July 22, 2024

First Impressions: A Dutiful Fight: The Battle of Châteauguay, October 26, 1813

Marc M, 3 July 2024

Most of my wargaming experience has been with the World War 2 era or later, so I was interested to take a turn at A Dutiful Fight: The Battle of Châteauguay, October 26, 1813. It’s a new game from Paul Rohrbaugh at High Flying Dice Games in his Battle for Canada series, a group of games that covers battles in the War of 1812.

The game board and game units for A Dutiful Fight.
A Dutiful Fight: The Battle of Châteauguay, October 26, 1813 comes in a compact package, with an 11-by-17 gameboard and 90 counters.

click images to enlarge

As I covered in the unboxing article, A Dutiful Fight is the eighth game in the series and represents United States forces trying to fight through soldiers from Great Brittain, Canada and indigenous warriors. The US soldiers, led by Generals James Wilkerson and Wade Hampton, are marching toward Montreal, but face heavy resistance along the Châteauguay River. Paul provided a copy of his game for me to try out.

 

The Game Components

Packed in a Ziplock just under 9 by 12½ inches, this is a highly portable game, with lightweight and compact components.

The full gameboard of A Dutiful Fight.
A river and swampy woods are the main features of the map.

 

When I first saw how much of the 11-by-17 board was swampy terrain, I had some doubts about how easy it would be to play, but my doubts were unnecessary. The Châteauguay River is a key element, as you might expect from the game’s title. Impassable except by means of a couple of fords, movement and stacking limitations can make crossing painfully slow.

Other features include trails that speed passage through the swamp/woods hexes, streams that will slow you down a bit and an abatis, a defensive feature that can slow US forces down even more when filled with defenders.

The board really focused the action and to keep many of the US units moving together at a good pace they had to stay in a line longer than I liked. The US has militia units that could traverse the swampy hexes more easily, but I didn’t use them as effectively as I should have. On the other hand, defending local militia and Indigenous units used the terrain to good effect, maneuvering to create a defensive front and later to flank the US troops. While the terrain made the board feel a little cramped to begin with, this is probably representative of the difficulties the US forces faced. After a few rounds, it felt perfect.

Full-strength and reduced-strength game units on the game board.
Blue counters are full- and half-strength US units. White counters are British, Canadian and Indigenous units.

 

There are 90 unit and marker counters. Most of the unit counters are double sided, representing between 35 and 150 individuals at full and reduced strengths. US units include regular army, militia, dragoons, and cannon. British and Canadian forces are also a combination of regular army and militia, though they also have a handful of Indigenous units. Both sides also have leaders that can activate nearby units, rally troops and provide combat bonuses. The counters have illustrations of the units and the typical unit identifications, combat factors, and movement factors. With the base game you’ll need to cut and assemble the counters yourself.

The eight-page ruleset is printed on standard paper, and it’s a good bit more detailed than I expected at first glance. In addition to movement and combat, it covers topics such as assaults, low-ammo conditions, details on US reinforcements and several special rules. There’s also a multistep process of disruption, reduction, routing, rallies, and ultimately, elimination. And there are random events that can give one or the other player an advantage for a turn, change morale, allow a player to reroll a die or restore a reduced unit. The rules have some cross-references, and they were helpful as my first playthrough included a lot of flipping back and forth.

The units, game board and manual, along with playing cards and a die.
Assemble the counters, add a deck of playing cards and a die and you’re ready to play.

 

To play the base game you’ll need to add a six-sided die and a deck of playing cards to manage unit activations. You can purchase preassembled counters and activation cards to use in place of the playing cards. These cards come printed on cardstock, you just need to cut them out and they’ll work for any of the Battle for Canada games. I thought the cards that Paul provided were a neat addition. They aren’t as durable as playing cards but of course they’re designed to match the look and feel of the game. They made the gameplay feel cohesive to me.

 

Gameplay

The game plays out in multiple rounds of unit activations each turn. The number of rounds per turn depends on the card draws, but each turn represents about 45 minutes. The US starts on turn one with a number of activations equal to a die role (adjusted by a confusion modifier). From that point, a card draw determines one or two activations. The player with the highest draw gets activations equal to the draw. If there’s a tie, the player who didn’t activate last round gets activations as indicated by their draw. Each player deck has a joker. The first joker draw triggers a random event. The second ends the turn.

A U S two-activation card and a British one-activation card
As an alternative to playing cards, you can purchase activation cards that will work for all the Battle of Canada games.

 

For each activation, eligible units may:

  • Attack
  • Move
  • Attempt to rally disrupted or routed units
  • Attempt to remove a low-ammo condition
  • Reset artillery

Starting out, it was a little bit complicated, and I had to refer to the rules a few times to make sure i was getting it right. However, once I completed a couple of rounds and cleared the special conditions, I found the rhythm. The game ran quickly and smoothly and the gameplay felt quite natural.

