Severus Snape
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Introduction:

Philip Sabin’s Lost Battles is arguably the best game I have seen in years. The manageable tactical details, combined with historically justified nuances, take wagames to a different level. However, I am not far enough along into Lost Battles to justify a review. In the meantime, I want to comment on the Empire Strategic Game that comes with Lost Battles. It is what Philip Sabin calls a “light snack for experienced wargamers.” While learning the main monster game, I have been enjoying the Empire Strategic Game for an hour or two on different evenings. It is a pleasant passing in the broad sweep of ancient history.

Components:

The rules, examples—in colour even--and designer notes take up eight pages from the Lost Battles rulebook. I find glossy rulebooks to not fair so well in my gaming—gamey—palms, though I do appreciate the copious colorful images and type that fill the pages. With proper care, the glossy colour rulebook is the choice to make. I do wish, however, that the rules for the ESG were in a separate rulebook, though I suppose this might have driven up the printing costs, so including it with its “mother ship” is understandable.

The clarity of the rules is fine; any irritations—no rulebook is free of them—are minor and manageable. Because there are no separate charts or tables, one must constantly refer to the rulebook for the revolt table die roll, and, until one memorizes the combat modifiers, the pages that lay them out in detail. This is a bit of a pain, but someone less lazy then me could easily create a game chart for ESG. So?! What are you waiting for. Get crackin’.

The counters are colourful, with a different symbol for the four empires battling it out, in WWE fashion, for this part of the known world. The empires are: Carthage, Persia/Parthia, Macedonia and a very young Rome. The number of counters is somewhat problematic for sticklers like myself. The big boys, on this ancient block, the Romans and the Macedonians, have twenty counters each (eighteen, if you subtract one for the score table and one for the random draw made each turn). Persia/Parthia has fourteen, and given how Alexander sets about cleaning Persian rugs, this may be generous. Carthage has ten. It one game, where Rome seemed to be devolving instead of evolving, Carthage went on a tear and wound up conquering everything but Italy itself—such a nasty Hannibal—and even made it over to Greece. Yes, substitute counters, like those green Persian rugs just lying there, off the map, doing dust collecting, can be used. But in this beautiful game, it would have been nice to have seen twenty for each side. There is a nice little turn counter with its own EGS map on it.

The map is a Mark Mahaffey thing of beauty—how I would like to kidnap him for a year, put him in my basement, and make him design map after fantastic map for me, but when do dreams ever come true? If you have seen the BGG images of the EGS map, its art and form, functionality and wonder, are a testimony to his imagination. Anyone would be crazy to quibble with Mark’s design; so I will do just that: quibble. But only a little bit. I love maps in general. Put me in a car, give me a map book, and watch me pass the time away following lines and contours and elevations and what not. This means that I like my neat, tidy, lines. Mark’s map is free of any such “boundary” lines between provinces and empires. It makes for one cool—even the green cast makes it cool—design. I guess I would appreciate more “definition” between provinces; instead, they are left fuzzy in my historical imagination. However, in the end, I do love the map. It works as art and as game board. It looks good on the table. Of course, if you set it up to any number of OCS maps, and their kin, it looks like a veritable Rembrandt.

The Play of EGS:

This game, by its nature and intention, abstracts its history, both in scale and scope, like a sponge being wrung to leaf-like dryness. Turns are a decade each, from 350-150 B.C./B.C.E. The sweeping movements are slow in a usual turn, but like a tidal wave under the leadership of an Alexander, Hannibal or Scipio. This ebb and flow has a nice “feel” to it, as empires crumble, sometimes resurrect, and perhaps disappear altogether.

The “tricky” part is the abstraction of combat. You roll a die, add and/or subtract various modifiers, and check the results. Modifiers include things such as the effect of the “Great Captains,” who add two to the roll in your favour, and are allowed five offensive actions in a row. Holy blitzkrieg, Batman! Of course, in one game Scipio failed to conquer Carthage because he rolled three “one’s” in a row, and the Macedonians went on to win. The Persian side is generally saddled with modifiers that emphasize just how bad these smucks were at the time of the Alexander avalanche. If Persia comes back from the dead as Parthia, get on your knees and praise the local gods.

In solo play, if you play all sides fairly, and to win, the outcome is less predictable. You roll for a random revolt at the beginning of a turn, and a valuable province (some are worth two points, but most are just worth one) is lost to its own independence and has to be retaken. Thus, you can go into the last round with a slight edge, only to find yourself slightly behind after that revolting roll. Neat-O.

I do think that play balance is an issue worth addressing. Seriously, who wants to be the Persian/Parthian side in a four player game? The highest score I have seen the P/P side finish with is six. I have seen the Romans win with a landslide of seventeen points. The highest Macedonian victory was a twelve. For Carthage, it depends on whether Scipio is off his game or not, but if Carthage survives, the Crescent Moon should receive a moral victory.

The design cleverly reflects Rome’s slow growth; these guys have to get their own togas in order and “consolidate” Italy before anyone can set his eyes upon other provinces. In one game, this did not happen until the last possible turn, turn six. Carthage can only cross scimitars with the Macedonians by taking Sicily and Magna Graecia; Rome is not likely to just sit there and watch this unfold without a protest or two in the form of veteran Legions.

The time that it takes to play the game is both blessing and curse because it plays fast in experienced hands. When the game play demonstrates some balance (setting aside those miserable Persian/Parthians) and tension, you want it to last longer.

Optional Rules & Variant Ideas?

This nifty little design is finely honed and balanced. I would like to see things added to provide more balance for all sides—think of GMT’s Pax Romana and how all sides have a fighting chance. These are long-shot, untested ideas, but here are two:

First, Lost Battles has an array of generals, from losers, with a capital “L,” to genius’ like the “Great Captains” from EGS. For each turn that does not call for a “Great Captain,” could you place the “no-name” generals for each side—the good, the average and the dreadful—into a cup and make a random draw each time combat occurs. You need four cups, one for each side. Modifiers for each sides general are added or subtracted to the combat. Those turns that bring in a member from the Wonder Trio would be played normally.

Second, how about doing the same thing with one counter from each of the different forces representative in that empire’s army? You randomly draw it and add or subtract a modifier for the die roll. Based on the rules from Lost Battles, it should not take too much effort to work out practical and realistic modifiers. Of course, I have yet to attempt it, but it would add another element of randomness based on the quality of each empire’s combat forces.

Conclusion:

I would like to buy a couple more copies of the Empire Strategic Game, and use one of them at my school with our gaming club. Compared to far more complex designs, it is relatively “easy” to learn. It plays fast, and, at its best, is fun and satisfying. It is even possible to combine the strategic map with individual battles from the “Mother Ship,” but that is an endeavour for another day, when more time is at hand.

The Empire Strategic Game is a jewel and a keeper. Philip Sabin wears his wisdom and knowledge lightly, and his deft and nuanced touch is on display with a map design from Mark Mahaffey that compliments both artist and designer.

Postscript:

Thank you, Doug Creek, for your gg contribution, which made it possible to purchase the Lost Battles microbadge. Thank you, Jim, for your gift as well, Mr. Pyuredeadbrilliant himself.

Another afterthought:

It is clear that I did not understand the "handicap" aspect to the game. Carthage and Persia/Parthia begin with twelve points each. I just understood the victory point totals to count for whatever province held by each empire. At the end of turns ten and twenty (the last turn), Carthage and Parthia--Persia's in the dustbin of history by now--still add twelve points to whatever they held.

However, I still have another question that I have to send to Philip, so please await further developments. In a multiplayer game, there is a considerable amount of tension that can build; marvelous in such a compact design. Neat-O.

goo

edited for spelling and mechanical errors, and for the further development of the review

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Cracky McCracken
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Quote:
The map is a Mark Mahaffey thing of beauty—how I would like to kidnap him for a year, put him in my basement, and make him design map after fantastic map for me,
"it put's the map in the basket..."
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Severus Snape
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Cracky wrote:
Quote:
The map is a Mark Mahaffey thing of beauty—how I would like to kidnap him for a year, put him in my basement, and make him design map after fantastic map for me,
"it put's the map in the basket..."
I promise that I would feed Mark well, and he could get daily visits from George, my Guinea pig.

goo

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Doug Creek
United States
Gatesville
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Liked the review...can't wait to get my copy....Fedex says friday
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Reinhard Mueller
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bentlarsen wrote:

The clarity of the rules is fine; any irritations—no rulebook is free of them—are minor and manageable. Because there are no separate charts or tables, one must constantly refer to the rulebook for the revolt table die roll, and, until one memorizes the combat modifiers, the pages that lay them out in detail. This is a bit of a pain, but someone less lazy then me could easily create a game chart for ESG. So?! What are you waiting for. Get crackin’.
Turn around the main games track sheet and have a surprise!
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Dave Daffin
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Ledbury
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A great review. thumbsup I believe the game's relative simplicity is its greatest asset, and the 'deluxe' version of the game here is a jewel in Lost Battle's crown.

Regarding the balance, the game I believe has been designed to play out with some semblance of historical 'realism' (which of course can be easily thrown off course by some unfortunate dice results). As I play the game solo, balance is not a major issue - I just like to see how the various campaigns and empires develop.

Looking into potential game variants/options, well, it's your game - try the variants out. If they playtest well, let us know.

Now I'm itching for a game of Empires again myself!
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Severus Snape
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Quote:
Turn around the main games track sheet and have a surprise!
Okay, now I feel really dumb: does this mean I need to write the review all over again?! blush

Thank you for drawing my attention to this chart. I never thought to look on the other side of the turn chart to the "Mother Ship" for guidance.

goo

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Severus Snape
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Quote:
Looking into potential game variants/options, well, it's your game - try the variants out. If they playtest well, let us know.
Dave, thanks for your kind words.

I know it is dangerous to tread where neither angels nor designers dare to go. I am just looking for ways to add a bit more uncertainty to the game in the hopes of a bit more balance, and a touch more historical "flavour" by drawing ideas from the "Mother Ship." Both my suggestions could unbalance the design, which is wonderful as is, and make a good thing not so good.

If you are itching to play, try out the generals idea and let me know what you think. We should "converse" on how we would rate the various units for their modifiers.

If I ever make it over there, as I hope to one day, we will have to play, you and I.

goo

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Philip Sabin
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Just to say that the initial victory point handicaps for Persia and Carthage make game victory a lot more balanced than province control at the end of the game would suggest. Also, the facility for Parthia to delay its rebellion attempts until a more suitable moment boosts the tactical interest for that player. As a quick stand-alone game, the two or three player options work at least as well as the four player version.
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Severus Snape
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Quote:
Just to say that the initial victory point handicaps for Persia and Carthage make game victory a lot more balanced than province control at the end of the game would suggest.
Philip,

I misread the rules. I just redid the victory points, on turns ten and twenty, starting with what each side has on those turns. Thus, does this mean that, to win, Rome and Macedonia have to exceed at least twelve points (the starting totals for Carthage and Persia)?

Thank you for the clarification, though I think a three player game is the better bet for fun. To sit out six rounds or so, as Parthia, doing squat and hoping for a six, is not a grand time for the green team.

goo

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Philip Sabin
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Yes, both Carthage and Persia/Parthia start with 12 VPs plus whatever they get from province control on turns 10 and 20, so the other two powers have to accumulate 12 more VPs from province control on those turns just to even the odds. In the combined campaigns in 17.3 and 17.4, these initial VP handicaps are tweaked to maintain the balance across just a single century of play.
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Shaun Mather
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Quote:
The highest score I have seen the P/P side finish with is six.
Seems kind of hard to do since they start with 12 points, and no rules to subtract points...am i understanding the scoring right?
 
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Mark Watson
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Fleet
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bentlarsen wrote:

Conclusion:

I would like to buy a couple more copies of the Empire Strategic Game, and use one of them at my school with our gaming club.
The original version of the Empire game (with different components) can still be bought separately from its publisher, the Society of Ancients, at http://soa.org.uk/cartloom/games/

There are relatively few copies left, but it's still obtainable.
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Severus Snape
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shady18n wrote:
bentlarsen wrote:

Conclusion:

I would like to buy a couple more copies of the Empire Strategic Game, and use one of them at my school with our gaming club.
The original version of the Empire game (with different components) can still be bought separately from its publisher, the Society of Ancients, at http://soa.org.uk/cartloom/games/

There are relatively few copies left, but it's still obtainable.
Thank you, Mark, for the tip and the link. I picked up the Empire game, along with the Hannibal one.

goo
 
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Robert Stuart
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This is a very nice game. As Philip Sabin says, there's a lot of luck, but there are also nuances regarding strategy.

Regarding balance:

Carthage: At the end of turn 10 Carthage should have between 5 and 7 points, which, adding the 12 handicap, gives it a total of 17 to 19. If it then waits until the last turn to try to revolt, saving up 'revolt units' until then to increase its chances, it can regain Carthage while denying the Romans a chance to take it back, for a total of 19 - 21 points. Very respectable.

Parthia: Parthia could have 0 points at turn 10, but should be able to revolt in the second period. If it chooses a time when Macedonia is becoming threatened by Rome it should be free to expand somewhat, and could reasonably end up with as many as 7 points at the end, for a total of 19 -- again, pretty respectable.

Macedon: Macedon, of course, will have a lot of points by turn 10 -- as many as twelve or more, if it gets all the way to India. How much will it hang onto as Parthia revolts and Rome begins its invasion of Greece? It has an excellent chance of winning, if it can maintain itself and doesn't lose too many provinces through revolt (which is purely a matter of luck).

Rome: Rome will most likely have 5 points by turn 10, with massive expansion potential in the second half of the game. It could get all the way into Asia in the second half; if it does, and if it hangs onto Carthage (worth two points at the end), it could easily win. On the other hand, as it expands it will be plagued by revolts, and if both Macedon and Carthage manage to revolt against it, it could be strangled in its expansion.

So, overall, it seems to me, the game has good balance. And, as Philip Sabin states, in a 4-player game players will make decisions based not only on their own expansion, but based on taking territory away from the 'front runner'.
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