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Subject: Wars of the Roses: Lancaster v York - A Detailed Review rss

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This review continues my series of detailed reviews. I have tried to cover every aspect of the game and as such you may prefer to skip to the sections of most interest.

Image Courtesy of chaddyboy_2000

Summary

Game Type – Board Game
Play Time: 90-120 min
Number of Players: 2-4 (Best with 4)
Mechanics – Area Control/Influence, Card Drafting, Hidden Planning
Difficulty – Moderate (Can take 2-3 plays to fully comprehend rules and the basic strategy)
Components – Excellent ++
Designer - Peter Hawes - (Colonial Diplomacy, Francis Drake, Heads of State, Triassic Terror)

Overview

Wars of the Roses is an ambitious game in that it tries to capture a tumultuous time in English history that was far more than straight forward warfare. So to be true to the period the game needs to incorporate not only military conflicts, but the political nature of the day, the importance of the church and the key role of economics.

On top of all that, it is crucial that the game also allows for intrigue and surprises to occur if it is to truly reflect the historical nature of the time and give the game that extra something.

I am happy to report that Wars of the Roses does this wonderfully well and the combination of its physical design combined with its mechanics makes it something of a Euro/Wargame hybrid.

Before I continue it has come to my attention from reading some forum pages that there may be some confusion between this title and another game called Richard III: Wars of the Roses, by Columbia Games.

The game being reviewed here by Z-Man Games is in no way connected with the game from Columbia. They are both independent titles, which interestingly enough, were released within 3 months of each other.

The Theme

Wars of the Roses is set in the period of English History dating from 1455 - 1487, which is referred to as 'The Wars of the Roses'. It was a period of time in history when two great houses were fighting for control of England and control over who sat on the throne.

Military conflicts were common but political infighting was the real 'lever of power'. The church was heavily involved and the houses were forever trying to convince powerful nobles to support their cause.

As key figures in this struggle, the players take on the roles of a key personality aligned with 1 of the 2 houses. Henry of Windsor (Henry VI) and the Earl of Richmond (Henry VII) represent the House of Lancaster (Red Rose). The Earl of March (Edward IV) and the Duke of Gloucester (Richard III) represent the House of York (White Rose).

On a personal level I had no real understanding of this period in history before learning of the game. Whilst I am an avid student of history, both ancient and modern, this time period never did it for me.

If you are like me however, do not despair, as it will not result in you enjoying the game any less. It is very easy to play the game and remove yourself from the theme, simply playing as part of a team (at least initially) and using the mechanics to go about acquiring your assets in order to turn the screws on your opponents.

On the other hand, if you have a good knowledge of the period, or like to immerse yourself in the theme of a game, it allows you to do that too. You can amass large forces, control great Royal Castles, make a swift attack on the Midlands, control the Bishops or a region or dominate the Shipping Lanes.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that the game is fairly accessible. If you have no interest in the setting of the game, it can still be enjoyed on a 'game only' level. But there is plenty here for the history buffs and theme demons. Indeed the rulebook and Planning Screens offers great detail on the background to the conflict for those that want to know more. I must admit, the game has given me a much greater understanding of the Wars of the Roses - so yay to that.

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Components

A word of warning (it's a good warning) - you will need to start working out if you expect to carry the box for more than 2-3 metres. This baby is chock-o-block full of gaming component goodness. Not only is there lots of components, but they are quality components. This thing weighs more than a 12 month old baby but thankfully it isn't as messy.

d10-1 The Board - The board is a big old gorgeous creation that depicts England. The country is divided into 6 regions. Each region is referred to as a county but for game purposes they really represent an amalgamation of counties. Each county has its own colour to help determine one from another easily. The colours are muted in tone and not garish (something that many a modern board has done of late). The result is that the colours are functional and don't distract the eye away from the many symbols within each county that represent the Castles, Towns, Ports, Ships and Bishops that can be controlled throughout the game.

A series of Sea Zones are depicted around the island and various numbers represent the victory points and votes that each county offers if they are controlled.

The outer edge of the board contains a Victory Point Track and several banner regions at the top and bottom of the board outline things such as Turn Order, Bonus Scoring Goals, Tie-Breaker Sequence and the Turn Chart.

What strikes me about the board (and this goes for other elements of the components as well) is the sheer size of the icons and symbols. This is a major plus as the game could have been quite confusing and the play hard to manage had the icons been drawn in a smaller size. The result is that the icons are highly visible (important when planning) and nice illustrations ensure that everything is obvious in relation to what it is meant to be.

Overall the 6-flip mounted board is larger than average size and is slightly taller than it is wide, giving it an almost square shape. It is not as big however as say the board for Railroad Tycoon. Comparatively it is probably a little wider than an Arkham Horror board but not as long.

Finally the reverse side of the board is black in colour and features a silhouette of England. Dotted around the map are a variety of red and white roses along with names and dates. These are the names and dates of famous battles won during the Wars of the Roses and the time that they took place. This is a good example of the 'little touches' that have been added to the game to put a smile on the faces of the history buffs. It also serves to underline the dedication and care that was taken in the creation of the game by all concerned.


Image Courtesy of Zman


d10-2 Planning Boards - The planning boards are a key component of the game as they allow each player to plan all aspects of their moves. The boards are nice and thick and they depict each of the 6 counties. The same icons that are depicted on the board are present here within their relevant counties. A series of arrows are also shown, which represent the potential moves that can be made from one county to another. The right hand side of the board features several spaces that are dedicated to the placement of troops, mercenaries, bribe cubes and income.

Like many aspects of the game, the planning boards are well designed and feature little touches that almost go unnoticed, but are greatly appreciated. The icons are drawn in the same size (nice and big) as those found on the board. This not only makes them easily visible, but it also allows tokens such as the Nobles to be placed here.

Another nice touch is that each county section on the planning board matches the colour of the respective county on the board so it is easy to tell what corresponds to what. If that wasn't enough, the location of the counties on the planning boards are geographically accurate in relation to the board. In other words the Northern Marches are located at the very top of the planning board.

Finally the Control Points offered by Nobles and the Income offered by Bishops and Ship Captains are listed on the planning board, which is crucial for calculating the cost of bribes (see Bribing below).

It's little design touches like these that help a game to flow when being played. cool


Image Courtesy of chaddyboy_2000


d10-3 Planning Screens - All good hidden planning games need a screen for the adversaries to hide behind. This game is no exception and I think it now holds the record for the biggest, heaviest screen the world of gaming has ever known.

The screen is a massive 3-fold design, really thick and the outside art depicts the walls and parapet of a castle to embellish the theme just that little bit more. Each castle screen comes in the colour of the 4 players and the inside is adorned with a plethora of information. The left panel contains purely historical information to appease the history buffs. The middle panel outlines the costs for bribes, a copy of the tie breaker rules for controlling counties and the cost to raise troops and mercenaries. The right hand panel lists the game turn phases and associated actions.

When in position the castle screen surrounds the player's planning boards and creates an imposing facade. They also weigh a tonne and contribute to the game's box weight significantly. These babies are lavish! cool


None shall pass! - Image Courtesy of Frank Hamrick




The Inner Sanctum! - Image Courtesy of da pyrate


d10-4 Player Pieces - Each player receives an assortment of wooden goodies to act as their markers. These are all in their own colour and the two most important are the cubes and the cylinders.