 

Movement

As I mentioned above, terrain does a great job of restricting movement and, I thought, reflecting conditions that were probably present during the historical battle.

The game board set up with units and cards.
US forces will have a tough time getting past the defenders.

 

The US cannon units had the worst problems, able to move only one hex per activation and then requiring an activation to reset. It might have been down to my mismanagement, but it was very late in the game before I was able to get them into the fight, even with their extended firing range. I wondered if I’d missed a rule about cannon movement.

 

Combat

Combat involves comparing the combat factor of the attacking unit to a die roll. Die roll modifiers for leadership, disruption, low ammo and terrain apply.

Units in combat with routed, disrupted and low-ammo markers.
Combat can involve a lot of disruptions, reductions and routes.

 

If the result is equal to or less than the combat factor, the defender suffers disruption, reduction, etc. Assaults occur in a similar fashion, the primary differences being a chance of forcing a retreat and a chance of a disruption for the attacker. Attack range is only one hex, with the exception of the cannon, and as you might expect, combat factors are low for many units. Combine that with several steps before elimination, and combat can be a bit of a slugfest.

 

Morale

Morale is by side rather than per unit and I enjoyed seeing how this affected the game. The forces of Great Britain, Canada and the Indigenous people start with a morale a couple of points higher than the US forces. Morale moves up and down based on leader and unit elimination, arrival of reinforcements, escape of routed units, destruction of US cannon, and random events. The value determines failure or success of rallies, but it might also affect assaults.

The morale track for the game showing U S and British Morale.
US morale starts a couple of points lower than their opponents. This can cause them significant problems.

 

Since the national morale level applies to all units, a low value has serious repercussions. In my initial playthrough, US morale dropped to 1 before the end, meaning US units only had a 1 in 6 chance of rallying or removing low-ammo markers. Combat effectiveness suffered significantly. In this playthrough the US lost and lost badly, and morale played a major role. Long story short, try to keep your morale high.

 

Overall Impressions

I enjoyed A Dutiful Fight, and by the end of the nine-turn game I had a healthy appreciation of the gameplay. However, some of the turn-specific conditions took several read-throughs for me to follow. While I appreciated the historical condition they set up, that of confusion around US command, I typically struggle with game rules that only apply for a turn or two. But, the rulebook for A Dutiful Fight does a good job of explaining them and with a few rule checks I was able to play through and the battle moved quickly from there. There’s an option to play without the confusion conditions as well.

A tight cluster of stacks of units with disrupted, routed and low-ammo markers.
Late in the game tightly packed battles and lots of marker counters can require some management.

 

It’s worth noting that while there aren’t a huge number of units on the board, there can be a fair bit of upkeep for those that are present. You can’t activate the same units in consecutive rounds, so you need to rotate them or mark them after they activate and unmark them when they’re eligible for activation again. In addition, there are marker counters to indicate disrupted units, routed units and units that are low on ammo. So, you could have some mildly unwieldy stacks that you’ll need to manage in tight quarters. Not a big deal, but I definitely needed a good pair of tweezers.

Activation cards on the game board with a tight group of units.
Late in the game a very low morale made US units difficult to rally.

 

In addition to the fast gameplay, there were a couple more things I really appreciated in A Dutiful Fight: the effects of terrain and morale on the game. I think they suited the subject matter well. It was easy to imagine troops slogging through a difficult, unfamiliar landscape while Indigenous warriors and local militia travel lightly and quickly through their home terrain. It was also easy to imagine that US morale wasn’t particularly high, based on the conditions and harassing attacks from the enemy. Add to that the fact that General Hampton’s dislike of General Wilkerson meant their forces didn’t work well together. Not a recipe for high spirits.

And finally, while not related to gameplay, I also liked the size and portability of A Dutiful Fight. It doesn’t require a lot of space to play and there aren’t boxloads of units. This game has been from a game table to aporch and to the beach. It was simple to move and keep playing. That’s pretty handy if you want a game you can keep playing wherever you go.

 


Thank you for visiting The Armchair Dragoons and mounting up with the Regiment of Strategy Gaming.
You can find our regiment’s social media on MastodonBlueSky, Facebook, TwXtter, YouTube, and even Threads, if we could ever get an auto-post to it.
(We have an Instagram page and it’s really just a placeholder & redirect to our articles.)
You can support The Armchair Dragoons through our Patreon, also, and find us at a variety of conventions and other events.
Feel free to talk back to us either in our discussion forum, or in the comments below.


Armchair Dragoons PAO

Official Public Affairs account for The Armchair Dragoons, for official site news, and other contributors.

View all posts by Armchair Dragoons PAO →

Tell us what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: