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Subject: A review of sorts... or, home thoughts from abroad rss

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Chris Stimpson
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Upon first looking into Vasey's UKC.... with apologies to Chapman, Homer.... and Keats, of course.

My Christmas present to myself arrived sufficiently ahead of the day to get me deep into rules-reading, but not enough for a run-through before departure for the hols.

Now, with two solitaire games behind me, time for thoughts random and otherwise. All in all, a great game.

I had been planning, when writing this piece, to draw jocular reference to the photo on the BGG UKC page in which the poster appeared to have spilt copious amounts of hot chocolate over Dumfriesshire. Upon opening my map, however, I discovered that the same hot chocolate had been spilt over my - and presumably everybody else's - copy. Other than that, nice packing job, Laura.....

But before even getting that far, I noted that the estimable Rodger MacGowan had been credited, inter alia, with box design. 'sfunny. I could have sworn that triple-headed portrait of Alec Guiness had been done by that Van Dyck fellah.... Dick, was it?

Other observations:

The colleges of Oxford "remain havens of malignancy to this day." Hmm... methinks Mr. Vasey may be a Cantabrigian, a follower (like me) of the light blue. Or perhaps he got stopped, once, for speeding on the Woodstock Road...

Did you really have a playtester named Charles Stewart? Taking the Royalist side, no less. I suppose if you had been playtesting Kingmaker you'd have played against someone named Henry Tewdor...

Let's see: Newbury - Gloucester calls for mountain movement... yes, that must be the fearsome barricade of the Cotswolds, those "pimples" as a Scottish friend described them when I pointed them out to him. Or perhaps it's the nosebleed-inducing Marlborough Downs. That's more likely: I remember having total brake failure in my MG Midget at the top of Wroughton Down. It made my subsequent descent into the valley and through Swindon somewhat exciting...

Nice to see Turnham Green memorialized. I appreciate the thought, Mr. V. When I played for Chiswick Cricket Club, we had at least one game per year there thanks to my father, who was match secretary and chose the venues. Or did something else important happen there?

I would have liked to have seen Sir Henry Gage recognized with a card. He's perhaps my favorite character from this period: comes sweeping in from the Continent, pulls together a scratch force in Oxford, marches by night and routs a much stronger Roundhead force to relieve Basing House, with fewer losses than the British suffered at Rorke's Drift. Gotta be worth a PC marker or two?

Speaking of Basing House, in neither of the games I played did it appear; I wonder why it's in the late war deck, since it interdicted (or was capable of interdicting) Parliamentarian communications with the southwest for practically the whole war, and was besieged by them from early summer 1644. (Not to mention that in both my games the King lost the south and never regained it; having the Marquis of Winchester running around the county recruiting up a storm from Basing House would have prevented a whole lot of political isolation).

Oh my, what a coincidence - a brigade with the same name as the designer. And a Royalist brigade at that!

Nice, evocative artwork for the most part. Although the siege marker..... What IS that thing? A crustacean without its crust? Pornographic acts in the petri dish? Failed underwear design? I finally recognized it as Newark, having rowed many times on the Trent there.

The King strips the garrisons... I knew Edward II and Richard I were into that, but Charles I? News to me. And the garrisons, I guess.

A tile strikes the guv'nor on the head? Was Mr. V watching Ben Hur late at night while making up the cards?

Most importantly of all, I recognize Mr. V's avatar, Lord Charles. But hanged if I can remember the name of the guy working his mouth.

Getting a little more serious now
Here's the full disclosure: I came to this game as a hex-and-counter, move-and-fire guy from way back. How close, apart from a single game of Kutuzov at another gamer's house, had I come to a card-driven game? Of all my games that have cards - Conflict of Heroes, Burning Blue, Kingmaker and RAF - I guess the last is the only one where the card draw determines the dynamics of play; Kingmaker less so. So I brought some wrong assumptions with me, particularly from Kingmaker. But you can understand, perhaps, my early surprise at seeing a Prince Rupert counter bearing factors of "1-2", far lower than those of the Duke of Lorraine or even Newcastle. Why so low? For pity's sake, they even had James Bond playing him in the movie.......

