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1812: THE INVASION OF CANADA

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Academy Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 1-2 hours; $69.99)

 

In the early 19th Century, powerful nations in Europe were competing for dominance and that competition led to war. With war in Europe raging between England and its allies and the French forces led by Napoleon, the United States felt the squeeze between these two powerful European juggernauts, a situation that led to the United States declaring war, for the second time in less than 40 years, with England. That conflict was the War of 1812 and this year marks the 200th anniversary of that war. To commemorate this anniversary, Academy Games has released a design by Beau Beckett and Jeph Stahl, the first game in their “Birth of America” series, which captures the clash between forces of the early United States with those of British Regulars and their allies in 1812: The Invasion of Canada.1812box

In 1812: The Invasion of Canada, up to five players can join the fray, each commanding one of the five factions of the game: the forces of England represented by British Regulars (denoted by red wooden cubes), Canadian Militia (yellow), Native Americans (green) vs. the forces of the young United States represented by American Regular Army (blue) and American Militia (white). If less than five players, a player (or more) will command more than one faction as ALL factions must be in play. Each faction has its own deck of cards (12 each) and set of “battle dice” (color coordinated with 2 red and 2 blue for the British and American Regulars and 3 each for the other factions).

Action takes place on a large mounted mapboard showing the Canadian-American border divided into areas with American “homeland” areas shaded in blue and British “homeland” areas shaded in red. On the board are starred cities and forts. These are the objectives of the players. The side controlling the most enemy objectives will win the game. The game provides three scenarios – an 1812 Introductory scenario, a full 1812 Campaign game and an 1813 Campaign scenario – but the basics of play remain the same for all three.

To begin, cubes representing the appropriate forces are placed in the designated areas of the board depending on scenario chosen. The scenario also determines which cards a player will have to use in his draw deck. At the start of a turn, five colored markers are placed in the draw bag provided. Turn order is randomly determined as the marker drawn indicates the faction that will be the “active” player. Once that faction is done, the next marker is drawn and then that faction takes its turn. (In the full campaign scenario, the Regular American forces go first. After that, markers are drawn.)1812board

Each turn follows a specific order: Place Enlistments and Fled Units in a Muster Area, play a Movement card (and up to two Special cards), resolve battles and draw new cards.

In placing enlistments, the British Regulars, Canadian Militia, and Native American players each place additional units on the board from their pool of forces. (In addition, when playing the Campaign game and before play begins, 4 additional British, Canadian AND Native American units are placed on any red British homeland area while the American Regulars AND American Militia players each place 6 additional units of their color on any blue American homeland area.) Units may be placed in already occupied areas or in empty ones. Fled Units (more on these later) may be placed in any of your “muster areas” (i.e. starting areas as depicted on the map). Native Americans have a bit more flexibility here being allowed to be placed anywhere a Native American unit already is, even in enemy territory.

Once done, three cards are drawn from the active player’s deck. There are two basic types of cards in each player’s deck. Movement cards (including the Truce Movement card which has a special effect noted below) are just what the name implies; they allow you to move a specified number of armies (defined as a single group of allied cubes in one area) a specified number of areas (provided that the active player has at least one of his own color cubes in that army). Crossing water requires Warship, Fishing Boat or Canoe cards. Special cards do something a bit extra (such as adding units from off board to an area and modifying or changing attacks). The interesting thing here is that the card decks are NOT identical but are slanted towards a faction’s strengths (or weaknesses). The British Regulars, for example, have two Warship cards, the American Regulars only one. The Native Americans are the only faction with Canoe cards which can let them move up to 5 units from 5 different areas bordering water into ONE area.

A player MUST play one (and only one) Movement card on a turn. He may, however, play up to TWO Special cards when playing a Movement card. If a player ONLY has Special cards in his hand, he may shuffle them back into his draw deck and draw three fresh cards. Played cards are discarded except for the Truce card which remains on display along the western side of the map.1812pcs

When two opposing armies end up in the same area, a battle ensues. The side whose Homeland area is under attack has the initiative (regardless of who is the aggressor or defender) and rolls his battle dice first. Battle dice equal to the number of units in your faction (up to the maximum of 2 or 3 dice depending on what faction is being played) are rolled. Possible results are Hit (removing an enemy cube), Flee (moving one of YOUR own units to the Fled Units space) or Blank (which is a “Command Decision” meaning you MAY retreat one of your units into an adjacent friendly area). If enemy units survive the initial roll, then the enemy rolls his battle dice and resolves his results. Dice rolls continue until one side is eliminated from the area. The remaining side places an appropriate control marker if it’s an enemy area or removes an enemy control marker if the area was originally friendly. Once all battles are resolved, the active player draws his hand back to three cards, the next turn marker is drawn and the next turn begins.

Starting with the end of round 3, if all Truce cards are played by one side (or both sides), the game is over. At that point, the player controlling the most enemy objectives wins!

Don’t expect a complete historical wargame reenactment of the War of 1812 here. The Battle of New Orleans, for example, is not recreated nor is the burning of the White House. The board doesn’t extend that far south. The main focus (and not surprising when you consider the company producing the game is Canadian) is on one campaign: the poorly conceived invasion of Canada by American forces. (At the time, many Americans assumed, incorrectly, that Canadians would jump at the chance to throw off “English oppression” just as the American colonists did. However, England learned from their American experience and the Canadians were granted privileges denied the American colonists. The result was a favorable one for the British. The Canadians did not feel oppressed and rallied to the English crown instead.)1812cards

1812: The Invasion of Canada eschews the chits and combat result tables of wargames in favor of the flavor of the conflict combining attributes of card driven wargames, Euro games and American strategy games.

Cards drive movement and action. There is some resemblance to A Few Acres of Snow (Fall 2011 GA Report) as the fighting locale is similar and cards also propel movement and action in that game but 1812 foregoes the deck-building aspect. Rather than constructing a bigger deck, in 1812 your cards are used and discarded. The use of cubes rather than counters is strictly Euro as is the variable game ending, triggered by the play of Truce Movement cards which may be held (if you have more than one Movement card in your hand), played willingly (to end the game when you have the advantage and believe you can maintain it through the end of the round) or forced to play (if that card is the only Movement card in your hand).

On the other hand, the game utilizes some American style play in its clever use of battle dice. I say clever because the dice for each faction is similar but NOT the same. British regulars, for example, historically well trained soldiers, use dice that recognize that fact. Each British Regulars six-sided die has 3 Hit and 3 Blank sides (they never flee). American Regulars, trained but not quite the caliber of British Regulars, have 3 Hits, 2 Blanks and 1 Flee on each of their dice. Canadian and American militia are of identical abilities and show it with identical dice: 2 Blank, 2 Flee, 2 Hit. Native Americans, with their greater flexibility of movement (being able to retreat into enemy territory) show this flexibility by having 2 Hits, 1 Flee and 3 Blanks on their dice. With the dice tailored to each faction’s abilities, there is no need for complicated rules or tables. The dice rolls do it all.

The graphic quality of the game is high (from the large attractive board to the easy to read and understand cards). The card and dice engine of play is fairly straightforward which helps minimize the learning curve too. With five players, the game plays well but since you are playing with allies and table talk is allowed and encouraged, the game can take on some of the qualities of Diplomacy and that can add playing time. Playing with two, while a bit cumbersome in managing separate card decks, can actually make for faster and more streamlined play by eliminating that table talk. In all cases, the tide of battle ebbs and flows so that you never feel victory is beyond your grasp, an excellent design touch.

1812: The Invasion of Canada delves into a subject infrequently appearing in games: The War of 1812. Armchair generals who need not be “grizzled grognards” attracted to the feel of conflict without the minutia of wargame counters, charts and tables, will discover here a game that will hold their interest as fortunes rise and fall with every play of a card, roll of the dice and command decision to be made. – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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