“Strategy games like Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812 put players in the shoes of the generals who fought these battles.”
THE WAR OF 1812 remains one of history’s forgotten conflicts.
Few today remember the curious two-and-a-half-year struggle, which was fought between the United States and Great Britain on the remote North American frontier.
And perhaps that’s understandable. The conflict was decidedly unpopular in America — the New England states all but stayed out of it, while many openly collaborated with the enemy. For the British, the war was a distraction to the all-encompassing struggle against Napoleon.
The War of 1812’s battles were for the most part small-scale contests between amateur armies. In fact, the total combined battlefield deaths for the entire conflict numbered fewer than 3,500 – a smaller butcher’s bill than you’d likely find in even a rear-guard action in Bonaparte’s Russian campaign or a minor Peninsular War skirmish.
Yet despite this, it was a savage contest. Its battles, although small when compared with the epic bloodbaths of Napoleonic campaigns, were surprisingly hard fought affairs that featured much of the brilliance, heroism and daring-do found on the storied battlefields of Europe. Yet few know much about the conflict even now.
One Canadian-based publisher of table top historical war games is hoping to change all that. Hand 2 Hand Entertainment’s premier release, Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812. Featuring a three hex-board playing map, eight dice and more than 250 pieces, players can take command of British and American infantry, artillery and cavalry along with Native warriors and even naval units to units refight some of the conflict’s most interesting battles.
MilitaryHistoryNow.com recently caught up with the founder of the Toronto-based company, Eric Sheppard, to find out more about this fascinating new historical gaming experience.
MHN: Tell us about the game.
Sheppard: Sabres and Smoke: the War of 1812 is a two-player light strategy board game that allows players to relive 16 of the War of 1812’s most important battles. From Queenston Heights to Fort York, players command either the British or American armies in battles that shaped the future of North America.
MHN: Tell us about Hand 2 Hand Entertainment. Who are you guys? How did you get started?
Sheppard: We are based near Toronto, Canada and have been working on Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812 since July of 2016. I founded Hand 2 Hand Entertainment in 2016, the summer after I finished Grade 12, because I although I was lucky enough to find a summer job, there were no hours available. So, I decided to spend my time combining two things that I really enjoy: history and board games. I started by visiting battle sites from the War of 1812 and doing extensive research to make my game historically accurate. From there I created the battle scenarios and the game rules. Hand 2 Hand Entertainment spent the fall and winter designing Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812, and preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the summer of 2017. This summer, I am running the company out of the Propel Summer Incubator (PSI) program with the Propel Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Western Ontario.
MHN: What makes the War of 1812 worth exploring in a game?
Sheppard: The War of 1812 is great because it is a conflict that has not been featured in many other board games. This makes it a good war to base our first game on because it will allow us to create something that will be new to a lot of people and it will help to differentiate Hand 2 Hand Entertainment from other, more established board game creators. The War of 1812 also seemed like a natural choice with Canada’s 150th anniversary celebration.
MHN: The War of 1812 is a largely forgotten war in the United States. Why do you think that is?
Sheppard: I think that it is largely forgotten because Americans do not take pride in the War of 1812 the same as Canadians do. I think this is because a lot of people and historians view the War of 1812 as an American defeat. Although the U.S. invasions of Canada during the War of 1812 were unsuccessful and the British were able to capture and burn Washington, there were a number of American achievements from the War of 1812 that are often overlooked. Andrew Jackson was able to defend New Orleans from a much larger British invasion force and inflict more than 2,000 casualties on the British. Another thing many people forget about the War of 1812 is that Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner as he watched the Americans repel a British naval assault on Baltimore. The War of 1812 was also the first time that America declared war on another country. I think a lot more Americans would be interested in the War of 1812 if they knew more about the battles from the War of 1812 that were fought in America. That’s where a game like this could help.
MHN: The computer wargaming market is enormously popular; what can tabletop games offer that computers can’t?
Sheppard: This is an interesting question. I think there is a certain satisfaction to physically moving units on a battlefield in board games like this. Although you can look at units and terrain from a commander’s perspective in video games, doing it on a board feels more real. Players can look at the board in the same way Generals would have looked at maps when commanding real battles throughout history. I think this is what makes light strategy board games special.
MHN: How do war games deepen our understanding of history?
Sheppard: Light strategy games like Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812 put players in the shoes of the generals who fought these battles. This can help players to get a better understanding of why commanders made certain tactical decisions and how those decisions affected the overall outcome of a battle. I think as well that by being able to play either the British or the American side in a board game gives players a greater insight into the advantages and disadvantages that each side faced for the battles. Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812, in particular, will deepen the understanding of the War of 1812 through the historical notes printed at the beginning of each scenario in the rule book.
MHN: What other battles and conflicts would you like to explore in the future?
Sheppard: Sabres and Smoke comes with 16 scenarios, but we have another 16 battles from the War of 1812 that we are including as a stretch goal in our Kickstarter Campaign. We will probably use these 16 scenarios to create an expansion pack for Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812 as well later this summer. We plan to create a similar game focused on the Seven Years War in North America this year. Design on of that game will probably begin shortly after our Kickstarter campaign for Sabres and Smoke: The War of 1812. I really want to make a World War Two game, but that probably will not happen until at least the summer of next year.
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— Military History Now (@MilHistNow) May 18, 2017