Columbia Games – RICHARD III – The Wars of the Roses – REVIEW

Posted: March 29, 2013 in wargames
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pic566305[1] You can count the number of non tabletop figure wargames based on the Wars of the Roses on 1 hand (Kingmaker, Wars of the Roses – Lancaster vs York being the only other two I know of) and the former being the only other one I played in my youth so while there are probably more out there, they’re almost certainly a lot more obscure than this offering from Columbia originally published in 2009/10. I used to enjoy Kingmaker (Avalon Hills version) but found it a bit light on actual combat action with some fiddly rules and it that took hours to finish, infact I never did finish a game. It also had an unforgivable flaw in that the Earl of Oxford was not represented in the game but the absurd stench ridden Scrope of Bolton was! So it was with some surprise and not a small amount of delight that I discovered this game when it was first published in 2009/10. This is one of the few games I’ve acually managed to play with someone else as oppose to playing with myself…. where following the dastarly heroics of The Earl of Suffolk led me to being bottled up in South Wales and seeing the crown slip out of my grasp. But thats another story…… So here’s my general thoughts on the game.

Whats in the Box?

  • Game map (approx 36″x 24″) – printed on heavy duty card. Sadly the days of a proper hard backed game board are long gone but at least this one is printed on heavy duty card as oppose flimsy paper. It takes a bit of an effort to flatten it out mind so a sheet of perspex would be invaluable to rest over it.
  • 63 wooden blocks (31 red, 31 white, 1 black) – essentially the playing pieces
  • Label sheet – adhesive labels to stick to the blocks to represent the nobles
  • 25 Action cards
  • 4 dice (d6)
  • 8 page rule booklet

Do I need a degree in “Transmitter of Matter into Interstitial Time” to understand it?

No! Taking out of the rule book the chrome such as historical data, contents, scenario setups etc you are left with effectively 5 pages of rules. Some of the grognards may find this just too lightweight which compared to WRG tabletop miniatures wargames or an Avalon Hill game it could fairly be described but despite this I would say the system works well enough to keep the most hardened embittered old soaks occupied while still being fast play. Better still its a good way to introduce those people suspicious of board “games” to try it out as its not too taxing.

Columbia games use the same feature on all its wargames of wooden blocks to represent the units, each sides are only visible to the owning player (remember Tank Battle?) giving you that element of Fog of War where although you can see where your opponent is you dont know his exact strength until brought to battle. Each block has a label on 1 side that during the course of a game will be rotated anti-clockwise gradually depleting its strength until reinforced or eliminated.

Whats the Hardest part of the game?

Choosing who has to represent the Yorkists.

Game Play

The game consists of campaigns, each of 7 Game Turns & a final political turn. Each game turn has a card phase, action phase, battle phase and supply phase.

  • Card Phase – A player plays a card giving him a number of actions.
  • Action Phase – Use action points from the card to move blocks.
  • Battle phase – Fought over a number of rounds both sides blocks line up against each other and are revealed. Attacks and retreats are declared. Modifiers for Heir charges, friendly cities, Nobles home counties etc are applied. Treachery rolls are made – This is a great rule and very apt for the game. Instead of launching an attack in some circumstances a player may attempt a treachery roll on 1 Noble of the opposition. Some noble blocks have dubious loyalty reflected as a rating on their blocks. If successful that block immediately switches sides sometimes with catastrophic results to the original owner. With combat each block has a unique combat rating letter and number. The A blocks always attack before the B,C and D blocks. The number after the letter corresponds to the “firepower” of the unit. Each block rolls a number of dice equal to its current strength (the pips on the top of the block) and to score a hit must roll equal to or less than its firepower rating. See example below

IMG_1361So here Oxford & Warwick run into Worcester and Hastings. Oxford attacks first having the A2 combat rating. He is at full strength of 3 pips so rolls 3 dice. A 1 or 2 will inflict damage on Tiptoft as Oxfords combat rating is (A)2. The dice are rolled and 2 points of damage are inflicted on Tiptoft. As he only has 2 pips being a universally despised billy no mates he is eliminated.

If it was the other match up both sides have B ratings so in the case of a tie the defender goes first. If that was the Yorkists, Hastings would have 3 dice at strength 3 to roll a 1 or 2. If the Lancastrians were the defenders, Warwick at his reduced state from 4 to 3 pips would get 3 dice to roll a 1,2 or 3.

Note, Warwicks counter has a number as oppose a rose on 1 corner, this is the loyalty rating. The others are staunch supporters of their cause shown by the rose of their colour and thus cannot be turned.. If a treachery roll was attempted a rating of 3 would mean 3 dice thrown. If all numbers are even then he defects.

  • Supply phase – Players check all units are supplied and adjust strengths accordingly.

The turn ends after all battles have been fought and after the conclusion of the Political turn where levies disband & usurption attempts are made. After that victory conditions are checked and if no clear winner then the 2nd turn commences. There is of course a lot more to it especially combat with larger groups but hopefully this gives you a flavour.

Do I need to book a weeks Annual Leave to play it through?

No, again the novel fact about this game compared to other wargames is that its relatively fast play and should normally be completed in 1 session of 2-3 hours as you can play 1 of 3 scenario’s. The main scenario set up (1460) is included in the rules. The shorter 1470 & 1483 scenario’s are available free to download from the company’s website, as are the full version of the rules

Is it worth it?

At £45 in 2010 thats a tough one. Cardboard map, 8 page rules, 20 odd cards, some wooden blocks and a sticky label sheet. Ok the import costs to UK outlets are nuts but its still $60 to buy in the States. Columbia have hit on a way of producing games where the buyer ends up partly assembling the game and also when reading the rules finds that some parts although not essential to get started aren’t even included and are only available free to download from the website. I find that cheeky but in the current climate and the struggles the gaming industry is going through one I reluctantly accept. If you are in regular steady income, can afford it and have someone to play against regularly then yes I’d give it a punt. Personally I like it enough not to worry about the cost but that was when I was employed.

Anything else?

Where’s Scrope, Audley or Martin Schwyz’s German Pikemen? After a few plays thats what I thought. Just like Kingmaker the makers made a decision who to include and who to leave out realising that to include every noble would slow game play to a standstill. But never fear Columbia sell blank blocks and armed with these you can create your own heroes and villains historical or fictional. All you then need do is create a shield, choose the respective stats of the noble and print. Easier than it sounds as I managed to do just that and had them published on Board Game Geek soon to be available here


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