Sports Action Canadian Pro Football Review

Sports Action Canadian Pro Football Review

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Overview
As a war gamer player, I often like reading about the time period of a game I am playing, but this is the first time I have had to read up about a game before even playing it. Sports Action Canadian Pro Football (SACPF from here so my word count doesn’t approach 3000) has long been on my list of games to play, but my experiences with football north of the border were limited. I started watching CFL games a little this summer as gridiron withdrawal set in. I knew about the 12 players and larger field, but nothing about a rouge and motion of players. I found the game very exciting and actually have a game on in the background as I write this review. Anyway, watching the live game revived my hunt for its board game counterpart. Finally, a copy, with 1980 season teams, has arrived.

Components
I know I have repeatedly said that components of football games are pale in comparison to other board games, but the 70s to 80s era is notoriously horrible. SACPF had some surprising differences. The player cards are large with easy to read numbers, unlike Statis Pro’s tiny font. The tokens are cheap, but the play selector board is spacious and sturdy, and you could easily replace the lackluster tokens with coins or plastic discs. The board is a bit reminiscent of Strat-o-Matic basketball, with spots on either side of the board for skill players. The coloring is hideous, and the first down and football markers are of the same porous quality of the tokens. The lone chart is manageable, though it would have been nice if solo charts were on the same page. Overall, considering the era, the production is better than average.
Score: 7

The Players
Skill players have their own card with a two-dice two to 12 results table for passing, rushing and receiving. Quarterback cards simply tell you in a pass is complete (C) or incomplete (blank), with the possibility of an interception (X) or rush (R) happening. Runners have a generic run table but modifiers can be added or subtracted for inside and outside rushes depending on the player’s skill. Receiver tables have results for short, medium, and long passes. All skill players have their season stats on the card, which is nice to identify who your top players are. Team cards have individual ratings for offensive lineman and all defensive players.  Team defensive cards not only have team record and general scoring stats, but they also have a rating to show you how the team defended the run and the different depths of passes. Specialists are on their own card as well. I really liked the oversized player cards, roughly five by three inches.
Score: 9

Game Play
The game comes with two modes of play: basic and advanced. In the basic mode, offense and defense call a play. The offense can call your standard fare of run and pass, with pass distance included. The defense sets their call based on a one to five number scale. The number you select represents how deep your linebackers are in formation. A call closer to one means they have crept up to slow the run, while closer to five means they have dropped back to help with the pass. Both sides roll two dice. The defense takes the added result and looks at their defensive team card under the play the offense had called. For example (see cards below), if Winnipeg picked a medium pass to Mike Holmes, and Hamilton’s defense rolled a combined five, we would look at the five result under the M column for the pass. The result is a “+1” and that gets added to the initial defensive call. If Hamilton had called a three, it now becomes a four to reflect Hamilton’s ability to defend the pass. Now, we look at the offense’s dice result for Dieter Brock under the four column in passing. A nine result has a “C” which means the pass was complete. Reroll the dice and refer to the receiver’s column for the pass thrown to find the yardage. If Winnipeg had called a run, the procedure would be the same, with the defense adjusting and then finding the run result on the player’s card based on the adjusted defensive call. For a basic game, it’s pretty good, but the only individual players that matter are the quarterback and runners. You’ll want to move on to the advanced game as soon as you are comfortable.

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The advanced game is where individual players begin to matter on both sides. The defense is initially played the same way, with them picking an aggression number from one to five, but now they can key on the run or double team receivers. Defenses also pick a formation to run, and whether that formation will be a zone or man to man defense.   On offense, your options really open up. To pass, you now pick who to throw to and where on the field you’ll be throwing it to. The offensive play selector is divided into zones, so you can attack medium passes to the right sideline, or focus on short screens to the middle. When you run, you now get to pick which hole along the line you want to attack, with plunges in the middle to off tackles and sweeps on the outside. There are so many possibilities for both sides to call, yet it really flows as well as the basic game.

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Once plays are called, both sides roll their dice again. The defense now refers to the formation card to see whether you’ll be checking a defender or offensive player’s card to see how the defensive number call is adjusted. Sometimes you’ll refer to the team card for the defender’s rating against the play call. Other times, you’ll refer to the skill player’s card for rating adjustments. Mike Holmes, for example, has a “-4” on medium passes, showing you that’s his strong point. William Miller will be better at running inside rather than outside. Quarterbacks can influence the rating with their passing rating. The other running back or an offensive lineman might be checked for their blocking prowess. The advanced game really forces you to look at your team and play to its strengths while trying to attack the defense’s weaknesses. It’s an amazingly simple, yet deep, system.

