As a general rule I tend to not like solitaire games, in no small part because the “AI” or “bot” or whatever is running the “other side” in the game is often represented using very procedural rules. It is that very “procedural” part of a solitaire game design that makes me feel like I don’t have agency in the game. In this respect, Don’t Tread on Me (DToM)by R. Ben Madison at White Dog Games is not that different from the many other (often vanilla-playing) solitaire games out there.
Except it isn’t vanilla, but a fine wine.
Maybe it’s the perspective. In DToM you the player take on the role of the British side. Your job is to defeat those “Damn Yankees” (whoops, wrong war!) and keep the colonies in the Empire. You face the challenge of putting down the insurgency in the colonies, much like the United States would have to deal with the Viet Cong in Vietnam two centuries later.
(Colonies) of Siege
Don’t Tread on Meis built around a game system that is commonly called States of Siege. Truth be told, States of Siege is probably better thought of as a genre of games rather than a set of rules since each game in the “series” has its own variation of the rules.
This is where DToM is very procedural. The various steps in a turn should must be executed in a very procedural manner to avoid “breaking” the AI. This is usually where I chafe at a solitaire game; the game system often makes me feel like a human component manipulator and not a gaming player given agency in decisions. Solitaire games also tend to be “predicable” in that the set procedures often force one to adhere to a well-known (or easily recognizable) historical/game flow.
This is where DToM shines; for within the seemingly rigid procedures there are plenty of decision points to give the player agency. Lest one become too comfortable with the flow of a turn, there is a chance some random event or a major/minor campaign will break out. As a player you can plan for such eventualities, but you never really control the emerging, often chaotic, situation. This is where one must have a plan that is flexible and adaptable to an ever-changing situation—albeit one rigidly played out. Although DToM tends to follow a “known” historical flow of events, the actual arrival of the event or how much of a change it makes to the game state (i.e. history) is driven by player decisions.
DToM also reminds the players that they are the British Empire and those “rabble rousers” are beneath them. Designer R. Ben Madison never misses a chance to tear down the Founding Fathers; George Washington is an inept General, Thomas Jefferson is a fleeing coward, and Sam Adams is a “spin doctor.”
Which is why playing DToM and winning—or losing—is so satisfying. To win is to overcome history when it was stacked against you. To lose is to be defeated by those colonist so beneath your station.
In more than one place R. Ben Madison draws a comparison in Don’t Tread on Me between the U.S involvement in Vietnam with the British counter-insurgency in North America. Maybe that is a good comparison, though I personally feel it simplifies (dare I say, “white washes”) much of the history of the later conflict. By framing Don’t Tread on Me in terms of a very unpopular and divisive war a player starts play with a real sense that this is different.
Like most solitaire games to win is actually a challenge. Sometimes the loss can be blamed on a game system that is so rigid and procedural that one glitch in execution radically alters the game and makes victory a mechanical impossibility. Yes, that can happen in Don’t Tread on Me but the procedures are rather straight-forward and it immediately becomes obvious in play that victory or defeat will depend on the player decision, not the bot.
I played two games of Don’t Tread on Me for my June lead-up to American Independence Day. Both times I lost, the second game by a narrow margin. If nothing else Don’t Tread on Me shows just how much the American Revolution was a “near-run thing.”
LIKE MANY HISTORIANS, I FIND THE CAMPAIGNS OF 1777 in the American Revolution fascinating. On one hand you have the great American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, and on the other hand you have American defeats at Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown and the loss of the capital, Philadelphia. Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Publishing, 2020) focuses on the defense of Philadelphia, starting with the British landed at Head of Elk, Maryland and marching forth. Philadelphia 1777 is a low complexity wargame that captures the essence of the campaign that is easy to learn and fun to play while retaining sufficient historical flavor to provide insight into the decisions Generals Washington and Howe faced during this short month-long campaign. Philadelphia 1777 is Volume 4 in the Worthington Publishing Campaigns of the American Revolution Series. This is my first title in the series and my introduction to the rules.
‘Squarely’ a Wargame
Worthington Publishing in one of the leading publishers to use blocks for their wargames, and Philadelphia 1777 is yet the latest in a string of block games. There are four different types of units represented by the blocks; Leaders, Regular Infantry, Artillery, and American Militia Infantry. Like most block games, you must apply the sticker to the blocks before your first play. In the cases of infantry and artillery the blocks are rotated as they absorb hits to ‘count down’ remaining Strength Points (SP).
