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Unhappy King Charles!» Forums » Reviews

Subject: One of the very best wargames you could ever play or own rss

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Severus Snape
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Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
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Introduction:

Unhappy King Charles is Charles Vasey’s Card Driven Wargame on the English Civil War (sometimes referred to as the 1st English Civil War). The game lasts eleven turns that represent four months each, covering the years 1642-1645. Control of Regions (North, South, East, Midlands & Wales) which consist of areas (the spaces on the map named after towns or cities, e.g., London), along with the control of vital economic spaces (known as Economic Infrastructures) are the keys to victory. It is the sort of campaign game where one can lose battles, yet win the war through raiding, maneuvering and the political control of key areas. This is a campaign that finds neither front lines nor drawn games.
This game is one of the best and most enjoyable I have experienced. The overall quality of the components is typical of the high standard produced by GMT. There is a richness, a depth, and a subtlety to the game that invite repeated playing. Although more could have been done with the card deck, none of the events, historical or alternate historical, ever strike me as “cheesy.” The game is fun, challenging and neither simple nor overly complex.

Components:

Rules:

I would rank the UKC rulebook to be easier to understand than For the People and Paths of Glory, and I would consider it to be roughly along the complexity lines of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. If the reader is not familiar with those games, then I realize that my comparison is not helpful.

The rulebook is twenty-eight pages in length, with a marvelously creative cover written in the style of 17th Century English pamphleteers. Vasey is active and supportive at answering questions.
The playbook, with a similar pamphleteer cover, is a further twenty-four page mixed bag of usefulness. The “short history of the rebellion” is just that, and, as such, is not worth the short amount of time it takes to read and realize that it provides too little historical orientation for those not familiar with the Enlish Civil War. This is not the fault of the designer, who clearly knows the history; it is just a practical space issue. The “play notes,” written by five different UKC players, may prove interesting over time, once you—and I—have played enough games to see if four of the fab five know their business. Or not. Vasey writes the first, longest, and most helpful piece, and given that he is the game designer, he knows what he is about.

Counters:

They are a combination of ½ and 5/8 inch units, general, markers, etc. I will note that this is the second GMT game (Pursuit of Glory being the first) where the counters did not come out “cleanly,” but instead I had a few tear.

The Map:

Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s design invokes two gripes. First, you cannot see the area names, once the spaces are occupied by a counter. Event cards sometimes make it necessary to find specific places. In terms of historical appeal, or just plain fun, it would be enjoyable to know where you just sat Cromwell’s Ironsides. Names are off to the side of the Economic Infrastructure areas. Second, given the sparseness of the play-aids, including the information about the generals, and a naval status chart large enough to sink a destroyer in its own right, I feel the space could have been used more effectively.

Those two gripes being griped, Lee’s map is both beautiful and functional. It is one of the best combinations of those two qualities I have seen. The five Regions, and the areas that make up each, are clearly separated by their own colours. Sad to see not an apparent bit of Scotland (events there are covered through strategy event cards), and nothing of Ireland (but that would be a whole different game) beyond the sea bearing its name.

Given that this is Vasey’s second--are there more?--design covering the English Civil War, I will make a brief comparison with the map of his first ECW game, The King’s War. Rick Barber designed the map with his typical combination of detail and “you want to frame this map” beauty. It also includes room along the map edges for each general (and there are several more in TKW) in the game. More areas are included in TKW, but Economic Infrastructures are not a part of this game design. I think it might be possible to play UKC on the Barber map, once you note where the EI’s should be located. I will give it a go at some point.

Playaids:

One is included for each side; both are totally inadequate for practical play. What is most needed (for the various counters) is far too small. What is not needed at all (a place for cards) takes up too much space.
There is nothing to record Regional, Area, or Economic Infrastructure control, which means having to do a mental recount every turn. Gamers are probably able to handle this inconvenience, but why make it inconvenient at all?

The Card Deck:

There are six types of cards used in the game.

1) Core Cards There are two ops cards (a 1 and a 2 ops) that make up the Core cards for both the Parliament and the Royalist sides. These cards are always included in each player’s hand (seven cards at the beginning, and six afterwards). These cards allow you to do one of the following:

Recruit up to maximum. The amount of forces that can be recruited varies throughout the game, with the highest recruitment coming in the early turns, and the lowest towards the end of the game. This reflects the war’s historical “popularity,” as enthusiasm or the fight was well on the wane by 1645.

Activate or Bombard with any one General with a 1 or 2 Strategy Rating. Your activated general can go move, fight, etc. But the slower generals, the ones rated a 3, obviously can never use these ops cards.
Raid with up to 2 Local Notables. This allows you to grab political control over spaces within the reach of your Local Notables.

Places up to 2 PC markers in open Areas or with friendly Armies or Local Notables in non-Fortress Areas. Political control is key to eventual victory in this game. If you control enough areas, you can help limit your opponent’s ability to recruit the reinforcements he needs to maintain his armies.

