Soren
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1812: The Invasion of Canada is a bit of a revelation to a non-wargamer like myself. Intimidated by the complexity and fiddlyness of even supposedly beginner fare like Manoeuvre, Hammer of the Scots, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear, or Victory: The Blocks of War, I've been looking for a thematic war game that I could learn in a breeze. This one from Academy Games fits the bill swimmingly; I was able to grasp its svelte rules set about as easily as Memoir '44's, the only other war game I've been willing and able to easily get my head around. (I'm always amused and humbled when hardcore grognards use terms like 'easy' and 'introductory' for games that are two rungs down from Advanced Squad Leader even though they're twenty rungs above what I could ever possibly grasp.)

1812: IOC's utilitarian map, comprised of rectangularish segments rather than hexes, holds multi-colored cubes representing the British, Canadian, American, and Native American factions who fought the war. The only other components are the small decks of cards which drive the game, color-coded battle dice, and turn markers. You'll get a whiff of Eurogame feel when it's all set up if only because everything seems so cleverly and economically abstracted. There’s nothing beautiful here, though it’s all perfectly functional.

Game play consists of a routine of choosing a random faction marker from a bag to determine player order, followed by the activation of the three movement or special action cards each has drawn for a given turn. Three is as many as you can have, so your choices are limited. But which armies do you move, how do you split them, and where should they go? Should you hold onto a card for the next turn or use it right now? Those tactics combined with your level of battle aggression and confidence are what make the real difference, as well as knowing your deck enough to keep in mind what options are still in store for you on future turns. It's not hard to accomplish this last task; each faction has just 12 cards to work with, and once one is used, it's gone for good. You’ll also want to take a quick look at those battle dice during setup to establish which armies are most powerful.

Combat could not be too much simpler. The dice offer a very small selection of possible outcomes, and even your retreat options are somewhat taken out of your hands; for the most part, forces obligated to flee the fight on certain rolls go to a fixed spot on the board, to return later to pre-assigned zones. Again, as with your hand of action cards, your decisions are not nearly as open-ended as in heavier war games--but they do very much count, as when you're given the option to take one or more of your own units out of the fray to save them for later, perhaps giving up precious ground.

If you capture more key enemy objectives (cities) than your opponent at game's end, you win the war. A smart mechanic gives you the option to slowly play truce cards as a timer should you have a sense that you’d like to end things more swiftly (and sometimes fate plays a truce card for you whether you like it or not!). If victory doesn’t pan out for you, setting it all up again takes not much time at all; there are just so few components to fight with.

As someone who really just wants a war game to give me a ride to a different realm for a while without having to break out a highlighter and cram for three hours in the library, 1812: The Invasion of Canada is a godsend. I love the fact that I can't do anything I want from turn to turn, that the buffet of choices is limited and analysis paralysis--or even having to check the rulebook much for clarifications--is mostly sidelined. All this means to me is that I can enjoy the theme, the history, and the trash talk to its fullest. Of course your personal attack plan is wide open, but it's delightfully free of myriad unit types, lines of sight, melee combat, weapon ranges, terrain effects, supply considerations, etc. I'm somewhat surprised at the game's high rating on BGG given the fact that wargamers tend to like much more detail and historical accuracy in their entertainment.

Another bonus of 1812: IOC is a clean graphic design which makes the cards instantly understandable and leads you by the hand when it comes to the automatic placement of armies and their subsequent reinforcements--though I do have to ding the designers for failing to print the reinforcement placement guide right on the spacious map somewhere in text form as an instant memory cue; with lots of armies on the map the key spots aren’t always visible and you could miss one before you learn them by heart. You’ll also get a nice long historical summary of the real war, which is well written and takes up almost half the rulebook. There is also the co-operative element which allows for players to control individual factions on the same side. It's there if you want it, but not necessary at all.

To the family of light games centered on an abstraction of military combat, which might include efforts such as Battle Cry, A Brief History of the World, Memoir '44, and even Risk, this one is a valuable addition. If you never thought in a million years you could get your wife or grumpy teenaged son to dip their toes into the realm of the grognards, well, you've got as much of a chance here as you're likely to get.

Twitter: @SorenNarnia
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Wargames??? YES YOU CAN!
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Soren
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leroy43 wrote:


I like it, I like it!
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Kevin Duke
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Quote:
though I do have to ding the designers for failing to print the reinforcement placement guide right on the spacious map somewhere in text form as an instant memory cue; with lots of armies on the map the key spots aren’t always visible and you could miss one before you learn them by heart


Isn't printing very large blocks on the map where the units come in handling this just fine?
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Soren
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kduke wrote:
Quote:
though I do have to ding the designers for failing to print the reinforcement placement guide right on the spacious map somewhere in text form as an instant memory cue; with lots of armies on the map the key spots aren’t always visible and you could miss one before you learn them by heart


Isn't printing very large blocks on the map where the units come in handling this just fine?


I would say almost, but for the first few turns armies were covering the small cube guides and I found myself just going to the rulebook rather than scanning the board to make sure I had things just right. Not a big deal at all, just a tiny bit irritating.
 
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