Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mr. Madison's War

Long time no write.  That is primarily due to how long it took me to actually play the next random game from my collection, Mr. Madison's War.  This is a Card Drive Game (CDG) published in 2012 by GMT Games, which purports to cover the War of 1812.  Back in 2012 I had the opportunity to play a couple games of Amateurs to Arms, a different CDG of the War of 1812, and it was very interesting to me to see the differences in the games.  I will be comparing the two a bit at the end of this writeup.

If you have experience with gaming other wars, the War of 1812 is quite strange.  There are a few reasons for this, but for game purposes there are two primary reasons.  First, the entire front of the war in Canada IS the British supply lines.  If the US forces capture any Canadian territory, usually everything further West has their supply cut off.  Second, the US declares war before it is even ready to fight, which is quite bizarre (and funny/sad to read about how it happened in real life).  The strangeness of the start of the war is handled nicely through the way that the deck of cards is set up.  First, each year of the war has its own deck of cards, to keep historical events happening at least within a few months of when they actually did.  For the year 1812, the Declaration of War card is randomly shuffled into the top part of the deck, so that it will show up during the first turn, but nobody knows when.  Individual cards are dealt to the players in turn order, and they can either use them to move forces around (but not attack) or hold them, until war is declared.  At that point the rest of the cards for the turn are dealt and play proceeds as normal.

There is no dallying in this game, as there are a total of nine game turns, three of which are "winter" turns where almost nothing happens (players can hold a maximum of two "winter event" cards at the end of the autumn turn every year).  Thus, you only really have six turns to move forces and engage in combat to take enemy terrain and score victory points.  Unfortunately, since this is a CDG, you are limited in how many forces you can use each turn.  Thus, the players have to have specific strategies and use their cards properly to execute their strategies successfully.  The fact that there are only nine turns, and three of those are brief, means that this game can be played relatively quickly.  The designer says that it can be played within four hours, and if both players are experienced with the rules I believe it.

The games does have a good historical feel.  All units, whether land units or naval ships, are all named based on the historical Order of Battle.  Real historical events, like the British burning of the District of Columbia, are handled through Event cards, many of which directly score victory points.  This provides some historical flavor, while not bogging down game play too much.

So how does this game compare to Amateurs to Arms (ATA)?  Mr. Madison's War (MMW) is focused strictly on the Canadian front, while  in ATA there is also the Eastern sea board and British attacks thereupon, as well as battles against Indian forces in the Southern US as well as west and south of Detroit.  Basically, ATA tries to cover the entire geographic scope of the war, where MMW focuses on Canada and the bordering US areas.  ATA is also a more involved game, with more turns and more going on.  This makes it a deeper strategic game, but also one that takes longer (I've played ATA for over 8 hours at a sitting and not finished it).  On the whole, I think I prefer MMW from the sole standpoint of it being a simpler game that is shorter to play.  I like ATA, and will happily play someone else's copy if I have the time, but I don't think I need it as long as I have MMW, which nicely fills the "War of 1812" slot in my collection.