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A Few Acres of Snow, Martin Wallace, and Me

Jesse Dean
United States
Orlando
Florida
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Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!
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I have played a lot of Martin Wallace games. In fact, with 15 different played titles, I have played more Martin Wallace games than those by any other designer. In earlier, more innocent times, I described Martin Wallace as my favorite designer. I loved, and still love, Age of Steam, Brass was riding high as one of my favorite games, and I found Princes of the Renaissance and Struggle of Empires to both be very interesting designs. Unfortunately, this initial enthusiasm was not something that could be sustained. I think the beginning of the end was probably After the Flood. This was the first game, and in fact probably the first thing, that I ordered internationally, and it was the first Martin Wallace that I ended up mostly disappointed by. It wasn’t a bad game, per se, but it did not pull me in like some of his other designs. Further plays of his extended catalog also disappointed me, until I reached the game that ended up being a major turning point in my opinion of Martin Wallace as a designer: Automobile.

I was very excited about Automobile. It was getting a lot of positive initial buzz, the theme seemed to be rather unique, and I still put enough stock in Martin Wallace’s name on the box that it alone was enough to boost my enthusiasm and order the limited edition from Treefrog. And during the first couple of plays I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, soon after that I became disenchanted with the low number of meaningful decisions for a game of its length and the game’s relatively low level of tension. After this I became a bit more discerning in my purchase of Martin Wallace games, but I still found myself disappointed again and again. London ended up being the final straw. I went ahead and pre-ordered it because it looked like it might be a good game, and I am a pretty big fan of complex card games, but I decided that if I did not like it then from that point forward Martin Wallace would be strictly on my “Try Before Buy” list. I was lucky enough to be able to play a good friend’s copy twice and found it to be rather mediocre; I sold my copy before even opening it.


•This is a very tentative rating. I don’t have strong feelings about the game yet, and need to play it again to solidify things.

When I first began to hear about A Few Acres of Snow, I became interested despite my previous disappointments. The combination of deck-building and a war game seemed interesting, and initial reports indicated that this one had a lot of potential. My first play of the game was tense and fun and I started to wonder if this was perhaps going to be the game that would cause me to look seriously at Martin Wallace again. However, even at this point in time we noted that the British had a definite military advantage, and I won the game by sieging my way to Quebec.

Due to this experience, I was not very surprised by the identification of a dominant, broken strategy for A Few Acres of Snow. The description of it fit with what I had learned during and after my first game, and I was already developing the basics of the strategy in my head. So it did not surprise me, but it did greatly disappoint me. Yes, I had grown to find that Martin Wallace’s designs were no longer meeting my particular needs, but I still respected him as one of the few professional designers in the industry. The fact that one of his games was released to the public with this big of a flaw indicates that there is something wrong with his design process, his development process, or both. At this point, I have moved from Martin Wallace being “Try Before Buy” to “Wait A Year To Make Sure The Game Is Not Broken Then Try Before I Buy”, though that will likely result in me just not looking at his games anymore. This is a shame, because A Few Acres of Snow is evidence that Martin Wallace is capable of making games that have the potential to be interesting to me. He just hasn’t showed me evidence that these games are good.
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