Jonas Hellberg Hellberg
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Unhappy King Charles chronicles the English civil war between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. Being brought up in Sweden I had no good reason to feel anything in particular for the conflict. Having an uncle with a cottage in Connemara, Ireland, I had heard of the infamous Cromwell, but that was about it. A friend of mine also told me Sweden supplied the Scots with cannons during the conflict. Sending weapons to conflicts Sweden has no part in is obviously a long-standing tradition.
I’ve always been fond of the ‘card driven’ genre of games ever since I first came upon them, but in this case the title was the selling point for me - ‘Unhappy King Charles’ is an ingenious title.
It’s got a dash of humour to it, and says a lot about the subject matter. Immediately we realize that King Charles didn’t fare too well, and we’re promised to be part of his fate.

Charles Vasey continues this humorous vein even throughout the rules, and especially in the play book. The cover of the rule book tells us that it’s a “Book of Rules, intended to be A TRUE AND EXACT Relation of His Majesties WARRE upon the COMMONS”, perfectly setting the tone and inviting us to another time. It’s not a dry presentation simply stating that ‘these are the rules of the game’, and Vasey (esq.) should be commended for it.

The rulebook is written in what is now almost a classic GMT style, and the components are your standard GMT fare of cardboard chits. This is also my major gripe with the game, but it’s obviously a gripe with GMT and not the designer. Other companies manage to produce fine games with great components at about the same price, but GMT is slow to follow. I painted wooden blocks and glued the counters to them. They’re one-sided, so it works fine.



The rules in themselves are not simple, and I must say that I suspect other reviewers might be looking at the matter a bit too closely when they say they are easy to keep track of. It’s all relative, of course, but suffice it to say that there are certainly people who need a few other games under their belt before a fare like Unhappy King Charles can be undertaken.

I characterize complex rules as those that have a lot of “IF-THEN”-clauses, and a lot of exceptions. It’s just a lot to keep in your head. Some rules can be picked up, read through, and never looked at again. Those are simple rules.
This is why I consider Revolution a heavy, meaty game but not overly complex. There are many rules, and they are staggered, but they don’t have a complex way of interacting with each other.
It is obvious that Vasey has looked closer, in more detail, at this particular conflict. Revolution, on the other hand, is a game set at about the same time and has a much higher grade of abstraction. I imagine Vasey felt that it’s hard to do the history justice in omitting certain elements, even for the sake of clarity.
Thus we are left with situations such as these, for assaulting a fortress:
“A Bombarding Army can Assault a Fortress for free after a Bombardment Activation.” (IF-THEN-clause, and Bombardment Activation is a special term even though it really doesn’t differ from a normal activation. It’s just an army besieging a fortress.)
“Assault is allowed only after Bombardment value of 5 or more accumulated. However, some leaders may Immediate assault, which does not require any accumulation of Bombardment.”
(Another IF-THEN-clause, and then another, stating that some leaders may bypass this rule)

After checking to see whether you can assault or not, there’s a handful of modifiers to the die roll to see whether the fortress surrenders or not, including a -2 if the accumulated bombardment value is less than 5, implying that you can assault a fortress anyway, so you have to deduce that such can only be the case with the leaders that can “immediate assault”.
So there’s a lot of interlocking going on. There is no simple way to keep all of the above in your head, so some referencing will most probably be necessary.
This is not to say the rules are bad, it is merely a critique. I find that the rules are good and reflect well upon the matter, but I would recommend the game to someone with an interest in war games in general or someone who finds this period of history interesting in particular (such as me).



The way the cards work in this game is worth noting. In these “card driven games” it is inevitable that a lot of the finesse of the system revolves around the deck being used. In Unhappy King Charles, each player starts each round with two ‘core cards’ that are always the same, guaranteeing a measure of freedom and offsetting the randomness of the card draw.
The points from the operations cards are used the same as they often are in these games - either for activating a leader, or for adding political control to the map. Event cards are only ever played as events or discarded for a very limited effect, even less than a regular 1 point card. So the events may or may not happen, chances are about fifty-fifty (some can be played by either side). The only sure thing is the three ‘mandatory events’. Other than that there’s no telling what’s going to show up in your session. This means that it’s harder to use prior knowledge of the game (and ultimately, history) to gain an advantage. In Twilight Struggle, knowledge of what’s in the deck is a great strength, sometimes making you set up situations a bit anachronistically. Even though repeated playings should make me familiar with the deck, I’m not bringing Unhappy King Charles to the table as much as Twilight Struggle. I hate memory games and so Vasey’s approach fits me fine. You are more subject to the chaos that must plague every commander in a similar conflict, in my opinion increasing the immersion.