Turnovers, sacks, and penalties happen from either the team or player cards as well. Interceptions can occur if both the quarterback and defensive dice result end up with the “X” rating, while the same goes for the pass rush with the “R” result. Any “P” result is a penalty. If it showed up on the defense’s card, it’s a defensive penalty and vice versa.

The game is full of options, but it never feels like a chore to resolve a play. Nearly everything is on the player and team cards. You only have one chart to refer to for rarer plays like penalties, turnover returns, injuries, or weather effects.
Score: 10

Stats

In my limited experience with CFL play, I know enough to know that passing is king, and the game reflects that. Running can give you some nice chunks of yardage here and there, but passing is where you’ll consistently move the ball. That is reflected here very well.
Score: 9

Solo Play
Charts are included that will generate a defensive call based on down and distance for both the basic and advanced game, along with a formation caller for the advanced game. The system works pretty well, but there is no way to call offense solitaire. Wouldn’t be hard to create one, but I haven’t found one online. The game would be a great solo experience though.
Score: 9

Head-to-Head
I am not sure the basic game would hold your interest long enough to be a good two player game, but the advanced game definitely would be. Formations add a lot to the defense’s ability to adjust to the offense’s play, while the offense has a myriad of ways to attack. Would be a fun head-to-head game.
Score: 9

Replay Ability
Normally here, I talk about the ability to replay a season. Instead, I will just talk about the game’s replay ability, and it is high. The game is just fun to play. I collect football games because I love to explore the system and how it reflects the game. The system provides strategic options without becoming tedious. That equals high replay ability for me.
Score: 10

Availability
And now we’ve come to the game’s problem — finding it. I have looked for this game for a few years and finally tracked down a copy at a relatively steep price. However, don’t completely despair. I have read that print and play files are on the tabletop games website, but the downloads section is currently down. Files on BGG have modern seasons of the game available. Should you get lucky enough to find a copy, or tabletop’s issues get resolved, there would be plenty of retro and modern seasons to play. Still, that is a lot of ifs.
Score: 4

Final Grade (not an average)
10. I think I have found a sweet spot game. I love simple games like Second Season and Paydirt for different reasons than I like 4th Street or Pro Football Fantasm. This game is the marriage of the two extremes. It flows easily, and I felt like I had a good rhythm going before the end of the first quarter of my test game. Yet, I felt like I had considerable control of what my team was doing on the field. The game has so many interesting features, it makes me wonder why more NFL simulations never tried them. This really is an innovative game for its time, and I think it has aged extremely well. If you can find it, play it, and if you can’t, find me at Origins some year and I will introduce you to this fantastic little game.

 

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Tabletop Statis Pro Football Review

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Overview
Since Avalon Hill’s original Statis Pro Football faded from existence, there have been numerous attempts to keep the franchise alive from complete overhauls like PT Games’ short lived Football Bones to basic updated cards that can be found on eBay. ABC Game Company falls in between. The original Statis Pro game is easily recognizable, but ABC adds some subtle changes to enhance game play.

Components
This is a print and play game, and all the files you’ll need can be found at the company’s webpage (abcgame.com). The files are vibrant, and there’s a nice touch of double-sided cards that add stats and player details. Team cards contain plenty of game information on them. Print them in color on card stock, and you’ll have a nice looking game to play (assuming your cutting abilities are better than mine).
Score: 8

The Players
Passing, fatigue, blocking, rushing, and receiving values are all here just as they were on Avalon Hill’s version. You can’t help but note the changes, however. Running backs now have different values for inside and outside runs. Defensive lineman have pass deflection ratings. Quarterbacks have a clutch rating they can use in the red zone or on 3rd down, while receivers could have yard after catch values to gain extra ground. Exception blockers or tacklers can show up to make a pivotal play. Teams now even have kickoff specialists! The system always made it easy to identify your top players, but ABC has added stats that really help how your players can do in various situations.
Score: 9

Game Play
Those familiar with Statis Pro will find the general game play mechanic familiar. Offense and defense pick formations and plays and resolve the action using a Fast Action Deck (FAC) of cards. From there, it’s up to your players on what happens. ABC has added more options for the offense. You can choose to run inside, outside, or power, each able to be run to the right or left. Draws and options can be called as well. Swing passes have been added to the aerial arsenal of screen, quick, short, and long options. That alone gives you plenty of versatility, but there’s even more tweaks you can do. You can have two blockers double team that one great defender to neutralize him, or you can keep a back in to pass protect.  The defense isn’t left out either as they can double or triple team receivers, or play a cover two or three to prevent big gains. Defenses also have the option of stacking the line to put the quarterback under pressure (at the expense of possibly leaving someone open), or drop several in coverage and give the quarterback a passing bonus since they can sit in the pocket longer. ABC’s additions really add to the feel of the game while not making things overly complicated. The only drawback that hangs over from the original Statis Pro is the random nature of screen passes and breakaways, both of which are determined by a card draw rather than player ability. And, yes, there are charts you’ll need to refer to, and they aren’t all in one place, but it doesn’t slow the game down considerably.
Score: 9

Stats
In my example replay of playing a 2013 matchup of Broncos vs. Cowboys, the stats I got were reflective of the team’s strengths versus the opposing defense. Without much of a pass rush, the Cowboys struggled to slow down the Manning led passing attack, while Murray was able to find some running room behind the strong Dallas offensive line. FAC cards tend to limit your outlier stats since the numbers will normalized. I enjoying rolling dice to determine run and pass numbers. This isn’t a limitation of the game, more of a personal preference, so you’ll find the FAC system produces realistic results.
Score: 9

Solo Play
Like the original, ABC has included a solitaire defense to each FAC card which allows you to play the offense of both teams. If you want to control one team, there are solitaire charts out there. I would advise that as moving players around on defense to try to slow down the offense is a lot of fun. ABC’s additions have added a lot to solo play since you can really tinker with how your team calls and carries out each play.
Score: 9

Head-to-Head
Those same additions add a lot to head-to-head play too. Facing a long 3rd down conversion against Houston? You may want to double team J.J. Watt. Or maybe Tom Brady needs to sneak behind the left side of his line to get that key first down. With some many options at hand, you can really turn a game against a live opponent into a chess match. It’s still not as deep at as a game like 4th street, but ABC has eliminated some of the blandness of its predecessor.
Score: 9

Replay Ability
As of right now, ABC has seasons from 2013 and up. Since they are available in pdf format, you can have every season they have for just $20. It would be great to see them go back and do some vintage seasons, but the data may not be there for some of the game’s enhancements. One cool feature is that as long as the data is on the original Avalon Hill cards, you can apply some of ABC’s rules to those old sets.
Score: 8

Availability
The switch to pdf format has made the game very affordable, with the current season and game parts running you under $30. This game doesn’t seem to have a big following online, but with four seasons under their built, I feel confident ABC will be around to build on their current library.
Score: 8

Final Grade (not an average)
10. I have long rated Statis Pro Football a 10. Admittedly, some of that is based on nostalgia. I generally ignore some of its setbacks because the system appealed to me so much. Seeing your formation and attacking the defenses weaknesses were what drew me to the game. Still, Statis Pro can be a 10 no more because ABC’s version is the better game. It is. The new features add to the strategy of the game without feeling too fiddly. You may have a few more charts to look up, but it’s not APBA level. If you have any interest in Statis Pro Football at all, it’s worth it to pick up this game.

1st and Goal Review

Overview

I have long wondered how a purely dice driven football game would be. I like the variance that dice provide to a play. I like that strong teams are likely to win, but I never want the outcome to be a foregone conclusion. Dice allow statistical anomalies to happen. You can get that occasional 200 yard rushing performance or a sloppy, turnover-infest, defensive slug fest. I like stats, but I like my stats to have variety sometimes. So, 1st and Goal was a game that’s been on my radar for some time. How good could a game play that was all about chucking dice? This is the 12th football game I’ve reviewed, but it was definitely one of my more anticipated plays.

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Components

I will have to say 1st and Goal has one of the better field boards out there. I’ve long used Statis Pro’s as my field for all other games, but this may replace it. The magnetic board with the 1st down marker and ball are a great touch. The key component, though, is the dice. They are big and bright. The base game has wonderfully sculpted dice that look and feel great. The game does have six expansions you can buy to add new teams to the game. I hate the fact that the expansion dice are stickered, but I understand the finances behind that. At least the numbers on them are easy to ready. The expansion dice are also considerable bigger. Each die is a different color with numbers on them that will represent yardage gained or lost on the play. Green and blue dice will generate the most yardage while white and red are minimal, if any, gains. There’s also a black defensive die that will usually result in lost yardage, unless it’s an expansion team with a porous defensive. There are also three other dice: play, referee, and penalty. These will be used from time to time.  The game also contains 60 offensive and defensive play cards. The cards are flimsy, and you’ll need to sleeve them considering how often you’ll use them.

Score: 8

The Players

There are no players. The base game just comes with one set of dice, so the teams you’ll use have no personality at all. The expansions add flavor to the game by giving team strengths of passing or rushing, while giving them a overall defensive ability. Alone, the base set is a bit bland, but the expansions at least allow you to picture a team in your head.

Score: 6

Game Play

Everything is run through the dice and the play cards. Both the offensive  and defensive player draw eight cards from their respective decks. They each select a play from their hand and reveal it. How well the defensive call aligns to the offensive call determines which dice are rolled. If the defense is in a bad formation, say goal line, against a pass play, the offense will be rolling more dice, and those dice will have big yardage on them. The better the defensive alignment, the worse the production will be for the offense’s dice. Two other dice are always rolled no matter what. The defense will always roll their black die, which will have little effect against the better dice but may hurt when the offense dice are limited. There’s also a play dice which could result in an automatic broken up play, a penalty, or a turnover.

There’s a number of problems with this system from a football strategy standpoint. First, you are limited to the eight cards in your hand when calling a play. While this isn’t as big an issue with the generic base set, when playing the expansion teams you may have a handful of rushing plays when you are a pass heavy team. The same goes for the defense which may be stuck with pass calls when the offense is going to pound the ball on the goal line. It’s an impractical way to play football. Secondly, when the defense makes a complete stop is totally arbitrary. You could have called the worst or best call against a play, and both will have the same one in six chance of breaking up the play (an X on the play die results in an automatic broken up play). Sure, the yardage will be different should the play happen, but the chance of breaking it up should be different as well.

Turnovers will happen at a rate of one in 36, which isn’t too bad. Penalties are slightly higher at one in 18. Considering the actual NFL average in about one in 11, that’s reasonable as well.

Score: 7

Stats

This would not be a game you’d want to keep stats on since passing plays will be “incomplete” just one in six times. This is a game more about yardage gained than pass completions. Rushing may be a little bit closer to the norm. If anything, dice chucking shows its statistical limitations.

Score: 3

Solo Play

There is no set solo play of this, but I played the offense and just flipped through the defensive deck for a decent play experience. It wouldn’t be hard to create a solo chart for this, and it could certainly be a solo friendly game of throwing dice around. There’s potential here.

Score: 6

Head-to-Head: 

Of all the games I have played, this would be a nice intro game for someone curious about football games that provide some realism. You won’t mistake this for Second Season or 4th Street by any stretch, but there’s enough football here that it could be a nice gateway game.

Score: 8

Replay Ability:

The base game will get old quick since teams have no personality, unless you simply want to match play calling wits against someone. Buying some expansions and running a league would be fun, especially since the game plays fairly quickly.

Score: 6

Availability:

Sadly, the base set seems to no longer be available from the publisher’s website or Amazon. I have seen the base game in some game stores, and it can be found on eBay inexpensively. The expansion sets are still available, though it’s doubtful they’ll be around long without the base game. Patience will reward you. I found the base set and three expansions for under $25.

Score: 8

Final Score (not an average):

7 – There is no doubt the game has some flaws. It’s not a completely realistic implementation of football. The play calling system can be ludicrous, forcing you into calls that don’t make sense. The game can get a little pass whacky. The defensive instant stop comes up the same regardless of play call. But….the game is fun, a lot of fun. It’s simple. It’s fun to throw a bunch of dice around. There’s enough football here that you can use this game to steer people away from generic games like NFL Rush Zone, which have little resemblance to football at all. Somewhere here is the potential for a great game with some tweaks. As is, if you suspend reality a little as you play, and realize this is more about play calling than accuracy, you could enjoy this. 

Strat-o-matic Football Review

Overview

Growing up in the 80s, I owned two games. Statis Pro and Strat-o-matic football. I took to Statis Pro immediately for reasons you can read through the in that review, while I completely dismissed Strat-o-matic. In the years pre-internet, I couldn’t get into a two player game as a single child without a regular opponent. My memory tells me I hated the game, but I’d like to think my gaming outlook has expanded in the last 30 years. I figure it’s time to give Strat-o-matic’s football game another look. For this review, I’ll be playing with the 2004 set.

