Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Featured game: Quebec, 1759

The granddaddy of block games, Quebec 1759 has been in print since 1972, which probably sets some records for wargames.
The essential feature of so-called block wargames are the wooden blocks. Military units are represented by wooden blocks which are placed on edge, Stratego-style, to hide their identity and strength from the enemy. The four sides of the blocks are used to provide a paperwork-less method of step reduction. Typically a unit will have a “Combat Value” (CV) of 1-4, with numbers or pips along each side to depict its current strength. As the unit takes losses the block is rotated to show the current strength on top. Typically the number of dice a unit can roll is the same as its CV, so a CV 3 will roll three dice when it attacks an enemy unit. Which die roll numbers represent hits can vary from game to game, and is often modified by various conditions, but in Quebec 1759 each “6” is a hit.
Quebec 1959 introduced these mechanics and its still a very good introductory wargame. Usually taking less than an hour to play, it takes just a few minutes to explain and set up.
Each side has 25 blocks, blue for the French and Red for the British. Each side has some blank decoy blocks. The British army comprises nine battalions of regular foot at CV 4, a regular foot of 3 CV, a light infantry unit with 3 CV, some American rangers at 3 CV and a small Grenadier battalion with 2 CV. The French have an Indian unit with 4 CV, six regular battalions with 3 CV each and 13 militia units with 2 CV each. The British also have four naval units which have no CV but can each ferry one block across a water area.
The intriguing thing in the game is the geography of the battlefield. Depicting the area immediately surrounding Quebec City in what is now Canada, there are only 10 land areas and two sea areas, making this map one of the smallest, in terms of distinct locations, ever used for a wargame. The two water areas, the Bason (downriver from Quebec City) and St Laurent (upriver) divide the land zones into three distinct regions. The Ile d’Orleans is where the British army starts, across the Bason from the other land areas. Along the southern side of the map is Levis and Etchemin. Along the northern side of the map, from east to west, are the areas of Montmorency, Beauport, St. Charles, Abraham, Sillery, Ste. Foy and Cap Rouge.
Movement is simultaneous, with each side able to conduct one move per turn. A move consists of moving units from any one area to one or more adjacent areas or by ferry across a water zone to an area. The British can, instead of a regular move, move his ships from one water zone to the other.The British problem is to ferry their troops across the river in the face of the French and march to capture the Abraham area. If the British are in sole possession of Abraham on the 16th turn and still have at least 20 CV total, they win. If the French reduce the British to below 20 CV at any point, they win. No draw is possible.Combat is conducted by dividing the block in a mutually occupied area into three columns (left, center, right) and a reserve. The blocks in each column alternate firing (defender first) at each other until one enemy column is emptied of units, at which point that force instantly routs and must retreat from the area.
Elegant in its simplicity, Quebec 1759 was under appreciated when it came out in 1972 during the early days of the hex-and-counter wargame era. Now that tastes in gaming have changed and we are in the era of the stylistic, elegant Eurogame, Quebec 1759 and its ilk are finding new fans.The game takes less than 5 minutes to set up, plays in less than an hour and has less than four pages of rules.
(Yes) For Wargamers: Uses simple mechanics to capture the campaign with authenticity yet provides a competitive game as well.
(Yes) For Collectors: The first block game, early editions are sought by collectors.
(Yes) For Euro gamers: An excellent entry into board war gaming with quick game play, elegant mechanics and attractive components.

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