Spotlight on Games
1001 Nights of Military Gaming
- C -
On to D
- Caesar's Epic Battle of Alesia
Wargame about Gaius Julius Caesar's taking of the Gallic stronghold.
Fascinating situation as Vercingetorix and the Gauls are besieged inside
Alesia while Caesar himself is surrounded by yet more Gauls, whose actual
locations are hidden. The Gauls are going to strike somewhere, sometime,
but where and when?
- Car Wars
Wargame about conflicts between armed and armored automobiles is
close to a miniatures game. A great deal of the fun is
in designing vehicles which can actually rather lengthy if players
wish. In reality this is almost a role-playing or arena combat game, but with cars.
[Take That! Card Games]
- Car Wars: the Card Game
Another translation of Nuclear War,
this time to the Car Wars universe. The artwork
is not that compelling and play seems to be
heavily-influenced by a few unbalancing cards.
- Cave Troll
Fantasy dungeon crawl board game for up to four. The twist on
the usual plan is that players control some monsters as well as
heroes. A turn is governed by 4 action points, each of which
can be used to draw one of the player's tokens or move one a
space on the board. Players compete in a region dominance system
to control the most pre-printed gold at up to 4 random scoring
points and at game's end. Among the special tokens are a wraith
that can push a hero out of a room, an orc who can eat them and
the cave troll which collapses the ceiling and thus destroys the
entire room – not the one you have used your treasure chest
and dwarf to triple in value and several heroes to protect,
you hope. Turns pass quickly and total duration is not amiss
for the number of decisions, but there are two major problems
here. The first is that even though every player has the same
set, the tokens are rather uneven. A player fortunate enough
to draw the more powerful ones earlier can have a considerable
advantage. There's often a lot
of ability to stop the leader, but the board is complicated enough that he's
often hard to identify. This relates to the second main problem: the system is
very fragile. Anyone can attack anyone else and have major kingmaking effects.
This might not feel so terrible if there were a closer attachment to the theme –
if this overused theme is still enjoyable that is – but the system could easily
be applied to several other topics and much does not feel as it ought. In this
it is not helped by average artwork. There are communication design problems too.
Gold indicators ought to be printed in the corners of the room, not in the centers
where tokens obscure them. The scoring track markers are triangles which cause
problems when they need to overlap. This game has some potential as a gateway game
for those into this theme, but even they may feel disappointed with the results.
Maybe it's better for grognards who can just enjoy analyzing the tactical moves
without caring too much who wins or loses.
Probably the best of the role-playing games about the superhero genre
because it includes several inobvious, but keen observations such as
"superhero powers must demonstrate visible effects." It also takes
seriously issues such as how heroes interact with their environments
such as demolishing buildings which is not really important in other
RPG environments. The biggest downside with this system is a minor one,
the often poor artwork.
- Chariot Lords
Multi-player wargame after
set in biblical times, or, for the cognoscenti, a remake of Ancient
Conquest. Interesting topic and nice pageant of various
races. Rules are straightforward, although would have
preferred that all of the "national exceptions" to the
rules be relegated to a chart instead. Combat is not really
explained at all except in an example. Counters look quite
nice, but there are far too few of them; the player is
denied too many options and in some cases (Acheans for
example) is too easily wiped from the map. This also leads
directly to boredom as quite often most of the map is
uninhabited. The Hittites for example expand far too easily
with no opposition — their first neighbors, the Luvians,
coming into play rather too late — they should be
contemporary. The legendary, much-sought Fertile Crescent
is worth no more than arid hill land, which here is actually
preferable in that it is easier for infantry to defend!
Instead the victory point charts are loaded with far too
many special case victory point goals which are impossible
for any to track (note that one must track not just one's
own, but everyone else's in this game of minimax). Victory
conditions ought to have been greatly generalized. Turn
order of nations is randomly decided (borrowing from
Cosmic Encounter and Targui) which makes for
quite a bit of fun and variety, but renders planning
impossible and rewards luck more than anything else. This
feature is probably unwise for games which include geography.
