My last trip to the FLGS ended with an impulse purchase: I got myself a copy of Empires in America from Victory Point Games. What appealed to me was not only the theme – the French and Indian War – but also the fact that it was a solitaire game. Now gaming is a fundamental social activity for me. However, I thought that it would be nice to have something to play if my regular partners have no time and I fancy a game.
Empires in America comes in a box with a couple of counters, dice, cards and a board. The design is very nice, although I would have prefered the board to be mounted on cardboard. This is a strategy game where you take the role of the French defending their colony against British attacks. It is card-driven: so-called ‘historique cards’ are drawn at the beginning of each turn and determine events as well as possible actions. The British are controlled by the game’s mechanics and basically advance towards your capital, Montréal. In your turn, you can attack the British armies to throw them back, build fortifications and trading posts and take a couple of other actions from cards.
I lost my first game before the Seven Years War even broke out! There is a very clever timing mechanic built into the game, which escalates events after the Seven Years War cards is played. For the second game, I did better but still couldn’t hold out against the British – in the end, Murray’s army captured Montréal.
It seems that it was evident how much fun I had playing those games, as K. asked to join in for the next game. We both like cooperative games, so it was natural that we would try to play Empires in America in that way. And it worked a treat! We pondered and planned together but still lost the first game. The second, however, we managed to win! One decisive event was a Battle of Ticonderoga, pitting the army of Wolfe against Montcalme. Both sides had a lot of action cards in the battle so we rolled buckets of dice, making it feel like an epic struggle. We managed to throw Wolfe back and he never really recovered from that blow.
Empires in America works great as a cooperative game. As there are no separate roles, like in Pandemic, it probably won’t work with more than two (or at a stretch three) players, but for those it’s great fun.
I am very impressed by the game. The mechanics are very clever and the narrative is captivating. The short paragraphs with background information printed on the cards are a great idea, as they give a succinct historical context to the event or action happening.The game is difficult enough to require good planning and some hard decisions. It may be more difficult to win than Pandemic, but due to the event cards and the dice rolling there is also more luck involved. Still it always feels as if it’s your decision that matters – for example, I lost my second game due to neglecting Murray’s approach along the St. Lawrence and realising too late that he was at the gates of Montréal. Our victory felt like a real achievement and had some dramatic and memorable events.
Empires in America is a fantastic game and highly recommended if you fancy a solitaire or cooperative board strategy game.