Tuesday, January 05, 2010

City State Warfare

For the next game in my collection, we come to City State Warfare. I believe I got this game in the early '90s when I was living in Springfield and attending Missouri State University (not that it was called that at the time, of course). The game is a pretty generic tactical combat system for medieval style fighting. I say that because the average units in the game are footmen, bowmen, and mounted knights. All your standard medieval fare. The game also includes fantasy units, such as goblins and elves, but that is more for flavor and to expand the appeal of the game, as those units are treated the same by the game rules as the regular historical human units.

The game system itself is pretty generic, and doesn't hold up well to modern designs. Each counter represents living things, so a footman unit represents 20 men, while a mounted units represents 10 riders and 10 horses. Each hex on the map (two of which are included with the game) represents 60 feet. On your turn, you can move your units around the map up to their Movement Factor. You want to get your units next to enemy units so they can fight, but only when you outnumber them, so the odds are in your favor. The way to do this is by stacking your units as tight as possible in a few hexes, up to the stacking limit (3 mounted units, or 6 foot units, or combinations thereof). This allows you to attack with more punch, as you total up the Melee Factors of all attacking units when making an attack roll.

Attack rolls are made by rolling a six-sided die and referencing the Combat Results Table. First you find the Defense Class of the unit, and you find the row for your die roll. Then you slide over to the right to find your total Factors Attacking rating, and then you see how many enemy units you eliminated (none, one, two, or three). It is pretty basic, but it gets the job done. Maneuver actually becomes pretty important with this system, which I like, as just charging head-on is a good way to get dead unless your units are way better quality than their targets.

The game comes with 10 historical scenarios for you to fight it out with your friends. There are all right, and seem relatively balanced (usually through each side having different victory conditions). However, the meat of the game is in something else. See, the game was published by Judges Guild, which made a lot of adventures and supplements for fantasy role-playing games. In fact, this game says right up front on the first page of the rules that it was designed to allow RPG players to play out any battles that might occur during a RPG campaign. Hence the fantasy units, but hence some other aspects of the game.

First, each side will have one or more leaders. In historical scenarios these represent actual military commanders, but in a fantasy game they can represent player characters, thus allowing players to have their individual characters affect the battle directly. There are also detailed rules for how you can go about building up your own army through hiring mercenaries or even forming a goon squad to force the local peasants into your armed forces (just don't expect high morale in those units if you do that!), as well as how to design your own game units to reflect whatever oddball collection of troops you come up with.

As befits a game with campaign play in mind, there are also tables to determine how many of your people actually died in each unit lost, as realistically people don't fight to the last man in all situations, and having a unit "eliminated" could just mean that a few people got stabbed and the rest freaked and ran away, only to slink back to camp a week later. In the same way, eliminated leaders almost never actually die, but they can get maimed, or captured and ransomed back, or captured and then escape while stealing enemy treasure, etc. Lots of different things can happen. There is even a random mission generation table if you just want to come up with a random reason for a battle, though I don't think it works very well, and was most likely a late addition to fill up page count.

Overall, this game could use some work to bring some of its game mechanics into line with modern design principles, but the underlying system works decently enough. That said, it doesn't need a lot of work, and designing your own units is fun. Heck, I once wrote an entire campaign system just to let me fight out a bunch of battles with this game, and have had a lot of fun with it over the years. Definitely a keeper.

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