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Subject: A Wargamer's Perspective rss

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Severus Snape
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Introduction:

Between teaching, studying, and the life that exists outside of these dual orbits, it is normally only by chance that I find out about new games these days. And so it is the case with A Few Acres of Snow. A friend brought the game to my attention (Steve Constantelos--sbconstant), knowing of my interest in the period.

This is my 5th Martin Wallace game, and it is the best I have experienced. How it holds up to my other favourites time will tell. Some of my recent ventures have turned out as duds: Hellenes, Athens & Sparta, Richard III. The latter started strong, but then I began reading the period history and realized how far removed the game was from the events it claims to portray.

I am going to focus my thoughts on components, rules, and gameplay, keeping my interest in history and wargames in mind.

Components:

Typically well-produced, Euro-game quality materials go in to the box; the box itself is rock-solid. Having a glossy set of rules is a trade-off. I appreciate the colour, but I find glossy paper to be rather flimsy in my less-than-kind hands. Still, having colour examples provides the instructional edge.

The player display sheets provide a helpful list of each player's cards (including the green neutral cards available for both), and a break-down of the play sequence. Nothing special but they are functional.

The plastic coins are simply cheesy and rather low-class. It might keep the cost down, but they look and feel cheap. Just using the same materials produced for other games is not a winning reason to continue to do so. But they function all the same, regardless of my complaints.

The cards are colourful but slim. I put them in to plastic sleeves shortly after opening the box. The cards demonstrate some nifty artwork mixed in with stereo-typical depictions of historical figures. The British military leader card is drawn in a way to make the historical James Wolfe look handsome by comparison; that takes some real doing. The Anglo governor looks like a mobster with a bad hair piece. By contrast, their French counterparts look as if they swallowed their snuff boxes. As for the British militia, whoever saw an underpaid--rarely paid on time, if at all--frozen citizen-soldier smiling like this guy? Seems he got in to the rum a bit early in the day.

Setting this rogues gallery aside, the creation and the selection of the cards demonstrates nuanced, historically informed, thinking.

For example: the British selection comes with their own settlers' card. The French are not provided with one. There are two settlers' cards in the neutral card deck, but because the British go first, and have sufficient money, a smart British player will draft/select/purchase one of the two settlers' cards, giving him/her a theoretical 2-1 advantage in the British ability to settle and develop the map. If anything, given the historical numbers, this is generous to the French, but it does reflect the British advantage in the numbers of colonists moving to America. This is also reflected in the potential infantry strength, which is another 2-1 advantage for the British (but not counting the starting decks).

However: Please note the important correction that dearlove makes when he writes 'Not quite. The British advantage is already more than 2-1 without buying an additional Settler cards. (Count cards with the settler symbol.) So the buying has mainly denial effect, rather than gain. Which moves it into "may" rather than "will" territory. (Which is good, the more options to explore the better.)

I was thinking only of the Empire cards and the Neutral cards, and not remember that critical information at the bottom of each card (although sometimes what you find is squat; as in nothing).

Although the British begin with a larger bank, and have some rich cities' cards (New York, Boston, etc.), the French have a well-established fur empire which allows the Bleu side to earn badly needed coin to finance the campaign.

All-in-all, the selection of cards seem to fairly represent the historical advantages and disadvantages for both sides. I imagine the well-researched imaginative gamer could add some more ideas for an expanded card deck.

Turning to the wooden pieces, we see another standard Euro accessory; they are also another disappointment in their functional drabness. That they work is the best that can be said for them from a player's perspective. Yes, the someone more attractive pieces--note the somewhat--are in the limited edition. I guess it is just one step up from Monopoly's hotels and houses. Sigh.

I wonder if some cardboard counters from another game, such as Wilderness War, could be added for flavour.

The map is one part functional, one part annoying, one part intriguing and one part beautiful. The functional part is that it works. Go figure. The annoying part is the card places; are they really needed? No, but I guess we would have then had a lot of wasted space. Okay. I get that. But why extend the section for the reserve cards? Only five cards can be held there, and it just distracts from the rest of the board. Seriously.

The intriguing part is the designer's/artist's decision to not include any map lines with the effect that you get a sense--as much as cardboard can provide I suppose--of what was--and in some parts still is--wilderness. It is almost spooky to look at how underpopulated and underdeveloped it all is.

The beautiful part is the map itself, once you ignore the card boxes, et al. The rivers, roads and what not could be clearer, but that would likely lesson the artistic lift the overall design provides.

The Rules:

As of this date (5 September), there are something like eleven BGG forum threads of rules questions and answers. A set of Living Rules or an updated and official FAQ would be appreciated.

I find the rules, as I have found in other Martin Wallace games, to not always have the clarity that I would like to see. He is hardly unique. Is there one single game on BGG that does not have questions about rules?

I would think that playtesting, or just sitting down with someone totally new to the game, would help to generate likely questions. When theory becomes practice, questions arise.

Visually, the colour examples help.

One hears a lot of nonsense concerning the rules, and not just for A Few Acres of Snow. Answering someone's query with a "there's no room for debate; it says so, plain as day, on page 937, section 33, subsection 17" (imagine this with Hagrid's voice from Harry Potter) attitude is less than helpful and more than snotty.

If you found this rules clear, good. I had--have--some questions. To all those who jump in with genuine help, I say thank you.

The Gameplay:

In my opinion, this is not a wargame, or anything close to it. However, other players with other standards and definitions are, of course, free to disagree. There is not the "classic," compare the odds and roll a die--think AH's Afrika Korps--mechanism or anything like it in the game. There are no counters to move up and down the board; no panzers to blitzkrieg to Montreal for a bagel.

It is a card management game that requires luck, vision, tactics and strategy, but which does not have, what I would consider to be, the other components to make it a wargame.

The closest thing to combat is when one side besieges his opponent. To even begin the siege, let alone win it, requires planning, resources, and the "right moment"--call it luck, if you wish. This is a neat mechanism for reflecting the logistical and military restraints under which both sides operated. However, winning the siege comes down to an amplified, and more colourful, version of the classic card game "War." If you can play more of the military strength cards, you win the siege, while your opponent may see an Empire card removed from his hand and returned to the deck; such is the fortune of war. Whether the winner can immediately resettle the captured area depends on the cards he or she has on hand.

There is no qualitative difference within each nationality's cards. A leader is a leader is a leader, and provides one military strength point. This is dull, drab, and historically lifeless. There is no Wolfe or Montcalm on the scene. It is just another card to play in the siege version of "War."

All map and counters combat, or cube and board, is in the imagination. But with A Few Acres, combat is of an abstract level that goes beyond (most? all?) wargames. Though there is excitement at the prospect of winning or losing a siege, there is no colour. No flavour.

The siege situation demonstrates the importance of the reserve cards a player can have on hand. You can have some strong military cards waiting for the right offensive/defensive situation, but to use them, you have to pay one coin each. It seems wise to have a reserve fund to use the reserve cards; this is easier said then done when building the deck and fortifying your areas is expensive.

The cards that you place in the reserve go face up. I think a house rule should allow the cards to go face down. Why not add a bit more suspense in the game? If you try it this way, let me know how it works out. I suppose the face up aspect reflects the spies that both sides had to keep track of resource build-ups. Where an opponent might strike lies on what he or she keeps hidden in the hand.

If you want a wargame perspective on this bit of history, look at GMT's Wilderness War. It is a card-driven game that is very much a wargame; I have not heard of any who will not include WW in the wargame category. Perhaps that sort of comparison between two games that share the common theme of the French-Indian War (an aspect of the Seven Years' War), will help to better explain why I would not consider A Few Acres to fall in to the wargame category.

Of course, if you do not have access to Wilderness War, then my suggestion will not prove helpful. And everyone is free to categorize A Few Acres as he or she pleases.

What I do appreciate in A Few Acres is how closely tied the card-management mechanism is to the historical theme. I found Wallace's Byzantium to be an example of a paste-on theme. There is no suggestion of honesty historical background, beyond names and places, in Byzantium. His Gettysburg is better, but still weak, but that is for another review.

For A Few Acres to work as it does, it needs a strong connection to its historical theme. In the map, the victory conditions, the card contents, and in the card mechanism, I believe it succeeds.

Conclusion:

A Few Acres is not a good "wargame" because it is not a wargame. However, it is very good game. It is fun, tense, and filled with replay possibilities. It has a nice combination that includes room for luck and planning.

What would I like to see? An expanded card deck that includes historical figures, with their strengths and weaknesses. Maybe some tactical cards to actually add some flair to combat, such as it is.

