I heard on the radio Friday that it was the 17th anniversary of The Big Lebowski. How Jeff Bridges didn't win an academy award is total bullshit. We have quite a few big fans of the movie at First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society. Probably need to do a Lebowski game theme day/nite. Lots of chrome/flavor/richness in that fantastic story. Great characters. Similar to how I like my wargames. Well, not quite all. A few old school games lack a lot of chrome and are still my favorites. One in particular: 1776
Shocking that game is 41 years old. I bought it when it was first published. Although the rules are under a dozen pages (VERY elegant design), the game packs a hell of a punch: we've had some memorable games at the club, a local 1776 tourney we used to conduct and at the WBC tourney. The battle cards and the tension they produce - based on the situation - are great. The cat mouse operational metagame works (American forces have 1 adtl pt of movement). Simple, but effective, supply rules. The system for generating troops during an insurrection. Fantastic design. And great topic. I'm always in the market for a great American Rev War game. Sadly, I haven't found many. A few years ago I picked up 1777: The Year of the Hangman.
...and its been on my "must be played table" for way too long; seems like the design may require a little work to access & grok. In contrast, Washington's Crossing arrived via a trade a few days ago. Hadn't read the rules when I talked to my mate Mr.Frick on Friday regarding what we should play (for change, we hadn't scheduled a big honkin monster).
During the course of our conversation, I cracked open the game, checked out the rules for a few seconds and suggested we could tackle it cold. Mr.Frick agreed. We searched for a copy of the living rules on the web; none to be found. Not even a pdf of the printed rules. What da?! That was a red flag for us (who doesn't make their rules available to players in the age of vassal????), but, it didn't stop us. I managed to stop by Kinkos next to a Smash Burger (which was on my agenda to try...did try...thumbs up, although MyBurger is better...and B52 burger is the reigning champ in The Cities).
They make a decent burger...
...although King of the local burger scene is B52
A bit about the game...
WC (Washington's Crossing) covers the winter campaign of Dec 25, 1776 > Jan 6, 1777 involving the MUCH needed victories at Trenton and Princeton. The game reminds me, somewhat, of Balkoski's Great Campaigns of the American Civil War (I mean that as BIG compliment). The focus is on activating leaders, rolling for movement, maneuvering and engaging the enemy - where it should be. The required aspects of a decent op game are here; uncertainty in activation of units, units gaining fatigue levels/becoming disorganized, etc. Although the movement engine is basic I Go You Go (grumble, grumble), there is enough uncertainty that is doesn't feel like many (not all!) dated designs of yesteryear.
You'll get a feel for the op system by examining the tables below. Also, you'll see some other stuff on those tables that we really liked about the game; the river crossing table (very nice touch - the variability in the number of men Washington can get across the river). That river crossing table is part of why I had a good initial impression of the game; an elegant touch to convey the tremendous uncertainty of Washington's bold move(s).
op more tables
Overall, I like the combat system; a bunch of modifiers and a funky CRT (BERG like, and, so, of course I like) with different columns based upon the attacker leader rating. It also produces a wide range of results. Reminded me (range of results and bunch of modifiers) of one of my current top ten wargames: Carthage: The First Punic War .
Your strength doesn't inflict percentage loss: One thing that struck us as "odd" was that only the size of the defenders force determines the amount of losses inflicted on each side (in contrast to say Empires in Arms - where the amount of losses inflicted upon your opponent is determined by the size of your force and the percent loss you inflict on the enemy - not the case with WC - only defenders size of force is used in the battle loss calculation).
The power (or drag) of 10: Something we did not care for was keeping track of unit strengths to the nearest 10 soldiers. Yes, 10 soldiers. That takes a fair amount of time messing with (keeping track of and calculating) when, instead, we could be spending player time on other components of WC. While it is admirable that the designer wanted to reflect the unit sizes to the nearest 10 soldier, next time, we'll only track to the nearest 100 for the units and invest our playing time in those aspects of the game that have more play value pop.
Missing supply mechanic. Ok, so, no one is going to starve in the 13 day period modeled here. However, the British not having to worry about their supply net seems to release the British player from a historic consideration. Not sure how it should be addressed, but, I think not having some supply consideration is missing component.
One other demerit for the game; not enough innovation in the basic I Go You Go op mechanic. Again, I like the Balkoski GCACW mechanic - I just wish it would have been tweaked for "reaction zones": how is that wily Washington supposed to slip away without them? There is something called "Reaction Movement", but, it only applies to forces not being attacked (so, they have to sit there while units surround them...huh?!) and within 4 spaces of an attacked hex. This lack of a "reaction zone" really stuck in my craw, but, it wasn't a deal breaker.
British leader/force display
Components. A couple of "beefs" we had. The map is fine, with the exception of a missing map key. HUH?! Yes, most of us wargamers know what a forest hex looks like, but, still, NO excuse for not having a map key. And, missing state boarders. What da? (yeah, most of know the Delaware seperates PA & NJ, but, why not a border? Especially, given that the American can set up some troops in PA and we spent a few minutes trying to figure out where the damm PA border was. Finally, we found a sentence in the rulebook that the river is the damm border).