The fact that even very few events could be played out during the course of a session may be justified by the butterfly effect - the likelihood of the exact same course of events playing out seems unlikely, even if some events were bound to happen. Barring the advent of time travel, we shall never know.

The game offers you plenty of options, different ways the game can turn out, but most of your choices are in the military field. Your events may or may not happen, so you need to concentrate on winning the hands-on aspect of the war. And the choices are well balanced. I haven’t really experienced a situation where I felt that the choices were obvious. There’s always three things you need to do and only one thing you can. It shares that aspect with Paths of Glory, even though it’s not really as excruciating as that game (the needs-to-cans ratio is closer to 5-to-1 in Paths of Glory).

All in all, it’s immersion in the story that is at the heart of the game. This is not chess with a theme. The somewhat complex rules serve to steep you in the peculiarities of the conflict, to make you think like one of the commanders and, frankly, to have a good time.



(Edited for links and dashing boldness)
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Wendell
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Nice review.

Quote:
In Unhappy King Charles, each player starts each round with two ‘core cards’ that are always the same, guaranteeing a measure of freedom and offsetting the randomness of the card draw.


I agree, this is an interesting mechanic and an important difference from many CDGs. Here I Stand has something like this too.
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Charles Vasey
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wifwendell wrote:
Nice review.

Quote:
In Unhappy King Charles, each player starts each round with two ‘core cards’ that are always the same, guaranteeing a measure of freedom and offsetting the randomness of the card draw.


I agree, this is an interesting mechanic and an important difference from many CDGs. Here I Stand has something like this too.


I think I stole it from The Napoleonic Wars (GMT). It gave me a whole load of ops cards at the cost of four cards (because they recycled) allowing more events to appear.
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Edwin Tait
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Historical note: Sweden had reason to help the Scots. I believe that a number of Scots had been fighting on the Protestant side in the 30 Years' War, and Gustavus Adolphus was an international Protestant hero. Success for the more militant Protestant factions in Britain would increase the chances of British involvement in the Continental conflict. (That's assuming that the sale of artillery happened early on. In the "Second Civil War" the Scots were of course fighting _for_ the monarchy. I'm not sure what a Scottish victory over Cromwell would have meant at that point.)
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Jim F
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Good review and you raise lots of interesting points.

I love this game and play it any excuse but I personally thought the ops cards that are replaced every turn were a bit of a safety net. Having read some of the criticisms of CDG's I understand why they were included but I kind of wish they hadn't.
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Steve Carey
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A good essay, Jonas.

I have to disagree regarding the components, but then I've been buying a plethora of war games from GMT for 20 years. The UKC! components - and associated graphics - are some of their very best, in my opinion.

The rules are indeed not simple, but the play book is so well-executed that it compliments them perfectly. The game itself is so evocative, it just oozes history.

The inclusion of a few optional history cards can vary the deck to the point that one never knows exactly what's coming.

Twilight Struggle is my favorite game, but of all the pure Card Driven war games, I'd have to rate UKC! right up there near the top - my admiration for the design grows only stronger over time, and I wish that I had the opportunity to play it even more.
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Charles Vasey
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Ashiefan wrote:
Good review and you raise lots of interesting points.

I love this game and play it any excuse but I personally thought the ops cards that are replaced every turn were a bit of a safety net. Having read some of the criticisms of CDG's I understand why they were included but I kind of wish they hadn't.


I wonder if you could buy another set of cards from GMT, ditch the two core cards and add the required number of one and two ops to have the same effect? Then you could play it as it was originally built.
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Very nice review. I made stand up leader counters which I feel should be in the game as supplied (I printed them out from a link on this page and bought some stands). GMT is however improving quality with mounted maps and thicker counters in it's latest games and reprints. Its still a great game for all that and I think the map is beautiful.

The rules are written to reflect the quirky nature of the period and the asymmetric and brittle nature of command and control between the two sides. So although they seem pure chrome they are really fundamental to get the correct historical flavour. It's certainly not just another CDG with a bit of theme tacked on. Anyone who plays wargames will not have an issue with them I think.