2) Mandatory Cards There are three, with one being played in the Early War–Raising the Royal Standard–one in the Mid-War–The Army of the Solemn League and Covenant–and one in the Late War–New Model Army. These have to be played in the turn in which they are dealt, with the Raising the Royal Standard card coming in the first hand. The side which plays them benefits, but there is still no stopping the Scots invading the north, or the advent of New Model Army when the appropriate card is played.

3) The Early War Deck This is the largest of the three separate war decks, so if a player fritters away her chances with these cards, the outcome of the war might be decided at this early stage. The Early War deck can be subdivided into the following:

Operations Cards–there are three 1 ops, five 2 ops, and seven 3 ops cards.

One Major Campaign, which allows activation of three Generals or Local Notables.

One Minor Campaign, which allows activation of two Generals or Local Notables.

Two Roland Laugharne or Newark Garrison cards, which allows either the Roundheads or the Cavaliers to place a Local Notable marker.

Two Cavalry Commander cards which allow for the movement of two brigades up to five spaces (a side note: cavalry does not have the same effect that it did in the historical campaign, or that it does in Charles Vassey’s other English Civil War game, The King’s War).

Two Combat Cards each for both Parliament and the Royalist sides, and one Combat Card that can be played by either side, for a total of five Combat Cards. Play of these allows for the possibility of a Decisive Victory, which can, if you roll well, pretty much wipe out your opponent’s army. Think Naseby.

Strategy Cards–eight for Parliament, nine for the Royalist’ side. These represent historical personages or events from the ECW. They work like the Core cards, except that you cannot use them to move Generals. One of the Parliament strategy cards is a Response Card, Turhham Green, which allows the Roundhead player to move any number of Armies or unlead Brigades to London that are within three spaces of the city. This reflects the reinforcements Essex received after Edgehill when Charles & Co. put a fright into certain citizens of the city.

4) Mid-War Deck This is similar to the Early War deck, only with far fewer cards. There are:

Operations Cards–there are three 1 ops, four 2 ops, and three 3 ops cards. Is this a reflection of the building war-weariness affecting both sides?

One Minor Campaign, which allows activation of two Generals or Local Notables.

Strategy Cards–four for each side.

One Response Card that can be played by either side.
Remember, the Solemn League card will appear at some point during the Mid-War.

5) Late War Deck

Operations Cards–there are six 1 ops, eight 2 ops, and two 3 ops cards.
Strategy Cards–four for Parliament, five for the Royalist’ side. There is one card that can be played by either side.

The events represented on the Strategy Cards may or may not happen, depending on who plays the card. For example, Prince Rupert may never be promoted to a level-one General, but he still might be dismissed later in the game. Both a huge gain for the Roundheads and a potential crusher for the Cavaliers.

6) Lastly, there are a total of twelve Alternate History (Alt-Hist, for short) Cards. Three can be played by Parliament, four by the Royalist, and five by either player.

In terms of actual alternative history–is this an oxymoron?–three are Combat cards (but only two of those can help bring a Decisive Victory). You can feel the effects of the Swedish Brigade or the Army of the Flanders or Reiters, or charge at the gallp. There is one Minor Campaign card, and another that involves a tile striking the governor on the head. Neither strikes me–take or leave the pun–as Alt-Hist, and a tile did strike a famous personage on his head, leading his second in command to surrender the city.

Any of these cards can be played by either side.

Of the three cards that can be played by the Roundheads, Lord Wilmot’s Plot places a Parliament PC marker in Oxford, displacing any Royalist brigades in the city (chasing them away, in effect), while taking Rupert out for the remainder of the turn. Given the natural importance Oxford holds for the Royalist side–it is a fortress and close to London and the south–this card can be a killer. Another card can keep the “Irish” forces away from the fray, and the third one changes the Naval Score by two in Parliament’s favour, affecting reinforcements for both sides.
For the Cavaliers, one card similarly affects the Naval Score, but in the Royals’ favour. Another card allows a check for a London Rising. London falling into the Royals’ hands is more than a long-shot, but the effects could prove decisive. The Charles of Lorraine card brings French forces into the fray on the side of King Charles, for which he can thank his French Catholic wife, the Good Queen Henrietta Maria and her influence with the folks back home. The last Alternate-History card might be the true back breaker in so far as its effects upon Parliament’s cause. The King Abandons the Bishops forces the withdraw of all Convenanter forces on the map, or yet to arrive as reinforcements. In other words, no Scots, and no Scottish invasion from the north.

The Sequence of Play:

If you notice that I have made mistakes, and likely I have and you will, please kindly correct me.

For this, I naturally draw, at times word for word, from the rulebook. At other times, I condense the description.

Housekeeping Phase

Unemployed generals and new generals are moved into the Reinforcements Box, ready to enter, or reenter, the game.

