Cry Havoc!

Author: Lutz Pietschker
Version: 2012-02-05

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The Cry Havoc! Game Series

Letter A nd when battle is joined, let all men of good lineage
think of naught but the breaking of heads and arms,
for it is better to die than be vanquished and live...

Letter I tell you I have no such joy as when I hear the shout
"On, on!" from both sides and the neighing of riderless steeds,
and groans of "Help me! Help me!".
And when I see both great and small
fall in the ditches and on the grass
and see the dead transfixed by spear shafts!
Lords, mortgage your domains, castles, cities,
but never give up wargaming!

Quoted (nearly exactly) from a poem by Bertran de Born, Lord of Limousin/Aquitaine (circa 1140 - 1196)

Note: My Cry Havoc pages, originally written in 1998 to 2000, have not been seriously updated for some time now, and they are not likely to be. The most gorgeous and current website for the Cry Havoc fan is the Cry Havoc Fan site, a "must visit" if you are interested in this game. It is a pure wonder what they (and Buxeria most of all) did for the game.

For other information about the game, please visit the Grognard's web page (alas, gone into stasis in 2013) or the Boardgamegeek pages .


Cry Havoc, and let slip the dogs of war...

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (1601)

Introduction: A Light Take on the Dark Ages

This could have been a nice day for Lady Blodwin and her companion Lady Edith to take a bath in the little pond, with the sun shining, the water warm and the birds singing. But mischief was at hand in form of Sir Richard who planned to take advantage of the situation if not of the women themselves. Galloping down the plain he came with his band of knaves, dismounted, and stomped down to the pool clumsily, with his armour a-jingling.
But the attack did not go unobserved: Sir Conrad, who had thrown an eye on Blodwin for some time now, smelled trouble and came thundering down from the village to prevent Sir Richard capturing the women. A shout, and Sergeant Llewellyn and his men came rushing down after him, ready to wreak havoc on the intruders.
Sir Richard is not one who slinks away from a fight, and so the opponents met crashing by the side of the pool, hacking away at each other, with the bowmen standing aside and trying to get an arrow in- preferably into an enemy.

Who will win the fight, and the hearts of the ladies, not to speak of any ransom that might be demanded after the skirmish?

"Cry havoc" (late 14c.), a signal to soldiers to seize plunder... (Online Ethymology Dictionary)

Cry Havoc! is a "skirmishing game" staged in medieval times, sometime around the 13th century in Europe. It was first published in the early 1980s by Standard Games, UK, and is also published by Eurogames, France, since the mid-90's.
Highlights of the game are the excellent mapboards as well counter and box cover graphics, a decided focus on playability, and plenty of atmosphere. You may view a detail from the above scenario here (JPEG, 142 k) if you like.
The game is, in fact, the first of a series of similar games set in different regions and varying in time from the 10th to the 14th century as described below.

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Cry Havoc: Abstract

Other Resources:

"Cry Havoc!" and its sequels "Siege", "Samurai Blades", "Outremer", "Viking Raiders" and "Dark Blades" have been originally published by Standard Games and Publications, Ltd., UK. Games and replacement parts are still available from them, but as far as I know Standard Games does not develop the game system any further.
Instead, the French company Jeux Descartes Eurogames has stepped in and re-published all the modules with rules in French language. They also added new modules and maps. From what I heard from Duccio Vitale, the game designer responsible for the Eurogames edition, it seems unlikely that further modules will be published. Even the announced "Dragon Noir" modules and the "Fortified Harbour" map set will probably never be released. This is due to some bad luck in the production process (some printing templates were destroyed by accident), but Eurogames also feels a lack of interest in the market.
Some of the modules have changed their names when re-published by Eurogames, but the contents (maps, counters) remain basically the same and are fully interchangeable. The rules have been generally given a complete overhaul by Eurogames.
If you want to compare the Standard Games and Eurogames editions: "Croisade" is the new name for "Outremer" (and it comes with a changed campaign map), "Viking Raiders" became "Vikings" (also with a changed map set, see below), "Samurai Blades" became "Samourai", and "Dark Blades" has been dropped and replaced by the "Dragon Noir" series. Unfortunately, Eurogames does not provide English rules for all the games of the series. To find out which rules are available in which language, check their price list or, better, ask in a well-stocked store (see customer information section).

Additional map sheets, counters and scenarios come with the sequel games and are also available separately, see below.

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Cry Havoc Game Play

The game scale is one-man-one-counter, though in fact each character is represented by more than one counter depending on his state of health and, for knights and other cavalry, whether he is mounted or dismounted. Playing pieces (18 mm square cardboard counters) show barons and knights, sergeants, spearmen and so on, down to poorly armed peasants and even civilians and their mules. Each character has a name and a nice illustration printed on the counter. This makes the playing experience very "personal" as you follow the fate of your knights and men-at-arms through the scenarios. The fact that the counters of killed men remain on the map also gives a distinctive feel to the game (if there are enough of them, they even hinder movement!).
One game turn represents about 10 seconds, one 25-mm map hex about 2 metres of terrain.

The mapboards are approximately 40 by 60 cm each and show a village and crossroads (with a small castle, a forest, a watering place, etc. added by other games of the series). These maps are excellent and printed on semi-laminated cardboard stock. They are not quite isomorphic, i.e. though most of them will fit to each other there are some edges that might show different terrain in adjacent half-hexes. This is especially true, of course, for the maps containing a coastline or a river.

The units are, as mentioned above, single persons of different social class. Each person has only 3 status values which are all printed on the counter, namely an attack strength, a defence strength, and a movement point allowance. These values correspond roughly to the equipment carried and armour worn. They also vary with the health status of the person. A wound approximately halves the values, while characters fall back to just a minimal defence strength while stunned. Combat results can have a person retreat, or reduce him to "stunned" (inactive) status for one round, or wound him, or kill. A second wound/stun result immediately kills. Cavalry have additional double-size counters showing the mounted state (healthy and wounded), the dismounted horse, and a dead horse. The fact that all stats are printed on the counter front and back eliminates any book-keeping. If a person is stunned the counter is just flipped on the back side. With each game some 50 to 150 characters are supplied.

The scenarios give a background story and victory conditions. Technically, they state which mapboards are used, the order of battle of both sides, and initial set-up. They are usually not limited to a certain number of game turns but demand control of a certain location or, more often and quite in line with the name of the game, the destruction of the enemy forces.
An average scenario usually can be played in 1 to 3 hours, though there are some bigger scenarios that can hardly be played in one day.
Scenarios include "Street Fight", "Peasant Revolt", "City Sack", "Burning the Camp", and Design-Your-Own rules. Sounds promising, doesn't it?

The game is played in strictly alternating player turns (a concept that allows to get by with a minimum of book-keeping and also makes for the excellent play-by-mail capability). Each player turn has a fixed sequence of action options like missile fire, movement, second fire of fast-loading missiles like bows and slings, combat, and possible retreats/advances.

Movement is governed by the in-hex and hexside terrain and is limited by the available movement points of the characters. In addition to normal movement options like leading animals, climbing ladders etc. are available.

Combat and missile fire are governed by tables. For combat, the relation of attack strength to defensive strength are calculated. The result points to a table column; it is then modified for terrain influences and other factors. You roll a 10-sided die, cross-index the roll with the table column, and get the result. Multiple attacking characters add their strengths if they do not wish to attack separately. For missile fire the table column used does not depend on strength values but on factors like weapon, range, and cover. Both tables come printed on a 20 by 30 cm player aid card that also gives a terrain overview and some additional data.

Even with a considerable number of characters on each side the game plays fast and smoothly. In turbulent skirmishes it is even sometimes hard to see at one glance which characters belong to which player since the counters have no faction marks, and even if you place them pointing to your home edge of the map players have been known to shoot at own troops in their excitement. As you can see, the game provides some realism even with the simple approach it takes!

Other action options are given in the subsequent games of the series, adding short rules sections as required. These range from transports like carts, wagons and ships to usage of special equipment like siege engines. Also, rules for night action and for swimming are given. Unfortunately, the rule set became ever less clear with each module and option, and there were also rules changes when Eurogames published their version. This is no real obstacle when playing face-to-face but can become a nuisance when playing by mail.

One last thing I'd like to mention is the compatibility of the material to role-playing and tabletop miniatures games. For example, you could use the maps as "overlays" to your tabletop to create a detailed landscape in no time at all. I found that especially the combination Hârnmaster - BattleLust - Cry Havoc connects very well (the first part of which is not surprising considering that BattleLust is a derivate of HârnMaster). For example, you could play a pitched battle using Cry Havoc rules and characters for mass combat of all not-so-interesting non-player characters, BattleLust tabletop rules for the more important NPCs, and the full HârnMaster rules for the player characters.

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Other Games of the Cry Havoc! Series

Based on the Cry Havoc! game system, and fully compatible with it, are its sequels:

It must be noted that some rules changed somewhat in the course of the original (Standard Games) edition, but this is not a real problem since the changes have a certain logic in themselves, and the preference is always clear. I would definitely advise to use the archery rules given in the later games than those of the first edition of Cry Havoc. Eurogames have continued to consolidate the rules a bitwithout actually re-designing them.
The shortcomings of the original rules and an attack of megalomania have driven me to write an expanded and consolidated rule version which, sadly, I have never been finished and which is now obsolete with the publishing of the Magna Carta by Hervé Tardy and others.
The games of the "Norman Saga" (Guiscard and its follow-up games) published by Historic'One both expand and consolidate the rules yet more, including a well-designed set of campaign rules.

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Customer Information

This information is completely out of date, it represents my latest knowledge. For example, I do not think that Standard Games even exists tody. And Eurogames has given up on this games series as well,; in fact, they too seem to have folded by now. See the Cry Havoc Fan pages for up-to-date information about the games and their availability.

Standard Games and Publications, Ltd.
Arlon House, Paradise Industrial Estate, Wood Lane
Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire HP2 4TL, UK
Fon: +44-01442-249888
Fax: +44-01442-217254
They sell directly per mail order. A catalogue is available.

Eurogames Jeux Descartes
1, rue du Col. Pierre Avia, F-75503 Paris Cedex 15, France
Fon: +33-1-46484820
Fax: +33-1-46484825

Their German representative has also been very cooperative:
Eurogames Descartes Deutschland
Uwe Walentin
Am Dachsberg 6, D-78479 Konstanz, Germany
Fon: +49-7531-72789
Fax: +49-7531-72793

Sales point / Relais Descartes for Canada and the USA:
Le Valet d'Coeur
4408 St. Denis, Montreal, Quebec H2J 2L1, Canada
Fon: +1-514-499-9970
Fax: +1-514-499-1972

A German mail order shop selling the games is the Fantasy En'Counter in Essen. Check out their web site- it is worth a visit!

Also, The Sentry Box, USA, used to stock some of the games.

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, last change 2017-01-25