Theme and What is it?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.