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Welcome to Swords and Chit! My aim is to focus on discussing and reviewing wargames. There are two primary reasons I wanted to start blogging about my wargaming experience: as a relatively new wargamer coming from a background of euro games, a lot of things in the wargaming hobby are going to be new to me and I hope to provide a fresh voice for those who might be on a similar journey into this area of gaming. Second, I have a very strong preference for games set in the Medieval period or earlier – although that isn’t where I’ll exclusively play, it is what I will focus on more than anything else. So I am glad you discovered this blog, and I hope you stick around for future posts!
What a difference a revisit to a game can make. Back in late June, we played Supply Lines of the American Revolution for the first time. It was unplanned, it had been mentioned a few times by Carl as one to hit soon. I figured why not, it is a Hollandspiele title so the rules can’t be too horrible to get through as those tend to be shorter and, while not necessarily easier to understand, they are almost always written quite well. He had read the rules a few times beforehand, and I was going in blind. I was given the Crown through random selection of forces, and we set up and got underway after a rules briefing.
It. Was. Miserable.
Granted, it was all self-inflicted (upon reflection, I can see that) and a fault of my lack of being prepared, my inexperience with more logistical/operational experiences, and the fact that this game is unlike anything we had played to that point. It felt like I was too limited on options, had too few forces to do anything, and his reinforcements were multiplying like rabbits each round while my forces were stretched thin, like too little butter scraped across bread. Several times I walked into situations where I was destined to lose, trying to be too aggressive on one hand and then forgetting key things like needing a leader to attack until it was too late (having spent the resources to move a stack of 4 troops from Quebec down to take Albany…without a leader present…). He could make and maintain supply lines at will, and eventually I had to call it a lost cause out of frustration. I know Carl felt bad about the way the game played out, and I did agree that night that I would be willing to give the game another shot, after some time passed and at a point where we planned ahead for the session so I could be prepared on the rules.
Last night was the night of the rematch. We knew 3 weeks ahead of time when it would be, so I had ample time to wrap my head around the game going into it. I’ve since had a few more miserable losses in operational games, so even on that front I was ready to get my Crown forces pushed around the board in a bad way. But I went into the game with a plan, and was confident I could do better. I was going to push early to take Philadelphia, seeing it would slide his marker further from the Declaration of Independence.
You know what they say about plans and contact with the enemy, right? I positioned my forces within striking distance of Philly at the end of the first round. A single unit and a leader, ready to rock and take the southern part of the map to begin a foothold that I could use to expand into a southern stronghold. And then he drew the Philly reinforcement chit. Crap. Well, there goes the plan. But wait, he moved one guy out of New York during turn 1, so I could swoop in and try to take that in a 1-to-1 combat and maybe take out a leader on his side in the process. 1 hit, success! Except I missed that he moved the 2nd guy back in previously…so he still holds New York and my guy is now stranded and all harbor towns but Boston are now Patriot-occupied. Bombardments are ineffective as usual. Well, here we go again…
And then, a few turns later, winter happens and the board opens back up. And I make some strong plays to cut off supply lines and hold cities to reduce reinforcements (including a delightful 0/3 pull for him on getting new units!). I lock down New York, which he surprisingly abandoned, and maintain Boston and Quebec to have the 3 VP cities I’ll need to keep through the game’s end as the second year gets wound down. I suffer a heavy loss, losing an army and a leader in the south after a failed attempt to take Philly mid-game, and my other leader is pinned down in New York. And then, surprisingly, my forces hold off attack after attack. And winter hits, removing his power position and he only gets to draw 3 chits because those are the only eligible ones to go back in the box. And the pressure is let up on New York, moving instead to try to take down Boston, and my leader sneaks out of New York and swings south, getting some rolls going his way to take Philly at long last to hold a 4th city as insurance against losing one. My forces are thin, but so are his. And ultimately, it is enough (barely) to secure a Crown victory in spite of the Declaration of Independence getting signed.
There were half a dozen moments that I was convinced I was about to lose. I had moments of feeling trapped, due to misplays and his great positioning. But I was in for the long game, determined to learn and do better. I didn’t need to win. I was having fun, even from the first failed plan of taking Philly.
Insight #1: Plan ahead for reinforcements as the Crown
It was a system shock the first time I called for reinforcements. I needed to do it during the supply phase, which is the beginning of a round, and it pulls the chit up into the box but reinforcements don’t arrive until the following round. And then, they will only be able to move into Quebec initially, which is clear up in no-Patriot-land Edit: Okay, I played this one wrong. Supplies need to go from Nova Scotia -> Quebec before they can be dispersed. My mind must have just pinned that as an overall rule for Nova Scotia…but the point still stands, you need to plan ahead for these reinforcements. This just saves a step along the path. And then from there they need to sail into the sea box, and then to land in a port that isn’t enemy occupied. They can’t take supplies with them via the voyage, and supplies can only be sent from a port town you control to another port town you control (or via the normal connected supply lines via the map), meaning the port points aren’t useful unless you have a way of giving the troops at least a single food cube to move apart from the sea box. All this is a roundabout way of saying that by the time you need the reinforcements in a useful position, you had best called for them at least 2 rounds prior to that. They don’t magically appear in useful places like those darn Patriots.
Insight #2: Control the supplies, control the pacing
I had a vast, glorious empire of cities under my control in the late game. Sure, they all were weak (thanks to taking only 1 reinforcement chit), but I had my foothold in so many places that I reaped all the benefits. I was generating supplies in those cities that I could put to use. I was blocking the Patriots from getting reinforcements in those areas (and, if holding them at the end of winter, preventing them from being pulled ever again). It absolutely crippled his side, because he was stretched so thin for forces that he needed to leave himself vulnerable in several areas to make a push to prevent my victory. And I could sit there and just “Pass, pass, pass” to place the pressure on him to make a move now, rather than setting up for a perfect play. Beyond controlling areas, taking all points adjacent to an enemy-occupied city will prevent them from gaining supplies at the beginning of each round…something that is also useful as you try to starve them into uselessness.
Insight #3: Holding more cities early is more valuable than aggressive attacks
One of my biggest regrets in the early game was making a play for New York in Turn 2. I was convinced (erroneously) that I could potentially take the city, and while an early conquering could have crippled the Patriot player in the long-term, I lost more by the aggression than I expected. You’ll see some of the reasoning in the next point, as it left my men useless for several more rounds, but more than that is it let the Patriot player get out reinforcements that they could have been denied if I had played with a mind for the long game instead. Because sure enough, the city I vacated to try and take New York was pulled soon thereafter – this not only denied me a chance to get supplies in the middle of the map early on, but it also let him spread out more and have a stronger presence early. It also prevented him losing that city chit into the box after the first winter ended. In the long term, those would have been more impactful on the game as it played out. Would I still make the play for New York? Maybe, but not without being able to leave one man behind to hold that city.
Insight #4: Don’t get stranded
This one hurts when it happens, and it inevitably will happen to you. But really, try not to get troops stranded – especially if they have one of your leaders there. My move toward New York allowed me to carry exactly 2 supplies on my one troop and leader. I took a food and a war supply, as my expectation was they would conquer the city and get to advance into New York. Problem solved, opening up a nice, easy route via port into the part of the map I wanted to focus my efforts on and avoid the mess in Boston that was such a sticky point in my first failed game. What happened from there was a very useless guy standing outside New York, unable to move or attack, until I could get a supply line running to his position. Which, of course, was a challenge since my only port of access was Boston for the next few turns, and even after that it took several moves and lots of food and men to make it finally happen. And it sucked.
