Academy Games has adapted its board game – via a Kickstarter project – called 1775: Rebellion (1775) and released it on Steam; since I doubt anyone perusing our website will not recognise the subject matter, I’ll omit mentioning it. Therefore, moving on, from its introductory movie one immediately sees how 1775 differs from other titles published by HexWar Games. Perhaps it’s because other HexWar offerings reviewed here on Wargamer – such as Civil War: 1863 and Tank Battle: North Africa – didn’t have intro movies. Which is not a knock; like most people (I’m guessing), I can take-or-leave introductory cinematics, since, while they’re often very nicely done, in the end I may only watch them once or twice, and what do they add to gameplay?
I think about all the effort that could have instead gone into actual game structures, AI, cut-scenes, etc., especially for an otherwise poor game. Not that ‘poor’ applies to 1775 – which, despite its differences, seems to fit well with other HexWar titles; as observed elsewhere in these virtual pages, HexWar presentations offer a satisfying ‘quick-hit’ wargame without a lot of complex rules or minutiae to slow things down.
Other differences are apparent via 1775’s ‘manual’; as a virtual playing aid it is a welcome divergence, however when it begins almost exactly as I’d expect a board game manual to start – i.e., by advising players to divide the pieces and cards according to what ‘faction’ each will play; more about factions in a bit – my eyebrow rises. What’s this? I ask myself. Someone couldn’t be bothered to adapt the documentation? Ah, well. Perhaps it’s trying to retain the ‘feel’ of the board game, which would be fitting, given the game’s rather nice look, representative of its progenitor: Playing pieces and cards are well rendered, the former even ‘upgraded’ from the board game as miniature militiamen (et al.) vice tiny blocks á la classic Risk. The mapboard, naturally representing the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S.A. and Atlantic Canada, even mimics industry-standard embossed texture art paper complete with ‘moving’ water. Some might view this effect as clashing – i.e., the attempted realism of waves contrasting with an otherwise completely abstracted 2D map surface – but in my opinion it works.
Although the real board it represents is apparently huge (as might be observed in various shots via the foregoing links), the resolution offered in the PC version – between 640×480 and 1920×1080 – seems to make little difference, although some were very blurry on my monitor (probably a conflict in choosing 59Hz vice 60). Regardless, zoomed in, the effect is quite cool, indubitably more ‘realistic’ than the board game’s blocks. Using side buttons, City names on the map can be toggled on/off; Event History called up (albeit the font used is so small I could hardly read it at the highest resolution); your Ally’s cards are viewable; Objectives can be perused; and the score is always displayed top-middle.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING!
Normally a two- to four-player game, the computer version features multiplayer, and in single- allows the player to take any ‘side’ – American or British – optionally controlling both factions or turning one over to the AI: British Regulars and Loyalist Militia, or Patriot Militia plus Continental Army. Native units will join any faction simply by moving a faction unit into their territory (containing only natives), but they and other allies can also enter the game as a result of played cards (see below), including the French on the American side, plus Hessian mercenaries as historically employed by the British. The game then proceeds – I imagine, more or less identically to the board version – starting with a ‘pre-deployment’ phase, then randomly determined player turns (called Rounds), commencing with a Reinforcements phase, Movement, Battle, and concluded by Draw Cards (three held per faction). Movement is accomplished through card use, by sea or land, but not both on the same turn. ‘Events’ also occur by playing cards during an appropriate phase, where historical incidents such as Paul Revere’s Ride and Betsy Ross’ creation of the original American flag, in addition to reinforcements mentioned previously, emerge with appropriate effects.
The game offers only three scenarios: the full 1775 Campaign and “Short” tutorial, plus “The Siege of Québec”. The short version lasts only two turns and is playable within half an hour-ish (including frequent referrals to the rules!). The campaign will obviously take a little longer, albeit can still be concluded in an hour or two, depending on player skill and Difficulty selected (AI Easy, Normal, or Hard; AI Speed can also be adjusted). However, end-turns are automatically saved for later resumption, and individual saves are allowed too. Winning conditions vary slightly by scenario, essentially based on a side holding most of the thirteen historical American Colonies and/or by playing Truce cards. Ties are possible, the manual stating in such a case that, “America becomes a southern province of French Canada.” LOL! (As a Canadian of French Canadian descent, I couldn’t help but be amused at that theoretical outcome. Bienvenue au Canada, mes amis américains!)
