One of the new wargame arrivals this past week was my Kickstarter Exclusive edition of French and Indian War 1757-1759 from Worthington Publishing (2020). In a ‘Wargame Wedge’ posting I talked about my expectations going into the game, in particular how this game could serve as a weekday filler game, the simultaneous hidden movement, and it’s possible use as a ‘gateway wargame.’ After my first play, my initial impression is very favorable and I feel French and Indian War 1757-1759 is indeed a both an ideal ‘weekday filler’ and ‘gateway wargame.’ My thoughts on the Simultaneous Hidden Movement await further play.
Game day started out with the obligatory stickering of the blocks in preparation for play. Here I realized that my game shipped with two DIFFERENT sticker sheet; the standard and the Kickstarter Exclusive. Both sheets have a complete set of stickers and a spare set. I used one of the Kickstarter Exclusive sets; I’m not sure what I really can do with the others.
A note on components of French and Indian War 1757-1759 here. In a word – Gorgeous. Hats off to Sean Cooke who did the Artistic Design and Layout. It starts with the box which features Washington at the Battle of Monogahela by Emanuel Leutz (ca. 1858) which depicts the moments George Washington takes charge of the British cannons. The use of the tomahawk in the logo is also inspired. I’m not sure which painting the inside box edge uses but it certainly is period-correct. The map is simple yet functional. It doesn’t matter which sticker set you use; both are easy to understand.
I also didn’t find a bad block in my entire set. In my past experience with Worthington Publishing block games there is usually a few blocks that are chipped or dinged.
The Way of War
For my first play of French and Indian War 1757-1759 I used the historical set up. Here I feel designers Mike & Wylie Grant of Worthington missed a (small) beat. The units in FaIW are named but the set up only calls out the different classes. For a ‘historical’ game where I see named units, I sorta expected to see a ‘historical set up’ that uses those named units. I don’t think it adds any extra work as I’m sure the designers had the information; they just needed to put it in the historical set up.
When I first looked at the Sequence of Play for French and Indian War 1757-1759 I thought there was no way it would play fast. After all, each of the three Campaign Years (1757-1759) is composed of 11 (or 12!) turns. However, given each side can only move one unit or group each turn, each turn is very, very quick. I used the alternating movement method each turn where both sides roll a d6 with the high roll choosing who goes first.
[Here I found it useful to use two of the extra blocks (one from each side) and stacked them according to the initiative order near the Turn Track to help players remember.]
(My) French and Indian War 1757-1759
The French started out the first three turns of 1757 gaining the initiative. They pushed down the Montreal – Fort St. Frederic – Fort Carillon line and ejected the British from Fort William Henry. After the fall of Fort William Henry the French were so swollen with victory fever that when they got the initiative again they set off against Albany. Here the French were rebuffed and forced to retreat back to Fort William Henry. The balance of 1757 saw both sides reinforcing their thinned out forces at Fort William Henry for the French and Albany for the British. As winter approached, the French realized that Fort William Henry, being an opposing location, could not supply the number of forces there. In FaIW, each winter turn features Winter Attrition where units in excess of the capacity of an area lose strength points due to overcrowding. Fort William Henry has a Winter Attrition Value of 1 meaning any unit past the first suffers attrition (except for the first Irregular unit). Furthermore, in opposing locations (enemy spaces) the Strength Point (SP) loss is doubled. Not wanting to face this awful attrition, the French actually spent the last few turns of 1757 withdrawing forces back to Fort Carillon (Winter Attrition Value = 2), Fort Saint Frederic (Winter Attrition Value = 1), and Montreal (Winter Attrition Value =3).
[What an awesome way to sneak supply rules into the game without forcing players to trace supply lines or the like. It also captures the feel of the campaign season during this age of warfare and the risk of pushing too far into the fall before getting into winter quarters.]
At the end of 1757 there had been casualties but little actual exchange of land. The British also controlled the Atlantic (worth 2 Victory Points (VP)). Although the French occupied Fort William Henry and Oswego the year actually ended in a 5-5 VP tie.
If 1757 was a good year for the French then 1758 proved a near complete disaster for them. British reinforcements consisting mostly of Regulars flowed into New York and marched up through Albany into Fort William Henry. In 1758 the French get far fewer reinforcements and it proved difficult to get forces to the right place to oppose the British. The British set off from Fort William Henry and quickly defeated the French at Fort Carillon and Fort St. Frederic. Much like the French in 1757 looked at Albany, the British could not avoid the lure of Montreal which they took after a short fight. Alas, just like the French the year before the British too proved incapable of holding a prize city. French reinforcements from Quebec finally arrived and ejected the occupying British from Montreal. Part of the reason the British proved incapable of holding Montreal is because two French Militia troops set out through Hampshire and Deerfield before actually threatening Boston. The British needed to shift forces to defend Boston and New York; forces urgently needed to reinforce the battle lines at Montreal. After the French ejected the British from Montreal the British, like the French the year before, moved back through Fort Saint Frederic to Fort Carillon to find safer winter quarters.
A comment about battles in French and Indian War 1757-1759. The use of the custom dice make this simple ‘roll a 6 to hit’ game quite a bit more interesting. When rolling in combat, units hit on a roll that is the same as their unit type – Tomahawks for Irregulars, national flags for Regulars, and muskets for Militia. Naval Units hit on ships and the star is used for retreats.
Further, the Battle Sequence nicely captures the difference in capabilities of Irregular, Regular, and Militia forces. Although you will find the usual defenders fire first in combat, the Battle Sequence actually has three stages. In the first stage, Irregulars fire suffering a -1 die in the first round if attacking a port or a fort. In the second stage, Regulars fire, and in the 3rd stage Militia fire suffering a -1 die in the first round against Forts or Ports. Retreats are also possible, but when doing so the retreating unit must roll a custom die and if they roll their symbol or the special starburst they suffer a hit. Taken together the combat system neatly captures the essential element of 18th century combat in the frontiers of America in a set of short, easy to learn and easy to use rules.
[In combat I also found another use for those extra blocks. Since larger battles are moved off the main map to the Battle Board, I found it useful to place a block of the attackers color in the space of the battle to help remember who was the attacker and where the battle took place.]
The year 1758 ended with the British not occupying any French locations while the French held only Oswego. The British retained control of the Atlantic. The British were slightly ahead on eliminated French units. The year ended with 11 British VP against 8 VP for the French.
In 1759 British reinforcements, consisting entirely of Militia forces, streamed towards the frontiers while only two lone French units arrived. With neither side finding success up and down the Hudson River Valley both looked for alternate lines of approach. The year started out with the French winning the initiative for several turns which allowed them to launch a mixed Irregular/Militia force from Fort Dusquesne through Cumberland into Alexandria. Once again, the British shifted forces from New York and Philadelphia to face the threat. Meanwhile, the British finally took advantage of their control of the Atlantic and launched another drive into New France, this time from Halifax to Quebec whose defenses were weakened by the French in a quest to build a solid front above Fort William Henry.
[A comment about Naval Units. In the basic rules when ships are hit they simply return to their respective holding box. I strongly recommend the use of Optional Rules 13.2.3 where hit ships are turned face down and unplayable for TWO turns and retreating naval units are turned face down for ONE turn. The simple rule change adds to the value of the Naval Units and makes you really think about how long you want to stand in to combat.]
At the end of 1759 the British had ‘clearly’ won the war. The British ended the year with 20 VP against 9 VP for the French. To win the game of French and Indian War 1757-1759 the British need 10 VP more than the French. Surprisingly, as lopsided as the score was it actually was a very narrow British victory.
As tight as this first game of French and Indian War 1757-1759 was it still was played in less than 90 minutes. Thus it appears the title will indeed be that good ‘weeknight filler’ game I hoped it would be. The game also proved easy to learn and quick to play yet still captured much of the feeling of combat in that era. The use of blocks, the simple ‘roll a 6 to hit’ variant combat system and easy retreat rules as well as the winter attrition rules all comes together in a game that doesn’t feel like a complicated wargame. Indeed, I think many boardgamers looking for to add a bit of conflict simulation to their collection can’t go wrong if they invest in this game.
I think we are going to get a few more play of the basic rules under our belt before we try the Simultaneous Hidden Movement rules. I also need to try the solo bot – but that’s going to be yet another day.