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Review: 1750: Britain vs. France

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World Wars I & II were not actually the first and second global conflicts.  It seems that modern historiography suffers from a bout of recency bias.  If historians would but pick up a book about the 17th and 18th centuries, they’d see a series of fitful struggles between England and France over continental domination that spread to colonial possessions around the world.  There was the Nine Years’ War (1688-1698), the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713), the War of the Austrian Succession (1744-1748) and then finally the decisive Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).  That’s right.  My grandfather’s generation actually stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War VI!

How To Play

1750: Britain vs. France adopts one of the years between two of those global conflagrations.  Two players guide the political, economic and military fortunes of the titular empires vying for influence over other European powers and military control of colonial possessions.

Quite abstractly.  Because the whole affair is conducted by cards – from the board to your units to resources and events.  Thusly splayed about your table, you direct your affairs as if combing over maps and documents, feeling very much the strategist in an age when warfare was far more neat and gentlemanly, without sacrificing any of its grandeur.  Except instead of through gunpowder, sails, courtesans and treaties you’ll employ equal measures set collection, card combat and area control.

As 1750 represents the European powers’ non-continental tussles, the “board” comprises their various colonial jewels.  A game begins with three random colony cards from each of four different theaters – North America, the Caribbean, Africa and India – grouped territorially.  These four regions are laid enough apart to be distinguishable and a High Seas card sits epicenter of them, so that your map looks a bit like a squashed ‘X.’  Each colony provides one particular export.

All the world’s a stage.

Both players now alternate claiming three locations with which to expand from and take an export card of the corresponding goods those beginning possessions confer.  The player who selects last gets the first turn.  If only empires had divided world affairs so courteously through the ages, history might be a fair more civilized and bloodless.

Alas, the conflict is inevitable.  The rest of the game mostly concerns historic event and battle deck cards.  You begin with your nation’s two starting cards – which look differently, but do the same things – three random event cards, three gold, a personal player board and access to your own deck of leaders, troops and other goodies – known as the battle deck.  Ten historic events are drawn and stacked aside as the game clock.  Finally the political objectives board is set nearby, along with its associated battle cards and one new resource.

All of that sounds like a rabble of cards, boards and piles. And it is.  Thankfully, gameplay progress quite orderly, each combatant resolving eight actions fully in turn before the next commences, so that affairs are more expeditious than appearances.  There is still time, yet, to order your linear ranks and/or cross the ‘T.’

First, you draw an event card from the starting deck, of which the tenth one signals the game’s end.  Events are typical rules-breaking episodes that stipulate when and how they may be played.  Next, if you have any leaders present in colonies which confer a benefit upon their presence, you may roll for it.

Third, you attempt to groom allies amongst the other European powers (and one in the New World) by rolling on the political objectives board.  There are eight nations with unique offerings – from an extra resource to money to military forces – all yours to control.  Some are harder to sway than others, and all of them can prove fleeting.  International diplomacy is fickle, as your rival may lure them away from your bosom their next turn.

Steps four through seven finally deal with marching orders.  First, you may purchase units from your battle deck.  These Euro-sized (as in game, not continent) cards represent leaders, troops, ships and even fortresses and plantations.  Purchased units go to your board for later placement.  Next, you can move forces already deployed to either an adjacent colony in its same theater, or from any colony to the high seas or vice versa.

When invading a foreign colony protected by its own military assets, battle ensues.  Combat is fittingly a mix of tactics, mathematics and luck.  First the aggressor pairs off units with the defender’s to resolve individual engagements, though some skirmishes may be 2-on-1, or more, if a side has such numerical advantages.  Each pairing is resolved independently and eligible units in the fight roll one die.  While victory goes to the highest single die roll in the pairing, there are many factors that can modify a roll from event cards to the colony’s circumstances and to the particular unit itself.  Defeat results in the loss of one unit from that battle, with leaders going to the opponent’s prison and anything else returning to the battle deck for later use.  There are no retreats and combat continues until one side is eliminated.

Battle is joined.

After all battles are resolved, you place previously purchased troops from earlier in the round, typically in colonies you control or at the high seas.  At anytime during movement, battle and placement that you would exert control of a new colony, you take its associated export card.  Likewise, if you lose a colony its resource is returned.

Finally, in the eighth step, you collect revenue from your empire.  You always receive three gold, but may earn more based on your European allies.  Also, you will collect one gold for every set of three distinct exports you own through your provinces.

