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Subject: [Roger's Reviews] The Fall of New France rss

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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Empires in America
A solitaire game designed by Joseph Miranda


Introduction
« Déjà les Anglais se mettaient en possession des meilleures terres et des plus avantageusement situées qu'on puisse posséder dans l'Amérique septentrionale au delà de la Floride, quand deux ou trois marchands de Normandie, sur la légère espérance d'un petit commerce de pelleterie, équipèrent quelques vaisseaux, et établirent une colonie dans le Canada, pays couvert de neiges et de glaces huit mois de l'année, habité par des barbares, des ours et des castors. »
- Voltaire, Essai sur les mœurs et l'esprit des nations, 1753

Empires in America is the third game in the very popular Victory Point Games States of Siege Series. It places in your hands the fate of New France during the Seven Years War (aka the French and Indian War south of the border). It is published by Victory Point Games (VPG).

Components

Empires in America comes in a ziploc bag, and includes all the counters, rules, cards and a map of France. You will need to supply several six sided dice to play.

A bitter end for the French as the British seize Montréal.

The components are very functional and the map makes it easy to not only see the state of the game at a glance, but also has quick summaries of the turn order and how to execute certain actions. This will save you a lot of time referring back to the rules.

Speaking of rules, this is one of the more complex games in the States of Siege series, and careful attention must be paid to the actions one can take and the sequence of events. That said, the States of Siege games are meant to be relatively easy to learn and once you've gone through a few plays you'll be referring to the rules less and less.

Sidebar commentary: VPG produces games on demand, so while it's true that the components aren't of the same caliber as one might expect from your typical wargame company, this allows VPG to carry a large catalogue of games that might sell only 200 copies ever, compared to the typical print runs of 3000-5000 (or even more) and their attendant issues of channel distribution, warehousing, and up front sunk costs.

Rules and Game Play
The rules of the game are quite straightforward, and the flow is governed by a deck of event cards. Your role is to protect New France from the British threat, which come from its various armies all heading ultimately for Montréal.

There are two decks in the game, one with blue cards and one with red cards. The red cards are initially placed face up and perpendicular to the draw deck. These are known as bottomed cards, and cards can be bottomed through the course of play. The game is won by the French player (you), if you get through the deck and only bottomed cards remain.

At first all can be reasonably peaceable between the two sides, but eventually the Seven Years War card will appear and cause the bottomed cards to be shuffled into the current draw deck and from there on in, eevery turn during the housekeeping phase all bottomed cards get reshuffled back in.

The game is thus split into two phases - the pre-war years, where three cards per turn are drawn and executed in order, and the war years when you draw and execute four.

Cards come in several types, including new leader cards for both the French and British, auxiliary troops, and events.


Sample cards.


The British AI will move its armies closer to Montreal each turn, provided there's a leader to command it. The French turn consists of spending action points to counter this through various means, as well as building some infrastructure (both fortresses for defense and trading posts to allow rebuilding of troops).

The most interesting aspect of this game as the French player is deciding where to spend your action points most effectively to defeat British leaders and repulse their forces. This is no mean feat as the combat system has each side roll a number of dice equal to their leader rating plus troops available (including auxiliaries committed), and in the early going it can be tough sledding for the French if their leaders remind buried in the deck and constrain the available action points.

Furthermore, the French need to defeat the British enough to force their armies back, but need to be mindful that eliminating an enemy leader can be disadvantageous because neither side can have more than one leader active over the other; if you end up with three leaders to your opponent's one, you'll be losing one yourself, and its attendant action points. On the flip side, this means you'll never be in a hopeless military situation as the British will never have four leaders out there to your one.

This game is quite difficult to defeat, and protecting Montreal is key. If the British enter Montreal at any time, the game ends instantly. Therefore, a balanced approach is required by the French to get through the deck successfully (a feat I've not yet accomplished as of this writing).

Conclusions
As someone of French Canadian heritage, I have a particular interest in games set in La Belle Province, including the now classic Quebec 1759 and currently popular A Few Acres of Snow (reviewed previously). I was delighted at how well Empires in America captured the flavour of the campaign, and the challenges the French forces faced.

Empires in America has one particular strength, and that is its unscripted nature. The Seven Years War card is in the blue deck, and it could either be the very first card you draw, or the very last, and one hopes as the French to get a few leaders out before this happens or else it can be tough to get going!

The other element of the game I really liked was the combat system. The British armies automatically advance when led, but you can attempt to push back any army, and the auxiliaries you have on your tableau will shape your decisions about where and how to attack. The British AI is relentless, and careful planning will be required.

This game is tougher than others I've tried in the States of Siege series, but it provides a lot of flexibility in the approaches you can take. For those who want to take the game even deeper, you can also get the Empires in America Expansion Kit.

Over the years I've played many different solitaire games, including some of the classic SPI paragraph driven ones such as Damocles Mission and The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat and more recently games like Field Commander: Rommel, Nemo's War and Toe-to-Toe Nu'klr Combat with the Rooskies.

Some solitaire games have very limited scope for deviating from the script (such as in paragraph driven games) and some have an AI with a puzzle like solution that loses its appeal when you've solved it. Then there are those that either just take too long to get to a conclusion, or are so short that you feel like it took longer to set up than play. This is not the case here. Clocking in around thirty to forty minutes per game feels just right for this one - it strikes the right balance between length and the amount of control I can exert over the game state.

I have become a big fan of the States of Siege series. I look forward to playing this one a lot more, and have my eye on several others.


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
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Andy Andersen
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Excellent review. I picked up a VPG Nemo's War and am walking myself through the rules. This looks interesting.

Thank you.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Nemo's War is probably my favorite VPG solo game. I reviewed it last summer - [Roger's Reviews] The deepest parts of the ocean are totally unknown to us
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Andy Andersen
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leroy43 wrote:
Nemo's War is probably my favorite VPG solo game. I reviewed it last summer - [Roger's Reviews] The deepest parts of the ocean are totally unknown to us


I failed to mention - your review is why I bought it.

Thanks.
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Roger, thanks for shining a light on what I think is the most under-appreciated of the States of Siege games. This is one of those Joe Miranda Mad Scientist games that make him one of the designers most worth watching.

Also, bonus thumb for mentioning Damocles Mission.
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