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.
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.
Some 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Like any zombie apocalypse horde, the Zombicide series by Guillotine Games just won’t die. Through four enormously successful Kickstarter campaigns, the Zombicide games have raised nearly $10 million since 2012 and have made the games among the most popular board game projects launched from the platform.
As a fan from the start with the first Zombicide, I backed Zombicide: Black Plague last year along with nearly 21,000 other devoted fans. After skipping the third round in the series, the reinvented game with a medieval fantasy theme and updated rules brought me back to the fold. Buying in at the Knight’s Pledge level, I wound up with an enormous pile of gaming goodies, including the base game, the werewolf-themed Wulfsburg expansion box, 40 extra survivor characters, dozens of additional zombies and all sorts of extra playing aids. With the base game blessedly shipping ahead of the 2015 holiday season, I was able to get this re-launch of the zombie franchise on the table over the past week.
Contents of Zombicide: Black Plague
I cut my teeth on gaming with Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s, so the theme of Black Plague and the basic dungeon-crawler play of the Zombicide series intersect nicely in this new game. Survivor player characters include a dwarf, warrior, wizard and archer which are right at home in the fantasy world of the game. As with the previous Zombicide games, the survivors work collaboratively to search the game’s map of heavy cardboard tiles for items such as weapons, shields, armor, spell scrolls, food and other special gear. After following turn actions of moving, searching, opening doors, rearranging gear and gathering objectives, zombie cards are pulled and the horde builds. As zombies are destroyed in combat actions, player experience builds which leads to more and more zombies swarming the board. From there, its a race for survival as each scenario’s objectives and win conditions are achieved.
The new survivor’s dashboard introduced in Zombicide: Black Plague
One of the most welcomed innovations in the new game is the survivor dashboard. In a game with so many cards and experience, wound and skill tracks to manage for each player’s survivor character, having a tidy and intuitive plastic base is a huge boon to game play. A slot in the center holds the interchangeable character card, weapons and other items are held in left and right ‘hand’ positions, five slots represent space for extra items in the character’s backpack and a sliding experience track traces along the bottom of the dashboard. An extra slot overlapping the character card allows for an extra quick-draw weapon like a dagger or a protective shield or armor.
New zombie figures include: Walkers (top), Fatty (bottom, left), Runners (bottom, center left), Necromancer (bottom, center right) and Abomination (bottom, right)
While regular zombie types of Walkers, Runners, Fatties and Abominations have carried over from the previous games, Black Plague introduces a new Necromancer zombie type with its own set of mechanics. When the Necromancer enters the board, an additional zombie card is drawn with zombies to accompany him. Additionally, a new spawn point is generated where the Necromancer appears and activates once the Necromancer escapes the board via the nearest exit. Destroying a Necromancer allows the players to eliminate a zombie spawn point. While a bit complicated at first, the Necromancer mechanic adds a new twist to the game in creating an additional moving target for the survivors to deal with while also completing their main objectives, avoiding being killed by other zombies and (hopefully) winning the game.
Zombicide: Black Plague game in progress
Aside from the Necromancer, most rules have remained largely unchanged with some minor tweaks. Fatties are no longer accompanied by Walkers, making them slightly easier to kill but the Abomination is still a pretty tough foe with only a combination of a vial of dragon bile and torch able to eliminate them in a fiery combination. The jury is still out for me on the double-spawn zombie cards which can carry from one spawn point to the next in doubling and then re-doubling zombies coming on the board. This makes for a bit of a confusing mechanic which I wasn’t quite certain added much to the game.
A lone survivor faces off with two walkers and two Fatties
Survivors take out an Abomination with a dragon bile and torch combination
As with all the previous Zombicide games, the art and sculpting in Black Plague makes for a stunningly fun game to look at and play.The ten base scenarios included in the rules offer a progressive mini campaign of sorts, and additional scenarios are sure to come. With all the expansions and add-ons ready to ship this year, there’s going to be a ton of replay value with this game.
A survivor leads a zombie horde through the medieval streets of Zombicide: Black Plague
An enormous zombie horde from Zombicide: Black Plague
I had been feeling a bit played-out with the original Zombicide games based in more familiar contemporary environments of city streets, a prison and a mall. Black Plague’s reboot preserves the easily playable mechanics and engaging design in a refreshing medieval wrapper. Where the franchise goes from here either in additional fantasy expansions or in yet another thematic direction like a futuristic sci-fi realm remains to be seen. In the meantime, sword-slashing and spell-casting through the Black Plague zombie apocalypse will be a ton of fun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
The Walking Dead TV series just wrapped its fifth season this past week, and my entire family huddled around the television to see where the story would leave us until our favorite survivors of the zombie apocalypse were back again. Until then, there’s a spin-off series called Fear The Walking Dead premiering this summer which tell the tale of the beginnings of the zombie outbreak from the perspective of a different group of survivors in Los Angeles. There’s also the original monthly Image Comics series (currently at 139 issues) I’ve been reading for more than ten years now for a story that both parallels and differs from the story the TV show portrays. There’s certainly plenty of zombie stuff out there to keep me going.