Before visiting actual gameplay, I noticed that 1775’s sound effects and music seem uneven. While on the Main Menu appropriate music plays and volleys reverberate around your head (at least in headphones; and they sound like muskets to this non-initiate in the milieu), contrastingly in-game, a stylised version of “Yankee Doodle” is ofttimes interspersed with funeral dirges, whilst lame click-clacks sounding more like misfires replaces shooting. Animations of units firing and on the march are pleasing, albeit close-in the former often appear to discharge with bayonet thrust into an enemy’s face (how did he miss?!). More on animations after we visit game mechanics, but for now I admit – again while guessing that a lot of players will as well – eventually find in-game music repetitive anyway, turning off sound and instead listening to their own playlists or the ball game on TV in the background.
TWO IF BY SEA
As to problems, I found few. Although the game hung once on me, forcing a Task Manager quit – and has since been patched to v1.02 – the experience otherwise felt smooth and intuitive. Certain Event cards don’t remain in view long enough for a novice player to read them, but once familiar with them I’m sure it won’t matter (and a lot of printed information is just that anyway: background and ‘flavour’). I found the Reinforcements ‘report’ somewhat confusing; it will read, for example, “3 units available. (3 reinforcements, 1 fled units)”, but to me this should read “4 units available….” Again, however, one gets used to it. Dice-roll animations (unless turned off in Main Menu Options) often left them cocked, and therefore challenging to tell what was ‘up’, as it were; but at least the computer re-rolls or resolves any disputes! Movement animations – also toggle-able – can become tedious, especially water movement, seeing that ships seem to take a route via Hispaniola to their destinations, even those ‘next door’. One final cavil: In the manual and on various cards the font used is incapable of reproducing special characters such as ’ apostrophes vice ‘, as well as diacritics; thus, words such as Québec appear Qu□bec. Distracting, but not game-breaking.
Following my limited play-throughs I am undecided as to 1775’s replayability, yet a game that wins various awards must have something going for it. I can also see that, given the random turn sequence whilst not knowing who goes next from round to round, plus virtually endless permutations of cards in play – twelve per faction, plus those reserved for “Québec” – doubtless myriad ways exist for games to play out. For example, when a player has two Land Movement Cards, one that allows three armies to move two spaces, plus another allotting three moves albeit to only two forces, which to play? Or should they go by sea instead…?
The custom dice are a cool feature as well, adding more uniqueness; instead of pips 1-6, they are tailored to each faction, indicating possible combat results of Flee, Hit, and Command Decision. The frequency of each depends on the faction so that, for example, militia is more susceptible to fleeing while regulars are likelier to hit, both of which seem reasonable. However, the ability to redeploy ‘fled’ units almost anywhere on a player’s next turn seems a bit gamey, like the Command Decision (see below). For example, once, eight Loyalists I’d previously driven off popped up around my beleaguered Patriots, in addition to their four normal reinforcements!
In any event, once we get into close quarters, similar to Risk, a limited number of dice can be rolled, depending on units in play; but in 1775 the defender always goes first, applying any results before the attacker can fire. Adding to its tactical depth – but again a bit gamey as mentioned above – assuming a legal move, the Command Decision result allows the player to retreat a unit(s) from battle. Thus, does one save a unit or two from certain doom, and/or take advantage of a ‘free’ move into a more strategic location or as a possible blocking force, or leave it in hopes of winning or at least inflicting more casualties next battle round? Such decisions, however abstracted, bode well for a deep game full of tactical nuances that can only enhance replayability.
So, in summary, what to make of 1775? “The Siege of Québec” scenario is described in the board game as “advanced”, but I can attest that on PC it seems no more difficult than the campaign, at least on Normal AI. After a relatively painless time on Easy/Normal while learning the game, I was handily spanked trying a couple of regular campaigns on Hard. I can consequently verify once more that the game’s subtleties will be difficult to master, presenting a challenge for some time to come. Yet I hear you asking, dear reader, if 1775 is worth US$25.00-or-so? It’s certainly a bargain compared to the board game at around $70 ($120 with various expansions), but otherwise that’s debatable. If I was already a fan of the original and wanted the opportunity to play 1775 on my commute or when human opponents are unavailable or long-distance, I would probably grab it. Likewise as a fan of the milieu, though I might wait for a Steam sale. Or perhaps if I were King George III and wanted another chance to hang on to the Colonies…