There have been several historical events that have occurred on Christmas that would merit being covered in this piece, but I will take one from my favorite period of history (the American Revolutionary War) and my favorite historical personality (General George Washington) because this is a story of bravery, determination and intelligence as the subsequent victory at Trenton proved. During the American Revolutionary War, Patriot General George Washington was at a crossroads in his military career as well as with the fight for his country’s eventual freedom from England. His troops had lost battle after battle preceding the end of 1776 and he was desperate. Desperate for a victory that would provide hope to his troops and his supporters but also that would give this rebellion the push it needed to continue through the winter of 1776-1777. Many of the troops that Washington commanded were nearing their enlistment period expiring on January 1, 1777 and would want to return home to their farms and families for the winter. So he knew that he had to act quickly and decisively or he wouldn’t an army to command in 1777.

Washington decided to plan and execute a very daring water crossing of the Delaware River with 5,400 troops, hoping to surprise a Hessian force celebrating Christmas at their winter quarters in Trenton, New Jersey.

At about 11:00 pm on Christmas, Washington’s army commenced its crossing of the half-frozen river at three locations. The 2,400 soldiers led by Washington successfully braved the icy and freezing river and reached the New Jersey side of the Delaware just before dawn. The other two divisions, made up of some 3,000 men and crucial artillery pieces, failed to reach the meeting point at the appointed time.

At approximately 8:00 am on the morning of December 26th, Washington’s remaining force, separated into two columns, reached the outskirts of Trenton and descended on the unsuspecting Hessians. Trenton’s 1,400 Hessian defenders were groggy from the previous evening’s festivities and underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories throughout New York. Washington’s men quickly overwhelmed the Germans’ defenses, and by 9:30 am the town was surrounded. Although several hundred Hessians escaped, nearly 1,000 were captured at the cost of only four American lives. However, because most of Washington’s army had failed to cross the Delaware, he was without adequate artillery or men and was forced to withdraw from the town.

The Present Winter: Washington’s Crossing and the Battle of Trenton Self Published by Designer Joe Schmidt

As we try to do in these On This Day… posts, we identify a game on the covered subject that might interest you so that you can attempt to play out the history. There are not many game on the subject out there, but a recent one, that was entered in the Board Game Geek 2019 Two-Player PnP Game Design Contest. The Present Winter is a game about Washington’s Crossing and the Battle of Trenton that took place on December 25th and 26th of 1776 during the American War of Independence. The goal for Washington’s Continental Army is to cross the Delaware River and seize control of Trenton from the Hessians. The goal of the Hessian Mercenaries is to, with the help of the Elements, stymie the Continentals in their crossing of the river and to prevent the capture of Trenton.

We posted an interview with the designer Joe Schmidt on the blog and you can read that at the following link:

One of the most interesting parts of the design is the role that the elements played. The Elements actions are a sort of wildcard in the game and there is an Elements Orders Deck that is active for the first three turns of the game. These actions are focused on interrupting Washington’s advance as much as possible. This can be achieved by adding ice to the river and preventing the Continentals from using all of their actions. Their most extreme, and costly, action allows the Elements to remove Spirit via a morale test. All these are meant to give the Hessian player some interesting choices to make, while making the crossing a real challenge for Washington’s Army.

The board is broken up into two sections (the River section and the Trenton section). For people who have played my games, they will know that I prefer a more abstract take on space. Both maps are set at different scales in order to improve the player experience. This is actually a lesson I learned from Volko Ruhnke. When you are designing a wargame you are creating a model. You choose the parameters of your model, in order to best represent your interpretation of the conflict. So, the board was the best way for me to represent my model of the conflict.

Spaces in The Present Winter represent different areas that can be occupied by tokens. The five types of spaces are Open, Town, River, Exit, and Portal. Open spaces (circles) have no effect on game play. Town spaces (squares and the three red Trenton spaces) allow the defending player to reroll one of their own dice in combat. River spaces are used to cross the Delaware, and the Portal spaces connect the River section of the board to the Trenton section of the board. Exit spaces will allow the Hessian to move their tokens off the board to score victory points.

The game is free and can be downloaded from the Board Game Geek forums (link) as a Print n Play. I for one would like to see this game get published as it is a very interesting look at a pivotal battle of the American Revolutionary War and gives us an opportunity to play it out.

I hope each of you has a fantastic and Merry Christmas this year with friends and family as well as a Happy New Year!