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  1565 St. Elmo's Pay by Hall or Nothing Productions  It is 1565 and we are on the Island of Malta. Suleiman the Magnificent has sent an...

1565 St. Elmo's Pay by Hall or Nothing Productions 1565 St. Elmo's Pay by Hall or Nothing Productions

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

May 2024

1565 St. Elmo's Pay by Hall or Nothing Productions

 1565 St. Elmo's Pay


Hall or Nothing Productions

 It is 1565 and we are on the Island of Malta. Suleiman the Magnificent has sent an armada filled with men to finally crush the Knights of St. John. Their full name was The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, hence the Hospitallers. The Knights had been forced out of Outremer, and then also the islands of Cyprus and Rhodes by the Muslims. The Island of Malta is their last bastion in the Mediterranean. Can the Knights survive one of the greatest sieges in history or will Suleiman add another piece to his huge empire? This is what Hall or Nothing Productions say about the game:

"Relive the Greatest Siege in History!

A vendetta spanning decades reaches its terrible and bloody crescendo!

Suleiman the Magnificent's 30,000 strong armada descends on the 500 beleaguered Knights of St John and the defending people of Malta, with the express purpose of wiping them from existence, and changing the course of European history forever...

1565, St. Elmo's Pay is an asymmetric, competitive, tactical card game, and successor to the award-nominated 1066, Tears to Many Mothers, with which it is fully compatible. Each player, as either Ottoman Turks or Knights of St John, musters troops and resources to overcome the various obstacles in their path before the two armies clash in an epic siege over three fronts on the tiny island of Malta: Birgu, Senglea, and the doomed fortress of Saint Elmo.

Every beautiful card in the game is inspired by a real person or event from the time. With a focus on quick, tactical play and a thematic re-imagining of the events of the time, the game is non-collectable, and there is no deck building required. Each player simply grabs their deck and shuffles, then play begins.

Note on title: When, after a relentless show of strength, the small fortress of St. Elmo's finally fell to the Turks they butchered the bodies of the Knights and floated the corpses across the bay to the remaining two forts to deter them from resisting further, lest they suffer the same fate. Instead, the Maltese forces chose to fight with 'the spirit of St. Elmo's'. When they eventually turned the tides against the Turks and chased them away the people of Malta chanted 'St. Elmo's Pay' - an expression they still use today to mean 'no mercy.'

 The game's components are what you would expect from a card/Euro game mixture. Like so many other games coming out of the UK now, it is a beauty to behold. This also goes for the minimalist approach to what you get in the box. The following is what comes with the game:

166 cards in two decks (+3 bonus promo cards for their game Shadows of Kilforth!)

40 red wooden teardrop shaped tokens

40 blue wooden teardrop shaped tokens

22 cardboard attribute modifier tokens

1 first player token

2 Rulebooks (one for full solo play!)

1 solo play resource dial


 The two-player Rulebook has full glossy print and is eight pages in length. It is filled with illustrations from the cards and has a good number of examples of play. The solo play Rulebook is also in full glossy print and is only four pages long. There is also a full-page card stock that on one side has the 'Foe's Turn Flow Chart' and on the other side 'Foe's Unit/Character Deployment Flow Chart'. The print on the Rulebooks and the player aids are nice and large and easy to read. The flow charts are not 'busy' and are easy to follow. The red and green wooden tokens are all uniform in size and have no cutting errors or flashing on them. The 'cardboard attribute modifier tokens' (what we would call counters :)) either have a cannon or a gold or black cross representing from -2 to +2 as an attribute. They are very large, and again, very easy to read. The solo play resource dial has a listing from Easy to all the way to King. These numbers have an effect on the resources on the foe's ready cards during play. The front of the dial has a nice illustration from the siege. As expected, the cards in the game are the main artistic part of the whole package. From the simple action cards to the Mustapha Pasha and Jean Parisot de Valette cards, the illustrations on them are magnificent. The three 'frontier' cards Birgu, Senglea, and St. Elmo have full-sized artworks on them. The game also comes with two card sized player aids. On one side is the Game Summary, and the other has the Battles Summary. The components are all very well done. The only quibble I have is that the writing on the cards is small. However, you would either get bland cards with large writing or the excellent artwork, so I choose the artwork. The three Shadows of Kilforth promo cards are also wonderfully rendered.

 It might seem at first glance that the game is a simple one that is pretty much based on the rock, paper, and scissors premise. As in, this card beats that one which in turn is beaten by this other card. Thinking like this does St. Elmo's Pay a great disservice. The game has both strategy and tactics in it and is very nuanced. It also plays very historically. By this I mean that the outcomes that happen during play could very well have happened in reality. The game is not based on the designer's fancy of how the siege played out. It is based on solid knowledge of the actual history and scholarship. The cards themselves drip history. The inclusion of cards of the different characters during the siege also helps greatly with the immersion factor while playing. When playing on the Muslim side you feel the loss of the Giant Basilisk or some of Turgut's Corsairs. The same holds for your units when playing the Knights. 

