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A Look Back at San Diego And On to Canada!

posted Dec 10, 2015, 12:43 AM by Douglas Sun

Before the holiday break passes entirely, I want to give a quick nod to the organizers of the San Diego Historical Games Convention, which debuted in fine style last month. Despite their modest initial assumptions, they put a lot of effort into it, doing things like getting publisher support and providing on-site food and drinks — that much larger events don’t always get right. They may change venue next year — the Hacienda Hotel in Old Town is lovely and well-situated, but the jumbled layout puts one in mind of a Spanish Colonial-style ant colony, and its meeting rooms are not large enough to neatly manage a group of that size.

But the big news around here is that I finally submitted On to Canada!, my War of 1812 card game, to GMT Games today for formal consideration. After an intense round of playtesting at the convention in San Diego, I felt that it had reached a state of development with which I felt comfortable. So all that remained was to revise the rules document accordingly — I had actually been keeping all the rules revisions in my head — and double-check the card sheets before entrusting a stack of PDFs and a cover letter to the Internet.

I still freely admit that I started designing On to Canada! as a clone of GMT Games’ successful card game Battle Line. But thanks to suggestions from Gene Billingsley and my playtesters, it has become something quite different — and, I like to think, more interesting. The point of the game is to play cards from your hand in order to control four of seven locations along the United States-Canada border (which was the main theater of the War of 1812, although we Americans tend to remember a lot of stuff that happened away from it). The cards represent military forces and events that affect play. You deploy the military forces cards at a location to form a dice pool, and when you feel the time is right, you attack, pitting your dice pool against your opponent’s for control. That’s basically how the game works.

On to Canada! plays quickly as long as you don’t give in to paralysis by analysis. There is a built-in time limit, since each player has a draw deck of 27 cards and you have to get ready for the end of the game once one player draws his last card into his hand. So the end result is a game that, I am proud to say, you can set up in a minute, teach in a few minutes and finish in 20 minutes. I think it will be a good cup-of-coffee game for experienced wargamers and a gateway game to introduce people to historical wargaming‚ which, let’s face it, has become an unfortunately specialized corner of the gaming hobby.

This is, of course, only the end of the very beginning of the road to publication. But iI wouldn’t have gotten even this far without a lot of help and suggestions from some folks who were willing to spend some time with someone else’s untested game. And I didn’t even have to buy them lunch. Mark Aastad, Rick Byrens, Karl Kreder, Charles Ryder, Ken Tee, John Welch, Jerry White, Mark Yoshikawa — gentlemen, I thank you.