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On Site Review: Birth of America

April 15th, 2006 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

It looks like a grand strategy game, but Birth of America is a pure wargame. No building of units, no construction of buildings (beyond the odd fort), no resouce gathering. This alone will turn a lot of people away from the game, despite the novelty of the 18th century setting. More’s the pity.

AGEOD‘s first game puts you in control of one of the sides in the French and Indian War or the American Revolution through two long campaigns or a number of shorter scenarios. It plays out in simultaneous turns and gives you all of North America east of the Mississippi (plus some Caribbean fortresses) for your battlefield.

The first thing that strikes you about BoA is the artwork. The map itself is a mess of greens and browns, splotched with white in the winter. But the counters are great, with leaders having very convincing portraits and the armies having clear colors. Planned movement is indicated with with lines and little numbers marking how many days it will take the army to get to a location along the way.

The simplicity of the game hides how well it mirrors 18th century combat. Sieges can take a long time, but assaults can be effective. Supply trains are essential to long distance treks, but can slow you down immensely. Nothing breaks a campaign like winter does, and breaking fortress towns like Louisbourg will take many winters or a lucky assault.

Fog of war is connected to control of regions, terrain and the abilities of your generals. Some of your little men will be able to hide better than others, making ambushes an effective strategy. It is a little counterintuitive that Cornwallis can set an ambush in the wilds of the Ohio Valley, but the game doesn’t discriminate against any one side.

(I have been very unfortunate in my efforts to get a PBEM game going. There is an error on one end that prevents us from even getting the game going. Once I can get a game running, I’ll comment on its suitability for multiplayer.)

Any technical issues with scrolling and load times have been ironed out from the preview, making BoA a mostly pleasant experience.

So much for the description. The conclusion? Birth of America is a very good game. The design is wholly original, and is not an attempt to ape or mimic the design of any other title on the market (a charge that could be fairly leveled at Philippe Thibaut’s other strategy games, both of which had more than a passing resemblance to Europa Universalis.) As turns move on, a greater sense of the turning points of the conflicts evolves and the strategic situation facing each of the nations involved becomes clearer.

Take the issue of reinforcements. Each side is reinforced based on historical exigencies. This poses a problem for the British in the French and Indian War. They have too few troops in place to be strong everywhere they need to be and are faced with a colonial levy system that means some forces get disbanded once their service is up. They will eventually be reconstituted, but back at colonial capitals. So, the British player has to plan his/her early movements with this in mind. A stream of Redcoats will soon arrive, though, meaning that the French player has the opposite problem – he/she has to move quickly.

The inclusion of river movement adds another twist left out of many theater level wargames. The rivers of Eastern North America give the side with the craft power to move a lot of troops quickly. So, control of port towns not only means controlling the high seas but also controlling the interior waterways.

No game in recent memory so effectively enforces the concept of “Winter Quarters”, meaning that moving troops like little firefighters eliminating threats here and there won’t work. You need to decide what your one or two priority targets are for a campaign season and hope to hold ground in those places your opponent targets. This makes for some serious strategic thinking.

Birth of America is not perfect. Turn results could be displayed more prominently and the rollover tooltips are often in too small a font. The entire game could be written with larger print, in fact. The music is forgettable and there are enough bugs and glitches to mean that we are now on a sixth patch – with still more to come.

Plus, if you don’t like wargames this one won’t win you over. It doesn’t have enough of the political flavor to draw in afficianadoes of the Revolutionary Period and not enough chrome to bring in newcomers. This is too bad, since the game itself is accessible enough to newcomers to recommend to people want to give this sort of game a try.

(Full disclosure: Though uncredited, I edited the English language PDF manual.)


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