New Game Weekend: A Few Acres of Snow

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 “You know that these two nations are at war about a few acres of snow somewhere around Canada, and that they are spending on this beautiful war more than all Canada is worth.” — Voltaire, Candide (1758)

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the area of what would become the Northeastern United States and the neighboring Canadian Provinces of Ontario and Quebec were a battlefield for French, British and Native American control. With the two European empires locked in a protracted series of large and small wars around the globe, the American colonies were often a sideshow to the global conflict. In the colonies, King William’s War (1689–97), Queen Anne’s War (1702-13), King George’s War (1744–48) and the French and Indian War (1754–63) each played a role in shaping not only the birth of the United States of America but also the face of the entire globe for centuries to come.

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A mid-18th century map of British and French colonies in North America

(from New York Public Library Map Division)

I grew up in Western New York State, spent most of my twenties in Eastern Michigan and Western Pennsylvania, and finally settled in New York City nearly twenty years ago. In my life I’ve logged many a road trip to the landmarks of British and French military control at Fort Stanwix, Fort Ticonderoga, Fort William Henry and Fort Niagara, along with various battlefields and stops at roadside markers. In July, I’ll be swinging by Fort Necessity in Pennsylvania where a British officer named George Washington first commanded troops in an opening battle of the French and Indian War. I’ll also be swinging through Letchworth State Park which was occupied by the western edges of the Iroquois Confederacy which sided with the British during the era of European conflict. In short, I’ve spent my entire life living amid the ghosts of the contested colonial regions of the North American colonial wars.

AcresCardsSample cards from A Few Acres of Snow

At the recent D-Day Plus 70 weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY I was fortunate to score a copy of A Few Acres of Snow in a dice-off raffle. Created by famed designer Martin Wallace and released by Treefrog Games in 2011, the game takes its name from a quote from Voltaire’s Candide commenting on the absurdity of European focus on colonial wars for territory. AFAOS takes players through the French-British colonial period in North America as each nation competed for control of the continent. Within the theme, the game is a rich mix of deck-building and area control mechanics as players seek to settle and defend key areas of the map.

snowsymbolsCard symbols from A Few Acres of Snow

(Wagon, Bateaux, Settler, Military Strength, Money, Fur, Ambush and Ship)

The two-player game begins with players choosing a side as the British or French with a set number of settled outposts in the wilderness of 17th and 18th century North America. British begin with their main settlements in New York and Boston while the French player starts with Quebec. Players begin with a draw deck from which they start with five cards. Playing cards in turns of two actions each, players perform a variety of actions including settlement, fortification, raids, sieges, trade, piracy and a number of card management options. Symbols depicted on each card allow for enormous flexibility in how each player executes their strategy of expansion. For example, a player might begin with a Location card setting off from an existing settlement. From there, a card is played with the appropriate movement symbol like a Bateaux along a river. Once at a new location, a card with a Settler might be played to create a new settlement. As a player’s holdings expand, their decks grow in size and options, leading to even more potential paths of empire growth. Once all settlement tokens are used or major settlements like Boston or Quebec are captured, the games ends and victory points are scored.

IMG_3640My first play of A Few Acres of Snow

In my first play through AFAOS, I faced off with my son playing the French and me playing as the British. The game plays in about an hour, but on our first run we went to a bit over 90 minutes as we wrapped our heads around the rules. After I quickly sailed to and settled Halifax well within the bounds of French country, several  sieges commenced. In his first siege attempt, my son was repelled by my superior military might powered by my store of money. He then took a few turns to quickly trade a lot of fur (one of the strengths of the French player) to buy additional forces for a second siege which chased my British from his territory.

IMG_3647My heavily-settled British Atlantic Coast in A Few Acres of Snow

In the meantime, I pushed inland with a string a settlements toward the Great Lakes in the hopes it would expose Quebec to a siege. However, my son quickly landed a stronghold in my coastal territory in a siege victory at Pemaquid. I retaliated with two failed attacks on Pemaquid using Native American raiding parties. Having held on, my son launched an attack on Boston and my British rule of the colonies fell.

Our first game showed us how quickly AFAOS can move once you get the mechanics. Getting the right cards in and out of your hand is key to winning the game, and the cards shift in importance as the game quickly unfolds. The balance of trade, expansion and military actions does a fantastic job in re-enacting the dynamics which played out between the British, French and shifting Native American allies over some 150 years. Even though we upset the course of history, we both walked away pretty thrilled over our new game and chatting up strategies for the next time we meet up in the woods and along the coasts of Colonial America.

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2014: Opening New Fronts

wraondsnyIn the middle of 2013 I somewhat unexpectedly re-launched Brooklyn Wargaming with a new design and a renewed posting vigor. Since then, I’ve had more than 10,000 visits from readers all over the world. Together with these folks I’m sure to never know, we share a continued passion for gaming I am committed to infusing in every one of my postsings here.

