Amateurs to Arms
The War of 1812


Available from Clash of Arms by clicking here


The War of 1812, between the United States and the British Empire and their allies, was a 32 month military conflict. The United States declared war in 1812 on Britain for several reasons. One of these reasons was the trade restriction that was brought about by Britain’s ongoing war with France in Europe. Also, there was the seizure and impressment of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy without permission and the British support of American Indian tribes against American expansion. Finally, Britain was concerned about the possible American desire to annex Canada.

The war was fought at sea as warships and privateers of both sides attacked each other’s merchant ships. The British blockaded the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and, in the later stages of the war mounted large-scale raids. Both land and naval battles were fought on the American and Canadian frontier. This was the area that ran along the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River in the North. On the American South and Gulf Coast there was also major land battles in which the American forces defeated Britain’s Indian allies and repulsed a British invasion force at New Orleans. Both sides invaded each other’s territory and at the end of the war, these areas were returned to each country by the Treaty of Ghent.

The War of 1812 is scarcely remembered in Britain today. To many, the conflict was a sideshow to the much larger Napoleonic War that was raging in Europe at that time. However, at wars end, Britain welcomed an era of peaceful relations and trade with the United States as it helped them recover from the European ravages of war.

2012 was the bicentennial of the war of 1812, a conflict that is often neglected and misunderstood by the participants. As Americans, we learn little about this conflict except for myths and folklore regarding the burning of Washington, the writing of our national anthem and Andrew Jackson’s victory at New Orleans. Perhaps, because the war ended indecisively, it has languished in the minds of Americans as to its true historical relevance. Ironically, most Americans feel that the United States was born to full maturity with the end of the American Revolution and the adoption of our Constitution. However, the War of 1812 was really a “second war for independence” which finally and forever established what New York journalist, Benson Lossing called, “the positive and permanent independence of the United States.”

Game Components


The components for Amateurs to Arms are all of high quality. The game is packaged in a box and consists of the following items:

  • 22″ x 34″ period style map
  • Deck of 150 full color cards
  • 352 – 5/8″ full color counters
  • 30 – Wood Expedition markers
  • Multiple cardstock Charts and Player Aids
  • 12-page rulebook
  • Designer Notes and Historical Commentary Book
  • 2 Ten-sided dice

Right from the beginning I have to comment on the map. It is probably one of the nicest maps that I have seen in a boardgame for quite some time. The game map is based on the 4th Edition of the United States, published in 1812 by Adam Bradley. The unit counters in the game represent historical leaders and the strength points represent Infantry, Cavalry or Artillery. Some of the other units represented in the game are Rangers, Voyageurs, Fencibles and Indians. There are also counters for the different types of ships including Gunboats, Schooners, Brigs, Frigates, and Ships of the Line.


The Rules

The rule set for Amateurs to Arms is only 13 pages in length. However, just because there are not a lot of rules, don’t think for a second that there is not a lot of depth of play. Many gamers think that just because a set of rules are not lengthy, that it can’t be robust. Well Amateurs to Arms proves that theory wrong. The richness of this game lies in the Cards and the subtle way in which they can affect play. The cards are at the heart of all the actions that occur in the game. The Table of Contents for the rules are:

  • Introduction
  • Game Components
  • Game Setup
  • Turn Sequence
  • Card Play
  • Movement
  • Supply
  • Land Combat
  • Lake Combat
  • Leaders
  • Victory
  • Game End

Sequence of Play or Turn Sequence

The Turn Sequence can vary depending on the game turn which will tell you which season is in play. For example, if it is a Winter Turn, there are a number of tasks that the player needs to perform before starting his rounds. These tasks are:

  • British Player removes all Indians except leaders from map and Expedition Chart.
  • Both Players remove half of Voluntary Militia
  • All units check supply and units are removed until supply requirements are met.
  • Lake Expeditions must return to Port or Harbor.

Once these few seasonal special items are taken care of, players begin with the standard Turn Sequence.

The first action that each player performs is to draw Action Cards from the deck. The number of cards that each player receives is recorded on the Turn Record Chart. Typically, the American Player receives more cards than the British Player but this can be affected by such things as who is the Secretary of War, is the David Parish card in play, is Napoleon defeated, or did Napoleon escape from Elba.

Following this, each player retrieves any cards that had been saved from his previous turn. These cards are now added to the cards that were just drawn to make up the hand that will be played from for this turn.

We now come to the heart of the game which are the Player Rounds. At this point the turn continues in a series of Rounds with one of the three following actions taking place. A player can:

  • Save a Card
  • Pass
  • Play a Card

The rounds continue until both players have no further cards in their hands to play. It is at this point that each player Passes and the Turn Marker is moved forward one space and the next Turn begins.

The Cards

With Amateurs to Arms you receive 150 cards from which you create your playing deck. These cards cover a wide variety of historical situations that occurred during the War of 1812.

The large deck of 150 cards covers major and minor events of the war such as:

  • British Clippers (Privateer from Baltimore disrupt British shipping.)
  • Old Ironsides (USS Constitution defeats HMS Guerrier)
  • Fort Mims Massacre
  • James Monroe (steps in as Secretary of War)
  • National Anthem
  • American Expansionism in Florida

Below is a sample of some of the other cards included with this game so you can see the beautiful artwork that is included on the cards.


In the designers’ notes the gamer is treated to a card-by-card description of who or what each card in the game represents. These descriptions provide the gamer with an excellent primer to the War of 1812 that can be used as a building block to additional reading on this fascinating period of American History.

There are a number of different types of actions that cards can affect in the game. Some of the items that the cards control are:

  • Events
  • Reaction Events
  • Operations Points
  • Raising Troops
  • Building Ships
  • Moving

The Action Cards come in four different colors and it is the color that defines which side can use the different features of the card. The card colors are:

  • Blue – Cards benefit the Americans
  • Red – Cards benefit the British
  • Green – Cards benefit the Americans more than British
  • Black – Cards can be used by either side

So, if the American Player plays a Red Card, which is a British Card, he cannot play it for the Event but can play it for the Ops Points. The exceptions to the Blue and Red Cards, which are specifically for the American and British, are the Green and Black Cards which can be used by either player. When cards are played, they are used for either the Event or the Ops Points, but not both. However, there is an exception which are the Green Cards. These cards will benefit the Americans more than the British because when any of these cards are played by an American Player he can play it not only for the Event, but also gets the Ops Points for playing the Napoleon card. So, with over 150 cards in the Action Deck there is a great amount of variety which means that each game will be different and offer players unique challenges


Expeditions are the way in which players move their units around the map capturing locations and performing combat. Ops Points are required to move units from one area to another and when a unit enters and area with an enemy unit, combat ensues.

It is the rank of the Commanding Leader that determines the number of Units that can be moved. Referring to the sample W.H. Harrison unit shown below, since he has a rank of 2, Harrison can move a total of 10 units. It costs all the Ops Points of an Action card to move an Expedition and the Ops Points must be greater than or equal to the Leader Initiative. Continuing our example, the player would need to have an Action Card equal to at least 3 Ops to move Harrison and up to a maximum of 10 units in his Expedition.


All Expeditions are tracked in secret on the Expeditions Chart. The Expeditions units are placed in an Expedition box that has an associated round wooden counter. This wooden counter has an associated letter on it which is what is moved across the map. So, players are moving these wooden counters each side does not know the composition of others Expeditions. Especially since Expeditions can merge or split and modify their sizes as the game progresses. This adds another factor of suspense to the game as players maneuver their Expeditions across the map they do not know their opponents strength.


Game End

Victory in this game is not just a simple matter of destroying units. As with all of the other facets in this game, determining Victory is a very subtle matter. On the map there is a Peace Track where players keep track of various victories that occur during the game with American or British peace markers. Many cards move the opponents Peace Track forward and some move it backwards. There are also a number of game situations that can move your opponents Peace Track forward and they are:

  • Winning a Major Battle (Land or Sea)
  • Inflicting a Devastating Loss
  • Eliminating an enemy Land Expedition
  • Capturing an enemy Major City
  • Each time the British player places a Full Blockade marker
  • Each time the American player Defeats a Belligerent Civilized Indian Tribe

When the American and British players Peace Track markers end in the same space on the Peace Track, peace is declared. At this time, players proceed to the Ghent Peace Negotiations which will determine which side has won the war.


The components in Amateurs to Arms are truly beautiful to see and use as they capture the flavor of the period perfectly. Not only is this an interesting and enjoyable game in its own right, but I can see one of the great values of this game is as a learning tool. Players or students have an opportunity to learn quite a bit about this little covered war, the people, the places, and of the battles that took place. Another real value of this 1812 boardgame is that not only does it do justice to the War of 1812, but that for the price gamers pay they receive a high replay value. Amateurs to Arms is a game that will keep players entertained for long periods as the cards add a variable to the game that will change with each playing and the hidden Expeditions add an unknown to game play that will change with each playing. While some may feel that Amateurs to Arms is a bit pricey, one look at the games quality and the care that has been put into its physical components should realize that the price for what you receive is a good value especially since the game has a very high replay value.