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Subject: Critical Issues in King Charlie’s War rss

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David G. Cox Esq.
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Unhappy King Charles


Two-player Strategy Game of the Second English Civil War
Designed by Charles Vasey
Published by GMT Games (2008)



There has been a spate of reviews on Unhappy King Charles in the last two weeks. As a result I have decided to change the thrust of the review that I had intended to write. As the title of the review suggests, I will specifically look at what I consider to be critical issues in the game rather than a general overview as the generalist-type reviews have already covered that ground.

This review is written on the assumption that the reader is familiar with some of the other card-driven games that are available.


Critical Issue #1 - Complexity

Unhappy King Charles is a relatively easy game to learn and play. The rules are lengthy but not complicated.

UKC appears to be a throw-back to the simpler style of card-driven game that were being designed in the early 1990’s. The first few CDG’s were relatively simple from both a mechanical and a strategic point of view. Games such as We The People and Hannibal are much easier to learn than those games which have followed, such as Empire of the Sun, Kutusov, Clash of Monarchs and Pursuit of Glory. This is not to say that complexity of rules and complexity of strategy is good or bad. UKC is a relatively easy game to learn and play.


Critical Issue #2 - The Card Mix


The main decision to be made regarding card play is when, rather than how, you will use it.

UKC uses cards in a subtly different way to other CDG’s. In UKC cards are coded as either Parliamentary events or Royalist events. There are also some campaign cards which allow players to activate military units. If you hold your opponent’s event you can use it for limited activation of troops and the event does not happen. If you hold your event you play it as an event.

The impact upon game play is that there will be periods when there is very little campaigning happening and most of the action will revolve around the resolution of events. This is a dramatic change from earlier CDG’s when each card has several options regarding how it is going to be used.

This has a dramatic effect upon the ebb and flow of the game. As each player will only have a very limited number of opportunities to campaign how you go about each campaign is rather important.


Critical Issue #3 - Battles Versus Manoeuvre


He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day.


Battles in UKC are handled quite differently to other CDG’s with which I am familiar. My reading and understanding of the Second English Civil War leads me to suspect that many of the battles were more like a ‘Saturday afternoon punch-up’ between supporters of rival football clubs rather than how we traditionally picture a battle. UKC has created a unique combat system which reflects this.

Prior to battle either side may choose to disperse. This means that their units are simply removed from the board and basically return later as reinforcements. The winner has taken the field but have not really gained anything other than the ground that they stand on.

Why would anyone simply disperse their troops rather than fight?

In UKC there are two answers and both are valid.

Take care of your army and your army will take care of you. In UKC there are a finite number of military units. If any are eliminated due to either combat or attrition they are eliminated permanently, forever, and they aren’t coming back. It is quite possible that both sides, by the end of the war, will have virtually no troops left.

A battle can result in a draw, an indecisive victory or a major victory. On rare occasions a player may actually achieve a decisive victory due to the play of combat cards. Decisive victories are glorious indeed. The victor in major and decisive victories is allowed to draw one or two additional strategy cards and uses these cards. A victory has the effect of giving the victor an extra turn. For this reason, if you suspect that your opponent has sufficient force it is much better to disperse your troops rather than give them the chance of the bonus turn that accompanies a major or decisive victory in battle.

As Covenanter and Lorraine brigades are not allowed to disperse they can be a mixed blessing, giving the owner extra troops but giving the opponent a chance at battle from which the enemy will not flee.

Manoeuvring for both players is, in my opinion, more important than battles when looking at the long-term victory. For both players laying siege to strategically important towns and capturing enemy local notables is crucial. Maintaining a presence in an area is very important as cards may allow you to reinforce. Removing an enemy presence is just as important and for the same reason.


Critical Issue #4 - A Long-term Approach & Local Notables


At a first glance Local Notables may appear not to be all that important. They don’t move and so can’t be used to activate brigades. What they can do is raid. This allows them to convert enemy political control into friendly political control up to two areas away as long as it is in the same region as the Local Notable.

During the early stages of the game it can appear to be a rather dull activity to go around sieging out these guys while enemy armies may be on the march elsewhere. Don’t be deceived - it is never too early to get rid of these guys, even though it lacks the glory of a field battle.


Critical Issue #5 - Luck! Luck! Luck! And The Power of Some Cards

Luck appears to have the potential to play a significant role, due to cards, in this game.

This is not intended as a criticism - just an observation of a reality.

UKC is rather interesting and has a great deal of replayability due to the way that the cards are used. Those events of yours which go into your opponents hand will never happen. This means that the events that occur will be quite different each game. The way luck plays a role is that some cards are more powerful than others. In the first game I played I was most fortunate as the Royalist player, to have the James Graham card in my hand for the last turn of the game. This card removes up to two Parliamentary strategy cards from the hand of Oliver what’s-his-name. This meant that on the last turn of the game I had the last three consecutive impulses. This gave me the ability to convert political control markers knowing that there would be no reply from my opponent - he wanted to make a few comments but I just ordered him to be silent lest I order the removal of his head from the body via the neck. This gave me a lot more freedom of action than would otherwise have been the case. I was able to take control of two regions on those last three impulses and won with the Parliamentarians only having 7 points.

Had I not had that card at that time it would have been a much more difficult game for me to have won.


Overall

I have no hesitation in saying that Unhappy King Charles is the very best game I have ever played on this particular subject. It has a complexity level that is very comfortable and lends itself to relaxed gaming in a relatively short time.

It is significantly different from other CDG’s both in rules and game play. It is a game that rewards careful thought, planning and manoeuvre.

While there is the possibility for a significant luck factor, the game lends itself to multiple plays due to the variety in the way that the cards will come out.


While there are mixed feelings from other reviewers I think that the components are excellent. The map I find particularly attractive - and a nice change from the recent drab colours on maps from Kutusov and Clash of Monarchs. Most of the counters are nice, although the flags (control markers) could have been done in a more interesting way (crowns, helmets or coats of arms spring to mind).

To Charles Vasey I have this to say, "Well Done Sir!"


arrrh "Dead Men Tell No Tales!"

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Dan Owsen
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Nice review. I played a couple of playtest games of this and thought it was different and interesting. I think you outlined some of the same mechanics I noticed that made this game have a unique period feel.

I'm probably not into the subject matter enough to buy it myself, but I would definitely play it again if the opportunity came up. I would recommend it highly to enthusiasts of the time period.
 
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UA Darth
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A fairly well written review, with a few points to comment on.

1.The game has a ton of small details that aren't on the map or "player aid" and many little parts are not as intuitive as the other games you have mentioned. These little details add to a greater learning curve than WTP or Hannibal.

2. Your "critical issues" idea is a fine one. However, in many of your sections you don't go much into the issue at all. For example, issues 3 and 4 don't actually provide anything other than a cursory glance at mechanics and a quick pass or suggestion.

 
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Eric Landes
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da pyrate wrote:

Critical Issue #4 - A Long-term Approach & Local Notables[/COLOR]

At a first glance Local Notables may appear not to be all that important. They don’t move and so can’t be used to activate brigades. What they can do is raid. This allows them to convert enemy political control into friendly political control up to two areas away as long as it is in the same region as the Local Notable.

During the early stages of the game it can appear to be a rather dull activity to go around sieging out these guys while enemy armies may be on the march elsewhere. Don’t be deceived - it is never too early to get rid of these guys, even though it lacks the glory of a field battle.


Nice approach to a review. I'll have to steal it some time. arrrh

One addition to this point - Local Notables are also a focus for recruiting. An important feature in getting dispersed units back into play.
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Charles Vasey
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Basilius wrote:
da pyrate wrote:

Critical Issue #4 - A Long-term Approach & Local Notables[/COLOR]

At a first glance Local Notables may appear not to be all that important. They don’t move and so can’t be used to activate brigades. What they can do is raid. This allows them to convert enemy political control into friendly political control up to two areas away as long as it is in the same region as the Local Notable.

During the early stages of the game it can appear to be a rather dull activity to go around sieging out these guys while enemy armies may be on the march elsewhere. Don’t be deceived - it is never too early to get rid of these guys, even though it lacks the glory of a field battle.


Nice approach to a review. I'll have to steal it some time. arrrh

One addition to this point - Local Notables are also a focus for recruiting. An important feature in getting dispersed units back into play.


Avast behind, mateys.

