Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Warriors of God

Warriors of God was the second game that Han and I played on 26 Jul 2009. This is a game about the Hundred Years War between the French and the English. Again, Han played the French and I played the English.

Warriors of God uses the same victory point system as Twilight Struggle. Every round (there are 12) both sides score victory points, but you only take note of the accumulated difference, and mark that accordingly, as opposed to tracking the actual score. If the point difference reaches 30, the leading player wins an instant victory. There are a few ways of scoring victory points, like controlling provinces, killing enemy leaders in battle, and capturing and holding enemy leaders.

The game is all about the leaders. You need leaders to lead troops and to fight battles. In fact, you need leaders to prevent troops from disappearing (or you can call it "being disbanded") and from being snatched away by enemy leaders. You also need leaders to establish control over provinces. Leaders are the most crucial aspect of the game. And they die all the time. In a way, it's funny. Every round new leaders will appear, and all old leaders (some may be just 1-round-old) will need to do a medical check-up thingy (a die roll) to see whether their "time is up". Leaders will live for at most 6 rounds. Because all your actions and planning pivot around your leaders, sometimes untimely deaths can really spoil your plans. Some complain that this is bad, but I like this. In the grand scheme of things, historical leaders do come and go frequently. I like how this more-or-less constant change in your leader portfolio forces you to be flexible and to not get too attached to any one leader. It makes the game quite dynamic. It creates an ebb and flow in the fortunes of the two nations at war. It is also funny to see how some big shot general die young before being able to do anything for his country (I imagine some stupid hunting accident). Even funnier when some old fart keeps going and going and going when you expect him to croak any minute.

Movement and battles are quite straight-forward. Most information that you need are on the leaders. Their rank determines how many troops they can lead. Their bravery determines the effectiveness of their troops - normally you need to roll a 6 to kill, but with a leader with higher bravery, you hit on a lower number. Their leadership (not sure whether this is the right term) determines the efficiency of their armies, i.e. how many units can fight at the same time, which translates to how many dice you can roll at any one time. There are some rules about special unit types, like knights, mercenaries, archers and gunners (canons) but they are quite simple. There are rules for sieges, which are also relatively straight-forward.

Sometimes leaders are captured when they lose a battle. You can decide whether to pay a ransom for their release. If you don't, your opponent will score victory points for holding your leaders. You can hope they'll die in prison (not that it's something you'd do in real life, I presume), because when they're dead, they don't give your opponent any more victory points.

The game board is made of paper and not mounted, which is a pity. But otherwise it is nice and functional.

Some of the reminder markers (top row) and special units (middle and bottom rows).

The top row are the generic units. The middle and bottom rows are mercenaries. Five provinces produce mercenaries.

England, with its starting forces, lead by King Edward III. The "0" on the top left means these are the starting leaders. The stars are their rank. They can lead three times the number of units as the number of stars they have. The number on the left side of their flag/shield is the bravery rating (roll a hit at a smaller number when fighting), and the number on the right is their leadership (I think) rating (can roll more dice at the same time). The round marker is a control marker.

When the game started, we didn't have much idea what to do. There weren't many leaders on the board, and there was little that could be done with so few leaders. We fought here and there. Then Han saw the importance of establishing control, before I did. He started working towards this. Establishing control is important because it gives you victory points every round, it allows you to hide in a castle if attacked (i.e. you can decide to have a siege), and any leaderless army in the province cannot be "stolen" away by your opponent. This was one of the three reasons that I lost the game eventually. I was never able to catch up in victory points per round.

The second reason was sieges. Both of us forgot about sieges in the first few rounds. We fought every battle on the field. The English did quite well in the early game, and I had brought a huge army to Paris to try to take the French capitol. Halfway through the battle, we realised that we had forgotten completely about the option to siege. The first round of fighting didn't go well for the French. We decided to bend the rules and allow the French to start a siege then (normally the defender must declare a siege before fighting starts). The English failed to storm the castle, and had to retreat. Paris was safe. Unfortunately London wasn't. This was the third reason of my loss. I had intentionally vacated my home base to tempt one big French army to attack it instead of moving to defend Paris. Since I had control over England, the French army wouldn't have been able to gain control over England quickly. I had expected to be able to fight it off soon. Unfortunately my plan only half worked. The part about luring the enemy worked. The part about kicking the enemy away didn't. Oops. The French squatted on London and later even gained control.

Sieges are an interesting decision. It can be tempting to hide in your castle, because it is hard to storm a castle. The attacker needs a strong commander (with high bravery) and gunners (cannons) to have a decent chance. However, hiding in your castle can be risky. If the attacker gets lucky, you will lose all your troops. It is probably worthwhile for an attacker to attack even if he thinks the defender will avoid battle and start a siege, because if he gets lucky, he will eliminate the whole defending army without losing any troops. There was one turn when I made three seperate attempts at different locations to storm castles defended by Han. Unfortunately, no success.

