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Paul Smith
England
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Imagine an England dominated by two political blocs set on besting each other with no regard for the ordinary people forming the blameless backdrop to their incessant squabbling. Couldn’t happen now, of course. The late medieval period and the skulduggery known as the Wars of the Roses were very different, however, as the competing Houses of Lancaster and York set about securing the English crown by fair means or – as was the preference for both sides – foul. Can we really expect to recreate that level of epic dynastic chicanery in a small half hour board game with a playing area smaller than a pewter Kindle cover? Well, The Cousins’ War has dusted off its plate armour, clamboured aboard its finest warhorse and cranked its lute up to eleven to have a decent crack at it. Charge!

It’s a pretty game. It looks nice. The artwork is atmospheric – important when you have a lot of theme to get across with limited material - the components are sturdy, and it can be played in a pub or coffee shop table with plenty of room for booze or espresso to underpin the whole grisly business. I’m not going to go into detail about the rules, except to say that it is not complex, and once a couple of simple key ideas have been grasped it won’t scare anyone. At heart, it is a sequence of historical battles generated by card play, with the battles themselves settled by a version of liar’s dice, in which opponents lie (or not) about concealed die rolls, and invite their opponent to challenge them (or not) in return. These mini games of bluff and counter bluff provide acres of tactical and strategic play, and thematically-speaking fit squarely with the untrustworthiness of pretty much everyone involved with the conflict, thereby recreating the unpredictable nature of both friend and foe in the late fifteenth century. As someone who has slaughtered their way through Richard Berg’s glorious splatterfest Blood and Roses, which deals with the same subject in much, much greater depth, I found it interesting to see such a streamlined, polar-opposite approach to battles.

The event cards are of the same school as Twilight Struggle, in that each contains an instruction for both players, so you’re always trying to find the balance between maximum advantage for you and minimal advantage for your opponent at every turn. An advantage is never really what it seems, and a disadvantage can usually be mitigated by clever play. That sort of thing. Cards shift armies between regions (the map is England divided into three such regions – control them all and you’ve won) and allow them to pop up unannounced and the least convenient moment for your knavish foe. Even the French join in from time to time, and players have to deal with the chaos of the overall situation before attempting to get to grips with the enemy.

So. Is it like the Wars of the Roses? Well, in the sense that someone’s likely to bisect you with a billhook, no. Players are also statistically unlikely to end up as an ordained monarch for winning, either. As an ingenious little game which absolutely nails the elusive simple-yet-complex, small-yet-big sweet spot, however, The Cousins’ War is triumphant. It does carry you along, and you do feel like something important is happening on the table in front of you among the crisps, beer, coffee and cakes of whatever establishment you find yourself playing it in. I can't be doing with the phrase 'gateway game' - any game is a gateway if you're sufficiently invested in the subject - but if you like history and fibbing, this could be the gateway game for you. As an introduction to the marvellous insanity of wargaming it would work well, too. I loved it, and it will be interesting to see if the basic engine can be tweaked to cover any number of other conflicts in future. Cry huzzah for England, St George and The Cousins War and for its goodly designer, the fair David of Mortimer!
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Pete Belli
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A delightful review.

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Bill Cook
United States
Massachusetts
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mr_smith_sw17 wrote:
So. Is it like the Wars of the Roses?


Not enough dice:

I have set my life upon a cast,
And I will stand the hazard of the die.


Thanks for highlighting this game. Off to publisher's website to see if we can get it in the US
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David J. Mortimer
United Kingdom
Melksham
Wiltshire
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Thanks for taking the time to review. Much appreciated.
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David Janik-Jones
Canada
Waterloo
Ontario
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Combat Commander, Up Front, Fields of Fire, Cats were once worshipped as gods and they haven't forgotten this, The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me!
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Slywester Janik, awarded the Krzyż Walecznych (Polish Cross of Valour), August 1944
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Excellent review!

Still checking every day in the mail for my copy. Stressful. I'm guessing the handoff between Royal Mail and Canada Post got fumbled a bit.

Arrived!!!!!

And don't forget ... there's still some free TCW micro bases available right here.
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Paul Smith
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morti wrote:
Thanks for taking the time to review. Much appreciated.


My pleasure. It's a fascinating/baffling period of history and you did sterling work with it, not least for enabling me to get a bona fide war game into rotation with my regular pub gaming buddy!
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Paul Smith
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DaveyJJ wrote:
Excellent review!

Still checking every day in the mail for my copy. Stressful. I'm guessing the handoff between Royal Mail and Canada Post got fumbled a bit.

And don't forget ... there's still some free TCW micro bases available right here.


You're in for a treat when it finally arrives. Cool little game. Already got my micro badge!
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Carla Tate
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Sold - instantly. Just went and bought it straightaway. Thanks for the review!
 
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