I love the way armies are not there just to smash into an opponent and Blitz the board but also have a physiological and political impact through area control, as was the case during the war. The fact that combat is not too common and really needs thought adds a lot of depth to the game, for me anyway. Anyone who plays this as a pure wargame will lose, I like that.

I have no issue with the way the card decks work, it's a matter of taste I think. I'm happy that many events may not occur as I think it fits the theme and period quite well. I can see others wishing to try variations though.
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Jonas Hellberg Hellberg
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Steve Carey wrote:

I have to disagree regarding the components, but then I've been buying a plethora of war games from GMT for 20 years. The UKC! components - and associated graphics - are some of their very best, in my opinion.


I agree that the graphics are good, both map and counters. I just mean that things would have been so much nicer if a company such as Phalanx or Zman was the producer, then the good sir Vasey's design would have been better served.
Thick counters, a mounted board and cards that stay in shape - imagine!
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Jim F
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Charles Vasey wrote:
Ashiefan wrote:
Good review and you raise lots of interesting points.

I love this game and play it any excuse but I personally thought the ops cards that are replaced every turn were a bit of a safety net. Having read some of the criticisms of CDG's I understand why they were included but I kind of wish they hadn't.


I wonder if you could buy another set of cards from GMT, ditch the two core cards and add the required number of one and two ops to have the same effect? Then you could play it as it was originally built.


Might do that. This game is certainly worth the extra expense. My only improvement for pieces would be a deluxe map. Hopefully GMT will get round to it one day
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Charles Vasey
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Ashiefan wrote:
Charles Vasey wrote:
Ashiefan wrote:
Good review and you raise lots of interesting points.

I love this game and play it any excuse but I personally thought the ops cards that are replaced every turn were a bit of a safety net. Having read some of the criticisms of CDG's I understand why they were included but I kind of wish they hadn't.


I wonder if you could buy another set of cards from GMT, ditch the two core cards and add the required number of one and two ops to have the same effect? Then you could play it as it was originally built.


Might do that. This game is certainly worth the extra expense. My only improvement for pieces would be a deluxe map. Hopefully GMT will get round to it one day


Having your own deck would be also be molto cool.

"Sorry peons, I only play full-contact UKC."

(Camera pans to reveal gamers bowing before the Man)
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Joshua Buergel
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Just to add some additional information, the core cards were added to the game to open up space in our 110 card allotment for more event cards. Without the core cards, in order to preserve the historical level of activity that the participants sustained, you'd have to essentially have to replace something like 30 events with ops cards (the math is fuzzy because I'm at work and don't have my notes). By factoring out some of the ops into the core cards, it opened up a lot of space in the deck for additional events and considerably more color to the game. It does reduce the variance in some ways, but it introduces considerably more variety in your four random cards and was unquestionably the right tradeoff for the component mix we were working with.

EDIT: As Charles notes, the inspiration was from the Napoleonic Wars, with the Home cards serving as the base of the idea.
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Jason Cawley
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Um, why are the rules so needlessly full of 48 crosscutting exceptions to every single clause? You need a law degree to know anything about this.

I like CDGs. I don't need the basic mechanics changed or explained again. But instead of working with everything regular CDG players already know, this title seems to go out of its way to bolix up every mechanic and clause it can even think of fiddling with.

Less is more, people. Why is this so hard for game designers to grok?
 
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Jason Cawley
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"If there are insufficient cards to deal four to each player, deal both players the same number of cards, with the Royalist player getting the last card in case of an odd number remaining."

Black and white contradiction in one sentence...
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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JasonC wrote:
I like CDGs. I don't need the basic mechanics changed or explained again. But instead of working with everything regular CDG players already know, this title seems to go out of its way to bolix up every mechanic and clause it can even think of fiddling with.

If they kept the rules the same regardless of subject, and just changed the pictures on the cards, it would make things so much simpler.

JasonC wrote:
Black and white contradiction in one sentence...

You might want to parse that differently before reaching a black and white conclusion.
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Jason Cawley
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No, it is a flat contradiction. The royalist player gets 1 more card and both players get the same number.

If they had given the thing two seconds of thought, they'd have written the base rule as something like, deal cards one at a time to the royalist first until each has received 4 or the draw deck is exhausted.

But instead, they write the main clause in a clumsy manner, make an exception, botch the description of the exception, and wind up with an ambiguous exception to the exception whenever there are 7, 5, 3, and 1 cards left.

If the rules were not riddled with useless exceptions I'd overlook it. But it is riddled with nearly useless and actually useless exceptions. By page 4 I was inundated in the things. And why? Chrome. Nothing to do with game play or design, they just want 48 gazillion things to work ever so slightly differently depending on a giant branching logic tree.

Which is lazy on the part of the designers and offensive to the players.
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JasonC wrote:
No, it is a flat contradiction. The royalist player gets 1 more card and both players get the same number.

If they had given the thing two seconds of thought, they'd have written the base rule as something like, deal cards one at a time to the royalist first until each has received 4 or the draw deck is exhausted.

But instead, they write the main clause in a clumsy manner, make an exception, botch the description of the exception, and wind up with an ambiguous exception to the exception whenever there are 7, 5, 3, and 1 cards left.

If the rules were not riddled with useless exceptions I'd overlook it. But it is riddled with nearly useless and actually useless exceptions. By page 4 I was inundated in the things. And why? Chrome. Nothing to do with game play or design, they just want 48 gazillion things to work ever so slightly differently depending on a giant branching logic tree.

Which is lazy on the part of the designers and offensive to the players.


It is not a contradiction or an exception. You both get the same number of cards and then if one is left that is dealt to the Royalist rather than shuffled in or whatever. Perhaps you should reread it. The royalist player is dealt to first so he will get cards 1,3,5 etc. It is confirming who should have the last card where there is an odd number as otherwise you bet someone will ask. I find the rules easy to follow. If you hate a game with exceptions maybe give Paths of Glory a look.

Also CDG's represent a whole range of games and the cards are all used differently in each. One of the fundamental concepts of a CDG is that it allows card management to reflect the period the game is simulating with very little overhead. So in UKC the cards have highly restricted use. In Wilderness War this is relaxed, in Wellington's War cards has a lot of flexibility and by Paths of Glory each card can do numerous things.To expect the same card mechanic for each game would detract from this and make games bland.

The one area of the rules I do not like is the reinforcement rules but only because I find them difficult to parse. I actually did try and rewrite then for a cheat sheet. But in any event reinforcements etc were fundamental to the way the sides played and they need to reflect that. I do not feel this game has much unnecessary chrome at all. And the chrome that is there is is not complex and adds to the historical feel of the game.
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JasonC wrote:
No, it is a flat contradiction. The royalist player gets 1 more card and both players get the same number.

If they had given the thing two seconds of thought, they'd have written the base rule as something like, deal cards one at a time to the royalist first until each has received 4 or the draw deck is exhausted.

But instead, they write the main clause in a clumsy manner, make an exception, botch the description of the exception, and wind up with an ambiguous exception to the exception whenever there are 7, 5, 3, and 1 cards left.

If the rules were not riddled with useless exceptions I'd overlook it. But it is riddled with nearly useless and actually useless exceptions. By page 4 I was inundated in the things. And why? Chrome. Nothing to do with game play or design, they just want 48 gazillion things to work ever so slightly differently depending on a giant branching logic tree.

Which is lazy on the part of the designers and offensive to the players.


First off, I'll agree with you: these aren't easy rules to read and absorb. It's not an easy game for the uninitiated, and it's a challenge even for seasoned gamers, despite the rating on the box.

Having said all that: you're absolutely wrong.

The format (CDG and based upon We The People) would not be sufficient by itself to deliver a game which had the flavour of the ECW, which UKC certainly does, and the only way you'll deliver it - besides careful area/region markout and well considered event cards - is to take into account the quirks that characterised the ECW as an historical event.

If they weren't considered then frankly UKC wouldn't work and would lack the depth and colour that it possesses.

One thing that helped me immensely is the one-page rule/turn summary produced elsewhere on BBG. It simplified the mechanics without removing detail as it refers to the rulebook as and where necessary. Hint to Mr. Vasey - make it a definite A4 card component if a reprint is planned (and I hope it is). I'll be laminating my copy.

I wouldn't give up on it were I you. What I would do, if you haven't already, is to read widely on the history of the war(s) and you'll get a feel as to why all that 'chrome' as you put it was included; I think you'll find that the chrome is very much integral to the game.
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