Review: The Cousins’ War

When this game was mentioned on the Meeples & Miniatures podcast, I immediately pricked up my ears. I’ve been interested in the Wars of the Roses for a long time and I like innovative games that can be played in a short time. The Cousins’ War, published by Surprise Stare Games, promises just that at a rather low price.

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The game comes in a sturdy and small cardboard box. In fact, the box easily fits into my bag, making this a perfect game for travel and holidays. Nevertheless, the production value is high: The board is made of very sturdy cardboard and the gaming pieces are made of wood. You also get a deck of cards and three dice.

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The game has a built-in turn limit: It will end after turn 5. The objective is to control all areas of England, or, when the turn limit is reached, to control more areas than your opponent. This is done by placing wooden cubes, which can be moved by playing action cards. Each turn, there is also a battle, the winner being allowed to place his surviving cubes onto the board.

Battles are resolved by a clever bluffing mechanics which introduces suspicion and second-guessing – very thematic for a war in which commanders did occasionally change sides right on the battlefield.

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Action cards can be played for the specific action that is stated on them or for their Command Points, which enables the player to do different things, such as move his or her cubes to the battlefield or to a region of the board, or even to try to remove the opponents cubes.

Action cards also have secondary actions which may benefit your opponent, so it is important to watch which card to play at which moment. A surprisingly large number of actions and combinations of actions are possible. This enables strategic planning, but also introduces an element of uncertainty and even chaos, because the other player will do something completely unexpected. Again, all this makes the game very thematic – the Wars of the Roses were full of surprising turns and double-crossing.

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Normally, K. doesn’t like bluffing, but in this game, it is only a small part and it feels right. We are both not used to it, though, so lots of grinning and giggling ensued. We both enjoyed our first game very much. The nasty Lancasterians won after turn 2, but I’m looking forward to a rematch.

Highly recommended if you fancy a quick and portable game that nevertheless has a strong theme and feels like you are playing out an epic conflict.

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A Medieval Fortress

The year before last, I bought a medieval fortress set from Kallistra at CRISIS. This is a substantial set, with a couple of walls, towers, a keep and a gate. I’ve been collecting siege scenarios for the Wars of the Roses as well as for El Cid and was looking forward to having games. However, I abysmally failed when it came to painting, and this was not for trying. After two attempts, I angrily packed the whole thing and stored it in the cupboard.

So when I discovered that my new gaming chum Sigur is a professional painter and proprietor of Battle Brush Studios, I decided to hand the whole hotchpotch over into his capable hands. As was expected, Sigur revealed himself to be a real wizard of the brush: reliable, fast and extremely talented! I’m very happy with how the fortress turned out.

Assembling all my already painted siege stuff, including my scratch built mine, I staged a mock siege just for the fun of it. Here are some pictures of the whole set up:

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I’m really looking forward to having a game with the fortress. I can also highly recommend Battle Brush Studios if you need a reliable painting service that delivers stunning results.

To Catch a Queen – WotR AAR

Recently, we had K.’s brother J. and his son over to play a game of medieval Sharp Practice. Some of you might remember that I built a medieval cog once – well, it was time to finally put her on the table!

The scenario was set after the Battle of Northampton in 1460, where the Yorkists managed to capture King Henry. Queen Margaret, however, managed to escape to Wales, despite being ambushed on the way by some Yorkists, who took all her valuables.

In our story, the Queen wants to escape to the coast to take a ship to France, no doubt to get some money from her father to raise an army. The Queen was escorted by her loyal bodyguard of Men-at-Arms and some mercenary handgonners. Waiting for her on the beach were a group of Archers and a detachment of sailors from the ship’s crew. Hot on her heels were the Yorkists, who had a slight superiority in troop quality, fielding two groups of Billmen, one of Archers and one of Men-at-Arms.

K. and the kid played the Lancastarians while J. and me took the Yorkists. We decided to split our forces: the Billmen were deployed to pursue the Queen’s entourage while the Men-at-Arms and the Archers were to advance on the beach.

"Any sign of them yet?"
“Any sign of them yet?”
The Queen and her retinue.
The Queen and her retinue.
Yorkist Billmen hot on their heels.
Yorkist Billmen hot on their heels.

The Yorkist Billmen stepped lively and were able to engage the handgonners positioned to the rear of the column. The handgonners shooting hurt but didn’t deter the brave lads.

