Let me continue the series of articles where I am sharing my experiences form the San Diego Historical Games Convention (SDHistCon). In my first article – Demo of “Undaunted Reinforcements” by David Thompson during SDHistCon 2021 – I reported session with one of my most anticipated wargames expansions of the 2021. Today I am happy to bring to you the initial play-through of the Volume 2 in Irregular Conflicts Series – A Gest of Robin Hood. In below article I will tell a little more about the Convention, Game, its Rules and the Demo I was part of. Enjoy!
Before the main article, couple of worlds about fantastic event our session was part of. The San Diego Historical Games Convention (SDHistCon) is an annual event hosted and coordinated by a dedicated cadre of local gamers and friends. The 2021 “Spring Deployment” event was again held virtually – and that was truly the only way for me, located in Poland/Europe to be able to attend it!
As at last year’s convention, SDHistCon 2021 featured a virtual panoply of major game designers and gaming industry professionals who were offering a host of individual events including popular game tutorials and demos. Many of the designers attending SDHistCon were showcasing their designs, providing insight into the history behind the game as well as effective playing strategies.
More about convention on its page:
After this introduction, let me now focus on the game itself.
A Gest of Robin Hood: Insurrection in Nottinghamshire as mentioned already is actually the second game in the Irregular Conflicts Series, further adapting the COIN system to depict peasant revolts, feudal tax collection, and outlaw activities in late 12th century medieval England. It to some extent transpose one of GMT’s most popular systems into a simpler format and a more approachable setting – which makes this title a pretty good position for newcomers to wargaming. At the same time, it also offers a tight challenge for more experienced wargamers who can enjoy a tense asymmetric duel in under an hour.
Some highlights from the designer before we plunge into details:
An ideal entry point to the COIN system and the ICS series: a two player, relatively low complexity game with a family friendly theme that plays in one hour and introduces all of the key concepts found in the COIN series.
A new hidden movement mechanic: The Sheriff will chase Robin Hood across Nottinghamshire to prevent him from organizing peasant revolts, but Robin can sneak away and hide amongst his Merry Men.
A second new hidden movement mechanic: Carriages serve as a simple twist on Lines of Communication, transferring wealth back to Nottingham while providing a target for robbery by the Merry Men—but some of them might be a trap, containing concealed Henchmen!
Random encounters with rich travelers: Robin Hood draws from the Travelers Deck when conducting a Rob action, then decides whether to play it safe or demand a larger ‘donation’ with potentially negative consequences.
A streamlined sequence of play: Further developing the two-player sequence of play first found in Colonial Twilight, this new sequence of play is easy to understand while still presenting difficult tactical decisions.
The game is played on the 12th century Nottingham Shire map. In essence we have two factions:
- Robin Hood and the Merry Men: Robbing from the rich to give to the poor. An archetypal insurgency faction focused on undermining the Sheriff’s authority by inciting peasant revolts, robbing carriages and travelers, and building a network of camps across Nottinghamshire.
- The Sheriff of Nottingham and his Henchmen: In charge of maintaining order and collecting taxes for Prince John. A proto-counter-insurgent faction focusing on suppressing peasant revolts and securing roads to ensure the safe travel of wealth confiscated from the parishes.
As you can see on the above picture, the Robin Hood faction strives for Justice, while Sheriff tries to implement Order. This is depicted by the victory points track – please note there is no 0, so either sides is always on the lead. If the Royal Inspection card is drawn (more on this below) when the VP marker is on Dark Green or Dark Blue section, that side immediately wins.
There are only two factions in the game, so Initiative track is pretty short – First Eligible and Second Eligible. Robin always starts the game with Initiative. How does it change? During its turn, first side can choose out of three options – the second has only two left:
- Single Plot (most to the left on initiative, allows for 1 action but guarantees being first next turn)
- Event (in the middle of initiative track, allows to execute the event)
- Plots & Deeds (you can do 1 Regular and 1 Special action but you will be second in initiative order next turn)
So choice is yours – to go for Single Plot, get the Initiative but not do too much on the map, or maybe choose all powerful Plots & Deeds and be for sure last next Round.
The game is played in three Turns, each with set, known number of Rounds. At the beginning of the game all the events (special and standard) are shuffled and divided into 3 decks of 7 cards. At the bottom of which you put the Royal Inspection card (which ends the turn with special sequence of actions). In the final version of game there will be more than 21 event cards, allowing for each game to be completely different.
- Regular Events – have two versions: on the white background the outcome positive for Robin, on the gray – benefiting the Sheriff.
- Special Events – they affect both sides and prevent any actions this turn (so if you planned something special for your last move – you might be surprised!)
The core of the game are of course actions. Robin’s are – what should be expected form him – ones like Recruit, Sneak or Rob. Or more powerful, called deeds, which allow to turn the Henchmen into the insurgents supporters, rise a rebellion or escape with Robin!
The Sheriff set of actions is more concentrated – surprise, surprise – on Hiring the new troops, Patrolling areas and Capturing the bandits. He can also utilizes powerful Deeds, move troops around the map (Ride), Confiscating the money from parishes or Dispersing the Robin supporters.
As already mentioned, each Turn ends with Royal inspection, during which:
– both sides will have their special phases
– Victory conditions will be checked – if the Victory Points marker is on the Dark Green section, Robin immediately wins; if on Dark Blue section – the Sheriff finally managed impose Order in the shire
– redeployment of units will be performed
– each faction will get some money – they are key to fuel the actions
– some of the imprisoned Merry Men will escape (but not their leader!)
– and initiative will always move back to Robin
The game has a lot of interesting treats – one of my favorite ones is a game within the game – robing the Carts or Travelers by Merry Men. How you do that?
- You draw a special card from Traveler’s Deck
- You decide which way you will go – a more riskier approach with higher outcome but a possible negative backlash, or more safe with a smaller gain but pretty safe?
- You count your strength (each Merry Man / Robin Hood is 1)
- You check this against the victim escort, roll a special dice – different in Forest / Revolting parish, different in Submissive region
- And then check whether you succeed, if you have at least result of 1
The rules are pretty straightforward and it did not took long before author – Fred Serval – explained all of the to us. At that moment – to my great astonishment and positive surprise – I was chosen to be on the the two players demoing the game under scrupulous eye of designer!
What follows is a quick session report form first Turn (7 cards and Royal inspection). That was a true blast!
A Gest of Robin Hood is really a very elegant, neat and intriguing game. It is definitely lighter than average COIN which is good – and intended – as it will allows for our hobby to reach much broader audience. It builds on fantastic legend which most of us knows very well and brings it in a great way to the boardgame table. I am very curious of the final version of the game. In case you are also interested, have a look at GMT P500 page and support its publication: