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Subject: St Pat Day Madness and Legend of the Sacred Band of Iconium rss

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David Dockter
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17 March 2012: The Sacred Band of Iconium, Bob’s Laws of Gaming Luck and the Elephant in the Room Called Carthage



Our group got together on a wonderful spring day - 80! In Mpls in March...St Pat's day...March Mad on the boob tube - but, as only wargamers will do, we wanted to spend the entire day inside wiping out hoplites by the boatload. As always, we had a fantastic time enduring the numerous disasters that PAX tosses your way (well, if your name is not Carthage!). We bid for countries, opened a few beers and proceeded to play: Greece (D), East (BOB), Rome (Dr) and Carthage (Casey).



TURN 1: Hey Rome, how about a turn 1 disaster?

Turn 1 began with Greece sending the SoF (Soldier of Fortune) army to Celenae to secure that critical transit point in Asia Minor. East responded by concentrating at Seleucia. Carthage started off the standard slam of Messana. Rome built a town and moved towards the Greek city in Italy.

Mid turn activations: East moves its Egyptian army north to join the upcoming donnybrook in Asia Minor. Carthage then swept into Hispania. Rome got stunk with the next two activations and built a couple cities and towns. Carthage built its first town in Spain. The East takes the city of Miletus to defend forward in Asia Minor (actually forward in the south, but Greeks would wheel towards the Cilician Gates via Cappadocia). Rome uses their last activation to take Tarentum. And, of course, that’s when the first disaster struck Rome…since, well, I’m playing Rome.

Late turn activations: Next activation is Carthage…and they draw a nice, BIG, German invasion…quickly sweeping aside a tribe and ending up next to a very lightly defended Rome. Carthage summons the lowly roman player, proposes a deal (while warming up his branding iron in the fire) and the Roman player accepts a naval treaty (no roman fleets for the next two turns). Greeks get next two activations, and, instead of gutting Rome with the barbarians decides to push forward with SoF army thru Iconium into Mazaca. The East begins to stream back to defend the homeland. Compounding the Eastern tale of woe, Greece draws Pontus.
Greece uses its last activation to attack the Cilician Gates, but is repelled. However, Greece’s position is very strong; occupying both Iconium and Melitene; two daggers pointing at the heart of the East.

VPs: East 9, Rome 5, Carthage 4, Greece 4. A note on house rule changes.

We’ve scrapped the political stability system in the game; didn’t want to, but, we just didn’t think it works or is worth the play value. Having played with it 4 other times and attempted to tweak up, we finally decided it wasn’t worth the work. The issue is that there is not enough granularity in it (verses something like EiA or For the People) and it doesn’t exert enough impact on the game – in our opinion. Would have been cool if the number of activations were tied to political stability, but, then again, you would have to build MUCH more granularity into the system. So, in the end, we thought “why bother?”, given how much we enjoy the game.

Another house rule is that provinces that the East controls outside of its home territory are worth double, while in the case of Carthage we’ve made them worth half.

Income: Carthage $20, East $19, Rome $18, Greece $16. D, the Greek player, had a interesting observation that the choice between building armies or building cities is at the core of the game. How a player plays that cat & mouse game significantly determines its fate. Throughout the game Greece spent almost 100% of income on its army. Casey pointed out that that works IF you can capture opponents cities. Otherwise, you implode quickly from a lack of city infrastructure.

Also, the East tale of woe got another chapter with a turn 1 successor war.


Leader of the Sacred Band of Iconium doin his victory dance

TURN 2….The Legend of the Sacred Band of Iconium

The early turn witnessed the usual Carthagian disaster at Syracuse (a regular occurrence in our games…and a rare treat to hear Carthage howl). Rome managed to take Narbonensis, but, had a leader killed. Carthage eventually prevailed at Syracuse and finished its conquest of the Sicilies.

The East decided it needed to clean out Iconium. Three times it attacked a 2 heavy inf force and then proceeded to suffer grievous losses. Only one brave and flipped Greek heavy infantry unit survived the Persian onslaught. The survivors awaited the massive (compared to the meager forces on the board turn 2) reinforcing Greek phalanx.

At this point, Bob articulated his 2nd law of luck conservation: TIMELY USE OF LUCK: Or why waste tapping your luck when your position is totally f**ked?

Bob’s 1st law of Gaming Luck is: CONSERVATION OF LUCK. Basically, you only use just enough luck to produce a disaster for an opponent; no need to waste any more than bare minimum required to cause your opponent to fail his morale check.

The Greek phalanx appeared, tossed a HUGE bash for the Sacred Band of Iconium and proceeded to concentrate at the Cilician Gates. Rome finished out the turn expanding into the Danube, while Carthage took Hispania. I believe that is when we discussed Casey's First Law of Halberds: The people with the halberds dictate the religion in a particular area. Thus, he (Carthage) decreed that there would be no Roman god worship in Spain throughout this game. And, thus, it was written.

VPs: Carthage 14, East 12, Rome 10, Greece 8
Income: Carthage 30, Rome 25, Greece 20, East 14

Commentary: At this point, Rome and Carthage discussed the situation. It was clear that Greece was going to soon rip pieces of the East like WBCer pulling pork at Andy Nelson's BBQ in Baltimore. Should we care? I mean, perhaps the Persians had it comin'. Looking at the VP and economic situation, Rome and Carthage were likely to jump way ahead anyways. But, without at least some check on Greece, Greece could at some point turn its attention in the direction of Rome and Carthage after taking a what was left of the former cities of the east. We've had this issue with Pax: an early and dramatic resolution to the Greek/East war, with a dramatic impact on the game. We decided it was time for another refreshment or two. Finally, a plan was hatched: a Punic double stab reversal.



Rome and Carthage decides to vacation in the Greek heartland

Turn 3: The Punic Double Stab Reversal of Greece

Greece began with its gutting of the East by taking Antioch and Tyre.

Carthage implemented its portion of the Punic double stab by launching a four heavy infantry unit invasion of Corinth. The Roman Expeditionary Force completed the other half of pincer by moving through the Danube into Macedon.

The East suffered yet another disaster with the Greeks using a card to remove the East’s best leader. Even though, The East was now effectively neutered for the turn, they were able to retake Tyre: Greeks were being recalled to defend the flower of Athens after the horrific loss of Pella and Corinth. Roman was also able to accomplish their Opportunity Objective; taking an enemy province (Macedonia)...despite Carthage getting the card that demands that a player redraw their Opp Chit. Carthage debated forcing Rome to redraw, but, stated, "What would be the chance that Rome had actually already achieved their Opp Chit?". Welcome to PAX

At this point, it was clear that Greece had been effectively head slapped (or as James Carville would say, "Been given a wood shampoo"). Related, the East was unlikely to rise from their still smoldering ruins. Given the neutering of these two powers, a likely smackdown Punic War was in the making.

VPs: Carthage 26, Rome 18, East 17, Greece 8

Income: Carthage $42 (!), Rome $32, East $15 (another booty call disaster), Greece $13 (after losing two home cities).
Notable Builds: 11 Roman legions…6 Carthagian heavies..and six fleets.



Turn 4: Carthagian Elephant Stomps

Carthage stole a march and promptly sent a small, but potent force into southern Italy and managed to burn a Roman city. Rome went next…..drew a card…...and...drum roll... has their top leader removed...ARGGGGGGGH.... so much for actually utilizing the horde of legions they had just raised.

Rome did manage to finally chase away the raiding force in Italy (using its lowly 1-3 BUM leader), but, the campaign into Hispania would have to be indefinitely postponed. With control of the seas, a very solid position in Hispana/Southern Gaul, a HUGE economy and a significant VP lead, Carthage was now sitting in the catbird's seat.

Greece managed to take back Pella/Corinth and to expand into Moesia. The East began to recover (well, at least the downward plunge off the cliff had stopped...that happens when you finally splat on the pavement). The East yet again attempted to clear Iconium. However, two more horrible debacles; marking five victories for The Sacred Band of Iconium. A monument was constructed. Toasts raised. Speeches given.

Rome tried a final vegas naval invasion of Sicily. Die roll....need a 1 or 2....nope...a 3 (the dice gods continue their mockery of the lowly Roman player) and 4 legions plus a light infantry ended up at the bottom of the Med. The turn ends.

VPs: Carthage 35, East 25, Rome 22, Greece 9

Income: Carthage $43, Rome $31, Greece $16, East (yet another booty call boooof) $15

Conclusion

At that point, we decided to toss the game and call it a likely victory for Carthage, with Rome a likely second. Our usual post game debrief & nightcap session yielded the following:

1) It’s probable we’ve been playing it ALL wrong: East and Greece always in an early cage match to the death…Rome, suffering this or that disaster – or getting distracted and not checking Carthage either in Hispania or Sicily…, and, thus, Carthage in a near invulnerable strategic position. Doesn’t make sense to us now. So, next game we will likely focus MUCH more on keeping Carthage from getting so strong.

2)A FUN design: Combat is a blast – and produces a nice range of outcomes. Land/Sea combination is very good – feels right to us hardcore EiA/WiF players. And we really like the idea of a multiplayer relatively somewhat heavy wargame taking about 15 to 20 hours to complete (we average 1 ½ hours to play a turn no). We really take our hats off to Mr.Berg for tackling this niche since there are so VERY few decent games in the multiplayer heavy wargame space.

