This year, Academy Games added another fine game to their line up with 1812: The Invasion of Canada. Using simple rules, interesting combat mechanics and a card driven system, they have created an elegant and subtle strategy game that can be enjoyed by both Grognards and newcomers to our hobby. Many players, in their early experience with the game, quickly realize that it is extremely challenging to win as the American player. This is historically accurate as the American war effort was ill-conceived, ineptly led, and hastily organized. We will try here to give you some general American play and strategy tips to overcome the British advantages.
The mechanics and design give the British player several advantages. First and foremost, the British have three factions, while the Americans have only two. Since you’re able to move an Army as long as one unit of a faction is represented, the British player has tremendous flexibility and strategic mobility as the Brits are able to move three times per round compared with the Americans two. In fact, frequently the British will have consecutive moves allowing them to penetrate deeply into the hinterlands after their initial move breaks through the American frontline.
British Muster Areas are also geographically closer to the front line than the American Muster Areas. They are also more numerous (three printed on the map or four if you count the special Native American ability to recruit where they already have Native American unit present). This results in Fled British units returning to the fight more quickly than American units who must use precious movement cards to march to the front.
Even more importantly, the British Army is qualitatively better than the American. This superiority derives from two factors. The number of Hits, Command Decisions and Flee results on British dice compared to American dice and the fact that the British Army can roll a maximum of 8 dice in combat, (2 for British Regulars and 3 each for the Canadian Militia and Native Americans) compared to the Americans 5 dice, (2 for the American Regulars and 3 for the American Militia). In this game, when a player rolls combat dice his own units may Flee (and are removed from the board to return later in subsequent rounds). Since the Americans have more Flee results on their combat dice, they are more likely than the British player to harm themselves when rolling in combat. Therefore every time the American player rolls, on average, he will inflict 1.5 losses on the British and likely lose an equal amount of his own units to Flee results. On average the British will inflict three losses on the Americans with only one of their units Fleeing. This means, in a big battle, the American player can expect to remove four or five units from his army each battle turn. Needless to say, American armies melt away rather easily.
The British Native American allies are especially dangerous as they have the special ability to execute a Command Decision into unoccupied enemy Homeland Areas. Therefore, American units must occupy all Homeland victory point objectives lest the Indians start spreading through the interior like a virus.
Finally, although both sides must defend 7 land crossings, Albany, a critical American Muster Area and several others victory point objectives are vulnerable to a British Army descending down the Hudson River by play of a Warship card. Therefore, the Americans have to defend all the usual crossings, plus the Hudson River. The British have no corresponding geographical problem.
Successful American Play
A winning American strategy must overcome all these British advantages while magnifying the American advantages of superior movement and more powerful Special Cards. These suggestions, by necessity, cannot be very specific because of the variability of card play, turn sequence order and initial setup. We can only provide broad principles and leave the operational planning to you.
Let’s first look at the basic tenets that must guide American strategy.
Patience Is a Virtue
The American player should not feel compelled to immediately invade Canada. Your armies are at a qualitative disadvantage and the Homeland First Fire Rule can be devastating to occupying armies.
Instead, try to keep the victory point score close and prolong the game as long as possible. There is a subtle shift in advantage as the game progresses since the British player will be using up his movement cards thereby becoming progressively less mobile. Furthermore, a longer game gives the American player a chance to “perfect his hand” for the final push that should bring him victory (see below). Patience is a virtue when playing the American side.
Move Like A Butterfly, Sting Like A Bee
The American player should always try to avoid big battles early in the game, particularly when not in their own Homeland areas. Remember that the Americans are qualitatively disadvantaged compared to British armies that contain units from all three British factions.
Therefore, the American player best utilizes his forces by striking in small packets against weakly defended areas. He should not make any large invasion of Canada until near the end of the game. In the early turns, he should strike at isolated Canadian Victory Point objectives that are held by one or two Canadian units. This puts the Canadians on the defensive reacting to American moves. They will need to waste precious Army moves, of which they have fewer than the Americans, to regain lost Homeland Victory Point areas.
Prescott and Kingston are usually weakly defended by the Canadians early in the game and, if captured by the Americans, cuts off the flow of British regulars from Eastern Canada to Western Canada. Capturing these areas with a small force of two regulars and two and three militia will not allow you to hold for long, but will prompt a British response. The Fishing Boat cards are also particularly useful for raiding Canadian Victory Point objectives. These little incursions keep the British player off-balance and force him to utilize movement for the protection of Homeland areas rather than invading the United States.
Protect Your Muster Areas
Protection of your muster areas is extremely important as loss of one of these areas will result in reduced Enlistments and limited options for placement of returning Fled units. American combat dice result in more Flee results than the British; therefore you will have forces returning to your Muster Areas frequently. The loss of Pittsburgh or Albany causes these returning units to be placed in a muster area that is usually far from the theater where these units are needed.
Additionally, the Americans get more Enlistments than the British but this advantage is negated if your Muster areas have been captured. Therefore, when setting up the 12 optional units, fill in the holes along your border so that the British cannot penetrate to your Muster areas should they move three turns consecutively (a greater than 60% chance on the first turn alone). Therefore it is imperative to place a unit in the border space between Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg and possibly populate other areas leading to Albany that are not initially friendly occupied. Remember that the British can move a mixed faction Army along the Hudson River to the space just east of Albany. Should they move consecutively they can then attack Albany before the Americans can even react. Therefore, it is a good idea to leave a strong force in Albany.
Although Pittsburg is less vulnerable, the American player still has to be careful if the British make a water move to the space just west of Erie since they can then attack Pittsburgh with their next faction move. Loss of one of these critical reinforcement areas can allow British forces to go wild before friendly forces can be brought from the other theater.
Plan a Defense in Depth
The American player must be extremely sensitive to the ability of Native Americans to Command Decision into unoccupied enemy territory. This can be particularly galling when, during a battle, several British command decisions are rolled. The Native American can first move into the unoccupied enemy territory claiming control and be followed by other British factions that now execute their Command Decision into the newly claimed territory. In this way, a substantial British Army can be “retreated forward” deep into the American homeland. Moreover, the ability for the Native Americans to recruit another Native American unit in any area that they already occupy becomes particularly vexing as the Native Americans start to infest American Homeland territories like a virus. To guard against this, at least a militia unit should be left behind in any area you attack from and territories behind your front lines should likewise be occupied.
This is particularly important around Buffalo, Fort Niagara and out west in Detroit since there are several Victory Point objectives vulnerable to Indian Command Decisions. The easiest time to fill in these gaps is with your optional unit deployment on the initial setup.
Move Units Forward From Muster Areas in an Efficient and Coordinated Fashion
The American player should avoid the urge to move newly Enlisted and returned Fled units immediately forward from their Muster areas. It is best to allow large armies to accumulate so that the units can be moved forward efficiently with one Army movement. The objective is to have these forces move to a central location where subsequent moves can allow them to splinter in different directions to recapture or attack critical victory point areas. This is particularly crucial towards the end of the game when you are going to use your Special Cards to implement an overwhelming counterattack. It is necessary that this be set up correctly.
Optimize Card Play to Achieve the Perfect Endgame Hand
The Americans must optimize their use of their Special Cards since these tend to be more powerful than the British. There are three cards that can yield a game-winning combination if played together on the last turn of the game: the American War Hawks card, the William Harrison card and the Militia card, Kentucky Militia. Early on, if these cards are not yet in your hand, you should play as many cards as possible to drill through your deck until these particular cards appear. Then, judiciously move forward the larger armies accumulated at your Muster areas to central locations where they can attack multiple victory point objectives. The War Hawks card is extremely powerful as it allows you to move up to double the number of armies depicted on your movement card. If played with a movement card of four armies, it will allow you to move eight instead, potentially resulting in the capture of eight victory point spaces. This card can be devastating when your larger armies are properly positioned and it is played on the last move of the game.
The William Harrison card will allow one force that makes a successful attack to attack again into an adjacent area thus possibly gaining another victory point objective. The Kentucky militia card is best played when several decisive battles are about to be fought in the same turn since its effects apply to all battles in the turn.
