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Kingmaker Developer's Notes - 7, Scrope to Masham: some comments on historicity in Kingmaker

This is the seventh post in a series about Alan Paull's re-development of Andrew McNeil's game Kingmaker for Gibsons Games. Posts: Basic Principles, Prestige, The Board, Parliament, Random Death, What Versions to Put in the Box?, Teamwork!, Controversies?!, Stuff we left out.

“It’s a model, not a simulation!” Alan Paull (frequently)

The concept of historicity relates to historical authenticity. It’s a twofold concept, covering both the idea of historical accuracy - facts, if you will, rather than myths or fiction - and also how we in the present can really know what happened in the past. Games are often models or systems, in that they are components connected together for a purpose. The designer of a game may be attempting to portray some aspects of reality, but models necessarily contain simplifications, sometimes gross simplifications. Games with a purpose of entertainment, rather than as simulations, can get away with divergence from reality; in fact, this is often necessary in order to create a playable and / or marketable game. Put a pin in that idea, I’ll be referring to it throughout this post.

The central conceit of Kingmaker is a great example of how historical accuracy is not the be-all and end-all of a historical game. Andrew’s idea was that royal figures didn’t have agency in the period. While this might have been true of Henry VI, acknowledged by most as a “weak” king and experiencing bouts of madness, and possibly also of Edward of Westminster, a minor for most of the period and dying when he was only 17, it could not be said of those powerful figures Richard, Duke of York, and his 3 sons, nor was Margaret of Anjou any form of cypher. But as a game mechanism, it works brilliantly. We as players are factions of leading nobles literally leading around the royalty for our own ends.

There are many aspects of the reality of the Wars of the Roses (not in itself a term coined till the 19th century) that have been amended in the interests of game play by Andrew McNeil, the team of developers at Avalon Hill, and myself more recently. It might be a neat little history project to ferret them out, but I’m not going to do that here. I just want to mention a few critical features of the game that make it work as an entertainment, but that a simulation style of game might want to address - ignoring the major conceit already described.

The road from Shrewsbury to York

There was no medieval or early modern road from Shrewsbury to York. There isn’t even a simple current route there. A look at the map explains why - it goes through the Peak District at the southern end of the Pennines, a range of mountains with relatively few major roads even now. Ok, now there is the M62, and a few others relying on modern road engineering, but you get the point about the 15th century. However, for the game, it really helps to provide players with two routes from London to York, and via a relatively few stops, you can control that fictional part of the network. To be fair, the eastern route from London to York is not an unreasonable representation, following the old Roman roads of Watling Street, the Fosse Way, and Ermine Street, if I recall correctly, though it really should go through both Nottingham and Lincoln. But, there are problems with early modern roads, in that definitive evidence of their routes is often lacking, while in game terms, more locations on them means more blocking, which isn’t necessarily what we want. So, we compromise.

Kingmaker noble houses

Andrew McNeil stated explicitly that unconnected or cadet branches of some families (for example, Grey and Neville) had to be merged, and some families had to be left out, including ‘arrivist’ families such as the Woodvilles. Also, some families had to give up their titles to enable the creation of Title cards for award to other nobles during the game. Exact holdings of castles were sacrificed in order to reduce their number, and to attempt to provide for ‘foci of power’ rather than territories.

"Scrope to Masham", the famous quote from an Event card, is a Kingmaker thing. I wanted to keep it despite potential difficulties with the Scrope families. I needed to respect Andrew's decision to have the Scropes in the Masham area, as a broad centre of their power base. But I also wanted to be reasonably historically accurate, so I did a bit of research on Masham.

It turned out to be quite interesting. While Bolton was, arguably, more important (and I wouldn't gainsay anyone who mentions that!), there was definitely a castle or castellated manor at Masham from the early 14th century, though it was variously called Clifton or Masham. There are very few records of the original structure anywhere, because it was demolished in 1806 and built over with another one. This kind of eradication was, I'm sure, quite frequent, and leaves considerable gaps in the records, because a researcher is then very reliant on written records with no past pictorial or archaeological evidence. It's quite possible that an old local history, parish record or memoir mentions it, but this type of source is unlikely to have been digitised, so from the internet's point of view it doesn't exist, and I’m a game designer / developer not an academic historian. However, "absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence". I didn’t add Bolton Castle or use it to replace Masham, because it's a bit far from the road to control it (though, of course, the road is by no means historically accurate). "Scrope" the noble card was explicitly (from Andrew's notes) an amalgam, and doesn't represent just the Masham branch, so it feels quite proper to me to retain Scrope at Masham.

These radical adjustments might horrify a designer of a simulation as they distort the reality and the detail of many local and regional situations, but they work for Kingmaker, which continues to retain its theme, and sufficient historical authenticity to create a great player experience. I hope this brief excursion into the method I used to arrive at my decisions gives some insight into this part of the development process.

Next time: Stuff we left out!


Kingmaker Kickstarter live between 26 September 2022 and 14 October 2022:

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