The square map in Philadelphia 1777 depicts those portions of the mid-Atlantic colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey over which the campaign was fought. The game uses point-to-point movement along roads with points often being those key crossroads or towns that acted as natural stopping points. Rivers and creeks, like Brandywine, are also identified and can become a key factor in movement and battles. The map also has several convenient holding boxes for you larger armies as well as the turn track, Action Point (AP) track, and a Weather track. There is also a separate 8.5″x11″ Battle Board.
Between the simple blocks and somewhat bland map, the table presence of Philadelphia 1777 appears a bit subdued. While the components don’t scream with bling, they are far more than functional; the blocks are wide enough not to easily fall over and the roads and points on the map are easy to see with those rivers and creeks being obvious too. In other words, the components deliver the information they need to and don’t get in the way of play.
History as a Wargame
I was fortunate enough that as Philadelphia 1777 arrived I was reading John Ferling’s Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (Oxford UP, 2007). Chapter 8 “Choices, 1777” and chapter 10 “‘We Rallied and Broke’ – The Campaign for Philadelphia, September – December 1777” provide excellent background and a short, comprehensive narrative of the campaign as it unfolded. It is quite possible to use Philadelphia 1777 as a sand table to set up and follow the campaign. More importantly, it allows you to play out alternatives.
While Howe had his choice of where to land his British and Hessian force, Philadelphia 1777 starts with the historical landing at Head of Elk, Maryland. America forces are initially arrayed pretty much as they were in late August 1777 with Washington around Pawlett, PA, Sterling around Concord, PA, Greene near Wilmington, DE and Sullivan in Philadelphia. American state militia (ten units) are also present on the map with no more than one per location.
Action Point Action
Like many Worthington Publishing games, in Philadelphia 1777 both sides gain Action Points (AP) every turn to show the friction of war. Every turn (there are 20 in the game) starts with both sides determining how many AP they have. Both start with 2 AP and can gain as many as three more for the turn. Moving a unit requires the expenditure of an AP. Leaders have a group limit rating which is the number of units that can move with that leader. Obviously, with the few AP on hand each turn, Leaders become important to the maneuver of forces across the map.
As already mentioned, Philadelphia 1777 uses a point-to-point map. Movement rules are quite simple with individual Regular Infantry and Artillery possessing one Movement Point (MP) per turn. Individual American Militia Infantry possess 2 MP, and Leaders have MP depending on who they are (usually 1 MP with a few having 2 MP). There is no limit to how many SP of troops can move along a road unless you cross a river when attacking where only 10 SP can cross in a turn. Units crossing a river must also stop at the next location even if they have MP remaining.
Every turn there is a 1 in 6 chance of poor weather. Poor weather reduces movement.
Combat in Philadelphia 1777 is insanely simple. When the active player moves into a location with enemy blocks a mandatory battle occurs. Battles take one of three forms:
Over Run: If three or more attacking units battle in a location with less than three defenders, the battle is an Over Run. All defending units lose 1 SP and must retreat. The attacker can continue movement if they have any remaining.
Skirmish: If the attacker has less than three units, then a Skirmish is fought. Using the Battle Board, all units are placed in the Center battlefield portion. American Militia unit that are forced to flee move to the Reserve but cannot renter the battle (more on flee later).
Larger Battles: In battles with three or more units on both sides are involved, then all locations (Left, Right, Center, and Reserve) on the Battle Board are used.
When fighting, a unit rolls a number of d6 equal to its current strength. Infantry (and Leaders) hit on a roll of 6; artillery hits on a roll of 5 or 6. The only time a block rolls less than its SP is when attacking across a river or against a fort when the unit rolls one die less than it’s SP for the first round. Additionally, anytime a British or Hessian unit rolls a 1 against an American Militia Infantry, the militia unit flees the battle. The militia unit is placed into the Reserve but cannot rejoin the battle.
Battles are fought until one player decides to voluntarily retreat, is forced to retreat, or is eliminated. In every round of combat, a unit can attack or move to a different location on the Battle Board.
If one side want to voluntarily retreat they remove all forces from the Battle Board and the non-retreating side gets one die roll for each infantry unit on the battlefield (not in the Reserve) as one last attack against the rearguards.
If one section of the Battle Board (Left, Right, or Center) is unoccupied then that side is forced to retreat. However, in the case of an involuntary retreat, all non-retreating infantry in battlefield positions get a final attack using their current SP.
