In June, 1777, the British army embarked on an audacious plan of campaign against the rebellious American Colonies. 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, without bothering to confer with Burgoyne, decided at the last minute to abandon the original plan 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.
Only General Johnnie Burgoyne continued with his offensive, but poor planning and bad luck plagued the British commander from the 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 continually 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. Despite these ongoing reversals, the British general stubbornly held to his original plan.
In September, the English army crossed the Hudson and slowly advanced south of Saratoga. There Burgoyne’s force, now reduced to 6,000, 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 personally so bad as to border on criminal incompetence, the Americans managed to hold their main positions throughout, thanks mainly to the energy and courage of General Benedict Arnold. Getting ever shorter on supplies, and aware 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 that had swelled to over 11,000. 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 a greater than two-to-one advantage in men, was hard-pressed to lose such an uneven contest, and he didn’t. On the night after the battle, Burgoyne withdrew the remnants of his army back to Saratoga. There, without supplies or hope of relief, the British general finally surrendered on 17 October, 1777.
The victory at Saratoga, uneven though it may have been, was decisive in finally bringing France into the war against England. At Yorktown, the alliance between the colonials and France would prove decisive. On 19 October 1778, 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.
SARATOGA: 1777 is a grand tactical (regimental) level simulation of the British campaign against the rebellious American Colonies in the summer and fall of 1777. The two-color game map represents that area of southeastern Canada and colonial New York in which the major military events of the ill-fated British expedition against the Continentals transpired. The game counters represent the actual military units that either fought or that could have played a part in the historical campaign. SARATOGA is played in game turns each of which are equivalent to three days of real time. Game turns are further divided into two symmetrical segments: a British and an American (Continental) player turn. The British player is always the first to act, and each player turn proceeds in a set sequence: the British Commander (BC) reinforcement phase; the BC ‘normal’ movement phase; the BC ‘rapid’ movement phase; a joint combat phase; and the BC entrenchment phase. Once the British Commander’s entrenchment phase is completed, the American Commander (AC) player then repeats the same sequence of actions. At the conclusion of the American player turn, the game turn marker is advanced one space, and the turn sequence is repeated until the game ends. A complete game is fifty turns long.
The game mechanics of SARATOGA are comparatively easy-to-learn and intuitively logical. The ‘Strategic Grid’ (point-to-point) movement rules are straightforward and familiar: all units may move from point to point along regular (roads and water) movement routes; only American and Iroquois units, however, may move from point to point along trails. All American infantry (but not artillery) units may automatically ‘rapid move’ unless beginning their turn on a body of water; in contrast, only those British units designated as eligible for ‘rapid move’ may attempt to move to a second map point, and only if they first pass a die-roll test and did not begin their movement on a body of water. Neither player may ‘rapid move’ if the moving unit began its turn in the same strategic point as an enemy unit or units. There are no other terrain effects on movement or combat. Stacking for both players is unlimited.
The rules governing supply and ‘lines of communication’ are, in keeping with the conventions of 18th century warfare, relatively detailed; they also differ for each player. All British units are supplied if they can trace a communications path to St. Johns or Fort Oswego unobstructed by enemy units two turns after their capture, or Fort Ticonderoga ten turns after its capture. In addition, the British player may use Bennington, Pittsfield, and Albany as supply sources once they have been cleared of all Continental units and a British garrison has been established. The American player may use Albany, Holly Hill Farm, Pittsfield, and Bennington as supply sources. Also, Continental units are automatically out of supply if they move to a point north of Fort Crown Point. All units are automatically supplied if they garrison a fort; moreover, in the case of both players, their line of communication — which must be unobstructed by enemy units along its entire length — can be no longer than ‘nine’ strategic points from supply source to supplied unit. There is only one exception to the regular supply rules: the British Mohawk unit (only) is always considered to be in supply and is never required to trace a line of communications. The effects of being out of supply are the same for both sides: units that are unsupplied for three consecutive game turns are eliminated.
There are no zones of control (ZOCs) in SARATOGA. Combat occurs only when enemy units occupy the same ‘non-water’ strategic point, but it is never mandatory; in fact opposing forces may peacefully coexist if neither player opts to attack the other. In the standard game, combat is handled in a very simple, if abstract manner. To resolve the outcome of a battle, both the attacking and the defending players total the units that each has in the battle and divide that total by three; all fractions are ignored. If, for example, the British player is attacking with eight units, his adjusted combat value would be ‘two’. In a battle in which eight British units attack four American units, the British player would lose one unit (the American’s adjusted combat value) and the Continental force would lose two units. If both players have two or fewer units involved in the battle, then neither side incurs any losses. Once losses have been determined, the eliminated Continental units are removed from play; the British player, however, is allowed to ‘Rally’ any units other than those representing artillery, Iroquois, or Mohawk forces. Line infantry rallies on a die roll of ‘1’ or ‘2’; Grenadier, Light Infantry, or Jaeger units rally on a die roll of ‘1’ to ‘3’. Units that successfully rally are not eliminated, but instead are restored to their original stack. At the conclusion of combat, the weaker side must retreat if, but only if, the stronger force is at least twice as large as the weaker side. In all other instances, one or the other side may voluntarily retreat. In cases of retreat, the defending units retreat towards their supply source or sources; the attacking player falls back to the strategic point or points from which his retreating unit or units first entered the battle. Units may never retreat to a point occupied solely by enemy units; if such a retreat is required, the retreated force is eliminated instead.
