Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Washington's War

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Washington's War is a game about the War of Independence of USA. It is a redesign of We the People, the first Card Driven Game (CDG), which preceded the well-known Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. This is a 2-player-only wargame, with one side playing the British and the other the Americans. To win, you need to eliminate all enemy armies, or control a certain number of states when the game ends. The game is played over a number of years, and game end is variable and may even change from time to time, depending on the card draw. So players need to be on their toes and need to be prepared in case the game ends sooner (or later) than expected.

One round in the game corresponds to one year. Both players draw cards and then take turns playing them. You play cards to recruit troops, to activate generals (move them and possibly attack enemies), to boost your strength during battles, to place political control markers on the board, and to trigger events on the cards. Unlike Twilight Struggle, where every card has an event and an ops value, here a card is either an ops card or an event card. I had thought this would make things much less interesting, but it turned out to be not so at all.

Both sides have a number of generals with different abilities. The American generals are much easier to activate. Some can be activated by any ops card, some can be activated by value 2 or 3 ops cards. In contrast the British generals are much harder to activate, needing value 2 or 3 ops cards, and even only value 3 ops cards. However, all American generals suffer from winter attrition because many soldiers go home for winter, except for Washington who can keep his troops if he is in winter quarters (fortresses). The British don't suffer from winter attrition as long as they find winter quarters, and if they are in the south where winters are gentler, no attrition at all. The Americans can raise troops quite freely and have two opportunities to do so every round. The British only have one chance to bring in reinforcements every round, and they follow a pre-set schedule, generally alternating between big and small numbers. Also the British reinforcements can only land at a port.

Battles are quick and simple and only take a few die rolls. Both sides calculate their strengths, which depends on a number of factors, e.g. number of troops, ability of general, battle cards played, and control of the state where the battle is taking place, which are then added to their respective die rolls. Washington has a special ability of adding +2 strength if he attacks just before winter, i.e. using the last card in the American player's hand. Once the victor is decided, regardless of the final strength difference, the loser will lose one to three units, depending on a die roll, and the winner will lose none or just one unit, also depending on a die roll.

Ultimately, generals, armies and battles are but a means to an end, which is political control of the states. It is relatively easy to place political control markers on empty spaces, but quite hard to flip over those already placed to your side. You will need the presence of an army to be able to flip them. The 13 states have different numbers of cities, some as many as eleven, some as few as two or three, even some with just one. This is an interesting aspect to plan around. There are rules which remove isolated political markers, e.g. those completely surrounded by enemy markers and not supported by any friendly army. This is another consideration to take note of and to make use of.

As part of the game setup, the American and British armies are already right next to each other and ready for battle. The American generals are in blue, and the British in red.

This is the start of the game. Most cities do not have political control markers yet. Square cities are fortresses, which are important for wintering. Round ones are just regular cities.

The Play

Han played the Americans and I played the British. I had quite a good hand in the first round, allowing me to mobilise my British armies quite easily. Unfortunately that made me underestimate the difficulty in mobilising my armies. In subsequent rounds, I gradually found myself stuck with little mobility. I hadn't planned for that. The British should be planning for few but big moves, unlike the Americans who can engage in guerilla warfare. I had some early victories, but soon Han was winning battle after battle, making good use of Washington's strength, mobility and pre-winter attack power. Things on the battle front looked bleak, so I decided to give up on that front and just be defensive. I had a strong general squatting with ten units on a city which is the only city of a state. At least that guaranteed one state on my side. Only at that point I started spending more effort on political control. I couldn't do much with my generals and armies anyway. It was then I realised the importance of the political aspect. That was the real objective of the game.

Han didn't have American generals in the south, but I had one British general there. So I started placing more and more political markers there. Han had more generals in the north, and spent effort on using them to flip existing markers to his side. This was a slower process because his generals would need to move onto my markers first before he could flip them. Gradually he tried to secure the northern states to try to cut me off. If he could secure the port cities, it would be difficult for me to directly send in reinforcements.

Unfortunately we did not have enough time to finish the game. We had played about 80% through. Han had won many battles and controlled more states than I did at that point. I wasn't too far behind. If I could reach 6 states (I think I had 5 at the time) and hold on to them until game end, I would win. A rematch is in order. The game will be much quicker now that we are more familiar with it.

Towards the later part of the game, many cities had political control markers. Han and I had two armies facing off each other at the centre, neither daring to attack because it would be very risky. I had one army in the south (left side of this photo) working on converting American political markers to British ones, and Han had an army in the north doing the opposite.

The top left number on the general is the activation number, the smaller the better, i.e. easier to activate. The top right number is the leadership value, which increases army strength during battles. The number in the circle is mobility, which determines the ease of interception and retreat.

The Thoughts

Washington's War is a relatively simple wargame, but it is still a wargame, so there is a fair bit of details in the rules, like how generals can intercept, and the various factors in calculating battle strength. The big picture is not hard to grasp, and the game is smooth to play once you get past the initial hump and can see the big picture. The two sides are quite asymmetrical, which is interesting. There is much historical flavour in the game, which makes it fun and thematic. The cards that you draw do restrict what you can do, more so than say Twilight Struggle where cards have more uses. Depending on what you draw, you need to plan out how you can make the most out of them in the current round.

I enjoy the two layers in the game - the armies and battles, and political control. The game reminds me a lot of Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage which also has these two layers.

I wonder when I will play my copy of Wilderness War (also a CDG), which I bought about 8 years ago and still have not played.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).


Tom A. said...

Hello, fyi Wilderness Wars is really nice but do print out the Wilderness Wars Troop Types pdf in the geek as there are several subtle and hard to remember differences. Enjoy!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thanks Tom for the tip. I recently played A Few Acres of Snow, which built up even more interest in the French-Indian War.

Tom A. said...

I have Acres on order. I wonder what I will think of it.
Saaaay.... is it possible that you haven't played Paths of Glory yet? I shake my head in disbelief! It's the game that really made CDGs popular. A few fiddly rules with exceptions on exceptions (I always forget the peculiarities of the middle east part of the game). Even so it is really brilliant and addictive.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I read about Paths of Glory many years ago. It was intimidating at that time, because I was new to the hobby, and since then I have never revisited it. I recently played Here I Stand, and enjoyed it immensely. So maybe it's the right time for me to reconsider Paths of Glory. Have you played Here I Stand before and how do these two games compare, in terms of complexity and overall gameplay?

Tom Alaerts said...

I haven't played Here I Stand but I once browsed the rules. Paths of Glory rules should be simpler to learn. Cheers! Also very playable is Storm over Stalingrad by multiman publishing. It uses cards but it is not a typical cdg.