Britain at war

by Geoff Bache


For a while, one of my frustrations with the standard board has been the lack of familiarity with the places and countries involved, as the world of Europe in 1901 is quite remote. I have little affinity with Turkey, and have no idea where Galicia is, and thus moving Turkish armies into Galicia has less meaning than it might do! There are 2 ways to resolve this, one of which is to move the period of setting to a more modern time, as the Modern Variant has done very successfully. The other is to localise the map somewhat, which is what I have attempted to do in creating Heptarchy, restricting the map to just the British Isles. This produces a set of places much more likely to be familiar to myself and the people likely to play it, which adds an extra dimension to the play.


The next problem was to find 7 British powers which could reasonably be at war with each other, and the obvious period to choose was the Dark Ages between the Roman Occupation and the unification of England. Unfortunately this is by definition a period with few records, and a lot of conflicting information. However, I managed to find maps of the Heptarchy of Britain, comprising Wessex in the south, Mercia in the middle, Northumbria in the north, plus East Anglia, North Wales (modern Wales), West Wales (modern Cornwall) and Strathclyde (bits of Scotland). This presented one big problem, namely that Wessex was much bigger than the others, and West Wales was (a) confusing and (b) far too small to be viable. In the end I decided to tweak with history a bit, so unified Ireland, had it as a Great Power and turned Strathclyde into Scotland. East Anglia was made neutral, while the Wessex monster was split up into 2. This last actually corresponds to moving the period back 100 years or so, but what to call the 2 bits was uncertain. West Wales was just too confusing a name, so it became Cornubia (actually a Roman title), while the eastern half of Wessex (the area around London) was named Anglia for want of anything better.

The next problem was names of towns. Few existed at this time, and finding the relevant information seemed an impossible task. In the end I decided that using ancient names would in a way defy the object of the map anyway, as it would remove the familiarity aspect of the game. So the town names are all modern, and this is deliberate, before I get any letters telling me Birmingham didn't exist in the Dark Ages!

It thus simply remained to draw the map, and get play-testing! Here are the color and black-and-white versions of the map. The black-and-white version may look better if you can't view in color, or for for downloading and printing.

The initial set up is as follows (colors in parentheses correspond to the colors on the map above):

   ANGLIA      (yellow) begins with:  A (Lon), A (Oxf), F (Dov)
   CORNUBIA    (purple) begins with:  F (Ply), A (Bri), A (Exe)
   IRELAND     (green)  begins with:  F (Dub), F (Bel), F (Crk)
   MERCIA      (blue)   begins with:  A (Bir), A (Not), F (Glo), F (Kin)
   NORTHUMBRIA (brown)  begins with:  F (New), A (Mid), A (Hul)
   SCOTLAND    (black)  begins with:  A (Edi), F (Gla), F (Abe)
   WALES       (red)    begins with:  A (Cdf), F (Swa), A (Lla)

The board has 37 supply centres (3 more than standard) and thus 19 centres are needed for an outright win. In the end the Dark Ages political map beat the modern town names for the year numbers, so the game begins in Spring 651. All rules are exactly as for the standard game set-up.

Features of the board

The geography itself is very simple. There are no canals or double- coasted provinces to add extra complications, and the size of the game is very similar to the standard set-up, with 22 home centres (identical), 15 neutral centres (3 more) and 90 territories in total (15 more).

This means that there is more room on the board, which seems to encourage more attacking play, as it's very hard indeed to set up stalemate lines on the board. Opinion seems to be divided about whether this is a good thing or not, but personally I get frustrated when standard games reach the stage where everyone heads straight for the usual stalemate lines and the game dies quickly.

I have also added some enormous sea areas round the outside of the board, facilitating cooperation between powers which would be a long way off otherwise. This is something which takes a while to get used to, Ireland and Scotland should beware the fact that Aberdeen to Cork is only 3 moves via NWG and NAO, even if it looks like the other side of the board! Also worth noting is that while Flanders looks like a gift for Anglia, it is actually 3 moves from all of Dover, King's Lynn, Newcastle and Aberdeen, so is actually anybody's in 652! Beware immense convoys from the other end of the board as well, these seem to be quite popular, although the "round Britain convoy" is yet to happen, prize for the first person to manage this!

Common misorders have been
F (NSN) - Hul (not possible, WAS is next to NYo)
F (HBS) - Gla (also not possible, NCH borders Arg)
F (Dov) - Ess (has to go to Lon or THA first if it wants to do this)

Opening theory and tactical advice

ANGLIA - has to decide very soon whether Cornubia or Mercia is going to be the bigger threat, and send the fleet in that direction.


