Our first session of 1776, played during the Fourth of July weekend, 2019
Capsule Overview of the Game
While this is a roll-and-move game with few meaningful player decisions, it should be fun with the right group of 4-6 who can laugh at the odd combination of educational value, anachronisms, and somewhat humorous event cards. (The designer seems to have been particularly offended by the Quartering Act, so perhaps there is a family story behind that!) Hopefully this session report will give you an idea of whether or not your group is one of those that will enjoy the game.
OBJECT: To assume the identity of a famous American Colonist and collect bounty, money and signatures for the Declaration of Independence. This is done through a series of reenactments of historical events from the landing of the Pilgrims through the American Revolution. (Rules excerpt.)
1776 is sort of a Monopoly-meets-Careers mashup. However, it won't necessarily appeal to fans of either of those games, as the combined elements result in a totally different type of game.
Like Careers, each player has three individual victory criteria: a dollar amount, a number of bounty units, and a number of signature cards. (The game includes one signature card for each signer of the Declaration of Independence, with a facsimile signature and biographical snippet). There are no Monopoly properties or hotels to worry about -- but instead of Chance and Community Chest cards there are Colonist and Red Coat cards.
Customs House: All money except entrance fees is paid to the Customs House. When a Colonist lands on the corner space marked Customs House he collects half the money in the Customs House. (Rules excerpt.)
The main track runs around the outside edge of the game board. Some locations on the board are reminiscent of Monopoly: pass Independence Hall and collect $1,000; land on the Customs House and take half the [free parking] money from fines that players have paid to a pile in the center of the board; get sent directly to the Stocks and lose a turn.
You have to pay an entrance fee to move into one of the smaller tracks that loop through the center of the board. This gives the board a layout similar to that of Careers, except these inner paths reflect various regions of the American colonies, including a sea voyage, rather than career paths. Two dice are rolled when you are moving on the main (outside) track, but only one die is rolled on the inner tracks.
Seemingly in acknowledgment of its "inspired by" status, the 1776 rules explicitly specify that players "do not roll again for doubles."
The majority of the squares on the board set forth benefits or penalties, or are "go to" squares, in classic roll-and-move form. In addition, there are Road Block squares that have an interesting effect -- if you land on one, you roll a die and then either move forward (on an even die result) or backward (on an odd die result). The ability to negotiate trades of money, bounty, and signature cards adds some additional fun to the mix.
One thing that didn't appear to add fun was a Bankruptcy player-elimination rule that ends your game if you are ever unable to pay a required penalty (whether money, bounty units, or signature cards). I "house ruled" Bankruptcy out of existence right from the start, and instead we required that a player who could not pay a penalty would go to the Stocks and lose a turn.
This should be enough to give you the gist of the game. Some additional important details will be noted as I recap the session.
The Roll Heard Round the World
First we drew our Identity cards which randomly determined our roles and victory conditions. Initially we kept these secret, as per the rules, but midway through the game we decided to play with our identities face up. This would impact on trading, since our victory conditions were out for each other to see, and with a larger group it is probably best to keep the identities of the players secret until the end of the game.
I got Ben Franklin. Joining me would be Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, and Paul Revere. We all gathered at Independence Hall, each of us with $5,000 cash. My victory conditions were to gather 12 signature cards, 8 bounty units, and $10,000. Once I had those items, I could win the game by reaching or passing the Independence Hall square.
As we played the game, a few narrative themes developed. These included: Ben Franklin (me) was always short on signatures, Paul Revere was always short on bounty, and Thomas Jefferson was always short on cash. Also, everyone seemed to have the best luck on the "sea voyage" inner track, despite the hefty $1,000 entrance fee.
No narrative theme developed around John Paul Jones, however, as she had not yet begun to play (much) when she decided she'd had enough of 1776 and departed the game (to watch a naval documentary on the History channel, no doubt).
Miscellaneous Anecdotes Later Printed in Poor Richard's Almanac
For some reason, Paul Revere and I had identified the New England Colonies inner track as being particularly unworthy of a visit (maybe it was the "Quartering Act (1768)" space that had required us to pay $1,000 to house a British soldier).
Thomas Jefferson was deciding on whether or not to enter the New England colonies and Paul and I were suggesting that she pass on the opportunity. She decided to try her luck, paid the $1,000 cost to enter the inner track, and immediately upon entering the colonies she landed on the Quartering Act space, causing her to lose another $1,000. Ouch!
Colonist card: When the 'Mother Country' passed the Quartering Act (1768) allowing British officials to demand lodging of their troops in private homes, you made it perfectly clear that no Red Coats would hang their hats in your parlor. Despite your vigorous protests, 2 young lieutenants have taken up residence with you. At least you tried. For your spunk, advance 2 spaces.
Later, Thomas Jefferson was on a "roll again" space just a square away from the Customs House. She was almost out of money and the Customs House square was overflowing with thousands of dollars from all the fines we had been paying. However, because you roll two dice to move around the outer track of the game board, the "roll again" opportunity would necessarily take her past Customs House and perhaps into the Stocks the next time she was required to pay a fine.
So Jefferson attempted to negotiate with Paul Revere for a Colonist card he was holding that allowed the bearer to move one space in lieu of rolling the die. A split of the Customs House funds was discussed as part of the trade, but ultimately Paul Revere wouldn't agree to anything close to a 50-50 split of the funds that Thomas Jefferson was proposing, so she took her free roll.
