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Crown of Roses» Forums » Reviews

Subject: First Game Impressions rss

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Björn Engqvist
Sweden
Goteborg
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[I first intended this text to be a simple run-through of our thoughts after an initial session of CoR but it turned out to look too much like a review to not place it in this section. As a review though, it is not very good.]

Introduction
We played a game of Crown of Roses Sunday. Four players, Seeds of Dissent scenario. The below comments are all made with the four player game in mind. To sum up very briefly, all four of us enjoyed the game a lot and want to try it again as soon as possible, but we not only found it more complex and time-consuming than we had expected (we managed to conclude two turns over seven hours of playing) we also felt that some of the complexity seemed somwhat unnecessary. I will try and pinpoint the reasons for this and suggest possible improvement measures. At the end I will make a shortlist of such measures.

I want to state for the record that we do not object to complex and time-consuming games, as long as you are prepared for it. So do not come prepared for Kingmaker or Richard III, think Here I stand instead. I also want to stress that while this text will give a negative impression of the game because it focuses on some problems, the heart of the matter is that this is a great game with a lot of effort gone into it, and with a little polishing off the edges it will be even better.

Starting the Game
We found some things difficult to wrap our heads around before we could even begin playing.
First of these was the setup of our starting forces. The rule itself for winter placement is great and offers intriguing choices when you know the game, but when you’re facing a completely new game system it is a daunting task to not only find all potential starting locations for all of your guys but to select the best one as well. I strongly recommend a quick-start setup, with what the design team consider balanced starting positions to allow newcomers to skip this phase if they like and jump right to the action.

A second, but lesser problem is to figure out the special rules for Henry VI since he starts as king, naturally the focal point of all players. Once on the way though, the game simply looks astounding.

A third problem was to figure out what to do. Some strategy hints would not be amiss here. In a four-player game with no frontlines and about equal military strength it is not easy knowing which way to turn and apart from the feeling that you want to engage in a royal rumble attacking left and right, you somehow realise that this is not good thinking in the long term perspective. The victory conditions give you some guidance.
Being king five times seems impossible with three competent opponents, also, to kill off every single opposing heir seems very difficult to accomplish as there is never more than a one in three to actually kill an heir once you get them to roll on the Elimination table. It is probable that Economic victory points will give you the win, which means take territory loyal to the other players and defend your own, but who should you attack and how? This is a huge topic, and worthy of a thread of its own so I will leave it here.

Playing the game
Turning to some practical problems we found that marking forces on the map is a problem, since they are all facedown in multiplayer. The design team are aware of this and have suggested the use of influence markers. This felt clumsy to us so we fetched some of the wooden cubes in appropriate colours from my game of Eclipse to mark our stacks which worked brilliantly. I have to mention that we felt it slightly odd that this issue (and an issue with the RoP below) did not make it to be included as game components.

Movement
Easy enough, but handling different stacks in the same shire is problematic, there are a lot of rules for this, but may present problems anyway. Especially the way different forces are arrayed for combat could have been even clearer. Essentially, the last stack to enter a shire will determine that that player is the attacker and he will attack the player who was second to last to send a stack to that shire (and all stacks but the final two will be reinforcements for that battle); the winner will attack the third player, and the winner in that engagement will attack the final player in the shire (or so we think). Interestingly this rule echoes Eclipse.

Combat
Apart from the ordering of engagements, we ran into trouble with timing of surprise cards (when exactly is the start of a combat round?) but hope this can easily be solved. The combat chapter could do with a longer and more complex examples of starting forces, multiple stacks, when exactly you reveal forces or not, and a more detailed combat sequence. I will try to compose a detailed example of this somewhere else on this forum.

A special mention need to go to Attached blocks, which demand a lot of special rules: office blocks, mercenaries and above all for Henry VI and Margaret. Now, I know there are good reasons for including unique capacities of these two but I doubt whether they are worth it for game purposes. Anyway, I have tried to clear these things up with some questions in the Rules forum.

Roll of Parliament
This is an excellent invention, on which you see all nobles in the game (except the York and Lancaster heirs), very informative and also beautiful to look at, and the subsystem of bidding hidden amounts of influence to control nobles is great. What we found lacking was the inability to identify which nobles were in use by which players, something you want to keep track of because you naturally want to target your enemy nobles first rather than neutral bystanders, other things being equal. Once again the Eclipse wooden cubes came to the rescue, a cube in house colours on all controlled nobles. This had the added bonus of making it easier to tell neutral nobles from those in use.

The offices
Nicely done overall, although as noted below there is a tendency for the attached blocks to need more rules than they are worth. A great danger here is that there are eight offices which can potentially be part of power broking deals along with the kingship. If you’re in a group that enjoys a lot of diplomacy (we don’t) this can add greatly to playing time. If there were some way of getting around this we would take it.

Influence points
Good concept and their use in influencing nobles and bidding for offices is excellent. If there is to be any critique, it is of the cumbersome method of calculating your income, although we realize the process will speed up with experience. The necessity to check if there is a noble home estate in the shire especially adds complexity.

Card play
First of all, all players pick a card in secret and the value of it will determine impulse order (king decides all ties), when it is your turn you choose how to use your card, ops or event. This rule is simply a stroke of genius, hats off. In some instances though, cards add unnecessary complexity.

The best part of Kingmaker was probably all events that always turned up in the exact wrong moment. Crown of Roses has made these more predictable, first of all because each player controls their own hand and chooses when to fire away their nastiest events. Some of the events themselves are still randomized, like Plague, which also cannot be avoided since you cannot hide in cities like in Kingmaker, here it hits a shire first and all adjacent shires second, good rule.

What felt a bit awkward was particularly the Raid and Uprising Events which allow players to choose, in order, if and then who of eligible candidates they want to send instead of the event just sending someone. Since there are potential rewards involved here this takes thinking, since players will try to optimize not only when to play the event, but also where to make sure they have the best chance to earn anything from it. This was not a feature that I liked.

Conclusion
There are a thosand more things that can be said, and they would still not cover everything about this game. What we found here is a game that has enormous potential, has maybe the best looking components ever seen, and has great support from the design team. On the minus side the game suffers from some issues that reduces accessibility, chief of which is that some rules sections could be tightened up a notch. Some more ways to make the game easier to play:

1. Use coloured markers for ownership of stacks.
2. Use coloured markers on the RoP for control of nobles.
3. Create a quick-start scenario setup.
4. Create a more detailed combat sequence of play.
5. Create a more detailed example of complex combat situations.
6. Create strategy notes/hints.
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Tom Hancock
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Seven hours for two turns? Holy shit, I hope you guys were just really lost with the rules.

I was hoping the full game would take three hours at most and the shorter scenario 2 to 2.5 hours.

Thanks for the review, I have my copy, and I've read the rules but haven't played yet.
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Paul Dobbins
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Our first game experience was very similar. The solution of using little wooden blocks (from Risk) and little plastic chips to mark factions on the RoP and forces on the map, respectively, was our version of the Eclipse cubes. The game cannot be played without this sort of aid, unless you have some pretty formidable minds at the gaming table (although learning happens, and all of the heraldic detail begins to take hold, especially for veteran Kingmaker and RIII players). But the IP mechanics, as potentially interesting as they may be, are very time consuming, as is the necessity for taking down and reassembling forces on the game map every Parliament and Wintering Phase. Our time expenditure on turns was 4 hours for the first turn of a learning game, followed the next day by 4 turns in about 9 hours of a first crack at the campaign game. We were playing a two player game, so negotiation was at a minimum. Whew, this baby is slowww, and we're veteran HIS and VQ players, with some Kingmaker and RIII thrown in for good measure. Another aspect that has us puzzled is the very strong incentive built into the game for keeping nobles on home estates to earn bonus IPs. It is painful trying to figure out the IP trade-offs during OPs rounds. Often, moving a noble(s) will either lose an IP bonus or put one or more at risk. And why is there 3 routes to victory: military, political and the problematic economic? The third route (economic) has a faint whiff of last minute fix.......
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Iain K
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Very nice review Björn. It reads like a fantastic play test after-action-report ... which saddens me as it's based upon a released copy of the game.
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Chris Geggus
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Jimmy the Warmonger wrote:

Which is very concerning considering that is exactly what play testing is for, to ensure the data is not "too limited" prior to publication.


And that is one very big gorilla indeed!
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Björn Engqvist
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I think we should be careful here not to jump to conclusions based on a few reviews and hypotheticals. As far as I can tell there are none of us who have played more than a couple of games. Yes, we have spotted a few problems, but the things to be positive about far outweigh the negative issues. As I noted above, it is easy to only see the problems because those are easiest to describe.

It is an amazing game that I am dying to try my hands on again, it just needs to be made a bit more accessible, and with the excellent support from the design team and some lifting from the community this should not be difficult at all. I am very glad I bought this game, and as I said, all of the guys really want to have another go.
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Paul Dobbins
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I agree with Bjorn, and I suppose I have been as negative/skeptical as anyone, but there is so much potential here, and the components are so beautiful. Will try to play again as soon as possible....
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Joel Tamburo
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We did not find the math work to be that much of a hassle. However, it would indeed be good to mark important things on the board. So we scavenged colored cubes out of Age of Mythology and marked the Roll of Parliament and also home estates of loyal nobles.

Ownership of nobles was also a hassle - to be honest (and I opined such during development) this game did not really need blocks in the first place.

The same impact could have been achieved by providing a similarly sized double sided counter for each noble in each player color. One side is the current block sticker side and the other is the color and emblem of the owning player. As owning player changes you swap out the noble counter in place. Yes it would have meant an additional 220 some pieces in the game instead of the wood blocks but it also would have solved all of the informational issues.
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Чебурашка, ты настоящий друг!
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Joelist wrote:
Ownership of nobles was also a hassle - to be honest (and I opined such during development) this game did not really need blocks in the first place.

The same impact could have been achieved by providing a similarly sized double sided counter for each noble in each player color. One side is the current block sticker side and the other is the color and emblem of the owning player. As owning player changes you swap out the noble counter in place. Yes it would have meant an additional 220 some pieces in the game instead of the wood blocks but it also would have solved all of the informational issues.


I was thinking this while reading the other review. An alternative would have been army control counters with the players' symbols to put on top of the noble/office counters, which wouldn't have needed player symbols. You could still have had four steps for each unit: those with more than two steps would have two counters, each showing a different step strength on the front and reverse sides.
 
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David Oldster
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I purchased this. The play time sounds very daunting. I was thinking a couple of hours, not 4-9 hours. Four would be the outer limit.

Also the way additional components seem to be needed. Not a bad thing, but not a good thing either.
 
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Kevin Bernatz
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Reluctant to pipe in to "defend" the game, as every person has a perfect right to feel how they feel, so take the following with a grain of salt as I /am/ one of the developers...

IMO, additional components are a matter of player taste and are not necessary, per se . The remembering of who controls who in the RoP is both part of the game and, at least in terms of the important Nobles, restricted to a relatively few (the "Big Dogs", so to speak). As such, once some experience is gained in recognizing Nobles and such, I don't see the requirement to mark the RoP as a "requirement". Instead, I see it as a player preference. Will it help? Of course, as it is a very clear mnemonic. Is it necssary...err, IMO, not really. But again, take that with a grain of salt given my experience with the game...

