Amateurs to Arms!: Board Game Review


A Decidedly Professional and Excellent Design

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Overview

It is currently the bicentennial of the war of 1812, a conflict that is often neglected and misunderstood by the participants. As Americans, we learn little about this conflict except for myths and folklore regarding the burning of Washington, the writing of our national anthem and Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans. Perhaps, because the war ended indecisively, it has languished in the minds of Americans as to its true historical relevance. Ironically, most Americans feel that the United States was born to full maturity with the end of the American Revolution and the adoption of our Constitution. However, the War of 1812 was really a “second war for independence” which finally and forever established what New York journalist, Benson Lossing called, “the positive and permanent independence of the United States.”

It is therefore appropriate that there is renewed interest in the war gaming community regarding this conflict. Three games will have been published before year’s end on this topic. Few have dealt with the war in its entirety. Instead most choose to focus on the Canadian border where many of the important naval actions and campaigns occurred. Amateurs to Arms, a two player, card driven, strategic board game of the war of 1812 from Clash Of Arms, differs in this respect as it covers all the theaters in the continental United States and Canada.

Game Components

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The components are simply a beauty to behold. Clash of Arms is known for their beautiful graphics and Amateurs to Arms is no exception. The game map is based on a historical map of the United States published in 1812. It is a stunning work of art. Some may quibble that the historical detail is more aesthetic than functional as a number of the territories are rather small and the depicted country towns and frontier settlements may get lost in the background artwork. This is a very minor hindrance when actually playing the game. The map covers the eastern seaboard out to the Northwest Territories, and Upper and Lower Canada down to Florida and the Gulf Coast. In the Southwest, there is an area inhabited by the civilized Indian tribes. Unfortunately for the United States, these tribes can become belligerent during the course of the war and will often require protracted campaigns to pacify. Likewise the Northwest is an area of vast wilderness that can only be traversed by Rangers, Voyageurs and Indians (these units have circular counters rather than square counters for easy recognition). Settlements are classified as Major Cities, Minor Cities, Country Towns or Frontier Towns and restrict the type and amount of units that can be recruited. Some cities have Objective Stars that result in moves on your Peace Track if captured by the enemy (more on this later). Lake Erie, Ontario and Champlain are dotted with harbors and ports that are extremely important when fighting for control of these Great Lakes. The Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are divided into sea zones which the British can blockade to lessen the American will to fight.

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The map also contains several necessary tracks including the Peace Track, Turn Record Chart and the status of Napoleon’s European wars. They are all quite colorful and very well-designed. All in all, the board is a wonderful combination of artwork and functionality.

The rules are printed on glossy magazine quality paper and have 13 pages of instructions with a two-page text and graphic example of play. The last page is a scan of the counter manifest which is helpful should a counter go missing. The writing style is almost conversational yet concise with few ambiguities. Every card driven game will have its quota of rules questions because of the complex interaction between card and rulebook text. Nevertheless, these rules have few ambiguities and can be easily digested in less than 30 minutes. None of the game mechanics are particularly complicated.

The unit counters represent historical leaders and strength points of Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Rangers, Voyageurs, Fencibles and Indians. There are also counters for various types of ships including Gunboats, Schooners, Brigs, Frigates, and Ships of the Line.

Although individual strength points can be placed on the map, most of the time units will be part of an Expedition that remains hidden from your opponent. These are represented on the map by round wooden pieces with lettered labels (yes you must apply the labels yourself) corresponding to separate unit holding boxes on your force display. Leaders and units in Land expeditions are kept secret from your opponent; however Lake Expeditions and ships in port or under construction are always known to your enemy.

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There is a great deal of unit differentiation in the game. Square counters represent Regulars, Volunteer Militia, Local Militia, Fencibles, Artillery and Cavalry. Artillery and Cavalry cannot be recruited like other units using operation points; rather, they enter the game by play of an event. Voluntary Militia are raised by the expenditure of operation points but must check for Dispersion (their reluctance to fight in enemy territory) if they try to move across national boundaries. Half of the militia is removed each winter turn and forces made up of more than half Militia suffer a negative combat modifier in combat. Since there never seems to be enough Regular units to go around (particularly for the British), Volunteer Militia will play a significant role in your army. However, they must be used judiciously. Light units include Rangers, Voyageurs and Indians. These are represented by round counters and are the only units that can enter the wilderness areas in the Northwest. Only the British can recruit Indians and only after they capture Fort Mackinac.

Ships come in several flavors including Gunboats, Brigs, Schooners, Frigates and Ships of the Line. Each type takes a variable amount of time to build with the larger ships taking longer but having more powerful combat strengths.

Historical leaders are represented by counters depicting portraits, rank and ratings for their Initiative and Tactical ability. Initiative represents the ease of movement and, for the United States player, how easy it is for them to track down belligerent Indian tribes. The Tactical rating is used to determine which column to use on the Combat Results Table. There are naval leaders, optional leaders, replacement leaders and leaders that enter play due to specific card events. Generally leaders are placed in a pool for random selection by the expenditure of operation points. Leaders can also be promoted from lowly one star leaders to three star leaders. Promotion allows them to move and command larger number of troops.

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Forts, represented by markers, are extremely important and can be built in levels from 1 to 4. Fortifications reduce combat losses and can be instrumental in determining who wins battles (see below). The fortification level can be reduced by combat. Woe to either side that neglects to build up their fortifications along the Great Lakes as loss of your shipbuilding ports will guarantee the enemy takes control of these vital waterways.

Stage roads can be built, again with the expenditure of operation points, to lower the movement point cost to enter other settled areas from 2 MPs to 1 MP. Sackett’s Harbor needs a road built to connect it with Fort Oswego to avoid higher costs and limitations in shipbuilding there. This represents the historical logistical limitations of transporting needed materials to this area.

Game set up is quick and straightforward. Each player has a Player Aid chart that also serves as a screen for his force display charts. This card depicts the initial unit placement graphically, which makes set up a snap. The player aid chart also has handy information regarding operation point costs, terrain effects, etc.

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The Turn Sequence

The turn sequence is as follows: first Troop Raised Markers that have been placed on country and frontier towns during the previous turn are removed. These markers are placed when units are recruited in these locales and limit any further enlistment during the current game turn.

Next, if this is a winter turn, several tasks are completed. The British must remove all Indians. Then players remove half of all their Voluntary Militia rounded down. Then supply is checked for all units resulting in the elimination for any units unable to trace. Finally all Lake Expeditions presently on the Great Lakes return to a friendly port or harbor. Starting in 1813, this will trigger Peace Track moves and is an important way of reducing your opponent’s will to fight.

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On the March-April turn, the Year marker is moved forward and the British player gets to place 2 Indian units with each of his Indian leaders in play. Once these turn specific upkeep tasks are completed, players are dealt a number of action cards according to the Turn Chart. Typically, the Americans will have more cards than the British player. The number of American cards can also be modified by the tactical rating of the current Secretary of War, the David Parrish card and by adverse modifiers on his Peace Track. If the players have saved cards from the previous turn they now add them to their hand.

Card Play

Play then proceeds in a series of rounds. In each round, players have three options. They can play a card for its Event or for its Operation Points (OPS). (Players can opt to Pass if their opponent has more cards.) It then becomes your opponent’s turn to play. Finally, you can Save a card by placing it face down on the table. If the card is a Reaction Card, it can still be played in the turn if the proper opportunity presents. Otherwise, saved cards will be available for your next turn but not the current one. This is an extremely interesting mechanic. How often in other card driven games do you get a card that is not immediately useful yet may be powerful in the future, given the right situation? The saved card option gives you a chance to hold these cards for later turns when they may better affect on-board circumstances. However, this option is a double-edged sword as saving the card means you are not doing anything else on your card play. If a player attempts to build a perfect hand by saving too many cards, he will find himself severely pressed by an opponent who is active with operation point expenditures and events. This simple but subtle mechanism adds wonderful tension to a game already filled with challenging decisions.

