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Subject: Pocket review: a worthy successor to a legendary game rss

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Garry Stevens
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After just one game, I am prepared to be told that I’ve misunderstood many rules, but given that, here’s my impression. So I’ll omit qualifiers such as “seems to”, “apparently”, and so on, and just assume I know what I’m talking about, always a dangerous assumption.

I get misty-eyed
Sometime around 1972 a long-gone British company called Philmar published “Kingmaker”, a multi-player game of the Wars of the Roses. Avalon-Hill brought out its own version in 1974, with an update in 1980. The game was a delight of colour, in both the literal and metaphorical senses: lots of charming heraldic shields bashing each other to death on a glorious map of England (and some other places). Voting in Parliament, embassies that sent to the King to goodness-know-where and the legendary “Marshall to Thetford!” that instantly broke apart your massing stack.

The game was a delight and a revelation, and for the crustiest of old grognards who bought the original it holds a hallowed place in our gaming memories: revered as one of the first multi-player wargames; gorgeous to look at; a solid historical theme; a simulation as well as a game; and just plain good fun.

Even by 1980 it was clear that Kingmaker was nowhere near as much fun as we had thought it was in our youth: play was repetitive, and strategies not very complex. Yet it remained as a beloved memory, rather like that first boy/girlfriend who was perfect for your adolescence, but who was best left as a remembrance of things past.

Crown of Roses
More than 30 years later, GMT games brings us the CDG Crown of Roses. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has the misty memories of Kingmaker that I have, even if you never play it. This a worthy successor to that game, evoking all the colour and excitement of the Wars of the Roses. How grand it is to see those heraldic shields marching once again across the fields of England.

We played the short two-player scenario (PB 3.2) which begins with Edward IV as king, holding Henry VI as prisoner.

Unlike Kingmaker, battles are not the major determinants of victory. The quickest way to victory is to kill your opponent’s heirs, but first you have to find them, and then bring them to battle; both difficult tasks given the fog-of-war block system. Typically you only have 6 or so card-plays to move your troops into position for battle, since at the end of each turn all your nobles run back to winter quarters, dispersing your troops. Moreover, the staging of your massive army has to be carefully planned: under the attrition rules, you cannot simply mass armies in a shire without losses, waiting for the great battle in the next card play.

This accords with the history as recounted in the game’s playbook. Only 17 battles were fought over the 32 years covered by the game.

The second way to victory in the various scenarios is to be voted king for X turns (sometimes consecutive turns, sometimes not, depending on the scenario). Votes are determined by the number and quality of nobles you have, and the number and quality of offices you hold. You get both nobles and offices by accumulating and expending Influence Points (IPs), which roughly means occupying as many shires as you can. For both nobles and offices, you spend IPs in an auction process: in the former case the bidding happens slowly, spread over the course of a turn; in the latter quickly, at the end of the turn.

The heart of the game is, like all CDGs, the card play. For each card, the basic choice is between playing an event, moving stacks (either moving to battle or just occupying shires), or bidding IPs for nobles. Frankly, I have no idea of the strategies, so I’ll just leave it at that.

I’m not convinced this is a great two-player game, as per the scenario we played: I wouldn’t play one of my favourite games Republic of Rome two-player, either. The player with the King seems to have massive advantages in many areas of game-play, and is difficult to knock off his perch. The various bidding and auction aspects are also not much fun with just two players.

But I am very much looking forward to a four player romp. I commend the designer and developers for delivering a quality product that recalls the blue-smoke nights of my youth, when we sat on the floor and played Kingmaker.

Pedantic historical nitpicks: don’t hurt me! don’t hurt me!
The following has nothing to do with the quality of the game, and is just my pedantism. Feel free to whack me about the head with comments to the effect of “No one fracking cares”. And I’m quite happy to be shown to be utterly wrong.

