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1775: Rebellion

Reviewed by: Eric Brosius

(Academy Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 1 to 2 hours, $65)

1775rebboxIn 1775, tensions that had been simmering between Great Britain and its North American colonies for years finally came to a head. A British force left Boston with orders to seize munitions from the Massachusetts militia —a mission they could not complete after they encountered opposition at Lexington and Concord. The conflict escalated quickly. Britain sent more troops (some hired from the German state of Hesse) and recruited colonists who were loyal to the crown. The patriots strengthened their cause by organizing and training the Continental Army, regulars who could stand up to the British on the battlefield. They also requested aid from France, an effort that bore fruit in 1778 when France recognized the United States and sent French troops to support its cause.

The American Revolution was a war with no fixed border. Neither side had its own territory, distinct from that of the enemy—homes of patriots were next door to homes of loyalists. Each side controlled only the areas in which it had military superiority, and control shifted as armies marched and fought. Designers Beau Beckett and Jeph Stahl (Canadians both) have designed a light wargame that evokes the feeling of the historical situation, right down to the constant tension the historical leaders surely felt. 1775: Rebellion is the second game from this design team. The game uses ideas from their earlier design 1812: The Invasion of Canada (featured in the Fall 2012 Gamers Alliance Report) but the changes introduced in 1775: Rebellion make it even more challenging and exciting.

The struggle is fought out on a large mounted mapboard showing the region of conflict. For game purposes, it is divided into 16 colonies: the 13 original colonies plus Maine which is treated as a separate colony (historically it was part of Massachusetts until 1820) and two provinces in Eastern Canada. The board is attractive and easy to read, and it folds flat, without the prominent creases that were common on older wargame mapboards.

The military units are represented by colored cubes: the British side includes red British Regulars, yellow Loyalist Militia and Orange Hessians while the American side has white Patriot Militia, blue Continental Army and purple French Regulars. Green cubes represent Native Americans, who can be recruited by either side simply by moving a unit into the space they occupy. Unlike traditional wargames which use factors printed on cardboard chits to represent combat abilities, 1775: Rebellion uses colored battle dice to differentiate the abilities of the different troop types. For example, yellow Loyalist Militia units roll yellow dice, each of which has two “Flee” faces that cause troops to leave the battle (presumably to return to their homes,) while red British Regulars roll red dice, which have no “Flee” faces. This brilliant design feature allows the different unit types to perform differently without placing the burden of calculation on the players.

1775rebmapThe game includes three scenarios: the 1775 Campaign Scenario (which depicts the whole war and can last 3 to 8 rounds), the 1775 Introductory Scenario (an abbreviated version of the Campaign Scenario lasting only 2 rounds), and the Siege of Quebec Scenario (which has slightly different rules and is meant for two experienced players). This review focuses on the first scenario. The game plays quickly, so the Campaign Scenario takes just 2 hours even if it goes the full 8 rounds.

At the start of the game, you place the starting units and it is immediately clear that the forces of the two sides are deployed in close proximity to each other all over the map. Colony control is simple: you control a colony if your side has cubes in that colony and there are no other cubes in any area of the colony (neither hostile nor unaligned Native Americans.) A single enemy or Native American cube in a colony prevents your side from controlling it. Markers are provided to show colony control but these are only a convenience; you can always tell which colonies a side controls by looking at the placement of cubes on the mapboard.

Each side has two active factions: the British Regulars and Loyalist Militia for the British side and the Continental Army and Patriot Militia for the American side. (The Hessians, French and Native Americans are not factions but can operate in support of one side or the other.) Separate players can play each faction (in a 4-player game) or the same player can play both factions on a side (allowing for 2 and 3-player games). In each game round, colored Turn Markers corresponding to the four factions are placed in a Draw Bag. These are drawn one at a time and the corresponding faction takes its turn before the next Turn Marker is drawn. This adds uncertainty since (except for the last faction each turn) you don’t know which faction will act next.

Colony control is important for two reasons. First, victory goes to the side that controls more colonies at the end of the game. But there is another reason colony control is important, one that is often more pressing. You place reinforcements at the start of a faction’s turn and they must be placed in a city that is located in a colony that side controls. If a side controls no colonies at the start of its faction’s turn, it gets no reinforcements for that faction, a significant blow. Even if a side does control one or more colonies, it may not control any colonies in a particular part of the board that you would like to reinforce. As the game begins, the British control only three colonies (Quebec, Nova Scotia and Delaware) and the Americans only two (Connecticut and Rhode Island.) This creates an urgency to keep control of the colonies you own and threaten the enemy’s control of the ones they own. There is no slow build up in this game; you are at each other’s throats right away.

Each faction has its own deck of cards and these cards drive game play. In the Campaign Scenario, each faction shuffles 8 Movement Cards and 4 Event Cards to make a deck from which it draws a 3-card hand. On a faction’s turn, it must play one Movement Card together with any Event Cards it chooses to play, redrawing to 3 cards at the end of the turn. If you draw 3 Event Cards and thus have no Movement Cards, you must mix your hand with your draw deck, reshuffle and draw again because you must play a Movement Card on your turn. If you have 2 Event Cards and 1 Movement Card, you must play the Movement Card, even if you would rather not play it right now. This creates challenging decisions. Each side has one Movement Card that is marked as a Truce Card. The Campaign Scenario ends at the end of a round in which one side has played both Truce Cards for its factions (but not before Round 3). Playing your Truce Cards at an advantageous time is an important consideration but you may be forced to play a Truce Card by the luck of the draw. You can minimize or eliminate this risk by playing Event Cards as quickly as you can but waiting until just the right moment can be decisive. Each side has a few cards that allow sea movement (not surprisingly, the British have more than any other faction,) and you would like to time these for maximum impact as well.

In addition, the Hessian and French forces enter the game by means of Event Cards played during a faction’s Reinforcements Phase. These cards place units directly into specified coastal areas (and are not subject to the usual restriction that reinforcements may only be placed in a city in a colony you control). Even if the British have prevented the Americans from controlling any of the Southern colonies, one reinforcement card brings a force of 4 French Regulars into Savannah GA even if the British have units in that space. This can be the basis for a lightning campaign to seize territory in a lightly defended rear area, upending enemy plans.

Any game with dice and cards is likely to have an important luck element and 1775: Rebellion is no exception. Because of the way in which the cards come out, you can never be sure when the game might be about to end. You must also strive each turn to maintain control of key colonies in which you can enter reinforcements and to deny similar control to the enemy. When you are victorious, you will experience the satisfaction of having successfully walked the tightrope to success. And if your opponent gets the better of you, the game is short enough that you can set it right back up and given it another try. I enjoyed the first entry in this series, 1812: The Invasion of Canada, but 1775: Rebellion is even better.


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