1066, Tears To Many Mothers

‘1066, Tears To Many Mothers’ may sound like an album by a Doom Metal band from Yorkshire, but it also happens to be one of the most exciting 2 player card games to be churned out of the board game mill in a good long while

Publisher: Hall or Nothing Productions

Designer: Tristan Hall

Players: 1-2

‘Tears To Many Mothers’ takes players on a tour through the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, where the Normans invaded the English isles to claim their throne and change the DNA of ol’ Blighty forever. Personally, I find wrapping my head around medieval politics more challenging than unwinding Christmas lights while nursing a vodka hangover, but some context is useful for those of us who didn’t learn about this historic battle in primary school.

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The childless King Edward the Confessor, was without an heir and had supposedly promised the throne to a distant Norman cousin, William the Conqueror. Of course this didn’t jive too well with the Saxon nobles, who had been in power since Roman times. Together, the Lords of the land started rallying behind the next most powerful person in England at the time, Harold Godwinson the Earl of Wessex. Eventually under mounting pressure from the English nobility, Harold usurped the throne upon the death of King Edward, thereby breaking the oath that was made to the Normans. And we all know what happens to oath breakers in the times of honour and destiny.

In ‘1066…’ you play either as the defending Saxons, commanded by Harold Godwinson, or the invading Normans lead by William ‘The Conqueror’. You build your army up by committing units into three formations called ‘wedges’, creating rows of steely-eyed knights, ready to crash into your foes shield wall or cavalry charge alike. However, the only thing certain in ‘1066…’ is a cruel death in a cold muddy field. Units will inevitably succumb to the constant attacks from archers and berserker axe-men, forcing a row to shift and filling the space of fallen heroes. “Once more unto the breach” as they say.

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Committing cards to the battlefield is as simple as discarding a number of cards equal to the cost of the one you want to play. That might seem like you can burn through your hand very quickly, but fortunately, buried in your deck are units that generate resources while they’re in play. The more resource generating cards you have out on the field, the more efficiently you can catapult hulking knights into the fray.

But lets not get ahead of ourselves. So far the game sounds like your standard 2 player card game with players taking turns, one after another, until one of you is dead. However, the most interesting thing about ‘1066…’ is that for the bulk of it, you don’t actually fight anyone. Not one single arrow finds another mans eye for the most of the game.

Instead the game takes you through the most notable events that occurred before the battle, by way of an objective deck. Beginning with the appearance of Halley’s Comet, to William gathering support and gaining the Popes blessing, through to the Invasion of Sussex and the eventual final clash in Hastings. The game abstracts your progress through these events by measuring the strength of your units on the board. Each unit has a might and zeal value, and every round you check if you’ve amassed enough to progress to the next chapter. Eventually both sides will reach Hastings and finally meet face to face on the battlefield on that frosty October morning. THEN you fight! And oh Nelly, what a glorious fight it is. Both sides crash against each other in a melee of blood and steel, dealing damage to their respective wedges. The first side to deal 10 damage to a wedge claims it, and if 2 wedges are claimed, the game is over and a victor is crowned.

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It took me a few goes to settle into this games intended rhythm. The discard a card to play a card mechanic felt sluggish at first, as I struggled to hold more than one card for most turns before passing several times just to refill my hand, only to play one more card. Not to mention that because the majority of the game is about preparing for the final fight, I found myself feeling frustrated with it’s pacing. But I quickly learned this was less of an issue with the game and more me trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

After years of playing 1 vs. 1 card games, I realised I needed to re-programme my thinking for ‘1066..’. I made the joke earlier likening this game to a Doom Metal album, but in all honesty, ‘1066…’ really does follow a narrative structure similar to a Black Sabbath song like ‘War Pigs’. It’s a slow but steady slog in the early parts, but as the energy swells and gains momentum, its starts to take shape, then suddenly it explodes into frantic, panic inducing violence. The Wedge you’d been fortifying the whole game is neck and neck with your foe, but that means you weren’t focusing on the others, and you scramble to rescue the soldiers you assigned so carelessly. Their lives are in your hands, so don’t make their deaths meaningless.

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Tension is a persistent feature of ‘1066…; as it constantly asks you to make difficult choices with your hand. To an extent, the card play reminded me of Poker, insofar as the game wants you to play aggressively with your hand. You’ll often have to discard strong cards that are unplayable at that time in favour of making smaller gains, thus sewing the seeds for a long term strategy. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be agonising over which axe wielding barbarian I’d have to sacrifice to counter those damn Norman archers!

While the tension in the 2 player game is so thick you could cut the air with a knife, the solo variant is equally nerve wracking. The AI foe is often 2 steps ahead of you thanks to the games solo system which deploys units on the battlefield with relative ease. In fact, the solo system in this game is a veritable work of art, that is if you’re like me and enjoy a well designed flow chart, and let’s face it, who doesn’t like a good flow chart? The solo game in ‘1066…’ gives you a dynamic living puzzle to solve in every game, and contrary to other AI board games systems, you’re far less concerned with it behaving like another human player and instead relish the way it reveals the puzzle one piece at a time.

