Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Columbia Games' Richard III

Previously I've been doing my Wars of the Roses campaign with 'A Crown of Paper', the free campaign system from The Perfect Captain (free on-line, by the way!) Now however, I have shifted on to a new system that lets me do one of my favourite tricks: combining a strategic board game with a tactical set of tabletop battle rules. By way of introduction however, I thought I should do some 'public service' stuff and post a little mini-review of the game in case anyone is interested.

Game system
First, the basics: RIII is a block-game, played on an area map of England in the middle ages. Actions are powered by drawing a hand of cards (with action points of them) from a small deck. on meeting the enemy in an area, the combat is settled by a series of dice-rolls on a regular d6.

The game is split into three 'campaigns' of seven turns each, and these campaigns roughly correspond with the historical campaigns from 1460-1461 Yorkist takeover (Northampton to Towton); The 1470-1471 fight between Edward IV and Warwick (Barnet & Tewkesbury campaign) and the final fight in 1483-1485 between Richard III and Henry Tudor (The Bosworth campaign.) A full hand of cards is dealt out for each campaign and gets used up
through its course, and between each campaign there is a 'reset' political phase where the holder of the crown is decided and the losing side needs to flee into exile. Each campaign therefore takes the form of one side trying to hold onto England and defend against uprisings by enemy-sympathising nobles, while at the same time the pretender is trying to arrive back from exile abroad in sufficient strength to seize the crown. The cards that allow actions can be spent on either moving active armies or recruiting new nobles, forcing players to constantly balance between either waiting passively and gathering their strength, or striking out to fight the enemy and win battles.

Each faction has five blocks which represent a noble with a claim of royal blood and a right to the
throne. The ultimate objective is to win the crown by either eliminating the five claimants your opponent has, or by holding the crown at the end of the final campaign.

Seq of Play
Each campaign turn goes in sequence where each player reveals a card they wish to use for action points, and initiative is determined by whoever plays the highest. The cards can vary from 2 to 4 APs, or a special event to add a bit of random period-detail. An AP allows a player to move an army one or two areas, or to recruit another block counter from his 'pool' of available supporters.

Blocks represent various types of units throughout the era. Most of them are for a powerful magnate, representing his personal retinue and following which he can raise and bring to a battle. Various others represent forces like city levies, foreign mercenaries, rebels, bombards, etc.

Each block has a combat rating, to reflect it's effectiveness in combat. This comes in two parts, being a letter that decides initiative (high for aggressive lords like Fauconberg/Clifford; low for levies) and a number to represent power (the roll needed to score a hit, again varied by the competence of the magnate.) Numerical strength is represented by a series of points between 1 and 4, each one marked on one edge of the block. Cleverly, hits are taken by rotating the block so the uppermost side shows how strong the force is and the strength dwindles away as hits are taken through a campaign (there's no recruiting in a campaign, and once raised the magnates merely grow weaker, until the campaign ends and they fully recover their strength before the next one.)

Another value on the blocks, and which has not been on any previous block-game I've personally seen, is the loyalty value. This is a very Wars-of-the-Roses thing, as it means some nobles can change sides mid-battle with predictably upsetting effects for the betrayed side. Each faction has a core of die-hard followers who can be relied on come what may, and then there are others whose loyalties are more, shall we say, elastic? The block rating value tells you how many dice need to be rolled in an attempt to lure them into a betrayal, which dictates the odds of it happening.

Movement is a straight area-to-area affair on the map, with each activated group able to travel up to 2 areas. Area boundaries vary the number of counters able to cross, with rivers and mountains reducing the amount that can travel. When counters arrive in an area a battle takes place, which (combined with the stacking limits) means careful moves to 'pin' potential enemy reinforcements in place are a good idea, producing more small-scale battles and preventing the whole thing turning into a single stack-of-doom event decided by one critical battle.

Sea moves are also possible to keep defending regimes on their toes with surprise landings from off-map overseas areas such as Calais, France & Ireland.

That is, at any rate, a rough info-review of the game. I hope that by using it to progress the campaigns, its qualities will come out in due course to act as a further recommendation!


  1. Craig,

    Good campaign ideas.

    How to you go from the map to Impetus or Coat of Steel. Block values to units on the table?


  2. Hi Jim,
    the plan is to do things roughly as "one strength point on a counter equals one base in Impetus" - but I'll do that in a future post. For now, things have been accelerating with the plastic figures arriving, so I'll probably have to switch and do a post about that before I fall too far behind!


  3. Craig,

    One more question about using the game for your WOTR campaign.

    How are you playing it solo?