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Introducing Richard III: Wars of the Roses

Richard III: The Wars of the Roses is a great game. And this from someone who has never even played a block war game before. In fact, I don't even consider myself a wargamer. Not even remotely! My taste in games primarily consists of lighter and medium weight euro games, or social games appropriate for families and parties. So I'm not exactly a prime candidate to be playing a block war game. But I am prepared to try most things once. And let's face it, block war games do have more visual appeal than your average war game stacks of cardboard counters and paper maps filled with hexes. And you say this is a game that has a playtime of 3 hours or significantly less? I concede that this does make it manageable for the typical eurogamer looking to start and finish a game in the same evening. Hammer of the Scots has often been mentioned as the best introductory block war game, and now you say that Richard III is arguably easier and quicker than Hammer of the Scots? Okay, count me in! I'm prepared to take a dive in these strange waters of block war gaming for the first time! If you - like me - are also new to block war games, then this review is for you. And if you're already an experienced swimmer in the waters of block war gaming and want to know what this exciting new game is about, then this review is also for you.



Richard III: The Wars of the Roses was only just released a month or two ago (September/October 2009). It's gaming newness, and block war-gamers have expectantly been salivating about the prospect of it arriving on their game table for a long time. One of the designers, Jerry Taylor, was also responsible for creating Hammer of the Scots, which won the the International Gamers Award in 2003, was in the BGG Top 10 in 2004, and continues to be highly regarded as one of the best introductory block war games. In Richard III, Jerry Taylor has teamed up with Tom Dalgliesh to build a new model using the proven Hammer of the Scots engine. The game system is essentially the same, but with a completely new theme, some new ideas, and shorter and easier game-play. If the record is anything to go by, this could prove to be good stuff! And it is!



The theme of Richard III covers the historical period known as The Wars of the Roses, a struggle between members of the houses of Lancaster and York for the English throne. One player represents the House of Lancaster (red), while the other player represents the House of York (white). The game is populated with historical figures like Henry VI, Henry Tudor (Henry VII), Edward IV, Richard III, Warwick the Kingmaker and more. At any point in the game, one player holds the throne as King, and the other is called the Pretender. But these roles can change at the end of a round, if the Pretender successfully controls a majority of nobles and heirs, and thus usurps the throne! So unlike Hammer of the Scots, the game features a political phase at the end of every round where the current King is determined. The aim of the game is to have one of your five royal heirs declared King at the end of the third round (campaign).

I should warn you that this review is long, and that it has a lot of images! It covers the following areas:
Components: Box, Component List, Rules, Map, Blocks, Cards, Dice
Theme: Overview, Turning History Into a Game, Main Characters, Further Reading
Game-play: Set-up, Flow of Play, A Campaign, A Turn
Exploring Further: Online Play, Sample Turn, Sample Game, Scenarios, Strategy, Comparison with Hammer of the Scots
Conclusions: What I Think, What Others Think, Recommendation
You can move to whichever section interests you, but if you want to use this review to learn how to play the game, I'd recommend reading from start to finish. It's a review, it's a resource, and it's a tutorial, all in one! Let's find out more about what could prove to become the best introductory block war game.





COMPONENTS

Game box

Remember, I'm new to this business of block war games. So I start by eying off the box that's freshly arrived in the mail, appreciating its shrink wrapped goodness:



I turn it over and admire the back of the box, where there's an image of the game's lovely map, and a short overview of the game contents. Drool!



I eagerly peel off the shrink wrap, and rub my hands! But now what's this? It's not a box! Or is it? It's a sleeve ... with a box inside it! That's a new idea - new for me anyway! Of course all you old hands are probably scoffing at me, but just give this novice a break here! In amazement, I pull off the box sleeve, and find inside a very nondescript black box for storing the components.



Hmm, that's ... interesting! And what I thought was the box cover is just ... a sleeve! You can even see right through it!



Well not to worry, these are mere cosmetic details, but still, once can't help but be somewhat amused by them! I'll give you a quick peek inside the box, and then we'll get right to looking at the components more closely. Here's our first look inside the box:



Ahhh!!!! Breathe that fresh factory air! Sniff those newly minted blocks! Open, open, open! So we do.

Component list

So what do you get inside the box? You already looked at the back of the box so you already know don't ya?! That's okay, let's just savour this. No point in diving in head first too quickly, but let's just enjoy it bit by bit! Isn't that all part of the joy of figuring out a new game? So, lovingly, we take out the components one by one and check them out:
● map of England
● 63 wooden blocks
● sticker sheet
● 25 cards
● 4 dice
● rules



But we can't stop here can we? No, we must find out more! On we go!

Rule book

Okay, so I cheated. I read the rulebook before the game arrived. Really! I'm not kidding you - you can download the whole thing from the publisher's web page. Right here:
http://www.columbiagames.com/resources/3171/R3-Rules.pdf
And don't let my choice of words "whole thing" scare you. We're only talking about 8 pages here folks! But let's be honest, it's fairly nondescript. Hey, haven't I used that word more often in this review? So yes, the rules are a fairly plain, black and white business.



As a euro-gamer, do I miss the nice glossy pages and colours of the Rio Grande and Queen Games rulebooks I'm used to? Sure, this isn't as impressive looking, but there's a lot here to appreciate. (Psst! The PDF download has some colours that you won't find in the black-and-white book you get with the game!) Certainly it's very well organized. Very! And it's clearly laid out. Very! There's even this note about how it's organized: "This rulebook is formatted so that the sidebar (this column) contains examples, clarifications, and historical commentary to help you understand and enjoy this game." Really, this is superb! I especially liked the historical commentary in the sidebar, which really helps get into the theme of the game, and understand the different historical figures that are on the board. But that's not all, there are also other summary notes in the margins, explaining or clarifying certain details and principles. Overall - I'm really impressed!

Now to be fair, this is no euro game. The rules are more complex, and so if you're new to block war games, like I am, there's a lot to digest and absorb, and you'll find yourself needing to read the rules several times to get a good handle on how this kind of game works and to remember all the intricacies of gameplay. But we knew that this was going to be more complex than your average Carcassonne or Cartagena, so no surprise there. All things considered, the rules are clear, well organized, and it's easy to find the relevant section you need if you're consulting them during a game. And only eight pages! I still can hardly believe it! Granted, it's pretty solid material, and there's not really any fluff in those 8 pages, but euro gaming buddies, this is manageable! We can do this! Of course those of you who are experienced block gamers - especially those who have experience with Hammer of the Scots - will probably find the rules a cinch, because you're already familiar with the system, and you'll learn this game in no time at all. But for a complete newbie like me, I was pleasantly surprised, and had expected worse. That doesn't mean that mastering the rules is a walk in the park, because you will have to take some time to read things over carefully, in order to get to grips with concepts that will be somewhat alien to your average eurogamer. But certainly the rule book isn't making this process any harder for us by being unclear or disorganized, and certainly it's not the kind of mountain climb that many usually identify a wargame rule book to be.

Map

The "board" of Richard III is a map of England. It's just on card-stock, and is folded into sixths, but it has a glossy style finish and looks great:



Eurogamers might find it a bit of step down in quality, going to a board of cardstock instead of a firm and mounted product. But I gather that war gamers see this as an upgrade from a purely paper map. It will need a bit of work to look right and lay flat - is back folding considered a heinous crime in the world of boardgaming?



I'll be honest: coming from a eurogamer background, I miss a solid mounted board. But once it lays flat, this mat is perfectly functional, and more importantly, it looks great. There's certainly no arguing about the quality of the artwork on the map - it's outstanding, as this close-up shows:



Add some blocks to the equation and it looks even more fantastic!



As far as aesthetics go, this is quality! There is great attention to detail. Even though it isn't essential for the gameplay, for historical interest the map shows the main battles of the war (red for Lancaster victories and white for York wins), as well as significant castles and towns (marked in orange).



Let's now quickly walk through the different parts and icons on the map (or skip ahead to the section about Blocks).