 Victory in the game is decided by:

Destroy two Frontiers of enemy troops at the Great Siege of Malta, or

Destroy their opponents' Leader, or

Have their opponent run out of cards in their card deck.

You can also check playing solo how well you have done with your victory points against the different level of opponent on the resource dial.

 One of the best features of the game is being able to play either side solo. This is not a glued on after the fact solo bot. The game was obviously designed from the ground up for solo play on both sides. This is a design feature that we should see in many other games.

 Thank you, Hall or Nothing Productions for allowing me to review your product. I am now looking forward to delving into your large catalog of other games. Some of them have really piqued my interest, especially after having played St. Elmo's Pay.


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  CUIDAD DE PATRIOTAS (CITY OF PATRIOTS)  FROM TRAFALGAR EDITIONS I expect that many, like me, first learnt about this bloody episode in Spa...

Ciudad de Patriotas (City of Patriots) Ciudad de Patriotas (City of Patriots)

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

May 2024

Ciudad de Patriotas (City of Patriots)





I expect that many, like me, first learnt about this bloody episode in Spanish history from the celebrated painting by Francisco Goya reproduced below.  
Tres de Mayo or The Execution
However, Goya's painting that relates most specifically to Trafalgar Editions' game depicting the Spanish uprising in Madrid during the Peninsular war is this second painting.

Goya's Dos de Mayo or The Fight Against the Mamelukes

Indeed the game's very short introductory scenario, designed to familiarise you with the basic game system, is entitled "The Charge of the Mamelukes."

To set the scene in its historical context, Madrid had been occupied by the French since late March 1808 and the Spanish king, Charles IV had been forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Ferdinand VII, but both were being held by the French in Bayonne. General Murat was in command in Madrid and appeared to be intending to move Charles's daughter and her children along with Charles's youngest son to Bayonne as well.  These actions were what sparked off this brief and bloody uprising on May 2nd [Dos de Mayo] 1808.  Quelled by the end of the same day, the spontaneous rebellion was followed on the next day by harshly repressive reprisals in which several hundred Spanish citizens (madrilanos) were rounded up and summarily shot, as immortalised by Goya's painting.
Cuidad de Patriotas presents the action of that day of rebellion in simple area-movement form with a brief set of rules and Trafalgar Editions' customary excellent quality.  So, it's with many thanks to the company for providing me with this review copy and giving me the opportunity to explore this unusual and highly individual event depicted with some equally individual features.  
The mounted map board vividly lays out the districts of Madrid in bold colours.  Each district is further divided into a number of neighbourhoods.  For a French victory, you need to control six out of the eight districts by end of the game's six turns, other wise it's victory to the Spanish player.  The quality of a French victory can range from Decisive to Pyrrhic!

Inevitably the Spanish player's task is, somehow, in the face of many more powerful French units, to delay and delay... and delay.  For the French player, it is constantly to move and attack.  Each district must have all its neighbourhoods cleared of Spanish units and occupied by at least one French unit, at which point it comes under permanent French control and cannot be re-entered by Spanish units or have their reinforcements appear there, nor do the French units have to remain there to maintain control. It's not so much a race of the hare and the tortoise as the steamroller and time!

As mentioned the components are of very good quality, especially the mounted board and the counters.  The latter have perfectly rounded corners and press out smoothly with none of the occasionally irritating side tags found in some games.

There are rule books both in Spanish and in English and the latter suffers slightly in being printed on plain white, A4 sized paper that doesn't quite match the smoother, glossy Spanish booklet.  The Play Aids are double-sided again to accommodate Spanish and English text.  The package is rounded out with an attractive, neat draw-string bag (a little small for its purpose), a pack of Command cards and a 10-sided die.

Though the basic rules are a bare six and a half pages long, there is quite a bit of originality to be embraced that takes them beyond the ease that might be expected for the suggested novice wargamer.  Also like many games that have fairly brief rules, you need to concentrate carefully in your reading.  The rules on Reinforcements are a good example of what I mean.  Their detailed explanation comes on page 11, five pages after the basic rules and is located after optional rules, designer notes and a full page table of Troop Composition.  Among them is the information that "the French player receives reinforcements from out of the city and from the accesses marked on the map."  This instruction can only be fully understood when you link it up with the overall information on page 2 about neighbourhoods "In some neighbourhoods there are flags with numbers and letters.  They are the barracks where the French and Spanish troops were stationed and are used to introduce reinforcements.  There are also French flags at the entrances to Madrid, they are entry areas for other French and some Spanish reinforcements."  Put these details together with the following play aid,

and the Order of Battle display cards (seen below) and you're nearly there for knowing exactly where to place most of your reinforcements.  Sometimes you will still need to locate the hard to find name of a road on the map board that some French troops arrive on to solve it.  I have to say it wasn't plain sailing!

