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Game review: Cruel Necessity, Zulus on the Ramparts, Leuthen offer historical fun

Bringing historical conflicts to the table is a specialty for Victory Point Games. Here's a look at Cruel Necessity, a solitaire game that is set during the English civil wars of the 17th century, Zulus on the Ramparts, a solitaire game re-creating the epic battle of Rorke's Drift, and Leuthen: Fredrick's Greatest Victory, 5 December 1757, a two-player war game detailing the Seven Years' War battle.

Cruel Necessity

After the beheading of King Charles I of England, Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell reportedly called the action a “cruel necessity.” In the game Cruel Necessity, the player takes on the role of Cromwell's Parliament and Puritan struggle against the forces of Monarchy. A beautiful game board depicts 17th century Britain, acting as four distinct tracks for armies to approach London. Controlled by the game, the four armies represent Scotland, Ireland, the West and the North.

Each turn, the player draws a card with critical information. Most cards will activate Royalist armies, moving them along their five-space tracks toward either London (West and North), or toward some negative effect (Scotland and Ireland). Armies must stop and besiege fortresses along the way. When some armies activate, the player must battle them on a separate battle board. Cards also have political and religious implications as well.

During battles, the player must randomly select two cavalry and four infantry units for each side, each with strength numbers upon them, then reveal them. Some units instruct the player to draw a battlefield event card, which can add modifiers to dice rolls and other surprises. The player then rolls two dice for each opposing section of the battle line. If the player's rolls beat the Royalists by two, his units in that section are victorious. If it's the other way around, those units are defeated. Anything else ends in a draw for those units. Wherever the majority of the units land — in the victory box, the draw box or the defeat box — determines the outcome of the battle.

Depending upon the number of fortresses he holds, the player is given a set number of zeal points to spend, each allowing him to take an action. The player may attempt to maneuver against an invading army in the hopes of pushing it back. The player may attempt to influence a political track, which can result in victory points and other benefits. The player may besiege or fortify fortresses. And, as some cards offer achievements and victory points, players may attempt to buy these cards.

If the forces of Monarchy control London, or if too many markers on the political track fall too far, the player loses immediately. If the player has survived when the last card is drawn, however, he must add up victory points based upon objectives to see if he has beaten his Royalist opponent. The game can be played in three different scenarios or as part of an extended campaign.

Cruel Necessity is an amazing historical game that wonderfully integrates its theme into Victory Point Games' States of Siege mechanics (see Dawn of the Zeds). Playing the game, the player constantly feels as though he's trying to keep his head above water, though throughout he has many choices and ways to fight back. The game really shines with its battle mechanic, which can be incredibly tense. Cruel Necessity is a tough game, but more importantly, it's a fun one.

Cruel Necessity plays in about an hour per scenario and is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Zulus on the Rampart

In his book “Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power,” historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote: “In the long annals of military history, it is difficult to find anything quite like Rorke's Drift, where a beleaguered force, outnumbered forty to one, survived and killed twenty men for every defender lost.”

Zulus on the Ramparts re-creates the battle of Rorke's Drift in which a small British colonial garrison defeated a massive Zulu army in South Africa in 1879. A States of Siege game, Zulus boasts many of the same mechanics as Cruel Necessity. Four Zulu ibutho (regiments) attack an improvised British fortress along four tracks. Each turn, the player draws one random chit that details which ibutho advances, or other effects like fires breaking out.

After the ibutho has moved, the player may take actions by assigning or playing his cards. Assigned cards may work together to create a Reserve Platoon, which offers special abilities, or may allow the player to place a special, heroic character to defend a specific part of the fortress. A player can also play a card to fire a volley at the advancing ibutho, allowing him to roll a set number of D6. He must roll a five to make them retreat and only hit on a six, making volley fire a gamble every time.

The game is lost if any one of the ibutho reach the center of the fortress. The player wins if he can destroy all of the ibutho, or if the final card is drawn, representing Lord Chelmsford's relief column.

Zulus on the Ramparts constantly forces the player to make tough choices. With limited actions each turn, the player must constantly try to figure out how best to play his cards. Should he fire a volley, build a barricade, create a reserve platoon or something else that will keep the advancing ibutho at bay. This is another fun solitaire game that does a fantastic job of presenting an active history lesson to its player while still offering wonderful game play.

Zulus on the Rampart plays in about 30 minutes and is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Leuthen: Fredrick's Greatest Victory, 5 December 1757

In Leuthen: Fredrick's Greatest Victory, 5 December 1757, two players take on the roles of the Prussian and Austrian armies during the dramatic days of the Seven Years' War. The action takes place upon a hex map featuring varied terrain. Both players boast a number of chits representing combat units, infantry and cavalry, as well as several decoys. Each player places his units face down, and the unit is not revealed until it is adjacent to an enemy unit.

On a player's turn, he may move all, some, or none of his units. Each unit has a movement point cost each turn, however. In order to move, a unit must face the vertex of its hex, then move one space for each point. Another point is required to face it against a line again. This is important because during the battle phase, if a unit faces a line, the three hexes in front of it are considered its front, while the three behind are its flank. If it remains facing its vertex, only the two spaces touching the vertex are considered its front, while the other four are the flank.

During battle, a unit is penalized for presenting its flank to an opposing unit, as well as any terrain modifiers that come into play. One D6 is rolled and a combat chart is consulted to see if the attack had any effect upon the intended unit. Cards may also be played for special effects. Units can be shaken or routed as a result of combat, essentially acting like hit points. Groups of units function as a corps, and each time a corps' unit is routed it negatively affects corps morale.

A player wins when the majority of his opponents' corps are demoralized. If both sides have the same number of demoralized corps at the end of the sixth game turn, victory points are added up for achieving various objectives. The Austrian player wins all ties.

Leuthen is an engaging, relativity quick two-player war game that manages its fair share of tension and fun. The facing of units as they move is a wonderful part of this game as it forces players to really consider how they want to position their units as they approach the enemy. The decoys too are a great mechanic, adding a thrilling fog of war dimension. A player can spread his forces out to defend against any possible advance, only to be thwarted by an opponent who loaded one side of the board with units and the other decoys. If you like war games that aren't too complicated but still pack a punch, check out Leuthen.

Leuthen: Fredrick's Greatst Victory, 5 December 1757 plays in about 45 minutes to an hour and is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. He has also appeared on many local stages, including Hale Centre Theatre and Off Broadway Theatre. Email: