Table for One: End of Empire (Compass Games) After-Action Report Part One

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End of Empire (Compass Games, 2014)
American Revolutionary War Campaign Report (1775 Start; no optionals)
Part One: Turns One through Six (Spring 1775 to Winter II 1776)

Overview

The full American Revolutionary War campaign in Compass GamesEnd of Empire stretches some 41 turns at two months to the turn. Both maps (68″ x 22″) are in play, stretching from Nova Scotia to New Orleans and the Atlantic seaboard to the Great Lakes.

To win, the Americans have a seemingly simple victory condition: eliminate at least 35 steps of British Regular units from the map; two-step units that have flipped do not count until they are completely eliminated. Failing that, simply surviving to the last turn having secured 20 eliminated steps without suffering economic collapse will also see victory.

The British, conversely, seem to have the harder row to hoe, needing either to reclaim all thirteen colonies (plus Vermont and Maine) by securing all supply locations within each simultaneously; or to control and/or raid enough port locations to collapse the American economy via die roll, the number of ports raided/controlled acting as modifier. Rolls close to the needed number will withdraw a large number of American troops.

The French enter play on the American side once the Americans have eliminated 20 British Regular steps, as counted above, and the Spanish enter nine turns after that, also opposed to the British.

If the Americans secure fewer than 20 eliminated British Regular steps but keep the British from their victory conditions, then the game ends in a draw.

Initial Siege of Boston in End of Empire

Siege of Boston, Turn 1

Initial Thoughts

For the Americans, the initial strategy focuses entirely on inflicting enough losses per combat that the British must fulfill them using Regular steps. As the defender picks the first step lost, the presence of any Loyalist or Provincial units will ensure a buffer for the Regulars, so when they’ve been removed, the Americans must continue to strike before they’re reconstituted. British troops hunkered down behind walls, afraid of step losses, are almost as good as eliminated in terms of keeping friendly control of American ports and supply locations.

The British, on the other hand, need to begin to mop up the locations whence the American reinforcements and replacements surge forth—as long as the Americans know they can replace all their losses, they will not hesitate to make poor odds attacks in hopes of picking off a Regular step. The longer term goal of controlling/raiding port locations to trigger economic collapse follows from this initial objective. Force preservation remains paramount, but a death by a thousand cuts awaits if the American manpower advantage cannot be tamed.

(Leader ratings given as combat modifier/rank/initiative. Combat results are attacker losses/defender losses. Phases with no significant actions are omitted.)


Turn 1 (Spring, 1775)

Reinforcements:

The lone British reinforcement, the Second Marine Regiment, only has four real options: Nova Scotia, Quebec, Boston, or St. Augustine. Spring Break in Florida sounds lovely, so down they go to Prevost’s command, where the plan is to march up the coast towards Savannah, Georgia, rolling up the rebellious subjects of King George as they go.

For the Americans, the Catawba rally to the cause of the fledgling nation, appearing near Augusta, Georgia. Ward, west of Boston, preemptively calls out the Massachusetts militia.

British Phase:

Prevost [0/17/3] thinks about how long the walk to Savannah will be and delays it for the time being [Initiative dr=5 fails].

Meanwhile, in Boston, Gage [0/2/3] contemplates the forces arrayed against him: potentially 25 regiments in two stacks that could react, plus rumors of a significant rabble of armed peasantry. No, the “Americans” will need to come to him.

American Phase:

Ward [0/2/3], his forces bolstered by the addition of the militia, marches boldly into Boston [Initiative dr=3 succeeds]. The British remain behind the fortifications, unwilling to come out, so he orders the attack. 14 regiments plus the militia against 12 British regiments. [41 attack strength against 35 defense strength for 1:1 odds, mods are -1 US reforms, -1 powder shortage, -1 no artillery, -1 fort for net -4. Combat dr=3, final dr=-1 for 3AR/0.] The attack, though high in enthusiasm, breaks against the walls, with unpleasant results. The militia scatters, realizing they’re little match for the Redcoats on this day.

Thomas [0/6/3], to the south-east of Boston, delegates a handful of regiments to stiffen Ward’s forces, but, perhaps having received word of the initial skirmish, they are not inclined to march this day [Initiative dr=5 fails].
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Table for One: End of Empire (Compass Games) Review

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Daring amphibious assaults, bitter city sieges, near-run coastal evacuations, major offensives cut short by poor winter planning, massive armies made up of multi-national forces fighting side-by-side, and…George Washington?

Compass GamesEnd of Empire: 1744-1782, a grand-operational level wargame covering the various British conflicts in North America, takes gamers beyond the traditional understanding of these wars. Far from a series of skirmishes and set-piece battles, the fight for North America was as much one of maneuver as manpower, of politics as powder, and William M. Marsh manages to bring it all home in an accessible, engaging, and well-mannered monster game.

Dedicated readers of this site will note that I have previously reviewed End of Empire, but with my recent ability to get larger games on my table, combined with a very solitaire-friendly game mechanic, I thought it a fine choice to revisit for the next review in the Table for One project.

Overview

End of Empire: 1744-1782
Compass Games, 2014
CPA 1024
Designed by William M. Marsh

End of Empire, Compass Games, 2014

End of Empire originally saw life as a magazine game in Command Issue 46 back in 1997. The Compass Games edition some seventeen years later builds on the original’s solid bones, coming boxed with four and a half countersheets (5/8″ counters), two standard-sized maps (running lengthwise, for 68″ x 22″ total dimensions), two black-and-white printed rules booklets, a few glossy charts, and a nondescript d6.