Areas and Borders

The land area on the map is divided into areas that are separated by yellow, blue or red borders. Movement of blocks from one area to another is restricted, depending on the colour of the boards - 4 blocks for yellow borders, 3 blocks for blue borders, and 2 blocks for red borders.



For example, consider the area of Derby in the picture above. A maximum of two blocks may move north west into Lancaster (red border), a maximum of three blocks may move south or east into Warwick, Leicester or Lincoln (blue border), and a maximum of four blocks may move west into Chester (yellow border).

During the game, areas will be one of the following:
Friendly: occupied by your own blocks
Enemy: occupied by your opponent's blocks
Vacant: occupied by no blocks
Contested: occupied by both player's blocks (that's when battle happens!)

Exile areas

Each player has two exile areas, that can't be entered or attacked by the opponent.

York: Calais & Ireland
Lancaster: France & Scotland (pictured below)



A close-up of the exile areas:



At the end of every round, the Pretender and his royal heirs must go into exile. Most of the York blocks begin the game in exile, while the Lancaster king and nobles begin on the board.

Sea Zones and Ports

There are three Sea Zones: North Sea, English Channel, and Irish Sea. This is important for sea movement.



All areas on the coast have minor ports that allow sea movement within the same sea zone, but places with a ship symbol are a major port - these improve sea movement, e.g. Southhampton.



Normally sea movement costs 1 action point for each block, but sea movement from one major port to another enables two blocks to move for 1 action point.

Shields and Crowns

Shields indicate the major estates for certain nobles, and give a combat benefit to these nobles when they are defending (not attacking) in an area with their matching shield.



The Crown symbol works in a similar way, and provides the same defensive benefit of a shield to the current King or one royal heir.



Cities and Cathedrals

There are seven cities (four for Lancaster = red, three for York = white). These give a combat benefit to the Levy blocks when they are defending their city.



There are two cathedrals, Canterbury and York, which give a combat benefit to the matching church block when they are defending their cathedral.



Blocks

Did I mention blocks?

Number of blocks

There are 63 wooden blocks, in three colours:



Aside from a single black block (rebels), 31 are white (representing the York player), and 31 are red (representing the Lancaster player).



They're wood, and nice quality. Some of the white blocks had some red bits of paint on theme, presumably a result of being mixed in the same bag, so some blocks could arguably become "marked" and recognizable. But otherwise, I like the feel of them.

Applying stickers to the blocks

But they're blank! See, unlike a eurogame, there are no tokens to punch. A block wargamer's job, I've learned, is to "sticker blocks". Here's the sticker sheet:



That's something new for me! Stickering blocks! (feel free to have a laugh at my expense, you block wargaming diehards!) But you know, I think they do this for a reason: you start growing attached to the blocks by lovingly stickering them. The publisher must know this, which is why they make us do this. It's brilliant psychology! And to be honest, I quite enjoyed it - you just have to make sure you get the right stickers on the right blocks! The top half are for York, and the bottom half are for Lancaster - view these shots in larger size if you wish to see them more closely.



Here's what the final outcome looks like, with all stickers applied to the blocks:



They're arranged by army (red = Lancaster, white = York) and by type (from left to right: royal heirs, loyal nobles, other nobles, levies, mercenaries, church). Note that the stickers are on one side only! This means that when you're playing the game, the blocks are placed vertically and you can only see the reverse side of your opponent's blocks! This mechanic is similar to Stratego, and allows for an element of bluffing (or fog of war), because you can't always be certain what kind of forces your opponent is amassing against you!

Block data

The blocks have key information on them:



First of all, the blocks give important information for combat, including the loyalty, current strength, and combat rating:

Strength: this is the number of diamonds on the top edge of the block, and determines how many dice you throw for that block in combat. According to the designer, each strength point in the game represents about 1,000 men (+/- 500 depending upon troop quality). Block games feature something called "step reduction" - a clever mechanic by which blocks are rotated as the strength decreases. For each hit taken in combat, a block's strength is reduced by rotating it 90 degrees counter-clockwise.



Combat rating: this is the letter and number, e.g. B2.
The letter indicates initiative: the order in which blocks get to battle (e.g. A blocks go before B blocks, which go before C blocks)
The number indicates firepower: the maximum roll needed to score a hit (e.g. for a B2 block, all rolls of 1 or 2 will be hits, rolls of 3-6 will be misses)

Loyalty: this number on the top left means that these blocks can defect in the case of a successful treachery roll. Many nobles have a red or white rose, meaning that they are loyal and can never defect. Only the King, Pretender, and Warwick can make treachery rolls in battle. To make a treachery roll, as many dice are rolled as the loyalty rating, and that block will defect if all the numbers rolled are even numbers.

Name and title: The family name and title corresponds to the historical figure that the block represents. Each one represents a different historical figure from the game. Some key examples:





Block types

Now let's check out the types of blocks in each army a little more closely - skip to the section on Cards if you don't want all the details.

● Royal Heirs

These are what the game revolves around. During the Political turn at the end of each round (= campaign), you check to see who is currently King, based on who controls the majority of nobles and heirs on the board. The Pretender (non-King player) can usurp the throne at this point, and become King. Since the person who is King at the end of the game is the winner, the heirs are an important part of the game, and you can get an instant victory by eliminating all enemy heirs. Each player has five royal heirs to the throne, which are ranked from 1 (senior) to 5 (junior), to indicate the order of their succession to the throne.





Heirs get a combat bonus when defending their shield or a crown.

● Nobles

Nobles are identified by shields, and represent the noble and his armed forces. Nobles with a rose on them are always loyal, and cannot defect:



Other nobles can become traitors and commit treachery by joining the opponent's side:



Nobles get a combat bonus when defending their shield.

● Churches

Canterbury and York represent the power and influence of the church.



They also get a combat bonus when defending their cathedral.

● Levies

Each of the seven cities has a specific levy block. Each player gets a levy block for each city of their colour, plus a Bombard.



These start in each player's pool, and also have a combat bonus when defending their city.

● Mercenaries

Each player has three Mercenaries.



● Rebels

The black block represents Rebels that fight for the Pretender.



This begins the game in the Pretender's pool.

Cards

The game comes with a deck of 25 cards, featuring our cover boy Richard III on the artwork that's on the back of each card.



Action cards

19 of the cards simply have a picture, and number from 2 to 4.



The character names and pictures are just for historical interest - the important detail for game-play is simply the number at the top left. This indicates how many Action Points (APs) a player that plays this card may have that turn. The Henry Tudor cards are usually the most desirable, because they give 4 Action points each. The person who plays a card with the higher amount of APs gets to move and recruit first, so there are times where you'll want to play a card with lower APs, simply because you get the benefit of moving second and getting a chance to respond to whatever your opponent does!



Event cards

The remaining 6 cards are different Event cards. These do give a player Action Points (from 0 to 2), but these cards also trigger a special event (such as Plague, Treason, or Piracy), which prescribe how the APs are to be used.



The six events are Plague, Muster, Surprise, Treason, Force March, and Piracy.



All have different advantages, and you must carefully choose just the right moment to maximize their potential.

Dice

They're dice. Four of them. Plain jane generic dice. What else did you expect?



There have been reports of some folks getting red dice with Richard III, so perhaps the colour depends on whether you have a Lancastrian (red) or Yorkish (red) sympathizer packing the box! Dice are used for combat.


THEME

Overview

The publisher describes the theme as follows: "The Wars of the Roses lasted thirty-two years, from 1455–86. However, it was not a continuous war. Battles tended to be bloody, and neither side could afford to maintain a permanent army of any size. Most military campaigns lasted only a few months, separated by 6-12 years of uneasy peace."

It's this struggle that is the heart of the game: "Richard the Third is an epic two-player game that recreates the 15th century, bloody dynastic struggle between the royal houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England. Will the mad-king Henry VI and his Queen Margaret keep the throne or will the Duke of York recover it for the Plantagenets. Also strutting across the game's stage are Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VII, and Warwick, the notorious "Kingmaker".The object of play is to eliminate all five enemy heirs and/or win control of the powerful nobles of England. The Lancastrians start the game holding the throne, and the Yorkists are in exile ready to invade. Kingship can be won or lost several times during the game. Will Richard III emerge triumphant, or will he perish in battle as he did historically?"

