Shameless, Impudent and Indebted Lords – 1450
My aim for this game is to produce a club game for between 10 and 15 players, based on the political, economic and eventual military conflict in mid 15th Century England.
I am due to run this game for the Holborn Gaming group in June. I attend this gaming group fairly regularly. They are not a game designing group like CLWG, the games they host are usually games designed by the games organiser and the emphasis is for a wargame / committee game playable within four hours. It is a different discipline from CLWG where we will bring half-baked game ideas and critically analyse the game design and how to improve and develop it. Holborn are more about playing a game over a Sunday afternoon, with a buffet lunch thrown in.
Given these constraints I thought it would be a good idea to run a test game at CLWG to try out some ideas.
- The game has to cater for between 10 and 15 players.
- One of the players requested that he would like to play “Jack Cade”
- I wanted to include the “debt” crisis of the late 1440s.
- It will last for 3 – 4 hours.
I organised a play test for upto 8 players, hoping really for 6, and on the day I had 8.
The game starts in the middle of the crisis, with the murder of the Duke of Suffolk in May 1450. At this point the Lancastrian v Yorkist positions were not real factions; the factions were pro current war policy or critical of the war policy.
I had the following characters.
- Queen Margaret of Anjou
- Duke of York
- Duke of Somerset
- Duke of Buckingham
- Sir Nicholas Wyfold (Lord Mayor of London)
- Sir John Cheyne, MP and Commissioner of Array for Kent
- Earl of Devon
- Lord Bonville
Henry VI is a sub-game. He is an impossible character to ask a player to role-play. He varies from comatose to lively. He is preoccupied with living a quiet, secluded monastic life and sleeping a lot. So a sub-game with cards and die rolls is the best way to represent this difficult man. His current mental health state restricts the number of actions the Government can enact; and also restricts Queen Margaret’s desire to get pregnant and thus resolve the Heir crisis.
Each turn Queen Margaret had to draw a “Henry’s Whim” card and choose to agree or disagree with Henry. Each of these cards was based on the bizarre ideas and policies Henry had. If Margaret opposed his whim, he would have to roll to see if his mental health changed, and if she agreed with him, she would have to enact some policy that would either irritate her supporters or her opposition or both.
I did not make player teams as such, I used briefings to sketch your political position and who had supported you and who had opposed you. For example Queen Margaret and Somerset were mutually supportive. The Duke of York had support from the Commoners. The Duke of Buckingham was the “third war” and was briefed to get a diplomatic settlement.
Post-game I would suggest that I needed to make these positions much more obvious, perhaps even getting the players to sit together and briefing them together about their mutual positions. It’s the difference between relying on “discover learning” and “guided learning” – something as a teacher I should know about.
The game was played on three separate tables.
1. Royal Chambers Table
This is where the Queen and her closest advisers could retire and discuss policy. It was also where the Henry’s Whims cards were played and the Henry VI tracker – “Makes His England Bleed” – was placed. Though in the playtest I realised that Henry’s status needed to be shown on another table!
2. The Parliament / Court and Council Table
This was where most players would sit and discuss parliamentary business, State business etc.
At this table players are not able to control any military forces on Campaign table. All Lords at this table had to pay to be on this table, thus illustrating the expense of maintaining themselves away from the estates and also wasting their valuable time, when they should be on their estates directing their servants, building loyalty amongst their affinity and generally forwarding the personal interests.
3. Campaign Table
I reused the Kingmaker map in case any of the players were inclined to fight. Players here are not allowed to talk to the players on the other tables
The Crown Debt
The game also started in the middle of a debt crisis.
Acts of Resumption
The House of Commons – represented by the two players Sir John and Sir Nicholas – had submitted for the second time a Petition “The Acts of Resumption” that demanded all the Crown Lands alienated in grants to favourites be restored to the Crown and a council set up to control future grants of Crown Estates. This was not popular with the Crown.
The commons main leverage was that they had refused to vote any taxation to cover the 1449 Normandy campaign and thus Rouen and other towns had fallen to the French.
Crown Debts, Income and Expenditure
In addition the Government had listed of all of its debts, its income and its expenditure; this was a document the previous Treasurer had collated, in 1448, in order to deflect criticism from his handling of the finances.
Almost all the main players had lent large sums over the past few years to the Crown and had not had their repayments paid this year. This was partly because the House of Commons had refused to vote a tax on the Commons and Clergy in 1449, depriving the Crown of nearly a third of its income.
Each turn a new Event Card was turned. All were based on real events, some were just illustrations of how upset the country was, and how strong the support was for the removal of the King’s evil advisers. Some of the events were news of the military defeats and disasters in Normandy. Some of these cards would also require the Henry VI sub-game to check for his mental health status.
Each player had either a Muster your Affinity card, a Commission of Array card or a Great Assembly card. These represented the different ways soldiers could be recruited and deployed on the map. There were different costs, modifiers based on social disruption and time delays involved in playing these cards and getting the soldiers on to the map on the Campaign table.
Post Game Reflection
1. A card for each thing
I had looked over my 1973 edition of Kingmaker. What I liked about the design was that each “thing” in the game had a card for it – so all the Royal Offices, Estates, Titles, Soldiers etc. had a card. Holding that card was a simple and effective way to show what each player had.
I had made cards only for the items I knew were held by players at the start of the game and left a lot of blank cards so that new cards could be made as the game progressed. Next time, I will ensure all things have a card.
I will also provide each player with a player board where they will put their cards out on display – partly because this will help the player organise their hands and partly because it was public knowledge and needs to be made prominent in the game.
2. Sub Games
Henry VI Sub-Game
This worked reasonably well, though it mostly involved Queen Margaret in the sub-game. The outcome was of interest to all players, but only the Queen had any agency. She could of course invite other players to advise her.
One suggestion in the debrief was to have a much stronger indication of the King’s mental health state than a simple plain text table and have this prominently displayed on the Parliament and Council table.
In feedback from the players they mentioned how thin their roles were, that they did not have enough to do. This is true; in my defence I was only really attempting a 6 player test of the main parliamentary rules and the Henry’s Whim elements of the game. I will need the following sub-games for the larger 10 – 15 player game.
I need to have a simple game to reflect the issues the Crown had in financing and running the defence of Normandy. There are some interesting choices to make for the English, the French were on the offensive but with a distinct plan. If the English can fund a larger army and not squander it in lost battles they will be able counter the French besieging strategy.
Estates & Regional Game
In the 10 – 15 player game I will have several players who are running their own little campaigns of plunder, raiding and recruitment in their region. There is the conflict between the Percies and Nevilles in the north, and the Bonvilles and deCourtenays in the south-west. These Lords should be looking for support for their causes from the major power blocks as the Crown is ineffective. Some analysts suggest that the first major violent outbreak at St Albans, 1455, was driven by a Yorkist alliance with the Nevilles, v the Somerset alliance with the Percies.
Although I have a player who wants to be Jack Cade it is a little bit of a one policy sideshow and does not fit the longer timetable of the other issues. The Cade Rebellion was finished in about 3 to 4 weeks; the Normandy campaign lasted 2 years; and the radicalisation of the Lancastrians v the Yorkists lasted about 6 years until the first Battle of St. Albans in 1455.
I thought I had dealt with this role by including Commons players who were to work with the parliamentary sessions, petitioning and voting on bills until they got fed up the indifference of the Crown and they launched the Jack Cade revolt. This did not seem to be happening in the game. Again this comes down to proper casting and briefing. Don’t hint; tell the player their role!
3. Player Teams
I knew I could not create teams for the play test as I expected only 6 players. For the larger game I should create the following teams.
The Duke of York and a Commons player and a lower ranking Lord. These players will not be a publicy declared team – historically many were accused of conspiring with the Duke but none were found guilty.
Historically Somerset had several Lords assisting his campaign in Normandy and maintaining support and funds in London. This was the Court faction, and in government.
I should give the rest of the players the option of joining one of the above teams.
4. Final thoughts
I have a lot I can build on here; however… I do wonder if I am attempting run a game that attempts to cover too much. This is related to the perennial Medieval problem: what role do the lesser Lords have in a medieval game? There is a game for the main protagonists – York v Somerset, Anjou v York etc. – but what role is there for Lord Bonville? (So what do I do in the game?)
I have a game that will work as a six player committee game, but not a twelve player grand strategy game.
I am tempted to select a different scenario, the 1469 crisis, when the Earl of Warwick rebels against Edward IV. This was a time when all had to make a decision which way to flop – for Edward or for Warwick and Clarence and will Warwick seek support from the Lancastrians? And there is no financial crisis, Jack Cade rebellion, or campaign in Normandy that requires a sub-game.
I would welcome any thoughts on this.