Washington's War Review

Washington's War game in play

One game that I was incredibly excited to receive a copy of was Washington's War.

Washington's War is a Revolutionary War board game.   One player takes on the role of the British army, and the other takes on the role of the Americans.  The game is played over a series of rounds - each round representing a year between 1775-1783 (in a long game).  On each turn, both players get to draw 7 cards.  These cards can be either "Ops" cards, or Events.  Events simply do something to alter the game, or a phase of the game.  They can help in combat, determine when the game ends, move the French closer to a treaty with the Americans, have Benedict Arnold betray the Americans, and many other things.  There are two types of events - Mandatory and Optional.  With Ops cards, a player can bring in reinforcements, move a General (possibly to attack), or gain Political Control in different regions of the board.  At the end of each round, many troops are lost to winter, and Political Control can shift if certain parts of the board are isolated from others.  After a certain number of turns (based on which events are played), players check for victory conditions - and whoever has Political Control over enough of the colonies is declared the winner!

The first thing that I like about Washington's War is that a lot of the elements of the game give it a nice historical theme.  Specifically, some of the things like winter attrition, though incredibly challenging in gameplay terms, make complete sense in the setting of the game.  One of these elements is the fact that, even in battles, you generally don't kill especially many troops.  I think that this really depicts the inaccuracy of the muskets used during this time - it's much more likely that you will destroy a large army by catching them in a place where they can't flee (thus getting them to surrender) than it is to wipe out them out on the battlefield.  Honestly, this element of a war game where you are pushing armies around instead of killing them reminds me of the Game of Thrones Board Game and, though I didn't really like it especially much in that game, I think that it works well in Washington's War.  (It helps that you can wipe out an entire army if you can force them to surrender.)

board for Washington's War Revolutionary War game
Ok, I thought the flash made this picture look cool.
My next two pros really are very intermixed, so I'll talk about them at the same time.  First, I liked that both sides had significantly different advantages and disadvantages (this also works with the historical feeling to the game), and second, I liked how "Isolation" and placing Political Control markers worked.  The two sides in this game play quite differently.  And, if you want to win, then you truly have to capitalize on your strengths and find ways of exploiting your opponent's weaknesses.  Specifically, the British player gets a lot of troops, especially early, and has major combat advantages to start the game.  The American player, however, is able to quickly get small armies positioned on different parts of the map in order to gain Political Control and isolate the British player's control - and winning the game is about Political Control (and not killing things), so this is a very useful ability.  One of the elements of the game that you check at the end of each round is called "Isolation."  Basically, it means that if you can't find a way to connect your Political Control markers to some troops or some neutral areas of the board, then you will lose your control in those areas, as the people will feel isolated from your influence.  It isn't generally very easy to isolate your opponent's political markers, but successfully doing this at the right times during the game can really determine which player wins and which player loses.

Now that I've mentioned several things that Washington's War did very well, there were a few areas that I disliked.  First, this game is overly complex.  One of the reasons that I was so excited about this game is that it has a 90 minute playing time - and, for the most part, I've found this to be accurate.  However, it also has a 24 page rulebook that is very text heavy (there are a lot of diagrams and such - I'm more focusing on the length than the quality), and also has another 14 page book for examples of play, strategy tips, and design notes.  To read through and really understand the rulebook will probably take around an hour.  I read it three times before my first game.  And then, I referenced it repeatedly every time that I played.  Basically, here's how it reads, "the British player performs this rule like X, but the American player does Y.  Exception: in Z situation, everything is different."  There really feels like an exception to every rule.  Oh, and the French armies (obviously) work differently than either the American or the British armies.  Yes, I realize that much of this is attempting to capture the historical feel of the Revolutionary War, but it seemed quite excessive.  Additionally, I thought that, though the rules covered everything, they weren't one of GMT's better rulebooks.  Rules weren't laid out in the actual order that you would encounter them in the game, and I often wanted to look up rules, but wasn't able to find what I needed in the index.  This led to flipping pages and trying to remember what section covered that exception.  The complexity and the rules will definitely be your biggest hurdle in enjoying Washington's War.

My next con was that I really disliked Mandatory Events.  More specifically, I really disliked that Mandatory Events made your hand significantly worse.  Some Mandatory Events are fairly neutral - they set what year the game will end.  However, other Mandatory Events would actually help the other team!  I've played card based political games (like Twilight Struggle) where you might draw your opponent's cards and you have to make the most of a bad situation.  However, in Twilight Struggle, there are ways of mitigating the impact of these cards.  In Washington's War, if a British player draws one of the strong American Mandatory Events, then he is forced to play it, and he doesn't get to redraw a card.  So, not only does it help his opponent, it also hurts his hand because he has one card that is functionally useless.  If you draw an opponent's Optional Event, then you can at least use it to give yourself an advantage in combat, or discard it to perform a political action.  With the Mandatory Events, it's like having a card in your hand that says "Pass."

Training the Continental Army in Washington's War
Playing this card helps.  A lot.
The final con that I will mention for Washington's War is that I felt that it was far too luck based.  This luck came in what cards you draw and how important single die rolls were.  Now, I'm really okay with luck in games.  However, I feel that there is a disconnect in Washington's War - rule intensive games have a highly strategic feel to them.  Generally, the longer it takes to learn a game, the more I want random factors of the game to be mitigated.  Here's an example of a card that is amazing - "Baron von Steuben Trains the Continental Army."  To start the game, the British get a +1 advantage in every combat.  Why?  Because the American troops are horrible and throwing pitch forks at them.  However, this card permanently removes this bonus from the British.  See how this is useful?  So, if an American player draws this card early, then he will have a much easier time than if the British player draws it and is able to discard it during a combat.  Another element of luck is in determining your General's combat rating.  To start a fight, each player rolls a die.  On a 1-3, the General's rating is cut in half for that battle.  That hurts quite a bit.  But, then the battle is also determined by a single die roll (with modifiers).  I can outnumber my opponent by 3-4 troops (5 troops is a massive army in this game, and is the most that you can ever attack with), have the better General, and discard a card to give myself an advantage and still lose the combat.  Yes, this represents the fact that things go horribly awry in battle.  But, the winner of a battle coming down to how players roll a six-sided die became frustrating to me.

Overall, I give Washington's War a 7.0/10.  If you can get through the rules and start playing the game, then there is quite a bit to like about the game.  However, with the very steep entrance barrier mixed with the fairly high luck factor for the game, it didn't quite live up to the expectations that I had for it.

If Washington's War sounds interesting to you, then you might also want to check out 1989: Dawn of Freedom, Game of Thrones, and Twilight Struggle (really, everyone should check out Twilight Struggle if you haven't yet).

I would like to thank GMT Games for providing me with a review copy of Washington's War.

1 comment:

  1. Great review!
    I love this historical period and just finished reading John Adams by McCullough so I've been curious about this game.
    Thanks for being detailed in the multiple facets you like and dislike.