After the second player concludes their final turn, the Treaty of Ryswick (or Utrecht, or Aix-la-Chapelle, or Paris, you decide) ends the conflict and the dueling powers count victory by that most genteel, not to mention imperial of manners: the map.  Each player earns a point for every colony, plus one if completing a secret objective (dealt at the start of the game).  I recommend adding the optional victory conditions which award points for dominating individual theaters, diversifying your exports and swaying at least three allies.  After all, war is about so much more than land.

Improving your possessions for gold and defense.

Not Your Grandad’s World War

1750: Britain vs. France will struggle to entice general hobbyists, but proves surprisingly clever and approachable.  Ironically, its novel elements also limit its broader appeal.  That’s fine.  Jason Huffman’s freshman design is exactly the game he wanted to make.  Just one that a smaller audience is likely to investigate, I think for a few reasons.

Its unique, but esoteric, time period is both asset and hindrance.  On the one hand, it’s nice to delve into rarely visited subjects.  Is there a demographic out there yearning for more practical and playable designs tackling the 18th century political world?  Indeed, and count me in it.  On the other, such an obscure age will hardly turn any necks or twist any arms.

Currying political favor from lesser nations can be tricky and fickle.

What will attract eyeballs is the art.  All cards are illustrated with period (or shortly after) paintings and illustrations.  The stunning, baroque, vibrant and sweeping artwork exudes a scholarly refinement that fits its historical focus.  Ironically again, I don’t see that beauty drawing anyone in beyond its surface, other than the aforementioned audience above.  It’s wonderful to look at, sure.  It even encapsulates the grand nature of those imperial wars as these paintings never meant to capture an actual realism, but an ideal one – a wishful view of how the world should be.  Its charm and eloquence also reinforce its historical and martial setting, both genres a great many consider dry, dull and off-putting.

Finally, there is the initial set up which also proves daunting at first blush.  There are colony cards that need organized by theater.  Stacks of resources to spread about.  Two decks of historic events sit at one side and a political board with its associated cards at the other.  Then each side has their own battle deck, with units soon invading and moving about all the colonies sprawled across the table, needing enough room on either side of two rows to avoid traffic jams.  It takes up a fairer amount of space, as opposed to other 2-player tilts, and looks a jumbled mess.

Men need leaders. At least in the 18th century they did.

But it works smoothly, once you know what you’re doing.  The layout and driving mechanisms are fittingly appropriate.  Mechanics-wise, the ordered structure and four theatre organization generates a regimented gameplay that is required when a design seeks to distill such a sweeping epoch and subject.  An all-card, area control war game sounds like a tricky proposition.  1750 successfully employs cards to create a non-traditional board with abstracted space that still allows for physical and logical movement.  The political objectives board is separate but connected, so that players can still garner economic and military assets usually conferred by controlling distinct locations on a board.

I also couldn’t help but consider how the design’s blueprint conceptually meshed with the thematic decision to include period illustrations.  We all know that war is Hell.  I presume that people in the 18th century knew this, too.  Yet judging by paintings of the day, one might not suspect they did, what with fire-belching wooden ships sailing perfectly parallel in neat duels, or dying commanders falling dramatically into the arms of subordinates as the action swirls around them.  It seems the art style wasn’t trying to completely conceal war’s destruction and chaos, but instead camouflage it by emphasizing its glory and, by extension, necessity.  War games can understandably capture chaos, too, as your strategy and plan unravels.  1750 maintains that tumult as the game develops in new directions, but it manages to keep it on rails with its beautiful, well-aligned ranks of cards and minimalist movement.

Moving about the New World…and other points on the compass.

As a non-simulation the design has several aspects to digest the grand scope of its subject.  The political objectives board accounts for the courting of alliances and their resultant dividends, without having to add national borders and bloated operations.  The various difficulties in rolling successively higher to entreat some monarchs over others is appropriate, as is the possibility of switching allegiances common to the time, though including some powers’ natural and historic diplomatic leanings might have added a bit of asymmetry which is otherwise lacking.

The export cards cleanly handle the economic rewards of a mercantile empire (from its owner’s standpoint, mind you, as the design’s sole perspective).  Take a colony, reap its natural resources.  All of the production and management is abstracted through set collection.  The more varied your portfolio, the richer you become.  Although quantity could represent wealth just as historically, this element appropriately models imperial acquisition which was often based more on a colony’s prosperity and commodity than it was on strategic considerations.  And the cards make tracking such an economy simple by collecting or returning them, as developing situations warrant.  Privateer units that can disrupt commerce by stealing gold are an added touch.

What all the fuss is about!

