Watership Down: The Confrontation
A game for two
by Thorin N. Tatge
This game is based on both Richard Adams’ novel Watership Down and Reiner Knizia’s board game Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. It uses many of the same elements and mechanics of the latter while adopting the characters and theme of the former. One player plays as the hlessil, or wandering rabbits seeking a new home, while the other plays as the elil, or enemies of rabbitkind, seeking to uproot and destroy the hlessil before their goal can be accomplished.
Each player begins with nine characters. The hlessil player has the ability to gain new characters as the game
progresses, but begins with only the following nine: Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Blackberry, Dandelion, Pipkin, Silver, Buckthorn, and Hawkbit. The elil player’s characters are Woundwort, Campion, Vervain, the Cat, the Dog, the Fox, the Rats, the Kestrel, and the Snare. (NOTE: While Woundwort, Campion and Vervain are in fact rabbits in Watership Down, for the
purpose of the rules the word "rabbit" does not refer to them, only to the hlessil player’s characters.) Each player also begins with a hand of nine cards which are used for battles.
Each player’s characters are seen only to him or her, not to the opponent. The hlessil player starts on the side of the board including Sandleford, while the elil player starts on the side including Efrafa. Both players begin by taking their starting characters and placing them secretly on their respective sides of the board, four characters in either Sandleford or Efrafa and one each on the remaning five spaces on that side. The four spaces along the middle of the board begin unoccupied.
Each character, with the exception of the Snare, has a numerical Strength which is used in battle. Most characters also have a special ability or weakness which are described later and in some cases allow exceptions to these rules. The Snare is a special character whose function is also described later.
The players alternate turns. The elil player begins the game. On a player’s turn, he or she moves a single character one space forward (this will often involve a choice of two spaces to move to). If the space is unoccupied or contains one or more of that player’s own characters, the player’s turn is over. (NOTE: At any time, either player may secretly shuffle any characters he or she owns that occupy the same space [except in one exceptional case given later], in order to conceal which is which from the opponent.)
NOTE: While this is rare, a player who has no legal moves on his or her turn loses the game.
If the space moved to contains one or more of the opponent’s characters, however, a battle ensues. The player who moved into the space is the attacking player, and the other player is the attacked player. The attacking player chooses one of the opponent’s characters on the attacked space at random. Both that character and the attacking player’s character are revealed. Now they do battle. Each player secretly selects a card from his or her hand of cards and plays it face down. Both are revealed simultaneously. The number on each player’s card, if any, is added to the Strength of his or her character. The character with the higher total Strength is the winner, and the character with the lesser total Strength is defeated (removed from the game). If both characters have equal Strength, both are defeated. If the attacker is the winner and there are other characters belonging to the opponent remaining in the space, the attacking player chooses one at random and does battle with it as before until either the attacking character or all the defending characters are defeated or driven off. Some cards (known as Text cards) grant special abilities instead of extra strength and their effects are listed later. There are no restrictions on what card you may play, but if for any reason a played card cannot be carried out, it has no effect.
DEFINITION: Some cards allow a character to retreat from battle. To retreat is to move a character away from a battle into an adjacent territory in the appropriate direction—either backward, sideways, or forward. You may not retreat into a space containing any opponent’s characters or into a wooded area that already contains two of your own characters (see below).
NOTE: When both players play a Text card, the elil player’s card takes precedence.
The board consists of sixteen spaces. Some of these spaces have special rules concerning them. First, the two orange spaces in the center of the board, The Beech Hanger and the Honeycomb, are collectively called Watership Down. All rabbits get a +1 bonus to their strength while in Watership Down. (NOTE: All strength bonuses are cumulative.) Moreover, if one or more hlessil occupy one of these two spaces and one or more elil occupy the other, either player may attack the opponent directly from one orange space to the other, an exception to the rule that characters may only move forward.
The hlessil player’s winning objective is to establish a warren there by populating Watership Down with at least four rabbits including at least one doe. What makes this difficult is the fact that the hlessil player does not start the game with any does. There are only two does in the game, Clover and Hyzenthlay, and they both begin out of play. The hlessil player gains new rabbits by entering spaces or defeating enemies in accordance with the notes following their descriptions in the next section. If the space where a rabbit is designated to appear is occupied by elil at the time of its appearance, it appears instead in Sandleford. If Sandleford is also occupied by elil, the rabbit is defeated before it can enter the game.
