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Richard III: The Wars of the Roses» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Richard III, currently an Untradeable game rss

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Simon DeSmet
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Sheffield
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Preamble; there’s already alot of good reviews for this game, but I'll add to the chorus, and hopefully bring something meaningful to the table. I’ve played the game some 8 times, also this the first Columbia style game I’ve played.

Intro;
Richard III is a two player block war game, that is themed on the 1st English Civil war in the late middle Ages often referred to as the Wars of the Roses. A contest primarily between two extended families, the Royalist Lancastrians and the Yorkists.

Rules (skip this if you know them)
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I won’t go to much in to rules etc, but in summary Richard III follow suit with Columbia games block system (too my knowledge) Each side has blocks representing armies on an map divided in different areas that roughly corrispond to the English counties. You get 7 cards a turn with numbers on em, Each player selects a card, highest goes first, and gets to make orders equal to the number on the card (1-4). He can either move his blocks, or muster new blocks to the board. Theres more detailed rules concerning recruiting different blocks to only certain areas of the board, nobles only muster to their lands etc, limits on how many units can cross a border per turn. Also some of the cards have an event instead of a higher number (1 numbered cards). The events are used instead of regular movements/musters. When units of each side end a turn in the same territory a battle is fought. Battles follow the standard columbia system, with the defender having intiative and getting bonus for each noble that defends his homelands.

Objective of the game; there are two ways to achieve victory; either kill the opposing houses family members (each side has 5 blocks representing these characters). or at the end of the final campaign, have more nobles on the board rather than the opposition. Note its nobles, not territory that counts. Note also there are three campaigns, each lasts 7 turns, at the end the looser is forced into exile and nobles return to their homelands for the limited peace.
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So is it a good game? for me yes despite its flaws, and flaws it has. The game opens part way through the historical wars (after playing the game a couple of times i went down to the university Library and read up on it) with the first few engagements having already happened and the Yorkist usurper having been exiled to Ireland with many of his allies in Calais. The chief predicament of the Yorkist player is how do invade England and seize the crown. This game throws you right in with the big strategic decisions, theres no warm up. Do i go through Kent, or Sussex and straight for London? Do i land in Wales and raise forces there? Do i isolate the Lancastrian Heir in Cornwall? This the strong point of the game both historically and in terms of fun. On a strategic level these are the sorts of decisions the historical invaders had to make, the Yorkists invaded via Kent on at least two campaigns, during the last few campaigns of the war (this game limits it to three, the real wars had many many more) Henry Tudor landed in Wales. In game play terms as i have said it gives you interesting choices straight up, and each will play the game out differently for both sides, it also allows for feints, if you have the cards.

The Lancastrian player is probably the harder to play, given his military inferiority. Once the Yorkist has committed to an approach this game is about exemplifying the military maxim, fight concentrated. Lancaster (or in later campaigns who ever is regent) forces are spread thin. But Yorkist also needs to muster further forces. It becomes a race to concentrate, for Lancaster in the most defence able positions, for York, to concentrate for both the major blow, but also to pick off the straggler and the isolated nobles, and to secure your own mustering grounds against attack. Again whilst the detail may not be there, broadly each campaign in the war can be view as a race to consolidate mass of arms, generally the side with greater numbers of more committed troops took victory, in several campaigns individual nobles and their forces were caught isolated and cut down. In game play terms it creates a lot of tension, as each side dances between territories, each searching for security in his forces whilst trying to deny the other. This game can often come down to a block lost here or there so each straggler / muster can really matter, the stakes are high. Whilst the Yorkist or usurper gets to choose an attack route, the Lancastrian also has a lot of upfront tradeoffs to consider, where do i consolidate, do i counter attack where York is weak, but given the block fog of war, do i know where he is weak (York has two very strong mercenary units that are best avoided). Lancaster cannot concentrate and defend everywhere, so he must prioritize. Can i threaten the territories that are most crutial to York for mustering? All these questions create a game of meaningful strategic decisions that draw you in to each campaign.

The Yorkist have stronger military units than their Lancastrian foes, but have to attack, and this game favours the defender both in battles and in forcing you to cross the waters to Britain. And this here is probably my main criticism of the game. Game balance appears to have been designed around the first campaign. But if Lancaster manages to loose the first campaign they will only get back into the game via chancing on the luck of the dice or by a massive error of the Yorkists. Invading Britain as the Lancastrians is hard, you have inferior units, and the defence bias of the battles to overcome. In general i feel the game has a tendency to become more prescriptive with each campaign. By the time you get to the third there can often be an obvious winner. For the game narrative this is a limitation. In a game like Hannibal Rome Vs Carthage there is a step change up in narrative mid way through, here it can flatten out. Its not a game killer by no means, but it is a draw back.

The other major weakness, which has been mentioned before is the complete lack of character in many of the notable characters from the history. Warwick the Kingmaker is represented quite well in terms of military prowess. But the Yorkist and Lancastrian families appear to have been designed purely in terms of game play balance. Your first ranked family member, Richard Plantagenet, and Henry VI repectivly are the strongest, and each heir down the chain of succession is a step weaker. Presumably this was done to keep them main characters while they were alive and to prevent you from suiciding them to bring on the minors (Two of your heirs only come on when you have lost their elders in battle). But the result is both a bit dull and Aye historical. There is little evidence that Henry VI was a great military mind, in fact it appears he didn’t really like wars much, and was considering insane by some, equally Richards son Edward III won all the pitched battles he engaged in (this doesn’t necessarily mean he was a great tactician, he could have just selected great lieutenants). Henry Tudor is totally useless, being bottom of the pile. I think perhaps a better solution could have been found here by the game designers.

Battles are limited in both a good and bad way by the columbia system. Games such as Hannibal RvC and Sekigahara are far more evocative of the battles they are representing than Richard III is, but arguably at the expense of having more complex rules. Richard III does include rules for heir charges and disloyalty both of which featured in the history to an extent. Warwick the Kingmaker is famous for switching sides, this is a little unfair since he only joined Lancaster out of circumstance once his own rebellion against Edward had failed, but other Nobles did swap allegiances and this is fairly well simulated within the game, making a disloyalty role on some of the more questionable nobles is a very valid strategy. Warwick lead what could be described as an Heir charge at the first battle of St' Albans and Richard Plantagenet was cut down in mêlée at Wakefield, so there is some historical pretext for letting heirs use all their attack dice against an individual block of your choice. It can also be instrumental in the battles.

I will comment a little on the components. They are will laid out in terms of conveying information, although some of the lines on the map are badly coloured for folks with red green deficiency (such as me). I'm not a massive fan of the map art from an aesthetics point of view, there are many games with prettier maps. Personally i feel Columbia over charge for their games on a components basis. Their maps and thick card stock but not mounted, and their boxes whilst they do the job aren’t exactly market leading. I would gladly pay £10 more for the game if it had a mounted map. The blocks are decent, the cards are pretty lame but its not really a card game, so that can be forgiven. The rules come in a black and white printed booklet, fine by me rules are to be read not hung on walls. They are easier to read than the standard GMT or Fantasy flight game.


Finally i want to discuss the events cards. These could have been much more interesting. Most of the time when i get them, i wish i had been dealt a normal 2 or 3 point card. There are occasions, such as getting the card that allows you to concentrate a load of troops in one territory as one move, that are very useful in certain situations such as the start of a campaign for the defending player. In fact all the cards can be very useful in set situations, a plague on a city full of important troops, an extra disloyalty challenge etc, but often its just a low point card stuck in your hand that reduces rather than creates opportunities. In comparison to many to both Hannibal RvC where the cards can create all kinds of niche strategies it is a bit weak.



But having said all this, i still love the game, it captures the broad essence of the historical conflict and opens up high tension decisions and choices on a turn by turn basis. It is fairly easy to teach (i've played with non gamers, but rather sharp non gamers), i'd put it about on par with Sekigahara or Twilight struggle, perhaps abit easier than those two, for complexity. It is fairly Asymetrical, Lancaster will probably loose the early games, but it comes good in my experience.

Perhaps my view on this game will change when i've played more columbia games, but until that time i like it enough that i won’t be traded off. For me the Wars of the Roses is a really grabbing theme, it will be interesting to see what GMT's in development competition has to offer.
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Francis K. Lalumiere
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Brossard
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Good review.
And for what it's worth, Richard III is one of my favorite games from Columbia Games.
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Yes, that was a well-written and generally accurate review.
 
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Lee Massey
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Teachey
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I got this game from my SS for Christmas and I'm looking forward to trying it out!! Good review by the way!!
 
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Nate Merchant
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New York
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I will say that my initial reading of your title made it sounds as if this game was so bad you couldn't trade it away. Am I the only one who thought that?
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Forest Green Hobbit
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Natus wrote:
I will say that my initial reading of your title made it sounds as if this game was so bad you couldn't trade it away. Am I the only one who thought that?


No you are not the only one, as that's what I thought too. By untradable - I think the author means a game I would never trade away.
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Brad Miller
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Natus wrote:
I will say that my initial reading of your title made it sounds as if this game was so bad you couldn't trade it away. Am I the only one who thought that?


You mean like my 1st Edition Crusader Rex?
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Kirk Allton
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Lewis Center
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Very good review. I just played this game today for the first time, and found it to be very good. I played the Lancastrians and was able to hold on to the throne.

I don't know alot about the Wars of the Roses, so that may well have helped me (ignorance can be bliss!) As a result, I don't see the historical shortcomings and instead could just play the game. I like the loss of heirs which occur in the game, and really liked how different parts of England are strong towards one side and the other.
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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:
By untradable - I think the author means a game I would never trade away.


More like the dog that does nothing in the night, or the day, for that matter.

goo
 
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