s playing board of the British colonies of North America is abstracted into a series of connected key politically important locations like Long Island, Boston, Fort Niagara and Charleston. While battles play a part in controlling these areas, it is the shifts in political control that are tracked and lead to victory.
Combat in WTP was also stripped down in a few ways. Basic troop units mark the size of forces, but their quality is modified through the presence of leaders. When forces choose to clash in the game, battle cards are used to resolve various battlefield actions steeped in the terminology and effects of 18th-century warfare.
Lastly, the newly-introduced card driven game (CDG) mechanic propel the game’s action through the play of cards, rather than the more traditional roll of dice. With each hand of cards, players have the option of using them to play historically significant events which have varying results for each side of the conflict. Long term planning and success within the game often comes down to having the right cards at the right time.
An old copy of WTP sits on a shelf of club games at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, and I recently blew the dust off it for a play. Despite its status at the time of release, I honestly don’t find myself getting this one on the table very often. That said, I feel this game’s presence in so many games I play on a regular basis, and so its true game-changing effects on the hobby reverberate to this day.
Washington’s War (GMT Games)
Building on the success of WTP, Herman revisited his game of the Revolution in 2010 with Washington’s War from GMT Games. Players familiar with WTP found much similarity with Herman’s original depiction of the period but with a few significant changes.
A recent game of Washington’s War by GMT Games
The CDG mechanic was tweaked to allow for more flexible use of cards and the ability to ‘buy back’ discarded cards. WW also abandoned the battle cards for a dice-off combat resolution, making combat a quicker and more elegant part of the game. I feel the biggest change was in the more asymmetric representation of how the British and Colonial sides each play. The experienced troops of the King are strong on the coasts with their dominant naval power, and the Americans fair better inland but vie with keeping their militia in the action. Generals remain important to both sides, and the French entry to the war plays out in a way that truly captures the historical impact it had.
All the evolutions from WTP make the more recent game a quicker affair, with WW games running at about 90 minutes as opposed to the two hours or so to play WTP. The upgrades to the design and quality of the board, cards and playing pieces all brought the War of Independence into the 21st-century.
Rectangular and square cardboard tiles represent British and Colonial elite, militia, regular and light infantry, dragoons, artillery and generic commanders. The chunky tiles are double-sided to mark losses as game battles unfold. Each turn players roll for random action points which may be spent to move, rally or fire, allowing for each commander to make choices in utilizing their troops. Additionally, the quality of troops and commander presence modify movement and fire ranges. For a simple series of rules, there’s a lot of game in HTL as even the most careful planning by one side over a series of turns can result in a foiled plan if subsequent action point rolls don’t provide enough actions to carry out a planned move or attack.
Hold The Line Battle of Monmouth morning scenario
HTL comes with thirteen scenarios for historic battles, each with their own page of historic background, rules and guide to set up. Additional optional rules allow for specific historic leaders, rally rules and morale modifications.Once you’ve played through the included scenarios, numerous additional battle scenarios can be found online from fans of the game. Within a simple design, flexible scenarios and a short set of rules, it’s easy to see why this currently out of print game is a favorite.
Battles of the American Revolution (GMT Games)
Between 1998 and 2013, GMT Games released a series of standalone games of the Battles of The American Revolution. Designed by Mark Miklos, each is a more traditional hex and counter game running three to six hours to play. For those looking to dig into eight key engagements of the War of Independence, the games offer nuances to reflect the historic events and personalities which shaped each battle wrapped in a beautiful modern design.
In late 2015 GMT announced the re-release of the first three games in the series — Saratoga, Brandywine and Guilford — as a tri-pack available through their P500 pre-order program. Since I have never played any of the games from the series, I jumped at the chance to get in on the deal of $45 for three games. The games will get upgrades to mounted maps and a unified rulebook, and additional expansions and tweaks to components a offered in reprints over the years will also be included.
The Revolution Continues…
Having spent the better part of 12 months playing through new and old games of the American Revolution, I find myself definitely leaning toward the more modern games. In order of personal preference, here’s my Top 10:
Liberty Or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games)
1775: Rebellion (Academy Games)
Washington’s War (GMT Games)
Liberty: The American Revolution 1775-83 (Columbia Games)
Hold The Line (Worthington Publishing)
We The People (Avalon Hill)
New York 1776 (Worthington Publishing)
Trenton 1776 (Worthington Publishing)
The American Revolution 1775-1783 (SPI)
1776 (Avalon Hill)
The main factors in consideration of the above for me are look, mechanic and importantly, time commitment. Some of the older games from SPI and Avalon Hill just require too much time for me at this stage in my life, and getting a quick game in with my fellow club members or my kids is a big determinant on what gets to the table these days.
What this two-part exercise has done for me is expose how such a diverse gaming experience can be pulled out of one signature conflict with a mix of maps, cardboard and cards. Playing through a span of forty years of American Revolution games, I can only wonder where some designer takes things next. Having gamed my way through the War of Independence, I’ve been spurred on to take a step backward in time to the French and Indian War and see what is revealed on the table next.