This period in history is often described as the War of the Roses, since roses were the emblems of the rival houses of York (white rose) and Lancaster (red rose).These emblems feature prominently in the game. The Tudor rose signifies Henry VII's accomplishment in ending the war after the death of Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth. Henry's marriage to Elizabeth (from the house of York) unified the two royal houses, and resulted in the creation of the Tudor dynasty.



It's this dynastic struggle that is the center point of the game. Political infighting blossomed into a full-fledged struggle for the throne between the Yorkists and Lancastrians. During the conflict, the allegiances of nobles played an important role in determining the outcome, and these shifting allegiances are also represented in the game. The period was marked by the occasional battle, and much political maneuvering. Battles were at times won as a result of betrayal, desertion, diplomacy, or sheer bravery in combat. All this history comes to life in Richard III!

Turning history into a game

Other games

The Wars of the Roses seems to be a popular historical theme for game designers and publishers to draw on at present. Columbia Games' Richard III is just one of several new games that cover this historical period, although all of these games covering this theme are quite different in their own way:
Kingmaker (1974) - Avalon Hill
Warwick the Kingmaker (2008) - IZ Games (free print and play)
Richard III: The Wars of the Roses (2009) - Columbia Games
Crown of Roses (2010) - GMT Games
Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York (2010) - Z Man Games
Note well: three games dealing with this theme are set to be released in 2009 and 2010! Columbia Games has narrowly emerged from the pack of these three newest games by being the first to get Richard III into print. It will be interesting to see how the other games dealing with this same historical period compare, although undoubtedly they will all serve in their own way to give a different perspective on the historical events. Students of the historical period will likely find different things to enjoy about each of these games.

Game or simulation?

In the end, designers have to make a choice whether or not their product will primarily serve as a historical simulation or as a game. In the case of Richard III, designer Jerry Taylor has explicitly stated that the designers and developers opted to make it a great game first of all: "We clearly threw some history under the bus to maximize fun. ... Gamers who want the history first and the gameplay second may not be happy. ... We intentionally fudged the details (for the game's sake) but for the most part got the big picture right." This might not be good news for historians, but it is good news for gamers like me.

One of the great challenges of game design is creating a great gaming experience within the constraints of historical possibility, and the designers seem to have got the mix just right with Richard III. The game system is based on the tried-and-proven design of Hammer of the Scots, and yet there is rich attention to detail, and chrome that reflects the unique historical period of the War of the Roses. One only needs to read Jerry Taylor's extensive Design Notes about the game to get a sense of the incredible research and historical detail that has gone into the making of this game:
http://www.columbiagames.com/resources/3225/designernotes.sh...
The design notes currently consist of seven separate installments, and deal with a range of issues related to the game and the historical period:
#1 15th century English politics
#2 Treachery and the Cards It Rode in On
#3 The Cast of Characters
#4 To Heir is Human
#5 There’s No Place Like Home
#6 Magnates and Steel
#7 Getting Medieval
Reading them is certain to enhance your understanding of the historical period and your appreciation of the nuances of the game.

The Main Characters

Being a history student isn't essential to enjoying the game, because it is a game first of all. However, knowing something about the historical period and the chief protagonists in the War of the Roses will increase your enjoyment of the game.

The chief figures in history

The game begins with Henry VI in power, representing the house of Lancaster. A time-line illustrating the actual state of the kingship from this time onward would look like this:



1377 Richard I (of Bourdeaux)
1399 Henry IV (Henry Bolingbroke)
1413 Henry V
1422 Henry VI (Henry of Lancaster)
1461 Edward IV (Edward Plantagenet, Earl of March)
1470 Henry VI
1471 Edward IV
1483 Edward V
1483 Richard III (Richard Plantagenet)
1485 Henry VII (Henry Tudor)

Henry VI was somewhat mentally unstable, and his wife Queen Margaret played a leading role in his kingship. The Lancastrian line was challenged by Yorkish nobles who opposed Henry VI's rule, their leader being Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York (1411-1460). He never became king, but was the first to oppose Henry VI in battle at St Albans in 1455. He begins the game as The Pretender opposing the Lancastrian King. The Duke of York died at the Battle of Wakefield 1460, so it was left to his sons to fight for the kingship. His son Edward Plantagenet, Earl of March, ascended to the throne in 1483 as King Edward IV. Henry VI was briefly restored to the throne from October 1470 to April 1471 with the help of Warwick the Kingmaker (Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick), but his restored rule was short-lived, and upon his death Edward IV returned to rule. Edward IV died suddenly in 1483, and his young son became the boy king Edward V for a brief period of time. The throne was soon taken over by Edward V's uncle, namely Edward IV's brother, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, who became Richard III. The Wars of the Roses ended with Richard III's defeat in the Battle of Bosworth at the hands of Henry Tudor, who became King Henry VII and established the Tudor dynasty. Henry married into the house of York by marrying Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth. This marriage united Lancaster and York, produced the infamous Henry VIII, and was the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.

If you want to know all the ins and outs, some splendid family trees are available:



See also here and here.

That's the historical record. The events in the game may unfold in a similar way, but there are several royal contenders who all played a part in the historical drama, and so things can turn out quite differently!

The royal contenders in the game: Lancaster

The game features five heirs for each house, all of whom had claims to the throne in one way or another. For Lancaster these are the following, with Henry VI beginning the game as king:



The royal contenders in the game: York

The five Yorkish heirs are the following, with Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, beginning the game as Pretender:



Further Reading

Like to do more reading about the War of the Roses, to enhance your appreciation of the historical flavour of the game? Here are some links to get you started:
● Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wars_of_the_Roses
● Biographies of the nobles featured in Richard III: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/48158
● Game design notes: http://www.columbiagames.com/resources/3225/designernotes.sh...
● Important battles, people, and more: http://www.wars-of-the-roses.com/
● Richard III Society page for Wars of the Roses: http://www.richardiii.net/wor.htm
● Historical notes from Avalon Hill's Kingmaker: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/582148
● Historical notes from Z Man's game: http://www.zmangames.com/boardgames/files/waroftheroses/WoR_... (see last pages)
If you have Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Plunges Into History, you'll also find two articles about the Wars of the Roses on p.294 and p.352. It's no academic masterpiece, but it will help give you an overview of the relevant historical period.

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

At the start of the game, not all the blocks are in play. A certain selection is deployed (at full strength) as described in the rule book, while other blocks are in each player's pool. To help with the set-up, there's a useful reference created by Stefano Roli, which you can download here:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/48227

Lancaster player

Lancaster begins with 11 blocks on the board (including French and Sots Mercenaries in the exile areas of France and Scotland respectively), as follows:



Henry VI starts as King in London for the Lancaster player.



Each player has a pool off-map, containing blocks that can be recruited during the game. Here is Lancaster's pool at the start of the game:



York player

York begins with 9 blocks, but they are all in exile: 6 in Calais and 3 in Ireland.



The view from the York player's side of the board certainly looks a little more grim! Richard Plantagenet Duke of York starts as the Pretender in exile in Ireland, along with another royal heir, the Earl of Rutland.



Here is York's pool at the start of the game:



Each player also has "Enemy Nobles" - i.e. blocks corresponding to their opponent's nobles, but of the other colour. These will only enter play as a result of a successful treachery roll, so they are placed off map until such a defection happens. Also note that each player starts the game with three of their five heirs in play - the other two heirs are considered "minor heirs", and only enter play after one of the three heirs on the board is killed.

Cards

The full game consists of three campaigns, each having 7 turns. At the start of the each campaign, including the start of the game, you shuffle all 25 cards, and deal 7 to each player. Now you're ready to play!

