French and Indian War: Colonel George Washington from Eureka Miniatures

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One of the remarkable things about history is how individuals taking part in small events can carry weight across generations and around the world. George Washington was one of these people over and over again throughout his life. Washington wanted nothing more than to rise through the ranks of the British military, earning glory and status as part of what had become the most powerful colonial force of the 18th-century. Three formative events occurred for Washington in 1754 and 1755 as a British Colonial officer on the rise, and his fate would become wrapped up in what would become the French and Indian War.

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“Death of Jumonville”

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1859).

In the spring of 1754, a newly-promoted 21-year-old Lt. Col. Washington in command of the Virginia Regiment was sent into the Ohio Country of Western Pennsylvania to provide assistance to British fort and road construction. Accompanied by Mingo leader Tanacharison (also known as “The Half King”), a dozen Indians and 40 Virginians, Washington encountered a French-Canadian scouting party on May 28, 1754. Washington’s ambush of the French in what would become known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen quickly devolved into The Half King’s surprise killing of the French Canadian commander Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. Although a victory for Washington, the affair rattled the young officer. The event also escalated hostilities between the French and British in North America, contributing directly to the beginning of the FIW.

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“The Night Council at Fort Necessity”

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1856). 

Anticipating French retribution, Washington and his Virginians fell back to a nearby meadow and began work on a hasty stockade fort. On July 3, some 600 French, French-Canadians and French-allied Indians attacked at the Battle of Fort Necessity. Outnumbered with just 400 men, Washington surrendered at day’s end after a rainy, muddy and bloody fight. In signing the terms with the French, Washington may have inadvertently admitted to the murder of Jumonville. Again, Washington’s stature in the British military was used as propaganda in France to further stoke the fires of war in the American Colonies.

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“The Fall of Braddock”

Painted by C. Schuessele, engraved by J.B. Allen, Virtue, Emmins & Co., New York. (1859)

With the war amping up, British Major General Edward Braddock arrived in the colonies in 1755 and set about a campaign deep into the Ohio Country to attempt again to oust the French. Beginning in May of that year, the ambitious campaign began with Washington at his mentor Braddock’s side leading over 2000 soldiers and ten cannon into the wilderness. The troubled and often stalled campaign finally arrived near their destination of Fort Duquesne (at present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) on July 9, 1755. In the chaotic ambush, hundreds of Indians and French set upon the British advance column. In the ensuing battle Braddock was shot and eventually succumbed. Washington was devastated by the loss of his role model in another emotional loss that would weigh in him for years.

These events in the early career would go on to effect Washington for the rest of his life. His experience in the war and his rise within and eventual rejection by the British military system cannot be understated for how they molded Washington as the leader of the American Revolution and President of the United States.

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Needless to say, if you’re going to wargame the FIW period, you need a little Colonel Washington on the table. For mine, I turned to Eureka Miniatures. For about $10 they offer a metal cast vignette of Washington dismounted holding the reins of his horse and two of his beloved greyhounds standing faithfully nearby.

 

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Despite the charm of the four-piece set, I really wanted to model Washington with his boots on the ground. I’ll save the horse and dogs for some future project, and glued a spare musket to Washington’s extended hand.

For a painting guide, I used the iconic portrait painted by Charles Wilson Peale in 1772. Although painted after the FIW, the image depicts Washington as a proud British Colonial officer of the war years dressed in his Virginia Regiment uniform.

With Washington, I have the charismatic leader from his early career ready to command forces on the tabletop.

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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: Virginia Provincials from Galloping Major Wargames

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With French eyes on the contested Ohio Country and Western Virginia, in 1754 British Colonial Governor Robert Dinwiddie called for the raising of provincial infantry to protect the frontier. Commanded by Colonel Joshua Fry and a young Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, the Virginians would be present at the very start of the French and Indian War at an encounter gone badly at Jumonville Glen in Western Pennsylvania in May 1754. Washington’s eventual promotion to Colonel commanding the Virginians in 1755 during disastrous experiences at Fort Necessity and with the Braddock Expedition would shape his future leadership both on and off the battlefield.

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I was fortunate to be recently gifted fifteen Provincial figures from Galloping Major Wargamers. These excellent sculpts are on the bigger side of the 28mm miniature spectrum, representing a classic “true 28mm” with stocky, detailed and well-posed figures. The models are equipped so as to represent a variety of the Provincial forces in the British colonies during the era, allowing for a lot of flexibility for painters and gamers.

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Charles Willson Peale. George Washington in the Uniform of a British Colonial Colonel. 1772. Oil on canvas. Lee Chapel & Museum, Washington & Lee University.

The challenge in painting models of the FIW period can be in choosing what uniforms to base color schemes on. From my research I was able to tell the  Virginia Provincials went through two distinct uniform designs. The first, from about 1754-1755, featured a boldly in red — red coats with red cuffs and turnbacks, red waistcoats and red breeches. The later uniform adopted in 1756 through the end of the conflict featured a dark blue coat with red cuffs and turnbacks, red waistcoats and blue breeches. The 1772 portrait of Washington by Charles Willson Peale captures a heroic depiction of this later uniform style. In reality, both uniforms probably overlapped in use and at times the undersupplied provincial units would have resorted to using whatever equipment and clothing was available.

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I chose to paint my provincials in the later blue coats so as to make them stand out from the other allied British redcoats on the gaming table. To my eye, the later uniforms somehow look “more American” as the Virginians exited the war already sowing the seeds of the Revolution against British Crown rule to come over the next two decades.

As stated above, these Galloping Major castings feature some great personality. The command figures, one with a sword drawn behind his back and the other with his pistol at the ready, really carry a lot of presence on the table. The drummer stands resting as is catching his breath before the next command beat through his drum. Even each line figure, either loading or firing, has slight tweaks to their pose or equipment to show each miniature as an individual within the Virginia Provincial Regiment.

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French and Indian War: Woodland Indians from Conquest Miniatures

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My first test redcoat with basic colors blocked in

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

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Halfway through my first batch of British Redcoats

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

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Boardgames of the French and Indian War

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

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

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

FIWBooksSome of my recent reading on the French and Indian War

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

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

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Wilderness War (GMT Games)

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

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Sample strategy cards from GMT’s Wilderness War

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

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Wilderness War by GMT Games

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

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The French and Indian War (Decision Games)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 2016 remastered HTL French and Indian War game

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

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A Few Acres of Snow (Treefrog Games)

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

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

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

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

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Struggle For New France (Schutze Games)

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

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

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

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French & Indian War Battle Collection (Two Buck Games)

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

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

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

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Empires In America (Victory Point Games)

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

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

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

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

So where to start with the French and Indian War?

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

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

Rapping The Revolution At “Hamilton”

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There were some constants in my childhood — playing games, learning about American history and theater. My parents were active in local community theater building sets, gathering up props, costuming, running patron sponsorship and all the random tasks which come with a volunteer stage group. Life at home had a pattern for years with dramas or comedies over the winter and larger scale musicals over the summer. As I grew older, I also got involved with school musicals, and I’ve got a ton of great memories onstage and backstage from my teen years. All through my life, musicals have formed a soundtrack, from the piles of records by my parents’ stereo to the CDs I carted with me to college to the cast recordings I stream in my apartment today.

HamiltonSoldiers“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and cast

Living in Brooklyn for the past 20 years has granted me access to some of the best theater in the world, and this past week I had the opportunity to catch one of the most lauded American theater events of the century so far — Hamilton. Based on Ron Chernow’s bestselling 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton, much has been written already about this remarkable work by Lin-Manuel Miranda, but for me, it just hits so many notes of my life past and present.

The musical jumps to a start with a quickly-sung early biography of Alexander Hamilton’s orphaned boyhood in the Caribbean and arrival in British-ruled New York City in 1773. The city itself is a main character in the story, staged as a place full of immigrants, wealthy families, big ideas, life-changing opportunities, celebrity scandals, an unforgiving press and power struggles intersecting in taverns, parlors and streets which very much resembles New York to this day. Hamilton sees only opportunity, the ensemble lyric repeating again and again –“In New York you can be a new man.”

