Washington’s War Session Report: The American Perspective, 1775

September 29, 2011

Over the next week or two John and I will be posting a session report of our recent game of Washington’s War. We decided to play-by-email (PBEM) using ACTS and VASSAL for a few reasons. First, it gave me a chance to use VASSAL. I’ve used Cyberboard in all of my other PBEM games but hadn’t tried VASSAL yet. Second, as John and I have both mentioned before, PBEM is a great chance to dive deep into a game and understand the rules. This was especially helpful for me since John has a few more plays of the game than I do. Third, we are both busy guys so getting together for a game can be tough. Playing this way allowed us to get game turns in between work, family and other obligation. Finally, it allowed us to take some notes as we played so that we could post a bit more in detail session report… so here we go!

Washington’s War: John vs. Rick
John chose the British forces and I took the Americans. I have only played as the Americans so far so I felt pretty comfortable with them.

American Initial Control Placement:
Savannah, GA
Camden, SC
Salem, NC
Richmond, VA
Frederick Town, MA
Reading, PA
Morristown, NJ
New York, NY
New Haven, CT
Falmouth, MA
Concord, NH
And RI and DE
My initial placement strategy was to put in places where the Brits would have to work to get them back. A specific example is Falmouth, MA. If John wanted to flip that he’s going to have to move somebody over there and I don’t think he would expend resources to do it. I soon realize I probably should have covered some of the ports better to prevent Brits from showing up where I don’t want them.

Year: 1775
American Hand: 3op, 2op, 1op, 1op, 1op, 1op, 1op
This hand highlights my biggest problem with this game. The deck of cards is very large because of the separation of events, end of turn, battle cards, and operation points. This means hand you are dealt each round can vary wildly. In other games you can usually do damage control with each hand, but I find this game less forgiving. But it’s early in the game so time to just start plopping down control markers.

I choose to go first and put Arnold and 3cu to Alexandria, VA, to protect the Congress from the south. Then with my 2nd card I put PC markers into Baltimore and Long Island to protect my ports. Playing my only two big cards right away my have hurt me but I wanted to start off strong. I’ll bring in my other reinforcements later when I have a better handle on what John is up to. I put down another PC marker and then John hits me with Pennsylvania and New Jersey Line Mutinies – no more PC markers this turn. I bring on Gates and 1cu to Albany to put a speed bump in the way from any northern aggression. I then move Arnold down to Norfolk, VA, to flip that at the end of the turn. John discards “Nathan Hale, American Martyr” but I can’t grab it with my remaining 1op card so I just discard it. John then is forced to play “Benjamin Franklin: Minister to France.”

The game board at the end of 1775. So far so good.

Then John points out my big mistake: I forgot that Washington is not in a Winter Quarters space so Washington is now down to 2cu. That discarded card DID have a use and I missed it. But with the French Alliance up 4 spaces I’ve got my sights set on the lone unit in Fort Detroit.

I’ll pause here and let John update you on his side of the story.

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Colonists Crushed in 1777: Lessons Learned

December 27, 2010

I played what might be the shortest game of Washington’s War ever yesterday afternoon. And in an effort to make sure that my opponent and I both learn from the experience, I’ve decided to write down a few lessons learned here:

  1. Don’t throw good cards after bad: Perhaps one of us should have stopped hurling colonial troops at Boston after the first defeat. Definitely after the second battle, when Howe inflicted maximum casualties on Washington’s army. Doing “more of the same” gets troops killed in an unnecessary fashion. Final count after three assaults on Boston: Brits lose 2 troops, Americans lose 7.
  2. Armies have multiple uses: Sure we like duking it out, but that’s not really the point of the game, is it? Armies can anchor vulnerable lines of political control markers or threaten territories an opponent would have otherwise considered safe. Each army is a “force-in-being,” that is, if it is on the board, the opponent has to stress out over it a bit, and sometimes that’s enough. For example: the British landing Cornwallis in Maryland on turn one forced the Americans to defend the Congress in Philadelphia by raising an army there. Conrwallis never attacked, but slowly made his way up the coast, taking MD and DE away from American control.
  3. Act, don’t always react: Almost every move the Americans made was in response to something the British had done earlier. Had the Americans raised a force in the south, say placing a small army in Georgia, they could have taken the initiative and forced the British to do a bit of reacting. Instead, the Americans reacted to Cornwallis landing in MD by raising an army in Philly (when perhaps dispersing the Congress might have been a better long term strategy). They reacted to Carleton coming into NY by moving Gates out of RI. They reacted to Clinton landing in NY by raising more troops in MA. Sometimes such reactions are necessary. Perhaps even in two of these three situations a reaction was necessary. But certainly not in all of these cases.
  4. End a turn ready for the next turn: This is one I often have trouble with. If an army ends its turn on an enemy-controlled space, it flips to friendly control at the end of the turn. It’s basically a free PC action. This, I have found, is what wins games. Similarly, one can never be too cautious when ending a turn. Our game ended on the first card play of 1777. The British played a minor campaign, used a small force to block off Washington’s retreat, then maneuvered a large force to crush him. Result: army destroyed, Washington captured, the American player cedes the game. Had the American player moved Washington to a decent winter quarters space late in 1776, this would not have happened (too many escape routes to block).
  5. Try something new: This is what keeps me coming back to particular boardgames–the knowledge that there is always another strategy to try. I think this is particularly true in Washington’s War, where the interactions between the war and the politics offer endless possibilities. In this most recent game, the British player purposely avoided his usual strategy (which involves landing troops in the south right away and working up the coast) and tried something new (landing Cornwallis in MD). It ended up successful, though who knows if that will happen again.