Flow of Play: A Campaign

The basic flow of the game is as follows:
● Game = 3 Campaigns
● Campaign = 7 Turns (followed by 1 Political Turn)
● Turn = 4 Phases (Card phase, Action phase, Battle phase, Supply phase)
Don't miss Kent Reuber's extensive play summary that can be a useful reference for the flow of play when playing the game:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/47351
For clarifications about specific rules questions not covered by the rules or this review, also be sure to consult this FAQ:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/464185

● 7 regular turns

Each player gets 7 cards at the start of each of the three Campaigns, each of which can usually be completed in less than an hour. A Campaign consists of 7 turns, as each player plays a card and carries out their respective actions and resolves battles. A turn consists of these phases:
1. Card phase: Simultaneously choosing and playing a card.
2. Action phase: Moving and recruiting.
3. Battle phase: Resolving any combat that results from movement.
4. Supply phase: Checking for areas with too many blocks.

When both players have played all 7 cards, the campaign ends, and a Political Turn occurs before the start of the next Campaign.

● 1 political turn

The Political Turn represents the years of peace that typically followed the intense military campaign that would last only a few months. It wasn't possible to maintain permanent armies, and so between campaigns the armies could regain strength. Political actions are taken as follows:
1. Levies disband: The first part of a Political Turn involves sending Levies and Bombards back to the owner's pool, and Mercenaries back to their home areas.
2. Usurpation: At this point players count how many nobles and heirs they own (church blocks and occupation of London also count as one toward the total) in order to determine the current King. The Pretender needs to have more than the King in order to usurp the throne and become the new King.
3. Pretender goes home: The Pretender and his heirs go into exile, and their nobles/church back to their own shield/cathedral (or into the pool if their own shield/cathedral is enemy occupied)
4. King goes home: The King and royal heirs return to their shield/crown area, and their nobles/church back to their own shield/cathedral (or into the pool if their own shield/cathedral is enemy occupied)
5. Campaign reset: All blocks on the map are raised to full strength, and face down blocks in the pool are turned face up at full strength and can be recruited in the next campaign. Cards are shuffled and each player gets another 7 for the next campaign.

Here's an example of a campaign reset, concluding a political turn and starting the third campaign, with York firmly in control as King.



Winner

Whoever is King at the end of the third Campaign wins the game, but you can get an instant victory if you eliminate all five enemy heirs.

Flow of Play: A Turn

In each of the seven turns of a campaign, players get to play a card, carry out its action, resolve battles, and then check supply limits as follows:

1. Card phase

Each player chooses one of their cards, and reveals it simultaneously. The player who played the card with a higher value of Action Points (APs) gets to go first (Pretender wins ties); although the player who played an Event card always gets to go first.



I really like the simultaneous selection mechanic, because you have to figure out how important is it to be the player that goes first, decide accordingly what card to play. Sometimes by going first you can pin down an opponent's unit, or recruit units in an area you'd be unable to recruit if your opponent went first and contested that area - in such a case you'll want to choose a high card or an event card. On other occasions you'll want to go second so you can get a chance to bring in reserves if your opponent attacks you.

2. Action phase

In the order determined in Phase 1, both players get to carry out actions according to the number of APs on their card. Each action point allows either:

a) Moving: You can conduct movement by land or sea.
i. Land movement: For 1AP, move any or all blocks in an area one or two areas, and only once per turn. Movement is subject to border limits (4 blocks for Yellow borders, 3 for Blue, 2 for Red), and blocks must stop and fight when entering an enemy or contested area. Blocks entering enemy occupied area prevent an equal number of defending blocks from moving out (these are "pinned").
ii. Sea movement: For 1AP, move one block from one coastal area to another friendly or vacant area in the same Sea Zone. If moving from one major Port to another in the same Sea Zone (ports are marked with the yellow ship symbol), you can move two blocks for 1AP. Note that you can only attack an enemy area by land and not by sea.

b) Recruiting: For 1 AP, deploy a block from your pool at full strength in its home area (matching shield for nobles, matching cathedral for church, matching city for levies). The area must be friendly or vacant, and you can't move this block until the next turn.

In the example below, the Lancaster player has used 2 APs, one to recruit Lord Rivers in Leicester, and one to move the Duke of Oxford from Essex to Middlesex.



3. Battle phase

After both players have completed movement, battles are fought in contested areas that have blocks from both players.

Battle turns: Blocks fighting in a battle are revealed, and take place over four rounds - attacking blocks must retreat during the fourth and final round. Order is determined by the initiative indicated on the blocks (i.e. first all A blocks, then B, then C, then D), and in each case the Defender gets initiative before the Attacker.



Battle hits: For each round, in sequence, a block can fire, retreat, or pass. If retreating (which is not allowed on the first round of a battle), blocks may move to an adjacent friendly or vacant area. If firing, blocks roll as many dice as their current Strength, and score a hit for every roll equal to or less than their current Combat rating - these hits are all applied immediately to the enemy block with the highest Strength (in the case of a tie, the owner decides which block to reduce). This is different from most other block games, where hits are applied to all blocks rather than just the one with highest Strength.



There are some other special rules, such as defensive benefits of +1 firepower for blocks defending their shields, crowns, cathedrals or cities, and the possibility of a senior heir making a charge in battle, but this is the gist of how combat works.

Battle reserves: The attacker must declare one border as the Main Attack, because blocks entering from other borders are considered reserve troops. Reserve troops are only involved in the combat in the second and subsequent rounds. Blocks moved into the area by the defending player after the attacker has initiated a battle are also considered reserves, and also only begin fighting in the second round.



Treachery: Instead of firing, the King, Warwick and Pretender may each attempt a Treachery Roll in battle, by targetting an enemy block and rolling as many dice as that block's loyalty rating. If all dice rolled are even, that block has defected to your side, and begins fighting for you in the next round of battle. This is a great feature of the game, both thematically and for gameplay!

Regrouping: The victor can "regroup" after a battle, and move victorious blocks to any adjacent friendly or vacant areas.

Death: When a King or royal heir is killed, it is permanently eliminated, and the next royal heir enters play at the end of the turn. Rose nobles are permanently eliminated, while other nobles (and mercenaries, levies, bombards, and rebels) go face down into your pool and can be recruited again in the next campaign.



4. Supply phase

Each area can supply food for only four blocks (five for an area with a city). So if you have more blocks than the allowable limit in an area, some of your men go hungry - which is represented by having each block above the limit being reduced one step.



These four phases are repeated seven times (i.e. 7 turns), and then the campaign is concluded with the Political turn to determine the current King. The King at the end of the third Campaign is the winner!

EXPLORING FURTHER

Online Play

A VASSAL module has been created which enables Richard III to be played online - free! It can be downloaded here:
http://www.vassalengine.org/community/index.php?option=com_v...



I tried it with a friend, and even though this was the first time I'd ever used VASSAL to play anything onlie, figuring out how the software worked wasn't too difficult. In no time at all we were enjoying the game, despite being located in different parts of the world, and being able to audio chat via Skype made it seem as if we were playing in the same room! The quality of the graphics is high, and it's almost as good as playing the game live - certainly the next best thing if you're far away from your gaming buddy! Definitely recommended!

Sample Turn

Want to see how the game works in practice? I've created a pictorial illustration of game-play, showing a complete turn of the game, along with pictures.

Pictorial Illustration of Game-play: A sample turn as a weakened King Henry VI fights desperately to save London!
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/465949

The sample turn contains examples of using Action Points:



There's also an example battle, which walks through all the steps of combat.



If you're new to block war games, definitely check out the illustrated sample turn to see how the game comes together in practice.

Sample Game

Want to get a sense of the flavour of the game? Check out my detailed session report:

A pictorial report of my first ever block war game: a man and his 13 year-old son take a thrilling ride back to medieval England
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/463779

York quickly took over the kingship, but Lancaster didn't give up! A thrilling comeback for Lancaster saw Northumberland change allegiances twice, but most stunning of all was Warwick commiting treason!