A (Lon) - Cam, A (Oxf) - War, F (Dov) - THA
is an all-out against Mercia, but can leave Cornubia in Southampton and Portsmouth. This can be by treaty or simply hoping he won't move enough units to take both! Instead
A (Lon) - Dow
can bounce Portsmouth, but trusts Mercia more. An additional
A (Oxf) - Cam
makes sure of 1 build (Cam), and probably 2 (Ips). Against Cornubia
A (Lon) - Ess, A (Oxf) - Cam, F (Dov) - Sus
is useful if Cornubia wants his fleet in ECH, can get 2 builds and move them west after this. Vulnerable to an all-out attack by Mercia. Instead
A (Lon) - Dow
guarantees Portsmouth, but can leave big problems against Mercia.




A (Exe) - Stn
is obvious
F (Ply) - CRS
is standard, leaving options on Sci if you can persuade the Welsh or Irish to let you have it/support you in.
F (Ply) - LYM, A (Bri) - Cot
can leave you in Por and Stn if Anglia moves north. is fairly standard, either to bounce the Mercian fleet, attack Anglia or go for Gloucester with a Welsh
A (Cdf) - Gwe
as a backup.
A (Bri) - Som, F (Ply) - CRS
is an ambitious attempt to get 3 builds although Som can still cover Bri if necessary




F (Dub) - IRI
is obvious, to take IOM in Autumn.
F (Bel) - NCH
seems standard, as a Scottish fleet there means you can lose Bel or not get IOM. But if you get in, you can get Gla or deny Scotland any builds in 651.
F (Crk) - NAO
to try to get Heb/bounce Scotland. It seems to be a bad idea to let Scotland have it, anyway, even if allied.
F (Crk) - CEL
is another option, if Cornubia isn't demanding Sci.
F (Bel) - HBS
with the above trusts Scotland a lot, but leaves the best position for the S/I alliance to proceed.




F (Kin) - Nrw
is obvious
F (Glo) - Cot
or if you're nervous of a C/W move on Glo
F (Glo) - SEV
leaves more options, possibly a build from Bri or Cdf!
A (Bir) - Glo
with the above makes convoys possible as well.
A (Bir) - Her
has also been tried, to annoy Wales.
A (Bir) - Pea
should get Manchester if Northumbria heads north.
A (Not) - SYo
guarantees Manchester but gives Anglia a free rein.
A (Not) - War
defends a vital area from Anglia.
A (Not) - Kin
leaves you poised for a war in the east with Anglia, does well if he's moving on Cornubia.
A (Not) - Ntn, A (Bir) - War
can give Mercia a very good position by removing Anglia from the board very swiftly!




F (New) - NSN
grabs the vital defensive sea area, and sets off for Fla as for the armies, the Southern Option. A (Mid) - NYo, A (Hul) - SYo
can get 2 builds if Mercia doesn't go for Manchester, and makes sure of no Mercians in SYo. The Northern Option
A (Mid) - Pen, A (Hul) - NYo,
often combined with
F (New) - Nmb
can also get 2 builds (Dumfries) if Scotland deems Ireland to be the main threat (he can't cover Edi and go for Dum) In the worst case this leaves the 652 position bad against an MW, but a strong Scotland is bad news.




F (Gla) - NCH
bouncing Ireland (q.v.) as losing NCH is a nightmare.
F (Gla) - Str
if you trust Ireland a lot, to get the alliance going.
A (Edi) - SUp
seems standard, to try and get Dum in 651, or
A (Edi) - Nmb
to annoy Northumbria if you're sure it's going to attack
F (Abe) - NWG
to try for Heb, or even as a prelude to a run for Fla, or
F (Abe) - FFT
to cover Edi from Northumbria, leaving SUp free to go for Dum.




A (Lla) - Che
is obvious
A (Cdf) - Pow
is standard, to get 2 builds from Che and Liv.
A (Cdf) - H
followed by convoy to Exmoor, sacrifices a build for early progress on Cornubia.
A (Cdf) - Gwe
to try for Gloucester/bounce Mercia and then convoy!
F (Swa) - BCH
is also standard, for chances on Sci/convoys to Exm.
F (Swa) - Cdf
is a statement to Mercia, followed by
F (Cdf) - SEV
if Mercia moves out.


The story so far...

Heptarchy has been played 5 or 6 times now, but only 3 times on the present version of the board, all face to face games. These have included a win for Chetan Radia as Ireland, a win for me as Cornubia, and a 3-way draw between Anglia (Emeric Misztl), Scotland (me) and Wales (Steve Massey), the last 2 of these at ManorCon XIV recently. There has also been a slightly silly gunboat game, which didn't get very far, although Scotland (Paul Clayson) did get Southampton, which was about the only notable achievement of the game!

If anyone starts playing a game of it in any form, do let me know, I'd be very interested to hear results and comments from people. I will probably be running several email games myself come October, let me know if you'd like a place.

Geoff Bache
([email protected])

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