Designer: John Welch
Artists: Tim Allen and Vinh Ha
Genre: Solitaire English Civil Wars wargame
Playing Time: 60 to 180 Minutes
It’s interesting to see how far the States of Siege line of games has come in a relatively short period of time. The first game in the line, Darin A. Leviloff’s Israeli Independence, was a quick hitter sort of solitaire game; a couple pages of rules, crank a play out in around fifteen minutes, Bang! Zoom! Dust yourself off from an Arab thrashing and set it all up to play again. Quite a few of the SoS releases which followed were a bit of the same formula even though some added complexity and play time entered the mix. Then we began to see a shift in philosophy within the series as We Must Tell the Emperor and Malta Besieged appeared (unfortunately neither of those titles are still available) and suddenly gamers began to enjoy a lot of more meat in those States of Siege games. While John Welch’s two previous SoS offerings also had a touch more complexity than the earliest games in the line I think it was Herman Luttmann’s Dawn of the Zeds, as well as the two out of print titles, which really got other designers’ juices flowing as far as what could be achieved within this solitaire framework.
What’s in the Box
Now with the release of Cruel Necessity, as well as the heavy hitting zombie action of Dawn of the Zeds 2nd Edition from Victory Point Games, “the little company that could” has two serious Cadillac titles for fans of solo gaming.
Cruel Necessity focuses on the three Civil Wars which racked England from 1640 through 1659. While even those with a passing interest of history have no doubt heard of Cavaliers (supporters of the crown) and Roundheads (those who backed Parliamentary government) struggling for control of England, and by extension Scotland and Ireland, a misconception exists the nearly twenty year unrest was a single event. In truth three separate and rather unique uprisings took place, which are much too large in scope to rehash here in much depth, but it’s important to note Cruel Necessity allows you to play any of three civil wars individually or combine them into a larger campaign.
You can take a peek at the video above to see all you’ll find in the box. Suffice to say everything is top notch from VPG once again, from the really nice card stock, extra thick counters, twenty page rulebook, and solid paper map. Yes, it is a paper map and that’s been discussed in quite a few areas here at TGG but the decision was made to include a paper map rather than the usual mounted and paper maps to keep the price point reasonable. There is a bit of confusion on the VPG website though as the boxed edition SKU info indicates “Cruel Necessity box includes a paper and Mounted Map (if applicable)” which even with an explanation of why there is no mounted map in this Gold Banner title – right on that very page no less – has still caused some buyers to think they should have received a mounted map…
The player takes the leadership of Parliament and the goal is to end the Divine Right of Kings as far as the English populace is concerned. While the aim isn’t to completely remove the idea of monarchy in and of itself the removal of Charles I and Charles II is foremost. To do so you’ll need to juggle a multitude of challenges requiring your attention, and those familiar with the latest SoS titles understand there’s always more which needs tending than your available resources can handle. Although I will mention, in Cruel Necessity, you now possess Zeal which is used as a form of currency (or maybe action purchase pool would be a better description…) rather than resolving the number of Actions available to you in a given turn based upon the card drawn.
I like this shift, as in other games in the SoS line you tend to get used to seeing certain cards, doing things in a certain way. For example, quite a few events in the other titles will contain something very bad taking place and then topping it off with maybe only providing you with a couple of actions points in order to respond. In Cruel Necessity you can groan because you turned over a less than desirable card AND you’ve hamstrung yourself because you foolishly spent Zeal previously. In my opinion you can better prepare for the difficult times ahead through smart play while also finding the Cavaliers can pour it on if you haven’t been clever.
Event Phase – Draw the top card from the Event deck and resolve the indicated A.I. actions. This phase is very similar to other SoS titles ,although there’s a big more cooking with each of the cards as invading armies can advance, political tracks are adjusted, DRMs applied for the turn, internal disturbances breaking out, and more. Each item is resolved in order of appearance on the card. Some Event cards are possible Achievements you can acquire, through spending Zeal, and these not only provide victory points but also make adjustments to the game environment as well. Only three Achievements can be available at one time and if you draw another Achievement while three are still on the map, the earliest Achievement can no longer be purchased as it drops off.
Tactical Battles take place during the event phase too.
Action Phase – You can begin to wield your might to react to the Events phase or even be proactive in your approach. You’ll spend zeal on purchasing Achievements, campaigning against enemy armies, besiege enemy fortresses, strengthen your own fortresses, put down revolts and acts of Deviltry, add a plus one DRM for a unit by infusing it with Zeal, engage in politics to manipulate the tracks, or even declare Desperate Times in order to lower your Puritanism track one space in order to gain a point of Zeal; if you control Dublin and/or Edinburgh you can do the same with the Ireland and Scotland tracks each turn as well. Truthfully, you don’t want to drop these tracks too often as they drop all by themselves just fine…
End Times Phase – Simply check to see if you’ve lost, either with four “F”s or the loss of London, or if you’ve reached the final card of the scenario or campaign and more on to the victory scoring. If you haven’t lost or you still have cards to play move on to the final phase.
Housekeeping Phase – Make sure to remove all the temporary DRMs from units – something veterans of States of Siege know is critical to keeping a game flowing – and tabulate your Zeal for the next turn. As long as you control London you’ll always earn three Zeal points. Plus, if you lose London the game’s over anyway… But on any given turn you’ll normally have three to seven Zeal based on control of Parliamentary strongholds or if you keep on keeping on the Catholics on the down and out.
Cruel Necessity contains a lot of new wrinkles which haven’t been seen before in the series. Gone are the days of only rolling a die to see if you can stall or push back invading enemies. Granted, you still have the option to cause an army to retreat as before but now you’ll also have to deal with politics, revolts (yes, we Irish are always up in arms about something), fortifications, economics, and historical tactical battles. These battles take place by way of Event cards, “The Battle of…”, and the action takes place on a separate Battle Mat. Both armies draw randomly from units within their ranks but the player gets use any of his named units (normally much better than the usual rabble composing the levies) before filling the additional units at random. You’ll have four armies normally arrayed against you: the Royalists in the North and West, as well as Ireland and Scotland.
The player is also confronted with six Political tracks which represent Parliament, Puritanism, Scotland (known as Godly Rule and Republicanism) and Ireland, Monarchy, and Catholicism (The Forces of Opposition and Despair). You’ll want to manipulate these tracks with Zeal points because the higher up the first three markers is on their respective track the better it is for you as you receive positive DRMs, extra Zeal, and such. Conversely, when the markers on the wrong side of the tracks you’ll find your effectiveness as the champion of Parliamentary rule hampered. If any four markers reside in boxes which provide an “F” grade you’ll lose the game. You’ll also be defeated if you no longer have control of London at the end of a turn.
There’s tons going on within a game of Cruel Necessity and I’d recommend downloading the rules from the VPG site to take a peak as opposed to me rehashing everything here.
As someone who over the past decade or so has become more interested in world history, as opposed to mainly American history, I really appreciate the research John Welch has put into the design of Cruel Necessity. Truthfully 17th England isn’t really my forte since I tend to be interested more in what took place before the Protestant Reformation and religion REALLY started mucking everything up historically. Yet after a few plays of Cruel Necessity you won’t be able to escape becoming much more informed about the English Civil Wars and feeling smarter.
While I really like Cruel Necessity a ton, there are a few items to mention as the solitaire game may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Which leads to my first observation: While Cruel Necessity has sold gangbusters across the pond, many American wargamers might not have a strong interest in the English Civil Wars. Just as the Spanish understandably still mull over their own civil war I highly doubt many Spaniards lose much sleep over our own here in the U.S. I don’t mean this as any knock against the game (or Spain either) but simply think a prospective buyer should have at least a spark of interest in 17th century England. I’m not saying you have to be a historian but the period being gamed should hold interest for you in order to get the most out of Cruel Necessity.
Also, as I mentioned before, this is one of the Cadillac SoS titles for VPG. That also means this is an extremely dense experience and gamers who are accustomed to knocking out a solitaire game in an hour or less should be aware playing the campaign game – especially the first couple times out – will take a good three hours to complete. While you can certainly play one of the scenarios in an hour or so, you really miss out on a lot of the tasty meat of the design if you don’t tackle the campaign; sort of like ordering a steak and salad but never getting around to eating the steak. You want the steak baby! I know some folks out there have issues with how VPG produces their rulebooks and, for the most part, because I grew up with Avalon Hill, SPI, VG, and others I don’t have a huge problem with the traditional presentation. That said, I did seem to have to take a touch longer that usual to grasp everything in Cruel Necessity but I chalk that up to all the moving parts within the design.
I can’t say my final item should be construed as a negative either but more of an observation of my personal taste. While the inclusion of the Tactical Battles makes for an interesting new twist you don’t really have a great deal of control within these battles outside of using Battle Event cards you’ve been hanging onto or adding a DRM here or there through Achievements or spent Zeal to influence the strength or your army. This lack of control also extends to when these Tactical Battles take place as they occur based on Event cards so if you end up with more battles earlier in the deck you won’t have an advantage without the better units to bring to the fight. The player does have a choice of playing through the Tactical Battles or resolving these historical confrontations without using the Battle Mat if they’d like. It’s also worth mentioning most of these battles will result in draws more often than not; this isn’t due to a problem within the mechanics of Cruel Necessity but a result that historically many battles did not end with decisive results for either side.
Don’t let my comments above dissuade you from picking up Cruel Necessity as I’m not being overly critical of the design but simply pointing out some personal thoughts. I previously mentioned Cruel Necessity is a Cadillac title from VPG as you’ll find plenty of little extras which stand out and the gameplay is top notch. While I can’t say it’s the most difficult title in the States of Siege line to win (in fact I’m surprised how rarely you truly lose before the decks run out) but you’ll be hard pressed to match Oliver Cromwell’s historical accomplishments, let alone pulling off a stunning victory which radically changes the future of England as we know it.
For wargamers who love a good solid solo experience, Cruel Necessity is a no brainer as far as being an addition to your collection. If you’ve in any way interested in England’s history during this fateful period of turmoil this title is a must have as well. While the subject matter may not have as such broad appeal as say Dawn of the Zeds, John Welch’s latest design is highly recommended as it will provide many hours of challenging play for gamers who enjoy a heavy dose of history on their table top.