Anders Isaksen
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Click this link to read the original Danish review on our site Joypad.dk: http://joypad.dk/index.php/anmeldelser/475-braetspil-anmelde...



“These romans are really crazy!”
If you feel I have reached the creative bottom of the barrel, when using an Obelix quote here I cannot blame you.
I must admit because that I am a huge fan of the Asterix comics and the cartoons (the old ones), and that I am reviewing a game set in the same period, and roughly about the same theme, the temptation was simply too high.
That having been said Falling Sky presents a vastly different approach to the conflict between the Gaelic barbarians and the romans, then is the case in the Asterix comics.
Where Asterix is a comedic take on the war, Falling Sky tries to simulate these events as historically accurate as possible in the form of a COIN game.
Last year I reviewed Pendragon, which is also a COIN game. This ended up winning Board Game of the Year on our site Joypad.dk. Other than Pendragon I have played and enjoyed Liberty or Death and Colonial Twilight, both also in the COIN series.
Mixing my enjoyment of the COIN system and my love for everything roman empire, I was very much looking forward to Falling Sky and the expansion Ariovistus.
The basic gameplay structure of COIN is still the same in Falling Sky, which is not that surprising, given that Vohlko Ruhnke, the designer, is the designer of the COIN system itself.
If you want a more thorough walkthrough of COIN itself, I would suggest reading my Pendragon review. In this review I will focus on the differences in this game, compared to the other COIN games I have played.
And there are some that twist the feeling of the game so much for me that the first phrase of this review can be applied to my feelings on the game as well.



The first massive difference for me jumped at me as soon as I was unpacking the game. The map is a lot smaller than other COIN games I have played.
Even Colonial Twilight that only sports to factions, has a much bigger map.
Instead of cramming everything, including holding spots for available units not yet on the map, onto one map and then having that fill a whole table, Falling Sky has a smaller map, but still with nice big areas, but all the player pieces have been moved of to individual player mats.
This might seem like a very little change, but it speeds up setup a great deal, makes seating players easier, and considerable shrinks down the needed tablespace, without (for the most part) losing information and visibility on the map.
My reason for adding the “for the most part” there is that the Aedui’s victory condition is kept on their own player board, which can lead to some visibility issues with that. Now, once you have played the game more than once you will easily remember their victory condition and use the main map to keep track anyway, but it is still something to think about, at least for your first game.
While the main map is smaller than other games in the series I have played, its no less gorgeous. Its easily as graphically stunning as the map in Pendragon and Liberty or Death and the colors really jump out on you.
Indeed, all components are of usual very high GMT COIN standard. The cards are thick, and the images are a fantastic mix of paintings and sculptures from the period, which help propel you right into the right mood and setting.
My review copy was the second edition, and while I have not played the first edition, I can comment on the component changes. In this new second edition, the player boards are of very thick cardboard, and the solo player flow charts have been updated. These reminded me a lot of the ones in Pendragon, which is only a good thing. They are very easy to read and use.

As I mentioned earlier Falling Sky very much is COIN system game, in that the first player takes her/his actions and then the second player, and then you go on to the next event card.
And each faction has their own completely unique commands (or operations in some COIN games) and special actions, or not quite.
This is where we get to the greatest difference between this game and others, I have played in the COIN series.
Each of the barbarian tribes largely have the same Commands, with very minor unique twists.
That change has a huge impact on ease of learning and playing the game, especially when playing with new players or with fewer than 4.
What I like the most about this change, is that they still maintain slight twists that keep each faction unique and their special abilities are unique, so you maintain a great thematic feeling, while making the game easier to get into.
Let me highlight this with a personal story.
My wife enjoys board games and has often been interested in the COIN games. She did try Liberty or Death, but ultimately the massive map and remembering so vastly different commands and abilities between the factions turned her away from the game, and she never finished a game. So, when I review these games, I use different playing partners for these review sessions.
Falling Sky comes in the door. I am setting up for another solo game, when she passes by the table and stops to marvel over the beautiful map.
She looks at me and tells me she wants to join in.
For the past 2 months my wife has been suffering from a sever depression. As a part of her treatment, and as a supplement to her medicine she was told to try to get her mind of things with games and other hobbies. At this point we had been trying a wide array of different games, and none of them really helped her get her mind of the darker thoughts.
You can imagine my surprise when not only, did we complete a full game of Falling Sky, but she was smiling and telling my how this was a fantastic game and she felt it was so easy to get into yet really helped her get into the theme and her mind of the bad stuff. (Of course, it also helped that she slapped the living daylight out of me in that game)
Now before you jump to conclusions about healthcare, depression and gaming I have to say I am merely a journalist, and not doctor, so I will not make some sweeping claims about Falling Sky and how it could be used for others suffering from depression, but obviously how it worked for my wife is a proof that Andrew and Vohlko have created a game that is very accessible.
And of course, from this point on Falling Sky will always have a very personal spot in my heart.
Very long story short, I firmly recommend Falling Sky as an entry game into the COIN system.
Some of you will probably now say: “Well that’s no different than Cuba Libre”, and while that is true, Falling Sky is a more complex game than Cuba Libre and even if they share this mechanic the games feel very different. (I will make more comparisons in our Cuba Libre review, which will be forthcoming later this month)



