26th Apr2018

‘Lincoln’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

lincoln-bg-box

Lincoln is a brand new game from Martin Wallace, PSC Games and Worthington Publishing which, as you can imagine, is centred around the exploits of the titular US President. More specifically, it is a fairly straightforward, card driven wargame that deals with the American Civil War and takes place over between ninety minutes and two hours.

Unsurprisingly given the subject matter, Lincoln is a two player game with one player controlling The Union and the other taking charge of The Confederacy. The game is heavily focussed on mustering and moving troops, then participating in combat. The attractive board is very well laid out and ensures a constant focus on action across several fronts.

There are also a couple of tracks that represent European influence and The Union blockade, both of which offer slightly different tactical options. The European influence track infers that if the Confederate player can gain enough support, she will be able to force Europe to intervene in the war on her side. The Union blockade track allows the Union player reduce the Confederate players hand size by investing turns into developing their position.

With that in mind, Martin Wallace’s own notes (nicely included on the rear of the manual) indicate that Lincoln is a “deck destruction” game, which is an interesting and accurate way of putting it. What Martin is describing with this turn is that as the game progresses, the players will burn (and permanently discard) their most powerful cards when played, whilst they’ll place weaker cards used into a discard pile that is reshuffled two or three times per game. Even more interestingly, the players each have a couple of additional decks that are shuffled into their master deck when it is exhausted for the first and second time. For the Union player, these decks actually increase the overall strength of the deck, whilst for the Confederacy, the deck grows weaker over time.

The Union player has a default hand size of six cards (which never changes) whilst the Confederate player begins with access to five cards but, as I mentioned earlier, that hand size can reduce based on the Union blockade. The players may take two actions per turn, almost all of which are driven by the cards in hand.

One of the actions is to muster troops, which is as simple as identifying the number of troops that a card produces and then playing the card. Mustering troops of strength two or three will almost always require one or two other cards to be “paid” in which case those cards are also placed in the discard pile. Cards used to muster strength 3 troops must be permanently removed from the game, as must a select few other cards.

Movement is also paid for by discarding specific cards, as are changes to the two tracks that I’ve already described. There are several special cards available to each side, some of which affect combat. Whenever an attack is declared, the attackers’ strength must be compared to that of the defender and any modifiers are taken into account.

Attackers must place a card face down when declaring an attack, some of which have a leadership value that is added to the attack. Defenders often have access to special cards such as High Ground, which can add to their defensive value. They may additionally choose to spend a card with a leadership value on it as well and to make matters worse, several key locations on the board (such as Washington) have a defensive value for one side or the other.

Ultimately after all tokens, forts, on board defensive bonuses and cards have been played, the winner is the player with the highest total value. She takes losses equal to half of her total number of army tokens (not her total strength) rounded down, whilst her opponent takes casualties equal to half the number of tokens rounded up. This, as the manual correctly suggests, incentives players to operate with a mix of unit strengths so that lower value tokens can be discarded more readily (as it is the players choice which token(s) to discard.)

In each game of Lincoln that I’ve played or watched, the combat is very finely balanced. Even the starting positions are very challenging to break through, which has a couple of effects. Firstly, the game is tense and exciting from the outset – for as long as the game lasts, there is absolutely no let up. Deck and hand management are important, but maximising value from every turn is perhaps the most critical thing to focus on.

Broadly speaking, any turn that does not result in ditching probably four to five cards from your hand is probably less than optimal, which means that more often than not, you’ll want to muster and then move an army into enemy territory and fight a battle. Mustering twice is not uncommon, or a defensive turn might involve a muster and then influencing one of the on board tracks.

Much of the tension comes from the way that battles are funnelled by the layout of the board. Locations are connected by railroads and often have limited routes in and out. The game begins with essentially four pitched battles in progress and it will usually take several turns for either side to achieve a breakthrough. When this happens, the players then face the contrasting challenges of either rebuilding their line or holding a rapidly expanding front line.

To tackle the possibility of stalemate (which certainly can happen) the game features a mechanic that forces the Union forwards. Whenever the Union deck is reshuffled for the first time, the Union player must have secured two victory points, which is achieved by advancing into Confederate territory. By the time of their second reshuffle, they must have achieved five. This forces riskier decisions and creates impetus, which I really liked.

The Confederate player, on the other hand, will be aware that her deck is only going to become weaker, so she will be keen to avoid permanently discarding her more powerful cards and may deliberately play to have them reshuffled for later. Or will she? Not necessarily, because if she can hold the Union at (or thereabouts) where it starts, then she’ll win at the first reshuffle anyway.

The fast, simple card play and multi-layered depth combine with exciting combat from the outset to make Lincoln a fantastic, entry level wargame for two players. The two tracks on the board introduce just enough of a distraction to offer an alternative route to victory which, alongside the victory point mechanic that I’ve just mentioned, will always help to break up a stalemate.

The components are functional and attractive and I like how the game looks when setup on the table. The cards are of an excellent quality and whilst the art isn’t hugely varied, it is thematic and interesting enough to hold the attention of the players. All in all, Lindon is a really excellent addition to any wargame collection and will be of particular interest to those who, like me, are fairly new to the hobby.

**** 4/5

A copy of Lincoln was provided by PSC Games and Worthington Publishing, and you can preorder it directly from PSC Games here: http://theplasticsoldiercompany.co.uk/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=18

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