Of note, other than informational markers, each of the three main conflicts depicted—King George’s War, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolutionary War— has a separate counter set, with the ARW getting the lion’s share of the counters. There’s a lot of game here, fifteen scenarios in all, though many just provide a shorter version of the main three conflicts by moving the starting date back a year or so or tweaking some variables.

Counter examples from End of Empire

The counters themselves pack in a lot of information, all efficiently presented in the style one has come to expect from Brien J. Miller. The counter color scheme, though, leaves much to be desired. Crucial gameplay elements hinge on differentiating between British regular (burgundy) and provincial (russet brown) units. American forces suffer the same closeness between Continental Army (“darker” blue) and State (“medium” blue) units, with a similar need during play to tell them apart.

To make matters worse, the German mercenaries have three schemes that are close to each other and the Americans as well (navy blue, medium blue, medium green). Even in good light, these counter colors are not readily discernible at a glance, and some variations in printing lead to moments of second-guessing. I understand the desire to theme the units via color; context clues, plus some printed notes, make most of the units’ affiliations decipherable, but some other mnemonic needed to be employed, just for ease of use.

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Treacherous Shoals: South China Sea (Compass Games)

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They had me when I saw the counter for the Malaysian frogmen. Add in littoral Chinese combat vessels and Vietnamese Kilo subs and, well, I knew that South China Sea (Compass Games, 2017; designed by John Gorkowski) was a wargame I needed to play.

South China Sea by Compass Games: Mayalsian frogmen

My good gaming buddy Doug Bush acquired a copy, and we recently set it up and took it for a spin. The game posits a near-future conflict focusing on territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, particularly the Spratly Islands, both natural and artificial. China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines all have claims there and have forces in the game, with the United States also making its presence felt in several of the game’s six scenarios.

Visually, the team at Compass worked wonders with South China Sea. The large counters shine both aesthetically and functionally, with a wealth of information nicely presented. The map equals the counters in attractiveness, but could stand a bit of differentiation between the rusty red and dull brown hexsides used to denote the disputed islet claims. For a primarily naval game, there’s an awful lot of space devoted to land masses as well, but given that it’s a single map game (well, two partial maps that more-or-less equal a standard wargame map) with large hexes and counters, the space can’t really be seen as wasted.

(As an aside, the counters in the pictures here have been corner-rounded after being punched, as all wargame counters should be; they come square.)

The game supports up to five players, matching the nations with claims and interests in the region; rules exist to play with fewer, and as is typical with wargames, two players will likely be the norm. In practice, though, the smaller nations don’t get to do much when the U.S. and China are both involved, and in our playing, the regional powers found their forces quickly overwhelmed.

A political sub-game starts events, allowing for all factions to get advantages before the shooting starts; indeed, it’s possible for the game to end prior to any military conflict, which is a nice touch for a game that seeks to model the entirety of the military/diplomatic decision space in this volatile region. We didn’t get to do much with this card-driven sub-game, though, as only a single round of political play occurred before a die roll triggered conflict.

In our playing, we found that the underlying military combat sequence worked quite well, forcing difficult decisions on players. Combat is sequential, with each player in turn making one strike. Do you launch that alpha strike against a nearby carrier task force, or do you deal with the submarine that has managed to sneak into your midst? You can’t do both before your opponent gets to act, and careful planning can force him/her to deal with an immediate threat that will, in turn, allow you to launch a strike that might have otherwise been blunted.

South China Sea by Compass Games: Kilo surprise

Too, the game makes clear the relative lethality of modern combat and the need to keep a deterrent in hand. The first player to lose parity in air superiority will likely lose the game, making the commitment of these fragile yet powerful assets fraught with danger, as, indeed, it would be in real life. Stripped of air cover, even the most formidable task force becomes a set of targets — still with teeth, certainly, but vulnerable and expensive in both lives and cost.

Though gifted with a solid and quite serviceable rules chassis, South China Sea lacks a scenario structure to really make it shine. The standard scenario victory point schedules don’t serve bring the sides into conflict. In the scenario we played, once the United States scored a few points through an initial cruise missile salvo at the beginning of the very first turn, they had no reason to actually enter the South China Sea and attempt to evict the Chinese from the disputed islets. Being more concerned with style than victory, we certainly played on and forced the issue, but the game itself doesn’t seem to require it.

South China Sea by Compass Games: The disputed islets

Add in the lack of any penalty for the United States or China preemptively attacking Vietnam, Malaysia, or the Philippines, and the game suggests to players that the best (or at least most efficient) option is to simply knock these smaller countries out of the war, an act that would have massive ramifications in real life. There’s an odd dissonance at work, particularly when overflights of neutral countries are prohibited — an strange scruple in a game with such looseness of engagement rules.

Too, there are tons of counters in the game that are never used. I admire the “future proofing” here, but why have a Malaysian submarine counter in the game if not one scenario uses it? Land occupation of Vietnamese ports and airfields by the Chinese also seems far too simple (and without consequence or benefit), given that the scenarios don’t provide for any border forces (but, again, there are counters that could support such).

It’s far easier to tweak and house rule victory points and scenarios, though, than to fix the underlying game system, and that remains rock solid. The game plays smoothly and the combat system is a model of design elegance. I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to play South China Sea—it provided both an engaging gaming experience and a nice window into the dangers of any military engagement in the area. Here’s to hoping the diplomats don’t roll as poorly on their political phase roll as I did.

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

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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.