Tuesday, April 9, 2024

French & Indian War: Road Trip & Games

 My mission is in jeopardy as my Indian allies have murdered a captured French officer in my care, violating Articles of War. Plus, the French are quickly closing in on our position, so it is a ‘necessity’ that a fort is quickly constructed to shield us from attack....”

George Washington

View from Fort Ligonier with
fortifications and cannon.
Last week my son was off from school for spring break, so we planned a short overnight trip to some sights within driving distance that interested us: Fort Ligonier, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, and Fort Necessity...two of which catered to our interest in the French and Indian War. Last summer we visited Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point in New York state; we’ve also seen skirmish reenactments at Fort Frederick. So we wanted to round out our exploration of the period with two more locations that broadened our understanding of the overall conflict. It reminded me of numerous wargames covering the Seven Years War in America, many of which serve as good introductions for kids and newcomers to the hobby.

On the first day of our overnight trip we drove through rain along flooded rivers into west-central Pennsylvania to Fort Ligonier. It was intended as a fortified supply depot on the Forbes Road during that general’s campaign against the French at Fort Duquesne in 1758. The earthworks and palisades provided protection for the supplies and ammunition, a defensible base for artillery, and the focal point of a British and colonial militia encampment. The reconstruction includes the main fort, outer palisades, earthworks, storage buildings and barracks, and lots of artillery and support wagons. The museum provides solid context for the fort’s history in the campaign, its place in the worldwide conflicts of the time, and George Washington’s role in the French and Indian war, including a friendly fire incident nearby.

Fort Necessity: not much of a defense
on the wild North American frontier.
The next day — after a morning tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallinwater with rain-swollen waterfalls — we made an afternoon stop at Fort Necessity. The museum provided a good historical grounding with several interesting artifacts one could touch (great for kids and history nerds like me). The fort was not impressive, being little more than a small blockhouse surrounded by a round palisade and mounds from entrenchments. Not much, but it gives some idea what a poorly defended outpost on the edge of Western civilization was like. Alas, Jumonville Glen, where the war really started, was not open; and if had been, we would have passed, since two weeks of rain no doubt made woodland paths impassible.

Both forts were, of course, reconstructions on the site of the originals. Fort Ligonier took a few hours to fully appreciate, while Fort Necessity, even with its museum, took about an hour or so. The museum gift shops in both forts stocked plenty of books covering related subjects in addition to the usual colonial-themed toys and souvenirs. (By far the best book selection I’ve seen at a gift shop for this period was at Fort Ticonderoga.) I added several volumes to my ever-growing “to be read” pile, including a general history on the War for Empire in Western Pennsylvania, George Washington in the French & Indian War, The Indian World of George Washington, and a small monograph on The Jumonville Affair that ignited hostilities.

I’m decently well-read on the conflict as a result of my varied interest in wargames. I’ve dabbled in a number of colonial-era board and miniature wargames, though my experience is in no way comprehensive. Some of my favorite game titles come from the same designer, Bill Molyneaux, a period re-enactor and host of Bill’s Wargame World YouTube channel where he often shares his visits to historical sites and toy stores along with his own wargaming activities. Worthington Publishing produced his Wilderness Empires game, a new version of a previous title covering the entire war in America. Although it’s out of print and pricey to acquire, it’s well worth it for the excellent production value of the components, the clear, point-to-point movement board map, the card-driven mechanics, and the fog of war provided by upright wooden blocks. Molyneaux publishes numerous games for different periods using small maps, a limited number of counters, and “low-complexity” rules intended for parents introducing kids to wargaming and history...though wargamers like me, seeking more streamlined game mechanics and shorter playing times, can find some entertainment and enrichment in them, too. His Bloody Mohawk: The French and Indian War boxed game (recently re-issued as French and Indian War Volume #1: Bloody Mohawk) includes larger-than-usual counters, one-sheet maps, and “low-complexity” rules to play out engagements in a reasonable time, such as Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity, Monongahela, and Fort Ticonderoga. French and Indian War Volume #2: Savage Wilderness contains maps and scenarios for additional battles (including some hypothetical “what if?” ones), like Fort Ligonier, Fort Oswego, German Flatts, and the Bloody Morning Scout near Lake George. Blue Panther publishes these and other titles for different conflicts. Molyneaux’s Fastplay Wargames page at Wargame Vault offers other “low-complexity” games about different historical periods for download to print and play

While I enjoy Molyneaux’s “low-complexity” approach, I’ve also seen other games that provide a more in-depth game experience grounded in historical engagements and period warfare in their own right. For those who like the Commands & Colors-style board wargames, Worthington Publishing’s Hold the Line: French and Indian War Expansion Set (requiring the Hold the Line: The American Revolution game) covers the key battles. I’ve had Decision Games’ Rogers Rangers: America’s First Commandos for years and never got around to trying it. The game uses the same system as Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), though, so I have some concept how it plays. I should take some time to review the rules and get it on the table. I’m sure I’m missing other period games out there I haven’t yet explored. GMT Games’ Wilderness War looks similar to Molyneaux’s Wilderness Empires, including using point-to-point movement and cards, but includes cardboard counters and seems more complex. I’ve heard good things about Volko Ruhnke’s other wargame designs, so I might pick it up and explore it if I find a copy at a good price. Academy Games’ 1754 Conquest: The French and Indian War is another period game I’ve been eyeing for a while. Unlike Wilderness Empires and Wilderness War, it looks like it focuses more on area control and influence rather than outright military maneuvers.

I have more miniatures rules for the French and Indian War than I really should admit, for both large battles and smaller engagements. I’ve tried many of these using my 54mm Armies in Plastic soldiers (though someday I should paint up enough for some skirmishes). Each rules set offers some different interpretation of the various factors governing 18th century wilderness warfare. Peter Dennis recently added some period miniatures to his Peter’s Paperboys website — always a temptation for well-drawn ranks of soldiers to print, assemble, and march onto the field — as well as some papercraft terrain like trees, stockades, and even an entire fort. I’ve also recently played around in the period using my Skirmish Kids rules slowly nearing publication.

As someone who enjoys exploring history by reading books and playing games, I’m often amazed how each pursuit fuels the other; games inspire me to read more about the history I can’t find on the game board, while books challenge me to interact with the history as a game participant. Visiting historical sites expands my knowledge, too, often by immersing me in the history of a place while interacting with guides and interpreters with specific knowledge to compliment and expand my own.

I must confess that in this country, we must comply and learn the art of war from enemy Indians or anything else who have seen the country and war carried on in it.”

General John Forbes


A visit to Ligonier, PA, provides other diversions besides the fort and its fine museum. The town offers quaint shops, good dining, and The Toy Soldier Gallery, a cozy store densely packed with wargaming treasures: primarily miniatures, but also game accessories, classic games, and a few board games. I picked up a Flames of War M4 Sherman bulldozer tank for a Western Europe scenario I hope to run for Panzer Kids, another Wings of War Val for my “Game that Will Live in Infamy,” and an old copy of the hex version of Avalon Hill’s Chancellorsville. (I should have listened to my wife, who encouraged me to be far less conservative than I was.) One of those fortuitous finds I discovered watching videos at Bill’s Wargame World.

1 comment:

  1. Have you seen this game about the grand strategy of the period? An online implementation is available on yucata.de, although there aren't many live opponents, but you can play with a friend or family.



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