Updated: Dec 3, 2019
Following in the footsteps of the classic game Kingmaker, The Cousins' War (Surprised Stare Games) is the latest Wars of the Roses game. It comes in a small box and has all the appearance of being a micro game - it is certainly travel-friendly. Aside from cubes (representing armies), dice and a tiny 7 inch by 4 inch playing board, the game comprises just 17 cards, only a random 12 of which are used in each of the game's five rounds.
The historical battle details on the board add to the theme but the board's purpose is otherwise rather limited because it contains just three regions over which the two players vie for control. The cards too are strong on flavour text but don't expect this game to transport you to an immersive 15th Century experience. In each round, a battle card is laid out and players in turn use their other cards either as an Event (implementing the text) or for their points value. If the latter, they will be spending points to manipulate and move cubes between the general supply, their own reserve, the three map locations and the battlefield card.
This makes for a thoughtful abstract game, in the tradition of Osprey's The King Is Dead, though not a game that evokes Medieval plotting or warfare. For an inexpensive pocket game, The Cousin's War includes a surprisingly varied array of mechanics: including some chance elements, the opportunity to bluff (lie) about dice rolls and, if challenged, use points to modify a result to make the roll 'true', and the Twilight Struggle-like possibility of cards giving a 'secondary event' capability to your opponent. The requirement each round to swap a card with your opponent feels like a half-hearted nod to card drafting and seemed not to add much to the game, but there is certainly enough in this little box to hold people's interest for the game's 30 minutes or so playtime.
Eagle-eyes will spot that the game also includes a couple of promo cards for other games (Snowdonia and Guilds of London), so an extra bonus if you are a fan of either of these games.
And just to confirm how small the box is - here it is in comparison with the original (Ariel) edition of Kingmaker :-)