Low Complexity but Deep Teach
Taken as a whole, the few movement and combat rules in Philadelphia 1777, while simple, are quite illustrative of warfare in the American Revolution. Rivers and creeks, as natural barriers, were prominent factors in battle locations. The Battle of Brandywine, part of the Philadelphia campaign, is a great example.
The special militia rules in Philadelphia 1777 are also highly illustrative. While militia start with less firepower than regulars, they have the advantage of greater mobility. In combat they tend to be fragile units and just as easily run away as they stand. Indeed, even with the regular combat rules one quickly discovers that staying in the battle until the bitter end is not worth the cost; better to run away when you can and fight another day.
Philadelphia 1777 also uses a set of simple supply rules. British and Hessian units must be able to trace a supply path free of enemy units to a port location. American units must be able to trace a supply path to any of four towns along their board edge. Units not in supply must take a Supply Reduction where each unit is reduced 1 SP up to a maximum of 10 SP for the turn.
Victory in Philadelphia
Winning in Philadelphia 1777 is straight forward. The British win if they occupy Philadelphia for two consecutive turns while in supply. Since British supply must be traced to any port location on the map, in effect this means the British must not only hold Philadelphia but also create a supply line to the city or seize Fort Mifflin on the Delaware River. The British also win if the American army drops below 20 SP (they start with around 60 (~40 Regular and ~20 Militia). On the other hand, the Americans win if they prevent the seizure of Philadelphia at the end of 20 turns or reduce the British/Hessian force to less than 25 SP (they start with ~85 SP).
Like history, it is difficult for the Americans to win in Philadelphia 1777. Not impossible, but difficult. Like Washington, the American player has a numerically inferior army with a large, sometimes undependable, militia element. Like Washington, they must slow down and wear down the British while not losing too many of their own force. The British, on the other hand again, must not lose focus of their objective and strike hard for Philadelphia while maintaining a supply line against those pesky militia and avoid being overwhelmed in any single battle against regulars.
I have not played a wargame or boardgame in over a week now. Not because I have stopped playing; instead I have been off playing with the RockyMountainNavy Family at DisneyWorld. Now fully recharged I am ready to get back to the gaming table!
Before Spring Break, I had several opportunities to play @HBuchanan2‘s Campaigns of 1777. These days I am becoming a sucker for the chit-pull mechanic in games as they make the game very solo-friendly even without a dedicated solitaire version. I am also a sucker for wargames the American Revolution era. After driving from Virginia to Florida and passing by several Revolutionary War sites, I really hope he goes ahead with southern campaign version too!
Around the same time Campaigns of 1777arrived I also too delivery of my GMT Games P500 order of @tdraicer‘s The Dark Valley Deluxe Edition. This is in many ways a modern monster game covering the complete Eastern Front campaign in World War II. I bought into the game based (once again) on the chit-pull mechanism that I enjoyed in the previous Ted Racier/GMT Games title, The Dark Sands. I have to admit that I want to get this one to the table soon; as I was inspecting the game and had the board laid out Youngest RMN and I started looking at the geography and talking in general terms about Operation Barbarossa and Eastern Front. Historically I have avoided anything above tactical-level games about the Eastern Front; looking to change that with The Dark Valley!
We actually took a few boardgames with us on vacation but were lucky and had not bad weather days so the games remained unplayed. The RMN Boys did play a few games of Ticket to Rideor Battleloreor 1775: Rebellion on the iPad but I didn’t get to play (something about driving and playing at the same time just doesn’t work!). We had considered taking Villainous with us but thought that would be too much Disney. So, with vacation behind me and now emotionally recharged, it’s time to get back to wargaming and boardgaming.
Campaigns of 1777 is a classic campaign battle game, but with a few innovative twists to make it fresh. It is not hex-and-counter but uses point-to-point movement. The game also uses a chit-pull mechanic for activation of leaders. Those leaders are most important because, once activated, they use their leadership rating to execute actions. The leader chit-pull mechanic and action points thematically portray many campaign issues. The chit-pull mechanic also makes the game solo-friendly. In his video review, marnanudo even went so far as to characterize Campaigns of 1777 as a near-hybrid of wargame and eurogame mechanisms. I agree; Harold Buchanan has drawn from a toolkit of several varieties and assembled a very interesting game.
