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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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