Monday, 25 April 2016

1776 The American Revolution review

The American Revolution (rebellion!) isn't really covered by the curriculum over here in o'l blighty, in fact I've never seen a documentary on it, nor a book on the shelf of a local library. In some respects this isn't unusual as you don't hear a lot about things that aren't Waterloo, World War 1&2, Henry the 8th's wives or the Romans in the UK. But it is  a significant piece of world history and a major blind spot for me, so when I saw a copy of 1776 going cheap on the geek I picked it up.

Sometimes the notion gets kicked around that modern games are great, and old games are rather bad and best left to the collectors shelves. 1776 tells me that War game design was as good in back in 1974 as it is today.

The pitch is roughly thus; The rebel scum need to be put down, every few turns for the first year you will get a fresh skill stack of troops landing along the coast. You must engage the enemy where you find him and spread out your forces to occupy at least 20 (out of 24 I think) key strategic towns by the close of the game (5 years hence). The catch for the Brits is, you must occupy these towns with British regulars, the locals are far from reliable, and you get very few replacements after 1776.

and so it begins

For the Patriots this is an exercise in the fleet army in being. You get one decent size army (Washington I presume) at game start and will be quickly out numbered four or five to one by the Imperialist tyrants. Not only this but each winter any concentration of force will be hammered by attrition. On the plus side you get replacements in areas where British control is sparse.

Some British regulars aboard ship sighted off the eastern sea board.

The game is pretty simple too, there are beginner and scenario rules (even simpler) but the campaign is where it is at. You move, then attack and both are standard wargame material, crts, movement rates and terrain etc. There is a lashing of chrome for building river boats, fortress sieges, naval combat, and supplies. All of it is simple and effective, it creates difficult decisions that are easy to understand.

Washington doubles back on himself with a forced march down the Hudson.

What makes the game both historically eye opening and a tense experience are the forced march and territorial control rules. I am amazed that such a good forced march system existed in '74. And almost equally as amazed that many more modern games have more complex and weaker systems (Trajan). You simply call the number of additional hexes you want to march and roll a die. Call high and roll badly and you might lose half your army, roll well and you may move 14 rather than the normal 7 hexes and catch you opponent in the nip.

This opens up a lot of strategy as you are almost always in range of a very risky forced march, but out of immediate contact. Thus a large part of the game is forcing your opponent with to make risky marches to stop you from stealing key cities like New York. It's a great risk reward system.

The British start to take control of the northern colonies.

Every quarter year for each of the four areas in the game you total up British controlled cities, the presence of patriot regular,s and a couple of other criteria. You then adjust the number of militia, patriot replacements, and Tory militia in each region. This bit of book keeping buys the British player a real nightmare; how to keep a lid of numbers of rebel troops. You want to lock down a region, but lose one city and rebel militia and regulars start appearing all over the place. For the patriot player, British control has a severe impact on your winter attrition. Consequently the British are forced to split up their kill stacks and spread themselves thin and if the patriots can just kick them out of one city all will be for naught.

It's a tough game for both sides and taught me a few things about the war. The Patriots don't really need to win many battles. If they can keep a decent sized army or two in the field they can keep dodging the hammer and liberating enough cities to keep the revolution alive. For the Brits, you want to catch those slippery colonials who have one more movement point than you but after year one your resources are always dwindling. It's tough for both sides, if the Patriots get caught by the Brits early they could be clinging on til the french arrive (if they do), however I think the British will have a hard time winning the full campaign.

What the game doesn't do is tell me a great deal about Washington, Howe or any character in the war. There is a more modern ruleset that does add leader counters, but they don't get much more than a rating. So I've learnt something but perhaps not as much as I could. What the game gains in simplicity it looses in colour. This is a strategic over view of the military problems both sides faced not a historical narrative or a campaign study.

I am interested in learning more about the Revolution, what books do people recommend? I tend to prefer readable academic books to page turner history.


  1. Nice review. I'd recommend "A Concise History of the American Revolution." It is exceptionally concise, but gives a good overview of the conflict, including some brief but thoughtful analysis of the forces driving the conflict.

  2. Angel in the Whirlwind is a good one volume history, The Glorious Cause is more involved. Patriots is an excellent book on some of the various figures involved from just after the French & Indian War on (Those rabble rousers in Boston before 1775 were quite... uh... radical and revolutionary). If you want to go a little further back into the roots of the thing there is Crucible of War covering the French & Indian War and its aftermath, an excellent book. And of course that will lead you to Wilderness War an excellent CDG from GMT that goes very well with 1776.

    1. I came here from Wilderness War. I've been playing WW games for the past few months on and off with a local friend and come to the view that its probably the best CDG, I then picked up a book on Quebeck 1759 and after reading that thought I'd better fill in the revolution gap as I have gamed some 1812. I'll look up the books you recommend.