Review: Empires in America

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.

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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.

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My first game in progress.

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.

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Montréal is lost to the British.

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.

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Victory!

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.

Nobody in Mexico – A Fistful of Lead AAR

We’ve finally managed to unpack most of the boxes from our house move. I’ve settled into a new painting workspace and a nice one it is. It’s a semi-temporary setup: Not a permanent working station, but at least a separate table so I don’t have to pack everything away each time we have dinner. The table will also double as our main gaming table. As we had our nephew over, we decided to break it in with a game of A Fistful of Lead Reloaded.

K. and the kid played the Mexican Revolutionaries. They were supported by Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, controlled by the kid. I had the Federales, supported by the German military advisor Otto Strunz von Blunzenstumpf and an American Mercenary know as Sentenza. The Revolutionaries were intent on liberating the village, which was occupied by the Federales. I set up my figures in the middle of the board, situating one on the church roof to act as a sniper – something that would annoy the attackers quite a bit.

Here are some impressions from the game:

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My rooftop sniper really annoyed the attackers.
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Otto and Nobody duel – Nobody won!
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Ferocious fighting in the village.
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My Jeffe in a tight spot.
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Sentenza duelling.

Sentenza turned out to be my meanest guy. In the end, he had two wounds but, despite being armed only with a pistol, he sold his life dearly. Alas, to no avail! The Revolutionaries won and the kid was very happy with a well deserved victory.

A Fistful of Lead is a nice set of rules with a clever activation mechanics. However, despite what’s advertised, it’s not the quickest of games to play, especially with more than two persons. With three persons and a total of 20 figures, it took us five hours to play the game to a conclusion. The lack of proper morale mechanics and the possibility to heal wounds made characters come back even when they were already crippled. I have to admit the game felt a bit drawn out towards the end and had me wishing it would end already – not something that happens too often. However, the kid had a blast and that’s the important thing.

Project Showcase: Naval Landing Party

Last time, I looked at the composition of the Naval Landing Party for Sharp Practice. Today, I want to show you what it looks like on my gaming table.

As always, I used 15mm figures. There are some dedicated American Civil War Marines available in 15mm, but they wear dress uniform with shako which was never worn in battle. For my three groups of Marines, I made do with Peter Pig infantry figures. I especially like the reloading poses, as they show how much time and effort it took to load a musket.

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The drummer, the NCO and the officer are from QRF/Freikorp15. I painted the officer in the white summer dress to add some variety.

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For the three groups of sailors, I used figures by QRF and Minifigs. I like the Minifigs miniatures a bit better as they are nicer sculpts and have a variety of poses. I painted some of them in a darker skin colour, as up to one fifth of US seamen were African-Americans. The leader figures with the whistles are from QRF, while the guy with the cutlass is a converted Peter Pig naval artilleryman.

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I built the Dahlgren boat howitzer completely from scratch, as there is no model available. The gun crew is from Peter Pig. Those are very nice and versatile figures which can easily be converted.

I’ve also used them for a crew of my 90-day-gunboat which will provide the heavy support for the landing party. The officers are from Peter Pig’s naval ship crew, to be found in their Colonial range. Their uniforms are not a perfect match, but they are close enough.

Finally I made two vignettes for deployment points. The main deployment point was inspired by a period photograph and represents a signalling party. The sailors are again from the Peter Pig naval artillery crew with flags added, while the NCO with the field glasses is from the Union gun crew pack.

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The secondary deployment point shows two sailors foraging. Again Peter Pig naval artillerymen were used, one of which got a chicken from Museum Miniatures (I think).

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I had a lot of fun modelling the Naval Landing Party, as it provided a bit of diversion from the usual ACW painting. We’ve already used them in two games (see here and here for AARs) and they worked quite well. However, my main objective is a large scenario featuring the ship – hopefully, I’ll find an opportunity to stage it sometime during summer.

Moving House… and some ACW images

We are moving house.. again. However, this time it’s within the same city, so if all goes well I’ll be back at the painting and gaming table in no time. In fact, things should actually improve space-wise – there is even the possibility of getting a gaming room. I’ll keep you informed!

Meanwhile, I want to share some American Civil War images I’ve recently come across. First is a photo I found on the fold3 database, towards which Andy Hall pointed me and which has free access until April 15. It’s one of the rare occasions to see sailors operating ashore, here drilling with Dahlgren boat howitzers. The third wheel on the carriage and the drag rope for manhandling the gun can be clearly seen.

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The sketchbook of USN officer Lewis Kimberley contains an interesting drawing of sailors disembarking such a howitzer.

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Moving on to the landlubbers, here we have a curious image (also from fold3) of an US regiment drilling to form square against cavalry. As far as I know, this never happened on the battlefield, but it does give a nice impression of the dimensions of a regimental square.

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The last image is from the Library of Congress and is one of my favorite Civil War photos, as it shows something that is usually forgotten: namely logistics. Here we have a Union wagon park at Brandy Station.

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The neat rows of carts create the impression of a well-organised wagon train – hopefully an auspicious image for our house move…