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Nate Merchant
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Richard III: The wars of the Roses is one of the most voluptuously beautiful wargames I have ever had the pleasure to play. Columbia Games personnel should be demoing this game in crowded malls and busy thoroughfares just for the interest Mark Mahaffey's visual design would garner. There have always been complaints, here and there, about the expense of Columbia Games's products, but it would be hard to argue that this work of art should not fetch top dollar (though fetishists of plastic may disagree).


Card portraits. Henry Tudor is the 4 card, because he ultimately came out on top, the swine.


I was a playtester for this game just as it was transitioning from Jerry Taylor to Tom Dalgliesh, and I applaud both designers for the end product. I do still wish it had more of the flavor of the Wars of the Roses, and that remains my one general regret about the game, for otherwise Richard III is very engaging, streamlined, and fun.

Richard III starts the Wars of the Roses off with a delicious, asymmetrical premise: the Lancastrians literally own England, and the Yorkists are all in exile. At game start, there is not a white Yorkist block to be seen in Merry Olde. They must instead be shipped from the Continent or from Ireland, or recruited within England itself. At first, the Yorkists may be seen as the underdog, for they must not only pay to ship their units to England, but must then gather them in strength, while the Lancastrians only have to do the latter, and at defensive points (cities, crowns, fiefs) of their choosing. But recent games by the community have shown that the Yorkists, particularly with the help of the French, Irish, and Burgundian mercenaries, can turn the tables in short order.


Opening set-up with all blocks revealed.


Of course, good cards help, but I found in my most recent game that a good draw (or several of them, as my opponent had) did not break the game. The Events are balanced nicely, and several came in handy in ways that I did not expect. In fact, they were a bit weaker than the 2 and the 3 cards, but added a nice, unexpected zing to the game.


No one is safe.


Rules-wise, there are some welcome changes of note from previous Dalgliesh-Taylor collaborations:

1) The strongest unit takes ALL hits when an opposing unit rolls in combat, and if it dies, excess hits go to the next strongest unit.

2) Units do not heal until the end of the campaign turn.

3) Most of the units are removed from the game when eliminated in battle and not returned to the unit pool.

Most welcome was the dash and fluidity of the movement phase. I'm a fan of maneuver in wargames (I found the popular new GMT title Sekigahara to be lacking in this area, by contrast), and the ports facilitate movement around the island. The King player especially has to be on the alert for threats to form out of nowhere like summer thunderstorms, and in that case careful positioning on defensive areas is critical. As Lancaster, I found that positioning forces in Newcastle, Coventry/York, and London gave me defensive bonuses that I dearly needed against the Yorkist heirs and their Continental mercenaries. Since armies are comparatively slow, and can get snarled in the mountains of Wales and North Yorks, managing fleet transport is critical.

Combat is, of course, the heart of Richard III, and that's where the game shines because combat is so fun and uncomplicated. However, the Heirs themselves add a bit of unnecessary complexity which could have been streamlined a bit since there are so many combat rules pertaining to them. Otherwise, combat is the noisy, messy scrum one expects from Columbia Games, and that's a very good thing. Heir Charges (air charges?) and Treachery rolls add a bit of uncertainty and flavor, and I found most battles to be nail-biters.


A Yorkist attack on the King in London. Oh, first turn bombard, how I love you!


What is most harrowing during battles is the possible fate of your heirs and nobles. Both heirs and rose (loyal) nobles are eliminated for the rest of the game if they receive enough hits, so the tension in both maneuver and battles is to keep them alive and have the mercenary, rebel, and levy blocks soak up the damage. Of course, you want to be recruiting nobles, not the peasantry, since nobles give you a vote at the end of a Campaign turn, but the only way to keep your nobles alive during battle is graciously allowing the peasantry to die in their stead. Let no one say this game isn't realistic!

Lastly, the Political Phase deftly wraps the Campaign Turn up: the faction with most support on the board seizes the throne, and the other faction is sent into exile. The map returns somewhat to its starting state, though there will likely be more nobles of both factions on-map and waiting for the subsequent campaigns.

But for only eight pages of rules, there is already an FAQ four pages long, and even I posted questions in these forums that neither the rules or FAQ seemed to answer. Most of the questions I had revolved around heir issues (heir quality?), but a lot of the smaller, more important rules exceptions get easily lost in this ruleset, especially when in sidebar. Columbia Games could definitely go through another round of clarifications and errata.

So what's not to love about a 2-3 hour streamlined, fast-paced, frantic wargame on the Wars of the Roses? Nothing, if that is all you are looking for. But if you are a fan of the conflict and the time period (not to mention a fan of the relevant Shakespeare history plays, Henry VI Parts 1-3, Richard 3), you may find that something is lacking in the whole design, fun and fast as it is. As an avid student of the Wars of the Roses, here is a list of problems I have with the game:

1) The title. The game is called Richard III, but it is highly unlikely that the actual block representing Richard III will make it into the game in the standard campaign. It's like naming a game based on the entire conflict of WW2 "The Battle for Berlin" when it might not even happen in the game. I'm sure there is a great game on Richard 3 to be made, but this is not it. "Richard, Duke of York" would have been a more accurate, bold, and appropriate title.

2) Absolutely no personality to the King, Pretender, or heirs. You would think there would be a discernible benefit to seizing the crown. There isn't, other than using Crown lands for defensive benefits. There's nothing so great about being the senior Pretender, either, other than some minor abilities in battle. And the famous royals--Edward of March, Clarence, Margaret, the pious Henry VI, Richard 3--are almost nonexistent. In our game, heirs were simply military units like all the others, possibly with a seldom-used special ability. The only individuality they have are their stats, which aren't different enough. Edward of March, by far the best military commander of the war, is a 3-pip, A3 block. His father, the daring and able Duke of York, is a 4-pip B3 block, and the experienced Richard 3 is a 3-pip B3 block. But the Lancastrian heirs aren't discernibly worse. One heir is much like another, and thus much like any other unit. The heir benefits help to differentiate them, but make little difference over the course of the game.

3)The Church blocks. There are two Church blocks included in the game, and nowhere can I find evidence that bishops actually levied troops in support of the Yorkists or Lancastrians. Worse, these inaccurate blocks keep other, more necessary blocks from being included, such as minor nobles (were is the Marquess of Montagu? Audley? Scrope?) and exotic units such as German landsknechts, who took part in the Battle of Stoke.

4) The city Levies and the Mercenary blocks. The city levies and mercenaries add large contingents to soak up hits and deal a surprising amount of damage during battle, but for me they don't quite work. The city blocks should be neutral, as should the cities themselves. It's a very odd thing that the Lancastrian King of England can't levy units in the capital, but his Yorkist opponent, King or not, can. It's also bizarre to send a Bombard unit out after an enemy noble, and have it obliterate a troop of horsemen all on its own. Cities should be objective points that give defensive bonuses, but here, taking the wrong colored city gets you nothing except the ability to stack five blocks. The city of York itself being pro-Lancastrian is odd, because if nothing else they mourned Richard III's death when it was unwise to do so publicly.

The mercenaries themselves simply need a bit more to differentiate them. They are powerful blocks, and at least should be required to arrive at a city port (as opposed to any port) from overseas. As it is, they fade into the city levy blocks, and as with the heirs, stats alone aren't enough to differentiate them. And why can't they be turned or at least disbanded by the King or Pretender? They're mercenaries!


The leader of the Rebel block. Disaster, desolation, and property damage, and that's before the game even starts!


But my greatest specific regret of the game are the heirs. Columbia Games underlined the Shakespearean resonance by larding the manual with copious quotes from the plays, but in game, heir blocks and peasant blocks are almost indistinguishable. Is it important that three of the five Yorkist heirs were able, seasoned generals, and that none of the Lancastrians were especially popular with the English people? Is it important that, later in the wars, the Duke of Buckingham had his eye on the crown, and could have taken it from either faction? All of that detail lies below the surface of the game, and so the question then becomes: is more chrome needed, and at what price? Would it really make any difference if the heirs had individual attributes, for example, to be activated upon coronation? Or would that make a furious and fluid game bog down? Would added historical chrome aid depth and thus replay value? Or have the designers gone as deep as they can go without making the game last as long as the actual Wars of the Roses?

What made Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex so thrilling and attractive was that these were games based on specific situations with asymmetrical forces with different units following a strong narrative. Richard III has a specific situation, but it's lacking in the other categories, and that lack makes each campaign turn feel similar to the last. There is no question that I will play this again and introduce it to others, but the game feels like a missed opportunity, if only because the basic foundation is so secure.

Rated 7.5



Edits: numerous, small, and ongoing






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Pete Belli
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Outstanding review.

Thank you for providing the historical background which supported your opinion of the play experience.
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Edward Kendrick
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Yes, that's a good review. It confirms my impressions of the game and also confirms my decision to wait for Crown of Roses.

Just one comment - the Yorkists were traditionally popular in London - I'm not sure why, but Margaret of Anjou's advance on London with her Scots allies and their behaviour on the march didn't do the Lancastrian popularity any favours. That might explain the point you raise, but I agree that you would think that holding the capital would at least give you some resources with which to pay mercenaries.
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Nate Merchant
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Barbarossa wrote:
Yes, that's a good review. It confirms my impressions of the game and also confirms my decision to wait for Crown of Roses.


I'm playtesting CoR, but haven't played the new version for many months. It may well be the other extreme: too chrome-laden. But I can't wait to try it after finally playing Richard III.

Barbarossa wrote:
Just one comment - the Yorkists were traditionally popular in London - I'm not sure why, but Margaret of Anjou's advance on London with her Scots allies and their behaviour on the march didn't do the Lancastrian popularity any favours. That might explain the point you raise, but I agree that you would think that holding the capital would at least give you some resources with which to pay mercenaries.


No, you're right, I totally understand why London is colored as it is, but since it was the seat of both Lancastrian and Yorkist governments, it doesn't make much sense to me why even a good Lancastrian king (Henry Tudor, if I must) needs to go to Bristol or Coventry to raise levies.
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Well, it's about time!'



This is such a good game and it gets very little love.

Since you (Nate) playtested it, how about sharing some of the first campaign strategies employed by York and Lancaster? its certainly lacking here on BGG. In my best Austin Powers, "Throw me a freakin' bone..."

cool

I've read two theories on this game:

#1) Run like hell North as Lancaster and try and preserve your Nobles and maintain the crown, or
#2) Muster your troops early as Lancaster, forcing York to do the same, then run like hell *away* from the Yorkist troops.

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Edward Kendrick
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Natus wrote:

Barbarossa wrote:
Just one comment - the Yorkists were traditionally popular in London - I'm not sure why, but Margaret of Anjou's advance on London with her Scots allies and their behaviour on the march didn't do the Lancastrian popularity any favours. That might explain the point you raise, but I agree that you would think that holding the capital would at least give you some resources with which to pay mercenaries.


No, you're right, I totally understand why London is colored as it is, but since it was the seat of both Lancastrian and Yorkist governments, it doesn't make much sense to me why even a good Lancastrian king (Henry Tudor, if I must) needs to go to Bristol or Coventry to raise levies.


Interestingly, there was a similar issue in the civil war between Stephen and Matilda 350 years earlier - London supported Stephen and went as far as ejecting Matilda when she attempted to claim the throne.
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Nate Merchant
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markgravitygood wrote:
Well, it's about time!'



This is such a good game and it gets very little love.


It should get more love from the players and from the publisher, at least where errata is concerned.

markgravitygood wrote:
Since you (Nate) playtested it, how about sharing some of the first campaign strategies employed by York and Lancaster? its certainly lacking here on BGG. In my best Austin Powers, "Throw me a freakin' bone..."

cool

I've read two theories on this game:

#1) Run like hell North as Lancaster and try and preserve your Nobles and maintain the crown, or
#2) Muster your troops early as Lancaster, forcing York to do the same, then run like hell *away* from the Yorkist troops.



Mark,

I only playtested RIII a few times, and even then it was very different from how it is now. However, having just won a game as Lancaster, I have a few ideas, although my advice cannot possibly stand up against an experienced tactician's.

Assuming that the cards are dealt evenly, if both players open with 3 cards, and York wants to land in the South, what happens? York can land his entire Calais force (six pretty strong blocks) in East Anglia, and only take a pip of damage for being over the supply limit (the city of Norwich there can supply five blocks.) Or raise the Rebels in East Anglia, and ship the Calais blocks there, leaving Salisbury and Kent on the Continent. Next turn, as long as he has his eye on supply, York can levy the Norwich levies, the Bombard, Norfolk, and Suffolk, and that's just in East Anglia! Or York can land his Calais blocks in Sussex, recruit Arundel, and land York himself and the Irish mercs in Bristol. Next turn they either converge on Salisbury (supply +1, Bombard, levies) in Wilts or simply assault London. I'm sure there are better options, but you see the danger.

If Lancaster wants to hold the south (assuming a 3 card to start), Wiltshire and Oxford to London and recruit the Bombard is a pretty respectable opening. If London is attacked Turn 2, reinforce with Beaumont and Somerset. Risky, but the defending player fires first and attacking blocks in reserve have only two rounds to do damage.

Now, if the Yorkists land in Sussex & Bristol, that's a tough row to hoe for Somerset, Devon, and Exeter, but that's what Sea Moves are for.

Quite obviously, I simply need more plays to see what actually works. But if London can be held, and the Lancastrian player can fortify Coventry and York, the Yorkist player is in a tough spot. He HAS to attack, because Lancaster has more nobles available. A fortified York practically begs for the York Church block to be recruited. But, of course, the early battles will determine everything.
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Simon Blackwell
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Yeah a great review, even if I do detect a slight Yorkist bedwetting (ahem) bias.
As you have already seen I submitted some of those very same variant noble/mercenary units you mentioned a while ago & still available to download as like you I thought there were some key units left out (a bit like AH's Kingmaker missing off one of the most able commanders and loyal servants to the Lancastrian cause - the Earl of Oxford which was even more of an own goal imho).



