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Subject: First Impressions rss

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These are my observations and thoughts on "Sign of the Pagan" having played the game once, solitaire, to familiarize myself with the rules. It's sort of a review as session report. For a description of the components (they're fine) look elsewhere.

The "Roman" side won. The game ended turn 2 with the units eliminated count 12 to 7 in the Roman's favour.

I've never studied or gamed the period before (which was a big part of the motivation for buying the game) so I was surprised at how important missile firing light cavalry is in the game. I'm accustomed to WWII games in which mounted troops, be they cavalry or motorized, have to dismount to fight effectively. In my Napoleonic gaming experience the cavalry, while having important roles (screening, shock, pursuit) aren't the bread 'n' butter source of firepower. The first activation phase of the first turn of the game as I moved and fired the Hun light cavalry units I had to smile as I felt like I was moving GEVs in Ogre/GEV. I moved up to long range (two hex range), did a missile attack, and moved away. It certainly wasn't a bad thing to find myself deciding to do what the historical notes embedded in the rules said was actual practice. Light cavalry historically fought by riding up to the enemy, unleashing arrows, and riding away. (See my later comment on a rules misunderstanding though. Next game I might not GEV with the LC).

Once the two sides began grappling in "shock" combat, the game did have the feel I expected from a pre-gunpowder era battle: not much in terms of maneouvre but rather two masses of men hacking at each other until one side wins. Once the two lines come together the player is a spectator to the game. When units become engaged they are pretty much stuck there. They can't retreat or change facing without disengaging, and disengaging runs such a huge risk of disorder/elimination you're better off staying engaged. You can feed more units into the battle on the edges, growing the cluster of grappling units and seeking a flank attack, but maneouvre is over for units once engaged unless the enemy unit(s) can be eliminated.

The game is by no means bereft of decision making for the player but between chit pull activation, the sticky combat system, and the event cards, you feel like you're influencing the battle in broad strokes, not making surgical, precise, chess-like decisions. You're playing the game but you're also watching the game.

I don't have a good feel for balance after a single play. The Roman side seemed to win a fairly convincing victory this first game. However, I was operating under a rules misunderstanding that lessened the impact of LC ... of which the Huns have a lot. I was having the Hun LC take pot shots at the Romans from long range because I thought Retreat Before Shock would risk disordering the LC. Rereading the rules I now realize LC can retreat from infantry without being disordered. Knowing that, I'd be far more willing to close to one hex range with LC. I'm now wondering if the balance might actually be in favour of the Huns. Mind you, the Visigoths on the Roman side also have a fair number of LC archer units whose effectiveness would also be increased by my newer understanding of the rules.

Bow equipped light cavalry seem to be the decisive arm in the game. Near the beginning of my play it occurred to me that if this were WWII air combat, LC were the fighters (I told you I have a WWII mindset). To achieve "air superiority" I went LC vs LC with the Visigoths and I think that was key in the eventual Roman victory.

On balance again ... A timely series of chit pulls could easily swing the battle. Event cards can throw a twist in the battle. The reliability of the Alan contingent on the Roman side is a huge balance influence. Finally, there's the fact units are eliminated only on failing a second disorder check. The latter random element means units can evaporate or stubbornly hold the line. It might be one of those games which always seems balanced in your opponent's favour no matter which side you're playing! That said, the sheer number of composite bow Hun light cavalry, and the Alan Defection rule, has me speculating the Romans have their work cut out for them.

Replayability? It's a single scenario game so it strikes me as one that would hold your interest for only a finite number of plays. If you say five times as each side that's still 10 playings. For me, 10 plays of a game would be an accomplishment. Call it finite replay value, but easily your money's worth.
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Samuel Baney
United States
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Thanks for the review!

This is one of those sleeper games that I think is really good, but just doesn't get a lot of attention. The game strikes a nice balance between a solid war game, and being simple enough to teach rather quickly. I was able to play a game with my 10 year old son fairly easily, though he is still learning the nuances of effective strategy.

Mobile archers ARE the key, I think, as you can soften up those troops and get out of the way all on the same move, which is a huge advantage for Atilla, especially if the Alans desert. I think you hit the nail on the head with replay-ability, and for a relatively inexpensive game, it delivers a lot.
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