Eric Lai
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Empires in America

Introduction

Empires in America is another game in the State of Siege (SoS) series, it was published back in 2009 and its one of the lesser known and talked about. The game is set during the 7 Years War, specifically the conflict between the French and English in North America east of the Great Lakes. Like the other games in the SoS series, there are 5 tracks each of which have a front that represent the oncoming British Forces as they head towards Montreal, historically & symbolically the last French bastion to fall in the war. Like the other games of the series, this game is card driven, but the similarities end there. This my friends is a "monster" of sorts among SoS games...

Commentary

There is depth in this game that is relatively absent in most of the other SoS games. There are lots of unique twists & tweaks to the original SoS system that makes this game so unique and stand out among the crowded SoS lineup.

The cards no longer dictate which fronts move, the cards instead dictate which British general turns up to take command of a specific front (which is determined partly randomly with a prioritize ordering) and to push back a front that is in command of a British general is much tougher than one that isn't defended properly.

You win by surviving to the end of the deck of cards and to do so you must systematically eliminate all the British generals with your meager resources. The British generals are represented with a card (The French forces use the same cards also) that is placed on the map next to the track they command and on the card is marked the General's statistics; such as leadership which dictates how far the commanded front move along the track or how far you can force an enemy to retreat in combat and even more crucially it influences which side gets to fire first, the side that fires first in the battle has a decided advantage as the returning fire could be greatly weaken if enough battalions were killed in the initial volley. A Leader with high leadership skills can be deadly. As the French you have to respond in kind and when a tough general turns up, you had better have the resources to deal with him or you will lose.

Also on the leader's cards are that General's morale, by winning more battles a general is less likely to be Sacked and replaced and if optional rules are used, also get a slight advantage to initiative rolls. A poor morale general for British side is not necessarily a bad thing for them! It means that there is a chance that the General will be replaced with a fresh General (with a new set of Battalion!) and the sacked general isn't eliminated BUT recycled back in to the deck to fight another day! Which is VERY annoying for the player, especially if that General was a tough one and you had almost killed him.

The last thing on these Leader cards is Battalion size, if this is reduced to zero the respective general is eliminated and the larger this size is the more dice you can throw in combat and the more chance you've in hitting the enemy and surviving the return fire.

Combat occurs in two situations in the game: During the British Phase, if they move a front forward into a Fortress (there are fortresses that are already represented on the map or you have the choice to build your own as well), a siege occurs and you (as the French) have the option to defend with one of your generals on your "Tableau" (which are the active generals you had previously drew from the deck of cards in the initial administrative phase). The other time combat occurs is during the French phase of the game where you can activate one of your general to push back a front and/or confront an opposing general.

Combat is relatively simple, but there is much more depth here compared to other SoS games. First you throw for initiative, there are modifiers to this as eluded to above; the respective general's leadership skill, siege defenders have an advantage, light infantry out in open terrain has an advantage and there are certain cards that also give you an advantage. This initiative throw dictates who fires first and could mean victory or defeat.

Then the firing side throws a number of dice equal to the number of Battalion the General commands plus any auxiliary forces that he has at his disposal, a result of 5 & 6 is a success. Each side is able to commit various Provincial & Militia forces to the battle, those of the British are committed Automatically as dictated on their respective cards but the French forces are fully optional, leading to an interesting layer of choices here. When and where you commit these often one use forces could mean you win a battle but lose the war! Some of these auxiliary cards will be recycled back into the deck if you win the battle but discarded permanently if you lose the battle, so you tend to be-careful when you use these in hopes of being able to reuse them again.

The success in the combat roll translates to battalions lost of the opposing side and may mean an eliminated general.

On top of all these mechanisms, there are event cards that has various affects on the game, though these are out of your control, a good player will factor these in, to optimize play strategy.

A good solitaire game is one that gives the player a sense of meaningful options (as well as a good narrative), and this game is pack full of options. On the French turn, you can choose to attack as mentioned above, but you are also given Action Points via the leadership skill of your generals (another use for the leadership skill) to use, these action points are used to play various "Action" cards from your hand, build forts, build trading posts, and once you have trading posts you can spend action points to get replacement battalions and "heal" your generals.

Victory points are awarded for how far back the enemy fronts are on their respective tracks + surviving trading posts and where they are on the track (the further away from Montreal the more VP they are worth, but the riskier they will be from destruction) - (minus) the number of forts and trading posts destroyed by the Brits. Victory isn't easy and the way the cards play out and in what order and your decisions will sway the outcome and to optimize your VP is on another level altogether.

The layers of decision and strategy in this game is immense, even the Sacking of your own generals can be used to your advantage! A greatly weaken general that has lost lots of Battalions isn't much use, but if you manage the situation well, you maybe able to get him sacked instead of eliminated and that means his card will be recycled and come back at full strength later.

The narrative and historical story telling in the game is also brilliant and I find all the events and persons introduced in the game gives you a very nice historical simulation feel, even though the game really isn't much of a simulation. In the old simulation versus game bipolar argument, this one is definitely a GREAT game!

As you can see this isn't just any SoS game, this really isn't a mini game unlike many of the others, this one is BY FAR my favorite of the series so far and possibly my favorite game from the VPG stable of games.

As expected the rules for this SoS game is a little more than the usual SoS fare and as such is a little more complicated to digest than the others, but it shouldn't deter anyone interested to try.

I played the game with the expansion which introduces more cards and a few optional rules. All in all I think the expansion is excellent, although doesn't change the game immensely but does make the game just that much more! And that is what an expansion is all about. It would've been nice if there weren't an expansion and it all came together as a big package. I highly recommended getting the expansion at the same time as main deal. The optional rules can be introduced without the expansion though and you could easily read them by downloading the rules from the VPG webpage.

One last thing, the game plays anything from 5 minutes to 1.5 hours depending how quickly you lose and with the expansion probably adding another 20-30 minutes playtime.

Conclusion

As you have gathered already, I think this is the best game thus far of the series. It brings the SoS system out of its light-game genre and into a mainstream level of wargaming complexity, which is both a strength and a weakness I guess. For the experienced wargamer that is interested in solitaire games, I think the choice is a no-brainer, this is the cream of the crop and has become one of my favorite solitaire games. Even for the wargaming initiate, I don't think there are many complex concepts that will cause trouble, but if you like solitaire games and want a "gaming experience" that isn't monotonous, this game is for you too!

I am giving this game a 9 out of 10, even I can't believe I am giving a 9 to a State of Siege game, I guess I'll be skiing in hell soon.

+9 for the best application of the State of Siege system thus far, the veteran designer (Joseph Miranda) has manage to amalgamate many different mechanisms and layers of strategies to give the original SoS system depth in an elegant package. You can readily see his extensive wargame designing experience expressed in this version of SoS. Hats off to the man!

-1 for components, this game deserves better!

A geeklist of my other Solitaire Reviews
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Luke Hughes

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Thanks Eric. I agree it's a good game and different in kind from the other SoS titles. You do a get job of bringing out where it has depth. I hadn't thought of the deliberate recycling trick
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Marco Arnaudo
United States
Bloomington
Indiana
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thanks for the review Eric, you do manage to emphasize the great qualities this game has. Can't say more about my opinions on the game or no one will watch my upcoming video review, but as for your work above: thumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsup
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Eric Lai
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lhughes41 wrote:
Thanks Eric. I agree it's a good game and different in kind from the other SoS titles. You do a get job of bringing out where it has depth. I hadn't thought of the deliberate recycling trick

Its not easy to deliberately sack your own generals, you have to either get their "morale" below medicore and increase the other general's above medicore to do it. To do the former needs some luck as you have to get involved in some fighting and LOSE to bring the morale down and a weaken general could well die from the attempt, so you need a little luck, the latter is doable (manageable) only if the number of general on the tableau is low and you select those to win some easy battles. But totally worth the attempt if the general you're trying to save is Montcalm!!!!
 
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Bartow Riggs
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Great review and I agree, the best I have played in the State-of Siege series (I have played about 5-6 of them.)
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Jonan Jello
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Appreciate the review, Eric. Thanks for sharing!
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Jason K
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Great review. You're like a Tom Vasel for solitaire gamers.

Every time I search for information on solitaire games, there you are with the best information available.

Thanks and keep the reviews coming.
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David Marsh
Canada
Waterloo
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Great review Eric. I already have this game and have played it a couple of times so far. I generally agree with everything you've said and will be trying the expansion very soon.
Thanks for posting.
All the best,

David
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