Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Marcher Lords (review)

Mini-games are back!

Fiery Dragon has stepped up to the plate to provide a much needed renaissance in gaming.  This time around, mini-games are NOT packaged with cheap components in flimsy zip-loc bags.  This time… the games are presented in a classy metal case you won’t be afraid to be seen with in public.  Finally! wargamers can enjoy a line of games that do not require a life long commitment to learn to play, games that look good, and games that travel well.  I’m very pleased about this set of games and I’ll have a hard time keeping myself from getting them all.

The Marcher Lords is a Risk-like game set during 11th century Norman conquest of Wales.  The combat mechanics are similar to Shogun (which was stupidly renamed to”Samurai Swords” in later editions) with archers taking a first shot and ground forces following up with a melee round.  Forces kill an enemy unit if they roll higher than their target number– and leaders and castles can each provide a +1 bonus on the d10 die roll.  Leaders and Cavalry get a move of 2 while everything else gets a move of 1.  Forces get a chance to retreat after each combat round– and if they do, enemy cavalry get a free attack against the fleeing infantry units!

Unlike Axis and Allies, players don’t get to spend money to purchase the ‘perfect’ set of military units.  Instead players get to levy a single unit in the various zones they control– and the unit is drawn randomly from a cup.  Things can go badly for the Welsh if the Normans draw a lot of Cavalry units early on, but a half dozen Welsh archers will make any Norman think twice before attacking them. 

One thing that bothered me about Shogun was that the fortifications in that game had little impact on the overall tactics.  Also, the d12 dice used in that game generally didn’t do much more than a typical d6 could provide.  In The Marcher Lords, however, castles are they key to victory and dominate the strategy of both sides and the d10 is utilized in such a way that you get an entirely different flavor from the typical d6 wargame.  Bravo!

The Norman forces are generally better than their Welsh counterparts.  In the first scenario, the presence of Norman Earls makes this gap even greater.  If the Normans are well played, they can also get a much better rate of production.  (Eeep!) 

The Welsh are much less cohesive, but must use what they have to slow the Norman conquerors as much as possible.  They must take advantage of the Random Events (don’t forget to roll for them!) and target lightly defended norman zones before they can construct castles in them.  If they have a chance to trap and eliminate a Norman earl, they’ll have a much better chance of winning, but the retreating rules make this difficult.  The Welsh should save back as much of their forces as possible in order to take advantage of any such opportunity and also to take over any Castle zones on their final turn in the 10 turn game.  If they can do that and keep their as many of their Teulu alive as possible, then they have a chance– but as it stands, their hands are full and they have little room for error.

The key to Welsh victory may lie in the Norman supply rules.  The larger their force and the further they are away from the Norman base, the greater the chance the Norman force will be out of supply and unable to attack for a turn.  The more supply checks the Norman fails, the more time the Welsh player will have to build up his forces for counter attacks.  (The Welsh do not face this supply restriction because they are fighting on their home ground.)

For those people that lack the time, the space, and the requisite 5 or 6 players to play a truly great game of Axis and Allies or Shogun, The Marcher Lords will provide an excellent 2-3 hour Risk-like diversion for two people.  My only complaint is that the map is a little bit too small for people that are as clumsy as myself.



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