Saturday, 19 September 2020

Vassal Fun - Washington's War, Band of Heroes & Mr Madison's War

Steve and I have been carrying on our regular Tuesday night Vassal meet-ups during the pandemic and finding out how well the system can handle different types of games.

My last post covered off the second game of Washington's War in which I got beat this time playing the Americans, although the war went all the way despite Washington getting captured early on, that really set back the American cause and it proved an uphill battle just to stay in the game.

We decided to have a third game with both of us well up to speed with the rule changes from the previous We the People, that we were more familiar with when we started.

The position at the start of 1777, with a cautious start to the war that sees Congress still operating out of Philadelphia and with Arnold in the bag after clashes in New York.

I reverted back to playing the British and the final game proved to be a real cliff-hangar as both of us were putting to good use the lessons learned.

The position in 1777 reflected this with two strong British armies guarding the hold gained on New England and looking to threaten Congress but with Washington hovering close by on the Hudson and Lee covering the coast, whilst Greene threatened Canada and Arnold waited to be exchanged after the early clashes with Howe and Clinton.

1780 and the British threat in the north has grown following Congress being forced into the back country as Cornwallis takes the war into the southern states, as Greene waits to be exchanged

With Steve cannily protecting Congress and laying political control markers at every opportunity whilst running numerous small American armies, I opted to build a British fortress again around Canada and New England before sending Cornwallis south to try and stretch the Americans and hope to be in control of six states when the end of war occurred.

1782 and war end with a British victory, six states including Canada and Cornwallis making his presence count in Georgia, before Greene could intervene.

As the war wound on through 1781 it seemed neither of us could clinch the deal as we struggled to stay within the threshold of victory with, for me running the British, looking to garrison key parts of New England and Canada whilst having Cornwallis make a nuisance of himself in the south and forcing Greene to come into the Carolinas to manage the situation.

Fortunately as 1782 came around and the cards got dealt I found myself holding the War Ends in 1779 card which I felt sure could not be trumped by Steve having an earlier settlement, thus I focused on getting the six states lined up before playing my trump card right at the close and ending a thrilling and tense game. 

After willing away a few nights battling in the American War, we decided to dig out an old favourite that we hadn't played for years and move into WWII with Lock n Load, Band of Heroes. 

Steve chose the scenario, suitably entitled 'Hell's Highway' and I ended up playing the American paratroops alongside British tanks defending the Arnhem corridor from an attack by Fallschirmjager supported by Panthers, a Tiger and an 88mm gun.

Hell's Highway sees paratroops from the US 101st AB fighting alongside British tanks defending a Dutch village on the Arnhem corridor attacked by German paratroops supported by heavy tanks

The graphics in this game are really attractive and were one of the draws that caused me to get into it when it first appeared, hence my copy is an old first edition with a game now into its fifth reincarnation, covering WWII to Cold War at the squad level and individual vehicle, similar to Squad and Advanced Squad Leader.

The game was entertaining, but didn't live up to how I remembered it, with both of us finding the spotting rules, that requires previously spotted targets to be re-spotted each turn before they could be engaged rather tiresome and occasionally irritating.

Game end and the Germans are halted on the edge of town seemingly no where near to getting in and leaving us both a little disappointed with this particular module

This frustrated Steve's attacks as much of his activation was focused on identifying my positions again, even though my troops had not repositioned the last time they were spotted.

I on the other hand could contentedly hold my fire not move and hunker down in cover, only opening up when Steve's Germans were close in and knowing that fewer of his units were in a position to return my fire.

Thus Steve's Germans were looking rather battered at the close of play with the Allies well in control of the situation but both of us not really bought in to the simulation.

Perhaps the game is showing its age or that we prefer a miniatures game of Chain of Command that fights at this level but in a more plausible way - oh well, you can't always rely on your memory of some of these old games!

So with Band of Heroes put to the back of the shelf we decided to head back to North America and another card driven horse and musket campaign game, Mr Madison's War, The Incredible War of 1812 produced by Gilbert Collins with GMT Games for the 2012 bicentenary of the war.

I've had this game on my shelf for over a year and not had a chance to play it and so I dug out the latest Vassal module and watched the video tutorials on YouTube to get up to speed on the play mechanics which have some really interesting tweaks to the normal card driven play routine.

The position of the two armies on the Canadian border in 1812 as our first game of Mr Madison's War kicked off

The big thing that grabbed my attention was the fact that the game begins before war has been declared and that it ends with the historical declaration of the Treaty of Ghent settlement but with the possible playing of the Battle of New Orleans card by the American player, to grab a couple of VP even if the war has ended, as historically occurred.

War End in 1814

In the first game which saw Steve and I getting used to the rules and understanding the nuances of card play and moving units into combat, I played the British and grabbed an historical win which saw me get all of Steve's key cards in 1812 that sees the Americans able to grab multiple event victory points from the early success of US frigates and sloops, but not if the British player gets the bulk of those cards, which I did. 

Not only that but the British secured Lake Huron and Lake Ontario early on and pushed on down Lake Champlain late in 1814 to get a 3 VP minor win.

The cards really add to this game with a great attention to the history of the war, the usual mechanic of decisions to move troops or grab event victory points or advantages, and year specific decks that manage the start and ending of the war.

However neither of us felt the game was played to its full effect due to our learning curve and so we immediately kicked off a second game with me running the Americans.

The cards are complimented with a gorgeous map as shown in our game captures and this splendid counter art with individual vessels and specific units and commanders beautifully rendered.

Our second game is proving a fascinating struggle, and showing what a clever game system Mr Collins has come up with and so I intend to do another post looking at the game in more detail with a break down of how our game unfolded.

Needless to say Vassal continues to impress as a way to play board games interactively over the net and I would commend it to anyone thinking of having a go. 

Next up, Third Rates of Renown, a book review appropriately focussed on the naval war of 1812 and a WWII British coastal gun battery visited on a recent walk.


  1. Good to see that your clocking up the games on Vassal Jonathan. I've put it on my "to do" to explore.

    1. Hi Greg, I can really recommend the system, especially in times like these when face to face gaming is problematic. Steve and I finished another game of Mr Madison's War last night and having had a really good game are planning a third set up next week.

  2. The digital version of Lock and Load is very good (and quite cheap!!!). The starter set has a few scenarios from the D Day and Vietnam modules and you can then add to them as new modules are released. My regular opponent and I tried Vassal initially but switched to this version quite quickly for online games

    1. Hi Alastair,
      Thanks for the recommendation. I think we both felt that the spotting rules in the system were problematic for us and more so for the attacker trying to supress enemy units in cover as they advance on the position, and ended up with a lot of activations being used continually in that way that frustrated the need to advance in the limited time of the scenario.

      We've found that certain Vassal modules are better than others, especially when 'housekeeping' in a game is done automatically without the need for the players to manually mark a unit or adjust a given marker, which can really speed up the play and free the players to just get on with the game.