|Mid game and the British are thrashing Cousin Jonathan|
Now grognards may favour a game dependent on tables of data, march rates, supply concerns and accurate representation of historical units; to somehow fully convey the experience of the war in a play time only marginally shorter than the actual war itself. But '1812' does not go down that route and instead condenses part of the conflict (most would argue the key part of the land conflict) into a game with plenty of strategy that takes under two hours to play.
Ideally for either two players or teams of two and three respectively (the game therefore plays 2-5) the aim is to occupy the largest number of enemy objectives - towns and border fortresses - by the end of the game. This simple process is complicated by a number of elegant factors, first off being the order cards.
Each player has a deck of 12 cards specific to their force (American Regulars or Militia, British Regulars, Canadian Militia and Native Peoples) 7 of which are basic movement, 4 being special abilities and one Truce card. In each turn you must play a movement card, of which the truce card is also one; but if the last truce card for your side is played the game will end once each player has had their turn. Now in our first play this worked great for the British team, as our truce cards came into our hands early and we were able to invade American soil and shut down the war before the US could recover. But the luck could've gone either way, and the element of first uncertainty and then anticipation of the war ending means sides are discouraged from hunkering down for the long game.
It appears that the Americans are more mobile, but then the design of the board requires that. The fact that American armies could mobilise and move great distances constantly surprised us in play.
Next to mention is the random activation, a simply engineered bag draw system; only on the first turn is it at all fixed - When the Regular American player goes first.
Battle is simple with each side rolling a small number of D6 over as many rounds as required; but the dice are another elegant factor in the rules.
Each has a number of blank sides and a couple of symbols (or in the case of the British dice, just one). When the dice are rolled a 'Target' result is a hit on the enemy - and he must removed a block; a 'Running man' is a flee result and one of your units is removed to a rallying area - to muster on a later turn. A blank result allows you to retire a unit to an adjacent area, if you wish to - or you may stay in the battle. Each player's dice have different ratios of the symbols, with the British never fleeing and the Militia running all too readily. This gives a nice reflection of different units without the need for stats and tables.
At the end of the turn players check to see if the game ends (essentially if all of one sides truce cards have been played), and if not place their markers in the draw bag and begin again. Reinforcements come in the form of set numbers of new units at set locales, and the return of any fled units. Americans have a slight advantage in recruitment and the longer the game lasts the more likely this is to play in to their hands. Further, the native peoples break a couple of core rules reflecting their lack of respect for borders and mastery of terrain; this they pay for by being easily the smallest force in the game.
All in all I think it makes for a very elegant strategic wargame, one that would work well for two players going head to head, but results in a worthwhile amount of negotiation in team play. As I said we romped to a British victory in our first try (effectively taking all of the great lakes region into our power) and so I look forward to trying the American role next time. I think one of the beauty's of the game is that all you need to understand to play can be learnt in about 15 minutes, and it is not so mired in nitty gritty detail that anyone will feel or choose to be excluded from play. It is a nuance, elegant game with plenty of decisions built in to a simple system.
A final point is that the production values are faultless, with quality components throughout; though this does come at an attendant cost, typically retail price is about £45. But if you enjoy a board game now and then, and want an insight into the period, this is as good a way to go as any.
Postscript: Had a second chance to play this t'other night, and we managed to reverse the result with the Americans scraping a narrow victory. As I theorised, a longer game favours the US ability to mobilise troops. Really do enjoy this game.