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Components

Strat-o-matic comes with sets of team cards, a board, a chart, some dice, and a couple of pages of punch out pieces that represent players on the field as well to mark field position, time, and other data on the board. The general quality of the components are fairly good for a football game. Team and player cards are printed on oversized cards that are easy to read. The board is a bit nightmarish in terms of color schemes, but it is excellent at providing all you need to keep track of the game’s time and field position. The one weakness are the game’s markers, which are very thin and care should be taken removing them. There’s only one chart, which is nice that you aren’t rummaging through multiple charts to find what you need.

Score: 8

The Players

Skill position players have their own cards. Cards are divided into the different plays the player may have results for. The quarterback’s card will have sections divided for the different types of passes he could throw: flat, short, and long. Receivers will have the same corresponding passes on their cards. Anyone that can run will also have linebuck, off tackle, and end run options. The results are randomized stats, which can result in some repetitious results. I do like that each skill player’s real life stats are on the card, giving you a sense of their usage that year as well as who is effective. Every other player is listed on the team offensive and defensive card. Offensive lineman are giving pass and run block ratings, and defenders have pass rush and overall defensive capability ratings. For the non-skill players, it’s easy to tell who your star players are.

Score: 8

Game Play

Play is surprisingly straight forward. Offense and defense selects a play. The offense rolls four dice: a white, two red, and one larger black die. The white die will determine whether you check the offensive skill player’s card or the team defensive card. The black die determines if a possible penalty or pass rush has occurred.  If you check the offensive player’s card, the defense’s guess determines which column to read. On Peyton Manning’s card above, the red dice roll results in a five. If the defense had guessed pass, Manning’s pass would be incomplete, but a run guess by the defense would result in a 15 yard completion.

Modifications on checks to the defensive card are based on how the defense is aligned, and this is really where the game excels. Linebackers can stack the line to blitz or stuff the run. Defensive backs can flood certain passing lanes. Defensive movement matters in this game considering half of the results are checked by defensive cards. Constantly shifting your defensive to outguess your offense is the game’s premier feature.

If there is a game play gripe, it comes down to player ratings. They come up, but they don’t seem to come up nearly often enough. Luck is always part of a die roll game, but you can get stuck into ruts where some results rarely come up or come up all the time. The four yard gain on Manning’s flat pass seem to come up several times in my play through. There was hardly any pass rush in the game. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but this game seems more susceptible to ruts than others.

Additionally, only in pass rush situations do you see players engaged in a battle with one another. Otherwise, all ratings checks are done versus the white die. Yes, this still shows you how important top players are, but you never get to see that great left tackle battling against an All-Pro defensive end.

Score: 8

Stats

Manning ate up the poor Green Bay passing defense as you figured he would while his counterpart, Brett Favre, had equal success against the Colts. As defenses honed in on the pass, rushing lanes opened up for Edgerrin James and Ahman Green. The stats were gaudy for the game, but they weren’t outrageous considering the offenses on display. Each team generated over 400 yards in offense. If anything, this greatly emphasizes the need for a stout defense. Strat-o-matic definitely works out with some great stats. The minor quirk are those repeating values that can’t be modified. Makes for an odd stat sheet.

Score: 9

Solo Play

Sadly, soloing this game takes away from it’s greatest strength, the chess match between an offensive play and the defensive alignments. I found some decent solo charts out there, but it does make the game a vanilla affair.

Score: 6

Head-to-Head: 

Needless to say, if you know of a football fan willing to play this with you, you’d be in for a treat. Not unlike 4th Street Football, there’s a lot of fun to be had on figuring out how to slow your opponent. This is one of the better head-to-head football games out there.

Score: 10

Replay Ability:

The game isn’t quick by any means, and with various cards to refer to, it can become a bit tedious.  Most plays can be completed with the single die roll, but once you have the system down, everything starts flowing a little easier.  That said, the solitaire limitations make this a less than desireable replay option.

Score: 6

Availability:

There’s good and bad here. On one hand, Strat-o-matic Football is alive and strong, producing new seasons every year. There’s even a computer version to speed up replays if you wish. Yet, you’ll have to go to the secondary market if you are a fan of vintage cards, and the oldest ones can be shockingly expensive.  Some six team sets can be available through reprint, which would at least give you access to some of history’s better teams.

Score: 8

Final Score (not an average):

8  If age has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate a system even if it may not be the game for me. For my style of solo play, Strat-o-matic leaves me wanting for more. I prefer the adjustments you can make in 4th Street, the solo ability of Second Street, or the head to head engagements of Statis Pro, but I can see why this game has a tradition behind it. 

1973 Replay: Dolphins Squander Sure Victory

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The Miami Dolphins, fresh off their undefeated 1972 season, looked to begin the 1973 season where they left off as they hosted a subpar San Francisco team. Instead, they watched a 20 point lead evaporate in the game’s final 13 minutes to fall 21-20.

The game looked like the Dolphins would cruise to a victory after the picked off 49ers’ John Brodie’s first pass of the game. Moments later, Bob Griese hit Paul Warfield from five yards out to give the Dolphins a 7-0 lead. Brodie was intercepted again, this time at the doorsteps of the Dolphin end zone. A long drive ended with a two yard dive by Larry Csonka and the rout looked on. A Gary Yepremian 20 yard field goal gave the Dolphins a 17-0 halftime lead, but in what became the game’s turning point, Bob Griese hobbled off with an injury and had to be replaced by Earl Morrall.

San Francisco continued to sputter as Brodie found passing lanes clogged by Dolphin defenders, but the Niners gained confidence as they started slowing down the Miami rushing attack. Trying to pass to keep the pressure on, Morrall couldn’t find the magic he had from ’72 off the bench.

Down 20, the Niners did the unexpected and started to run more instead of pass. The result was the normally stout Dolphin defense began to get gashed by the combo running of Vic Washington and Ken Willard. The two combined for 219 yards, and their big play ability acted almost like a short passing game. San Francisco finally got on the board early in the 4th quarter when Washington rushed in from four yards out.

With the run game stuffed, the Dolphins looked to Morrall to gain some ground, but even with the 49ers focused on the run, Morrall managed to throw three straight interceptions. One gave San Francisco a short field and Brodie hit his longest pass of the day, a 16 yard scoring play to Gene Washington.

With the ball and a chance to run more clock, the Dolphins spun their wheels with penalties and miscues. A short punt gave the 49ers to ball and a chance to win with just five minutes left. This time the Dolphins went after the run, but a key 27 yard scamper by Vic Washington gave San Francisco first and goal. Willard capped the drive with a six yard run and suddenly the Dolphins were down one.

Then, briefly, Morrall woke up and a 29 yard pass to Warfield looked to salvage the game. With a first down on the 49er 24 yard line, Morrall tried one more pass. This was tipped and landed in the hand of San Francisco linebacker Dave Wilcox. The interception, Morrall’s fifth of the half, sealed the epic collapse by Miami. The preseason favorites will have to rebound after a disappointing opener while a better than they look 49er team has a sudden boost of confidence.

Stats:

Passing: 49ERS: Brodie 10-29 89 yards 1-2; DOLPHINS: Griese 4-7 33 1-0, Morrall 8-17 77 0-5.

Rushing: 49ERS: V Washington 21-155-1, Willard 15-64, Thomas 2-11, Brodie 4-2. DOLPHINS: Morris 11-108, Csonka 15-50-1, Leigh 1-9, Kiick 3-8, Morrall 3-(-3).

Receiving: 49ERS: G Washington 4-35, Abramowicz 3-33, Kwalick 2-15, Willard 1-6. DOLPHINS: Mandich 4-35, Warfield 3-47-1, Briscoe 3-24, Leigh 1-4, Csonka 1-0.

Defense:

49ERS: Interceptions Taylor (2), Simpson (2), Wilcox

DOLPHINS: Sacks: Stanfill, Interceptions: Stanfill, Anderson.

Wilderness Empires

Overview

The French & Indian War (and its parent the Seven Years War) is a particular passion of mine. Having taught 5th grade for over a decade, I’ve enjoyed taking the extra time to teach the war that would help lead to the American Revolution. French and Indian War staples like Wilderness War and A Few Acres of Snow have been around for a few years, but this conflict has been getting more and more hobby love recently. Enter Wilderness Empires, Worthing’s card-assisted block game designed for simple, stream-lined play.

