THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: 1775-1783 is a grand-tactical level simulation of the campaigns waged between the Continentals and the British in North America during the War for Independence, 1775-1783. THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION was designed by James F. Dunnigan, and published in 1972 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).


General Lord Howe
In June, 1777, the British embarked on an audacious plan of campaign intended to bring the war against the rebellious American Colonies to a successful end. Three separate columns: one under Major General John Burgoyne; one under Lt. Colonel Barry St. Leger; and a third under Lord Howe would advance against Continental forces and ultimately converge on Albany. Lord Howe, for reasons that are still unclear, abandoned the plan at the outset and launched an invasion into Pennsylvania instead of marching from his base at New York towards Albany. St. Leger, who had started his expedition from Fort Oswego with a force of 1,700 men, initially held to the plan of campaign. However, the cautious Lt. Colonel, after being repulsed in an attempt to capture Fort Stanwix from the rebels, abandoned his drive and began a retreat back to his starting point on Lake Ontario.

General John Burgoyne
Only General Johnnie Burgoyne continued with his offensive, but poor planning and bad luck plagued the British commander from the very beginning. Slowed down by too many heavy cannon and insufficient transport for his large baggage train, Burgoyne’s force of 7,200 men was both road-bound and slow. When the British general castigated his Indian Allies for their savage depredations against the local colonists, they responded to his eccentric demand that they observe the European “rules of war” by deserting en mass. To add to Burgoyne’s problems, local militiamen and Continentals destroyed bridges and felled trees across his route of march. Moreover, all of the livestock in his path was driven off, and the settlers’ crops and food stores were either carried away or burned so as to deny his army supplies. Even worse, large numbers of militiamen from New Hampshire and Vermont, already incensed at the cruelty of Burgoyne’s former Indian allies, also joined the local militias in harassing and attacking any British detachments that ventured too far away from the main column. Nonetheless, despite these ongoing reversals, the British general stubbornly held to his original plan.

Major General Horatio Gates
In September, the English army crossed the Hudson and slowly advanced south of Saratoga. There Burgoyne’s force, now reduced to 6,000 effectives, encountered its first serious resistance. A Continental army of some 7,000 men, under the command of Major General Horatio Gates, was entrenched on the elevated ground of Bemis Heights directly in Burgoyne’s path. On 17 September, the British attacked the American left in an effort to force Gates to retire. This clash, known as the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, ended in a costly but indecisive victory for Burgoyne. Although Gates’ conduct of the battle was so bad as to border on incompetence, the Americans managed to hold their main positions throughout the engagement. Getting ever shorter on supplies, and apprised of the steady influx of Continental regulars and militiamen arriving daily in the American camp, the British attacked again on 7 October, 1777. This second battle, known as the Battle of Bemis Heights, was a desperate "throw of the dice" for Burgoyne, and he knew it. His army, now numbering barely 5,000 men, attacked Gates’ force, which by the time of this second battle, had swelled to over 11,000.

The Battle of Freeman's Farm
Fortunately for the future of the American Revolution, even a general as lethargic and ungifted as Gates, given the excellence of his defensive ground, and his greater than two-to-one advantage in manpower, would have been hard-pressed to lose such an uneven contest, and he didn’t. On the night after the battle, Burgoyne retreated the remnants of his army back to Saratoga. There, without supplies or hope of relief, the British general finally surrendered on 17 October, 1777.

Saratoga was a turning point in the American Revolution. This Continental victory, uneven though it was, was decisive in finally bringing France into the war against England. Four years later, at Yorktown, the alliance between the colonials and France would prove decisive. On 19 October 1781, General Lord Cornwallis, with no hope either of reinforcements or of evacuation, surrendered his surrounded and out-numbered army to a combined force of French and Continental troops.


THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: 1775-1783 is a two-player simulation of the American Colonies’ armed struggle against England for independence from the Crown. Although it is predominately a land-based game, THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION also uses fleet units to represent the fluctuating capabilities of the British and French Navies.

Each seasonal game turn of THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION is symmetrical (the American and British player turns are identical) and is divided into four parts: the Movement Phase, the Overseas Reinforcement Phase; the Combat Phase; and the Fortification Phase. In addition, at the end of each game turn, there is a Continental Levy Interphase, and, during winter game turns only, an Attrition Interphase. One interesting — or frustrating, if you are playing the English — aspect of THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION is that the British player is required to roll a die on every turn for each detachment that he wishes to move. This can be maddening for the British player as he watches his carefully crafted strategy unravel because of a (simulated) lack of initiative and misdirected movement orders. As the game progresses, a player cannot help but develop a certain amount of sympathy for General Johnnie Burgoyne, and for the hapless Lord Cornwallis. The game has a maximum length of thirty-two game turns, but will rarely continue that long as either side can achieve an early victory and end the contest immediately, based on their relative fortunes on the battlefield.

Besides the historical scenario, THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, also offers a number of plausible (what-if?) scenarios that, had they occurred, might have directly influenced the outcome of the Revolutionary War. There are twelve different optional scenarios, each of which either help or hurt the Continentals’ Cause. For purposes of play-balance, whenever any of these scenarios is incorporated into the game, a formula is provided for an equalizing adjustment of victory points. These hypothetical scenarios not only create more options for the players, but they also provide an excellent method for adjusting play-balance between unequal opponents.


