Brad vanVugt
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Empires in America (Second Edition)

Designed by Joseph Miranda | Published by Victory Point Games



Solo gaming is a relatively new endeavor for me. Sure, I’d dabbled a little bit here and there. I’ve played Friday six or seven times, messed around with the solitaire variant for Ascension. I had never been inclined to buy a new game specifically for one player consumption. Many of the podcasts or board game content creators I listen to often sing the praises of Victory Point Games. Most notably they have been talking about the most recent edition of their biggest hit: Dawn of the Zeds. Curiosity got the better of me and I ordered it directly from “The Little Game Company that Could” along with a few other games for my wife and me to play together. Lo and behold as I am getting ready to check out I see the words: volume discount volume discount. All I needed was another game purchase to hit that 20% off mark! So I thought, “What the hell?” and grabbed my first solo wargame: Empires in America (Second Edition).

Empires in America is one of the games in the Victory Points Games (henceforth referred to as ‘VPG’) States of Siege series. You’re controlling the French military during the Seven Years War - a conflict that in actuality went pretty badly for them. As in other games in the States of Siege series you, the player, are defending a central location (the New France capital of Montreal in this case) from a steadily advancing force attacking on multiple fronts. In Empires of America, it's the British Colonists who have five different armies advancing on Montreal with the game ending in defeat if any of the armies make it there. Each of the siege tracks that the British armies occupy have 4 or 5 spaces that the armies must progress through before reaching the capital. The only way to claim victory for the French and change history is to weather the siege by going through the 75-card event deck without Montreal collapsing from British occupation.

Gameplay is very simple. Each turn you’ll draw a number of ‘Historique’ cards from the event deck (4, 6, or 7 depending on which stage of the game you’re in) and play them one by one. These cards are the engine of Empires in America as they alone are responsible for supplying both sides with Leaders to command battalions into war, Provisions like the support of local militias and Native Americans to fight alongside the armies, British and World Events which can often dramatically change the tide of battle on either side, and action cards for you to hold and deploy on future turns to (hopefully!) keep the odds in your favor. After the cards have been played, the British armies with active Leaders advance toward Montreal. Each army will advance 1 or 2 spaces depending on the leadership rating of the Leader assigned to that siege track. If the British armies reach any French fortress spaces, either those printed on the map or the new ones built by you during the game, they will stop their movement and attack in an attempt to claim the fortress for themselves.



Once any British attacks resolve, you are able to command your French forces using a number of action points granted to you by the leadership values of the Leaders you have in play. These action points can be spent on playing action cards out of your hand (often to deploy new militias to assist you in battle), building trading posts and new fortresses, replenishing lost battalions with any trading posts you’ve built, or launching your own attacks to drive back the British forces. Additionally, most of your Leaders come equipped with a unique special action you can use once per round. These potentially powerful abilities include, for example, launching action point-free attacks or making ‘safe’ card draws (event deck card draws that allow you to disregard damaging British Events and Leaders). As action points are capped at a maximum of five per round, and you’ll often find yourself starting with fewer than that, allocating your actions effectively are essential to your survival.

Battles are where the bulk of the action takes place in Empires in America. Regardless of which side instigated the conflict, you’re able to send any French Leader into battle who hasn’t already fought that round. Each side can also bring with them any number of eligible supplemental forces and then the battle begins. The battalions controlled by each leader get to fire once; who fires first depends on a modified die roll done at the beginning of each combat. The number of battalions under a Leader’s command determines that army’s combat strength (the number of dice that army rolls when firing a volley). Any die rolls that result in a 5 or 6 count as a hit with each hit taking away a battalion from the opposing Leader. Winning the tactical die roll and therefore firing first is crucial as lost battalions are adjusted immediately, potentially weakening the return fire from the army at a tactical disadvantage. Once both sides have fired the battle is resolved with the side taking the fewest casualties being declared the winner. A British win usually means their army gets to maintain their advanced position on the siege track while French victories drive the British armies farther away from Montreal.

On its face, you would assume Empires in America would be a game that gets stale after a handful of plays. You are using the same 75-card deck in every game and the opening couple of turns play out in very similar fashion in most sessions. Things change though once you draw the event card that officially begins the Seven Years War (which will happen sometime between the third and sixth round generally). When this happens, the bulk of the event deck enters the mix. While you may know what potential problems await you, it’s difficult to plan contingencies for them when you have no clue when those damaging events will rear their heads. The next round might find you drawing a slew of French Leaders and Action cards while the one after will find the British setting up a Naval Blockade to restrict your provisions along with a set of new commanders to march ever closer to your impending defeat.



While this unpredictability is what gives Empires in America its replay value it also may alienate certain players who despise chance having a large impact on your success or failure. I lost one game without making it through a third of the event deck simply because combat rolls didn’t go my way and I wasn’t able to build a strong stable of Leaders. That allowed the British to easily march right down the St. Lawrence track and into Montreal in short order. Fortunately, sessions like this are few and far between with Joseph Miranda smartly inserting a balancing mechanic that doesn’t allow either side to grow significantly more staffed with Leaders than the other so that you don’t see a snowball effect.

