Francis K. Lalumiere
(Originally posted on BoardGameNews.com)
“Yeah. That was just a few years before we opened up a big can of whoopass on him at Yorktown.”
Leo McGarry to Lord John Marbury, about George III, The West Wing
Yorktown did fall in 1781, but that was after seven years of conflict—and the book wouldn’t be officially closed on the revolution until 1783, when the Treaty of Paris was signed and Britain recognized the independence of the United States of America.
GMT brings the American revolutionary war back to life with Washington’s War, a redesign of Mark Herman’s We The People, published in 1994 by Avalon Hill and now long out of print. But why all the hoopla? Because with We The People, Herman had invented a cardboard engine that would spawn an entire family of wargames: the card-driven game (CDG). The idea was that each turn would be driven by the play of a card, and that each card would enable the player to perform one out of a variety of actions—at least one of which would be specific to that particular card. So it wasn’t enough to know what you wanted to happen on the board: you needed to have the right card at your disposal. And since every card made several actions possible, agonizing decisions were sure to ensue.
And they did, and still do, more than fifteen years after Herman’s lighting-in-a-bottle of an idea. Many gamers will be familiar with the card-driven concept through the successful Twilight Struggle, but it all started with We The People.
Washington’s War revisits the topic by having one player assume the role of the Americans, and the other the British. The game is played on a point-to-point mapboard depicting the eastern part of North America. Generals and combat units move from space to space along valid connections in an attempt to establish political and territorial control over the land. The object of the game is for each side to control as many colonies as possible when the game ends.
Each turn, players alternate the play of a card until their hands are depleted. Two types of cards exist: event cards and OPS cards (numbered 1 through 3, in multiple copies).
An OPS card can be played in three ways: to activate a general (provided the OPS number on the card is at least equal to the general’s strategy rating), to place political control markers on the map (a number of them equal to the card’s OPS number), or to bring on reinforcements (once per turn for the British, twice for the Americans).
An event card can either be played to implement the event described on the card, or discarded to place, flip or remove a political control marker, depending on the circumstances.
But no matter what type of card you play, you can only use it for one action. Want to move Washington’s army but also bring in reinforcements with the same card? Tough luck.
When two armies end up in the same space, combat happens. Both sides add up the number of combat units currently serving under their generals, plus said generals’ battle ratings, throw in a handful of modifiers from a militia bonus (for the current controller of the colony where the battle is taking place), to a navy support bonus (for the British—provided the French haven’t joined the war yet and are not helping the Americans by blockading that particular port), to bonuses derived from the play of battle cards (a special kind of event card)—with a die roll on top. Highest total wins the battle, and a couple more rolls dictate troop losses.
Each turn corresponds to a year of campaigning, and at the end of every turn, when winter rears its ugly head, troops not inside wintering quarters (and most of the Americans, wherever they happen to be) lose half their numbers. Winter was a harsh mistress.
Political control markers that find themselves isolated are also removed from the map. Essentially, markers become isolated if they cannot trace an uninterrupted path through connected friendly markers to either an empty space or a friendly piece. And this is the key to victory, because control of each colony goes to whoever holds the majority of political markers therein. So the fewer of your markers get bumped off each turn, the better your position is.
Various events during the game make it possible for the French to get involved by sending a fleet to America. When used properly, that fleet can neutralize many of the British advantages—if the French show up, of course, which is never a guarantee.
A few event cards are mandatory: the player who is dealt each of those cards is obligated to play it. No easy discards this time around. Two of them deal with the French and the Declaration of Independance, but most are titled “North’s Government Falls / The War Ends In …” and bear a year, from 1779 to 1783. A “North’s Government Falls” card is always played on the board, but only one can be there at any time: any new such card replaces the old one, which goes to the discard pile. If, at the end of any turn, the card sporting that year (or a previous year) is on the board, the game ends immediately.
If the British control at least six colonies, they win. If the Americans control at least seven colonies, they win. If both players have achieved their victory condition—or if neither player has done so—the British win. Hey, they were there first.
Cards are printed in full color on quality cardstock that looks like it will be able to sustain repeated shuffling. Counters are very nice and military units easy to read. (Unfortunately, most of the colony control markers weren’t printed with British and American flags on either side—a problem that’s easily solved with a color printer and some scotch-tape. GMT plans to reprint those counters in the next issue of C3i Magazine.) Also included in the nigh indestructible box are two full-size player aid cards, very useful when the action gets tense and there’s not much time for leafing through the rules between musket balls.
But the real showstopper is the map: not only is it a beautiful piece, but GMT decided to go with a mounted mapboard. This is a rather unusual move coming from a wargame publisher, considering that most wargame print runs are much lower than that of an average “Eurogame”—low enough, in fact, to make something like a mounted board an economically risky proposition. (As a side note, GMT is upping the ante with even more mounted boards for some of its upcoming games. Wargamers rejoice! Our hobby is a healthy one.) The result is a luxurious linen-finish playing surface that stays flat and feels just right.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
At 23 pages of clear and easily digestible rules, Washington’s War shouldn’t scare too many people away. A solid index rounds out the rulebook to make it a trusty tool in times of doubt. A playbook is also provided: it features a 10-page, fully illustrated example of play, as well as player notes by developer Joel Toppen and design notes by Herman himself, chronicling the transition between We The People and Washington’s War.
The asymmetrical rules (for the British and Americans function differently in many regards) might take some time to sink in, but the game can pretty much be explained to a newcomer in 15 minutes, and even your very first match should clock in at under two hours. Few wargames can make that claim.
This game is fast. It plays much quicker than I anticipated. The back of the box indicates a playing time of 90 minutes, and that box is not kidding. One of my games actually ended at the 60-minute mark, thanks to the unexpected play of the “The War Ends in 1779” card. (Yeah, I lost.)
Washington’s War is much more a game of territorial control than it is about going for the enemy’s throat. Battles must be chosen carefully and used to insure the stability of conquered territory. Reckless attacks will likely result in casualties that’ll hinder your ability to defend your colonies.
What makes the game so enjoyable is in large part the simplicity of it all. The rules include just enough historical chrome for players to feel the period, but not so much as to bog down the proceedings. It also makes it possible for two new players to get a good grasp of what’s going on and what needs to be done after just a couple of turns.
I might just have found a new gateway wargame. Washington’s War is fun, easy and fast. And, coming full circle, it certainly is the perfect introduction to that ever widening and far reaching genre known as the CDG. Well done, Mark!
Ph’nglui mglw’nfah Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!
Mirrors my feeling exactly. Also great for when you don't have time to play Hannibal but want something that scratches the same itch.
Thanks for taking the time to write your review. Much appreciated. I am also glad that you experienced the quick playing time that I wanted in this re-design of We The People.
the rule book index is indeed a nice little feature which I've used already a few times to find an answer quick.
I'm not sure if I would have gotten WWr if it wasn't for the mounted board. i'm glad I did though, it's a blast.