Graham Dean
United Kingdom
Bedford
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Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York

Review

I have only played Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York once, which isn’t enough to write a detailed and lengthy review. However it is still quite new, so I thought (as a departure from my usual review format) that I would write a shorter review going through some of the attributes of the game which might help people decide whether it is something they might like to buy.

This review won’t go into great detail about the rules or game mechanics. There is already an excellent review by Neil Thomson which covers this, which you can read here, and which I don’t think I can improve on. Instead I will focus on how I feel about the game.

I should also say that my only play so far was a four player game, which I won. Winning inevitably colours my perception of a game, and readers of this review should take that into account.



Chaotic gameplay, but not random

The Wars of the Roses was a chaotic period in British (mostly English) History, with shifting alliances and changes of allegiance. Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York does a fantastic job of creating this feel through the mechanics. This is certainly not a game where the theme has been applied to the mechanics as an afterthought.

Inevitably this leads to chaotic gameplay which may not be to everyone’s taste. Players who like to develop long term tactical plans and plot their turns several moves ahead may struggle. Conversely, players who like to be more flexible, and constantly re-appraise their position looking for new things to try will thrive.

I do want to stress that while this is (intentionally) chaotic, it is not a random game, by which I mean that the winner will usually be the more skilful and flexible player, rather than the luckiest.



The best advice I can give is to protect your income early, keep moving (don’t stay still), and protect only those things which are critical to you plans. In my only play to date one player lost control of her income generating properties in the first two rounds (possibly due to leaving them unprotected and protecting other items – but I can’t remember the details), and was effectively out of the game after round 2. I think she felt that this was bad luck – she lost out due to guessing wrongly which of her possessions we would go for, but I think it was actually down to protecting the wrong things.

Number of players

I have only played with four as remarked above, so I can’t make too much comment on this aspect. However I think the game is best suited for four players but would still play very well with 3. Only one aspect of gameplay would be lost (the semi-co-operative part, of which more below), and the vast majority of the gameplay, feel and decision making would be retained.

I don’t know if I will ever play this with 3, but I would certainly be prepared to do so, and would expect to have an enjoyable time if I do.



Not co-operative

There is a rather nice feature where (in the four player game) two players are Yorkist and two Lancastrian. The majority of the points are decided on individual area majority, but one of them (which faction is supported by each region) is based on the combined presence of players from each side.

This has led to some descriptions of Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York as being a semi-cooperative game. This isn’t the case, at least in my limited experience. There are 25 points available for regional faction scoring, and this can’t be neglected – if they all go to one faction I think it would be fair to say that the winner of the game would come from that faction. However there is no part of your effort which is going on boosting your fellow factional member. At times you may even need to attack them.

Don’t buy this expecting a co-operative game.

Depth of gameplay

I think this is a deep and strategic game. The chaotic feel shouldn’t mislead people into thinking it is purely tactical. From only one play I saw three different strategies employed, two of which worked well, and I think the third one could have worked with more mobility.

For the record, the strategies were:

1 Go for income in the first two rounds at the expense of points. Use the French Aid at the end of turn two, and then try to convert the cash into points in the final three rounds.

2 Whilst ensuring a reasonable income, go for a small presence in different regions in the early rounds. This can accrue a lot of points for scoring firsts and seconds in the regional scoring which can generate a lead which is hard to pull back.

3 Go for the bonus points available for having ports and cathedrals. This didn’t work so well in my only game, but the player involved kept their fleet in one region for every turn, so it was easy to counter. I suspect that moving them around the board unexpectedly could produce better results.



These are strategic approaches which could be decided on very early, and which would then shape your whole game. The winner would be the player who makes the best tactical deployments to achieve the strategy, but a strategy is still needed.

Chaos is not the same as lightness. This has good depth of gameplay with a lot of decisions to make. Many of the decisions will need to be made on imperfect information, and this may not suit everyone.

Multiple paths to victory

As outlined above, in one game I saw three strategies employed, any one of which could have won. There are probably more – prioritising mercenaries to boost military strength comes to mind – and they seem to be well balanced.

There are certainly a lot of different approaches to try, and the card drawing mechanism may lead you into preferring some over others – I don’t think it would be possible (or advisable) to stick rigidly to always using the same strategy, regardless of the cards you can get.

Replayability

I think Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York has a high level of replayability. There are so many elements to balance and the outcomes of each turn are going to depend on multiple interactions, so I think each play is going play out differently. Also, the things you can do are going to depend on the cards which are available for you to select (not all the cards are used for every game), and so this will shape the approach you can take in each game.



Summary

I like this game a lot and would be very happy to play it again. It is strategic and tactical, and is suitable for those who like deeper games. Having said that, the depth of game play is in the form of ‘thinking on ones feet’ rather than long term planning, and this is an important distinction.

The quality of board and components is excellent, and some effort such as making the player screen front look like a castle keep, and putting the dates and locations of real battles on the back of the board has been made to add value, and is a good feature.

The game is chaotic, but not random. If you are the type of player who mistrusts chaotic games as being luck driven, I would urge you not to dismiss Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York out of hand. For those who like to see long term strategies unfold through careful planning, this game is probably not for you.

Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York does what it sets out to very well, in particular the various game mechanics have been employed to give the right feel for this period of history very well. I have no hesitation in saying that it is a “good” game. However, not every good game is the right game for everybody, and I hope this review will allow you to decide whether Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York is right for you.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

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Yannick Carriere
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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Thanks for the superior review. One of the best I've read on the Geek. Makes me want this game more.
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Ron
Austria
Vienna
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All you need is love :)
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Devoted Follower of the Most Holy Church of the Evil Bob. Possessed and down the road to become chaotic, evil & naughty. All hail the Evil Bob and his Stargate.
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thumbsup Great review! Thanks. This game is now on my 'wanna have!!!' list!
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Patrick M
United States
Grand Rapids
Michigan
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Good review.


Whenever I first played this game, we didn't really adhere to the combat rules as much as we should have and didn't place lift up our sheets simultaneously, so some of the intensity was lost. Also, we played it as a three player game, and I think it would be better as a two or especially four player game. Hopefully it will work out next time.
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