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Subject: [Roger's Reviews] Five years of Unhappy King Charles! rss

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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Unhappy King Charles!
A game for 2 players designed by Charles Vasey


"Book of RULES
Intended to be
A TRUE and EXACT
Relation of
His Majesties
WARRE upon
the COMMONS

This work perfected by
Charles Vasey Esq., London”

— From the front page of the Unhappy King Charles! rule book.


Introduction
I usually review newer games, but every once in a while I feel compelled to pull out one of my favourites from the shelf and give it a fresh look. This one is still in print and in stock at GMT, and I feel that it's somewhat of an under appreciated gem in the card driven game genre.

The English Civil War is a topic that hasn't seen a huge number of games, and that's a shame because it came during an interesting transitional period in warfare. You can play some of the specific battles from this conflict in the first of the Musket & Pike series, This Accursed Civil War.

Unhappy King Charles! is a strategic level card driven game that takes you through the English Civil War, either as the Royalists or those pesky upstart Parliamentarians. You'll need to be crafty, clever, and perhaps most importantly, quick as your armies seem to not want to stay around.

Components



Unhappy King Charles comes with a paper map of England (and Wales and Scotland) with areas connected by point to point movement. There is a separate rulebook and playbook, a deck of 110 cards divided into early, mid, and late war, player aid cards for both sides, and two sheets of counters.

I have added two packs of bingo chips in blue and orange to my copy to place on towns rather than the included markers because my knowledge of British place names is limited to the major cities most people will be familiar with. The bingo markers let me read the city names more easily.

Photo credit: Tim P.

If I had the opportunity I'd get the map printed on canvas. It's one of the lovelier ones among the wargames in my collection. The cards, although completely fine, are on the thin side - not quite as thick as the ones that came with the first run of Combat Commander: Mediterranean for instance. However, they have a nice linen finish to them and have held up well for me over the years.

Rules and Game Play
As mentioned in the introduction, this is a card driven game, but unlike the most common model where you have to choose between operations and events, this deck is split between events and operations cards. Some of the events are playable by either side, but some can only be played by the owning player's faction, and if you end up with some of these in your hand you can only use them for a limited set of things. The deck is never reshuffled so if an event you really wanted doesn't get into your hand, then tant pis. Or as the designer puts it himself, the event still happened, it just didn't have the same impact in the game as it did historically.

Speaking of history, this game is unusual in that it includes some so-called alternate history cards containing events that didn't actually happen but were entirely possible. For instance, there's a card featuring Charles of Lorraine and his army that can enter the game on the Royalist side. I really feel this adds a nice nuance to the game as it inserts a little bit of "what if?" without really affecting the narrative flow of the game.

The game lasts until either the end of winter 1645 (the 11th and final turn of the game), or an automatic victory occurs. For the Parliament player, this means forcing King Charles to surrender. For the King, it means seizing London and also controlling three areas on the map.

The map is split into five regions. The south, the Midlands, Wales, the north, and east. Each area has a number of towns, and these towns will need to be controlled as part of each player's political base. There are also some areas on the map that are designated as industrial areas, such as the Northumbrian Coal Field and the Forest of Dean. Having control of at least one area like this is necessary or else you will not be able to recruit any troops, and that can quickly send your side into a death spiral as troops are both hard to come by and harder to keep in the field.

The game is split into three phases - the early, mid, and late war. Each phase has a mandatory event card that kicks off that era. The early war will see posturing and build up by both sides on the first turn until someone plays Raising the Royal Standard marking the start of armed conflict. The Army of the Solemn League and Covenant arrives in the mid war from the north. The New Model Army starts the late war and has a dramatic effect on the Parliamentary sides troops and leaders.

Each turn is split into multiple phases beginning with housekeeping, which allows unemployed generals (ahem) to become available to lead troops again. This is followed by a political phase where each player may place a control marker in an available city (subject to various restrictions). Political isolation is checked for (you could lose control over a lot of towns this way - beware). Recruitment then happens for both sides, allowing you to muster some fickle troops. Cards are then drawn for the turn.

Each player has two Core Cards, a 1 and 2 value operations card that is returned to your hand every turn. In the first turn you each draw an extra five cards from the deck, but after the first turn you'll only draw 4. Each turn during the campaign phase you must play six cards, but you may choose to play any extra cards you may have. In the early and mid war, the Royalist player chooses who will go first, and in the late war, the Parliament player decides. Some cards can be played as interrupts or as a bonus in battle - these count towards your required six cards.

Cards either have operations values on them or events. Operations values let you choose between placing control marker, activating a leader, a full recruitment (2 units), or raiding with local notables. Some leaders are harder to activate than others, and major armies always need a 3 ops card. Events, if they're yours, can be used for the text on the card, or for a limited op - a local notable raid, placing a control marker, or limited recruitment (1 unit).

After the card play is done, there's a phase for checking the state of sieges, and then the dreaded desertion phase. Armies of the era were notoriously hard to keep in the field, and the English Civil War was no exception. In the first turn you can recruit 1 unit in the recruitment phase and lose 1 in the desertion phase. The next three turns you'll recruit 2 and lose 2. Then for the rest of game you'll recruit 2 and lose 3. Every turn. This is why using cards to recruit units is such an important part of your planning each turn.

The Royal Navy is abstracted in this game through a naval support chit pull four times over the course of the game. The navy was largely noncommittal but did exert some influence over the proceedings.

Battles in this game are dangerous. When you are engaged (or choose to intercept someone who's moving adjacent to you), you have to decide if you're going to evade. If you can't evade, you can choose stand and fight or to disperse. Dispersal means your units can come back next turn, but maybe you've given up a key position on the board. If you stand and fight, your leader's total is added to the strength of your units and you roll a die. You opponent does the same, and then the consequences are applied. Losing decisively not only means death for some of your troops but also bonus cards for your opponent.

The game revolves around maneuvering, bluff, political control, sieges, grabbing your opponents' recruitment centres, and being very selective about when and how to engage the enemy in battle.

Conclusions
Card driven games were quite the rage a few years ago and while they're still being designed, they have fallen somewhat out of vogue. However, I think anyone who's avoided this one because it's a CDG is missing out on a great game.

The luck of the card draw is mitigated in part thanks to the two core cards that return every turn, and also the possibility of getting more cards. Another key differentiator in this game is that the cards are not of the classic op or event model, giving you somewhat easier decisions with each card you have. And thanks to high desertion rates of your fickle troops, being willing, able, and patient enough to plan ahead for a key battle will be rewarded.

Unlike most card driven games, knowing the deck isn't an enormous help. It does help to know the rough proportion of events to operations card in each of the decks, but there are no dependencies that have to be planned for. You can check out the composition of the deck in this CDGs: Inside the Decks geeklist entry.

The alternate history cards are a great touch that I wish more wargames would incorporate into their narrative flow, especially when the game has a political control element like this one does.

This game can be long, with play time typically being in the 4-6 hour range. However, it plays exceedingly well over Vassal as a pbem game, and I almost always have one or two games on the go.

After five years of play, this one remains one of my favourite wargames. I hope it becomes one of yours too.


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
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Oliver Paul
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Great review Roger. I've had this one unplayed in my closet for years, it might be time to dust off the rulebook and get it to the table
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Christina Kahrl
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Indeed, a great review -- and a reminder that I need to pick up bingo chips!
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James Webb
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This one fell a bit flat for me. I think I didn't find it as accessible as I'd hoped, despite it's relative low complexity.

It was a shame. I very much wanted to love it, partly because I desire a great strategic level ECW game, and partly because I like Charles Vasey. Perhaps those expectations didn't help.
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Roger Hobden
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Great review !
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Sean McCormick
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I just traded my copy away today, and without much ado. I like the concept of the alternate history and the way the deck works in this game, but I'm ultimately not terribly interested in the time period, and I find the design fussy with extraneous chrome.
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Łukasz
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While this is more like a rule summary, not a review, I do appreciate someone is still loving this old gem. This is one of favourite games of mine -- what I like most is that it really feels like a civil war which for me means that the stress is positioned at winning hearts and minds (in this game represented by PC markers) instead of battles. PC markers and maneuver play a major role in the game. I also like somewhat novel approach to building the deck (mandatory cards add to the flavour and chrome).

A winner for me, really.

