The game of 1776 I was playing with my father was finally concluded last night. The British forces conceded and opened negotiations for peace in May of 1780.
I’ve already gone over some of the basics of the game before. The early arrival of the French mere turns from my losing utterly changed the tide of the game. Supplied forces with cannons were able to make short work of small coastal defenders with lightning speed. While no major tactical victories could be won with the small French shock forces, they opened up enough coastal cities in various theatres that I was able to start getting reinforcements in those locations again and draw off enough of the British that I could start making strategic headway again.
One of the pivotal events occurred in last weeks game, when a troop from the newly opened New England Interior was able to force march across the mountains and retake Ticonderoga along with a few canadian bateau. Forces from Ticonderoga were able to travel by bateau up to Montreal and overrun the sparse garrison. Montreal and Quebec are minimum victory requirements for the british, so troops had to be diverted to thwart any colonial forays into Canada. By this point, most of the British troop transports had been sunk by the French, and as there were no longer any French regulars in play, my French warships sailed to the west Indies, requiring the British to match them. Luckily, the British variable forces, who were carrying lots of supplies and men up to Halifax got temporarily recalled, meaning the Canadians were busy dealing with the growing host around Ticonderoga and leaving New England unchallenged.
With all of New England finally secured, I was able to get massive continental reinforcements. Since I’d been shipping my militias into other theatres, I was getting massive militia reinforcements as well. I was finally able to really start taking advantage of the Colonial mobility advantage, either picking off or threatening small groups of British regulars. Those that I couldn’t get overwhelming odds on, merely threatening them meant that other british forces would be diverted to help, and as soon as the larger british forces moved to help isolated pockets of troops, the colonial army could just move the other direction and take out whatever forces had been left behind by the main british army.
All of this eventually culminated with my having three major forces. A force holed up in Ticonderoga that was too large to dislodge, a force that had been in New England but started pressing down along the coast as an expeditionary force, and a small but rapidly growing force that would appear in Boston after the expeditionary force left.
Following my winter reductions (which hurt pretty bad, costing me about 12 strength points of colonial regulars), I was fortunate enough to have all of New England mostly uncontested and a force marching south along the coast who had supply trains with them. This meant my 3rd army could spring up in Boston, due to most of the militia having left the theatre. Now I lost a lot of militia in Ticonderoga, but had enough regulars left that I still was a force to be reconned with; I was allowing the bulk of my middle state’s militia stay with the expeditionary force.
Having supplies, the expeditionary force could press on and fight while everyone else had to dig in. They were able to briefly harry New York, though the defenders managed to hold the town. If I’d stayed, they would’ve been overrun, but rather than deal with the massive British forces coming to relieve new york, they pressed on toward Philly.
The game concluded after a short series of events where, by spring, the forces at Ticonderoga were strong enough to send out small expeditionary forces which forced the Brits to abandon Albany to meet them. Meanwhile, the main british army had chased my army to Philly and DID manage to crush them. But the kicker was, I’d amassed enough guys in Boston that they were able to march down on New York and be met by a contingent of French marines who’d just arrived, crushing the resistance with a two pronged attack. I ended up with 20 strength points, three supplies and a cannon in New York. I sacked the cannon, one supply and one regular to build a fort then sacked the two french supplies to build a magazine. I now had 38 strength points with unlimited supply dug in to one of the absolute victory condition cities for the British. To get an idea of what 38 strength points means, at this point in the game, if every single british regular in play managed to make it to New York, they could not manage to get better than 1-1 odds (really, you never want to fight at less than 3-1 odds in this if you can at all help it, 3-2 is extremely risky and 1-1 is suicide, even with really lucky tactic card combinations, which don’t come into play when a Fortress is involved). Even if my dad HAD managed to muster every troop he had AND managed to win a 1-1 battle to retake New York, it would’ve meant leaving every objective city open, and any city without a british regular is considered controlled by the rebels. So, after that victory, my dad conceded.
