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Britain at war
by Geoff Bache
For a while, one of my frustrations with the standard board has been the lack of familiarity with the places and countries involved, as the world of Europe in 1901 is quite remote. I have little affinity with Turkey, and have no idea where Galicia is, and thus moving Turkish armies into Galicia has less meaning than it might do! There are 2 ways to resolve this, one of which is to move the period of setting to a more modern time, as the Modern Variant has done very successfully. The other is to localise the map somewhat, which is what I have attempted to do in creating Heptarchy, restricting the map to just the British Isles. This produces a set of places much more likely to be familiar to myself and the people likely to play it, which adds an extra dimension to the play.
The next problem was to find 7 British powers which could reasonably be at war with each other, and the obvious period to choose was the Dark Ages between the Roman Occupation and the unification of England. Unfortunately this is by definition a period with few records, and a lot of conflicting information. However, I managed to find maps of the Heptarchy of Britain, comprising Wessex in the south, Mercia in the middle, Northumbria in the north, plus East Anglia, North Wales (modern Wales), West Wales (modern Cornwall) and Strathclyde (bits of Scotland). This presented one big problem, namely that Wessex was much bigger than the others, and West Wales was (a) confusing and (b) far too small to be viable. In the end I decided to tweak with history a bit, so unified Ireland, had it as a Great Power and turned Strathclyde into Scotland. East Anglia was made neutral, while the Wessex monster was split up into 2. This last actually corresponds to moving the period back 100 years or so, but what to call the 2 bits was uncertain. West Wales was just too confusing a name, so it became Cornubia (actually a Roman title), while the eastern half of Wessex (the area around London) was named Anglia for want of anything better.
The next problem was names of towns. Few existed at this time, and finding the relevant information seemed an impossible task. In the end I decided that using ancient names would in a way defy the object of the map anyway, as it would remove the familiarity aspect of the game. So the town names are all modern, and this is deliberate, before I get any letters telling me Birmingham didn't exist in the Dark Ages!
The board has 37 supply centres (3 more than standard) and thus 19 centres are needed for an outright win. In the end the Dark Ages political map beat the modern town names for the year numbers, so the game begins in Spring 651. All rules are exactly as for the standard game set-up.
Features of the board
The geography itself is very simple. There are no canals or double- coasted provinces to add extra complications, and the size of the game is very similar to the standard set-up, with 22 home centres (identical), 15 neutral centres (3 more) and 90 territories in total (15 more).
This means that there is more room on the board, which seems to encourage more attacking play, as it's very hard indeed to set up stalemate lines on the board. Opinion seems to be divided about whether this is a good thing or not, but personally I get frustrated when standard games reach the stage where everyone heads straight for the usual stalemate lines and the game dies quickly.
I have also added some enormous sea areas round the outside of the board, facilitating cooperation between powers which would be a long way off otherwise. This is something which takes a while to get used to, Ireland and Scotland should beware the fact that Aberdeen to Cork is only 3 moves via NWG and NAO, even if it looks like the other side of the board! Also worth noting is that while Flanders looks like a gift for Anglia, it is actually 3 moves from all of Dover, King's Lynn, Newcastle and Aberdeen, so is actually anybody's in 652! Beware immense convoys from the other end of the board as well, these seem to be quite popular, although the "round Britain convoy" is yet to happen, prize for the first person to manage this!
Fairly strong, with the most wins so far (though this statistic is slightly misleading as it includes games that used earlier versions of the map.) Useful to become a naval power and use Flanders as an extra base. Will usually end up at war with Mercia sooner or later, so it's good to encourage Northumbria to move south and/or Cornubia and Wales to gang up on Gloucester. The worst case is a firm C/M alliance - this spells trouble but Anglia can survive a good while on its own. Alliance with Mercia is worth considering, although yet to see a successful one.
Tough to play, a bit like Italy in standard. Getting Anglia and Mercia to scrap it out is a good idea and not normally too hard, but the majority of centres are out of reach in the east, so you need to wait a bit before helping either too much, or whoever you help will inevitably get too big for you to handle. In the west, you have no fleets to get into Wales at the start, although F (Bri) can be built in the second year. This means Wales can be an early threat (nasty convoys to Exmoor possible). But it can't view you as a serious threat and a CW alliance against Ireland is quite a possibility. On the other hand, you're the last place Ireland will go for, and if you can get Cdf and Swa off Wales with his help you're in a much better position to intervene in the east.
A bit like England in standard, although with 3 fleets it's even harder to get armies onto the mainland. However, there's a lot more coast to aim at. Alliance with Scotland is strong - although Heb makes things tough and you need a fair bit of trust, with NCH being such a vital spot. In this case Wales is the main target, and bringing in Cornubia with the incentive of the Southern Welsh centres can work very well, and give a good convoy route onto the mainland. Another good plan is to attack Scotland with Northumbrian help, eliminating the trust factor in the north, and leaving an even easier convoy route , as armies built in Belfast can be convoyed straight to Str/Gla/Arg/Hig, using only 1 fleet in doing so. In general, keeping the most fleets around is a good plan. A ring of fleets all the way round the board is not an unrealistic proposition for Ireland, and is obviously quite fun!
High stress country, needs a good player but is yet to be eliminated... Anglia seems to be the worst problem, and the easiest source of centres, and Mercia certainly seems strong in it's absence. Keeping on good terms with Wales seems like a good plan - to use its fleets to keep Ireland out of your hair. If you can persuade Northumbria to go for Scotland as well, you're doing well, as Cornubia is unlikely to attack for so little gain. Although outside factors have forced an AM alliance out of self-preservation, Anglia is to Mercia as Turkey is to Austria, best in his grave if you can manage it!
NORTHUMBRIAHas lost out to fleet attacks on NSN, but O.K. on the whole. The statistics strongly favour the Northern Option, twice it's moved south on Mercia, twice it's been stabbed by Scotland and been subsequently eliminated. With Scotland out of the way it's done well, either moving south then or going on against Ireland. Important to realise than foreign powers can easily get into NSN if you don't cover it, and take up 2 of your armies to defend New and Mid, which can be fatal. No access to the West Coast to build fleets, so if you want to keep Lancaster you need to be allied with at least 1 of Wales or Ireland, preferably Wales...
Has proved strong, except when attacked all out by I/N. First choice plan is probably to get into Northumbria and move the armies down through England in alliance with Ireland, it's normally quite possible to stab Ireland if necessary! Attacking Ireland is normally quite a possibility as well, with Welsh help. You need a lot of fleets, and a probable convoy to Donegal eventually. In the worst case, with Northumbria and Ireland at your throat, it's time to beg Wales or Cornubia to attack Ireland from the south, which Wales, at least, is probably happy to do!
After much adaptation because earlier versions of the board left it weak, it seems to be one of the stronger powers! Cornubia is relatively easy to attack, although is a very useful ally against a Scotland/Ireland alliance. Has 1st choice on the North-West centres, and can often get all 4 if Mercia and Northumbria are at war. Seems to do well by "sitting on the fence" and grabbing what it can, bit by bit. Firm alliance with anyone (except perhaps Cornubia) unlikely, war with Ireland is often inevitable.