My World War II Flames of War posts are clearly the favorites for visitors to the site. My FOW After Action Reports continue to garner a lot of daily views, and people in particular seem to love the Barkmann’s Corner scenario I played in July at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. More AARs and building-out my various national forces in my FOW Modelling posts will be a big part of 2014.

As for other stuff on the site, my few posts on Warfare In The Age of Reason are quickly shooting to the top of popularity. I really enjoy writing up my plays a variety of board and card games through my New Game Weekend posts, and taking a look backward at Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s often result in emails from people like me who have fond memories of hours spent at play in the past.

Looking to 2014, here’s where my focus will continue and grow on Brooklyn Wargaming and the tabletop each week.

World War II

For years, I’ve played a lot of FOW with a big focus on Western Europe. To start the year, I’ll be playing a beach landing or two as a way to prep for the 70th anniversary of D-Day this summer, and I’ve also got a handful of other historic scenarios I’ve been working-up over the past few months.

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Over Thanksgiving, my brother (another lifelong gamer like myself) handed me a copy of Antony Breevor’s Stalingrad and told me it was the best military history book he’d ever read. The highly-readable account of the vicious siege of Stalingrad has gotten my hooked on the idea of expanding my WWII gaming into the Eastern Front in the new year.

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As a first step toward this front of the war, I picked up the new FOW Desperate Measures book. While this intelligence briefing is centered on the closing months of the war battled among German and Soviet forces, there’s also a newly-released updated edition of the FOW Red Bear book which gives a broader look at the Allied forces on the Eastern Front. These resources coupled with my historical reading on Stalingrad have whet my appetite for fielding some large masses of Russian forces on the table. A couple other guys at the club in Brooklyn have already started putting together some of Stalin’s finest and I’m very much looking forward to the Eastern Front opening up my WWII gaming with some scenarios this year.

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I spent a chunk of the past year reading Rick Atkinson’s Guns At Last Light, the third book in his World War II Liberation Trilogy. The book’s focus on the D-Day landings through the campaigns in Western Europe to the fall of the Third Reich squares with the majority of my FOW gaming from the past year. Working my way back through Atkinson’s books, I’m just starting in on The Day Of Battle for Christmas. As with my new swing in interest toward the Soviets and Eastern Front, I’m looking to Atkinson’s second WWII book to fill in my knowledge on the southern European campaigns in Sicily and Italy. Whether I get some Italian troops on the table by year’s end remains to be seen, but I’m really looking to 2014 as another big year of WWII gaming and learning.

Seven Years War

I grew up in Western New York State and then lived for a period of time in Western Pennsylvania, so the French and Indian War has always lingered as an interest but has never found its way into my gaming.

lastmohicanpen

James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and other books in his Leatherstocking Tales series have also been favorites since boyhood. These colorful stories are set within the wilderness backdrop of the colonial wars of the Americas fuel much of my love for the French and Indian War period, and my visits to historic sites like Fort Niagara and Fort Necessity have added physical understanding to the frontier conflicts of the period.

ageofreasonrules

Toward the end of 2013, a fellow club member introduced me to the Warfare In the Age Of Reason rules and the Seven Years War. While my experience gaming battles from the period have thus far had a European focus, my long-time interest in what most consider the world’s first global-scale war holds tremendous interest for me. To this end, I hope to make wargaming the Americas front with the FIW a project for the coming year. Modelling 15mm miniatures of colonists, French, British and Native Americans, along with requisite early American frontier terrain, is sure to be making an appearance here in the coming months.

World War I

While I’m on the subject of world wars, I can’t help but acknowledge the calendar and the 100th anniversary of the beginnings of World War I this coming July.keegan_first_l

My only real exposure to the war so far has been with John Keegan’s excellent The First World War. I’ve read a half-dozen of Keegan’s books, and his 1999 overview of the Great War gave me a solid introduction to a war that’s often overlooked by most Americans like myself. Clearly this is a major period in modern warfare I could stand to learn more about.

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To get myself back into the period, I’m planning on reading Max Hasting’s Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War which made many top nonfiction lists at the end of 2013. I’ve only gamed WWI once with a 28mm French-German trench warfare scenario at a convention back in 2011, but there are a number of club members with miniatures from the period I may prod into using in some games this year. There are also rumors afoot that the makers of FOW are expanding into WWI just in time for this year’s anniversary, but for now I think some time with a few good books should be enough tribute from me in 2014.

And…

I can’t really tell with complete certainty where this coming year in gaming will take me. Like with most battle plans, a grand strategy can be laid out but actual events often unfold very differently in the fog of war. I can say there will be more miniatures, more scenarios and more completely fresh games to come here on Brooklyn Wargaming by New Year’s Day 2015. For now, here’s to old fronts not forgotten from 2013 and new fronts to come in 2014.