Controlling the enemy capitol gives an extra victory point. Combined with the earlier control that Han had already achieved over other provinces, I was unable to catch up or turn the tide. We didn't manage to complete the game because I had another appointment. We only played 6 (out of 12) rounds, but it was clear the English was in a rut, and I conceded defeat.

One funny thing that happened in our game was our first kings both lived very long. They both lived until Round 5. They outlived many other younger leaders, even Joan of Arc, who died young (but maybe not as young as in real life). We had some leaders who died pretty young. I had one young Irish joker who died on me when I was expecting to have him establish control over Ireland for me. Leaders can help you establish control over their home province easily.

There was one round when many of our leaders died (maybe there was a plague?), leaving few leaders and many leaderless armies. The board dynamics changed significantly. That's one thing about the game that I find very interesting and exciting. You really need to have a strategic plan, and not rely too heavily on individual leaders or tactical victories. Leaders are short lived. Province control is more lasting. Usually.

Turn 4, and the map was a little crowded at this time. It doesn't seem like much, but this was probably the peak period in our game when we had the most number of leaders. Later on a whole bunch of them died (of the plague probably) and Han and I each had about 4 leaders remaining.

The battle of Paris, with the English being the aggressor, of course. The English have longbowmen, which let them roll more dice. Many English leaders themselves lead longbowmen (the leader chit itself is considered a military unit and not just an individual).

The end of the game. The French control 4 out of 5 red-bordered Level III provinces, the most lucrative ones, because they provide the most new troops, are hardest to control or siege, and provide the most victory points.

I really like Warriors of God. It is a very interesting recreation of the Hundred Years War. There can be a lot of drama and surprises and unexpected twists of fate. It gives you a high-level, sweep-of-history feel. As a wargame this is not complex. I don't have the stomach yet for "real" wargames, but Warriors of God is accessible enough for me.

The game comes with two scenarios. The one we played had Joan of Arc. The other one has Robin Hood. Interesting? Just remember not to get too attached to your leaders.

2 comments:

Notso said...

I read this post hoping to find a war game that
1) wasn't as involved as something like Axis and Allies supposedly is (I've never played it but I hear there is a ton to keep track of) and 2) that didn't require rolling like in Risk.

Comment on 1):
I have no aversion to war games but games that are extremely involved scare me off. I don't want to lose simply because the other guy has a better memory for all the different options in a tech tree or something like that. (That's why I only play Starcraft--the video game--with other against a computer. I am not good enough to beat any human player at games like that.)

Comments on 2):
I've been playing at Conquerclub.com off and on, and I find that I am becoming something I used to hate: the type of "geek" that hates anything that involves rolling. I just get so frustrated when I make a smart move and lose because I roll poorly and then I make a desperate, dumb move and it works because I get lucky.

So, have I found such a game in Warriors of God? I can't tell, but I did enjoy reading this post. The leaders dynamic/mechanic sounds really interesting. Rick 2210 has leaders and I love it. It sounds like this game takes them in a different direction that I might like. I think I would like to try Warriors of God out, but I am just not sure. I guess what I really want is Risk without the rolling somehow.

Well, this has been a rambling comment that really isn't very relevant to the blog post... Oh well.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Notso,

On #1, there isn't really a lot you need to remember to be able to play well. Being familiar with the leaders that will come up may be helpful, but I didn't bother to do that. Han and I just looked at new leaders coming up in the current turn, and didn't bother to look or plan any further ahead.

The rules seem a little heavy at first, but once you get the hang of it, the actions that you can do aren't really that many.

On #2, I think in a Risk-like game the luck element will be higher than in an Axis & Allies-like game or in Warriors of God. But still, you will see some crazy results. Some leaders will die unexpectedly young (or old). Some battles will be won by the weaker side. However, there are so many battles and so many leaders that come and go. Weird outcomes will probably even out in the long run, some benefiting yourself, some your opponent. Because leaders live for at most 6 rounds, you likely won't have any single leader who will be responsible for winning you the game. You have to manage your portfolio of leaders. It's all about how you manage risk. Your choices and decisions are important.

Based on how combat resolution works, I also think you'll also see less crazy outcomes than in Risk, which has a much simpler combat resolution.

#2 may be less of a problem if you are interested to try Warriors of God. #1 may be a bigger challenge. I'm not sure if the rulebook is available for download. If it is then you may be able to check it out before you decide whether to try to game.