Much of the ECW action was not 20,000 men armies stalking around the countryside doing weapons drills but local partisans getting into a bit of cattle thievery (er... searching for enemies of the State who just happen to have cattle). In THE KING'S WAR we had to slice that layer out, but thanks to Mark Herman's PC idea and the Local Notables we could get back to the truth that Tip O'Neill voiced "All civil war, is local civil war".
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Чебурашка, ты настоящий друг!
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shadow9d9 wrote:
A fairly well written review,


Well, there's damnation with faint praise if ever I saw it! I like the review because rather than rehash the rules or whinge that he couldn't win due to bad luck, the reviewer explained what made the game different to other CDGs.As a prospective buyer, I'm now in a much better situation to make a decision.
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I am beginning to think, not for the first time, mind you, but as part of an ongoing event, that "wargame" is not the proper category for Unhappy King Charles and its kin. Manoeuvre, control, cut off and expand; fight when only necessary. When is it necessary? When is it best to take the chances? I will have to reevaluate We the People, a game I consider to be an overrated stinkbomb.

goo
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Jim Marshall
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bentlarsen wrote:
I am beginning to think, not for the first time, mind you, but as part of an ongoing event, that "wargame" is not the proper category for Unhappy King Charles and its kin. Manoeuvre, control, cut off and expand; fight when only necessary. When is it necessary? When is it best to take the chances? I will have to reevaluate We the People, a game I consider to be an overrated stinkbomb.

goo


I tend to feel that UKC and WtP are wargames. What they aren't is battle games, which focus on just one element of a war.

While I have a copy of UKC, it is as yet unplayed. However, I've played a lot of WtP over the years, and if your objective first and foremost is to win battles you're likely to lose against a more strategically flexible opponent. In WtP (and to a lesser extent Hannibal, which offers direct political benefits to the battle victor) battles are a means to an end not an end in themselves. I suspect the same is true of UKC.

PS nice review - good to read thoughts on aspects of play, rather than just a description of the game. (Descriptive reviews also have their place, but as the OP notes it's already been done for this game)
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Steve Constantelos
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Yes, war is anything but just battles. Read Joseph Plumb Martin's memoir on the Am Rev.
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Charles Vasey
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bentlarsen wrote:
I am beginning to think, not for the first time, mind you, but as part of an ongoing event, that "wargame" is not the proper category for Unhappy King Charles and its kin. Manoeuvre, control, cut off and expand; fight when only necessary. When is it necessary? When is it best to take the chances? I will have to reevaluate We the People, a game I consider to be an overrated stinkbomb.

goo


As Jim says, these are wargames because they examine a range of warrior activities. I forget the statistics but there were a handful of battles in the 80 Years War between Spain and the United Provinces. There were sieges, leaguers and much of the "little war" fought by two of the foremost armies of Europe (the Spanish were already established and the Dutch were to give their name to a school of combat). I think our more recent experience of warfare as continual battles and attrition may mislead us.
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Andy Daglish
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da pyrate wrote:
UKC is a relatively easy game to learn and play.


not in our experience, sadly.

Quote:
a very limited number of opportunities to campaign


This is a ery important point. These limited opportunties also have a dramatic effect on negative criticisms of the game, usually by obviating them. A bad position cannot get worse once the enemy runs out of cards.

Quote:
He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day.


maybe "run away again" fits better -- and it all costs an Ops card!

Quote:
Why would anyone simply disperse their troops rather than fight?


a +3 differential, usually.

Quote:
If any are eliminated due to either combat or attrition they are eliminated permanently, forever, and they aren’t coming back. It is quite possible that both sides, by the end of the war, will have virtually no troops left.


This has not been the case in 25 games so far, and seems unlikely ever to be so.

Quote:
As Covenanter and Lorraine brigades are not allowed to disperse they can be a mixed blessing, giving the owner extra troops but giving the opponent a chance at battle from which the enemy will not flee.


the Scots are a military disaster waiting to happen, and this is one of the many problems Parliament suffers. I see George Gush describes the Covenanter army as "grimly efficient".

Quote:
Manoeuvring for both players is, in my opinion, more important than battles when looking at the long-term victory. For both players laying siege to strategically important towns and capturing enemy local notables is crucial. Maintaining a presence in an area is very important as cards may allow you to reinforce. Removing an enemy presence is just as important and for the same reason.


the first sentence is at odds with the following ones, which describe various reasons to fight battles.

Quote:
During the early stages of the game it can appear to be a rather dull activity to go around sieging out these guys while enemy armies may be on the march elsewhere. Don’t be deceived - it is never too early to get rid of these guys, even though it lacks the glory of a field battle.


right, but a field battle is the likely result.

Luck appears to have the potential to play a significant role, due to cards, in this game.

we would say that if you're playing Parliament, you have a challenge on your hands, which gets bigger later on if they don't get their more powerful cards.

