Archive for the ‘Gaming’ Category

This is a write-up of the megagame 1866 & All that. Please see earlier parts for more information – Part One & Part Two.


Battle of the Burgs

After the enemy broke out of Dusseldorf, we used  decided to take a momentary respite and rest the army. Getting further reinforcements from Von Roon helped as well. Von Roon proved to be our only friend in the cabinet, for while Bismark held the ultimate strategy for the west, Von Roon was the only person with the vision to see that the Army of the Main needed to stay alive and supported in order to see it through.

But while we rested, the enemy was on the move – towards Cassel. We knew the garrison there wouldn’t last long, and being one of our national objectives we knew we had to take it back instantly, so onwards we marched again. Strangely, despite having their whole army there at one point, the Federal leaders decided not to stick around, instead going back to their early game tactics of ‘Cat and Mouse’. As our combined forces approached the fort, the enemy corps retreated down two separate railway lines to the towns of Rothenburg and Marburg to the south.

Wanting to bring matters to a head, I had earlier split off a couple of divisions to the south in order to head them off and try and trap them again. These divisions were waiting for the enemy army at the ‘Burgs’, but since they were unsupported I had them fall back to Essen and Fulda, while my main army arrived at the Fort.

It was at this moment that I decided to force a decisive battle – The Battle of the Burgs. Advancing my two blocking divisions, and then mobilising two further divisions from the fort, we pincered each enemy army at their respective town, with Marburg being the tougher fight as it had three corps there instead of two.

Rothenburg we won quite easily – Prussian divisions, while smaller, have better morale and stronger weapons, so all other things being equal (in the sense that it was two units vs two units), we beat them back easily, and they retreated east into Prussian territory.

Marburg would prove to be our finest hour – with three corps vs our two divisions, they were able to bring an entire third front to bare, which would deal extra damage to the unit I was leading (me and Carl long ago decided to split duties when fighting). We placed our units on the positions, and chose our cards. We had some good ones at this point – the problem with most tactical cards is that they’re one use, so you have to spend some time cultivating more… but by this point we’d managed to get a hold of some decent ones that we could keep using. Looking at what was arrayed before me, and sifting through the options I had left, I was struck with a moment of inspiration.

As our armies exchanged fire, as I suspected my division took the worst of it – six hits came my way, and I was only able to negate one of them through cards. My unit’s morale was 4, so it would have broken had I not played my trump card- a tactical ability that boosted my morale from 4 to 6 (and I ‘only’ took 5 damage. My division was bloodied, but it held firm. In the end, not a single unit broke, while we ended up breaking two of their three corps.

I learned later that it was the only time we’d managed to genuinely rattle the morale of the opposing team. They’d lost plenty of fights and forts, sure, but at the end of the day their army was still alive and at the time they believed that they could beat us – that fight changed everything, and their will was broken ( <- probably an exaggeration).

But it broke me too.

You see, I had dealt an almighty blow the enemy, bringing my entire army to bear (I’d left the Prussian allies at the fort to take it. Useful as they were, they didn’t really count) I achieved the best result I was ever likely to get… and yet their army was STILL in the field. They retreated, losing some cards and some points of health, but they were still there, and over the next couple of phases they would just run, such was their will to fight.

But mine was no better- like I mentioned above, our Army was doing everything it was supposed to, but nothing was happening. We were winning, but the war was still dragging on. Bavaria and Hannover were essentially occupied by Prussia, and yet they were still in the fight. The Battle of Burgs firmly established Prussian dominance in the field for all time, and yet I knew I’d never be able to truly beat them, and I foresaw my army marching up and down Western Germany chasing after a foe that wouldn’t fight, and wouldn’t quit. War without end, and with no feedback form the political team I made a decision.

I’d had enough.

Lunch on the Rhine          

It has been six weeks since the war began. After the Battle of the Burgs, our army had split up again – half holding the line at Fulda, to guard against the enemy formation at Karlstadt on the Main, while the other half pursued the second Federal force through the mountains and along the Rhein. Fearing another capture of Dusseldorf, we made sure to get there first, and at this point we were facing off against the federal forces across the Rhine from us in Bonn, while we were in Hagen.

It was at this point I proposed an Armistice.

It turns out that the Federals had been hung out to dry more than we had – no support from Austria, not even concern for their predicament as they were driven further and further south. I probably could have chased them south of the Main and into Bavaria, but I was tired. I was tired of fighting a war that nobody seemed to care about.

(In hindsight OOC, me and Carl both regret not pushing them back that one extra step, but once we’d made the agreement we couldn’t really break it – we’d have lost a lot of bro points.)

I had learned just prior to turn six starting that our forces had firmly held onto Vienna, and that people were gathering for peace talks. Lacking concrete orders I decided I wasn’t going to throw away the lives of my soldiers just for the sake of it.

“Nobody seems to care about this war we’re fighting,” I said to my counter-part as we had lunch on a bridge over the Rhine – middle ground and neutral territory.

“We’ve beaten you fair and square, and we’re happy with the lands we now own. Let’s draw a line across the map, and call it a day for a turn, let the politicians sort it out and give ourselves a rest.”

As part of the agreement, we also agreed to exchange Nuremburg for the one Prussian fortress I had yet to take back – Coblenz. It was taken at the start of the war and I hadn’t gotten down their yet to take it back. This seemed easier, and Bismark didn’t seem to care about Nuremburg any more despite being the one to tell us to take it in the first place.

It wasn’t the best negotiation ever- I probably could have asked for more but I got a bit carried away with the role-play of wanting to finish fighting, so it was what it was. Still, we had our national objectives, and while we didn’t finish on the Main, we had already been there, over it, and back again several times during the course of the war. We owned that river.

Aftermath

And just like that – our war was over. Just after the armistice was agreed, Von Moltke strode over and grandly declared that there was an Armistice in place (I hadn’t told him about our cease-fire. He didn’t seem to care so I didn’t care to inform him), to which we replied “We know”.

The next turn, the whole thing was over – Austria admitted defeat.

I learned that our forces pretty much dominated in the East, breaking through to Vienna and occupying it against repeated Austrian attempts to retake the capital. I learned that our Italian allies pretty much got hung out to dry in the end, storming out of the peace talks and dying by the droves in the final phase of the game. I learned that despite all evidence to the contrary, our war was in fact very important as it was essentially a land-grab, which no-one really thought to inform us about, but there you go.

A few other notes to make:

  • Our King, William (played by Katie) did actually come to visit us during the game, and was actually there to witness one of our victories (I can’t remember which one). She personally gave us honour for that victory, which was pretty cool. Since I can’t remember the ‘when’ I couldn’t really fit it into the narrative, so I apologise. Thanks for stopping by!
  • Again, Von Roon’s support was key to our ultimate victory. His timely use of a reinforcement card replenished our forces in the aftermath of Düsseldorf, allowing us to march to victory at the Battle of the Burgs.

Game Feedback

Overall, I really enjoyed 1866. I enjoy the high-level strategy that Operational Megagames bring, but since it was my first I didn’t do a lot of ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. The only time I did I nearly annoyed Bernie, but talking to Tom, our local control, after the game gave me a few ideas I wished I’d thought up at the time. Generally it was a very well put together experience, and there were a lot of neat rules and mechanics that facilitated the themes involved.

A few things stood out for me as not really working that well, however. I’ve spoken to Bernie already about a couple of these and he disagrees with me, but here they are anyway:

  • Movement – I felt the movement rules, while historically quite thematic, as a game mechanic they were open to exploitation a little bit. Withdrawing from a fight essentially gives you a free extra movement if you weren’t looking for a fight, as you could ‘bounce’ off an enemy army you made contact with, then still use your normal movement if you hadn’t gone yet. I’m not saying armies should be forced to fight, but I would have liked a couple of things to be a bit more ‘absolute’.

E.g., if an Army uses its movement running away from a fight, it can’t move again unless you ‘Force March’ it, negating the ‘free’ move you got from running away.

For road limits as well – passing a long a yellow road limits the amount of divisions you can move down them, as they are poorer roads. However, when I defeated a three corps army, they were allowed to bypass that rule simply because they were running away. They had to discard their ‘baggage train’, which only really ended up being a couple of cards, so I find this ruling allowed for too much inconsistency.

Bernie’s argument was that armies ran away far more effectively than they marched towards an enemy, which is fair, but from a design point of view I’ve never really gotten on with loopholes.

  • Battles – For the most part I really enjoyed the battle system. The cards, the formation lay out. The only thing for me was that the ‘supporting formation’ system seemed pointless in the end. This is probably a by-product of our theatre – neither side had enough units to really fill out the sheet, apart from in one fight. I imagine they got more use out of it on the Bohemia map. Several useful cards though specifically refer to support formations, which I could never use because my enemy never used them because they would rather fill out the leading formations as they did more damage.

I think defining the strengths and weaknesses between leading and support a bit more as to understand their various uses might be something that could be improved on, and also changing some cards (River Crossing was the main one I was disappointed in) so that they account for more scenarios and still retain their usefulness. The River Crossing card might as well not been in my draw deck.

  • Feedback – this is less to do with the design of the game and simply a reflection on my personal experience. We had clear national objectives to follow on our briefing, and then additional targets passed down from on high. The problem was though, despite achieving all of these and more, nothing was happening. We were told to knock Hannover out of the war early, but apart from taking Stade I wasn’t really given any clear indication as to how to do that. Neil, our Von Bismark, advised us to take Nuremburg to take Bavaria out of the war, but we owned it for a month and nothing happened (To be fair, I learned just before we gave it back that the ‘will’ of Bavaria was about to break, but it wasn’t useful information by then).

This lack of feedback to our success is what strove me to ask for the Armistice. I was genuinely getting a bit bored – we’d beaten the enemy soundly, but I knew I lacked the men to truly ‘crush’ them, and perhaps take them out for good. I foresaw me just chasing them around the map until the game ended, and that’s when it kind of stopped being a fun prospect from a gameplay point of view. I used to it fuel a bit of role-play which kept me entertained until the game finished.

I’m not sure what could have been done to change how things happened, the only idea I had was when I overheard the Austrians not really wanting to give up, despite losing soundly on both maps. Perhaps a more strongly defined sense of ‘losing’ and ‘winning’, to mitigate the impact of genuinely stubborn players?

Other than that though, it was a lot of fun. Many thanks to Bernie for designing a great game and thanks to everyone on my team for such a great time!

Advertisements

This is part two of a write up regarding my experience during the Megagame “1866 & All That”, for more details and to read Part One, please click here.


Army of Ghosts

With the majority of Federal forces concentrated to the south, we anticipated having to fight harder for Cassel than we did Stade. In fact, with our four divisions more or less surrounding Hannover, and the enemy NOT starting in Stade, we anticipated the Hanoverians trying to break through our lines and make a run for it. Initially we left them alone, instead consolidating two armies at Cassel to present a strong showing whilst we besieged it. Our division at Hamburg moved swiftly on Stade, and after the first operational phase our final division chased the Hanoverian army, which decided to go on a grand tour of western Prussia on its way south.