But ECW definitely didn't happen in Middle Ages, for Pete's sake :-)
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Freddy Dekker
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You mention accursed, a game i'd likebut not for 130 dolars.
Has there been any news about the reprint?
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Mateusz Wilk
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Let me join the chorus and say how much I love this brilliant game. One of the best, if not THE best CDGs out there. I don't understand why it doesn't seem to have received the credit it deserves - it's still not as famous as Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage or Wilderness War.
One more thing: I normally don't care for such things, but if GMT ever released a mounted map, I'd order it instantly. This map is really beautiful.
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Steve Hojnacki
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our group played this game several times soon after its release. And while we liked most aspects of the game. We did find that a crushing defeat in the first 2-3 turns, usually meant the game was pretty much over for the losing side. While most battles are generally close in the number of units lost for both sides, one lopsided battle early tended to shift the game way too much over to one side or another making it almost impossible to recover.

S.
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Bessieres wrote:
While most battles are generally close in the number of units lost for both sides, one lopsided battle early tended to shift the game way too much over to one side or another making it almost impossible to recover.


Disperse, disperse!
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Jim F
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Who knew trench warfare could be such fun?
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One of my favourites. Very subtle game and full of chrome - which I love. Both sides have a genuine chance of winning and no two games play the same.

Heartily recommended.
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Steve Carey
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One of the best CDG's in my opinion - rich gameplay, evocative theme, and graphically it looks great too.

Likewise, it's been a while for me - I need to get this on the table again, and soon.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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sagitar wrote:
You mention accursed, a game i'd likebut not for 130 dolars.
Has there been any news about the reprint?

Why would there need to be a reprint given it's not sold out at GMT yet?
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Thomas Chipman
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leroy43 wrote:
sagitar wrote:
You mention accursed, a game i'd likebut not for 130 dolars.
Has there been any news about the reprint?

Why would there need to be a reprint given it's not sold out at GMT yet?


he's referring to This Accursed Civil War
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Charles Vasey
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leroy43 wrote:
sagitar wrote:
You mention accursed, a game i'd likebut not for 130 dolars.
Has there been any news about the reprint?

Why would there need to be a reprint given it's not sold out at GMT yet?


There are so many left that GMT are positioning them to block the San Andreas Fault
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Severus Snape
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Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
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"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."--Pascal
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Roger, have you run out of new games to review? If you are going to go back in time, go way back in time and write about the many great games long out of print. Charles the V also designed the very fine "The King's War," which is one I would like to review, and, in my opinion, the better game, though I like UKC a great deal.

goo
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Severus Snape
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Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
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"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."--Pascal
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seanmac wrote:
I just traded my copy away today, and without much ado. I like the concept of the alternate history and the way the deck works in this game, but I'm ultimately not terribly interested in the time period, and I find the design fussy with extraneous chrome.


We are not playing the same game, but then I really like the ECW.

goo
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Severus Snape
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Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
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Quote:
While this is more like a rule summary, not a review


You noticed? What gave it away?

goo
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Thanks for bringing this one to light again, Roger. Was I your first UKC opponent, lo these many BGG.cons ago?

I am reminded to shift this back towards the top of the teetering "to play" pile.
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Andrew J
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This game remains on our 'most likely to pull out' list. We last played it only two weeks ago. A royalist win with King Charles turning out to be by far the most effective and active general. My wife is a committed anti-royalist and took it quite personally. A grudge match is on the cards.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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sdiberar wrote:
Thanks for bringing this one to light again, Roger. Was I your first UKC opponent, lo these many BGG.cons ago?

Indeed you were Scott! I still remember my near comeback in that one after some disastrous early rolls.

Quote:
I am reminded to shift this back towards the top of the teetering "to play" pile.

The grognards eternal problem.
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Chris Stimpson
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Charles Vasey wrote:
leroy43 wrote:
sagitar wrote:
You mention accursed, a game i'd likebut not for 130 dolars.
Has there been any news about the reprint?

Why would there need to be a reprint given it's not sold out at GMT yet?


There are so many left that GMT are positioning them to block the San Andreas Fault


Er... Whose Fault is that?
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Charles Vasey
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cstimpson wrote:
Charles Vasey wrote:
leroy43 wrote:
sagitar wrote:
You mention accursed, a game i'd likebut not for 130 dolars.
Has there been any news about the reprint?

Why would there need to be a reprint given it's not sold out at GMT yet?


There are so many left that GMT are positioning them to block the San Andreas Fault


Er... Whose Fault is that?


Cheeky!
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Steve Carey
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Charles Vasey wrote:

There are so many left that GMT are positioning them to block the San Andreas Fault


Now shows Out of Stock at GMT's website - the people have spoken!
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