In a thrilling finale, the game came down to the very last battle, a massive bloodbath in the fields of Warwick!



I won't spoil the ending by revealing more here - check the session report for all the details!

Scenarios

Looking for a shorter game? Want a different challenge? The designers have also posted two scenarios for single campaigns. These can be downloaded here:
http://www.columbiagames.com/resources/3171/R3-Scenarios.pdf

1470 "Kingmaker" - The story:
"The Earl of Warwick defects to the Lancastrian side after a botched 1469 revolt. He flees to France and plots with Margaret of Anjou to recover the throne for Henry VI. Warwick invades and Edward IV is obliged to flee into exile. But with the support of Burgundy, Edward returns to England and Warwick is killed at the Battle of Barnet. A few weeks later, Prince Edward is defeated and killed at Tewkesbury in Gloucester. Henry VI, a prisoner, is murdered, which makes the House of York secure until the untimely death of Edward IV in 1483."
Aim: eliminate all enemy heirs for an instant victory. Otherwise, whoever is king after Usurpation wins the scenario.

1483 "Richard III" - The story:
"Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester and young brother of Edward IV, was named regent in the king's will.
Richard quickly discovered that the widowed queen (and her Woodville family) sought to retain power by controlling the two heirs. He seizes the heirs and, encouraged by the Duke of Buckingham, takes the throne as Richard II after persuading Parliament to declare the two princes to be bastards.
The Duke of Buckingham now rebels and supports the Lancastrian Duke of Richmond (Henry Tudor) exiled in Brittany. His revolt in Wales fails and the duke is betrayed and quickly executed. Popular support for Richard III plummets when murder of the two heirs is suspected, although never proven.
After an aborted invasion in 1483, Richmond lands in Wales in early August 1485. He gathers modest support from the Welsh, until Lord Stanley (his father-in-law) defects to his side. Richard III gathers an army in Derby to meet the invader. At the Battle of Bosworth Field, the king is betrayed by the Earl of Northumberland and dies charging the enemy position. Richmond wins the crown as Henry VII.
"

Aim: eliminate the sole enemy heir for an instant victory. Otherwise, whoever is king after Usurpation wins the scenario.

Both are designed to be played as a single campaign, thus offering a shorter game than the regular full game of three games, as well as a special challenge constructed in a way that reflects part of the history of the period.

Strategy

I like to discover strategies myself by multiple plays, so these are just some tentative thoughts and observations at best, that will undoubtedly be improved upon by others:
Initiative is important - Which card you play can be critical, because it will usually determine who goes first. Since the cards are selected simultaneously, you need to plan and choose carefully. Going first means you can attack and pin your opponent's pieces, or it can mean that you can recruit units in a key area that might not be possible if your opponent goes first. In other instances you'll want your opponent to go first, so you can react, which means you'll want to play a card with less APs. Initiative in battle can also be important, but it's especially important for using Action Points. This makes the choice of your cards to play very fun.
Loyal troops are important - If they die, you don't get them back. Other troops go to your pool and can be used again in the next campaign, again contributing to the noble count for determining who is king. So it is critical to prevent your loyal troops from elimination, just as it is critical to kill your opponent's loyal nobles.
Control of London is important - Because it gives a bonus point towards determining the kingship, control of London can at times be decisive. Because York can recruit strong forces by sea from exile in Calais to the English mainland in the first few turns, it is difficult for Lancaster to hold London in the early stages. Abandoning the capital may often be the best move for Lancaster early in the game, given the fact that Lancaster's troops are spread out and vulnerable, with the plan to gather in strength for a retaliatory strike against the Yorkish troops in and around London.
Treachery is fun and important - It means that the King or Pretender or Warwick (if in battle) need to make a choice whether to give up a combat action in lieu of a risky attempt to lure the opposing noble to their side. Very fun! Getting a noble to your side can make a huge difference when counting nobles towards who is king, so it is often worth the risk because of the great payoff - but at times it can backfire because you'll have to make concessions in battle to do it.
Exile can be an asset - In some situations you might want to keep your heirs in exile as a defensive tactic.

For some good discussion about early strategies, see this article: Heirs in Exile, Retreats and Middlesex



How does it compare with Hammer of the Scots?

It's no secret that Richard III: The Wars of the Roses is a close cousin of the award winning Hammer of the Scots, which is often regarded as one of the best introductory block war games.



So how are the two games different? And which is better? It's an inevitable question, and undoubtedly you can expect to see it asked often in the future! Some of the key differences are as follows:
Combat - allocating hits: In Hammer of the Scots, hits are allocated to all enemy blocks, whereas hits in Richard III are only applied to the highest strength enemy block. As the rules explain: "Unlike most block games, all hits from one firing block are applied to the highest strength enemy block. Only if that block is eliminated do surplus hits carry over to the next strongest block. This can result in one key enemy block being eliminated by one devastating fire, not unlike what happened to the Duke of York, Warwick, and Richard III." In Richard III, units may not retreat in the first round of battle, unlike Hammer of the Scots.
Combat - heir charges: In Richard III, a senior heir in battle can perform an "heir charge", which lets him target a particular enemy block for damage (with the caveat that the enemy block can fire back at the heir if it survives the charge).
Treachery: In Richard III, blocks do not automatically defect to the other side when they are killed as happens as in Hammer of the Scots. Some nobles are loyal and cannot defect at all. Furthermore, treachery requires the presence of the King, Pretender, or Warwick in battle, who can choose to perform a "treachery roll" instead of firing. The more loyal a noble is (based on its numerical loyalty rating), the harder it is to persuade it commit treason. Yet this is an important part of the game, both in terms of theme and gameplay, since getting a noble to your side can be critical in helping swing the total number of nobles your way.
Royal heirs: The victory conditions in Richard III are different - at the end of the third campaign, you count how many nobles (plus the church and control of London) you have on the board, and the player with the most nobles is king. Eliminating all five enemy heirs is an instant win condition, and the way the game works with royal heirs gives it a unique flavour.
Recruiting from the pool: The way the pool works in both games differs slightly. In Richard III, both players can recruit specific units at full strength from their pool with an Action Point, whereas in Hammer of the Scots units are selected randomly, and only have one strength when deployed - in Richard III strength can never be increased except between campaigns. The way the English and Scottish sides work in Hammer of the Scots is arguably more asymmetrical than how the Lancastrian and Yorkish sides work in Richard III.

I've never played Hammer of the Scots, so perhaps it is helpful to listen to what more experienced block war gamers have to say about the differences:
"Compared to Hammer of the Scots (HotS) and Crusader Rex (CR) this game is quite a bit simpler, and you can play it in about 2 hours once you are somewhat experienced." - Eddie B
"I was impressed that the game is simpler than HotS, but has a number of minor tweaks like treachery, charges, and the hit allocation that can really change the outcome of the day. The fact that it takes much less time to play than HotS is also a big plus. Since R3 is much shorter, I think it is a better intro game. Compared to Hammer of the Scots, I think R3 will have more playability. First, it is much shorter (21 card plays for each player, versus 45). Second, there is more room to maneuver with a good variety of defensive bonuses. Finally, the end-of-campaign reset of positions shakes up the board position." - Chad Marlett
"I think that, for ease of play, Richard III would be your best choice for a 'first' block experience. It seems to be simpler than HotS." - Paul Franklin-Bihary
"This is as good or better then Hammer of the Scots, which is high praise since that is one of my favorite games." - Chris Hansen
"Comparisons with Hammer of the Scots are inevitable, and on the whole Richard III is better. It's more open and fluid and makes better use of the fog-of-war effect inherent in the block system." - Matt Thrower
"With Richard III, Jerry Taylor has again created a very thematic game by making subtle changes to a tried and tested basic system. Richard III is more akin to Hammer of the Scots than to Crusader Rex, but improves on HoTS in terms of player control over recruitment, and greater breadth of movement options due to the sea movement rules and extensive coastline." - Scott Moore
"Great game, feels like a streamlined (and better) version of HotS." - Michael Klein
"I liked the fact that you can easily move your forces around the map. It makes for multiple area of battle. In comparison, Hammer of The Scotts almost always has a "front line" in the middle of the map, not so here, so it really has a different feel." - Sylvain Martel
"RIII is easier and faster to play than HotS." - Peter Stubner
"Guess I am a minority but I like HotS better. I find gameplay too smooth in a sense that I find the decision making unspectacular compared to HotS." - Heinz Guderian
"HOTS has a better, more rich rules system that achieves some key design goals for the conflict it is trying to simulate. Richard III's rules--while a very fun, easy to learn, and entertaining game--lacks some thematic depth and deals with some elements of the War of the Roses in sometimes perplexing ways. Both games deliver a fun diversion for a couple hours. If you want a 3-hour diversion, get HOTS. If you want a 1.5 hour diversion, get Richard III." - Chris Montgomery
"Both really good games. Different in key ways. I've reduced my collection a lot but elected to keep both." - Kevin Duke




