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This is the translation of an article I wrote for the Berliner Spiele-Anzeiger, a Berlin games magazine run by Martina Hellmich. Published with friendly permission of BSA.
We are in England, in the year of 1148. The country is in unrest. Everywhere in Kent peasants revolt against their lords. In Little Hamley they are assembled , too, to debate with the landless but honest Sir Piers what to do. Should they go to the manor of Sir Clugney and stand up for their rights?
Suddenly, Odo bursts into the room: "The knights are coming! Sir Clugney and a whole lot of men-at-arms!"
It seems somebody heard rumours about the assembly and wanted to nip rebellion in the bud! Will the peasants be able to defend against the well-armed knights?
Cry Havoc simulates medieval skirmishes, i.e. man-to-man combat. This kind of fighting was the only possible until gunpowder weapons became common, and it also appealed to the knightly ideals of the time where honour, reputation and wealth of a noble depended to a large extent on his abilities as a warrior. Probably one should not put too much emphasis on the "noble" aspect, but certainly combat required high personal engagement and often had rather disgusting results. The latter were, however, somewhat in line with other cruel aspects of medieval way of life (and death).
The game gives a quite lively impression of this kind of combat. Units are single persons represented by cardboard counters. Each counter shows an image of the person as well as name, movement allowance and attack and defence values. In fact there is a counter for each of the four possible states of the person, namely healthy, wounded, stunned and dead. For mounted fighters there are also counters showing mounted state and the unmounted horse. You play scenarios that can also be connected to campaigns. The scenario descriptions list the persons of all sides (10 to 20, usually), give a background story and victory conditions. Scenarios vary a lot in size and type, from a bar room brawl to the siege of a small castle. By splitting a side into factions it is possible to play with more than 2 players.
The word "simulation" may be an exaggeration. The rules for movement and combat are very simple, 10 pages of the rulebook cover all basic rules. But while the rules sacrifice detail for playability, the material is splendid. The counters are cardboard, 2 by 2 cm, and each state of a person is shown in gory detail. Of course the dead remain on the map- there is even a rule how many corpses must pile up before they begin to hinder movement.
Maps have a 2.5 cm (1") hex grid. Each hex represents about 2 m which equals a scale of 1:80, about the scale of 25 mm miniatures. Each mapsheet is 40 by 60 cm, and sheets combine seamlessly to larger maps. The maps are done with love to graphic detail and are printed on a thin but very robust cardboard. A light coating even allows to clean them with a damp cloth if you use caution. The maps represent different terrain like plains, forests, rivers, a sea coast, villages, siege camps and castles.
Combat and missile fire results are determined by the strength ratio of the persons concerned, a table and a 10-sided die. The simple mechanics make for a fluent game. The chance factor is rather high which I think suits the topic even if many players will not readily concede this. Advanced gamers, however, will sometimes wish for more detailed rules. The material invites to play the game in tabletop or role-playing style but the original rules are certainly not meant for that purpose.
The sequence of play is also well suited for play-by-mail games. I have played some games by e-mail ,and each of those developed into a little story with beautifully embellished characters and a lot of embroidery beyond the plain action. The material encourages this, and suddenly it seems quite natural to add some haiku poems to the messages of a game set in feudal Japan. "The arrow that hisses through the pink cherry blossoms is soon forgotten."- that sounds a lot better than "missed", doesn't it?
Cry Havoc was published in the early 80's by Standard Games, UK, a company founded expressly for that purpose. In the following years several extensions were published. Most of them are complete games like Siege, Viking Raiders, Samurai Blades and Outremer (crusader combat and campaigns). Dark Blades added monsters and magic in a fantasy setting. Cry Havoc and Dark Blades have also been published in Germany as "Fehde" (feud) and "Lichtbringer" (bringer of light). In addition to those complete games Standard Games have also published two booklets with additional scenarios and several extra maps, among others the superb "fortified medieval city" that has 4 map sheets.
The English edition suffered from module-by-module rule modifications and additions that were not always compatible to each other. Even if, at last, a lot of rules covered many situations like night combat, boat movement and campaigns it was never a really coherent system. When, in 1989, Jeux Descartes Eurogames licensed a French edition, Duccio Vitale set out to change this. All modules were re-published inside a few years, and the license also covered the development of all-new maps and modules. The new edition has revised and consolidated rules and tables and is more of a well-knit system than the original ever was- the advantage of hindsight. Especially Dark Blades was completely re-done and replaced by the two Dragon Noir modules that are not only designed more consistently but also feature additional underground maps. The Eurogames edition is sold worldwide, but alas, often with French rules only.
Time did not stand still, however. Today, Cry Havoc not only competes with a large number of board and card games but most of all with computer games that took over especially the fantasy market segment. I still think the combination of very good material and easy-to-learn rules is unsurpassed, but sinking sales figures lead to a halt in further development of the series. Even an announced new map, the "fortified harbour" which was ready for the press, will probably never be published. The same is true for the Dragon Noir games 3 and 4. Duccio Vitale told me that the decision was not an easy one, but a publisher lives through sales and not on idealism alone. But, seeing that Duccio Vitale himself has ventured to revise and publish such long-forgotten classics as Fief and Zargo's Lords there may still be hope for the Cry Havoc buffs.
Whatever the future of Cry Havoc as a game system may be, even the existing material is enough to make a role-player happy. The maps combine easily with the two most popular game scales, 15 and 25 mm, and the time scale of 10 s per turn is also widely used. That means that not only the maps may be used as background material for role-playing games (like HârnMaster) and tabletop games (like BattleLust) but also that it may be used as a simple combat system for fringe events. The development of the Eurogames rules clearly pointed in that direction, and even Standard Games provided supplemental cut-out sheets with warrior and fantasy characters.
Meanwhile, events become turbulent in Little Hamley. The stomping of hoofs, clattering of spears and clanging of armour fills the air. While Sir Clugney's men canter towards the village Sir Piers organizes the defence. "Fletcher, guard that window! Send a few arrows in their direction so they know which way to go! Carpenter, Salter, drive the mules into the street, they will be our barricades. All others man the doorways, and don't let anybody in without knocking on him with a will!" Then he spurs his horse, and while he charges Sir Clugney, behind him the old battle-cry arises: "Cry Havoc!"- no mercy! This is going to be a hot day for the noble knights.
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, last change 2011-03-12