 
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Nate Merchant
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Simonsmrt wrote:
Yeah a great review, even if I do detect a slight Yorkist bedwetting (ahem) bias.


Sorry, what does this mean?


Simonsmrt wrote:
As you have already seen I submitted some of those very same variant noble/mercenary units you mentioned a while ago & still available to download as like you I thought there were some key units left out (a bit like AH's Kingmaker missing off one of the most able commanders and loyal servants to the Lancastrian cause - the Earl of Oxford which was even more of an own goal imho).


Yes, those were nice adds. As you saw, the Church blocks really bother me, and there are about five different blocks that could have fit into those two slots.
 
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Simon Blackwell
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I jest, it was having noted your comments about the royal king/heir blocks. Fair enough Henry VI was rubbish (and mad at times) & his missus no doubt left strategy and tactics to her close circle of Lords, herself acting more as a figurehead and magnet for French money and troops. But Clarence had no real ability, the Duke of York can at best be described as average and certainly arrogant to the cost of his own life falling into the trap at Wakefield. Edward showed some nouse (being the illigitimate son of an archer might have helped) but Richard was just rash/brave (delete as applicable) which came off for him at Tewkesbury thanks to some good luck and indecisivness and spectacularly failed at Bosworth.

Personally I dont think the "Roses" was a great one for English stategic thinking, the victories of the 100 years war were gone with just Calais being the only foothold left. Roses battles normally (with a few exceptions) began with an archery duel followed by head on infantry assault and slogging match and were just as often decided through treachery (Bosworth, Northampton, Tewkesbury? or fortuitous moments beyond the control of any commander such as the snowstorm at Towton or fog at Barnet than any outstanding Henry V style battle management. Thats not to say that commanders werent brave as most dismounted at the start of a battle to show their men that they wouldnt run away if things got hairy.

I agree with you about the church blocks. They dont really mean anything. If Columbia thought there were enough noble blocks and were looking for an alternative maybe the church blocks could have been rebadged as Commissions of Array similar to levies? Still it doesnt take away from a very playable game.

 
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Nate Merchant
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Simonsmrt wrote:
I jest, it was having noted your comments about the royal king/heir blocks. Fair enough Henry VI was rubbish (and mad at times) & his missus no doubt left strategy and tactics to her close circle of Lords, herself acting more as a figurehead and magnet for French money and troops. But Clarence had no real ability, the Duke of York can at best be described as average and certainly arrogant to the cost of his own life falling into the trap at Wakefield. Edward showed some nouse (being the illigitimate son of an archer might have helped) but Richard was just rash/brave (delete as applicable) which came off for him at Tewkesbury thanks to some good luck and indecisivness and spectacularly failed at Bosworth.


I suppose I'm also thinking of Richard of Gloucester and Richard of York being good military administrators, aside from how their ultimate battles ended up. And, frankly, I think Richard III's options at Bosworth were scanty, once Percy declined to engage his forces. Should he have waited an extra day? Should he have made his desperate charge? I don't know. He had the hilltop position and guns and cannon and archers, but things went from bad to worse.

Simonsmrt wrote:
Personally I dont think the "Roses" was a great one for English stategic thinking, the victories of the 100 years war were gone with just Calais being the only foothold left. Roses battles normally (with a few exceptions) began with an archery duel followed by head on infantry assault and slogging match and were just as often decided through treachery (Bosworth, Northampton, Tewkesbury? or fortuitous moments beyond the control of any commander such as the snowstorm at Towton or fog at Barnet than any outstanding Henry V style battle management. Thats not to say that commanders werent brave as most dismounted at the start of a battle to show their men that they wouldnt run away if things got hairy.

I agree with you about the church blocks. They dont really mean anything. If Columbia thought there were enough noble blocks and were looking for an alternative maybe the church blocks could have been rebadged as Commissions of Array similar to levies? Still it doesnt take away from a very playable game.


No, you're right. Very playable. Just wish it was a tiny bit deeper.
 
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Natus wrote:
Barbarossa wrote:
Just one comment - the Yorkists were traditionally popular in London - I'm not sure why, but Margaret of Anjou's advance on London with her Scots allies and their behaviour on the march didn't do the Lancastrian popularity any favours. That might explain the point you raise, but I agree that you would think that holding the capital would at least give you some resources with which to pay mercenaries.

No, you're right, I totally understand why London is colored as it is, but since it was the seat of both Lancastrian and Yorkist governments, it doesn't make much sense to me why even a good Lancastrian king (Henry Tudor, if I must) needs to go to Bristol or Coventry to raise levies.

Coming late to the thread...

London is important for both factions since holding it counts as a Noble for Usurpation. I found that some incentive to hold it as the Lancastrians, though not desperately damaging if you fail to do so.
 
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