Nicholas Hjelmberg
Sweden
Saltsjö-Boo
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(Designer's own review)

A game is not always what it looks like and Bellum se ipsum alet ("the war feeds itself") is such a game. At the outset, it looks like a standard tactical game with hexes, units, supply centers and all. However, instead of moving around large stacks of soldiers, a player's army is represented by only two leaders, and instead of endless supplies, the cities provide a limited and even decreasing value. Thus, the players must fight not only each other but also the war in order to win. In spite of the war theme, this may even be considered as a pacific game, brutally unveiling the devastation of war. But let's start with an overview of the rules.

Bellum se ipsum alet is set in the Thirty Years' War. The task of the players is to move their leaders and spread their influence by merely passing hexes and capturing cities. The former gives movement advantages while the latter gives battle strength. The victory is awarded to the player who succeeds in influencing a certain number of hexes or cities.

The first unique challenge of the game is that a captured city is a double-edged sword. On one hand, they provide strength to the army and influence to the adjacent hexes. ("The war feeds itself."). On the other hand, they will in time free themselves and the more they change owners, the more their value will fall, until only a ruin is left that is worth nothing. ("The war starves itself?") To win, a player needs to build up strength and wage battle before it is too late.

How are then battles fought? Not by the normal rolling of dice or calculation of odds. Instead, each player bets a certain number of strength points where the highest wins. But does not that mean that the strongest player always win, you might ask? Not quite, because the players lose all the strengh points they bet (although the winner gets back some strength points from war booty). Just like Pyrrhus, a player may thus find that the victory is too expensive. This is the second unique challenge of the game, to win battles at the lowest price possible by betting just about more strength points than the opponent.

A typical game of Bellum se ipsum alet has three (or four) phases:

1. Expansion: The players carve out land while closely monitoring each others' movements.
2. Explosion: The players attack each other, resulting in damaged cities and armies.
3. Exploitation: The players grab the remnants in order to reach the victory threshold.
4. Exhaustion: If victory was not achieved, the players fight to preserve their diminishing holdings before the land is so ruined that all players lose.

There is something philosophical about Bellum se ipsum alet. The presence of your influence tiles on the game board gives a clear visual indication of your power. However, soon holes will start appearing behind you, ever forcing you forward. Movements are slow but their impact vast as hexes and cities switch owners and every little movement will be closely monitored and evaluated by your opponents. Is it best to attack first or wait and move in when the others have weakened themselves? Or will it be too late? The player who understands this will also win the war.

Bellum se ipsum alet is a game somewhere between an American thematic game and a Euro abstract game. As such it may be used both to introduce American players to Euro games and vice versa. It may be too much of either and thus not everybody's cup of tea but players enjoying both game genres may very well enjoy this.

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Leonardo Martino
Italy
Milano
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Have you got any image of the game ?
 
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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Saltsjö-Boo
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I'll upload some images tomorrow. There are also some electronic images on the game homepage at http://www.novasuecia.se/bellum/home.html as well as complete game components in PDF-format.
 
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