What I especially like about the accessibility in Falling Sky is that it didn’t result in the historical accuracy or strategic gameplay taking a hit.
Firs of you have Leaders that add to the strategic depth.
They function as a piece of their own that you move around, that will strengthen a given action or ability of your faction in the area they are in. Using your leader to its full potential will really give you an edge, but they are very situational, so the optimal usage requires a strategic mind and again adds more delicious mind puzzles to the game.

The factions still feel unique and their roads to victory are very different.
For example, the Romans have the senate to worry about, and taking to many losses etc. will result in them greatly reducing the support you will get and thus your forces. The romans can also take advantage of supply lines from their home area. In order to be successful as the roman player you must use this to your advantage, but this also opens possibilities for the barbarian players to severely handicap the roman player by cutting of supply.
On the other hand, if you are playing as the Belgae you have your own strength and weaknesses. They are incredible strong in their home territory but very weak when to spread out and can and must use Germanic tribes as a help, which can very much end up being a double-edged sword.
Which brings us to another massive difference from Falling Sky to the other COIN games. The Germanic tribes are a fifth faction that is NOT player controlled, or at least not directly.
The other players can use the Germanic tribes through events and other means, and the Belgae have a special ability where they use the Germanic tribes, and during winter the Germanic tribes spread as per a flowchart.
This faction is another “crazy” yet brilliant addition to the formula. The fact that all factions can employ their help, but also become the victim of these Germanic tribes adds an extra strategic layer, where you are forced to consider careful if and how to best employ them, without it coming back to bite you later.
Somehow this faction even has the beautiful COIN feel of alliance and sudden betrayal. Just like your human ally you are here allying with this tribe but eventually they will be your enemy in some way.
In a COIN game where alliances and when to break them is a massive part of the fun introducing an extra non-player driven faction should feel clumsy or tacked on, but Andrew and Vohlko Ruhnke have had their fingers deep in the magical board design cookie jar and it just works so splendidly.
Even in the solo game the addition of the Germanic tribes works fine and doesn’t feel like busy work.



But what if you want to control the Germanic Tribes as a full faction instead of one of the others.
Well, allow me to introduce you to Ariovistus, the expansion to Falling Sky.
In Ariovistus you get the chance to play as the Germanic tribes, and the Averni are now turned into a non-player faction. Unlike the Germanic tribes the Averni are now controlled with a little deck of cards, which fits historically very well, as they where not really for hire like the Germanic tribes where.
The reason Averni are now changed and the game is not simply turned into a 5-player game, is that historically the Averni and Germanic Tribes where not strong simultaneously.
Controlling the Averni is very straight forward and they feel so very different from the Germanic tribes and thus make the game feel very fresh and different.
I have to mention that there is a option to play the long campaign with both the Germanic tribes and later Averni being a strong faction, however in order to do this one player has to switch from the Germanic Tribes to the Averni mid game.
I was worried this would feel clunky or ruin the immersion, but it works great, and adds an extra challenge for an experienced player. The puzzle of having to adapt to a new style and victory condition midgame is a lot of fun, but I will highly recommend not giving this role to a new player.
Other than the above the expansion also adds a leader to the Aedui factions. Some might now wonder whether the Germanic tribes don’t get their own leader. Yes, they do, but sadly mine was missing from the review copy I received so I used a stand in prop from a different game instead.
Finally, you also receive the new thick player boards that where changed in the second edition, so instead of having to buy the second edition, simply buying Ariovistus is a great way to both upgrade your 1st edition components and enhance the game.
I have one gripe with Ariovistus, and that is the lack of a short scenario. I would have loved to play the Germanic tribes in a shorter scenario but sadly this is not an option.



Overall Falling Sky is a fantastic design and another treasure in the COIN series.
Even though the game is still best with 4 players, its completely worth it even with fewer players, due to the excellent AI flowcharts and how easy it is to control multiple factions in this one.
Falling Sky has a flow and elegance to it, that offers a great entry point for new players, while still retaining the depth of theme and strategy veterans love.

Falling Sky Pros:
- Easy to learn and play
- A great simulation of the roman / gallic conflict
- Excellent components
- Brilliant graphical design
- Having less than then 4 players does not hurt the game much

Falling Sky Cons:
- None

Falling Sky grade: 100

Ariovistus Pros:
- A very smooth implementation of the Germanic tribes
- Adds new layers of theme and strategy with the use of the Averni
- Provides a great way to upgrade your 1st edition of Falling Sky

Ariovistus Cons:
- Lacks a short scenario

Ariovistus grade: 90
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Volko Ruhnke
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Greetings Anders!

Thank you so much for the well written and so very generous review!

That is a wonderful and amazing story about playing the game with your wife. I cannot think of a more fulfilling result to read.

I hope that you will let GMT know to send you the missing Ariovistus piece, if you have not already.

My only question is about your observation regarding no Ariovistus short scenario. The main "Ariovistus" scenario is the same length as the shortest scenario in Falling Sky, either 2 or 3 Winters.

(The only way to get shorter in either Falling Sky or Ariovistus would be fewer cards per campaign or just one Winter card, neither of which would work very well.)

Thank you again!
Very best regards to you and your wife,
Volko
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Stefan V
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Great review! Makes me want to play Ariovistus as soon as possible. Just 1 remark. You talk about a seperate deck of cards for the Averni. As far as I know, the Averni have an activation phase like the Germans did in the base game. And of course a seperate player aid. Am I missing something?
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Alexandre Santos
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Thank you for the review and sharing your wife story! I am really hesitating between Falling Sky and Gandhi: The Decolonization of British India, 1917 – 1947, so I hope you get around to review that title too.

Best wishes for your wife recovery!
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Volko Ruhnke
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Scr3p wrote:
Great review! Makes me want to play Ariovistus as soon as possible. Just 1 remark. You talk about a seperate deck of cards for the Averni. As far as I know, the Averni have an activation phase like the Germans did in the base game. And of course a seperate player aid. Am I missing something? :)

The Arverni in Ariovistus are activated by symbols on some of the cards in the (same) deck, combined with a precondition that the Arverni are "At War" that depends on whether any player's forces are challenging their Allies or Home Regions.

So the Arverni Phase occurs at variable times rather than once a year as the Germans do in the base game. Some plays will see many Arverni activations and some few or even none.
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Anders Isaksen
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Volko wrote:
Scr3p wrote:
Great review! Makes me want to play Ariovistus as soon as possible. Just 1 remark. You talk about a seperate deck of cards for the Averni. As far as I know, the Averni have an activation phase like the Germans did in the base game. And of course a seperate player aid. Am I missing something?

The Arverni in Ariovistus are activated by symbols on some of the cards in the (same) deck, combined with a precondition that the Arverni are "At War" that depends on whether any player's forces are challenging their Allies or Home Regions.

So the Arverni Phase occurs at variable times rather than once a year as the Germans do in the base game. Some plays will see many Arverni activations and some few or even none.


Yes this was actually the difference I wanted to explain in the review. Unfortunately this got messed up in the english translation.
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Anders Isaksen
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Volko wrote:
Greetings Anders!

Thank you so much for the well written and so very generous review!

That is a wonderful and amazing story about playing the game with your wife. I cannot think of a more fulfilling result to read.

I hope that you will let GMT know to send you the missing Ariovistus piece, if you have not already.

My only question is about your observation regarding no Ariovistus short scenario. The main "Ariovistus" scenario is the same length as the shortest scenario in Falling Sky, either 2 or 3 Winters.

(The only way to get shorter in either Falling Sky or Ariovistus would be fewer cards per campaign or just one Winter card, neither of which would work very well.)

Thank you again!
Very best regards to you and your wife,
Volko


Yeah the amount of event cards are the same. But we had quite alot of Averni activations in our playthroughs and thus the scenario ended up taking longer than the short one in the main game.
I should have worded this better in the english translation.

About the missing piece, GMT are so kind to sent us the review copies for free, and I feel it would be greedy of me to ask for a replacement of a single piece
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Volko Ruhnke
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I suspect that they would be happy to send you the missing piece. Afterall, their intent was that you receive a full, functional set!
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Anders Isaksen
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AlexFS wrote:
Thank you for the review and sharing your wife story! I am really hesitating between Falling Sky and Gandhi: The Decolonization of British India, 1917 – 1947, so I hope you get around to review that title too.

Best wishes for your wife recovery!


Thank you so much for the kind words
The next in line currently is Cuba Libre, and after that I think its Space Corp but that is still not 100% certain.
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