The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown
After almost thirty-seven years, I still have an odd love/hate relationship with Dunnigan’s simulation of THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. There are many elements in the game that I like, and on the whole, I think that it has an ingenious, easy to play game system. My major complaint with the game’s rules is that the British player has a very tough time of it if he does not at least receive average results on his movement die-rolls. I can remember one game in which, having cunningly landed an expeditionary force in the South and having completely surprised my Continental opponent, I watched as that and every other English detachment remained paralyzed for three consecutive game turns before the irrelevant army in New York, and only that army, finally got orders on my fourth attempt at movement.

During my college days, I actually played this title quite a bit, but, after a time, my regular opponents tumbled to the fact that I tended to suffer terrible luck in rolling for movement when I took the British; the next thing I knew, I was consistently getting stuck with the hapless “Redcoats” and my interest in the game quickly waned. On the other hand, I did develop a great amount of sympathy for the British field commanders who — stuck in a thankless, frustrating war — seemed to suffer as much at the hands of their own leaders, both political and military, as they did at the hands of the rebels.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 Season (3 months) per game turn
  • Map Scale: Indeterminate (area movement)
  • Unit Size: abstract Strength Points
  • Unit Types: infantry, militia, fortifications, fleets, and information counters
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: high
  • Average Playing Time: 2-6 hours

Game Components:

  • One 17½” x 22” area movement Map Sheet (with Game Charts, Terrain Effects Chart, Game Turn/Reinforcement Track, and Combat Results Table incorporated)
  • 255 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 9” x 11½” book style Set of Rules (with Scenario Instructions)
  • One 8½” x 11” combined Errata Sheet (as of 30 June 1973)
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game cover with Title Sheet

Recommended Reading








Recommended Artwork

These prints come in various sizes and make excellent wall decorations for an American Revolutionary war themed game room.

Buy at Art.com
George Washington and His Generals, A...
12x16 Giclee Print
Buy From Art.com

Buy at Art.com
The Battle of Trenton, General George...
9x12 Giclee Print
Buy From Art.com


  • I got the game and then looking at the map got turned off by the Area movement so stuck it away and kept playing 1776 by AH. I then went back to it and started to enjoy it some. It has been in the last few years I really starting liking it. I find it is better then the Richard Berg 13:The Colonies in Revolt game which I like but still doesn
    t grab me that much

  • Greetings Kim:

    I have had a real love-hate relationship with this game for a LONG time. In fact, I have probably played it; gotten frustrated with the game and sold it; and then, a year or two later bought another copy to start the cycle all over again!

    Best Regards, Joe

  • The challenging side to play is certainly the British, with their movement constraints, given that the US player does not suffer them. If you do not get to move, you will lose, that is for sure.

    Don Johnson

  • Greetings Don:

    Yes, I kind of look at this Dunnigan game the same way that I view a KFC "family dinner". I like the appearance of the game, old-fashioned as it is; I also rather like both the problem posed by the game system and the historical situation, itself. Thus, after enough time passes, it always starts to appeal to me again; so I go out and buy another copy to play. Unfortunately, it only takes a few games with my British parked in the same map areas, turn after turn, for a major case of "heartburn" to set in; and then I am reminded, yet again, as to why I sold it off the times before.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • My regular wargaming opponent and I, throughout the last couple of years of high school and into our undergrad years, designated this our post-game game. In other words, if we'd wrapped up our Sunday evening war game and still had had an hour or two on our hands before it was time to quit, we'd set up a game of T.A.R. and fight it out. We probably played this game more than any other in either of our collections. We never did find a better post-game game.

    It brings back some great memories. I sold my copy of the game at least 20 or more years ago.

    Ed Pundyk

  • Wasn't Yorktown in 1781?


  • Greetings Ed:

    Thanks for the "heads up"! Somehow, when I was editing and rewriting some of the text in the Historical background section of this profile, I apparently ad-libbed a date without double-checking myself. This just goes to show -- if any proof is actually needed -- the validity of the old warning against "assuming" things.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Played this classic twice. Its still got a lot to teach about clean game design and getting to the heart of a situation. Super blog by the way!

  • Greetings Mike:

    Thanks for the kind words and for taking the time to add your comment. I am, needless-to-say, gratified that you enjoyed your visit to my blog. Hopefully, you will find some of my other posts as interesting as this one.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Love the way this brought the frustrations of both sides front an center. For the Brit, you get a London eye view. What's taking so long? Argh!! For poor old George, you just HATE having to wait for those morons in Philly to decide to field an ACTUAL army instead of frickin' militia GRRR. This war is HELL and this game shows it! No wonder George wanted to retire and Cornwallis threw in the towel (what do you mean the French WON a naval battle?! That's it! I quit! The World's Turned Upside Down.).

  • Greetings Fat Bald Guy:

    Yes, whatever it's faults, Dunnigan's THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION certainly does very nicely illustrate some of the major problems that crippled the efforts of both sides. In this, I think it actually does a better job than Avalon Hill's 1776.

    Best Regards, Joe

Post a Comment