Every so often, we get an itch to do a topical video where we play a lot of games on a specific subject and then kind of rank them. A few summers ago, we played a lot of French & Indian War games and from that experience several of the games rose to the top of the stack as my favorites on the subject. But more than just being my favorites, or being well designed a good game on the French & Indian War must include several factors such as sieges, building roads and crossing the untamed wilderness, seaborne operations, fortifications, especially for the French and their bastion at Louisbourg, Indian raiding, Indian tribes and their fickle loyalty and Colonial enlistments. If these elements are not modeled into a French & Indian War game, then it really isn’t about that period.
So, with those criteria being laid out, here is a look at my Best 3 Games with the French & Indian War.
3. A Few Acres of Snow from Treefrog Games
There are not a glut of games covering the French & Indian War but there are some really good ones out there including A Few Acres of Snow from Treefrog Games designed by Martin Wallace. A Few Acres of Snow is a 2-player, deck-building game (yes you read that correctly) about the battle for the fate of the North American continent between the French and British and their Indian allies. The deck building sees each player having to collect troops and settler cards in order to control areas to expand into the wilderness and each of these cards will have multiple uses. The players have to choose only one aspect of the card to use when it is played. Each space captured or settled will add another card to the capturing player’s deck thereby making it easier to control the continent. The game is fun, engaging and has some really interesting strategies to it that take into account the different focus of each nation and how they went about fighting this titanic struggle.
The interesting thing about some of the areas that the players can settle is that their mode of travel is very important. If you are traveling up river, you have to have a canoe or other water craft to be able to reach those areas. This forces the player to have to plan and take into account the difficulty of traversing North America at that time. This will have trying to settle specific closer to civilization areas first to gain those cards in their decks that allow them greater range in travel and to match symbols on targets to make them colonizable. There are also cards that allow the player to recruit and utilize Native allies to their cause and these can be messed with by Indian agents of the opposing side so you have to be ready for that. I also like that there are fortifications that can be built by the players representing forts and other improvements to make holding an area a bit easier from an encroaching enemy.
The final aspect that I really like is the way that recruiting soldiers works and how they are used during battles and sieges. The players have to recruit their soldier cards throughout the game but these cards are not very useful to the general work of exploring and settling the wilderness. In fact, they will clog your hand and make it nearly impossible to get the matching cards necessary to explore and settle remote areas of the board. The players have to be skilled at placing these soldiers into their Reserve Box where they can build them up to then be used in battles or as a part of a siege at a later time in the game. I really like this planning aspect as it simulates the difficulty of logistics and travel in order to properly wage warfare in the wilderness. This part of the game is very interesting and feels very F&IW to me.
While A Few Acres of Snow is not a traditional wargame, as there are no hexes and counters and the units are represented by cards and there is the presence of lots of colored discs and cubes on the board, the game is a good depiction of some of the issues inherent with the French & Indian War and makes for a very enjoyable and playable game that most anyone can understand. Martin Wallace designed a real gem here and I will die on this hill as this game is deserving of play and a place in the lexicon of F&IW games!
Here is a look at our video review to give you an idea about how the game plays:
2. Wilderness War: The French & Indian War from GMT Games
One of my fondest memories of our wargaming journey was our initial experience with the full campaign game of Wilderness War from GMT Games. We were 2 very inexperienced wargamers and we slogged through a 9-hour marathon play over a few days that ended in a 0-0 tie of all things. That’s right, the game ended in a tie, even though we both had a card in hand, but I was unable to use mine to activate Levis, which was my only potential point scoring force, and Alexander’s forces were in too tenuous a position or too wounded to risk an open battle for VP’s.
You would think that this would have turned us off to the game but on the contrary it made me fall in love with asymmetric wargames and the Card Driven Game mechanic with its use of Action Points and events to wage war on the North American continent. The end score of our game really followed the tension of the game, and the blunders on the side of the British that counter balanced their various successes.
