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Subject: It's good to be the King rss

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Chris Larkin
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Overview:
Crown of Roses is a 2 to 4 player card driven strategy game published by GMT Games. Players take on the roles of four of the rival royal houses vying for control of the throne of England. The game takes place during the historical War of the Roses period of 15th century England (1455-1485). Touted as a successor to the Avalon Hill game Kingmaker released 30 years ago. Not being quite old enough to played the original game, this review will have to stand on the merits of the game by itself.

To achieve the goal of controlling the throne, players will have to out maneuver, battle, and influence important Nobles (and their military forces) to their cause. If popular support is beyond your grasp, eliminating your enemies heir's will also leave the throne available. Victory conditions vary per scenario but in general there are three ways to win. Eliminate all enemy heirs, be voted king a specific number of turns, or win an economic victory at the end of the final turn (VP victory).

In the two games I've played, both four player, the game lasted between 4 and 7 hours playing the first scenario. Four scenarios are included.

Components:
The game comes packed in a standard quality GMT game box (IE: Excellent), inside you will find:
-Several wooden cylinders of each player color and black (Used for tracking various things on the game board)
-54 square blocks and the sheet of 54 stickers to apply to them.
-224 Counters
-Deck of 110 Cards
-Eight Parliament cards
-15 Dice, 5 of each color (Red, Blue, Green) NOTE: I got an extra green die in my box, I think this was a mistake.
-Two player aid cards
-Four player mats
-One full color rule book, and One full color play book.
-One map board.

There have been some complaints about the wooden blocks not being painted or cut consistently, however my set was flawless. GMT has insisted that anyone with a defect should contact them right away for a replacement.

The map board is not mounted, in my personal opinion this is just fine. The quality is exceptional. The colors are very impressive and it's printed on a very hard card-stock. It stood up to play just fine both without and with a plexiglass cover. You can leave this one set up overnight and not have to worry about warping.

The cards are again standard GMT cards, excellent and they shuffle very well.

The counter sheets that come with the game (There are two) are not center cut, in that each counter is cut right next to the next counter without leaving cardboard in between. This is not uncommon and results in the corners of the counters having bits on cardboard on them, and requires more care to punch them out.

The rule book is 44 pages with many full color illustrations and examples. Laid out in standard GMT fashion where each rule has an associated number (IE: 8.3.3) for easier rules reference.

The play book is 28 pages full color, and contains some historical notes, design notes, the scenarios to play, an example of play, and the all important expanded sequence of play.

The Rules:
Crown of Roses after two games is actually not that complex a game to play, and while I'm sad to say it, the rule book does not give that impression. Reading the rules twice we were still befuddled by a lot of things. Some things, the rule book tries to explain to death because the designers know they are confusing concepts, but they still don't click. Block states is the chief example. It is explained many times that blocks can be In-Play, Undeclared, Inactive, Unavailable, and Out of Play. However there was still much confusion about this during the game. The special rules for Henry VI and Queen Margaret were also a minor problem, but not as much so.

I was expecting to have some rough edges on the rules, and was desperately hoping the example of play in the play book would help to smooth those out. In the past, GMT play books with an example turn has really sealed home a lot of the confusion.

Unfortunately the example of play is a mess. To begin, the example begins mid-turn and gives no information about the current board setup. This means you cannot set up your actual game and follow along with the example, you have to rely on the images selected for you to follow along.

Next you will run into typos, and rules mistakes. During the first combat example, Scrope is occasionally referred to as Scope, and when describing Buckingham's combat roll as a defender it says he should roll 1 red, 4 blue, and 1 green, when the illustration above clearly shows he should actually roll 2 green dice not just 1. This forced me to go back through the rule book to see if I missed some special rule about this and finally came to the conclusion the example was just wrong.

There is good information to be had in the example of play, but these issues were a bit glaring, and it worries you about how far you can trust the interpretation of the rest of the rules in the example.

Gameplay:
The game is played over several turns, each turn consisting of 8 phases. The scenario I've played lasts 9 turns, the maximum. Other scenarios can last a shorter amount of turns.

