Friday, February 1, 2013
Board Game Review - Richard III
Despite getting a negative review for the first block game I played, Columbia Games wanted me to give them a second shot. So they gave me Richard III, which is another block wargame where your guys spin to tell you how many times they've been stabbed in the spleen. I was skeptical, but the guy was so nice I said I would give it a shot.
I am so glad I did. Richard III is GREAT. It's got tons going for it, from limited actions and long-term planning to copious piles of body parts and political maneuvering. It's still basically a block game, where you use these blocks to hide your army's strength from your opponent until it's too late for him to run away. But where much of the maneuvering in Wizard Kings felt sort of arbitrary, the maneuvering in Richard III is painfully critical. One block in the wrong spot can be the mistake that costs you the game, so you'll agonize over every decision.
However, unlike many games that really punish the guy who makes mistakes, Richard III feels more like it rewards the guy who plays better. Sure, there's still luck, but if you go into a battle with an overwhelming force (and your lead nobleman doesn't decide to change sides before the bloodshed starts, which can totally happen), you're going to mop the floor with the other guy.
And you can't just charge into battle, either. You have limited actions provided by cards you play every turn, and if you want to put together a really huge force, you have to position your troops for a few turns in a row. But if you set up correctly, and your opponent doesn't figure out some way to stop you before it's too late, you can have some gigantic Shakespearean throw-down with body counts that will have carrion birds coming from miles around.
The game takes place over three campaigns, each representing a decade of this really long period of unrest. You'll bring in mercenaries from Calais, shuttle troops by sea up to some English port city where they make stinky fish sandwiches and all the bars have really low doorways, and try to convince the guys attacking you to change sides and completely throw the other guy's plans into disarray. At the end of every campaign, you find out who has more support in the noble houses, and then the loser has to go to France. I don't know why this is so bad - I've been to France, and it was very nice. Maybe they have to go to France and tell the people to go to work, which I understand is not popular in France.
As you probably know if you're any kind of history nut (I am not, so I did not know this), Richard III ascended to the throne of England right around the time of the Wars of the Roses (before or after, I wasn't really clear on this part). The game recreates the War of the Roses, and not the divorce movie from the 80s, but the actual wars where thousands of people got killed. You can win if you can manage to keep the nobility in your pocket - but you also win if you kill all the heirs of the other house, because then those shifty noble assholes don't have any choice but to vote for you.
Being something of not-a-history-buff, I am unmoved by the historical accuracy presented in Richard III. For instance, there's this one guy who can play kingmaker and raise all these other guys to fight for him, Warbucks or something, but I just thought it was weird that he follows this completely different set of rules from the other nobles. But even though the history lesson is completely wasted on me, the fact that I was playing out stuff that actually happened made it more interesting. If I actually cared about those wars, I'll bet I would have been totally stoked.
While I did really enjoy playing Richard III, I do find myself with some gripes. First of all, the map is a pain in the ass. It's just printed on cardboard, and folds up, so it won't lay flat. If I hadn't put a leftover window on top of it, we couldn't have played the game without constantly asking, 'hey, where was this red block whose back I cannot see because it is facing you, but that I know is Earl Blakinford of Chesterbester because he just fell over as he was sliding off the board?'
And while I dig the block idea, it is not very much fun to put those damned stickers on all those damned blocks. There are a lot of them, and even if you're a huge fan of putting adhesive paper onto little wooden squares, it will still get old after twenty or so. Happily, this is a job you only have to do once, and when you do (and then get a spare window to put on top of the board), you will be ready to play a very tense, very fun game.
After having played Richard III, now I kind of want to try other block games, only this time, maybe some about eras of history I actually care about. I'll have to see if Columbia Games has any block games about pirates or cowboys. I know a ton about pirates and cowboys, and now that I know those block games can be pretty wicked, I'm kind of itching to try another one.
Tense and engaging
Limited actions and stacking restrictions put the emphasis on smart plays
Two ways to win means you can try different strategies every time you play
Historically accurate (which is lost on me)
Cheap cardstock board makes it tough to play
So many stickers!
I broke my baby teeth on my old man's wargames (not literally - he would never let me near them when I was teething), so I have a soft spot for them. If you have a similar soft spot, check out Richard III at the Columbia Games website:
KILL THAT WARBURTON DUDE
Posted by Matt Drake at 5:55 PM