Even though I don’t really post at Wargame Wednesdays anymore [just haven’t had the time with everything going on], my Dad and I have never stopped our wargaming series. After a lengthy set of several games of Fortress Europa, where we concluded that the Germans have to drive the Allies back into the sea and essentially win or lose the game based on the turn-one set-up and how well the first two weeks of the Allied invasion plays out, we opted for something less modern.
Last week, we started playing Mayfair Games’ Richard I the Lion Heart. I completely screwed up my first go as Richard–I didn’t really understand the game at first and therefore failed to take an appropriate early-game strategy, and so took a mulligan. Things are playing out better this time.
Richard I the Lion Heart is a slightly-crunchier-than-beer-and-pretzels strategic-level game of Richard’s campaigns against Philip Augustus in France. It’s kind of an “asymmetrical warfare” game, though the imbalances are more subtle, I think, than in your typical asymmetric.
Richard has more and better leaders than Philip, meaning he can have more armies and theoretically accomplish more in a month. He also has smaller armies and less money than Philip, and must devote substantial chunks of his funds against Philip’s to prevent the nobles from various provinces rebelling against their rightful Plantagenet lord.
Each year, the amount of revenues and troop support can swing wildly, with nobles joining up or going home, refusing to remit revenues to their overlords, etc. Richard has to overcome an imbalance that generally puts things in Philip’s favor.
On the other hand, despite his superior numbers, Philip can’t easily beat Richard and his commanders in a pitched battle. Philip and the Count of Au aren’t particularly great generals. Richard can easily deliver significantly more casualties and come out ahead in a battle where he’s outnumbered 3:2 [provided Philip doesn’t have any knights]. Of course, this comes with a risk. Richard’s +2 modifier is HUGE, but it represents his leadership style, which was to command from the front and to wade into battle at the head of his troops. So, there is an every-increasing chance that after each battle he’s in that Richard will get an arrow in the neck. The Richard Death Chance starts at 15 and decreases by one to a minimum of 8 for each battle or siege Richard is present at; it goes back up by one each winter. While he starts out safe with a couple gimmes, the Richard Player must either hold back or risk an instant loss on an unlucky roll.
The goal of the game is to a)control Normandy, b)capture the opponent’s king, or c)Philip holds out until Richard dies on the battlefield.
For the Philip player, I’m thinking that the best strategy is to a)create more fires than Richard can put out with his vassals, b)avoid pitched battles except when you have knights, and most importantly c)force the Richard player to use Richard to keep and expand on strategic gains wherever possible.
As Richard, where possible, I’ve had Richard interpose between Philip’s army and a lucrative target—with a smaller force and the siege train, Mercadier or Marshel[Pembroke] can start a siege while Philip would have to fight through Richard’s troops, possibly taking massive losses, to relieve it. Richard buys his commanders time and earns a strategic win without taking the field. Of course, without Richard present, fortresses can potentially hold out for several months without giving in. But Richard can still come in, lend his bonus to the siege after a few months and only risk one death roll instead of several during the early stages of a siege where the fortress has almost no chance of falling.
Then there are knights… one of the interesting aspects of Richard is that combat is two-tiered and borrows certain tropes from miniatures gaming. Results are multiplied against the total number of troops to determine casualties. Except in the case of knights, who are worth three knaves a piece on the open field, nine knaves a piece when running down fleeing foes, and roll on a significantly advantageous combat chart against knives while they themselves are nigh untouchable against knaves. Knights, of course, are substantially more expensive than your bulk troop of knaves, but just a few of them can make a force unassailable. And having more money than Richard, Philip can easily gain the upper hand on the battlefield with just a few of these.
Our current situation stands with Richard in control of most of Normandy but fewer of his vassals loyal to him in the second and third year than the first. The second year saw some gains, mostly ruining some of the border lords’ castles, and even the destruction of most of Philip’s armies. But without knights to run down his fleeing knaves, the Count of Au was able to escape, and even without any knaves, Philips remaining cadre of knights would’ve been far too tough for Richard to take the field against. So, much of the fall of the second year of fighting was spent with some feints and continuation of sieges, but no real progress while both sides waited to buy new troops. Going into the third year of the war, I opted to supplement my knaves with 20 knights. While knaves might have been more useful in breaking sieges, I can’t afford to have an inferior number of knights against Philip and Count of Au’s replenished forces.
Fingers crossed that Mercadier can make headway on his own at the siege of Dieppe while now, with a superior force, Richard can take Philip down a peg before he captures Les Andelys. Or better yet, if Marshel can get there in time, he could take the field while Richard is off on some administrative task that keeps him from dying.
So, I said I’d screwed up the first time… Originally, I’d tried to play it like Imperium Romanum; there, you typically have two large armies with a couple leaders commanding them–there’s a bit of cat and mouse to maybe justify the stupidly complex economic and diplomatic rules, but each scenario generally boils down to one big meeting battle that one side can’t recover from. My first go as Richard, I bought a few knights, bought a few knaves, didn’t counter Philip’s political investments, allowed my French holdings to go into rebellion, and chased after Philip… who ran away. This isn’t a war that the players can win with one quick blow. It’s got much more ebb and flow to it; in this, it’s somewhat akin to Victory Games’ The Civil War, though on a smaller scale.