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War of the 3 Sanchos

War of the 3 Sanchos is the latest in the Pocket Campaigns series of small-box war games published by Surprised Stare. This game is designed by David J Mortimer, with art by Klemens Franz. Set in the 11th Century kingdoms that now make up part of modern Spain, this game represents the conflict between these rival kingdoms around the time of El Cid, the warlord who most of us know only courtesy of the 1961 Charlton Heston epic movie but who was a historical character.

War of the 3 Sanchos is playable solitaire and as a two-player game but it is primarily designed as a three-player game where each player controls one of the three kings. You score points by controlling regions, and each king starts off controlling a region worth 3 victory points, so everyone starts at 3 on the points track; the game is won by the first player to attain 10 victory points.

This is an area control game but it is card driven. On your turn, you get to reserve or play one of the three cards in your hand, and you draw another card at the end of your turn. When you play the card, you get to spend the indicated number of command points in any way you choose; the other players also get to take actions but they can only spend their command points in the specific way indicated on the card. Also when you play a card, you get to choose the order in which the three players take their actions. When you reserve a card you place it face down by the board; the other players don't get to take any actions. Your reserved card is available to you when you're engaged in combat.

When you play a card for its command points you can take any combination of actions up to the number of points available to you.

  • Recruit lets you add a troop to your reserve.

  • Deploy lets you place a troop from your reserve to your home region or to join your king meeple wherever it is on the board, except when your king is under siege

  • You can Move your king or any troop to an adjacent region, but you need to spend a command point for each piece you move. Moving into a region controlled by an opponent does not automatically trigger combat.

  • Fortify means moving a troop or your king from the open field into a castle garrison; fortifying gives you control of that region so you add that region's numerical value to your victory points total.

  • Attack initiates a battle involving all players with field troops in a region (ie: troops not in a garrison). They all roll standard d6 number dice for each of their troops and a custom d6 (0, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9) for any kings but the player triggering the attack adds a d6 for each command point spent on the attack.

  • Sieges take place against a garrison. You spend a command point per two units to place them atop the garrison but to besiege a garrison you must be placing there at least one more unit than your opponent had within the fortification. In each subsequent turn, all players at the garrison remove a troop: the region and its points will therefore ultimately change hands but not until there's been a process of attrition taking at least one turn.

  • Interception is an option where you have field troops in a region as well as a garrison. If an opponent takes a besiege action on their turn, you can interrupt their turn and resolve a battle between the field armies in the same way as an attack, albeit without any command point dice.

Attacks are resolved by stacking the dice beneath the corresponding number on the score track. Starting with the highest number, where there's a single die in a column, the owner of that die gets to remove an opponent's die from any column and one troop of that colour. This of course can have a cascade effect by leaving you as a single die in another column. Where there are dice in a column belonging to more than one player, these are ignored (ie: no troops are removed). This is where a reserved card can be used. You ignore the text on the card but just use it to force a re-roll in any column.

You couldn't have a game set in 11th Century Spain that didn't include El Cid. Designer David J Mortimer has included him as a catch-up mechanism in the form of a special card that can be claimed by the player in last position. The card can be played when resolving an attack where it has the effect of allowing the player to move one of their dice one column...

As any of our followers on the Board's Eye View Facebook page will know, we have a special fondness for medieval history so we approached this mini war-game with high expectations. We weren't disappointed. War of the 3 Sanchos has already replaced The Cousins' War as our favourite among Surprised Stare's Pocket Campaigns games. Tho' it plays quickly (<45 minutes), War of the 3 Sanchos provides a satisfying mix of tactics and luck. We especially liked the game's inherent asymmetry between the three kingdoms and their card effects. It means that each of the kings have their particular strengths and weaknesses. If you've played Twilight Struggle (GMT) or, more recently, Votes for Women (Fort Circle), you'll be familiar with games where you're playing cards with text that may well help an opponent. In this game, every card you play gives a play to your opponents so canny players will try to time their plays so that the actions they are giving their opponents aren't ones from which they can overly profit. Ideally, you'll play cards that force an opponent to take an action they'd rather not take, tho' you certainly can't count on always being able to do this.

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