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.

IMG_9554Blue Moon British stand ready to receive paint

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: 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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On The Trail of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign

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As I’ve written here many times before, I grew up amid the fields of great wars which shaped world history for more than two centuries hence. These conflicts of the 18th-century — the French and Indian War and the American War of Independence — partially played out in my childhood backyard of Western New York State. It was there in the 1750s-1780s where the European powers of France and England, many American indigenous civilizations and upstart Colonial settlers clashed over the continent savagely and ultimately formed the North American continent we know to this day.

A few months ago I had occasion to journey back again from my current home in Brooklyn to my original hometown in the Genesee Valley of Western New York. In doing so, I was able to partially retrace the movement of once-great alliances of armies and tribes of 1779.

Idealized images of the American War of Independence

Tracing the route of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign uncovers some of the complexity to the story of the American Revolution and the country’s creation myths. Like most Americans, my view of the War of Independence was shaped at an early age with idealistic impressions of the era, its events and its legendary personalities — the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, Colonial Minutemen firing at British Redcoats, Paul Revere’s ride, Washington crossing the Delaware River, Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag and Molly Pitcher at the Battle on Monmouth. The portrayal of history with a heroic flourishes is not uncommon for sure, but stops along the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign route boldly reveal where many of our gaps between legend and reality persist in how we interpret our history.

The Sullivan-Clinton Campaign

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Monument to the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign erected at various sites throughout the region on the 150th anniversary in 1929

By the summer of 1779, the American Revolution was at its midpoint. The surrender of the British at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777 encouraged France to join the war in 1778. Even with much-needed support flowing to the Colonies, the alliance between the Iroquois Confederacy and the British was holding the New York State frontier in the hands of England. Encouraged by British and Tory sympathizers operating from Fort Niagara across Western New York, the Iroquois harassed and killed settlers in the Mohawk Valley and also provided support to the British army in the form of food supplies.

In retaliation, General George Washington set his eyes on crushing the Iroquois alliance to “war upon them in their own style; penetrate their country, lay waste their villages and settlements.” The task was assigned to Major General John Sullivan with Brigadier General James Clinton acting as second in command. Sullivan set off northwest from Easton, PA and joined Clinton at Tioga near present day Athens, PA at the New York border in August 1779. Against military tradition, Washington assigned a major portion of the Continental Army (four brigades of over 4500 men) away from the front against the British. Committing such a sizable amount of men and supplies to the back country campaign points to the importance Washington placed on the mission.

Newtown Battlefield

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Setting out from their encampment on August 26, 1779, the well-supplied columns of the Clinton-Sullivan force marched along the Chemung River. Three days later, the expedition encountered Royalist forces comprised of a handful of British regulars, a couple hundred Tory militia and perhaps 1000 Iroquois warriors lying in wait in well-hidden earthworks.

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A view from atop the Newton Battlefield park

The militia at the Battle of Newtown were the famed Butler’s Rangers, commanded by Loyalist John Butler. Butler’s relationship with the British stretched back to the French and Indian War with his irregular troops participating in a number of key battles in Upstate New York and the Northeast region. Known for their green jackets and tactics which departed from standard 18th-century European line fighting, Butler’s Rangers were well-adapted to fighting in the thick woods of the American frontier. Leading the Iroquois at Newtown was Joseph Brant, a Mohawk who had likewise begun his military career fighting alongside British forces in the French and Indian War.

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Monuments to John Sullivan and the battle at Newtown Battlefield

Despite their dug in positions, Loyalist forces were greatly outnumbered at Newtown and a plan was quickly devised by Sullivan once the enemy’s presence was revealed. With Colonial cannon fire pouring into Loyalist positions, flanking troops were sent east and west. Despite relatively low casualties on both sides, the Loyalist forces ceded the field. The Battle of Newtown, the largest engagement of the Sullivan-Clinton campaign, left a lasting impression on the Iroquois in particular who retreated from the Colonial’s guns and superior numbers.

Groveland Ambuscade

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 Map of the Genesee Valley and the site of the ambush of the Boyd-Parker expedition on September 13, 1779

After Newtown, Sullivan and Clinton continued marching northwest. With the Iroquois on the run westward, the Colonials cut a swath of destruction against largely civilian tribes people. Fields of crops were cut down and dozens of villages were burned. What we would deem today as atrocities were meted out on the Iroquois population of the Finger Lakes Region with Washington’s orders of a scorched-earth mission delivered mercilessly.

