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Subject: Spending some time with C+C Ancients rss

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Steve
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Now that I've spent enough time with the game (I believe I have far and the most plays this month since I got it) I thought I'd throw in my two cents here on the game. I'll go lightly into an overview and bits but that has already been done to death so mostly it'll be my impressions of the game and its innovations/strengths.

Description

To begin, I've never played this game's brothers, Memoir 44 and the civil war game. I understand that the basic mechanics are very similar but there are fewer little complications to the game. Cards dictate which units can move in which part of the battlefield or of what type.

Essentially, you setup the troops in the game and are dealt cards according to scenario restrictions. The interesting bit here is that the number of command cards and balance of forces are dictated by the scenario and are not always even. In fact, there are really only one or two scenarios in the 10 scenarios included in the rulebook that even approach balance. This is sort of a problem in terms of setting the game up and playing a one off with your friend. The rulebook says just play twice but I still don't think is an ideal solution, honestly. I wish Borg had included suggestions on some even scenarios to play if you only have a little bit of time.

Bits

The blocks in this game, which are the biggest portion of the bits, are fantastic. I personally vastly prefer the blocks to minatures. The stickers have a lot of character and have a neat retro minimalist feeling in my opinion. Unfortunately to the unpracticed eye it can be very, very difficult to tell the difference between the light units--slingers, light troops and auxiliaries pictures are look very similar. Of course, the icons for auxiliaries are different but I still am left wishing they were slightly more easily distinguishable. The box is very hefty and carries the 300+ heavy blocks well. I'd recommend buying a plano box for the blocks to organize and more quickly setup the game, however. The rulebook is very concise and well made, and the player aids are well done and comprehensive.

The other bits are more disappointing, though. The cardstock map simply does not sit flat, even after many plays over time. I bought plexiglass to put over this game and I don't think I could go back to just playing on the map by itself because it was very difficult to play directly on the cardstock. The dice, while now the correct size, still have weak stickers that are already showing wear. Supposedly this will be fixed in a few weeks with the new edition. I recommend going with that if you have the choice.

Key Gameplay Innovations

Really, there are a few things which make this game great. The first is almost impossible to put to paper, but I'll attempt to do it. The way the game flows simply feels right. There is high tension--there is a constant feeling that your line could be punched through at any moment. Games, even when well played, can swing back and forth. When cavalry (or unit with a leader) make a unit flee, they can chase that unit or other units down, collapsing a line. The end of the line is your weakest because it is so prone to retreat--this makes it critical to put some of your strongest units and especially units with leaders near the ends of your lines to steady them. When you maneuver your units into a dangerous place and crumble an entire length of the line in one turn with one card it is intensely satisfying, and, once again, just feels right. Many people have said this game is not a simulation--it is certainly not--but what it does is capture the flow of ancient combat extremely well. All this dynamism does not come at the cost of total randomness, however. There are a number of very random factors in this game but I feel like good play is certainly rewarded and it is rare where I find one side is beaten by bad luck. The constant tension is not generated because a bad dice roll could lose you the game.

Another strength of the system in C+C: Ancients is the generals system. Generals are very, very powerful and it is critical where to place them. In fact, one side of every combat die is only activated when leaders are in an adjacent hex! For my money the best part of this is that Borg only has a few simple rules created by generals to create this influence--it does not take a huge number of exceptions to create this tactical richness.

The final innovative thing about this game is the ability to simulate the effectiveness and importance of light units with one simple mechanic: the evade. Light units can always evade attackers when they have room and very rarely take damage when they do (1/6 for every die) compared to the massive damage they would take from a traditional assault. Attackers cannot give chase. As a result, light units become critical in order to screen powerful units. Attackers roll first in C+C: ancients, a powerful advantage. Keeping light units in front of your heavier units means that the other side must either assault the light skirmishers (who will evade) and leave themselves open to an attack from the heavier units behind them or simply stand and take ranged fire from the light units (which adds up when light units roll two dice while standing still). I can't say I've played a game, on the computer, board or otherwise, that made light units so appropriately useful with such a simple and logical rule. This may be my favorite thing in the game, actually.

Minuses

So what is wrong with C+C: Ancients? Well, besides some problems I have with the bits, there are a few things that still niggle at me and I'd prefer were different.

First among them is the scoring system. I still don't like the "prey on the weak" scoring system. Racing to a certain amount of units destroyed wins. I know it's simple, like the rest of the game, but something just doesn't feel right. I also feel like it creates odd incentives toward the end of the game not to fight the enemy but instead to pick battles against weak opponents. The incentives just don't feel right--I cannot imagine Alexander carefully maneuvering some of his powerful infantry and cavalry far away in a remote part of the board, ignoring the core of the enemy, to hunt down some auxilia.

Second, the Auxilia unit can't evade and at least in my games (not all solo) make up the majority of the kills and point scoring. I wish there was some more tactical richness to Auxilia--currently I just try to keep them the hell away from the enemy or lure the enemies strong units to mine. Or as a mop up at the end of the game to soak up casualties.

Finally, although it's rare, there is enough randomness in the game that you may simply draw the wrong cards and roll poorly and be destined to lose. Honestly this doesn't bother me since the games aren't long, but it is there.

Lastly, the 10 scenarios in the game are nice, but more would be nice--Kevin Duke just posted that 5 more are coming in PDF format and of course the expansion (which I've already preordered) is coming with 20+ scenarios.

Overall

This game is fantastic, tactically rich, uses very different units with different tactics, plays quickly and captures something about ancient combat that is really authentic. I give it a 10. It plays nicely solo too if you can maintain a modicum of tactical objectivity. One thing to note about the game is that I've never played its civil war or WWII predecessors. You'd have to look to a different review to find if its worth it if you already own those--my viewpoint comes purely from having played on C+C: Ancients.

With that said, I'm having a classic problem with this game--no one to play with. It is light enough that I know my fiance or non-gamer friends could play with me and definitely enjoy the game--but there is an initial investment in learning the difference between the units (which can be hard to tell apart) and, of course, it looks like a wargame which intimidates most people. That said, this game is highly recommended!
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Antigonus Monophthalmus
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The auxillia have one purpose: absorb damage.

Since the effectiveness of an attack has everything to do with the ATTACKERS and not the defenders, there is no difference (in terms of damage dealt) to having your auxillia attacked or your heavy infantry attacked. However, it's the heavy infantry you want to stay alive.

A lot of people complain about the auxillia, but I think people just don't realize their purpose is to die. Just... you know... in a controlled way
 
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Antigonus Monophthalmus
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I do not actually know what historical role they would play. Possibly some form of localized militias (with a year or two of training).

Basically the non-professional soldiers who are called up in times or war to stand there and die while the better units rely on their position to really hammer away at the enemy

In terms of the game, just remember this: they stand in a line. They throw spears and try to disrupt the enemy line, and when it comes time to clash make sure your heavy hitters are ready to strike back, either by coming in on the flanks or filling in the holes left by the retreating (or defeated) aux.

I think they serve an excellent role, because even though it sucks how much they die and how cannon-fodder they are, they represent a variation in strength that may not be historically fulfilling (again: I'm not the person to ask) but that definitely existed.
 
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Ken Takacs
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Auxilia could represent the Romans' allies. Don't forget that at this time, the Roman army probably included not only the Romans, but significant numbers of allies. One Legion often consisted of the Romans' legion of around 4,200 men, the allies' brigade of 4-5,000 and about 1,200 cavalry for a total of around 10,000 men. The allies typically fought on the wings of the army.
 
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Frank McNally
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Good review I also think the game is great especially for the nitch it fills, <1h wargame.

The end game weak unit hunt is bothersome, but I have only played a few games so I cannnot be certain if it is a big deal. If the game is a blow out then it does not matter much, if it is close it might be dangerous to try such a thing since if your opponent has a good card (line or doub time) he might produce a big swing. If it ever seems too tacky, just allow your opponent one additional turn to tie, or play with a win by 2 rule.