Next, with Parliament going first, each player must play a PC (political control) marker in one neutral Area. Neutral Areas are those not next to an enemy PC marker, Local Notable or Army (brigades without a general are not an Army). The placement of this PC marker cannot cause Political Isolation for enemy PC markers (when Areas suffer Political Isolation, the PC makers are removed, turning the Area neutral). If there is no available Area, this part is skipped.
Last, in any of the “Late” turns, a naval chit is randomly drawn by the Parliament side and the Naval Status is adjusted. Parliament has the edge here (an historical reality), and the Naval Status affects the available reinforcements.

Political Control Phase (skipped on the first turn)

Both sides place PC markers in all non-Fortress Areas occupied by one of their Armies or Local Notables if such a PC marker is not already present.

PC markers are removed to reflect Political Isolation. PC markers need to trace back to:

A friendly, unbesieged, unmasked, Supply Fortress.
A friendly, unbesieged, Local Notable.
A friendly Army.
Area control is key to victory in this game.

Recruitment Phase

With Parliament going first, both sides place Recruited Brigades and Blockade & Siege markers. Such Recruits are in addition to those that come into the game through card play (assuming you have control over at least one Economic Infrastructure).

Draw Strategy Cards Phase (this is not done on the first turn)
Each side retrieves the two Core cards, and then the Parliament player deals four Strategy cards to each side, beginning with the Royalist. Thus a normal hand consists of six cards (but each side begins the game with seven; the seventh card can be kept to the side as an “Ace in the Hole” card to be played later in the game), which is the number of cards that normally must be played by each side during a turn. Major and Decisive victories during the Battle Phase make it possible to draw one or two more cards, respectively, which must be played out on the spot by the victorious side, or discarded; these extra cards cannot be kept and saved for later.

Campaign Phase

Players alternately play, or discard, Strategy cards one a time until both players have passed. A player can pass only after he or she has played the required six cards (including Combat cards, which cannot be kept as “Ace in the Hole” cards). The required play of cards resulting from a Major or Decisive victory do not count towards the six. A player who passes cannot play or discard another card in this phase.
Until the New Model Army card makes its appearance (in the Late War Deck), the Royalist player chooses which side goes first. After the entry of the NMA, Parliament decides. A player selected to go second can go first by play of a Minor or Major campaign card.
Blockade Phase

A besieging Army with a “Blockade & Siege” marker may now Bombard the Fortress upon which the marker is placed (if doing during the Campaign phase, an Operations card would be needed).

Desertion and Supply Attrition Phase

Based upon the Game-Turn track, a certain number of desertions occur each turn (and desertions increase, while recruitment decreases as the war drags on). Brigades may also be lost to Supply Attrition. Loses through desertion and attrition are not permanent, unlike battle loses (though sometimes units can be “raised from the dead,” in a manner of speaking).

Power Base Phase

You check to see if certain victory conditions have been met.

Turn End Phase & Victory Conditions

There are four ways in which a game can end:

If King Charles is captured as the result of losing a siege or a battle, Parliament wins automatically.

If the Royalist side controls London for two consecutive turns, and has control of three or more Regions, the game ends automatically with a Cavalier victory.

If the total of a side’s Power Base is less than the Power Base Number on the Turn Record Track, the game ends and the player with the insufficient Power Base loses. The Power Base is the total number of PC markers controlled by a player. An insufficient Power Base reflects the historical reality—possibility—that a side is too weak to continue the fighting.

If the Turn Marker has reached the end of the winter 1645 turn. Victory Points are counted for each side and a winner declared
.
Until one side or the other has won according to the first three ways, or the end of the game is reached, the Core cards are returned to each player, the Turn Marker is advanced, and a new hand is dealt.

A Perusal of Certain Key Rules:

Generals

Brigades cannot activate—move or initiate combat—without a General, and for a General to activate, an OPS card is needed. Generals can never voluntarily remove their brigades (so be careful who you place in command of your larger stacks of units). The only way for more than one General to occupy the same Area is through Subordination, with a ranking of 1 (highest) to 4 (lowest). Subordinate Armies count towards the maximum total a General may have in his Army (four brigades are typical, with nine brigades the highest). The larger the Army, the more likely it is to be affected by attrition.

Movement & Interception

The larger the Army, the slower its movement per OPS card played. Armies larger than four brigades are considered Major Armies, and they cannot move on anything less than the play of a 3 OPS card, or a Minor/Major Campaign card. Most movement costs 1 MP, but mountain and maritime lines cost 2. Armies of one or two brigades can move by maritime lines—a nice way to get a small Army potentially out of harm’s way. If an Army has movement points left after combat, it may continue moving if it pays a 1 MP cost for leaving the battle Area (an easy rule to miss). Since a Major Army only has 2 MP’s per play of an OPS card, it will never move immediately after combat.

Interception is where the non-active player moves an Army one area to interrupt the movement of an enemy Army. A die roll is needed to see if the interception is successful. If it is, combat occurs, with the active player’s Army as the attacker. It is important to note that you cannot intercept into an Area that has friendly brigades. As Vasey notes, armies of the ECW lacked the ability to coordinate at this level.

