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

Subject: Review from Slingshot magazine rss

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John Graham-Leigh
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I wrote this review for "Slingshot" and it was published there earlier this year.


A favourite board game from the 1970s was Kingmaker – an innovative design based on the Wars of the Roses. I played it incessantly, added extra rules and cards, and organised two club campaigns based on it. The colourful map and cards gave an excellent flavour of the period. However, fun though it was Kingmaker did not really reflect the actual course of the wars.

The new release from Columbia Games (titled “The Wars of the Roses” throughout development but renamed “Richard III” on publication) is equally colourful and does a much better job of recreating the wars.


Game Components
The game is played on a colourful 22” x 25” map of England, very reminiscent of the Kingmaker board, divided into “areas”. Each area is given the name of a county, though some cover several actual counties. The borders between areas are either clear, river or mountain – this affects the number of troops who can cross each border. The map is embellished by heraldic shields denoting lords’ home castles, crowns showing royal estates, cities, and towns and historic battlefields – the last two are purely ornamental and play no part in the game. It also includes four “exile areas” – Calais and Ireland for the Yorkists, France and Scotland for the Lancastrians.

The playing pieces are 63 of Columbia Games’ customary wooden blocks, allowing for some “fog of war” as each block stands upright with the blank back towards the opponent. A block represents a force of soldiers – a lord’s household, city levies, a band of mercenaries, foreign allies etc - and has a strength of up to four points which is reduced by combat or attrition. Each block is rated by a letter A, B, C or D and a combat rating of 1 to 4 – the letter signifies the block’s priority in attacking and the number the dice score needed to hit. The Earl of March block, for instance, is A3 so it attacks first and needs 1, 2 or 3 on a six-sided die to score a hit. The block has a maximum strength of 3 so at full strength it gets three attacks. This is a powerful block. The city levies from Bristol are C2 – the block has a maximum strength of 4 but its low attack priority means that it will usually be much reduced before its chance to attack, and its attacks hit only on 1 or 2.

Five of the blocks on each side are “Royal Heirs” – at the start Henry VI is king, of course, and Richard of York is the Pretender. Two of each side’s heirs are “minors”, and come into play as and when senior heirs are killed. Some of the other blocks have red or white roses, showing that they will fight only for their own faction (and are permanently removed if destroyed in battle), but others have a number showing their “loyalty rating”. These lords can change sides in or before a battle, but the circumstances are limited and so far I’ve found that such treachery occurs only once or twice per game. They can also, like city levies and mercenaries, reappear later in the game if destroyed – as the new Duke of Buckingham, Earl of Northumberland etc.


Course of Play
The game is driven by the play of cards – a pack of 25, of which most give 2, 3 or 4 “Action Points” and six are unique “Events”. The game is divided into three “campaigns”, each of seven turns – this sounds a lot but most turns take only a short time. At the start of a turn each player selects a card which mandates how many action points he can spend, or what special effects (such as plague, forced march or treachery) will apply. An action point can recruit a lord, city levy, band of mercenaries etc, or move a block or group of blocks. Both sides make their moves, then battles are fought – so the side moving second can reinforce an army which is under attack. After a battle the survivors of the losing side retreat and the victors can “regroup” – dispersing a large army to avoid the attrition rules which are quite severe. Most battles will have a main force on each side supplemented by reinforcements arriving later.

The start of the game is the situation in the spring of 1460, with the Yorkists in exile and the Lancastrians either inactive or scattered around the map. Typically March and Warwick will launch an invasion from Calais, recruit some supporters such as Norfolk or Arundel, and bring on a battle against the slowly mobilising Lancastrians. They have a good chance of success, as their troops (especially the Calais garrison) are generally more powerful than the Lancastrians. If, after seven turns, the Yorkists have more nobles on the map than their opponents, the Lancastrians flee into exile and the senior surviving Yorkist heir becomes king; otherwise the Yorkists go back to exile and try again another day. The second and third campaigns follow the same course, and whichever side is king at the end of the game wins. There is also an instant victory if all of one side’s heirs are killed.

