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Christopher Bartlett
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1812 - The Invasion of Canada Review

I want this first sentence to be honest, because the title is a lie.  I can't think of 1,812 reasons to love this game.  I CAN think of between 12 and 18 reasons to love this game, but "18-12 Reasons to Love this Game" lacked a certain punch, as total honesty so often does when it competes with hyperbole and marketing.

So, now that I have gotten my dishonesty out of the way, let's get to some truthiness.  First off, I am in no way associated with any of the principles who designed or published the game.  I paid full price for the game in my FLGS.  I have played hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of games in my life, of all types.  I have played, and like, Conflict of Heroes, but I am not a raving fan of Academy games.    I do enjoy conflict-heavy games, as I cut my teeth on mass market war games in the '80s and '90s.

Below, I will list all the reasons I have for loving this game, as well as some counterpoints for each where I think they are warranted.  Is this game for everyone?  Nope.  But if you can relate to all or most of my reasons for liking this game, I think you will find it a worthwhile addition to your collection.

1.)  1812 is a small-scale game of grand strategy.  Though the forces are small, 1812 plays in a similar fashion to other area impulse, area control games like Axis and Allies, Risk, Conquest of Nerath, etc.  Each player controls units that move from one area to another, resolving conflicts along the way.

2.)  Because of its unique mechanics, simple yet meaningful reinforcement structure and limited movement options, 1812 plays at a terrific pace.  Unlike many games of this type, 1812 moves.

3.)  1812 is playable, in a very short time, right out of the box.  I have played this game multiple times, and every time has been with at least four players who are new to the game.  We have always finished in less than two hours, rules explanation included.  Because the meat and chrome are located in the cards and the dice, and the mechanics are pretty simple, players are up and running in about ten minutes.  This speed from box opening to actual play is practically unheard of for a war game this good.

4.)  1812 supports five players as well as any game I have ever played.  This is so rare - a five-player game where every player is important and equal, yet very different.  The Natives, Canadians, Brits and two American forces each have strengths and weaknesses that come into play regularly, and because of the blending of most moves, each player's actions are crucial to determining victory or defeat.

5.)  Again, owing to the blending of a team's moves, there is very little down time in this five-player war game.  There are always decisions to make, dice to roll and draws to sweat out.

6.)  1812's variable player order works perfectly.  Variable turn order is not innovative in and of itself, but it pays off so perfectly here that it enhances the whole experience.  You are only 100 percent sure of whose turn is upcoming in a couple of situations - the American Regulars player's first turn, and then the last player of each round.  Because you are so rarely sure of who is up next, it forces you to truly consider your offensive and defensive position after each move.  Three British turns in a row (or more, if one team's sequence wraps around from one turn to the next) can devastate the American offensive, and the same can be said if the Americans can move a massive reserve force from their muster areas up to the front in a couple of player order sweeps.  Tension is as high as I have ever seen as players await the cube draw for player order at the end of each player's active turn.

7.)  1812's movement rules rule.  Force flexibility is one of the key differences between the forces, and it comes to the fore frequently.  From many armies moving lots of spaces to canoe movement to slow and inexorable advances - plus the dreaded or desired Truce cards - each player must take a hard look at what their capabilities are as they plot their turns.

8.)  Much is often said about the dice, but I think it's actually amazing how 1812's dice so clearly define each force.  Six sides, three symbols and different maximum numbers of dice rolled are all the variables that define the dice, but they lead to so many great decisions.  Flee, Command Decision and Hit symbol frequency for each force is the first factor that matters, but the number of dice you can throw and what a Command Decision means for your army create new and interesting decision points.  Fantastic and simple, and one of the main reasons the game can be taught in ten minutes, the dice in 1812 really shape the experience.

9.)  Of the three characteristics that define each force, the one I like most is the muster.  As a fixed resource management model, 1812's mustering rules define the game's strategy in an organic way.  "Where are my British Regulars going to appear?"  "How far away are the American muster zones?"  "The Natives can do what?!" "You can make that attack, but I will never be able to get there." These phrases illustrate the power that logistics has in 1812 with, again, a very simple rule structure.

10.)  The Special cards in 1812 are powerful and theme-appropriate, without breaking the game.  Each offers a wrinkle that must be managed by your enemies, but timed properly by you to get the full effect.  Their scarcity also makes them valuable... there are only four per force.  Another rule I love: no card play when it's not your turn.  The simple absence of cards that can counter or interrupt adds to the appeal of the game and to the thematic impact of the cards you play.

11.)  Home field advantage is a simple rule that improves the whole game.  Simulating the difficulty, in the short term, that armies have in mollifying populations, not to mention the familiarity one side may have with terrain and positions, the original holder of the land in 1812 always fires first.  You would not believe the impact this simple rule has on all planning in this game.  Though I often find myself struggling with the difficulty this rule presents, it is likely my favorite part of 1812.  There almost can be no sweeping victories - just the incremental ones, timed properly, that will hopefully lead to your side winning the game.

12.)  The 1812 puzzle is not obvious.  There are three major fronts, plus navigable water, with key cities and muster areas to keep you occupied.  Combat is brutal, and sometimes dice can turn on you.  Plus, as I mentioned, it is very difficult to hold on to enemy land.  Timing, force majorities, Native usage and well-distributed troops all come into play each turn, not to mention the importance of defense.  No two games have played the same, as each side is consistently looking for the new opening that will hopefully turn a small pinprick into the gaping wound in the front that will deliver the victory.


And that's that - 12 reasons I believe 1812: The Invasion of Canada deserves a spot on your game shelf.  And I didn't even mention
13.) the Clear Rulebook with Historical Overview of the War,
14.) Terrific Components,
15.) Attractive Map or the
16.) Sturdy Box with Beautiful Art.

17.)  I also consider, for 2012, the $65 MSRP to be a steal.

18.)  Also, like most of the historical games I love, 1812 Teaches History by Confronting a Player with Decisions that Lead to an Understanding of the Period.  Hammer of the Scots and Twilight Struggle both do this as well - after playing these games, and having to make decisions based on fact-based situations, you understand more and better than you could by simply reading a book or watching a documentary on the subjects.

Caveats:  1812 is a rare game in my collection as I just don't feel it fails at anything it's trying to accomplish.  That said, I do have one small warning.  Though it can be played with anywhere from two to five players, in my mind, 1812 is best as a five-player game, and really good as a two-player game.  For three or four players, there are other games I would choose.

And that is my review of 1812.  Hope you enjoyed the review, and I hope you purchase the game.  It is really terrific.
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Jeff Dunford
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Excellent summary and review. I agree 100% and have nothing to add.

...

OK, one thing: Even players whose only "war game" experience is Risk (or maybe Small World, if it counts) enjoy this game. It's simple, streamlined and intuitive. And it's fun. Watching your militia flee, sometimes before the opposing army has fired a shot, is a combination of heartbreaking and hilarious. There's a lot of excitement for everyone as they watch how a "perfect strategic move" or "courageous feat" plays out and the dice are rolled.

And as you mentioned, the difficulty in holding non-native territory turns the game into a tug-of-war. It's rare for either side to be ahead by more than 3 or 4 objectives at any given time, and it's amazing how quickly the table can be reversed... especially by a lucky turn-order draw and a special card or two. There's no such thing as a run-away victory or "sure thing" in this game.
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Grant Rodiek
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I too, love this game. I feel you've perfectly explained why it's a worthwhile purchase. It's definitely one of my new favorites.

Great review. The more people know about this great game the better.
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Barry Kendall
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Excellent review.

I had seen this game advertised. I own and enjoy Uwe's WW II tactical games. I also knew that Ed Wimble and "Clash of Arms" have a detailed War of 1812 sim very close to publication (he had the components at "Cold Wars": one of the most gorgeous maps I've ever seen).

I have the old Gamma Two "1812" on the Canadian-US border war. It's enjoyable enough and light. I had no intention of buying another 1812 Northern Front game.

Then I stopped by Uwe's booth at "Cold Wars" to touch base on info related to his upcoming Gettysburg games. He had "1812:TIoC" out on display and after a few guys had gathered, he offered a "ten-minute demonstration."

It actually lasted about twelve minutes, but by the end, I was sold. It's fast, it's easy to learn, it's highly variable, there are distinct characteristics to Regulars, Militia and Natives, and it can be played by two up to five (Uwe says a five-player game can be a real blast; I get the idea that the radius of the blast might enhanced by certain beverages, but hey, sounds good to me).