Quote:
Had I not had that card at that time it would have been a much more difficult game for me to have won.


unless you were nailed the same way in return.

Quote:
I have no hesitation in saying that Unhappy King Charles is the very best game I have ever played on this particular subject. It has a complexity level that is very comfortable and lends itself to relaxed gaming in a relatively short time.

It is significantly different from other CDG’s both in rules and game play. It is a game that rewards careful thought, planning and manoeuvre.


its a customer-led product [but its clever].

Quote:
While there is the possibility for a significant luck factor


but this seems not to translate into game-changing effects. Net the luck factor is not noticeable.

Quote:
crowns, helmets or coats of arms


smells like popery.

Quote:
To Charles Vasey I have this to say, "Well Done Sir!


and what about the other wars?
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Donald Wilbur III
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bentlarsen wrote:
I am beginning to think, not for the first time, mind you, but as part of an ongoing event, that "wargame" is not the proper category for Unhappy King Charles and its kin. Manoeuvre, control, cut off and expand; fight when only necessary. When is it necessary? When is it best to take the chances? I will have to reevaluate We the People, a game I consider to be an overrated stinkbomb.

goo


Much of the history of warfare is not so much about stand up battles and clever maneuvering as fighting when it works and (more often than not) running when it doesn't. War is pretty chaotic historically and not so glorious as the poets like to think.

I passed this game up so far, but I may have to reevaluate my choice.
 
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Donald Wilbur III
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Andy:

So you liked it?
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David G. Cox Esq.
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gilesclone wrote:
Andy:

So you liked it?


Thanks for asking him that question - I didn't have the guts to.

Also, when he says, "smells like popery", do you think he means 'potpourri'? I don't actually know what 'popery' smells like.
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Andy Daglish
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Its the best one so far. Deserves a deluxe countersheet.
 
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Andy Daglish
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Protestant 'potpourri' smells like the breath from Satan's bottom! Or myrrh, depending.
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aforandy wrote:
Its the best one so far. Deserves a deluxe countersheet.


Best one of what so far?

goo
 
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Andy Daglish
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bentlarsen wrote:
Best one of what so far?


The two-player card-driven games. Perhaps this is less surprising when the designer's previous effort on the same subject has been described as a "perfect wargame" by Brandon Einhorn.

I played last night with my brother Ian, whose second job is professional military historian and has been a wargamer since Tactics II. This is the first time we had played anything in about 12 years, and his first exposure to UKC. He made the point that the game was easy to learn and play, and that it made him want to check his books on the subject. As the Royalists he received ASLC and King Abandons the Bishops in the same four cards, which made a favourable impression!

I think this is how this game beats Wilderness War, and For the People. If you divide the interconnection between the design and history with the time & effort required, it gets the highest score.

Its interesting that overall multi-player CDGs seem to be better designed than two-players. Here I Stand, Sword of Rome, The Napoleonic Wars, and Successors (third edition) are affected less by the wide variety of different situations associated with Paths of Glory, Shifting Sands, Twilight Struggle, Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, and We the People.
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I think that both the positive views, and the negative ones, have been too quick a rush to judgment, and rather superficial,, with this article perhaps the one exception. I also wish those involved in playtesting would just stay mum for a while and let the rest of us form our own thinking without their influence. This game is too nuanced and deserves nuanced thinking in return. Reading the relevant literature, with slow play of the game, seems the order of the day.

Another thought: though I have both the Hannibal and the We the People games, how helpful are frequent references and comparisons to both for those who own neither? We the People is not exactly in the hands of the masses, where Hannibal's reprint is more likely to be found.

goo
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Mark Herman
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bentlarsen wrote:
I am beginning to think, not for the first time, mind you, but as part of an ongoing event, that "wargame" is not the proper category for Unhappy King Charles and its kin. Manoeuvre, control, cut off and expand; fight when only necessary. When is it necessary? When is it best to take the chances? I will have to reevaluate We the People, a game I consider to be an overrated stinkbomb.

goo


Wow a new term for one of my designs, "stinkbomb", very creative...

Mark
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MarkHerman wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:
I am beginning to think, not for the first time, mind you, but as part of an ongoing event, that "wargame" is not the proper category for Unhappy King Charles and its kin. Manoeuvre, control, cut off and expand; fight when only necessary. When is it necessary? When is it best to take the chances? I will have to reevaluate We the People, a game I consider to be an overrated stinkbomb.

goo


Wow a new term for one of my designs, "stinkbomb", very creative...