The map? (forgetting for a moment the accident with the cocoa...) The subdued treatment of the basic map seemed right to me, but I needed aviator sunglasses when it came to the overlays. Big, clunky, almost garishly colored. With drop shadows, no less. I estimated each fortress to be about 25 miles in diameter... Perhaps because the color coding of the areas is so important to the game, it was felt necessary to do this, but it took some getting used to! Not to mention where to sit so I could read both the map and the tables.

Counters (siege crustaceans notwithstanding) excellent. Likewise the cards - from my vast experience of card-driven games. In the interests of full disclosure I am big on chrome, which I interpret as anything that evokes the period or 'feel' of a game. Versimilitude, I hear you saying. And the artwork and presentation of the counters and cards do that evocation nicely.

Historical and design notes: I am always pleased when the designer goes to the trouble of putting the game into context by including an historical write-up, as well as describing how he approached interpreting the period in game terms. Yes, if you're going to put in a rule, the reason for which a reader wouldn't understand unless he were an historian of the period (e.g., if Waller and Essex are in the same room together at a party, switch to orange juice), it's thoughtful to explain the background. I appreciated the 'play' book with historical snippets and multiple players' notes.

Rules: Many previous posters have here paid tribute to the clarity of the rules, but they were hard going for me. To be fair, it may be that - as I hinted earlier - I am too steeped in the "move the movement factor shown then attack with the combat factor shown" mentality. The idea that the weaker you are, the faster you are, came slowly. Likewise the notion that you can't just up and march every element of your army across country every turn to the maximum movement factor. It took me a while to understand how few choices and what paltry resources commanders of the time must have had - I was not unleashing hundreds of thousands of motorized infantrymen and several dozen panzer divisions at the enemy front, with the ability to repeat the trick next turn.

Even so, I did - and still do somewhat - find myself puzzling over what appear to be arbitrary complications in the rules.
*Recruiting can take place at different times in a turn, and not quite the same way depending on which phase you're in or which side you're playing.
*And the simple task of getting a general out of bed and into uniform seems to be overly labored.
*When is a strategy card not a strategy card? When it's a recruitment/event/operations/discarded card. Even now, recruitment is the one activity that has me diving into the rule book every time it comes up, and cross-referencing until I get a divergent squint.
*Lots of rules covering maritime movement, of which there's just one example on the map.
*If you end up in the same hex - sorry, area - as a general of equal rank, do like the Monty Python Arthurian knights: RUN AWAY!
These and other rules issues were leading me, at one stage, to believe that the designer had given us more of an historical simulation than a playable game - excellent though the historical aspects are.

I still think, after a couple of games, that the emphasis is on the historical simulation, but the playability aspects are now coming through more. Yes, it's a pain to have to remember that Royalist brigades recruited in the campaign phase can't appear at a recruitment centre, but there's an historical reason for it (albeit rather arcane), and it forces players to play in a way closer in spirit to their historical roles. The same can be said for the way the game simulates the tenuous nature of 17th-century warfare. Without standing armies, numbers engaged tended to be small. Without a way of regularly paying them, they did indeed tend to drift away when you weren't looking, especially if a long way from home. So I'll put my grumbles about over-emphasis on history aside, even if it does make me (still) cling to the rule book more than I like to.

Thoughts that spent some time in the brain of this non-CDG, non-musket & pike, gamer during the first game:

"Right, game turn 1. I'll start Charles out in York, swing him down to beat up Essex in London, then over to capture Bristol, pushing Waller into the sea on the way. I wonder what I'll do in turn 2?"

"Wow, that's a nice big army I've just built - six brigades, enough to cream any of his paltry militia bands. All I have to do now is figure out how to move it...."

"Hey, what happened to my army? I could have sworn I had one at the beginning of this turn; it just kind of... melted away. That doesn't happen in Russian Campaign."

