Kingmaker: The Carisbrooke Anomaly

Many older games have little quirks and foibles that would nowadays be smoothed away in the interests of consistency and playability. Kingmaker has some of these. One of my jobs in the re-development of the game for the new version is to identify them and take my knife (and sandpaper) to them.

The Carisbrooke Anomaly: Carisbrooke is a royal castle in the centre of the Isle of Wight. It wasn’t particularly important in the Wars of the Roses, though its existence did discourage French raids. It was held by the Woodville family for Edward IV for a while. It is more famous for its royal occupant at the end of the English Civil War, when Charles I was imprisoned there.

In the original Kingmaker, Carisbrooke was represented by a Crown card with just its name (left), updated for the Avalon Hill/Gibsons version with some graphics (right):

Within the Crown deck, the ownership of royal castles is generally indicated on an Office card, such as the Constable of Dover Castle (for Dover), or the Chancellor of England (for Caernarvon). Except for Carisbrooke. This royal castle, and only this one, has its own specific Crown card with no associated Office. In every respect, except for its picture and fortified location type, Carisbrooke is equivalent to a fortified Town, like, say Southampton. This has the unfortunate side-effect that this type of Crown card cannot be accurately called a “Town card”, because one of them is a castle. As an aside, there’s also Bristol with its own card, though it’s a City not a Town; nothing’s perfect.

I’m experimenting with a resolution of the Carisbrooke Anomaly by removing its current card and introducing a new Office: Warden of the Isle of Wight. This Office would have 50 troop strength and control of Carisbrooke Castle. In addition, it would have a ship, Le Maudeleyn of Newport (Isle of Wight) with a capacity of 150 men. The ship and troops represent the considerable efforts that the crown took to contain piracy in the area, both locally and from across the Channel. Furthermore, to reinforce this anti-piracy role, the Warden of the Isle of Wight is called away by 2 Piracy Events on the South coast.

Here is the new card, not tested as yet:

I’m hoping that this will make Carisbrooke Castle a little more relevant and interesting in the game.

Kingmaker re-developing: playtest version on Tabletopia

First cut of re-developing Kingmaker on Tabletopia:

Re-developing Kingmaker (1st cut on Tabletopia)

Re-developing Kingmaker (1st cut on Tabletopia)

Time Out at Waterloo: a W1815 session report

W1815 – the components (plus dice shaker and tray!)

As a way of relaxing from game design, I decided to play my newly acquired W1815, using Jim McNaughton’s solo rules, 7th Coalition Bot for Solo Games. In this version, the solo player is Napoleon and all the allied turns are handled by the bot.

  • For the events in the game I’ll use this notation: Action followed by dice roll with any mods followed by effects.

The set-up

Napoleon (me!) believes there’s only a few thousand weak Anglo-allied troops in front of us, so we shall sweep them away with no trouble!

I decide on the conventional artillery bombardment to soften up the enemy line. It’s how the master started the battle, so who am I to argue? With no French infantry or cavalry attacking, Wellington’s lads will just have to take it – the allies actions are to put Prussians on the field.

  • Grand Battery 3 1AM
  • Blücher 3 1PD
  • Grand Battery 4 1AM
  • Blücher 1+1 1NE
  • Grand Battery 4 1AM
  • Blücher 3+1 1PD
  • Grand Battery 5 1AC
  • Blücher 3+2 1PD

It seems the ground has dried out pretty well, as the Grand Battery does better than average. Over 4 turns allied morale is down from 10 to 7, and Orange’s Corps has taken a loss. I guess Perponcher’s Dutch-Belgians took a bit of a pasting at Quatre Bras and couldn’t take any more. The Prussians have marched 3 divisions onto the battlefield over this time, so there is a threat to Plancenoit, but we should see off this ragtag army before they can interfere. Besides, Grouchy will surely be along shortly.

I figure it is now time to force Hill’s corps into square and then exploit Kellerman’s cuirassier counter-attack (+1 to the roll) when Hill inevitably re-deploys into line…

  • Kellerman 6 Ney

…but Ney has misinterpreted the order and launched all the cavalry! This is a tad premature even for le brave des braves! C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.

I didn’t mean ALL the cavalry!

  • Blücher 4+3 1FM 1PD

The Prussians are getting pesky, but I cannot react while the French cavalry are doing their stuff.

  • KL-NEY 4 1AM 1FC
  • Blücher 6+4 plancenoit captured

That fellow Blücher is a thorn in the side. Plancenoit has fallen, and still the cuirassier ride at the British squares.

Plancenoit has fallen!

  • KL-NEY 4-1 1AM 1FM 1FC 1FM (Kellerman’s Corps gone)

Kellerman’s cavalry corps lost

  • Blücher 5+4 1FC 1FM

Kellerman’s corps is used up and French morale is down to 6. The only plus is that our casualties are relatively low.

  • KL-NEY 4-2 1AM rally

Mon Dieu, the cavalry has rallied and there’s still some left! Also, the allied line looks shaken. Hill has to reform his line, but we have none of Kellerman’s cavalry to exploit. Time for d’Erlon to redeem himself from his abject failure to engage at Ligny!

The cavalry rallies!

  • Hill forms line
  • D’Erlon 5 2AC 1FC

A very rash cavalry charge!

