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Game Review: ‘A Few Acres of Snow’

Feb. 15, 2013 - 03:08PM   |  
By MICHAEL PECK   |   Comments
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With the northeastern U.S. still digging out from Blizzard Nemo, it might not be the best time to speak of a game called “A Few Acres of Snow.” But if it’s any consolation, even a New England blizzard isn’t as arduous as fighting a winter war in 18th-century Canada.

“A Few Acres of Snow” is a board game of the British and French struggle for Canada in the 17th and 18th centuries. At first glance, the game doesn’t look like a historical simulation. A few wooden tokens, red for the British and blue for the French, symbolize settlers. Each side has a deck of special cards that represent villages, regular troops, militia, forts, ships and Indian auxiliaries. Game play occurs on a very abstract map of the east coast of North America that stretches from Virginia to Montreal to Louisburg, Nova Scotia, and is marked with scattered cities and villages. But there is more here than meets the eye.

North America might as well have been North Antarctica for all its extensive transportation network during the Seven Years’ War (otherwise known as the French and Indian War on this side of the Atlantic). The game reflects this by making the simple act of movement extremely difficult.

Movement is from town to town, but few towns are connected by roads. Rivers are the primary transportation routes in the game. So to move colonists from Albany to Oswego requires the player to have randomly drawn the Albany card from his deck as well as another card with a boat symbol. It is an abstract mechanism that simulates weather, supply, and primitive transportation and command control. The practical effect is to force players to plan well ahead for their advance, and to accept that they can’t move when and where they want to. Frequently a player will end up sending an expedition to a destination simply because it’s the only one he has the cards to reach.

To make planning even tougher, both sides can interrupt and block an opponent’s movement by playing what in modern terms would be special or irregular forces. The French have Indian cards; the British have Colonial Rangers. Combat is fairly simple, with victory going to whoever has the stronger troop cards. Combat is always over a city or village — there’s not much else in the wilderness — so fighting consists of sieges that last several turns. Victory comes when the British capture Quebec or the French capture Boston or New York. A player can also win, in an appropriately colonial manner, by either settling all of his colonist tokens or capturing enough of his opponent’s tokens.

“A Few Acres of Snow” covers a 300-year-old conflict, but it is surprisingly contemporary in depicting an asymmetrical conflict. The British are the Americans, with plenty of strong regular troops, ships and, most importantly, money. Players spend money to purchase cards for their play deck that they draw from each turn, and with much more gold, Britain can amass more forces. The French resemble any number of weaker powers such as the North Vietnamese. Their regular forces are weaker, but they excel at irregular warfare; while the British forces are just regular infantry, the French militiamen are like Indian auxiliaries in being able to interdict British movement. The French can’t outfight or outspend the British, but they can often outmaneuver them.

What results is an interesting conflict where players must overcome both each other and the randomness of cards that often render strategy as choosing the best among a multiplicity of unhappy choices. Best of all, “A Few Acres of Snow” can be played in a warm, dry room with plenty of coffee. You can always admire the snow through the window.

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