On the whole, most people seem to appreciate the more streamlined and quicker game play of Richard III, and the differences are sufficient to give it a different feel. One final comment from the designer: "To those worried that this is just another Hammer of the Scots with a different setting – worry not. Many of the systems are similar of course, but the game feels and plays very differently. This is not a guerrilla war and the campaigns are less piecemeal and more decisive than in Hammer. The King-Insurgent dynamic also provides a very different flavor to the struggle than anything you experience playing Hammer. In my opinion, it keeps the best elements of Hammer and enriches and expands them in a different historical context." - Jerry Taylor

Want more discussion about how Richard III compares with Hammer of the Scots? Go here.

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

So this eurogamer has now successfully swum in the waters of block wargaming - what was the temperature of the water, and were there sharks? Here are some of my overall thoughts about Richard III:

It is very thematic. One example: At the end of every campaign, all nobles go to their home area and regain full strength. At first this seemed odd, until I read this: "...it was not a continuous war. Battles teneded to be bloody, and neither side could afford to maintain a permanent army of any size. Most military campaigns lasted only a few months, separated by 6-12 years of uneasy peace." The extensive designer notes make it very clear that a lot of research and thought has gone into the design and development of the game, with remarkable attention to detail. I really like how the historical setting and characters are intertwined with the game-play, and I enjoyed learning about the actual Wars of the Roses.
It is built on a proven game system. The game-play is not entirely new, but takes the tried and tested mechanics of Hammer of the Scots in a slightly different direction. In other words, the game is built around a reliable and popular engine, and we don't need to worry that the game system itself is seriously flawed.
It is more complex than your average euro. The overall idea of the game is fairly straight forward, but there are many specific rules about special situations and circumstances that are hard to remember. Part of this is because block war games use very different mechanics than most eurogamers are used to. However it's not really super complicated - in fact, learning it first hand from someone who knows the game would be relatively straight forward. And if you get some rules wrong the first time around, it won't affect the game significantly, so don't worry too much about the special exceptions.
It is less essential to grasp all the complex rules than in your average euro. Don't let the complexity frighten you, because many of the special rules are thematic "chrome", and it really doesn't matter too much if you play these rules wrong the first time. To a euro-gamer, getting the rules wrong can be an unforgiveable crime, because with most euro games even misunderstanding one basic rule can totally change how you play the game. For the most part, that's not the case here: many of the specialized rules relate to specific instances, and if you overlook them the first time or accidentally forget or misunderstand them, it won't really change the outcome of the game significantly. In that sense complete mastery of the rules is not as critical here as it is with a euro game - just get the overall drift (which you should from this review), play your first game, and re-read the rules to fill in some gaps later. For example, in our first game we completely missed the special rule that Bombards get an initiative of A instead of D in the first round of battle. Did it matter? Not really - although obviously we'll play it correctly in the future.
It is surprisingly accessible. My 13 year old son was quite hesitant about playing, but after the first campaign, begged to immediately play the next two campaigns. And at the end of the third and final campaign, he asked if we could play a second game right away! A couple of days later he was playing on his own against my 9 year old son, who also had little difficulty in picking up the gameplay, just by having watched our first game.
It is asymmetrical. I love asymmetrical games that are reasonably balanced! So how balanced is this game? See a poll here. Some suggest that perhaps York has an edge, but I'm sure that the game has been play-tested heavily, and it's really too early to say one way or the other. Both sides are fairly evenly matched in terms of firepower, and much of the early advantage is positional, and can change rapidly as positions change, and of course with the changing fortunes of the dice.
It has a nice system with royal heirs. I love the fact that this game isn't just about defeating your enemy, but that you need to use your five royal heirs carefully, and that the whole aim of the game is to have your heir declared king at the end of the game. This makes for a great storyline as the game unfolds, and also allows for some great mechanics.
It does a good job of including treason. I love the treason mechanic - it's an important part of the game, even if it doesn't happen successfully very often, and makes for a great story! The way treachery has been incorporated thematically and in the game mechanics is excellent.
It has a solid fun factor. Especially the aspects of dice rolling in combat and treachery make for a lot of fun. The game has a great deal of "story" to offer, and the fact that the story ties in closely with history is a real bonus. My 9 year old and 13 year old boys loved the game immensely, and this is probably a big reason why!
It has a reasonable play time. Our first couple of games took about three hours, but even then we didn't feel the game was outstaying its welcome. With experience and fairly quick play, a game could be over in as little as two hours. The fact that a full game is divided into three campaigns that are somewhat distinct is a real bonus, because you can always play one or two campaigns, and come back to the game at a later point. With the single campaign scenarios you can even get a quicker game in.
It has decent components. I love the details and colours on the map, and the stickered blocks. Different than what I'm used to from euro games, sure. But I like the feel of the solid wooden blocks - it sure is a big step up from the plastic and game-play of Stratego, both in quality and complexity! There's less components than your average euro, the cards are somewhat mediocre, and I do miss having a mounted board, but overall the aesthetics are pleasing and satisfying.
It is a good intro block war game. Yes it is. Let's face it, if I can manage it, so can anyone. A close friend who knows me well advised me not to get this game, because he knows that for the most part I really don't care for war games. And yet despite his many misgivings, I ended up getting it, learning it (on my own) ... and the biggest surprise of all: liking it! And if it works for a skeptic like me, and his 9 year old and 13 year old son, it can work for you! In fact, this review should help reduce your own learning curve significantly, and only help make the process easier for you!



Will there be people who don't like this game? Of course, that depends on your personal tastes:
● Too complex: the complexity might make it inaccessible for some people who prefer lighter games.
● Too simple: The stream-lining of the Hammer of the Scots system might make it too simple and short for other people who prefer heavy games.
So it depends on where you're starting from, and what you're looking for. For the most part though, this game seems to bridge a variety of tastes, and will be pleasing to both the euro gamer (as heavier fare) and to the block war gamer (as lighter fare). In my mind, that's quite an achievement!

Are there any concerns with the game, or reasons why you might not like it? Here are a few things to think about:
● Balance: time will tell how balanced the game is, and whether or not it favours York.
● Treachery: is Richard III's system of treachery an improvement on the constantly switching forces of Hammer of the Scots, or do they just cater to different tastes?
● Runaway leader: some have expressed concern that it could be hard to come back if you get behind early in the game.
● Set-up: this could be made easier and quicker if the starting blocks used some kind of icon or colour to distinguish them from blocks that begin in the pool and blocks that are enemy nobles at the start of the game.
● Events: the event cards seem somewhat limited and don't really offer significant - but on the other hand it could be argued that this prevents them from being game-breaking. Having some events is better than no events at all, but I do wonder if more could have been done with the events.
Are these criticisms? Not really - they are more minor quibbles and questions. Overall, I'm very pleased with the game.

What do others think?