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Roadside sign to the Groveland Ambuscade

By mid-September 1779, the Sullivan-Clinton expedition had reached up through the Genesee Valley. In the dense terrain differing from the wider fields of Newtown a month prior, the Colonials were slowed and at a disadvantage without opportunities to use their cannon effectively. On September 12, Clinton assigned Lt. Thomas Boyd, Sergeant Michael Parker and just over 20 men to find the Iroquois village of Little Beard’s Town. Lying again in ambush were Butler’s men and hundreds of Senecas.

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Me, my father and sons at the Groveland Ambuscade monument

The following morning on September 13, 1779, Boyd’s scouting party engaged in a brief gunfight with a half-dozen Senecas near Conesus Lake and present-day Groveland. Against the advisement of his guide, Boyd pursued the Indians into a trap where they were quickly surrounded by Butler and Brant’s large force. In the ensuing ambush, about a dozen of Boyd’s men were killed. As the smoke cleared, another twelve men were captured along with Boyd and Parker themselves. Today, the Groveland Ambuscade park and monument marks the place of this quick and yet bloody skirmish.

Boyd-Parker Park

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Historical marker at the Boyd-Parker “torture tree” site in Cuylerville, NY

The captured Colonials were led to nearby Little Beard’s Town some five miles west of the ambush near present day Cuylerville, NY. After enduring a summer of unrelenting viciousness at the hands of the Sullivan-Clinton campaign, Brant was anxious to confront his now-imprisoned enemies face to face. With his questioning over, Brant left the men to the Senecas who tortured and killed Boyd, Parker and all but one of their men.

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My wife and son at the Boyd-Parker “torture tree”

The centerpiece of the present day Boyd-Parker Park is the infamous “torture tree.” Soaring over 70 feet high and some 24 feet in circumference, the 250-year-old bur oak tree is a direct living link to the past events of the valley centuries ago. While legend has it the tree is the actual spot where Boyd and Parker met their end through horrendous acts of torture, the name is dubious since no actual documentation exists to prove the exact tree’s location.Two days after the deaths of the Boyd and Parker’s group, Sullivan’s main force arrived to destroy Little Beard’s Town and bury their comrades.

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One of many plaques at the Boyd-Parker park

In the weeks following the events in the Genesee Valley toward the end of September 1779, Sullivan and Clinton’s expedition force began to disband to winter quarters. While a decisive blow had not been dealt to the Iroquois, thousands of Indians were dispersed throughout Western New York and into Canada as winter set in with starvation and disease devastating the already weakened population.

Memory of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign

Touring the landscapes and monuments of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign in the Genesee Valley is a remarkable experience. Attempting to place yourself back in a time of a region dotted with large Indian towns, large fields of mature agriculture and scattered white settlers takes a great leap of imagination. The modern plaques and signage along roadsides and memorial parks document the events of 1779 with words like “hostile” and “aggression” applied repeatedly to the Iroquois who peacefully lived their lives for centuries before becoming embroiled in the wars of Europeans and American colonists. On the flip side, the upstart Colonials who set on a single-minded destructive campaign against the locals are portrayed heroically as “undaunted” and sacrificially giving their blood for “American freedom.” Following the trail of history today leads to ongoing battles of a different sort — battles to square the nation’s history myths with the realities of the events of over two centuries ago.

Flames of War: Metropolitan Wargamers Tanksgiving 2015

MWG Tanksgiving 2015

For the third year running, we’ll be hosting a day of armored Flames of War tank battles on Sunday November 22nd, 2015 at noon at Metropolitan Wargamers in Park Slope, Brooklyn. This year we’ll be taking over the entire back room of the club running multiple Late War Europe games using 1900 points of armored forces on a side. US, British, German and Soviet armies will rolling and fighting on tables filled with beautiful terrain, so experienced players can bring their own forces or newcomers are welcome to just come along, push some armor, roll some dice learn the game.

You can check out the photos below from our previous Tanksgiving events from 2014 and 2013, and more photos and after action reports can be found at the links in the captions.

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Soviet and Hungarian armor collide in one of the five games from Tanksgiving 2014

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US and German forces clash during Tanksgiving 2013

This year’s Tanksgiving 2015 will be held at Metropolitan Wargamers at 522 5th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn (enter through basement level). Visitors pay just $15 and regular club members are free. The event will be a great opportunity for new people to meet some of us at the club and experience the New York City’s premier wargaming community. If you’d like to come, RSVP via our club’s Yahoo group.

New Game Weekend: The Battle Of Bushy Run

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The end of the French and Indian War in 1763 was less than satisfactory for many of the participants, especially the Native American tribes which had been entwined in decades of alliances with British and French forces. After losing their attachment to their longtime French allies in the Great Lakes Region, many Indian tribes were angered by the post-war British policies which aggressive opened white settlement to the Ohio Territory (present day Western Pennsylvania and Ohio), Illinois Country (portions of present day Illinois, Indiana and Michigan) and wider Great Lakes Region (including present day Western New York). British promises to continue the flow of gifts to the tribes in the region were also cut back, further angering the Native peoples who had become dependent on European trade goods over the years.

Feeling duped by British colonial rule, a confederation of more than a dozen tribes rose up in a unified force led by Ottawa leader Pontiac (among other tribal leaders in the region). In the spring of 1763, groups of white settlers and multiple British forts and in the disputed territories were attacked. After the destruction of several smaller forts and an unsuccessful siege at Fort Detroit, another at Fort Pitt also occurred. With a British relief column en route from the east, many of the Indians at Fort Pitt broke off to the meet the British. What resulted was the Battle of Bushy Run on August 5-6, 1763.

IMG_6397MMP’s Special Ops Issue #5 from September 2014

Multi-Man Publishing is best known for it’s 20th-century wargames (including the classic Advanced Squad Leader), but the September 2014 issue of their Special Ops magazine contains a nifty little game for the Battle of Bushy Run. Packed into just four pages of rules, 88 cardboard counters and two beautiful maps, MMP’s presentation of the two-day battle in the thick woods of Western Pennsylvania is an incredibly satisfying game.

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IMG_6395Fire and random turn event markers for MMP’s Battle of Bushy Run

I had a chance to punch and play a new copy of the game this past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. Giving the game it’s first spin with me was a fellow club member who is an instructor at a local college and an expert in 18th-century North American colonial warfare. The playing counters have tidy artwork and are divided into force chips and a variety of other game markers. The British force markers depict the various historic units at the battle with values for strength and movement and step losses. A supply wagon piece provides the path of victory for the British looking to move it off the board and onward to relieve Fort Pitt. Special British scout markers also play as a way to counteract the nature of how the Indian force markers work in the game.

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The Indian force markers display the various tribes present at Bushy Run, and each have an identical strength and movement value. Each also has just one step loss, but the way they work in the game does not reward the Indian player for simply standing to fight against the British. Along with the larger game map where the British column begins fully deployed, the Indians deploy on a smaller hidden map. Throughout the game, the Indian player may move their units from one map to the other as they attack, hide or come back concealed. Additionally, some Indian pieces are dummy markers which can add an additional layer of confusion for the British player struggling to see where their enemy are. These simple markers and the double maps helps to create a fantastic simulation of the challenge of the regular British troops in fighting Indians fading in and out of the woods with harassing attacks. Since movement is by the area, each with it’s own defensive equal for both sides, choosing where and when to fight is important for the British and Indians alike.

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Further adding to the unpredictability of the frontier fight is a series of random turn events which can potentially benefit each side in a turn. With the British objective of getting their wagon off the board, the European force must balance choices on when to move, when to engage the surrounding Indian forces and when to stand still to take a round of volley fire. The Indians must capture the wagon using a force which lacks the military superiority of the British, but make up for it in their ability to appear, disappear, move and reappear throughout the battle. Indian casualties can mount quickly under British fire, and the Redcoats can also win by eliminating 14 Indian units.

Our first game resulted in a narrow victory for the British, just wheeling their wagon off the board as the final mass of surviving Indians closed in on all sides. We found the British scouts to be pretty ineffective, but they didn’t hinder the game either. My Indian casualties were high, owing to my more aggressive early game engagement with the British as I worked out how effective the concealed and hidden movement could be. The British also learned some lessons by probably sitting still a turn or two too long, standing and awaiting to fire on the encroaching Indians rather than hustling their column forward from the get-go. For a tiny game depicting a small battle in a largely forgotten period of conflict in Colonial American history, MMP’s The Battle of Bushy Run is a tactical and historical thrill.

Boardgames of the American Revolution, Part I

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Last month, Quartz published a crowd-sourced online survey of how the rest of the world learns about the American Revolution in school. For most outside the US, the war is variably seen as a sideshow to other 18th-century European conflicts, an extension of the Enlightenment or ignored altogether. Children in the United States itself often leave school and march into adult citizenship with only the broadest mythic stories and American patriotic heroes of the war under their belts.

My interest in the American War of Independence has fluctuated over time since growing up as a kid amid the United States Bicentennial fervor of the mid-1970s. Having been in Brooklyn for almost two decades now, I’ve developed a growing interest in the war as I live and commute daily through the ground fought over during the Battle of Brooklyn and Battle of New York in 1776. Over the past year or two I’ve also been working through a minor obsession with boardgames of the American War of Independence. I’ve played many and collected a few ranging from classics of the early 1970s to modern games varied in scope and mechanics.

Presented here is by no means a complete list of games themed on America’s defining early conflict, but an overview of the ones I’ve played or chosen to add to my inventory of wargames. Style, scope and time commitments vary with these games, offering interested gamers – both new and experienced – an opportunity to play and learn about the American Revolution anew with each tabletop session.

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The American Revolution 1775-1783 (SPI)

Simulation Publications Inc (SPI) rolled out The American Revolution 1775-1783 in 1972 a few years ahead of the Bicentennial celebration, and launched some revolutionary new aspects to wargaming along with it. Breaking from the tradition of a hex-based wargame map of the time, SPI’s game is laid out in a graphic abstract series of areas and regions with their own victory point values. Rules for the game are slim, and reference charts for turn sequence, movement, winter attrition, combat and reinforcements by turn season and year are all printed right on the map. The overall design, from the slick Helvetica font on the plain white box edition to the map itself has a great retro feel that sets it apart from other games of the early 70s. I’ve played In short, the game feels very ‘modern’ despite being more than forty years old.

AmRevSPIgameSPI’s The American Revolution 1775-1783

Cardboard chits with simple iconic graphics display force strength for the two main sides of the war, and movement is standardized in terrain marked simply as either as wilderness or open. Colonial forces move more effectively in wilderness areas than the British, making it easier for them to evade confrontation with the superior English troops. Staying away from the British until enough Colonial forces can be raised is key to any success for the Revolution.

The arrival of additional British troops into ports is scheduled specifically according to the year and season of the game outlined at the edge of the board, and Colonial forces are raised and deployed through a random die roll levy. The mechanics whereby Colonial Militia and Tory forces deploy I find to be pretty accurately reflective of the regional politics of the era. Tories appear only once when British Regulars enter a region, and Colonial Militia take up arms against the British when they first enter a region they do not control and each time the British lose control. French forces arrive after a ‘major success’ (five or more losses by the British) in combat by the Colonials. All these well-thought deployment mechanisms stand out as big historical differentiators for me with this game.

Combat is resolved through a die roll check on a simple table in a corner of the board which can result in very bloody losses to both sides as they meet in battle. First losses in battle always go to Tories of Militia forces which historically often left battlefields when the going got tough. Sieges are pretty simple with forces defending in forts getting triple their combat strength and attackers outside the fort doubling their value when counter-attacked by the fortified foes. Victory for the British comes by controlling a value of 51 victory points on the board, and the Colonials can win with three ‘major success’ battles. In all its abstract area movement and control, SPI’s game offers a slick game that captures just enough of the nuanced history of the period to more than satisfy.

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1776 (Avalon Hill)

The other big game to come out before the Bicentennial was Avalon Hill’s 1776 from 1974. With rules running almost three times as long as those in SPI’s game, 1776 is often viewed as the more detailed play experience of the two. Some 400 counters represent infantry, artillery and dragoons for the Continental Army, British Regulars, Colonial and Tory Militia, French Regulars, Indians, and British and French naval units. The large mounted hex maps are filled with detailed terrain with each feature effecting movement and combat in different ways. Other tables for combat and turn sequence are contained on a series of additional reference charts, and tactical cards and scenario sheets round out the components in the hefty box.