Regarding Auxilia as Romans, lots of hand waving can be done. One way to imagine them would be as a combination of Hastati (slightly lighter armoured and younger legionaires) with accompanying velites (skirmishers with multiple javelins---this would explain auxilia missle capacity relative to medium and heavies). Velites were attached to groups of legionaires who at the time were divided into Hastati, Principes and Triari who were prgressively older and positioning in 3 lines in this order. One other thing to note is that legionaires did have a missle weapon (pilum) but they carried only one and it was short range, so it should be thought off as part of close combat.
 
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Kevin Duke
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To repeat myself, the Aux. remind me of battlecruisers. Faster than the big boats and more flexible. Just strong enough to tempt you to putting them in the main battle line, but there are regrets if they come head up to heavy infantry (or even mediums). And they "shoot," which the heavier infantry can't. Really a useful unit to be involved in an attack and be part of those bedevilling "which unit do I attack with first?" questions... but if you attack with something else first and the target retreats, activated Aux. can, at least, do a "plink" attack and make you feel like their activation was not entirely wasted.

They are the 'in between" units-- not quite "light" and not quite heavy enough either. That makes them more difficult to use and more vulnerable.


As for the other point, I too wish there were "more balanced" scenarios and see no reason why it has to be that the banner victory number has to be the same for both sides.

Having said that, when I see how "close" a scenario like Cannae can be--which at first glance looks lop-sided to me-- I suspect that there is more balance in the game and in each scenario than we sometimes allow for.

But if, as the statement was read, you really only have "enough time for one game," then pick one that you've never done before and let each player make a secret "bid" for the side they think is stronger. Giving up a banner or two on your own will certainly add something to the mix.. which may leave a funny taste in your mouth if the "weaker" side keeps winning.

We shall see!
 
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Andy Daglish
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The scenario is:

1st card: Heavy attacks Auxilia, which battles back if possible. If the auxilia makes any retreat, so preventing battle back, or if the heavy retreats two or more hexes, this ends the battle and "hits rolled" are recorded.

2nd card: Auxilia attacks heavy in its turn, heavy battles back again if possible. Hits rolled are recorded.

Hits ROLLED by full strength Auxilia then full strength Heavy, no leaders or support, as mediated by Vassal, 30 iterations:-

1-1
1-0
0-4
1-1
5-2
2-3
1-0
0-0 [aux retreats 4]
0-1
2-1
2-6
0-1
1-3
0-2
0-1
0-2
0-2
1-4
0-1
0-2
4-0
2-1
0-2
3-1
0-2
0-3
1-2
0-2
0-1
3-4
0-2

Auxilia: 29 hits, 2 kills
Heavy: 57, 4 kills

the heavy is "twice as good", however in half of these cases the auxilia didn't land any hits, usually becasue it retreated off card 1. If the aux had been supported, in all but three of these cases it would have rolled six dice back against the heavy. If the aux had a leader but no support, it would have inflicted a lot more damage. A leader and support would have caused the aux to roll six dice in reply every time, sometimes nine, except once [the third battle].

The conclusion is that support and leaders matter rather more than the two-dice difference between heavies and auxilia. At Akragas, with Himilco's aux standing against the advance of Daphaneus' heavies, the outcome is likely to be closer than one might think, especially if the auxilia roll a missile hit or two on the way in.
 
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Kevin Duke
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Help us (or at least me) understand the part where the Aux is rolling "6 dice back."
 
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Mark Christopher
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In the wonderful game, Bonaparte at Marengo, this is how to get nasty Frenchies out of a village.
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Great analysis, Andy! Thanks!

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Mark Christopher
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kduke wrote:
Help us (or at least me) understand the part where the Aux is rolling "6 dice back."

I think it's the three dice of the battle back, followed by the three dice of its own attack.
 
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Kevin Duke
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I suspect a "designer notes" article would be very much appreciated and hope RB gets around to that sometime.

How about it, GMT folk?
 
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Ken Takacs
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Aaron, those are excellent comments. Scholarship suggests that the Latin allies were similarly armed, although, I wonder if that was uniform. I also wonder to what extent the Latin allies wore their native armor and used their native weapons. I doubt the Romans would have paid the cost to re-equip their allies. I agree that the Latin allies do not fit perfectly with the characteristics of the game's auxilia, and I was simply suggesting that maybe Richard had that in mind when he created the scenarios. I do note that the Latin allies were often used on the wings and sometimes protected the Romans from exposed positions. This could suggest that they fought in a looser formation than their Roman counterparts. This is something worth investigating.
 
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Steve
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My perspective is that Auxiliaries don't necessarily represent a specific type of unit, but more generally just an inexperienced or ill equipped CC unit.

Played again tonight solo, I know they are flexible, but Auxiliaries still ended up losing the game for the Carthagians despite being pulled back and away from the front as much as possible...

I may well get back to you on that PM offer on Vassal for a game, Aaron!
 
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garysax wrote:

I still don't like the "prey on the weak" scoring system. Racing to a certain amount of units destroyed wins. I know it's simple, like the rest of the game, but something just doesn't feel right. I also feel like it creates odd incentives toward the end of the game not to fight the enemy but instead to pick battles against weak opponents.


What about a more randomized victory condition, so you never know if the next kill will win you the game? Just off the top of my head, perhaps the following:

The winning player rolls a d6 everytime he gets a kill.

If is roll is equal or less than the number of victory points he has, he wins.

Add or subtract based on the scenario size.

Whaddya think?
 
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Kevin Duke
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That does nothing to address the "prey on the weak" complaint. It just means you won't know if the "next banner wins," which--actually-- I rather like about the game. With the die rolls as they are, a "sure thing" attack can always miss, and I've seen several close games won on a battle back from a unit that was not really expected to live.

Yes, sometimes it feels funny to have the "game over" when you have major elements which have not even moved, as happened in one of the new scenarios that I played Saturday night. But it's how this game works.
 
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Gisli Sigtryggsson
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garysax wrote:


Played again tonight solo, I know they are flexible, but Auxiliaries still ended up losing the game for the Carthagians despite being pulled back and away from the front as much as possible...



I've been giving the Auxes some thought and it seems to me that under certain circumstance, given terrain and a leader close by, they become the strongest defensive unit in the game. The ability to throw 3 dice, hit on swords and ranged fire makes them deadly defenders on hills, in forests and around fords. They're also the best unit, I think, to tackle an elephant.
 
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Steve
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Except now comes word from Richard Borg that the ford and forest rules are wrong... hills still apply.
 
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Gisli Sigtryggsson
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I think that the meaning of Richard's words here on BGG is not clear one way or the other. But the rules of the 1st ed are pretty clear. If there had been a mistake in the 1st ed rules we would have heard about it long time ago.
 
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Sight Reader
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kduke wrote:
That does nothing to address the "prey on the weak" complaint. It just means you won't know if the "next banner wins," which--actually-- I rather like about the game.


Oh... maybe I didn't understand the problem. What I meant is that it becomes dangerous to go all-out for a weak unit if you're not sure that killing it will win the game. That is, you still have to maintain some defensive rationality in your dispositions should the game continue and force you to suffer more counter-attacks.

Hey, do you think there's merit in having the LOSER roll for victory (with, of course, modifiers for the amount he's losing by) when he kills a unit? This would REALLY keep winning players cautious...
 
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Kevin Duke
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I actually think the current system works very well as it is and see no reason to change it.

There is no such thing as a "sure thing" with any given attack at any time-- adding extra die rolls to a game which already has plenty is only good if you enjoy the feeling of making something different on your own.

One thing about the C&C system is the appearance of "simplicity" that somehow encourages people to tinker with "improving" it-- and some have written about doing this before they've even played a single game. It is not unique to CCA-- people were talking/writing about their planned "improvements" to Mem44 before that game was actually published.

That is all fun, but the bad part is that they may never see the game as it was intended. I've actually read a couple reviews from people who did this-- altered and "improved" the game and then had the gall to write a "review" knocking what a bad game it was... with sort of a "even tho I fixed it to make it better, the game still is lop-sided or too luck oriented."
 
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