Thank you for checking review #23 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**A copy of this game was provided by Tiny Battle Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age
Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age is a game designed by Tom Russell and is published by Tiny Battle Publishing. The rule book states that it can play 2 players and has a 70 minute play time.
Stamford Bridge: End of the Viking Age is a low-complexity two-player wargame about the 25 September 1066 Battle of Stamford Bridge. Three weeks before his defeat at Hastings, King Harold Godwinson surprised his brother Tostig and King Harald Hardrada of Norway and won a decisive, if costly victory against the Vikings.
At the heart of the game is a simple turn structure in which players choose two phases to perform: Retreat, Shield Wall, Move, or Combat. Players can also perform two Move Phases in a single turn, two separate Combat phases, or a more powerful– if bloody– Pitched Combat. Combat resolution is quick and accurately represents the brutal, costly nature of linear warfare of the period.
As leadership of the Viking forces passes from one leader to another, the rules of the game are changed, imparting a sense of historical narrative while giving both players an equal chance of victory.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
The game is a 2-player only so nothing changes. The great thing about this game is that there are two games included in this one ziplock bag. The first side is for the Stamford Bridge battle, having the Anglo-Saxons facing the Vikings. Both sides are attempting to be the first to eliminate 12 units from the other side, although there comes a point where the Viking losses will bring about a flurry of Viking attacks in a desperate attempt to either end the game or lose.
The other side is for A Hill Near Hastings, which pits the Anglo-Saxons against the Normans. This one is unique enough with including Cavalry and Archers for the Normans, who are split into three wings that activate and operate independently of the main force. Like the previous scenario, the goal is in trying to eliminate a certain number of troops from the other side.
The actions are simple in both games, with Attack, Move, Shield Wall, Retreat, and Double being the actions in Stamford Bridge while Hastings adds Charge and Fire for use with the horses and archers. Each counter has a letter to indicate its skill, and a symbol to indicate the class of the unit. These are cross-referenced on a single, simple chart with the roll of a single die to determine if the enemy is hit, if both sides take a hit, if one side must retreat a space, if a unit is eliminated, or if it is a miss. There are ways to maneuver troops or use commands to increase your odds of success. Anyone familiar with Wargames will have no issue maneuvering this, and even a new Wargamer will be able to navigate this after a few combats.
Everything in this game has been streamlined to make it easy and accessible. Movement is simple because there are no varying terrain types to take into consideration. There are no leaders on the map, simplifying that process. Almost all of the units in the game are infantrymen. There are a handful of commands. There is only one chart to reference. The game feels like a Wargame, but it is not only playable by a beginner but also plays quickly enough to be almost a filler for more experienced Wargamers. The accessibility makes it a great game to introduce new gamers to this category of games. The short playtime and small number of counters makes it so that this is one that can be pulled out and played when you don’t have time for a longer game.
The counters are nice and thicker than expected. While small in size, I’ve never had any issue seeing the counters and being able to read what they say. They all punched out easily, have distinct colors/shades to make them easy to sort, and their letters dictating their power are all easy to spot while on the map. They are elegant and provide the information you need while retaining a clean appearance.
Hidden within this simple are some surprisingly important decision you can make during the setup of your counters. You’ll usually have a mix of counters from A-D, and you’ll need to decide whether to put your strongest guys up front (where they are likely to die earlier in the game) or near the back (which by the time they are into battle, you may have lost so many counters that defeat is nearly inevitable). How you group counters together makes a difference, as having the same letter counter attacking together gives far greater bonuses than having a B, a C, and a D counter all attacking at once. It isn’t deep in the decision-making, but after a few rounds you begin to see how some of those early decisions, and then how you maneuver those troops during movement, can really impact the way things play out.
I really appreciate the presence of only one chart to consult for battle. This helps the game to not only remain simple in the approach, but also keeps the combat moving forward at a quick pace. You roll one die, you check the one chart, and do what the end result says. There is something elegant in the simplicity of this system which prevents the game from overstaying its welcome on the table.
The rulebook itself is nice in the layout and presentation, but my favorite part would be the pages at the end covering the history behind the battles. This allows even the casual player to spend 15 minutes and walk away knowing a little bit about these important historical battles. A small list of selected readings would have been a welcome addition, to steer those who end up interested in these battles toward some quality books to read.
The map itself is not high in quality. It is slightly thicker than paper, and so I have concerns about its long-term durability. I understand the need for the map to be like this, making it both light and affordable, which is why it isn’t fully a negative. This is easily the most fragile thing that comes with the purchase of the game, yet it is arguably one of the more important components.
There is kind of the inclusion of leaders, but it is really abstracted. Basically they are the number of commands you get to issue, which in the Stamford Bridge battle is really interesting on the Viking side because those commands change in value as more units are lost. This represents the different leadership qualities of those Viking leaders, and it adds a little interesting variety in playing that side. The Hill Near Hastings is interesting for the Normans, as they can activate two of their three groupings and have limitations in that sense as well as the inclusion of archers and cavalry units. The Anglo-Saxons, unfortunately, are static in their command decisions which almost makes them the least interesting side to play in both battles. Leader chits would have certainly raised the rules and complexity a little, but it also would have opened some limitations and forced some extra tactical decisions in the game which could have helped this to have a longer life in the collection.
There is one action among the selection that ended up getting ignored: Shield Wall. The problem comes because there two things you’ll end up wanting to do each turn: move and attack. Move because the results of the previous battles almost always leave at least a few units unengaged in a combat. Battle because you need to kill units in order to win. If you could advance one space as part of a Shield Wall action and then attack, it’d be a combo I’d use often. As it stood, it really only entered play when standing on the hill, complementing the advantage of the higher ground for the Anglo-Saxons.
There is only one chart to consult, but I really found myself wishing there was a player’s aid for this game. Something small which contained the chart, and a brief overview of each command, would enhance the experience for two players. I understand the desire to trim costs, but this was one thing I really desired to have while playing the game. Even just having a second copy of the chart would have been enough.
There is a limit on how much replay this game will have. Sure, you get two different games in the folio, but neither of them really offers a lot of room to deploy tactics beyond the placement of your troops and when to use your Initiative token for the back-to-back turns. This game isn’t supposed to be one you play all the time, but some players may be content after playing each side on each map just once. It is unlikely to be the type of game that gets pulled out and replayed often because the rules and the number of counters and the size of the map are all so small and streamlined.
I really, really enjoyed this game. While it is not likely to be a game that will get pulled out often due to its simplicity, that same simplicity is the very reason why I love this game. It is easy enough to bring in a new player while remaining interesting enough for a more experienced player. It lays the groundwork to become familiar with the Swords and Shields system, which is used in a few other folios by Tiny Battle Publishing and is used in an upgraded form in several games offered by Hollandspiele. That makes this an obvious entry point for purchase to anyone wanting to try out Wargames because this is a simple, inexpensive game that will allow you to branch out to nearly another half-dozen games that use a similar system.
This game doesn’t do anything spectacular or complex, yet it doesn’t need to. Its cost and the components for that cost are what will draw a person into the game. I found this to be a fantastic first step into the world of Wargames, and that it presented enough interesting decisions to make it enjoyable playing both solo and against an opponent. If you have ever had even a passing interest in playing a Wargame, I would definitely recommend this as a place to learn the basics and see if you want to take a deeper plunge into the broad spectrum of games in that category.
Ultimately, if I was a beginning Wargamer looking for an entry point, this is a game I would definitely purchase. If I was an experienced Wargamer looking to expand my collection of games that could bring new Wargamers into the hobby, I would definitely purchase this game. If I was a Wargamer interested in this period of history, I’d likely purchase this game. But experienced Wargamers looking for a game to play many times with other experienced Wargamers may want to look toward something a little more rich in variety and tactics.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.