All in all, this game was excellent to play and we both highly recommend it. The two factions play extremely differently which leads to many intricate and reactive strategic decisions. The British have many powerful forces with their Highlanders and cannon while the French have access to better leaders and mobile troops and Indian allies who can run around the frontier raiding and burning settlements for VP’s. Laying siege and assaulting really feels like it should, and avoiding battle is something that is integral to maintaining a strong presence on the board. You cannot always get into every possible fight as you will not survive the attrition of these battles. The deck plays really well, and as you don’t have to worry about the opponents events in your hand going off, the management aspect is much simpler yet very engaging as there are always reaction cards you can play or cards that you want to hold onto for that perfect moment.
I also want to talk about when to play cards as sometimes you must be patient. Most of the Alliance cards give the players a bonus when you have greater than 4 VP so it is imperative to hold them as long as you can to make sure you get the largest benefit of the cards. If you are under 4 VP, you only receive half of your die roll of units so even a great roll of a 4 will only net you 2 Indian units. While if you played the same card when you had more than 4 VP you would have received 4 units, a net increase of 2 units. This increase of 2 units can lead to 1-2 more successful raids over the course of the game and cannot be underestimated.
To me the simple beauty of this game is in the balance and that the end result typifies the struggle that the F&IW truly is and was in history. In my opinion, there is no clear advantage for either side if proper strategy and tactics are used, even though the British are superior in numbers and power. This result means that this game is very well balanced, well put together and a strategic gem of the gaming world. I would highly recommend this game to anyone that loves CDG or GMT Games and there is a reason that it has sold very well over the years since its first printing in 2001.
If you are interested, I wrote a Strategy articles on playing as the French and you can read that at the following link: https://theplayersaid.com/2016/04/21/advice-from-a-novice-on-playing-as-the-french-in-gmt-games-wilderness-war/
1. Bayonets & Tomahawks: The French and Indian War from GMT Games
The final game we will take a look at is the best of the bunch IMHO. Bayonets & Tomahawks is a very interesting and unique game to the others on this list. The game uses cards, but in a different way from a normal CDG as they give players activations that can be used to take various actions like move, attack, raid, build a road, etc. The first thing you need to understand is that the cards will have a number of unit symbols on them that allow for the activation of those type of units. Squares and Triangles is what you have to know. Squares can be used to activate one stack of Brigade units or can be used to activate Light units. The Triangles are used to only activate Light units. That’s pretty much the gist. There are sometimes symbols in the Squares and Triangles that give extra abilities such as an anchor that allows for naval movement and a special 2x that allows that type of unit to move twice. This symbology was a really refreshing take on the subject and hammered into our minds the differences in the units for both sides and for the importance of properly utilizing these activations efficiently.
Each card can also have an effect which is mandatory and always goes off. These events replicate historic happenings such as smallpox epidemics, changing of Indian alliances, special Battle bonuses and other cool effects. But you never know when they are going to come out as the deck is not seeded and when you draw cards is totally random. There are actually three decks; one for the British, one for the French and then the Indians also have their own deck. The French player uses their own deck and the Indian deck each round which is very cool and gives them a few more activations, although the Indian cards can only be used to activate Indian units.
The next thing you need to keep in mind about each of the nation’s unique decks is that they are very different. Different in the number of activations they provide, different in the type of events and different in the number and instance of the special symbols. I have not done a deep dive into a comparison of the decks but plan to as I am going to write a series of Action Point posts to give you some of the details. But, with that being said, the French generally gain 2-4 unit activations, the Indians gain 1-3 (and have a card that provides no activations) and the British get 3-4 unit activations with 3 cards that grant 5 such activations.
This difference in the decks is fine as I know that the designer is trying to show the differences in the two nations and their fighting forces and size. But, it makes for a very interesting strategic situation for the French. The French have to be more judicious with their moves and have to be a bit less on the offensive as they will not be able to activate enough units to take it to the British round after round. Plus they have more Raiding opportunities with their Light units and the Indian units and have to use these often to gain Raid Points that ultimately lead to Victory Points. The British on the other hand have got to get their troops moving, building Roads and assaulting key strong holds as they make their way to Louisbourg, Montreal and Québec. The cards are very well done and while not a traditional card driven game creates a unique and interesting experience that fits the struggle well.