Counters? The half inch (yuk) counters are forgetable, which, is a miscue given the rich story this game is modeling. The emphasis of the game is on the leaders, so, why not some portraits and/or other bits about some of the great personalities. Same comment on the leader/force display; it lacks sizzle, flavor, etc. Drab. It's clear the designer loves the story. We just wish a little more of that love would have shown thru in the components. We'll probably wood it out (stickers on cubes/blocks) next time we play, since there are so few pieces on the board (this is great for an op game).
Rulebook is decent. Reads easy, making the game accessible. Again, we hadn't read before playing, but, after an hour we thought we had grok'd it. That say a lot. Also, there is an good example of play on the game co's website; have a peak at that.
Dipping a Toe in the Water...
Our goal with our first session was to see if we would like the game and then commit the 10 to 12 hours required to play the campaign game. It was we easy to jump into the action and start moving pieces; not much of a learning curve for the game mechanics.
First up, the American player must decide where to place Washington and how to approach Trenton to wake up those drunk Hessians. Americans decided to use the Howell Ferry route and managed to roll well on the crossings table: 2,500 troops were allowed to cross. We really liked the variability in the troops being able to cross. Cadwalader tried to activate, but failed his die roll (again, we weren't sure if he was a commanding general or not). Ewing also failed to activate, meaning that the Brits would have an easy retreat route out of Trenton (a road over a small river into a space not within a zone of control).
Brits sat still since they aren't allowed to move the first two game turns. So, turn 2 ended with Washington & friends ready to launch their attack on Trenton.
turn 3 start
Washington hit the Brits at high noon on Dec 26th. Results from the battle were a moderate America victory: 500 British losses vs 190 American losses...Brits forced to flee...disorganized. A word on the Victory Point mechanic...
VPs are generated from:
Objective cities each turn: Burlington, Trenton, Bordertown, Phily, Amboy, Brunswick
Battles: level of victory (a function of relative battle losses and retreats)
Objective cities at end of game: Phily (20 pts), Burlington, Trenton, Bordertown, Amboy, Brunswick (all 3 pts), all other towns on map (1 pt each)
High total wins. One cool thing regarding the VP mechanic is that a loser of a battle may choose to surrender its force. Why do that? If not, the enemy will be able to continue to beat up on it (if it can't get away - disorganized forces have less movement) and generate further VPs.
turn 3 end
With the Brit deciding to not surrender the Trenton force, Washington took the opportunity to swat the pinata again on Turn 4. This time, only a skirmish victory resulted (miffed the die roll....a "0")...150 british losses vs 110 for the rebels. During the british turn, Mr.Frick sent forces to Burlington to contest any American movement. We decided to end our Washington's Crossing bootcamp at that point, having gotten a feel for the system.
turn 4 end
A few questions (a very few - again, tip of the hat to the designer that wrote some decent rules - an art!) we had:
1) Are there two AM and two PM turns as indicated on the gamemap vs thee 2 AM and 1 PM turn in the rulebook? We thought yes.
2) Does the cost to cross a major river - the ferry cost - include the cost of entering the 1st hex? We thought yes.
3) Are all leaders that are NOT subordinate leaders commanding leaders? And, thus always able to activate (they don't need to trace to the supreme commander)? At first we thought no, they decided yes.
4) On the ten sider, is the "0" a zero (as in Berg/Herman games) - as it should be - or, a "10"? We thought zero.
We liked Washington's Crossing. The game is very accessible and uncluttered. Like the overall feel of the game. Pick up a copy. I understand there is a follow up in the offing; we'll be interested in what the designer does with this ARW op engine.
We do have some reservations: the I Go You Go where leaders can't react (with the exception of some limited reaction capability), keeping track of loses to the nearest 10 (next time, we'll only track to the closest 100), no supply line tension/dynamics, the counters (bigger and more packed with flavor, please) and no living rules posted (or any rules that can be downloaded). That may seem like a show stopping list, but, it wasn't...and probably isn't.
What we liked, outweighed the reservations list: a tweaked fantastic Balkoski GBACW op mechanic, decent variability/range in the combat system, some interesting ways the designer addressed specifics of this campaign (the river crossing table), VP mechanic that seems to drive player goals reflective of the campaign, etc.
Most importantly, we had fun playing. We'll probably get it back on our table, although, I now really have the bug to play 1777: The Year of the Hangman and compare the two. Another member of the 1st Mn, Andrew, says that Washington's Crossing reminds him of Campaigns of Napoleon System: 1x Series - one of his favorites. And, now that he's seen it in action, he plans to pick up a copy. So, we'll have another WC player soon. Hopefully our Lebowski b-day play of WC also prompts us to get 1776 on the table soon.
As an aside, if you have any interest in the ARW topic (and ARW wargmes), I can't recommend the best blog in the universe on the topic enough: http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX/.1dd09579/5063. Wilson, Wimble, Herman, etc hold camp there. Fantastic discussion.
Also, we had a very good Guns, Dice, Butter podcast (Episode III: April 24, 2012) panel discussion on strategic level ARW wargames that you may want to check out.
Year of the Hangman on deck
Oh, and I did manage to hit a favorite local bowling alley on the way from gaming, since, well, it was the Big Lebowski's birthday. And, had my first and last white russian of the year.
Bryant Lake Bowl...great music and food also - and eclectic theatre next door
Let me know next time you head over to Bryant Lake Bowl, it's just a couple blocks from my place!
Also, a few words in defense of Revolution Games (I have decided to make myself their unofficial official fan boy). First, living rules would be cool, but I understand not having them, since they're basically a one man company (at least that's my impression). Second, I LIKE the counters! Bigger would be ok, but I actually really like the art style, I think it's thematic and looks nice without getting too complicated. I think at least part of the counter size decision is probably to keep the game on the smaller and cheaper side (which is kind of Revolution's specialty).
Glad to read your thoughts on the game, I can't wait to try it out myself!
I will make a few design comments. These are meant to be informative of my design decisions and try to read them as if I am a jolly good fellow who really loves history and games and not a bitter defensive game designer.
The I-go-you go sequence of play was not chosen casually. In the campaign the Americans always had the initiative and the British always were reacting. Many of the movements of the two sides were decided by only a few hours or miles. I tried a reaction system and we got a game that was nothing like the real campaign. Both sides intercepting each other and that just was not this campaign. No march by Washington on Princeton under Cornwallis nose because he just intercepted it. etc. etc. Other games in the series may have variations on the sequence if the history supports it.
Supply was also studied carefully before getting rid of it. Both sides were running wagon trains all over the map with little or no escort along with having some with the armies. A fair number of these trains were captured by each side. Neither commander, or any of their sub commanders, ever wrote about being concerned about the enemy interdicting their supply. So in this 12 day campaign both armies maneuvered their main forces and sub brigades as if supply lines did not matter and I wanted the players to maneuver with the same freedom.
Losses based on the defenders strength is because of the range of the periods weapons. You could have an army of 100,000 show up to fight 1000 but it could not use but a fraction of its firepower on the 1000 men. Same true for Napoleonic or ACW. The defenders frontage and numbers really decides the size of the battle and thus the losses on both sides. Modified my a ton of other factors of course.
Finally the reason manpower is tracked in 10 men increments is to allow for the raids and smaller battles to really shine. I tried game with 100 men increments and it worked fine for the three or four big battles the game generates. It was not satisfying for me when two brigades of 500 men each fought a battle. One side takes one loss the other takes one or perhaps none. It also made the raid mechanism totally useless and I wanted to show how the British were being slowly bled by a series of endless pinpricks.
Glad you enjoyed the game and thanks for the very good write up. Wish I lived closer and could play in your Empire in Arms game. We had a group that played many times over 15 years and it is one of my all time favorite games.
2. You must pay for the hex, it is not included in the ferry cost.
4. A zero is a zero.
3. Leader activation is a big portion of the games rules and I am going to answer at more length to try to make it clearer.
a. Subordinate and Commanding leaders are defined in 10.1. Commanding leaders are those with 4 numbers on the counters, subordinate with 2.
b. Leaders are primarily activated by activation points. If you spend to activate a commanding leader he may then activate a certain number of lower leaders that are within his range. This is the most efficient way of activating a large number of leaders.
c. You may spend activation points on any leader, they do not need to be in range of a Commanding leader. There is no die roll to activate in this case. The leader is just active. Your limitation is that if you have a bunch of brigades spread all over the place and are spending one activation point each turn on each one of them you will run out of activation points and there will be a pause in operations and you will be very vulnerable to your enemy.
In your example the American player may spend activation points to try to move Ewing to cut off the Hessians in Trenton. Historically he did move but was unable to cross the river. In game terms he failed on the crossing table.
d. 10.2 On day turns only, each side may attempt to activate one leader who has an activation cost of 2 or less by rolling a die.
Rolling for Cadwalader during day turns is a good way for the Americans to save some activation points as he can command quite a bit.
Just curious. Have you tried any of our other games? I know you like "The Korean War" and our games Celles and Gazala have that movement and combat engine. Has a chit pull system joined to it which I think really makes a great game and a good simulation.
The only downside is that it's, well, an Excel utility that requires you to have a small laptop on the table. However, my laptop takes up less space than the Leader Charts which are no longer needed when using the utility!
If you do end up using it, please let me know if you encounter any problems. It has not been extensively tested, so some "field trials" would be good.
I will, someday, re-write this utility for use on mobile devices and then it will really shine.
FYI: There *is* a Map Key. Look along the southern edge of the map, just below Philadelphia where you'll see "Minor River", "City", "Major River", etc. Then look along the northern edge of the map from hexes 1001 in the west to 2601 in the east and you'll see the rest of the terrain types ("Mountain", "Creek", "Marsh", etc.). Actually kind of a nice way of creating a key without cluttering up the map. Enjoy the game!