About two years ago I also got hooked on Zombicide. Lots of people caught the bug, judging by the continued success of the game. The first game launched based on a nearly $800,000 Kickstarter funding campaign in late 2012. The following year, Zombicide Season 2 brought in over $2.25 million on the funding site. This past summer, Zombicide Season 3 topped that number with nearly $2.9 million raised. The maker of the game, Guillotine Games, has also maintained a steady flow of additional special edition products, a companion app, free customizable game resources and dozens of scenarios available online. With the new Zombicide Season 3 just being shipped to players worldwide this month, there’s even been hints at a Season 4 which throws back to a Medieval-themed zombie outbreak.
The base game has been a big favorite at my house for a couple years, and this past week we added Zombicide Season 2: Prison Outbreak to our home collection. As with the original base game, Prison Outbreak is big heavy box of zombie gaming goodness. Nine game two-sided game board tiles, about 150 cards, over 100 tokens, dice, Survivor player cards and 90 miniatures pack the box with components oozing in great design.
This time around, the game adds a bunch of new aspects to play. Firstly, the miniatures come with some differences for both the zombies and survivors. Berserker zombies, cast in a muddy brown, bring a new aspect to the undead horde with Walkers, Runners, Fatties and an Abomination which must be attacked at close quarters in melee combat. This means more risk for players having to get right into a messy scrum with Berserkers using baseball bats, nightsticks, hatchets, hammers or saws, leaving ranged firearms for the original zombies molded in grey plastic like the base game.
With the game amped up with more danger, the players too have received an upgrade with the possibility of coming back as Zombivors. Yeah, that’s an undead player which comes with an extra model and reverse side to the Survivor identity card. After a player is hit twice and killed by a zombie, the Zombivor comes on the table and the player fights on and may take five more wounds before truly being dead.
Things happen a lot faster in Prison Break as players are forced to quickly rack up zombie kills, pushing the experience level up in the game and spawning more and badder zombies onto the board each turn. To help out, a lot of new special skills have been added to the Survivors, allowing players to draw zombies toward them with “Taunt,” rescue other survivors from neighboring spaces with “Lifesaver” and a bunch of other new abilities once a player turns into a Zombivor.
The combination of new weapons and skills balances nicely with the new threats from Berserkers in Prison Outbreak. Playing through the first few of the ten scenarios supplied in a storyline campaign, we’ve quickly found a good combination of using skills to draw zombies into close combat with characters armed with hefty melee weapons like the concrete saw while defending with nightsticks and riot shields. In a pinch, a molotov cocktail can still take out a mass of undead in one throw, but the game only amps up with so many points scored with one huge kill. Balancing skills, finding the right weapons, getting them into the best Survivor’s hands, timing when to kill and when to elude zombies, and making the decision to allow a character to die and resurrect as a Zombivor all makes Zombicide Season 2 an enormous amount of high-stakes fun over and over again.
This past summer, Evolution garnered a fair amount of attention during its successful Kickstarter campaign which netted over $120,000 on a $10,000 goal. Many gamers were familiar with the game’s producer, North Star Games, and their previous casual party game favorites such as Say Anything. Evolution was a big jump into strategy game design, and the result is box a gorgeous components and a very playable game for a whole range of ages and experience. The game has been hitting the table at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY over the past week or two, and this past weekend I had a chance to get in on a six person game of Evolution.
Evolution begins with each player in possession of one species and a hand of four “trait” cards. The 129 beautifully painted cards are the core mechanic of the game. A player’s turn begins by throwing a required card into the watering hole at the center of the table, contributing to a food pool with the value at the lower right corner of the card. The player then decides to play some or all their other cards in a variety of ways. Cards may be discarded to increase a species body size, grow population, spawn an additional new species or, most importantly, evolve the species by playing trait cards. This where the real action comes in.
Up to three cards may be played above a species to create evolutionary traits for that creature. Some traits provide benefits every turn with things like Long Neck allowing the species to eat first and the Fertile trait which grows species population every round. Defensive traits such as Hard Shell, Horns and Burrowing aid in providing defense against being attacked by a species with Carnivorous trait. Carnivores might add aggressive traits such as Good Eyesight, Climbing or Pack Hunting to counteract the defenses of other species.