The game uses custom dice that are connected to the symbols for the various units. Remember, Squares for Brigades, Triangles for Light units and now Circles for Artillery/Fleets. There are also a few other symbols, including a crossed bayonet and tomahawk that typically means success on a Raid action or a hit for certain units and a flag which means a morale hit and can lead to forced retreats. Frankly, while the symbology is very easy to understand for the units, the battle system was the biggest challenge that we had with the design. It is not bad, it is just a bit more complex and requires the players to use the player aid and the rulebook for all battles as it is just too difficult to follow and remember, even after a few plays. It works very well and is coupled with a very interesting Battle Track that tracks hits and morale losses and when the battle is over, the victor will be the player with their Battle Track Marker higher than the other player. The loser will have to retreat and this is very important and really creates some tension as the process unfolds. Having to retreat out of a fort that you just built doesn’t feel great but happens sometimes. Don’t worry though, you can scuttle the fort so that your enemy cannot use it against you until they build their own.
Bayonets & Tomahawks is a special game and frankly was the most enjoyable wargame that I played in 2021. What it tries to do, it does very well and creates a very engaging and interesting simulation of this titanic struggle for the future of the continent. The game’s production is also off the charts. From the beautiful map, to the very cool custom dice, to the interesting use of squares, triangles and circles to represent different unit types. It is a beautiful game! But, it is more than a pretty face and creates a very rewarding experience that is sure to be enjoyed for many, many plays and years to come because you cannot possibly get it all in just a few plays.
Here is a look at our initial thoughts video to give you an idea about how the game plays:
Those were my 3 Favorite games focused on the French & Indian War. There are not a ton of games out there on the subject but what there is represent the subject well. I have enjoyed other games on the subject as well such as 1754 Conquest: The French and Indian War from Academy Games, Bloody Mohawk: The French and Indian War from Lock ‘n Load Publishing and French and Indian War from Worthington Publishing. What games do you like covering the French & Indian War?
French and Indian War Vol-1 , French and Indian War Vol-2 , Struggle for New France, Wilderness Empires, the out of print and Bloody Mohawk and Savage Wilderness.
Special note on the out of print games are totally revamped with huge 1 inch counters and maps. Bill Molyneaux Games while Struggle for New France is Blue Panther and Wilderness empires is Worthington games. These games are proudly sold at over 25 historic sites and vented and approved by many Historians and Authors.
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Thanks Bill. I have played both Bloody Mohawk and Savage Wilderness and they are solid tactical level games.
Thank you and the new versions with the large counters make them even better! Best part is the museums they are sold at picked the art work for the boxes in the new versions and Dr. David Preston Author and Professor at the Citidal endorses my games.
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The old VPG Game Empires in America, the states of siege system does the FIW.
I also like Bloody Mohawk and Savage Wilderness; my gaming group has turned them into a set of miniature rules. They make for an excellent convention game.
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I have the Empires in America States of Siege Series game but haven’t been able to play it yet.
For some reason, Wilderness War has just never done it for me. I love CDGs, Volko Ruhnke, the subject of the game but again for some reason…
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And that’s ok. Not every game clicks with everybody.
Great recommendations, thank you! Hoping to try Wilderness War on Rallly the Troops soon. Not sure if you guys are driving to WBC this year, but if so (and if you have time on your way in or going back) you should consider stopping in Pittsburgh to check out the Fort Pitt Museum ( https://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/visit/fort-pitt/ ).
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Second the motion on stopping in Pittsburgh to see Fort Pitt (and the Heinz Museum). Also, Fort Ligonier (https://www.fortligonier.org/), the site of a FIW battle, is just a few miles from the WBC Convention location.
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Bayonets & Tomahawks is just a great game. Really makes you think outside the square and is just really interesting. All in all 3 great games though!
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