Don't hang around, 'cause two's a crowd on my cloud, baby.
If I were to hang my head, I'd miss all the rainbows. And I'd drown in raindrops instead.
I traded for this game recently, and I just had to set it up and try it right away. I'd been curious about this States of Siege series since its debut. I played enthusiastically that first day, but then life intervened; a month passed, and I finally got around to finishing the game yesterday. Here are my impressions, for what they're worth.
Like all the other Victory Point Games products I've bought, EIA comes in a Ziplock bag. It has an 11" x 17" unmounted, matte-finish map and a handful of matching unit-counters. Also a deck of small, non-laminated cards and a set of rules. Oh, and a pair of very tiny dice.
How you feel about all that will depend on your point of view. I myself have long-since stopped looking for wargames to be works of art or to compare to the likes of a fine chess set. So, these VPG components are perfectly OK with me.
As a matter of fact, they're more than just OK. I have to compliment the artists and designers. The map is just the right size to be suitable for solitaire; it leaves room on a typical table for the array of cards and for rolling dice. And there's some pretty creative, pleasing artwork on that map, featuring some tastefully placed historical images. The cards and unit-counters are likewise colorful and good-looking.
Your objective in this game is to defend Montreal, capital of New France. As I believe is the case with all the States of Siege games, your enemy (the British in this game) approaches along five separate tracks. And you need to fight offensive and defensive battles to stop any British force from reaching and taking Montreal (at the hub of the five tracks).
The French and British forces in the game are represented by leader cards, each of which is marked with a couple chits when it comes into play: one to show the leader's reputation, another to show how many battalions he commands. Battalions can be lost or regained during play, so one marker indicates how many the leader currently has. Reputation can likewise ebb and flow with the tide of war, so another chit on the leader card shows the leader's current status. (Each turn, excess leaders or leaders in disrepute may be sacked, so it's good if a strong leader can keep winning and up his reputation.)
A deck of cards governs play for the most part. Each turn begins with a draw of 3 or 4 cards. Some are leaders or auxiliary troops that come into play; some are major events; some are minor actions. When a British leader comes into play, he is placed on one of the five tracks if there's a vacancy for him. French leaders are not confined to any particular track; they can attack or defend anywhere.
After drawing and playing your 3 or 4 cards, the British turn is taken automatically by the game system. Basically, all British armies with leaders advance along their tracks toward Montreal; and if they arrive at a fort, they attack. You, as the French player, may then assign one of your leaders (and his battalions, and auxiliary forces) to defend.
When the Brits are done, the French turn begins. You get a number of action points based on the value of your leaders in play, and you use those action points to build forts or trading posts, replace battalions lost in battle, or launch attacks.
Attacks are resolved with dice rolls. First you roll to determine which side has the initiative (this die roll is modified by several factors, adding a touch of realism). The side with initiative then rolls a die for each of his battalions; every 5 or 6 rolled destroys one enemy battalion. Then the other side rolls similarly for each of his remaining battalions. Whoever destroys the most enemy battalions wins, generally speaking; and a victorious leader's reputation will increase while the defeated leader's reputation declines. The defeated force also retreats (if it wasn't eliminated entirely).
Because there are so many games around these days and I don't have time for them all, I often look for things to dislike about games. When I find them, I can use those things as an excuse to put the game aside and play a different (and, hopefully, better) one. One thing I tell myself is that I don't like wargames with cards.
Well, EIA is, to a large extent, a card-based wargame. Not only do you draw those 3 or 4 cards each turn, but the only way to win is to deplete the deck before the British take Montreal.
During play, some cards are removed from play entirely; others are discarded--but not entirely removed, as they can come back; and still others are "bottomed" (i.e., placed on the bottom of the main deck and periodically shuffled back into it). You have to use up all non-bottomed cards in the main deck to win.
As I mentioned above, besides the leader cards there are action and event cards. And these are like shuffled bits and pieces of history. Each card has a historical note at the bottom, explaining how the game event is associated with what happened in real life.
That's one thing I didn't expect to like about this game. I'm not keen on the idea of a game telling me a story--a twisted version of events that actually happened. I can read about what happened in books, or I can watch a documentary. When I play a game, I just want to focus on commanding the things I'm in charge of, within an unwritten backdrop of historical context. But in EIA, the "backdrop" isn't unwritten; much of it is made explicit. The game tells a story.
These days, I suppose most gamers look for that. There are stories in video games, RPGs, and everywhere. If anyone published a game without a story, some consumers would feel that something was missing.
Well, I'm growing used to the storytelling, I guess. I enjoyed seeing and using the cards in this game. I took time to read the historical notes, and I learned a thing or two.
So, how did the game go for me? It was very exciting overall.
When I played the first half of the game, a month or so ago, there were many times when things looked utterly hopeless for the French. With British armies approaching along five tracks, one of them always got close, and I barely had the force to fend the enemy off.
