A Horse! My Kingdom for a horse!

After a week’s break from gaming club (My son was performing in a concert last Wednesday evening) last night saw what was actually my first board game played face-to-face for several weeks.

Having bought it a few weeks ago, I was really glad to get War of the Roses: Lancaster vs York to the table – and to be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this ever since the box arrived.

I’m very glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

First up, the game has an absolutely fantastic production – some would say it’s over produced. It was a sheer joy just punching out the card counters! The game has a heavy mounted board, the player boards and screens are pretty awesome (each player has a thick mounted card screen, with the outside illustrated as a castle of the players colour, with game reference information on the inside) and all the card counters and wooden pieces are thick and wonderfully tactile.

The game artwork is of a very high general standard (though the box art isn’t the best in the world) so the whole look and feel of the game adds a tremendous amount to the whole experience.

But what is the game like to play?

Well, my initial impressions, after a single game, is that this is liable to become one of my all time favourite games. I really like area control games, and this is game is all about area control – much as it looks like it might be a wargame, it isn’t. It’s much closer to the likes of Shogun or El Grande – even though it looks more like Kingmaker. To be honest, the War of the Roses theme is very much an icing as opposed to a foundation, and the game could just as easily fit into any historical civil war setting…Sengoku period Japan would be an ideal re-theme, for example.

The other question we were asked on several occasion was “Is it as complicated as it looks?”.

Again, the answer is no. Once you understand the aim of the game, and how Control Points work in the game to give Victory points, the mechanisms are quite straight forward.

It’s an interesting combination of individual and team gaming – in a 4 player game, the players are effectively in two teams and will do best working together to ensure that their Royal House ends up with the King (more victory points) – but this is a game with only 1 winner, so you may very well have to look out for the dagger in the back…

…which leads us onto last night’s game. My biggest learning experiences?

  • It’s very hard to win this game by being the early front-runner.
  • Until the end of turn 4, cash is king. The more cash you have, the more active you can be.
  • In turn 5, money becomes unimportant – it’s all about control points.
  • Do your maths correctly! On a couple of occasions I lost vital victory points because I came third in an area by a single control point.
  • Try and co-ordinate with your Royal House partner – you are playing as a team, and early in the game it may be vital to your eventual success for you to work together against the common enemy…even if you are not allowed to talk about it!
  • Concentrate!

..which brings me to my biggest mistake of last night. By turn 3, I was the only player without a noble, and I was desperately looking for a ‘cheap’ noble that I could bribe (because I had lots of money to spend). I found my target, planned my move – and then discovered to my complete horror during the Bribery phase that the noble I was trying to bribe was my partners…I just didn’t concentrate fully on the colour, especially with an enemy noble counter next to the one in question.

The result? My bribe wiped out my partner’s counter-bribe, and the noble was then taken over by the enemy. This swung the Midlands region in favour of the Lancastrians, and they romped away with the rest of the game.

It was both funny and tragic – and my how our opponents laughed! It was a simple mistake, but it turned the course of the entire game and we never recovered.

The Yorkists ended the game thoroughly defeated – and my early lead turned into last place…almost 50 VPs behind the eventual winner.

Despite that appalling piece of play, i enjoyed the game immensely. This, admittedly, was my first game and looking back there is quite a bit I would do differently in future…

…and that’s the important thing. Given that not all of the available resource will appear in the game (there are more resource cards available than what can be played in the game), each game will be different, which improves replayability – and I can see that once each of us has 2 or 3 games under our belts, the game will become more rather than less of a challenge.

In short, this is a good, solid area control game which has an elegant and uncomplicated set of mechanics. Uncomplicated does not mean simple, and there is enough meat here to keep you coming back. It’s also has decent player interaction (although the planning phase, like most area control games, is very “head down and think hard”)  – all this coupled with some of the best game production that I have even seen makes for a simply fantastic game.

After a single play, this game rates as a very solid 9, which may very well rise to a 10 once I have played again.

Highly recommended.

2 Comments on A Horse! My Kingdom for a horse!

  1. rgregory1 // March 18, 2010 at 16:01 // Reply

    Thanks for the review. Can it be played with 2 folks? Would that take anything away from it?

    • Two of the guys I played with on Wednesday had previously played a 3 player game. From their comments, the 2 and 3 player game is very much more an ‘every man for himself’ game, and the team play aspect is done away with.
      From everything I’ve heard about this game on BGG etc. I think whilst this game can be played with 2 or 3, it’s actually designed to be played with 4.

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