Scott Bogen
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Verona
Wisconsin
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The following Review and Overview of 1812: The Invasion of Canada is excerpted (with a few minor changes) from The Board Game Show podcast http://www.theboardgameshow.com/:

"What, we invaded Canada? Yep, the United States did that, and you can have some fun re-enacting this battle in an evening with two to five players in one of Academy Game’s latest offerings, 1812, The Invasion of Canada, the first game in The Birth of America series.

Five major factions gather around Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, as far north as the lower tip of Lake Huron and as far south as Pittsburgh and Albany. The board is divided into territories, very much in the style of Risk or Axis & Allies. The northern, Canadian territories are red (for Britain) and the lower two thirds of the board is blue for the United States. Here and there territories have starred objectives. If you’ve ever dreamed of taking over Detroit or Pittsburgh, this could be your game. Occupying more of your opponents home, starred objectives than he has occupied of yours is how you win. In the end, it’s all about counting up the control markers.

As for the factions, they are represented by little wooden cubes, a different color for each. On America’s side are the American Regulars and the American Militia, ready to lash out against the behemoth, Great Britain, who developed a bit of an image problem among Americans -- especially among Republicans at the time -- with Britain’s policy of impressment, which forced men into service against their will in the fight against Napoleon. Remember the notorious Chesapeake Affair? Yeah, I don’t either. But you can read all about the War of 1812 in the extensive history provided in the rule book. This is a very cool addition. All you need to know for now is that American forces invade Canada in order to drive the British from their last remaining colony on North American soil.

So, we have the American Regulars and American Militia on one side and the British Regulars, Canadian Militia and the Native Americans on the other. With a full five players, each person plays a faction. With fewer than that, well, you can figure that out.

The game consists of a finite number of rounds, eight of them in all, with each faction getting one turn per round to move some units and possibly attack one or more territories. A cool element to this game is that these turns are determined randomly by reaching into a bag and pulling out a colored die. You never know who is up next, unless of course it’s the final player in the round or the first turn of the game (the American aggressors always go first). And this also leaves the possibility of the British factions getting a turn six times in a row! At the end of each round, you put the die for each faction back in the bag, and it’s random time all over again.

Each major faction takes a turn by playing a movement card, and possibly a second or third Special card. Your hand size is only three cards (replenished at the end of your turn), and you draw cards from your faction-specific deck of cards. There are only 12 cards in each of these decks – 8 of them are movement cards (remember there are only 8 rounds in the game, so you will play them all if the game lasts that long) -- and 4 special cards. I won’t get into the special cards, other than to say they – for the most part – positively affect that faction’s movement or combat for the turn and thematically depict key historical figures and events. One other major aspect of your cards is each deck has a movement card with “Truce written” on them. If ever all of your side’s Truce cards have been played, the game will end when the current round is over (as long as it is at least turn 3). This is an awesome little strategy element, and also creates some tension for your opponent(s). From a British perspective, imagine the American Militia’s Truce card coming out. If the American Regulars play their Truce card, the game will end!

Most of the movement cards tell you how many armies you can move and how far you can move them. As long as your faction color appears in a territory, an army consists of at least one of your wooden cubes and any number of other cubes. In this way, grand armies comprised of all of your side’s factions can move together around the board, often several times per round. As soon as you run into an enemy, you stop and a battle will take place. There are also a few movement cards that allow you to move armies across the lakes.

Faction-specific, six-sided battle dice are used in resolving each battle. Depending on the faction, the dice contain a varied number of hit icons, flee icons and blanks. With a limited dice pool per faction, the defending or attacking home territory always rolls first and each hit removes an enemy cube, each flee icon you roll results in one of your own cubes being sent to a Fled Units box on the board to be brought back later, and each blank you’ve rolled allows for a command decision. What’s a command decision? For each blank, one of your cubes may leave the battle and move to an adjacent, friendly territory. This can be a great way to spread out a massive army that will have no trouble winning with fewer units. If you're like me, your troop build-up in some areas may amount to overkill, and you may welcome a command decision or two to bolster adjacent territories.

I think this is an ingenious, simple combat system, made even better by giving factions certain combat advantages. For instance, the British Regulars never flee; that icon doesn’t appear on their dice. When Native Americans roll a command decision, they are the only faction that can move to unoccupied enemy homeland territories, including objective areas! The dice for the militias in the game flee 1/3 of the time, hit other units 1/3 of the time, and make command decisions 1/3 of the time, so they are not very reliable. I love how something as simple as icons on the face of a die can help portray these historical realities.

This is one of those games you will be up and playing very quickly. The rulebook is only six pages long (plus the pages of history), and these six pages include a lot of examples. The map is mounted and large, though the board I received did have some minor warping issues which I’ve somewhat corrected by stacking piles of books on it. I was also shorted a wooden cube for one faction, and had an extra for another. I decided to give Academy Games customer service a whirl and asked for the missing piece. I was sent a new one quickly, along with an extra cube for all the other factions as a bonus. I get a kick out of the fact that the Uwe Eickert provides his cell phone number and personal email address in every copy of the game. That’s something you don’t see every day.

