Review – Cruel Necessity: The English Civil Wars, 1640-1653 from Victory Point Games
Designer – John Welch
Map art – Tim Allen
Battle Event Card Back Illustration: Vinh Ha
Players – 1 (age 13+
Thanks to Victory Point Games for providing a review copy of this game
Living in the UK since 1990, you might think that I’ve managed to learn quite a lot about the English Civil Wars. The truth is, although aware of them, I don’t know much at all. The reality in the UK is that the history of the Civil Wars is really out of sight and out of mind here, except for the occasional BBC documentary. There is even a large reenactment society here called the Sealed Knot which goes around reenacting battles. I’ve always meant to go watch them but have never made the effort.
I think I will now though… Thanks to what I have learned from playing Cruel Necessity, from Victory Point Games. This is another game from the very successful States of SiegeTM solitaire system, Cruel Necessity is designed by John Welch, who also designed a number of other games using the States of SiegeTM system including, Keep up the Fire! and Levee en Masse.
Solitaire games are a lot more popular nowadays and Victory Point Games, in my opinion, lead the field with their States of SiegeTM system. With Cruel Necessity, John Welch has taken an obscure historical setting, the English Civil Wars, and given them an excellent platform for gaming and learning a lot about these wars which actually had a far reaching impact upon the western world.
Cruel Necessity, presents you with the strategic campaigns, but also puts you into the musket & pike battlefields of the period.
FYI, Oliver Cromwell referred to the execution of King Charles I in January 1649 as a “cruel necessity”.
The game comes with the following components:
– One 22″ x 17″ game map on card stock (unmounted, which would have raised the cost considerably
– One 11” x 17” Battle Display Mat
– 75 cards
– 98 thick, two-sided, multi-shaped game pieces
The Player Mat is very nicely laid out, with images of the era and a particularly nice feel of the battlefield and troop placements. This mat is used when specific battles take place and it works brilliantly. “Keep your faith in God, but keep your powder dry”. Oliver Cromwell.
The playing pieces are sturdy, laser cut and look fantastic. I would say that this is the best counter art that Victory Point Games has produced to date. Bravo! Pieces represent the 4 Royalist armies that are marching on London, the tactical troop formations, the political and religious factions, fortresses, as well as information counters.
The cards are in 3 decks representing each of the 3 wars. They are excellently produced. There are Event cards covering various historical events and the military, religious and political actions in the game. There are also Achievement cards which can be purchased, again representing historical events.
I have to say that the presentation of the game components for Cruel Necessity is top class and rivals, if not betters, anything currently produced by the larger well known game publishers on the market. In game terms, this is a visual feat and deserves top recognition in our hobby.
Ok, this is all lovely, but how does it play?
As this is a solitaire game, there is a robust game “engine” that you will use to play. If you have played a States of SiegeTM game before, you know the drill for the most part. I won’t go through the full details of the process but will give you an overview of the main structure to give you a sense of how it works. Trust me, this is a game system that you have to experience to really appreciate.
There are set up instructions which clearly explain where everything goes and setting up the three civil war decks.
From the rules –
THE GAME TURN
You are the Puritan/Parliamentary player in this game and the game engine plays the Loyalist forces and Allies of to King Charles I.
1. Event Phase: Reveal the top card in the Event card Draw Pile. If it is an Achievement card, place it face up in one of the three Available Achievement boxes along the top of the map and reveal the next
card in the Event card Draw Pile. Do not proceed to the Action Phase until you have revealed an Event card. There aren’t many Achievement cards and they are worth purchasing for their victory points, with Zeal points when you can, which isn’t often I’m afraid.
If you reveal an Event card, place it face up on the top of the Discard Pile where it becomes the new Current Event card. Complete all of its activities (military, religious, and political) listed in the order that they are presented and then proceed to the Action Phase. Here is where tactical battles occur on the player mat. Also, the Loyalist armies move and adjustments made to the political and religious tracks to reflect the effects of events. Quite often, the effects of events are not helpful to the Parliamentary/Puritan forces.
