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Subject: After many plays - A Few Acres rss

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steve ax
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Hey there. It's only my second review here, so I thought I'd go with something I'm comfortable with. I'm definitely comfortable with A Few Acres of Snow.

A quick mouse-over of that Canadian flag under my username will reveal to you that I am from Niagara Falls and that is essentially why I bought this game. That and an amazing review from Shut Up and Sit Down. I mean, a war game mostly in what is now Canada partially centralized around my hometown? And it's well-reviewed? How the hell?

For the sake of this review, I'm gonna assume you've done some homework here. However, one thing about this game that you simply can't get from that (excellent) rule book is the sense of pace. By that I mean you decide the pace. You and your opponent are in a frantic race to decide the pace but by god, you do not want to be the first one to buy that siege artillery. Or overstock on natives. Or, I guess, do anything really.

I love that the rule book gives an explanation as to why the designer chose the mechanics that he did. This game does a great job of simulating the feeling of loneliness the generals must have had. You don't get what you need when you need it simply because that sort of efficiency or concern for the state of North America didn't exist. You don't get to settle Fort Niagara because you can't find a goddamn boat to take ya there. The fact that you just natived the shit out of Fort St. John means nothing because now Deerfield can eat it too. Two towns just bit the dust and neither player even had an army. OK, so now you do have an army but that sure as hell ain't gonna help you settle Fort Detroit. Everything works equally for both sides and for a fairly asymmetrical game, that's an achievement.

Ah, but it's not all even. That's what everyone says out here anyway. Britain gets that 7 dollar advantage and they have so many settlers that they're just tossing 'em aside. The French can sit on the ridiculous amount of points they start the game with and chirp ya till you wanna go home. Honestly, I agreed that it was a lopsided game during my first 1 or 2 or 5 losses. Oooh, your trader's giving you too much money. Oooh, you can just take Halifax whenever you feel like it. The moment you realize that every single game you lost (2nd ed. anyway )was a result of building an utterly terrible deck is the moment you actually feel like busting this game out again.

You're gonna grab too many natives. You're gonna buy too much military. Hell, you're gonna settle Kennebec and berate yourself for days for creating that road to nowhere. When it comes down to it, though, you're going to pick up on each and every mistake you made each game because you're gonna see them in your deck at the end of the game. That feeling you get when you were digging for that bateau for the final three turns to find you only had two in your deck is such a moment of "let's play again".

If I had to justify my liking of this game at this point, I would simply say that any game with this much self-assessment would typically be some run-of-the-mill worker placement Euro. This game, though, has an unbelievable amount of interaction.

Say I'm throwing a siege on Halifax from Port Royal in the early stages of the game. I slap down my regulars for my initial attack and go digging through my empire deck for another regulars as my second action. You use your turn to buy a ranger and put down Boston as your counter.

The result of this is that I have managed to bring a second military card into my deck. Perhaps this is needless to say, but military cards are useless outside of battle. They clog up your hand. You have bought a ranger which means you have an additional military card coming up soon, but it also functions as a defense against natives outside of battle. Now on my turn, I am just... well, beat. You've avoided an immediate loss by bringing in Boston's militia, I have no idea how many towns you have in your hand that can bring their naval power into this and I can't tell if you can read it in my eyes that I do not have a settler to actually take Halifax for myself when all is said and done. Your upcoming military card could be for future defense or you could be mounting a legitimate offense. Even if I win this siege, my 2 regulars are gonna crowd me too much to be able to settle any area effectively while your ranger might actually serve a purpose.

That long-winded paragraph there just aims to show the back-and-forth you have bouncing around your head because of something as simple as the opponent grabbing a $5 ranger.

But maybe I over think things a little. Maybe this game really is just a reactionary tug-of-war that's defined by the British fortifying Halifax vs. the French creeping their canoes up the central rivers. Regardless, there's meat for days on this baby and you will not tire of thinking up new opening strategies for both sides should you give 'er a shot.

Rating: 8.8/10

Keeping it from a 10:

- Nothing about this game really pops. It sits on my shelf until someone familiar with it comes by and asks to play it. Granted, we'll then play the thing at least three times, but there's no defining moment or mechanism that makes me say "That. I want to play that." It's an incredibly solid intellectual game but sometimes that's just not an easy sell.

- Allowing players to choose the pace through specific card purchases gives a legitimate risk of a long game. This game does not hold up well after an hour and a half when both players have tired, beat up old decks that can't serve any one purpose. That being said, those short games are friggin' barn burners.

- If you're the only one putting proper thought into your turns, it is a terribly boring game. Hey, what are you doing? Put that Home Support down! Can't you see it's just making this worse?! Your trader's in the reserves and you don't have a single dollar left! Why the hell did you put your trader in there with your entire army? I'm gonna take Louisburg! I'm gonna do it! Anyway, the strategy might not be immediately apparent.
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Ben Schomp
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Nice review - captures the feeling quite well!

One of the few (only?) war games I can get to the table with my wife, and she is often the one suggesting the "just one more" follow-up. Perhaps its the asymmetrical Dominion aspect, but I think its more what you touched on - you can feel your sub-optimal plays one or two turns later ... which builds on that "I can do better" feeling.


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Nicolas Aubert
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Sounds like you're having good fun

Keep a lean deck, that's the secret to get what you want when you want it
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Romain Jacques
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Muchu wrote:
Keep a lean deck, that's the secret to get what you want when you want it


Governor rules!
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Moe45673
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Possibly the deckbuilder that rewards culling cards more than any other I've played. Your review states why this game is ingenious, even if certain people claim it's broken. Your review also highlights exactly why someone should ignore the alleged broken claim (I certainly have) and explore the many interesting, valid, and unique strategies this game does offer.

In case it wasn't clear, awesome review!

Having said all that, look into 1812: The Invasion of Canada. Niagara (although the US side), Buffalo, Queenston, and Ft Erie feature prominently in a glorious bottleneck

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Bill Eldard
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I'm a huge fan of A Few Acres of Snow, and I agree with most of your narrative regarding the tough decisions, though I wouldn't describe it as a wargame in the traditional sense, in as much as neither side has to fight.

But I'm confused about your final points.

axhandle wrote:
- Nothing about this game really pops. It sits on my shelf until someone familiar with it comes by and asks to play it. Granted, we'll then play the thing at least three times, but there's no defining moment or mechanism that makes me say "That. I want to play that." It's an incredibly solid intellectual game but sometimes that's just not an easy sell.


This appears to contradict your previous description about gameplay and and unbelievable player interaction, earning it rating of 8.8/10. Despite that, you're saying that there is nothing intersting enough to get you to play it unless someone else suggests it (but once it's out, it get played as much as three times).

That's why I wonder why you rate it 8.8?

axhandle wrote:
- Allowing players to choose the pace through specific card purchases gives a legitimate risk of a long game. This game does not hold up well after an hour and a half when both players have tired, beat up old decks that can't serve any one purpose. That being said, those short games are friggin' barn burners.


I have had a few games last as much as two hours, but they were anything but boring; they were hotly contested.

Generally, the pace of the game is rather good. It moves more rapidly than multiplayer deckbuilding because with just 2-players, there's very little down time. So even in a two hour game, the pace keeps in interesting.

One is either expanding and developing locations, or building a significant military force, sieging, and conquering. I've never seen a game stagnate. The tension is always there even if both players are expanding and developing, because they are in a race. Deck management wedded closely to a strategy is the key, and like any game, players should get better at this as they accumulate experience.

axhandle wrote:
- If you're the only one putting proper thought into your turns, it is a terribly boring game. Hey, what are you doing? Put that Home Support down! Can't you see it's just making this worse?! Your trader's in the reserves and you don't have a single dollar left! Why the hell did you put your trader in there with your entire army? I'm gonna take Louisburg! I'm gonna do it! Anyway, the strategy might not be immediately apparent.


That can be said about any 2-player strategy game, no? It would certainly describe me playing chess against any serious chess enthusiast.

In such cases as you lay out, these games are typically over soon, and if the losing player has learned from the experience, his/her future play will be better.

I've introduced half a dozen players to A Few Acres of Snow, and haven't found the siutaion you describe to be the case. Granted, the players are experienced gamers (and all or most were familiar with deck-building), so they may have been well-suited to quick learning. I can see where a geniune gaming novice could be at a loss initially, but the solution to this is to coach the learner.
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steve ax
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Thanks for putting the time in for that thought-out response there! The whole 'nothing about this game really pops' is maybe a bit harsh. I guess what I was trying to say is compared to something like Escape: Curse of the Temple where I keep going back for that adrenaline rush, or Rampage where I keep going back for the possibility of that elusive double-whammy, there's nothing particular about A Few Acres that I can really sell to a buddy of mine who's looking for a good hour-long game. Even if they know the game well, it's hard to get anyone psyched about it. It handles deck-building with one of the best systems I've come across and there's a ton of critical thinking going on but those points aren't the easiest to communicate. That's why it stays on the shelf a lot and I just don't think that's entirely my fault. Believe me, it's not by my choice.

Man, though. I've had horrendous long games with excellent gamers where everything just gets bogged down. Maybe there were things I was missing that I could have capitalized on, but I've had a few straight deadlocks where one player just runs the other player's deck into the ground and at that point, it's just military, oh and a native, and hey look here's another military. Those are the ones I'm talking about. Dead draw after dead draw just because if you would've let him have that cube, it was game over, and now his deck's too lit up to give him any freedom.
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Bill Eldard
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axhandle wrote:
Thanks for putting the time in for that thought-out response there! The whole 'nothing about this game really pops' is maybe a bit harsh. I guess what I was trying to say is compared to something like Escape: Curse of the Temple where I keep going back for that adrenaline rush, or Rampage where I keep going back for the possibility of that elusive double-whammy, there's nothing particular about A Few Acres that I can really sell to a buddy of mine who's looking for a good hour-long game.


Yeah, it's probably not a game for everyone. Several members of our group are excellent players, but it's not their first choice.

axhandle wrote:
Even if they know the game well, it's hard to get anyone psyched about it. It handles deck-building with one of the best systems I've come across and there's a ton of critical thinking going on but those points aren't the easiest to communicate. That's why it stays on the shelf a lot and I just don't think that's entirely my fault. Believe me, it's not by my choice.


Yeah, I understand. My love of the subject may have a lot to do with my love of the game, and when it comes down to French & Indian War wargames, I would pick Wilderness War first.

What I really like about this design is the fact that Wallace managed to create an asymmetrical deck-building game with historical options and cards. Wilderness War rightly focuses on the actual war, whereas A Few Acres of Snow backs up a bit (30-40 years?) and affords both sides strategic options bases on their historical goals. In some of our games, war -- outside of some raiding -- is avoided as both sides strive for expansion and development.

The French player looks to expand trade by extending settlement of New France westward along the Great Lakes. Additionally, he/she has to consider the vulnerability of Quebec, Montreal, and Louisbourg to attack, and try to build a buffer zone of forts to defend them and the gains. Alternatively, the French player can decide to go after Boston via Pemaquid from the get-go. It's tough, but possible.

The British player can opt to expand the colonies through new settlement and development (from cubes to disks) while fending off raids from New France. Alternatively, he/she can build up a formidable military deck and strike out for Quebec via Halifax and Louisbourg.

In that regard, I consider the game more than a wargame, but less than a civilization game. It's sort of a empire development game, I guess.

axhandle wrote:
Man, though. I've had horrendous long games with excellent gamers where everything just gets bogged down. Maybe there were things I was missing that I could have capitalized on, but I've had a few straight deadlocks where one player just runs the other player's deck into the ground and at that point, it's just military, oh and a native, and hey look here's another military. Those are the ones I'm talking about. Dead draw after dead draw just because if you would've let him have that cube, it was game over, and now his deck's too lit up to give him any freedom.


I hear ya, Steve. Occasionally I get into dead draw binds due to negligence in my own deck management; trim, efficient decks are the answer, and sometimes I overlook that if I decide to change strategies. I don't usually resort to the Governor card, but it's certainly a remedy at least in part. But when I'm in that situation is usually when an astute opponent attacks me, costing me momentum and swinging it to him/her.
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Richard Pomeroy
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Excellent review. I really appreciate reviews from someone has played the game sufficiently to understand the gameplay in depth and manages to convey the feel of the game in the review. I wish more reviews were like this.
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David Bartholomew

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Excellent review! I've played this 15 times so far and it seems to get better with each play.
 
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Michel Boucher
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Quote:
the French player can decide to go after Boston via Pemaquid from the get-go. It's tough, but possible.


Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville, accompanied by 100 coureurs des bois, did precisely that in 1696 by razing the fort at Pemaquid much to the glee of the Abénakis who reviled both the fort and its commander, Pasco Chubb.

D'Iberville then moved his fleet out of range of the ships coming up from Boston (although he did manage to collect some observations about its harbour at one point during that campaign) and anchored in Plaisance from whence he undertook a winter campaign aimed at clearing the Avalon Peninsula of the English, to protect the King's claim of exclusive ownership of the Grand Banks.

For all that local historians want to call this an act of unwarranted aggression (and they do), France and England were clearly at war (League of Augsburg) at this time.
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Edward Kendrick
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alsandor wrote:
... much to the glee of the Abénakis who reviled both the fort and its commander, Pasco Chubb.


Why do I have a mental image of a rather indolent, overweight gentleman?
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