1754: Conquest – The French and Indian War Review

Theme and What is it?

The third and final game in Academy Games excellent “Birth of America” series, 1754: Conquest – The French and Indian war is a war game of area control where two to four players will maneuver armies through skillful card play.  Players will take control of either the French or British and fight over regions along the Eastern seaboard of North America.  Native Americans may also be recruited into players’ forces in an attempt to turn the tide of battle.  New to 1754: Conquest, for players familiar with the series, are the mechanisms of forts, army and native muster points, and valuable harbor regions which all give players new options when considering both their offensive and defensive strategies.

Gameplay Mechanics

1754: Conquest features area control and tactical card play.  Game setup is the same regardless of player count.  In a two player game, one player controls both sub-factions of a given side.  Each faction has a stronger troop type in the British and French Regulars, and a weaker militia type in the British Colonials and French Canadiens.  I will illustrate specific differences between these troop types throughout the rules explanation.  The board regions are in three different colors: purple, green, and red for the French, Native, and British home areas respectively.  The regions of the board indicate any starting forces present, which may include Native units, as well as which regions begin the game with a fort.  Control markers are used when either the British or French control a region with a victory point in either neutral or enemy territory.
Each of the militia factions gets two muster points, from which they will reinforce on each of their turns.  One of the two points is always in the same city, but players will choose another of the open cities in which to place a second muster point.  Then each sub-faction adds four units into either any home territory or territory already containing that side’s units.  Each sub-faction has a deck of 12 cards that includes army movement cards, one being the truce card, and a few event cards.  Players will always have three cards in their hand, at least one of which has to be a movement card.  If a player is ever without a movement card they will reshuffle and draw again.
To determine play order, a blank die for each sub-faction and one for the Native forces is placed into a bag and drawn one at a time.  When a player’s die is drawn, they will reinforce and recover any fled units, move, resolve any battles, and then draw back up to three cards.  On either the British Colonial or French Canadien player’s turn, each muster point will generate two units, unless the point has been upgraded by a special event card.  If the die is for the British or French Regulars, the player will generate four units into any harbor not containing enemy troops.  If a player has any fled units, they may also recover these troops and place them in accordance with normal placement rules.  When the die for the Native forces is drawn, three Native units are placed into each of two regions matching the Native symbol for that game round.  Native forces are neutral until claimed by an army.
A player must play a movement card, but may also play event cards, on their turn.  A movement card will state how many armies may be moved and how far.  Any grouping of units from a region can count as an army.  A player may include units of either sub-faction in their move, provided there is at least one unit in the army matching the active sub-faction.  Armies may move through friendly units, but may not pick up or drop off units along the way.  If any armies end their movement in enemy territory, then a battle will occur, after which the player will draw back up to a hand of three cards from their faction deck.
The battle mechanics in this series of games is one of the highlights.  Each sub-faction has its own faction specific dice which can yield different results in battle.  Regardless of the total number of units in the battle, players can only roll a certain number of combat dice leading to multiple rounds of battle.  The dice have blank sides which provide command points, sides with hit icons, and sometimes a flee result.  The Regulars each only have two battle dice compared to the three dice available to the militia and Native forces.  However, the Regulars only have hit and command results on their dice whereas the Militia and Native units have a chance to flee from battle.
At the beginning of the battle, any Native units on either side cancel each other out one for one and flee to the fled unit space.  Remaining Native units then participate in the battle.  The defending army has initiative and rolls their battle dice first.  Hits force an opponent to remove a unit of their choice.  Command results may be used to leave the current region and move to a neighboring region so long as it either contains friendly troops or is an empty home or Native region.  Next, the attacking player will roll all of their battle dice.  Players will alternate in this fashion until either British or French forces remain uncontested.  If the region contained a victory point and is in neutral or enemy territory, a control marker is placed.  In the event that a region has a fort, the defending player will roll a special fort die during the attacking player’s roll and on a success may block an incoming hit.  Additionally, forts can be captured should all of the defender’s forces be defeated.  However, if the defender leaves the region using command results, they may choose to destroy the fort and remove its marker from the board.
Finally, one of the movement cards for each sub-faction is a truce card.  If at the end of rounds three through eight, all truce cards from at least one side, British or French, have been played then the game will end.  Players will count up their control markers and the player with the most is the winner.

Initial Impressions

The previous entries in the Birth of America series, 1812 – The Invasion of Canada and 1775: Rebellion, are both excellent games in their own right.   All of the games operate under the same primary foundation of mechanisms, but with subtle alterations.  The new mechanisms in 1754: Conquest are the forts that players can make use of to aid in defending their territories, specific militia muster points, and the harbor regions.  I had previously played a game of 1775: Rebellion and enjoyed it, but I was not sure how much of my enjoyment could be attributed to the revolutionary war theme alone.  The theme of 1754: Conquest was less interesting to me and I was thus eager to see how strong I found the underlying gameplay.

Quality of Components and Insert

1754: Conquest comes with 5 sets of battle dice, 4 decks of cards, and 205 wooden cubes.  Each faction gets its own deck of 12 cards, either two or three dice, and a number of cubes for their armies.  The cards are of good quality and are thick enough to prevent accidental bending.  The cubes representing your forces are standard wooden cubes matching previous entries.  The dice have a good weight and the iconography is clear and easy to read.   Finally, the color matching from the cubes to cards to faction dice is very good.  The insert has plenty of space for the minimal components and is sturdy enough that it should hold up well.

Artistic Direction

Copyright 2017 – Academy Games

Academy Games always has good game boards with clear art and great representations of the regions wherein they take place.  The boards for the Birth of America series are even based on historic maps and display very accurate cartographic detail.  1754: Conquest is no exception. The map is clean and crisp and the color palette is simple giving the board a certain elegance.  There is enough detail on the map to give it character, but not so much that it inhibits the important information and board iconography.  The areas on the map are more clearly demarcated than I saw in 1775: Rebellion and there were fewer questions relating to area borders and water crossings.  The cards feature historical background art in Academy Games’ established style.

Fun Factor

1754: Conquest is a lot of fun at the table.  I have played games with both two and four players and there is a nice rhythm alternating between quiet analysis as players plan their turn and move their armies versus the battles themselves which are exciting examples of calculated risk as you roll the dice to see how your forces perform in battle.  The random turn order also lends good levels of tension and excitement and leads to dramatic troop movements should either two British or two French dice come out back to back.  Never knowing when the Native Americans will reinforce also adds an interesting dynamic to mix.

Difficulty and Age Range Suggestion

1754: Conquest, and the Birth of America trilogy in general, requires a mix of strategic planning in determining one’s overall battle plan, but also tactical creativity as players respond to both the random turn order and also the luck of the draw from their faction decks.  The ability to think ahead is important, but so is the ability to improvise and change your approach in the moment.  Event cards, when skillfully timed, can be devastating to your opponent.  The box suggests ages 10 and up and I think that this is accurate, though I would suggest playing a four player game and pairing each child with an older teammate.  To manage the game individually, I think players would have to be a couple years older.

 

Conclusions

Copyright 2017 – Academy Games

The underlying rules in 1754: Conquest, which serve as a foundation to the entire series, are surprisingly simple: you play a card, move some armies, and roll the battle dice.  However, the randomized turn order and the faction decks, when coupled with the differences in the battle dice, take those simple rules and provide amazing tactical depth.  Regulars are clearly better than the Militia forces in battle, but they can only throw two dice per round rather than three, leading to circumstances where players may choose to sacrifice the better Regulars in order to throw more dice in the next round of battle.  Even though dice lead to some randomness, the varying strength of the battle dice provides a level of foreknowledge into the relative strength of various armies on the board. 

There is also a push and pull in moving armies around the map.  Because Regulars and Militia reinforce in different ways, it can be easy in the late-game to not have regions with both types of units which can hamper that side’s ability to move troops.  Ideally, the British and French will try to keep at least one of each of their sub-factions in every region so that the resulting army can be moved from either sub-faction’s movement cards.

End of a 2-player game

The random turn order might be my favorite aspect of this series.  Getting to move both of your side’s sub-factions back to back can be very helpful in orchestrating an offensive push.  Exactly when the Natives get to reinforce can also have a major impact in determining movement strategy.  Event cards can be used to devastating effect when properly timed, provided the turn order goes your way.  Additionally, timing when to trigger the game end is heavily influenced by turn order.  For example, imagine the British Colonials had played their truce card in an earlier round, and the British Regulars intend to play their truce card, given the current score, but that player is drawn to go first.  If they follow through, everyone now knows the game will end after the current round, but the French would have an opportunity to flip a marker or two thus swinging the score in their favor and taking victory, whereas if the British Regular went last there would be no such opportunity.  These factors lead to high replayability and the final board state can look wildly different from game to game.

End of a 4-player game

Academy Games always pride themselves in the historical context of their games and 1754: Conquest is no different.  The board is based on historical maps, the rulebook contains a historical overview of the game’s theme, and they also offer materials for teachers who might want to incorporate their games into the classroom.  As a historian and an educator, I appreciate all of this attention to detail. As a tabletop gamer, the game is simply a blast to play.  Being able to see both of my biggest passions combined is icing on the cake.  If you enjoy area control, are a fan of history, or just want a fun war game, I strongly recommend you check out 1754: Conquest.

NB. Images bearing the 1754: Conquest logo stamp
belong to Academy Games, copyright 2017.
Modified images have been attributed where necessary.

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