#23… of Ropes and Grapples and Rings of Fire (1565 St Elmo’s Pay)

I thought a bout a brief  get away to the sun…and where better than Malta…or so I thought

…but who are all these Ottoman chappies, milling about all over the shop, getting under foot and completely ruining every holiday photo I try to take…

…I have to say, all these muskets, crossbow and rings of fire play merry hell with one’s sight seeing

 

INTRO:

“Relive the Greatest Siege in History!

A vendetta spanning decades reaches its terrible and bloody crescendo!

Suleiman the Magnificent’s 30,000 strong armada descends on the 500 beleaguered Knights of St John and the defending people of Malta, with the express purpose of wiping them from existence, and changing the course of history forever…

 

So What’s All The Fuss About?

A historical card game! This time St Elmo’s Pay is set in and around Malta as the Grand Master, Jean Paristot de Valette takes to the field against the Ottoman commander,  Mustafa Pasha

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It is no secret, as mentioned in previous reviews, that I am an absolutely ginormous fan of Hall or Nothing’s first project Gloom of Kilforth which was, in fact, my very first review some while back. Some twelve months later on from GoK, 1066 Tears to Many Mothers found its way to both sides of my table… the fuss here was mostly my anticipation for a head to head game set during the shenanigans of the  Battle of Hastings. Not just that, but Tristan has spent a great deal of time working on a system that allows either side to be automated. Now this definitely builds my anticipation. A game set during a significant part of British history, art matching that of the Gloom of Kilforth and a solo variant to boot. That is what the fuss is about this time?

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Well, using a similar format and gameplay, a sequel-ish 1565 St Elmo’s Pay has hit Kickstarter and funded very quickly. A more historically modern setting, but with much of the flare from its predecessor

…but is all this new excitement just a little premature. is it going to meet my ridiculously high expectations?

let us find out…

Immersion or Subversion?

It has to be said that the standard for imagery has resulted in yet another sumptuous collection of 170+ pieces of absolute delight. Now I always say great art alone maketh not a good game. but bloody hell, once more these images really help create such an atmosphere that we could quite easily imagine ourselves  amidst the fracas… So, this does help build part of that immersive feel but it is not flashy, shiny shiny! There is a true gritty realism to each image. Beyond the lengthy time I have spent merely looking at each card I have in my hand, I have actually played numerous games so far, and surprisingly the units available, the event effects, attachments and various skills and abilities all bear that similar true historical accuracy found in 1066, though nicely adapting the game mechanics to introduce the more modern elements of military armament from the later period.

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This is not a game of miniatures taking to a sculpted battlefield, trying to accurately represent the conflict at Malta, but by goodness as a card game, it really does immerse us into the antics of 1066.

….oh, the art, the art…

Mechanical Attributes:

There is strong hand management element to this game in as much as each card we hold in our sweaty little mits, has a cost payable via various means (including abilities from cards already in play, discarding cards in our hands etc) …so holding back strong  cards or playing weaker cards for optimum use.. all add to a strong tactical application. There is no deck building, like some games that result in slow starts. I feel that as we play with a set deck, we know what might turn up on each draw but just how we utilize these cards., is key to our strategic warplan.

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The game its self is really split into two games in one. And it will be unavoidable to not repeatedly reference elements of 1066, as they share the fundamental mechanics. Initially both protagonists frantically race through a variety of historical Objective cards (each requiring addressing with abilities or traits on cards that we put into play) in their bid to reach the all famed final confrontation. Even during this section we are mindful that cards played now will also be those that will come into full effect when both sides face off on the final battle field. So not only are we planning to overcome the journey to the battlefield, these same units will be our force to face off against the foe.

This leads us to the second part of the game where all protagonists are hell bent on destroying each other and the locations (the three wedges)

It is with the same mechanics that both parts of the game are played, where we prepare, deploy cards and address Objectives or Wedges. I wont bore with technical details but the way the game dictates deployment, paying for cards using resources generated from multiple means (as previously mentioned, discarding cards from the hand, through resources generated by cards in play and card special abilities) provides us with numerous difficult choices, but simultaneously multiple ways of solving our dilemmas.

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It is pleasant to find multiple use cards… but in this case it is not an over crowded rectangle filled with confusing iconography. The majority of cards have three principal uses. Discard a card=generation of a resource… simple. A cost icon=resource cost to deploy. Three attributes for combat/confrontation and a box for special abilities/skills.

