Friday, January 13, 2012

Cry Havoc!

Back in the early 80's there was another game we played quite a bit, though maybe not as intended.  Cry Havoc was a series of man to man skirmishing war games from Standard Games in the U.K.  It used colorful counters and maps to simulate warfare from the medieval era.  Games sets existed for everything from Vikings to Crusades to Samurai and Fantasy warfare. While the rules are not difficult, to the modern eye they are a bit too crunchy. Below is a good description of the game system from Lutz Pietschker:

The game scale is one-man-one-counter, though in fact each character is represented by more than one counter depending on his state of health and, for knights and other cavalry, whether he is mounted or dismounted. Playing pieces (18 mm square cardboard counters) show barons and knights, sergeants, spearmen and so on, down to poorly armed peasants and even civilians and their mules. Each character has a name and a nice illustration printed on the counter. This makes the playing experience very "personal" as you follow the fate of your knights and men-at-arms through the scenarios. The fact that the counters of killed men remain on the map also gives a distinctive feel to the game (if there are enough of them, they even hinder movement!).

One game turn represents about 10 seconds, one 25-mm map hex about 2 metres of terrain.
The mapboards are approximately 40 by 60 cm each and show a village and crossroads (with a small castle, a forest, a watering place, etc. added by other games of the series). These maps are excellent and printed on semi-laminated cardboard stock. They are not quite isomorphic, i.e. though most of them will fit to each other there are some edges that might show different terrain in adjacent half-hexes. This is especially true, of course, for the maps containing a coastline or a river. 

The units are, as mentioned above, single persons of different social class. Each person has only 3 status values which are all printed on the counter, namely an attack strength, a defence strength, and a movement point allowance. These values correspond roughly to the equipment carried and armour worn. They also vary with the health status of the person. A wound approximately halves the values, while characters fall back to just a minimal defence strength while stunned. Combat results can have a person retreat, or reduce him to "stunned" (inactive) status for one round, or wound him, or kill. A second wound/stun result immediately kills. Cavalry have additional double-size counters showing the mounted state (healthy and wounded), the dismounted horse, and a dead horse. The fact that all stats are printed on the counter front and back eliminates any book-keeping. If a person is stunned the counter is just flipped on the back side. With each game some 50 to 150 characters are supplied. 

The scenarios give a background story and victory conditions. Technically, they state which mapboards are used, the order of battle of both sides, and initial set-up. They are usually not limited to a certain number of game turns but demand control of a certain location or, more often and quite in line with the name of the game, the destruction of the enemy forces.
An average scenario usually can be played in 1 to 3 hours, though there are some bigger scenarios that can hardly be played in one day. Scenarios include "Street Fight", "Peasant Revolt", "City Sack", "Burning the Camp", and Design-Your-Own rules. Sounds promising, doesn't it? 

The game is played in strictly alternating player turns (a concept that allows to get by with a minimum of book-keeping and also makes for the excellent play-by-mail capability). Each player turn has a fixed sequence of action options like missile fire, movement, second fire of fast-loading missiles like bows and slings, combat, and possible retreats/advances.
Movement is governed by the in-hex and hexside terrain and is limited by the available movement points of the characters. In addition to normal movement options like leading animals, climbing ladders etc. are available. 

Combat and missile fire are governed by tables. For combat, the relation of attack strength to defensive strength are calculated. The result points to a table column; it is then modified for terrain influences and other factors. You roll a 10-sided die, cross-index the roll with the table column, and get the result. Multiple attacking characters add their strengths if they do not wish to attack separately. For missile fire the table column used does not depend on strength values but on factors like weapon, range, and cover. Both tables come printed on a 20 by 30 cm player aid card that also gives a terrain overview and some additional data. 

Even with a considerable number of characters on each side the game plays fast and smoothly. In turbulent skirmishes it is even sometimes hard to see at one glance which characters belong to which player since the counters have no faction marks, and even if you place them pointing to your home edge of the map players have been known to shoot at own troops in their excitement. As you can see, the game provides some realism even with the simple approach it takes! 

Other action options are given in the subsequent games of the series, adding short rules sections as required. These range from transports like carts, wagons and ships to usage of special equipment like siege engines. Also, rules for night action and for swimming are given. Unfortunately, the rule set became ever less clear with each module and option, and there were also rules changes when Eurogames published their version. This is no real obstacle when playing face-to-face but can become a nuisance when playing by mail. This situation has spawned my extended and consolidated rules set. 

While we did play it a few times as presented, it was way to fiddly trying to switch out counters all the time to show each guy's status.  So for each guy you had multiple counters to keep track of.  Including body count markers.  Now if that guy was mounted?  Then you had his horse too AND the guy on it mounted, un-mounted, wounded, stunned, killed...blah.  Plus, lose a few counters or have the dog swallow a couple more...and its game over for that character.  The game was a great idea, but suffered from the "accuracy over fun" problem that takes a game too far into the simulation realm for me to enjoy.

Fortunately though, maps and counters were PERFECT for using and expanding our Melee/Wizard stuff and that's just what we did! The rules, maps and counters are readily available on the the internet. Even a white belt in google-fu will find them.  As I have my own spin on the old Melee/wizard/TFT rules now available, I will be posting some Cry Havoc maps today  and cleaned up useable counters next week.  My game rules and the Cry Havoc items can be found at my Heroes & Other Worlds game blog.

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