Marking shires is also something that I don't think is necessary for two reasons. One, you only control a Shire that you have Blocks in...so if a Shire is vacant of units, its loyalty is clearly indicated by the shading in the box. Second, while "home shires" do grant a +1 IP, you will often find that this bonus IP simply is not that important...and the ones that you gain are from those weaker nobles that never move from their home estates due to lack of OPS (in which case its quite clear that they are in a home estate as, well, they never moved :-> ). Also, please note that the Playbook has individual maps showing the home estates for every noble, merc and office in the description of these blocks. If there is enough interest, SAC can probably prepare these as a downloadable player aid (to be printed on card format or maybe an Artscow deck). This would serve a dual purpose of not only easily showing each Noble's home estates, but could also serve to indicate who controls which Nobles (as you could place these cards face-up in front of the controlling player - though, in that case, I'd make them much smaller than the other cards, maybe 1.5" by 2.5" or something...).

So, yes, the alternative components can be useful and some players may 100% desire them to enjoy the game. However, once one becomes experienced with the game and recognizes the key Nobles and people start to develop their "favorite strategies", I think people will find that the markers - while nice - are no longer going to feel as "required" to them. At least that would be my hope.

-K

Leonithic wrote:
I purchased this. The play time sounds very daunting. I was thinking a couple of hours, not 4-9 hours. Four would be the outer limit.

Also the way additional components seem to be needed. Not a bad thing, but not a good thing either.
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Björn Engqvist
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1. You're more than welcome to share your thoughts on this, much appreciated.

2. The allegiance cards for nobles are a great idea. After all every block has some sort of off-board reminder for who controls it except regular nobles - offices, mercenaries, heirs.

3. It might be, as discussed elsewhere, that there is a point in keeping noble allegiance secret on the RoP for added fog of war. This is probably a matter of taste, my group decided it should be common knowledge, others may not.

4. Agreed that marking shires is unnecessary for control, but the multiplayer game does have problems with block identification for the newcomer at least, since the twoplayer game has you looking at your blocks at all times. Marking home estates should probably only be done at the start of the influence phase, simultaneously, to ease the actual counting. If you keep home estates marked at all times you may give away information to your opponents.
 
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Nathan Hortness
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I played King Maker a lot when I was younger and this game looks really intriguing.

 
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Paul Dobbins
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Cards are a great idea. I started to lay out a deck -- using Photoshop -- using materials in the CoR rule- and play books. And, for something completely different, one could consider random scenario generation by dealing factions from a shuffled deck -- now that would make the case for concealing your nobles from other players...
 
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Kevin Bernatz
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Paul, let me check with Stephen to see if he already has them all laid out (would save you some time...though I also understand if you also view this as fun :-> ).

At one point we wanted to include something like these in the game (primarily to help people identify where each block comes out of wintering, as that has always been an issue that slows play down), so Stephen may have these files saved and just would need to resize them to a smaller "mini-deck" size.

-K

rddfxx wrote:
Cards are a great idea. I started to lay out a deck -- using Photoshop -- using materials in the CoR rule- and play books. And, for something completely different, one could consider random scenario generation by dealing factions from a shuffled deck -- now that would make the case for concealing your nobles from other players...
 
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Paul Dobbins
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It would be terrific if SAC has already done the work. As a graphic artist I like to play around, but often side projects get derailed :-)
 
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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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Although GMT is my favourite game company, and I have been a loyal customer for a dog's age, I find GMT has two frequent weaknesses: first, a lack of components and/or player aids; second, rules that look like they were vetted by the likes of ye ole rule master, Ted Raicer. These two faults are evident in Crown of Roses.

Will these prevent it from being a good or great game? No, but both are preventable, and the lack of clear rules and the necessary aids add an unnecessary drag on the game.

As for the "it's not a problem for me to memorize who is what and who is where and where is where," give it a rest because the rest of us just want to play the darn thing, while not annoying ourselves by having to tackle a version of Jeopardy: Wars of the Roses edition on top of learning Crown of Roses.

goo
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Colin Campbell
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Have recently bought this game and was initially dismayed with the rules and setup . I,m using cheap Tiddlywinks on the top of stacks to denote the 4 x Houses and may do similar on the RoP , for the first few games at least .
 
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