Sunday, January 11, 2009

Less than satisfied King Charles

After all the shenanigans of the holiday period it was time to get back to some serious gaming fun, and our collective choice for first game of the year was Unhappy King Charles (BGG entry), the new release from GMT. Regular readers will maybe be aware that I spent 20 years in the Sealed Knot, the largest English civil War re-enactment society in the UK, so I have a great affinity for all things ECW. When I saw UKC on the GMT P500 list I was straight there with credit card in hand. That was some time ago, as there was a long time between UKC making its number and actually seeing release, finally hitting the mat in December last year. This was good timing, as I'm currently planning to hit CDGs hard this year. I've played Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage and Barbarossa to Berlin, and although I've enjoyed them, I am seriously bad at them.

On reading the rules it seemed that this CDG was simpler than others I'd looked at, in that, unlike most CDGs, each card is only used for one purpose. Each card in UKC is either an operation (of 1, 2 or 3 points) or an event. As an operation it's pretty much the same as all other CDGs, the value of the card has to be equal to or higher than the general's rating for him (and his army) to be activated, or it can be used to place control markers on the board. However, the events are where all the flavor is, and there are lots of those, divided into Royalist and Parliament events, divided into Early, Mid, and Late war decks. There are also 3 Mandatory cards that are added at specific times, and each player has 2 cards (worth 1 and 2 Ops) added to their hand each turn.

Battles occur when two armies end in the same space (it's a point-to-point movement system), either through movement or interception. The defending army may attempt to evade, may disperse prior to combat, or fight, where the value of all brigades, the general's rating, any tactic card, and a single d6 are combined. Scores are compared, and the loser retreats and loses a number of brigades, and the winner may gain a card if the win was considered Major or Decisive. Pretty simple. Some areas are considered fortresses, which have to be captured by siege. Victory is measured, for the Parliament player, by forcing Charles to surrender at battle. If that doesn't happen then control of areas determines victory.

In our game I drew the Parliament, and drew the Mandatory card 'Raise the Standard'. I decided to hold onto this until my last play of the round, as we both jockeyed for position, placing control markers. In the second round we started in earnest, and had an indecisive battle in the north, both losing our veteran brigade. I'd been focussing in the south, and when Eric besieged Plymouth with Hopton I reinforced Bedford and then used an event to transfer another brigade from Essex, and attacked. In the battle I also played a tactics card, and achieved a major victory, the first (and, I believe, only) one of the game. I followed up with another attack, which forced Eric to disband Hopton's army, rather than face surrender, and I converted pretty much the whole of the South to Parliament. After this Waller started moving north, besieging Reading successfully. In the north things weren't going so well, but my aim was to steadily move my line north, so I wasn't too concerned as the battles were never decisive, so I only lost a brigade here and there.

Eric reinforced Oxford, and moved Rupert to support. However, the Mid-War cards saw me draw the first of the 'Alt-History' cards introduced to the deck, and Lord Wilmot's Plot converted Oxford to the Parliament cause, dispersing the Royalist army. This also allowed Essex to gather forces from Bedford and attack Rupert, and another Combat card for that battle I was able to gain the upper hand, as I chased Rupert back towards the Welsh border with him evading battle. Eventually he missed one, and he was also forced to disperse, leaving the southern Midlands under Parliamentary control.

By this time the second of the Mandatory cards had been played, and the Scots had started moving south, and had besieged Newcastle. However, this was a slow process as I used my big 3 Ops cards to get rid of Rupert, but got there eventually. They sat there as a threat, but no more, as I didn't draw any more big cards. Eric pushed in the North, but just couldn't gain a solid win, and the desertion rules saw his forces largely damaged as I was able to lose brigades from several armies, but his were more focussed.

In the early part of the Late War he pressed forward from Wales with Maurice, but the New Model Army appeared and Lord General Fairfax chased him back, and pressed into Wales, capturing Cardiff, and a part of Wales. This allowed the conversion of several other spaces in the Midlands, and it became controlled by Parliament.

And this was where we had to stop, 4 turns from the end. Parliament was marginally in control of the Midlands at the end of the turn, with the East and South being solidly for Parliament, but the start of the turn and removal of control markers for being isolated meant the Midlands were likely to also become solidly Parliamentarian. With the Royalists getting squeezed from the south and north I was confident of a win, even if I didn't force Charles to surrender.

We botched up a couple of rules, mostly that you can only recruit a single brigade in a region. I forget what the other one was. In any case, that's our fault, as the rules were quite clearly explained.

We played for around 4 hours, getting through 7 of the 11 turns, but that included a lot of rule confirming and discussions in the early part, as we got to grips with how it works. With more playings under the belt I think this should be doable in a 4 hour session, so a good length. With the variations in the way cards come out of the deck, and the 'Alt History' cards, only 4 of 12 are used each game, there appears to be a lot of re-playability. The game is certainly good to look at, with map and counters well done. I especially liked the pictures of the painted miniatures on the brigade counters, although they could have been larger, and would have looked great on 3/4" counters. The cards are also nice, but felt a little thin, although card sleeves make that a moot point. The rules were very straight forward in play and we didn't find any areas that weren't covered well or cases that were hard to find.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one, and it gave a good feel for the sweep of the ECW. However, that doesn't mean that I didn't find it hard to play, but that's just me and CDGs, and part of the reason I want to play more CDGs this year. Then again, that's part of the attraction of this style of game - so many things you want to do, and limited resources to do them with. Especially when you've got to figure out the list of things you need to do in the first place. Let's hope it gets back to the table soon.

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