Information is power, and historically this war is infamous for having terrible intelligence. Things you would think are common sense weren’t really done back in those days by many, and this concept was represented in the game rather uniquely. All of the army units had to be put in marked boxes, with markers corresponding to those boxes being placed on the map. Boxes had to be on tables, and while you could get glimpses of what was inside, you couldn’t really see. What’s more, each team had a number of dummy formations to put in boxes in order to inflate what was really there.

These dummies would be discarded over time as armies came into contact with each other, something that proved useful to us. It became obvious quite quickly that our opponents were opting for a defensive strategy. With the Hanoverians fleeing south, we decided to be more aggressive and chase them down. Good thing we did, as we quickly discovered that the army we were chasing didn’t exist – it was made up entirely of dummies.

This wasn’t something I thought of doing at the time, admittedly. Kind of blew my mind, but there were logistical restraints on my end – I literally didn’t have enough boxes to do anything like that.

If that wasn’t surprising enough, over the next couple of turns we would learn that a second formation was entirely fictional as well – something I thought was good as it mean’t we weren’t wasting time chasing false leads, although if I’d stopped to think about it I would have come to an obvious conclusion.

The armies we were supposed to stop from massing together had in fact already massed together. From day one.

Too bad we learned that the hard way.

Lines in the Sand

We took Stade and Cassel quite early – Stade was done as a trade-off. The enemy quite quickly moved on one of our fortresses to the south, which we knew we’d lose as I wasn’t prepared to commit the troops to defending it at the beginning of the game. We gave them the fortress they were besieging, they gave us the one we were besieging, and the garrisons were allowed to walk out without being molested to re-join their armies. All very gentlemanly (this was a big thing in the game; 1866 was seen as a war between brothers and wasn’t really ‘cruel’ as later wars would become, and acting honourably and fair got you mad props).

This was probably the only point of the game where we found ourselves slightly out of position. With the Hanoverian army proving fake, we marched a division south to take Nuremberg under orders from Von Bismark. The various cabinet members would take turns coming to visit us as the game wore on. Some were more useful to us than others, but generally we were left to our own devices.

The federal forces were gradually all shifting west and north through the mountainous terrain of Nassau, and up through Cologne/Bonn. It was clear that they were probably going to try and take Düsseldorf, and we weren’t in a position to defend it. Thanks to the timely intervention of Von Roon, we managed to scramble a division of ‘Prussian Allied’ forces to defend the fort in a delaying action while we hurriedly moved our divisions west.

These units were incredibly small and weak, and our they were quickly defeated. Düsseldorf was taken in short order, but it took them an extra phase and that was all we needed to get our army into position. Our ally’s sacrifice was not in vein.

We were formulating our next move when Von Moltke strode over rather miffed and asked me “What’s at Düsseldorf?”.

“A fort,” I replied.

“We need it back. The Austrians won’t negotiate because they control it. It’s a national objective. Take it back.”

Well OF COURSE it was. Back to work, then.

Learning the Hard Way

My memory was a little bit fuzzy in terms of battles fought during the game, but I don’t remember there being many in those early turns. We’d spent most of that time taking forts and chasing down ghost formations. We lost a battle at Düsseldorf, obviously, and we’d lose a few more over the course of the war. On balance, we won more though, and generally dominated the field – I definitely remember us winning a fight early on as we chased the enemy through the mountains of Nassau, prior to Düsseldorf.

But first, there was a hard lesson to be learned. See, what I’d epically failed to appreciate was that, if half of the enemy formations were dummy, that meant what forces they had would be concentrated in what was left. Our worst defeat of the day was probably when two of our divisions faced off against the whole enemy army – I can’t remember where they were, probably at Düsseldorf or Hagen – to find out we were facing FIVE corps worth of enemy. Our troops are good, but they’re not that good – we were vastly outnumbered and out gunned.

We lost that one as well, obviously, and came out of it severely bloodied but in one piece. We also managed to surround the enemy at Düsseldorf. Before we could rush in, they decided to break out of their own and retreat south. We lost one battle that allowed them to break out, but there were a few fights around that fort, and I honestly can’t remember it all in much detail now. We won some, we lost some.

Still, the end result was that we took Düsseldorf back, just like we were ordered to. What good soldiers we were.

Will to Fight

We had been fighting pretty much non-stop for weeks on end, mainly relying on support from Von Roon to keep us going. I did manage to brow beat Von Moltke into giving us more artillery, since the war in the east seemed to be going exceptionally well at that point so they could spare the reserves. Generally, we were winning.

And yet…

We had re-taken Dusseldorf like we were supposed to. We had taken Cassel and Stade like we were supposed to, and Nuremburg had been in our possession for nearly a month. We had been to the Main and back again, and generally we were dominating Western Germany– yet nobody seemed to care. Our enemies, despite their material and political losses, were still on the field. Our political masters were not only vaguely ignoring us, but they were also epically failing at using anything we’d done as leverage to come to any kind of agreement with the federal states.

Despite the fact that they had massed their troops early and were able to bring 5 corps to bear against us quite consistently by now, we weren’t worried – We were strong, and we knew we could beat them.

It was the Battle of the Burgs that did it, that finally broke my will to fight.

Please continue to Part Three.

Or: To the Maine and Back: A Tour of the Federal German States, as written by the Prussian Army of the Main.

Since the only thing I seem to be able to blog about these days are the megagames I end up doing, it’s of no surprise then that I’m here to talk to you about another Megagame – “1866 And All That”.

Another personal first, this was an ‘Operational’ level mega game. You could almost call it a war game, in the sense that the majority of the experience revolved around high-level strategy and war plans, with an added political dimension to give everything some character. Having only have done Watch the Skies and Come to a King before this, it took me a while to get into the swing of things as this was more rules focused, although wargame are generally my thing, so it was enjoyable.

I’d just like to thank Bernie Ganley and his team for putting on the show, with specific shout outs to my brother-in-arms and Best No.2 Ever Carl Waltenberg, my excellent local control Tom Hayllar, and finally our gracious and glorious Kaiser, Katie Anne Goatley.

As with all of my write ups, I may embellish, exaggerate, or otherwise make up minor details in order to supply a more entertaining narrative. The actual details of the day though in terms of actions taken, conversations had, and my own interpretation on events, are for the most part as true as I can remember them. Case and point – I will be hamming up slightly the idea that the rest of my team didn’t really care about what I was doing.

The Main Army

The year was 1866, and war was in the air. I had no name, no fancy title, but I did have a job to do – take control of a rag-tag army of leftovers and forgotten relatives, and teach the federal nation-states of West Germany that siding with Austria really wasn’t the best idea.

With me was my trusty number two, Operations Officer Carl “May Actually Be a German” Waltenberg. We were supposed to have a Chief-of-Staff, but in what soon seemed to become a theme for the grand ‘Army of the Main’ it seems high command had forgotten to send us one. Still, we made do, and it was hard to miss something we ultimately didn’t need.

The Army of the Main’s job was in its name – we were to push the enemy beyond this line, a river that ran along southern Germany, so that Prussia would rule undisputed from Hamburg to Frankfurt. In conjunction, we were to take Hannover out of the war early by taking their Fortress ‘Stade’, and then capture the fortress at ‘Cassel’ in order to secure a base and a safe supply route for the eastern and western halves of Prussian territory in this theatre. From there, we would drive the enemy south across the Main.

There was a lot of pressure assigned to the war I was trying to fight- not only did I have to show dominance on the field and try and knock the individual states out of the war as early as possible, I had to do it without causing too much damage or humiliation. On top that that, minor details like Great Britain potentially coming over to bitch-slap me if they thought I was being too mean to Hannover, and the fact that France’s million-strong army was RIGHT THERE, were also at the back of my mind. As far as high command was concerned though, everything would be fine as long as I did what I was told.

This lack of feedback from my superiors would go on to frame my entire campaign, although that’s not to say we weren’t without support. During the main briefing at the start of the day, all focus was in the east where a gigantic clash with Austria was about to take place. So much so that no-one even bothered to bring a map of my operating area. I had to supply my own and quickly go over my plans and concerns, which prompted the only response I would ever get all day – “you’ll be fine, don’t worry”.

I was lucky enough to get four divisions assigned to me (considering historically my army only got three), along with some cavalry and artillery. In what turned out to be a blessing in disguise, the dropping out of nine Prussian players prior to the event meant that our Army of the Elbe play team was deleted, thus meaning there was one less army with which to share resources amongst.

No Strategy without Movement

Our opening strategy was simple enough – divide, conquer, and claim the national objectives as quickly as possible, and let the politicians sort the rest of it out. Rush Stade, Rush Cassel, and stop the federal forces joining up and crushing us. We’d fill in the rest as we went, hopefully getting further instructions from on high as the war progressed.

A Prussian division, whilst smaller than the other German ‘Corps’ units, nevertheless had superior firearms & training. In gameplay terms this basically meant our troops could take more hits without breaking, and we had some excellent ‘tactical’ cards we could deploy as well. The only area we lacked in was artillery, but we made do with what we had. Our force was split it up into four mobile formations each with just one division in it, inflated with dummy units to make it seem bigger than it was. The danger here was that a division could get caught out and annihilated, but the rewards outweighed the risk.

As the whistle blew at 11:30, everyone sprang into action. We faced deployments in Hannover itself, with several more to the south along the Main, but no-one near the fortresses that were our objectives, and no-one we’d have to fight immediately other than the Hanoverians. It was a better starting position than I could have hoped for, and we would show the enemy our might.

With any luck Hannover would be out of the war within the week, and we’d be in a strong position to drive the rest south of the River.

If only we knew.

Please continue to Part Two.

This is the third part in my report of the Come to a King Megagame. For more information, please read Part One.

The Spoils (or not) of War

Prince Owen and I returned as heroes from our foray to Ireland. Knowledge of how we were paid to leave, and the vast untapped richness of the land (the Civil Wars mainly ravaged the south eastern parts from what we heard) quickly spread across Scotland. Jarl not-Sigurd the Second was finally ready and eager to join in our grand enterprise. Even Lord Finlay of Moray was eager to get stuck in to something… it seems I was having a bad influence on my neighbours.

Only the Scottish Abbot opposed our venture, but only because he was generally against Christians attacking other Christians, and even then he did nothing to prevent our plans – he only stayed at home with the King. He did suggest we join in what was turning into a grand ruckuss down in Southern England, but I scoffed at the idea.

“You may know the ways of the Gods,” I said. “But I know the ways of War – you go where everyone ISN’T. And there’s no one in Ireland to defend their lands.”

No one except women and men in skirts, that is.

The King gave his blessing, troops were raised and ships were built. I once again tried to enlist the help of my compatriots in the Irish Sea, but they were committed. Wales would be theirs, or they would see it and the thrice cursed ‘King’ of South Wales burn. There was no-one else to ask.

Planning our actions and coordinating closely with the controls of both the Scottish and Ireland maps, our grand armada of six ships set sail. We were four Lords of War, A Viking, some Scots and a Welshman. It would be a glorious venture indeed!

We had 12 units in all for our invasion of Ireland – hardly a Great Army, but large enough considering there was still no-one at home. Just before we set-sail we learned that the High King of Ireland was slain in a duel, which would cause turmoil in the country. It was surely a sign from the Gods. We landed in Ulster, and were met by some local levies that had been raised that year to deter further raids, as well as another force raised by the same Bishop as last time.

(Jevan tried to convert me both times I was in Ireland. I admired his determination, if not his religion.)

We were asked if we would accept more money to go away, and we said we each wanted three gold.  There were four of us.

They said no.

Sadly, the invasion of Ireland ultimately achieved nothing. There’s no real way to narrate this – a combination of several things I don’t really want to get into right now hampered what we wanted to do. It was the only part of the day where I felt genuinely disappointed. We didn’t manage to seize any lands, didn’t get any money… we saw off the levies, but that was about it and we didn’t get anything from that either.

By this point the Lords of Ireland were retreating from England. Word of our invasion had spread, and with their leader dead there was no point in remaining in Wessex – they were coming home, and they were angry. With our own levies returning home and feeling disillusioned by our lack of success, we returned to our ships and sailed back to Scotland.

As it happened, the Queen who paid us off the first time rose to become High Queen and managed to keep the various Irish Lords in-line – she saw our return as a vile betrayal and swore bloody vengeance upon us. We planned our next move, not really knowing where to go at this point, (maybe we would go to England after all?) but we also had to consider a counter-invasion by Ireland.

Ultimately, we never found out what would happen, as the world ended at the end of the council phase that turn. Ragnarok was here.

I never did find a good women.

End of Part Three | Read Part OneRead Part Two

——————————————–

And that, in a nut shell, was the epic saga of Jarl Gilli.

There are probably plenty of things I forgot about or miss-remembered, but the above represents the core narrative of how my day went. As mentioned right at the beginning, it also lacks a lot of context as to what was happening in the wider game, since there was a lot I just never interacted with.

I felt very much a fringe character, on the periphery of a game not really meant for the general idea Gilli represented. This was a game of Kings, and of people who could be useful in the great ‘Game of Thrones’ (sorry). I didn’t really feel like either.

Jarl Gilli had fairly poor stats and low fame, and with few ways to boost any of it I was always destined to be a footnote. Personally organising and leading the invasion of Ireland was about as good as it got, but that was me as a person as opposed to Jarl Gilli as a game element, and despite everything I ended the game with the same stats I started with, albeit richer.

I had a great time though – as mentioned above, there was only one instance where I was genuinely disappointed. The rest of the time I didn’t feel like I was wasting my actions, or not accomplishing things I wanted to do… even when I wasn’t sure what it was I was even striving for (which happened a lot).

My first raid into Ireland was probably the highlight of my day: Turn up, Get Paid to Leave. Looking at the game-rules as presented, there was no way to come away with four gold from just a single action given the circumstances. A huge success in my books, and I hope the real Jar Gilli would have been proud.

Some other primary thoughts:

Province/Land ownership was weird.

There seemed to be no mechanism to exert influence over lands not controlled by you directly in terms of resources and manpower. For example, If I had been made Lord of Argyll without seizing the other Land, I still couldn’t have raised troops or collected taxes from the other man.

(If this wasn’t the case then it was a miscommunication applied across several maps, as far as I was aware.)

The point is best presented by looking at my friend’s situation. As the Prince of the Sub-Kingdom of Strathclyde, he was technically a power unto himself on the Scottish map. And yet he still had to spend early turns physically seizing and taking possession over everything within Strathclyde to reap the full benefits of the province.

I also personally disliked the rule that you had to be physically in a province to tax it, as it meant owning land was pointless in general. You had to own the RIGHT province (so one with at least 2/3 Lands and a Town), and once you had that it didn’t really matter what else you owned. Even owning two like that seemed kind of inefficient because you’d have to spend actions repeating tasks in the other province. I witnessed an instance like this where Tim had to do a Tax action in Orkney, and then a Tax action in Caithness, even though they are just across from each other on the same map.

It gave considerable advantage to players who owned such desirable provinces, and mean’t anyone who didn’t was off to a slow start. I didn’t really mind not being able to do something on another map entirely though – that at least made some sense.

This makes me uncomfortable, but I feel some controls were definitely better than others on the day.

I respect each and every one of them for donating their time, and their patience in dealing with all of us and acting as GM’s. To be clear, I had positive dealings with every control I talked to, and everyone heard me out when I wanted to propose something and ruled fairly, in my mind.

However, local controls also tend to interpret and enforce the rules differently, and in different ways (which I’m not questioning their right to either). In this specific game though those fluctuations had a far greater impact on things than I’ve ever experienced before. I’m sorry to say, some seemed to do this better than others.

I never went to/organised a single feast.

They were costly, and only one person generally got the benefit so it was hard to justify said cost. That left them being used as one of two primary platforms for assassinating another character – which meant nobody wanted to actually go to a feast ever. Even when the King of Alba married his daughter to the newly crowned King of Northumbria, no feast was held because nobody wanted a Red Wedding.

I understand there was actually a Red Wedding elsewhere in the game, so my viewpoint is by no means universal, but most of the people I interacted with certainly were wary of holding feasts. Brodir of Mann went to a feast designed to betray the King of South Wales, who (surprisingly) didn’t turn up. It just felt to me it was a bit too obvious what would happen if you went to a feast.

It would have been nice if Raiding were a mechanically supported concept.

For fringe characters like myself, all we really do is get swept up in greater events or try and make a nuisance of ourselves. For a Norse character especially, the ability to ‘Raid’ should have been a thing that was easier to accomplish. As it was, our invasion of Ireland was working on the plan of seizing lands, and then taxing the crap out of it for maximum profit, and then leaving/moving on. It was the only way I could think of representing a ‘Raid’ within the rules as written.

I realise I had a conversation with Andrew regarding this on Facebook prior to the event, so I know why the game was set up the way it was. I imagine I wouldn’t even be making this point were I a King in Ireland, or a Saxon Lord in the South of England.

As I’ve alluded to above, I feel the main meat and potatoes of Come to a King wasn’t really meant for someone like Jarl Gilli. I really enjoyed playing as him, and I had a blast working within the rules to be an unruly, troublesome Irish Sea Viking and I accomplished everything I wanted to (although not, as it turns out, anything my briefing suggested I should work towards. I didn’t even get married!).

Thank you again to Andrew for putting on this game, and I hope you don’t take offence to my criticisms. I would definitely play again – I would personally like to see a few things fine-tuned, is all (or maybe play as someone more grounded in the setting, for contrast). 

This is Part Two of my report from the recent Megagame ‘Come to a King’. For more information please read Part One.

This is the longest part, so apologies in advance for the length.

Trouble in Wales & Afar

By this point, I think the Danish King who had taken the English crown from Athelred, had died somehow, which caused a lot of feuding in the south of England. At some point a massive mercenary army from Sweden also turned up and took London, but I never really spent much time around the two ‘England’ maps to really tell what was going on. I hear they switched sides because their leader – Thorkall the Tall – wasn’t being paid enough.

Ireland had pretty much sorted out its differences and decided to invade Wales, and there were also shenanigans taking place in Northumbria I think.

For me though, I only had one thought on my mind – revenge! No sooner had I started consolidating my control over Argyll that I glanced over at the Irish Sea map and saw someone invading the Southern Isles! Jarl Emachahachamach (not really his name) of Galloway, one of my listed enemies, had gotten bored and decided to take some land from the absentee Lord of the Isles. (I was busy, ok?)

Rushing back with my Huscarls and a local levy I’d raised from Argyll, I decided to land on Galloway to force the usurper off the islands, although at the time I didn’t realise he’d already seized them. Ecmach sailed back to Galloway as well, and we had a small skirmish on its windy shores, with neither party doing any damage. We were at a stalemate.

With the season coming to an end, our levies had to go home, and I retreated back to my old holdings on the Northern Isles. Meanwhile, Jarl Brodir of Mann (played by the excellent Matt Bambridge) had led an invasion into Gwynedd, with the view to make it his new seat of power and to form a new Kingdom that spanned North Wales and the Irish Sea.

He had succeeded in taking most of the Lands there, and was in the process of besieging the towns (of which there were two), but he was being opposed by the Prince of Powys. Holding his own council at the beginning of the next turn, he demanded both me and Echelech attend and make peace.

“I know what you both want” he said* (*I may be making this up, but the jist is true) “and I tell you now what you want is in Wales. I require your help, brothers, and there is glory and riches to be had in the mountains!”

Due to the nature of how the game worked, I was considering Argyll more and more my new seat of power, but being Lord of the Isles granted me certain bonuses, which I kept so long as I retained direct control over one of the two Island provinces. The Southern Isles were previously held by an NPC anyway, so as far as I was concerned there had simply been a change in ownership.

I recognised Ecclair’s strength and his right to the Southern Isles – the previous tenant had been feeble, and weak. But I drew a line in the sand with my sword:

“This foolishness stops here,” I said. “If you want the Southern Isles, have them! But if you try and take the rest I will return, and I will bring allies, and either you will be crushed, or I will die fighting you to the last. Let us not make this petty feud the thing we are remembered for.”

Emachelmore agreed. It was also at this point that we were informed of an extra rule/thing that wasn’t in the rulebook – Trading/Interacting with Foreign control.  James (playing Ecmachahaka) decided that there was probably more money to be made trading overseas, and so he spent much of the next year in Europe.

As for me, I agreed to help Brodir secure his place in Gwynedd. Raising the levy of the Northern Isles, I landed my forces in North Wales and together we faced the Prince of Powys on the field of battle. It was glorious! Being the more experienced commander, Brodir naturally led our armies, but I would dare say my troops made their ancestors proud. Our forces stormed their lines, burst through their shield wall, and even the Prince of Powys himself was mortally wounded in the fight. We didn’t see him die, but we heard he perished from his wounds whilst fleeing back into the mountains in the centre of Powys.

Sadly, our enemy wasn’t so numerous that we could all share in the fame, so my part in the conquest of North Wales remains largely unremembered, although I did get some loot out of it (Me and Matt got 1 Gold each, while Matt got the Fame from being the leader).

Meanwhile, the southern lords of Wales had united under one King of South Wales, and had destroyed the Irish invaders on the shores of Dyfed. We heard stories of that great slaughter, and I must say it even inflamed my Norse sensibilities. What a fight that would have been! I wouldn’t have even cared which side I was on either, but alas…

It was at this point that the story of Wales took a darker turn. With a power vacuum in Powys, and Gwynedd more or less secure (one of the towns was holding out I think), Brodir wanted to extend his dominion across the north and centre. The Lord of Dyfed, who supposedly tipped his head to the King In the South, came to us with a proposal – help him topple the King and he would recognise Norse dominion over the north, as well as formal recognition as the Lord of Gwynedd.

A noble of Gwynedd, who looked suspiciously like the recently deceased Prince of Powys (the guy had been given a new character), had risen to prominence during the Conquest, and had pledged his household troops to Brodir. He would be installed as the new Lord or Powys, giving fealty to the Lord of Mann. Since he was welsh himself it helped keep things in balance.

It was at this point that I departed the stage of the Irish Sea, never to return as it later turned out. My good friend Brodir was more secure in his new seat of power (sadly, he would never be formally recognised as the Lord of Gwynedd, which drove him to madness), and we made promises to go a-Viking soon, probably in England which was in turmoil.

