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Howard Posner
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First of all, a confession. Yet another review after only one play of the game, and that has not yet finished, as we are only in turn 5. My excuse this time is that we have been playing that one game for close to 12 hours, so I do feel qualified to comment on the feel and mechanics of the game, and after 12 hours we all want to keep going and see if The French finally marry off the last Valois Princess, Spain’s outrageous run of luck in the diplomatic stakes can continue, or England can get revenge for the assassination of Queen Elizabeth.
Virgin Queen (VQ) is the successor to Here I Stand (HiS), directly following it in historical and pretty much in game terms. Ed Beach has cleaned up a lot of the rules, and removed a lot of dice rolling in the religious phases ( HiS had been called 16th century Yahtzee by a few cruel iconoclasts). I suspect most players of VQ will have already played HiS. VQ is a better game and deserves to be played by lots of people, including those unfamiliar with HiS, but it probably won’t.
Virgin Queen is a magnificent game, and worthy of a 9 or 10 rating, but all the things that make it magnificent also mean that only a tiny minority of gamers are ever likely to attempt to play it. It should be obvious by now that I love the game, but this is a review not a fan letter so I should at least give some idea of the way it plays.

1) What sort of game is it?
At core it is a card driven wargame, very heavily weighted towards the card play rather than the wargame. Each turn each nation gets a hand of from four to six cards, one or two superstrength ‘home’ cards, and plays them one by one as either an event or for action points. The cards cover almost all the major political and religious events of the period. All pretty standard stuff, with suitable historical chrome added. Let me rephrase that. With so much historical chrome added that decades can go by without any wars at all as the chrome takes over.

2) What makes it different?
Asymmetry. It is the most asymmetric game I have ever played. Plenty of games have different VP systems, or different mechanics for different factions, but VQ forces you to think like the nation you are playing. England spends it’s life pirating, organising Lizzie’s suitors in neat rows so she can jilt them, and misbehaving with the Scots. The French diplome away like mad and sit on the Huguenots. The Ottoman fights anything that moves. The HRE wanders around central Europe persuading Italian painters to decorate his court and leaning on the Pope, the protestants revolt all over France and Holland, and the Spaniard is thoroughly evil and must be destroyed.
It is not balanced. Some nations start stronger. As in real life, the weker need to band together to avoid being stomped by the stronger.
And it all succeeds in game terms. Painful though it is to plough through the rules, they do work. Each subsystem is run differently, requires thought, and rewards ‘historical’ play by the relevant nation.

3) 3) Does it really take that long to play?
Yup. The game is not interested in playability compromises to make it flow. It is interested in the 16th century, and how the great European nations of that time interacted.
There is everything from piracy to round the world exploring to royal marriages to excommunications to to assassinations to wars to religious revolts to foreign colonies to stillborn children to sieges to plagues to......
You get the picture. Nothing is abstracted. There are a lot of rules, and most of them will be of no interest at all to two of the nations, of passing interest to another two, and of desperate game changing importance to the other two.
It will take my group more than three full days to play the game through, and we had previously played HiS, so we had some familiarity with most of the rules.
Often two of us were looking up one rule, while three others were sorting out a completely different one. We did all have photocopies of the rulebook, and it probably is a necessity for each player to have one.
We did ignore the rules that limits the diplomacy phase at the start of each turn to 10 minutes. We figured that if he had to put that rule in, he probably had more than 10 minutes worth of diplomacy happening during playtesting and we wanted to play it out in full. We probably added an hour or two to the game by that alone, but it seemd worth it to us.
4) How many should play?
There are six player nations, and the game is a true multi player. Ed Beach has done a great job of beefing up the diplomacy rules so that it plays with four or five players as well as six, and the non playing nations get to drift in and out of the control of others, but a two or three player game it ain’t. Gathering 6 players for one day is hard enough, but a game that takes up to 15 hours to play is always going to have the odd drop out on the way. We found that even when one player couldn’t make the second weekend, the rules accommodated the switch from player to neutral nation elegantly and without impacting on the flow of the game. HiS could only really be played by six players, so VQ is a great improvement, but at the end of the day minimum four players, preferably all six.

4) Downtime?
Those of you who have read any of my other reviews know I am very anti downtime. I hate games where I can go and read a book in between my turns. VQ has hours of what some would call downtime, so I should hate it. Right? Wrong. VQ is primarily about plotting. Plotting to assassinate the queen, plotting to raise the flag of revolt, plotting to raid the Spanish treasure fleet, plotting to get enough diplomatic influence to wean the king of the Scots from the French, and myriad other schemes. It usually takes at least two or three card plays to bring your cunning plan to fruition. Despite the enormous amount of time it takes to play, you (well, all in our group) remain interested in the doings of the other nations because they impact so much on your plots. There are cards which screw you that can come from anyone. There are incidents that have nothing to do with you that distract another player just long enough for you to leap into the gap.
I wasn’t bored as the Protestant during the Spanish assassination of Elizabeth because it turned England’s eye from Scotland, which gave the French an opportunity there, which in turn distracted the French from the Huguenots long enough for me to plot a revolt in southern France.
One caveat. This is a historical game. It probably only works if you have an interest in the history. Would I have been as interested if it had been the Klingons, the Antarans and the Alpha Centurans? Probably not.

Enough. Virgin Queen is a magnificent, uncompromising game, drenched in theme, and wherever theme is up against playability in this game theme wins. It is just playable enough to make it a fantastic gaming experience if you don’t mind a big complicated rulebook, accept that it will take forever to play, and are prepared to immerse yourself in the history.
It will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and for most casual gamers is probably unplayable, but within it’s own narrow compass, this game is, quite simply, the best. A 10.
One last thing. I have read Windjammers excellent review of this game. I too stand in awe of his ability to complete the game in 4 hours.

Howard Posner
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Murray Fish
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They explained everything in detail and at great length. After they finished I sat, despondent, contemplating a bleak and empty future. "I’m glad you’re depressed" said one. "It means you’ve understood the situation.”
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Nice review - thanks for posting!
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Colin Campbell
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Excellent review, I agree with almost everything you say . We’ve just completed turn 3 . Having played HIS is a definite advantage and this is a worthy sequel to that great game , I think I prefer VQ. We are limited to 3 x Regular players , who can be relied on to turn up every week and when we played HIS each player took 2 x nations each and it worked for us . If you are a “ have to win at all costs “ type of player then these games may not be for you as there are just too many variables in the CDG system. If , on the other hand , you want to immerse yourself in the period and get a flavour of the turbulent times and historical events that shaped and influenced the decisions made by the Monarchs and rulers then this game design will work for you . Games like this drive me back into the history books to learn more , I look on them as Educational tools . I wish we had had them in my schooldays . 😎
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