Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."--Pascal
The bottom line:
War of 1812 is a simple, not to say simplistic, wargame. It should prove to be one of the fastest wargames to learn. With the emphasis on playability, realism takes a backseat. Is this "good" or "bad" depends on what you want in a wargame. If you like "dicefest" combat, it is a wee bit of a change of pace from similar non-Columbia games.
This is a Columbia Game and Columbia = wooden blocks (usually, but not always). The British and the American sides each have 25 blocks (but the British begin the campaign game with a smaller amount of units). Units are highly generic representations of infantry, navy, calvary and one "Indian" counter.
The colourful, non-mounted, but sturdy cardboard, map represents the campaign from Detroit in the west, to Quebec City in the east, to Albany in the south. This means that much of the historical campaign is left off map and to your imagination. The Yanks are free to burn York (modern day Toronto) once again, but the Brits won't be allowed a crack at Washington.
The eight-page rulebook is about half instructions and half historical "commentary" (which I found rather dull and unhelpful in shedding light on my ignorance of the War of 1812). Since the game was designed in the '70's, Columbia has had a long time to work out any potential "bugs," but it is too bad that they have not expanded the components to include leaders, historical designations on units, etc.
Four dice are included.
You have to apply the labels to the blocks yourself, which takes patience and care, lest you wind-up with some cock-eyed units. Red blocks represent the British, and blue the American.
At the beginning of the game, each side must place an infantry unit in certain designated towns, meaning the forces of both sides are mostly scattered at the start. The Americans have the larger army but place first, allowing the British to reinforce where most needed.
The "fog of war" aspect means that you do not know how strong our opponents units are. Both sides must pick their starting units "blind," meaning that you cannot gurantee that you will have the strongest units.
The land-based block units represent infantry or calvary units that have combat values--CV's--of four, three or two. (This blah, blah assumes that you are not completely familiar with the Columbia "way" of "block vs. block"). If an infantry unit with 4 CV's rolls in combat, you use four dice, normally hitting on a six. Each unit that takes a hit has to reduce its CV total until oblivian arrives. The "fog of war" element is in play because you stand the blocks up so that their type and strengths are hidden from your opponent.
The rules limit you to moving one group of units per turn, which forces both sides to spend part of their time concentrating their forces in preparation for moving & fighting for key towns like Montreal, Detroit, etc. But the winter attrition rules mean your forces have to be spread out among the towns you control, or your units will be whacked in the winter.
Naval units allow for combat and infantry transport on the Great Lakes. The Americans receive no historical advantages here. Combat between ships is like that between land units, with hits scoring on sixes.
You will find the rules quick and easy to learn, and a one-year campaign can be played in 45 minutes (or less?) if you and your opponent are experienced. This is one of the wargames I have taught my grade 7's & 8's, where we play as "sides," allowing one person to be the "commander" for that turn.
As is true in any dicefest-style combat, you are at the mercy of those bones. But there is a genuine strategic aspect to this game. As the British, you cannot afford to sit back and wait for the Americans to come singing "Yankee Doodle." Both sides must combine offensive strategy with defensive retreats. You might invade in the west, only to find you are losing the war in the east. Any large combining of forces will have to keep the coming winter in mind, lest your invasion force dwindle away due to winter attrition.
What I do not like/areas for improvement:
1) Despite having many years to expand this game with more options, Columiba has done very little. How difficult would it be to include a few extra blocks and labels, along with some leader rules? Why is it necessary to go outside of Columbia for such "extras?" Think of the difference a Scott or Brock would make in the game, just as they did in history.
2) There is not much depth to this game. It is so abstract that it is difficult to see how it is representative of history. Perhaps it is not a wargame after all, but just a game.
3) The mapwork on the board reminds me of a cross between "Snakes and Laders" and those maps of college towns that show all the beer & pizza places. It is not up to the maps Columbia did in later games.
What I do like:
1) Othar than the map, the components have the typical Columbia quality.
2) It is fun to play if you don't mind your historical simulation to be highly abstract.
3) It is a good instroduction to light wargames, easy to learn and to teach to others.
Columbia Games can and has done better than this one. The War of 1812 is still waiting for a more defining treatment, worthy of the legacy and sacrifice of men like Scott and Brock.
Please forgive any spelling mistakes that I did not catch.
Hey, I just read your article reviewing (1812). In it you mentioned that you taught it to your 7/8th grade students. I, too, am a teacher and I am looking to start up a gaming club for next year. I was wondering if you have any ideas? Methods? approaches that worked well? Was this an after school program that you set up, or was it during class time?