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Francis K. Lalumiere
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Brossard
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(Review originally posted on BoardGameNews.com)

"That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet."
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


[Richard III is essentially a reimplementation of the system developed for Columbia Games’ own Hammer of the Scots, albeit with a few simplifications (no movement ratings, for instance). While I’ve read the rules to Hammer of the Scots, I haven’t played the game and will therefore devote my energies to a review of Richard III rather than to a side-by-side comparison of the two games.]


Between 1455 and 1486, two powerful houses -- York and Lancaster -- vied for control of the English throne. While Lancastrian Henry Tudor eventually emerged victorious, history may yet be rewritten each time the red and white wooden blocks storm the cardboard battlefield.

Richard III evolves on a mapboard depicting England and Wales. Each player controls an army of 31 wooden blocks, each sporting an ID sticker on one side only, thus creating an elegant fog of war when the units are stood up.

The players are dealt each a hand of seven cards, which can be action cards (showing a number between 2 and 4) or event cards (enabling a special event but often at the cost of a reduced numeric value). Each turn, players simultaneously select and reveal a card from their hands. Actions are conducted according to the cards played, and then two new cards are played, and so on through seven game turns -- the length of a campaign. Follows a political turn where the dust settles and the crown can switch sides.
After three campaigns, whichever side occupies the throne wins the game.

On his turn, a player gets to use as many action points (APs) as are displayed on his selected card. Highest number goes first, with ties broken in favor of the Pretender (the side that aspires to the throne...). One action point enables one move or one recruit.

The map is divided into areas of various shapes and sizes, and separated from each other with borders in one of three possible colors. Yellow limits its crossing to four blocks per turn, blue to three, and red to two (also imposing a halt immediately after crossing).
One AP activates any number of blocks in one area, allowing each of them to move one or two areas. Movement into enemy-occupied areas ignites conflict, and a battle will have to be fought there.
One AP can also be used to move one block from a coastal area to another across the sea, or two blocks between two ports. No sea attacks are permitted, however.
Finally, an AP can also be spent to fetch one block not currently in play and place it in one of its possible starting areas.

If an event card was played, the card’s text is executed, from a special group move with higher border limits, to a sea attack (where those are normally impossible), to a plague that descends upon one area and hits every block in its path.

Once both players have finished moving of recruiting, any area with blocks of both colors means combat. Each block features a strength indicator (typically between 1 and 4) as well as a battle rating that includes a letter (A, B or C) and a number (1, 2 or 3). Blocks A attack before B, and blocks B before C (defender goes first). A block rolls as many d6s as its current strength, and inflicts hits on the number in its battle rating or lower. So a B2 block would hit on any rolls of 1 or 2. All hits from a roll are applied to the most powerful enemy block.

While some nobles are unshakable in their loyalty to their house, others are not so untouchable. During combat, instead of attacking, the Pretender block or the King block (and one more, exceptional noble), can try to have an opposing noble betray his house. As many dice are rolled as the loyalty rating of the target: if all dice come out even, the noble switches sides -- the block is replace with the corresponding block in the opposite color -- and starts to fight for his hitherto adversary.

Should the King die, the next heir in line inherits the crown (and the same goes for the title of Pretender). If all heirs from one side are eliminated, the opponent achieves an instant victory.

At the end of each campaign, whoever controls the most nobles on the map becomes King. When the third campaign reaches an end, the player who controls the King wins the game.


WAR PRODUCTION

Beautiful, beautiful game.

The blocks are big and bright, and the art on the stickers are a sight for sore eyes. Easy to read, easy to handle, and definitely good looking.

The cards are printed on good card stock and with a very nice back (as opposed to the Columbia Games logo seen in many previous games). I prefer my cards with round corners so I wasn’t thrilled when I first handled the perfect rectangles of cardboard. But this doesn’t hinder shuffling or dealing, so I’m happy.

The map is large and beautiful, and printed on good cardstock that obeys when you ask it to lay flat on the table. All names and symbols are easy to read, and each area can contain a surprising amount of information without feeling too crowded.


RULES OF ENGAGEMENT


As has become a standard for recent Columbia Games’ titles, this rulebook is only eight pages long. This is mostly good: every concept is concisely expressed and easy to locate during play (and if you manage to get lost, a good index lies in wait on the last page of the booklet).

At the heart of Richard III beats a simple engine that works really well, with a few interesting wrinkles here and there; but it remains a simple engine. Those looking for a more fleshed-out simulation will have to game elsewhere.

The upside is that the learning curve is no more than a little knoll. Setup is fast, and actual play time hovers around two hours. (Experienced players could probably squeeze a game in even less time than that.) Eight pages also mean that players are far less likely to forget a rule. Exceptions are few and far between, which also speeds up the learning (and remembering!) process.


FUN FACTOR

The game is fun, no doubt about it. Because it is so short to learn, you can become proficient at it in no time. And because it is so fast to play, you can get your revenge if Fate decided to favor your opponent the first time around!

Combat is enjoyable and offers just the right level of variety to keep both players on their toes. I especially like the "Heir Charge" rule, where an heir can attack a specific opposing block (at the cost of a bonus attack on the charging heir -- assuming the target block survives...). Very useful to get rid of a specific noble -- who might be a real menace on the battlefield, for instance -- or to take care of one more sniveling heir, on your way to an instant victory.

And since blocks reset between two campaigns, you quickly learn that fighting to the death is not necessarily a good idea. Especially when one more dead noble on your side would give the crown to your opponent.


PARTING SHOTS

Don’t let the relatively simple gameplay stop you: Richard III is worth the very little sweat it’ll ask of you for learning and playing the game. Just don’t expect the experience to be dripping historical realism all over the table.

Although the game is short enough for two opponents to switch sides and play both York and Lancaster in a single sitting, Columbia Games’ website provides two one-campaign scenarios for the "instant gamers" among us.
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Jody Ludwick
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weishaupt wrote:
On his turn, a player gets to use as many action points (APs) as are displayed on his selected card. Lowest number goes first, with ties broken in favor of the Pretender (the side that aspires to the throne...). One action point enables one move or one recruit.


I recently d/l the version 1.0 rules and they state with regard to 1.1 Card Phase and APs... "The player with the higher card is Player 1 that Game Turn. The Pretender is Player 1 on ties."


I don't have the game in my possession at the moment and am strictly going by the d/l rules and examples on this site so please forgive me for any oversights.

A very nice and much appreciated review btw.
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Francis K. Lalumiere
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Jody,

You're absolutely right! I stand corrected.
(And we played it right: I just wrote it wrong...)

Thanks!

Francis
 
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