Review – Richard III: The War of the Roses from Columbia Games

Review – Richard III: The War of the Roses from Columbia Games

Designers – Tom Dalgliesh and Jerry Taylor

Art – Tom Dalgleish, Mark Mahaffey and Leona Preston

Thanks to Columbia Games for kindly providing a review copy of this game

I’ve been clearing the decks and making time for war gaming lately and I have to say that Columbia Games has moved firmly onto my radar as their games seem to meet my “limited schedule and ease of play/learning” criteria. Living in the UK, hence the name of this blog, I thought it would be very interesting to try out Richard III: The War of the Roses as I’m interested in British history and also had played Avalon Hill’s Kingmaker back in the day.

A 2- player game for age 12+, this is a “Block War Game”.

From BGG – Richard III: The Wars of the Roses (formerly known simply as Wars of the Roses) is an epic two-player game concerning the long and bloody dynastic struggle between the houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England. The game depicts both the vicious military campaigns and the rich political struggles that surrounded the late rule of the mad-king Henry VI, the Yorkist usurper Edward IV, the bloody rule of Richard III, and the early years of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Also strutting across the game’s stage and toward the throne is Richard of York, the patriarch of the house of Plantagenet; Richard Neville, the notorious “Kingmaker”; the iron-queen of Lancaster, Margaret of Anjou, and the would-be Lancastrian king Edward, the Prince of Wales.


First and foremost, the artwork is rather choice. The cover has, I assume, a period image of Richard III and is quite eye-catching. The map, which comes on cardstock, is absolutely stunning and I would say its suitable for framing. Have a look –

The geographic areas are clear and have plenty of room for your Blocks. Its nice to see the extra detail of the actual locations of historical battles noted.

You get 63 wooden blocks, Red for Lancastrian and White for Yorkist forces plus 1 Black for Rebels, and the Block information stickers (which you have to put on the blocks) look very nice with shields and functional with nice icons and unit strengths, Title and Family name, Loyalty rating, Combat rating. There is a lot there but its easy enough to read.

You also get 25 cards which provide Action points and Events. They are nicely laid out. I recommend sleeving them as the cards are the engine of the game and will get a lot of use.



The object if the game is to  eliminate all 5 enemy heirs to the throne for an instant victory or to have one of your Heirs in place as King after the third campaign and end of the Usurpation phase of the Political turn.

I found the rules pretty clear and easy to digest although there were a couple of bits that could have been slightly clearer. There are useful written examples of play which are very helpful. The Game Turns are as follows:

There are 3 Campaigns in the game, each divided into 7 game turns with a Political turn linking each campaign. Each turn has three phases.

Card phase –  Each player starts with 7 cards, one for each turn.Each player starts each game turn by playing 1 card face down. These cards are turned over and the player  with the higher card value is Player 1 that turn. If a player plays an Event card they go first. If there is a tie, the player with the Pretender to the throne is first.

Then you must play the card, most of which have differing action points (used for movement of on-board units and Recruitment off-board units). There are Event cards available as well which allow special actions. Interesting stuff as you need to carefully consider which cards to play and hope to outwit your opponent in your card play to take best advantage.

Command phase – Player 1 uses allocated action points to move units and/or recruit more units then player 2 does the same. There are rules for Group moves, geographic boundaries, sea movement, etc.  All pretty easy. The challenge in this game is not in the rules, it is in your choices with limited action points.

Battle phase

Battles are fought between blocks in the same city area. They are only revealed at the moment of combat. require a number of considerations –

Battle sequence – Player 1 determines the order in which battles are fought

Battle turns – Each player has 3 choices in a battle – Fire, Retreat (except in the first round of combat), and Pass. The sequence of turns depends on the combat rating of the blocks beginning with “A” units and having combat firing first, and and so on. Defending blocks fire before attacking blocks. A block has a limit of 1-4 dice you roll as its attack.

The use of blocks with multiple strengths is a very nice and effective mechanism and very clean and efficient. The strongest Block in the Battles takes all the hits from 1 attack and this means you could lose Heirs quickly if you aren’t careful. The target block loses strength from combat hits and you just turn the block to the relevant side revealing its new strength value.

Battle reserves – these can be declared and added to a battle

Other rules cover disruption, Battle hits, eliminated blocks, retreats and regrouping.

At the end of each Campaign, when all cards are played, there is a Political turn where Levies disband, Usurpation takes place, Pretender goes home, and the King goes home.

Then the Campaign is reset unless its the end of the 3rd Campaign in which you check to see who’s won.

The process works very well and is easily understood, particularly for experienced war gamers. I had to review a few sections for clarity but it was fine. The first campaign will see you getting more familiar with each turn.

New gamers will take longer to learn the game but overall this is a very comfortable game to get into. Columbia uses a core system and makes adjustments to reflect the historical period and conflict in their games and I’m glad they do as it makes it less of a chore to get into their games.

This is a clean, effective and elegant system. All very playable in about 2 hours.

Did it work for me?

Richard III: The War of the Roses works really well. It is a visual fest and although relatively simple, is rather chess-like in that your decisions as to movement to consolidate your forces to bring battle is so key. The Yorkist player starts with a heck of a dilemma as his forces need to invade, but where? And then you need to get sufficient forces into Britain to stand a chance. The Lancastrian player is spread all over Britain and will struggle to collect his forces. Fantastic, tense, frustrating. Yes, combat is subject to die rolls and this can be frustrating if the dice go against you. I like the luck and uncertainty of using dice. As had been said, luck plays an important part in warfare.

Also the Battles are brutal as you decide how long to keep up the fight, especially as the attacker because its tough to beat down the defenders. You can’t rebuild units except between campaigns. Yet both players must attack at the right time. The Lancastrian player has an advantage of starting with the King so can play a bit more cagey as the Yorkist needs to be more aggressive.

It just is a pleasure to play. Little downtime once you are comfortable with the rules. Plays fast, is fun, tense all the way until the end. The Block system adds the fog of war so you are always a bit wary about what you are up against.

Overall, Richard III: The War of the Roses is a lot of fun and a great way to have a war game experience in a short space of time. You aren’t going to get a detailed simulation here. The feel is strategic in giving the grand scope of the fighting for who would rule England. This is ultimately a game for casual war gamers who want a fun experience in a limited amount of time which is right up my street. Awesome.Does it feel historically accurate? Well there’s enough for me as I’m more interested in the play with enough to give me a sense of what went on without having to get a headache. I guess as my interest is now piqued to read more about the War of the Roses, its a job well done!

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 8 out of 10

Family friendly?

Not necessarily designed for the family, this game could be a nice teaching tool for parent and youngster.

For more information go to –

4 thoughts on “Review – Richard III: The War of the Roses from Columbia Games”

  1. A lot of what you have written about Richard III also applies to other Columbia games. In particular, I would recommend Hammer of the Scots, Crusader Rex and Julius Caesar. These, and other Columbia titles, share many of the same basic mechanisms, while being different enough in overall feel to merit playing them all.


    1. I couldn’t agree more Scott. I am late in the day in discovering Columbia Games’ approach and feel quite energized by it. Not only do the games look great but they seem to adjust the rules for each I’ve played just enough to keep things fresh.


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