As is typical in most card driven games, the cards can be played for either the events or the operation points. I have found, that in order to design an exciting card driven game, the events must be powerful and effective to provide extreme tension in deciding how best to utilize your hand. This is where Amateurs to Arms truly shines. The historical events are interesting and powerful, constantly enticing you from the necessity of performing Ops. This game focuses on making correct decisions and setting priorities. You will be distracted to no end trying to decide whether event plays or operations are most critical. This is one of the most stimulating and enjoyable aspects of the game.

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Some cards are Reaction Cards, which can be played during your opponents move as a response to his actions. Other cards, such as the Napoleon cards, must be played in the current turn and can never be saved. Still other cards must be removed from the deck after their event is played.

Napoleon cards represent the rise and ebb of Napoleon’s career. When Napoleon Suffers a Setback is played, a marker is moved down the Napoleon status track. The location of this marker affects various other events in the game including British commitment to the war and the flow of British Army Regulars to the North American continent. It also can cause Peace Track movement for the British player. In one simple mechanic, the designers have admirably portrayed the effects of the European war on the British and American conflict.
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Cards may also be played for their Operation Points (Ops) which can be expended in many ways. How you apportion your operations will largely determine whether your war effort will be successful. There are so many things you need to do and you simply don’t ever have enough Ops to do them all. This is where players must set their priorities and stay focused on achieving specific goals lest they get distracted by enemy actions and events. Small mistakes at this point can lead to disastrous consequences. For example, if you are trying to keep pace with enemy ship building on one of the Great Lakes and then get sidetracked by playing an event, you will later realize this seemingly innocuous distraction has cost you control of the lake. Consequently you now have limited ability to successfully utilize your land forces along these critical waterways. Suddenly a planned land campaign becomes infeasible which relieves pressure on your enemy thereby allowing him to divert resources to another area. All of this because of one little distraction! So, a word to the wise….don’t lose focus. You will quickly realize that one small mistake can have ramifications that snowball later in the war. This is just another aspect that makes Amateurs to Arms so challenging.

Activating an expedition for movement or combat and the building or upgrading of forts requires the expenditure of all the operation points on the card. Additionally, when activating an expedition, enough operation points must be expended to equal or exceed the leader’s Initiative value. Forts are upgraded by expending enough operation points to equal the new level of fortification. They can only be upgraded one step at a time. Forts can be built in any Controlled area or Wilderness location or anyplace containing a friendly unit. They can even be built in an area where there is an enemy fort.

If you are not activating expeditions or fortifying, you can split operation points in nearly any manner desired. You can Raise TroopsDraw Leaders from your leadership pool, Build Ships, Build Roads, Place Blockades, etc. with the same card. Military Blockades cost three operation points and are limited to the British player beginning in 1813. They are required to start utilizing Sea Movement into US controlled areas and in 1814 they can be increased to Full Blockades for additional three operations points. Each Full Blockade placed moves the American Peace Track marker forward one space.

As stated above, Stage Roads can be built between two areas a player controls at a cost of two operations points. Their effect is to reduce movement point cost between the two areas and reduce shipbuilding costs for certain ports.

Troops can be Raised in non-enemy occupied, friendly home controlled areas, that contain a Major city, Minor city, Country town or Frontier town. You can raise different types of troops in the same city but there is a limit to the number of operations points that can be spent in one location. If you raise units in a Country town or Frontier town, a Troops Raised Marker is placed which prevents further recruiting in that area until the next turn. Certain specialty troops such as Rangers and Voltigeurs can only be raised in frontier towns.

OPS can also be used to build ships in ports that have been previously activated. Activation of a port costs OPS as indicated on the Port chart. You build the ship by expending Ops equal to the cost depicted on the first box on the Port chart. The ships are placed face down on the Port track so as to hide their type from your opponent and subsequent expenditures of operations points moves them further along by one box per action card played. Larger ships obviously cost more OPS to move along and take longer to produce. Once the ship reaches the box indicating completed construction, it is flipped face-up and revealed to your opponent. Should your expedition currently be on the lake (as opposed to being in Port), the ship will immediately join the expedition. It is more difficult to build in Sackett’s Harbor until the American player builds a Stage Road between Sackett’s Harbor and Fort Oswego. For the British, Amherstburg costs more to build ships if the American player controls Lake Erie. No ships may be built there if the Americans control Lake Ontario. The limitations on Sackett’s Harbor and Amherstburg represent the difficult logistics of the time.

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If an enemy land expedition takes control of one of your ports, incomplete ships are destroyed and completed ships in Port must move out on the lake, possibly into the hands of a waiting enemy Lake expedition. If you do not win the resulting naval combat, all of your ships are sunk. Therefore, players must be extremely prickly about protecting their ports. Adequate land forces and substantial fortifications are necessary to prevent the very demoralizing experience of losing an expensive fleet to an enemy land expedition.

It cost one operations point to draw new leaders from your leader pool. However, they must be pre-designated as to where they will be placed though their identities remain secret. Leader ranks include 1, 2 and 3 star generals that may command and move 5, 10, 20 land strength points respectively.

Movement

Movement is performed with the expenditure of operations points. For the cost of 1 OPS, a single strength point can be moved on the map individually but is restricted to friendly controlled, non-wilderness, non-enemy occupied areas. Expeditions cost all of the OPS on the action card. Additionally, the card must have OPS equal to or greater than the initiative rating of the commanding leader. As above, the rank of the commanding leader determines how many strength points may be moved. Each expedition moves 4 movement points. Most areas can be entered for two movement points unless traveling along a Stage Road or along a river. Lake movement transits units between coastal areas of the Great Lakes as long as lake is not enemy controlled.

Civilized Indian tribe areas cost all 4 movement points to enter unless moving along a Frontier road or a River. Movement along a Wilderness Trail requires a die roll to succeed and only light units (i.e. circular counters) can attempt this. Every time a player moves an expedition containing Voluntary Militia or Fencibles across a national boundary these units must roll for dispersion. On a roll of zero, none will cross but other units of the expedition must complete their move. On a roll of 1, 2 or 3, half of the units refuse to go across. This represents the hesitancy of the militia to fight in areas outside their home territory and makes it challenging to invade enemy territory with substantial forces.

Sea movement may be utilized by the British player between ports or to any “at sea” box of another sea zone. The British player must have the sea zone under military blockade or full blockade and the sea movement stops when an enemy controlled area is entered.

The British have two special units that can become quite a problem for the American player. The Coastal Raid expedition is led by Admiral Cockburn and is activated by the play of an event card. This force is used to raid American coastal cities. Its net effect is to draw militia from other areas to the coast to defend against the raid. Successful raids can lead to American Peace Track moves. Additionally the British have the Invasion Fleet. This arrives once Napoleon is defeated. Admiral Cochrane can use this special expedition to invade American territories along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It requires a land leader to command any land forces brought by the Invasion Fleet. In the early part of the war, when the British must by necessity remain on the defensive until adequate reinforcements arrive from England, these special units are best used to distract the American player from invading Canada. Later, the Invasion Fleet can be used to land substantial forces along the Atlantic seaboard in the hopes of stretching the American defenses to the breaking point.

Supply

Supply is checked when forces are involved in combat and in the winter turns. Essentially, the British supply source is the Sea and the American supply source is any American major city. To be in full supply, the path must follow all water routes along rivers or the Great Lakes. For partial supply, any path will do except Wilderness trails. If units are completely cut off and unable to trace a supply path, they are considered unsupplied. Supply limits the number of strength points that can take part in combat. A Full Supply expedition can utilize up to 20 strength points, Partial Supply reduces this to 10 strength points and unsupplied limits this to 5 strength points. Cleverly, these limitations are indicated on the combat results table. Winter is the only time units that are unsupplied will be eliminated. This is done after the mandatory removal of Indians and Voluntary Militia.

Land Combat

Combat occurs when an enemy expedition enters a friendly area or when an expedition already in an area is activated for combat. If the enemy enters a friendly area containing a Major, Minor city or Country town, you’re able to roll one 10 sided die to raise local militia. A roll of zero means no local militia comes to your aid. Otherwise 1-9 strength points join the fray (if the battle takes place in a Country town this number is half). These forces are temporarily added to your defense and can take losses but will disappear immediately after combat.

Combat between land expeditions can be quite a surprise since these units are kept secret behind the player screens on their expedition charts. Players simply state the size of the force that will be utilized (taking into account the limitations of supply) and the tactical rating of one of their leaders in the expedition. Appropriate modifiers are applied and die rolls are made by each player using the tactical ratings column of the commanding leader in their expedition. You get a -1 to the die roll if more than half your force consists of local and/or volunteer militia. If a force solely of Indians is attacking a Fort you receive a -2 modifier. However, if the battle occurs adjacent to a Great Lake that you control, you get a +2 modifier.

A numeric result on the combat results table inflicts that many losses on the enemy. However this number is reduced by one per level of friendly fortification in the area. Asterisks on the table indicate the success of your maneuver against the enemy. For each asterisk you roll, your opponent must remove one non-militia unit for one of his losses. He must also reduce any forts that he has in the area by one level per asterisk. If you inflicted more asterisk results than your opponent, he must retreat. However, forts will “absorb” one asterisk per Fort level (before they are reduced by enemy inflicted asterisks). If both sides have equal number of asterisks then no one retreats. The side inflicting the most casualties, however, is considered the winner of the battle. A land combat is considered a Devastating Loss when you have won the combat and the enemy has lost five or more strength points regardless of your own losses. This will result in a move of your opponent’s Peace Track. A land combat is considered a Major Victory when you win the combat and obtain two more asterisks then your opponent (not counting any absorbed by fortifications). This also moves your opponent’s Peace Track marker forward. If all of the units in an expedition are lost in combat, your opponent’s Peace Track marker moves forward yet again. All of these events can occur in one combat!

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Civilized Indian combat is triggered when an American player moves an expedition into the Belligerent Tribes Area or activates an expedition that is already in the area. The American player immediately makes a die roll adding the Initiative rating of the expedition leader. If the modified die roll is 7 or less the expedition has located an Indian force. The British player then rolls one 10 sided die to determine the size of the force. A normal land combat then ensues. If the American player wins the combat he rolls one die to determine if the loss has broken the morale of the tribe causing them to sue for peace. The die roll must be equal to or less than the size of the Indian force defeated. If this occurs, the Belligerent Tribe Marker is flipped to the Defeated side and the British Peace Track marker is moved forward one space. If the American wins the combat but does not defeat the tribe, he will get a -1 modifier on his next die roll when trying to locate that particular tribe again. This is a very clever mechanic. Once the American player finds a belligerent Indian tribe he has to hope that it is large enough so that any victory will defeat the whole tribe. However, the bigger the force he finds the more likely he will lose the ensuing combat or take significant losses. It is an interesting and often frightening conundrum.

Naval Combat

When 2 naval expeditions try to occupy the same Great Lake, naval combat occurs. Essentially, each player lines his fleet up in descending order of combat strength and pairs of opposing ships fight. If one side has excess ships he may double up on one or more of his opponent’s ships. However no enemy ship may ever be assigned to fight more than two friendly ships. Your naval leader is placed with the first ship on your line (essentially your flagship for the battle). His Tactical rating modifies every subsequent naval combat die roll as you go down the line with each pairing of ships rolling against the other. Your ship’s combat strength and leader’s tactical rating is added to a 10 sided die roll. The lower total will suffer an adverse combat effect. If the difference is 1 or 2, the loser simply withdraws from combat. A difference of 3 sinks the loser’s ship. A deficit of 4 or more and the losing ship is captured by the enemy to be later replaced with a ship unit of his own color. A tie results in the pair of ships continuing to the next round of combat. Once all the ships in the battle line fire a new round is begun and the defender must decide whether he is going to retreat back into port. If he stays the attacker now has the option to withdraw. If both fleets remain on the lake another round of combat will ensue realigning the ships as before. Combat ends when one fleet solely occupies the Lake.

Naval leaders are extremely important since their tactical rating positively modifies all your ships’ die rolls down the line. Therefore, it is best to have at least one ship with a high combat rating to serve as your leader’s flagship since this ship will make the first naval combat die roll of the battle. Should the flagship be withdrawn, sunk or captured, you will lose the benefit of your leader’s tactical rating for the rest of the engagement. This can be devastating and quite elegantly represents the importance of naval leadership on the Great Lakes. Therefore, I strongly recommend building at least one high combat value ship on each lake before entering naval combat.

Example of Naval Combat

The British have their Lake Erie naval expedition (ER) on the lake thereby controlling it. This expedition is led by Admiral Barclay who has a tactical rating of 1. He has 2 Brigs, 2 sloops and 1 gunboat. Though outnumbered, American Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry decides to leave port and enter Lake Erie with the American naval expedition consisting of 1 Brig 1 Sloop and 2 gunboats. Indeed he is a brave and daring man who is confident in his tactical ability (his rating is 3)! Each side forms up their line (see below) with the Brigs serving as each admiral’s flagship and the British extra gunboat assigned to help the British flagship.
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These exchange the first broadsides. Barclay’s flagship rolls a 2 which is added to the strength of his Brig (5) and Gunboat (1) as well as his tactical rating of 1 yielding a total of 9. Perry rolls a 2 adding 5 for the combat strength of his Brig and 3 for his own tactical rating achieving a sum of 10. Barclay must withdraw, consequently depriving the rest of his battle line his tactical leader bonus.

The next exchange of fire is between the British brig and the American sloop. Die rolls are 2 and 6 respectively yielding totals of 7 for the British (5 combat strength + 2 die roll) and 11 for the Americans (2 Combat Strength + 6 die roll + 3 Perry’s tactical ratings).The difference is 4, which results in the British brig being captured by the Americans. When this naval combat has concluded the Americans will replace this brig with a brig of their own color and make it part of their Erie Lake expedition. Obtaining ships through capture is certainly less costly than building them.

Next in line is the British sloop against an American gunboat. Die rolls are 6 and 4 respectively resulting a tie with both gaining results of 8. This broadside fire was inconclusive and the ships have the option to stay for the next round of combat.

Finally we have British sloop versus the American gunboat with die rolls of 7 and 2 yielding tallies of 9 for the British and 6 for the American. Since the British win by 3, the American gunboat is sunk.
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Both sides have ships remaining on the lake in their expeditions. Since the British are the defenders they first decide whether they will remain on the lake to continue combat or withdraw to a port. They correctly decide to withdraw since they are outnumbered and the American player has some higher-rated ships with a tremendous advantage in tactical leadership now that Barclay has withdrawn. The combat ends with the American ER expedition in control of the lake. Oliver Hazard Perry’s sends his famous message to Congress, “We have met the enemy and they are ours!”

The Secretary of War

The American player begins the game with the portrait of William Eustis indicated on the Secretary of War box. He can be replaced by any American 2 star or 3 star leader simply by paying operation points equal to or greater than the leader’s initiative. Each turn, the American player will receive one additional card per point of the new Secretary of War’s Tactical rating. James Munro can become Secretary of War by the play of an event card.

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A competent (i.e. leader with a high tactical rating) Secretary of War should be considered an immediate American war aim. The extra cards delivered by the Secretary of War’s tactical rating will, on average, yield three additional operation points each turn. It may also provide that one crucial needed event earlier in the game. As there is so much to do and never enough Ops, this added bonanza can be crucial to the successful administration of the United States war effort. Replace Eustis as early as feasible in the game in order to get the most advantage of extra cards over the long haul.

The Peace Track

Ultimately, you are fighting to break the will of your enemy to continue the war and bring him to the negotiating table. This is admirably represented by the Peace Track. Each player has a marker that starts at opposite ends of the Peace Track. Certain game events, such as Devastating Losses, Major Victories, implementation of a Full Blockade by the British, defeat of a Belligerent Indian tribe, etc. will move a player’s Peace Track marker forward along its track. Event cards can also affect the Peace Track markers. When both the American and British Peace Track markers end in the same space, Peace is declared and the Treaty of Ghent negotiations begin.

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Each player now determines his Ghent number by adding up points for control of Wilderness locations, Frontier or Country towns, Minor and Major cities, etc. The American player also gets points for defeating Belligerent Tribes and the British player gets points for tribes that remain Belligerent. If the Indian Nation card is in play, 8 Ghent points may be accrued by the player controlling certain Wilderness areas. The sum of all these items results in the player’s Ghent number. The player with the higher total subtracts the other player’s number and divides the result by 4 rounding fractions up. This is the Final Ghent number that moves the pair of Peace Track markers that many spaces backwards towards a higher level of victory. Each player then can play one more action card while news of the Peace treaty travels across the Atlantic. Card events that will move the Peace track marker are ignored since it is too late for these to affect the peace. However, Devastating Losses, eliminating enemy expeditions, capture of Major cities or defeat of Belligerent tribes still can affect the Peace track. The final location of the pair of Peace Track markers indicates the final victory result.

General Player Strategies

This game is all about setting priorities and executing proper decisions. And boy oh boy, are you faced with innumerable decisions. In fact, with all the options between card events and operation point expenditures, it is extremely easy to get distracted from your objectives and lose the game. First and foremost, the players must realize that Peace Track moves win the war. Therefore, all efforts should be made to keep your opponent’s Peace Track moving forward. Your own strategy should obviously be to minimize your Peace Track moves. Therefore, try not to fight battles that may result in enemy Major Battle Victories, Devastating Losses or elimination of your expeditions. Major city capture, defeating Belligerent tribes, card events, and control of the Great Lakes also move the Peace Track marker so your strategic planning should be aimed at achieving these events.

In the beginning of the game, the British player will be faced with a daunting problem. He has too few Regulars and a hand size deficit compared to the American player. Therefore, he will have fewer operation points forcing him to be defensive early on. Right out-of-the-box he should take Fort Mackinac whose control is required for British recruitment of Indians and is necessary to fulfill the Indian Nation card event. This card is worth 8 Ghent points once the peace treaty is signed. It also opens up another theater of operations that the American player must consider. Therefore it is highly valuable. Second, he must start to activate ports on the Great Lakes and initiate an aggressive shipbuilding program. Control of the Great Lakes is imperative as British full supply status depends on an unfettered naval route to the sea. Particularly vulnerable is control of Lake Erie since the Americans have a very capable naval leader in the guise of Oliver Hazard Perry. Therefore, a strong fleet will be needed to contest this important lake.
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When the Coastal Raiding expedition enters play, it should be used aggressively. This is a wonderful chance to cause American Peace Track moves and divert American militia from defending other important areas around the United States. Likewise, once Napoleon is defeated, the British Invasion Fleet should be used to capture Major and Minor cities along the vulnerable Atlantic and Gulf coasts and open up a new front for the United States player to concern himself.

In 1813, the British player should start to invoke Military Blockades in all of the American sea zones. This will allow Full Blockades to be implemented in 1814. Remember, each Full Blockade moves the American Peace Track marker thereby furthering your strategic objective.

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When Napoleon is defeated, the British gets an influx of excellent British regulars. It is at this point that the British should institute a full-court press of the Americans in every theater of war. The Coastal Raiding expedition and Invasion Fleet ought to be used to maximum effect. Strong land expeditions must start capturing American ports on the Great Lakes to secure your line of supply. Other expeditions should be sent deep into the American interior to try to take as many victory points areas as possible. All of this activity ought to generate a significant number of Peace Track moves for the American player as well as providing a substantial number of Ghent points.

The American player strategy can be even more bewildering. He has a large northern frontier to defend, a long and exposed coastline and the potential for civilized Indian tribes to become Belligerent in his rear areas. Moreover, the British can open up another theater in the Northwest Territories by play of the Indian Nation card. Additionally, his Great Lakes ports are poorly fortified, some Major cities are vulnerable to attack and he has few Regular units to oppose the well-trained British Army. And if that is not enough, he must prosecute the war with truly inept leaders!