Battles

Would be defenders can attempt to evade the attacking Army along the same lines as Interception, with the Evasion attempt using a die roll. If the defender is not able to evade, or chooses not to do so, Dispersal is another option. After each side reveals their brigades, thus indicating the raw combat strength (either side might have combat cards which are not revealed at this point), the defender can chose to disperse his Army. The dispersed General(s) and brigades are removed to the Unemployed Generals Box on the play aid. During the next recruitment phase, half the total number of dispersed brigades (rounded down) are available as reinforcements, along with the generals. The other half of the brigades are available for normal recruitment.
Thus dispersal can “save” an Army, while removing it from play for a certain length of time. If this comes early in a turn, the effects of having a missing Army could be pronounced.

How to resolve a Battle

Before resolving a Battle, either player can play one, and only one, Combat card, with the attacker going first. After play of any Combat cards, each player then adds:

the score of the roll of a 1d6
the battle rating of his General (unled brigades have a 0)
the combat value of the total number of his brigades
the modifiers of any Combat card played

The Battle Scores for the Royalist and Parliament players are compared with the following results:

Equal scores, or scores with a difference of one are Drawn Battles. Each side loses one brigade, Veteran (these are the two strength brigades) if available. If the defender has the higher total, the attacker retreats to the last Area he left. If the attacker has the higher total, the defender retreats.

Indecisive Victories are scores with a difference of two to four. The higher score wins, the loser loses one brigade, Militia (the one strength brigades) if available, and retreats. The winner loses no units.

Major Victories are scores with a difference of five or more. The higher score loses no units. The loser sees the loss of two brigades, Militia if available, unless the Major Victory becomes a Decisive Victory through play of a Combat card which makes it possible (which results in the loss of Veteran instead of Militia brigades, if Veteran are available). The loser also retreats.

Any losing side that cannot retreat surrenders instead. All loses from Combat are permanently removed from the game (unless they are brought back through play of Event cards), meaning such brigades are not available for recruitment. Winning Armies are allowed to freely place a PC marker in a non-Fortress Area they now occupy. In the 1644-1645 turns, a Major or Decisive victory causes one brigade to desert from the losing side to the winner.

The winner of a Major or Decisive victory is allowed to draw one card (for Major) or two cards (for Decisive) which must be played or discarded immediately.

Local Notables

Local Notables are important persons who are governors of fortresses/key Areas. Brigades can be recruited with Local Notables, who can then transfer them to Generals in their Areas. Local Notables can only be removed through a Siege, and they have the ability to “raid” (to change Political Control) up to one or two Areas within the Regions they occupy.

Time to Pick a Bone—Part One:

Unhappy King Charles, or UKC for short, suffers from the same problems that plague the modern and not so modern wargame. The problem comes down to the following:

1) The rules of UKC sometimes lack clarity.
2) The rules sometimes suffer from verbosity (that I am the one writing this is not lost on me in terms of irony).
3) The rules do not and cannot cover every question, calling on the gamer to use either deductive, inductive, or just plain “cursive” reasoning.

Now, since writing this review some time back, I have not checked any FAQ's or BGG threads to see if my questions have been addressed. Likely many have.

Examples of the above:

Because I understand how communication is a complex, multi-faceted process, and because the following is based on my opinion, the reader must decide for him or herself what lacks clarity, what equals verbosity, and what is simply not sufficiently answered by the rules. In the examples I list, I will quote the rule verbatim, and though there is still the contextual aspect to remember, the reader will be able to compare my concerns with the actual rules.

One of the neat things about UKC is its use of card deck divided into Early, Mid and Late War cards. Add to these the Alternative History cards, the three Mandatory cards, and the two Core cards each side receives every hand. What is not so neat are the rules that explain how cards are added to the original deck. I quote from 6.7 “Adding to the Original Draw Deck,”:

“At the beginning of Winter 1643 follow the following procedure: No verbosity here, right? Why not write, ‘use the steps below’?

1. Shuffle the ‘Alt-Hist’ Cards

2. Draw face down the top two ‘Alt-Hist’ cards and put aside the rest of the cards for later, Why not say ‘randomly chosen’? The rest of which cards? There are multiple decks here, so perhaps ‘Alt-Hist” should be repeated.

3. Shuffle together the ‘Mid War’ Cards and the two ‘Alt-Hist” cards just drawn.

4. On the top of these cards place the ‘Army of the Solemn League and Covenant’ Card. This is the second of the three mandatory cards.

5. Place the shuffled stack of cards from 4. beneath the remaining current undrawn deck.

This is confusing. Do the rules mean that the ‘Army of the Solemn League’ card should go on top of an already shuffled Mid War deck (which contains the two randomly dealt ‘Alt-Hist’ cards), and then add the remaining Early War cards on top of it (on top of the ‘Army of the Solemn League’ card)? If so, the intention would be to have this mandatory card played in the Winter 1643 turn. Or do the rules mean that the ‘Army of the Solemn League’ card should be shuffled into the Mid War deck, along with the two ‘Alt-Hist’ cards? If so, the intention would be to make play of the ‘Army of the Solemn League’ card more random. It will be played no later than the end of the Mid War deck. Whatever the intention, it should be stated clearly.

6. Deal cards as usual.”

Yes, there is an illustration of how to do this, but it did not clarify my questions. The reader would have to see it and judge for him or herself.

This confusion is annoying and nothing more. It does not “break” the game--an outlandish thing to say, but not surprising from those in the crowd known to toss around words of precision such as “fiddly” and “chrome.” The game is more than playable either way one goes, but clarification in a 2nd edition set of rules would be appreciated. 6.8, which “explains” the entry of the Late War cards at least has the advantage of making it clear that the mandatory New Model Card will be played during the first turn that the Late War cards are used.
Next I turn to “12.0 Desertion & the Horrors of War,” specifically 12.2 and the “Desertion Selection Process” which gives the “Desertion Order Categories,” some in point form, the other in complete sentences. These “categories” are the priority sequence used to decide how much deserts from which army or area.

“1. Armies with Regional Generals (including Subordinates) outside the Region of those Generals irrespective of the Region of their Brigades. A Covenanter General with Parliament Brigades outside the North also suffers losses under this category.

I translate this into “Regional Generals outside their home regions suffer desertion loses. Scottish Generals outside the north region also suffer from desertion.” There is no need to use “armies” because a general will not be found on the game map without one. There is no need to use “brigades” because every army has at least one brigade or it is not an army.

2. Armies of more than three Brigades.

3. Armies in an Area adjacent to or [in the] the same space as an enemy Army that is not Masked or Besieged (13.0). That missing “in the” is just a typo. The only surprise would be if the rulebook had none at all.

4. Armies in an Area with an enemy PC marker (including those that are Masked or Besieged (13.0). Another typo with the parenthesis problem.
5. All Areas with friendly Brigades. This is the only occasion unled Brigades suffer Desertion.”

Q: What happens if, after you have removed the first of the required three brigades because a Northern general found himself stuck in the Midlands with a one-brigade army, none of the above “matched” the situation with your remaining armies? Do you just apply #5 with its “unled” brigades, even if your brigades are led? Does it matter what Region should suffer desertion ahead of any other? If Parliament has more brigades packed into the South than any other Region, would it make sense to have the South suffer more desertion loses? Given how “precise” the priority of the categories above, the question is legitimate. If it is the player’s choice when none of the above apply, could this not be clearly stated?

Vasey’s earlier ECW design—“The King’s War”—has four rules for desertion instead of UKC’s five, and I found TKW’s desertion rules to be clearer. But perhaps this is because I had already suffered through Unhappy King Charles.

That Unhappy King Charles has a less-than perfect rulebook is to be expected, for the perfect rulebook has yet to be written (and never will be written). In the case of UKC, the game is playable from the first reading. There are no major questions or issues—only annoying ones--that will stop the mythical average gamer from giving it a go from the get go. Furthermore, Charles Vasey, and his team of helpers, provide excellent product support. That is assuming Vasey is still on speaking terms with you.

My intention is not to be pedantic. I am frustrated with gamers who make complaints over areas like the rules without providing specific examples. You may disagree with my choices, but at least they are there for you to see.

In the proverbial end, each reader of the rules and player of the game makes his or her own decision. I am reminded of the words of F.E. Adcock,

"My purpose is interpretation, and as interpretation must be, in part, subjective, so it must be, in part, hazardous. All I can do is to give you the picture that has formed itself in my mind, without asking you to accept it when your own judgment does not find it acceptable."

Again, since the time I wrote this review, all this, and so much more, might be rule-squabbling history.

Time to Pick a Bone—Part Two:

The cards. It is all in the cards. Ever since Mark Herman’s “We the People,” gamers have too often suffered the effects of a bad deal when most of the Event cards can be effectively used by only one side. Why design cards that really only have one possible use in a CDG? The apparent lack of options becomes more telling the more one reads up on the English Civil War. It would seem that the inclusion of the two Core Cards (a 1 OPS and 2 OPS respectively) demonstrate awareness of how a bad hand can paralyze a player’s choices. But why allow possible paralysis in the first place? Why not allow choices? A deck could have been designed for each side, as well as including cards that could be used by either side.

A brief comparison between UKC and The King’s War:

1) TKW has the larger map with more Areas.

2) Movement is similar, with the larger Army being the slower Army.

3) The number of units is less in UKC, and the size of the Armies is much less in UKC.

4) TKW has a recruitment map for all of England for both sides, and you are allowed to recruit more than one unit from a particular Region. Being a card drive game, UKC makes it possible to recruit more than one time per turn.

5) In TKW, both recruitment and desertion depend on a random chit pull, with plus or minus modifiers thrown in to reflect the historical path.

6) In UKC, cavalry has no significance in battle. From a combat perspective, this is the most serious weakness in the UKC design. It is not historical and Vasey knows better. In his TKW, cavalry superiority can increase, or decrease, the loses of the opposing side.

7) The Naval rules in UKC only seem to exist to affect recruitment, so why bother to have them at all? Why add another layer to the game’s complexity for a one-dimensional rule, whose main affects seem to be that of using valuable map-design space that could have been more imaginatively used.

Why UKC is a game that you should own and play?

1) My bone-picking notwithstanding, the rules and examples are generally clear. I find the game to be neither a brain-buster nor simplistic.

2) With the exception concerning how I few of the counters punched out, the components have typical GMT high quality.

3) The various nuances and subtleties to the game. For example:

Bigger is not always better. The larger army can give you an edge in combat, but the would-be behemoth is slow and more prone to desertion. You can spend time and resources recruiting, but find you do not have the 3 OPS are Minor/Major cards needed to move the monster. So learn to use smaller and faster armies. A stack of four Veteran brigades (or perhaps better, three Veteran and one Militia) in the hands of a Rupert or a Cromwell will move more quickly and cost fewer OPS.

Where should you recruit? Small armies need protection while they build, lest they be gobbled up by an opportunistic opponent. Do not allow your attention to be fixated upon London and Oxford, for there are five Regions of which to be concerned, not simply two. And when you have the option of choosing the Veteran (2 strength) brigades, should you recruit as many as possible? Or save some of the best for the later part of the game?

To besiege a Fortress or Local Notable will likely involve a heavy investment of resources. Because it is relatively “easy” to break the siege of a smaller Army, you may want to build the behemoth for this purpose. Or perhaps have a smaller Army to run interference for you.

The more of your opponent’s Recruitment Areas you capture, the more you limit where he can build brigades.

Remember to take or defend Economic Infrastructures, of which there are nine on the board.

It will take experience to learn how to use those cards which seem to allow you to do so little. What is the best use for a 1 OPS card in a particular situation?

At what point do you either risk or initiate a Battle? How do you choose what is worth defending or taking? Remember, Combat loses are eliminated from the game, which lowers your Recruitment base. Or will you disperse your units? Only half will return in the next Reinforcement phase (which is much better than elimination from the game). In one game, I felt a smaller Parliament Army was too outnumbered to risk Combat, so I dispersed it. The problem was it was still early in the game, and it was early in that particular turn, which allowed the Royalist player to enter nearby Regions unchecked. As a result of choosing not to fight, Parliament fell behind quickly in the battle for Political Control. On the other hand, there will be situations where you should choose battle.

Conclusion:

Quibbles with the rules and card deck aside, Unhappy King Charles is among the best, if not the best, two-player card driven game I have played. The only possible exception I can note is Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. UKC is also one of the best wargames I have enjoyed. It is among the most nuanced historical treats that one could find on a mapboard. Complexity is saved for where it belongs: in the area of strategy.

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bentlarsen wrote:
Lee Brimmicombe-Wood’s design invokes two gripes. First, you cannot see the area names, once the spaces are occupied by a counter. Event cards sometimes make it necessary to find specific places.
I resolved the invisible place name problem by buying blue and orange bingo tokens which, being transparent, still shows who controls the space and lets you read the place name. Assuming there's no units stacked there of course.

UKC is one of my favorite wargames too.

Thanks for the review.
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leroy43 wrote:
I resolved the invisible place name problem by buying blue and orange bingo tokens which, being transparent, still shows who controls the space and lets you read the place name.

And from the image gallery, an example that solution:

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Where the heck did this interest in WW1 come from?
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Tis sublime this game and, for me personally, I haven't had any particular quibbles with the map. I just get a surge of joy when I see it because it's such a beauty.
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I've yet to get it to the table, but I've now read the rules thoroughly, and find this one of the richest rulesets ever in terms of period detail. I now feel I not only know how to play the game, but actually understand far more about the historical period too. Lots of details are tied in to the historical facts.

And I think I have some of those transparent tiddlywinks too...
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One beef of mine regarding the game is that the game doesn't feel like a civil war. It feels like a conventional war. You don't get to vy for the loyalties of the English people. It's not a political game. The game limits itself to operational concerns.

I like how it covers those, but wish the design was more ambitious than that. More interesting events with real political trade-offs would have been a great addition to a pretty generic milquetoast deck.

Charles Vasey once responded to this criticism in, iirc, saying that the conflict lines in British society were set in stone and hence political leeway neglible - and hence not worth covering in the game. Doesn't convince me.

I trust Vasey's ECW fascination simply lies in operational concerns and that his design reflects that interest of his.

So I'm still waiting for an overtly political ECW game.
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charlesf wrote:
One beef of mine regarding the game is that the game doesn't feel like a civil war. It feels like a conventional war. You don't get to vy for the loyalties of the English people. It's not a political game. The game limits itself to operational concerns.

I like how it covers those, but wish the design was more ambitious than that. More interesting events with real political trade-offs would have been a great addition to a pretty generic milquetoast deck.

Charles Vasey once responded to this criticism in, iirc, saying that the conflict lines in British society were set in stone and hence political leeway neglible - and hence not worth covering in the game. Doesn't convince me.

I trust Vasey's ECW fascination simply lies in operational concerns and that his design reflects that interest of his.

So I'm still waiting for an overtly political ECW game.


Your trust is deeply misplaced.

My fascination rests with the reality of the situation, not some fantasy political world which would give a rollicking good euro. I see I have not convinced you, but of course, you have not convinced me that this leeway exists either. The Man of Blood had many failings, deceitful, a bad friend/master, self-absorbed and without principle (save one) but he was in one key respect magnificent; he stood to that one principle like Nelson to his guns. Neither victory nor defeat could sway him from his absolute belief in defending his Royal rights. Captured, placed on trial for his life, he realised his doom was pronounced and gave one of the most eloquent defences of the Royal Prerogative I have read. He was a dead man talking, but his sons were not, Charles was determined to leave them a working political philosophy even at the cost of his life.

This is not the stuff of which popular politicians are made; it is conviction politics pur et dur. I stand amazed that you might think otherwise, but of course we all see things differently.

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Given that this is Vasey’s second--are there more?--design covering the English Civil War, I will make a brief comparison with the map of his first ECW game, The King’s War.

Second published; there have been others.
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bentlarsen wrote:



6) In UKC, cavalry has no significance in battle. From a combat perspective, this is the most serious weakness in the UKC design. It is not historical and Vasey knows better. In his TKW, cavalry superiority can increase, or decrease, the loses of the opposing side.



Losses actually, I think you are missing the dramatic change in scale here. UKC units are three times bigger than TKW units. At this scale many battles were two or three units a side. There is not room to separate the various arms of service. There are no separate cavalry units in UKC. The cavalry is in the mix of the 3,000 men. By lifting the scale (size, distance and time) we have a much faster game but a less detailed one. So I do know better, but I also recognise the effect of that change.

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So I do know better, but I also recognise the effect of that change.


Charles, I agree.

For me, it is a trade off between historical chrome and ease of play. Both The King's War and UKC are fine games to play.

goo

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hammurabi70 wrote:
Given that this is Vasey’s second--are there more?--design covering the English Civil War, I will make a brief comparison with the map of his first ECW game, The King’s War.

Second published; there have been others.


Which ones do you remember? He said scratching his head.
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I've just played my first game of it yesterday, despite the fact that the game had languished on my shelf for some three months. I love it so far and especially appreciate that the chrome is very cleverly mixed into the principal engine not just a pile of detailed rules generally irrelevant to the overall gameplay. A great game!
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wilk wrote:
I've just played my first game of it yesterday, despite the fact that the game had languished on my shelf for some three months. I love it so far and especially appreciate that the chrome is very cleverly mixed into the principal engine not just a pile of detailed rules generally irrelevant to the overall gameplay. A great game!


Do you think it could be applied, with scale differences, to the period of the Potop, or perhaps to the Great Northern War? The local notables might be useable as the various Confederations.

I did wonder about a more military version of the American War of Independence where I do see a much wider range of political opportunity - following on Charles F's earlier thoughts.
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Charles Vasey wrote:


Do you think it could be applied, with scale differences, to the period of the Potop, or perhaps to the Great Northern War? The local notables might be useable as the various Confederations.


This would need some research, but I would have some concerns about recruitment. For example, the Polish king needed the consent of the Assembly to raise an army, so for the Potop at least recruitment could be made more difficult for the Polish side, as the Assembly was usually very reluctant to do anything, while the Suedes could be more harrassed by local insurgencies (notables, harsher desertion and attrition rules?) It is true that it seems a fairly universal system (e.g. the siege rules seem well adapted for any 17th century conflict) and I would be very interested to see it applied to some other war.
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Having just punched (well, carefully cut) out the counters, I am again surprised how such a 'big' feeling set of rules requires so few counters. There are plenty of blanks on the countersheet too.

It's a very different kind of war to those I'm used to gaming...

One annoyance is the map. The two ends are oppositely oriented, so the end furthest away from either player will be the one the 'right way up' for you! OK, there are meant to be two players, fair enough - annoying when you play solo though, I'll have to set it up 'across' the table - so the two player aids will be too far away for comfort shake

Now... to corner clip the counters or not...
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Wulf Corbett wrote:

Now... to corner clip the counters or not...


You do ,and I'll shoot you down like the mangy dog you are....

[spits]

Yip ta hootie.
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I agree that this is a great game. The only thing needed to make it more purdy would be a nice mounted board, like GMT is offering for most of their other CDGs now.
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While I have never cared much for mounted boards, I admit that GMT has spoiled me with their recent offerings and when UKC! finally hit the table yesterday I did think that it could use a mounted board. At any rate if a mounted board is ever released (as a "deluxe map" perhaps), I'm game. Furthermore, it's one of the most beatiful maps out there (I therefore happily forgive its certain functional shortcomings) and really deserves such treatment.
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Charles Vasey wrote:
Wulf Corbett wrote:

Now... to corner clip the counters or not...

