10 April 2019
Because you can never have too much Saxon violence
You might not be able to rewrite history, but with 1066, Tears to Many Mothers you can at least replay it. And replay it you will, because British designer Tristan Hall’s follow-up to fantasy quest card game Gloom of Kilforth is sure to draw you in like a greedy Norman duke to a shiny English throne.
What first strikes you about 1066 is its sheer, astonishing attention to detail. Every card in its two hefty decks (one for the Normans, one for the Saxons) features some finely rendered artwork: the illustrators’ flattering impressions of real historical figures who were involved in the build up to, and execution of, the pivotal seaside scrap at the Battle of Hastings.
The detail’s not just in the art; every card treats you to flavour text that is well worth reading. Not only does it flesh out the era you’re recreating, in many cases adding life to the characters, units, events and tactics you draw, but will also likely teach you something new about this famous historical event. It is a laudable feat of research, all in the service of the game experience.
1066 isn’t just pretty on the surface. Hall has crafted a non-collectible card-game duel which is appealingly asymmetric but also deftly balanced. Each side has its own strengths and weaknesses, and its own set of objectives, too. While both players are ultimately aiming to win the day at Hastings, the battle is only the final act of the game, the last of several objectives via which Duke William and King Harold must follow their own journeys.
For the Normans, it is primarily about securing papal support for this nation-invading adventure. So the emphasis is initially on building up your cards’ total zeal value. Every card you play on the game grid, in one of the three rows (front line, middle line or back line) or three wedges (each representing a section of the final battle), can contribute to achieving the current objective come the round’s end. Well, as long as you haven’t tapped it to execute an action or make use of any resources it might give you. The Saxons, meanwhile, will first be trying to build up the other main stat, which is might, with Harold and his troops charging around the country repelling other invaders.
While steaming ahead of your opponent and clearing your objectives first does give you an advantage (though a slimmer one than you’d like), you need to keep an eye on the greater need: getting your strongest and most effectively synergistic cards on that battle grid – while destroying your opponent’s strongest cards whenever you can – for when it all properly kicks off at Hastings.
Unless you manage to kill your opponent’s leader before then (which is a rare occurrence) or your foe burns through their deck (also unlikely), the only way you’ll win is by being the first to deal 10 damage to two of the three wedges. While you can chip away at the wedges during the build-up, it’s only when both players have cleared all their objectives that the really furious fighting happens, giving the game a glorious sense of climactic impact and final reckoning as arrows fly, horses fall and axes sink into enemies’ faces.
Unlike Kilforth, which could last for hours, 1066 is a tightly calibrated, relatively quick-play experience, but it feels no less epic and will demand encores. With all the care and attention Hall and his artists have lavished on it (including a neat solo mode) this indie card-based face-off arguably deserves the same attention as its recent blockbuster equivalent, KeyForge.
PLAY IT? – MUST-PLAY
A superb asymmetrical card game which throws into just one box everything you need for hours of engaging, thrilling historical action.
Full disclosure: The author of this review was a backer of 1066, Tears to Many Mothers on Kickstarter.
Designer: Tristan Hall
Time: 30-40 minutes
This review originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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