Billmen engaging handgonners.
Billmen engaging handgonners.

Still, the handgonners kept up an efficient defence, falling back without breaking when attacked, shooting and blocking the way for their pursuers. In the end, they succumbed to the greater numbers, but they had successfully delayed the Yorkists’ advance.

The Handgonners' fighting retreat.
The Handgonners’ fighting retreat.

Meanwhile, on the beach – nothing happened. K. and the kid had deployed their troops to secure the embarkment and waited.

Lancastarians waiting.
Lancastarians waiting.

Unfortunately, neither of our two Big Men positioned on the beach could be activated, as their cards just wouldn’t turn up before Tiffin ended the turn. This went on turn after turn, and we were getting quite frustrated, as we knew we had almost no chance to stop the Lancastarians now. Finally, we got the Archers and Men-at-Arms going, but it was too late.

Finally the Yorkists advance.
Finally the Yorkists advance.

The Archers managed to do some damage and our Men-at-Arms took their anger out on the poor sailors, but this couldn’t change to inevitable result: The Queen embarked in her boat, and while the Archers took one last shot at her she was rowed to the ship, which set sails and took her to France.

The end.
The end.

It was great fun to play with J. and the kid, and I was happy to get the boat out and use the beach mat for medievals. However, the game was very frustrating for J. and myself. I felt like a bad host as J. didn’t have much opportunity to actually play! Perhaps I should consider to soften the effect of the Tiffin card a bit, at least in scenarios like this, where a chase is going on and it is not even very plausible for the pursuers to stand around and do nothing.

Still, everyone agreed that they had a good time, so I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to play again soon.

A Broken Axle – WotR AAR

Last week, K.’s brother J. and his girlfriend L. visited us for a couple of day. They had a pretty intense program of sightseeing, but we nevertheless managed to squeeze a game in. L. had heard about the strange games we play but had no experience with wargaming. We gave her a short introduction to the Sharp Practice rules and she teamed up with J. against K., while I decided to play the role of umpire for a couple of turns.

The scenario revolved around a broken down cart with the Yorkist regimental cash box. The cart was guarded by a group of handgonners and skirmishers, who were eagerly awaiting reinforcements consisting of archers and men-at-arms. The Lancastrians attacked with archers, billmen and men-at-arms. To repair the cart, the Yorkist players (J. and L.) had to roll 2D6 each Tiffin and add up the pips. If the sum was 28, the cart was repaired and could move next turn.

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K. started her attack pretty straightforward, moving her billmen and men-at-arms through the pasture directly towards the defenders. J. and L. had two groups of archers on their right flank, which advanced leisurely, all the while shooting at K.’s group of archers and slowing it down considerably. The other reinforcements rushed through the fields to aid the handgonners and skirmishers. The handgonners got off a volley before being hit by K.’s men-at-arms. The predictable result was handgonners turning tail and running.

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Things were looking good for K. However, as I was tired of being umpire, I decided to join her side and help her a bit. Alas, my ‘help’ confounded the Lancastrian command structure and as our styles of playing are very different, our troops soon were following contradictory orders.

In the meantime, the Yorkists had brought up their reinforcements and now had a group of fresh men-at-arms at the cart, while their archers were marching in from the right flank. Another couple of melees near the cart saw the Yorkist skirmishers flee but unfortunately also finished off the Lancastrian men-at-arms.

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And then Goofus and Doofus repairing the cart announced they were finished and the cart took off, still in possession of the Yorkists. Our billmen were left standing in the rain, facing enemy men-at-arms, while the still fresh Yorkist archers were rushing towards the centre. A clear Lancastrian victory!

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The game was more exciting than I would have thought. At first, it looked like the Lancastrians were doing well and J. and L. were a bit annoyed that their archers were off at the far right, quite a distance from the melee in the middle. However, in the end this was a good decision: They took out one group of Lancastrian archers and then formed a handy reserve that could dominate the field after the tin cans had beaten each other to pieces. For the Lancastrians, speed was of essence and had they reached the cart before the Yorkist reinforcements arrived, the situation would have looked different.

Considering that Sharp Practice is not the simplest set of rules, especially for beginners, L. had the knack of it in no time. Only the number and variety of modifiers for shooting and melee caused some confusion. But she announced that she is looking forward to having another go!