Saturday was a very rainy day, and with the RockyMountainNavy Boys still on travel I got several solo plays in. The first was Line of Battle (Second Edition, Omega Games, 2006) and the second was The Battle of Wakefield: Yorkshire, England 30 December 1460 published by RBM Studio in C3i Magazine Nr. 31 in 2017. After I finished my play, I realized that both @playersaid and @PastorJoelT also played Wakefield on Saturday. It looks like the game is popular, and with good reason. The Battle of Wakefield uses a relatively straight-forward combat system driven by an interesting initiative mechanic using Free Activations and Continuity. The most important decisions players make are not how to combat, but making the best of opportunities.
The core mechanic of The Battle of Wakefield is rule 6.0 ACTIVATION & CONTINUITY. An Activation is, “All the Moving, Firing, and Attacks of one Battle, during which some of the opponents may react” (2.4 Definitions & Abbreviations). The player can also select to activate the Standard (“the rallying point for units of an army,” think rally point or action) or Pass. Passing can be beneficial as it may speed reinforcement arrival and (indirectly) triggers a Loss Check.
Once a player has acted, the Active player can attempt to continue their turn by using Continuity; that is, pass the initiative to another Battle in the army. The selected Battle must pass a Continuation die roll (DR) which is a roll against the Battle leader’s Activation Rating. If the Continuation DR is the same as or less than the Activation Rating, the Battle is Activated (6.2 Continuity). This “continuity passing” can continue indefinitely, though each successive Continuation DR gets a progressively larger modifier. Once the Continuation DR is failed, or the player passes, the other player starts their turn with a Free Activation.
At the start of the game, each player places their eight Seizure Counters into a cup and draws three. These Seizure Counters can now be used in the game for Seizing Continuity (6.3 Seizing Continuity). Before the active player makes their Continuation DR, the non-active player can try a Seizure Opportunity to take the initiative. Another Seizure Counter is Seizure Negation which counters the Seizure Opportunity play. Some other Seizure Counters have combat effects. By randomly drawing three of eight each game, this simple game mechanic ensures that no two games will ever be identical.
Which is why Free Activations becomes so important. A Free Activation is:
A non-Continuity/non-Seized Activation. It is a Free Activation if your opponent Passes, your opponent fails a Continuity roll, fails a Seizure roll, or if it is the first Activation of the game (2.4).
In The Battle of Wakefield, Free Activations is the most important type of activation because:
- It is the only activation that can activate a Standard (6.1 Activation – Standard)
- Standards can “rally” Retired units to a Disordered state, which in turn gives them chance to return to full combat status (15.0 RALLYING UNITS).
- It can trigger reinforcements (LANCASTRIAN REINFORCEMENTS on Set-Up card)
- In Wakefield, at the start of every Free Activation the Lancastarian player makes a DR plus the number of their past Free Activations. If the DR exceeds 12 or 14 certain reinforcements arrive.
- At the end of every Free Activation there is a Loss Check to determine if the game ends (3.0 VICTORY).
In my game, I did not do a very good job of tracking Free Activations for each side. I think I missed at least one reinforcement roll opportunity and maybe even a Loss Check. What might help this game is a token that has “Free Activation” on one side and “Continuity” on the other to help remind players which type of activation they are in. It also could serve as a great symbol of the “passing of initiative” as the token is passed between players when one passes or seized opportunity.
Even without the token, The Battle of Wakefield is a nice, tight game. The challenge comes from the need for the outnumbered, yet qualitatively superior York to defeat a numerically superior Lancaster army that arrives on the battlefield piecemeal. York must defeat elements of the Lancaster army in turn before a sheer weight of numbers overwhelms it. To win, each player must use their Free Activations and Continuity to the best possible effect. Each player has opportunities to disrupt Continuity and seize the initiative making, or taking, the opportunities that arise in the chaos of the battlefield. This battle of opportunities is what The Battle of Wakefield shows best.