We might find that we have a field stocked full of units but we do have to be careful with the application of their attributes… Predicting what might be of most use to us  can cause big headaches. Tire a character to use an ability or attribute for a certain task and it is no longer able to help us face unforeseen event cards, for example, or help in challenges over Wedges, and so you see we have to plan very carefully.

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It is almost as if we have a small table space miniature wargame, only instead of millions of figures, with pages of stats and modifiers, we have a simple, lusciously illustrated card with all the statistics printed clearly and accessible on a series of cards.

Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:

I really don’t need to say much here as Tristan has always insisted on very high component quality and this game falls in line with those standards. The prototype I played with has almost the same standard finish as a production copy, so I am positive this will reach backers with a pleasing Hall or Nothing standard of detailed finish we have come to expect.

Meeples and Standees:

  • Game Design: Tristan Hall
  • Art: –
  • Graphic Design: –
  • Publisher: Hall or Nothing Productions
  • Play Time(or recess for those of the US persuasion):30-40 minutes
  • Gangs of One:1-2 players
  • Age of Consent:10+
  • DOB: 2019/20

Solitarianism:

Ye Ghad! This has turned out to be a pretty exceptional solo experience for me, once again. Familiarity with how 1066 plays has helped me get into the thick of the action but the rule book does a perfect job guiding the novice player.. The AI opponent gives us s real run for our money, generating an intense, competitive battle. Ordinarily, I would not  have expected a head to head battle game to be at all usable by soloists other than in the old ‘play yourself at chess’ technique, but I stand and nod my head in acknowledgement of a rather well thought out system for the soloist. There is nothing tacked on to pacify the louder soloist protagonists. This is a solid solo system that, certainly for me, works very well. As a multiplayer game, we soloists actually experience an intense game that is just as thrilling and challenging as the live player head to head.

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As a Light to slightly mid-weight strategy game (well, that is the feel for me). I don’t necessarily get deeply involved with all character’s special abilities as part of my planning (and suspect there may be some very hardcore strategists that find the game a little light) but my experience playing the game tells me this really is ‘bang on the money’. A great balance of strategy, excitement, challenge with an over balance of exceptional art.

Bots and Wotnots: 

As a head to head (player verses player) game it would not be an instinctive thought to expect this to be playable by in an solo fashion, primarily as a live opponent is constantly making decisions firstly based on their own strategy, but secondly as a reaction or pre-emption of the enemy’s own actions.

Now 1565 comes with a Solo Rule book that covers all the rules governing an opponent that works for both factions to play as an AI players. In essence the AI plays as we do, using a certain restrictiveness regarding hierarchy of deployment, defeating its own Objectives and Wedge battles. The small differences in actions an AI player has compared to us, the intrepid soloist, comes down to resources. A table of increasing resource availability (in addition …or subtraction to those available on the game surface provided by played cards) is used to allow the AI to play their cards. The AI does not have a hand of cards as we do but draws cards from its deck each turn and deploys with in the restrictions for its side of the table.

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The set I had to use did not have some of the solo specific attributes/actions/abilities on the cards, but the process and procedures are very similar to those at the heart of 1066

Initially the AI is a little restricted with resources, which results in its weaker cards coming in to play. However, as time progresses, it becomes more affluent and can replace its lowly arrow fodder cards with strong, heroic  characters. Some of this resource restriction acts as a method to replicate the human player… as we would struggle initially to build up enough resources in the early stages of a game to bung down our super powerful top brass and such.

The system on the whole is very simple for us,  the real player, to manage. There is no book keeping and no decisions to make on the AI’s behalf. Any restrictions to card placement (some units have row preference etc) are identified in the solo rule-book. Many card abilities are activated immediately which might not normally be the case for our side, but this compensates for the AI not having the deductive powers we possess. Then there is a list of abilities/actions that are ignored by the which do not become active. All in all this makes life so much easier for us, allowing us time to plan our own cunning strategy.  I have only played once thus far as the Ottoman team, as the remaining seven games have been the Malta based factions and have yet to feel that  the AI is a weak, meaningless buffoon of an opponent. It grows in strength, as we do, and although not always deploying cards as we might, the games have often been ridiculously close. In fact the three games I won have been right down to the wire, me usually being on the back foot playing catch up.

In conclusion; although this is not a bot as such, it is a semi intelligent AI system that suddenly makes an otherwise unusable game for the soloist, a great challenging head to head experience.

