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Roel Vaneerdeweg
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In this point-by-point review I try to give an overview of strengths and weaknesses of the game, based on limited experience with the game. Please note that this review is a little special, as 'Falling Sky' was my first COIN-game and I generally play euro-games. Therefore please read these thoughts as a eurogamer-perspective on 'Falling Sky', I don't claim any expertise in the heavier GMT-wargame branches.

I hope my piece can be useful, especially for (eurogame-style) players who are considering to make their first step into this kind of games.

The positive
(+) This game has very few restrictions in how you try to get things done. This empowers the player to achieve game turning results with a single action, sometimes by thinking 'out of the box'. This aspect gives the game an 'epic' feel: around every corner there might be an opportunity for glory or defeat and this keeps players at the edge of their seat during the entire play.

(+) This is a highly asymmetric game in which each player has a different set of victory conditions and abilities. Still, these goals are designed cleverly in order to induce a rich flavor of opportunistic cooperation and intrigue between the different players, which tends to balance the game well, despite its higly asymmetric nature and its tendency for constant game-changing situations.

(+) The battle mechanic feels pretty solid in this title: When well prepared your armies can wreak havoc to your opponents, but there are enough mitigating mechanics to ensure one mighty army can not wipe away another player. Lots of tactics are possible in order to put pressure on a player commanding the biggest army (ambush, supply line, tactical use of leaders, ...).

(+) More than a military game, this is a game of political intrigue and negotiation. The mechanics which tie different fractions together is nothing less than brilliant.

(+) The game engine revolves around a deck of playing cards with each card representing a round and usually an opportunity for 2 players to play an action. The way cards get resolved induces a ton of tactical depth (player order is important, should I act or should I wait for the next card? As a starting player, do you take a strong action, allowing the next player to respond with an equally powerful action?...). This machanic works pretty smoothly and is simple to understand. This is not an easy game, but at least the core mechanics are pretty simple, elegant and straight-forward.

(+) In this game, despite being the 6th instalment of the COIN-series, all with similar core mechanics, the theme does not feel simply 'pasted on'. It is remarkable how the game respects its historic setting. After playing the game, we found ourselves digging up Wikipedia pages learning about different Gallic tribes, cities, historic figures and events - learning about a turbulent piece of history after having simulated it when playing. I can't help but think this game simulates the feelings and motives which must have been felt by the factions concerned when Caesar stepped into this terribly complicated mess of Gallic tribes in order to try to incorporate Gaul into the Roman empire.

(+) High replayability due to different factions, different event cards each time you play, different scenario's incorporated in the rulebook, ... Each game will certainly be different.

(+) The game looks great with a beautiful colorful historic map of Gaul, good quality wooden pieces, ...

The Negative:
(-) Many players will not appreciate the effort it takes to learn this game. The playbook is a very good starting point in order to learn this game (it works like an extensive example of a few turns explaining different mechanics on the go), but it certainly does not replace the rulebook as not every aspect is brought up in the example in the playbook. The rulebook really is as dry as a piece of legislative text in which every sentence and every word has to be taken very literally. I found the rulebook to be lacking comprehensive examples and honestly, despite having tons of experience in grinding through manuals, this one was a real pain. However, I do appreciate the terrific index in the rulebook, which allows players to quickly find a certain rule while playing. Teaching the game also takes considerable effort. As stated before, the core game engine is pretty simple and straight-forward, the venom lies in the huge amount of exceptions, special cases and special abilities. Because this game thrives by players keeping each other in check using a variety of subtle and not so subtle moves, it is important that each player masters these details before going in. Explaining this game well takes a lot of time.

(-) Playing this game also takes a lot of time. A full game consisting of 3 winter phases (the short variant of the standard scenario), easily gobbles up 8 hours with first time players. This makes it virtually impossible to explain and play the game in one full day and makes it problematic to get this game onto the table. We simple don't have many boardgamefriends willing to invest such a huge amount of time into a single game. The gameflow may also get stalled a little when players decide where to move their troops or start negotiating. As important changes on the map are made all of the time, it is difficult to prepare for your turn while opponents are still thinking things through.

(-) The game is prone to a serious level of 'frustration', due to a variety of factors. Your game largely depends on what others are doing and more than in classic euro style games, often you need allies. The political aspects of this game and its dynamic unstable nature might lead to some less friendly conversation while playing, know with who you play this game. Also, it is important all players perform at their best in order to keep the game balanced. Some kingmaker-effects are not to be ruled out when the game nears its end and more than one player stands a good chance of winning. The game might sometimes revolve in a pretty unfair way towards a player by the order in which event cards come out and it is up to the players to mitigate this, the game is not designed to balance itself (despite the clear logical choice for turn order on many event cards). I can't help but feel that winning this game involves taking some serious risks, but the price when things turn out wrong can be pretty harsh.

(-) Most eventcards are pretty clear, but some are quite complicated which can slow the game down. The explanation of the cards in the playbook is very poor: unclear formulated sentences are often just repeated there. There is no iconography here, only text, which can be annoying to players sitting at the other side of the table.

Conclusion:
With only very limited experience with this game and it being my first COIN-title, I can not claim to be an expert in these type of games. As the matter of fact, I have hardly played wargames before. You should read this review as an opinion of a mainly euro-game oriented player towards what is all but a classic euro title!

I like 'Falling Sky' for the fact that the game gives me the feeling of power and seemingly limitless opportunities in order to manipulate the board and the other players, it doesn't feel constrained by a tight rule-set like classic euro-games do. The asymmetric factions involved make for a fascinating game and certainly increase replayablity: each faction plays differently, yet their historic ties are translated into the set-up and mechanics. I feel the designers have made a real effort to make this simulation true to history which adds to the epic scale and feel of this adventure. Despite being a complex beast, the main engine driving this title is skrikingly simple and elegant: playing this game feels nothing like the experience of a bloody chaotic wargame with dices rolling all over the place but actually feels more like playing a supercharged eurogame from which the safeguards have been released. The engine with the eventcards ensures a wealth of tactical and strategic opportunities time after time, and it really feels like every decision matters greatly.

All those reasons would normally lead me to not only liking, but truly loving the game - but unfortunately, there are some aspects which for the time being keep me from claiming I 'love' the game. 'Falling Sky' is not without flaws. My main concern is the tremendous time-investment it takes to learn and play the game. Being an experienced gamer also in the segment of longer games (like for example 1830 and the sorts), this is the first game I have played that felt like it is impossible to bring it to the table with new players, explain and play it in a full day. This is a huge problem as it will keep us from getting this title to the table as often as we would like. I think this game would work best when in a collection of somebody with a gaming group which is committed to play the same game repeatedly in order to master it, not in a collection of someone like me who honestly loves playing all kind of new things with many different friends (most of whom would never commit to such an increadibly long game). Another love/hate-factor I have with Falling Sky is the fact that it seems to bring out the worst in people. Being an increadibly long game, it is hard not to take it seriously (really, would you spend an entire saturday of your adult life investing in learning a rule-set, abilities, definitions, ... and playing a game until late at night and not take this experience seriously, even if it is just a game? ). However, despite its game length you and your fellow players need to be able to put things into perspective when things take a bad turn while playing (and believe me, that will happen!). The game is higly dynamic, and though I feel like overall it is remarkably well balanced when all players play it right, situations will arise when players who have lost all hope of achieving anything will get crushed by the course of events even more. The game dynamic works this way: Huge swings happen often and players are being forced to take some serious risks in order to stand a chance of winning with big gains or severe loss for such endeavours. So, I won't call this game unbalanced, because it is admirably balanced, but it requires skill, expertise and a sense of perspective of all players involved in order to make this clock tick.

Is this a good introduction into the COIN-series? I can't compare this title to the other titles in the series, but given the fact that 'Falling Sky' was my first COIN-game, I would say it certainly is possible to enter the series with this title. The game flow is structured and there are mutually beneficial advantages when the Romains cooperate with the Aedui (red and blue) and the Belgae with the Averni (yellow and green). The dynamic of all the factions is also quite straight forward (Rome needs to remove disks from other players, Averni want to place as many disks as possible and kill of enough legions - ensuring that there is a fixed rivalry between the Romans and the Averni. The other players are kind of caught in this big conflict, but initially there is a natural tendency to cooperate, each with another opponent. There is a great sense of which goals each player should pursue from the get go, and while this dynamic may change during the course of the game, by then players will probably have the hang of it. For that reason, I think it would be safe to say that those who show intrest in getting to know COIN might take there first steps into the series with 'Falling Sky'.

Bottomline: I have a huge respect for the designers to have put forward such a rich and historic game which give players a genuin feel of being in the seat of the leaders of the main factions who have played a role in the Gallic revolt against Caesar. It is amazing how such an asymmetric game full of extreme twists remains balanced. It however requires the right players to survive this adventure in a comfortable manner. If the game length and the many exceptions don't scare you off, there is a wonderfully deep strategic military, but mainly political experience to be had in this game!

The verdict:

8,2/10

Volko's tips for teaching the game to new players wrote:
Here is a tip for teaching the game and getting going quickly:
Don't spend much time explaining. Instead get the new players rolling fast so that they can learn by exploring, even if it's bumbling through.

- First, tell them who they are and what their faction is trying to do.

- Second, tell them what they are looking at--what are the pieces and map symbols.

- Then introduce them briefly to the Faction foldouts.

- Next play a few cards allowing Commands (and Limited Commands) only. Use the normal Sequence of Play mechanic and the cylinders on the Sequence track, but no Special Abilities, no Event play, and no Passing allowed. This will get them familiar with the left side is their menu of Commands, without Al the overwhelming choices.

- Finally, when they seem ready, continue the game adding in Events, Special Abilities, and passing.

Try it and see. I would expect a satisfying game even with new players in a single sitting.
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Nicholas
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Great review! Very well written and a joy to read.

Althogh I disagree with your perceived game length. I taught to the game to three people last weekend. All of them were a bit prepared, but far away from a steady grasp of the rules. Also, none of them are wargamers or particular heavy gamers (heavy euros are the most they usually go for). Including explanation, a short 53BC scenario (45 cards) took us 4-5h. It really helps if one player (you ) at the table has a very firm grasp on the rules, so there is no need for constant/regular rulebook checking.
So if you are eager to enjoy more of this game, I strongly advise you to play one or two solo games against yourself (no bots!).
Also, if/after a player announces his intentions, try to guide him through the possible actions.

Personally, I can't wait to play this game with three experienced opponents. I believe this is when it really starts to shine!
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Alex P
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On top of the playbook example the way I prepared to teach the game was playing a full solo game with no bots. Oddly enough, I won but I remember I was surprised.
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Roel Vaneerdeweg
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Nicholas M wrote:
Great review! Very well written and a joy to read.

Althogh I disagree with your perceived game length. I taught to the game to three people last weekend. All of them were a bit prepared, but far away from a steady grasp of the rules. Also, none of them are wargamers or particular heavy gamers (heavy euros are the most they usually go for). Including explanation, a short 53BC scenario (45 cards) took us 4-5h. It really helps if one player (you ) at the table has a very firm grasp on the rules, so there is no need for constant/regular rulebook checking.
So if you are eager to enjoy more of this game, I strongly advise you to play one or two solo games against yourself (no bots!).
Also, if/after a player announces his intentions, try to guide him through the possible actions.


Thanks for your reply!

Before explaining and playing the game for the first time with friends, trying a solo game or a 2-player game indeed is good advice. I actually did this and it made a lot of the mechanics and general dynamic in the game more clear, which in turn helps when you explain the game to others.

Still, explaining and playing this game took me a really long time, but I have to admit that I took my time to explain every detail and the overall dynamic with lots of 'getting started tips', and my friend were not prepared in any way. Still I think it is worth this time investment, as it ensures newcomers get the hang of it from the get go this way, and the game greatly benefits from all players being competent. I must say I'm pretty impressed with you explaining and playing the game in about 5 hours! Should I manage to pull this off with more experience, that would seriously enhance future play, alleviating my 2 main concerns (game length and overall 'frustration' level as described above) with 'Falling Sky'.
 
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Frederik
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Roel,

first of all, you're not from the Ghent/Kortrijk region, are you? More players for this game would be nice. whistle

Secondly, nice write-up, although most of your negative points are inherent to the kind of game: it's published by GMT and negotiation is part of the mechanics. Those preconditions alone should tell you that playing time is long, rules are heavy and interaction delicate.
I'm not saying they aren't difficult to deal with, just that they are typical of the genre, not just this game.

Have fun with the game though! It's one of my favorite games - now the challenge is to get to play it with four players in real life.
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Richard Lea
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Great review. Thanks!
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Roel Vaneerdeweg
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Exoow wrote:
Roel,

first of all, you're not from the Ghent/Kortrijk region, are you? More players for this game would be nice. whistle

Secondly, nice write-up, although most of your negative points are inherent to the kind of game: it's published by GMT and negotiation is part of the mechanics. Those preconditions alone should tell you that playing time is long, rules are heavy and interaction delicate.
I'm not saying they aren't difficult to deal with, just that they are typical of the genre, not just this game.

Have fun with the game though! It's one of my favorite games - now the challenge is to get to play it with four players in real life.


We're living near Mechelen - should you ever be in the vicinity: you're welcome to join in, as you said, more players for this game would be nice!
 
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Paolo Maiello
Denmark
Copenhagen
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Nice review, thanks.

I have been toying with the idea of getting this game for a while. I love the theme but it looks a beast of a game.
I don't have a game group to rely on. I play with my wife, and although she would happily play this game, I feel that the time investment required would mean that we wouldn't play this game very often. And this in turn means that the more one waits between plays, the more difficult it is to get back in to it rules-wise.

Which other game in the COIN series do you guys think it would be a better choice for time-constrained people?

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Alex P
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Only one can take less time, I think: Cuba Libre.
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Oerjan Ariander
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Jesse Custer wrote:
Only one can take less time, I think: Cuba Libre.

I'd say the opposite, actually.

For a given level of player experience play time in the COIN games is proportional to the number of Event cards in the play deck, and Cuba Libre's shortest official scenario uses 40 cards.

In comparison the shortest scenario in Falling Sky is 30 cards, Fire in the Lake 24, and Liberty or Death a mere 20; all of those play faster than CL's 40-card "short" scenario assuming equal player experience. (Yes, there is also a 30-card scenario for CL posted here on BGG, but AFAIK it isn't official yet. I hope to get it included in the next reprint though.)

One thing to note here is that COIN play time is extremely dependent on how experienced the players are. When I teach a COIN game to new players I expect to get through 1 Event card in ~15 minutes, hopefully dropping to ~10 minutes per card towards the end of the game; with experienced players I'd expect to play 1 Event card in 5-6 minutes or less. (Veteran playtesters with several dozen games behind them already can average as lityle as 3 minutes per card, finishing a 30-card scenario in 1.5 hours... but I've been told that that's probably a bit extreme.)

Regards,
Oerjan
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Adam Parker
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Great game design makes the complex simple, replayability maximum, and abstraction credible.
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Roelovich” wrote:


In this game, despite being the 6th instalment of the COIN-series, all with similar core mechanics, the theme does not feel simply 'pasted on’. ...

The rulebook really is as dry as a piece of legislative text in which every sentence and every word has to be taken very literally. ...

The explanation of the cards in the playbook is very poor: unclear formulated sentences are often just repeated there. There is no iconography here, only text, which can be annoying to players sitting at the other side of the table ...


Hi Roel, for a first COIN game and review I think you’ve done a great job. Some further plays would have helped in firming your opinions though. Maybe a couple of solo sessions for a revisit?

The three points above resonated with me too. Although “poor” isn’t the way I’d describe either manual as they are actually the best of the COIN system to date imo! Intentionally legalistic? Yes.

But elongating intent, rather than repeating the card text in the manual could indeed be looked at, though Volko has clearly made an attempt at this as is

Cheers,
Adam.
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Roel Vaneerdeweg
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Adam Parker wrote:

Hi Roel, for a first COIN game and review I think you’ve done a great job. Some further plays would have helped in firming your opinions though. Maybe a couple of solo sessions for a revisit?

The three points above resonated with me too. Although “poor” isn’t the way I’d describe either manual as they are actually the best of the COIN system to date imo! Intentionally legalistic? Yes.

But elongating intent, rather than repeating the card text in the manual could indeed be looked at, though Volko has clearly made an attempt at this as is


Hi Adam, thanks! It is true that for a game with such a complex dynamic, further plays are necessary to get a good grasp of things. I like the game a lot, and I hope we will be able to bring it to the table again in order to become more experienced, and I will take your advice to heart about playing around with the solo variant (or maybe a 2-player game) in order to familiarize myself further with the event cards and the different possibilities of the commands and special abilities.

I also agree with you that my phrasing of the 'poor' description of the event cards in de playbook might be putting things a bit too simplistic: it's true that the events are described with some tips and historical background, but I regret that the short and sometimes unclear description printed on the card is just repeated in the manual: In practice that means that referring to the manual when uncertainties arise is often pretty useless. Thank god we have the boardgamegeek community for this, I will be posting some questions about event cards onto the forum soon
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Volko Ruhnke
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Thank you Roel for the detailed and insightful review!

I accept your description of victory in the game, that it is balanced but can punish a faction that is already down, and that that may bring out the worst in some players. The game may present a fragile balance, an unstable equilibrium which only collusion of experienced players against a leader can maintain. But then that was the cruelty of warfare in ancient times!

Here is a tip for teaching the game and getting going quickly:
Don't spend much time explaining. Instead get the new players rolling fast so that they can learn by exploring, even if it's bumbling through.

- First, tell them who they are and what their faction is trying to do.

- Second, tell them what they are looking at--what are the pieces and map symbols.

- Then introduce them briefly to the Faction foldouts.

- Next play a few cards allowing Commands (and Limited Commands) only. Use the normal Sequence of Play mechanic and the cylinders on the Sequence track, but no Special Abilities, no Event play, and no Passing allowed. This will get them familiar with the left side is their menu of Commands, without Al the overwhelming choices.

- Finally, when they seem ready, continue the game adding in Events, Special Abilities, and passing.

Try it and see. I would expect a satisfying game even with new players in a single sitting.

Best regards, Volko

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Roel Vaneerdeweg
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Volko wrote:

Here is a tip for teaching the game and getting going quickly:
Don't spend much time explaining. Instead get the new players rolling fast so that they can learn by exploring, even if it's bumbling through.

- First, tell them who they are and what their faction is trying to do.

- Second, tell them what they are looking at--what are the pieces and map symbols.

- Then introduce them briefly to the Faction foldouts.

- Next play a few cards allowing Commands (and Limited Commands) only. Use the normal Sequence of Play mechanic and the cylinders on the Sequence track, but no Special Abilities, no Event play, and no Passing allowed. This will get them familiar with the left side is their menu of Commands, without Al the overwhelming choices.

- Finally, when they seem ready, continue the game adding in Events, Special Abilities, and passing.

Try it and see. I would expect a satisfying game even with new players in a single sitting.

Best regards, Volko



Hi Volko,

Thanks for your reply (and the creation of a fascinating game!)!

I will take your advice to heart and approach teaching the game while playing - that would also make teaching and playing it in one single session with newcomers more attainable, and will also be more fun for all involved.
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