In wargames, seeing history repeat itself is seen by many as a mark of good game design. To many gamers, being able to recreate the historical result is often expected. To me, a mark of a good game is not only when it has the ability to recreate the historical result, but to offer some insight into why it happened. Such a case was well-illustrated in a recent wargame I played.
In the history of the American revolution we are taught that the war ends with he surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. True to history, my play of Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy by designer Tom Russell (Hollandspiele, 2018) ended in nearly the same way.
Awesome sauce. Supply Lines – The Southern Strategy plays out close to reality. Nothing to see, nothing to learn, right?
At game start, the Crown player begins in Savannah, the extreme other end of the Southern Colonies from Yorktown. The Patriot player has only a small army at Charleston. In order to win, the Crown player must either control 10x Cities or Forts or move the Political Will Track to the far right. The Crown player moves Political Will through being victorious in battle. The Patriot player wins by either forcing the Surrender of the Crown Leader (instant Victory) or moving the Political Will Track to the far left. Similar to the Crown player, the patriot player moves Political Will by victory in battle and the passage of time; as more years pass Political Will decreases reflecting Crown fatigue with the campaign.
The victory conditions immediately supply the time pressure and in many ways drive strategy. The Crown must fight battles and win; the Patriot either focuses on the Crown Leader or avoids defeat and bides their time.
The Crown players advantage is that they have Transport (9.3) or naval movement available. This strategic movement ability can be used to outflank the Patriot player.For the Patriot player, the ability of a defender to Refuse Battle (10.0) is crucial. The Patriot player also has the ability to Skirmish (9.5); that is, battle but not take territory. Useful for eliminating Loyalists or moving away small Crown armies.
Layered onto this military confrontation is a irregular war. Militia and Loyalist units are also available to the players. Arranged according colony, these units can supplement the player armies. Available actions include:
- Recruit – Exchange 2 Militia/Loyalist for 1x Army
- Forage – Use to gain 1x Food Supply cube in the colony
- Raid (Militia Only) – Removes Crown units or supply from the board
- Hold (Loyalist Only) – Occupy a place to help move Supplies (see rule 5.3 “adjacency” – an easily overlooked yet vital rule) but are vulnerable to Raids.
In my campaign, the Crown player started out by taking the many forts in the southern part of the map. The thought was to take the Forts then let Loyalists hold them. This didn’t work out because the Georgia Loyalists didn’t materialize (units must be drawn from a pool and made available) in a timely manner. As a result, too many Crown troops were stranded in Forts with not enough Food available to move quickly. Sensing the time pressure, a (now reduced) Crown expedition was launched to Yorktown using Transport. It had to go all the way north because the Patriot player had built a supply line along the coast and controlled all the other landing points. The overland route would have to go through all those Forts meaning Food must be supplied from Savannah – a slow process given only 1x Food cube a turn is generated in Cities. At this point the Patriot Fleet showed up and forced the Crown Fleet to withdraw after a Sea Battle. Using a better supply line, the Patriot army struck west from Norfolk and looped around to Richmond getting a single Army into the second area around Yorktown and forcing a Siege. Twice the Crown Fleet returned, and twice it was defeated to keep the siege in place.
In the photo above and beneath the Siege marker is a Crown Army with Leader. In Norfolk is the Patriot Leader with a sizable army. Offshore, the Patriot and Crown Fleets are ready to fight their second Sea Battle. Much like history, the Crown fleet is defeated. Not quite in keeping with history, rather than waiting out the siege and risking the Crown Fleet returning a third time and possibly lifting the siege, the Patriot Leader led his army against Yorktown and forced the surrender of the Crown Leader for automatic victory.
So my campaign gave me the historical result, but in doing so did so much more by delivering insight into why forces moved where they did. I don’t think designer Tom Russell is a deep historian (not a criticism) but I do think he identified key factors of the campaign and brought them into this game. I am highly impressed with the amount of history Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Southern Strategy gives to players using an uncomplicated set of game mechanics. By focusing on supply, a different view of the campaign is taught and made clear.
I wonder what other campaigns this supply line focus could help teach. Maybe Patton’s dash across Europe after D-Day? Hmmm….Tom Russell, you got any other ideas?
Featured image courtesy Hollandspiele.