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John Bandettini
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In my reviews I concentrate on two aspects of the game. A look at what you actually get in the box. The components of the game, a look at both the quantity and quality.

Secondly, my experiences with the game including what I like about it and anything I don’t like about it.

This time I am going to be looking at A Few Acres of Snow. It's the latest game from Martin Wallace and is published by Treefrog. It's a two player game of the struggles between Great Britain and France in North America in the 18th Century.

This is the third game in the last subscription from Treefrog and I must admit when I subscribed this game was not of much interest to me. I really wanted the deluxe versions of Age of Industry and London and I looked at this as a throw in with them. I was expecting another two player war game like Waterloo and Gettysburg. As it got closer to release time though and more information on the game became available it became very clear this game was going to be a very different beast.

So lets have a look at it.

It comes in the typical Treefrog box. It's slightly slimmer than most games, which helps for storage. The front of the box shows an armed Native American standing in some trees with snow all around him. I think it's quite an attractive box and it sets the tone nicely for the game inside.



I have the deluxe version, so I will be mostly commenting on the components that come with that version though I will point out the differences.

So let's open the box.

You get four rule books inside. Don't worry it's not that complex, you just get the rules in English, German, French and Italian. You also get four copies of two player aids in each language.

The rules are pretty straight forward and well explained with plenty of diagrams. There are also some historical notes included for people who want to know more about the conflict.

Noticeably absent is a section for easily forgotten rules, quite often a feature of Martin Wallace rules. Does this mean there are no easy to forget rules?




The player aids are really excellent. On one side you get the turn summary and a breakdown of all the actions you can take during the game. On the other side are pictures of all the Empire cards and an explanation of what they do. You can almost play the game just using these cards. The only thing I have had to look up in the rules while playing are the siege rules, which are the most complex part of the game.

Before we look at the components a quick look at what you can do on a turn. Each players turn consists of three steps.

1. Check to see if you have won a siege.
2. Perform two actions. (One on the first turn)
3. Refill your hand to five cards.

Now lets look at the bits.



The board folds out into six sections. The section are a bit smaller than the box size so it's not a huge board, but plenty big enough. As its a two player game the board is designed for the players to sit opposite each other. On two sides of the board are the spaces where the players will have cards during the game. From left to right the spaces are as follows.

Available location cards. Each player starts with the location cards for the locations they initially control. The cards here are for the locations they may get to control during the game. Generally more location cards give you the ability to do more things though some locations are much better than others.

Available Empire Cards. Empire cards allow you to do all sorts of actions during the game. A few of them give you abilities found on location cards, but most of them give different abilities. It takes an action to claim a Empire card and put it in your discard pile. Some Empire cards have a cost that you need to pay. The British player start the game with no Empire cards in his deck, the French player starts with three in his deck.

Reserve. You can as an action place one card from your hand into your reserve. You can have up to five cards in your reserve. You can retrieve cards from your reserve at any time during your turn and it does not count as an action, but you must take all the cards in the reserve and it costs one coin per card.

Draw Deck. Do I really need to explain this one?

Discard pile. Discarded cards here.

French Siege and British Siege. Each player is allowed to be making one siege at a time. Depending on who is the besieging player each player plays there cards into the applicable box. I will try to explain sieges in detail in a while.

On the French side of the board there are two siege tracks these are where you keep track of the current status of any sieges in progress.



The rest of the board is a map of the terrain that the conflicts were fought over. It features towns, villages and significant outposts (Usually forts). The French player sets up in the blue locations and the British player in the red locations. The circles are towns and the squares are villages. The grey squares are locations that can be settled during the game.

Some of the locations have symbols next to them, these show:

Purple hexagon with a number in it. Victory points worth at the end of the game if there is a village at this location. Value is doubled if it is a town.

Ship symbol. This location is reachable by sea.

Crossed guns. Add one for every symbol to the defence of this location during a siege.




Each player gets a set of pieces in their colour. You get pieces representing towns, villages and a marker in your colour that you put on the map when you are besieging a location. In the regular version you get cubes and discs instead. The church type of shape are the towns. At the start of the game most of the players locations are villages.



These are fortifications. A fortified town is much harder to lay siege to and it can not be raided and a raid can not pass through it. (More on raids later)



Wooden money in the deluxe game plastic in the regular. Money is needed to pay for Empire cards. Mostly for Military cards, but there are some others as well that cost money.



And finally the cards. The cards come in three colours, red for the British, blue for the French and a small amount of green cards that either player can use.

Lets look at some location cards. These can be used for a number of actions. On the top of the card is the location this card represents. As a general rule of thumb you only have cards of locations you control, though you may occasionally have cards for locations you lost in a siege.

In the middle of the card are locations that you can reach from this location. There is also a graphical representation of the mode of transport you need to use. Its mostly ships (sea) or bateaux (river) but there are a couple of locations that need carts (tracks). Only the British player has carts.

The bottom row has icons that can be used for various actions.

The location card can be played to improve the location on the card (Turn a village into a town), to do that you also need to play either a settler card (It's an Empire card) or a location card with a settler icon (woman holding a baby).

You can also play the location card to settle one of the locations that can be reached from that location. You also need to play a card that matches the mode of transport required and if there is a settler icon in the target location a settler card or icon.

Other icons you might find on the cards include money. play this card as an action to take the amount of money on the card. You can also play a card with a ship icon on it as a trader, followed by one or two cards with money on and take the money.

The fur icon can be used with the trader Empire card. You play the trader card and as many fur icons as you can, each is worth 2 coins.

Crossed guns icons can be used add strength to a siege.



There are a lot of different Empire cards and I don't intend to describe them all so I'll just go through a few to give you a flavour of the kind of cards you get in the Empire deck. The cards shown are from the French deck, but the British player also has all of these cards. (There are some unique cards in each deck)

The first card is home support. This is a free action and you immediately draw 3 cards and then discard this card (So if your draw deck is empty, you don't draw it again). More cards means more choice, but on the other hand you won't be drawing many cards at the end of the next turn or two. A bit of a double edged sword.

The second card is regular infantry. This is used to add it's value (2) to a siege, either defending or attacking. The Native American symbol shows that you might need to discard it from your hand in response to an ambush card.

The third card is a military leader. It only has one military symbol on it but is a free action so when involved in a siege you can play it with another card as one action. It also does not have the Native American symbol on it so you can't lose it to an ambush.

The forth card is the Governor, which is definitely reminiscent of Dominion as it lets you return up to two cards from your hand to the location or Empire decks. This is useful for getting rid of cards that you no longer wish to use.



There are three types of neutral cards available. These are placed by the side of the board and can be bought by either player as Empire cards. Lets look at the cards and their uses.

Fortification cards. You can fortify a village or town by playing this card with a location card and paying three coins. Fortifications block raids and make sieges much harder. Both players also have a fortification card in their Empire deck.

Native American cards. these are played to perform raids or ambushes or block the other players raids or ambushes. The French player only also has a native American card in their Empire deck.

Settlers cards. These can be used to settle a new location or improve an existing one. the British player also has a settler card in his Empire deck.

There are a some actions that really need a bit more explaining. Sieges, raids and Ambushes.

To be able to lay siege to a location you have to have a card that would allow you to move to that location. You need the transport to get there and you need at least one military card. The location and transport card are put in the discard pile as usual, while the military card is put in the siege space on the board. If the location is reachable by sea, you can use ship icons as military symbols otherwise it is only crossed guns icons.

The player who has started the siege puts their siege marker on the board at the location to show it is under siege. They also take the black siege marker and place it on the relevant siege track. The siege always start with the marker on the-1 space. It moves two to the left (-3) if there is a fortification. It then moves one space to the right for every military symbol the besieger has played.

From that point on both player can as actions add more cards to the siege. The siege is resolved if at the start of the attackers turn the siege value is +2 or better and the attacker wins or if at the start of the defenders turn the siege value is -1 or less then the defender wins.

If the attacker wins they get to take the defenders town or village and keep it for victory points. They then get to build a village there. If it is a location with a settler icon on it, the attacker also needs to play a card with a settler icon on it. If they can not place a village the location becomes neutral and can be settled by either side.

The loser of a siege has to put one of his cards he used in the siege either back into the Empire deck or location deck.

To use the raid action you need one or more cards able to make a raid. For each card you play you can move between any two locations. Your start location must be one you control, but you can raid as far away from it as you have cards. Some of the locations are joined by Indian trails these can only be used during raids. Cards that say they block raids can be played to counter raids. Fortified locations can not be raided and raids can not pass through fortified locations.

If a raid is not blocked, at the target location you either take an opponents village or reduce a town to a village and take one of his village markers. If no marker is left the location is now neutral and can be settled by either player.

To use the ambush action you must have a card capable of performing an ambush. If not blocked your opponent must discard a card with a Native American icon on it. If they don't have one they must show you their hand to prove it.

The quality of the components is very good. the cards are a nice quality and should stand up to repeated plays without a need to sleeve. The pieces (in the deluxe edition) are nice and add to the period feel when playing the game. The board is not a work of art, but it's nice enough and pretty functional.

What do I think of it?

Well Martin Wallace does dominion. Well maybe not quite, but Martin himself does acknowledge a debt to dominion. It is a deck building game after all. But one very significant difference is that you don't discard cards that are unused each turn, this means you are generally much slower to cycle through your cards. You can discard cards as an action, first one is free but you have to pay one coin for every card more than one.

Also although you can buy Empire cards like the dominion cards, locations cards have to be earned.

While not an overly complex game, the first play or two you will be a bit lost as there are so many choices. A couple of plays though and you should start to understand how the actions all come together and start finding out what strategies you prefer.

The game has a level of strategy due to the board and the locations that just are not there in dominion. So although it does have some mechanics in common it really does not feel anything like playing dominion.

If the French player ever captures New York or Boston they win. If the British player ever captures Quebec they win. Apart from that the player with the most victory points wins. With the available cards a British military victory is probably more likely that a French one, but I don't think it's impossible.

Otherwise the game ends when either player plays their last town or village, or one player has captured 12 points of their opponents towns and villages. (Town is worth 4 points, village 2).

Note though that the game can not end with an unresolved siege still unresolved.

The different ways the game can end means there are different strategies you can attempt. Obviously a straight military conquest, but also you can try to dominate in either towns of villages, you can try to erode away the enemy with raids and ambushes. All have their benefits and draw backs.

The ability to put cards into reserve is an interesting one. You have a card in your hand you want to use but you don't have the other cards you need with it so you put it in reserve until you can use it. The limit of five cards and the fact you have to pay a coin a card to get them back and you have to take all cards in reserve back in one action, stops it from being abused.

It's a good place to get ready for a military action, except that your opponent can see what is in your reserve. An interesting mechanic to pay with.

Money is pretty important and the French player starts at a disadvantage with 5 coins to the British players 12. There are two good ways for the French player to catch up financially with the British player. The French player has more fur icons on his cards that the British player so he can make more from the trapper card. The French player is also the only player with a piracy card. If he plays that with a card with a ship icon, he takes two coins from the British player.

As the game can not end while a siege is unresolved it's worth trying to be in a position to launch a siege if your opponent is about to end the game and win. It gives you a chance to turn it around.

Fortifications are very good. They make it much hard to lay siege to a location and block raids. A strong line of fortifications where the two sides meet can stop the other player dead.

So it's a card based war game with a mechanic borrowed from Dominion. It has multiple paths to victory and it plays (in my experience) in around an hour. I would say it's very much a keeper.
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Justin
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Great review John! I've been waiting for a proper review to be done on this, and all I can say is that I regret not being quick enough on the draw to get the limited edition with the nice wooden bits. Thanks!
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Andy Andersen
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Excellent review.thumbsup
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Oscar
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Very interesting!
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Joel Eddy
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Great review! Waiting impatiently for my copy... whistle

Go Dodgers!
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Tom
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I was interested in this game based solely on the subject matter. After your review my curiosity is even greater. Can't wait till my copy arrives hopefully later this week.
Nice review!
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Larry Doherty
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Thanks for the review John.
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Andrew Young
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Good review.

Since the French and British are slightly different in their starting positions as well as strengths how do you see their opening moves?

devil

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Tony Kelly
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John, a truly great review thanks.

I am looking forward to playing the game this weekend and your helpful summary has certainly whetted my appetite.
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John Bandettini
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medievalbanquet wrote:
Good review.

Since the French and British are slightly different in their starting positions as well as strengths how do you see their opening moves?

devil



It will depend on what srategy they decide on, and how they will try to win. I do think though that both sides need to expand early on. The French need a buffer so the British can't just march on Quebec. While the British need to at least threaten to keep the French on the defensive.

I think the French also need to try to raise some money early as they are at quite a disadvantage.

The British probably need to decide if they are going to march up the interior towards Detroit as there are quite a lot of victory points that way or try to clear the French from the costal locations near them so they can threaten Quebec from sea.
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Kenneth Stein
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Thanks for the preview of the game. Anyone on the fence should be able to decide if the game is for them. I just wish my copy could get to this side of the pond quicker!
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Paul Lister
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Great review John. I am two games in, can't wait for my third and think its Wallace's best game since Automobile - a fantastic last game in the subscription series. The mechanics of the game seem to work so well that I hope it will spawn a host of new deck building economic/wargames.
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Chris B
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Great review. I'm looking forward to getting this one.
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Jimmy Okolica
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I'm still on the fence with this one. I love Martin Wallce games like Brass and Steam and enjoy deck building games (like Dominion and to a lesser extent Thunderstone) but so far card driven war games (e..g, Twilight Struggle and Labyrinth:WoT) have fallen flat for my gf and me.

