Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Washington's War on Vassal - Game One

The adventure into the world of boardgaming with Vassal continues for Steve and me as we get to grips with playing Washington's War, the GMT revision of the original Avalon Hill game, We the People that Steve and I first got to grips with in its original incarnation, as one of the first card driven games that is such a modern feature of many games today.

Having cut our teeth using Vassal to play Columbia Games 1812, followed by L2's revision of another classic Avalon Hill title, Breakout Normandy, we wanted to see how Vassal copes with using a card driven mechanic

War of 1812

BKN Game One

BKN Game Two

The position on our first game of Washington's War, at the end of 1777 played using Vassal 

We started our game of Washington's War just before my computer hard drive blew up and sadly I lost the first three years of play game shots and so my account starts from the end of 1777 with the map seen above.

The first thing to say is that the graphics in this game are superb with a great map and game pieces rendered as beautifully as the original board game, and once we had reacquainted ourselves with the rules of play, the game flowed along quite nicely, with two or three rounds of card play being quite possible in an evening of play.

Below is a shot of the British card hand, with the American having the same screen not visible to the British player. The cards are drawn by a simple click of a button under each card, so not visible here and the cards are played by a right click on the selected card, giving a drop down menu of the range of options to play it, as seen over the D'Estaing card seen below, with the system delivering the card to the playing board once an appropriate selection has been made - 'simples as the meer-cat would say!' 

Vassal handles the seven cards held by each player at the start of each turn in this window allowing easy play of a selected card without the other player being able to see the hand held.

Both Steve and I were finding our way with Washington's War in the early play, being more familiar with the older version of the game, but as you will see from the map below, we had had some early action, with Greene and Washington driven out of New England by Howe, attacking out of Boston, later supported by Cornwallis, establishing a line above New York and gradually securing up to Canada with an array of British PC control markers.

End 1777, the Year of the Hangman and the British are starting to build their position in New England with the US army relatively weak and French intervention a long way off.

In 1776, Clinton landed at Norfolk with a 5 strength army, drawing Arnold south to cover him, only to see Clinton quickly reembark to his ships and land at Wilmington to allow a march on Philadelphia, then held by Washington, defeating the American leader and dispersing Congress, only to have Washington counterattack after an American PC was placed behind the British force to prevent any retreat.

Clinton was forced to surrender losing his army and the British Infantry advantage as well as ramping up the French intervention chart, with the only recompense for the British being the turning of Arnold and his removal from the American order of battle leaving the map looking as it does at the end of 1777. 

End of 1778, with Congress dispersed to Charlotte, North Carolina, and British garrisons starting to take up residence in New England

Playing the British, I soon focused my attention on New England to give me my six states including Canada to give the Crown victory should the war come to a close before 1782 as the last card laid indicated it might.

The one asset the British are wealthy with is troops, which provide a useful way of sprinkling garrisons behind British lines to hold down the country from American PC placement and flipping once my main armies had marched past.

It soon also occurred to me to have my generals in close proximity to police the River Hudson and prevent American incursions as one of their number moved between states delivering those garrisons, thus forcing the Americans to make the running and take their chances against my mutually supporting armies able to call out the militia and get naval support when close to the coast.

End of 1780 and Greene has moved into Canada to try and threaten Montreal and Quebec, before Carleton and Burgoyne returned north to seal off that front. Howe and Cornwallis hold the Hudson line against Washington, whilst Clinton has done a first class job setting up garrisons around New England to secure the rear

By 1780, the British had got a strangle hold on New England with French intervention still six points away, not the three shown on the map and no sign of the Ben Franklin card.

Steve had a go at breaking the British line at New York, initially driving the British army out and back to Long Island, only to have Cornwallis counterattack after picking up reinforcements there and rolling a one with plus two on the dice leaving Washington needing a four or more to repulse the British but rolling a two and finding himself wintering once again in Philly.

End of 1781 and end of the rebellion, with Washington surrounded in Hartford and with the 1779 card played indicating war end.

As the war rolled into 1781 the British were in a strong position and looking for that war end card to grab the six state victory.

It was then that Steve played the 1779 war end card that decided the war would end that year leaving Steve to make a final bid for glory by threading Washington between Howe and Cornwallis to grab Hartford Connecticut and thus deny the state to the British by playing his last card with two activation points to place the necessary PC markers.

Of course the Americans were banking on the British not having a campaign card to mitigate such a move, but sadly, they did and Howe moved into the attack as Clinton took up his position on the Hudson to secure New York and the forward line.

War end with the British Minor Campaign card on the board and Washington bottled up in Hartford and unable to prevent British control of the state 

Howe lost the battle of Hartford and pulled back to New Haven, but this left Washington surrounded and unable to flip Hartford to American control thus leaving the state in British control.

Quite a nail-biting conclusion to a cat and mouse struggle and with me looking forward to commanding the Americans in our next play through.

The small changes in the rules between Washington's War and We the People make this feel a distinctly different game, but still a classic in that how the cards roll out will produce a completely different game each time and will force different strategies from both players accordingly.

The northern strategy worked well in this game with no intervention from the French and the early ejection of Greene and Washington from Boston and New York. However that might not be the case in our next play and the British may be forced to look south where North and South Carolina and Georgia are relatively small states sitting below the winter line making the establishment of British garrisons less problematic to maintain provided strong British forces are nearby.

As far as an American approach to the game, my mind is still open to ideas and I will be thumbing through the playbook this weekend for some new ones.

Next up: A book review from the Age of Sail and work starts on the Spanish collection of Napoleonic ships with JJ's Dockyard ringing to the sound of hammers.


  1. That sounds like it was a blast! That was fun to read. You mentioned the British asset being troops, so what is the main American asset in the game? I have every confidence that you'll develop a solid strategy to win the war and free the American colonists from the yoke of British tyranny. I look forward to reading how you SUCCESSFULLY led the American side to a great victory. ;) Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Adam, we thoroughly enjoyed the game, but I have a feeling you might be disappointed with my performance in the next one.

      In answer to your question the Americans have seven commanders, eight when Rochambeau joins them, to a maximum of five for the British, which with their ability to raise troops twice in any turn as opposed to just once for the British means you can get a lot of armies on the table quite rapidly should you choose.

      That said unlike the British only Washington and Rochambeau can winter with their army and avoid attrition which means the Americans are constantly spending activation points to top up their armies or just move around lots of small forces. This reflects the turn around of Continentals and the difficulty of keeping the troops in the field over winter.

      The other benefit the Americans get is that they can move quickly, up to five zones to the British four and five zones and attack when using the Glover's Marblehead card, plus they can intercept a British force moving within one zone of them and both Greene and Washington have a 66% chance of avoiding a battle should they choose.

      The Americans always have the choice to move second unless the British hold a campaign card with the advantage of being the last player to move knowing the British are all done for the year, allowing them to organise the odd winter offensive giving them a +1 in the combat calculation or to knock over British political control markers at year end, which can be critical if its a War End year.

      I think the trick is to keep the British busy chasing lots of small American armies, attacking when opportune and staying in the war long enough to get the French and their navy in to deal with British naval movement and landings.

      This is one of our favourite games and with the historical element in the cards a very nice historically driven model of the conflict.


    2. Thanks for the detailed explanation. That certainly does make it challenging for the Americans. I might dabble with this over the summer.

      Regarding your future prospects, I am still convinced of your success in achieving American victory. You've already defeated Steve earlier in this game. Sure you were the British earlier...that doesn't matter. So it's 1 to 0, you're on your strategic pressure to remain undefeated. Just the hopes and dreams of virtual Americans are at stake. 😁 I look forward to reading about it when you all are able to play again.

  2. I like the look of this game. Great graphics and it would appear to has a lot of potential as the basis of my upcoming 28mm AR campaign. I will explore options. Cheers Greg

    1. Hi Greg,
      Washington's War has improved upon We the People, but maintains the best of the original, namely a simple but not simplistic method of play that entwines the card play of events and activations to capture the historical feel of the AWI.

      We have often thought this game would make a cracking campaign engine for the war of as a whole using miniatures on the table to resolve the battles it sets up.

      Henry Hyde's superb publication of yore, Battlegames had a really interesting article in Issue 21 by the Canadian gamers Bob Barnetson and Bruce MacFarlane explaining how to convert forces on the map into tabletop ones for its predecessor We the People, which would still work for Washington's War.

      You can get a copy in PDF from Wargames Vault in the link below:

      Hope that helps