Components

After playing a few other Worthington titles, I got the impression that most Worthington games had good albeit not great components. That’s not the case here. Wilderness Empires is impressive. The artwork on the cards gives a real flavor for the time period. The mounted board is great, covering the upper Colonies to New France and through to the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes. The point to point map may have limited options, but it’s broad enough to cover the British three prong strategy they historically implemented while still allowing for some strategic movement for the French.

The stickers on the blocks are simple and easy to read. The locations on the map are cut to accommodate the blocks, but you’ll be able to stack units far larger than will fit in a single stack. You may feel like your pushing a stack of poker chips across the board at times, but it’s not a major issue. I do really like the dice in the game, wooden cubes that mimic no effect, refuse to fight, and losses. The rules are straightforward and well written. It doesn’t take long to set up and understand each side’s objectives.

Score: 9

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Despite the unwieldiness of the stacks, the game is quite impressive during game play. 

Game Play

The objective of the game is for the British to own 10 more points of objectives than the French, while the French must prevent the British from doing so. Though cards are used, it is not a card driven game, both leaders can move all their armies every turn. The heart of the game may be move and attack, but there’s more to the game than that. The cards are used to add reinforcements, provide bonuses in battle, or even assassinate leaders. Hand management does play a role and a well-played card can help turn the tide of a key battle. Leaders are also important to the game. Leaders are needed to engage in battle, and the side with the leader advantage (highest rated leader in battle) gets to add a special die (or dice) to combat. While the special dice are no more deadly than the normal dice, it is a great bonus since the maximum number of regular dice that can ever be rolled in a round of combat is five. Each special dice collected is a bonus shot at the enemy.

Native Americans are allied with both sides, though the French have considerable more at their disposal. Both sides have cards that allow their Natives to conduct attacks without a leader. Other cards French allied Natives can conduct raids, robbing the British of valuable strength points, while British famine cards hurt the French and their allies as British blockades take their toll on French supplies. The native population played a significant role in the war, and Wilderness Empires does a good job of replicating that.

Keys to victory come down to the capture of at least two of the three main French cities: Louisbourg, Montreal, and Quebec. Of those, Louisbourg is the most important since its loss prohibits French reinforcements. French reinforcement of the area is a top priority, but a particular card draw can lead to Louisbourg falling on the first turn. The British always recruit and move first. Should the British gain reinforcements for Halifax and attack Louisbourg immediately, the French have no way of responding, especially if they fail to draw any battle cards. It’s a minor gripe, but it should be noted that the game becomes near impossible for the French if they lose Louisbourg early.

The French are guaranteed a win if they hold on to each of those three main cities, but it wouldn’t be advisable to hole up and await the British army. The British will gain more reinforcements and simply playing a game of attrition won’t gain the French a victory. Selected attacks against smaller British forces is important to keep pressure on the British. The French have plenty of tactical options at their disposal.

Meanwhile, the British strategy is more straightforward. Pounding Louisbourg is a priority. Marching up through Fort Carillon or Fort Frontenac to put pressure on Montreal is as well. The British problem comes through consolidating their forces and working with inferior generals. The inept Braddock starts in a precarious position along the frontier with little support behind him. Should the French break through the lines of British forts, plenty of victory points lie unprotected throughout the American colonies.

There’s plenty of game play options for both sides, especially in terms of handling your deck and maximizing your attacks. It’s a lighter block war game, but it does it fairly well.

Score: 7

Replay Ability

The overall goal of the game will never change. The French must hold on to at least two of the three key cities. The British must drive to capture them. But the deck of cards will alter the strategies used to get there each time. Early French reinforcements may prompt a more French counterattacks. If General Wolfe arrives early, the British can afford to be a bit more aggressive. The war may generally follow the similar path with each play, but there’s enough here to keep the game fresh.

Score: 7

Balance

Historically, the French suffered from a lack of supplies and reinforcements as the war drug on. Louis XV turned his attention to the war on the continent while the British navy wrecked havoc with French supply lines. Still, the French have a decent chance at victory in this game. The game certainly favors the British in the long haul, but too many costly defeats can keep the British from winning.

Score: 8

Overall: 7

When it comes to owning more than one game from the game war, I always try to look for something to make that game standout. So why bother with this game? After all, Wilderness Empires isn’t the best French & Indian War game available. Still, it is playable in less than two hours. It has great components. The cards allow for plenty of strategic variety. I’m happy it’s part of my collection, and it’s worth a look for those that enjoy this period of history or are looking for a lighter block game.