With multiple species growing in size, population and traits, Evolution plays out as nature’s arms race for supremacy and food. After every round of playing cards, all species are fed in turn from available food in the central primordial watering hole. Each species must feed up to its population size or risk a die off of that species. Carnivores by their very nature do not feed from the pool but on other species around the table, and those species must defend using their available traits and body size. Once feeding is complete, food tokens are swept from the species cards and stored in a bag. At the end of the game, the player with the most food points, living species and trait cards played wins.
The designers of Evolution claim over 4000 species can be created using differing combinations of cards, and this is where the replay value really shines. Each game plays fast, with a six player game only representing about one play through the deck of trait cards. Timing and choices are critical in the game, and a player needs to figure when is the right time to create a new species or focus on building up the population or size of existing species. Keeping an eye on what other player species are evolving toward as well as the available food supply necessarily inform strategy.
In my first game this past weekend, I chose to focus early in the game on scoring points by getting two species with large populations going at once. With a number of protective traits played on each of my species, I was able to hold off three other carnivore species for most of the game as they ate some of the weaker species of other players. In the end, the carnivores were effectively in a three-way stand-off with each other as the final round of food was tallied and the win went to one of them who had more than 40 points to my losing 25.
With North Star’s previous focus on word and trivia style games, Evolution is a really fantastic surprise for their entry into strategy gaming. The building, card and food resource management has a feel like so many civilization building or other Euro style games, while its relative simplicity makes the entry skill level appeal to a lot of serious and casual gamers alike. The game would be a great way to break up a school biology class or engage a dinosaur-obsessed kid in gaming. Evolution plays out with nature in all its beauty and danger, and it presents a world where only the fittest player species who can wisely manage their own growth and resources is going to survive in the end.
The mechanics of common and secret knowledge among players creates the basis for so many games we play. A game like chess has everything set on the board for everyone to see, and it is only a player’s skill and strategy that remains secret until revealed in a series of successive moves of action and reaction.
More typically games involve some level of secrecy either in cards hidden in a player’s hand or pieces set on a game board ready to be revealed at specific moments during play. Deduction, reason, probability, informed guesses, manipulation through bluffing and revelation of information drives much of the action of these games.
Almost 30 years ago, Mafia was created by a psychologist at Moscow University. In the game, two players act as the mafia with their identity known to each other but not the other players. The non-mafia participants take on a variety of other roles, each with select knowledge of the other players and abilities to effect other player roles. With starting roles assigned, the game enters a “night phase” with all players shutting their eyes. A non-player game moderator bears witness as the mafia players and any accomplices kill off other players in secret. Next, all players open their eyes for a “day phase” and changes in the situation of the game is revealed. Players still alive in the game discuss the new conditions of the game, and attempt to discern the mafia players among them in subsequent night and day phases.
As Mafia spread outside of the former Soviet Union in the mid-1990s, it took on a horror-themed variant known as Werewolf. In the new version, players act as werewolves or villagers attempting to identify and kill off each other in night and day phases. Once players have an understanding of the basics of Mafia or Werewolf, neither game really requires any special equipment. This had made these games popular as pick-up party games with hardcore and casual gamers alike (my wife recently played Werewolf on a company retreat as a team-building exercise).
In the past two weeks, I had a chance to play two of the more popular modern versions of these games at Metropolitan Wargamers and Brooklyn Game Lab. One Night Ultimate Werewolf is the latest riff on the classic game from Bezier Games with werewolf players hiding among villagers with a variety of roles. These include colorful characters like the Minion who knows the werewolves and only wins if they survive, the Seer who secretly knows identities of other players and the Tanner who has a death wish and wants to be killed before the werewolves are found out. Along with the cartoon artwork on the heavy-carded playing pieces, this version of Werewolf comes with a free app which acts as a game moderator and timekeeper.
The Resistance: Avalon is a the sequel to the sci-fi-themed The Resistance from four years ago from Indie Boards & Cards. Players of Avalon take on good and evil roles from Arthurian legend and set out on a series of quests to root out the opposition. After roles are set, a king is selected each round to select other players to participate in a quest. All players vote to approve or deny the selected party on their quest, and then players on the quest vote for the quest to succeed or fail. The evil players win if more quests fail than succeed, so each quest round is the chance to reveal who may be working alone or in concert to win the game for the evil side. Like the more traditional, Mafia game, Avalon involves a non-playing moderator.
With all these games, the colorful pieces and cards are just jumping-off points for the real action which takes place among the players. Accusations are slung, theories are posited and alliances are built and then dissolve in minutes. In the games I played recently, people spent a lot of time just staring into other people’s eyes, looking for a glint of deception or a sly twinkle of acknowledgement. What has made all these games in their various names and variations so enduring is that human nature itself becomes the mechanic of the game. Whether the game is Mafia, Werewolf, Resistance or Avalon, the only real equipment needed isn’t in a cardstock box but in what each player brings with them to the table.