Publisher: Academy Games
Game Designer: Beau Beckett, Jeph Stahl
Playing Time: 60-120 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $70
1754 – Conquest: The French and Indian War is the third and final title in the Birth of America series from Academy Games. The game carries on the same core game play of the first two games, 1812: The Invasion of Canada and 1775: Rebellion, making it very easy for gamers already familiar with the system to jump right in.
Seven years of hard luck
1754 covers the Seven Year’s War, which ran from 1754 – 1763, and was fought between the French and British along the northern American colonies, to points west and into Canada. As with the other titles in the series, this is an area control game with randomly dictated turn orders and card play, for two to four players. Random turn ordering and being card driven are two mechanisms that I really enjoy in games. I find that they keep both the play and strategies fluid, and drive unexpected momentum swings.
Component and rule book quality are top-notch as expected, this is Academy Games after all, and they rarely disappoint. The game is rules light, clocking in at a mere three pages, with the balance of the book covering examples of play, card explanations, and historical background to the conflict. When you have an elegant design, wordy rules aren’t a necessity, and this is quite an elegant system.
The board gets pre-seeded with different colored cubes, representing the starting forces of all five factions in the game. The two main antagonists are composed of British regulars and colonials, taking on the French regulars and French Canadiens. The Native Americans make up the fifth faction, and act as free agents throughout the game.
The six Native Nations form a buffer between the existing French and British territories, and ally with whomever is in contact with them first. These alliances are fleeting, and last only as long as you stay with them. However, they are a powerful force to not be overlooked because they bolster your forces immediately, granting you the extra troops needed to take or protect critical control points, which in the end are everything.
Winning is a simple case of having the most control markers at game’s end, which comes at either the end of the eighth round, or can be triggered once all four sides have played the Truce card from their hand.
Truce cards are one of the twelve cards in each player’s deck, from which players always have a hand of three to work with. Eight of the cards handle movement, while four others are a mix of events with a historical flavor that benefits its faction. The cards are well balanced, having both matching and unique cards for either side sprinkled between the factions. When playing a four-player game, good communications and team work are essential in maximizing card play opportunities.
Aside from the tried and true mechanics of the series proper, 1754 adds a couple of new tricks to the mix. The additions of Forts and Ports is fantastic and distinguishes this title with its own identity, adding new and interesting avenues to be explored through repeated plays.
Each side has three Forts under their control at the start, with another that can be added through card play. Forts add a defense die to combat, giving the defender a 50/50 chance of blocking one hit from the attacker. This is a minor change, but one that can have a major implications in combat, slowing the pace of the siege and really frustrating the attacker.
If your Fort defense isn’t faring well, you have the option of destroying it while withdrawing using the command die. This is an important point to keep in mind, you don’t want to just hand over a strong defensive position to your opponent at a critical juncture. Forts can and will change the tide of battle!
Ports are an incredibly critical feature in the game, this is where the French and British regulars receive reinforcements and can move freely across large sections of the map. While the colonial militia and French Canadiens have limited muster sites in home territory cities, French and British troops make the trek from Europe. So anchoring those port locations (pun intended) with a steady troop presence is key. Leave them open, and your opponent will choke off control of the area.
Along with their reinforcement importance, ports are also where you can ferry troops to and from, to launch amphibious assaults. Using any movement card, you can move from port to port, make landfall and an offensive ingress into your opponent’s territory. There are no water movement cards that limit you in this game, a very welcome and smart game change in my opinion.
To be successful in battle, you’ll need to optimize your forces with a mix of Regulars, militia and Native Americans to build a good dice pool. Although the Regulars have the stronger combat die, the militia can add up to three more and the Native Americans another pair, greatly increasing your odds. I like how the dice abstractly resolve the outcome of the battle. Sure, there’s some luck involved, as there always is in dice rolling, but there are different levels of luck in battle as well.
When using Native Americans, be sure to bring more than your opponent does to a battle to gain the die bonus. Not really having a dog in the fight, Indians will avoid fighting each other, and cancel each other out on a one-for-one basis.
Stepping back to the militia for a moment, it’s true that they have a greater chance of fleeing back to their homes when the battle gets tough, but don’t write them off too quickly. With an extra three dice, you have a greater chance of failure, but when successful, they can quickly whittle down your opponents armies. Letting them take hits first also protects your Regulars, yes, they are cannon fodder.
There’s one last addition to touch on and it’s an interesting one, the Native Alliance expansion. This 15 card deck adds some interesting abilities and powers. The cards are drawn randomly, one per faction at the start of the game. They can grant extra control markers, if you have control of the specified area and have a Native cube in it with you. Or, can give you special abilities, such as the Mingo power. This ability blocks the defender from rolling a Fort die in combat, and that can be huge! It’s a fun little expansion that keeps things fresh and helps broaden the game nicely.
One minor niggle I had with the game was an absence of an overflow area for battles. Some territories are fairly tight on the map, and when those areas become points of contention, the cube count becomes unwieldy. Perhaps in future iterations of the system, a battle board could be used to make managing this a little easier. That way players won’t be ham fisting other cubes out of the way in neighboring spots. Yea, I’ve done that more than once.
Games move pretty quickly, generally lasting about 90 minutes. There is a lot of back and forth action, as territories change hands and strategies are adjusted based on turn order. The game has a nice historic feel, keeps things balanced and makes for a highly enjoyable gaming experience for any level and age of gamer.
Wargaming made simple
Any game in this series is a perfect introduction for a new wargamer, or when trying convert a friend over to the dark side. Each has its own identity, and 1754 – Conquest: The French and Indian War is no exception. The introduction of forts and ports are both important aspects to securing and maintaining footholds in different regions, with water movement no longer limited to specific water movement only cards, things really open up. These new mechanisms expand an elegant system, giving it its own flavor and feel and makes it shine.
I don’t often say a game is a classic title, and while it may be a bit early to lay that title here, I do feel that 1754, and the whole BoA line are deserving of that moniker. These are games that will be played for years to come, because they are great gateway wargames that are easy to teach, play, are very fun, and make you want to keep coming back for more. This is a credit to the solid design work of Beau Beckett, Jeph Stahl, for creating a solid and versatile system.
Thanks to a concise and informative rule book coupled with intuitive play, 1754 is accessible to any audience. Everyone from families to grumpy old grognards will find this an engaging bit of quality entertainment, that even manages to sneak in a little history lesson. Well done once again Academy Games!
While the game is rules light, 1754 has enough layers of strategic depth to keep you coming back again and again. Most importantly, it’s a damn fun game, and one that really belongs on your shelf. Now pardon me, I need to go acquire 1812: The Invasion of Canada, so I can finally own all three games in this series.
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Note: A copy of this game was provided to me for this review.