As Crown of Roses is a Card Driven Game, the cards play a vital role. And I really like how they are implemented in this game. Every family has a set of cards specific to them. Unlike other CDG's where these are shuffled into the main deck and if your opponent plays it the event must trigger, these cards are all given to their respective players at the start of the game and exist in that player's hand for the extent of the game. These cards do not count towards hand size. After a few more plays when we have these cards memorized the strategies will start to really unfold as to when it is best to unload these sometimes powerful cards on your opponents.

The rest of the cards are shuffled into a common deck and are drawn during the first phase of the game. The aptly named "Draw Phase". The minimum hand size is 5, but several bonuses can affect this. The current King player always gets to draw an additional card. Maximum hand size is 9.

After the draw phase comes the "Operations Phase". This is the meat and potatoes of the game. The Operations Phase repeats a number of times equal to the player with the least amount of cards in his or her hand.

Here's where things get even more fun, just like many things in this game, the outcome of a card play is never certain as the turn order is determined by the amount of ops points on the card you've played. What this means is, everyone plays their cards simultaneously! Do you play a high ops card? You'll probably be one of the first players to act, you'll have more actions to take, but someone who played a low ops card may have a chance to sneak behind your lines after you have made your move. As is normal for a CDG, when your turn comes around you can play your card for its event text, or to use it's operations points instead for "standard" actions. These include returning an heir to play that was removed for some reason but not killed, moving your armies, mustering your armies, or "healing" them as we were calling it, and influencing nobles.

Ties in this game are always broken by the King player, with some exceptions if there is no king for whatever reason.

After each operations phase, or "impulse" as the rule book calls it, any contested areas of the map are fought over.

After combat, any stacks of blocks in an area (shire) that exceed the stacking limitations of that area suffer attrition. (A decent chance some of them will lose strength) More on this later.

Influencing Nobles:
My most favorite part of this game is the tremendous shifting loyalties, not just amongst the players but the armies themselves. For one op point a player can place influence on any noble currently in the game, at the end of the game round if that player has placed the most influence on that noble it will join that player's army. This creates a great tension around the table as armies stomp on your lands in one turn and you take those same armies and stomp your opponent right back with them.

Nobles are influenced with influence points, or IP's. IP's are earned each turn based on how many shires you control and some other factors.

Combat:
Probably the biggest feature of the game is the combat. My group and I have mixed feelings on the combat in this game so I'll break it up into the good and bad for you.

The Good:
Every army (Noble, mercenary, etc...) in the game is stickered to a block, and all blocks are the same color. The ones facing you are yours. This creates an intentional fog of war that is quite effective and kept tensions very high. The only time blocks are revealed is during combat, immediately after combat any surviving blocks are flipped back up and hidden. While it was initially challenging to orient the blocks for four players so no one could see each others blocks we eventually worked it out and it was quite rewarding.

The combat values for each block are marked clearly as dice illustrations. You instantly know how many dice to roll for your attacking or defending force, and what hits with what die roll. All combat is simultaneous so damage is applied all at once to all forces involved in the combat. This kept combat flowing really smoothly and never bogged the game down at all.

Because your principal goal is to eliminate enemy heirs so they cannot take the throne it becomes very important to seek them out and when you do find them, end them quickly. The most efficient mechanic for this is the Battle Charge. Where you hurl one of your heirs at another and hopefully come out on top. This was great fun and many laughs were had.
As long as both players agree an army can retreat from the battle before any combat. This has many political uses at the table and we had a lot of fun with it.

The rules for retreating, evading, and intercepting are well spelled out and we didn't have any issues with them.

The Bad:(The defense attrition issue)
Crown of Roses uses a last in first out system of combat in that the last army to arrive in a shire is the attacker and the army that arrived just before it is the defender. This produces a very backward situation for defending a shire from enemy attack. Lets propose an example.

You have a shire in your control clearly your enemy wants to take from you. However, due to stacking limitations on that shire you can only have two blocks there to defend it. You go first in the turn order due to your high ops card play. You can move more blocks into the shire to defend it, but if your opponent then decides not to attack you on his turn, it is too late for you as you already took your turn and you will be forced to make an attrition roll for every block there. (A decent chance most of them will take a step loss). On the flip side, as long as your opponent's leader block has a high enough command value to lead in multiple blocks he can bring as many troops to the battle as he possibly can, outnumbering you considerably.