What I like about Brass and Steam is there is limited luck (none in Steam after initial set up) and there are are a small number of actions that you get to make in a game which makes the impact of each action huge. Plus there are a lot of potential options for each move. With TS and L:WoT, I just didn't get that same level of stress. On each turn ,there were a limited number of options that made sense (and of course, the dice had to be taken into account as well). . It got to feel samey after a while.

How much does AFAoS feel like TS or L:WoT?
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John Bandettini
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Butterfly0038 wrote:


How much does AFAoS feel like TS or L:WoT?


I have never played either of them. So I am afraid I can't comment with authority. From what I know they are not alike at all. Perhaps someone else can confirm.
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Craig Johnson
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I suppose you could make a case for Snow being a bit like Labyrinth-lite, but really, they are a wholly different kettle of fish. There's no deck building or cycling in Labyrinth, but there are a whole host more pieces and option in Labyrinth and it takes way longer to play. (For "Labyrinth" read both games, we own all three of these games and whilst TS and L are similar, Snow is miles away from them both.)
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John Longstreet
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Nice Review - Like another famous British import lads sing . . .


"Please Mr. Postman, won't you deliver today . . ." cool
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CW Lumm
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
How much does AFAoS feel like TS or L:WoT?


I haven't played Labyrinth, but A Few Acres doesn't feel much like Twilight Struggle at all. There are a few reasons.

(a) The map is much, much smaller. In the five games I've played so far, most of the entanglements have happened in a relatively small number of places, due to the way the cards funnel you towards certain areas. (For the record, those have been Halifax, the area between Oswego and Albany, Fort Duguesne, and (much less often) Pemaquid.

(b) It's much more tactical. There aren't any cards that do (for example) what Decolonisation does - nothing affects more than one area at a time.

(c) Deck cycling speed: Twilight Struggle < A Few Acres of Snow < Dominion. You see all your cards many times rather than going through a shared deck just two or three times. This is to make you question why the hell you bothered with Kennebec in the first place.

(d) Oddly, there are more choices for actions in A Few Acres. In Twilight Struggle, you can only play an event card, or use ops to influence, coup or realign. That's it. A Few Acres of Snow has a wider range of possible actions: you can discard, place in reserve, settle, trade, play any number of cards, most of which do different things, you can fortify... At the same time, TS feels like a more "open" game, perhaps because the order in which you play your cards can make a huge difference, and there's just more points on the map.

I don't think Twilight Struggle fans will necessarily go for A Few Acres because it's similar, though I hope they will on its own merits. It's less closely linked to historical events, and the events of the French and Indian War will be less familiar than the Cold War to almost everyone, but the integration of Dominion-style deck building with a map and coins (so that you're never trading money for money) - along with that trademark Martin Wallace too-much-to-do-not-enough-actions feeling - will please many, including those like myself who think of Dominion as an exercise in tedium.
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Judit Szepessy
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Thanks for the great review, John.

Could anyone else comment on the playing time? John says it is about an hour. I thought it plays longer.

Thanks!
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judoka wrote:
Thanks for the great review, John.

Could anyone else comment on the playing time? John says it is about an hour. I thought it plays longer.

Thanks!


General consensus seems to be between 60-90 minutes, with longer games lasting about 2 hours.
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CW Lumm
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judoka wrote:
Thanks for the great review, John.

Could anyone else comment on the playing time? John says it is about an hour. I thought it plays longer.

Thanks!


Of five and counting, my shortest game lasted under an hour, and my longest lasted two and change, though in that game both of us made horrendous strategic mistakes.
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John Bandettini
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kamchatka wrote:
judoka wrote:
Thanks for the great review, John.

Could anyone else comment on the playing time? John says it is about an hour. I thought it plays longer.

Thanks!


Of five and counting, my shortest game lasted under an hour, and my longest lasted two and change, though in that game both of us made horrendous strategic mistakes.


And two of those games were with me.
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Andre Oliveira
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Great review, buddy.
Still waiting my (long time ago) preordered copy.
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CW Lumm
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JohnBandettini wrote:
And two of those games were with me.


Yup! I'm looking forward to a rematch, John. I have to recover my pride after that horrific first game (where I thought you had to have an actual settler card to settle...)
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John Longstreet
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The copies have hit the NEw World -
Now we can get it on the table and see what you guys have been raving about

Thanks for the info!
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