The States of Siege Series has been getting a facelift with the royal treatment from Worthington Publishing. It all started with the Deluxe Edition of Soviet DawnThe Russian Civil War 1918-1921 designed by the godfather of the States of Siege Series Darin Leviloff with a Kickstarter in November 2020, then Keep Up the Fire!: The Boxer Rebellion designer by John Welch followed by Malta Besieged: 1940-1942 designed by Steve Carey. Now the series is being expanded to include a remake of Cruel Necessity: The English Civil Wars 1640-1653 designed by John Welch. We reached out to John to get the lowdown on the update and he was more than willing to talk with some really thorough responses to our questions.

If you are interested in Cruel Necessity: The English Civil Wars 1640-1653 Deluxe Edition, you can get more information from the Kickstarter page at the following link:

Grant: What is your game Cruel Necessity about?

John: Cruel Necessity is a solitaire game simulating the military, political, and religious struggles of the English Civil Wars from 1640 to 1653. You attempt to stop the advance of four armies bent on destroying Parliament and Puritanism, whom you represent. Simply holding on to London is not enough; you must also suppress the enemies of Puritanism, Parliamentary Government, and English domination. There are civil wars going on not just in England, but in Scotland and Ireland too; and each will have varying impact on the play of the game at different times.

Grant: What does the title mean in relation to the history and your game?

John: The title comes from the purported response to the beheading of King Charles I by his implacable foe, Oliver Cromwell, who remarked that this act of regicide was a “Cruel necessity.” By their very natures, civil wars are particularly terrible and the English Civil Wars were no different. Cromwell did not start out as an enemy of the King or monarchy but was persuaded in that direction by events in the decades leading up to direct combat between King Charles Stuart and members of the House of Commons in the English Parliament.

Grant: What from the history of the English Civil Wars did you want to include in the game? What narrative does the game play and mechanics weave?

John: I wanted the game to put the player into the role of Parliament and Puritanism. My goal was to give the player all the historical tools available and then challenge them to meet or exceed the historical outcome…a very difficult task. I wanted the story of the English Civil Wars to come through the game play as the mechanics compel the player to conduct military campaigns, fight the political battles in Parliament and royalist elements within England, the clash of religion and political ideologies in Scotland and Ireland and trying to push through the foundations of republicanism and representative government – all at the same time! There are a number of other challenges for the player with ‘clubmen’ – villages that felt both sides were taking advantage of them and vowed to fight either side (Roundhead or Cavalier) should it attempt to enter and any number of ‘deviltries’ that alone were not catastrophic but do add to the headaches for the player and give a more robust view of the history.

I wanted the mechanics to be simple enough that they can be quickly resolved with the roll of the dice while preserving the challenge of decision making as the player struggles to ‘put out fires’ while attempting to lay the groundwork for gathering Achievements and erecting roadblocks to the forces arrayed against them. I included a brief description of what each action available to the player represents and I hope most will read over those to enhance their gaming experience…otherwise, it could be seen as simple a dice rolling game.

Another element I wanted to create for the game was a more dynamic system for the number of actions a player could do using ‘Zeal’ points including the ability to save a few of them from turn to turn. To accomplish this I decided to model ‘Zeal’ based on the importance of key cities in England, Scotland and Ireland and have those cities generate the ‘Zeal’ points. This can (and does) change depending on how the game is playing as the player only gets points if they control the key cities and fortresses or manage to fully suppress Catholicism. London is an important example as it generated nearly 70% of the money and recruits for Parliament’s forces during the Civil Wars and provides the player with three ‘Zeal’ points each turn and must be held…if a player loses London they have lost the war. This system can lead to a cascade failure if things turn against the player and Royalist forces have successful military and political campaigns. There are desperate measures a player can take and ‘decision points’ (specific possible choices valid only on a particular event card) that can help to stabilize a deteriorating situation but at a cost…for example, will the player cancel Christmas to get a needed boost to Puritanism at the cost of public opinion…sometimes the pressure will demand it.

Grant: Not often does a game get a 2nd Edition. What led to this opportunity with Worthington Publishing?

John: I was very fortunate that a couple game designer friends put in a good word with Worthington Publishing after successful second editions of some of their games. I was approached in the Fall of 2020 about producing upgraded second editions of three of my designs and I was thrilled to say ‘yes’.

I want to thank all the people that pledged to the first two Kickstarters that made Keep Up the Fire 2.0 (released in 2021) and Levee en Masse 2.0 (released in 2022) possible. I will be relying on them to do the same for Cruel Necessity 2.0 (fingers-crossed released in 2023).

The question does resonant with me as a gamer because I’m acutely aware of the dozens of new games that seem to come out every day so the privilege of a deluxe edition is gratifying indeed and speaks to all the work done on both the original designs and the upgrades to art and components done to the deluxe editions.

Grant: What is your overall vision and design goal for this new edition?

John: My vision is an upgrade to the art, layout and components of the original game. Because of the complexity (at least for a design of mine) my goal is to keep the game play and mechanics the same. Cruel Necessity has been my most successful design to date so I want to preserve that for those veteran players and those that will be new to the game. I also want the game to be ‘back in print’ so more people can have a chance to play it.

I do want to acknowledge that the road to an upgrade to the original Cruel Necessity was not without some twists and turns. Several of the good folks at VPG did go to work on a true 2nd Edition back in 2018 that would have changed a number of things about the original design but those efforts ended before they were complete. When approached for a deluxe upgrade of Cruel Necessity by Worthington Publishing, I chose to go with my original design (as those were the rights that reverted back to me when the previous publisher released them) with some minor adjustments that Alan Emrich and I worked out in 2016 to the cost of Achievements among others.

Grant: What rules are you hoping to change or update with this edition?

John: The goal is to update any minor clarifications to the rules and make some small adjustments to the victory conditions and requirements to earn Achievements. Like most games, there are those that thought the game too difficult to win and those who thought it was easy to ‘win’ if ahistorical. I want to try and strike a balance knowing that not every player will be happy.

This edition will include modifications to the original ‘cost’ of the Achievements in the first edition of the game along with some minor changes to the rewards of those Achievements that were worked on by Alan Emrich and myself about six years ago.

Grant: How do these changes effect the feel and outcome of the game?

John: My hoped-for outcome is that players who felt the game was too hard to win before will feel the possibility to do so with the second edition…don’t worry though, the game will still be VERY tough to win at the highest victory level thus calling a player back to try again. I want to game to model what ‘victory’ in the historical sense was about and while success on the battlefield was very important, it was the changes to the foundations of modern government that are the lasting impacts. In game terms, those would be the Achievements.

The feel of the game should be one of struggle to exercise a set of strategies that will allow for increased chances for success in the political and military realm. I want the feel of tension…but the good kind of ‘gamer’ tension as the player struggles to make decisions that ameliorate the vagaries of fate that the dice are meant to represent. Lastly, I want each game to create a narrative story for the player that provides a plausible alternative history.

Grant: Why did you feel those changes were necessary?

John: I do my best to be active on BGG and address people’s questions as they get posted. As a consequence, I read the feedback (good and bad) and get a sense from that and the reviews that are posted there (or on YouTube) on what is causing the most frustration for people with the first edition. While the minor changes to the deluxe edition weren’t strictly necessary, I did want to maximum the enjoyment possibilities for those that play Cruel Necessity (if you were thinking I was going to go with a game title tie in to the last sentence you were right but it seemed a little too-on-the-nose so I didn’t).

Grant: How does the Deluxe Edition change the components?

John: They will be the amazing quality as seen in the second editions of Keep Up the Fire! and Levee en Masse! That being said, I do want to thank and acknowledge that the first edition of Cruel Necessity which was released in 2013 was one of VPG’s deluxe editions and I was grateful for it – full sized cards and laser cut counters in what was lovingly called ‘a pizza box’. A lot has changed with component quality in the last decade and once again, I am grateful that Worthington Publishing uses those advances to produce such high quality games. The new edition will have custom dice, a sorting tray, a hard-bound board among others.

Grant: How does the game deal with the military, political, and religious struggles of the English Civil Wars?

John: They are handled as dice rolls to provide for the vagaries of life’s potential outcomes while providing a simple way to ‘rate’ strength, power and influence. I do include in the rules brief descriptions of what each possible player action is meant to represent historically but with a mechanic that makes it quick to resolve. The player is also faced with shifting values (or numbers to beat) to be successful. As I mentioned before, I would like the game’s AI to be as organic as it can be within the relatively simple systems I’m using and to change within the game to reflect how the game is going.

