Games Set in Colonial America

The early years of the United States of America are a setting that’s popular in traditional media, from period pieces and films to documentaries and radio shows. Yet that interest hasn’t seemed to carry over to video games. While Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed III brought some attention to the era, relative few titles explore it in earnest.

One reason might be because video games allow us to explore entirely new galaxies and glimpse into foreign cultures. Maybe game studios, especially American ones, prefer to focus their creativity on bringing the impossible to life and making the fantastical real.

Or perhaps it’s media saturation. Colonial America has been covered in excruciating detail in other media. The setting’s overwhelming popularity in film and television has made it too familiar to game makers. Thus, as a setting, it lacks the foreignness and mystique of an east European fairy tale, samurai adventure, or Nordic campaign of conquest.

Whatever the reasons may be, the following list aims to shine a light on some of the best games that cover the nascent stages of the United States of America. From the Age of Exploration up to and beyond the American Revolutionary War, these 10 games set in Colonial America prove just how rich and interesting the early days of America were.

Assassin’s Creed III

Set before and during the American Revolutionary War, Assassin’s Creed III brings the series’ unique brand of open-world sneaking and killing to the New World for the first time. Players don the hood of half-Mohawk assassin Connor Kenway in his quest against the Templars, who are on a campaign to control the colonies.

Being an Assassin’s Creed game, the game still features all the time hopping, conspiracy theorizing, and mystical mumbo jumbo series’ fans know and love. If you’re invested in the story, Assassin’s Creed III is one of the best story-rich games in the franchise.

The Remastered Edition of Assassin’s Creed III gives this 2012 classic a much needed facelift, bringing its graphics and gameplay up to modern standards. It also comes with all the DLC, some fun behind-the-scenes content, and the standalone Vita exclusive, Liberation, so you can get all the colonial-era Assassin’s Creed games in one set.

Ultimate Admiral: Age of Sail

The Ultimate Admiral franchise boasts some of the most detailed and accurate naval combat in any real-time strategy series. Age of Sail brings that love for sea warfare simulations to 18th-century America, giving players the chance to lead either the British or American navies in a stirring campaign set during the American Revolutionary War.

Age of Sail features some of the most robust land combat in the series. Though largely confined to storming shores and capturing coastal forts (this is a game about sea battles, after all), establishing a beachhead and dealing with land cannons add another layer of depth to an already complex war simulator.

Civilization IV: Colonization

Civilization IV: Colonization narrows the grand strategy series’ global scope, offering a tight and satisfying campaign in the New World. In Colonization, you lead a European power in a race to settle the Americas, and that entails battling for control over territory, dealing with the natives, and potentially declaring independence from your European motherland.

While focusing on a very specific time period does reduce the anachronisms and silly logic that make Civilization so unpredictable and funny (as anyone who’s been threatened with nuclear weapons by Gandhi will attest to), growing your fledgling nation, brokering strategic alliances, and tweaking your military tactics remain as compelling and nuanced as ever.

Mission US—For Crown or Colony?

The Mission US series offers a look at important events in American history from the eyes of an ordinary citizen. In For Crown or Colony, you play a teenage apprentice in Boston who experiences first-hand the rising tensions between Patriots and Loyalists in the moments leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Designed for use in the classroom, For Crown or Colony is foremost an educational tool, and so it lacks the polish and scale of the other games on this list. It’s great at what it does, though, and isn’t afraid to tackle some surprisingly mature issues, even presenting period-appropriate questions and dilemmas that today’s kids may find morally questionable.

No Man’s Land: Fight for Your Rights!

This overlooked title was released in the early 2000s at the height of the RTS frenzy, fighting for attention amidst genre juggernauts like Age of Empires and Rise of Nations. Its expansive, three-part campaign gave players command of six distinct factions in turns, including a Native American tribe.

While certainly a solid RTS, No Man’s Land isn’t nearly as refined as its competition. It redeems itself with a great campaign and some earnest attempts at innovation, like the ability to assign army formations and the presence of hero units with powerful abilities.

If you love strategy games and don’t mind that it’s a bit rough around the edges, consider giving No Man’s Land a shot.

Empire: Total War

Empire: Total War is a grand strategy game that explores the age of Western colonialism, starting in 1700 and concluding shortly after America’s war for independence. For those unfamiliar with the Total War series, the franchise melds turn-based nation building and real-time tactical field combat for an engrossing, one-of-a-kind strategy experience.

While vanilla Empire does explore the Americas to an extent, the game’s full scope is global. For a campaign that’s more focused on the history of the United States, you’ll have to play the Road to Independence DLC, which spans from the founding of Jamestown all the way to the Revolutionary War.

Europa Universalis IV: American Dream

Europa Universalis IV gives players full reign over a country of their choosing in long-form grand strategy marathons spanning hundreds of years of human history.

The American Dream DLC provides several specific changes to the base game experience, adding new units and events you can only access if you play as the United States. It’s meant to be played starting after the American War of Independence, after which you’re free to tinker with the fate of the fledgling nation.

At the time scale Europa Universalis IV works in, minute decisions snowball into world-changing events before your eyes. Honestly, it’s one of the best sandbox games you’ll play, a generator for emergent alternate timelines. You’ll want to start over, again and again, just to see what happens if you turn the US into a monarchy or set it up as a fascist regime.

1775: Rebellion

Based on the board game by the same name, 1775: Rebellion is a lightning-quick, card-based strategy game in which up to four players fight for control of the original 13 American colonies.

1775: Rebellion is easy to pick up, despite a large card pool and massive playing board. Visually, the game borrows a lot from Risk but keeps gameplay light by ignoring the finer details of 18th-century warfare logistics. The main focus is on combat; that means no dealing with economies or running supplies to your battle lines.

Although 1775: Rebellion supports online multiplayer, it’s a game best enjoyed with friends in the real world. Luckily, the PC version allows for hot seat multiplayer, so you and your buddies can take turns playing on a single machine. Also, matches end fairly quickly, which makes it a great party game option, too.

Birth of America

If 1775: Rebellion is a bit too strategy-lite for you, yet you’re turned off by Europa Universalis’ steep learning curve, Birth of America might be just what you’re looking for. The game sits in a happy middle ground between the two, featuring detailed combat and weather simulations without the complex logistics fiddling of more hardcore strategy sims.

Of course, being a strategy sim, albeit a gentler kind, Birth of America still isn’t the type of game you can easily jump into blind. Prepare to spend a bit of time reading up on the mechanics and restarting campaigns from scratch. It’s also steadfast in its loyalty to historical accuracy, so you’ll have to work extra hard to win a battle your faction should have lost.

New player experience and slight balancing quibbles aside, genre veterans will appreciate the game’s relative simplicity and revel in its satisfying combat. And for the “grand strategy curious,” Birth of America is a great gateway game to the wider world of 4X historical sims.

Age of Empires III

Age of Empires III offers a streamlined, more focused iteration of the series’ classic skirmish-style real-time strategy gameplay. Set in the 15th century, players lead one of eight civilizations on a quest to conquer the New World.

Most of the strategy games on this list cover the Age of Exploration on a macro scale. In contrast, Age of Empires III doesn’t burden the player with diplomatic dealings or planning trade routes. Instead, it zooms in on specific events and battles, giving the player minute control over their armies in an episodic campaign that tests the reflexes as much as the mind.

While the core gameplay is largely unchanged from previous games, Age of Empires III includes a few quality-of-life improvements. The interface is sleeker and cleaner, stone as a resource is gone, and any gathered materials no longer have to be dropped off at a repository before they’re added to your resource total.

The old and new taken together make Age of Empires III the most enjoyable and accessible game in the franchise.

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