Unhappy King Charles is a 2-player game card-driven game on the English Civil War. PHALANX is publishing a new edition of the game with updated artwork, components, player aids and a new rulebook layout. The game is widely praised for its fidelity to the subject matter: regionalism, desertions, and poor communication and coordination between Generals, are all major aspects of the game. In this How We Make Games blog post, designer Charles Vasey explains the design decision he took to achieve this.
When I was designing UKC in 2006 I used as my historical model my unpublished design The Good Old Cause (a design of mine from the Nineties) but using the card-driven game (CDG) model required adopting a card play system and a deck to achieve it.
In building the card deck, I had to choose between two traditions. Firstly, as recommended by one of the GMT people, I should look at Paths Of Glory. Paths Of Glory has cards with multiple uses: operation points, events, strategic movement, and something else which I’ve long ago forgotten. Secondly, I could use the model of We The People which essentially gave you one use per card: it was either an operation points card or an events card, typically for one side only. Given the immense success of Paths Of Glory it seemed obvious to follow its lead. So naturally I chose We The People.
The strength of the Paths Of Glory system was especially so for those gamers who were apt to complain about having a hand of the other player’s cards. Of course, this meant that the opponent probably had the same problem, but that did not seem to matter; players want to play. The multi-use of each card introduced considerable choice into the play of each hand. It meant you could probably use every card. Why on earth would I not follow this?
Firstly, and the inverse of the advantage of the above paragraph, more choice meant more playing time, and the possibility of more Analysis Paralysis. I wanted the game to move faster (if for no other reason than I wanted to play it myself), and that meant reducing choice (providing of course that the choice had a degree of historical accuracy to it). In many ways the COIN system (with two cards “in play”) follows the same considerations.
Secondly, the player in Paths Of Glory sits at a pyramid of administrators, manufacturers, workers, financiers, taxpayers, and troops. The governments can contact these (and vice versa) in almost real time. They have access to planning at a very impressive level, as well as the fruits of the Industrial Revolution: trains, steamships, telephones, and planes. One could readily see the leaders faced with opportunities and choices. They had units fighting in the South Atlantic and the Pacific. Armies criss-crossed Europe using the train network. These abilities require a flexibility in simulation. It admirably fits Ted Raicer’s choice.
Let us go now to 1642 England to the Pre-Industrial Age of the English Civil War. We find a very different situation here. News could only travel at horse speed over poor roads (or by ships subject to the variations of wind and weather). Funding did not consist of central banks but of individuals or associations of individuals organising the funding. Indeed, the question of paying (or not paying) for troops was to be central to the end of the Long Parliament, the success of the Army, the execution of the Man of Blood, and the setting up of the Commonwealth.
Far from being able to prepare, administer and agree a concerted military plan as in the Great War, both sides often had several contemporaneous operations proceeding entirely independent of each other (represented by events that were mini activations by local commanders). Both sides had issues in funding their forces (as encapsulated in the different recruitment procedures). Both sides had armies that obeyed (for very good reasons) their immediate commanders rather than central political leaders.
It seemed to me that the chaotic element was best simulated by the We The People system. It gave faster play and, while it might now and then give you a difficult hand, it was no more than that from which King Charles and King Pym suffered. It put you to a degree in the place of your historical equivalents.