3)House rules: Happy with them now. Couple of ideas still floating: take aways an activation from Carthage the first three turns…maybe add a navy for Rome at setup. Will post the final version sooner or later. Cards could still use a lot of work…but the overall design is a beauty.

4)Brittle: One thing we keep experiencing is that one of the countries gets blown-out early. Not sure what to do about that. Just a function of the design we enjoy; a WIDE range of ways to suffer total disaster, unrelated to really being able to prepare for it. As Casey pointed out, we’re been a little slack on garrisoning key cities; since it only takes a few heavies on a city to make the cost to take it potentially very high.

None-the-less, that is why we’ve never played past turn six; we’d rather play a meaty multiplayer wargame where all players have at least a token chance of winning. When it reaches that point – where one country is just the whipping boy - we generally just start another game. This is probably resulting in us shortchanging the design, since we believe Rome really starts to roll later in the game (no limit on its legion build vs. the hard limits on the number of heavy infantry the other countries have).

5)We DIG the game. Yeah...its got issues, but we really dig it. Still. Can’t wait to play again. Hats off to Mr.Berg. I think we’re FINALLY going to give Clash of Monarchs a toss or two, but, I’m sure we’ll be back to PAX sooner than later.

Stats from the game below:

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Wendell
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Si non potes reperire Berolini in tabula, ludens essetis non WIF.
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Great session report!

Wish I could find three guys to play this... my weeknight gaming group is allergic to CDGs.
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Mick Weitz
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Wish I could join you guys. Beer and Pax sounds like the best St. Patrick's day I could imagine...

Good Gaming~! Mick
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David Dockter
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Wish I could find three guys to play this... my weeknight gaming group is allergic to CDGs.

I would barely call this game card assisted; the cards are only like a random events table: some you must play immediately (just like rolling a random event), others you may save (but can only carry over 1 card a turn). The cards vary GREATLY; most have little impact on the game.

Certainly isn't a CDW (Card Driven Wargame). You should have no problem roping them into playing this game.

The heart of the game are the activation chits. Essentially, you toss them all in to a cup (each player has four chits). Draw them out one at a time. Yes, this means one player might get stuck having to take basically all their activations before others. Such is life.

A player gets one major move and two minors with each activation. A major involves moving a force (all the units in one space). You almost always want to pick a force with a leader. Roll a die. Add the leaders rating (from 3 to 6)...add the die roll, that's your movement. Combat is conducted during movement (costs one to enter a space...additional one to enter an enemy space...and one to retreat if you lose...keep moving/fighting until you are out of movement points). With the minors you can do a number of things: move a unit, build a town or city, repair city walls, etc. Naval is handled very well. Cost one to move...and fleets move unlimited (yes unlimited)...BUT they need to survive continuation rolls in hostile areas to move past a non-friendly space. Costs one to load knuckleheads, one to disembark.

Combat? Both players roll. Die roll is the percentage (ex: 1=10%) of losses the enemy must lose. A number of modifiers: odds (ex: 2 to 1, the side with the 2 gets a +2, cav superiority either a +1 or +3, leadership varies...that's about it). So, the side with positive modifiers gets to decide how to apply that to the roll (after seeing the results). Let's say a side A has a net +2.... die rolls....Side A rolls a 4, Side B rolls a 2... Side A could decide to make Side B's roll a 0 (subtracts the 2)...so Side A then gets zero losses. Side B takes 40% (4 x 10%). Or, any related combo.

Supply? Don't worry about it: it has yet to impact any move/turn/game we have played.

Economic? Build towns and cities (towns generate $1, cities $3). Control a province? Get a $1. Control all provinces in a territory? Get another $1. And, some provinces give you another $1 or $2: all hail silver mines! Towns cost $2+a garrison. Cities cost $3+heavy (after you have built the town). Heavies, legion, cav, ships cost a $2...lights/mtc on ships cost a $1. Each activation chit (mandatory expenditure) costs $1.

Barbarians? Yep, random invasions. Slave revolts? Yep. All the usual suspects. Berg even baked in a Booty Call.

Manoeuvre? Lots of it. Very cool. Not really a "build the death star...or stack of 120 inf+30 cav+guard+arty ala Empire in Arms...much more smaller stacks operating here and there.

At the end of each turn, you basically tally the respective territories controlled and award VPs. Same with who has the most towns/cities.

That's the basically the game. I would recommend you play on Sat/Sun: turns take about 1 1/2 hours (for the 16 activations and build phase)...if you play the 10 game campaign game - two 8 hour sessions.

I'd be really surprised if any wargamers would object to playing PAX because it contains cards; they have little to do with this particular game (the card mechanic has little impact - the effect of a few cards can be brutal) . Tell them that they are just very large random event chits. Or, reduce the cards 90% to the size of chits and paste them on counters.

I'd call it a traditional multiplayer empire building game. And, it's a blast.

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Michael Sosa
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Barbarian invasions are not to be used to attack tribes. That was answered somewhere. Otherwise the Romans or Carthage can use them to clear their borders of tribes. They mere walk through the tribes.

Looks like you guys are having fun, but I don't like your house rules. The East may be the toughest to play well but they can build up a huge economy and beat down Greece in the long run. Carthage can get beat down by Rome starting around mid game (you guys are using the Roman legionary cavalry rule right?). I don't think tweaking the VP points is necessary.

The country that I've seen most often win is Greece. Carthage can actually be attacked by all three powers- Rome through Spain, Greece into Sicily, and the East into Africa. Often Greece and Carthage take the early lead, only to be the targets of attack later. I think the Ultra historical scenario may actually work to balance the game better, since it gives income penalties to Greece.
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David Dockter
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"You guys are using the Roman legionary cavalry rule right?"

Yes.

Barb invasions can't be used to attack tribes? Does that mean the tribes essentially block any invasion until cleared? Not sure I like that.

Thanks for the clarifications.

 
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Michael Sosa
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The barbarians just move through tribe occupied spaces, they cannot attack them. Otherwise barbarian invasions will be abused to clear the interior of tribes for colonization, but the intent was that they would go plunder the players' civilization. They are a critical check on Roman and Greek expansion.
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David Dockter
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Got it - so the barbarians just move through the tribes. Thanks for that clarification...even going to be more nasty for greece and rome now devil

We've had no problem checking the Romans, Greeks and the East. Just no good ways to get at Carthage - and no disasters plague it like what hit the other players. We believe that once Rome builds up, then they could swat Carthage - but Carthage is going to have alot of cities by then and a HUGE navy.
 
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Michael Sosa
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Here is what the Romans should do:

1. Concentrate on defending and building cities the first few turns, grabbing a few provinces in the process, especially Narbonensis. Going into Spain is probably a bad idea. You want to hide behind walls to protect yourself from Carthaginian cavalry.
2. Watch for opportunities to hurt Carthage early, like taking one of the islands. Rome should build one galley T3 just to be able to do so safely.
3. By T5 Rome should have an army large enough to fight Carthage in Spain. The power balance continues to favor Rome as each turn advances, but due to VP pressure Rome usually has to act before things are clearly in their favor. Remember that Carthage has the lowest manpower limits. Lowering Carthage's stability can be a disaster for her.

In my opinion, between Rome and Carthage it really is a tight game. Carthage will get ahead early, but will have trouble holding on to Spain and must maintain a fleet to protect the islands. Rome can get away with a smaller fleet to target just one crossing, and invade Spain by mid game. Rome just needs to avoid pitched battles with Carthage early.

Carthage and Greece can usually be goaded to attack each other depending on the VP standings, which is further help to Rome, who is normally behind in VPs.

When I play Greece or Carthage it is Rome that I fear the most, I like to go out of my way to keep them in check. But the beauty of the game is how each power acts as a brake on the others. In games when I have weakened Rome too much my opponent benefits.

Anyway, removing stability from the game is of great help to Greece and Carthage, the two countries that are often unstable in the late game and the VP leaders in the early game. I don't recommend it.
 
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David Dockter
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Hmmm...will pass it on to my PAX crew.
 
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Michael Sosa
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You should come to GMT East, we can play a game!
 
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Hans van der Drift
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Belisarius88 wrote:
The barbarians just move through tribe occupied spaces, they cannot attack them. Otherwise barbarian invasions will be abused to clear the interior of tribes for colonization, but the intent was that they would go plunder the players' civilization. They are a critical check on Roman and Greek expansion.


I play with this variant for the Barabrians. This is from my post on CSW

..............................

If a Barbarian army attempts to pass over a tribal space roll 1d6.

RESULTS:

1: Negotiations Break Down and the tribe does not let them pass and the Barbarian Army must fight the Tribe.

2-4: All is good, please pass our tribe and fight the Romans

5: Now that's a good idea, I will come with you. Reduce the tribe counter by 1 and the BI up by one (use GS maintenance counters below Tribe Counter)

6: These tribe women are good looking: Decrease the BI by 1 and increase the Tribe +1 (use GS maintenance counters above Tribe Counter)
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David Dockter
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Cool.

Just wondering, how do you guys find the PAX political stability system?
 
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Hans van der Drift
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I have played Pax more than any other game. And it is very very rare to have the stability be a factor.

 
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