I’m not sure why – in the playbook – the designers keep prepending the title “Sir” to all the various nobles. For example, on page 24 of the playbook they refer to “Sir Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeter”. As far as I can ascertain, Henry was never known by the inferior title of “Sir”, which designates a mere knighthood, vastly below his dukedom. He never received a knighthood, and while he was a duke, he would have been called “His Grace”, a title that both dukes and the kings of England used until Henry VIII invented the title “His Majesty” (previously only applied to Jesus Christ in his majesty– how arrogant is that!), precisely to distinguish himself from the dukes. See http://thepeerage.com/p10727.htm#i107262 (note that the page says he is 2nd Duke, not 3rd– depends how count).

So, sigh, as another unwanted nitpick, in the game the King card should be “His Grace, the King of England”.


Garry

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Eoin Corrigan
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Thanks for the review.

As another long-time Kingmaker player, I'm pleased to hear that some of the strenghts of that game have been retained, and some weaknesses jettisonned.

A couple of queries:

- How are Ireland, the Isle of Mann and Calais handled?

- Does the game still have ships, storms etc?

- Is the beginning of the game similar to Kingmaker, during which each faction recieves a random selection of supporters, towns, ships etc?

Thanks in advance!
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gehazi mann
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The Isle of Mann, Ireland, and Calais are considered normal Shires and "part of England" for all purposes, although of course you'll have to use sea movement to get there. Ireland/Calais/Scotland all have Exile boxes where Nobles can hide out from rival armies but lose popular support (which modifies Crown votes) and sacrifice their ability to attend Parliament.

Ships are virtualized, anyone can do a "sea move" which uses up an entire 3 OPS card to move to a coastal region in the same sea zone (no danger) or an adjacent sea zone (with attrition). No one stays at sea; I don't recall any event cards specifically targeting sea movement.

There are four different scenarios which start things off slightly differently, no random elements.

The big difference, if I can remember my Kingmaker, is that while in that game players are controlling "interest groups" that can control various claimants, in CoR, players represent the various houses themselves, so in the normal setup, the Lancastrian player controls the home Shires of Lancastrian allied nobles, the Yorkist...etc. Most nobles start unaligned and can be blind-bid on over the course of each turn. There are no towns or cities on the board aside from London.

By the way, great overview of the game, Garry. I'm looking forward to breaking it out soon and will try to write up an illustrated session report.
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Edward Kendrick
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DrGarry wrote:

The following has nothing to do with the quality of the game, and is just my pedantism.


That would be "pedantry".

whistle
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Edward Kendrick
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Tongue now out of cheek, thanks for the review, and I'm glad I pre-ordered the game!

And I agree about messing up the titles - you would think that having spent years on the game and obviously having a feel for the period, they wouldn't make this kind of superficial error.
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Edward Kendrick
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Oh, one more thing - the Exeter dukedom had a chequered career, and our friend Henry was the third duke; but not of the first creation (which expired when his grandfather John Holland, the first duke of the first creation, was executed for treason - ie backing the wrong contender - by Henry IV in 1400), nor of the second creation (which expired with Thomas Beaufort, the heirless first duke of the second creation, in 1426), nor of the third creation, which never happened, BUT (deep breath) of the restored first creation, which was granted by Henry V in 1439 to the son of the first duke, also named John to avoid confusion, who thus became the second duke and was the father of our Henry Holland (not to be confused with Dutch William).

And some people say boardgaming isn't educational.
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Eoin Corrigan
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Thanks for the additional information, gehazi. Appreciated.

This is going on my wishlist.
 
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Martin Kirsipuu
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I also preorderd the game and it's currently in the post office. I have to pay additional tax, which suck big time (thats the price of orderig from US)!

But how are the components of the game? And how long did it take for you to finish the 2 player game?
 
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Garry Stevens
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Barbarossa wrote:
DrGarry wrote:

The following has nothing to do with the quality of the game, and is just my pedantism.


That would be "pedantry".

whistle


Damn right, too. My sesquipedalianism hoisted on its own petard.

Barbarossa wrote:
Oh, one more thing - the Exeter dukedom had a chequered career... BUT (deep breath) of the restored first creation, which was granted by Henry V in 1439 to the son of the first duke, also named John to avoid confusion, who thus became the second duke and was the father of our Henry Holland (not to be confused with Dutch William).