The rule book mentions that the alternative to this is to intercept the army entering your shire with more units, this allows you to add more blocks to the conflict after the enemy has already committed to the battle so you don't have to face the attrition penalty for over stacking. But this has several problems:

1. You are now the attacker, as your armies moved in last. This isn't normally important, but for London, a shire with an included garrison army for the defender, it's vital as you have just given that garrison to your opponent.

2. The original block(s) in the shire are now "Reinforcements" and do not enter the battle until after the first combat round while your opponent's entire force gets to attack.

3. An interception requires a roll and isn't likely to succeed anyway.
All of this adds up to the attacker having a much higher advantage than the defender and this feels backwards for a war game.

Influence Phase:
After all of the operations rounds are complete, the game goes to the influence phase, which is where players collect their influence income. This is mainly from shires that player controls, but he also gets some from the offices his nobles posses, his popular support, allies, and other bonuses.

King Phase:
All the blocks are now removed from the board as they are attending parliament. Nobles that were influenced earlier in the turn now join their new homes and sums each noble's rank in his collection to determine how many votes for king he has this turn. Players then simultaneously cast their vote for the player to be king this turn. In our four player game the king was rotated quite efficiently with shifting alliances everywhere amongst the players. I think this was the intention of the designer and it worked on us.

After the king phase, is the Victory Check Phase where victory is determined if any of the scenarios victory conditions were met.

Office Phase:
The king randomly draws one of the offices from the offices deck and players vote on which player should hold that office. You can vote for anyone and this is where alliances are won and lost. Voting is conducted by spending IP's. The very same IP's you need to influence nobles during the operations phase. Managing your resources is critical. Influencing others to vote for you is paramount.

Wintering Phase:
After all offices are voted on players take turns placing their nobles back on the map in any shire that contains a home estate for them. Nobles without an office are assigned first, then officers are assigned later so they can come in aware of where the troops are massing first. A clean up phase is then handled to adjust markers on the board and the play continues with the next turn.

It's good to be the King:
The King player earns several advantages, all of which are immensely useful, the worst or best of which depending on what side you are on is the ability to use any other office's special ability. We feel that he's a little too powerful, but perhaps after a few more games we will get used to controlling the King.

Conclusion:
Crown of Roses is a multiplayer CDG block game. Which is an awesome description of a game no matter what it is. You really get the sense that you are playing a real historical version of the Game of Thrones. I have never had so much player banter in any game of this type. The real life diplomacy at my gaming table was palpable and immensely fun. Just like the shifting alliances of the nobles on the gaming table so are the alliances amongst your friends and family until the final desperate back stab puts them out of the game.

One final note on that, this is a multiplayer game with player elimination, you can and will likely eliminate a player entirely with at least a few turns to go and that player will either have to enjoy observing the rest of the game or find something else to do with his or herself.

While I have only played the 4 player game, I have trouble feeling this would be compelling as a two player game. While the mechanics will work, the bidding and alliances would all be missing and the game would really lose it's true flavor.

Despite the shortcomings of the rules/play book and the counter intuitive combat order of operations this is a solid strategic gaming experience that I will continue to play. There are no other 4 player games in my collection that evoke as much fun and emotion out of my group than this game has, and it has definitely been worth the wait.

If you have a good spirited group that can digest the rules of this game you should get it, and get it now.

FINAL VERDICT
Components: 8
Gameplay: 7
Complexity: 6

OVERALL: 7.5/10
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Cupcakus wrote:
Every army (Noble, mercenary, etc...) in the game is stickered to a block, and all blocks are the same color. The ones facing you are yours.
I have a question regarding the possible fiddliness of this. How difficult is it to keep track of which block belongs to whom? Is it easy to get an overview of the board and who controls what?

Related to this, how is the fog of war effect maintained with four players sat around the table? i.e., say you are sat at the Scotland or English Channel end of the map, and the player sat at the Wales end has blocks in Norfolk, are his forces plainly visible to you?
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Björn Engqvist
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A very well written and intelligent review and I agree with virtually all it says. A small correction though, your annoyance with the attacker advantage will probably be alleviated when you learn that it is the opposite:

Quote:
For the purpose of determining Engagement order (20.1), a stack that entered the Shire through Interception is treated as if it had moved there just before the Blocks it Intercepted, and will be the Defender against those Blocks.
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Robert R
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Delirium_EU wrote:
A very well written and intelligent review and I agree with virtually all it says. A small correction though, your annoyance with the attacker advantage will probably be alleviated when you learn that it is the opposite:

Quote:
For the purpose of determining Engagement order (20.1), a stack that entered the Shire through Interception is treated as if it had moved there just before the Blocks it Intercepted, and will be the Defender against those Blocks.
Thanks for looking it up. I don't own the game, but I do own or have owned a bunch of blockgames, and thought that the way it was explained by the OP just couldn't be right. Basically all the blockgames i know do it like Delirium said.

May have to get this after this review.
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Björn Engqvist
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Salo sila wrote:
I have a question regarding the possible fiddliness of this. How difficult is it to keep track of which block belongs to whom? Is it easy to get an overview of the board and who controls what?

Related to this, how is the fog of war effect maintained with four players sat around the table? i.e., say you are sat at the Scotland or English Channel end of the map, and the player sat at the Wales end has blocks in Norfolk, are his forces plainly visible to you?
If it's okay with the OP I'll have a go at this.

As can be gleaned from my (much inferior) review, there is a problem with stack ownership. Basically the best solution is to have all blocks facedown and then use some kind of markers in player colours for each stack, and there is no problem.

Control in the game is either through being the sole player with a stack in a shire, or if an empty shire has an intrinsic loyalty to your house (each player has five or six such shires and that loyalty never changes).
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Iain K
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Quote:
There are no other 4 player games in my collection that evoke as much fun and emotion out of my group
Are you able to compare this title to classics in the genre (multi-player diplomacy/king of the hill)? I'm particularly interested in comparisons to AH's Kingmaker, and the true giants Advanced Civilization and Dune. Thanks.
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Chris Larkin
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Salo sila wrote:

I have a question regarding the possible fiddliness of this. How difficult is it to keep track of which block belongs to whom? Is it easy to get an overview of the board and who controls what?

Related to this, how is the fog of war effect maintained with four players sat around the table? i.e., say you are sat at the Scotland or English Channel end of the map, and the player sat at the Wales end has blocks in Norfolk, are his forces plainly visible to you?
We found that each player had to sit at a corner of the board and even then it was possible to see your opponents pieces if they were at the far corner of the board. In this case we were forced to place them face down with an unused IP marker to denote their owner. This worked fine as it was a pretty rare issue.

The map is so large and colorful that none of us had any issues with board status.

Delirium_EU wrote:

A very well written and intelligent review and I agree with virtually all it says. A small correction though, your annoyance with the attacker advantage will probably be alleviated when you learn that it is the opposite:
You got me there sir, and I did remember that rule I don't know why it escaped me when I wrote this review, however I am still convinced that the attacker has a greater advantage over the defender as the attacker *knows* he can over stack but the defender can not initially.

citizen k wrote:

Are you able to compare this title to classics in the genre (multi-player diplomacy/king of the hill)? I'm particularly interested in comparisons to AH's Kingmaker, and the true giants Advanced Civilization and Dune. Thanks.
Unfortunately I've never played Kingmaker, AC, or Dune so I can't make any comparison's there.
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Delirium_EU wrote:
As can be gleaned from my (much inferior) review, there is a problem with stack ownership. Basically the best solution is to have all blocks facedown and then use some kind of markers in player colours for each stack, and there is no problem.
It sounds like you're using the blocks almost as extra thick counters, which leaves us wondering why they didn't go for counters in the first place. . .
 
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Stephen A. Cuyler
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Missed this the first time around, sorry. The answer to the question of counters vs blocks is relatively simple - counters can't do step losses or fog like blocks can.

-SAC
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citizen k wrote:
Quote:
There are no other 4 player games in my collection that evoke as much fun and emotion out of my group
Are you able to compare this title to classics in the genre (multi-player diplomacy/king of the hill)? I'm particularly interested in comparisons to AH's Kingmaker, and the true giants Advanced Civilization and Dune. Thanks.
Kingmaker is faster, has more action, and a lot more randomness than Crown of Roses, but Kingmaker is also broken. Crown of Roses is hard to access, but a richly rewarding experience once accomplished.

For some reason I came to thinking about Lord of the Rings vs the Hobbit when I made that comparison, but I don't think the analogy would hold.
 
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