2. Action Phase: You may now spend your Zeal Points to attempt to purchase an Available Achievement card, Campaign against Invading Armies on the map, Besiege an enemy Fortress, favorably adjust the Political tracks, etc. This is your chance spend Zeal points to take the fight to your enemies on military, political and religious fronts and purchase Achievements
3. End Times Phase: If you do not control London, OR if you have four or more Political markers (including your and your enemy’s) in their “F” rows, you lose the game immediately. If you have completed the last Event card, the game is over; check the Victory Conditions to see what level of victory or defeat you have achieved.
4. Housekeeping: Prepare for the next turn by removing all temporary Strength Modifier and DRM markers from the map, gaining Zeal Points, and preparing the Draw Pile for the Second or Third Civil
Wars after completing the First or Second Civil Wars.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? The system itself is indeed simple but there are so many considerations to be made, you will feel your brain frying a bit. It took me a practice learning game of the 1st Civil War to get it fully as there are a number of small things to remember. The player aid helps a lot with this. Also, the system for the tactical battles is actually pretty easy to learn and plays in minutes.
All in all, this is not a difficult game to learn at all if you have played other games using the system. It is more advanced in scope than some of the earlier games using the States of SiegeTM system. If you are new to the system, it may take you a bit longer to learn but overall it won’t cause you too many challenges and you will be well into it.
Cruel Necessity plays pretty quickly. About an hour per war. Actually, for me the first Civil War played longest and the other 2 moved along very quickly as you have the most Zeal Points and battles to fight during the first war. Also, I was really caught up in the flavour text which gives a real history lesson. As I had less Zeal Points to spend due to getting a kicking by the Loyalists, it meant the turns moved more quickly.
Did I enjoy Cruel Necessity?
Quite frankly, this is the best solitaire game that I have ever played, and I’ve played quite a few.
The good news is that the States of SiegeTM system has evolved nicely through a number of games (some of which I have reviewed in this blog) and purrs along in a finely tuned machine. This system works really brilliantly and has reached a new level of cool, in the way it seamlessly combines the strategic picture and challenges with a well-crafted, nicely abstracted tactical battlefield element for the major battles which literally only takes minutes to play.
This is the closest to really playing history in a war game I’ve had in ages without being buried in ridiculous amounts of detail. Although I’m no expert, if feels like John Welch really did his homework. You really get a sense of the wider historical story. Politics and Religion are huge factors and some crazy stuff went on make no mistake. Amazing events including the witch trials. These Civil wars were really wars of religion and it makes fascinating reading, playing and learning.
The game system puts you under a lot of stress with the variety of pressure points that you have to deal with: the relentless march of the Royalist armies, the huge influence of Catholicism, the influence of the Monarchy, the threat of Irish troubles, those pesky Scots, keeping your fortresses strong enough to keep the enemy at bay, never having enough Zeal points available to do what you want to do (and they decrease as your fortresses fall…), and the list goes on. Added to this, you need to punch your weight tactically on the battlefield. I need to work on that as I managed mostly draws.
I have to be honest and say that it seems that the deck is really stacked against you as the Parliament player. This is a tough game to win and you can see from the way it plays that the odds were in the Loyalists favour. Yet, historically, the Parliamentarian forces won out and set the path for democratic reforms which had huge consequences. It didn’t help that I had a series of bad die rolls but you know what? It was truly a learning experience and a very interesting one. The ebb and flow of the many conflicting interests is brought out very well. And… IT IS REALLY FUN TO PLAY! And that’s what really matters, even if I had my butt kicked.
Oh yeah, one really useful aspect worthy of mention…
Scenarios! Yes, you can play each Civil war separately for a short session or play the whole campaign game. There are set-up and victory point conditions for each. This is an excellent feature if you are short on time and want to have a cool game experience.
I can’t wait to play Cruel Necessity again. It delivers an awesome gaming experience and a step in a brilliant direction in terms of quality of the experience and game dynamics. The addition of the tactical player mat and simple fast tactical battles, adds the charm and is pure genius in design.
Victory Point Games and John Welch deserve awards for this game! If you enjoy solitaire war games, BUY IT NOW!
For more information go to – http://victorypointgames.com/details.php?prodId=253