Initially, his focus should be on fortification of his ports on the Great Lakes, activating ports, building the road to Sackett’s Harbor and doggedly building ships. Loss of control of even one of the Great Lakes can be devastating to the British player so a shipbuilding program on the Great Lakes will often force the British to react in-kind. As the American ports are vulnerable to capture, British focus on shipbuilding may postpone an early invasion to capture one of your ports.
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The American player must use his card hand advantage to build fortifications and recruit troops to defend the important ports. It can be devastating to lose an entire fleet to a British land expedition! Don’t let this happen! Build up your forts and recruit at least a few regulars to defend them.

Due diligence regarding Belligerent tribes is also important. They require a concerted effort to defeat and it is likely that more tribes will become belligerent over time. If Spain enters the war, the Indians get particularly restless adding 6 points to their combat strength. This can be devastating. Defeating Belligerent tribes keeps focus on your objectives as it moves the British Peace marker forward. Often you will need to recruit a general with a lower initiative to prosecute this campaign. This makes it easier to locate Belligerent tribes so that you may defeat them. However, make sure you place adequate strength points in the expedition against the Indians. It is possible that you will come up against a particularly large force and, with bad die rolls, lose your entire expedition causing your Peace Track to move forward.

If you have any operations points to spare, it is always a good idea to get a leader with a decent tactical rating as Secretary of War. Gaining extra cards each turn means more operation points which are sorely needed. This is particularly important if you are getting negative hand size modifiers from your Peace Track.

In general, the players must set their priorities and always keep in mind their objectives. It is very easy in this game to be seduced to play an Event when you really need to play Ops to further important endeavors like shipbuilding. Getting behind in the naval race on the Great Lakes can be fatal. Therefore, players should only play the card event if it unambiguously works toward achieving your objectives. Otherwise, the operation points are usually needed.

One caveat to this is cards that move your opponent’s Peace Track marker. These almost always should be played for the Event. After all, the further your opponent’s Peace Track is moved by the time the Treaty of Ghent is signed, the less impact the final Ghent number will have on your level of victory. The Americans have poorly led troops making it often difficult to achieve Major Victories or Devastating Losses to move the British peace marker. Therefore, particularly for the United States, card events that do it for you are priorities.

Summary

I am a longtime war gamer and this is the only game that comes to mind that covers the entire war of 1812. It is an amazingly clean and subtle design that effortlessly reflects the military, diplomatic and political themes of this often neglected conflict. It is appropriate that such a fine game be published on the topic during the war’s Bicentennial. The game is graphically beautiful with rules clearly presented and easily digested in less than 30 minutes. The depth of play and required decision-making is extraordinary and the designers have achieved almost a perfect tension between uses of card events vis a vis operation point expenditures. On each turn players are faced with a staggering number of dilemmas with too few operation points to respond to them all. Agonizing decisions require that players prioritize or else they will foolishly misdirect precious resources from their true objectives. Every action by your opponent is a potential threat which triggers a necessary reaction even though it may be unaffordable in operation point expenditures. Crucial assessments as to where to apply your operation points, when to play events or whether to save cards provide compelling challenges and the historical card event narratives propel players forward each turn while they watch the Peace Track markers move inexorably toward their final rendezvous.

Some may not enjoy this game because there are few sweeping movements or large, bold campaigns. This game is not for Panzer pushers who expect blitzkrieg campaigns and bold strokes. It plays more like a fencing match as you try to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses, parry his thrusts and deliver a series of decisive blows that eventually breaks his will. This game is more cerebral than dashing. Nevertheless it still has its share of climactic naval battles on the Great Lakes and dramatic land engagements. The American player will truly feel the frustration of President Madison who tried to execute a war with an amateur army, incompetent leadership and a paucity of resources. Likewise, the British will be challenged by the lack of homeland commitment while Britain is engaged with Napoleon and the vast expanse of United States territory they must conquer to be successful. This is one of the best representations of the historical experience that was the war of 1812.The designers and Clash of Arms have created a masterpiece of the card driven genre that finally does justice to what some call “America’s Second Revolution.”