At one point, a strong enemy force was at the gates of Montreal, and I was sure the end was near. I looked at my two mediocre leaders and decided there was nothing to do but send their few battalions into the fray; they were my last hope. Miraculously, I got some surprisingly good dice rolls and sent the British flying all the way back to New York.
But no sooner had I done that than a huge force under General Amherst appeared at Halifax. It was only a matter of time before he'd advance up the St. Lawrence and take Quebec, followed by Montreal.
I let the game sit for several weeks at that point, then finished it up yesterday.
Now the tide shifted. Amherst's army crashed to pieces at Quebec, thanks to Montcalm's leadership and lucky battalions. I was also able to destroy Wolfe's remaining battalion--the one I'd sent shuffling back to New York before. Before I realized it, most of the good British leaders had been removed from the deck.
Sometimes, though, a game event can bring back the dead, as it were (well, they weren't really dead). Wolfe returned and assumed a new command--but I managed to defeat him again.
Though it had been touch and go for a long time, toward the end of the game the picture was very bright for the French. All the British armies were back on their start squares, and only a couple weak British leaders were left in the pool.
The last notable event of the game was anticlimactic. A small British force sailed up the St. Lawrence, aided this time by the British navy. But it met its doom at Quebec, and its commander lost all his battalions and was removed from play.
This is a very nice little wargame. In the past, I've been put off by designed-for-solitaire games, mainly because it was such a chore to operate the manual AI. But the game system in EIA is smooth and cohesive. I feel I'm always involved as a player, no matter which side's turn is under way.
At the same time, I had a real sense of competition or resistance. When I play both sides of a two-player wargame, I always win and lose, so there's no point in thinking much about winning or losing. But in EIA, my French win felt like a real victory. I had taken some calculated risks at crucial moments, and they paid off.
Before the game, I had worried that the five-track system would seem too abstract or artificial. But the game makes a credible case for there actually being five (or so) approaches to Montreal. It felt like a real strategy-level wargame, despite the simplicity and level of abstraction. There's plenty of chrome to bring history to life.
If there's one flaw or downside I could pick out, I guess it'd be the lack of British replacements. During the game, the French can get replacement battalions via trading posts. But the British can't (unless there's an action or event card that allows it; I don't recall). Two or three times, a well-led British army was whittled down to a single battalion or two, and yet the rules required it to advance on Montreal. Every time, it'd end up destroyed and its leader removed. I notice a "British Replacements" card in the Empires in America Expansion Kit, so maybe that will fix the problem.
On the whole, I'd recommend this game to anyone who thinks he might like a solitaire wargame on the French-and-Indian War. It pulls you into the story, tells some version of the story as you go along, and challenges you to make the most of the resources you draw. Also, there's just enough of a chance element to make the battles exciting and a bit unpredictable.
I suppose I'll have to buy the expansion kit now. And I'm wondering if other games in the States of Siege series are different or just about the same. If each one has a unique feel to it, I may end up buying them all.
- Last edited Mon Aug 16, 2010 9:55 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Mon Aug 16, 2010 5:20 pm
Let me preface this by saying that EiA is one of the States of Siege I don't own. For whatever reason, the theme hasn't grabbed me. That being said, of the others I do own (Israeli Independence, Soviet Dawn and Levée en Masse), I can definitely say that the gameplay is very different. Israeli Independence was the first game, its very basic, and I can literally play it in 5 minutes (or less with bad die rolls). Soviet Dawn has the same basic tracks, and who is on the tracks changes during the game, new leaders come in, the Soviets can get special advantages, etc.
Levee en Masse has some similarities to SD in mechanics, however here you've got the issue of balancing the 3 competing forms of government against keeping foreign invaders out. There are rules for spreading the revolution, defending the barricades, naval fighting...it definitely feels different than Soviet Dawn.
Then there's Zulus on the Ramparts!, which is a tactical scale, so very different from what I understand, and The Lost Cause, which is a bigger game with apparently a lot more complexity (I don't own it, so I couldn't swear to that).
I think if you try others in the series, you'll likely find a lot of good variety.
Thanks for the review. I just purchased EIA today, my 3rd VPG game. I currently own Lost Cause and Zulus and love them both.
I like the fact that these card war games tell a story and might actually help get my son into gaming in a few more years, along with learning a little bit about history.
Patrick - great review - honest and insightful. I'm glad you took the time to play EiA and I know you will really enjoy the expansion kit. If you have some time, you should check out all the games in the States of Siege series on the VPG website. You can look at components, counters, cards and links to reviews etc. here on BGG and Consimworld. There are currently six games in the series with two more currently in playtesting - one on the Ottoman Empire in World War I and the other on the Pacific Theater in World War II.
There's also one listed here on BGG that's about the Cold War, Twilight
What's the status on that?
Its Twilight Vigilance. I saw a playtest copy at CSW Expo in June. Looks neat. While it may share part of the name with that other "Twilight" game, it plays very differently (of course, being solo). I haven't heard any updates on it recently, so at this point I'd guess it won't be out before October at the earliest, and maybe not even then.