Notice that the Hittite goal of obstructing the Egyptians
might not even get to happen, especially if Egypt gets to
move first. The Assyrians can probably not succeed at all
as they are badly represented, unless of course they luck
into back-to-back turns. Unfortunately for Red, Assyria
is intended to be the chief point-getter. Much historical
combat never occurs and the chronology is the most
old-fashioned available. (For a better one see
Centuries of Darkness by Peter James et al.)
Even terrain is not handled in an interesting way. For
example, even in the hills chariots are better than infantry.
Annoying are needless inconsistencies such as differentiating
mountains and marsh when the two function identically save
for one tiny case, and anyway there is only one marsh on
the map. The Victory Point charts are worse as the most
important information is hidden behind some vague and
unusable background expression. Background material is fine
in a game, but should never hinder proper understanding of
the rules. Strategically, it seems there should be at
least three strategies: (1) be aggressive as possible, (2)
defend as much as possible or (3) spread out to achieve
points, but it appears that only the first is truly viable.
Many have praised this game, but it is difficult to see
what they liked unless it is a nostalgic feeling for
Ancient Conquest, which not having played it, I
cannot claim. At best this is a decent introduction to
the period, but far from satisfying for historian or
strategist. As the minimum game length is seven hours, your
best best is to look elsewhere or be prepared to make radical
[Ancient Egypt games]
- Chess (Schach)
Very old, by-now abstract, two-player game whose origins are disputed.
Probably shares a common ancestor with
Obviously has experienced a large number of rules changes over time.
Allowing pawns to move optionally move forward two spaces is a fix to
speed things up while the en passant rule is a fix to this fix.
Strategy is very deep, although computers seem to be playing fairly well
these days, with no luck apart from who starts. Despite its former reputation
as a quaint, sissy pursuit, it is increasingly becoming recognized, for
example as in
The Joy Luck Club,
that good play is mostly about aggression.
As with the similarly popular
Bridge, the very extensive
amount of literature about the game can prove to be a downside.
In the words of Baldesar Castiglione who wrote his Etiquette
for Renaissance Gentlemen in 1528: "That is
certainly a refined and ingenious recreation," said Federico,
"but it seems to me to possess one defect; namely, that it is
possible for it to demand too much knowledge, so that anyone
who wishes to become an outstanding player must, I think, give
to it as much time and study as he would to learning some noble
science or performing well something or other of importance; and
yet for all his pains when all is said and done all he knows is
just one game. Therefore as far as chess is concerned we reach
what is a very rare conclusion: that mediocrity is more to be
praised than excellence."
[10 Most Famous Board Games]
Chariot-racing game with combat is a take-off on Circus
Maximus, but instead of being set in ancient Rome, imagines
a fantasy world where chariots
are pulled by ferocious beasts. Rules are similar except that beasts may
also make attacks. A bit of a random romp, though high-spirited
and is very impressive and more fun when played using the optional miniatures.
- Circus Maximus
Wargame about Roman chariot racing. Fun and atmospheric,
but can be problematic as bad luck can knock out a chariot
with just one throw of the dice, leaving the hapless player
with nothing to do. Recommend each player run two chariots.
Strategically, when in doubt, go with speed — it usually wins out.
- Citadel of Blood
Magazine wargame set in the same fantasy world as that of
Swords and Sorcery.
Essentially a role-playing game
for 2-6 with no game master which de-emphasizes most of
the role-playing aspects and maximizes combat elements.
A number of games of this type (by different publishers)
appeared during a certain period including
Here players are
attempting to raid the citadel of X the Unknown, a powerful
sorceror with a number of Orc and other allies. Characters
are either Elf, Human or Dwarf and are rated for Weapon
Skills, Other Skills, Resistance Value, Wound Points and
Magic Potential (a triple rating depending on which of the
world's three suns dominates), which gives the number of
spell scrolls they may carry in. Each carries a primary
and secondary weapon. Players have a limited ability to
customize these factors. A march order is selected and in
the characters go. The citadel turns out to be a maze
which is built as the party moves. Characters draw chits
to determine whether they are entering a room or a passageway.
Rooms have printed on them various features such as fountains,
statues, trap doors, mirrors, furniture, altar, artwork
and staircases, or may be empty. What kind of opportunity
these items represent is determined via dice roll on a
table. Doors may be trapped. New rooms have a fifty percent
chance of containing one or more monsters while previously-visited
rooms have a one-in-six chance. Players may attempt bribes
or negotiations in alternative to combat. Stairways permit
travel to a new level as the citadel may be up to three
stories in depth. Combat is resolved by lining up the
parties against the monsters and rolling on a combat table.
Monster activities are controlled randomly. Spells may be
used to affect combat and include Blast, Explosion, Lightning,
Sleep, Redemption, Magic Shield, Hesitate, Cease Fire,
Mental Attack and Wrath of God. There are also non-combat
spells such as Lock, Mage Armor, Neutralize Poison,
Stone-Flesh, Strength, Teleport, Heal, Rejuvenate, Thief
and Resurrect. Negotiation spells include Oratory, Cow,
Daunt, Sway and Cajole. Monsters include chimaera, cronks,
demons, wolves, warriors, mages, gargoyles, harpies, hydras,
medusas, minotaurs, ogres, orcs, skeletons, trolls, vampires,
wargs, wights and wraiths and their ability gets better as
one goes deeper in. Of course there are various types of
treasure to retrieve such as weapons, armor, potions,
talismans, medallions and rings. Eventually if players are
lucky they may find the Hellgate and X the Unknown himself;
by destroying them the team wins and the player with the
most experience and treasure is the individual winner. A
bit mechanical, but moves along quickly and is not without
interesting decisions at times. There is also an interesting
dynamic between cooperation and competition.
Very seminal wargame by Francis Tresham that appeared at a
time in the early 1980's when games seemed to be in a general
slump. Innovations include civilization cards and associated
Archaeological Succession Track which measure technological
progress, a fun card-trading system and rather elegant rules for
movement, combat and economics. In fact, although important,
combat is greatly de-emphasized — AST progress and successful
trading is what the game is really about. As far as this goes,
there are multiple strategic paths as well with some players
opting for a quick and cheap approach, some for the blue (arts)
cards, some for the green (science) cards, etc. My strategic
preference, by the way, is to build my first two cities at
thirty-two population, build three more cities on the next
turn, then two more cities on the turn thereafter. My favorite
first civilization card to buy is Coinage because it has such
nice effects on the economy. Note that all of this works a
little differently if playing the overcrowded island of Crete.
Admittedly there are some problems. The first AST barrier for
Egypt and Babylon is simply too devastating — with experienced
players these civilizations rarely have a chance. The Civil War
event is very damaging to one's chances and it encourages players
to memorize its location in the Grain deck. The way in which
secret calamities are traded is rather nasty, encourages lying
and can sometimes cause meta-game problems. The game tends to last
n + 1 hours where n is the number of players.
Overall however a very interesting effort however and would-be
empire-builders everywhere have embraced this one closely.
Extra Trade Cards expansion kit adds variety as does the
Western Extension Map, which covers Iberia and more of North Africa.
[Ancient Egypt games]
- Civilization: Advanced Civilization
The advanced version is more of a wargame, losing much
of the elegance of the system in the process. Now there is no longer
any strategy in trying to lock others out of certain civilization
cards as anyone may buy anything at any time, which admittedly may
be more realistic. But it no longer rewards the fine sense of
timing and judgement that the original required. On the other hand,
it is now no longer possible to lock anyone out of the entire game
as players buy combat abilities and turn on the leaders.
Combat has become much more important and the endgame tends to
be marred as it develops into a popularity contest often as not.
Strange situations in which the player doing the best does not necessarily
win can result vis-à-vis victory points in the endgame.
- Civil War
Wargame about the American Civil War with a strong emphasis on
leader promotion. An impulse system parcels out movement to only
a little bit at a time which keeps things manageable and
downtime to a minimum. The leadership system is quite interesting
as they travel on the board upside down and there is an elaborate
promotion system. All theaters are included, even the Far West and
you can have fun with Texas Rangers chasing Apache! The naval systems
are well done also. Surprisingly well-balanced. Works well for three
as well giving the East and Sea commands to one North player and the
West and Trans-Mississippi theaters to the other.
- Clash of Empires
Two player magazine wargame on the opening days of the first world war in the west.
Nice features are an interesting and nice-looking point to point map,
simple rules, fluid play, random events and short playing time.
Not entirely realistic but a nice adjunct if you have been reading
The Guns of August
The German Wars.
Abstract military game from 1972 originally supported only two
players, later expanded to four, playing either individually
or in partnership. On an abstract geography, players marshal
soldiers, knights, chariots, elephants and two types of ships
in plastic or metal. Each type has a limited number of moves
and a player only has twenty per turn overall. But a piece
that captures another presumably consumes it as a nourishing
lunch because it then gets a new movement allowance all over
again. Remembering all these separate movement counts can become
quite a chore sometimes. Oh for clickable counters similar to
those that miniatures have lately been sporting. The design
seems to have been accomplished piecemeal rather than reflecting
any overall elegance. For example, with twenty movements points,
it was probably too powerful to let the current player perform too
many attacks unanswered so there is a rule by which the defeated
player can counterattack. But maybe that became too strong, so the
counter attack can only be from at most two spaces away. Plus,
a soldier cannot take out an elephant. One fix must have followed
on top of another and another in a way not that different from
modern Chess. It all seems to
sort of work, but please don't ask for consistency or rationale.
Chess is to the point actually as its capturing and
piece variety was almost certainly the original inspiration.
In its ability to move many pieces, it is even more similar to
Feudal and shares the problem
of it being almost impossible to plan as so many changes occur
between turns. You may consider that your pieces are unreachable
by the opposition, but if some third player should interpose
a piece between yours and his, he may capture it and then use
the extra movement to go capturing in your domain. This may be
the first game designed expressly for Physical Design Freaks
as the best part is the way that the nicely-molded pieces fit
together. For example, two soldiers can be impaled on an elephant
and then the elephant loaded on a ship and sailed away. When they
arrive at the enemy port, the reverse operation turns them back
into individuals. Mere manipulation of these things is quite a lot
of fun and looks wonderful as well. But don't ask for a theme
as it's hard to imagine that any of this has aught to do with
the realities of ancient warfare. While once ahead of its time,
it has not aged all that well. No doubt it must still be popular
with those who have grown up with it, but those coming to it for
the first time will find it, as detailed above, far from state of
the art. The two-player and partnership versions seem preferable
to the four-player which must have plenty of kingmaker situations.
Strategically, it's probably much better to advance slowly and
with many supporting pieces rather than indulge in the sudden
raid. In the partnership game, it will probably usually be more
profitable for the partners to concentrate on KO'ing a single
opponent than to attempt the easily-contested quest chamber at
- Conquest of the Empire
Martin Wallace design, a translation of his
Struggle of Empires
to an ancient Rome setting. Happily all of the objections
to the earlier game have been positively resolved while
retaining the auction for turn order and alliances. The
card deck has become much larger, but is only used a little at a time.
The interesting dice subtraction combat feature has been
replaced by dice whose icons need to match one's forces,
encouraging a "combined arms" approach, which is, however,
more expensive. One new rule troubles: any opposing force
blocks movement, even if it's a simple infantry being met
by an enormous force. This works well in terms of player
decisionmaking as it's a dilemma between creating blockers
vs. having them available in the main force, but it's rather
unthematic for the scale and era. Even worse, by the end game
it can lead to virtually all significant movement being blocked,
which is rather anti-climactic. It can even lead to a player
attacking the wrong opponent, i.e. one not the leader, just to
get points, which is never pleasant for the victim. An overrun
variant might be advisable here. Presentation is with the usual
Eagle bombast. The board measures 3' by 4' and needs two tables.
There's an orgy of plastic pieces in six colors, plus cities,
roads and a generous helping of the special dice. As I play
more and more plastic pieces games, I've come to realize that
each one always features one, very large, very special piece type,
the pìece de resistance let's say. Here it's the
trireme, a glorious hunk of plastic with stylized oars, which is
a bit ironic given the Roman nautical reputation (bad). The package
is also set up to play a wholly different game based on
which later became the Milton Bradley
Conquest of the Empire.
I would enjoy this more if it didn't last so long
(about three hours) and if combat were more nuanced like the
Wallace game I prefer,
Empires of the Ancient World,
but if you're determined to be in the plastic pieces category,
you can do far worse.
- Conquête du Monde, La (Risk, Risiko)
World conquest rendered very simple and
abstract by French film director Albert Lamorisse
(The Red Balloon,
Stowaway In the Sky) is perhaps reflective of
the Cold War conquer-the-world attitudes of the time (1957)
from which it sprang. There is no unit differentiation or
attention to historical facts. Players collect cards which is
a mechanism for helping out those with smaller board holdings.
Unfortunately, whoever is luckiest at collecting cards receives
the most reinforcements and tends to do the best. Includes an
almost legendary amount of dice rolling. Much of the strategy
is in deciding when the odds favor taking a particular player
out of the game and thus receiving more cards to cash in for
extra armies. While there is plenty of excitement, there is
little profit in long-term planning and the best strategy often
does not correspond with victory. In addition eliminated players
are left with nothing to do during this long contest.
Only the monopolistic nature of the US board games market seems
to have prevented this warhorse from having been long ago put
out to pasture.
[10 Most Famous Board Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 3
Albert Lamorisse; Parker Brothers-1959/Hasbro; 2-6
Multi-player wargame on the European colonization of the Americas.
Represented are the Spanish, Portuguese, English and French all of whom
have rather different sets of resources including leaders, funds, etc.
Unfortunately designed as if it were a game about baseball with total
adherence to statistics –
the arrival of various leaders and their characteristics is completely
predictable whereas it might have been much more interesting if this
were more random. Rather unbalanced and very susceptible to kingmaking,
which is rather objectionable considering how long it lasts (probably
about eight hours at minimum). Optional fifth player is a German banker
(Fuggers) who has no ships at all but may make money by financing
There are some rules problems as well – I am still not sure whether
Spanish missionaries are supposed to add or subtract from the die roll.
Later re-published as New World (not described here).
- Cosmic Encounter
Another very unusual but very effective wargame from the same
designers who created
Although involving combat, it is
extremely abstract and could stand in for almost anything. The
chief attractiveness is the huge number of attractively-presented
special powers that the players represent. Each of them breaks
the rules in a completely different way – wanting to try out
each of them brings players to the table over and over again.
These ideas are taken further in the various "flare" and
"super-flare" card powers. Of course anything can get to be
too much of a good thing and here when the rules led to players
using multiple powers at the same time or the moons expansion
kit which forced players to speak in rhyme and other sillinesses,
the cup of imagination ran to excess. Another difficulty is that
shared with others of this type, how to resolve the unexpected
situations occasioned by conflicting rule-breakers. Overall,
however, can be enjoyed for a long time if the worst excesses
are curbed; it's just very fragile, especially compared to games
being created decades since its invention.
[Periodic Table of Board Games]
Peter Olatka; Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Bill Norton
- Crusades, The
Wargame on the First and Third Crusades. The former, main game,
takes 4-8 players and about ten hours to complete, which can
be problematic if some players have bad luck and are knocked
out early. It's a nice,
flavorful realization of the war although more development was needed
before publication, especially the rules which permit Crusaders to attack
one another, the Fatimids who are far too powerful and quite a few rules
glitches. I have a
variant to address the first two
and there are several pages of
for the last.
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