And it has a decent "feel" for the situation. Uwe readily says that it's a game, not a simulation, it's a game. But Natives are troublesome, Militia can surprise, Regulars are always in too short supply, and there are some opportunities for naval action (though Oliver Hazard Perry does not make an appearance, which he does in CoA's upcoming simulation).

One of the things that sold me is the game's ease-of-teaching; another is the multiplayer flexibility. This is one I'll be playing with my daughter and her boyfriend (both of the Better Sort: they like games!).
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Greg R.
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Ah, the War of 1812. For those of you who don't remember the details of this great conflict from your high school History class, here's a video.


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Bill Eldard
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Thanks for your very thorough review, Christopher. I own a copy of it, but have played it only once so far (with 5 players). I enjoyed the game, but was a bit disappointed in some aspects of it.

cc_TheToph wrote:
1812 - The Invasion of Canada Review

Below, I will list all the reasons I have for loving this game, as well as some counterpoints for each where I think they are warranted.  Is this game for everyone?  Nope.  But if you can relate to all or most of my reasons for liking this game, I think you will find it a worthwhile addition to your collection.

2.)  Because of its unique mechanics, simple yet meaningful reinforcement structure and limited movement options, 1812 plays at a terrific pace.  Unlike many games of this type, 1812 moves.

I totally agree here.

cc_TheToph wrote:
4.)  1812 supports five players as well as any game I have ever played.  This is so rare - a five-player game where every player is important and equal, yet very different.  The Natives, Canadians, Brits and two American forces each have strengths and weaknesses that come into play regularly, and because of the blending of most moves, each player's actions are crucial to determining victory or defeat.

This was where I was disappointed. We discussed the game after we finished (The British blew away the Americans), and agreed that this is really little more than a 2-player game that can accommodate 5 players in two teams. The objectives are team objectives. If each player had individual objectives that competed with those of the others on his/her side created tension in the team's decisions, I think it could be properly described as a multiplayer game. For example,the Natives can be almost completed destroyed and the Americans can occupy all the land wesdt of York, but the Natives still win if the British and Canadians conquered enough of New York. What if the Natives only won if (a) the British side wins and, say,(b) the Americans are removed from Detroit?

This game really plays no differently with 5 than it does with 2.

cc_TheToph wrote:
18.)  Also, like most of the historical games I love, 1812 Teaches History by Confronting a Player with Decisions that Lead to an Understanding of the Period.  Hammer of the Scots and Twilight Struggle both do this as well - after playing these games, and having to make decisions based on fact-based situations, you understand more and better than you could by simply reading a book or watching a documentary on the subjects.

This is where I was disappointed again. I think the historical understanding/learning aspect of this game lies somewhere between that of Risk! and Axis & Allies. In fact, its more like 'advanced-Risk' but with card-driven mechanics and force-unique dice. For example, the game has absolutely no scale to it with regard to the forces (What does a cube represent) or time, and hence, it feels like a simplified Axis & Allies, but with fewer decsions. I wouldn't rank this anywhere near Hammer of the Scots or Twilight Struggle with regard to history.

Perhaps my expectations were too high; maybe I was looking for a multiplayer "A Few Acres of Snow" type of game, and it's not that. The game is simple and quick-playing, and I will be playing it again, but not often.


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Bill Eldard
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Barry Kendall wrote:
Uwe readily says that it's a game, not a simulation, it's a game.

I agree with Uwe.
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Christopher Bartlett
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Bill,

I would not begrudge you your opinions, because we all look for different things in our games. I would hope that you would try the game more than once, however, because the puzzle deepens with each play. Our first game was a heavy shellacking of the Americans, but that was followed by an American victory where the British side struggled to come back after an atrocious middle game.

As for the importance of the multiplayer aspect, I really appreciate the discussions and interplay that come up over casualty decisions, movements of other allies' troops, the best places to deliver troops via water movement, etc. In a two-player game (which I still enjoy), I miss this important aspect of the decision making, I.e. the "not everyone sees things my way" aspect of partnership games. For me, this aspect makes a really good game great.

But, as I said, this is all relative to the goals you have when you play a game, and yours are likely different than mine. I really appreciate your thoughtful counterpoints.

Regards,
Christopher




Eldard wrote:
Thanks for your very thorough review, Christopher. I own a copy of it, but have played it only once so far (with 5 players). I enjoyed the game, but was a bit disappointed in some aspects of it.

cc_TheToph wrote:
1812 - The Invasion of Canada Review

Below, I will list all the reasons I have for loving this game, as well as some counterpoints for each where I think they are warranted.  Is this game for everyone?  Nope.  But if you can relate to all or most of my reasons for liking this game, I think you will find it a worthwhile addition to your collection.

2.)  Because of its unique mechanics, simple yet meaningful reinforcement structure and limited movement options, 1812 plays at a terrific pace.  Unlike many games of this type, 1812 moves.

I totally agree here.

cc_TheToph wrote:
4.)  1812 supports five players as well as any game I have ever played.  This is so rare - a five-player game where every player is important and equal, yet very different.  The Natives, Canadians, Brits and two American forces each have strengths and weaknesses that come into play regularly, and because of the blending of most moves, each player's actions are crucial to determining victory or defeat.

This was where I was disappointed. We discussed the game after we finished (The British blew away the Americans), and agreed that this is really little more than a 2-player game that can accommodate 5 players in two teams. The objectives are team objectives. If each player had individual objectives that competed with those of the others on his/her side created tension in the team's decisions, I think it could be properly described as a multiplayer game. For example,the Natives can be almost completed destroyed and the Americans can occupy all the land wesdt of York, but the Natives still win if the British and Canadians conquered enough of New York. What if the Natives only won if (a) the British side wins and, say,(b) the Americans are removed from Detroit?

This game really plays no differently with 5 than it does with 2.

cc_TheToph wrote:
18.)  Also, like most of the historical games I love, 1812 Teaches History by Confronting a Player with Decisions that Lead to an Understanding of the Period.  Hammer of the Scots and Twilight Struggle both do this as well - after playing these games, and having to make decisions based on fact-based situations, you understand more and better than you could by simply reading a book or watching a documentary on the subjects.

This is where I was disappointed again. I think the historical understanding/learning aspect of this game lies somewhere between that of Risk! and Axis & Allies. In fact, its more like 'advanced-Risk' but with card-driven mechanics and force-unique dice. For example, the game has absolutely no scale to it with regard to the forces (What does a cube represent) or time, and hence, it feels like a simplified Axis & Allies, but with fewer decsions. I wouldn't rank this anywhere near Hammer of the Scots or Twilight Struggle with regard to history.

Perhaps my expectations were too high; maybe I was looking for a multiplayer "A Few Acres of Snow" type of game, and it's not that. The game is simple and quick-playing, and I will be playing it again, but not often.


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Rob White
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Great review Christopher! Looking forward to playing it soon.
Rob
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Bill Eldard
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cc_TheToph wrote:
Bill,

I would not begrudge you your opinions, because we all look for different things in our games. I would hope that you would try the game more than once, however, because the puzzle deepens with each play. Our first game was a heavy shellacking of the Americans, but that was followed by an American victory where the British side struggled to come back after an atrocious middle game.

As for the importance of the multiplayer aspect, I really appreciate the discussions and interplay that come up over casualty decisions, movements of other allies' troops, the best places to deliver troops via water movement, etc. In a two-player game (which I still enjoy), I miss this important aspect of the decision making, I.e. the "not everyone sees things my way" aspect of partnership games. For me, this aspect makes a really good game great.

But, as I said, this is all relative to the goals you have when you play a game, and yours are likely different than mine. I really appreciate your thoughtful counterpoints.

Regards,
Christopher

I'll certainly be playing it again. At this point, I don't have enough plays to comment on its balance, strategies, replayability, etc. The shellacking we (Americans) took could've been poor play on my team's part. There are certainly things I would do differently next time. I look forward to getting deeper into it.

There are definitely coordination issues to plan and execute for maximum effect, but since a player can share knowledge of the hand he/she is holding with teammates, I didn't find it so challenging.

Hopefully I can get this game back to the table again for some more plays, but I don't expect the other 4 gamers from our first try will show much interest in it.

Like you said and I thoroughly believe, we all have our own expectations in games. This one disappointed me a bit, but it is a fine game, and it certainly has generated some excitement in the hobby.

Thanks again for your review.

