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Washington in the Desert: Playing Monmouth at ConsimWorld Expo 2013

posted Jun 11, 2013, 1:29 PM by Douglas Sun

Another ConsimWorld Expo has come and gone; the 2013 convention is over a week in the rear view mirror at this point. The sensation of baking in the fierce, but dry desert heat has faded, replaced by the faintly stuffy sensation of tropical humidity floating up from the Gulf of Mexico that has been hovering over the LA Basin since I returned home.

This year, I didn't sign up for a monster game. I know that I've said in the past that if I was going to go to what was formerly known as Monster Con, I wanted to play a monster game. But it seems to be more and more the case that the monster game groups at CSW Expo are put together by mutual agreement among groups of friends outside of the convention registration process; the online game sign-up sheet merely formalizes them. I signed up at the last moment this year, far too late to get in with any of the monster game in-crowds.

So I spent the entire week in open gaming and had a delightful series of smaller gaming experiences, among them learning 1989 from Terry Coleman (who is as good a teacher of games as I've ever known), play testing a Mark Yoshikawa-designed scenario for Combat Commander: Pacific, and a couple of immersions in GMT Games' COIN system, and another try at Bloody April (about which, more later). But my most memorable game of the week was a go at Monmouth, the fifth game in Mark Miklos' Battles of the American Revolution series, with Ken Tee.

Ken and I have played half of the games in that series by now, but Monmouth is definitely the most fun I've had so far. All of the Battles of the American Revolution games seem to have their distinctive characteristics, but Monmouth is marked by a particularly dynamic tactical situation. With reinforcements for both sides arriving all the time, there is going to be a lot of back-and-forth, and the command and control rules that reflect Charles Lee's less than competent handling of the Continental Army's approach and deployment add palpable unpredictability. As the American player, I had Scott's entire brigade turn around and march off of the map before catching so much as a whiff of gunpowder. Add this uncertainty to the uncertainty over who will have the initiative the next turn, and whether the British player will stand, strike or play for time with his rear guard, and the American player needs to stay on his toes even during the early game turns, when you're mostly just marching to the sound of the guns.

During the first half of the game, the American player also has the decision of whether to lunge at the territorial objectives with Lee's advance guard and try to defeat the British piecemeal, or to move cautiously, as Lee did historically. Tempted by the objective hexes, I chose the former. And despite the opprobrium heaped upon Charles Lee then and in retrospect for his caution, I'm not sure that he was altogether wrong. The British have some high-quality units and fine leaders in their rear guard, with morale ratings generally higher than the
I can't quite make out what's going on on the game turn track, but I think we're about at Turn 8, or halfway through our game of Monmouth. The Continental Army's right flank is in trouble, and more Brits will soon deploy on their left. (Photo courtesy of Ken Tee).
American units. Ken handled them skillfully and from turns 8-12, he came alarmingly close to pulling off a double envelopment of half of the American army. Even after Washington took command, my position remained dicey. It didn't stabilize until the final few turns, when the last reinforcements finally went into action.

Eventually, I was able to solidify the American line, so that at the end of the game, both armies were staring at each other over an evenly contested battlefield, but they threw a lot of haymakers at each other in the process of getting there, flanking maneuvers and frontal attacks alike. In the end, Ken eked out a 25-20 VP victory, even though one of Morgan's riflemen potted Sir Henry Clinton, bravely leading from the front, on the next-to-last turn.

But I want to emphasize that there was nothing inevitable, or even orderly about reaching that conclusion. Even the first 8 turns, which are relatively quiet, present both players with an intriguing range of tactical decisions, and the last 8 are quite unpredictable. Once the battle gets going in earnest, you can never be sure about what will happen from one turn to the next, and the initiative die roll at the beginning of the turn can make or break you… at least until the next roll, at the top of the next turn. There are plenty of historical wargames in which the players are pretty well constrained by the tactical situation, so that you can have fun with them once or twice, but after that they become predictable. Monmouth is not one of those games. I think it will bear re-playing just about as many times as you want to have a go at it.