I’ve played a half dozen of the three dozen or so Worthington Games titles published to date. Each time I’ve come away with the same thought: “This could be good if it had different rules.”
That’s not entirely true as the abysmal Mercury/Market Garden is pure doorstop material. Design wise it has all the innovation of Roshambo. And historically speaking you can gain a better understanding of the operations by browsing a tourist pamphlet, even one written in Cretan.
But Cowboys: The Way of the Gun had unrealized potential. Granted they weren’t aiming for another morass like AH’s Gunslinger, but a tactical old west gunfighting game without facing is just a bad idea. Ever try firing a Colt single-action with your ass? It always ends badly.
Hearts and Minds: Vietnam 1965-1975 too had its share of interesting concepts but screamed for more development to make it a fun game. It’s a repetitive slog as published even in the vastly revised second edition. Charlie not only doesn’t surf in this game, he doesn’t even walk.
Which brings us to Scotland Rising: The Battle of Bannockburn 1314, a game that manages to get this straightforward open field head-clobbering contest wrong in all its key aspects.
How’s that you ask? Forsooth and cue the lute:
1. It forces the English to attack and grants points for exiting English units. BUT the Scots were the attackers and the English had no incentive to do anything other than win the field battle. They were not racing to break the siege of Sterling Castle as the game suggests. Winning this battle would have ended the siege, such as it was.
2. It includes the town of Bannock and units to the west of the eponymous creek. BUT these areas were not relevant to the battle nor fought over. The Bannock Burn (creek) was on one side of the battlefield and mainly served to hem in the English since it was difficult for horses and armored men to cross.
3. It gives the English plenty of room to maneuver and they can even cross the Bannock Burn. BUT the English army was large, dispersed and became trapped between the creek’s steep sides and marshland to the east and south. Once a few units began to panic they had nowhere to go but into other units, resulting in a classic chain-reaction rout.
4. Edward II’s actions have no effect on anything. BUT the king leaving the battlefield as the Scot’s approached (after spanking a few formations of Gloucester’s knights) is what caused the English army to take their cue from the king, turn tail, and skippity-do-da back to good old Blighty.
5. The Scots won a resounding victory for very good reasons. BUT good luck doing that here or learning why it happened.
Even taking into account that the goal was to design a simple game that could be completed in 90 minutes, a buyer deserves correct unit deployment, a reasonably accurate OoB and mechanics/victory conditions that incorporate the key elements of the battle.
No one is expecting Dungeons & Dragons-level detail on armor and weapons in four pages of rules, but give us the generally accepted historical overview, or make a case in the designer’s notes why your game deviates from it. To me this is the implied contract every publisher makes with every potential buyer. Scotland Rising breaches this contract in material ways.
Normally I’d ignore a marginal game from a small publisher in which I’ve only invested a couple hours, but Scotland Rising, and Worthington Games in general, has several things going for it.
1. The art direction is first rate.
2. Componentry is well done: large, thick counters., cardstock map, color rules; overall a good tactile experience.
3. It’s a near miss. A little tweaking/playtesting can make it work.
Medieval battles are by their nature not going to be subtle affairs. They were more about morale than maneuver and so don’t usually make for great gaming. Bannockburn had two armies smashing into each other on an open field until one broke and fled.
At this time both sides generally believed that God would determine the victor. All an individual could do was go out and slaughter with all his God-given might and skill. If his side was found worthy victory would be divinely granted.
Subtract the physical violence and that’s not far removed from what we do when wargaming. So in that sense there’s a simulation to be had here.
In the spirit of being part of the solution and because I really wanted to like this game I reworked the rules. After all, with the PC trend in this country I don't know how much longer caving-in skulls for God and country will be socially acceptable, even in the cardboard pretend realm, so best to have a game that allows it. Hell, celebrates it.
You can find the revised rules in the downloads section on BGG. It still plays fast, uses all the original components unmodified, and is a competitive contest. Plus now both sides chuck dice in every melee. Just like God meant us to.
With the revised rules the game at least reflects the battle as seen by contemporary historians. Straight out of the box it’s neither a simulation of the battle nor much fun.
Robert "Smitty" Smith
A bang up review! Thank you for posting.