IMG_6370Avalon Hill’s 1776

I’ve only recently picked up a copy of 1776 and I’m not certain when I’m going to be able to find an opponent to give this one a proper play. A read through the lengthy rules outline the game from a quick beginner’s experience to specific historic scenarios within the war to a full campaign mode covering the entire war. Advanced rules go deep in simulating the role of supply, forts, entrenchments, naval movement and combat, river movement by bateaux, wintering effects, French entrance to the war and the arrival of additional troops throughout the chosen game. Combat is achieved by a ratio of force size and a die roll modified by factors of supply, defense from forts and trenches and presence of artillery. Control of specific locations within a region is the key factor to the game, creating an interestingly complex dynamic for the raising additional forces as well as a path of victory. Aside from the game itself, the splendid designer notes offer a great general meditation on the trade-offs inherent to historic war simulation balanced with playability. For the gamer really wanting to roll their sleeves up with the intricacies of the American Revolution, 1776 is probably the game.

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Liberty: The American Revolution 1775-83 (Columbia Games)

Liberty: The American Revolution 1775-1783, published by Columbia Games in 2003, bridges the gap from traditional wargames to the present with relatively swift play, wooden blocks to represent British, Colonial, French and Native American forces, and simple cards driving force activation and supply during each game turn. The long game map consists of large hexes with forest, swamp and river terrain features which affect movement as well as geographic supply towns and key victory point locations. British and French West Indies ports allow for additional options in naval movement and combat. The game strikes a balance between simple rules and rich re-playability, and my time with the game has seen victories for either side depending on the session.

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Liberty: The American Revolution 1775-83 by Columbia Games

In each year of the game, a hand of five dealt cards activate forces and re-supply existing forces which have taken step losses in previous turns. Actions may either move forces already on the map or bring new units onto the board by selecting from a random pool of blocks. A limited number of Native American blocks are allied with the British player only, and French forces may arrive randomly after the first turn beginning in 1776. Colonial forces arrive in controlled supply areas, British and French forces arrive by sea to available ports and Tory Militia rise from British-controlled supply areas. When opposing forces move into contact, combat is resolved by simple die rolls depending on the quality and strength of the blocks available. Blocks are reduced in strength and then eliminated as ‘prisoners’ which may be exchanged at the end of the turn and returned to each player’s pool of available forces. At the end of combat, forces may have the option to withdraw or stay in the fight. Weather plays a random role in the game, potentially limiting combat during a turn year, and troops may be also eliminated in a wintering phase at the end of turn. Victory is tallied at the end of each hand of cards and year with the British winning with 30 supply points and the Colonials by driving the British to under 12 supply points.

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1775: Rebellion (Academy Games)

I’ve written previously in detail about 2013’s 1775: Rebellion from the Birth of America series from Academy Games, one of my favorite quick-playing boardgames of the American Revolution. The game plays different from most in the period with two to four players able to command the American Continental Army, Patriot Militia, British Army and Loyalist forces in a game driven by card activation and randomized turn order.

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1775: Rebellion from Academy Games

The four main forces plus French, Hessian and Native American allies are all represented by simple colored cubes moving and warring over a gorgeous game board representing the the colonies, territories and Canadian provinces of the northeastern American continent of the late 18th-century. Cards drive the action with movement, period-specific events and personalities, and special color-coded dice resolve combat as forces are either destroyed or flee to return in later turns. Areas flip to British or American control as combat is resolved. When two special Treaty of Paris cards are played, the game ends with victory rewarded to the player holding the most control of the board. If I’m going to play the American Revolution with a relatively inexperienced player or non-gamer, this is my go-to game for the period.

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New York 1776 and Trenton 1776 (Worthington Publishing)

In 2014, Worthington Publishing launched their ambitious Campaigns of the American Revolution series with New York 1776 followed by Trenton 1776 in 2015. These strategic block games, funded through popular Kickstarter campaigns I backed, take players through specific stages of the war beginning with the action on Long Island and in and around New York City in the summer and fall of 1776 and continuing the conflict into New Jersey in the winter of 1776 and 1777.

While the games do not directly connect to each other in a grand campaign, each two-hour game is well-scaled to the strategy inherent to each series of battles in the early years of the war. Randomized turn order, variable numbers of turn actions and the block components provide a fog of war mechanic to the game as forces move by themselves or as groups under the command of the many leaders present on each side. Movement is broadly point-to-point on game boards simply illustrated with towns, ports, forts or other key geographic points of control. Combat goes off as forces meet on the map with infantry, artillery, leaders and fortified positions playing into results that can include withdrawals, retreats, fleeing Militia and follow up attacks. Command plays several roles in these games, including being able to move groups of forces and other scenario-specific special rules in battle, deployment and victory conditions.

NY1776gameplayWorthington Publishing’s New York 1776

New York 1776 presents the largest meeting of troops during the American Revolution with the professional British army and navy, along with their hired Hessian allies, looking to halt the uprising of the new American Colonial army and Militia in the early months of the war. Controlling the waterways and supply routes around New York with the British navy plays a big part in the British player’s path to either capturing Washington or controlling New York by game’s end. For the Colonial player, the game is largely one of avoiding the mass of better rated British troops, preventing their control of New York or reducing the superior British army by 20 points.

IMG_6368Worthington Publishing’s Trenton 1776

In Trenton 1776, the action moves to smaller scale engagements in New Jersey as the British looked to smash the Colonial army and Militia retreating from their defeat in New York. With Washington in command, he risks bold counterattacks to push the British back out of southern New Jersey or simply moving to safety south of the Delaware. Howe’s pursuing British army must mass its forces against the rebel army at key towns and river crossings and hopefully push to seize Philadelphia as the icy winter settles in. With similar rules but at a smaller scale than New York 1776, multiple plays of Trenton 1776 can really show players how cautious or aggressive decisions can make or break a campaign.

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Liberty Or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games)

I’m really looking forward to the release of Liberty Or Death: The American Resurrection, due out late this year. The sixth game in the counterinsurgency (COIN) series from GMT Games, I’ve had this one on pre-order based on my love for the other COIN games. Playing from solo to four players, Liberty Or Death will present the war as one of insurgent and counterinsurgency forces of American Colonials, British, French and Native Americans warring for control of the North American continent. As in the other COIN games, shifting alliances, varied turn order, separate victory conditions, irregular forces and historically-themed event cards will each play into a game which will greatly expand beyond the typical presentation of the war as one between just two opposing nations. Early reports from game tests and some sneak looks at artwork make this my personally most anticipated game of the year, and I’ll surely be back with a full report in the coming months.

So where to start with the American Revolution?

The 1970s era SPI and Avalon Hill games will appeal the most to experienced strategy players looking to really dig into hours of the broad complexity of some or all the war within a very traditional wargame. On the flipside, the Worthington Publishing games provide short but replayable intros to gaming the period for younger players or those just getting into block games. The Columbia Games take on the war splits the difference by offering up relatively simple mechanics of a card-activated block game representing the entire war over a couple hours of play. The Academy Games game expands play to four players and allied forces in an abstracted area control strategy game that likewise covers the entire war in mix of card and dice action. The forthcoming game from GMT Games will reinvent the conflict anew within the context of four separate interests vying for victory.

Players wishing to play through advanced strategic simulation of 18th-century warfare will be rewarded by time invested in the Avalon Hill and SPI games. The Columbia Games and Worthington Publishing games will also provide a satisfying  combat simulation albeit at a much simplified level. To experience more abstracted combat as well as the interplay of politics, alliances and events within the period of the war, the Academy Games and GMT Games games provide both relatively fast play as well as more of a learning experience about broader aspects of the American Revolution.

Each game above paints the American Revolution large or small, and together they are a fine reflection of the evolving mechanics of wargaming over the past forty years. There are numerous additional games of the American Revolution, some focusing on specific regional campaigns and many others presenting the full war. Games still on my shortlist to try include 2010’s Washington’s War from GMT Games and its 1994 predecessor We The People by Avalon Hill which helped launch the modern trend in card-driven wargaming.

There’s a point of entry for gamers of every type to get in on the War of Independence and relive what Thomas Paine famously called, “the times that try men’s souls.”