As rich as the game is thematically and mechanically, it also has excellent components. The map by Terry Leeds is beautiful; I also really appreciate that many of the charts and tables are on the map for it saves flipping through the rulebook. The 1/2″ counters are easy to distinguish and cut well. They really look good once the corners get clipped!
Unlike so many magazine games, so far I have found Campaigns of 1777 to be “well baked.” The rules are pretty tight and gameplay executes in a fluid fashion.
If I have one (little) complaint it is that I worry about replayability. Campaigns of 1777 comes with three scenarios; the “historical” campaign and two short scenarios. In the historical scenario victory is determined by British control of Philadelphia and five other spaces. That is it. On the other hand, when I think about it the single historical and two shorter scenarios they are not all that bad if you use the game for a group game night or convention play. The simple, straight-forward scenarios and victory conditions in many ways make the game simpler to teach and play.
Here in the United States, Monday, October 8, was a holiday. Even though it was one day ahead of the actual anniversary I played out the “Savannah – 9 October 1779” scenario from the French & More!expansion. This is a somewhat brutal battle where the French under d’Estaing and Americans under Benjamin Lincoln throw themselves against a British line dug in using Field Works. In C&C Tricorne, Field Works allow Infantry and Artillery units to ignore one hit from ranged combat (except when attacked by artillery) as well as giving the unit the Morale Effect of ignoring one flag (retreat) except again from artillery. In effect, Field Works force the attacker to either bombard or close and Melee Battle (close assault) to remove the dug in defenders.
When setting up this game I missed a crucial new rule; a French Regular Infantry unit is composed of five blocks vice the usual four for British, German, or Continental. Thus, the French units fought at a disadvantage in my game.
The French ended up carrying most of the fight this time. The draw of Command Cards for the Continental-French side ended up favoring the American right flank. Over the 15 rounds, I think something like nine Command Cards were for the right or a Line Command that was utilized in that section of the battlefield.
To win this battle, one needs to get nine Victory Banners. In addition to the usual banner awarded for destroying a unit, the Continental player also gains a banner for each unit exited off the British side of the board (relief to Savannah) or when occupying a Field Works at the start of their turn. The British gain a banner when there is no enemy in a Field Works at the beginning of their turn or when playing a Scout Command Card (representing the arrival of reinforcements). In this game the British never played a Scout card (indeed, one was never even drawn) and instead had to rely on destruction of enemy units and trying to eject any intruders in the Field Works.
The French attack on the right was a real slog and saw six complete units destroyed. As three of these were Regular Infantry I have to wonder if the fifth block could have saved these units! The Americans only lost one Light Cavalry unit under Pulaski. One American Light Cavalry and one French Light Infantry unit exited the board (two Victory Banners). Even with the artificially-weak French Regular Infantry the final score after 15 rounds was 10 Victory Banners for the Continental-French army (+7 for units destroyed – including the death of Leader Tawes, +2 for exited units, +1 for occupying a Field Works) versus seven Victory Banners for the British (+7 for units destroyed).
Like many Commands & Colors games, the fickle hand of Fate played a major part in this battle. A French Grenadier Elite Infantry unit failed its Rally Check even with a +1 die advantage and Routed off the battlefield. Although the British had a 4:1 advantage in Light Artillery the draw of Command Cards saw very few actual bombardments take place. After a few rapid advances by the American cavalry on the left the Continental infantry in the center and left barely got moving and did little to contribute to the battle.
This game was my seventh play of C&C Tricorne since I got the base game in 2017. I am definitely becoming more familiar and comfortable with the game system and as a result it is playing much faster. At 15 rounds I think this was the longest C&C Tricorne scenario I have ever played but even so it still took just under 2 hours. I sometime hear hardcore grognards belittle the Commands & Colors-series as being “too simple” but I believe such criticism is misguided. Sure, the game mechanics are highly simplified but the game delivers a somewhat-realistic version of warfare with little rules overhead. Additionally, the table-presence of the game with the terrain tiles for a variable board set up and colorful blocks (all readily marked for easy reference) make it easy to play.
And it is fun!
Featured image “Siege of Savannah – Death of Kazimierz Pulanski” from pinterest
The Battle of Eutaw Springs has two parts to the engagement. The first part is the Meeting Battle where the American army runs into the British foraging party. Historically, the “rooting party” was overrun but a few soldiers escaped and alerted the British camp. The main battle followed. The two wargames I used to refight Eutaw Springs took different approaches to the battle and the relevant events.