There’s some controversy surrounding whether or not this game is balanced. Many believe it is tilted toward the British side, with some people on these forums discussing strategies or ways to tweak the game in order to compensate for this. The three games we’ve played have so far all gone to the British as well. Despite these discussions and our experience to date, I have to agree – albeit tentatively -- with what one of the game’s designers recently posted. Designer Jeph Stahl writes:
“Beau and I have been following a number of threads on the difficulty playing the American side in 1812. We believe that not all the nuances have been explored yet, so we'll let players hammer away to discover the game.”

I tend to lean toward this approach in all the games I play. Call me idealistic, but figuring a game out, exploring the nuances is what makes a game a like 1812 worth playing. Stahl goes on to say, “If you want to ease the American side a bit, we'd suggest this following variant: American players have a hand size of 4 rather than 3 cards.”
That sounds like a good idea, and I may just try that in the future. But for now, I am happy to continue playing the game as is and under the assumption that we just haven’t yet found the winning strategy for the Americans.

Meanwhile, I’m excited to play the next installment in the Birth of America series, titled 1775 -- Rebellion. Academy Games has said the base rules are 95% the same as 1812 and 1775 is expected to ship later this year."

Scott Bogen
The Board Game Show
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The Fiend
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Avon Lake
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Played it at ORIGINS 2013 and won it as the Americans. It was a 4-player game with the Brits sharing the Indians (who caused major problems when they came across Lake Erie in boats).
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Scott Bogen
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Verona
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Jimzik wrote:
Played it at ORIGINS 2013 and won it as the Americans. It was a 4-player game with the Brits sharing the Indians (who caused major problems when they came across Lake Erie in boats).

Nicely done!

Now that I've played this myriad times since writing this review, I have come to realize two things.

1. More people playing usually gives the Americans a better chance at winning. I think that's because of the sometimes more chaotic game play that develops with competing ideas and interests. I really like playing this game with two people and with the full compliment. I've found the two tend to be very different and present lots of new puzzles.

2. As tempting as it is to go all in early, the Americans seem to have a much better chance in the long game, getting those units near the front and THEN attacking in greater numbers.

Well, at least those are my thoughts today.

- Scott
 
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Alex Drazen
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Massachusetts
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In my 2P games, it's always come down to the dice in the battles around Detroit/Amhertsburg or Queensburg-Ft. Erie/Buffalo. Also, whoever goes last in the Truce round usually gets an enormous advantage, especially if they get the #4 and #5 slots.

This latter bit is such a problem that I'd almost want to house-rule either that any faction playing a Truce card must go in one of the first three turn-order spots, or that if their team is in the lead, they cannot attack any armies on foreign soil.

The Canadians can do some seriously nasty stuff with the Indians in the west (canoe and then split into five areas event card is particularly brutal!), and the Americans have to take a long time to clear that up, and can't be too aggressive (lest Pittsburgh fall to a Native cube). Meanwhile, in the east, the British can also pester Albany by using one or two warship cards to come down the Hudson River.

The USA doesn't have any powerful moves like this. The most powerful USA move is probably the 2x army movement event card combined with the "win a battle and then move into another area" card, which allows them to make up a huge deficit at the end of the game. They also only have one warship, and it's tough to get a big enough army to one of the Great Lakes to make it fully effective -- you have to protect muster areas and usually Canada has invaded and taken over several areas before you can get a big army to a lake. Yeah, they have some Fishing Boats, but so do the Canadians. Combined with smaller dice rolls and fewer turns per round, it's tough to take advantage of it. The Indian card where you can make your opponent flee is also quite effective. Send one measly green cube against full USA dice and you can get 2-4 free flees out of them!

The only other USA advantage I can think of is that they get to go second in the bonus cubes. But since Canada will put Natives in the east and Brits in the west, and shore up the 2 VP area with full dice, that means the USA has to shore up Detroit and Buffalo, which only leaves a few cubes for a big punch to the east, because you don't know if you will have an early Fishing Boat/Warship or not, and you usually have to scatter in the empty eastern areas to prevent a large British army from crashing towards Rome/Albany.

I have mostly played this with my fiance and she utterly hates it at this point (and this is a woman who is willing to play Power Grid with me a couple times a month), and yet I've only managed to just barely beat her ONCE when she plays the Canadians, and even then it's because she gets bored around Turn 4 or Turn 5. The only other time the USA came close was when she got some ridiculously lucky rolls early on, seized York by fishing boat, and managed to almost get into the First Nations muster area. I think that ended up finishing 3-2 in Canada's favor, but if she had Truce cards early, Canada would have lost about 5-1.
 
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Scott Bogen
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I can't argue with any of that. I think these are good observations. Despite having played it a bunch we still have only seen the Americans win twice. If I always play with new players, maybe I can win more as the Americans!
 
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