There were a lot of twists and turns in the war before it finally reached a settlement which allowed Stephen to remain as king for the rest of his life (only about a year after the end of the war, as it happened), but to be succeeded by Matilda's son, who became Henry II. Lots of material for a game in there, but the bit that caught my imagination was the period of comparative stalemate through a big chunk of the 1140's, which the author, Jim Bradbury, describes as the Castle War -- I have no idea if this is a widely used term. During this period, there were no major battles, but both sides built, besieged, and captured many castles in a shifting game of chess that Stephen seems to have done better at but, while Matilda ended up withdrawing to Normandy, it was not enough to stop resistance from her faction, or prevent the later campaigns of her son, Henry. Much of this phase of the war also took place close to where I live (seemingly most of it within an hour's drive), making it of some local interest too.
I have finally reached the stage where I have a playable prototype, albeit one missing a few elements that I am hoping to add later, and also having some rules that are just a bit vague and woolly. Still, my daughter, Miss B, played the game with me and helped decide a few rules that I wasn't sure about. It looks like we do actually have the basics of a workable game, though the balance is certainly off, dynamics are ropy, and it could all collapse very easily. This is fine, and where I wanted to be: it felt like we were actually playing a game.
|Hand drawn cards for the win! |
I actually had a load of fun scribbling bad pictures of motte and bailey castles.
The game as it stands is a pretty simple card game. There are a row of cards depicting castles in the centre of the table, and the objective is to either control all of the castles, or to have the majority when the deck of cards runs out. You play cards, which can be troops, leaders, or tactics cards, face-down on your side of the castles, and when you use a turn to draw fresh cards, you must nominate a castle to "resolve". When you resolve a castle, all cards played by it are revealed, and a conflict either takes place or it doesn't, as a result of which the castle may change ownership, and cards may be discarded or returned to their player's hand.
This seems to work reasonably well at the moment, at least when both players are playing in the spirit of the game and not trying anything crazy.
So, with the proof of concept holding so far, what now? The main elements I want to add in, taken from warfare of the period, are to consider "counter castles" (fortifications built to limit the operations of a more established castle, and to act as a base for siege), the sometimes shifting allegiances of the barons involved in the conflict, and prisoners and hostages taken from the opposition. With all of these I need to be careful to not add too much complexity, as I want to keep the game fairly light and fast flowing, but if they can add to the theme and the strategic decisions available, I'll give it a try.
I also need to consider the overall form of the game. At the moment, the components are a small deck of cards and a few tokens to indicate the supplies held by a castle. One possible issue is that there being a single deck of cards might lead to games where a poor distribution of cards might result in a massively unbalanced game, or one that is just boring. It might be worth using separate decks for different types of cards, so players can access the types of cards they need, or perhaps each player could have their own deck. All things to think about as I move forward...