After reading Bruce Geryk’s Quarter to Three post on the card and board game centered around the French and Indian War, namely A Few Acres of Snow, I was compelled to ask Bruce if he wouldn’t mind joining me in a game on Yucata.de – so I could not only experience the game, but learn how to play from him and write it up as an AAR.
I’m a total novice at the game, but I hope my fumblings and stumblings can bring others to the game, and we can all learn from the mighty Geryk himself!
Yucata is a free to play online service that hosts a number of unique boardgames you can play over the Net. One of the primary benefits being that the rules are enforced by the game modules themselves and not left to the discretion of the players gathered around the virtual table.
Luckily, I’d already signed up for an account a year or more earlier – I’d just never had the bottle to jump in with strangers and play anything! I logged on, buddied up with Bruce and accepted the invite.
Since I’m the limey in this partnership, I felt compelled to choose the British side.
Upon starting the game, a new window opens up with the board and pieces already set, and your hand of five cards already dealt.
With some trepidation, I peruse the board for the initial positions and connections between the British Towns and Outposts, and I worry about what all the symbols on the cards mean. I’d skimmed the rules earlier on that day, and had watched Marco’s review on Youtube.
Ian is quite a mensch for sitting down to an online AAR of a game he’s playing for the first time, so before he completely crushes me, I should say hats off to him so that later on it looks like I knew it was coming. Ha! Seriously, every game has idiosyncrasies that reveal themselves on first playing, so it’s great that he’s just jumping in and trying it out. A Few Acres of Snow is particularly idiosyncratic because the map is not at all straightforward and can mislead you if you just try and figure out the connections without looking at the cards. For example, it looks like you can attack Quebec directly across northern Maine, from Pemaquid through Fort Halifax and then Kennebec. But you can’t. Once you get to Kennebec, you’re stuck. As are the French. Because that route is a dead-end both ways. If you don’t know that, you can imagine how surprised someone might be when he looks at the map and sees a “connection” to Quebec and Fort Halifax, but the cards don’t allow military movement. Basically, it’s just for raiding. That’s the kind of thing that will take a few playings to understand.
Another thing that takes some time to “get” is that the British and French have completely different strengths. The French start out with a lead in victory points, but their position is somewhat tenuous. They depend on fur trade to generate income, which requires a separate trader card to use most of their cards for money. That’s one-fifth of your hand taken up by a card that is useless by itself. They also have just one settler card, which means that they have to cycle through their entire deck each time they place a settlement disc, unless they invest in extra settler cards themselves. They have far fewer cards with ships or guns on them, so they are at a disadvantage in sieges. And geography is against them, too: they are stretched out across the Great Lakes and St.Lawrence, exposed on multiple fronts without good chokepoints to hold (as the ones that exist are much more easily accessible to the British). Sounds bad!
Not all, though, is sour in New France. Because French priests can take Native American cards out of the British hand (and these are the main cards used for raiding), the French can harass the British all along the seaboard, until the British have built enough forts (which block raids). The French also start with a regular infantry in their deck, and thus can quickly ramp up their military by buying some siege artillery and going after the British before they get going themselves. Because the French start with a lead in victory points, they can win by judiciously expanding, harassing the British, and ending the game before the British can develop all their settlements. The two sides require very different styles of play.
As a side note, I think the French were given a boost by a rules change which increased the range of a one-card raid to two spaces. This means British settlements will be in range with less French expansion. That helps a lot. Of course, the British have the same increase in range, but I don’t think it’s as beneficial to them.
Don’t forget to listen to the Three Moves Ahead podcast where Bruce, Rob and Julian discuss the game with the designer Martin Wallace.
Although the map looks very attractive to look at, it can seem quite “busy” in terms of working out the connections between the settlements. Most of the area is connected by rivers, so to get anywhere to do almost anything you need to have a boat (bateaux). There are however, small Indian pathways (small hatched lines) snaking their way through the terrain that also create routes to launch Ambushes or Raids.
My first thought was to secure Deerfield, with all the criss-crossing paths it seemed ideal as a starting move.
To settle Deerfield, I had to play three cards to enable this action. First you need a card with an adjacent area depicting a mode of travel to the desired destination. Then you need a card with a resource icon at the bottom, showing that mode of travel (in this case a boat). Finally, because Deerfield has an image of a Settler in it, you need a resource icon showing a Settler. Once you have all three requirements, you can settle Deerfield. Luckily, in my initial hand I had location cards (New Haven – the Route, Philadelphia -the Settler and St. Mary’s – the Boat) with the appropriate requirements.
The first turn of the game only allows a single action, so with Deefield settled as a small village, I was dealt another three cards from my deck to take my hand back to five cards. The cards dealt to me, where Boston, Pemaquid and Philadelphia (again).
I clicked the Finish Move button and shut down the client to await Bruce’s first turn.
Turn 1 – Bruce
The game plays out in asynchronous turns, and you don’t get to see any of the action as your opponents makes their plays, however you do get a summary of the actions made as you start your next turn.
On Bruce’s first turn, he places an Infantry card in his Reserve Stack. You are allowed up to five cards in this reserve, but it costs money to pull them out to play them. The Reserve can be thought of as a costly store, where you can hold cards to ensure they can be played at the right time, and in the right place.
As you can see, comparing the starting values of the decks and settlements already held – the game attempts to portray the historical setting and theme with asymmetric setups. Numbers worth keeping an eye on, seem to be Money – the figure next to the Gold and Silver coin icons (5 for the French, and 12 for the British) along with Victory Points – the large number on the right hand side (29 for the French, and 17 for the British).
Without much of a clue, I decide if Bruce has Infantry, perhaps I should grab some from the Empire Pile. These are military and supportive cards that you can buy and add to your discard pile, and ultimately are recycled into your draw deck. Here lies the deck building mechanic of the game. I go ahead an purchase the expensive military unit – which will knock my funds down to just 5 gold.
Any settlement with a numbered purple hex next to it has those Victory Points up for grabs, if you settle with a village/outpost (a small square marker) you get the bare value, if you can develop that settlement into a Town (a large circular marker) then you get DOUBLE the Victory Points! So I figured it’s worth developing up the rear settlements, since they’re not so prone to attack, and some have size-able Victory Point gains.
To develop a village into a Town, you need the location card you want to develop and a settler resource icon. I play Pemaquid and Philadelphia to develop Pemaquid to a Town.
With my two actions complete, I draw two cards to make my hand up to five again. I draw New Haven and Deerfield. Still pulling locational cards at the moment.
Turn 2 – Bruce
Bruce seems to play a couple of money generating cards, pulling in 6 gold on this turn, from Trading and Piracy! I knew the French were up to something!
I can’t massage the current cards into any expansion possibilities, so I decide it’s time to sell a card and get some money back. I sell the Norfolk location for 2 gold (symbolised by the coin icon at the bottom of the card).
In a frugal frame of mind, I decide to buy up the zero cost Boat available as an empire card. This may help with expansion later on in the game.
Two actions gone so quickly, I get one replacement card for my hand, namely St. Mary’s.
Turn 3 – Bruce
Bruce is once again generating money at an alarming rate, six gold this turn using the Trader card again! He’s also drafted a card I know nothing about, Coureurs de Bois, or rather Coureurs des Bois (after looking it up on Google translate) and coming up with “Trappers”. I suspect some form of armed raiders.
Once again I look toward developing the settlements I have to juice up the Victory Points. So I use the New Haven card along with the Settler icon from St. Mary’s card to develop New Haven. I try to find icons on cards without any monetary value, that way I still have locational cards that can be sold to accrue some funding if necessary.
I take a quick look at my growing Discard pile, and you can see my previous Empire purchases are in there (the Boat and the Infantrymen) awaiting the time when they can be drawn into my hand.
I decide to sell Boston for 3 gold, boosting my funds.
I draw three cards to make my hand full again, and out pops the Boat and the Infantrymen along with Philadelphia.
Turn 4 – Bruce
Bruce begins his settlement drive and secures two Forts, namely Fort Beausejour and Fort Frontenac.
Fort Frontenac is at the top left of this map shot, and Fort Beausejour is at the bottom right. Feels like the French are trying to outflank any British expansion.
With Turn 5 I now have the cards available to secure a key settlement in the middle ground, namely Albany. I play cards New York – the Route, Philadelphia – the Settler and The Boat card to secure the 4 Victory Points on offer.
As you can see, I’ve also now opened the waterways on to Fort Win Henry and Fort Stanwix, and ultimately a chance to push to the French front line.
I’m slightly twitched that my outposts are a bit vulnerable to raids, so decide to buy the FREE Fortification card from the Empire Deck. Not only can it Block Raids just by being in your hand, you can lay the location card and pay 3 gold to fortify a settlement against Raids. Might come in handy later on.
My strategy seems to be following the solid (but possibly flawed) plan of Expand, Develop and Fortify.
I draw three cards to complete my hand for the next turn. I draw Boston, Pemaquid and St. Mary’s.
Turn 5 – Bruce
Bruce settles Kennebec, and he launches the first aggressive action of the game, a Raid by his “Trappers” onto Pemaquid. Luckily, I had the locational card Pemaquid in my hand, which Blocked the Raid! I didn’t know that fact, but it was a pleasant surprise.
At the start I figure I need to be prepared for a British military push, so I buy a second regular infantry. The French are able to perform Piracy whenever they have the Louisbourg card and one other ship card – this steals two gold from the British. By keeping a good reserve, whittling the British gold down through Piracy, and launching raids to harass his settlements, I hope to force him to keep defensive cards in his hand and keep cycling gold, which will limit how fast he can deploy a strong military force. In the meantime, I’m expanding southwest. That is all.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the starting moves in the game, and check back for future Parts to this very abstracted, but equally enthralling card and board based wargame!