Mark


Sorry, Mark; I was pressed for time at the time. Next time I will try to do better.

goo
 
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Quote:
I think this is how this game beats Wilderness War, and For the People. If you divide the interconnection between the design and history with the time & effort required, it gets the highest score
.

Andy, this needs detailed support before I will buy it, though through play of King Charles I might agree with you over Wilderness War. Since Mark is lurking in these waters, I might as well add that For the People, as a "result," does not exactly set the bar high. As an effort, For the People should be rated a 20, if such could be given. I have found WW to play out the history quite well, but that's only after ten books and twenty plays; I could be wrong.

goo
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Okay, I have heard enough of "nice review"--which it is, by the way--to gag me until I write my own. Let us have a discussion, not a parroting, of ideas.

1)
Quote:
Unhappy King Charles is a relatively easy game to learn and play. The rules are lengthy but not complicated
.

The rules, in and of themselves, may not be complicated, but the wording sure makes them seem complicated. Austrailians, New Zealanders, Canadians and the whole lot of Brits--a whole lots of Brints--are separated by a common language: English. I forgot to add the Americans; that was by chose.

2)
Quote:
The main decision to be made regarding card play is when, rather than how, you will use it.


I differ with this and every other CDG I have played, unless the hand I have been dealt is nothing but duds. For what it is pendantically worth, when and how go hand-in-hand in card play. No pun intended. I lie. Every pun intended. Even the corny ones. To separate the two is to live in some sort of ideal, which, in a game, I suppose is possible. But if you are trying to play an historical wargame, should not be possible.

3)
Quote:
He who fights and runs away will live to fight another day.


With only half, rounded down, of the dispersed units coming back immediately to be included as recruitments, this brilliant rule needs the testing of extensive game experience. Die rolls, a.k.a., luck, being what they are--it is--the smaller side can win. But the smaller side cannot be too small.

Q: When is it best for the larger side to duck and run? Sure, it is "easy" to see the smaller armies swiming for the Jersy shore, but what about the larger ones?

4) "Notable Notables"
Quote:
During the early stages of the game it can appear to be a rather dull activity to go around sieging out these guys while enemy armies may be on the march elsewhere. Don’t be deceived - it is never too early to get rid of these guys, even though it lacks the glory of a field battle.


Looking for a reason to have a good fight? Protection of the Local Notables is grounds for assault.

Q: Should you rush to fight and attempt to lift sieges? Or should you go about attacking the enemies Notables and fortresses? There is a bit of "advice" found in chess: if you are pressuring your opponent, do not release the pressure unless facing mate or serious material loss. Is such true here?

5)
Quote:
Luck appears to have the potential to play a significant role, due to cards, in this game.


I agree with you. My first full game was a Royalist whitewash, from first hand to last. The Parliment side was cut nary a break by the cards. Yes, the good guys won (the only side from which a Roman Catholic might expect to get a break, unless Charles broke his word, again), but win is a wipeout good gaming fun?

Q: How much does a "slanted" deck effect the results in other CDG's?

6)
Quote:
I have no hesitation in saying that Unhappy King Charles is the very best game I have ever played on this particular subject. It has a complexity level that is very comfortable and lends itself to relaxed gaming in a relatively short time.


Well, I own all of two: this and The King's War, both by Charles the V. I hope to see, when all is said and done, which will only happen when I shut up, pick up, the dice, and play, that I love them both.

goo

edited for at least three--there must be dozens?!--of what is commonly referred to as "typos."
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David G. Cox Esq.
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bentlarsen wrote:

Well, I own all of two: this and The King's War, both by Charles the V. I hope to see, when all is said and done, which will only happen when I shut up, pick up, the dice, and play, that I love them both.

goo



I also have The English Civil War (Ariel) and Cromwell (SDC). That makes it up to four for me. Have any others been published?
 
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da pyrate wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:

Well, I own all of two: this and The King's War, both by Charles the V. I hope to see, when all is said and done, which will only happen when I shut up, pick up, the dice, and play, that I love them both.

goo



I also have The English Civil War (Ariel) and Cromwell (SDC). That makes it up to four for me. Have any others been published?


Lots--such a precise word that "lots"--if we use one of the ECV geeklists, though most of the games deal with individual battles.

goo
 
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