You do ,and I'll shoot you down like the mangy dog you are....

[spits]

Yip ta hootie.
Mr Vasey, you seem to have near-infinite patience with your detractors, and nought but abuse for your supporters.

I like that attitude

Now... where are those nail clippers... whistle
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Wulf Corbett wrote:
Charles Vasey wrote:
Wulf Corbett wrote:

Now... to corner clip the counters or not...

You do ,and I'll shoot you down like the mangy dog you are....

[spits]

Yip ta hootie.
Mr Vasey, you seem to have near-infinite patience with your detractors, and nought but abuse for your supporters.

I like that attitude

Now... where are those nail clippers... whistle


FX: Ennio Morricone music

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wilk wrote:
Charles Vasey wrote:


Do you think it could be applied, with scale differences, to the period of the Potop, or perhaps to the Great Northern War? The local notables might be useable as the various Confederations.


This would need some research, but I would have some concerns about recruitment. For example, the Polish king needed the consent of the Assembly to raise an army, so for the Potop at least recruitment could be made more difficult for the Polish side, as the Assembly was usually very reluctant to do anything, while the Suedes could be more harrassed by local insurgencies (notables, harsher desertion and attrition rules?) It is true that it seems a fairly universal system (e.g. the siege rules seem well adapted for any 17th century conflict) and I would be very interested to see it applied to some other war.


The power and patronage structures would indeed need to be different but some mechanisms might be useful. I can see a need for cavalry units here.
 
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bentlarsen wrote:
I would rank the UKC rulebook to be easier to understand than For the People and Paths of Glory, and I would consider it to be roughly along the complexity lines of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage.


I've only played the game once, and found it to be very enjoyable, but I'd take issue with this. I found aspects of the rules fairly hard to digest, and I took to H:RvC relatively easily. I'd place it on the scale closer to PoG.

Essentially the only major critique of the game I'd make is that parts of the mechanics seem overly complex for the effect: Local Notables, Regional Generals and the subordination rules are particular culprits. But then again it's entirely possible having only played a single game that I've yet to properly appreciate the value of these rules in terms of strategy. And of course many "proper" wargamers may be more concerned with the historical accuracy of these effects than I am.

charlesf wrote:
One beef of mine regarding the game is that the game doesn't feel like a civil war. It feels like a conventional war. You don't get to vy for the loyalties of the English people. It's not a political game. The game limits itself to operational concerns.


I find this criticism a bit baffling. Surely one of the strength of CDG's generally is that they can apply political effects on the game through the event cards alone, and leave operational stuff for the board? That certainly seems to be the case of UKC.

And although my appreciated of ECW history is certainly less than that of the designer, what I do know would lead me to agree with him. This wasn't a "normal" civil war over differences of policy, but one that was more strongly linked to religion and the Europe-wide wars of the reformation that preceded it. Those sorts of beliefs are far less malleable that political opinion.
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MattDP wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:
I would rank the UKC rulebook to be easier to understand than For the People and Paths of Glory, and I would consider it to be roughly along the complexity lines of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage.


I've only played the game once, and found it to be very enjoyable, but I'd take issue with this. I found aspects of the rules fairly hard to digest, and I took to H:RvC relatively easily. I'd place it on the scale closer to PoG.

Essentially the only major critique of the game I'd make is that parts of the mechanics seem overly complex for the effect: Local Notables, Regional Generals and the subordination rules are particular culprits. But then again it's entirely possible having only played a single game that I've yet to properly appreciate the value of these rules in terms of strategy. And of course many "proper" wargamers may be more concerned with the historical accuracy of these effects than I am.


I'd agree about complexity, I set it at 7 in the "back of the box" ratings. And yes, I was far more interested in the historical effect than in a simply playable game. I'm amazed how many folks have accepted my version, though many will not have done so. I am minded to start a thread on how we can warn players of this sort of thing based on two very interesting ratings comments. I'd prefer people not be disappointed.
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Charles Vasey wrote:
hammurabi70 wrote:
Given that this is Vasey’s second--are there more?--design covering the English Civil War, I will make a brief comparison with the map of his first ECW game, The King’s War.

Second published; there have been others.


Which ones do you remember? He said scratching his head.


Well the one that predates CDG designs, with cards for the generals instead as one example.
 
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hammurabi70 wrote:
Charles Vasey wrote:
hammurabi70 wrote:
Given that this is Vasey’s second--are there more?--design covering the English Civil War, I will make a brief comparison with the map of his first ECW game, The King’s War.

Second published; there have been others.


Which ones do you remember? He said scratching his head.


Well the one that predates CDG designs, with cards for the generals instead as one example.


Blimey, The Good Old Cause, I'd almost forgotten that. It was like a mix between the Ariel Game (big areas) and a CDG with as many cards as each leader had value, so Rupert did more than Lord Charles Vasey. You played the cards in your chosen order subject to activity levels. I wonder how I could re-cycle that one? It had my earliest narrative results table.
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