Despite that feature, the British armies are usually much better prepared and supplied than your forces and doing the best you can with your limited actions is what provides the challenge and fun of Empires in America. Most turns you’ll want to ideally do 7 or 8 points worth of actions while only actually having 4 or 5 points accessible so that leads to tough choices. Is it worth spending 2 AP to build that fort to slow the advance of the army coming up from the Ohio Valley when you really need to replenish your fledgling forces? Should you have Montcalm safely eliminate the leader of the army driving up the Champlain track or take the bigger risk of having him attack Loudoun in Quebec with the hopes of driving his army back to Louisbourg? If you find things too easy or difficult, there are also a number of optional rules you can implement to tweak the difficulty and keep things even more fresh over several plays.

My biggest frustration with Empires in America, while a relatively minor gripe, is its fiddliness. Battalions and reputation on leaders are tracked with sets of chits which go on every single leader. Every turn they will constantly be going on and coming off of cards throughout play as Leaders enter and leave the table. Even more fiddly than that is the card that increases the tempo of the Seven Years War. Once this card hits the table, every time you would place a card in the Recycle Bin (a separate discard pile whose cards get shuffled back into the event deck at the end of each round which will means they re-enter play eventually) you then have to do a 50/50 die roll to see if that card indeed will go to the Recycle Bin or possibly into the Discard Pile proper. Those that have vast experience with wargames may find that a trivial concern, but it’s worth noting if you prefer things to be a little more streamlined.

That said, I’ve haven’t played many ‘player vs. game’ experiences that have delighted me as much as Empires in America has. The constant juggling of siege tracks and the never ending decisions of which fire to fight first has been great fun. Upon receiving it, I played four games in a week's time. That’s something I don’t normally do, but the allure of the gameplay keeps me coming back over and over again. I love how the tidal wave of aggression from the AI can often hit you out of nowhere (which upon also playing Dawn of the Zeds seems a quality shared by other States of Siege games). I’ve had a few sessions where things seemed to be in cruise control that all of the sudden thrust me into a panic as a fast-advancing British army is all of a sudden knocking on Montreal’s door. It’s also a game that has already provided me with memorable moments, such as my first win when the arrival of Pitt the Elder saw me successfully defending the fortress that I had positioned in Montreal itself from three successive assaults in a row in what ended up being the second-to-last turn in the game. And this from a game that can be unpacked, played, and put away within an hour’s time!

Let me also get in some quick words about the aesthetics of Empires in America. This was the first VPG title I ever opened, so I was anxious to check out their trademark laser-cut chits. Punching the game is a bit of an added pain as you have to wipe soot off the edges of the counters. Once you have though, they are some of the best cardboard chits I’ve used. I do wish VPG had gone with their puzzle piece style map seen in some of their other titles, but the cardstock map is of good quality and gets the job done (plus you can order a mounted map for it if you really want). The artwork is pretty darn good for a value production such as this and is a huge upgrade over that of the first edition. I also love the quick references on the map that give you brief reminders for several of the procedures in the game. Once you’ve played a couple of times you’ll hardly ever need to consult the rulebook.

Picking up Empires in America on a whim, I would’ve been happy with a game that provided me with an occasional distraction for the times when the time needed to dedicate to a more vast solo wargame wasn’t in the cards. It was a pleasant surprise to instead get a very engaging and fun game that I will revisit many more times. It also seems one of the best titles to introduce yourself to the States of Siege series of games before diving into more complex titles like Cruel Necessity. If you’re looking for a fun solo wargame that you can squeeze into an 60 minute playtime, I heartily recommend checking out Empires in America.

Empires in America (Second Edition) can be purchased from the Victory Point Games store

Tabletop for One is a series of solo game reviews from Brad vanVugt of The Tabletop for Two Podcast. Please check out the podcast for two-player impressions and reviews from Brad and his wife Emily, and chat with us on Twitter - @tabletopfortwo - to leave us feedback!

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Mayor Jim
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Good review of a great game...thanks
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Tom Willcockson
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A very minor nit, but I wonder if you could have a variant where the British leaders come in on their historical tracks. Would find it kind of odd if it was possible for Wolfe to be on the Great Lakes Track and Johnson on the St Lawrence. You wouldn't have to be too rigid with it & they could come in on tracks that are more historically plausible. Wolfe could come in on the St Lawrence or Champlain tracks for example. Just a thought although no clue how well that would work in practice. Cant wait to take this one out for a spin. You might also look at Moundbuilders which I have played.
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Florent Leguern
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terpitude71 wrote:
you then have to do a 50/50 die roll to see if that card indeed will go to the Recycle Bin or possibly into the Discard Pile proper.


Call me crazy, but where did this rule come from ? As I understood it, the cards' destination is determined mostly by their nature (World events are trashed, British ones are Discarded) or per the ruling on the card itself (a Provincial is either Discarded or Recycled depending on the outcome of the battle or in the case of Leaders, Discarded if vanquished, Recycled if Sacked).

I'm curious
 
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Brad vanVugt
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There's a specific card (Tempo Increases) that once in play requires you make a die roll whenever a card is to be recycled that may send the card to the discard pile instead. It's a neat mechanic to make things more unpredictable, but if it comes out early in the game it can make things a bit tedious.
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