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Richard III: The Wars of the Roses» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A better game than a simulation rss

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James Miller
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This is an “initial impression” review of the most recent offering from Columbia Games Richard III: The Wars of the Roses. The game is similar to the other two Taylor designed games Hammer of the Scots (HotS) and Crusader Rex (CR). The major difference in the basic mechanics of the three games is that ground movement in Richard III and HotS is area-based, while in CR it is road-based point-to-point. The following review assumes reader familiarity with these basic mechanics from having played either HotS or CR.

Production quality is typical of recent Columbia offerings with a light stock cardboard map. The graphics for the map, the 25 cards, and the 63 block stickers, the blocks being the larger size found in HotS and CR, are all excellent in both attractiveness and utility. The rules are succinctly written, well-organized, and on a first reading seem to contain few typos. How clear the rules might be to a novice player is another issue. By restricting the rules booklet to eight-pages (which appears to be the present standard for Columbia), Columbia foregoes providing any extended examples of play. A well thought out example can be worth a thousand words of expository rules narrative. At the least, the company could post a rules supplement on its website providing expanded examples of play.

A typical game of Richard III promises to be shorter than a game of HotS or CR in that a game consists of only three Campaigns each consisting of seven turns. Each campaign corresponds to one of the three major civil wars of the Wars of the Roses. Besides providing the tense play and open-ended strategic possibilities of its predecessors, where Richard III excels is in capturing the military-political situation of the time with a minimum of rules and bookkeeping.

I understand that an earlier version of Richard III‘s design limited the initial card hand size in a manner similar to that of Texas Glory. If so, I am disappointed that the rule was replaced with the seven card hand, similar to the design of HotS, CR and Athens and Sparta. I consider limiting the available playing hand to two or three cards more realistic than allowing a player to plan the entire campaign ahead of time. I’m also not crazy about giving players control over acts-of-God, for example, the Plague card. A more realistic design would be to incorporate such acts-of-God into an event table. In this respect, Columbia is but a minor sinner compared to the capabilities given players in the typical card-driven war games.

What I consider to be a more serious design error from a realism standpoint concerns the basic game mechanics of all three of Columbia’s medieval games. The system of (1) having both players move before resolving combat thus allowing the second player to close off available retreat routes, (2) limiting the number of blocks that may move across an area border (or equivalently along a road in CR), and (3) the arrival of secondary forces entering a contested region being placed in reserve models an eighteenth or nineteenth military campaign at a suitable scale, but in no sense models a medieval campaign. Medieval armies typically had a difficult enough time locating the enemy army, let alone having detailed enough intelligence on the location of friendly forces to allow the coordination of converging attacks by widely dispersed friendly forces on an enemy force. Although the Richard III rules are not quite as bad in regard to closing off area borders to the opponent’s movement and retreat as in HotS (in Richard III a player’s forces may enter an enemy-occupied area across at most three different area borders), they still don’t work as a simulation of medieval warfare. Medieval battles were typically set piece affairs where both armies were in full force on the field at the start of the battle as opposed to a secondary force arriving later to save the day (as modeled by the reserve rule). It is not an uncommon occurrence in all three of Columbia’s medieval games for both sides to have reserves in the battle. Of course, one reason for this is the limits on the number of units can cross an area boundary, so we have one historical inaccuracy giving birth to another.

Players, including myself, who enjoyed HotS and CR, will no doubt see Richard III as a worthy successor. Whereas at the big picture level Richard III does a good job in simulating the Wars of the Roses, the game does not realistically model the types of operational decisions made by commanders of the time.

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Paul Franklin-Bihary
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Although I completely agree with your assessment of this game in terms of adherence to realism, I think your review focused on this issue to intensely.

This is personal opinion, but I believe that WAR GAMES are both things equally: a simulation of war on some level, and a game. The 'war' aspect can be approached in many different ways, but that is only half of the actual game. The 'game' aspect is predominantly focused on 'fun', or at least 'enjoyment' or nobody would partake in games at all. So, although you are correct in saying that the game doesn't adhere to some of the tactics of the time with death-frozen claws, the game is really, really fun. Throw in that it is relatively simple compared to the war game standard of multiple exceptions for everything and difficult to process systems that are not explained by the rules, Richard III is a refreshing break for me.