Just a few thoughts after this very strange session of Washington’s War. If you want more details on the game itself, check out our Twitter feed for the play-by-play.


Not All Card Driven War Games Are Created Equal

November 8, 2010

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that not all Card Driven War Games are created equal, that they are endowed by their Designer with certain unalienable Mechanics, that among these are Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points. — That to secure these mechanics, Games are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the players, — That whenever any Form of Game becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Players to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Games , laying their foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Hand Management and Victory.

Whew! Working board games into the Declaration of Independence was getting a little tough there. But did you like the part about “Operations, Events and the pursuit of Victory Points”? I’m quite fond of that one.

I’ve been spending a lot of time pondering Washington’s War and whether I really like it as a game. Or if I just keep playing it and saying to myself, “That was fun,” it will one day come true.

Card-driven war games seem to fall into two camps with card design. In one camp is the likes of Washington’s War and Wilderness Wars (despite overwhelming evidence, you do not need to have two words starting with W in your title to fall into this camp). In the other are the likes of Twilight Struggle and Here I Stand. In the former, card are either event cards or operations cards, we’ll call these isolated cards. In the latter, cards are both event cards and operations cards, we’ll call these combination cards.

Decks made of isolated cards usually consist of half or more operations cards. The idea being that in any given hand a player  will have enough operations cards to do something. So, even the player gets poor events or the opponents events, the turn won’t be fruitless. However, experience has shown otherwise. And memory seems to latch on to the really bad hands even if they are a small minority of all hands played.

Contrasted with combination cards, even bad hands can be managed or turned out good. Twilight Struggle uses this idea to its fullest. Opponent events must occur, but you get the operations points to manage the situation before or after the event, your choice. Cards with your event may be played for the event or the operations points.

From my play experience, I favor games with combination cards over isolated cards. I prefer the decision making and hand management that comes from combination cards. Every hand, no matter how bad, seems playable. Every hand can build on the last to create a strategy for winning. Isolated cards feel like they take that decision making power away from me. Too much is dictated on the specific hand I am dealt and strategy seems like it doesn’t last much beyond a single hand of cards.

So, will I ever like Washington’s War? I think so. I just need to adjust my play style to account for isolated cards. But, it won’t be knocking Twilight Struggle from it’s throne. And knowing that not all card driven war games are create equal will help when buying future board games.

Disagree? Like isolated cards better? Let me hear about it in the comments.

Edit: It has been pointed out to me that Wilderness War may not fit in the first camp. Until I can verify my original statement, it has been struck out.


Closing Ceremonies at the Summer of Victory III

September 20, 2010

Between Memorial and Labor Day, those most American of holidays, I always make it a point to declare, “This summer is the summer of victory!” Alas, it was not so this summer. But the fates were against me, I tell you. Not only was I busy writing my master’s thesis, but my wife ended up on bedrest too as we awaited the birth of our first child. And Her Royal Cuteness came a few weeks early, roughly eight days before the summer was over. So it’s not my fault, I swear.

I’m sorry to report it was a summer of defeat, though by a relatively small margin. I played 38 games and won 17, a respectable .447 win average. I also played a nice mix of games, from Cribbage and Carcassonne to the World at War series and Washington’s War.  And there actually is a small glimmer of hope in all the number crunching. In two player games, I was 15-1-2, a phenomenal record in a wide variety of war and deep strategy games. I’m hoping this means good things when Joe returns from active duty (though he’ll probably still stomp me).

So although it wasn’t a “summer of victory” in the way I wanted, it was still an enjoyable few months of gaming. And these days, I’m learning all sorts of new tricks, including…how to game with a newborn in my arms. Awesome.


Inside the Box: Washington’s War

August 24, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

Washington’s War is Mark Herman’s re-imagination of the first true card-driven wargame, We the People. It is a medium complexity war game of area control set during the American Revolution. I glimpsed the prototype at the  WBC 2009 and have been interested ever since. It retails for US $60, but can be found online for around $40 or so.