We've already reviewed comments and comparisons that other gamers have made with Hammer of the Scots, and seen that for the most part the general consensus is that it's shorter and easier and arguably better than Hammer of the Scots. So what else are people saying about the game? The comments so far are almost exclusively positive, here's a selection:

"What a game, action, punch and sheer brilliance from Jerry Taylor and Columbia!! If you enjoy Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex, you are going to just love this one." - Paul Kemp
" It's rare to have a satisfying wargame that can be played in just 2 hours!" - Paul Marjoram
"Simple, fast, exciting, great." - Matt (Cruo)
"Another great introductory level wargame from Columbia Games. Probably the best of their lot for this purpose, actually. Relatively simple rules, nice, quick gameplay." - Paul Franklin-Bihary
"A really fine game. Some compromises were made for playability's sake, but I feel they hit a VERY sweet spot between playability and historical feel. RIII may become my favorite Columbia game "EVAR"" - Lee Troutman
"Best production values I've seen in a Columbia Game." - Charles Robinson
"Definitely the best Columbia game in a very long time. Game length, complexity, and strategic depth are right in the sweet spot. Did I mention the game is FUN?" - Rick Byrens
"This is one of Columbia's simpler games and it has lots of flavor including treachery, foreign mercenaries, and dramatic charges." - gittes
"A very solid and fun design that is easy to get into, yet offers enough chrome and strategy layers to keep things interesting. I've only been exposed to a handful of Columbia's games, but this is the best I've played from their line." Steve Carey




Recommendation

Is Richard III: The Wars of the Roses for you? The beauty of this game is that it can serve as common ground for both war gamers and euro gamers to enjoy. It's within the reach of euro gamers, and yet there's enough meat for fans of block war games to savour. With a bit of help, this game is set to succeed for a wide variety of gamers, and in that regard its appeal could even exceed the success seen by its cousin, Hammer of the Scots. A well researched and integrated theme, quality components, and fun gameplay, this eurogamer gives Richard III a thumbs up!



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Daniela Wiebigke
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This is not a review!

But it is, in a complete: it does not matter what it is, nevertheless completely astonishing!

Wow!

Wow!

Wow!

MfG
Dirk
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Fredrik Borg
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A completely amazing review!

Thanks,
Fredrik.
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David Muñoz de la Peña
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I have no words, great work!
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Bartosz Trzaskowski

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I have no interest in this game, whatsoever. None. Really, not at all.

Still the review rocks and makes me wanna buy the game...
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Jody Ludwick
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Thank you EndersGame for all your efforts in creating a very impressive review.
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Nigel Gregory
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Richard III: The Wars of the Roses » Forums » Reviews
Re: So you're wondering about the best introductory block war game: Let's learn how to play with a pictorial review of Hammer of the Scots' brand new cousin!
Throrough, objective and comprehensive - what more can we ask for? A fantastic piece of work. You deserve all the 'thumbs' you get!
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David G. Cox Esq.
Australia
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Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
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I take it you had some spare time to kill this week?

I had crossed this game of my list of wants as I was concerned that it was too much like Hammer of the Scots, which I dislike.

I have now placed an order for a copy with MilSims.

I will think very carefully before reading another of your reviews - you may end up costing me too much money.
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Chris Montgomery
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The Coat of Arms of Clan Montgomery - Scotland. Yes, that's a woman with the head of a savage in her hand, and an anchor. No clue what it means, but it's cool.
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Awesome review.

A few personal opinions:

1. Jerry Taylor should give you a GG tip and buy you a beer.

2. If the mods didn't give you 5 GG for this, then the GG system for review writing needs to be revised.

3. For those who didn't notice, most of the images were also from Ender's Game, who took them and uploaded them.

Great review of a fun game.

Cheers.

Chris
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Dave Langdon
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Thats a stunning review! I'm tempora..l..y...bli...ded.. by its magnificence
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Kevin Duke
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except one little thing...
I think this is one of the most remarkable pieces of work I've ever seen on BGG.

I would question one thing. (yeah, always one!).

Recognizing that not everyone is going to read the entire piece, I point a slightly worried finger at this line.

Quote:
In Richard III, Jerry Taylor has teamed up with Tom Dalgliesh to build a new model using the proven Hammer of the Scots engine. The game system is essentially the same, but with a completely new theme, some new ideas, and shorter and easier game-play.



You have a complete "chapter" on all the differences between the two games, so how can it be that the 2 games are "essentially the same"? I don't think they are (and you've quoted me and several others to that point) and admitted you haven't played HotS.

My concern is that someone starting out to note this thread will get an impression with this early quote that is not true, and which-- if they did not like HotS, or if they have HotS and DO like it, but don't feel any desire for a clone-- will discourage people from reading further or finding out what an interesting piece of work this game is.

For your information, this game has been in development for, literally, years, and has taken quite a few twists and turns along the way. Someone seeing the rules as they were in 2006 might not recognize the final result. I think it was a very positive evolution and has resulted in... enthusiasm like yours from folks who are not grognard wargamers.

Welcome to the "club." I hope you get to play Hammer sometime. I don't say it is better than Richard or not as good--just that it is different in a satisfying way. There is actually an on-line version available.

ps-- I just remember the GG "tip" thing. I've never done that before or given it much thought, but if it's appropriate for anything, this certainly earns it!
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Doug Epperson
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OMG! This is the best review I have feasted my eyes upon! Well Done Sir!

Now I wonder How in the hell did I manage to miss this production piece?

I GOTTA GET ME ONE OF THESE NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Damen Parker
United Kingdom
Northampton
Northants
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Total Class. Well DOne & Thanks. May just have to buy this now. Are you on comission as a salesperson?

Cheers
D.
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Chris Hansen
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This was a very nice review. I'll add a few thoughts I had while reading your review.

EndersGame wrote:
In amazement, I pull off the box sleeve, and find inside a very nondescript black box for storing the components.

Back in the old days, the boxes were white with no logo on them on at all. I have 1st editions of Rommel in the Desert, War of 1812, and Quebec 1759 and they are all in the white box. The black box is deluxe in comparison!

EndersGame wrote:
As a euro-gamer, do I miss the nice glossy pages and colours of the Rio Grande and Queen Games rulebooks I'm used to? Sure, this isn't as impressive looking, but there's a lot here to appreciate.(Psst! The PDF download has some colours that you won't find in the black-and-white book you get with the game!)

The MMP IGS Series all comes with full color glossy rulebooks. They don't particularly remind me much of Queen games rulebooks but they are probably the nicest wargame rulebooks I've seen.
As you mentioned, all the rules on the Columbia site are in color but they are shipped in Black and White. I've printed a few in color from their website. If you wanted to get into deeper wargames with accessible rules, Storm Over Stalingrad or Warriors of God might be excellent choices just based on the rulebook.

EndersGame wrote:
But that's not all, there are also other summary notes in the margins, explaining or clarifying certain details and principles.

I found the RIII Rulebook to be a little better then HoS since they didn't try to sneak any rules into the sidebar. HoS has a few historical tidbits with a rule stuck in which are easy to miss.

I'm actually not a huge fan of Columbia's 8 page rulebook. Hammer of the Scots suffered from needing a bit more space so some rules were just implied rather then specifically stated. For example, my first five games I played with the Scottish draw pool face up and the English being able to winter in England since those rules are never explicitly stated in the book. I had to read the FAQ on BGG to find out about them. I understand that there is marketability in saying your wargame has only 8 pages of rules, but I'd prefer getting a 10 page rulebook that clearly had everything I needed to play the game correctly.
I haven't had any such issues with Richard III so far, but I didn't think I was having issues with HoS either...

EndersGame wrote:
The rules are more complex, and so if you're new to block war games, like I am, there's a lot to digest and absorb, and you'll find yourself needing to read the rules several times to get a good handle on how this kind of game works and to remember all the intricacies of gameplay.

The nice thing is that once you learn the basics of how blocks fire and take hits, you'll be able to jump into almost any other block game much easier.

EndersGame wrote:
It will need a bit of work to look right and lay flat - is back folding considered a heinous crime in the world of boardgaming? ... I'll be honest: coming from a eurogamer background, I miss a solid mounted board. But once it lays flat, this mat is perfectly functional, and more importantly, it looks great.

