Friday 4th February

  • Week 3 Discussion
Randell Reed
Avalon Hill, 1974
The Game of the Revolutionary War
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The death of Warwick at the Battle of Barnet
Andrew McNeil
PhilMar, 1974
Game of the English Wars of the Roses
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Is the design of the game's mechanics (board, pieces, cards, etc.) fit for purpose?


Yes, but the pieces should be larger to make them easier to handle.

Is the game enjoyable and sociable to play?

Yes, some thought 1776 was better, and some not as good as The Game of War. It feels more serious than other Avalon Hill games. As Jim Dunnigan said, this sort of board game is a bit like a paper time machine

Yes, despite - or because of - the plague card! Kingmaker is a very political and historical game. Playing the game helps you to understand society in the past and today. The event cards meant that there was too much luck in Kingmaker, e.g. the plague in Plymouth card wiping out Tatsiana's entire army at a crucial point of the game.

What techniques does the game use to model its chosen subject?

1776 uses the standard Avalon Hill hexes and combat results table system. The geography of the board is the only thing that makes the game about the American Revolutionary War. The designers had spent some time on working out the distances between key locations so that the different movement speeds of the British and American armies could contribute to the outcome of the game. Thanks to their faster movement, the Americans can win by avoiding confrontation with the British. 1776 is a military strategy game, but it fails to represent the political struggles which decided the outcome of this revolution.

Kingmaker is a good simulation of the balance of power between the barons and royals in the Wars of the Roses. Playing the game was an entertaining way to understand the power politics of medieval England. It would be better if the players were more familiar with the rules of the games, but the downside would be that they could then game the game, such as moving into a town immediately after the plague had struck it which would be very unrealistic!

How does the game combine abstraction and realism in its workings?

1776 takes into account the difficult geography of late-18th century America with its penalties for crossing rivers and mountains. The arrival of reinforcements seems realistic as does the British having a more powerful army. Deciding battles with a combat results table meant that there was too much reliance on the roll of a die unlike the more mathematical methods of The Game of War. The game's biggest problem is that it doesn't reflect the politics of the 1776 American Revolution.

Kingmaker felt realistic when it was being played, especially as luck was a major element of medieval warfare. The requirement to control one archbishop or two bishops to crown a king in a cathedral town is a good simulation of the relationship between the church and the state in this period. The game's best feature was how it modelled the struggle between baronial families rather than royal claimants as in other Wars of the Roses games. Kingmaker could be updated for modern Britain with rival groups of bankers controlling the different political parties. The game board was a lesson in the political and economic geography of medieval England as the struggle revolves around towns and castles which used to be very important, but are no longer. There is one key lesson from playing Kingmaker: you can have everything and then suddenly lose it all.

How accurately does the game simulate the decision-making processes faced by the real-life protagonists of its chosen subject?

1776 makes you think like you're a 18th century general who has to take strategic decions. You learn that you need to sacrifice some of your troops to achieve your overall goals.

When you're playing Kingmaker, you start identifying with the barons and other historical characters who took part in the Wars of the Roses.

What political lessons can people learn by playing the game?

The game has no politics, it's just a way of teaching military strategy.

The plague cards teach the players that they needed better hygiene in medieval times! Kingmaker is good at reflecting how political factions on the same side can be really rivals - and that apparent enemies can be defacto allies. It was fun how the game made controlling the church into an important part of the power struggle.

How would you improve the structure and mechanics of the game?

1776 is a game for only two players - it would be much better to have an American Revolution game with multiple players. For instance, there could be different players for the slave-owning southern states and the free labour northern states on the American side as well as Tories and Whigs on the British side. The game should be much more focused on the politics of the American Revolution rather than the military conflict. If there were less pieces, they wouldn't need to be put into stacks which keep falling over. Probably for patriotic reasons, Avalon Hill made the game much too easy for the Americans to win.

Kingmaker needs a bigger board which would make it easier to find unfamiliar locations. Larger pieces would also be a good idea - maybe they should be magnetic to make them stick to the board. The game has too many pieces and too many rules even though it was easy to pick up after a few moves. Some simplification would make the game easier to understand without sacrificing its entertaining look and feel. More variety in the events cards would be good idea. Perhaps Kingmaker could be adapted for other countries, such as a game on Russian medieval history.