Entrenchments and Forts are the only terrain features that influence combat in SARATOGA. In the case of entrenchments, any unit may ‘entrench’ by remaining in place at any non-water strategic point for one movement phase. Entrenched units are inverted at the end of their movement phase; if entrenched units are attacked by an enemy force that does not include at least one artillery unit, then any losses incurred by the entrenched force are reduced by one unit. Fortified Strategic Points represent a special case: units inside forts may not be attacked at all by a hostile force, unless the attacking force includes at least one artillery unit. Without artillery, the enemy force, whatever its size, may only besiege or bypass the fortified garrison.
The winner in SARATOGA is determined on the basis of control of certain geographical objectives and the destruction of enemy units. In order for the British player to win the game, he must destroy twelve or more Continental units, occupy Albany at game end, or be the last player to control both Fort Ticonderoga and Fort George at the conclusion of the last game turn. For the American Commander to win, he must either destroy eighteen British units and control Albany at game end, or destroy eight British units and control both Albany and Fort George at the end of the last turn. The British player may win a strategic, tactical, or minor victory; the American player may win a tactical victory. If neither player is able to satisfy their victory conditions, however, the game is a draw.
SARATOGA: 1777 offers only the fifty-turn Historical Campaign Game. However, the designer has included a pair of ‘Optional’ Rules, which are intended to increase realism and to add to the ‘fog of war’ aspect of the simulation once players have become familiar with the standard game. These more complicated rules include: more detailed and realistic Combat Rules (these rules make use of actual unit combat strengths, die-rolling for battle results, and Percentage Loss Charts to determine casualties); and rules for Simultaneous Movement. Players may elect, by mutual agreement, to use one or both of these rules in order to increase the simulation value of the game.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
I had forgotten how much I liked SARATOGA: 1777 until I reexamined the game in preparation for this essay. Despite its drab map and relatively simple game system, it was nevertheless a hit with me and several of my friends when it first landed in our mailboxes. In fact, this title, along with CAMBRAI, 1917: THE FIRST BLITZKRIEG, were, hands down, my two all-time favorite Rand Game Associates titles. And even after thirty-six years, my opinion hasn’t really changed.
At the time that SARATOGA first made its appearance, point-to-point movement was still a new, fairly radical game system. In fact, the first time that I had encountered this approach to simulating military maneuver had been when the designers at Gamma Games introduced the innovative, visually gorgeous, QUEBEC 1759, in 1972. Two years later, Gamma Games introduced another point-to-point title, NAPOLEON, at just about the same time that Rand started mailing out SARATOGA. Unfortunately, for both Gamma Games and Rand Game Associates — in game publishing as in life — timing is everything: 1974, it turned out, was also the year that Avalon Hill launched THE RISE AND DECLINE OF THE THIRD REICH. Word spread quickly through the gaming community and before long, John Prados’ dense, if seriously flawed, strategic simulation of World War II in Europe had begun to pretty much completely suck the air out of the hobby for all but the most well-established of the other game titles. Once THIRD REICH became readily-available, plain little SARATOGA: 1777 was relegated to the game shelf. It never really had much of a chance.
Nowadays, if a game about the British campaign to capture Albany and to split the rebellious American colonies in two is brought up in gaming circles, most players will immediately think of GMT’s traditional hexagonal map design, SARATOGA (1998). This is probably to be expected: the GMT version, after all, is an attractive, nicely-detailed, and exciting game. But be that as it may, even after all these years, there is still something about SARATOGA: 1777 that I continue to find appealing. Despite the game’s lack of historical “chrome” and the notable absence of leaders such as the dashing Burgoyne, the gallant Arnold, or the lethargic Gates, the point-to-point game system nonetheless seems to capture the strategic essence of the British campaign. Thus, for those of us who find the struggle for American independence fascinating, this little-known Rand game continues, I believe, to offer an interesting, if unorthodox treatment of the most pivotal campaign of the entire Revolutionary War. SARATOGA: 1777 is probably not for everyone; but, for my own part, I still consider it to be an enjoyable, fast-paced, and surprisingly challenging simulation. And I will even go farther: if the basic Rand game should ever receive a major ‘face-lift’, I personally would buy the new, improved version in an instant.
- Time Scale: 3 days per game turn
- Map Scale: (unspecified) Strategic Grid (point-to-point) Game Map
- Unit Size: regiment (300 to 900 men; 12 or more cannon)
- Unit Types: infantry and artillery
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 2-3 + hours (depending on whether optional rules are in use)
- One 17’’ x 24” Strategic Grid (point-to-point) Map Sheet (with British and Continental Order of Appearance Tracks, Distance Scale, Combat Computation Charts and Loss Percentage Charts incorporated)
- 72 ⅝” cardboard Counters
- One 8” x 8” SARATOGA: 1777 Rules Booklet
- One 8” x 8” SARATOGA: 1777 back-printed Historic Commentary Page
- Two 8” x 8” back-printed sheets of a combined Rand Game Associates Customer Questionnaire and Errata for LEE vs. MEADE
Universal ‘Command Series’ Components Required:
- Universal Turn Recorder
- One six-sided Die
See my blog post Book Review of this title which is strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU