The concept of solitaire board gaming is strange to a lot of people and was strange to me at first too. Board games stand out from other forms of entertainment especially because of the interpersonal interactions that they encourage between players. It takes time and effort to set up, learn, and play a board game, and it can feel odd to put that much effort into something that isn't a shared experience. It's exactly that time and effort that really can make solitaire board games so satisfying though.
Cruel Necessity is challenging, interesting, deep, and weighty. Tasked with defending Parliament and Puritanism during the English Civil Wars, the player is thrust into the unenviable position of defending London from four encroaching armies while simultaneously trying to juggle politics in Ireland, Scotland, Parliament, the Monarchy, Puritanism, and Catholicism. Merely surviving through to the end of all three civil wars can be a daunting task. Managing to survive while scoring enough points to claim victory can feel nearly impossible at first, and remains a steady challenge even after numerous plays.
Cruel Necessity isn't a game that you play once or twice. It's the type of game that needs multiple plays to get a feel for, and even more plays to start to see some small success at. Every turn there are multiple fires that need to be put out, yet if you aren't focused, and spread yourself too thin, you can end up accomplishing next to nothing. It takes time to understand which impending crisis is the most important at any given time, and it takes time, courage, and luck to swing the tide in your favor, often requiring the acceptance of inevitable crisis in one area in order to bolster another area, or address a more immediate threat.
The game is a delicate balancing act that can feel like trying to hold the ocean back with a teaspoon. The same events happen each game but are drawn from a deck of cards that gets shuffled between plays. You will learn what's coming, but you can never be sure exactly when. With familiarity and experience, the game feels more like a dance, with moves and counter moves interwoven with the knowledge of the need to prepare for certain events. Over time, the game feels less random and more puzzle like. Smarter choices yield significantly improved results, although the dice rolls can still temper even the best laid plans.
There is so much satisfaction to be gained from learning first to survive, then to score some points, and finally learning which risks to take, and when, in order to actually score enough points to count as a victory. In order to really score well, you have to take calculated risks, leaving yourself exposed to punishment if you fail. These risks are something I haven't quite mastered, yet I'm enjoying every small victory and every agonizing defeat. I don't want to give away too much strategy, but I will say this: hold on to Hull and Bristol as if your life depended on it because, in Cruel Necessity, it does.
The game is designed by John Welch and based on the States of Siege system, which I was unfamiliar with before playing Cruel Necessity. The game system is tight and runs very smoothly, and I am very interested to try other games in this system after seeing how much fun there is to be had with it. The balance is exquisite and the theme is interesting and fits the mechanics wonderfully. History buffs should get an extra thrill out of seeing familiar names, places, and events unfold before their very eyes while playing.
A note on play time: The three civil wars can be played separately, or back to back as part of a campaign. The campaign game is the most satisfying way to play, but it can take about 3 hours to play through until you are very familiar with the game. Once you are familiar with the mechanics and flow of the game though, the full campaign can be played in 90 - 120 minutes.
A note on “chrome”: Cruel Necessity uses the laser cut components typical of Victory Point Games. The tokens are thick and the edges are sooty and need to be wiped before play. A few of the tokes have some discoloration from this process, which is unfortunate, but the art is all well-done and thematic. The main board and battle board are card-stock, with the main board being made up of two separate pieces. Bumping the top or bottom half of the main board during play can cause them to separate, which can be slightly annoying.
The bottom line:
Cruel Necessity is an amazing, deep solitaire experience. The game is at its best when played as a full campaign, offering layers of strategy, risk, and luck mitigation that come together to form a tense and exciting experience from the first moments of conflict through the final resolution and cessation of hostilities. The theme is presented in a way that makes the history it is based on feel alive and vibrant, and encouraged me to look further in to how the English Civil Wars actually unfolded. While there are dice and card draws involved, player skill and choice are the most important factors to the game, and figuring out ways to deal with, and overcome, the steep challenges that the game presents you with is incredibly rewarding.
Get this game if:
You like solitaire board games.
You enjoy games with a historical theme.
You like very challenging games.
Avoid this game if:
You loathe dice rolling.
The copy of Cruel Necessity used for this review was purchased by the reviewer.
Cruel Necessity is an amazing game. It is tense and challenging from start to finish, and presents the theme in an interesting and engaging way. This is a must have if you are a fan of solitaire games.