After the Battle of Towton, 1461
I wanted to run a committee game about the decisions taken by the Yorkist faction after they had won the Battle of Towton, 1461. This battle is regarded as one of the most decisive victories – and a bit of a surprise – of the Wars of the Roses. It is also regarded as one of the most bloody too.
My inspiration for this game was Andrew Hadley‘s “The Bastard Comes” megagame, that starts immediately after the Battle of Hastings, 1066, and examines the problems of victory. Andy’s game got me thinking about the post-victory challenge. Was it as cut and dried as it looked? What were the challenges of imposing your political will after demonstrating your military might? Perhaps after the victory the worms of jealousy, petty rivalries and revenge would gnaw at the alliance of victorious actors? And the defeated are still there, what can they do?
Some Tech Talk
My initial idea was to run this as a club game with three teams, Yorkists, Lancastrians, and a neutral team. But since the 2020 Lockdown I have had to run the game online and change a few things.
To run the game online I made the following digital documents.
- A Google Sites website that contained all the links to other documents and the rules – After the Battle of Towton, 1461.
- The map and counters were accessed via Mural a multi-user interactive whiteboard. [My Mural free trial ends in June 2020 – the link will probably fail after that date]
- I tracked the orders and the cash flow of the players using a Google Sheet.
- I wrote the player briefings in Google Docs and posted the individual briefings to each player by email by copy and paste.
- The player interaction were run on a Jitsi video conferencing server.
I will talk about how these digital tools worked in my post-game analysis.
This was the first play through of my game and was really a play-test.
For the online game I wanted between 3 to 7 players, all in the Yorkist faction. I was going to act as control, moving the game on, providing intelligence, answering player questions and making judgement calls on any rules.
The game is not meant to pose difficult strategic or military challenges. The challenge for the players is to satisfy their ambitions for more money, lands, offices and power. I gave the players historic briefs representing this internal rivalry. Ultimately this rivalry led to the 1469 rebellion and unthroning of Edward IV.
Each player represented a historic character. On the day I had 6 players attend and the following roles were played:
- Edward IV
- Earl of Warwick
- Lord Montague
- Lord Fauconberg
- Sir William Hastings
- Sir John Fogge
My seventh role was the Duke of Norfolk.
This is always the crucial decision and a lot of fun.
I cast John R to play Edward IV. In my opinion Edward IV in 1461 was a useful idiot to the manipulative Earl of Warwick. John was to have a role-playing challenge. Edward is an 18 year old youth, obsessed with the Court of King Arthur and the trappings of chivalry, other than remaining as king, these were his main objectives in the game.
My next casting was for the Nevill family (Warwick, Montagu, and Fauconberg). I appointed Tom H, Jon C, and Andy G in that order. The Nevill’s are all grasping ambitious upstarts and want similar things and would have to negotiate who could get what. They have only just hitched their wagon to the Yorkist cause and have their own power base enabling them to plough a fairly independent route. Edward will have to keep them happy or else. And there is scope for the Nevills to fall out over who gets what too.
My last group are the real new guys – Edward IV’s reign saw the rise of able “commoners” to high office. The roles were Sir William Hastings, and Sir John Fogge, played by Jerry E and Martin F. They represented Yorkist loyalists who started in the Duke of York’s household and had demonstrated their ability to get things done – literate, numerate and political creatures. They were scripted to be rivals for Edward’s patronage.
In the full [analog] version of the game I had a couple of players run the Lancastrian resistance. I thought for an online play test handling a second team would be too much for me as control. I created a spreadsheet containing a timetable of events that was to be my control script.
Summary of the Rules
The rules are available here https://sites.google.com/view/after-towton-1461/home.
In brief the players start the turn talking. They then make one move order and take one action. There is a mixture of admin and governmental work to be done, pacifying the country with the King’s Progress or Commissions of Enquiry, and pure military actions, hunting rebels or besieging rebel strongholds. Most actions or movement would cost money, and a few would generate income. The probabilities and outcomes of all actions were open.
There was only one tracker – Kingship. It represented how well Edward IV was regarded as a good and proper Medieval King. It was calculated by checking the number of Lancastrian support “badges” on the map against the Yorkist badges. Kingship is used throughout the game to modify most die rolls.
At the end of the turn, Control would update the player counters on the map, check their spreadsheets and update them with any intelligence or Lancastrian actions.
The rules were meant to be something the players could learn as they went along, by following each step in the order of play. In my analog game design the rules about actions or royal offices would be on a set of cards and easily accessible. As this was a digital game I could not use card play – unless I wanted to program something like Tabletop Simulator.
Post Game Analysis
We managed to play 5 turns over 2.5 hours, which being online and a new game to the players was an impressive 30 minutes a turn.
The players’ actions were very similar to the historical outcome – which I like to see in a test run. It means I’ve got something right.
Video Conferencing for Gaming
The players are now quite used to using Jitsi video conferencing and this worked well.
Also having only 6 players on one video chat seems to be an ideal number. At certain points in the turn I decided to impose some discipline on the players and called out names when I required a response or needed to impart information. This is just good Control discipline.
The committee game structure worked. There was a lot of good role-playing and debate about what actions the faction should take. I think the players enjoyed this.
Mural – multiplayer interactive spreadsheet
I had thought that the players would write their orders and then as control I would implement them on the Mural whiteboard. We soon abandoned this – the spreadsheet was too much for one Control to process. If I had had an assistant!
Eventually I got the players to move their own tokens on the board. I as Control changed any status tokens, like support markers, Kingship totals etc.
Mural is a very nice piece of software, though expensive. I have a 90 day free trial! One tip – ensure you lock down the main elements, like the map, the system trackers etc. They can so easily moved or deleted.
One “diy” option is to share a Google Slides with the players. This works very well if you are using a map with counters.
What didn’t work
Rules on a website
The players found using a website to read the rules meant they could not print out a well formatted copy or quickly find things on the page.
It’s good to have all the links in one place; better to have the rules formatted well in a word document.
Also it’s a good idea to embed as many of the rules as you can on the interactive whiteboard! I had some but not all rules there.
None of the players attempted to arrange any marriages for their children.
In my earlier designs I had taken betrothals out and then put it back, still with some doubts. I left it in to test it. The explanation of the players at the end of the game was they had too many pressing problems to resolve – removing Lancastrian rebels, preparing the King’s coronation and besieging the Lancastrian fortresses.
The game I created was more operational than high strategy and marriages were a poor fit.
Spreadsheet for Income / Expenditure
Some players were happy to use the spreadsheets and others found it daunting.
Money is important in the game. But the spreadsheet was an additional thing I had to make to make the game run online. In the club game I would just use coins or paper money.
Next time I run any game online I will ask the players to use pencil and paper and make three columns, income, expenditure and subtotal. [And trust them.]
I need to run the game in test more often to get the amount of money in the system just right. It is one of those difficult things to balance. I am minded of what Reiner Knizia used to say in his play test sessions: the player should want to do two things, but be only able to do one.
Meaningful decisions for the players
This is the eternal problem of games set in most medieval (pre-modern) settings. If one of the players is the King or the senior Lord, the other players can contribute to any debate but the real decision lies with the King etc.
In this game I don’t think the players had enough difficult choices to make. There seemed to be almost too much to go round in terms of cash, offices and titles. Maybe the players were too reasonable. Maybe my briefs were not challenging enough. But more likely I gave too much cash, and too many rewards.
I have a plan to completely change the game. I learnt a lot from this play test, and most of what I learnt was what to abandon, what to simplify and a completely new approach to player actions.
I won’t say anymore except to thank my players for making my game test work and for their post-game critiques.