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Medieval war games are always an intriguing prospect for me, as they invoke imagery of muddy battlefields, drenched in blood, with sword wielding knights astride great armoured steads, charging into battle. In the age of digital perfection and constant social and economic strife, the appeal of games that take you back to a simpler time when the sky was big and life was short, is perhaps at their peak right now. However most war games in this genre are either huge complicated efforts that try to simulate every aspect of medieval life or are too simplistic and lack any narrative backbone. ‘1066…’ proves a happy medium with just enough weight and complexity to scratch any armour clad players strtegic itch while capturing all the grandeur of it’s theme with 2 simple but beautiful decks. Everywhere you look in ‘1066…’ is steeped in charm and historic context, as if every card serves as the final epitaph of those depicted in the artwork. You’ll actually pause as you play, just to admire the games vision of that frosty morning in October of 1066. Luckily, Hall or Nothing games is soon to release it’s sequel ‘1565, St. Elmos Pay’ which depicts the siege of Malta, and is fully compatible with ‘1066…’ if you wanted to pit both eras against each other in some mad historical mash up. We certainly look forward to more settings from this system and will keep a very close watch.

Android

Android is a murder/mystery story building game set in the dystopian future city of New-Angeles. Mega corporations run the sprawling network of the city, which your investigator needs to navigate, gather information from and try to solve the murder.

In my humble opinion, Android is probably the most underrated game in the history of documenting things & calling it “history”. Alas, I am but one man though. Where ever you look on the net that reviews things made out of cardboard, it gets tagged with that dreaded “so-so” review score. Fans love it because of the setting and story, but those that hate it scream from the rafters about the mechanics. Mostly I think it’s a big misunderstanding about the point of the game. I can’t blame them though. Before its release Fantasy Flight really pushed the role play and mystery solving angles on this game. Which I’ll admit, sounds like an intriguing prospect and is indeed what caught my attention (Who wouldn’t want to see a Sci-Fi Noir, D&D and Clue hybrid?) but that’s not really how the game pans out. You’re never actually trying to find out who the murderer is as you already know this from the start of the game. Well, that’s not quite right either. Actually you have possible SUSPECTS that you’re trying to pin the murder on. This is probably the biggest point where people start to jump off the Android ship. People were expecting a “whodunnit” story game that plays out as you go gumshoeing along, somewhat along the lines of Arabian Nights or Agents of SMERSH; instead they got a highly strategic puzzler. I for one love that! And here are a few reasons

A2The game possesses such varied mechanics that interleave with one another. Each layer adds different strategies you can employ to win the game. Firstly you can attempt to pin the murder on a suspect by mounting evidence against them, or as. While your detective chases up leads around New-Angeles, you have the option to uncover evidence. Don’t worry; you won’t be shouting obscenities at each other just yet. That’ll come later. You’ll take a token from the evidence pool and place it on a particular suspect involved in the murder case. Depending on the value of the token, it’ll determine if the suspect is innocent or guilty. Usually, the point of the game where derogatory utterances begin is when a player places evidence on a suspect, and you refer to the 2 “hunch cards” you were dealt in the beginning of the game, one showing you a guilty suspect the other an innocent citizen, and of course, said player is building a case against your innocent hunch. Or at least who you believe to be. After all, you’re only going by your ‘dick’ instincts.

A3However you need to keep hunches secret for as long as possible. If your opponents find out who you’re building a case against/in favour of, they might employ “Humanity Labor” to put hits out on your suspects. Once there are 3 hits on a suspect, he/she is dead, removed from the game and potentially lost a player a ton of precious victory points. That’s not the only cuss inducing method in your quest for evidence though. There are also these nasty little tokens called “alibis”, which as we all know from day time soap operas, seriously derail the plot line. Alibis have the power to “reverse” evidence, as well as synapse with your brain, forcing you to shout out random portmanteau expletives. Subsequently, the word “funt” now adds colour to many more situations in our daily lives. Thanks Android! Surprisingly though, building a case against a suspect isn’t the most important thing on the board, although it is a really fun part of the game. Back and forth bluffing will potentially have you offload evidence on one suspect as each player battles for their hunch card, only to have him eventually assassinated! Meanwhile, the unsuspecting mining clone ‘Mark Henry’, sits with +1 point in his case file, making him the guilty party and netting another player 15 valuable victory points.