That roll landed her on a Road Block three spaces past the Customs House. For her Road Block die roll she rolled a three, moving her three spaces backwards and right onto the Customs House! So mere moments after Paul Revere turned down the opportunity to share half of the Customs House take, Thomas Jefferson got all the cash for herself.
Red Coat card: Your daughter is smitten with 2 young British officers placed in your home by the Quartering Act (1768). Move forward 3 spaces since you've finally convinced her to go out with that nice young American instead.
Additional shenanigans arose from the interaction between a couple of rules. To enter one of the inner tracks on the game board, you must pay the "entrance fee" on the turn you land on the square. Then, on your next turn, you roll a die to move into the inner track. There was an unexpected risk involved in this timing of the entrance fee payment due to the rule that sends you to the Stocks if another player lands on the square you are in. (Although the rules did not specify, we treated it as "go directly to the Stocks, do not pass Independence Hall, do not collect $1,000.")
So there was Paul Revere, ready to gallop along after having just paid his $500 to enter the Middle Colonies inner track, when I come along and land on the entrance square and send him to the Stocks. I elect to pay the entry fee and on my next turn I roll a 5, landing on "Left out in the cold at Fort Ticonderoga. Go to the Stocks." So Paul got a good laugh as I got locked up in the Stocks just as he was leaving.
Not too long after this, Paul had made his way back on the entrance to the Middle Colonies track and had paid the entrance fee, feeling safe because duplicitous old Ben Franklin was on the other side of the board. However, on my next move, I landed on a space allowing me to "go to any entrance square." I decided that the Middle Colonies was the place to be, again bumping Paul to the Stocks.
And then I rolled another 5 and ended up left out in the cold at Fort Ticonderoga - sending me right to the Stocks again, with Paul laughing as he departed them. Fortunately the Revere-Franklin feud settled down after that.
Red Coat card: Having been told you must conform to the Stamp Act (1765) you are forced to charge for preparing documents and sealing them. But you finally decide the whole thing is intolerable and begin forging stamps for everyone. For being a dedicated Colonist, go to the nearest Colonist square.
Paul Revere did get hear a lot of joking about the apparent lack of security at his warehouse. His victory conditions required him to collect nine bounty units, but it seemed like he could never get more than one or two before landing on a space or drawing a card that caused him to lose all of his bounty. He finally achieved his goal of nine bounty units with the help of a square on the board stating: "Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys attack British ammo depot (1775). Collect 2 bounty units."
Red Coat card: You belong to the Boston Sons of Liberty and your main purpose is to make life miserable for British customs officials. You've succeeded in giving them ulcers. Move ahead 3.
Which Player Met Their Yorktown?
Although I had wondered about the balance of the varying victory criteria for the different identities, things did not drag out endlessly like some poorly designed roll-and-move games. The twists of fate and laughs kept things moving right along, although Paul Revere may have been getting a little saddle sore by the time things started winding down to a conclusion.
Thomas Jefferson had finally overcome her cash deficit and was headed for victory with a full allotment of bounty, signatures, and funds, when she ran into a bit of bad luck and landed on a space which caused her to lose a couple of signature cards. Paul Revere then met his victory requirements and was turning the corner for Independence Hall when he landed on the "Americans withdrawn to New Jersey (1776)" space which forced him to "retreat" to the Middle Colonies entrance square.
Meanwhile, Poor Ben Franklin (me) was still thousands of dollars away from victory, despite having plenty of signature cards and bounty units. Naturally I found no willing trading partners at this stage of the game. Thomas Jefferson, who had wisely turned down the signature cards I had dangled in front of her, promptly landed on a space that got her back up to her required number of signatures, and was past Independence Hall before Paul and I knew what happened.
Winner: Thomas Jefferson!
While perhaps not a great game, it was a fun game, and I can see this being enjoyed by the right group of children and/or adult players. It certainly provided plenty of laughs for us (three adult players), particularly since the theme fit the holiday! Period appropriate beverages may have improved things a bit -- hot buttered rum or flip, anyone?
We did mix up a couple of things regarding the corner spaces of Liberty Square and Independence Hall.
When I was first explaining the rules as having us collect $1,000 for passing Independence Hall, someone pointed out that it was instead Liberty Square which said to collect $1,000. Noting that the Independence Hall space only had that name printed on it and no instructions, we all agreed that Liberty Square was apparently the one taking the place of "Go" -- no need for me to look back at the double-sided rules sheet with everything apparently printed right there on the board, right?
Only after the game did I note that we were not right. First, it was Independence Hall that we needed to land on or pass to collect the $1,000 bonus. The notation on the Liberty Square square awards a player $1,000 for landing on that space. Also, in my "just like Monopoly" reading of the rules, I overlooked the fact that the bonus for landing on or passing Independence Hall allows a player to choose between $1,000, a bounty unit, or a signature card. Although it probably didn't have that big of an impact on our game, I don't advocate for anyone to use these unintentional variants!
On the other hand, it didn't take long for the Bankruptcy house rule to prove its benefits. Only a few turns into the game, someone drew a penalty that would have eliminated them from the game. So definitely look at ditching the player-elimination rule, and send your deadbeat debtors to the Stocks to lose a turn instead of relegating them to the dustbin of history!