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Subject: Washington's War: A Review Of Gameplay rss

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Brien Martin
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I have already posted a more macro-level review of the game and its components, as well as my impressions of the rules. I've actually had the chance to go through the actual rulebook, playbook, charts, and counters. I've had the chance to play the game a couple of times (my second playing is currently being reported here). So, now, I think it's a good time to discuss the only thing that truly matters in any game ... how does it play?

I'll break it down into a few component parts:

HISTORY: Does the game treat the history well?
STRATEGIC DECISIONS: Does the game give players enough challenges?
COMBAT: Does the game's combat system work well for what it's trying to do?
TIGHTNESS OF RULES: Does the game's rulebook create more questions than it answers?
SMOOTHNESS: Does the game's system, when you combine all of its elements, play smoothly, or does it require playing in fits and starts?

HISTORY
For those expecting Washington's War (hereafter, WWR) to be a traditional military game, it's not. Yes, there is a military component to WWR, but it's not the focal point of the game. So, for those who fancy themselves George Washington, they'll walk away disappointed,

WWR is, at its core, a game about winning the hearts and minds of the colonists. The military assists in this endeavor, but any strategy based solely on a military option is going to be a loser.

WWR has all the events of the real-life Revolution, but because of the card deck, they won't happen in the same sequence and, it's possible they won't ever happen at all. Games can be played where Ben Franklin is never sent to Paris, where Congress never writes a Declaration of Independence, where Nathan Hale is never hanged.

I have read comments where the lack of the Declaration in a game was a sore spot. I'm at a loss as to why ... the Declaration was a masterpiece, but was absolutely unnecessary to actual independence; only a peace with England, in which she recognized our desire for independence, would suffice.

From a gameplay standpoint, having these various events happen completely at random means that both sides are constantly striving to advance their cause, never knowing if the event they know is in the deck will ever come out on the table. That creates the right amount of tension, I believe. If you *knew* that the Declaration was coming out in mid-turn 1776, there would be a lot of "forced" plays, leading to an almost chess-like series of "opening moves" designed to maximize the impact for the Americans, and minimize the impact on the British.

For me, the history of WWR is just fine. If one can wrap their head around WWR as a great "what if" game that allows for multiple playings that will all be different, then one can accept the game for what it actually is, rather than what they want it to be.

STRATEGIC DECISIONS
There are quite a few in WWR, although, like any wargame, they can be limited by events taking place in the game. But there are many considerations that a player of WWR must deal with.

Playing an OPS card, for example, gives you three choices: move a general and his troops, place PC markers, or bring in reinforcements. Each has its benefits; each has its drawbacks. All of the tension here comes from the whole "opportunity cost" concept: if you use the card to do *this*, you can't do *that*.

Of course, as events unfold, those OPS cards may, by necessity, have to be played one way or the other. For example, needing to control colonies, those OPS cards may need to apply only to placing PC markers for a time, lest you lose control of the game.

Militarily, there are lots of decisions to make. Do you set everything up for that Major Campaign? As the American, do you bring in reinforcements only to existing generals, or do you create a bunch of little armies, using all those American generals to run around a create havoc?

If you play a "PC Throwdown" strategy, do you have large areas of PC markers that are well-supported and connected? Or do you take your chances on isolations? Do you spend your valuable OPS cards placing markers that block your opponent at every turn? If so, does that get you away from what you need to do to win?

As with any good game, be it wargame or boardgame, the decisions are many. Individually, they are simple. But within the context of the game, and what can and can't be done after proceeded, they become complex. And I like the way that works in reality.

COMBAT
The system is elegant and yet simple. Add up your dice roll modifiers, add up their dice roll modifiers, roll the dice, add the modifiers to each side ... higher total wins, with the attacker winning all ties.

Here's the kicker: after awhile, you stop adding everything up and simply going to a +/- system to determine which side's die roll gets the bonus. It goes something like this:

"Okay, it's 5-3 in CU, that's a +2 to me. Another +1 for the navy, +1 for British Regulars, that's +4. You get a +1 for the militia, and +2 for your battle card. Net +1 to me ... roll 'em!"

Taking losses is very straightforward: if the winner rolls a 1, he always loses 1 combat unit, and depending on the opposing general, that roll range can be expanded so that the winner loses that 1 unit more often. Losers lose 1 unit on a 1-3, 2 units on a 4-5, 3 units on a 6. Very, very simple.

With time and multiple playings, a battle can be resolved, literally, in a matter of seconds. Losses are realistic in that no one ever walks away from battle unscathed. Deaths may be few, but the losses here are measured in casualties, not deaths. Combat was rather bloody in this period, so no one gets out "alive" when they make that leap into battle.

The system does what I believe it should to simulate combat at this macro level. Any more detail desired by players would be better served by other games.

TIGHTNESS OF RULES
As an ASL player, a 24-page rulebook is not going to intimidate me. However, there may be a number of our friends here at BGG whose idea of rules is a one-page, front and back, rules sheet that Euros are famous for. Twenty-four pages might seem like overkill.

Rest assured, the rules are very well-written, and leave few questions when you're done. As with many rule sets, it really takes a second, thorough reading to be sure of the rules (it's human nature to miss out on a fine point on a first reading). But the rules are all there. And they're quite clear.

That's not to say that they're perfect. So far, there are two official clarifications posted at the errata website, but the clarifications are minor in terms of gameplay. There's no major "gotcha" that's going to keep you from playing the game right out of the box, if you like.

Having a tight rules set means that you can be up and playing in no time. To me, that's key. After spending "x" dollars on a game, I don't want to have to wait 3-4 weeks before I can actually play the game because the rules have more holes than a good Emmentaler.

The tighter the rules, the faster a player can be up and playing with his new toy. And these rules are tight.

SMOOTHNESS
The game box says you can play a game in about 90 minutes. That's right, the entire American Revolution in about 90 minutes. And it's not really out of the question.

Once you play the game, and discover its nuances, you should be able to hammer out a match in about 90 minutes, maybe longer (depending upon opponent). With practice, card plays become almost second nature. You'll be able to look at your hand and immediately deduce how you should play those cards, based on the current game situation.

The mechanics don't allow for a lot of hemming and hawing. While you have three options for every OPS card, event cards have usually one purpose (two, if you must discard it), which gives you back some speed lost by any thought process of an OPS card. And, in any event, players who over-agonize over an OPS card are probably going to over-agonize over whether they want their ketchup on their fries, or on the side.

That's not to say that there aren't moments of hesitation where the choices you have are equally attractive. But many card plays are going to be dictated by events on the board, and that OPS card will be forced to be used a certain way if you want to avoid a disaster.

In general, card plays should flow rather smoothly and quickly. Even combat will be relatively seamless as players get into the hang of computing the DRMs and resolving the battle quickly.

But make no mistake, smoothness and speed do not equate to a poor game system. On the contrary, the way that WWR combines this smoothness with the richness of strategic options is just one of the reasons this game has moved to the top of my list.

So ... how would I rate the gameplay of WWR alone? I'd give it a solid A, leaning toward A+. It's a rare blend of complexity and simplicity that should bring enjoyment to those who open their minds to the game's possibilities.

Players expecting a more rigid, more scripted game will be sorely disappointed. Players wanting to impress with their grasp of the military options will find themselves wanting. Players wanting a more chess-like game with specific openings and gambits will walk away unhappy.

However, players who want the challenge of waging a war, not only between armies, but between ideologies; who enjoy balancing the needs of the army and the needs of the people; who always found the "guns and butter" analogy of economics fascinating, will find WWR a game that offers them the challenge they seek.

WWR is that rare wargame that not only looks great, but plays great, as well.

Brien
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Flawed Hero
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Great review, thanks. Can't wait to grab this one. zombie
 
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Tom Duensing
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Nice review, thanks.

I just started a solo game and this is a lot of fun to play and it has a great deal of strategy. I'm please I got it. The mounted board convinced me--I wish more companies mounted their maps.
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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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Very lucid and thorough review: congratulations!

You say that
Quote:
you'll be able to look at your hand and immediately deduce how you should play those cards
In terms of how much you have to think (depth, and total time), where would you put Washington's War, compared to other games like Commands & Colors: Ancients, 1960: The Making of the President, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42, or Race for the Galaxy and Dominion? The meaning of the "weight" rating on BGG is a little fuzzy: it would be good to get some information about how much Washington's War makes you think (depth and percentage of time spent thinking)!
 
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Bill Wood
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lebigot wrote:
Very lucid and thorough review: congratulations!

You say that
Quote:
you'll be able to look at your hand and immediately deduce how you should play those cards
In terms of how much you have to think (depth, and total time), where would you put Washington's War, compared to other games like Commands & Colors: Ancients, 1960: The Making of the President, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42, or Race for the Galaxy and Dominion? The meaning of the "weight" rating on BGG is a little fuzzy: it would be good to get some information about how much Washington's War makes you think (depth and percentage of time spent thinking)!


Yes, you might THINK you can use your cards a certain way, but rarely will if your opponent is worth his salt.

I look at the board, my hand and the colony control track, the forces on the map, the cards already played (remembered) and find some deep thinking - and refreshingly, it is not the 'what was that rule?' kind of thinking. All the mechanics are familiar, well stated, and not cumbersome.

The depth of strategy is surprising, considering the ease of getting into the game the tight design provides.

You might think you need to control a colony - but maybe it would be best to neutralize two of them - after all, victory is who controls the most colonies, not who controls the majority of the colonies. Keeping that kind of balance can be challenging.

Placing PCs and forces in blocking positions while maintaining threats - very interesting considerations there.

The hardest part in the game, as to comprehension, is Political Control, and that is not too difficult - one think I did find my self neglecting to do/remember was that any event card can be played, instead of its event, to REMOVE a PC marker - this can be critical at times.

The Hardest thing to do in the game is shuffle the cards - really - they are tough cards that are on the stiff side.
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Brien Martin
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lebigot wrote:
Very lucid and thorough review: congratulations!

You say that
Quote:
you'll be able to look at your hand and immediately deduce how you should play those cards
In terms of how much you have to think (depth, and total time), where would you put Washington's War, compared to other games like Commands & Colors: Ancients, 1960: The Making of the President, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42, or Race for the Galaxy and Dominion? The meaning of the "weight" rating on BGG is a little fuzzy: it would be good to get some information about how much Washington's War makes you think (depth and percentage of time spent thinking)!


Bonjour, Eric! Comment-allez vous?

Washington's War has a great deal of thinking in terms of card play, but mainly with the OPS cards. Event cards are pretty straightforward, and the only thought is usually "which one" as opposed to much else.

For example, one of the cards for the British allows them to remove two American PC markers from any port spaces on the map that don't contain an American combat unit or general. In some cases, there are only one or two PC markers that qualify, so you don't really have a decision to make. In other cases, you have 3-5 markers to choose from, so you'll have to think it through.

OPS cards have the greatest "thought potential": do you use it to activate a general? Do you use it to bring in reinforcements? Do you use it to place PC markers?

Then, the chain begins: if activating a general, which one? Where will he go? Do you want to attack with him or get him into Winter Quarters? And so on.

If placing PCs, where? If bringing on reinforcements, where? Do you also bring in a new general with them? Or do you simply beef up an already existing force?

Lots of decisions, but none of them requiring tons of analysis ... mainly because you really have no idea if your opponent can respond to them based on the cards in his hand. Sometimes, the Americans can dance around the board with their OPS 1 cards while the Brits draw a steady stream of OPS 1 cards that force Howe, Carleton, and Company to sit on their hands.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the depth of decisions to be made, and the speed with which you'll be able to make them.

A bientot,
Brien
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Tom Grant
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Brien Martin wrote:
Once you play the game, and discover its nuances, you should be able to hammer out a match in about 90 minutes, maybe longer (depending upon opponent). With practice, card plays become almost second nature. You'll be able to look at your hand and immediately deduce how you should play those cards, based on the current game situation.


In general, card-driven games take a lot longer than they could (or, arguably, should) when you don't have a strategy. When you get a new hand of cards, you can view it either as the raw material for the strategy you planned on pursuing, or the set of cards that will determine your strategy. The latter takes a lot longer to figure out than the former, even if you have to modify your planned strategy, based on the cards you get.
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Bill Wood
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Kingdaddy wrote:
Brien Martin wrote:
Once you play the game, and discover its nuances, you should be able to hammer out a match in about 90 minutes, maybe longer (depending upon opponent). With practice, card plays become almost second nature. You'll be able to look at your hand and immediately deduce how you should play those cards, based on the current game situation.


In general, card-driven games take a lot longer than they could (or, arguably, should) when you don't have a strategy. When you get a new hand of cards, you can view it either as the raw material for the strategy you planned on pursuing, or the set of cards that will determine your strategy. The latter takes a lot longer to figure out than the former, even if you have to modify your planned strategy, based on the cards you get.



So true - I typically play with a strategy, and use the cards I get to pursue it - plays much faster than those who sit across from using the cards to develop the strategy by the seat of their pants.

Of course, if you fail to have a Plan B when Plan A goes to hell, then I too will be mulling on the Cards of Fortune.
 
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Mike Wall
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Quote:
Here's the kicker: after awhile, you stop adding everything up and simply going to a +/- system to determine which side's die roll gets the bonus. It goes something like this:

"Okay, it's 5-3 in CU, that's a +2 to me. Another +1 for the navy, +1 for British Regulars, that's +4. You get a +1 for the militia, and +2 for your battle card. Net +1 to me ... roll 'em!"


Just a thought. That may be easier and quicker for you personally, but I find it much quicker if each player adds up purely their own modifiers. That way there seems less chance of missing a modifier out or making a mistake.
 
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