Cheers,
E


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Kim K
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cc_TheToph wrote:
Though it can be played with anywhere from two to five players, in my mind, 1812 is best as a five-player game, and really good as a two-player game.  For three or four players, there are other games I would choose.
Just wondering why you feel it doesn't play as well with 3 or 4P? I play 2P more than anything, so that's great. But my next most common player count for a game is 3P.

Thanks for a terrific review - it was very informative! I'm looking to add a war game to my collection, and I'm thinking this might be it.
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James Fehr
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Excellent, excellent review Christopher. I just got a copy and am very excited to try it out now. I've always wanted a wargame that supported more than 2 players well, and I already love the theme.

Thanks for taking the time to do this write-up!
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Keith Carter
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cc_TheToph wrote:
1812 - The Invasion of Canada Review

I paid full price for the game in my FLGS.  

That is worth a thumb and a tip. I am weary of having to read between the lines of reviews compromised by the reviewer's motivation to insure the free game pipeline keeps flowing.

Kudos for supporting your FLGS.

This is an excellent, well supported post.
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Doug Adams
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Nice review. I've been dabbling with this solo and it's a very well designed game. Clean mechanics, yet retains a good sense of theme through the 12 card decks and custom dice for each faction. No idea how a five player game would work, but even solo it's a lot of fun!
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Christopher Bartlett
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callie7 wrote:
cc_TheToph wrote:
Though it can be played with anywhere from two to five players, in my mind, 1812 is best as a five-player game, and really good as a two-player game.  For three or four players, there are other games I would choose.
Just wondering why you feel it doesn't play as well with 3 or 4P? I play 2P more than anything, so that's great. But my next most common player count for a game is 3P.

Thanks for a terrific review - it was very informative! I'm looking to add a war game to my collection, and I'm thinking this might be it.

Kim,

My primary concern with it as a three- or four-player game settles into team balance. How do you decide who plays whom? With two or five, it's automatic and works great. With three or four, not so much. Three would be my least preferred number, just because one person will play alone and their experience will be bereft of the shared decision making and partnership that pushes the game over the edge into greatness. Four is probably doable - I would play one as Brit regular, one as Native and split the Canadian militia turn - but five or two would still be better.

Again, it can be played with three or four, but I just think that I, personally, would notice what was missing.

Christopher
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Dave VanderArk
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Bounder wrote:
cc_TheToph wrote:
1812 - The Invasion of Canada Review

I paid full price for the game in my FLGS.  

That is worth a thumb and a tip. I am weary of having to read between the lines of reviews compromised by the reviewer's motivation to insure the free game pipeline keeps flowing.

Kudos for supporting your FLGS.

This is an excellent, well supported post.
Statements like this are not intended to keep free games coming. Some agency in the US recently changed the rules about reviews, which means that if you receive a review copy you are required to disclose this.
 
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Mark Kwasny
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Eldard wrote:

This is where I was disappointed again. I think the historical understanding/learning aspect of this game lies somewhere between that of Risk! and Axis & Allies. In fact, its more like 'advanced-Risk' but with card-driven mechanics and force-unique dice.

I have to agree with this sentiment. After several games, the lack of any real historical depth leaves me less than enthused to go back to the game. I would agree that it ranks about a level below Axis and Allies for historical feel.

That lack of history, linked with the sinking feeling that in a close game, whoever goes last is going to win, weakens the game for me.

On the other hand, the battle dice and how they interact is brilliant!
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Severus Snape
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Quote:
The objectives are team objectives. If each player had individual objectives that competed with those of the others on his/her side created tension in the team's decisions, I think it could be properly described as a multiplayer game. For example,the Natives can be almost completed destroyed and the Americans can occupy all the land wesdt of York, but the Natives still win if the British and Canadians conquered enough of New York. What if the Natives only won if (a) the British side wins and, say,(b) the Americans are removed from Detroit?

Bill, this is well expressed. My initial impressions, before reading the "fine print" was that five people could play two sides, but that only one person would win. That would be a neat idea, but surely a much more complex design.

goo
 
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Nomadic Gamer
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'This game really plays no differently with 5 than it does with 2. '

Totally wrong. 2 commanders disagreed on which casualties to
take in battles which makes a big difference. Or which cards to use.
Just for starters.
And thinking it's inferior to Acres of Snow is hilari-amusing.
"Aha! Your siege automatically fails because I added one unit!"
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Chris B
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Thanks for the excellent review. This will be my next purchase.
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