Spotlight on Games
1001 Nights of Military Gaming
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On to U
Fantasy wargame for multiple players which has so far been
published in three editions. The first two editions were virtually
identical and are the ones discussed here. The third edition
was a radical revision which I have not played. The system
been criticized for offering too few strategic possibilities, in
particular because each turn one has only the choice of traveling
either right or left. Sigh, it seems everyone must find an easy
put down for at least one game and for many it seems this one is
it. But in fact there is often at least one other choice which
is to cross the river and move to the next level. But on a less
mundane level, the strategy in the game is not to be determined
by study of a single move, but to consider what one is attempting
on a larger scale. Which spaces are you trying to stay near so
as to take advantage of when the time and die roll is right?
Which other characters are you attempting to avoid? What are the
other players about to do? Etc. The other problem to consider is
that like other games such as
in which many of the cards "break the normal rules", there can be
difficulties in deciding the proper interaction in unusual cases.
For this and other problems (in particular the Wand), our playing
group created extensive
All of that being said, the game offers a lot of nice
things including attractive illustrations with a unique style,
characters who are very and believably differentiated, a large
number of different lands to experience and the ability to tell
a story in non-game terms about what has happened. Despite the
caveats noted above, recommended overall. The original characters
are Assassin, Druid, Dwarf, Elf, Ghoul, Minstrel, Monk, Priest,
Prophetess, Sorceress, Thief, Troll, Warrior and Wizard.
[spell and deck lists]
- Talisman Adventure Pack
Second expansion was much like the first except it also included
variable ending conditions, at which
much criticism has been leveled.
It is true that they are rather random, but if one is opposed to chaos,
one is free to play without them. And they do make the endgame far more
Additional characters include the
Centaur, Ninja, Orc, Samurai, Soldier, Warrior of Chaos, Witch Doctor and Woodsman.
Significant other cards include
Finger of Death, Reflection, Fool's Gold, Chinese Dragon, Warhorse,
Familiar and Man-at-Arms.
- Talisman City
Fifth expansion gets back to the roots of the system (after the excesses
adding yet another
board however and a deck. New characters are the Minotaur and Valkyrie.
The city locations are interesting, although the rules to go with them
often problematic as well as troublesome for the theme. The Sheriff job
in the city is too powerful without modification, for example.
A qualified recommendation.
- Talisman Dragon
Sixth and final official expansion so far adds four new characters in the
Dragon Priest, Dragonrider, Dragon Slayer and Questing Kight
Dragons pervade the new cards added in this one. May be a bit unbalancing
for certain types of characters. At least no new board was added.
- Talisman Timescape
Fourth expansion adds a new board, deck and the characters
Archeologist, Astronaught, Astropath, Chainsaw Warrior, Cyborg, Scientist, Space
Marine and Space Pirate.
With this expansion things tend get very out of hand.
First there was the destruction to the fantasy theme by introduction
of characters and settings from Games Workshop's other games.
Second, the expansion was unbalancing in that characters could stay in
the Timescape area indefinitely with impunity and the game might never
come to an end.
Overall, too over the top to work well in the system. Not recommended.
- Talisman the Dungeon
Third expansion adds another board with its own card deck as well as
new characters the Conjurer, Dark Elf, Inquisitor, Gypsy, Highlander,
Martial Artist, Pirate, Saracen, Scout, Sprite, Spy, Swashbuckler, Swordsman
and Zulu. Mostly a useful addition, although requiring more table space.
A new, though difficult path to the Crown of Command is mostly a good idea.
- Talisman the Expansion
First expansion does did what one wants in an expansion, adds more variety
without losing the fun of the original.
Additional characters include the
Amazon, Barbarian, Gladiator, Halfling, Hobgoblin, Knight, Leprechaun, Merchant,
Necromancer, Philosopher, Pilgrim, Ranger, Rogue and Satyr.
Significant other cards include
Earthquake, Berserker, Doppleganger, Stranger, Map, Rod of Ruin and
Martin Wallace effort not published by Warfrog, but
accommodating the usual three to five. The setting is an
imaginary island with a board constructed via randomly-drawn
tiles placed by the players, thus providing a different
setting every time. Tiles are demarcated by a hexagonal
grid to form several kinds of spaces: plains, fields, hills,
mountains and forests. A turn consists of players taking
turns choosing actions, one at a time. Choices include
Move, Attack, Reproduce (only in the plains), Build City
(not in the mountains) and Draw Cards. One never seems to
have enough actions so choosing the best one can be
devilishly difficult. After these maneuvers, players use
cards, numbers of cities and instances of occupation of
the currently favored terrain type to determine which is
most advanced and thus receive a special ability for the
coming turn. After this turn, however, every player
automatically catches up. Special abilities include
things like being able to move faster, to move more
pieces, to reproduce faster, draw more cards, hold more
cards, etc. Eventual victory depends chiefly on the
points value of cities plus occupied territory. The
combat system is kept very simple, being based strictly
on numbers plus cards. There are no fleets as such,
abstracted as they are into rules for movement over
water. Simple combat, city building, reproduction and
advantage-conferring progress track – remind you of
anything? Yes, it's
or rather, considering the greater emphasis on combat,
Unfortunately, unlike the designer's more successful
Empires of the Ancient World,
this one falls into the kingmaking bog inhabited by so
many previous multi-player war games, e.g.
Normally this can be addressed by playing it as a
two-player contest, but no such option is presented here
and the reason is clear: it would be far too easy for one
player to hem another in so severely that the victim
would be unable to reproduce and thus effectively out
long before it's over. Production of the English edition by
Cafe Games (there is a separate German edition by Pro Ludo)
is top notch with wooden disks representing a player's forces,
but the dark purple and black pieces are so similar that
many of us will import pieces from another game for one
of them. The elegance of the action system and the
advances track are admirable if not altogether new. By
giving cards cards a secondary purpose (tied to various
terrains for combat purposes), extra dilemmas are
created. A similar situation of tight integration and
dilemma is elicited by the need to occupy a different
terrain type each turn. There is also a logistical aspect as
players must grow and expand and build cities in the most
efficient order. And all of this can happen in less than two
hours, even faster if there are only three players. All of these
are in the pro column, but unfortunately the overall game is
rather fragile, depending so very much on reasonable players
for otherwise it will often end amid accusations over who
should have attacked whom, and when, as the only real catch-up
mechanism is the trailing players ganging up on the leader.
Play at your own risk then as upon this island this Tempus
may trigger a tempest.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
- Thing in the Darkness, The
Solitaire programmed adventure published in Fantasy Gamer
magazine (issue 3, Dec/Jan 1984) is set in the H.P. Lovecraft
world of horror. Player portrays a journalist investigating
the disappearance of a college co-ed, each turn choosing from
a list of places to investigate and reading a paragraph to see
what happens. These may involve dice checks and re-directions to
yet other paragraphs. In addition there is a Time Chart – the
character must eat and sleep – as this is also a "race against
time" in what is actually a three-part adventure with milestones
to achieve along the way. Difficult to win, it has been prepared
with loving care and nicely realized atmosphere – an excellent
example of a solitaire game.
Recommendation to players: shift some of the character's skills around
(permitted by a rule) so that the more practical, physical ones are emphasized
over abilities such as foreign languages.
Multi-player science fiction wargame. Players represent different
races (same "universe" as in the game
powers contending for a central world. Very much an empire-building game.
Are some of the powers unbalanced? Seems to be hampered by the reluctance
of players to make the final strike on the throne world, which may or may
not be a good idea. The (understandable) probable reason is that all players
fear being attacked by everyone and beaten into last place if they do so.
If players fall into this mindset, can go on for quite a long time.
- Time Agent
Light wargame of battling time agents from a science fiction
"universe" (same setting as
who try to ensure their version of history.
For my taste, too long for a game which can end in stalemate. The possibility that
someone can turn over the main time connection link almost immediately is a
courageous move by the publisher, but also
a peculiar artifact that gives just one player too much influence over the entire
An empire-building wargame in a fantasy monster setting.
It lasts quite a long time for a game in which players may be knocked
out well before it is over. Also, it is possible for players to be
dramatically set back or even knocked out by just a few die rolls at the
beginning. Luck plays a very large role here. Play this one only if you
like violence in games, fantasy monster settings and detailed empire-building.
- Titan: the Arena
Reiner Knizia's further thoughts on his card game
Grand National Derby about English horse racing.
Avalon Hill converted the horses to a fantasy
monster setting and gave each of them special powers, polluting
an otherwise elegant system, but at least players can ignore the special powers,
as they seem to make little difference, even if other players
are using them. A worse crime was the writing of the
English rules which are so unbelievably egregious for such a simple game that they
make it unplayable. If you can get to a better version of the rules
however, is interesting and well worth your time.
By the way, check out this
on the 2001 running of the Grand National Derby, perhaps the most amazing ever.
One of the most apparently unpopular of all SPI titles was
about partisan combat in Yugoslavia in World War II. As a
testament to its unpopularity, I even know today in the
year 2000 of a store which still has on its shelves a copy
of this game from the early '80's in original shrinkwrap!
It also appeared in magazine format by the way. But in
reality the game is not really so bad. I think the unusual
map is what put wargamers off. Of course,
Empires of the Ancient World
had a weird map too – that must have been a
weird map year for graphic designer Redmond Simonsen – but
it didn't dare to get into the sights of that hairy-chested
bunch known as World War II wargamers. Actually, Tito looks
and plays a lot like modern German-style games. Perhaps it
should should even be considered a precursor. Much of the
strategy for the Tito player revolves around where his
partisans should be. If they hide in the mountains, they
are fairly safe, but only if they emerge do they have a
decent chance of building more recruits. Then once there
are more partisans they can go about trying to do some real damage.
- Trojan War, The
Two-player wargame presenting eleven different conflicts from the
Homeric legend plus a campaign. The board is a virtually terrainless
hex map while counters represent heroes and their retinues. These small
unit conflicts are realized via a die and combat differential table.
Most counters receive multiple attacks, but the rules leave ambiguous whether
these may be interleaved between counters or must be taken consecutively.
The former would be interesting, even advantageous, but maddening to remember.
Even more annoying is the fact that the number of combat result markers is
quite a bit short of what is needed. Combat itself seems rather strange as
it is always one-to-one and tends to be fought as if it were in quicksand.
This is a result of a "wounding system" in which one must in one blow equal
the amount of damage a unit has already taken in order to inflict more damage.
While it is fairly easy to get a second single hit, getting a double
hit can be quite difficult and quadruple hit nearly impossible. On the other
hand, it is rather easy to damage the attacker in defense. Thus the map
tends to become clogged with units unable to do much of anything. There
are other unrealistic developments as well such as both parties taking a
panic result in a combat — both attacker and defender simultaneously retreat,
apparently afraid of their own shadows. And there are more rules ambiguities.
There are errors in some of the counters and the archer counters are generally
too difficult to distinguish. Replacement leaders look rather too much like
level II leaders and some heroic leaders are miscolored.
A problem in all games of this type are how to handle the gods. From the epic
they are clearly quite powerful, but they are also extremely inexplicable.
They never seem to fight one another much, but do come in from time to time,
usually when it is too late and mostly in a vengeful way.
At the same time, they did have major effects so one really should include them.
It would be nice
if someone were to write a story giving a scientific rationale for the gods
which could be then incorporated into a game. This is not the case here, of course,
but what was done is quite good — randomly-drawn and hidden option chits that
a player can utilize as the occasion arises. Strategically, the combat systems
seem to favor a policy of as many attacks as possible.
Overall there can be too much luck in a few major die rolls
to be very satisfying. Note also that the average playing
time is three to four hours.
- Twilight Imperium
Multi-player science fiction wargame.
The board is composed of a number of tiles
placed by the players at the outset. This
can be unfair as the sixth player often has
no choice in his placement, may not be able to
help his own cause and might even be forced to help
someone else's. The game is akin to
– in both the
players try to conquer a central system and
thus gain enough points to win the game. It
is similar too in that each player represents
a different race with unique special powers.
Both games include a technology race and
empire-building. There is also the problem here
that no player may wish to dare seizing the
center which can cause the game to go on for
a very long time. In addition to all of this
there is also a political system with voting
on laws, in particular, what the victory conditions
are. This lengthens even further, not
only due to moving the goalposts, but simply the
time needed to vote in the first place. Completely
unclear is why warring different races would vote
together on anything in the first place. Finally,
there is an extensive card deck through which players
may occasionally search, a process that can take ten
minutes or more during which everyone else does nothing,
unless of course one has been lucky enough to be
already knocked out of the game. There are some good
design ideas here, but considerably more development
work is needed. Rules contain some serious ambiguities as well.
- Twilight Struggle
Two-player game of the US-USSR Cold War from the end of World
War II to 1989. From a war game point of view this is a
card-driven game taking off from
We the People,
etc., but without the combat. From the society game point of
view, it's a war game informed by some German game ideas.
Basically players take turns playing a single card, either for
its action points value or as an event card. An innovation is
that if the event belongs to the opposing player only, then the
event occurs anyway, making a player's decisions very trick at
times as usually only two cards can be saved. Generally players
are trying to affect the level of influence they have in
various nations around the world, which becomes particularly
acute as regional scoring cards appear. There is a space race
to worry about as well plus a DefCon track which could end the
game early, i.e. in all-out nuclear war. Presentation is
typical for a GMT game, solid if unspectacular. There are an
annoying number of small chits to cut out while hanging in the
air are questions of whether fewer could have done the job,
whether they could have been of higher quality, or even if
cubes might have served. The communication design is quite
good with only the occasional lapse, e.g. the turn track
doesn't remind that the hand size goes to nine on turn four.
In this regard, be sure to get the second edition rather than the
first as two-colored control markers make it much easier to
discern a region's status at a glance. For the military game
player, all of the pertinent historical events one could think
of (as obscure as the Latin American Debt Crisis or "Duck and
Cover") are covered in the three era deck. (By the way it was
fun to discover in this game several similarities to my own
Both employ a three era deck, feature many historical events, use
"to-hit" rolls to accomplish more difficult feats and use what
I call a "see-saw track" in which 0 is in the middle.) For the
society game player, all of these events are on the other hand,
a problem. What's in that deck, anyway? asks the new player. What
are the dependencies? It doesn't seem right or fair to launch
into a game without this information and it's data which isn't
easily gained, even by examining the cards. It really has to be
played to be grasped – only trouble is, some will dislike
this so much that this will be the first and last playing. Too,
there might be too many details in the various country numbers
and too much luck from dice rolling. Modern German games, and
especially long ones like this that can go on for three hours,
rather than depending on dice rolling, ought to be built more on
the idea of "to do something in one place is not to do something
else elsewhere". Actually this type of choice is amply available
as well and perhaps the availability of various strategic
approaches can save this for some society game players. This
brings up a point, though: are some victories too easily
earned? For example, it's possible for one side to be leading
in both Europe and Asia and yet still lose the game by having
fallen too far behind in Africa and the Americas. This doesn't
feel quite right somehow. Another quibble is that the era's
is actually enforced by the rules. The problem? That theory was
no more valid than the one that Saddam had WMDs. Perhaps we will
try omitting these rules in some future playing. There's also
the strange rule that requires a certain amount of military
activity each turn. This feels like a fudge. It would be
preferable if the system motivated such activity by subtler means
than these iron maiden rules. And how come we still have to track
number of turns and number of card plays? Why not just end the turn
when each is down to one card and end the game when the third deck
runs out? when will this old-style fiddliness finally disappear?
But if this game were an ICBM,
it would have made a direct hit on the player
who enjoys both society and military games and who is usually
forced to settle for one or the other. How far its "collateral
damage" spreads from this point is unclear. But for those of us
at ground zero, hurrah for the game makers – may you make
Update: The above is based on several years of playing
multiple times a year, but nevertheless somehow never reaching
the game's third era. Finally achieving that revealed a couple
of serious disappointments. One is that in that late deck there
is at least one card that is so overpowered that it alone can confer
the victory. This type of imbalance is especially inappropriate in
a match that can last as long as three hours. The second is that
by the late era there so many scoring cards that it is not difficult
to draw four or more to one's hand in a single turn – don't
scoff; it happened – again, very imbalancing. Both of these
problems are quite easy to fix – for example, you could
have a separate subdeck of scoring cards mixed equally with other
types of cards and let players just draw one or two from this
deck to refill their hands – but despite the many subsequent
editions, nothing has been done.
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Jason Matthews & Ananda Gupta; GMT-2005; 2; 180
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