Plexiglas is your friend.

I know people love to debate the mounted vs. non-mounted mapboard question but the reality is that if you really want to play wargames, you're going to have to deal with non-mounted maps. GMT has mounted a few boards (usually for games that show up in the BGG top 25) but MMP (who make some of the finest wargames out there) have shown zero interest in ever releasing a mounted map. Same thing for Columbia. I'm not a fan of "back folding" so I play with Plexiglas.

It should be noted that a few smaller publisher are releasing mounted boards, DVG, Academy Games, Fifth Column Games, and others I'm sure. However, at this point I find mounted board more gimmicky then necessary now (at least as far as wargames are concerned). It makes the game incredibly heavy to ship and adds a hefty price for a feature I don't need or want. For example, were FC: Alexander's mounted maps - which have terribly warping problems - really an improvement over FC: Rommel's paper map? They were certainly more expensive but don't really add anything to the gameplay. (Don't get me started about the ridiculous cost of shipping Where There is Discord thanks to its mounted maps!) Once you have the plexi, you really don't need the mounted boards and I actually prefer playing with the plexi now.

EndersGame wrote:
Note that the stickers are on one side only! This means that when you're playing the game, the blocks are placed vertically and you can only see the reverse side of your opponent's blocks! This mechanic is similar to Stratego, and allows for an element of bluffing (or fog of war), because you can't always be certain what kind of forces your opponent is amassing against you!

Fog of War is excellent. One of my favorite phrases to hear when playing Hammer of the Scots is, "Damn it! I thought Wallace was over there! You're going to kick my ass." I only like to hear that phrase when I playing the Scots of course, I don't like to say it when playing the English...

EndersGame wrote:
Now let's check out the types of blocks in each army a little more closely

I'm a great fan of the multiple block types in RIII. In HoS you get a benefit if the noble is defending his home area, but that's about it. The church blocks, levy blocks, noble blocks, mercenaries, rebels, and royalty blocks in RIII make it slightly more complex but add a lot of fun and challenge to the game.

EndersGame wrote:
They're dice. Four of them. Plain jane generic dice. What else did you expect? There have been reports of some folks getting red dice with Richard III, so perhaps the colour depends on whether you have a Lancastrian (red) or Yorkish (red) sympathizer packing the box!

The dice that game in my set were red and white - which I think goes nicely with the theme of the game. Mine was a preorder so maybe they switched to the white dice in later printings.

EndersGame wrote:
b) Recruiting: For 1 AP, deploy a block from your pool at full strength in its home area (matching shield for nobles, matching cathedral for church, matching city for levies). The area must be friendly or vacant, and you can't move this block until the next turn.

This is one of my favorite differences from Hammer of the Scots. The English player can only move additional blocks into Scotland from one location. This doesn't exactly give the game a scripted feel, but it does mean you spend a lot of time fighting over the southern half and middle of the board. In RIII, the Yorkist may start off outside of England, but they can start popping up all over the place with the Recruit mechanic.

EndersGame wrote:
This is different from most other block games, where hits are applied to all blocks rather than just the one with highest Strength.

I think a clearer way of saying this is that in most blocks games the hits are applied to whatever block(s) the owner chooses, rather then "all blocks." For example, in Hammer of the Scots, the owning player is not usually going to apply hits to Wallace or Longshanks if there are other more expendable blocks available to take the hit.

EndersGame wrote:
There are some other special rules, such as defensive benefits of +1 firepower for blocks defending their shields, crowns, cathedrals or cities, and the possibility of a senior heir making a charge in battle, but this is the gist of how combat works.

Richard the III has so many defensive combat bonuses that it is much better to be attacked then to attack. Defensive bonuses exist in HoS as well, but play less of an important role (at least to my mind - your strategy may differ).

EndersGame wrote:
A VASSAL module has been created which enables Richard III to be played online - free! It can be downloaded here:

That looks like an excellent Vassal module. I'll have to try it soon.

Final thoughts about the Hammer of the Scot vs Richard III comparison:

Battles in Hammer of the Scots typically happen in the same areas. Mentieth is an absolutely critical spot on the board as it is the key to advancing into your opponents stronghold and it can also winter large groups. As a result, many battles happen there or in adjacent areas. This is not a bad thing as it creates a unique maneuvering challenge for both players. However, there are some areas of the board that don't see too much action (at least in my games), such as the northwest and southeast coasts of Scotland.

In Richard III, a lot of action happens at the south side of the map, but it's hard to say that either player has a particular stronghold. I've had game-changing battles pop up all over the map. London is obviously an important point on the map (as you mentioned) but it doesn't feel like the game is revolving around that particular spot.

The one thing I am not as impressed by in Richard III is the event cards. In Hammer of the Scots, the event cards usually have a huge impact on gameplay. In Richard III, I sometimes feel a little underwhelmed by the events. I've yet to actually need "Forced March" for example. I do like the fact that most of the event cards have a points value on them, something that Hammer of the Scots lacks so even the dud cards aren't totally worthless.

Again, this was a great review with very helpful pictures and I hope that it opens a great doorway for you into the wonderful world of wargaming.
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Chris Hansen
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kduke wrote:
I think this is one of the most remarkable pieces of work I've ever seen on BGG.

I would question one thing. (yeah, always one!).

Recognizing that not everyone is going to read the entire piece, I point a slightly worried finger at this line.

Quote:
In Richard III, Jerry Taylor has teamed up with Tom Dalgliesh to build a new model using the proven Hammer of the Scots engine. The game system is essentially the same, but with a completely new theme, some new ideas, and shorter and easier game-play.

You have a complete "chapter" on all the differences between the two games, so how can it be that the 2 games are "essentially the same"? I don't think they are (and you've quoted me and several others to that point) and admitted you haven't played HotS.

My concern is that someone starting out to note this thread will get an impression with this early quote that is not true, and which-- if they did not like HotS, or if they have HotS and DO like it, but don't feel any desire for a clone-- will discourage people from reading further or finding out what an interesting piece of work this game is.

I think Enders is correct in saying that the game system is essentially the same. In both games the same A,B,C combat order is used, the number of actions and player order are determined by card play, and combat strength and hits are allocated very similarly. However, the strategy, game play, and overall feel of the games are much different.

To put it in Euro terms, it's like saying that Agricola and Le Havre have essentially the same game system. Technically correct, but there are many differences in how you play the two games that are above and beyond the minor changes in the rules.
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Paul Kemp
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Auckland
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Now I see that the 'Image Spam' was well worth it.

Stunning Synopsis.
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Chris Hansen
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It would appear that your review caught the attention of Grant Dalgliesh since he just emailed it to the Dicey Business distribution list. Congratulations on getting such high profile recognition!
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Michael Edwards
United States
Everett
Washington
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YA R'LYAH
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Phnglui mglw nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah nagl fhtagn! With cheeze!
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Amazing review! I already own the game, and have played it. Now this makes me want to break it out again and play it right now! thumbsupthumbsupthumbsup
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Paul Marjoram
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Quite simply, a magnificent review!
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Michael Parchen
United States
Annandale
Virginia
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IN THE NEARLY 40 YEARS OF BOARD (AND WAR) GAMING, THIS IS THE FINEST REVIEW I HAVE HAD TO PLEASURE TO READ. THANK YOU!!!
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Bill Powers
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Triangle
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Simply an amazing piece of work.

Im listed as a contributor in the rule book and I dont think I put this much time into the game!

Welcome to wargamming!!

Bill
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Sylvain Martel
Canada
Stoneham
Qc
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Astounding work wow

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Lieven Volckaert
Belgium
Kortenberg
Vlaams Brabant
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They should send you review copies because you just convinced me to get this game in my next purchase.
Thank you for a great review!
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Dean Hill
United States
Warrensburg
Missouri
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This is alot of work... Fantastic job, probably one of the best reviews I've seen.
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Roger Hobden
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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Best Review Ever.

This Man Deserves a Prize .
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