In today’s game the British could just not get anything going and the American dice were hot. The turning point was the death of a British Leader (+1 VP) followed by the Rout of three units. The Morale rules in Commands & Colors Tricorne are maybe the most important to consider. In this case, all three units were forced to retreat and then conduct a Morale Check. A Morale Check is a die roll using the number of dice equal to the remaining blocks in the unit. To pass the check the roll has to have at least one Flag rolled. There are a few modifiers but that’s essentially the rule. In today’s battle, two FULL STRENGTH units that were forced to retreat outright FAILED their Morale Check and Routed away! The end result was a run-away victory for the Americans.
The second game pulled out was the American Revolution Tri Pack from GMT Games (2017). Although not listed in the subtitle (Guilford, Saratoga, Brandywine) this game actually has a fourth battle included; Eutaw Springs! This battle has two versions that can be played; a Historical Battle that starts after the events of the foraging party (around 10am in the morning) or a Campaign Game that begins at 7am before the foraging party is encountered. Depending on the result of the foraging party battle the British may be alerted or caught unawares. Having already played out the battle, I set up the Campaign Game to see what might happen differently. Alas, the battle of the foraging party resulted in a Retreat which meant the historical result, an alerted British camp, happened again.
After that though, nothing went historically for the British. Once again the American dice were hot with many Disruption results in combat. Disruption results force retreats but more importantly reduce the army Morale Track. The battle saw many British units Disrupted with few actually Eliminated. The Americans were able to continuously push the British back as they were unable to keep a solid line to stop the American advance. By noon (Turn 6) the battle was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even with the late arrival of British reinforcements was unable to stem the tide. As with the historical situation, once the Americans got into the British camp there was some Looting (though less than historically) but it did slow down any pursuit of the British.
As with my Fourth of July Gaming, it is always fun to play a wargame battle on the anniversary of the event. Doing so brings fresh insights into the battle and the events around it. It demonstrates the real teaching power of wargames which match fun with learning.
Featured image “Battle of Eutaw Springs” by Granger courtesy fineartamerica.com
In wargames, seeing history repeat itself is seen by many as a mark of good game design. To many gamers, being able to recreate the historical result is often expected. To me, a mark of a good game is not only when it has the ability to recreate the historical result, but to offer some insight into why it happened. Such a case was well-illustrated in a recent wargame I played.
Awesome sauce. Supply Lines – The Southern Strategy plays out close to reality. Nothing to see, nothing to learn, right?
At game start, the Crown player begins in Savannah, the extreme other end of the Southern Colonies from Yorktown. The Patriot player has only a small army at Charleston. In order to win, the Crown player must either control 10x Cities or Forts or move the Political Will Track to the far right. The Crown player moves Political Will through being victorious in battle. The Patriot player wins by either forcing the Surrender of the Crown Leader (instant Victory) or moving the Political Will Track to the far left. Similar to the Crown player, the patriot player moves Political Will by victory in battle and the passage of time; as more years pass Political Will decreases reflecting Crown fatigue with the campaign.
The victory conditions immediately supply the time pressure and in many ways drive strategy. The Crown must fight battles and win; the Patriot either focuses on the Crown Leader or avoids defeat and bides their time.
The Crown players advantage is that they have Transport (9.3) or naval movement available. This strategic movement ability can be used to outflank the Patriot player.For the Patriot player, the ability of a defender to Refuse Battle (10.0) is crucial. The Patriot player also has the ability to Skirmish (9.5); that is, battle but not take territory. Useful for eliminating Loyalists or moving away small Crown armies.
Layered onto this military confrontation is a irregular war. Militia and Loyalist units are also available to the players. Arranged according colony, these units can supplement the player armies. Available actions include:
Recruit – Exchange 2 Militia/Loyalist for 1x Army
Forage – Use to gain 1x Food Supply cube in the colony
Raid (Militia Only) – Removes Crown units or supply from the board
Hold (Loyalist Only) – Occupy a place to help move Supplies (see rule 5.3 “adjacency” – an easily overlooked yet vital rule) but are vulnerable to Raids.
