David J Morimer presents his fast playing 2-player WAR of the ROSES
Published by Surprised Stare Games Ltd this edition includes the TIME of CHANGE expansion
Check it out at your Local Game Store or visit Surprised Stare Games
Many years ago the War of the Roses took place regularly in England when Leeds Utd (white) played Man Utd or Liverpool (reds) but a good few years before that the House of York (white) fought the House of Lancaster (red). Leeds were on top for a good while until it all went wrong and then like their Yorkist cousins they were eventually relegated.
The Cousins' War is so-called because the war originated between two factions of the Plantagenets and then, as in this game, the French stuck their noses in (much like Cantana who left Leeds for Man Utd) and tempers frayed.
The Cousins' War board game is a card and dice based recreation of the 15th Century Wars of the Roses using the 'Liar's Dice' mechanic mixed with a war games objective of territory control for the win!
I have to admit that the first time we read through the rules they didn't gel immediately just from reading them out loud, neither of us could quite picture a turn or round fluently playing out in our heads. But once we talked and walked through the first few minutes the light bulb went on and the basics clicked into place.
The map shows the island of England (plus the Northern and Western bumps) divided into three colour coded sections, North, South and Central, each with 2 or 3 noted Battlefields. The deck of cards (excluding the expansion set) has two types of cards, Battlefields (one for each of those marked on the map) and Events, the latter being designed so that there is an advantage to the card-player but also possibly useful to the opponent as well. This is because there are two sections on each Event card plus the Command Point value (found as a number of gold stars in the top right corner) that can be brought into play. This three - part card idea is excellent. It means that it saves on components (and thus cost) and keeps rules explanations and descriptions down to a bare minimum without losing any of the complexities.
The COUSINS' WAR takes place over 5 Rounds but can end sooner if a Round ends with one player controlling all three Regions; meaning that they are the only one with at least one Influence marker in each Region; you control a Region simply by having more Influence markers in it than your opponent. This sounds like it could be easy to accomplish but it isn't as easy as it sounds.
The game is about Battles for the Regions and these take place on Battlefield Cards. Both players select a Battlefield card from their hand and play them face up, the one with the earliest date being chosen for the Round. One at a time the players play cards from their hands using either the Events or the Command Points. Command Points allow you to bring troops from the main Supply to your Reserve, from your Reserve to the Battlefield card or Move/Place Influence markers etc. You should end up with one card spare in your hand which you may be able to use the CPs of to aid your dice roll during the Battle.
I said that this uses a 'Liar's Dice' mechanic and indeed the dice system is very much like that. The first player secretly rolls their three dice and keeps the result hidden from the opponent. They then call out One Die number result, A Double Number result or a TRIPLE number result, but the fun part is they don't have to call out a true result, they can lie!
The opponent, in the dark as far as what the dice results really are, then has to confirm that they believe the call os state that they don't believe it. If opponent says they believe the call, the player who rolled the dice quietly collects them [the dice] into their hands and doesn't say what they rolled - they stick with what they called out. If the opponent doesn't believe the call then the dice are revealed and if the call was true the opponent loses a unit from the Battlefield card. If the call was a lie the die rolling player may use the CPs (one CP per die) to plus or minus a spot, for example changing a '3' to a '2' or a '4', to try to create the result called. If they cannot change the dice to equal the call then they lose a unit from the Battlefield card and the Call to be beaten changes to the current result as seen on the CP changed dice. Whatever the result, true or lie, the opposing player now gets to roll their three dice and try to beat the call.
Depending on the result versus the call one player will lose one, two or perhaps three units from the card. If both sides still have units on the card then there is another turn of battle, otherwise one player wins and keeps the Battlefield card; the marker on the top of the card is then moved along to the next box and a new Round begins. Five Rounds and the game ends.
When you get down to just one of each army's units on the card the opponent is almost always going to accept the call because they will have a chance, even if the call was three x six, to roll their dice before losing their last piece. Of course if the call is 3 x 6, 3 x 5 or 2 x 6 or 2 x 5 there is a good chance the roller is bluffing, but even so if you challenge and you are wrong then you lose your last piece without a fight. The challenge can depend on how well do you know your opponent? I've been with Fran for 47 years and she can still look me in the face and lie without giving anything away, whereas I make a call and there's a 75% chance she will know if I am bluffing or not.
As I said, it took us a while to get the rules to gel in our thoughts, this was mostly our fault in misreading the Battle Sequence on page 12, which was somehow confusing us, but once it clicked it clicked and it has since become a regular favourite here when a 2-player game is required to fill in a 30 minute slot. Once you know how to play it takes seconds to set it up and anything up to 30 minutes to play. Is it a good representation of the War of the Roses? Not really. Does it matter? Not at all. It's a good challenging game which requires a bit of luck and some thoughtful card play.