"Is that all I've got? It's 1645 and I've only got 5 brigades to subdue the whole country, garrison a dozen fortresses, besiege Hull, send the Scots back to their presbyteries and look after the Queen?"

By the end of game 2, I was beginning to appreciate the accuracy of the simulation, even if it did mean that armies spent more energy staying away from each other than fighting each other. It really isn't much use bashing your opponent on the battlefield if it doesn't lead to territorial/political gain. This was exactly the historical experience of Powick Bridge, where Rupert defeated a larger force under Essex, but it was the Parliamentarian army that then occupied the nearby Royalist city of Worcester.

It also helped when I discovered I had been playing the PC marker placement rule (11.1) wrongly. In game 1 I used strategy cards to flip counters in the heartland of my opponent nowhere near my own counters. The opponent would then play a card to flip the counters back, and several turns went on like this with the armies sitting on their...er... hassocks. I was convinced at one point that I had bought an expensive game of tiddlywinks. Playing according to the rules is a much better idea! And in fact, in game 2 I paid much closer attention to the use of military force to secure territory rather than to inflict casualties, with the result that the King kept the North (the Scots stayed where they belonged - in the gamebox), Wales, the Midlands and even the East; Parliament had the south all to itself, but that plus 7 infrastructures only gave them 9 points and a loss.

So, having got over my ignorance of CDGs and played two games through, I'm impressed, Lord Charles. The game cleaves closely to history, although that does of necessity add complications to the playing of it (head still buried in the rule book), and makes it more of a political model than a military one (not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld used to say). And to be honest, one's inability to fight a blitzkrieg-kind of war forces you into more careful and intelligent decisions. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that!

No Dunbar or Worcester?

I was surprised to see the game end in 1645, not because it actually dragged on until May or June of 1646 - the Royalist cause was essentially lost well before then - but because the Cromwell-dominated war of 1648-1651 that incorporated the battles of Dunbar and Worcester were not represented in the game. What the designer has given us is really the FIRST civil war; there was a confused period between the first and the second which would have been hard to model in game terms, and the second war was of a different character. But it inevitably leads one to ask whether he has any thoughts of bringing us Cromwell at the height of his military powers and a political/military game of the second civil war. ??????????

Rules Questions

Some of the rules questions that cropped up answered themselves through the course of play, while others have been addressed in the rules section of this forum (which, remarkably, takes up ten of the eighteen pages!!!) However, some of the discussion in that section left me more confused than before, so the next post raises those questions for which I still have no answers.

Conclusions

Can't wait to get the game out again!
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Charles Vasey
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Chocolate, Stimpson, I’ll have you know that is young Brimmicombe-Wood’s blood following an excited design meeting.

Box design: no need to get cryptic about my triptych.

Cantab: My great-uncle was a St John’s man.

Example Players: Surely you don’t think that an eminent Civil War scholar like myself would stoop so low as to name his two protagonists after the King and the earl of Essex. I am shocked, shocked…..

You may laugh at the Cotswolds, senor émigré, but they’re not so funny when you’re cycling up them. I recommend Wedgwood’s account of the Gloucester campaign.

I worked with one of Sir Henry Gage’s descendants; he looked exactly like the Malignant. But isn’t that Sir Henry on Card 101?


Basing House is in the late deck because that’s when it seemed to come into its own. My advice is not to lose the South, damn your insolence!

There are many more coincidences that one on brigade names. Like Jerry Lee and his songs I like to include myself in my games. Irate purchasers can experience atavistic revenge. Better than Up Front/Banzai where my card got left in the third spot and shot at the whole time.

Siege Marker: looks like a plan view of siege to me.

Tile strikes the head: Never let a useful historical event go to waste I say.

Rules: Although you do not get many panzer-grenadiers in the game [GMT’s lawyers point out “none” might be closer] you do get old Rupprecht who rocks around the map in a panzery fashion. I must admit to making the occasional “Panzers Forward!” comment when playing the Malignants.

There are no arbitrary complications; every complication was carefully planned. Lots of types of recruiting – it’s great isn’t it. Certainly the aim is historicity, it seems to play pretty quickly to me, but my gaming baggage is less panzer heavy. Recruiting is particularly important for differentiating the two sides. I wonder if I could do a Lite version where all of this stuff was kept vanilla; interesting idea.
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Andrew Adey
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Thanks for your highly amusing review and comments. I have had this game for only 2 weeks - it arrived from the US of A with 1805 as part of an order from GMT to take advantage of their winter sale.

1805 was opened first - sorry Charles.

I`m looking forward to this one, as I have an intrest in this era of history.As do our pet guinea pigs who have chewed the edges of several of my books on the subject.

It`s a shame that well known bastion of military importance and home town, Wolverhampton, doesn`t appear on the map. Prince Rupert rode through it once don`t you know!
 
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Chris Stimpson
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Quote:
Example Players: Surely you don’t think that an eminent Civil War scholar like myself would stoop so low as to name his two protagonists after the King and the earl of Essex. I am shocked, shocked…..


Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I had not noticed the name of the Man of Bluwd's opponent. Score one for you. A mixed bunch, the Stuarts, weren't they? Their patchy record finally ended in 1688 when the country, in effect, said to Charles' second son "sorry, old chap, but we'd rather have some German-speaking chap from a place called Orange as our king. Don't let the door hit you.... etc. etc."

Quote:
But isn’t that Sir Henry on Card 101?


So that's him, is it? Thanks for remembering him... (or is that Edmund Blackadder by Velasquez?) My "This War Without an Enemy" by Richard Ollard does not honor him with representation.

Quote:
My advice is not to lose the South, damn your insolence!


Very easy for the Royalist to do, as I discovered. But the South takes a lot of work, being the largest region, and counts for no more than Wales in the victory conditions; (which is why I had Charles in my second game ignore the south after losing it, and establish instead a hegemony over all the other regions, for a 3-point victory).

Quote:
Like Jerry Lee and his songs I like to include myself in my games.


I shall think of you as Alfred Hitchcock from now on.

Quote:
you do get old Rupprecht who rocks around the map in a panzery fashion.


Over in the colonies, we would identify him with 'Jackson in the Valley'.

Quote:
I wonder if I could do a Lite version


As I noted, chrome is important to me. I was struck by a tile comment on another game on BGG that noted that the infantry and cavalry in the game (name forgotten) might just as well have been gophers fighting for holes. No, I want to feel the zeitgeist, which is why, when I have the playability licked, the historic aspect of a game is vital. Would you lose that with a 'lite' version? Probably. As I also noted, I'd love instead to see a treatment of 1648-1651 in a similar style. Or was that more focused on a smaller number of set-piece battles?

And I STILL can't remember the name of that ventriloquist chappie who 'served' Lord Charles...


Rules question post follows!
 
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James Lowry
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Charles Vasey wrote:
Siege Marker: looks like a plan view of siege to me.

It was obvious to me, but not to my opponent. I don't get the problem. Not enough time looking at maps I suppose....
 
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Andy Daglish
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cstimpson wrote:
It really isn't much use bashing your opponent on the battlefield if it doesn't lead to territorial/political gain.


it really is, as when the last one's dead, the region's yours. Desertion worsens a proportional difference in casualties.

Quote:
Speaking of Basing House


At first the marquis wouldn't fight [either], but on siding with the King he was looked after, until at the end of the war Basing was dealt with in a carefully overstated manner, in order to generate some news reports supporting Cromwell's new dignity.

 
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Charles Vasey
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Ray Allan (or is it Alan) had his hand up his Lordship's posterior.

The Lite concept is probably better retained for the Block version (block, King Charles geddit,? I don't know why I bother.....)

The snapperoo of Sir Henry I have (in which he looks exactly like my old colleague) is in black and white from the Young & Ridsall-Smith book on generals of the ECW.

I take your point on the South and Wales, the VCs are an attempt to measure the body politic in an era when establishing it is not easy. It would be interesting to experiment with values but the massed weight of testing gave these as a good contest.

Hitchcock: Ah, the fun we had looking for him.
 
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