Never having played We the People, I was able to approach Washington’s War completely absent any preconceived notions or bias. I could be wrong, but I think that’s a good thing because I won’t be reviewing the game relative to its previous incarnation, I’ll be judging strictly on the merits of the current version. The Playbook that comes with the game contains Player’s Notes, written by game developer Joel Toppen, Design Notes written by designer Mark Herman, and a full two turn example of play that is just excellent. The game Rules and Playbook are freely downloadable at GMT Games website (click the “Games Page” tab, then select “Living Rules” from the left sidebar menu to locate game Rules and Player’s Notes). So, I’m not going to provide a traditional review since it’s been done so well already. I’ll try to focus on the more intangible stuff. Game consumer stuff, if you know what I mean.
The game box had the feel of an old-school Avalon Hill game. Heavy. Solid. Nice. Like most games being produced today, the components are absolutely beautiful. The map is mounted and lays out perfectly; no bumps, bends or non-aligning edges. The game counters are sturdy and durable and the playing cards are printed on good quality card stock. Only noticed one minor components gaff; the square “Colony Control” markers. Nine of these markers contain British flags on one side and American flags on the other (which makes sense), but six of them contain British flags on both sides. Not sure if the designers of the game are trying to say that there’s no way the Americans can ever control more than nine colonies, but I know several optimistic American players who would disagree. Nitpicking aside, I’d have to give an overall A+ for the components!
The rules are organized reasonably well. You have to search multiple sections to find out about all the different ways to execute PC actions, but the information is easy to find. The Player Reference Cards should probably have a more comprehensive table, possibly titled “Place/Remove/Flip PC Markers”, which details all the ways that PC markers can be placed, flipped or removed in more detail. If the table just says “per the restrictions of 10.11”, then you have to go back to the rule book anyway. Kind of nullifies the benefit of the reference card.
I only found one inconsistency in the rules. Rule 6.33D says that “Each player may play/discard a maximum one Event Strategy Card for each battle.” But the “Combat Resolution DRMs” chart on the Player Reference Cards says “+1 Discard of an ENEMY Event Card (9.45)”. Rule 9.45 makes no mention of the fact that it must be an enemy Event Card either.
Other than these two items, I have not found any omissions or inconsistencies in the rules, which is really nice for a change. Although there will invariably be errata released in the future, I think the rules will hold up well over time.
Pet peeve #1: If I get confused by the Setup section of the rules, the game immediately becomes a candidate for eBay. There’s just no excuse for having confusing setup rules. This game’s setup instructions were mostly clear and concise. Again, one minor exception: it wasn’t clear to me why there is a reference to placement of “Committees of Correspondence” and “For the King” PC markers. They are just regular PC markers. For a minute, I was looking for markers that had those identifications on them. There’s nothing in the Terminology section (3.0) or anywhere else in the rules that refers to “Committees of Correspondence” or “For the King”, so I don’t understand why those reference had to be included in the “Setting up the Game” (4.0) of the Rulebook and “I. Setup” section of the Playbook. The game is still on my shelf, not on eBay, so it clearly passes the Setup Test.
As I mentioned earlier, there are many good examples in the rules book itself and the companion Playbook is full of examples, taking you through two complete turns of a hypothetical game, complete with Strategy Card plays and battles. You can’t ask for better than that.
Playing the Game
Can you really complete a game in 90 minutes? No, not in my brief experience. I suppose if you had two very, very serious players who could hyper-focus and filter out all external distractions you could finish it in 90 minutes. If events unfolded such that the game ended in 1779. Maybe. If the time comes that I’m able to finish a game in 90 minutes, I’ll amend this review…
But, what are we talking about here? Speed Chess? Who wants to rush through a game like this? The message the publisher is trying to convey is that it can be played in a single sitting and is therefore suitable for tournament play. A more realistic estimate in my opinion would be 2 to 3.5 hours, depending on the variable ending turn which could be between 5 turns (1779) and 9 turns (1783).
The game plays very well. It’s one of those types of games that are relatively easy to learn but difficult to master. I’ve played it three times now (finally won as the British – score!) and, although I have a good handle on the game mechanics, I still feel like I’m drifting through the turns; never quite sure how I’m doing until it gets close to the end. But with each game you get better and better at running the cost/benefit calculations in your head to determine the best (or, at least, the better) move. You start seeing the big picture a bit more clearly. My appreciation for the design is growing.
What I found a bit annoying was trying to keep track of all the different ways you can place, flip, and/or remove Political Control (PC) markers. After 10 or 15 trips to the rule book to confirm I was doing this correctly, it got a bit old. There are three different ways to place PC markers, and the British have a slightly different way of doing it than the Americans. I know it’s not a big deal, but it annoyed me. Maybe it’s me that’s getting a bit old…
Washington’s War is at least as much about maneuver as it is about combat. Although it’s not likely to ever happen, you could win the game without ever fighting a battle. You will find yourself dedicating a lot more brain power to proper positioning of Political Control (PC) markers than you will to planning battles. This is a deliberate feature of the game and one that I like very much. Not that I’m against Blitzkrieg-y kind of games (I love them) but, in this game, a successful battle is really just physical confirmation that you’ve out-thought and out-maneuvered your opponent.
The American generals are much easier to set in motion and have special movement capabilities that can keep them just barely out of range of the British army, should they choose to be out of range. Greene, Arnold and, of course, Washington are quite capable battlefield commanders as well. The British generals, on the other hand, are generally more powerful than their American counterparts, but they’re ponderous; a bit harder to get moving. This is because most British generals require a 3 point Operations card to move them. None of the American generals are that expensive; they can all be moved with 1 or 2 point Operations cards (and, of course, 3 point Cards can move them as well, but none of them require a 3 point Card).
As you would expect, the British have a real gift for sailing and can transport troops quickly from port to port which can be a real shocker for the land-bound Americans. And George Washington and his troops have a real gift for hitting and running which frustrates the British. The Brits just know they can kick ass if those damn colonials would just… stay… still.
British reinforcements are on a fixed timetable, whereas the American player has more discretionary control over the timing and strength of his reinforcements. Of course, the same Operations Cards that he must expend to move his armies are the same Cards that control the flow of reinforcements. Each Ops Card can only do one or the other. There’s always a trade-off.
Finally, the American ace-in-the-hole is the elusive French naval and ground support. American success in battle is the key to winning French recognition and support and there is a special track that counts down to French intervention. French intervention provides the American player with some French ground combat units and an abstract naval capability that helps restrict British naval movement (somewhat).
Winning the Game
The victory conditions instruct you to either exterminate the enemy army (seriously) or control a certain number of colonies. The extermination option seems to be ridiculously hard to achieve, so you’ll focus on the colony control option. The Americans must control 7 or more colonies in order to win. The British must control 6 or more. Canada counts as a colony for victory purposes so there are a total of 14 colonies to be had. I like the fact that the burden of victory is on the Americans. Most revolutionary war games put the onus on the British. But in this game if neither player achieves their victory conditions or if both players achieve their victory conditions, the British win. Sorry America, but if you’re not first… you’re last (nod to the Ricky Bobby/Board Gaming Fan community).
It seems to be a pretty balanced game. I’ve been watching others play the game as well and I don’t yet see a pattern of one side winning consistently. Good news for the tournament-minded folks.
Overall, Washington’s War is a well designed, well tested and well received new game. I would not put it in my top ten, but I certainly wouldn’t turn down an offer to play. I’ll probably be playing this quite a bit over the next few months and will return to update this review if I think it necessary. A “living review”. Why not?