The Kings War (Pike and Sot Society, 1986)
It would not be fair to call this piece a review because the game in question was issued in kit form some time ago and any readers with any interest will already have a copy. It is however quite possible that those copies (like many others) remain unassembled. Andy Ashton still had at least 1 on the shelf as of October this year so the game is not completely unavailable.
I went to the trouble of sorting out The King's War and played it for some 5 or 6 hours partly due to an excessive interest in the ECW and also due to curiosity as to what Massa Charles Vasey can design. The game kit is pre-DTP so is less than ideally pretty but does boast pleasant colours for the counters. The map is black and white, the rules suggest colouring in the river lines and I went for colour coding county boxes which was a great help with recruitment. The counters also benefited from gluing onto thin card and plastic coating rather than just gluing the backs to the fronts and cutting away.
Ignoring the components and concentrating on the game The Kings War is a box and line treatment of the English Civil War with monthly turns, that is a lot of turns. All of the popular leaders are there together with a few that might have been made up, notably the famous Royalists Vasey and Foppington. Units are of horse and foote and are marked for county of recruitment. These units seem to be of 1,000 or so men and the mix available is not the same for both sides. The Royalists are strong in Wales but Welsh Parliamentarians cannot venture far from Pembroke. Naturally Parliament has a good recruiting base in London and the East. Gameplay is dominated by leaders and box control. Units do not need a leader to move but will move further with one and will require a leader to enter an enemy controlled box. Leaders can change the control of boxes by spending extra movement points, the amount required is sensibly dependant on the size of stack, tiny armys cannot zip about changing the local government, victory in battle will also change 1 or more boxes for free. Some boxes are marked as fortifications which have to be besieged to capture. A box has to be controlled to raise troops there, so by clearing a county the opposition's recruiting base is diminished. Victory is also based upon how many boxes are controlled, some are worth more to 1 side than the other. In the campaign any side reduced to 50 box equivalents or less has lost, this is from a total of about 200, the exact count depends on who controls which boxes.
The optional rules vary from the essential to the well meaning to the time wasting. An optional sinews of war system does a lot for the game. Both sides gain a number of points each turn, on average 10 but less in Winter and the early months of war. These points are spent to maintain sieges and move stacks. If a player has very few combat units the quota will also be reduced which prevents a player with few units being able to move more. Half of a turn's unused points can be held over which gives some incentive to inactivity. Movement is cheaper if no boxes are changed in control but this will not aid the victory point tally. A stack of 10 or more regiments is going to spend 7 points to change a box control or fight a battle but 4 if it does not. With a stack of that size plus the obligatory siege the 10 points are easily swallowed up.
An optional rule that ought to work but does not gives leaders regional ratings. A leader cannot command troops from out of his area and certain regional Generalissimos must command the majority of troops in their box. This sounds fine but is pretty easily overcome by keeping the relevant leaders close to their respective areas. This is all carrot and no stick, it takes little skill to send commanders to the right areas but there is no benefit in having the local boy on home ground. We send leaders to their home areas because we have to not because there is some benefit (perhaps in recruiting) in their being there or loss in their being absent. Newcastle is further encumbered by having to stay in certain Northern counties until York and Hull are Royalist controlled. This can lead to Newcastle being pinned down by a force that he does not want to fight but being unable to march out of the way because he cannot enter certain boxes.
Another well meaning idea is the chit controlled random event system. A player gets to pick a chit every other turn but can only hold 3. Excess chits are returned to the pool but used chits are removed from the game. Chits help in sieges and convince some boxes to revolt to Royalist control. In play terms it is far too much trouble keeping count of the chits better to opt for an improved pace but no random events.
Having trashed several systems it has to be admitted that there are other ideas which are well worth adapting for other games. Interception and retreat before combat are not new ideas but do reflect ECW armies chasing each other across the country. Consider the race to London which led to Edgehill and the relief of Gloucester with the battle of Newbury on the way back. Simply enough any army can intercept into a box which the enemy is just about to move into on a 7 or less on 2D6. Similarly any army can avoid battle and retreat on the same score, commander's ratings may change the score slightly. If 1 player moves into a box to re-inforce a stack but that box is adjacent to an opposing army the opponent can react into that box before the moving army gets there. The stack in that box can either fight before the friendly moving army arrives, retreat into a fort in that box or try to retreat into another box. After this movement and any resulting battles the original moving stack gets to enter that box. A moving stack can continue moving and fighting or breaking contact until it runs out of movement points. Unfortunately with the fastest leaders rating 6 for movement and all having to pay 1 extra point to fight a battle during movement rapid army shifts in a single month are unlikely. Looking at Charles Vasey's own rundown of events in the rulebook, Essex got to Gloucester and back to London in 2 months. Essex has a movement rating of 3 so will not be pulling off that feat in The King's War. With next to no adaptation this interception and retreat system could be grafted onto the (only) 2 hex based ECW games Ironsides and Power and Resolution.
By having units rated for area of origin the game is able to London and Cornish regiments threaten to go home if they are too far from base. The surplus trained band counters from Ironsides can be used for Cornish regiments with a similar going home on a 6 if outside the Southwest. Battles are pretty indecisive, a loss of 4 units is horrific, with the owning player choosing the first loss from each battle. The best choice is to lose the local boys because they will be easy to pick up in the next recruitment, a unit from far away will have to march back to the front or get pinched by a closer command. Players roll for desertion every turn and then for recruitment. It is not possible to bring a unit back on the same turn in which it deserts but units destroyed in battle are available. Chits are provided for recruitment and desertion but because these have to be assembled it is less effort to look at the chits available and design a simple table. Generally recruitment rates are higher than desertion but desertion rates increase as the war goes on. There are limitations on the order of removal of deserting units, stacks losing 1 each until they have all taken a loss with priority given to field armies. Limited units and desertion will lead to a surplus of leaders as the game goes on.
Siege is simply handled, as long as the besiegers are stronger than the besieged plus fortification rating of the box then a die is rolled each turn and the total kept until the box surrenders. Top of the range cities like London and Plymouth require a total of 20, minor forts 7. Engineers and certain commanders will improve the roll but there is a -2 for Royalists besieging a Parliament held port. If the besiegers get tired of waiting they can storm but will take losses, the chance of success depends on how long the siege has gone on for. Given average rolls even the most stubborn fort will fall in few months. This is rather too short but it should be noted that should the campaign points for maintaining a siege not be paid then the count goes back to nil. Serious demonstrations against a besieging force or indeed anywhere else ought to pay off.
The King's War in best treated as an ideas base for the ECW with rules that can be whipped for other games. The game is made up of a campaign plus scenarios splitting the war into about 6 monthly chunks. Having tried the campaign, it tended to drag on, the scenarios are a better bet.
The King’s War
I am informed that Clash of Arms have re-released Vasey’s ECW game with all singing all dancing counters and map graphics. I have not even seen the box of this version but have discussed the contents over the phone with Andy Daglish and Alan Warren. It seems that the rules are virtually unchanged form the version that ZOCo reviewed last issue. This could lead to photocopies of the new map and countersheets changing hands under the counter as gamers upgrade painlessly. The old kit could be upgraded without violating copyright by re-doing the (horrid) counters on a PC and photocopying Speed's 1620(ish) map of England and Wales onto a suitable size. The boxes and lines can then be drawn in. I have not done this because I found the game too much like watching the grass grow and instead spent just as much time making Ironsides work. To briefly compare the two, Ironsides is for playing the whole ECW, the scenarios are rot. The King's War divides the war into campaign sized chunks, the whole war is too much of the same thing.