And some people say boardgaming isn't educational.


Man, that's a lot more detail than I have access to, and I thought I had some pretty good sources. What are your sources? The one I could afford is The Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire, by Bernard Burke, 1883, available in many reprints.

Kirss wrote:


But how are the components of the game? And how long did it take for you to finish the 2 player game?


The components are excellent. The map is a good stiff cardboard, as in Twilight Struggle. The last time I saw a proper mounted board for a wargame was 1989: Dawn of Freedom: these days you only find those for eurogames like Tikal or El Grande, not limited-market wargames. The main playing pieces are wooden blocks, and no problem there. The counters, mainly IP counters, are a quite thick and robust cardstock.

One thing worth mentioning at this point. CoR has very few informational counters, which I regard as a good thing. One of my favourite CDG games, Wellington, is burdened by enough informational cardboard counters to fuel a small power station for a month. Half our playing time of Wellington is spent in just sorting them outgulp. In that respect, CoR is very clean and lean.

We took about four hours to get through three of the four turns in the scenario (at which point my opponent surrendered), including a lot of futzy learning time, making pastrami-on-rye toasted sandwiches, and general gass-bagging.

From my very limited experience so far, the heart of the game-- the card plays in the Operations Phase-- can go quite quickly, even with a full four players: there is only so much you can do playing a single card, even if for six times.

At a guess, I would say that fully one third of a turn's time (if not more) would be taken up by accounting functions (such as counting the IPs everyone controls), voting on the King, gaining new nobles from Parliament, bidding on offices, and such like; all of which happen after the cut-and-thrust of the Operations Phase. Indeed, all your efforts in the Ops phase are just setting you up for the goodies to come thereafter (you hope).

But it does mean that the game has two separate tempos. In the Ops Phase you hope that all your frantic card plays, movements, battles, and IP expenses have set you up to reap rewards. Then you spend 20 minutes working out if that was the case. Edit: Bear in mind, though, that this includes the equivalent of Kingmaker's Parliament phase,in which offices are distributed by votes. Parliament was often the best bit of Kingmaker. But there's little fun in that with only two players.

Garry

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Frédéric Mariusse
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DrGarry wrote:

I’m not convinced this is a great two-player game, as per the scenario we played: I wouldn’t play one of my favourite games Republic of Rome two-player, either. The player with the King seems to have massive advantages in many areas of game-play, and is difficult to knock off his perch. The various bidding and auction aspects are also not much fun with just two players.


I bought this game as a two-player game mainly, I hope I did not make a costly mistake zombie
 
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Steffan O'Sullivan
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atavachron wrote:
DrGarry wrote:

I’m not convinced this is a great two-player game, ...


I bought this game as a two-player game mainly, I hope I did not make a costly mistake zombie


We just finished our first session, and played it two-player. We did not finish the game: we played for six hours and got three turns of Scenario 4 completed. There were a *lot* of rules look-ups.

Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm ... While we're quite certain the game would be *very* enjoyable with three or four players, we're equally certain it's not really meant as a two-player game with the rules as written. DrGarry's speculations seem spot on to us. Yes, that's presumptuous of us to believe that after only three turns of one incomplete game.

There are two pieces of good news:

1. We really do think it would absolutely shine with more than two players - being able to gang up on the leader would be not only essential but fun.

2. We're toying with trying a variant to see if it work better with two-players: no King! Political victory is changed to number of turns a Senior Heir is Lord Chancellor, bought with Influence as normal. (But no using the King's bonus because he's not in the game, but he does pick the order the RoP influence auctions are resolved.) Ties broken by die rolls. No vote counting phase!

This may not be any better, but we do think the King advantage is simply too great to overcome in a two-player game.

At any rate, we enjoyed the game - excellent combat system, fun cards, nice influence voting in Parliament system, etc. It just seems like two-player games would always have a runaway leader issue unless card and dice luck turned against you.
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Edward Kendrick
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DrGarry wrote:

Man, that's a lot more detail than I have access to, and I thought I had some pretty good sources. What are your sources?