Insight #5: Never surrender Boston
In the first game, I gave up on Boston. I fled with tail tucked between my legs, and never really made an impact on the board after that. I was able to do other things, sure, and I believe at least part of that was due to a misplay on my part of thinking supplies could shuttle to the port points, allowing me to swoop up from the far southern point of the map away from his strongest forces. In the revisit, I never lost Boston. There was a time when I only held Boston and Quebec. There was a time when my force in Boston was down to 1 unit. But I held it, dang it, and eventually I had an opportunity to break into the areas surrounding Boston, making his leaderless forces pay for thinning out at last. All it took was getting a 2nd port town for me to be able to finally push forces effectively through the map, and over the next few rounds I took hold of that advantage and pressed it hard, conquering weak city after weak city to make the Patriots bleed and take their supply lines for my own. I heard that if the Crown is thinking of abandoning Boston, regardless of the point in time, it is still too soon to give up on Boston. And it truly is a strategically important area to hold, because a Patriot victory there opens up bigger and stronger supply lines in the northern areas of the map – something you don’t want to happen.
Insight #6: Details matter
Carl played most of the second game believing he needed the Declaration of Independence signed to get his 3rd leader. Sadly, he shorted himself a leader for about a third of the game when he should have had one on the map. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know, the game was really close. It very well could have tipped the scales in his favor, and that would have been okay. I thought I needed enough food in Nova Scotia to move my reinforcements out (2 food, since it was a stack of 6), but I think because it is a port they could have moved via sea to Ontario without that need. We both tried to attack without leaders. We both tried to do little things that are easy to forget, such as how supplies for the Crown can only pass via sea to cities, not the little port points. Can a leader move without any units? If so, does he need a food to move? If you have a stack of 3 units as the Patriot, and a leader is present, can you still “activate” only 2 of them with the leader to Skirmish? There are little nuances, some I bet we still guessed wrong about, that will get cleaned up in time. Such as the Patriot forgetting that the Crown hits on a 1-3 when attacking (but only a 1-2 when defending). Yet these are the details that make the game’s system shine, as we figure them all out.
Most games, I write first impressions after a first play. There are exactly two games so far that I waited until a second play, because of how soured I was by the initial play…this game, and Commands and Colors: Ancients. Both I went into unprepared and was my own worst enemy through misplays and misunderstandings and, in the case of Supply Lines, not having an idea of how radically different the game would be from anything else I had experienced. One of these is already among my absolute favorite games. And, well, the other might end up in that conversation, too. In both cases, I am absolutely glad I gave the game a second chance. In both cases, I learned something in the process that I plan to use in the future. I was “meh” on the time period, but high on both Tom Russell’s designs and Hollandspiele’s games, so I knew it was a game I’d need to play eventually. Turns out it might be my favorite so far outside of his solo designs (sorry Shields & Swords II system, it isn’t you I just need the freedom to play other Wargames. Don’t worry, I’ll come back to you soon!)
This game feels so radically different in all the right ways. Yes, it is going to have conflict – that is inevitable. Both sides gain benefits if they are the aggressor on the Treaty track, and both sides are harder to destroy as the defender in a city. The Patriot ability to Skirmish on points is delightful, and I was glad to see him use that this time around to his advantage. It makes me excited to try the Patriot side of the game. I saw questions recently asking how replayable the game is, and after this second play I can already vouch that it has replay value. Just the order in which reinforcements come out from blind pulls out of the cup will radically alter how both sides adapt to their strategies. The outcomes of battles will determine how aggressive the Crown player needs to be with calling in reinforcements. At this point I feel like I could play the game 10 more times and see 10 different plays unfold as we go, so even though the setup is static and the goals are the same every play on the same map, there’s so much that can change as the game progresses – and new strategies to try and gain an edge to end the game early – that there is a ton of value in this little, delightful box.
Go in prepared. Understand this game is not like your typical Wargame, and that supply lines are everything. Units can, and will, get stranded. Leaders are vital, because without them you are stuck on the defensive. Find ways to effectively move supplies and exploit it. Learn from mistakes, and try to avoid them in the next plays. These are all things I’ve learned. And I’m excited to learn even more things with more plays.