In my campaign, the Crown player started out by taking the many forts in the southern part of the map. The thought was to take the Forts then let Loyalists hold them. This didn’t work out because the Georgia Loyalists didn’t materialize (units must be drawn from a pool and made available) in a timely manner. As a result, too many Crown troops were stranded in Forts with not enough Food available to move quickly. Sensing the time pressure, a (now reduced) Crown expedition was launched to Yorktown using Transport. It had to go all the way north because the Patriot player had built a supply line along the coast and controlled all the other landing points. The overland route would have to go through all those Forts meaning Food must be supplied from Savannah – a slow process given only 1x Food cube a turn is generated in Cities. At this point the Patriot Fleet showed up and forced the Crown Fleet to withdraw after a Sea Battle. Using a better supply line, the Patriot army struck west from Norfolk and looped around to Richmond getting a single Army into the second area around Yorktown and forcing a Siege. Twice the Crown Fleet returned, and twice it was defeated to keep the siege in place.
In the photo above and beneath the Siege marker is a Crown Army with Leader. In Norfolk is the Patriot Leader with a sizable army. Offshore, the Patriot and Crown Fleets are ready to fight their second Sea Battle. Much like history, the Crown fleet is defeated. Not quite in keeping with history, rather than waiting out the siege and risking the Crown Fleet returning a third time and possibly lifting the siege, the Patriot Leader led his army against Yorktown and forced the surrender of the Crown Leader for automatic victory.
So my campaign gave me the historical result, but in doing so did so much more by delivering insight into why forces moved where they did. I don’t think designer Tom Russell is a deep historian (not a criticism) but I do think he identified key factors of the campaign and brought them into this game. I am highly impressed with the amount of history Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy gives to players using an uncomplicated set of game mechanics. By focusing on supply, a different view of the campaign is taught and made clear.
I wonder what other campaigns this supply line focus could help teach. Maybe Patton’s dash across Europe after D-Day? Hmmm….Tom Russell, you got any other ideas?
This year I committed to playing solo with Bots. I felt I was ready to tackle the automated opponents thanks to the great work of Ben Harsh and his Harsh Rules series of videos. Part 5 in his Liberty or Death-series covered the solo play system:
Like the historical situation, the war in 1776 focused on the New England colonies. Massachusetts was a hotbed of activity with the Patriots Rallying forces while the Indians led Scouting with British troops to Skirmish against the Rebels.
1777 was a short campaign season (Winter Quarters came out early) and as a result many British troops were not in cities. In order to stay in play the British would have to spend resources. As @HBuchanan2 pointed out on Twitter, it was going to be expensive to keep the British troops outside of cities. But stay they did (OK, I was not strictly following the Bot…still learning, alright!).
Early in 1778 the French played the Treaty of Alliance and entered the war. With the arrival of Rochambeau the French fleet – and blockades – started. By the end of 1778 the Northern Colonies were firmly in Patriot control. Like history, the British were going to have to look South (the “Southern Strategy”) to try and put down this insurrection.
(I misplayed blockades a bit…should have paid attention to the Howe special leader abilities. Relearning, ugh!)
Sure enough in 1779 the British shifted their effort to the South by landing in Savannah. Indian Raids, led by Cornplanter, struck the frontier of New York and Pennsylvania sapping away Patriot support. Luckily for the British, just as the French were preparing to land Spanish troops in Florida (Don Bernardo Takes Pensacola was the next card to play) the season ended when the final Winter Quarters came out.
The end game scoring was very close, thanks in part to the Indian raids that reduced support in Pennsylvania and New York. Final rankings:
I had a very fun time with this play of Liberty or Death. Mechanically it took me a little while to get back into the game but thanks to the Harsh Rules videos it was easier than before. I did not play flawlessly; I missed some of the nuances on the Non-Player Cards and misapplied (or outright missed) some rules. None of that detracts from the overall game experience. Liberty or Death teaches so much about the American War of Independence that I always have to make an effort NOT to look up every card during play and read the historical background!
Volko Runke (@Volko26 on Twitter), the master-designer of the COIN-series, says all games are models. Every time I play Liberty or Death this model teaches me more about the American Revolution. It helps me appreciate what our Founding Fathers went thru over 200 years ago.
Designer Tom Russell has followed up on The Northern Theater with a new title, Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy. Tom could of taken the easy way out and simply designed a “new” game using the same great mechanics in a different geographic area. Thankfully, and best for us gamers, he found a way to take an already awesome game and make it even better!
As Mr. Russell states in the Introduction:
The Southern Strategy shares many concepts and mechanisms with The Northern Theater: both games are about generating, storing, moving, capturing, protecting, and utilizing supply in order to achieve your military objectives. However, this is a standalone game, not an expansion, and folks who have played The Northern Theatershould read these rules carefully before playing The Southern Strategy.
The Southern Strategyintroduces an element of irregular warfare between loyalist collaborators to the Crown and bands of patriot Militia fighters. Again, in the words of Mr. Russell:
In The Southern Strategy, there are really two interrelated conflicts running in parallel: a partisan conflict fought by locals within a colony, and a more traditional military conflict fought between armies that need supplies to march and to give battle. The presence of an army within a territory strengthens the partisans, while the dominance of the partisans within a colony affects the movement and creation of supplies. (Introduction)
To players of The Northern Theater, the Extended Sequence of Play will superficially look familiar. Each turn, the players progress though a Supply Phase, an Initiative Phase, the Impulse Phase, and the Turn End Phase. The major difference in game mechanics is found within the Impulse Phase which now has two Impulses; a Limited Impulse (Militia/Loyalist activation only) and a Full Impulse with Militia/Loyalist, Army, or Navy activations.
The Limited Impulse (easily thought of as the “Partisan Impulse”) is where Militia or Loyalist partisans make a difference. Players can use these units to strengthen an Army, gather supplies, Raid an area (Militia only), or Hold an area (Loyalist only). Wise use of partisans during Limited Impulses will set Armies up for success, or defeat.
In addition to partisans, navies also make an appearance in The Southern Strategy. Abstracted into a single counter for each side as well as a modifier based on Political Will, the Royal or French Navy can help move supplies or armies, or prevent the same.
Another simple change to the game is Sieges. Under certain conditions, armies are besieged in an area. Once again, supply becomes a key factor in determining how long the besieged can hold out until they either surrender or the siege is lifted.
I must admit I am very taken with how well the game mechanics bring out the theme of the game. The partisan factor and the role of navies makes The Southern Strategya much different beast than The Northern Theater. There are lessons learned that are applicable to both games but each is different enough and nuanced that each demands a great deal of different planning and strategy. This is ultimately why I like these games so much; both are simple in mechanics (being fairly light on rules) yet demand complex thinking and planning to be successful. As I put it, another Simply Complex game from Hollandspiele!
Hollandspiele has a unique production model that I characterize as “professional print-n-play.” This is a bit unfair as the components are far from home-made and quite good. That said, I do have a few thoughts on the various parts:
Box – I like the simple artwork. The box art is a wrap-around sticker that did have a few air bubbles along the edges, but nothing that a quick thumb-press could not work out. Opening the box releases a distinctive smell, or as I call it, “A whiff of Hollandspiele.” This smell is addressed in the Hollandspiele FAQ and doesn’t bother me; indeed, I feel it is part of the brand.
Rulebook – Sixteen pages that break down into about 12 pages of rules, three (3) pages of a sample game turn, and an Extended Sequence of Play on the back page that easily serves as a player aid. The rules are generally well-written although I have to admit that it took me several readings of 8.4 Hold (Loyalists Only) to really grasp how a Loyalist unit holding an area modifies the adjacency rules (5.3). Thank goodness the paragraph includes an example!
Counters – A half-sheet of counters (88) printed in muted pastels remind me a bit of the old SPI days of the 1970’s. I really like the thickness and they punch out cleanly. I do feel that a bit of an opportunity was missed with names. The lone Crown Leader counter is Cornwallis and, if captured, results in an immediate Patriot victory. It would of been nice to see Cornwallis named on the counter instead of the plain generic symbol. Similarly, the South Carolina Militia has a leader that represents “The Swamp Fox,” It even has its own rule (8.5 The Swamp Fox). Yet the counter is a head with the initials “SC” for South Carolina on it. Once again, naming the counter could of added just a bit more theme and furthered immersion into the both the game and theme.
Map – The map by Ania Ziolkowska is beautiful and very appropriate to the time period represented. It even has lines of latitude and longitude along the edges. One curiosity is the multiple gray dots that appear on the map. Each is unlabeled and I “think” they are towns but they are not used in any way nor do they directly relate to Cities, Forts, or Areas. Not a real negative but a bit of a distraction for me. Make sure you check out Ania’s YouTube page on how she makes maps for Hollandspiele.
As I have already stated, The Southern Strategyis another Simply Complex game that I am enjoying. Having played it once already, I can see that although I can easily comprehend the rules the strategy needed to win is yet to be discovered. I think I am going to enjoy trying various strategies and gambits with this game. I also look forward to playing this game in July as part of my “Month of Independence Gaming.”
Featured and in-line images courtesy Hollandspiele Games.