Order of Battle Play Aids
When you've set up your units on these displays, the disparity in the forces is all the more striking.  First of all, more than half of the Spanish units are civilians and more than half of all the Spanish units have only a strength of one.  In total, they have 46 strength points.  In contrast, the French are all military units.  They have 32 units, but 11 of those are four strength and each can be broken down into 4 single strength counters.   These are essential both for the massive punch they have in combat and that they can be broken down in order to spread out to occupy the many neighbourhoods needed to gain control of six out of the eight districts that lead to victory.  In total, the French muster 90 strength points!

The shot above gives you a clear idea of the quality of the large counters - as mentioned earlier, not a marring side-tag in sight.
So there's the overview of the contents and a glimpse of the opposing forces.  Now to the sequence of play and the game's system.  


New random Event chits are drawn and each player plays one chit.
Place reinforcements.
Draw command cards.


Unlike the majority of area movement games, there is no variation in cost whatsoever between entering a friendly or enemy area or adjacent to an enemy area.  Movement couldn't be easier - 1 MP (movement point) per area.
Combat on the other hand is a different matter altogether. You only have combat within an area; there is no combat between adjacent areas.  Combat resolution begins with a very familiar simple differential between total attacker and defender strength points, with a few equally obvious modifiers for such things as unit type, card play and Event chits.  Roll on the Combat Table and apply the loss in points to the loser.  However, how those loss points are applied is distinctly unfamiliar and took some getting used to.  At first it seemed straightforward.  If all individual units are higher in value than the loss, then all losing units simply retreat 1 or 2 areas.  If the combat loss is equal to the strength of the weakest unit, then the unit is dispersed - i.e. removed from the board. If French the unit is automatically returned as a reinforcement on the next turn, if Spanish roll the D10 and a result of 6-10 it too automatically returns as a reinforcement, but a roll of 1-5 eliminates it.  Any other units are retreated.
However, any loss result greater than the strength of one or more units will cause some element of immediate elimination and possible dispersal and retreat.  I couldn't discern a simple, logical process to work this out, but had to rely on following the summary of results.  Fortunately, this summary is fairly short and with practice becomes familiar.  Bu it wasn't initially helped by the use of "scattered" instead of "dispersed" at one point and "retired" instead of "retreated".   Just a bit more focus in proof-reading would have avoided this.

Close up of the strongly coloured map board


(Note that the sequence of play printed on the back of the rule book labels this phase as REVOLT BOX).

Each player keeps a tally of combat points lost for units and characters (i.e. leaders) and these are called the player's Fury Points and at the end of the turn the French total is deducted from the Spanish total.  The result is called The Uprising Box and determines which player draws 3 Event chits and the other 2 Event chits at the beginning of the next turn.   Again all seemed very simple, as all of these scores are reset to zero at the beginning of a turn.  However, the second example in the rule book for this Phase contradicts the rules by stating that each player started a turn with +2 Fury Points which was added to that turn's casualties.  As this didn't seem to make any sense, I simply disregarded the example.

The basic rules end with the Victory Conditions.
An automatic Spanish victory occurs, if the French do not control at least 2 districts by the end of Turn 4 - an outcome I cannot foresee ever happening.
Otherwise, the French win, as stated earlier, if they control at least 6 out of the 8 districts.  If the French win, you determine the scale of victory which runs from Decisive to Pyrrhic with the proviso that if the French lose 22 or more points their victory shifts down a level meaning that a Pyrrhic level victory would shift to a Spanish victory!

Continuing on from the basic rules, there are a few optional rules that add a little more colour and detail.  They cover such things as cavalry charges and special French cavalry movement, officers and significant historical characters, unit support, further combat modifiers, French garrisons and fog of war for Spanish civilian units which are randomly drawn and set up face down.  Most are simple and easy ti introduce and personally I would choose to play with nearly all of them as standard.

The rules booklet is rounded off with something I always like to see, namely Designer Notes, a troop Composition Table and rather oddly only now do we get the rules for Reinforcement Placement and the Set-Up and Reinforcement Schedule.
The last neat touch is to present an historical narrative of the day, hour by hour, giving details along with the appropriate unit and where to place them. 

Well illustrated rules

To sum up, Cuidad de Patriotas is an essentially light and intriguing exploration of a brief and small. but significant event in the Peninsular War.  The game is very attractively presented in all aspects and the rules are generally short and comprehensive, with one or two grey areas that would have benefited from a little more detail and clarity.  With a maximum of six turns and a small unit count, it provides a swift game that can easily be played in a single afternoon or evening's play.

As always it's with many thanks to Trafalgar Editions for kindly providing this review copy and their rapid replies to my rare queries on a few rules.