I would need a time to consolidate, raise a war chest, and ready myself, so I returned north to Scotland.

A Grand Adventure

Much had changed while I was away campaigning in Wales. Prince Owen of Strathclyde ruled his province with an iron fist, becoming  the most powerful  of the Scottish lords (he was Welsh, technically), more powerful than the King of Alba himself.

Elsewhere, Ireland had become embroiled in a bloody civil war after the High King was slain in the failed invasion of Wales. Great armies clashed in the south of England as Danes and Saxons fought desperately for the throne of England. The fighting escalated to such a scale that England as a political entity collapsed at one point – undoing all the work of Alfred the Great and his grandson Athelstan decades before.

Hwicce, which bordered Wales, had declared independence first. Mercia also rose as an independent power for a time, and eventually Northumbria broke away to form its own Kingdom, with the support of the King of Alba. I never trusted the Northumbrians. The Danes of York were weak, and had spent too long under the yolk, and the Saxons were deceitful.

Despite having peace with Scotland, I never recognised their authority, nor their right to exist.

The worst news was saved for last, however. I returned to find that my good friend Sigurd had died in his sleep, and chaos reigned over the Orkneys. Norse influence in Scotland was weakening, and if it wasn’t for my timely return we may have been done away with altogether, and my lands in Argyll could have been seized.

Tim, now playing Sigurd’s son, had a bit of a rough time of it. No sooner did he try and take possession of his father’s lands, than someone from Control turned up and contested his right to the Orkney Islands. There was a duel in which Sigurdsson AND the claimant killed each other, so Tim had been through two characters in the space of a couple of turns. The Lord of Moray meanwhile had convinced the King of Alba to give him control of Caithness (one of Sigurd’s holdings) after the great Lord’s death. It was at this point that I was thinking of taking the Orkney’s for myself.

Sigurd had been a great ally, and while I was debating whether to keep my allegiance to his son (whom I’d had no real dealings with), once he died too there was little staying my hand. Tim came up to me however and revealed that his new Character happened to be a Grandson of the King of Alba – and heir to the Scottish throne thanks to a decision made right at the beginning of the game. I think he was part Norse (and to be honest I was Norse/Irish, so it wasn’t really a question of blood), which would mean a considerable Norse influence in the Kingdom of Alba should the current King die, so I re-affirmed my loyalty to Jarl whoever-he-was (I never did learn the names of Tim’s other characters).

I spent most of this year preparing – with my position more or less safe again I decided to take my huscarls and go abroad to Foreign Control – first on a trading run to Flanders, taking Scottish timbre and wares, although I only broke even. During my visit though I learned that the Holy Roman Empire was embroiled in a revolt from the Saxons in Saxony, AND in a war with Poland. Instead of trading, I decided to take my crew of experienced warriors (heroes of the Conquest of North Wales you know) and spend a season fighting as mercenaries. According to Foreign Control we didn’t do that well, but I still came away with three gold and no tangible negative effects.

(For someone like me, 3 gold for one action was really, really good.)

Upon my return, I found that the situation had changed once again. The Irish Lords, having finally chosen a new High King, had decided to lead a grand invasion of Southern England through the South of Wales and into Bristol and Hwicce. That left Ireland more or less defenceless.

I could smell it in the air – now was the time to go Viking. Unfortunately allies were in short supply that year – Jarl Tim the Third was busy consolidating his hold over Orkney, and my good friend Brodir of Mann had become obsessed with his ventures in Wales, dragging Emachabon aong with him. That left my old rival, Prince Owen of Strathclyde.

We had never been friends (despite Tom being my best friend) – it was Norse raiders who brought about Strathclyde’s demise as a British power, and me being a belligerent and unruly Norse Pagan meant that we were wary neighbours at best. Still, I’d never attacked him, despite his attempts to undermine me. The Northumbrians had formed their own kingdom by this point, which included the province of Cumbria, a historical possession of the old Kings of Strathclyde. He didn’t trust his neighbours to the south any more than I did, and perhaps it was that mutual hatred that finally united us.

On a whim I paid the Prince a visit while he was staying at Strathclyde’s principal Harbour. I was blunt – It was the season for raiding, and I would have someone accompany me on a grand adventure, even him.

Owen was restless – he couldn’t reclaim Cumbria whilst Alba supported Northumbria, fearing the Scots wanted the Bretons gone from Scotland once and for all and only needed an excuse. Breaking the King’s peace would provide that. Still, he was restless, and he was as itching for a fight as I was. He agreed, and we both took our household troops and sailed for Ireland.

That was a strange trip, but ultimately a successful one. Somehow the Irish had caught wind of our raid, and when we landed in the North of the country our scouts reported that an army of levies had been raised to confront us. We slipped away that night and went further south, guided, I thought, by the Gods, although I never voiced my beliefs to Owen, who was devoutly Christian.

(What actually happened was that I left my map at the end of Turn 3, only to turn up at the Ireland map at the beginning of their Turn 3, due to individual maps handling the progress of the action phases differently. It gave the Irish players an un fair advantage, since Moving is always done last so they shouldn’t, in theory, have been able to react to our presence that phase. Talking it over with control, we were allowed to change our landing point at the end of the phase ready for Phase 4.)

Our sudden disappearance and reappearance must have frightened the Irish witless though. No sooner had we run ashore and spread out into the countryside than an emissary came from one of the Irish Queens and the head Christian Priest.

We later learned that their levy had been raised by the Churchmen in Ireland, who claimed to have seen a vision of our coming. However, their God didn’t tell them we moved south, and so were caught completely out of position. By the time a new levy could have been raised and/or the first one rushed south, we would have done our damage and would be long gone. It was also nearing harvest season and it would prove impossible to keep the levies together when that happened.

The Queen in Ireland (I was never sure if it was a Queen or THE Queen, although that question was to be answered soon enough), and the high Bishop knew that, so we proposed a deal – Pay us, and we shall go away.

(We were paid two gold each, which was more than we could have physically achieved on our own had we just attacked the land.)

A very strange, but a very successful trip.

End of Part Two | Read Part OneRead Part Three

This is my report from the Come to a King Megagame that took place on Saturday, 14th November 2015. You may have read reports of mine from previous games – Watch the Skies 2 & Watch the Skies 3. This post will mainly focus on the narrative of my personal game, and so there will be a lot of context and wider elements missing.

Due to length, this will be split into three parts, with the final post finishing with some thoughts on the most salient points in terms of feedback.

Thanks once again to Andrew for putting on a great day, and thank you to Control and everyone else involved.

Come to a King was a very different prospect than WTS on many levels – it was smaller, for one thing, with no more than 50 – 70 people in attendance (I didn’t actually count so that’s entirely made up), and instead of teams representing nations, you played a specific character in 11th century England, a time that saw a lot of change and upheaval across the British Isles. It was down to you to make your own alliances and make your own mark in the world.

As a Lord, you owned lands that you could tax & invest in, raise troops from, and there were a number of other actions you could do as well, but you were limited to four actions a turn. Wars could be fought, Lands seized and Towns besieged, but high level play revolved around the politics of Titles and Kingdoms. There were several Kingdoms in existence at the start of the game, and many that could be created either through politicking or by the sword. Kings and other prominent Lords held councils, and it was down to everyone else to decide who to show fealty to.

The scene: two Kings claimed ownership over the throne of England – Athelred the Ill-Counselled in exile in Normandy, with King Swegan of Denmark having just usurped his crown. There was discontent in the North, which had always been rebellious and independent minded. The Welsh were at each other’s throats, as usual, and a massive civil brewed in Ireland as High King Brian tried to keep the Irish Kingdoms in line. King Malcolm in Scotland was trying to keep his modest Scottish Kingdom together, surrounded as he was by unruly Norse neighbours ( namely me), disgruntled Britons in Strathclyde and ambitious Lords from within.

I played Jarl Gilli, a Norse/Irish Viking Lord located mainly in the Hebrides in the Irish Sea, just off the coast of Scotland. What did I want? I was a pagan, clinging to the edges of a Christian world hungry for power, glory and a good woman to call my own. I had friends. I had enemies.

I was a Viking, Lord of the Isles, and this is my story.

Lord of Land & Sea

All I knew prior to the game was that I was Lord of the ‘Northern’ and ‘Southern’ Isles (an abstraction of the Hebrides and other island bits just off the coast of Scotland), and that I would probably have some kind of relationship with Jarl Sigurd of the Orkney Islands, who was my nominal superior according to the one piece of text that references my character.

When I arrived, I found that I was indeed Lord of the Isles, although I only had direct control over the Northern Isles as an NPC held the Southern Isles. Still, since I held the ‘Title’, I got a bonus gold each turn. Sigurd was indeed my ally and sort-of overlord, and my enemies were the Lord of Galloway, and Owen of Strathclyde (who was played by my best-friend, which scuppered all the plans we’d made on the train ride up). I also owned some land in Argyll, on the Scottish mainland, which was a pleasant surprise, although it did tie my destiny more to Scotland than I had anticipated.

The ‘turn’ is split into two parts – a Council phase and then a four successive action phases. The turn is meant to represent a year. Going to a council means you’re showing fealty to whoever is holding the council, but it also means you can benefit from whatever policies the King/Great Lord wants to enact for the year and it’s the easiest way to get lands, titles etc…

I wasn’t sure where to go first turn –a vague plan to start land-grabbing in Scotland meant that I couldn’t attend the council there (otherwise I would be penalised by the game), and there was no council local to the Irish Sea, my official starting location. I decided to attend the Rebel Irish council just to feel out the situation there, and because Sigurd, my boss, historically helped the Rebel Irish and Danes fight the High King.

It was a bit bleak since I was only person to turn up, but we had a nice chat and I bid him good luck when all was done.

Back in Argyll, it turned out I shared the province with an NPC who owned the other bit of land. I wanted him to recognise me as his overlord and pay me dues, but a conversation with control determined that the only way to really make the most of this was to seize his lands for myself, which I did. This got some of the other lords of Alba (the primary Kingdom in Scotland) a little bit concerned; however Jarl Sigurd (who was tied to the King of Alba through marriage) managed to convince them that if they gave me what I wanted I wouldn’t cause any more trouble.

I cared not who sat on the throne of Alba – I was Viking! I took what I wanted, but I was also smart enough to jump through some hoops where necessary. Next turn I showed fealty to the King and swore to keep the peace, and in return he formally made me Jarl of all Argyll, something that had specific in-game benefits. There were grumblings from Strathclyde, who neighboured Argyll and was played by my friend. We were enemies, so he was playing up his role and trying to be a dissenting voice.

The Abbot for the Scotland map, whose name I forget, also objected since I was a Pagan, but I said I would let Christian Priests walk freely through my land. I wouldn’t convert myself, as my faith was my own, but I wouldn’t stop people choosing freely either.

It was handy having Jarl Sigurd as an ally in Scotland, and Tim was generally a really nice guy. It would be awkward when I came to betray him, as my briefing suggested I should eventually, but for the moment we were allies and we plotted the fate of Alba together while we prepared for the coming year.

End of Part One | Read Part TwoRead Part Three