Nothing too special: http://thepeerage.com is good (and antipodean - for me anyway), and good old wikipedia.

 
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Garry Stevens
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sos1 wrote:

1. We really do think it would absolutely shine with more than two players - being able to gang up on the leader would be not only essential but fun.

...

This may not be any better, but we do think the King advantage is simply too great to overcome in a two-player game.

At any rate, we enjoyed the game - excellent combat system, fun cards, nice influence voting in Parliament system, etc. It just seems like two-player games would always have a runaway leader issue unless card and dice luck turned against you.


I'm with sos1 on this. You wouldn't player Kingmaker two-handed, nor should you this. However, for all those of us who loved Kingmaker, this game is worth getting as a testament to the progress in wargaming 'technology' over 30 years.

I'd also emphasise that the graphics are gorgeous and clean, as compared to, say, the recently released CDG Kingdom of Heaven: The Crusader States 1097-1291 (KoH), where the graphics are gorgeous but not clean

The combat system has enough detail to make battles fun without being tedious. However, it was also the area we had the most rules difficulties. The basic problem is that a single combat round is limited by the number of blocks that the Leader block (highest ranking noble) can command. This is typically 2 or 3 blocks: not many-- perhaps the Leader, his office block, and one other noble. So what happens if there are more blocks involved? The rules construct a fairly detailed system in which other nobles gradually feed in to the battle. The designer has gone to great lengths to explain the subtleties, but even so there is some head-scratching as to who gets to fight when. I suspect that after a lot more experience the mechanism will become second-nature, but until then I see many a rules argy-bargy.

Given my recent hair-pulling experience with the recently released KoH rules I thought I'd have more problems than I actually did. Unlike KoH, the rules system has few irritating exceptions and complexities that seem to be there just for the sake of complexity.
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Brian Morris
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There is a reason the rules are so well written. I participated in some of the early playtesting for this (had to pull out unfortunately) and Andrew Young was the best developer I've ever had the pleasure of working with. When the Living Rules for this game were published I went and looked up some of the sections where we had some real head scratching early on and it was great to see how clear these are now.

The game itself is likely best with 4 player. I only did 2 player testing and it was a good game with 2 but 4 is the sweet spot I think. Mind you I always feel that 4 is the perfect number for boardgames.

This is actually the game I've waited years to be made. I've said for a long time that I wanted a wargame that combined the political and social aspects of the CDGs with the fog of war of block gaming. That was why I so wanted to be part of the playtest and why I was disappointed when I had to drop out. This is truly the first game that's done that and I think they got it right.

This certainly has been the year for medieval wargaming. Crown of Roses, Virgin Queen and Kingdom of Heaven.
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mrbeankc wrote:

This certainly has been the year for medieval wargaming. Crown of Roses, Virgin Queen and Kingdom of Heaven.


Virgin Queen isn't medieval; it isn't even high medieval. It's solidly renaissance.

(gods, I love the many displays of wargamer pedantry in this thread)
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Brian Morris
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True. Definitely Renaissance. I was being very general there. My point being though that this is definitely the year for folks interested in the pre-napoleonic era.
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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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One thing worth mentioning at this point. CoR has very few informational counters, which I regard as a good thing.


Yes, as we know so well, the greater the lack of information, the greater the clarity of the game and the game-play. Why fudge things up by having a set of informational counters that will help players to distinguish friend from foe, fiend from foe, and fie from foe? We wouldn't want to muddle things up by helping all sides to sort out whose on first, what's on second, and nobody's on third. Nosiree.

goo

 
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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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Quote:
There is a reason the rules are so well written. I participated in some of the early playtesting for this (had to pull out unfortunately) and Andrew Young was the best developer I've ever had the pleasure of working with. When the Living Rules for this game were published I went and looked up some of the sections where we had some real head scratching early on and it was great to see how clear these are now.


Which rules do you have in mind, Brian? Surely not Crown of Roses? Or do you find Ted Raicer's rulebooks just as delightful? No need to be modest here, so give yourself another well-deserved pat on the back for your efforts, particularly when it comes to modesty.

goo

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