You could also try your hand at resolving your characters “plot cards” as a means to gain VP. When the game begins, each player is given a plot card that instructs them what to do in order to progress onto the next stage of the plot. This could be anything from discarding player cards to choosing how you are going to fight. Basically, as you journey around New-Angeles you will do things. Doing things will get you “baggage”. Which is sometimes good…

image(2)Raymond enters a seedy club on the south side of town. He feels the eyes of every patron scanning him up and down. They’re wondering if Raymond is going to kick up a stink and nose around in things that should maybe be left well alone, or is he going to just be the predictable jaded alcoholic cop that he is and take a seat at the bar. You play one of your “light” cards. “Hey, didn’t you fly in the 21rst division?” Ray cuts through the tectonic beat of the clubs sound system and turns to the sound of the voice. He sees someone vaguely familiar to him. It’s an old war buddy he used to fly with. Rather than make a fuss or drown his sorrows at the bottom of a bourbon alone, Ray pulls up a seat, places his order with the waitress and begins to reminisce about the good ‘ol days. The guy gives Ray a free “dropship pass” and Raymond gains 1 GOOD baggage for entering a “nightlife” location during this plot line. Sweet. – (This was actual gameplay by the way)

On the other hand though, sometimes baggage can be bad….

image(9)The bioroid Floyd overrides one of his prime directives in the hopes of getting a deceitful lead on the case. You play one of Raymonds “Haunted by the Past” cards. By now Ray has had a few too many drinks anyway. He barely manages to stand himself up with some semblance of dignity and stumbles into the clubs bathroom where the music is less deafening. After splashing some water on his face he takes a long deep gaze at his reflection in the mirror. The voice in his head starts to murmur as it normally does. The memories come flooding back and all of a sudden Raymond can’t breathe. A hand reaches out to help, “Hey buddy, you okay?” In a panic Raymond lashes out and starts throwing punches. Flailing in a drunken stupor like an unbalanced spinning top, and then darkness. The next thing Raymond sees is his own two feet staring back at him, as he slowly realises he’s waking up in a dumpster in the alley out back. He gains 2 “bad baggage” for fighting like a chimp. Bollocks.

Fantasy Flight made no secret of Android being a story driven game, which comes to much woe for players who just aren’t into roleplaying (or a bit rubbish at it), but that’s fine. No problem. You can delve into the cards text as much as you like or just go straight into what the cards actions are instead. In the end, you’re trying to score your plot cards with a positive amount of baggage to get the maximum amount of victory points.

image(1)Even if you’re not a storyteller kind of group, there is a THIRD way to play (and possibly the highest scoring yet most understated in the rules). In the top corner of the board is a puzzle board, and instead of placing evidence on a suspect after following a lead, you have the option to uncover a piece of the conspiracy. What this means is that you are trying to build links between some of the corporations in the game with the current murder case. “There’s more to this case. I just know it. Someone else was involved.” You place a puzzle piece down and try to connect a continuous line between the corporation spaces on the outside of the puzzle. Unlocking these can fundamentally change who will win the game. Sometimes a space grants that a certain currency token count towards your victory points or maybe it affects the results of plots, or maybe you get to place a hit for free, or maybe…There’s a lot of options here and having a good look at the puzzle will greatly improve your chances at winning. Not merely because of the links you’re trying to uncover, but also because there is a second dimension to the puzzle…yup, you guessed. That’s right, bingo…No, really. It’s bingo! This can net you a whole mess of points, but if you focus too much of your time on trying to uncover the conspiracy, you’ll have no time to chase any real leads on the case and your left holding a crumpled, sweaty bunch of newspaper clippings, with indecipherable hieroglyphics hastily scribbled on them, trying to convince the commissioner that it’s all connected to lizard men, screaming “Can’t you see?!?! There! It’s in the numbers! It’s so obvious!”

Whoever is the best at managing these three criteria and scores the maximum amount of score wins the game. I cannot stress though how interwoven these areas are. Things you do in one area might affect another. Each action you spend completing one area leaves your guard down on another, opening the door for another player to take advantage. There is still a bunch of details I could still go into, like each characters special abilities that you need to manage, the process of paying for card play, the movement system, just trust me, this shit is deep. It’s massively competitive, extremely strategic, complex in its subtleties and is as heavy as a cake eating convention.

image(8)Therein lays its main points of criticism though. Yes it’s a big ‘ol fat ass of a game, but just like Jabba-the-Hut, it has an endearing quality. The people, who enjoy this game, will almost always say it is a masterpiece. I understand where the criticism comes from though. Android is like a pink elephant in the board game world. Not in the sense that it sticks out (Because that’s impossible when your hash-tag is #Android) but rather it’s both a fascinating & unique creature, as well as clumsy & frustrating. As much as I didn’t want to talk about the theme since it’s the most obvious draw of the game, I will say that I think it’s not the theme in itself that people love, nor is it the mechanical elements that give the game colour, it’s the fact that the game needs to be played or approached as if it were a giant dystopian rubix cube. For us it’s HOW the mechanics are played out in relation to each other that makes it fit so well with the theme. The world of Android feels rich and therefore should be interacted with in a complex manner. If there was a stripped down version with streamlined rules, the glue that holds it all together would start to disintegrate and the experience would just fall apart. Despite its caveats you can net yourself a copy on Amazon for nearly NOTHING!! It would be foolish not to give it a go….and X-mas is around the corner.