Turn-based historical wargames have always occupied a special niche in PC gaming history, but they're not known for their accessibility. Birth of America attempts to bridge that gap somewhat by focusing squarely on combat and eliminating much of the micromanagement that accompanies most wargames. It also takes place on a handsome hand-drawn map that painstakingly re-creates the geographical landscape of colonial America. Yet the game still suffers from the traditional drawbacks of the genre: meager production values and a steep learning curve that limits the enjoyment to veteran armchair generals.
Experienced grognards still have close to 30 years of history to play with that include struggles from both the American Revolution and the French and Indian War. The four full campaigns included are long and deep, and they incorporate the British, Americans, French, and American Indians in a variety of challenging scenarios. If you're not inclined to play a hundred turns, you can pick a small subscenario that can take as few as four turns to complete.
There's a minimal amount of economic and construction worry in Birth of America, tied mainly to your supply wagons, depots, and forts. In fact, the entire concept of supply lines common to most wargames is eliminated; here, supplies are delivered by wagons and generated by civilized regions. Depots and forts also grant supplies, while forts have the additional advantage of barricading rivers and harboring troops. However, the bulk of gameplay focuses on troop movement and battle, which is further emphasized by Birth of America's simultaneous turn-based structure. In a traditional turn-based wargame, each player takes his turn after the other is complete. Here, once you click the end turn button, both players' turns take place simultaneously. The system isn't typical, but it lends a welcome degree of chaos and suits the revolutionary setting.
If one historical anecdote jumps to mind when playing Birth of America, it's that of George Washington and his troops suffering in Valley Forge during the cruel winter of 1777-78. Terrain and weather have a huge effect on troop behavior and movement, resulting in a good deal of attrition in wild and snow-covered areas. You can manage troop movement across multiple turns, however, even with multiple movements within a single turn. Thus, you're not stuck crossing mountains and rivers unless it falls within your plan or is completely unavoidable. On the other hand, though mountains will slow down your troops, they'll also offer hide bonuses, which are always good for an ambush, assuming you have units stealthy enough.
In combination with an unforgiving fog of war, the terrain and weather offer the artificial intelligence plenty of chances to exploit your weaknesses. Fortunately, you've got some highly qualified leaders at your disposal, like George Washington himself. Each leader unit provides specific bonuses to the troops he leads, so it's never a good idea to send out leaderless units. Yet as great as some of these bonuses are, such as movement speed and special defensive and offensive capabilities, your leaders may ignore your orders. Every leader has a strategic rating, and the lower the rating, the less capable he is of following your commands.