FALLING SKY: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar
A 1-4 Player GMT Game from the COIN (COunter INsurgency) series: Volume VI
Designed by Andrew and Volko Ruhnke
The COIN game system was, as far as I can ascertain, originally created to depict battles in more modern times rather than the skirmish wars of Rome against Gaul in and around 53BC. So I approached playing FALLING SKY as if I had no knowledge of previous COIN games and thus am looking at it as a new game, for new players, rather than experienced COIN gamers; so please do not look for comparisons between this and the aforementioned “other” COIN games. I will say that although COIN may appear to be out of its intended depth here it holds its head up and treads water considerably well.
To begin with the box is heavy with components which include a heavy mounted and folded board depicting a colourful map of western Europe with clearly defined borders. The playing pieces are one sheet of cardboard counters, detailed with illustration and text as well as being coloured for easy identification; and a large bag of wooden pieces, many imprinted with the ID illustration the same as on the counters on one end only. These wooden pieces are basic shapes and uninspiring but they do a more than adequate job being on the map as either Active (revealed) with the faction ID on display or Hidden (being face down).
Then we have the most important component of the game, the cards. Considering that this is close to being a card-driven game, not in the genre of Memoir ’44 or Battle Cry but card important just the same, the cards are of thicker stock than a usual card deck. This means that there is a need for your first game to give this deck a long and hard shuffle, something the deck doesn’t take kindly to at first; they aren’t easy to separate from each other let alone shuffle successfully. What we did was hold the deck lengthways between thumb and forefinger of each hand and continually ripple the deck with no attempt to mix the cards. This eventually softened the cards enough to allow them to be dealt out separately without sticking. You can then deal them randomly onto the table into six or seven separate stacks and collect them together before beginning to give them a regular shuffling.
Finally, there are 4 different-colour hi-impact dice, the Playbook and the Rules booklet, there are several separate sheets of reference cards, player sheets and folders; each folder having separate “pages” for each faction.
Punching out the counters takes very little time and although they were solid in their die-cut “holes” there was no tearing when they came out, always a good sign. There are plenty of Zip-Loc bags provided so you can separate the different coloured forces as well as keep the counters and cards safe from travel damage; GMT game boxes usually have a card insert with a central support block and FALLING SKY is no exception.
Many games involve clockwise alternate play or drawing chits to determine the order of player Turn but FALLING SKY has a neat and clever way to do this. Two cards are visible, one atop the other with the header on the lower card showing clear. The row of faction symbols on these cards determines the order of player Turn and the card beneath shows the order for the next Turn, thus planning ahead is always possible. Due to the selection of Actions available it is possible that a player may not be able to do what they were planning on or indeed they may find themselves basically missing out for a turn, maybe two but that isn’t a regular occurrence as play has been almost clinically designed for stability and to hold the interest; continually losing a Turn would do neither of these.
FALLING SKY is basically Romans versus everybody else on their way to attempt to conquer Gaul. They (the Romans) have possible aid or additional opposition from the Germanic Tribes from across the Rhine and possibly also the Celtic Aedui. It is playable by up to 4 players with charts and reference sheets for any of the factions not being controlled, i.e. when you have less than 4 players taking part. It is played in scenario style with each different battle addressed separately.
(An aside note) I haven’t played every scenario in the Play Book but I read through them and was quite disappointed that neither Asterix nor Obelix or even Dogmatrix are there to help the Gauls even though the History books (comics) I read as a child gave them fair prominence.
The PLAYBOOK has one of the best and most comprehensive tutorial walkthroughs. It makes this game ideal for new players to tabletop wargames in general as well as preparing players for other games in the GMT COIN series. In three chapters it carefully describes the game from setup through to where the reader/player should be able to continue unaided. If at this point you are still confused about what to do then tabletop wargaming isn’t for you, at least learning to play from a Rules book isn’t for you, having someone teach you may change your perception.
There are some systems that immediately fall into place because of how well they are written and FALLING SKY slots into that genre. The only part of it that may cause some possible confusion are the Battles, and of course they are the crux of the game. Battles can be complicated or rather complex affairs and the mechanics for them need to be thoroughly understood by all parties involved for them to run smoothly. They are not delivered as an exciting part of the game, instead they are almost simply a necessary matter of fact. I should note that although combat isn’t an edge of seat moment there is skill and strategic planning that lead up to it.
Decision making, card play and use, Commands and Special Abilities are the crux of FALLING SKY thus making it a game of understanding how combat ensued in these Ancient times and using the resources available for you to this aid. It plays differently depending on the number of players, there is a chart that decrees which factions should be controlled by players (and non players) depending on player number, and with different players controlling different factions each game; i.e. if you play the Romans in your first game control another faction the next time you play if possible.
The mechanics have been very well created and devised for both solo play or multiplayer play and the Rules are written similarly clearly. There aren’t too many small counters to move across the board and the wooden pieces are large enough and in basic shapes which makes them easily recognisable at a glance and also easy to move; in fact the only fiddly bit during play is turning the pieces over from Hidden to Revealed.
So I have pointed out that FALLING SKY isn’t the most exciting of war games, at least we haven’t thought of it as an adrenaline rush during any of our games, but that doesn’t mean it is bland or uninteresting, in fact it is quite the opposite. Of course combat plays a large part in it, heck it’s a “war” game after all, but we enjoyed being made to think of different strategies to beat the opposition, especially when we didn’t have a full complement of players and found ourselves up against one or more factions with fairly static but cleverly devised artificial intelligence. In fact I enjoy the games more when we have at least one non-player faction involved because with the input from the players and the decision making of the “bot’s” mechanics our games presented us with new challenges.
From the game description:
Late Summer, 54 BC: In a series of brilliant and brutal campaigns, Caesar has seized Gaul for Rome. But not all tribes rest subdued. In the north, the Belgic leader Ambiorix springs a trap on unwary legions while Caesar is away. In the south, an ambitious son of the Arverni seeks to unite a Celtic confederation in revolt against the hated Romans. And what of the influential Aedui? Their republic appears content to shelter under Roman protection – but can they be trusted any further than any other Gauls? Meanwhile, along the Rhine, Germanic warbands multiply...
Falling Sky : The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar (formerly Gallic War) takes 1 to 4 players into the military actions and complex politics of Roman-occupied but not-yet-conquered Gaul. Caesar and his hard-hitting legions cannot be everywhere and will not triumph without powerful allies among local tribes. But each Gallic confederation has its own agenda and must keep its eyes not only on the Romans but also on Celtic, Belgic, and Germanic rivals. Players recruit forces, rally allies, husband resources for war, and balance dispersed action with the effectiveness and risk of concentrated battle.
My final thoughts:
It is not an easy task for the Romans to be victorious and the game is quite well balanced towards a good challenging struggle, at least it has been in the scenarios we have played to date. We have had a majority of Roman wins but generally with close results. Possibly FALLING SKY is a little stoic, though not totally inflexible, to generate any sort of atmosphere. By this I mean I got the feeling of the uniformity that is generally attributed to the Romans but it lacked the spontaneity and savagery of the wild tribes of Gaul. However, overall I would happily hand FALLING SKY to a player new to GMT or the COIN system. I would also recommend it to anyone who isn’t used to tabletop board games as an entry level game because it isn’t filled with the common abbreviations often found (and often confusing if you have a memory problem) in tabletop games. Like any game of this complexity (it shows as Medium on the GMT scale) it is best played for the first time with an experienced player, although as I have noted, the rules are so clear that anyone with an interest should have no trouble following them, provided that they run through the excellent tutorial first; I would seriously suggest that if it is your first game, even if you are with an experienced player, you still take the time to consider and acknowledge the tutorial.
Nice review !