The play goes a long way in showing how the American Revolution was fought over drinks, bedroom liaisons, spies and backroom deals as much as it was — or perhaps more so — on the battlefield. The “rooms where it happen” are where Hamilton, his rival Aaron Burr and his allies — the French upstart Marquis De Lafayette, tailor and spy Hercules Mulligan and early abolitionist John Laurens — meet, argue and scheme. These rooms are also where begins the arc of Hamilton’s relationship with the daughters of Philip SchuyluerElizabeth, Angelica and Peggy — who he charms and eventually betrays. Hamilton joins General George Washington as his aid with “Right Hand Man” and brings his friends in tow. The web of influences these characters have on one another in shaping the course of the war and the founding of the United States are delivered through alternately rousing and deeply emotional songs, rapped and soulfully sung.

HamiltonandWashingtonLin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton and Christopher Jackson as George Washington

On top of the personal dramas, there’s a ton of real real history (and military history) that rips and raps by in Hamilton. The arrival of British forces en masse in New York Harbor and the New York and New Jersey campaign of 1776-1777 is covered quickly with shock to the overwhelmed colonials forced into retreat. Washington’s cautiousness during the Revolution is chalked up to quick references to his early experience as a British officer during which he experienced death first hand. The historically-savvy will note this as an allusion to the slaughter at Jumonville Glen, Washington’s defeat at Fort Necessity and the death of his mentor British General Edward Braddock.

Washington’s challenges in managing a barely-equipped army while surrounded by strivers like Charles Lee (who had served with Washington under Braddock during the French and Indian War) are covered through the middle of the first act. Lee’s disastrous decisions at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778 and the rise of Lafayette’s military importance in partnership with Washington and Hamilton comes midway in the first act with “Stay Alive” and begins to point toward how the colonists may win the war through the intervention of the French with the song “Guns and Ships.”

Battles are covered by the ensemble cast quickly swapping blue and red coats, dancing with rifles and booming and flashing stage effects. The victory at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, sung by Hamilton, Laurens, Lafayette and Mulligan in “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” presents the true shock felt by the British in the aftermath eventually leading to the end of the war in 1783.

HamDebateDaveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson, Jackson as Washington and Miranda as Hamilton in an Act II Cabinet debate

The second act moves from insurrection to nation-building with the arrival of Thomas Jefferson back from France in 1789, the creation of the first US Cabinet under Washington and the ongoing political battles through the administration of John Adams and the election of Jefferson in 1800. Four years later, lifelong rivals Burr and Hamilton meet in their fateful duel, and the legacy of both is written. The play closes with the company singing “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” with a gut-wrenching meditation on the nature of history itself.

IMG_7365The American Revolution stacks up in my apartment these days…

There is so much I love in Hamilton. The history is rich with complex events and relationships referenced in nearly every rhymed line. There are too many to recount, but everything from The Federalist Papers and the Compromise of 1790 to the Whiskey Rebellion and the dire illness of King George III late in his life are covered. If you’re up on the story of America in the last decades of the 18th-century, there is much to savor, and for the less knowledgeable, there is a lot of inspiration to dance out of the theater and learn more. The cast recording has played non-stop in my house since its release, and my wife, kids and I have talked more about the American Revolution than I think any of us have in our entire lives before.

But the discussion of history is only as good as it is relevant to the present, and again, Hamilton nails this. The use of pamphlets, papers and public oratory in the colonies was the social media of its day, used to build up one’s cause and take down rivals. The political infighting and quest for power of the period makes today’s national government look downright cooperative. Prominently, the rapping from a largely black and Hispanic cast in Hamilton alludes to the United States as a place only as strong as new arrivals and new ideas, no matter the race or country of origin. In all, the musical creates an overwhelming thrill and pride in being a citizen of a country like the United States which was founded and continues to be great, often despite itself.

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…as do games of the American Revolution on my shelf

And finally, as this is a gaming blog, Hamilton offers me yet another boost to get more time on the table with games of the period. In my post from last summer, Boardgames of the American Revolution, I talked about some of my faves and I am anxiously awaiting Liberty Or Death from GMT Games in the coming months. No doubt, there will be a fair amount gaming the American War of Independence for me this year, and Hamilton will be the soundtrack.