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When I left off reading the series The Accursed Kings, it was with the observation that The Lily and the Lion was written to be the final book in the series. After that came a gap of 17 years, only after which was another book in the series written and published. The narrative, also, advanced a similar number of years past the death of Robert of Artois.

The new book is, in French, called Quand un Roi perd la France, which I would translate as “When a King Loses France.” Unlike the original six books, which were translated to English (by Mr. Humphrey Hare!) at the time of their first French printing, the 1977 book was not translated until 2014 (translator: the considerably less-colorfully-named Andrew Simpkin) when the series received its current Martin-driven reprinting. In that 34-year gap, the sixth book remained unavailable to us English-only speakers. I believe that the English title, The King Without a Kingdom was contrived to give it as much of a Game of Thrones feel as possible.

Had they went with my translation, it would tie in well with the theme of the book. The original six books seemed to closely follow the theme of small actions resulting in big impacts. For the seventh, a new theme is emphasized. There is a strong theme about how a weak governmental leader can doom a nation. Granted, this was a theme in the earlier books as well – we saw the personal failures of the descendants of Philip the Fair chipping away at the fortunes of France. The King Without a Kingdom is more on just this King and just this time period and his singular lack of leadership traits.

The King who loses France is King John II, contemporaneously known as John the Good*. The King falls into a personal conflict with Charles II of Navarre, known (although probably not until much later) as Charles the Bad. The book discusses the bisexual proclivities of John relative to Charles’ murder of John’s “favorite” (and distant cousin, for that matter) Charles de La Cerda, also known (contemporaneously) as Charles of Spain. Charles (the Bad) had what would have been a rightful claim on the throne of France, except that his mother was given independent rule of Navarre in exchange for forever relinquishing any claim on France (to the benefit of Philip VI of Valois, father of John II and, himself, known as the Fortunate). Charles used the competing claims of John II and Edward III (no nickname) to advance his own cause relative to his hold on Navarre, Normandy, and other inherited claims.

The style of the book is one that I’ve come across before, I think in Victorian novels. Unfortunately, I can’t remember an example nor can I describe it succinctly enough to look up the technique. The entire book is told by Cardinal Hélie de Talleyrand-Périgord, a papal legate, as he is traveling to Metz to negotiate an end to the Hundred Years’ War. He is speaking mostly to his nephew Archambaud, who travels with him, although sometimes he speaks to others. In all cases, we read only what he says, himself, although he often responds to questions or reactions from his listeners.  Initially, it made for difficult reading but once I got used to it, this book was as enjoyable and easy a read as its predecessors.

There are advantages to this style. The “present” can be firmly anchored as the time of the telling, relegating almost everything the Cardinal speaks about to recent past. The subtle shift in context means its easier to tell some aspects of a story to an audience that already knows, at least in part, how it will turn out. It also helps remove one of the dangers of historical fiction; namely that the author must mix fact, embellishment, and purely speculative content into a smooth, enjoyable story. In this case, we have the Cardinal speaking to us authoritatively about his own beliefs, which may or may not be confirmed by historical research. If nothing else, its a damn sight better than writing it all in present tense.

Bottom line, despite its distinct disconnect from the other books in the series, it is a worthy addition. For those still trying to get a grip on the historical facts, it helps provide an understanding about who all the various Johns, Charleses, Edwards, etc. were who were vying for power in France at the time. I believe it was intended (and does) provide valuable commentary on the importance of leadership, comentary that is applicable outside of feudal Europe. To be fair, the author makes an effort to tie the events** in this book back to the Tour de Nesle affair, the impact of which still drove the politics of the late 1350s.

Unfortunately, while I know what your most burning question is, I don’t think I can answer it. You want to know how Andrew Simpkin translation stands up to the work of Humphrey Hare. Because of this shift in narrative style, it becomes very difficult for me to compare the two. In any case, I don’t have any complaints about this translation.

Mediocrity

This high level combination of sieges, political intrigue, and made/broken alliances seems, among the games that I have, best represented by the Hundred Years’ War -themed game Montjoie! This is a 2008 computer implementation of a board game with the same name, at least in France. For the English-speaking players, the game was printed under the title Joan of Arc. It sits right on the cusp between being a very light wargame and being a Euro-game with heavier-than-usual emphasis on combat.

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Having met defeat at the Battle of Portiers, I endeavor to recapture the lost city.

The computer version faithfully recreates the mechanics of the tabletop version including dealing hands of cards and rolling dice. Unlike typical wargames, the armies themselves are not represented on the board. Tokens (shown as shield in the above screenshot) indicate control of towns/cities and additional castle pieces are added when a held area is fortified. Military forces themselves are represented by a hand of cards. Battles are initiated by selecting one (for defense) or two (for attacks) cards from your hand and playing them in a designated battle. Again above, I am attempting to retake Portiers from the English and have played two military cards, plus an “influence” card, for seven base points to attack. The defender also has seven, meaning the winner will come down to whomever rolls the highest number (ties go to the defender). I won the battle but, as you can see below, the scenario-specific rule means that John II was captured in the initial loss at Portiers.

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The game implements historical scenarios with flavor text which brings meaning to the scenario’s special rules.

I often use this game as an example of one of my recurrent topics. When converting a board game to a computer game, one result is that the “feel” of the game shrinks. There are a number of factors that can cause this. First of all, when the computer is doing all the calculations for you, that greatly reduces the amount of effort you’re putting into each turn. While this seems like a big plus (think of a UI showing available moves versus calculating out each movement path before making the choice), there is a downside. If you no longer have to go through all the rules before taking an action it may no longer be necessary to even understand all those rules. That, in turn, takes a game that may require a deep understanding of historically-derived special cases and turn it into a casual, “beer and pretzels” game. In terms of this game, I can’t speak intelligently to these issues as I’ve never played the original board game. I can see is that the physical is estimated at a 3-hour playing time and I know computer assistance will cut that way down. If nothing else, the reduction in playing time will also alter how “significant” a game feels.

Another factor that I was, unfortunately, unable to capture in my screenshots has to do with the art style. The board game components, which appear to be high quality, have an art style that mimics period depictions of battles. Again, not having played the game, I can’t say how seriously anyone might take it historically, but that art style does seem to lend a certain gravitas. The style of the computer game I would describe as whimsical. For example, battles use period-like graphics but are animated in a way that is more akin to Monty Python. The music is light and a little goofy and the the sound effects seem chosen for their comedic impact. Everything comes together to tell the player that this is a light, casual game rather than a serious trip to the world of medieval France.

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Accursed Kings theme integrates with the game. A random event, Papal Intervention, allows the lucky player to designate a city as off-limits to attacks.

Contrast that with the historical text that accompanies the scenario. Scenarios are initiated with a background introduction distinctly lacking in silliness. This background may also determine parameters of the game itself; who is allied with whom, who gets which special cards, etc. Even more engaging, historically, are the events within the game. In this scenario, for example, the English get an extra “Hero” card (the +2 helmet, below) and a free chevauchée every other turn representing the Prince of Wales. Often the mechanic is trivial (the capture of King John II, a non-variable scenario event, results in 2 gold transferred from France to England each turn) but the flavor-text nevertheless layers the simplicity with historical meaning.

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The Black Prince is back. Leading a force accompanied by siege engines my defenses at Portiers are no match for him and the city changes hands again.

As a result, this simple game from 11 years ago invokes the spirit of this book better than any other game I have at my disposal, surprising as that may be. A tactical simulation of the Battle of Portiers misses out on all the diplomatic and personal** conflict. My most likely candidate at the strategic level, Crusader Kings, both provides too much detail and lacks the anchor in the historical timeline. It seems that a proper representation of this period should be, by now, out there somewhere, but if it is, it is beyond my experience. For what its worth, Board Game Geek has one Hundred Years’ War strategic title that outranks Joan of Arc; Warriors of God from Multi-Man Publishing.

*Reading to the book’s end, the reader will be rewarded with an explanation of why such and obviously inadequate king and man fraught with personal weakness might have been labeled as The Good.

**[Yes, I use this same footnote more than once]. A key theme of the book is that the competing dynastic entities are, in fact, fairly closely related. The descendants of Philip the Fair, either directly or by marriage, are the rulers of all four of these factions. Furthermore, the conflicts between these branches of the same family are driven, at least in part, by infighting that took place in Philip’s among the grandfathers, grandmothers, and great uncles and aunts of the current belligerents.