More problematic is adequately distilling military operations and influence without just creating a simplified card combat tilt in the vein of Battle Line, Condottiere or Omen: Reign of War.  1750 is indeed more tactical, in line with those kinds of designs, but also abstracts broader strategy found in true war games, like an Axis & Allies or its ilk.  Individual engagements impart a sense of tactics as you seek to manipulate battle conditions in your favor.  That includes mustering brute strength, as well as supporting units based on accompanying troop types and the contested colony.  Is there a fortress and, if so, can you bring siege guns to reduce it?  Can you attach a general particularly suited to lead militia?

While combat and tactics naturally take center stage, there is opportunity to consider the overall system and strategy.  Assigning leaders to trigger location abilities is an elementary way to model that some leaders were equally or more effective administrators, as they were battlefield commanders.  Furthermore, the necessity to collect and protect a variety of exports to finance your empire informs every decision, which is not only strategic, but utterly thematic.  Which allies would best support your plans?  Where do you station your limited forces to defend your thin holdings?  Spending your resources in gold, men and diplomacy all have one end goal – getting what you can out of imperial possessions to fuel the empire.  1750: Britain vs. France portrays only the colonial aspect of these larger wars that were more about continental influence.  Yet with the political objectives you’re able to sense the cyclical relationship in how the scramble for colonies was both a natural extension of European affairs and became critically vital in sustaining it – a machine that fed itself.

Exerting influence…

Event cards handle all the rest and 1750 offers nothing new in that regards.  They introduce rules breaking benefits to inject other historical concepts, but with repeating generic titles like pirate raid, court intrigue and decisive battle in Europe.  The majority modify battle strengths or political rolls, either in your favor or impeding your opponent.  The rest merit other one-time benefits, although a couple remain in play for a specified time.

As a light, card-based war game 1750 isn’t long.  Once acclimated to the gentle learning curve induced by the set up, games fall under an hour, unless you want to extend it beyond ten turns.  And actually lengthening a session two or three more turns per side is ideal, which the rules suggest.  It allows more nuance and gives players an opportunity to exploit the economic engine they’ve geared up in the first five rounds, without convoluting play.  I also recommend all of the optional scoring parameters to fully flesh out and reward attention to other economic and political concerns.  Plus as many games wind up very close, it reduces the chance of draws.

Generic events that you’re enemy won’t think so plain…

The endgame deserves an endnote here as I suspect it will be approached differently depending on player personality.  Even though only a modicum of asymmetry develops through the political phase, the final round does force very different strategies based on turn order.  Since purchases aren’t deployed until the end of a round, the second player’s requisitions are pointless.  By the time they enter service the affair is over.  Now that side may utilize German mercenaries.  Those units are placed immediately, rather than saved for later.  You must send them home after your turn, so they are situationally expendable and perfect for the final turn.  But you only have access to two, which could prove too little, too late.  The upside to this dearth of reinforcement is that the second player can “go for broke” (apologies for the anachronistic terminology).  Without need to worry about counterattacks and vulnerable underbellies, you can risk everything, everywhere, in full confidence your enemy will not benefit from any failures.

Meanwhile while player one profits from a last round of purchases, they are ill-pressed to cover as many bases for such an all-out onslaught.  While they certainly have advantage of gauging the land, they nevertheless must anticipate where their foe will strike and likely have too much to cover adequately.  Unless they can weaken them enough in their own last hurrah.  It’s the design choice to apply a game clock, rather than some sort of victory threshold or objective.  It does create a bit of imbalance, just not an historical one as I would prefer.

Now most people have heard about this guy. But did you know he spent time in the slammer?

1750: Britain vs. France successfully repurposes a few familiar concepts to manage an experience that doesn’t feel derivative.  Indeed it adroitly condenses wargaming the grand affairs of 18th century empire-making to a box of manageable and smoothly interconnected cards.  Spread about the table, you feel the sense of strategically planning affairs with your ministers of state or pouring over documents in a library – the artwork wrapping an emphatic bow on the entire experience.  Its audience may be small, but they will certainly appreciate the smart, streamlined, playable and historically-sensitive experience that this World War 3½ delivers.

 

Battle Hardened Games provided a copy of 1750: Britain vs. France for this review.

Crosses the T

  • Rating 8.0
  • User Ratings (1 Votes) 9
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Summary

PROS
Card play and interaction smoothly blended and manageable
Variety of ways to earn points
Strategic mix of maneuver and counter-maneuver
Condensed war game that models broader strokes of its subject
Uses beautiful period artwork for illustrations

CONS
Set-up is cumbersome
Endgame can feel wonky or unsatisfactory
Requires more table space than typical 2-player design

8.0 Very Good

I have lots of kids. Board games help me connect with them, while still retaining my sanity...relatively speaking.

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