I would certainly enjoy seeing what could be done with other historical themes but adopting, expanding and, perhaps, even improving on this fine Martin Wallace design.

goo


Edited, perhaps continually, for spelling and clarity.






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Tom Volpe
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bentlarsen wrote:
Introduction:
The cards that you place in the reserve go face up. I think a house rule should allow the cards to go face down.


Cool idea!
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Kelly Krieble
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bentlarsen wrote:
But why extend the section for the reserve cards? Only five cards can be held there, and it just distracts from the rest of the board.


My guess is that the design intends for you to splay the cards in your reserve up/down - perhaps to be able to see the icons at the bottom and/or know how many cards are actually there.
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Severus Snape
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dr_divot wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:
But why extend the section for the reserve cards? Only five cards can be held there, and it just distracts from the rest of the board.


My guess is that the design intends for you to splay the cards in your reserve up/down - perhaps to be able to see the icons at the bottom and/or know how many cards are actually there.


A good and helpful reason. But I find that I pick up the cards anyway in my planning. I guess it is just the fidgety nature of needing something to do.

goo

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Peter Stein
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bentlarsen wrote:




I would certainly enjoy seeing what could be done with other historical themes but adopting, expanding and, perhaps, even improving on this fine Martin Wallace design.

goo




I'm willing to bet you're going to see or hear in the near future about one or more wargames using this game as an inspiration.
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Severus Snape
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Bordgamer wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:




I would certainly enjoy seeing what could be done with other historical themes but adopting, expanding and, perhaps, even improving on this fine Martin Wallace design.

goo




I'm willing to bet you're going to see or hear in the near future about one or more wargames using this game as an inspiration.


Do you think that more wargame aspects could be incorporated with the card-deck building and card mechanism ideas? Could we see counters that represent historical units, instead of wooden cubes? Could we see a CRT that combines card play with other modifiers?

goo



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Christopher Dearlove
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bentlarsen wrote:
a smart British player will draft/select/purchase one of the two settlers' cards, giving him/her a theoretical 2-1 advantage in the British ability to settle and develop the map.


Not quite. The British advantage is already more than 2-1 without buying an additional Settler cards. (Count cards with the settler symbol.) So the buying has mainly denial effect, rather than gain. Which moves it into "may" rather than "will" territory. (Which is good, the more options to explore the better.)

Quote:
But why extend the section for the reserve cards? Only five cards can be held there, and it just distracts from the rest of the board.


Reserves are face up, so they should be fanned to see what the cards are (for both players). That takes more space.

I only addressed the above two points, because I think one has a technical error, and one is worth a comment. Other opinions I may agree or disagree with I've not commented on. Just this one.

Quote:
A Few Acres is not a good "wargame" because it is not a wargame.


There's a narrow definition of wargame that many wargamers prefer, and is being used here. And it tends to come with pointing out that things that don't fit that mould are not about war, they are about hand management etc. True, but the Emperor has no clothes, because neither are almost all things in traditional wargames (no real commander ever looked at a CRT, to take the most obvious, but far from only, example).

All categories have fuzzy boundaries, but one can draw a tentative line somewhere. I agree if you do that you can go too far in the opposite direction. I wouldn't call Small World (to take a notorious example) a wargame. But A Few Acres of Snow has not gone that far. And over the games I've played (still too few) my thinking has become more warlike, and more about planning, for the British for example whether to aim for Nova Scotia, Oswego, or Fort Duquesne - and then beyond. So I'm conducting military planning, and while my army is in my hand rather than on the board, that's not a defining difference.
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bentlarsen wrote:
But I find that I pick up the cards anyway in my planning.


And as your opponent, I'll ask you to put them back down again, for my planning.
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Quote:
Not quite. The British advantage is already more than 2-1 without buying an additional Settler cards. (Count cards with the settler symbol.) So the buying has mainly denial effect, rather than gain. Which moves it into "may" rather than "will" territory. (Which is good, the more options to explore the better.)


Yes, and thank you for the clarification and correction. I was thinking of the Empire cards and the Neutral cards, rather than remembering the critical information at the bottom of each.

goo

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Dearlove wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:
But I find that I pick up the cards anyway in my planning.


And as your opponent, I'll ask you to put them back down again, for my planning.


"I'll show you mine if you show me yours." Now there's an old game.

goo

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Quote:
If you want a wargame perspective on this bit of history, look at GMT's Wilderness War. It is a card-driven game that is very much a wargame; I have not heard of any who will not include WW in the wargame category. Perhaps that sort of comparison between two games that share the common theme of the French-Indian War (an aspect of the Seven Years' War), will help to better explain why I would not consider A Few Acres to fall in to the wargame category.

Just a quick note that AFAoS is meant to cover a century and a half of colonial conflict, and not just the French-Indian War as WW does. Not thoroughly comparable, though examination of certain aspects seems sound.
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bentlarsen wrote:
Do you think that more wargame aspects could be incorporated with the card-deck building and card mechanism ideas? Could we see counters that represent historical units, instead of wooden cubes? Could we see a CRT that combines card play with other modifiers?


I think all of the above is possible, given a sufficiently talented designer. Of course in AFAoS units aren't even wooden cubes, they aren't on the board at all (except in the sense that being in a siege box makes it clear where they are).

But while military units on the board may be an excellent idea in the right game, I've always (by which I mean since I first saw one maybe 35 years ago) seen CRTs as at best a necessary evil, and in an ideal game design without the necessary part.

(If I - who has no pretentions to wargame design at all - were thinking about where else to use the card mechanism, it would be as part of a strategic game, perhaps WWII Britain apportioning resources to e.g. producing fighters, bombers, corvettes, aircraft carriers, tanks, etc. as well as incorporating factors such as Lend-Lease. But don't ask me for any more, that's the limit of my thinking.)
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sdiberar wrote:
Quote:
If you want a wargame perspective on this bit of history, look at GMT's Wilderness War. It is a card-driven game that is very much a wargame; I have not heard of any who will not include WW in the wargame category. Perhaps that sort of comparison between two games that share the common theme of the French-Indian War (an aspect of the Seven Years' War), will help to better explain why I would not consider A Few Acres to fall in to the wargame category.

Just a quick note that AFAoS is meant to cover a century and a half of colonial conflict, and not just the French-Indian War as WW does. Not thoroughly comparable, though examination of certain aspects seems sound.


I think it was first on the board, rather than in the game description of A Few Acres, that I realized the game is set prior to 1754, or thereabouts, because certain towns are in French hands at the beginning, rather than under British control, as you would find in WW.

goo

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Here's a poll asking people whether it's a wargame or a Euro:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/693098/poll-war-or-euro

It's almost exactly balanced between the two choices.

I decided that, though it's a close call, it's a wargame. When I'm playing, I'm more focused on whether I'm vulnerable to a siege, raid or ambush (or whether I can successfully prosecute one against my opponent) than anything else. Peaceful settling and development is what I do when I can spare a moment from attack and defense.

Sometimes, as the French, I initiate an early siege of Pemaquid, not really thinking I can take it, but because the British typically respond by stuffing good cards into the siege, weakening themselves and giving me a tempo in the settlement race. If you don't do this, your starting Regular Infantry is dead weight. At least while it's sieging Pemaquid it's not gumming up your deck. Your opponent has to play location cards (though admittedly they can be ships.)
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bentlarsen wrote:
Introduction:
....
The cards that you place in the reserve go face up. I think a house rule should allow the cards to go face down. Why not add a bit more suspense in the game? If you try it this way, let me know how it works out. I suppose the face up aspect reflects the spies that both sides had to keep track of resource build-ups. Where an opponent might strike lies on what he or she keeps hidden in the hand.


I suggested this in another thread. It's just so..wrong,
for a wargame- yep, it is because nice euros win by indirect conflict-
here you have an army (card), a leader (card), and you destroy a named town which you must have a line of communication to. Find me a euro that does that.
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bentlarsen wrote:
Dearlove wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:
But I find that I pick up the cards anyway in my planning.


And as your opponent, I'll ask you to put them back down again, for my planning.


"I'll show you mine if you show me yours." Now there's an old game.

goo


If we're playing, and you want to put reserve cards in your hand, you're going to pay for them first.

Clearly you have never gamed with magicians.
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bentlarsen wrote:
Do you think that more wargame aspects could be incorporated with the card-deck building and card mechanism ideas? Could we see counters that represent historical units, instead of wooden cubes? Could we see a CRT that combines card play with other modifiers?

Are historical units, CRTs, and modifiers what define wargames? Because Wilderness War uses generic strength point pieces, and there are wargames without CRTs. These are just the trappings of traditional wargames.

I think what you're trying to say is that the game is missing some essential quality of a wargame, that in your head it speaks more to the eurogame or civilization game label than wargame. And considering the number of session reports already where players concentrated on settling with the odd raid and rare siege, that's not surprising.

For your consideration, there's a recent game Space Empires: 4X that has roots in civilization games, but I think most players would agree that it is a wargame, primarily because the only way to win is through military conquest. Conflict is inevitable, so players spend the entire game building up production and researching technology toward the inevitable war. In AFAoS, players can leave each other alone if they want.
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Quote:
The cards that you place in the reserve go face up. I think a house rule should allow the cards to go face down. Why not add a bit more suspense in the game?


Ah, I think the placing of the cards face-up adds even more tension and suspense! You want to use that Reserve space to either build up military for an upcoming siege, or I'll often use it for thinning my deck by placing the Governor there and/or cards I want to remove.

In order to build up military, I have 2 choices - I either keep them in my hand, making it difficult to cycle, or I build up in Reserve, in which case my opponent sees it coming and can respond. Putting those military cards down is a signal and always makes me feel exposed. I'd hate to take this away by flipping the cards!
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In order to build up military, I have 2 choices - I either keep them in my hand, making it difficult to cycle, or I build up in Reserve, in which case my opponent sees it coming and can respond.


On the other hand, I think placing military units in Reserve is an obvious choice. The cards may be used offensively or defensively, and, as you have noted, it frees up the hand for other valuable cards.

The trick is to have some coin on hand to pull them out of reserve, especially if you are placed on the inner side of a siege.

I am not sure how much tension face down would generate. After all, I would guess that some of those cards are . . . military cards. Surprise?! One can only give the house rule suggestion a few tries and see how it may or may not impact play.

goo

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Quote:
I decided that, though it's a close call, it's a wargame. When I'm playing, I'm more focused on whether I'm vulnerable to a siege, raid or ambush (or whether I can successfully prosecute one against my opponent) than anything else. Peaceful settling and development is what I do when I can spare a moment from attack and defense.


Eric, this is a part of the beauty of this game; the balance between expansion and aggression, and the old concept of knowing when to punch and when to duck. The game theme of balancing aggression with expansion seems to well reflect the history of the period.

Still, I miss my panzers. Achtung! ninja

goo

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Face down reserves would change the decision to Ambush or not, so it's pretty significant.
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Quote:
I suggested this in another thread. It's just so..wrong,
for a wargame- yep, it is because nice euros win by indirect conflict-
here you have an army (card), a leader (card), and you destroy a named town which you must have a line of communication to. Find me a euro that does that.


I think elsewhere the question of calling A Few Acres a "hybrid" has been raised. I have not labeled it a Euro; having played less than a dozen Euros in my lifetime, I hardly qualify to express a definitive opinion. As a lifetime fan of wargames, I just do not see A Few Acres falling into what I consider a wargame to be, despite its conflict elements, strategy, tactics and historical theme.

But in the early going, it seems a fine game.

Now, what about this "hybrid" idea? Is it time for the label makers to make a new label?

goo

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sdiberar wrote:
Face down reserves would change the decision to Ambush or not, so it's pretty significant.


This is why I always keep my Ambush cards in my . . . . Whoops! Almost gave it away. Whew.

goo

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out4blood wrote:
Clearly you have never gamed with magicians.


I haven't, but I happily would. However I don't know any (the only one I knew slightly no longer works where I do). Sure, he or she could cheat, but that's his loss.

Playing for money, however I'll pass on. Except I'd pay what might be regarded as a fair fee to see the trick. Down the pub if he wants to bet me a pint he can't shuffle a deck of cards and deal a straight flush off the top, OK I'll pay once. My former colleague did that in front of me once, but for free.
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Severus Snape
Canada
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Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
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"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."--Pascal
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Peso Pete wrote:
Great job, Joseph! I was teaching Dominion to my wargame group last month and one of the group says "I see a wargame design idea here". I told him that Martin Wallace beat him to it! laugh


Always good to hear from you, Peso Pete. Have you been busy and staying out of trouble? Or maybe just busy? And in trouble?!

goo
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