Continental Drift: End of Empire 1744-1782 (Compass Games)

My wargaming tastes skew decidedly modern, with the vast majority of my collection covering conflicts from the First World War forward. And yet, something about End of Empire: 1744-1782, the latest offering from Compass Games, covering the battles of the final five decades of British domination of North America, grabbed my attention.

The Battle of Quebec

Based on William Marsh’s earlier Command magazine game of the same name, End of Empire presents an operational-level view of King George’s War, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolution, plus assorted minor tiffs of the era. Two full-sized maps, linked horizontally, provide coverage from the Eastern seaboard west to the Mississippi and Lake Huron. Four and a half 5/8″ countersheets with striking graphics round out the handsome boxed package, which retails at about $100.

Recently, I had the opportunity to take two of the smaller introductory scenarios out for a spin with regular opponent (and all-around good guy) Mike Vogt at one of our game sessions at Labyrinth Games in Washington, DC. We played the Invasion of Canada scenario and also the War of Jenkin’s Ear scenario, both with a limited number of units and a short time frame. Our experience was mixed.

Leadership sits at the heart of the game system. Most units are severely constrained in their abilities unless stacked with a leader, who himself needs to pass an initiative die roll to do anything other than sit in bivouac on a given turn. While representative of the era’s command-and-control capabilities, a string of poor rolls can leave a player in a dire (or bored) situation. Mike’s Americans in the Canada scenario burned almost half the game in an immobile state, and in Jenkin’s Ear, we basically just rolled dice over and over for thirteen blessedly-brief turns until someone had a chance to move. The need for effective leadership also leads to giant stacks under the leaders with strong initiative. Again, likely representative of the historical reality, but the effect is odd for gamers used to maps filled with counters rather than dueling Death Star stacks.

For Jenkins and his ear!

I admire systems that foil player plans and prevent omniscience from becoming omnipotence, but for playability’s sake, there needs to be a middle ground. Our sense was that the system buckles a bit with smaller scenarios—the larger scenarios, covering forty to fifty turns and with hefty unit allocations, likely smooth out poor initiative results. We’re hoping to find out by taking the full American Revolution out for a spin via PBeM using the VASSAL module, thoughtfully approved by Compass. I do appreciate the inclusion of the shorter scenarios, if only so that I can claim to have gamed one of the decisive battles of the War of Jenkin’s Ear, complete with a thwarted Spanish amphibious invasion of the Florida coast.

End of Empire stands out as a near-definitive operational-level study of the conflicts of the British Empire in North America. Compass has already demonstrated exceptional support for the title, not only through the VASSAL module but also by sending out mounted errata counters to customers at no cost and providing additional scenarios and rules updates online. Very few games deserve second editions; End of Empire is one of them, and I’m happy to have this non-modern outlier in my collection.

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