Cubes are used to mark ownership over assets called Locations - Ports, Castles and Towns. Cylinders are then used to denote ownership over Personalities within the game - Bishops, Nobles and Ship Captains.

Each player also gets a set of cubes in white and black, which are used to plan any Bribes that they wish to make.


Image Courtesy of da pyrate


d10-5 Tokens - Whilst physical structures such as Castles and Towns are fixed settings on the board, Personalities such as Nobles and Ship Captains can move. These Personalities therefore need to be featured as round tokens. They come in pairs so 1 can be placed on the board and the other on the matching location on a player's Planning Board.


The Nobles - Image Courtesy of mr_lunch


The Ship Captains - Image Courtesy of mr_lunch


d10-6 Troops and Mercenaries - These too get their own counters but these are square to ensure they are not confused with the round tokens above, which take no part in combat.


Image Courtesy of mr_lunch


d10-7 Income - All good games include cardboard tokens for cash and Wars of the Roses is no exception. Income comes in increments of 10, 3 and 1 Pound, with each featuring a different colour for easy recognition.


Image Courtesy of Tyndal


d10-8 The Cards - These are an important part of the game as they represent each of the major assets that can be controlled (and fought over) throughout the game. Each card depicts the artwork for the asset in question, the specific name (such as Windsor Castle) and the associated income and/or control points offered. The cards feature a matte finish and are suitably thick to stand up to repeated play.


Image Courtesy of mr_lunch


d10-9 Bonus Victory Point Titles - The Titles that offer bonus Victory Points are depicted on nice thick tiles that feature artwork relevant to the title in question.


Image Courtesy of mr_lunch


d10-1d10-0 Royal House Tiles - At the start of a 4-player game each player receives a random House Tile to see whom is playing whom and to which team they are aligned. These are not needed with less than 4 players.


Image Courtesy of mr_lunch


d10-1d10-1 Voting Tiles and Purple Cube - The game also offers a series of tiles depicting a red rose on one side and a white rose on the other. These are used to keep track of which side has won the votes from each county each turn. A large purple cube also acts as the turn marker for each of the 5 decades.


Image Courtesy of Toynan


d10-1d10-2 Rules and Reference Sheets - Finally the rules offer up a nice glossy. all colour affair that is full of illustrations and examples. There is a fair bit of text in there and they can appear somewhat daunting on first glance. Thankfully they are very well written and make pretty good sense.

In the rear can be found a few bonus sections relating to hints on how to best play and a detailed Historical Perspective on the conflict.

A further reference sheet also includes key points to remember listed under each phase of the game. The rear of this sheet also depicts the recommended set-up for keeping all the bits together on the table.


Image Courtesy of mr_lunch


So what can I say? The components are truly top notch, offering quality in their manufacture but also quality in the design features and elements that they contain. All persons involved in the design and production of the game should be proud of the finished product as rather than cutting corners, they seem to have made the effort to create extra ones. I love the fact that I own a game that looks this good!

I suspect that history buffs and wargamers that don't mind a little euro action in their games would be proud to have this in their collection.

The Heart of the Game - What is it?

So it looks good but does it play good? In a word - yes.

The aim is simple enough as each player is aiming to amass the most victory points, which reflects their ability to control the economic, political and military aspects of the time.

At the heart of Wars of the Roses is the fact that it is an area control game. At the end of each turn, the players that have the most and second most Control Points in each county will receive VPs. Each county offers a variable number of points, which are roughly reflective of their size and their geographical importance.

This is a good mechanism for any game that features an area control and conflict element as it nullifies the desire to stockpile forces in any one area. Indeed, because VP's are offered in all 6 counties, it actually requires the players to spread their meager assets as wide as possible. Of course the trick is that spreading too thin can result in losing grasp of 1st or 2nd position. Suddenly the task of having 'many fingers in many proverbial pies' is not so easy.

But Wars of the Roses is not content on stopping there. On top of its core aim (command of counties in order to earn VPs), there is a second key consideration - the control of each county as a faction (Lancaster or York). The calculation of this is much the same as above, except both team players must combine their collective Control Points to determine which side has control of each county.

NB - The team aspect and voting system are only used in the 4-Player Game.

The bonus this time is to earn votes (these too differ for each county) and the team with the greatest number of votes across the whole board in each turn (measured in decades - 5 in all) has successfully installed their candidate for King onto the throne. The reward for achieving this feat is that both members of the successful Royal House earn a further 5 VPs. In other words they have curried the favour of the King.

With a whopping 25 bonus VPs on offer in each game, this team oriented objective should not be overlooked. The implications for how the players must now approach the game are quite significant and I think it lends Wars of the Roses a real edge over traditional area control/conflict type games.

The third string to the game's bow is that overlaying those 2 initial considerations is the presence of Bonus VP Goals or Titles. These bring a real Euro feel to the game and essentially add sub plots for the players to consider and go after.

Having the most Ports, Castles or Bishops can earn good bonus VPs (4) as can having a Bishop/Cathedral Town combo (3) or a Port/Ship Combo (Trade Bonus - 3). These bonuses not only offer the players more options and things to do within the game but they also encourage aggressive maneuvers and stout defences to steal them away or maintain them (as the case may be).

Of course the points above all highlight the means to earning Victory Points in order to win the game.

How to do that though is 3-fold (Economic, Political and Militarily).

Economic is by far the most important consideration as only vast sums of pounds will grease the cogs of power. Politics are present in the form of Bribes and the Church is just as open to corruption as the Nobles and the Ship Captains. If persuasion should fail then good old military muscle can often help your enemies to see your point of view.

This is where the theme of the game shines through and serves to reflect the historical aspect of the game so well. It enables the game to be 'felt' and 'lived' by the players. This is a real plus for the game as I feel that many Euros on the market today make me feel like I'm playing a set of mechanics that need to be methodically worked through.

So what is Wars of the Roses? If I had to label it I think it carries the mantle of a Euro/Conflict Hybrid well. I use the term conflict as opposed to Amerigame or Ameritrash as there are no dice here.

I've also avoided the term Wargame as that may rankle with fans of the genre proper. But there are elements within the game that will likely resonate with Wargamers - at least that's the vibe I was certainly getting at CanCon this year when I first saw the game in action and witnessed Wargamer folk being magnetically attracted from surrounding tables. sauron

Okay, enough dithering - time to get into the nuts and bolts.

The Game Play

I have no intention of going over the rules word for word here. Instead I hope to give a good sense of how the game flows, some of the key considerations and how they impact on decision making and the game as a whole.

Please note that my comments in this section will relate to 4-Player Games. I will address differences and thoughts on 2 and 3 player games in another section under that title.

The game is played over 5 turns (decades) and each turn uses 8 phases.

Image Courtesy of KingHeinrich

This may seem like a lot but in truth 90% of the time within each turn is taken by the Planning Phase and 9% by the Draw Cards Phase.

Everything else is pretty much resolved in the blink of an eye.

The Phases are -

d10-1 Determine Turn Order
d10-2 Draw Cards
d10-3 Collect Income
d10-4 Planning
d10-5 Deployment
d10-6 Bribery
d10-7 Combat
d10-8 Parliament

Now for the detail -

d10-1 Determine Turn Order

In this phase each player's turn order is determined by their position on the Victory Point Track. The player that is leading will be allocated to position 4, the player coming second will be given position 3 and so on with last place earning position 1.

