Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Mr Madison's War, The Incredible War of 1812 - Vassal Game Three


With two games already under our belt and a growing appreciation of what this game has to offer in strategic options, Steve and I were really keen to dive straight back in for a third game of Mr Madison's War with a quick die roll to determine sides for this game at the end of our last, and with me taking command of His Majesty's forces in North America.

This time, from our previous play experience, we were both aware of the opportunities and threats each side had to contend with and even though our war began within about two card draws, thus with little in the way of pre-war manoeuvring, it also started fairly conservatively with both of us keeping careful track of each others naval build up on each of the lakes through late 1812 and early 1813 with the Americans opting to take an early initiative by securing Lake Huron by sending the US brig Adams into the lake surrendering the initiative to the British on Lake Erie with the advantage pressed home by British card play that removed some US Schooners.

Meanwhile tension was increasing around Lake Ontario with an early build up of British troops marched rapidly down from Quebec to reinforce Kingston and threaten Sackets Harbour before the defences were complete at both towns, whilst also taking control of Ogdensburg on the St Lawrence to prevent the US Schooners reinforcing the US squadron, that prompted troops in Albany to be rapidly sent off to the American lakeside base at Sackets to prevent any attacks from the British troops gathered in the area.

The situation just before winter attrition end 1812 and the American offensive has started with the Niagara frontier unlocked by Harrison and Renesselaer, but with Yeo securing Lake Ontario

The Americans attempted to get control of Lake Ontario but were utterly defeated by Yeo's squadron just as they launched a corresponding offensive on the Niagara front with Scott and Renesselaer teeming up to launch a left-right attack on Forts Erie and Niagara that had Brock marching between both rapidly trying to hold the front but finally being ejected from both and driven off to Burlington with the obvious threat to York requiring General Drummond to come rapidly to his support with reinforcements.

However the American offensive had thrown the British defence out of balance with General Prevost required to leave Quebec with reinforcements for the St Lawrence line and to hold Kingston, leaving Rottenburg to manage the Champlain front with a growing threat from Wilkinson and the second draught of US reinforcements.

Thus by the close of 1813 the American highwater mark had been achieved with some great card combinations of American frigate victories and Harrisons offensive on the Niagara only offset by Yeo's victory on Lake Ontario but leaving the Americans with 15 victory points in the bag.

By the early part of 1814, the British have pulled the US Victory Point total back to eight points but now having US General Brown sat on their supply line from Quebec at Fort Preston leaving Kingston, York and Amhurstburg out of supply.

Things continued in the wrong direction for British fortunes as General Brown directed his activities towards Sackets only held at bay by Drummond rapidly returning from Burlington with the few troops he could gather up near York, but not enough to stop Brown skirting along the St Lawrence and capturing Fort Prescot, cutting the vital British supply line down the river to Upper Canada.

The cockpit of the war focussed on Lake Ontario and each end of it with the US ground forces victorious but with Yeo 'Lord of the Lake'.

The careful use of British cards to play events such as the Shannon v Chesapeake naval victory and the capture of Lake Erie by Commodore Barclay as General Proctor held back the US troops in Detroit, helped to drag back the victory point total to eight, but 1814 looked desperate for British hopes despite the massive reinforcements expected, certainly if Steve managed to get the Treaty of Ghent card and heaven forbid the Battle of New Orleans.

War's end, and Brock still holds out in York despite two attempts to take the town by Harrison sat outside with his big stack of troops. Meanwhile British redcoats occupy both sides of Lake Champlain with British boats controlling the water. More importantly, from a British perspective, the Americans could only get another two points in the closing half of 1814.

Thus with 1814 looming the British faced a tough choice as to how to proceed to keep the Americans under ten or less victory points, namely whether to march down the St Lawrence and try to shift General Brown before the Upper Canada and Niagara fronts collapsed due to lack of supply or to try and offset the likely effects by launching a rapid offensive along the shores of Lake Champlain and towards Albany, taking the lake and the towns near it for the victory points.

As I expected Steve brought Harrison up from the Niagara front and drove Brock back to York and attacked the town, fortunately fortified but now cut off reducing Brock and his force to half strength.

Amazingly and utterly unexpectedly Brock beat off two assaults on the Provincial capital as Rottenburg and Prevost brought the British Peninsular veterans down to Lake Champlain in support of Commodore Downie who took control of the lake.

The cockpit of the war in 1814 proved to be driven by the British offensive towards Albany,
relieving some of the pressure on York and Kingston.

Wilkinson and Macdonough were driven south in the British offensive as captured American towns were occupied and the threat to Albany was enough to force Steve to commit valuable action points to this front rather than Niagara or Detroit and with me holding the New Orleans card and the Treaty of Ghent card staying in the deck, the war came to an inevitable end with Steve's Americans held to ten points advantage.

What a game to finish on with cut and thrust from both sides throughout, never knowing what opportunities the next phase of card play would throw up  and with Steve putting together a brilliant American offensive at both ends of Lake Ontario, with Yeo and Braddock resisting the tide of American success long enough to allow a final British offensive on Lake Champlain pull the war back intime for the final peace negotiations.

I really like this game a lot with loads of historic data points and an order of battle mirrored with beautiful graphics and map all tied in with the best part of a card driven game, namely never having one game the same as another due to the random effects of the card draw.

Next up with Vassal, Steve and I will be trying out another card driven game, this time set in the English Civil War, Unhappy King Charles.

In addition to Vassal, the Spanish third rates of renown are reviewed starting with the Montanes class 74-gun Monarca and I will post my thoughts about 'A History of the Royal Navy, The Napoleonic Wars.


  1. Sounds like a good bash JJ.

    I have Columbia's "War of 1812". I know you have that game too and wondered how they compare ?


    1. Hi Vince,
      Yeah Steve and I played Columbia's 1812 at the start of this series of games and we still love that game as well, with all the hidden deployment aspects that block games offer.

      However I think Mr Madison's War is my preference principally for the historic flavour captured with the map, counters and cards, together with the fact that no to games will ever play the same because of the card draws.

      In addition the pre-war manoeuvre phase is a great mechanism and provides yet more decision points for the players as does deciding to play event cards for the events and often easy victory points or to make use of the high value action points to move or adjust units on the map.

      Finally the neat aspect of including the Battle of New Orleans event card means that a US player with that and the Treaty of Ghent card in his hand in the last card draw knows when the game will end and has a pretty much guaranteed two additional victory points in the bag, and with the British player never sure that he has them or not as they might still be in the balance of cards that don't get used in that last phase of play.

      In a tight game, those two points and control of when the game ends can be literally a game changer position.

      The game itself seems beautifully balanced offering both sides the chance to win, i.e. gain a 0-10 VP advantage, as in this game, which falls within the historical range and thus leaves the British controlling the peace talks, but anything over that sees a more decisive outcome with territorial gains achieved by the winning side.

      It is definitely in my top set of favourite games to play.