26 October 2011

Playing Kingmaker

Okay, so last night I couldn't sleep. I was bored with reading, and tried shooting zombies for a bit, but that didn't cut it. During the last week or so, I've been reading the 'Game of thrones' books, which are a lot of fun. Not fantasy at all but science fiction, complete with all the usual flaws.

Anyway, it's reminding me a lot of this old boardgame I used to play, so I dug it out. I've been trying to persuade my friends to have a Kingmaker night (2–7 players) like we've had poker nights, and to do this I need to remember how to play. It's quite complex.

So last night I set it up with two players and played both sides. I got most of the way through the game before I finally crashed. Here are some variable quality photos of the state of play as I left it:

So you start with a map of England in the mid-15th century. On it are placed counters representing the various royal heirs: of House York and House Lancaster. Richard York is in York, and King Henry Lancaster is in London. Henry's wife and child are in royal castles near Nottingham Forest, and Richard's heirs are in Wales, Ireland, and Calais.

Each player (a faction vying to crown their heir sole king) gets dealt the same number of cards. Some represent nobles, the lords making up your faction. Others represent offices, titles, ships, bishoprics, towns, and mercenaries. Each noble comes with a force of arms and at least one castle, and the other cards they hold augment that strength.

At the start of the game, my two factions were the Sun and Moon faction (supporting the true king Henry) and the Boar's-head Gate faction (supporting the Yorks). The Earl of Arundel lead the Sun and Moons, and Lord Percy, a grim Northern lord from the borders with Scotland, lead the Boar's-head Gates.

Because of the deal, the two factions started out very mismatched. The Sun and Moon lords controlled the riverlands around the Forest and so the road south to London and the approaches to Wales. Arundel made himself Warden of the Cinque Ports and Mowbray (the other major lord in the Sun and Moons) Captain of Calais. He made a minor Sun and Moon lord Warden of the Northern Marches (just to piss off Percy). The Sun and Moons were strategically located, blocking Percy in the north, and had control of all but one ship.

Percy, on the other hand, although isolated, made himself Chancellor of England and one of his minor lords Treasurer. He controlled the Archbishop of York, and the other minor Boar's-head lord controlled the Archbishop of Canterbury. By himself, Percy could field more than three times the number of men than any other lord.

When the game started then, Percy came sweeping down the road towards York, while Arundel met up with the other Sun and Moon riverlords to besiege the castle holding Henry's wife Margaret of Anjou. Meanwhile Grey took ship for Ireland and Mowbray for Calais. Another Sun and Moon minor lord moved to surround Harlech, where one of the York heirs was holed up. One of the minor Boar's-head lords, although heavily outnumbered, snuck around Arundel and made for London.

So things started to take shape. The Boar's-heads captured London and held Henry hostage (even a minor lord could hold London against much larger forces), while Percy captured York and crowned Richard York king. Arundel, spitting tacks, secured Henry and Margaret's baby before heading west to invest Harlech. Grey and Mowbray (diverted from Calais) had landed their forces in the south of Wales and had marched on Harlech, leaving the York heirs undefended in their ships.

Percy, seeing this, left Richard in York with a minor lord to defend him and swept down the road towards Wales, enabling him to reach Harlech before Arundel, Grey, and Mowbray could join. The Sun and Moon lord outside Harlech didn't have enough force to besiege Harlech, and was heavily outnumbered by Percy. It looked pretty hopeless. Unless the battle went extremely badly for Percy, he looked to have Harlech in the bag.

However, there never was a battle. Instead, there was a peasant uprising in Cornwall, which all the Cornish lords had to go off to suppress, including the guy surrounding Harlech. Percy marched up to the walls unopposed. Meanwhile, in Cornwall, the two Sun and Moon Cornish lords descended on the castle of the one Boar's-head Cornish lord, burnt his castle, pillaged his villages, and paraded his head on a stick.

Poor old Percy, meanwhile, fucked up the Siege of Harlech and got killed. His warhorse and he got encumbered and peasants filled his armour with boiling oil. Then they hung his corpse on their walls and burnt it. Percy's heir took control of their hereditary seat up north and said 'Fuck this'.

As if this was not bad enough, there was also at this time a particularly virulent plague outbreak. First King Richard died in York, then his heir Richard in Calais (with Mowbray just about to come sailing in for him), then King Henry in London, then Arundel in Shrewsbury.

Everything suddenly changed. Instead of two rival kings, no king at all. No archbishops (all died in the plague too), so no way of crowning a new king. The Boar's-head faction had been completely wiped out (though that didn't mean the player was eliminated).

Mowbray sailed for Wales and took Margaret and the remaining York heirs with him as he marched on Harlech. After a quick and bloody siege, Mowbray married Margaret of Anjou. He had a pet bishop who could marry them, even though he couldn't get crowned king. Unfortunately, during the siege, all the remaining heirs (the York kids and Lancaster baby) met with an unfortunate fate when the wagon they were travelling in was destroyed by outlaws. Spreading rumours the 'outlaws' were wearing Mowbray colours is likely to lose you your hands and your tongue.

After this outrage, new lords declared for the Boar's-heads. They were able to call Parliament and assign themselves some choice titles and offices (twice even). Mowbray is in London, surrounded by angry Boar's-heads. They can't get in, but he can't get out except by ship. The Boar's-head force is split on either side of London.

Mowbray sits brooding in his throne room. He is sick of sitting still and plans to lead his forces out and settle this thing once and for all.

Update: After many twists and turns, Mad Mowbray the Terror of the High Seas and Would-be King of England won the game by doing a dirty deal with the French and sailing into London from Calais with a load of mercenaries and getting a couple of tame bishops to crown him. I really hoped Hastings was going to be able to start a rebellion from his base in Nottingham Forest, but he got hunted down and ripped to pieces by Mowbray's personal hunting pack.

I won't bore you with the details of the next game. It had four factions and was therefore a lot more interesting in terms of alliances and strategic betrayals. The Welsh lords pulled a swifty (using smugglers and false promises) that ultimately led to their downfall in a glorious battle outside the walls of London where the entire English chivalry lined up against each other, one side led by King Henry Lancaster and the other by King Richard York. Richard killed Henry in a duel in the midst of the fighting. Then the Northern lords smashed the Southern lords. Very, very satisfying.

However, it didn't get the drawing I need to do done. Neither is this.

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