I'm likely to touch on this more than once before I'm done - Turn Order is Crucial!

And it is a clever mechanic to boot as the player in last position is given several key advantages over the other players, whilst the leading player is given a few extra hurdles to jump over. In other words, Wars of the Roses provides a built in catch-up mechanism that will assist players chasing the leader...but it will not guarantee them success. I'll get to how it does this shortly.

Due to the nature of the Turn Order Wars of the Roses has a pretty good knack for creating close finishes. In the very first game I played, the top 3 players were all within 4 points of one another and they were learning the game!

In the case of a tie, the players will maintain their relative positions on the Turn Order Track.

d10-2 Draw Cards

This phase sees a number of cards drawn from the deck, which are up for the taking. The cards reflect the various assets dotted around the board and cover everything from Castles, Towns and Ports to Bishops, Nobles, Ship Captains and Mercenaries.

In Turn 1 a total of 12 cards are drawn and placed face up. In turn each player can take any 1 card. The player to take last gets to take 2 in a row as the order reverses for the 2nd choice and the 3rd choice goes back the other way again.

For Turns 2-5 only 8 cards are drawn and the order goes from Player 1-4 and then 1-4 again.

What assets are taken are of critical importance.

Before I go any further I need to outline each of the different card or Asset types and their importance within the game. This will help to make everything else I talk about make sense (well that's the theory).

Locations

Castles - Castles offer 6 Control Points, which are large compared to most other assets within the game. This reflects their importance in maintaining a stronghold over a county and their general status of the time. Castles also come with their own Garrison of Troops to help defend them against envious neighbours.

Towns - The game offers up both Large and Small Towns, with most Small Towns representing Cathedral Towns that have a matching Bishop (hence offering up a VP bonus should the matching pair be owned). Towns are vital assets to control as they offer both Income and Control Points. They also maintain a Garrison to help with their defense but they are not as robust as those afforded by Castles.

The smaller Cathedral Towns may offer less Income, Control Points and have a smaller Garrison but they do serve as one half of a possible Church Bonus should the matching Bishop be owned> The 3 VPs on offer should not be sneezed at.

Ports - Ports offer fewer VP's and Income than Towns but they too can offer bonus VPs (Trade Bonus) if a Port and the matching Ship Captain are owned by the one player (2 VPs).

Personalities

Nobles - The Nobles were very powerful figures of the day and that is reflected in Wars of the Roses by the large Control Points that they can offer in order to control counties. No Income is provided for Nobles but they have one other major importance. They offer presence within a county and without a presence a player is not able to make an attack on other people's locations!

Nobles can also move to 1 adjacent county each turn. Therefore they are a mobile threat. Control the Nobles and your enemies will fear you. Deny your opponents access to Nobles and you will reduce the potential threats on your borders. devil

Bishops - Unlike Nobles, these chaps are not mobile, but one is present in each county. Bishops offer Command Points and Income (sometimes large Incomes), which reflects the power of the Church in England at the time.

Bishops also offer another benefit in that they too give a player a presence within their particular region, allowing attacks to be made on any owned Location within that county.

Bishops then have 1 final benefit in that they can be combined with their Cathedral Town to earn a Church Bonus.

The Church was a powerful force indeed and Wars of the Roses reflects that extremely well.

Ship Captains - The final personality type are the Ship Captains and they offer big money (5 pounds) and 2 Control points. These guys main function is to bolster a player's treasury as they do not offer a presence from which to launch battles. Whilst they offer relatively few Control points, they are highly mobile as they can move up to 2 sea zones in a turn. This allows the players to make sneaky moves along coastlines in an attempt to sway a hotly contested county their way.

Miscellaneous

Mercenaries - One final card type remains, the Mercenaries. These offer no Control Points or Income. Instead they offer a number of Mercenary Units, which act in every way like a regular troop that can be purchased during planning.

How many are gained by taking this card depends on the Turn they are taken (ranges from 2-4), but when you consider that each unit is worth the equivalent of 3 pounds, they can be a nice little money saver or simply offer you the chance to raise a massive force.

When a Mercenary Card is taken it is immediately cashed in for Mercenary Tokens. The final advantage of Mercenaries is that these tokens can be kept for use in the game on any turn (unlike purchased Troops, which are only usable in the turn they are purchased). This allows players to worry their foes into unnecessary defences and hold them back for a large assault. The element of surprise can be key in Wars of the Roses.

The Benefits and Implications of the Card Draw - The implications of the Card Draw Phase are that the players need to carefully select which cards to take with each choice. Not only must they ensure they have enough Income to buy troops and instigate bribes but they must also gain enough Control Points to control counties and ensure they have multiple points of presence from which to launch attacks.

Each decision of course must also factor in the needs of the other players. Should you deny someone assets in a county to ensure you have a better chance of maintaining control or are you better off taking the card from that other county in an attempt to secure a key position and a few handy points?

Assets that enable a player to earn the Bonus VP Titles for having the most of something also come into play as do the Trade and Church Bonuses that offer 2 or 3 VPs. So much to think about! cool

Suddenly the importance of Turn Order becomes critical as a player in the lead (last card draw) may find they have limited access to further Income, Control Points in a key county or were denied access to any Nobles!

But the greatest benefit of the card drawing system is that it allows the game to be highly variable, which makes each play quite unique.

Some games do this with a modular board. In Wars of the Roses it is the types of cards that come out together and the timing of when assets enter play that make for a highly unique experience with each play.

I've played in games where Income generation was almost non-existent until the last turn. Other games have had very few Nobles for 3 of the 5 turns, which limited player mobility.

This is a really nice feature of the game and requires the players to sum up the nature of the 'England' they find themselves in and adapt quickly.

It should also be noted at this point that Locations and Personalities that have not been drawn and are not in play, theoretically do not exist and therefore can't be attacked or bribed.

The final element of variability is that only 44 of the 54 cards are seen in a 4-player game and therefore the players can never be sure of what will or will not make an appearance! I like little unknowns like that.

d10-3 Collect Income

Image Courtesy of K_I_T


This is as simple as adding up the total Income offered by all cards that a player controls and collecting it from the bank. As the game moves through the decades a player's Income tends to increase but of course there will be variances created by attacks, successful bribes and the nature of the new cards that are up for offer.

Each player also has access to French Aid in this phase. French Aid represents the player traveling to France to raise emergency funds to support his/her cause.

Mechanically speaking it serves as another catch-up mechanism as it allows a player to earn an additional 1 pound for every VP they are behind the leader...up to a maximum of 25 pounds! bag

When combined with regular Income for the round a player can rake in huge amounts of cash and this may seem like an odd thing for the game to do. But the reality is that a player can find themselves in dire circumstances at times and French Aid is crucial if they are to stay in the fight.

That said, it can only be used once by each player and it is very easy to use it unwisely and not make the gains required to have a fighting chance. In this respect Wars of the Roses almost feels like a Wallace design from the economic point of view. If you use it poorly you will be punished.

If you are still concerned by the inclusion of French Aid, I'll try to put your mind at ease by stating that I've seen numerous people win the game having never used their French Aid. It is not a game breaker by any means, but it does help keep all players in the game and create close finishes.

