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Subject: Agricola: Roman Campaign in Britain, AD 82-84 rss

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Swamp Hamster
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Title: Agricola: Roman Campaign in Britain, AD 82-84

Basic information: Designed by Joseph Miranda, Decision Games (Strategy and Tactics Magazine #306), 2017.

Overall Evaluation: This is a good 2-player game with good replayability. In my opinion it is a “sleeper” -- a good game that seems to be moving under the radar of many gamers. It offers an interesting system on a fascinating topic that is fun and can be quite challenging. While I would not recommend this game for the “first time gamer”, it packs a good punch for the more experienced gamer. This not because of the rules but rather the strategy each side must master in this prime example of 1st century asymmetric warfare.

Background Theme: The game covers the Roman invasion into Caledonia (modern Scotland) in AD 82-85. The Romans, led by Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the Governor of Britain, moved northward against a loose collection of tribal forces from what is now northern England and Scotland. Little is definitively known of this campaign other than some excavated campsites and the brief historical record of the Battle of Mons Grippus (a Roman victory). Yet, the campaign took its toll on the Romans who soon withdrew from Caledonia.

Mechanics: One player commands the Roman forces of Agricola and the other commands the loose band of tribal forces facing the invasion. This is a game where the Romans are fighting against the clock as well as the tribal forces. The “Caledonian” player is battling a superior fighting force in the hopes of luring it deeper and deeper into Caledonia without being trapped into a major engagement. Both are fighting the coming winter. This is a game that provides new meaning to the now popular phrase “Winter is Coming” (Game of Thrones). Winter opposes both players if not in forts or settlements when it arrives. The results can be brutal for either or both sides. This is not a “live off the land” campaign for either side at this point.

Thus players must move and counter move against each other AND plan for winter which occurs twice in the game. The Romans march and the game is a type of “search and destroy” campaign for them. Is that marker an ambush, or a mine (asset), a tribal fortified hill, or trackless waste sucking the Romans into it? The tribal forces are attempting to bleed the Romans and avoid a single giant battle.

The Romans win an automatic victory if they occupy all of the tribal centers on the map; the tribal forces win an automatic victory if they occupy three or more Roman fortresses. Don’t count on either unless you lure a first time gamer into the play. This game will go down to counting victory points at the end of play. Two solid players can take this one down to the wire.


What I like about this Game:

1.The challenge! Each side brings something to the table that is a liability for the other player. The question is whether either can effectively use its assets. The Romans remain in the dark throughout the game -- Caledonia is an unknown territory. Where are the Caledonian forces? In what size units? Where are their camps and other assets (mines)? Winter is coming… The Tribal forces are scattered and facing a militarily superior force that also has the advantage of roads and ships for the movement of troops into southern Caledonia. Did I mention that Winter is coming…?

2. This is a nail biter of a game when two more experienced players are engaged in its competition. Either side can win and it often comes down to the end of the game to determine the victor. In my first game, my opponent lured my large Roman invasion force deeper into Caledonia and then sent a tribal force to besiege my forts in northern England. OK -- from where do I draw the reinforcements to aid my forts…?

3.The game is manageable and the rules are surprisingly shorter than many published in Strategy and Tactics. Some rules do take an extra reading or two to place into context. Rules errata are posted at the website for Strategy and Tactics (Decision Games). I highly recommend reading these before playing.

4. Great example of asymmetric warfare in the 1st century.

5. Awesome subject!


Potential Issues for some Gamers:

1. Be nice to ‘first time’ gamers and don’t throw them into Agricola in order to boast as they bleed and starve in the wastelands of Caledonia. I recommend this game for those who have played other games and have a little experience in strategy.

2. Some of the rules may need careful rereading (perhaps more than once). Like many games, the best way to learn is to check under the hood, kick the tires, and give it a spin.

3. One must remember that in this asymmetric campaign, the Romans are on the offensive and the tribal forces are on the ropes much of the time. The tribal forces are not going to mount a huge counter invasion of Britain and force the Romans to leave the island. Some gamers might not like this type of warfare. Yet, a good tribal force commander can win this game even if on the ropes. It takes a few jabs and a sucker punch.


Replay Value: Good. Random tribal unit and other marker placement alters each game. The use of Action Points for expenditure on commands to units; the impact of Stratagem Markers; and the results of Random Events add to the replayability

Bang for the Buck: Great. Lots of replay value in an interesting game on a fascinating topic.

c The Swamp Hamster
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Bobby McCormick

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Not fair! You just made me decide to order a copy!
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Steve Wrenn
United States
Bushkill
PA
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What? You thought I'd have some interesting overtext?
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Same!
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Riccardo Rigillo
Italy
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Thank you for the review!
I agree on the playability. But there are some flaws: 1)the game misses completely the historical simulation; 2) it is quite unbalanced (in Caledonian favour). In general, however, it has an intersting mechanics.
I had the opportunity of playing it with some adjustments in balance and historicity and it performs quite well. An interesting game, at the end.
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Matthew Banner
United States
Austin
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Riccardo Rigillo wrote:
Thank you for the review!
I agree on the playability. But there are some flaws: 1)the game misses completely the historical simulation; 2) it is quite unbalanced (in Caledonian favour). In general, however, it has an intersting mechanics.
I had the opportunity of playing it with some adjustments in balance and historicity and it performs quite well. An interesting game, at the end.


Would you be able to share the adjustments in balance that you used? I have the game coming to me and I am interested in options. Thank you.
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Brendan Whyte
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If the Caledonian player sets up in the north or even the middle of Scotland and just sits and recruits into one massive stack, he can stay out of the Roman's reach, or at least become too dangerous to attack, and in the last game year he can pounce south with one massive stack, massacring any Romans on the way, or just racing through the Roman outposts to capture the forts in England and therefore win.
There needs to be more incentive for the Caledonian to react to Roman incursions as the game progresses (and not just on the final turns).
This could be achieved in several ways:
-Directly forcing the Caledonian to move/fight is a bit too unsubtle.
-Some sort of simple supply rule fix that prevents unlimited Caledonian (and Roman) stacking in a single hex for many turns on end will certainly help.
-Another user has suggested Caledonian (and also Roman??) units cannot move a second time in a turn until all other forces on their side have also moved ; or, after expending the action point to move a force, roll a die when trying to move a force a second/third time etc (e.g. if trying to move a force a second time in a turn, it only succeeds on 1-5 on 1d6; third move attempt only succeeds on 1-4; 4th attempt on 1-3 etc; but if the move attempt fails, the action point is still expended). This would discourage the use of AP to move one massive stack many times, and encourage a greater number of smaller stacks each moving individually once or twice.
- Changing VP allocations (Caledonian gets too many VP for remaining Oppidum markers IMO), and there is a strange imbalance in the number of VP awarded to Romans vs Caledonians for control of various locations.
- Extending VP awards to the end of each game year, not just the end of the game, will help prevent unrealistic endgame strategies.

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rory willis
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just got this looking forward to playing this tomorrow is good yeah?
 
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rory willis
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is anybody playing this or is it just me?
 
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Martin Gallo
United States
O'Fallon
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It is on my pile of stuff to play but time is getting shorter as I get more and more behind.
 
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rory willis
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thanks for the reply its a fun game I have played it now 5 times , your gonna like it! the only question I had were about the extra stratagem markers would love to here what you think after you have played
 
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