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 THIS WAR WITHOUT AN ENEMY FROM NUTS PUBLISHING Are the titles of games getting more obscure? Whatever the answer, the war cloaked behind th...

THIS WAR WITHOUT AN ENEMY THIS WAR WITHOUT AN ENEMY

THIS WAR WITHOUT AN ENEMY

THIS WAR WITHOUT AN ENEMY

 THIS WAR WITHOUT AN ENEMY

FROM

NUTS PUBLISHING



Are the titles of games getting more obscure? Whatever the answer, the war cloaked behind this title is one that has received very few treatments by the board wargame world.  Its subject - the English Civil War.  

I came to hear of it early in its inception when it was first mooted as a new addition to Columbia Games' extensive and excellent series of light block games.  As most of these are numbered in my collection of games and have had extensive play, I was delighted at the prospect of one on the English Civil War.  I had one reservation though: would it just be a re-tread of their Richard III with different blocks?

This too was the problem for the game's designer, Scott Moore, as was revealed in his interview for AWNT, when he described his eventual move to develop the game.

 "... my move to Nuts Publishing gave me the freedom to change my game beyond the confines of the Columbia system.  So, in the end I had full control over the design of the game and did not have to make any compromises."

At the time, I thought this was a brave decision and it's one that has paid huge dividends not just in terms of the content, but also in the quality.  Nuts Publishing, though a small company, has set the highest standards in all the varied components.  This is clear from a first glimpse of the daring box art;  the stark, dominating red cross set against the swirling, murky white clouds of battle smoke conjures up both the cross of St George, the symbolic flag of England, and the bloody funereal cross of death reminding us of the vicious slaughter of civil war. 

Here praise must go to the artist, Nicolas Roblin, and Scott's own words couldn't sum this praise up better.

"...the success of the final design was mainly due to his extensive research, passion and dedication - and, of course, natural talent ... the box cover illustration and the gorgeous map have attracted the most praise."

I couldn't agree more.  The strength of the map art can be seen, even from my photograph, in the rich forested areas and the mountainous terrain of Wales and the North. What my shot barely brings out is the 3D quality of the coastline and the superb depiction of the few, but crucial cities.


A closer look at the coast of Wales will give you a better idea both of the careful delineation of the coast, with the dark black lines showing where two areas are not adjacent. A similar level of detail is shown in the image of Bristol: the orange fortified border and numbers convey that this is a major city, sympathetic to Parliament with a VP value of 1 and a Siege factor of 4  [i.e. that you can assign a maximum of 4 blocks to Storming it.]

Inevitably areas can get crowded when occupied by the maximum number of blocks, a perennial issue with most block games.  For example Columbia's excellent Julius Caesar having a point-to-point map rather than areas frequently involves stacking your blocks. Presenting much more of a difficulty is the almost illegible print of the geographical names of the areas.  This is one of the rare moments when I'd swop the lovely design work for a touch of plain clarity.  A problem I haven't encountered, but I know others have commented on is some difficulty reading the localities on the blocks because of the font size. 

That said, what can be seen is that the continuing depth of research and appropriate art are equally notable in the images used for the unit stickers on the wooden blocks and the individuality of the illustrations on the cards. 


Each separate type of Event has its specific picture in keeping with the period.  These add greatly to the atmosphere of the game, as  the two I've singled out show.

All the other necessary contents maintain this high standard of work.  Two Play Aids, one for each player, a Battle Display and set up cards for 1642 and 1644.  Finally, two extensive glossy booklets, one for the Rules, the other a Playbook also signal that this game has developed a familiar system to a significantly greater depth.

The core is recognisably one of yearly Rounds with 6 player turns in each.  A hand of six cards is played one at a time by each player, with the higher value card determining who is the 1st Player in a turn.  Cards may also have Events on them.  This is an excellent and important development on previous games, which had very few Event cards and these allowed nothing but the Event to happen.  Scott Moore has introduced far more Event cards all of which include a reduced number of Action Points.  This is significant both in adding greatly to the historical atmosphere of the game and in introducing a whole series of varying effects.  Though I would say it is obvious which Phase of a turn an Event should affect, Scott has even added a helpful letter on the card to instruct you as to the exact Phase.

Parliament Set-up Card with blocks positioned
 Each Action point of value on the card [4 is the maximum] allows such familiar Actions as a Group Move, Sea Move, Muster or Recruitment.  The map is divided into Areas and movement has limits on how many units may enter an Enemy occupied area, depending on the type of border [Open/Mountain/River].  After the 1st Player has spent all their Action Points, the 2nd Player does likewise. 

After Actions comes the Tactical Phase when Battles - and possibly Sieges - occur.  Order of resolving Battles is determined by the 1st Player and Withdrawal From Battle may be attempted by the Defender to avoid battle.  If a Battle does occur then a very nice, though rather thin, Battle Display Card comes into play as this point and up to 3 rounds of combat may occur in each separate battle.

Finally Supply is checked, again  a very familiar process in these type of games, where the type of terrain in an Area determines how many units are in Supply, while those above the limit lose a point of strength.  Again this is a departure from the more commonly punitive removal of any surplus blocks to the recruitment pool.

As seen in the earlier photo, units are the standard blocks with Strength denoted by the number of "pips" [i.e. small circles] around the edge and rotated as a block takes hits.  Strength determines how many dice you roll in Battle, while the top right number on the block is its effectiveness which indicates what you must roll equal or less than to score a hit.  What is noticeably not part of the conventional figures on the blocks is an alphabetic letter that determines the order in which blocks fire.

This is just one of many factors that leads to examining just how much this game has developed and built upon a tried and trusted system.  For the moment we'll stay with how Battle is conducted.  Most block games have used the basic format, Defender's "A" blocks fire before Attacker's "A" blocks and so on through the alphabet, with usually the lowest rank being "D" blocks. Not in this game.  Instead, the new sequence makes use of a new variation of a Battle Display Board.

Though the use of Battle Displays has appeared in a few block games already, virtually all have been very simplistic affairs of opposing Left Wing, Centre and Right Wing, with victory depending on variants of which player manages to clear one or more sector of the enemy and occupy them. In This War Without An Enemy, the Battle Display is very different.  First of all, it is much more visually appealing with its aerial landscape view of woods, roads and defensive positions.

An example of how a Battle might initially line up
Each side has named areas for Firing Infantry, Engaging Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Reserves, while two special areas are reserved for Routing Cavalry and Pursuing Cavalry.  Already the key rationale and intent can be seen emerging: to give a more realistic feel and experience appropriate to this specific period of musket and pike warfare.  Artillery fires first and can only fire in the first Round of a battle.  Then, in turn, the Defender then the Attacker has to choose whether their infantry remains in the Firing Infantry area where they will now fire with a -1 penalty or move to the Engaging Infantry area where they will attack later after the cavalry phase, but without penalty.

This little touch of decision making gets a resounding cheer from me as does the whole process of Battle in this game.  Cavalry must attack cavalry, if both are present, and may possibly lead to routing and consequently the possibility of pursuit- the next excellent touch.  After the first round of a battle, first the Defender has the choice to declare a General Retreat and, if they don't, then the Attacker has the same choice.

The whole process, though giving a significantly more authentic feel, takes hardly any more time to carry out.  The final change is one more that I greatly appreciate.  Normally if the defender has not been eliminated or retreated by the end of three rounds of combat, the Attacker must retreat.  At last we've got a rule that makes much more realistic sense: the player who has most blocks remaining on the battlefield is judged to be the victor.  This makes the cavalry pursuit rule all the more important and realistic.  If your victorious cavalry have gone charging off after the defeated cavalry, then you may find your army has fewer blocks on the field than the enemy and you've lost the battle!  This is what has happened to me in my most recent game and in the battle I've just been reading about in an excellent military account of the English Civil War that I recommend at the end of my review. 

After Battle, if the area contains a Fortified City, there may come the chance of a Siege taking place.  Again despite Sieges having featured occasionally in previous block games, particularly Columbia Games' Crusader Rex, Scott Moore has introduced  substantially more options, including a genuine opportunity for the Defender to undertake a sally without the need to have a relief force involved.  Siege markers, Storming, including Bombardment, Fortified Defence and possibly the use of Events are all there.  You can choose to sit there with the odd spot of bombardment and watch your enemy wither through Siege Attrition, but typically that's a slow process.  So, trying to secure a breach and then storming offers the much quicker, but much riskier choice.  

This is one section of the rules that will take some careful initial reading to get clear, but the outcome is another rewarding part of the game.  This is especially true, since the road to victory points is almost exclusively the capture of cities.  Battles do not directly gain you VPs, though defeating and eliminating your enemy in the field will certainly be an important factor in your success.  Just don't lose too many troops yourself in the process!

So far, the changes I've described, significant though they are, have mainly been developments and a deepening of existing rules and concepts of block games, though these by themselves are substantial and greatly enrich  virtually every feature of the system.  The final addition is one that pertains specifically to historical elements of the English Civil War. 

This is the strongly Regional nature of the conflict.  I say that as a native of the predominantly Royalist favouring county of Lancashire, who lives only a few miles from the site of the siege of Lathom House in 1644.  The latter was notable for the Countess of Derby holding the castle for her husband, the Earl of Derby, and successfully organising its defence with 300 men to withstand a three month siege against 2,000 Parliamentarians.

The opening of the war viewed from the Royalist side
This aspect of the war was first strongly explored by that doyen of English Civil war games, Charles Vasey, in his celebrated CDG version, Unhappy King Charles. In This War Without An Enemy, the same ideas have been covered to achieve the same effects, but in considerably easier and simpler rules.  

Each Regional block has an identifying letter on a coloured background that matches its Region's distinctive coloured boundary.  Such units may move freely within those boundaries, but not outside unless led by or moving to a matching Regional Leader or a major Leader, such as King Charles or Prince Rupert for the Royalists.  Here, the Parliamentarians have a distinct advantage with four major Leaders.  Apart from the dire consequences if such troops lose their Leader when outside their Region, they cannot recruit new strength unless within their home Region.  

Moreover, sufficient control of Areas within a Region by either side brings in additional forces at the end of a year.  Finally, further extending the importance of locality is that some Areas have Loyalty icons, while Cities are outlined in either blue [Royalist] or orange [Parliamentarian] to indicate their Sympathy for the given side. Consequently, a few simple rules and this easy use of colour coding accomplish a pleasing level of historical feel to the game.

Altogether with this consistent developing and enriching of the rules, along with wholly new elements, the Rulebook is a much more detailed affair of 24 pages, as against the slender 8 pages of comparable block games.  The layout too in double columns incorporates much more text with relatively few illustrations.  At times, careful reading is needed not to overlook a telling detail or significant word.  On occasion a rule that was in an earlier draft has lingered on and a few points have needed clarifying.  However, support from the designer, Scott Moore and Nuts Publishing couldn't be better, with the fastest of responses to any questions posed.

With this significantly expanded depth to the game - and I wholeheartedly praise what has been achieved - there is one major omission that did surprise me.  There is NO index, not even of the simplest and most basic type!   A really good cross-referenced index would seem an obvious inclusion. [Still, the great wider world of enthusiasts  has already supplied that lack and so a very good index can be downloaded from the files on BoardGameGeek.] 

One of the few, but clear illustrations
Understanding the rules is also reinforced by what is becoming a more frequent addition to many games - namely, a Playbook. The first section plays through the opening two turns in detail.  The text is fairly densely presented in long paragraphs, but is supplemented with two large illustrations, one of which is full page.  The rest of the booklet provides a rewarding background consisting of four pages of historical material, five pages of biographical detail of the leaders in the game and finally six more pages explaining the historical detail of the Events on the cards.  All of this is a very good addition to both the game and the background knowledge that is so supportive of a period that is comparatively unfamiliar to the gaming world.

A good example of both the extensive text and a full page illustration in the Playbook

This is a much meatier addition to the block gaming circle of games and definitely more than the intro-level that many belong to.  It is certainly not a quick 2 hrs or less that some are.  However, there are two short introductory scenarios and a medium length one.  Besides that, Scott has provided a simplified version online at BGG.  However, all that has been added is so rewarding that I for one wouldn't want to lose any element of them.  Play is intense, gives a realistic feel for the English Civil War and has already provided many of those individual moments of narrative excitement.

I had very high hopes and great anticipation for the eventual release of this game.   I'm glad to say that This War Without An Enemy has lived up to those expectations and in so many ways has surpassed them.  The quality of presentation from Nuts Publishing and the rewarding detail without sacrificing playability from the designer Scott Moore have brought together a great combination of talents.  
 

As always many thanks to Nuts Publishing for providing the review copy.

Recommendations

Scott Moore's interview at Belloto Con in Spain - link here - much of the questioning is in Spanish, but all Scott's replies are in English!  Great insight, including detailed explanation of the Battle system.

All The King's Armies by Stuart Reid - an excellent narrative of the military aspects of the English Civil War.

2 comments :

  1. That map is simply beautiful, truly sets the benchmark.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is very high quality both graphically and in its construction. Well edged, it is an eight-panel fold out that lies perfectly flat with not a single join visible. A rare occasion when I've not used my plexiglass sheet.

    ReplyDelete