The inclusion of French Aid is also accurate in a historical sense in that it represents at least 3 successful comeback invasions of England by figures such as Edward 4th, Warwick the Kingmaker and Henry 7th. In all three cases the provision of French Aid played a part in their success. I like little side notes such as these.

d10-4 Planning

This is where the real action takes place. With a pocket full of coin the players must now put up their Castle Walls (screens) and decide how to spend it and how best to use their assets.

There are 3 key actions that a player can plan using their neat Planning Board.

Move - A player is free to move their Nobles and Ship Captains as they please. Nobles can move to any adjacent county and Ship Captains can move up to 2 sea zones from their current location.

These movements are tracked on a player's Planning Board by physically moving the round Noble or Ship Captain counter to the desired location. That's why each Noble and Ship Captain comes with a pair of round tokens. One is for the board and one is for a player's Planning Board.

The implications for moving a Noble are important. Remember that a Noble offers a presence within a county. But this is true at the start of the planning phase and at the end of the phase after they have potentially moved. Therefore a Noble can actually offer a presence in 2 counties within the same turn, which makes them even more valuable to own.

The Captain of Calais - The Captain of Calais was an important role for the crown as he lead the Calais Garrison and the attached naval forces. His importance is reflected in the game as he is worth 4 Control Points and 4 VPs to the player who earns the Title.

The players must make a blind bid for the title of Captain of Calais and the bid amount must be placed on either the Midlands or South East England (a Calais Icon is present in both counties). The highest bid wins the Captain of Calais and places him on the location in which the bid was made. All bids made are paid to the bank, which represents the cost of lobbying for the title. wow

If there is a tie for the highest bid then all is not lost. The Captain of Calais will be awarded according to Turn Order with player one (the player currently losing) winning the title. This naturally means that leading players may feel they have to make a strong bid in order to win the Captain of Calais, which can further deplete their resources and level the playing field.

The implications for winning the Captain of course are that those 4 Control Points may help swing a key county. The fact that he may also come as a surprise to another player makes the potential for an unexpected challenge even the more likely. Those 4 Victory Points each turn come in mighty handy too by the end of the game.

Hiring Troops - Troops can be levied at the cost of 3 pounds each. This is no small price and if a player wishes to raise troops they had better hope that their defences are sound and their attacks successful to make that expenditure worthwhile.

I liken this to nature. Take a big cat for instance. It takes considerable energy to hunt prey. Should they come up short too many times in succession, they will not have the energy required to survive. Replace the word energy with resources and this sums up Wars of the Roses fairly well.

Troops that are purchased must be placed onto locations on the Planning Board. Placing them in a Location you own means they are defending (and it is possible to have defensive troops in addition to any Garrison Troops). Placing Troops on a rival's location indicates that they are part of an attack.

It is important to keep in mind that an attack without a 'presence' offered by a Noble, Bishop, Castle, Town or Port is invalid and if revealed as such any Troops are simply returned to the stockpile and their cost refunded.

All Troops that are raised only feature for the current turn. Mercenaries that are not used can be kept for future turns but if they feature in an attack or in defence, they too will be lost at the end of the turn and returned to the stockpiles.

Instigating Bribes - This is a very cool and tricky part of the game all at the same time. It also helps to set the game apart from most others on the market.

In Wars of the Roses only Locations (Castles, Ports and Towns) can be attacked. So to ensure that the other asset types are just as vulnerable, the Personalities (Bishops, Nobles and Ship Captains) are open to bribery.

A player can make a defensive bribe "Please take this money as a sign of my faith in you." This is reflected by paying the cost and placing a white bribe cube on the personality in question. The purpose for making a defensive Bribe is to nullify any one aggressive Bribe made against that Personality (a nullifying effect).

A player can also make an aggressive bribe, "Join me and we can control the Crown!" devil This is reflected by paying the cost and placing a black bribe cube on the Personality in question.

It is critical to note that a single player cannot place more than 1 white or black cube on a single Personality.

So what is the cost? Well that's the kicker and in my experience it is also the part of the game that takes players the most time to come to grips with.

To bribe a Personality you already own (defensive) is much cheaper than making an aggressive bribe.

Defensive Bribes of a Noble will cost 1 x their Command Point Value. Whilst a defensive Bribe of a Bishop or Ship Captain costs 1 x the Income they are worth.

Aggressive Bribes (bribing other people's Personalities) costs 2 x their Command Point or Income Value.

Therefore trying to bribe an enemy Ship Captain will cost 10 Pounds! That is a staggering amount. The more powerful Nobles will cost up to 18 and 20 Pounds!ninja

Defensive bribes are much cheaper but there is nothing worse than making a series of defensive Bribes and then discovering that no one bothered to attempt a bribe. That money could have been very useful elsewhere! shake

Summary of Planning

Image Courtesy of KingHeinrich


And with that last point, the very nature of the Planning Phase reveals itself. It does very much rely on the player's ability to sum up their key objectives and plan to meet them. It also requires the players to second guess what they think their opponents may do and then try to formulate a plan to counteract and indeed take advantage of those intuitions.

The beauty of this element is that almost anything can happen. Counties that were awash with troops and Nobles last turn may be left all but abandoned in the next decade. Ship Captains can sneak along the coast and in conjunction with the Captain of Calais (if he was won) turn the tides in the Midlands or South East England. A key Bishop or Noble that you were counting on to control a key county may well be bribed away.

I really like this aspect of the game and I think it is one of the appealing points that helps make the game addictive and sees players keen to play again.

To tidy things up here, each player is meant to flip their Royal House Tile to the Roses side to show when they have finished planning. When all players have done so, each player lifts their Castle Screens to reveal what they have done and the next phase can begin.

Planning can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes depending on how AP prone the table is. I must confess that with all those options and the need to consider what others may do, the Planning Phase can be a gut wrenching, anxiety inducing experience. That is fairly addictive too.

d10-5 Deployment

First the players must determine whom, if anyone, has won the title of the Captain of Calais. If he is won he is placed on the board in the county that corresponds to where the bid was made and a control cylinder is placed to show which player has ownership. All monies bid on the Captain of Calais are paid to the bank.

Now each player makes their moves of Nobles and Ship Captains on the board and places all offensive and defensive troops as shown on their Planning Board. White bribe cubes (defensive bribes) are also placed on selected Personality Icons on the board.

This is done in reverse turn order.

d10-6 Bribery

Now it is time for any and all Bribes to be resolved.

In reverse turn order each player announces any bribes that they have made to try and entice a Personality to their side. This is signified by the presence of a black Bribe cube on a player's Planning Board.

If the target of a Bribe does not have a white Bribe cube to defend it, the bribe has succeeded and the Personality is handed over immediately to the new owner (cards or tokens change hands and ownership cylinders changed over).

However if a Personality was protected by a white Bribe cube, they have survived the Bribery attempt. The white and black cubes cancel each other out and are both returned to their owner's cube supply.

Each Bribe is completed in this way for one player, before moving onto the next player in turn.

Again the importance of Turn Order is now revealed because it is possible for a single Personality to be bribed by more than 1 player.

Therefore the last and second to last players always stand the best chance of seeing an aggressive Bribe succeed. This is because another player may have already attempted a Bribe and removed any defensive Bribe. Any additional Bribe is therefore guaranteed to succeed.

The implications of the Bribery Mechanics are that the players forced to act 1st and 2nd are less likely to attempt aggressive bribes simply due to the low odds of a success (and the costs of making a Bribe). Whilst last place and possibly second to last may fancy their chances given the advantage they hold.

Of course this exact thinking may well see a player do the opposite in an attempt to surprise the opposition. In the end it all serves to reinforce the heart and soul of Wars of the Roses - the need to second guess your enemies and make the best plans possible based on your hunches. ninja

d10-7 Combat

At last we get to the Combat Phase. It is here that all of the military engagements get resolved and the outcomes of all those plans are decided.

Again this phase is worked through in reverse turn order. Therefore the first player must resolve all engagements before the 2nd player can do the same and last gets the final say.

Again this has major implications because if several players attack the same Location, the players to act first are likely just eliminating the defensive forces and will generally see subsequent attacks wipe out their remaining forces! devil

It is important to note that before a battle begins, the defensive player should exchange their ownership cube for the required number of Garrison Troops, which are then added to any additional Troops that were levied during Planning.

Combat is quite easy to resolve as the size of the 2 forces (defensive and offensive) are simply compared. Like Bribes, units cancel each other out, so the attacking player must have at least 1 more unit than the defender.

If the attacker wins, the Location Card must be handed over and ownership cubes swapped over. Should there be a tie, the Location Card is returned to the top of the draw deck and it will be the first card drawn in the next round in addition to the normal number of cards. Of course this cannot happen if it is the last turn of the game.

Should a Location get attacked for a 2nd or 3rd time in a single turn, things get interesting. The defender only gets the advantage of Garrison Troops once (when that ownership cube is exchanged for Troop Counters). So if ownership of a location changes hands after the first battle, the new owner can not draw on Garrison Troops again (they have no ownership cube until the end of the turn) to assist in the defence.

After all battles have been concluded it is important to ensure that all ownership cubes have been updated and all cards handed to the correct owners. This may also see a change in who controls various Bonus VP Title Tokens.

d10-8 Parliament Phase

With the setting of the sun it is time to surmise the outcomes of all those treacherous deals and hard fought battles.

Each county is first scored to see who holds the most and second most Control Points, which earn the VPs indicated and alters the VP Track.

Before moving onto the next county, it is also important to identify which House has politicked their way to power. The House with the highest combined number of Control Points can turn the Vote Token to show their Rose. After all counties have been scored, the House with the highest number of votes (which will rarely see a tie as there are 39 Votes in all) successfully installs their choice as King.

The King in kind rewards the successful House for their support and loyalty by giving both players of that House a bonus 5 VPs. This small victory is recorded on the Turn Track by placing a Rose of that House's colour on the decade just completed.

The final step is to award any bonus VPs for holding Special Titles or securing any Trade or Church Bonuses. I think the Special Titles do a good job of supporting the theme so they are –

Lord High Admiral of England

Archbishop of Canterbury

Constable of the Tower of London

Warden of the Cinque Ports

Captain of Calais

At the end of the game should 2 players tie for the most VPs, the player from the House that won the majority of decades (King Installer) will win the day. If the tied players are from the same House, the win is decided by the Tie Breaker Rules (usually highest Noble).

The new turn begins with the drawing of a new set of cards and off we go again.

And so we come to the end of how the game plays. So what do I really think?

What's to Like? (The Strengths)

Image Courtesy of KingHeinrich


d10-1 It's Pleasure and Pain Rolled into One - If I'm going to engage in a game of this depth it has to be fun. Now fun does not always mean I'm winning. For me fun is in the smiles and the groans that a game can extract from its players.

Wars of the Roses does this at every turn. There is nothing more satisfying than sneaking a Bribe past a foe to gain the support of the Bishop of York. Or seeing a tricky plan pay off with the acquisition of Windsor Castle and combining those Control Points with a Noble you slipped across the border to secure South East England. Those moments will have you grinning from ear to ear.

But conversely, hearing the groans (possibly even your own) as a player discovers they have wasted vast resources on defensive troops for an attack that never came or they paid for the loyalty of the wrong Noble are hilarious...well perhaps if they are not you.

These moments are what help define the reason why we play games. Good games make these moments stand out whilst relegating the mechanics and rule set to the background as simply the means for making them occur. It's similar I suppose to the role of a referee. Referees are required for a sport to take place. Good umpires are not noticed as the game unfolds as it is the spectacle that takes center stage.

Wars of the Roses does this for me.

d10-2 A Wealth of Decisions - Wars of the Roses is a game chock full of challenging decisions. Do you attack or defend? How best to topple your foes - through physical aggression or more subtle Bribery? Must I secure my own Income streams or aggressively target those of my enemies? How best can I maneuver my Nobles and Ship Captains to win control of key regions? The questions are endless.

A major factor in answering many of those questions is the importance of Turn Order and the meta-game of where you want to be on the VP Track as the game unfolds. Knowing the relative strengths of your opponents is a critical element of the game.

For me, the depth of decision making and having a variety of avenues to pursue in order to win are key elements in a good game. Wars of the Roses has both of these elements in spades, making it a highly engaging experience.

d10-3 Great Game Flow - Whilst the game may initially read like an intricate beast, it is in fact a rather simple affair. Each phase flows nicely into the next. Resolving various turn order issues and the like makes sense and often many of the finer points are not invoked unless a specific set of things happen to require them.

Combat is usually very simple to resolve. The outcomes of Bribes are easy to see in a purely visual sense. And thanks to the well designed components and Planning Boards, the Planning Process is fairly straight forward.

The end result is that Wars of the Roses is a game that you play, rather than a game that 'plays you'. You won't feel bogged down in intricate mechanics, turn after turn.

Sure it takes 2-3 games to get to grips with the rules and how best to play the game but once you are there the game feels effortless and that allows the game to be all that more enjoyable.

d10-4 Time Savvy - As I get older I am more aware of the time needed to play a game and I generally demand a certain amount of satisfaction for my investment of time. Some games are great, but they take hours upon hours to play.

Even when learning, Wars of the Roses shouldn't take more than 2 hours. After 5 plays with my play group we now take around 90-100 minutes to play the game. Today we played a 3-Player game in less time than it took another group to play a game of Tichu (around 80 minutes).

For the amount of decision making, events that take place and the fun we have with it, Wars of the Roses is offering a great fun to time ratio. That means my group asks for it to hit the table. That makes it a game worthy of having in my collection. That makes me !

d10-5 This Game Goes to 11! - Some games are good and I love them for it. Then there are some games that offer that something extra that puts them over the top. Wars of the Roses does this with the whole Lancaster v York thing which creates teams of 2.

The team aspect adds another layer of consideration and decision making. Just when do I need to take a little bite out of my Allies ankle? I'm not allowed to discuss plans with my partner but we need to try and take control of the Midlands together as those votes will be critical!

For me the 4-Player teams mode of playing Wars of the Roses is the icing on the cake.

d10-6 A Joy to Behold - This game could have been made much cheaper and with far less impressive components. To have a game that offers a great experience and also looks great is a real treat.

I think it is also worth mentioning that in my opinion, the team that worked on the game also made the right choices because to offer smaller Planning Boards and Planning Screens or to reduce the size or amount of icons would have resulted in a more awkward experience and that would add length to the game.

This game looks as good as any that I own and I think it would easily surpass the competition in its thematic field.

Anything to Dislike?

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No game is perfect and even the good ones are not for everybody. Wars of the Roses is no exception.

d10-1 Number of Players - Whilst the game plays 2-4, I definitely think it is at its best with 4, due to the added level of team play that I have already mentioned. It is merely good with 3 (see my comments below for more detail).

Whilst I haven't played it with 2 I think I have the gaming chops to state anyway that I just don't think there would be enough appeal there. It may still be ok and almost touch on good, but for me there would be better 2-Player games out there and I'd rather save this for when it is at its best.

So if you have trouble getting a group of 4 together and only get a group of 3 together sometimes, I'd probably be thinking carefully before buying this.

d10-2 Control Freaks Beware - If you like games where you have a medium to high degree of control over your destiny, then Wars of the Roses will not be for you. There is a lot of 'second guessing' that needs to take place each turn in the Planning Stage. You will waste resources at times and you and your Ally may well attack the same Location or Bribe the same Personality - with only 1 of you getting the spoils! You cannot confer with your ally to avoid these issues.

With so many assets to protect and potentially attack you will never have even close to the resources required to cover all bases. If you or your play group like 70%+ control in your games you had better look elsewhere.

d10-3 Experience is Key - This I think may be the greatest potential weakness of the game. Wars of the Roses has critical elements such as the importance of Income and the implications of Turn Order that really need to be understood by all players. Should one or more of the players not recognise these points, they will likely have trouble recognising the strength of the opposition. This in turn can result in a lack of action at critical points to keep strong players in check and this can sour the experience for some people as they may feel helpless to change the course of the game on their own.

Thankfully the solution is fairly simple. Skill your playing group up and make sure they know those critical considerations. Playing 3-4 times in a short space of time also helps with this and helps to cement the rules and Game Phase flow.

I think anyone who buys this game would be crazy not to do those things given their investment.

d10-4 Analysis Paralysis - Wars of the Roses may also not be a game for players and groups that are heavy on AP. The Planning Stage can sometimes feel akin to opening Pandora's Box. There can be so many options as the game nears the end that I've had a few players comment that they were 'mentally spent' after it was all over.

The last thing the game needs is a few players agonising over their plans and taking 25 minutes. This would see the game's length balloon to 2.5-3 hours.

But there is hope as I am generally known as an AP guy and I have learned to weigh up the pros and cons and concede that I won't get everything right. I take around 10 minutes per Planning Phase.

d10-5 Cost - The final reason why Wars of the Roses may not be for you is the cost. All those gorgeous components means that this bad boy weighs a tonne and that adds to the production and shipping costs.

This is always a personal factor and one that we all have our own benchmarks for. For me it is simple...If it hits the table regularly and offers up memorable experiences then it is a good investment, regardless of cost.

The 3-Player Experience

Before writing the second half of this review I got in my 6th play and my 1st with only 3 players.

The key difference is that no teams exist and the votes system is stripped out of the game. Essentially what is left is an area control game and I expected it to pale poorly by comparison to the 4-Player experience.

But I was surprised with how good it actually was. Sure enough it didn't have that something extra that the House and Voting inclusion has with 4-Players, but it was still an engaging experience.

Now 9 Cards are drawn to start every turn. Turn Order is as important as ever and it can blow somewhat to be 2nd as you never feel all that comfortable attacking or bribing as last place can take advantage of you if they go after the same thing.

But...there is just so many assets for 3 players to cover so it is entirely possible to not hit the same Locations or Personalities. In fact our heads were swimming at the sheer number of options. How is it any different to the 4-Player game you ask?

Well for the early to mid game (with 4-Players) you will tend to largely ignore your Ally's assets as it is counterproductive to target them because they may help you win votes and gain those bonus 5 VPs offered by the King. That means you don't need to consider say 6-10 assets. Ok, you may take a nibble out of your ally here or there to secure a Trade or Church VP Bonus, but that's about it.

Added to this is the fact that in 4-Player you will likely discount going after assets in a whole county or two because your Ally is already there or in a position to attack there. The last thing you want to do is waste resources hitting the same thing as your ally!

With 3-Players the only assets you can discount are your own - so the numbers of assets you have to consider are greater. It takes focus to weigh up the variables.

Breaking News - 2-Player Play

I learnt of some breaking news just prior to posting this review in relation to 2-Player Games.

Within the next 4-6 weeks an official variant for 2-Player games will be posted on the Z-Man Website. Whilst I don't have all the detail to hand, it will essentially state that 2-Player games can/should be played using the full Voting System Rules.

I'd be happy to hear any feedback on how the game plays in this way by posting a comment below this review.

Beware! and Other Rules Slip Ups

Image Courtesy of KingHeinrich


I don't usually add sections such as these to my Reviews but I felt it would help to address the points raised in point 3 above (Experience is Key). May you well learn from my 2 months of exploration.

d10-1 Income is King - Without it you will wither and die. If someone maintains a 10-15 Pound advantage for more than a turn or 2, you are all finished. Target their treasury or suffer the consequences!

d10-2 Turn Order is Queen - You really need to think ahead in relation to the consequences of your place on the Score Track.

Sometimes it is not worth winning the Captain of Calais if those 4 VPs will put you into 1st place by 2 points. This is even more critical if you have a narrow Income Stream or are desperate for a Noble or two because you have no idea how many will be available in the next set of cards. If you have last choice, you may well find none of those cards available.

d10-3 The Captain of Calais and Ship Captains - They do not offer you presence in a county to allow an attack. Everything else does.

d10-4 Nobles and Presence - A single Noble can offer you a presence in 2 different counties in the same turn. They offer presence in the county they occupied at the start of the Planning Phase and also at the end of the Planning Phase (after they move). Even if you lose a Noble to a Bribe, your presence is still honoured and attacks are possible.

d10-5 Attacks - Attacks are not allowed to be planned on the chance of Bribing a Noble as that Noble was not in your possession at the start of the Planning Phase and therefore did not offer you a presence.

d10-6 Bonus VP Tokens - To acquire a Bonus Token for having the most Castles, Bishops etc you must have more than anyone else and have at least 2 of them. If a player matches you in the number of something they will not take it off you until they surpass your total (Settlers Longest Road).

We were forgetting the 'must have 2' part and in several games players did not return them to the supply when they were pegged back to 1.

The Final Word

If you've read every word, I salute you. Despite everything I've said so far you may be surprised to know that this style (depth, feel and theme) is not the kind of thing I usually go for. In fact it is not even close to my sweet spot, which is reserved for heavily themed Ameritrash and Light/Medium Euros.

So for that reason I do not love War of the Roses with every fibre of my being. But I do enjoy it a lot and for me to have played it 6 times in 2 months underlines that fact.

Wars of the Roses is a very good game, from concept, design and production through to how it plays and what you remember. I lost that 3-player game today on a tie-break (118 points each after clawing back a 19 point deficit in the last turn). I must have spent 20 minutes pondering what I could have done to eek out 1 more point. I'm a sadist like that. shake

The fact that I don't have another game like Wars of the Roses in my collection makes it shine just that little bit more so it won't be going anywhere soon. I look forward to many more plays to see how my group's playing style changes and evolves.

Hopefully this review has given you the insight to identify if it is for you or not and you've enjoyed the journey. Now it's time to give my keyboard a rest. whistle

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EDIT - Updated to give it a better visual appeal.
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John Clark
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Nice review! I quite enjoyed Wars Of The Roses but find I can take or leave it. There is a ton of second-guessing which makes it all seem a bit random, which is not a bad thing - will depend on your personal appetite for control. The ally thing is very neat, and probably the best thing about the game - I would like to see a shorter and simpler game do the same thing. There is also a lot of adding up numbers in the various regions: "Fred has 16 influence here and Bill has 14 influence and I have 10. I could add 5 influence and get second place or perhaps add the 5 in another region to get first, depending on why John does" ... that kind of thing, which I confess irritates me a lot, but it goes with the territory of area majority games.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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Like you Neil, I think that the game is brilliant. It is hard to believe that it is only Peter Hawes's third published design in nearly 20 years. The polish of the game is fabulous.

To be critical of your review, however, I don't think you have given sufficient plaudits regarding the incredibly clever and user-friendly graphics that have been used in the publication of the game.

For example, there are four special tiles that players receive for having majorities of ships, bishops, royal castles and ports. Given that players will have a plethora of cards in front of them as they play the game, I think that the fact that each different type of card has a different type of symbol at the top of the card (e.g. crenellations on royal castles) makes it really easy to tell quickly if you are entitled to any of the bonuses. This is just one example.

I think that the game design is actually elegant (simple without being simplistic) and the components are a thing of great beauty.

If it wasn't for the fact that I have known Peter for many years I would have been willing to bet good money that Peter Hawes was really a psuedonym for Alan Moon or Reiner Knizia.

Also, with four players we find it only a little over an hour to play the game.



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David G. Cox Esq.
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johnclark wrote:
Nice review! I quite enjoyed Wars Of The Roses but find I can take or leave it. There is a ton of second-guessing which makes it all seem a bit random, which is not a bad thing - will depend on your personal appetite for control. The ally thing is very neat, and probably the best thing about the game - I would like to see a shorter and simpler game do the same thing. There is also a lot of adding up numbers in the various regions: "Fred has 16 influence here and Bill has 14 influence and I have 10. I could add 5 influence and get second place or perhaps add the 5 in another region to get first, depending on why John does" ... that kind of thing, which I confess irritates me a lot, but it goes with the territory of area majority games.


Hello John,

Before playing the game I had wondered if this was going to be the case but was pleasantly suprised to find that double guessing is not, in my mind, a big part of the strategy of the game.

What I see is that working out what goals will give you the biggest gain and following those goals is the way to go.

In my first game I was leading at the start of the first turn. Due to a normally conservative approach to game-play my opponents expected me to try to hold what I had. They were suprised that I decided that to hold what I had would be to difficult and cause me to spread myself thin. I actually was very aggressive on my last turn and concentrated on targets that I felt would be most beneficial to me. I was able to turn a 10 point lead into a 31 point lead by the end of the game - then again, it was probably just dumb luck.

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Ben Boersma
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Great, indepth review as always Neil.
The graphics and the component quality that has gone into this actually astonishes me. Fantastic stuff.

As I've said before, Z-Man has compiled themselves a very nice catalog of games. This appears to be a very worthy addition.

Great to see games by Aussie designers get out there - and this one looks to be the goods. Not something I would normally play, but the review has made it something I'd be interested in looking at more seriously.

Cheers,
Ben.
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Merric Blackman
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da pyrate wrote:
If it wasn't for the fact that I have known Peter for many years I would have been willing to bet good money that Peter Hawes was really a psuedonym for Alan Moon or Reiner Knizia.


I would have said Martin Wallace; it feels more "Wallacy" to me.

Cheers,
Merric
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Babak Hadi
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Wow that's an excellent review - almost as good as the game itself!
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Brian Gee
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Very helpful review, thanks. From what I had read and seen so far, I knew the components were great, but this review helped illuminate some of the fun aspects of the gameplay. Cheers!
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McDog
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Hope you lads don't mind me horning in on the all Aussie party.

Great review. So far I like the game after one play, hope to get in a few more.

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James Fehr
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Now this is a review!!! Thanks for taking the time to write this up Neil! I remember this game being played as a prototype at BGG.CON 2008 and I was really hoping it was as good as it sounded. The designer is a great guy, and I wish him all the best with this game.
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Randolph Bookman
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Neil,
Can you tell me about the actual play time. Looks like a very cool game but is it really a 2hour game, or is it more like 2hrs per person?
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shieldwolf wrote:
Neil,
Can you tell me about the actual play time. Looks like a very cool game but is it really a 2hour game, or is it more like 2hrs per person?


Unless you have an AP problem within the play group 2 hours is the longest it should take. We achieved that in our first learning game in the middle of a loud and crowded convention.

Once the basic rule set is understood the game should take somewhere around 1 hr 30 to 1hr 40min.
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Sean parmenter
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In my experience, the 4 player game really does only take 2 hours for beginners and down to 90 mins once you know the game. Although a type of wargame with all the strategic planning required of a wargame, the great time saver here is the simultaneous planning phase. All the downtime for everyone is simultaneous, whereas in most games you have to wait for 3 other people to do their turn. This is a great aspect of the game and a huge time saver for this genre of game.
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Richard Dewsbery
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Having played the game five times now (4 in the same weekend) and watched a sixth, I concur. The *longest* game that I played was 2 hours 20 mins; the shortest was 90 minutes. Most of the games were played with people who hadn't played before, but the 90-minute game was with players who had played in one of the earlier games that weekend.

I can't see it getting much quicker without losing some of the nuances, but neither can I see it taking vastly longer than 2.5 hours unless you have a group that is seriously prone to dithering. One ditherer can hold things up a little bit (if he takes inordinately longer than everyone else to plan), but as the planning is done simultaneously it is less of a problem than with most other games.

Three factors help the game to proceed at a brisk pace. Firstly there are the straightforward rules (with very few "exception" rules where something happens different to the norm). Secondly you have the way that the cards dictate how "busy" or complex the board situation gets, with more cards being introduced turn-by-turn (the first turn, where you only have a small number of assets to track, is going to whizz by). And thirdly there's only really the card-drafting and the planning phases that take any time; the other 6 phases of the turn are pretty much a case of working your way down a pretty short checklist and dealing with various resolutions and victory-point scoring in a straightforward way (and often a phase will be short, or skipped altogether - "Any takeover attempts? Just the one, successfully defended - right, on to combat then.").

I would venture to suggest that - although the game is by no means a heavyweight, it's not a light game either - it plays a lot faster than other games of similar complexity and scope.
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John Clark
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shieldwolf wrote:
Neil,
Can you tell me about the actual play time. Looks like a very cool game but is it really a 2hour game, or is it more like 2hrs per person?


Yes, 1.5 hours for the whole game seems very possible. My first play, with 2 new players, took 2.5 hours including explanation time!

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Dean Thomas
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Magnificent review Neil.

I recieved this game a week ago, and I'm hoping it will get played this weekend. From what I've seen and read this game is going to quickly enter my top ten and stay there.
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I'm a total history geek when it comes to the Wars of the Roses, so this has been on my radar for a while, but I never really through about getting it, as I didn't think my primary gaming group would be particularly inclined towards those types of games. Unfortunately your review is rapidly crumbling my resolve. It sounds FANTASTIC.

I too would love to hear more about the two-player variant, as I might be able to get one person to play this with me occasionally, but a full complement of four will be difficult to rustle up.
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Richard Dewsbery
United Kingdom
Sutton Coldfield
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EmeraldYam wrote:
I'm a total history geek when it comes to the Wars of the Roses, so this has been on my radar for a while, but I never really through about getting it, as I didn't think my primary gaming group would be particularly inclined towards those types of games.


In terms of people's inclination towards "this type of game", it straddles two horses really well. I've had a history buff and serious wargamer go ga-ga over it; and fans of Eurogames really like it too.
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Geoffrey Noble
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Belfast
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An outstanding description thank you.

However if I may correct 2 geographical points.

England is not an island - Britain is
The areas on the map are not counties - they are amalgamations of many counties
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Testy Testerson
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Edmonton
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Awesome review. I was taking a look at this game the other day in my LGS and I really wanted to hear more about it first. Seeing as it is kind of a long game, a demo would be a little unrealistic.

Ergo, your post is awesome. Someone willing to go this in depth into a game is wicked, and as a detail-obsessed nut. Thanks, and my wallet hates you for making me buy this game.
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BorderCon
Australia
Lavington
New South Wales
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BorderCon was a blast this year!!!
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geoff999rugby wrote:
An outstanding description thank you.

However if I may correct 2 geographical points.

England is not an island - Britain is
The areas on the map are not counties - they are amalgamations of many counties


Corrected on both counts.

I'm very happy that this review has been so well received (and helpful) as it represents my most intensive undertaking so far. I've been pretty much playing this game, uncovering its many layers and jotting down ideas since late January.

That said I don't want this level of depth to be the goal for all my reviews...I think that would kill me. I'm looking forward to reviewing some lighter titles in the coming weeks and a dexterity game from Finland as well.
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Richard Morgan
United States
Simi Valley
CA
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Great review! I played this for the first time today, a three-player game (was going to be four but the wife had to study for a test) and it was fantastic! Four players sounds even better so I can't wait to get our full contingent together. And being Welsh I was proud to control Wales the whole game through (and of course the Welshman won!)
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Rex Gator
United States
Apopka
Florida
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This is a great review and I was very close to buying this title. however, in reviewing the comments I found the following by someone who ranked the game as a 4.

Quote:
What a heartbreaker. War of the Roses is another in the long line of historically themed crossover games that completely doesn’t work. Mechanically this is area majority with a ridiculous dose of chaos. Everything can seemingly be stolen so the limiting factor is just money and the direction everyone chooses to secretly point their money in. Nothing is safe and not everything can be protected – and nothing irritates me more in this sort of game than unexpectedly losing stuff. The bigger problem seems to be a complete and total lack of catch up mechanic. The French Alliance seems powerful on paper but the simple fact is that once you’re locked out of a competetive income stream you have no hopes of ever being competitive again. Admittedly it seems like the fragile early game state could become less fragile with player experience. I’m certainly not going to bother finding out, though, War of the Roses is utterly painful the whole way through. Two positives, though: one, the game is pretty short (though obviously the wrong players could completely change that) and two the production quality is insane. Seriously, War of the Roses goes beyond “great” production values all of the way to the land of “ridiculous”. Unfortunately nice bits doesn’t save an irritating game.


I would be interested in hearing constructive responses to these criticisms. I understand that some of this is a matter of what he likes in a game but there also seems there are some legitimate questions about how well the game mechanics really work together. So for those who rate the game highly what say you in response?

PS- Please do not flame the person who wrote this. He did not post the comments in this thread.
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McDog
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Saint Paul
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Well Rex, he oviously hates the chaos and guessing factors. To each his own. I very much enjoyed my first play. He's right in that you can;t ever be sure your noble won't be bribed away or you may be attacked and unable to win the battle, or perhaps wrongly guess where the attack might occur.

As for no catch mechanism, I disagree. French aid can get you back in the game if you attack/bribe the right stuff.
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Richard Dewsbery
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Quote:
What a heartbreaker. War of the Roses is another in the long line of historically themed crossover games that completely doesn’t work.

Doesn't work? I disagree strongly. Not only does it work, and work demonstrably well, it is quite historical.

Quote:
Mechanically this is area majority with a ridiculous dose of chaos.

The Wars of the Roses was marked by a number of historically significant defections and betrayals. Any game that purports to portray the period simply has to model this aspect. How many defections will occur depends largely on the players and the funds available; it is rare not to have a single defection in a whole turn; equally it is rare to have more than 4 or 5.

As these defections, and military attacks, are planned for behind screens, there is no way for a player to know which attempts will work and which will be resisted; or which of his own assets might come under attack or be bribed away. Hence the criticism that the game is chaotic. But patterns will emerge. Some assets are worth more than others; some are clearly plum targets, and others are likely to be overlooked. The challenge of the game is to anticipate which are the best targets for a takeover that will not be adequately defended, and which assets of your own you need to protect.

Quote:
Everything can seemingly be stolen so the limiting factor is just money and the direction everyone chooses to secretly point their money in. Nothing is safe and not everything can be protected – and nothing irritates me more in this sort of game than unexpectedly losing stuff.

Expect to "lose stuff". Expect to gain stuff. Aim to gain more than you lose, to gain where it advances your plans best and lose where it affects them the least. That limiting factor of money is a BIG limiting factor. You won't have sufficient funds to protect everything that you own, nor will you have sufficient funds to seize everything that you want. Deal with it.

Quote:
The bigger problem seems to be a complete and total lack of catch up mechanic. The French Alliance seems powerful on paper but the simple fact is that once you’re locked out of a competetive income stream you have no hopes of ever being competitive again. Admittedly it seems like the fragile early game state could become less fragile with player experience.


What? What??

I had that problem only in my first game, whereupon it turned out that I had got one of the most important rules that imposes balance completely wrong. French Aid, the small cash infusion for being a way behind, is only part of it. As for how far behind you can be and still be in with a chance of winning, French Aid is "capped" at a maximum of £25. I've seen people take it when further behind than that and still come back to either win or at least be competitive. I've also seen a player win when they took French Aid on the final turn and made exactly £1 from it.

In every game since, there has been plenty of opportunity for a player in a seemingly uncompetitive position to win. I will cite three of the games I have played. In one, one player moaned right from the start that the actions of the first turn, his initial choices and some ownership changes, had wrecked his game. He won. The second instance I would cite is a game where one player was so far in the lead at the end of turn 4 that the other players were debating if *any* of them could catch him on the final turn. In the event, they *all* surpassed him. in the third, one player was broke at the end of turn one and *seriously* broke by turn two. he had nothing - no income, precious few assets. 45 minutes later he owned almost half of the assets on the board and stormed to the win.

If anything, the challenge is for a front-running player to *remain* in front at the end of the final turn. It can be done, but it's hard, hard work.

Quote:
I’m certainly not going to bother finding out, though, War of the Roses is utterly painful the whole way through.

Wars of the Roses is one of the least-painful games I know. yes, there is a degree of angst in terms of what you will take and what you will hold. But knowing that nothing is safe, everything can be taken at a price means that you cannot get hung up on it. And the rules are so simple and straightforward, what could be a three-hour long slog is a 90-minute sprint.

I love the game, and am a confirmed hater of both "run of the mill" area majority games (seen one, seen 'em all) and blind bidding/blind placement games. The level of "chaos" alone ought to send me running for the hills. But amongst anything other than first-time players, the chaos actually diminishes, and it becomes a more poker-like game, trying to read the others' intentions, making moves that bring the greatest gains for the least risk.
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