The American player must resist the urge to use these cards early in the game. In general, the longer the game goes on the more the advantage shifts to the Americans since it he is more likely to collect these powerful cards. In fact one British strategy is to try to quickly burn through their decks in order to play all of their Truce cards and end the game before the American can obtain these powerful events.
Time the Play of Your Truce Cards to End the Game When it is Most to Your Advantage
The dénouement for all your careful play will come in the last turn of the game. Therefore, the American player must hope to end the game at a time of his own choosing. This is not always easy as the British can burn through their deck to get their Truce cards out early. This may prevent you from accumulating the perfect endgame hand and could preempt your last turn counterattack. However, the British must play three Truce cards while the American player can end the game with just two.
If possible, play both Truce cards when the turn order cube sequence favors your American Regular faction moving towards the end of the round. Unfortunately, you will have to have a little bit of luck and hope that the British cubes come up early in the round. If the last turn of the game is controlled by the British, you will be forced to make your counterattack early and as devastating as possible in an effort to accumulate more victory points than the subsequent British faction moves can retake.
The American Winning Strategy
A typical winning strategy for the American player in 1812: The Invasion of Canada should proceed as follows. On the initial setup, the American player should create a defense in depth by filling in important areas that initially contain no friendly units so as to block avenues of approach toward your Muster Areas. In placing these units, always remember that the British are likely to move at least two factions consecutively and, particularly on the first turn, three factions consecutively.
Once any gaps are filled, units should be placed to create mixed faction forces positioned to attack Canadian territory that is weakly held. Then move like a butterfly, sting like a bee and make little raids into Canada on weakly defended victory point objectives. The idea is to simply make the British expend movements to react without jeopardizing large American forces. Keeping the British off-balance hinders their ability to invade United States soil. The early game American objective is to keep the Victory Point score close and prolong the game until you obtain the Truce cards and the powerful Special Event cards in your hand.
As Fled units reappear and enlistments accrue, amass large armies in your Muster Areas keeping them centrally located so that they can move toward the front lines at critical moments. Then move units from the muster areas in an efficient and coordinated fashion so as to utilize the minimum number of Army moves so they are in striking distance of lost Homeland Victory Point objectives and/or weakly held Canadian ones in preparation for the big counterattack on the final turn of the game.
The American player should burn through his cards as fast as possible trying to preserve his high Army movement cards while immediately playing the less powerful Special Events. The objective is to optimize card play to achieve the perfect endgame hand that includes War Hawks, William Harrison and possibly Kentucky Militia. In the meantime, continue making little invasions of weakly held Canadian Victory Point territories in an effort to keep the British off-balance and reactive, forcing them to burn precious movement cards.
Once you have attained the perfect end game hand, use your Truce cards to end the game if the remaining turn order cubes favor your factions moving toward the end of the final game round. This gives the British player less chance to react to your final counterattack. Use War Hawks and Truce cards to recapture United States territory and/or invade weakly held Canadian victory point objectives always with an eye to the final Victory Point tally. The William Harrison card may allow one final additional attack to garner that crucial winning victory point.
Overcoming the British advantages in this game is not easy and requires patience, proper card management and some luck during the turn order sequence. Nevertheless, as our experience has grown with the game, the Americans can indeed win! In point of fact, we were so confident that the British advantages were overwhelming, that the guys at TheBoardGamingLife challenged the Academy Games crew, Uwe Eickert and his son Gunter, to win a game playing the Americans at the World Board Gaming Championships in Lancaster Pennsylvania.
A very tense and prolonged game ensued that was back and forth right up to the bitter end. Nevertheless, the Academy Games team triumphed utilizing some of the strategies in this article. We were duly humbled. However, we had so much fun, we decided to make this an annual challenge at WBC.
1812: The Invasion of Canada is an extremely tense, subtly deep, and elegantly designed game. One of the qualities of an excellent game is that, after just having played, you immediately start thinking of a different strategy that would allow you to do better the next time. This is exactly what happens each time we play. We anxiously await the next game in the series on the American Revolution: 1775 Rebellion.