Six spaces are colored green. These are wooded areas. No more than two characters belonging to a single player are allowed to occupy any particular wooded space at once.
Efrafa is a special space. If a rabbit moves into Efrafa and is not defeated or forced to retreat, the hlessil player moves the rabbit to any available space on the board—that is, any space except one containing elil or a wooded space already occupied by two rabbits. (This move represents the rabbits’ escape from Efrafa by the punt on the Test River.) This happens even when a rabbit retreats forward to Efrafa.
THE TWO FORCES
Following is a detailed description of the two sides—their background, characters, cards, and goals. The descriptions of the characters and text cards go into more depth than the tokens and cards themselves in order to anticipate questions about their exact workings. This section also describes where the hlessil player can acquire new rabbits.
Hlessil: the Wandering Rabbits
Led by Hazel out of the Sandleford Warren on an emphatic urging from his prophetic brother, Fiver, this band of rabbits is ragged but gifted with many talents between them. Bigwig, the largest of the bunch, is helpful at every turn but vies for control with Hazel. Silver, also a member of the Owsla or ruling class in Sandleford, is far more acquiescent. Dandelion, the fleetest of foot, is also a gifted storyteller. Blackberry is the clever rabbit whose ingenuity with material things allows the group to cross a river, spring a hutch door, undo a snare, and launch a daring escape from a hostile warren. Buckthorn is the sensible, stouthearted one, while Hawkbit is slow-witted. Pipkin is the frailest, but also the most loyal and supportive.
Passing through the woods, over the Enbourne River, and through an imposing field of heather, they arrive at a warren whose residents are plump and artistically advanced. Their lifestyle is laid bare, however, with the revelation that they are regularly snared by men and unable to mount any defense. Fleeing from this false haven with a new rabbit, Strawberry, in tow, they reach the hills of Watership Down seen days before in Fiver’s vision and, with Strawberry’s guidance, scratch out a new network of tunnels centered around a fine, large underground cavern they call the Honeycomb. There, they encounter Holly, the captain of their old warren’s Owsla, who miserably tells them how it was, as Fiver foresaw, completely destroyed by men.
At Watership Down several projects take place. While the digging is underway, Hazel befriends the local mice and, eventually, a wounded seagull named Kehaar who thereafter offers his aid. After Kehaar reports on a warren to the south, a party is sent there to ask for does, without which there will be no future in Watership Down. While the party is away, Hazel takes Pipkin to nearby Nuthanger Farm and discovers a hutch of captive rabbits there, Clover the most promising among them. He leads an expedition to release them, and while this venture is successful it leaves Hazel badly wounded. He is saved only by his brother’s superintuitive knowledge that he is still alive.
Soon, the emissaries return from the south, bedraggled and with stories of Efrafa, a horrible, overregulated warren from which no quarter and no freedom is given. In time, the rabbits hatch a daring plan to liberate a group of does from Efrafa. Bigwig is the infiltrator who joins the warren and incites the does he meets, led by Hyzenthlay, to flee in accordance with a plan. With Kehaar’s help, the rabbits are barely able to make their way clear and lead the does home, along with the Efrafan rebel Blackavar. They live happily at Watership Down until a patrolling party from Efrafa discovers their whereabouts and initiates an attack. The rabbits take refuge in the Honeycomb, sealing themselves in. While Bigwig defends the besieged warren, Hazel acts on his last bright idea and frees the dog of Nuthanger Farm, which, following Dandelion back to the Down, wreaks havoc on the Efrafan invaders. Hazel, now recognized as Chief Rabbit, thus secures a peaceful life for his warren for generations.
HAZEL (2): You may move any number of other rabbits on the same space as Hazel along with him, so long as they are not attacking. If they move together into Efrafa, they must all escape to the same space.
FIVER (1): In combat, the elil player must play a card before Fiver does. If Fiver is attacked and Hazel is in the same space, you may reveal Hazel to increase Fiver’s strength to 2.
BIGWIG (4): If Bigwig is part of a group being attacked, you must reveal him and have him do battle with the attacker first.
BLACKBERRY (2): After the cards have been revealed in a battle involving Blackberry, you may cancel the result and have each player select new cards. This can be done regardless of which cards were played and cancels all effect, but has no effect against the Cat if the elil player chooses not to play cards. The cards played for the first round remain played. (If you have just played your last card, you may select the same one again.) The result of the second round cannot be canceled. Blackberry also instantly defeats the Snare, whether he encounters it directly or moves onto a space with an ensnared rabbit.
DANDELION (2): Dandelion may move twice in one turn, as long as the first move is not an attack. This applies even if his first move is into Efrafa.
PIPKIN (1): You may reveal Pipkin to give all rabbits with him a +1 bonus to their strength. This does not apply to Pipkin himself.
SILVER (3): Silver instantly defeats the Rats if he encounters them.
BUCKTHORN (3): No special rules.
HAWKBIT (2): Hawkbit cannot attack.
These nine rabbits start on the board.
HOLLY (3): After moving Holly, you may reveal him in order to look at one elil in a space adjacent to his new space. The elil player may not mix this character with other characters in the same space until one of them moves or a new elil character enters the space. Holly’s power is only used when he moves on his own, not when he comes onto the board, retreats after being attacked, or moves along with Hazel. If Holly is defeated or caught in the Snare he may not use his power. He may, however, use it if he attacks and subsequently reatreats, in which case the elil character he looks at must be adjacent to the space he retreats to. If Holly moves into Efrafa, he cannot use the power from Efrafa, but may use it on an elil character next to the space he escapes to.
Holly appears in the Beech Hanger at the end of the turn that the first rabbit makes it to The Foot of the Hill (even if it is defeated or driven out).
STRAWBERRY (2): Strawberry’s strength is 4, rather than 2, in either of the spaces comprising Watership Down. (Because of the standard bonus, his strength is actually 5.)
Strawberry appears in Cowslip’s Warren at the end of the turn when the Snare is defeated.
CLOVER (1): If Clover is selected from a group being attacked, select another rabbit. She is always the last one attacked. Clover is a doe.
Clover appears in Nuthanger Farm at the end of the turn when either the Cat or the Dog is defeated.
HYZENTHLAY (2): When Hyzenthlay is attacked, she may retreat sideways before cards are played (unless she is fighting Campion). Hyzenthlay is a doe.
BLACKAVAR (3): When Blackavar is attacking, he may retreat forward before cards are played (unless he is fighting Campion).
Hyzenthlay and Blackavar appear in the Honeycomb the first time a rabbit makes it to Efrafa (even if it is defeated or driven out).
1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Add the value of the card to the rabbit’s strength.
RETREAT BACKWARD: Retreat the rabbit to an available space behind it.
RETREAT SIDEWAYS: Retreat the rabbit to an available space to one side.
RETREAT FORWARD: Retreat the rabbit to an available space in front of it.
KEHAAR: All elil in the space must return to Efrafa. (If the elil player plays Retreat Backwards, the elil character doing battle retreats and all others return to Efrafa.) This card has no effect if played in Efrafa.
Establish a warren in Watership Down by finishing a turn with four rabbits there, at least one being a doe.
Elil: the Enemies
The lore of rabbits tells how in the early days, Frith, the lord of all life, set a thousand enemies against the Prince of Rabbits, El-Ahrairah, in retribution for the excessive fruitfulness of his people. To this day the rabbits live constantly on guard, lest one of these Thousand put them to a quick end. You play the enemies of rabbitkind, including those rabbits who hunger for power over their fellows: the indomitable and hulking General Woundwort, Chief of Efrafa; Campion, his most favored Captain and the best patroller to be found; and Vervain, the well-built head of the Efrafan council. You are the sneaky fox and the savage rat, as well as the loyal dog and spiteful cat, domesticated by man. You are the kestrel, no great threat to a healthy rabbit and yet ever to be watched for just in case. And through the crafty snare, you are the ingenuity of man himself. Your power is greater than that of the hlessil, and your might more suited to straightforward attack. Through careful use of your forces, you can change the story of Watership Down into the tragedy that it could a thousand times have been, and which nature a million times unfurls in the course of a single season.
WOUNDWORT (5): Woundwort may move in any direction when he is attacking.
CAMPION (3): Rabbits may not retreat from Campion for any reason except for the Flaming Stick. If Campion plays the Flaming Stick it operates normally. A rabbit fighting Campion may play a Retreat card, but it has no effect.
VERVAIN (4): In combat, Vervain must play his card before the hlessil player.
CAT (3): When the Cat is in combat, the elil player may choose to have neither player play cards. The elil player gets to reserve judgement on whether to do so until after the hlessil player decides whether to use Hyzenthlay or Blackavar’s retreating abilities, and whether to reveal Pipkin (or Hazel in Fiver’s case) to increase the rabbit’s strength.
DOG (5): The Dog’s strength is reduced to 3 in wooded areas.
FOX (3): The Fox’s strength is increased to 5 in wooded areas.
RATS (2): No special rules.
KESTREL (1): May attack any rabbit or group of rabbits on the board, from any space.
SNARE: When the Snare encounters a rabbit, no cards are played, and the retreating abilities of Hyzenthlay and Blackavar may not be used. Both the Snare and the rabbit caught by it are laid face up. That rabbit is paralyzed: it cannot move for any reason, and any cards it plays in combat have no effect. It does receive any applicable strength bonuses, however, and counts toward the hlessil victory condition. The Snare, likewise, cannot move while it is ensnaring a rabbit, and does not do battle with other rabbits that may enter the space. If an ensnared rabbit is part of an attacked group, the elil player may choose to attack the ensnared rabbit or another chosen at random (unless Bigwig is present, in which case he must be attacked first, or Clover is the ensnared rabbit, in which case she may not be attacked until she is the last rabbit remaining in the space). If a rabbit gets caught in the Snare while attacking a space in which one or more other elil are present, the rabbit subsequently does battle with one of them chosen at random (for which its cards will have no effect). The Flaming Stick automatically defeats a rabbit caught in the Snare. If a rabbit caught in the Snare is defeated, any remaining rabbits in the space next do battle with the attacker. If the attacker is defeated or driven off and one or more rabbits remain in the space afterwards, the Snare encounters one as normal (they may be shuffled first). If no rabbits remain in the space, or if none were there to begin with, the Snare is concealed again and rejoins the elil army. The Snare can be defeated in three ways. First, Blackberry instantly defeats the Snare. Second, if a group of rabbits with total strength of 6 or greater (including the ensnared rabbit) occupies the space with the Snare, the Snare is defeated (the hlessil player must reveal them all, but may mix them again afterward) and the ensnared rabbit is concealed again and rejoins the hlessil army. Third, if the Snare is encountered in Efrafa, it is instantly defeated.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6: Add the value of the card to the elil’s strength.
RETREAT BACKWARDS: Retreat the elil to an available space behind it.
TRACKER: If the hlessil player plays a Retreat card, it has no effect.
FLAMING STICK: All rabbits in the space must retreat in different directions. If a rabbit in this space is caught in the Snare, it is defeated. If there are not enough available spaces to retreat to, the hlessil player must retreat all that can be retreated and allow the rest to be defeated.
Defeat both does or eleven rabbits, or otherwise make it impossible for the hlessil player ever to get four rabbits including a doe into Watership Down.
These cards may optionally be used to make the game slightly more complex. Each player receives two and can use each one only once during the game.
BLESSING OF LORD FRITH: Play this card in order to move a rabbit sideways or backward this turn instead of forward. If used on Dandelion, it may apply to his first or second move, but not both.
EL-AHRAIRAH: Play this card to cancel the result of a battle and have each player play a new card. This power works the same way as Blackberry’s ability.
BLACK RABBIT OF INLE: Play this card at the beginning of your opponent’s turn. Name a rabbit currently on the board (and not caught in the Snare). Your opponent must move that rabbit this turn, and may not play Blessing of Lord Frith. If the specified rabbit cannot move, it is defeated and your opponent must move a different rabbit.
GIFT TO THE THOUSAND: Play before you make an attack. Your attacker’s strength is increased by 2 for all battles it fights this turn.
Watership Down and related images from the film and television series by that title are Copyright Richard Adams, Alltime Entertainment/Decode Entertainment and Nepenthe Productions Ltd. The creator of this page has no affiliation to those listed.