  • Uxbridge 1 2AC 1FC
  • Rout test FR 1 BR 1 All OK

C’est bon! 1st Corps has delivered a splendid attack, and together with our artillery we have crushed the impetuous British Guard cavalry. Both armies look fragile, but as we go into the afternoon, the French have more esprit.


The major problem is the Prussians in Plancenoit. Should I deal with that threat first? I think not. It is time to risk all and trust my veteran Guards! I shall lead them myself! We’ll hit the Prince of Orange’s Corps, right where the artillery and d’Erlon’s attack fell earlier. It’s about 3 o’clock, and it could all be over by 4.

  • Napoleon: Guard v Orange 2 or 4; take the 4; 1AC 1AM 1FM

Les Grognards!

  • Rout test BR 3+1=4 > allied morale 3 so FR win.

The Old Guard went through the left of Orange’s Corps like a knife through butter. Despite the enemy’s unexpected remaining numbers, their morale collapsed, and we are victorious. On to Brussels!

Pursuit: 41 for the French. 9 for the Allies.

What can we learn from this?

The model portrays the fine balance of the battle. Either side could have collapsed during the British cavalry charge. And the final rout test could have gone either way reflecting the actual and potential performance of the French Guard. I would have preferred a 2AC result there, because that would have portrayed more clearly a collapse of the Anglo-allied I Corps by removing its last division.

The broad plan of this play of the battle follows what I see as Napoleon’s tactics against an army whose size and quality he underestimated. Reille’s Corps was to pin the allied right and attempt to take Hougoumont. Meanwhile, the massed artillery were to demoralise the allied centre and then d’Erlon’s I Corps (best in size and quality except for the Guard) supported with cavalry would attack and rout the remainder, forcing them from the field and enabling a strong pursuit to Brussels and beyond. Lobau and the Guard stay in reserve for the unexpected.

When the Prussians start to appear, the plan cannot fundamentally change, because Napoleon needs a victory. Therefore, I threw in the Guard, but noticeably earlier than the historical battle, which worked for 3 reasons: (i) the French cavalry had caused more loss of allied morale than historically, and (ii) didn’t spend all the cavalry, and (iii) d’Erlon’s attack was much more effective than the real one.

The solo mode makes it easier than a human opponent. Wellington is not so flexible! No reserves were used. These are critical parts of the allied battle management.

I like the “Ney’s cavalry charge” mechanism. It means you cannot calculate everything, and reflects the command and communications problem of the real thing. Knowing the historical outcome, no player would choose to do it, but here you may have to.

The cards show the potential variability of outcome in specific tactical options. I think they can form a good starting point for discussions about the reality of tactical options and their results. For example, Uxbridge’s counter-attack automatically doubles the adverse effects on d’Erlon, but can vary between destruction of the British cavalry or destruction of the whole Grand Battery.

I think the game can help to address the question: did Napoleon underestimate the size of the Anglo-allied army? His deployment and plan give the French a very good chance of a major victory against a significantly smaller army, even with a Prussian threat. The plan, which includes a long wait for the ground to dry out, and quite a long time for the artillery to pound away, is very risky against a large army and a skilled opponent. Especially when it becomes clear early in the battle that Grouchy is in the wrong place.

Back to game design tomorrow!

The March of Progress: final artwork

Showing off Klemens Franz‘ artwork and layout!

Rules and scenario booklets

Introductory scenario: hand of cards for Orange player

Age of Marlborough scenario cards

Game development components!

New style of boxes!

Boxes for The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress

From our soon-to-be-finished Kickstarter at:

There are only 2 Tomatoes…

…and they are Jordi and Alvaro!

Although 2Tomatoes do sell a lot of The Walking Dead products, there is a lot more to it than zombies. 2Tomatoes is a relatively new Spanish publisher based in Barcelona. They have a good range of products, including Belfort, Yokohama and Root, amongst others, mostly localised for Spain and France. We were impressed by their ability to work successfully across companies in different countries with different cultures and to create their own products too.

Our first partnership with 2Tomatoes was for Tony’s excellent Guilds of London, back in 2016.

Cover of the Spanish version of Guilds of London

Then, as with our colleagues at Frosted Games, we embarked on the Pocket Campaigns series, starting with the 2nd Edition of The Cousins’ War. I must admit I didn’t know that the Wars of the Roses would be a popular topic outside the English-speaking world, but it has proved to be welcomed by both Spanish and German players. There is a possibility we may be looking at a French edition too, if we collectively decide to make a third edition.

Now we have embarked on the next phase of the Pocket Campaigns series together, with The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress. Our Kickstarter has funded within 42 hours of its start! This is mainly due to the expertise of Jordi and Alvaro, who have really shown us a thing or two about marketing (not one of SSG’s strong points).


2Tomatoes in their own words: “We met at uni and after having adventures more or less all over the world we founded the company with a simple goal in mind: make games that are different, that stand out. We’re very passionate about what we do and we only publish games that we love. It is a lot of work but we can live with the burden. Expect more from us soon…

“We fell in love with The Cousins’ War in the first game. Simple rules yet meaty decisions in a small box for 2 players. It’s not only a great game, but also an amazing product. When we tested The March of Progress & Ming Voyages some months ago we felt the same way. It was an easy decision to make to join SSG Pocket Campaigns series.”