As with all of GMT Games’ recent releases, the box is sturdy and appealing, boasting a beautiful detail of John Trumbull’s Battle of Princeton. The back of the box states that the game can be played in 90 minutes, but in my experience, this would be after a few longer plays of 2-3 hours.

The box itself contains two counter sheets, a large poster-sized map, 110 cards, full-color rule and play books, two player aid cards, and two dice. In all, the production quality is very high for a war game, rivaling the components of most Euro games (minus the wooden pieces, of course).

The contents of the box.

The rulebook is slightly above average in terms of its style and layout. I always like to see a table of contents and index, and the color illustrations break up the text quite nicely. I also appreciate the section defining terms. However, some of the section placement seems odd. For instance, there is a whole section on movement which talks a lot about moving into battle, then there’s a break for how to place reinforcements on the board, which is then followed by those battles that were talked about earlier. Here I Stand is my gold standard for a rulebook with its easy to reference bullet-pointed procedures, and Washington’s War isn’t quite up to the task. There are a few mechanics that have different rules for the Americans and British, and it would have been nice to see a summary table of the differences between the two sides and ditto for the player aid cards. Also, there are several exceptions buried in the rules which did not make their way onto the final map, and a small reminder box would be very helpful.

The playbook is excellent, and it comes with a lengthy example of play, two pages of strategy tips, and two pages of design notes. What I like about the example of play is that it shows a few blunders on the part of the players, and this represents a real departure from the latest Twilight Struggle playbook, which shows two world champions duking it out. The player aid cards are also in color, and help out with the combat, but still don’t contain the key differences between the two sides. (I’d suggest Major Sholto’s Player Aid instead, which quickly summarizes the differences.)

The 110 cards are usual GMT fare–rather thick and glossy, with some nice period artwork. The layout is reminiscent of  We the People and Wilderness War, and they aren’t as clean as Here I Stand. I’d recommend putting these in card sleeves as soon as possible. The cardboard counters are of very high quality. Generals have nice portraits with detail and depth, and the round army counters are bright without being garish. My bad eyes have no trouble distinguishing any of the counters at a glance. There was one misprint; some of the square colony control markers weren’t printed correctly, which means you’ll have to use extra hexagonal ones. This is a small gripe, but with such low counter density, I’m not sure how that one made it through the final editing process.

One of the two countersheets. Dig that French navy!

The map itself is very thick with a nice black border running around it. I’d say the board is on par with Power Grid or several over Euro games. It’s beautifully done, and it feels like you’re looking at a quality color map out of an encyclopedia or textbook. The artists avoided putting similar colors next to each other, and it doesn’t feel too busy like the Wilderness War map. I think the low counter density helps a lot too; you can just sit and admire the map, and unlike a lot of earlier GMT games, this will definitely get people’s attention if you’re playing in public.

Overall, I am very impressed with the artwork and production value of Washington’s War. Upon opening the box,  most people will think, “Wow, I got my 40-60 bucks worth here.” Hopefully this is just another sign of where GMT is headed with all their future games!


Summer Gaming Highlights

August 16, 2010

It’s been far too long since I’ve posted, but a master’s thesis and a baby on the way sidetracked me just a wee bit. But while those events meant less gaming, they did not mean that the quality of the gaming dropped. So, a few highlights:

Games Purchased: Well, let’s call them “games gifted.” I got both Cosmic Encounter and Dominion for my birthday and have enjoyed them both immensely. Just this week my brother and sister-in-law got me Washington’s War as a groom’s dinner present before their wedding. Best. Present. Ev-ar.

Games Sold: After a thorough analysis of my gaming spreadsheet, I realized that neither Wellington nor Last Night on Earth had been played in over two years. Ebay for those two. I’m rather surprised at the prices I got for both of them, around 50% of their original purchase value. I guess games depreciate more slowly than cars. Go figure.

Games Played: Summer is always obligatory cribbage season in my household, usually while camping or visiting the in-laws. I played most of my games this summer waiting around in the hospital for the baby to come. I’m winning in cribbage, but still no baby quite yet. Russ and I duked it out in Washington’s War back in mid-July, which was fun but a little confusing on the first play through. We’ll definitely make it up in the future, however. I’ve also gotten in a few games of Wilderness War, two online and one with Russ just a few weekends ago. I’ve learned a lot about British strategy and now am itching to play the French some more. (I also managed to start a large grease fire while cooking dinner for Russ and my wife in between game turns, but the dinner eventually turned out okay, and it didn’t affect my gameplay later that evening, so…). There was also a very memorable game of Dominion in late July with three attack cards in use and no defense cards. This led to a lot of good-natured cussing on everybody’s part, but a lot of laughter too.

Whether or not this will truly be a Summer of Victory is still in doubt, but a few weeks remains. More soon on how that all turns out.