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Subject: A bonny game? Kind of.... rss

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Eamon Bloomfield
Germany
23569 Lübeck
Schleswig Holstein
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What a name! What a veritable humdinger of a title for a board game. Cynics may point out that given the '45 Rebellion as a subject, Bonnie Prince Charlie is the only feasible hook on which to hang it. Be that as it may: a title so redolent of history, romance and tragedy can be nothing but a dead cert. Cynics may also point out that the Young Pretender himself was blessed with this fortunate nickname, and it didn't do him too much good. Fortunately, there is more to this game than its title. Much, much more, and possibly too much more for those whose ideal is the pared-down simplicity of Master Mind or Go. Bonnie Prince Charlie has provision for forts, artillery, undisclosed army strengths, forced marches, fleets, leaders, conscription and desertion of troops, and even a general rising of rebellious subjects when the time is ripe.

The packaging puts some of the larger games manufacturers in the shade. Compact and inexpensive, the only cover is a transparent wallet of strong plastic which allows you to inspect the contents from the outside. I found the components visually attractive. The board, a large scale representation of the British Isles in dark brown and off-white, produced comments ranging from “Isn't it marvelous, the effects you can achieve with two-colour printing”?, to “What a waste! You can achieve much better effects than this with two-colour printing!” Anyway, I liked it: evocative of faded eighteenth century parchment. The counters are nice, too: crimson cardboard pieces, each with a little picture of a redcoat, for George's troops, and blue pieces with pictures of claymore-wielding highlanders for Charles' men. There are also counters for forts, ships, the French, artillery. Jacobite support modification, Hanoverian support modification, Charles' money, George's money ... in fact so many hundreds of counters that they look a bit like rather chunky confetti.

The general idea is that one player pretends to be Bonnie Prince Charlie, in exile in France, while the other pretends to be King George, sitting in London, with a few armies and forts scattered across his kingdom. The year is 1745: the game begins, and Charles sets off in borrowed French boats to attempt to raise a rebellion and return a Stuart to the throne. (Interesting to note that the English had not been too well off for monarchs for some time and in fact Charles' mother tongue was French, while George spoke only German. We've been borrowing royalty off Le Continent ever since). As the game progresses, both players recruit armies which, eventually, come into conflict, the aim being to capture your opponent's representative piece (the leader marked 'Charles' or 'George'), or to manage to hold on to control of Edinburgh or London, or preferably both.

In multi-player games the third, fourth and fifth players take the part of the French, the Jacobite sympathisers, and the Hanoverian loyalists. The French are therefore free, in a multi-player game, to offer their support to either Charles or George, while the Jacobite and the Hanoverian affect the game by modifying the number of recruits that Charles and George can muster in specific areas. The two royal protagonists are provided with money with which to bribe the other three players.

The rules are dense and complex but generally well-organised, running to only three sides of print; there are another three sides of Historical Notes, Designer's Notes and Examples of Play. There is one serious typographical error: an entire line has been omitted from the rules for battles. Subsequent to playtesting, I discovered that the missing rule states that single units are automatically eliminated if engaged in combat; this would scarcely have altered the results of the games we played, but it would have saved us the time we spent worrying about the fate of solitary pieces. Bonnie Prince Charlie has the kind of rules that enable you to start playing the game in the same evening that you open the package (not like some that you may purchase): clearly-written, well laid out, and economically worded, the few faults are inevitably sins of omission rather than of commission. Only a rulebook of encylopaedic proportions can be expected to provide for all the situations that can occur in a complex war game. Some manufacturers equip their products with such tomes: Warthog haven't, and there are ambiguities. There were several chaotic occasions when we discovered that our fleets had got into positions that the rules simply did not interpret; or, to give a full example, we found that the conditions for a general rising were met and, accordingly, Jacobites sprang up all over the board. We were somewhat nonplussed to find, at a later stage in the game, after Charles had retreated and then counter-attacked, that the conditions for a rising were again present — and that the rules gave no indication whether more than one rising can occur in each game. My only other criticism of the rules is that they don't tell the players how to win. Ridiculous, isn't it? Admittedly, there is a table of Victory Scores, but it is not easy to understand and is anyway on a separate sheet of paper with the Battle Charts. The objectives of the various players should have been made just a little clearer.

