by Jim Jordan
45 people, more than the tournament has had in 4 of the last 5 years, journeyed through the looking glass following the glittering promise of the new Britannia just published by Fantasy Flight Games. FFG’s repackaging of the classic game was universally admired by the crowd for its eye-catching graphic design. Only one mistake was universally declared by all, whoever decided that the Romans should be yellow when the board background had also been changed to yellow was clearly out of their mind. In the minds of most players, the Romans are purple and shall remain so for many years.
But a change in color did not affect game designer Lew Pulsipher’s rewrite of the rules. Lew set out to rationalize the multiple versions of the rules that had been created, encourage more historical accuracy into the game play, and correct some of the clear imbalances of the game. Thus, the raiders floating at sea for hundreds of years that nearly drove the placid Lew apoplectic when he saw it at this tournament are no more, and shockingly, King Arthur will be visiting Scotland no more.
As to balance between the colors, there was evidence that it may have been addressed. More years of statistics will be needed, but the tournament numbers are promising. This year was different from the years of the original Britannia where red and purple wins dominated the tables each year, with green years occasionally showing up, and blue frequently only grabbing one win, if any. This year, in the 17 heat games, yellow (also known as purple) and green each had 4 wins, while red and blue had 5 each.
While the distribution of color wins were a promising statistic, the closeness of many of the games also gave evidence of the rebalancing of the game. One of the heat games resulted in a tie, advancing two winners to the semi-finals. Another of the heat games came down to a win by 2 points…in which the win was secured by a Saxon infantryman taking out a Norman cavalry in single combat. In the semi-finals, another tie occurred, with it being one retreat away, on the last battle of the game, from having been a 3-way tie. And another semi-final came down to a 1 point win.
Naturally, the balance in the colors did not prevent blowouts in some scores. As usual, high scoring plaques were awarded for each of the colors in the heat games. Ewan McNay came back with a multi-plaque performance again, garnering an astonishing blue high score of 338, and a nearly equal red score of 294. A newcomer, Daniel Farrow, showed very well with green, pulling in a score of 253 in a game with several old hands at the game. Lastly, championing the yellow (purple), Ted Simmons, who has played many games but not won before, won in fine fashion with a top yellow (purple) of 244 points.
Low scores did not abound, but, as Lew keeps reminding the crowd, Britannia is a dice game, and sometimes those dice turn against you. For that, we have the Ethelred the Unready award. Eric Kleist went to the semi-finals with a handsome blue win in the 2nd round. But a 3rd round game proved not so propitious as the dice turned against Eric’s Saxons and he pulled in at the end with 184 points.
And at last, let’s go to the final. Although many newcomers were drawn to the republished game, apparently experience in the old game still tells in the new with four of the usual suspects making up the final game. Ewan McNay (Blue), Scott Pfeiffer (Green), Barry Smith (Yellow) and Llew Bardecki (Red) met Sunday morning. In a dramatic opening, 8 of Barry’s legions were killed, with 3 of them being lost when 6 of Llew’s Brigantes came streaming from the north and descended like locusts on March. Such was their wrath that they killed all 3 legions and the fort they garrisoned, and then had to lose a unit to starvation.
However, Llew’s weakly defended Brigantes left behind in the north attracted an attack by the Picts on the Brigantes. Boudicca’s rebellion though, a new feature of turn 1 of the game, passed with a whimper, Boudicca storming into Essex and being cast back by the legions with no losses. Meanwhile, Scott’s Welsh, as has become the norm with the new Britannia, retired to submission to the Romans after killing 3 legions.
But Barry’s spending of the blood of the dead legions paid off with his acquiring every Roman point possible on turns 1-3.
After the passing of the Romans, the Germanic tribes came ashore in usual fine fashion, with the newly named Saxon leader Aelle building a fort in the Downlands surrounded by his mighty army. Apparently, distracted by the Saxons coming ashore to the south, the Brigantes signed a deal with the Angles and submitted when but a single Angle sauntered into the halls of Strathclyde.
The deal left a crowded invasion for the Angles. But that distracted them not at all from their prime target as 10 Angles piled onto King Arthur, protected by two cavalry and two infantry, and dramatically slaughtered all of the Romano-British with a single roll.
Meanwhile in the north, Ewan’s Picts, untouched by the Romans, and able to spread out and grow, maxed out their population, presenting a huge wall before the Scottish invasion. Barry’s Scots killed a few Picts, but his dice turned cold and the Ewan’s Picts rolled back the Scots into the sea, with a little help from some restless Angles in the south. And so, at turn 9, there were no Yellow pieces on the board, and none to return until turn 12 when the Dubliners appeared.
A quiet mid-game was primarily of interest because of Llew’s creeping Brigante presence. The submission deal with Ewan’s Angles allowed the to grow. Unfortunately for Ewan’s hapless Picts, the only avenue for growth left to the Brigantes was to the North. By turn 10, Scotland became the northern kingdom of the Brigantes with Strathclyde, Dalriada, Alban and Dunedin being held strongly.
With the quiet mid-game, it looked like Scott’s Danes would have a completely full board to attempt to storm. But a successful round of raids on turn 11 softened up the coast, and the armies ashore ran to hide from the impending Dane invasion on turn 12. Scott’s Danes swept through and killed many of Ewan’s Angles and a few of Llew’s Saxons, but unlike their more successful raids, the Danes were bled with nearly every battle and ended with few forces left to defend their newly acquired gains.
Turns 13 and 14 were a mostly kingless swirl of chaos as the nations fought each other for enough breathing space to survive and grow. But Scott’s Danes, Barry’s Dubliners, Llew’s Saxons, and Ewan’s Angles balkanized England sufficiently for Cnut, even with his weakened armies, to still achieve a very short-lived kingdom.
Turn 15 dawned. A red-green deal yielded Scott’s Welsh sending a mighty army of 4 units out to York to defend against Barry’s Norwegians. Meanwhile, the Norman’s faced a thin shield wall to the South with Llew’s Saxons having been thinned out by the strife throughout England in the previous 3 turns.
Of course, when 9 of Barry’s Norwegians, along with the leader Harald Hardrada, descended on York, the mighty Welsh army shredded like mist, taking only 1 Norwegian with them. Heartened by their victory, the Norwegians then went to easily take the rest of their points, knocking more of Scott’s Welsh out of North Mercia and March for an invasion with a quiet denouement.
Llew’s Saxons decided to defend King Harold by sheltering in the friendly hills of Wales and left a tissue thin defense of the coast, with only one Burh, the new wooded towns constructed by the Saxons, sitting on the coast. Scott’s Jutes in Kent and Sussex felt very lonely. Ewan’s Normans swiftly took advantage of the opportunity given to tear apart the Saxons. But Scott’s mighty Jutes took ill to the incursion by the Normans and killed 2 cavalry and 2 infantry, casting William back to Essex.
Turn 16 came with exhausted armies everywhere on the board. Ewan’s Picts managed to struggle back into and hold their homelands. And a desperate grab at the end captured the last island for Llew’s Norsemen, but the empty lowlands yielded a victory for the Normans as they spread out. At the last though, the Normans were cheated of kingship by the last battle in which a Saxon infantryman killed one of the last Norman cavalry in another deadly single combat.
When the dust settled, Ewan’s blue had scored 234, Llew’s red 228, Barry yellow (purple) 222, and Scott’s green 204. The win makes Ewan the 2nd 3 time winner after Scott Pfeiffer. Another great final for the Britannia tournament!