Don’t Tread on Me is the quintessential under the radar title. White Dog Games’ American Revolution solitaire game has garnered some attention, most notably from being featured on one of Dice Tower’s HAMTAG war game videos. The solo experience has its player take the role of King George III’s forces as they attempt to crush the rebel uprising. The unique point of view translates into a tremendous gaming experience.
White Dog Games is not the war game behemoth in the ilk of GMT Games or MMP, so don’t expect the same quality of components. That’s not to say the game is inferior. The counters are reminiscent of ones produced by Victory Point Games: thick and colorful with simple, easy to read information. Some of the colony and congress counters are too compressed to see the detail of the seals, but it’s nothing distracting. The rule book is no frills, but does a fine job of intermixing logically sequenced procedures along with some historical references. The game map is printed on thin stock. Boxes cover the map representing different regions of colonies with sea zones connecting to them. While the boxes are all functional, the background map of the 13 colonies and Atlantic seaboard is a nondescript glob of green and blue. The map serves no function in the game, but aesthetically it’s lacking. Luckily, those willing to upgrade can print a nicer map from BGG that adds to the historical feel of the game.
The heart of the rebellion, New England, along with New York, each split into four counties that represent fighting areas.
The game is played in turns, each of which includes several phases. Turns split years up into early and late segments, starting with early 1775 to late 1782. At the beginning of each phase, the British collect their money and look at the turn’s “news” which are set events that happen. These reflect events from the actual war: the American struggle with enlistments early, the French arrival after Saratoga, and the eventual drain on British manpower as the British turn their attention to protecting other assets. As the war drags on, British willingness to fight diminishes, and the game does a great job of simulating that. The British have a relatively easy go of it early only to scrape and claw as the years roll along. Nothing makes this clearer than the pounds the British have to spend each turn. They peak in late 1777 and dwindles to nearly half that amount by the war’s last stages.
Once the news has been decided, the British take most of their actions. First comes the naval phase, where smugglers are placed, and the British react. Smugglers represent the French support being brought in to the colonies to help the rebel cause. After all, the British are the big bullies in the world in the late 18th century, and the French would love nothing more than see the American rabble knock the Brits down a few pegs. The British then react to the smugglers. This is vital because smugglers translate into American forces. British naval reaction can help reduce the forces the redcoats and their Hessian allies will have to face. Attacking smugglers costs pounds, but spending it here can save money later on. This is a great way to reflect British naval superiority during the war.
The British then buy their troops, conduct their moves, and the first battle phase commences. There are nearly a dozen things that affect the battle phase. If in the war, the French army and/or fleet may intervene. Both sides might have militia show up to join the fight. The presence of Congress, Vermont loyalty, and even Thomas Jefferson might cause a shift in the odds table. The sum of all these minor shifts and force additions is important, but the most important aspect of the battle is its location. All three numbers on a force counter represent that unit’s strength in a different location: wilderness, farm, or a town/fort. Some units excel at fighting in the open (farms) while others do better in more rugged terrain (wilderness). Once all strength points and adjustments are made, combat is resolved. Units can be eliminated or retreat. In another great historical addition, American and British forces do not retreat the same way. American forces retreat toward the interior and may eventually leave the board and return to the force pool to live to fight another day. The British retreat toward the sea and the safety of their mighty navy, though French intervention can cause the British units to disappear permanently (a la Yorktown).
The next phases turn the tables. American forces are placed, and the rebels go on the offensive. Battle strengths and results are done again. This split movement between British and then American forces really forces you to think strategically from the outset of each turn. Each turn you have to balance your objectives with preparing for possible American offensives. In most cases, you can anticipate this since you know where the smugglers are at, but continentals can show up in a target state. Each turn a target state is listed that is the focus of the fighting. COS (Committees of Safety) can also show up in any area. What looks like a pretty pro-British map after the first battle phase could be teeming with rebels by the end of the second battle phase. Planning, and a little luck, are key.
Finally, the logistic and liberty phases happen. The logistics phases allows the British player another shot at effecting state loyalty. Loyalty affects militia strengths, the higher the loyalty to the British the less minutemen show up to join the fight. The British can affect loyalty by winning battles or by pumping money into the state during the logistics phase. After this, the liberty phase is where the game is won or lost. Each turn, the British are trying to have sole control of at least 3 of the states, including the target state. As long as they do that, the liberty marker doesn’t move. Otherwise, the liberty marker increases by one (and it could increase again if the British lose control of Quebec at any given time). Keep it at three or less, and the British have squashed the rebellion, but a score of eight or higher is a resounding British defeat.
I love solitaire games, but I do tend to think they can be scripted. After some plays, you can generally anticipate how a solo game will play out (your luck in dice rolling not withstanding). It may seem that this game is incredibly scripted with so many phases and procedures to work through, but it’s actually the opposite. There’s so many things to plan for and think about that the game generally feels like a game and not an exercise in beating a system. For that, it’s a refreshing solitaire experience.
As mentioned, there’s a lot going on in this game. Even with target state order remaining stagnant, the placement of COS and smugglers can change the game each and every time. With all this, you are more unlikely to feel like you’ve figured out a tried and true method unlike most solo games. This doesn’t count the immense historical flavor the game has.
Game setup, with the Americans and British meeting for the Shot Heard ‘Round the World
Balance in a solo game is different from balance in a game with two or more players. In a solo game, great balance comes from a system that gives you an opportunity to win while providing a solid challenge. Don’t Tread on Me certainly does that. Sure, I’ve played this to resounding victories because my fleets could do no wrong, but I’ve also watched as my hold on the colonies slowly melted away under the onslaught of Americans materializing all over the map while those pesky French would appear at the least opportune times. Luck will always play a factor in the dice game, but the game gives you a good challenge with varied unit placement and offensive decisions.
This little known gem should be in the collection of anyone with an interesting in solitaire gaming or the American Revolution. The game does take a bit of a commitment till you feel comfortable with the aspects of each phase of a turn. However, despite the multiple moving parts, the game has a great flow to it. It’s quite intense to deploy your units to vie for control of each region and then hope your units can withstand the wave of rebels in the upcoming turn. You’ll relish the might of the British navy and scorn the intervention of the rival French. It’s a superbly detailed system that doesn’t feel systematic.