With possibly a single night to fill in, Eric wanted to try the latest release from Columbia Games, Richard III (BGG entry). This is another in their very successful and mostly excellent block games. Specifically, it follows very closely in the heels of Hammer of the Scots (BGG entry) and Crusader Rex (BGG entry), with only a few changes from HotS. However, a couple of those changes are fairly significant, especially the change to the combat hit resolution.
In HotS, each hit scored by an attacker was removed from the currently strongest defending block, evaluated hit by hit, i.e. 2 defending blocks, each with 3 strength points, receiving 2 attack hits, would lose a single strength point each. This also allowed you to roll for all units of a single class (A, B, etc.) and hit capability together, with the hits removed as a single group. In R3, however, all hits from a single attacking block are removed from the single defending block with the highest strength. This means that you have to roll each attacking unit individually, removing hits after each roll, so combat is a little slower in R3. It can also be rather devastating, as a good roll can see a unit removed from the map.
The second part is the way that blocks can be switched from one side to the other by treason. Some of the nobles are rated with a '1', '2', or '3', which is the number of dice that have to be rolled in a treason conversion attempt, with all dice having to come up even in order to be successful. So a '1' rated block has a 50% chance, a '2', 25%, and a '3', 12.5%. The downside is that this is done as part of combat, and is another option in the fight/flee action choice, and only the king, the pretender, or one other Yorkist noble are allowed to attempt treason rolls, so it's not a huge part of the game.
The cards are used in generally the same way as HotS, with each player being dealt 7 cards in each of the three turns (campaigns), playing one card per turn. The cards are either actions or events (some also with actions). Each action point may be used to activate an area for movement, or used as to place a reinforcement block, which are placed in their home areas.
The game starts in 1460 with the Lancastrians in control of England, and nary a Yorkist to be seen. They land from France and/or Ireland, and their first aim is to get a foothold in England, allowing the placement of reinforcing blocks. From there they have to expand and push for the control centers, and London is a good target. The aim is to become king by having a majority of nobles on the board, with London and the two Archbishoprics counting one point each. Whoever is king at the end of the third year wins. It's good to be the king.
Victory can also be claimed by killing off all 5 of your opponents blocks representing their princes. Only 3 start on the board, and as they are killed off, the others are brought on to replace them. Of course, if you manage to get all your princes killed then you were probably going to lose anyway.
In our game I played York, and had a tough time in the southern landings from France. My foothold was more a toehold, and it wasn't looking good at the end of the first year. In the second year I landed a strong force in the north with some of my best blocks, which Eric promptly attacked, coming off by far the worst, as I had the superior force (in steps, and capability), attacking before him. We also had a fairly epic struggle over London, and by the time the dust had settled at the end of the campaign, England had a new king, of the Yorkist variety.
The third year saw more battles around London and the south, as Eric had a good swing at it, but the battles went my way. Up north my position almost crumbled after a spectacularly bad move on my part, but poor rolling on Eric's part saved the day for me, and I was able to keep the crown for the win.
Overall, quite a superb game, one of the best that Columbia have done. Good length (we played in approx. 2.5 hours), good gameplay, interesting decisions. Definitely one that will hit the table again and again. Whilst there has been some talk on BGG regarding the use of reserves in battles, and how that's not really historical for the era, I'm comfortable with the way it works out and it provides a great story (and I'm not normally one for a great story). As a game it provides all the angst of all the other block games, and it's just damn good fun to play.
Go buy this game, you'll have a blast!
In the meantime, as the Hube's Pocket continues, next on the table is MMP/The Gamers' Bastogne, another from the SCS collection, one that Eric and Chuck raved about when they played it out at the Sunriver WBC-W event.