Playing the game gives one the same impression as reading the rules; Bonnie Prince Charlie is a jewel, not flawed but just slightly ill-cut. But if the test of a game is the extent to which the players identify with the characters and forces they control, then it is a winner. As Charlie has to start from scratch, building up brand new armies in his highland fastnesses, the game has an inherent tendency to grow towards a climax. George, whose armies also expand — although usually not as fast as the Scots, becomes increasingly nervous as he has to choose between waiting for the invasion or marching into the inhospitable highlands and possibly leaving the coasts clear for a French-aided amphibious operation. Eventually, Charles has to make the dash for London despite the near-inevitability of troop desertions. If he gets far enough, Jacobite sympathisers all over the country will take up arms to help him; but, at the same time, there is a likelihood that the threat will enable George to call out the Militia; and the stage is set for a real slogging match in the final rounds of the game.

However, there are aspects of the game that slow it to a snail's pace. For instance, there is the very basic problem that the extra three players don't really have very much to do. The Frenchman is obliged to watch his army dwindle in comparison to the towering stacks of Charles and George, while the Jacobite and the Hanoverian become rapidly impoverished, whereupon they take no further active part in the proceedings. Charles and George have little incentive to move away from good recruiting areas until the grand finale of the game, with the result that their armies swell to ludicrous proportions. We had one Scots army with a fighting-strength of 100 units, which it would have taken at the very least twenty combat rounds for an opponent to whittle down. The battle charts don't really help very much: both sides usually lose a roughly equal number of men, and battles are rarely decisive or quick. Mountains are too difficult to cross: one of our first games ground to a halt when Charles landed in Cornwall, where he was able to muster some recruits; the French then repossessed their fleets, leaving the unfortunate Pretender marooned — because, according to the rules, Devon is impassably mountainous.

Despite all these quibbles, Bonnie Prince Charlie is essentially a very good game, particularly in its two-player form. It makes use of a number of excellent mechanisms that are only too rare in war games and which, while not startlingly original in themselves, have been neatly dovetailed in this particular game. There is simultaneous movement, for a start, which adds excitement even to the two-player games and is virtually essential with more than two players. There is also area movement a la Kingmaker, which works better than the ubiquitous hexagon in strategic games. I liked the combat results table too, with results that depend not on the roll of a die but on each player's assessment of what the other is likely to do; and there is a neat system of recruitment, with each army shrinking or expanding depending on the number printed on the space it occupies — high numbers help Charles, low numbers help George — and the Jacobite and the Hanoverian can be bribed to alter the number!

A number of rules which seem to have been introduced to enhance the historical accuracy of the game, such as provision for forced marches and the occupation of forts, were hardly used at all during our playtesting. Nevertheless, the game has an authentically eighteenth-century atmosphere, positively reeking of perilous adventure and last-chance insurgency. I would recommend it highly, especially for two players; more players do add to the game, but you'll need to have a bottle of Glenfiddich on hand so that the French, the Jacobites and the Hanoverians can get quietly sozzled together while Charles and George manoeuvre their massive armies.
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Gareth Lodge
Scotland
Edinburgh
Midlothian
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Thanks for the review, Eamon. It brought back happy memories of playtesting the game with Drew in Edinburgh. I'd forgotten about it, and sold my copy many years ago.
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Kim Meints
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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I'm lucky in having 2 copies and thought it very novel for the time when it came out.Sadly I haven't played it in eons since so many newer games keep coming along.

But thank you for the look back at a fond memory
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Loris Pagnotta
Italy
Brusaporto
Bergamo
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Someone know if it's possible to find the rulebook of this game, I'm really very intrigued by this period of the Scotland history.
 
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