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Posted on Dec 14, 2009 in Boardgames

Warriors of God: The Wars of England and France 1135-1453

By Terry Lee Coleman

Warriors of God: The Wars of England and France 1135-1453. Board Game. MultiMan Publishing. $45.00

Passed Inspection: Simple, elegant design; easy to pick up and play. Captures the chaos of the period quite well. Balanced, with high replay value. Challenging, with dynamic shifts in play.

Failed Inspection: Rapid demise of leaders might be too realistic for some. Some players may take exception to the game’s title. No short scenarios. Control freaks need not apply.

Only a few simple war games have stood the test of time. Warriors is likely to attain that elite status.

Warriors of God: The Wars of England and France 1135-1453 from Multi-Man Publishing (MMP), licensed from Game Journal magazine in Japan, is an attempt to bring Makoto Nakajima’s elegant design to a larger audience. (Editor’s Note – Warriors of God won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Pre-WWII Era Board Game design in 2009.)

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Warriors is reminiscent of a play by Shakespeare–say, Henry V–in that it chooses not to obsess on details. It sticks to the big picture while providing plenty of period flavor, right down to quotes from Shakespeare on the back of the counters. Things move in brisk and entertaining fashion.

There are two scenarios, comprising complete and discrete campaigns: The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453 A.D) and The Lion in Winter (1135-1258). Both use the same map of provinces in England and France-the rightful ownership of which is the reason for the long series of wars-and a handful of neutral territories such as Ireland, Switzerland, and Navarre. Each turn represents 10 years.

Each province has a value from 1 to 3 that reflects its importance and determines how many troops the controlling player can raise each turn. If the English player controls Wales (worth 1), England (3), Brittany (2), and Normandy (2), he would have 8 new strength points at his disposal. Players also have a chance of raising mercenary troops in neutral areas.

Troops may be deployed within a network of adjoining, friendly controlled provinces. Only the English, however, can deploy troops over a sea connection. Historically, the French had some sea presence and even successfully raided the Isle of Wight, but the English moved far more troops by sea, since they were invading with full-fledged armies. This rule is a good example of how Warriors goes for overall historical feel and avoids bogging down with rules exceptions.

At the start of a turn, each player rolls a die. The higher roll gets initiative for that turn. In an interesting twist, however, the lower of the two initiative rolls determines how many impulses will take place that turn: The winner of the initiative adds 2 to the lower roll, and the loser adds 1. For example, Gerald and Terry roll a 4 and 3, respectively. Gerald wins initiative and will have 5 impulses this turn (3 + 2), while Terry will have only 4 impulses (3 + 1).

Impulses alternate in I-go-you-go fashion. During an impulse, players have three options: move leaders and the troops they command; remove an enemy control marker (under certain circumstances); or pass, waiting to see what the opponent will do.

Moving is straightforward. All troops must be assigned to a leader. Leaders are ranked with 1-3 stars; each star allows that leader to command 3 troop strength points, each representing approximately 1,000 men. Therefore, a 3-star leader can lead about 9,000 men. A larger army with multiple leaders has an overall commander–the guy with the most stars, even though he may not be the best for leading a battle once he gets the troops there.

Leaders move from province to adjoining province or by clearly delineated sea routes. Normal movement allows players to move two leaders. A river allows three leaders to move at once, and rough terrain allows only one.

When entering an enemy-occupied territory, leaders and their troops must stop. Warriors has a "Flypaper rule" which states, "A leader may not move away from an area if the number of enemy leaders in the area is equal to or greater than the number of friendly leaders in the area."

This is effectively a Zone of Control, but more fluid than those found in many war games. It also considers control markers to be equal to leaders for purposes of the "flypaper" effect, making things slightly more difficult when maneuvering through enemy territory.

These simple rules make for a tense affair filled with maneuver and requiring a certain sense of timing and strong nerves.

Each leader is rated not only for how many strength points he can maneuver but how many troops he can command in battle. He also has a bravery rating that adds to combat dice rolls. Many leaders can move around with a relatively large force, but cannot bring their superior numbers to the fore on the battlefield. Because the leader with the highest maneuver rating is the overall army commander, how high some of the best combat leaders can rise is limited. Welcome to the world of medieval conflict.

Leaders drive this game, and Warriors is filled with a raucous cast of characters, from Henry V to the incredibly inept Charles VI of France to the Welsh rebel Owain Glyn Dwr. Even Shakespeare’s most comic character, Falstaff, makes an appearance in his historical context as Falstof. Certain leaders, such as Robin Hood (a great longbow leader) or Jeanne d’Arc (very effective against leaders with low bravery) have special-but-simple combat rules that add a lot to the game.

About a third of the leaders are of indeterminate loyalties. When new leaders enter play at the end of each turn, the loser of the initiative gets to choose one first. This can lead to wild shifts in play as new armies pop up from Scotland to Burgundy, often right where least expected.

If this wasn’t enough chaos, every turn engenders a round of leader death rolls. The longer a leader has been around, the more likely he is to expire; players will sometimes swear the plague has indeed struck. If not enough leaders are left to command all the troops of a side, the excess troops vanish-or might be recruited by the other side! When a leader is captured, players agonize over whether to trade victory points as ransom to get him back or to pray for the right roll so that he perishes in prison. All this makes for a lot of strategic decisions every turn but can be frustrating for players who want to spend turns formulating and carrying out the perfect plan.

Combat consists of either fighting the enemy in the field or conducting siege. In the latter case, a siege roll is made versus the defensive value of the province, modified by the bravery of the besieger and besieged and whether the attacker has siege equipment. Either the castle and province fall or the besieger’s forces must retreat. Conquering high-value provinces that have brave defending leaders by siege is difficult (although those siege guns do help).

In open combat, the attacker rolls dice equal to the lesser of his troops and his overall commander’s combat rating and adds additional dice for any longbows. The defender does the same. Every 6 rolled is a hit. Combat is simultaneous, with both players taking losses after each round. If one side retreats, the winner gets a free round of combat. Aggressors entering enemy territory must retreat if they fail to cause damage for three rounds. All mercenaries on one side flee when any of their fickle lot take losses. A very bold commander who is outnumbered can defeat superior enemy numbers-especially if he has a lot of longbows.

There are a lot of nice touches here. The longbow rule gives proper due to the dominant weapon of European medieval warfare. Siege guns are useless in open battle; knights can absorb more losses. Agincourt or Crécy, anyone?

As with any game, there are quibbles. It’s surprising that a game with such wide potential appeal lacks shorter scenarios; the typical game takes 3 or more hours. Some gamers will be unnerved with the prospect of enemy leaders and troops popping up in critical areas at the most inappropriate times-this is not a game for the faint of heart. Also, one of my friends said he liked everything about the game "except the name," and others may agree regardless of the historical context.

What Warriors does very well is create a sense of uncertainty–the untimely death of a charismatic leader, the shaky resolve of mercenary troops, the constantly shifting alliances of leaders interested more in their fortunes than those of France or England–and it revels in the resulting chaos. That requires players to think on their feet more than the typical war game does, and Warriors is all the better for it.

The components are fabulous. MMP does some of the best counters in the business, and these 1-inch beauties are no exception. The simple map nicely recalls the period. While the rules are not flawless, they allow players to set up and play Warriors right out of the box and are filled with excellent examples of play. Again, not everyone will agree with the sense of humor which pops up from time to time, but an entry such as "the attacker must run away" will likely elicit a chuckle from those of us who grew up with Monty Python.

Only a few simple war games have stood the test of time. Warriors is likely to attain that elite status; it is the best simple (as in easy to learn and play) war game I’ve played since the Civil War classic A House Divided. And Warriors is more realistic in what it is trying to depict. If you can’t manage chaos, stay away, but you’ll be missing out on one of the most elegant designs of the past few years.

About the Author

Terry Lee Coleman is former Senior Reviews Editor of Computer Gaming World magazine. He has written about board and card games for several years in such publications as Fire & Movement, The General, Undefeated, and others. While Terry is impressed by the sheer mass of French armored cavalry charges, he will gladly defer his chivalry for a few thousand longbows.

1 Comment

  1. Nice review. Thanks.

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  1. World Boardgaming Championships – Convention Report » Armchair General - [...] Most Dangerous Time, by Tetsuya Nakamura (English development by Adam Starkweather, who brought us Warriors of God—see the ArmchairGeneral…

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