The 'fun factor' of this game outweighs its 'reality factor' by a long shot. A more balanced review would have addressed this.

Thanks for your impressions!
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Hunga Dunga
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dracorex wrote:
Whereas at the big picture level Richard III does a good job in simulating the Wars of the Roses, the game does not realistically model the types of operational decisions made by commanders of the time.

By operational decisions, do you mean tactics?
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Caleb
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paulus22 wrote:

A more balanced review would have addressed this.



Eh, since when does a review have to be balanced? Impartial balance is a fiction anyway; the reviewer brings his preconceptions to the review. In this case, the reviewer made that clear. He focused on a specific, niggling, ahistorical aspect of the game that he didn't like. But he admitted the game was fun nonetheless. I think I profited from the review, and it's food for thought on how a game might more closely model the set-piece nature of medieval warfare. I enjoyed it.
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Peter Stubner
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dracorex wrote:
I’m also not crazy about giving players control over acts-of-God, for example, the Plague card. A more realistic design would be to incorporate such acts-of-God into an event table. In this respect, Columbia is but a minor sinner compared to the capabilities given players in the typical card-driven war games.


This is an interesting idea. Plus, in general the event cards are more a hinderance than useful to the owner. More often than not, an event card is weaker that a 2AP card.

Arrrrgh, that Surprise card! It would be more useful if there was an exception for the Surpise event: The player playing the Surprise cards should have the option to be Player 2
 
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Les Marshall
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I've played Richard III once and already prefer it to Hammer of the Scots. I found the tension of the 7 card campaign very intriguing and very much appreciate a fast playing game of this type.

As far as realism goes, I agree that you've hit this button a little bit hard. All of the Columbia block games have been light on realism while fairly strong on theme and ease of play. In fact, the mechanics of each block game are fairly standard making it quite easy to pick up and learn each new product.

Avalon Hills Kingmaker has more realism, especially given multiple players. While the Yorkists and Lancastrians still frame the two sides of the conflict, the individual nobles have a greater range of potential diplomacy and betrayal.

As for the events, you could easily use a seperate event deck to take this out of the players hands and certainly introduce far more varied and unpredictable event effect and timing. However, as a play mechanic the event does allow a player to change up the action order (events play first) and you can view the events in a generic sense with plague perhaps being constriction of food supply or buying off troops. As a game mechanic they seem to work well enough.
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Paul Kemp
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I have found events allow the King to get initiative at key moments, unless a higher AP event is played. Card play is cagey as you don't want to waste a high card if the Pretender can match it.

This could be crucial to evacuating a block, or group of blocks. Or blocking routes.
 
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Paul Kemp
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dracorex wrote:
Whereas at the big picture level Richard III does a good job in simulating the Wars of the Roses, the game does not realistically model the types of operational decisions made by commanders of the time.

I would agree...but only because Richard III is a strategic game, not an operational game, as you alluded to.

It's strategic strengths are quite thematic, the noble who does not know who to support (Switching allegiances was common), the loner is a goner factor (You needed support), the traitor who cannot go home and must go to exile, Mercenaries...guns for hire (True of the times). Rebel Block that just appears anywhere models uprisings. Home areas have more support (add +1)

The combat elements in the Columbia games is what I like about these games. The ABCD system, the blocking of retreats, pinning blocks and adding reserves is just what I love about these games. As for Richard III the all the hits on the strongest block, that is a gamey element that just throws caution into any battle. Personal preference...I just love it. Perhaps call me a Fan Boy

When I buy a game like this I look for a gaming experience and would not want the simulation factor to get in the way.

Nice review.
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James Miller
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By operational decisions (or strategic if you will), I mean the rules that allow for widely separated forces to converge on a target area, and the resulting reserve rule for battles. As I mentioned above, the game’s mechanics for movement and combat are more in line with eighteenth and nineteenth century warfare. I suspect that the designers were no doubt influenced by Columbia’s earlier Napoleon for which such rules made sense.

