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Subject: Hanse Davion's surprise gift... rss

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Dan Taylor
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Succession Wars is a strategic level wargame set in the Battletech universe. The game was published in 1987 by FASA. The game is sadly long out of print and is available on ebay or through Cyberboard for free. The game “recreates” the Succession Wars using units representing battlemech (large walking robots), conventional forces (tanks and infantry) and jumpships, the only sort of ships capable of traveling between the stars. The game supports anywhere from 2-5 players, with two or five being optimal.

The physical components are good, especially for the time period. The counters are large (1” on a side, with leaders being larger) and thick, in full color and illustrated with a unit’s crest and combat strength. Leaders are given larger counters and decorated with a small portrait of the leader in question. The map is attractive full color but unmounted, and features a map of the “universe” divided into regions, each with a tax number on it. While the components don’t measure up to today’s standards, they are very attractive and very good for their time. A pack of paper money and a pack of thin cards round out the game components.

The gameplay is vaguely reminiscent of “Axis and Allies” and other simple multiplayer wargames. Each player takes a turn moving and fighting with units before moving on to the next player. Combat is handled by rolling a d10 and attempting to roll under the strength of the fighting unit (ranging from 1 to 10, with 4 being the norm.) Knowing that, however, Succession Wars still has a number of unique additions to that basic formula.

Units are unable to move by themselves, they must be moved by Jumpship units, which act as transports for the mech and conventional forces. Each jumpship is rated from 1-5, indicating how many units it can carry from one area to another. Each mech unit takes up 1 point of space, conventional forces take 2. Jumpship units have a movement value of “3,” during which they can unload and load at will. (So, for instance, a Jumpship unit could load up, move to a nearby region, return and load up and move out again.) The number of jumpships is limited, they’re expensive to replace and subject to capture, which makes them a very important part of the game. The “jumpship” idea makes the movement phase of the game very interesting, since while each side has large numbers of units available to them, they’re constrained by lack of transportation.

Combat is very straightforward, though there are a large number of cards that can be played to alter the die rolls of either player. Each side lines up their units “Axis and Allies” style and plugs away at the opposing side. Units are trying to roll under their strength to hit, though units with similar unit designations (i.e. two units from Wolf’s Dragoons, for instance) can combine their strength to make a hit easier. (Two “4” strength units combined would need to roll under an “8,” for instance.) Leaders can add to a die roll also if they’re present. Either side can retreat at any time assuming it has enough jumpships. Leaders and jumpships left alone at the end of a battle sans combat units are captured.

Players can purchase units and other things at the beginning of their turn and place them at their “building centers” after they’ve finished moving and fighting. They get this money by “taxing” regions they control. Each region has a number printed in it signifying its monetary value for taxes, which translates directly into how much money a player has. It’s highly suggested players make their own “income chart” during the game, as incomes are likely to go up and down.

As mentioned previously, each player begins with a hand of 4 cards (with one exception in one scenario). These cards range from the combat modifiers, Death Commandoes (free attacks on a particular side), free units, technology advances and modifiers to loyalty rolls for leaders. Each player refills his hand at the beginning of his turn.

The game features a number of other rules items. A number of a player’s units are marked as “mercenary.” These units are cheaper to rebuild for a player, but are subject to a number of cards that make their services go up for bid, at which point the players freely bid to see who would gain control of the mercenary unit. Some mercenary units are larger and have their own leaders, making them a potent force but even more likely to be the target of such a card. As this side change could happen in the middle of a critical battle, mercenaries remain an important but uncertain force.

Leaders are also rated for loyalty, which allows an opposing player to attempt to bribe them into changing sides. If the leader (or mercenary leader) rolls over his/her loyalty, the leader changes sides to whomever paid them last. Most leaders are fairly loyal, but a number of useful leaders are distressingly disloyal.

There’s also a “technology scale,” representing at a very high level the attempts of humanity to keep its technological level up in the face of warfare. Certain things (such as cards) can raise a technological level, and certain other things (like losing a production center) can hurt it. Gaining technology means better units and more money, and losing it means worse off fighting units and more difficulty replacing them.

There are two scenarios included in the package. The first is the “Fourth Succession War,” which in the game’s setting pits two houses against the other three. This particular game is somewhat unbalanced – House Davion is a military and economic powerhouse, and despite Liao’s many advantages they’ll be hard pressed to defend against an all out attack.

The other scenario is the more balanced (and slightly more interesting) “First Succession War,” which features much more balanced sides and even forces. This particular game starts with no mercenary units on the board, but features a “bidding phase” at the beginning of each player’s turn in which a new mercenary unit is put up for bid. This creates a fun atmosphere where a player could amass a large force of troops even when it isn’t on his turn.

In all cases, a player wins by controlling 4 of 5 capitals. An alliance win is prohibited, so anyone looking to see Hanse Davion and Melissa Steiner conquering the galaxy may be in for a disappointment.

The game features a number of really fun ideas. Jumpships keep the game from some sort of blitzkrieg or attritional warfare and force a player to carefully pick his priorities when attacking or defending. Mercenary units are very useful and very vulnerable to changing sides, especially the larger (read “more useful”) units. The cards allow a limited amount of “take that” for a frustrated player, albeit at a cost. (See later.)

There are a number of serious concerns with the game. The game’s scenarios (especially the Fourth Succession War) need to be played by “the script,” so to speak, or one player (probably the weakling House Liao) may find nothing to do after a half hour or so of gameplay. (The script is that Mark, Liao and Kurita fight Steiner and Davion.) The game’s theme is also probably going to be a mystery to someone unfamiliar with the Battletech universe, much as “War of the Ring” might simply not be as interesting to someone who hadn’t read Tolkien.

Gameplay has a number of problems as well. Chief among them is the “House Interdict” card, easily the best card in the game. This single card has the power to give a player -2 to _all_ his combat die rolls, at least until a “Release Interdict” card is played by the affected player. While perhaps the game designers intended it as a doomsday card or a “beat the leader” card, its effect can be devastating. Players probably should decide if they want to keep it, water it down or throw it out before the game begins. EDIT: This is not actually true, wow was I wrong.

The rules themselves have a number of blank spots in them (what happens if two “allies” want to defend an area together? What about captured leaders when the capital they’re in is captured?) These aren’t serious questions, but players need to be aware that they may need to come up with some house rules to cover some of the odd contingencies that come up.

The final reservation is that this game can conceivably take a lot of time. A clever set of players might rig up a “limited war” scenario (which lasts for X amount of time or until all sides declare peace) which could work, but outside of that it’s going to be a long, player-elimination-fest. For some players this isn’t a problem, but it needs to be taken into consideration when looking to get the game. (Either that, or play online with Cyberboard.)

In general, if you’re a Battletech (especially 3025-era) fan, have some time and other people interested in the game and don’t mind a little player elimination, then you’d definitely be interested in this game. Players without a serious interest in Battletech may want to give this one a pass, but for fans it’ll be a fun little game.


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Lance McMillan
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Very nice write up/description of the game. Thanks.

One question: having read your report and looked over the online rules for the game here on BGG, I'm still a bit unclear on the combat units. Aside from their unit strength and name, is there anything that differentiates them by type (like, whether they represent 'mechs, tanks, or infantry) or are they all assumed to be generic "combined arms" formations?
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Dan Taylor
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Sorry if it wasn't clear in the description:

"Conventional forces" (tanks and infantry) are all generic units with a strength of "3." There's no difference between conventional forces per side. Their counters are also standard wargame counters (1/4") instead of the larger mech counters. They're very cheap, but take "2" transportation points on a jumpship to move, so they're pretty much hit-takers for the mech units on defense.

There's no difference between battlemech units outside of combat strength and unit crest.

Does that help clear things up?
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Lance McMillan
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stove wrote:

Does that help clear things up?


Yes. Thanks.

Sounds like a moderately interesting, albeit slightly abstract, game. Surpised that there's no mention of the Clans in it (I suspect they may have been held back for an expansion that never materialized due to poor sales of the original). Although, given the basic system's simplicity, it shouldn't be too hard to make up your own expansion...
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Dan Taylor
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I've heard rumors about fan expansions, never seen them.
One of the problems with that would be that the area the clans attacked is around 6-7 regions of the game board, which really doesn't leave much room for maneuver or strategy. You could come up with an alternate map and use the same rules, I suppose.

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Christian Reichardt
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Surpised that there's no mention of the Clans in it

The reason for might lie in the publication date: 1987 was the year in which the first Michael Stackpole was hired to write the "Warrior" trilogy - that is the Clan invasion has not happened yet, there are only Wolf's Dragoons as an Indicator that there might be someone out there.

As far as I know the first "Clan"-novels were those of the "Blood of Kerensky"-trilogy which started in 1990, so there was just no reason to include them (some say that the whole idea of the Clans and the new 'Mech designs appearing in their wake was to avoid having to use the old designs which were subject to copyright conflicts).
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Dan Taylor
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The game hadn't even had the 3039(?) timeline advance, either, so the game doesn't have the Free Rasalhague Republic or anything. Just fourth Succession War in all its glory...

I don't know the story on the designs, but the new books (3050) did have upgraded versions of the old designs, so take that as you will. (I have heard rumors of lawsuits, especially around the "LAMs," which showed up in one book and promptly vanished...)
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Tony Chriscoe
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The mech designs which warranted changes, had to do with a lawsuit from the owners of the Robotech franchise. The mechs were lifted straight from the animated series, line for line. The Phoenix Hawk looked exactly like the veritech fighters from Robotech, and the Maurauder was another dead ringer for the ace pilot mech of the Zentradi. The rifleman was lifted from the defensive robots on the SDF-1 carrier.

The lam designs were directly ripped from the series as well, as Robotech Veritech fighters could transform from robot, to a half robot fighter jet called Guardian mode, and finally into a full blown fighter jet. LAM mode was simply the Guardian mode from the animation. Once the Robotech franchise caught wind of this, it was only a matter of time before they were forced to change their designs to what we see today.

As for the clans, the timeframe for this board game would preclude the clans. Indeed, it was partly the Succession Wars that would serve as the impetus for the later clan exodus, as they left the solar system after decades of infighting. Hope this helps clear up a few things. =)
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Ryan Dupree
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Actually, the veritech/phoenix hawk/macross images were legally aquired by FASA from Twentith centry imports, wich got the images from the Japenese company in which the originated. The Japanese company also sold the images to Harmony Gold with distribution rights. A bug tussle ensues, wich Harmony Gold (large company) goes toe-to-toe with FASA (small gaming company). FASA Doesn't have the money to fight, so they settle, and not use any designes made out of house. Sorry, but i love FASA, and try to keep the facts straight on this one as often as i can. (the didn't lift the images).

JB
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Jeremy Fridy
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Yeah, the game is pre clan invasion by three years. Well, 3 years from the company. This is more about the days when the Inner Sphere thought it was everything, and the great houses ground themselves into the new dark ages.

Also important to note, the tech level you are at effects the cost of units, as you degrade, the cost of factories, mech units, and Jumpships will slowly go up.
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Bret Hawkeye
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stove wrote:

Gameplay has a number of problems as well. Chief among them is the “House Interdict” card, easily the best card in the game. This single card has the power to give a player -2 to _all_ his combat die rolls, at least until a “Release Interdict” card is played by the affected player. While perhaps the game designers intended it as a doomsday card or a “beat the leader” card, its effect can be devastating. Players probably should decide if they want to keep it, water it down or throw it out before the game begins.


Not true. game rules specifically point out, that every house interdict last only until end of turn! Which makes this card only a mediocre one, I would say.

The only way to have a lasting house interdict is the occupation of terra by any one player.
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Dan Taylor
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Wow. (That goes up high on my list of "rules I misread.") That does balance the card out nicely.
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Daniel Charnock
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Great review, Mr. Taylor! I'm just getting back into Classic Mechwarrior and Battletech having sold them off over a decade ago to raise money for a trip to Europe, (How I'm paying dearly to ebay it all back.) and I realize that this was one game I never added to my former collection. I think based on your review however that I can get a friend or two convinced to have a go at it and therefore I believe this game would be the perfect start for them. So again thanks for the review . .
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Ethan Van Vorst
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With the 4th Succession War, if one goes "by the script" then House Marik (Free Worlds League) will largely sit it out, although I've read they bit off a few loose Liao worlds since the Capellans had their hands full with Davion. One of the driving reasons Hanse Davion had for instigating the 4th Succession War was an underhanded attempt by Liao to replace him with a clone years before and Hanse took it quite personally. Kurita got some chunks bitten out of it on the Steiner side but the whole effort on that half of the Inner Sphere was nullfied when the Rasalhague Republic sprung up.

Clan wise this takes place years before their invasion with the 4th Succession War winding down almost two decades beforehand. The Federated Commonwealth's enormous size was one of the primary reasons for the Clan invasion.
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James Jenkins
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One of my favorite games. We are playing it tomorrow as a demo at the game store we haunt in Pittsburgh, as a thematic flavor for the Battletech / Mechwarrior RPG game we are launching next week set in 3027.

The idea that there are no Clans is correct. FASA had only hinted at the idea of the Clans in numerous descriptions of Wolf's Dragoons "Appearing from nowhere", and the fact that the XO Natasha Kerensky, has the same name as The famed Kerensky who departed.

Other than that, no clan anything when this game was made.

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Kendal Leask
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CruiserSailor wrote:
One of my favorite games. We are playing it tomorrow as a demo at the game store we haunt in Pittsburgh, as a thematic flavor for the Battletech / Mechwarrior RPG game we are launching next week set in 3027.

The idea that there are no Clans is correct. FASA had only hinted at the idea of the Clans in numerous descriptions of Wolf's Dragoons "Appearing from nowhere", and the fact that the XO Natasha Kerensky, has the same name as The famed Kerensky who departed.

Other than that, no clan anything when this game was made.



A bit necromatic but we replayed this just a day or two ago. We enjoyed a taster session (limited in time). The main issues we had with it are:
1. Set up time
2. lack of space on the board to deploy units.

We're dealing with the first by producing set up cards
We're also considering putting the jumpship markers onto little stand up counters and introducing battle boards so we can lay out the individual units.

It will be interesting to see if that works.
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