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GMT Games
Iron and Oak, from GMT Games, is a fun game of naval warfare set during the American Civil War.

Two war board games from GMT offer wonderful game experiences based upon American history: Washington's War, and Iron and Oak.

Washington's War

In Washington's War, two players assume the roles of either the Continental Army or the British Redcoats during the American Revolution. Played over a map depicting the 13 colonies and Canada along the eastern seaboard, players field armies and spread their political control in the hopes of victory.

At the beginning of each side's turn, which takes place over the course of a game year starting in 1775, seven strategy cards are dealt out. Many cards contain operational points, which allow players to move military units or place political control (PC) markers. Operational points also allow players to bring in reinforcements. Some strategy cards contain events which modify game play and allow you to play dirty tricks upon your opponent.

Combat between armies is based upon a few dice rolls with a host of combat modifiers, such as a general's combat rating, number of units involved, militia, naval support and the use of British regulars. Highest roll wins and the loser must retreat. Each victory also boosts the American standing with the French, eventually leading to France entering the war and giving the American player more military units and resources to draw from.

Washington's War is not simply a game of moving armies about the board, however. Players are wise not to neglect the political contest. Whoever has the most PC markers in a colony dominates it. At the end of the game whoever controls a set number of colonies wins. Several event cards contain the year in which the war will end, however. Whenever such a card is played, it replaces the previous card and can result in an abrupt end to the game. This creates a growing tension that adds additional excitement to the game.

Washington's War is a top-notch production from beginning to end. Components include a beautiful game board and fun stand-up counters for the British and American generals. Game play is really the thing here, however. This is an asymmetrical game in which the Americans and the British play very differently, and yet neither side's advantages are so great that they negate the possibility of victory for their opponent. The result is a wonderfully balanced and incredibly nuanced experience.

Though it has the look and feel of a simple war game, Washington’s War is actually quite a bit more. The event cards are a lot of fun and allow gamers to recreate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the fall of Lord North's government and other historical events. In many ways, the card-driven competition feels a lot like GMT's Twilight Struggle, one of the greatest "war” games of all time.

A wonderful, immersive experience, Washington's War is a great game and a wonderful exploration of the American Revolution.

Washington's War plays in about 90 minutes.

Iron and Oak

The naval battles of the American Civil War provide the background for Iron and Oak. The game contains several scenarios that recreate historical battles containing both wooden and ironclad ships from the American and Confederate navies. After selecting the scenario, two or more players collect ship cards which contain various details such as firepower and strength throughout the ship.

Order cards are played, which allow your ship, a cardboard chit, to maneuver over a large paper grid map of the sea. The map contains various information, like depth in certain areas and proximity to shore. Players can attempt to move one or two grid boxes, can attempt to drift with the current, or can attempt to cross an opponent's “T,” a very tricky naval maneuver of the day.

Players can also play action cards which can affect movement and gunnery for himself or his opponent. Most maneuvers require a dice roll which is compared to a dice roll made by the other player. If the phasing player is successful, he may move. If he fails the roll he cannot.

Combat also employs rolling dice. Several different-sided dice are given to each player, and each of his ships are marked with which dice must be rolled. Additionally, another dice is rolled to determine the location of the hit on the other player's ship. The defending player then rolls a dice for the section of his ship to see if the hit was successful. If multiple dice are rolled the numbers are not added together, rather, only the highest roll is considered.

Victory conditions depend upon the scenario, and can contain simple opponent elimination, or escaping a ship off the board, or simply inflicting heavy damage to another ship.

At its most basic level, Iron and Oak is simply a dice rolling game. You must roll dice to move; you must roll dice to attack; you must roll dice to defend; you must roll dice to see if your repair parties put out a fire, or if the fire spreads. A host of modifiers act upon each dice roll, however, and the game quickly becomes one of trying to find ways to modify the dice in your favor, if possible.

The fact that this game is so dice-heavy may turn off many gamers, which is too bad. The theme here is brilliant and wonderfully integrates the drama and desperate decisions of naval war in this era. And while it is true that the dice can mitigate a player's strategy, he can still make important decisions to impact the game in major ways. Do you press ahead to the next box while under fire or attack now at greater range? Do you attempt to cross the “T” or opt for a few shots over your bow?

Additionally, the many different historical ships that participated in these battles are wonderfully represented by the ship cards and further enrich the theme. Iron and Oak may not be for everybody, but it will definitely scratch a itch for fans of dice-heavy games and lovers of naval history.

Playing time for Iron and Oak varies with each scenario.

Both Washington's War and Iron and Oak contain no recommend age, though are generally appropriate for ages 12 and up.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. Cody has also appeared on many local stages including Hale Center Theater and Off Broadway Theater. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com