This is the second time we’ve played, and we’re 1-1, but both times the player who was playing the British lost. The win conditions for the British are incredibly difficult. They must control 20 out of 24 major cities which much include many of the major port cities (must include Boston, New Haven, New York, Savannah, Charleston and I think Philly?) in addition to controlling Montreal and Quebec. This means that for the British to win, they have to be able to completely crush the colonials and then, right before the French show up, have to reinforce all of the major port cities to prevent French marines from re-opening theatres. For awhile I got down to just a few troops in the Georgia swamps and one city in South Carolina. I’d totally lost 3 out of 4 theatres but managed to come back and win. Ironically, after I lost the deep south, I was never able to retake it, and with a few instances, never was able to do more than create an annoying distraction in the upper south.
Another place where I have some issue is with the combat. The game’s combat system favors overwhelming odds. I get that the defender has some advantage, but there’s not a lot of middle ground. Either the defender is unassailable or will quickly go into a death spiral. Unlike real war, there were plenty of battles where two giant armies would meet and one would wipe the other out to a man without taking a single casualty. I would be interested in figuring out some sort of minimum casualty system, but I don’t know how it would work. The tactic cards are a sticking point for many people, but they can make all the difference some times in changing a hopeless situation into something you can make the best of. The only problem is the withdraw card; if you need to withdraw, your opponent knows that you’re going to withdraw, so the obvious choice is frontal assault (+3 modifier to attack roll), which usually boils down to the defenders being slaughtered AND prevents combat from ending if the attacker decides to pursue (and the subsequent attack is usually at even more ridiculous odds).
Weirdly enough, though, it worked. While horribly unbalanced in some ways, the historical outcome was achieved even after several crushing defeats suffered by the colonials.
The British start with overwhelming forces, but they only get a small, fixed number of replacements each replacement phase. While the colonial forces, for the longest time, do not appear anywhere in sufficient numbers to not be crushed, they almost always get a steady stream, and it’s always more than the British get. While there are militia running around and only a few colonial regulars, the Brits can move in with a big force and systematically squash any new forces that show up. But late game, especially if the british player makes a mistake, like forgets to leave a regular in a town before the reinforcement phase, suddenly there’s a giant colonial army, because the militia all show up in the only place they could along with whatever colonial regulars, and while the british send forces to deal with them, instead the colonial forces just march over to the next town and crush the 1 or 2 strength point garrison that had been left behind. This is also what happens when the french arrive; a theatre that’s been quiet and secure has a force that can easily wipe out a coastal garrison: 5 french strength points, with supply (meaning their value is double against troops without supply), and canons (negate entrenchment modifiers). They do this on the last turn before a reinforcement phase, the garrison is wiped out and you suddenly have an army of 7 to 10 colonials in a place that had previously been secured. And because it has been secured, there aren’t enough forces left in the area to seriously challenge the new army, and said new army can outrun any substantial force that is sent to meet it.
So really, while it seems unfair for the colonials, especially for the first 24 turns (yes, this is a ridiculously long game if you play the full game from 1776-1780), the real puzzle and challenge is how to succeed as the British. I don’t know that I’ll ever have time or another chance to test the theories out, but it almost certainly involves a lot of luck in a quick crushing defeat of Washington’s army (which happened to me, and I still won), followed by pressing on the interior. After 24-26 turns, the British need to move as any forces as they can spare to coastal cities to prevent the French from getting odds better than 2-1. The colonial player will be reluctant to sent the French too far into the interior because a)French regulars are irreplacable, b)their primary advantage is naval mobility. So, yeah, the French aren’t going to be pressing into the Georgia swamps or Carolina foothills. Once the French appear, it is imperative that the British sink one of their fleets. This is the only thing that will save the British from being slowly picked apart; once the French lose a ship, all french forces MUST withdraw to the West Indies ASAP. This will STILL tie down the British naval power to some degree, since they must match the French strength sent their, but losing a degree of naval mobility is a small price to pay for the colonials completely losing theirs.