The Real Nitty Gritty:

  • Winners and Losers:As a two player game one player is always going to win. With the solo game, however, we are trying to defeat an artificial intelligence. It is a significant challenge working through the Objective deck and then attempting to be victorious at each of the three Wedges, but victory is achievable. It is not easy and the few victories I have achieved came about right at the last minute. This is very much an edge of your seat game.
  • Rules is Rules is Rules: 1565comes with two rule books. The base game is around the twelve page size, guiding us logically/sequentially through the do’s and don’ts, relaying the game-play in a well ordered fashion which I felt did its job effectively. So far I have not come across any situations not covered in the rules. The solo booklet of four pages length similarly makes light of explanation. I did find I had to refer to the Foe Deployment/Foe Playing Cards section repeatedly as numerous cards had exceptions to rules that I had to double check regarding placement and abilities but nothing that left me baffled or confused. I think, in two short documents, the game rules have been well conveyed to those reading them.
  • Lucky Buggers: The random draw from both our and the AI decks adds a luck element to the game but it is how we optimize the cards we have drawn. How we play them to their most effective. So, at the end of the day, with the absence of dice, there really is little left to random chance that is beyond our control.
  • Lows and Highs: The setting is one of extreme violence and heavy bloodshed. The illustrations have a distinct gritty realism but although hint at the violent exchange, they do not portray any disturbing imagery. So, from a visual perspective the game has great realism but without the disturbing aesthetic of war. The game its self is a race, a battle, a massive challenge which leaves us elated, dejected and any range of emotions between the two but at its conclusion, the forty minute roller coaster ride  of a game leaves us with a feeling akin to children disembarking a theme park ride…’again, again’
  • Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table:I was extremely lucky to have one of the gorgeous play mats that were available during the previous 1066Kickstarter campaign which, not accurate to the theme of 1565, at least h helps with setup and overall aesthetics of the game (there is likely to be something similar fwith appropriate imagery by the time the game reaches fulfilment but playmats are not integral to game play) and as such all components can be accommodated on the mat. Leaving a space for my hand of cards, I would say a playing space of 83cm x 50cm should be quite sufficient to play comfortably.
  • Set It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: If the two protagonist’s decks are kept separate it will take a matter of moments to shuffle each and plonk them on the table. Ordering the three wedges and locating the Objective cards adds a staggering couple of seconds and, of course, there are the red and blue tear/wound tokens to place near by. This is a really quick set up and shouldn’t take more than a minute or, perhaps, two for both set up and packing away.

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Me, Myself and I:

We, and really I do refer to Me, My self and I in this instance… yes all three of us, were most surprised by the game. I knew before hand it was going to be quite good but again it proved to be such an engaging challenge. I know the decks are set and the Objectives remain the same from game to game, but in my first several games not a single game played out in the same way. Even when I found some strategies that appeared to work in one game, apply them to a new game and everything goes completely to pot, as unexpected events/opponent characters chuck a homping great spanner in the works. There is enough variation and introduction of more technologically advanced methods of warfare to keep play as fresh as the old 1066. this is not just a new veneer tacked over an existing system. The advancement of ballistics introduces new ranged weaponry and I like that some card effects don’t just affect the opponent cards in play, but recreate the effect of attrition by forcing opponents to discard vital cards from their deck. Terrain effects similarly have a nice implication to opponent’s ability to use cards/resources ect further adding to the realism of more modern engagements.

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Yay or Nay?

It would be foolish of me to try and create suspense by inferring I might not like the game…then surprise you all by saying it’s OK. With out a doubt this is a battleicious success and, through subtle use of long range archers, defeats the BSoMT 1d8 die into a resounding (8). For my table, this really is a very decent solo adaptation of a head to head game, engaging, gorgeous to behold, and challenging to play. This is a gaming system that looks like it could be the template for a good number of subsequent historical conflicts.

This is definitely a title I recommend soloists consider, whether a history buff, battle connoisseur or just a solo gamer that loves great art

OUTRO:

…I have a ring of fire my self, but I suspect that has something to do with the local cuisine more than a deadly military device…thank goodness I left the toilet paper in the freezer last night…

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Something For The Weekend, Sir?

1565 St Elmo’s Pay kickstarter link

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tristanhall/1565-st-elmos-pay-the-card-game-of-war-and-history

 

 

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