There are some nice touches in the battle rules, such as artillery (one block per side) which is A3 in the first battle round and D3 thereafter, and the “Heir Charge” – the senior heir in a battle, such as Richard III at Bosworth, can attack a specific enemy block (such as Richmond), with the disadvantage that the target block gets an extra attack if it survives the charge.


Sample Battle
This represents the Battle of Bosworth. In the third campaign the sole surviving Yorkist heir, Gloucester, is reigning as Richard III and faces a Lancastrian invasion led by Henry Tudor (Richmond). He has assembled a powerful army in Leicestershire, while Richmond’s army is at Coventry. Richmond plays the “Treason” card; this enables him to move first and make a loyalty check on one noble before the battle begins. He moves four blocks directly to Leicestershire – that’s the most which can cross the border together so his other block, Pembroke, has to move via Oxford and will arrive late. Richard has played a 3 action point card but only one is relevant here – he moves Northumberland from York to join the battle. Like Pembroke, Northumberland will be “in reserve” for the first battle round.

There are four blocks in the front line on each side, but the Yorkists have an advantage in both strength and quality. However, Richmond now makes a treachery roll on Stanley, whose loyalty rating is 1, meaning that there is an even chance of his defecting. Richmond succeeds, and Stanley’s block is replaced by the duplicate Lancastrian one in the Lancastrian reserves. Then battle is joined; the Yorkist bombard inflicts loss on the French troops, but Oxford and the Welsh (rated as A so attacking before most of the defenders) reduce Norfolk and the bombard. At the end of the first round the Yorkists have scored five hits and the Lancastrians four.

For the second round all reserves join in, and the Lancastrian superior numbers start to tell. When it is Richard’s turn for his block to attack, he declares a charge directly at Richmond – if all his three dice are 3 or less, Richmond will be killed and the Yorkists will automatically win the game. He scores 2 hits. Richmond gets one attack back, scoring a hit. Then Richmond does a loyalty test on Northumberland – success again! Northumberland deserts and joins the Lancastrian reserves. The French and Pembroke further damage the Yorkists, and at this point Richard’s block has two strength points remaining while the other Yorkist blocks are down to one. Stanley, at two points, is next to attack – he scores two hits which have to be applied to the strongest Yorkist block – Richard’s. Richard is killed and the game ends in a Lancastrian victory.

Impressions
I think this is an excellent game, well balanced, colourful and with plenty of period feel. The structure of three separate “campaigns” is a clever way of picturing the short periods of fighting (1460-61, 1469-71 and 1485) separated by longer spells of relative peace. There is room for some quibbles – Lord Grey who decided the Battle of Northampton by changing sides is not in the game, that battle is mentioned in the rules as “the Battle of Northumberland”, there is only one Duke of Somerset and when he is killed the Beauforts are out of the game – but these are minor and do not affect the play. The game is easily playable in an evening, and even though it is satisfying for a Roses buff like me it is also simple enough for players unfamiliar with the period. I thoroughly recommend it.

Richard III is available from Columbia Games at www.columbiagames.com, price $59.99, or in the UK from Leisure Games at www.leisuregames.com, price £44.99.


JGL 29.10.2009
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Dan Fielding
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>Most battles will have a main force on each side supplemented by reinforcements arriving later.
>

So the time scale for battles is "minutes" but the ground scale is not consistent with that. Odd.
 
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John Graham-Leigh
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The time scale throughout the game is indeterminate - a "campaign" probably lasts a year or two, a "battle" a matter of hours. A reasonable abstraction, I think.
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Dan Fielding
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How is there enough time for reinforcements to arrive from a different area?
 
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John Graham-Leigh
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What I think you're getting at, Dan, is a game mechanic to represent the common situation where armies were engaged piecemeal - such as Second St Albans, Towton and Bosworth. The battles lasted only for hours rather than days, but such piecemeal engagement did occur so it ought to be represented in the game; the designer chose this mechanic, which makes it realistically harder to concentrate large armies than small ones.
 
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