Grant: This is a States of Siege Series game and as such has tracks converging on London. What do the 4 different tracks represent?

John: There are four converging tracks in the game. The North and West tracks represent Royalist armies in the field as they move to hold territory and siege fortress cities. There is a Scotland track and an Ireland track but they do not reach all the way to London. Historically there was no practical way a Scottish or Irish army could have taken London and that was never their respective goals so instead these two tracks model Royalist and ‘nationalist’ armies attempting to take territory and spread particular religious beliefs e.g. Presbyterianism in Scotland and Catholicism in Ireland. If the AI is able to achieve those objectives, then Royalist forces in Scotland can join with Royalists in England as represented by the Army of the North. This did happen several times during the English Civil Wars. The Ireland track models something different once the AI secures the island we have the hypothetical negative impacts on English Puritans and Parliamentarians which I called the ‘the troubles’ by using a phrase to describe struggles in Ireland more than 300 years after the game ends. I enjoy good counter factual history and I think that is one of the reasons I enjoy wargaming as it allows for an exploration of “what ifs”. I also like to put things into my designs for fellow history lovers just to let them know I’m paying attention.

While not ‘tracks’ per se, the game also has six tracks to model the dichotomies present during the Civil Wars. These include Parliament vs Monarchy, Puritanism vs Catholicism and the power of influence of Scotland and Ireland.

Grant: What are Achievement Cards and how are they used?

John: As mentioned, the Achievement Cards represent the key developments of political action that took place during the English Civil Wars that changed the very nature of government and paved the way for the development of more democratic systems in line with Enlightenment thinking of this period. The Achievements also model reforms carried out by Parliament in an effort to support republicanism and root out corruption by members of the House of Commons and House of Lords. The genesis for their inclusion in the game was a conversation years ago about the very nature of what ‘victory’ in a game like Cruel Necessity really meant. Was it just a number of points that determined victory or defeat or could the whole notion of how a player ‘wins’ a game be expanded. This led me to expand my thinking on what constituted victory historically both short term and long term and that eventually led to the Achievement Card system.

Grant: What conditions change throughout the 3 Epochs of the game?

John: If a player chooses to play all three as one long game, then conditions can change quite a bit from what happened historically. That said, my goal was to create a game that would play ‘historically’ without heavy or arbitrary restrictions but simply the reality of the options that were available to any political or religious leader of the era. Thus a player should discover how truly difficult it was to accomplish what was done and that changing history is much harder than imagined.

A player can choose to play the three Civil Wars separately and if they do so then there is a ‘set up’ card that recreates the situation in game terms (placement and value of markers on the six Political tracks and what Achievements were available for the period chosen) that existed at the start of each Civil War and a player can try their skills only dealing with that particular set of challenges while reducing average play time to about an hour.

Grant: What are the Battlefield Options available to players? How can they change the battlefield?

John: The clash of pikes and the charge of cavalry was always something I wanted in a game on the English Civil Wars. This could have been done simply using the mechanic of defeating the Strength number on an enemy army but I wanted more that that. This led to the creation of the Tactical Battle Board. The Tactical Battle system continues my efforts to give the player the constraints and historical realities of the period. Military victory on the battlefield as part of a wider campaign was VERY difficult to achieve. The constraints of troop quality, weapons available, morale, leadership all combined to initially stymie the forces of Parliament until key leaders, like Oliver Cromwell, were able to see what had to be done to have a chance at defeating the Royalist forces. As the game progresses, the player gets access to better quality troops e.g. the New Model Army and those can really change the battle. In addition, there are Tactical Battle Cards which represent particular tactics and weapons of the era which help the player change the battlefield as well…of course the AI has cards in the same deck which can be a detriment to the player’s forces.

As with this game (and many games), there are lots of differing opinions on the Tactical Battle system – some really like it and for some it seems like a waste of time with no solid return for the investment. All are valid and some clever designers have created more streamlined dice rolling mechanics to speed up the resolution of the major battles while preserving the statistically likely outcomes of the more time consuming method. A look at the game’s page on Boardgamegeek has ideas in that regard.

Grant: What are Political Grades? How do players affect these and what benefit does a good grade provide?

John: The Political Grades are there to assist the player in visually keeping track of how the war is going on those fronts. An ‘A’ grade means things are going well, while a ‘F’ grade means the player is losing badly on the political and religious front. A player can use Zeal to attempt to knock down Catholicism or Monarchy or conversely attempt to raise the power and prestige of Puritanism or Parliamentarianism. The grades on the Political tracks provide possible benefits to the player but can also strengthen the AI against the player if the forces arrayed against them are more powerful. Benefits can include victory points or extra Zeal while allowing Royalist or Catholic influences to grow can cost victory points and other restrictions on the player’s choice of actions.

A good deal of effort was put into the visual ergonomics of the game e.g. counters or markers moving ‘up’ the game board is good, while counters or markers moving down is bad for the player. Triangles on the board are also a quick way for the player to see what elements or locations are key to victory points. The letter grades work the same way so ‘A’s are up the board and ‘F’s are down the board.

Grant: How are player actions per round determined?

John: The number of Actions a player can take on a given turn is determined by the Zeal points available. Key fortress cities generate Zeal points with London being the greatest source. A player can also earn Zeal from success on particular political and religious tracks along with acquisition of particular Achievement cards. The total available can also be impacted by the number of Zeal points a player saves from turn to turn. My goal was to get away from the proscribed number of actions per turn but this can mean that if things go badly…they can go REALLY badly…the life equivalent of ‘it never rains but pours’.

Grant: What can these actions be used to accomplish?

John: I’m going to cut-and-paste from the rules rough draft:

• Infuse Zeal to deal with a single unit or marker

• Purchase an available Achievement card

• Campaign against an enemy Army unit or Deviltry marker

• Besiege an enemy Fortress or Revolt marker

• Fortify a friendly Fortress to improve its defenses

• Engage in Politics

• Declare Desperate Times

Some of these action choices have several choices within the action itself e.g. Engage in Politics has four additional action choices from which a player chooses the one they wish to attempt like attempting to subdue the Monarchy or suppress the Catholic Church.

Grant: How is victory achieved?

John: Thematically, victory is achieved by turning England into a Puritan Parliamentary Republic. To do this well a player must earn some of the key Achievements of the time period while subduing Royalist forces in England, Scotland and Ireland along with eradicating the power of the Catholic Church in the same three areas. There is a numerical victory conditions chart which include a brief counterfactual of the likely outcome had the English Civil Wars ended as the game does for the player – the exception to this is the historical outcome of course.

Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?

John: I’m most pleased that the mechanics of the game are relatively simple but gives the player lots of choices and can give a real sense for the history of the period and the struggles found there. When I read or hear from players that the game was difficult but encouraged them to find out more about the English Civil Wars or gave them some insight into the variety of conflicts at play in the 1640’s and 1650’s. I also appreciate that the design can model so many aspects of the English Civil Wars and still be fun and challenging.

Like any creative endeavor, reactions to how well or how badly my design works will cover the spectrum of opinion. I recently rewatched an episode of Homo Ludens with Fred Serval featuring a discussion with Todd McFarlane about game design and aesthetic. It was a great episode with lots of insightful dialogue. Toward the end of the conversation Todd made an excellent point about how he approaches the nature of critique and how he’s going to make what he wants to make regardless as opinions will always vary…I admire his attitude. I would also like to acknowledge that one of the more insightful reviews of the game and its mechanics comes from The Player’s Aid very own Alexander. I encourage people who want to hear about the game before pledging to the Kickstarter (which runs through the 12th of November 2022) to watch Alexander’s video.

Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?

John: I was very fortunate to have some outstanding playtesters on this design. Their feedback was invaluable and led me to dramatically upscale my original design back in 2012. Tim Porter and Steve Carey spent so much time playing each iteration of the game back in 2011 to 2013 and giving me helpful construction feedback. I was also blessed to have one of the greatest developers of all time – Alan Emrich who encouraged me to make Cruel Necessity something really special.

Grant: What other games are you currently working on?

John: Like all game designers I know, we are always working on new designs, fine tuning existing designs and trying to find publishers for the ones we have. I’m very grateful to Worthington Publishing for investing in creating deluxe editions of three of my designs and hope to work with them again in the future. Beyond that, I am working on designs for Riverine Warfare in Vietnam, the Cold War and Otto von Bismarck’s wars of German Unification…among others 🙂

Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about Cruel Necessity…I don’t take such things for granted.

If you are interested in Cruel Necessity: The English Civil Wars 1640-1653 Deluxe Edition, you can get more information from the Kickstarter page at the following link: