The War of 1812 was the first time USA launched an offensive war after its formation. In the USA it is also called the Second War of Independence, which is puzzling to me, since it was USA attacking Canada hoping to grab more land when UK was busy dealing with Napoleon in Europe. The war lasted about 2.5 years, and ended in a peace treaty with neither side gaining or losing ground (I mean that in a literal way). USA and Canada were best buddies ever since, as far as I understand.
In the game 1812, there are five factions in play. The American side has the American regular army and the American militia. The British side has the British regulars, the British militia and the Red Indians. The game supports 2 to 5 players, and regardless of the number of players, all five factions are in play. Some players will control more than one faction if fewer than five play. The game can last up to 8 rounds, but may end as early as Round 3. Within each round, each faction gets to go once. The order of play is random. You draw a cube out of a bag to determine which faction goes next. The next cube is drawn only after a faction finishes its turn. Every faction has its own deck of cards. The hand size is always three. On your turn you must play one movement card to move one or more of your armies. How many, and how far they can move depends on the card you play. If your armies occupy the same spaces as allied armies, you can bring them along. It is important for allied factions to utilise the movement cards of one another. You don't really get all that many moves during a game.
Battle is simple, and also quite innovative. You roll dice corresponding to the colours and numbers of armies on the battlefield. However the number of dice in each colour is limited, so even if you have many armies of a particular colour, only a small number of them can fight. The rest need to wait in line. The advantage of numbers is just that you can last longer. During a battle, some of your armies will get killed, and some will rout. If you have the numbers, you will more likely outlast your opponent. It's all about attrition. This battle mechanism also means you want variety in your army groups. Many different colours means you get to roll more dice. The die face distribution differs between the various factions. The British regulars never rout. The Indians rout easily. The hit rates also differ. Other than scoring a hit and routing, there is a 3rd die face - the blank side. Now blank doesn't mean nothing happens. In fact it is often an important decision point. Blank means you have to decide whether a particular army stays to fight or retreats to an adjacent space. Normally you can only retreat to friendly territory, or a battle space. However, the Indians have a special ability. They can retreat to an undefended enemy homeland space.
The goal of the game is to control more enemy objectives than your opponents when the game ends. Enemy objective spaces are worth 1VP or 2VP. The tricky part is when you are fighting in the enemy homeland, they always roll dice first. So overall it is slightly easier to defend your homeland than to capture an enemy space. The game can end in a draw if neither side controls more VP at game end. Within each faction deck there is one special movement card called the truce card. From Round 3 onwards, once one side (Americans or British) plays all its truce cards, the game ends at the end of that round. Managing your truce cards is important, but sometimes you don't get a choice. If it is the only movement card in your hand, you must play it on your turn, because it is mandatory to play a movement card every turn.
I played with Han and Allen. Allen and I were new. We played as the American team, him playing the American regulars (blue) and me the American militia (white). Han played the British, i.e. all three factions - regulars (red), militia (yellow) and Indians (green).
This was Round 1, Turn 1. There is an exception here - the first faction to take a turn is always the American regulars. This makes sense. It's historically accurate. This is why the game starts with the blue cube on the first space of the turn order track (on the right). The game already starts with armies set up on the board. The red area is Canada, the blue area is USA.
The star symbols mean victory points. Objective spaces have one or two of them. A fight is about to start here. The Americans have just invaded Canada. There are 2 American regulars (blue) and 4 American militia (white), vs 1 British militia (yellow) and 2 Indians (green).
The cards on the left and right are movement cards. They have soldier silhouettes. You must play one movement card on your turn. The card in the middle is an event card. You may play up to two on your turn. The events differ by faction and have historical relevance. After you become familiar with the events of all factions, the game becomes more strategic because you understand the faction characteristics better. The movement card on the right is also a truce card. It is a powerful movement card because it allows you to move 4 armies, and each of these armies get to move two spaces. When you have this card in hand, it is very tempting to play it, because such a strong move may just give you enough VP to win the game at the end of the current round.
Lake Erie and Lake Ontario make up two thirds of the border between USA and Canada. It is a natural barrier and much marching and fighting need to be done along the lakeside. However some movement cards allow armies to cross the lakes by boat, so you can't leave your lakeside territories unguarded. In this photo the British has amassed a large army and is ready to strike.
This is one of the larger-scale battles. The American marker near the top left corner means the Americans have captured one objective space worth 1VP.
The British captured this territory due to the (green) Indian's special ability. There was a battle in the territory to the northeast. The British side was losing, but in the midst of the chaos the Indians retreated to this undefended American territory (using their unique ability). Once this became British controlled, the other British units were able to retreat here. Allen and I had overlooked the Indian's ability and had not properly defended against it. Han's Indians were a major pain in the neck during our game.
Every faction in the game has one or two bases, where new units are deployed. The number of new units every round is fixed. Units which are routed during battle re-enter play at the bases too. The American bases are balanced - both the southwest and southeast corners can issue both regulars and militia. The British bases are not as evenly distributed. There is only one British regulars base in the northeast corner. There is only one Indian base near the middle. Only the British militia has two bases. So it is harder for the British to maintain well balanced armies.
At this point in the game, a great battle between the two lakes had left the area thinly garrisoned, so both sides were trying to rush troops there to fill the void. Han's British troops behind enemy lines had captured an American territory, and Allen and I were scrambling to catch these pesky guerillas. We (the Americans) had captured a territory in the northeast, but had not ventured far from there because Han (the British) had been building up a large force preparing to attack.
The battle between the lakes was intense. At this point the Americans were holding on to a 2VP British territory. In the middle of this photo, a lone Indian unit (green) had again escaped the clutches of the American army. The hunt was still on.
The American base at Albany was captured by the British. Not good! Allen and I did eventually manage to get rid of this small British force, but the fall of Albany had affected our tempo.
This was near the end of the game. The Americans were in the lead, but would not be for long. The British soon overtook us and the game ended in their favour. We played the full 8 rounds, but after the game we found out that we had made a mistake. We had thought that an early end required all 5 truce cards to be played. The correct rule is the game can end early as long as one side plays all its truce cards, i.e. 3 British truce cards or 2 American truce cards will do. If we had played correctly, the game would have ended early.
1812 is a great game! The core mechanisms are innovative and simple. The game is flavourful, despite the simplicity and abstraction. I like how victory and loss hangs in a shaky balance. It is hard to win big. When you invade, the defenders have an advantage in battle, and their supply lines are shorter. Timing is important. The game is less about building up a strong overall position to systematically force your opponent into submission, and more about pressing a temporary advantage to quickly end the game on your terms. You need to gauge the tempo carefully. You are always wondering whether your opponents have enough truce cards to end the game. From Round 3 onwards you feel like you are tossing a faulty grenade to and fro, never quite sure when it will blow up, if at all. The randomised turn order creates uncertainty and excitement. You cannot plan precisely. You need to stay flexible. You feel torn between quick tactical gains and strategic positioning. It is amazing to me how interesting the emergent gameplay is, when the rules are short and simple.