One pet peeve I have with this system is the situation where a vastly superior attacking force that was kicking butt in a battle is forced to retreat because it’s the fourth round but can’t because a single enemy block (which might even have been wiped out in the battle) cut off its retreat rout. I search in vain for a historical medieval campaign that this off-occurring result simulates.

With the exception of the reserve rule, I think the combat system does a good job simulating a battle of the period. For the record, I find the “all hits on the strongest block” rule more realistic than the HotS and CR system.

In war games, I prefer a great gaming experience combined with a degree of realism that precludes the likely occurrence of non-realistic outcomes as is the case with Columbia’s medieval games. Again, I enjoy the game, but I believe it can be moved to a higher level of realism with some simple rules modifications that would neither impact the ease of play nor add to the game’s complexity. Then again that’s why we have home rules.
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Chris Montgomery
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I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed the review. Thanks for writing it. As the title implied, it intentionally covered a very narrow issue with the game, which I think you illustrated well with your comments.

Thanks.

Chris Montgomery
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Jerry Taylor
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I don't disagree with anything you wrote, Jim. We clearly threw some history under the bus to maximize fun. For what it's worth, the design I originally sent to Columbia was far more historically "correct" as it pertained to the issues you raised in your review. But CG felt that the game was not anywhere near as fun to play as it could be ... and as it is at present.

Gamers who want the history first and the gameplay second may not be happy. They should probably look elsewhere. But not, as mentioned earlier, to Kingmaker. The geopolitical hypothesis forwarded in Kingmaker is pure fantasy and the game itself is far more unrealistic than what we produced. We intenionally fudged the details (for the game's sake) but for the most part got the big picture right. Kingmaker, IMO, go almost everything wrong, but especially the big picture. 15th century historian Christine Carpenter's work on this subject utterly buries the conceit that the houses of Lancaster and York were but the pawns of the over-mighty subjects ... and a whole lot else that is packed in that game.

That said, Kingmaker is a great game ... especially with house rules to fix the "turtling" problem.
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Richard Shay
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By turtling, do you mean the ability of the King to avoid decisive battles in the last campaign by piling up in one or two areas and being willing to take the supply hit at the end? I found that capability particularly difficult to to combat or rationalize in game terms.
I also found the special cards more of a hindrance than a help for the player holding them as you essentially give up a whole turn for a slight advantage. Especially for the pretender, on average it just limits his ability to get his forces into the fight.
(I'll look in the other threads for your house rules)
 
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Jerry Taylor
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I was referencing the turtle problems in Kingmaker, not in Richard III. By turtling, I mean the strategy of whisking an heir off to some remote part of England and just camping out there. Some of that sort of thing can go on in Richard III, of course, but it's not anywhere near as big a problem. Veteran Kingmaker players will tell you that advanced turtle strategies ruin that game ... but that those strategies can be nipped in the bud with some well thought-out house rules.

The event cards are supposed to be a challenge in Richard III. They can be really powerful if played at the right time. Otherwise, as noted elsewhere, they can be less useful than a standard "2" card. Your challenge as a player is to find a way to use your event cards in the right place and at the right time.

One final point I've made elsewhere; if the event cards are as powerful as a lot of you want them, then the game would become unbalanced. The more variance you put in the deck regarding card quality, the more that the draw will impact who wins. There are only three draws in this game, so there is little time to make up for a crappy hand.
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Matt Thrower
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Whilst I can see where the OP is coming from, I can think of at least on occasion during the Wars of the Roses when exactly such a blocking maneuver did occur: the Battle of Mortimer's Cross. As I understand it the Yorkist army left a detachment in a nearby village on the southern flank of the Lancastrians, precisely to cut off a route of maneuver and force them to give battle.

Besides which, although armies missing each other was a common feature of medieval warfare, the need to use the limited network of roads that existed for the time in order to transport large amounts of men at speed often meant that commanders had a better idea of the position of an opposing force than you might imagine. In the run up to the Battle of Towton, the two armies had excellent intelligence on each others' positions, allowing the Yorkists to successfully pursue the Lancastrians. And during sieges, of course - quite a common feature of battles during the Wars of the Roses, and modeled in the game through defensive bonuses - there was no issue at all in locating an enemy force.
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I'm reading Tuchman's A Distant Mirror and, while from a different time period, it's interesting that English and French armies in France often avoided battle, even though they knew exactly where the other was. Often the invader was just looking for easy plunder from lightly defended towns, and the defending army would rather force the invader to exhaust himself on sieges and slaughters of small towns and eventually give up and go home.

Basically the king would rather have his serfs and common subjects bear the brunt of the invader's assault rather than risking his knights in a battle. The invader was of course happy to plunder defenseless towns and avoid battle himself.

So the picture of armies traveling across the countryside and *just* missing each other may be true, but it was more by design than accident.

Not sure how this relates to the Wars of the Roses period since there is no "invader" per se; but I assume Lancastrian armies had a fun time plundering Yorkist areas and vice versa.
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Matt Thrower
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cannoneer wrote:
Not sure how this relates to the Wars of the Roses period since there is no "invader" per se; but I assume Lancastrian armies had a fun time plundering Yorkist areas and vice versa.


If you're interested, this wasn't quite the case. The Lancastrian armies certainly did plunder Yorkist and neutral areas, but it appears from my sources that the reverse was much less common. This was certainly a factor in the Lancastrian defeats in the middle of the wars, because the out-of-control pillaging lost the Lancastrians a lot of support in terms of alienating the populace of England.
 
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Kevin Duke
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Again, I enjoy the game, but I believe it can be moved to a higher level of realism with some simple rules modifications that would neither impact the ease of play nor add to the game’s complexity.



That is a very large premise and promise, which many people make but few actually produce.

I'll be interested to see your design modifications on this.




Quote:
Then again that’s why we have home rules.


And, while "home rules" let people have the joy of tinkering and thinking they've made something better, they tend to get in the way of a game enjoying widespread play. With more and more folks connecting with on-line play and at the increasing number of cons and FLGS game nights, having things folks can play without bringing their respective lawyers in is increasingly important.
 
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Corrado Soprano
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I thought that "battles" in the game were supposed to represent, abstractly, a prolonged period of fighting in an area, not so much a single battlefield encounter. Hence the bonus for family castles.
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James Miller
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I’ve always considered the challenge of war game design to be able to create a great gaming experience within the constraints of historical possibility. Naturally, what one considers meeting the criterion of being historically possible can be pretty subjective. The point I’m trying to make about Columbia’s medieval games is that some of the core mechanics of the designs violate this criterion. No doubt Tom Dalgliesh realizes this, but he also runs a business and, based on the success of HotS, he preferred in this case to go with the tried-and-successful rather than produce a realistic game. (See also Jerry Taylor’s earlier post on this issue.) In my humble opinion, such designs are closer to being Euro games than war games.

Matt Thrower’s above reference to the battle of Mortimer’s Cross illustrates a local tactical maneuver and does not invalidate my argument, that is, opposing allied armies did not converge on a battle site by widely separated routes. Such an example in game terms would be three allied forces entering a battle in Hereford, one coming south from Chester, another west from Warwick and a third east from Glamorgan, yet such maneuvers are a common occurrence in the game. Such a degree of coordination (except maybe by the earlier Mongol armies) was unobtainable in this period.

I’ve considered Corrado Soprano’s point that a single battle in the game might actually be simulating a series of battles, in which case the system makes more sense (although I’ll still argue to a limited degree). I seriously doubt that was the intent. We’ll have to defer to Jerry Taylor for the answer.

Again, I think Richard III is a very enjoyable game, and certainly gets a lot of the historical reality right. Nevertheless, I’m disappointed that design decisions were made that moved it away from being a great historical simulation game to being just a great game.
 
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Charlie Wilson
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Hello

In response to James' point about medieval armies not using differing routes on their way to a battle. Within the Wars of the Roses period there are many occasions when this is precisely what did happen. Very often various nobles are sent to recruit troops in their own regions and then march these forces to an agreed rendezvous.

I will agree that these split armies weren't marching to a pre-defined location for a set piece battle, rather they were converging on a city or specific castle. However most of the battles within the WoR period occur when the opposing army attempts to block their opponents route of march. A perfect example being the battle of Towton when the battle is decided by the late arrival of the Duke of Norfolk's troops which swings the battle to the Yorkists. This would seem to fit perfectly with the idea of reserve troops.

I'm also a bit perplexed as to why James thinks that the idea of medieval armies co-operating together is so impossible. The methods of communication are no different between medieval armies as they are to armies of much later periods. Essentially hand written or verbal communications delivered by horse and rider.

However I must agree with the rest of the posters on this thread - its a fantastic game. Interesting review James, I enjoyed reading it and its prompted me to stop lurking and post something here
 
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James Miller
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Ahhhh! I apologize for what obviously is a failure on my part to communicate my point.

In response to Charlie Wilson's post, I concur that medieval armies could co-operate in order to assemble a larger force before the final advance to battle. In game terms this is modeled by the combined force entering through the same border. What they did not have the capability of doing (except by dumb luck) was being able to coordinate a converging attack from "widely" different axes of advance on an enemy army.

Towton was not such a converging attack. In game terms, both Yorkist forces entered the battle through the same area border. Norfolk (with a minor deviation in route) simply was following behind the main Yorkist force. He did not enter the battle from an entirely different axis of advance, say from the North. In actuality the game does not model Towton as Norfolk would not have been placed in reserve, since he was part of the Main Attack.

 
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Jim Adlard
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Mr. Miller, I agree with you, the game while fun and quick has so much more potential. The basics are there for the most part. I understand the game companies wanting a game that will reach the most people for sales, but maybe an advanced game to go along with the basic game. In my games I find myself using mercs and levies to isolate groups so that my opponent cannot reinforce on his turn. THe game does a good job of giving an overviw of the Wars, but as written, leave me hungry for more.

Jerry Taylor wrote:
I don't disagree with anything you wrote, Jim. We clearly threw some history under the bus to maximize fun. For what it's worth, the design I originally sent to Columbia was far more historically "correct" as it pertained to the issues you raised in your review. But CG felt that the game was not anywhere near as fun to play as it could be ... and as it is at present.

Question Jerry- is there any place online that I could look to read the rules as you originally wrote them? If so where?

Gamers who want the history first and the gameplay second may not be happy. They should probably look elsewhere. But not, as mentioned earlier, to Kingmaker. The geopolitical hypothesis forwarded in Kingmaker is pure fantasy and the game itself is far more unrealistic than what we produced. We intenionally fudged the details (for the game's sake) but for the most part got the big picture right. Kingmaker, IMO, go almost everything wrong, but especially the big picture. 15th century historian Christine Carpenter's work on this subject utterly buries the conceit that the houses of Lancaster and York were but the pawns of the over-mighty subjects ... and a whole lot else that is packed in that game.

No arguemant from me on Kingmaker.

That said, Kingmaker is a great game ... especially with house rules to fix the "turtling" problem.


Kingmaker not only needs the turtling effect solved, but it needs to solve the problem of having all the royal heirs pawns. I am open to hearing from any of you on how you have solved these problems. THe greatest problem of the game is that the event draws tend to make the game winners, not the game play.

In the hope of keeping my post shorter I haven't shared all my thoughts, but I'm willing to do so with further posts.
 
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James Miller
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I played several games of Richard III at PrezCon. Between experienced players, once one player got ahead in nobles, he typically "turtled"--that is, overstacked his nobles in one area in a force of unbeatable size (what does it matter if you lose a few steps due to supply?) and positioned his cannon fodder (mercs and levies) as roadblocks. Another tactic was to attack with a force composed solely of cannon fodder as their loss doesn't shift the noble count.

I would propose that mercs and levies can only attack if accompanied by a noble. Likewise, getting rid of the unrealistic area border limits for units would help resolve the "turtle" issue.

 
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