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Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Initial Review from a lover of Kingmaker rss

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John McKelvy
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This is a first-impression review of WOTR from the perspective of a gamer who grew up playing Avalon Hill's Kingmaker. In fact, my avatar is inspired by that game. Both games have the same basic theme - factions of nobles compete to dominate England during the 1400s. This is not a detailed review of rules - I can't improve upon prior reviews in that department.

Gamers in the '70s and '80s loved Kingmaker because it offered unique, innovative mechanics wrapped in a flavorful historical theme. I recall getting excited each time the "crown" cards would come up, and I could impersonate a noble with his own coat-of-arms. Dread, too, at the thought of having my entire faction wiped out by a chance outbreak of the Plague. Kingmaker made it to my table whenever I could cajole two friends or family members to play it. I think the game may have had a formative influence on my professional career - I teach world history, and majored in medieval studies in college and grad school.

Zman's War of the Roses keeps much of the flavor of the Avalon Hill game while incorporating entirely dissimilar mechanics. Many of the same "characters" from the AH game survive and flourish in WOTR - The Percys, the Nevilles, the Archbishop of York, the Ship of Plymouth. The artwork and components lovingly recall, yet exceed, those of Kingmaker. Other reviewers universally wonder at the weight of the box - and they are right. WOTR is full of extra-thick, during cardboard and wooden tokens, not to mention play screens and the map. These pieces are all beautiful to behold, and, as others reviewers have noted, very well designed to work seemlessly in the game.

How does WOTR compare to KM as a playing experience?

Kingmaker mostly revolved around the accumulation of military might. Players simply drew cards from the deck each turn, acquiring troops, titles, and transportation for their retinue of nobles. The nobles then moved around the board, chasing weaker forces of nobles and attempting to bring them to battle. Once one faction acquired all of the surviving heirs to the throne of England (by defeating other players' nobles) the game ended.

Kingmaker had several flaws. Most glaringly, the game usually devolved into long, long stalemates in which the strongest two factions would "turtle" in impregnable castles or foreign havens. Avalon Hill's mechanism for breaking the deadlocks - a random event deck which would unpredictably move nobles around the board without their consent - now leaves an unsatisfied taste in my recollection. Likewise, the method of gaining resources - blindly drawing asset cards from another deck - was inherently unbalanced. One player might get lucky and draw a noble with 100 troops (Percy); the next player might just as easily get a noble with 10 troops. Almost inevitably, one two players would grow to dominate the game, eliminating rivals or relegating them to irrelevance. Looking back on it, KM did not usually involve a lot of suspense as a result of decisions, but only as a result of the randomness of the two card decks. It lacks the finely tuned calculations of our current generation of games.

War of the Roses was built as a very modern game that avoids Kingmaker's pitfalls. In KM, players got nobles and assets simply by drawing from the deck - IE, randomly. In WOTR, players draft their resources according to a well-balanced system designed to give an advantage to players with fewer victory points. In KM, games could last indefinitely. In WOTR, the game is limited to five turns, or about two hours. In KM, players took turns sequentially, leading to a lot of downtime and tedium. In WOTR, players plan their actions simultaneously, keeping players engaged.

Significantly, WOTR has several methods of getting enough points to win the game. The main way to score is the area control mechanic - whoever has enough "control" (From various assets) in a region of the country wins victory points for that region. But players can also get VPs by having certain combinations of other assets. In other words, WOTR has a set-collection mechanism. For instance, a player controlling both the archbishop of York and the town of York itself nets three extra points. VPS are also gotten by having the most of certain types of assets (e.g, royal castles), somewhat like the "longest road" mechanic from Settlers. These many options for gaining points lead to a lot of interesting decisions for the player: Should I try and bribe that ship captain so I can get the "Admiral of England" title, or would that money be better spent fending off an attack on Windsor Castle? Should I focus on absolutely dominating a few regions or cling to a white-knuckle grasp on many? It helps that, due to the simultaneous planning mechanic, these decisions must take into account the one's opponents' plans. The end result is a tense, challenging planning phase filled with tough decisions. A far cry from kingmaker, in which the biggest choice of ones turn was what direction march in.

One consequence of the victory conditions in WOTR is that (based on my limited playing experience) games are very close, and can hinge on many small decisions made throughout the course of the game. In our first play, my opponent and I traded the lead three times (in five turns.) Neither of us ever got more than eight points ahead of the other (a slim margin) and the final victory was decided by one point! The designers built in a lot of safeguards against a "runaway leader" problem, and they appear to work well.

Overall, WOTR is a much better _game_ than Kingmaker, but still retains the same thematic appeal. I am surprised it is not more popular. It is more-or-less an area of control Euro with enough direct conflict and theme to attract people from FFG's latest offerings. I hope some of the folks from my gaming group read this, because I want to play the hell out of it.
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James Webb
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This game is fun, and generates a surprising amount of tension. It suffers/benefits from an extreme amount of chaos when played with more than two players. I've played once with four players, and trying to read the minds of three other players was enough to age me several years. It was a lot of fun though.
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Cole Wehrle
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I really, really wanted to like this game, but its hard for me to take it seriously. My decision making model approaches something like "should I pick Rock, Paper, or Scissors?", but it's close to being a fantastic deduction game with a well executed theme. My objection about the "blind" decision making stems from what is at stake. If, in a game of Container, I offer a misbid (and win) usually I might just give away too much information, but an inopportune choice here can cost you everything.
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Alexander Portland
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So should i really avoid to play WOTR with more with one opponent at table?
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John McKelvy
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Bundyman wrote:
So should i really avoid to play WOTR with more with one opponent at table?


I haven't played it with more than 2, but I suppose it depends on how much you like chaos. I love it. . . . games with pure information and deterministic choices are too dry for me. . . I want to have fun, not take a math class. But that's my personal preference. I also think Cosmic Encounter, which has a lot of chaos, is a brilliant game, but some of the stalwarts in my gaming group hate it.
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Jeff Luce
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I recommend that this game be played with four players whenever possible.

The loose alliance between the two houses is one of the biggest assets of this game. You want to work with your partner in order to gain the additional 5 vps per turn for being the dominant house however there can still only be one winner.

As table talk is forbidden, it makes it quite a challenge to decide where and when to strike so as to not be at cross purposes. All the while trying to maximize your own personal position.

This game is simply fantastic. Relatively fast playing time, gut twisting decisions, and, in most of the games I have played, most players having a shot at the victory all the way down to the last turn make this game super fun.
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Richard Dewsbery
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I agree wholeheartedly with Jeff. 2-player, I could write this one off as a guessing game; 4-player is a great team game, where you can't communicate with your team-mate but have to somehow work together to achieve a common goal, yet at the end of the game there can be only one winner (encouraging exactly the kind of paranoia and turn-coat behaviour that characterised the Wars of the Roses). Bags of atmosphere (like Kingmaker), but wrapped up in a throughly modern - and fast-playing - package.
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James Webb
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Bundyman wrote:
So should i really avoid to play WOTR with more with one opponent at table?


Depends. Choose one of the two options below...

a) I like unpredictability in games. Adapting to a battlefield that changes in unexpected ways thrills me. I get a great sense of achievement from making the best of a bad situation.

b) I don't like it when unexpected events interfere with my perfectly planned optimal move. I don't like games where the chaotic moves of other players unduly influence my game plan. I don't like the idea of games where I can be stabbed in the back by my allies. I have a stomach ulcer.

If you chose a) then go for four players. If you are a b) then stick to two and make sure you've taken your medicine before you play.
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Lou Moratti
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Agreed Jeff. Four player rocks. This is a great game!
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John McKelvy
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After getting more plays under my belt, I feel a bit more qualified to speak about some of the strategies involved in the two-player game:

1) In a two-player game, control of regions isn't that big of a deal. The basic strategy here is to get one rock-solid asset in each region. Ideally, an un-bribable bishop or boat. After that point, you are always guaranteed a second-place finish in the region. When this has been accomplished for both players, each region only yields a net of 2 or 3 VP per turn, or 16 points/turn net for the whole map. That's fewer points than can be gained by getting the various titles and combos (port+ship or bishop+cathedral town).

2) Defensive bribes are very powerful. They absolutely guarantee a 2nd place finish in a region. Placed on bishops or ships, they also guarantee income for the next turn.

3) Nobles aren't as important in the 2-player game. Mobility is nice, as are control points, but again, the 2-player game does not really turn on control points.

4) Placing orders really is a huge game of RPS. Based on the fact that defensive bribes are cheap, and offensive bribes are pricy, most money will be spent on defensive bribes and military attacks. Attacks should be aimed at ports, castles, and cathedral towns that yield the highest point totals in the scoring phase. Gambling involves "which bishop or captain do I leave undefended?" As long as most of your bishops are protected, it doesn;t pay for the opponent to try and guess which will be open.

5) The card-drafting phase is important and strategic. Each player needs to be aware of what combos and VPs are available during each draft. Also, mercenary cards essentially represent a quick cash infusion, especially late in the game.

6) Sometimes a "nuke" strategy can be effective. If your opponent controls lots of ports and cathedral towns (and thus a lot of points through combos and titles) a possible strategy is to attack every cheap target with the minimum required troops to turn each town neutral. It is impossible to defend everything at once. When this works, it can remove a great deal of income from your opponents' control. This cash is then up for grabs again during the drafting phase.

7) Don't ignore the Captain! He's worth either 4 or 7 VPs per turn, and depending on the opponent, can be had cheaply.

At the end of the day, the winner will be the person who can maximize point-scoring opportunities for himself and minimize them for the opponent. In our games, this has resulted in most of the action revolving around port and cathedral towns.

I am excited to try the 4-player game now that I have some more experience. I suspect the nobles will become much, much more important when a second place finish in each region isn't guaranteed. Another possible variant might be to get rid of 2nd-place scoring in the two-player game.
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Stephen Meyers
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After that point, you are always guaranteed
a second-place finish in the region



I don't get that. In a two player game, if you are not the leader in a region, you'd always be guaranteed a second place finish without doing anything more, right?

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Peter Hawes
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You will only get the second place Victory Points if you have a presence in the region at the time of scoring. Thus, you want something rock solid in each region if possible to ensure these points.
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Freddy Dekker
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In a 2 player game, obviously the loser allways 'wins' 2nd place.


I'm almost convinced to buy this, but I'm not very likely to play it with four, at least not in the near future, so will it be just as enjoyable with 2?
Than again, I'll probably only regret not playing with 4 if I'd be able to experience that.


Oh, Kingbreaker...
Your avetar.. I didn't know the invisible man was in kingmaker.
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Alan Eshelman
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Kingbreaker wrote:

2) Defensive bribes are very powerful. They absolutely guarantee a 2nd place finish in a region. Placed on bishops or ships, they also guarantee income for the next turn.

You spend the equivalent of their income on defensively bribing them, so that's a wash... Just thought I'd point that out.

I've played this game 3 times now with just 2 players. It's a great game, I love the huge number of options in each turn combined with the relatively small number of resources to work with. MONEY is the name of the game with two players. If you have an income advantage, protect it and dominate.
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