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Lion of Ethiopia» Forums » Reviews

Subject: An Exciting Game About an Obscure Battle rss

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Mark Sautman
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Evans
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I picked up this Command Magazine game in a math trade a few years ago and finally got to play it. This little gem of a game is worth searching out.



Background: This game is about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 - 1936. The accompanying magazine article gives some interesting historical background about the battle. The game begins with the Italians sweeping in from widely separated bases in Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. The Italians win if they end a turn occupying three of four key towns plus having one of their HQ units in Addis Ababa. They can also win by killing the emperor unit in battle or destroying all Ethiopian units other than the Emperor. The Ethiopians win if they can occupy one of the two key Italian bases , destroying both Italian HQ units, destroying all Italian ground units or by preventing the Italians from achieving victory in 22 turns.



Rules: There are 10 pages of rules, a combat results table, and an air strike chart. The rules are simple and have the typical I Go, You Go rules with standard hex movement, zones of control, stacking, and supply rules. The two armies have different rules for HQ units, command control, and support - reflecting differences in how they were organized.



Combat consists of determining the ratios of combat factors and then doing a series of column shifts based on terrain, air support, etc. Most of the combat results consist of attackers/defenders advancing or retreating. Other results may include an exchange (both sides lose units), contact (no effect), engaged (still involved in an undecided battle). The units do not take any damage or have a disrupted side. It's actually pretty hard to kill units unless the adjusted odds are 3:1 or greater. The mountainous and jungle terrain is very important in this game for shifting the results into the ranges where you can kill units. Furthermore, many of the kills result when you surround many of the sides of the defender, blocking off his avenues of retreat.

Reinforcements are a key part of the game. The Ethiopians don't start with many units and are slow to mobilize. Their reinforcements, especially the Ethiopian Imperial Army, are critical for pushing back the initial Italian drive. The Italians receive a few units scattered throughout the game.

Two of the other important optional rules involve entrenchments and air units. The Ethiopians have a single Wehib Pasha engineer unit, but this unit can help set up entrenchments in most of the cities affecting victory. The Regia Aeronautica units also play a very important role running ground support, strike, and rebasing missions. When providing ground support, the air units add their combat factor, plus provide one or more column shifts on the combat table. When striking Ethiopian units, the affected units may be disrupted or eliminated. Starting with the Jan 1 turn, the Italians begin to use poison gas making the air force deadlier.

Gameplay: I don't usually expect much from magazines games. Furthermore, I was expecting an unbalanced game where the European army just rolled over the African army. Instead, I found a very balanced game. The game plays pretty fast, lasting a couple hours. The counter density is relatively low. Most of the action is concentrated on the roads connecting the main cities. Terrain is very important. Much of Ethiopia is covered with mountains. The steep sided, flat topped mountains called ambas provide a significant defensive position. The Ethiopians also fight much better in jungles than the Italians. While the Italians start strong, the Ethiopians get stronger as their reinforcements start to roll in. When the Imperial Army arrives, the Ethiopians can provide a strong counterattack. While many of the Italian forces are invading from Eritrea, General Braziani's proto-Blitzkrieg units can be important on the Italian Somaliland border.

What I enjoyed the most about this game was how tense it was. Throughout the game, each side jockeyed for their victory conditions. The Italians punched forward, but then the Ethiopians counterattacked strongly, cut off the Italian's supply lines, and made a very strong push to take over the Italian bases. Rather than one side taking a commanding lead as the game progressed, the tide repeatedly shifted back and forth - often switching within a single turn. In my game, the game was decided in a battle for Addis Abbaba on the very last half of the last turn. This is where the game really shined for me - the neck and neck race for victory.

I also like games with asymmetrical forces, but it is hard to find one where one side does not have a noticeable advantage. The Ethiopians are weaker, but they are more mobile, numerous, and can be deadly when fighting in jungles or after cutting Italian supply routes. The Italian units are stronger, especially when supported by air units with poison gas, but have fewer units, are often slower, and have to be kept in supply. I don't have enough plays to determine if other games will be this tight.

That being said, there were two aspects of the game that were annoying at times. First, battles between two evenly matched stacks can bog down with multiple rounds of engaged, contact, or alternating advances/retreat results because the units can't take any damage with less than 3:1 odds. If the battle is isolated and not easily reinforced or supported with air units, you can get stuck in a stalemate unless one of the sides splits off a few units to cut off the means of retreat of the other stack or can cut off the enemy's supply. In other games, the two sides would slowly wear each other down until one side was victorious. Second, since many of the column shift modifiers only apply to the attacker or defender, you can end up with varying odds ratios between two comparable stacks that have to fight mandatory combat because they are in each other's zone of command. Consider two stacks on neighboring amba hexes, which give the defender a two column shift to the left. When I attack you on my turn, you get the benefit and then when you attack me on your turn, I get the benefit. This felt a bit gamey.

If you have the opportunity to grab this game at a reasonable price, I would recommend doing so. I know some people don't care much about this relatively obscure battle between relatively minor armies, but it is a good game nonetheless.

Thanks to Paydirt, the Maverick, and Odinsphere for posting the images used in this review. Edited to add some negative points that I thought of later.
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Nigel Twine
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You might also be interested in "Ascari" by Acies Edizioni. It is about a previous Italian push into Ethiopia in the 1890`s.

My historical interest is "Great Game" to "WWI" (roughly 1835 to 1918) and "Ascari" caught my attention when I recalled it whilst re-reading Churchill`s, "The River War".(Chapter 3: "The Dervish Empire"). My subconscious did a 2+2=Buy-another-game calculation. Here was another war by a colonial power in (more-or-less) the same theatre at (more or less) the same time. More information came from, "Armies of the Adowa Campaign 1896: The Italian Disaster in Ethiopia" by Osprey Publishing. "Ascari" is also a very nice little game.

As a result I`ve been looking at "Lion of Ethiopia" and one of the `Keren` games for a while.
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Mark Sautman
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Nigel66 wrote:
You might also be interested in "Ascari" by Acies Edizioni. It is about a previous Italian push into Ethiopia in the 1890`s.


Thanks for the heads up on Ascari. Looks interesting.
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Phil Lewis
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Great review, Mark. Let's plan on playing this after Thanksgiving.

-phil
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Nigel Twine
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heath p avery wrote:
wow-Unbelievable-A quad of battle scenarios re the italians in africa...
truely a global hobby
I am a quad fanatic so Ive put it down as a must have
Thanks Id never heard of it
Theres another buyer for it


Hi Heath,

Looking at your profile it seems there is a lot of overlap in our interests so, if you dont mind, I`m going to comb the comments you`ve made on your games for pointers.

Despite dipping my toe in occasionally ("Devil`s Den" back in the 80`s) I`m a noob at this (12 to 18 months in the hobby) and I know that I have a magpie tendency to go for the next shiny thing ("Strafexpedition 1916" looks SO COOL, but I don`t think I`m ready for it) so I`m going to try amd stick to my remit (Great Game to end of WWI) even though WWII China-Burma-India interests me greatly.

The next thing I`m looking at is the 2nd Edition of "Zulu`s On The Ramparts". Have you seen the artwork? I also have "Tanga 1914" (Vol.1 in the `Colonial Combat Collection`), "The Great Game" and "Maori Wars" all on pre-order from `Legion Games`.

`Legion Games` were formally, `Khyber Pass Games` and that brings me to "Maiwand". This game combines Sherlock Holmes and Wargaming and has thus become my Holy Grail game. If you ever see a copy up for sale somewhere please PM me asap.

Anyway, I`ve waffled on enough (apologies to the OP) but it was nice to finally find someone else interested in the Imperial/Colonial history that they wouldn`t teach me about in school. Good luck to you and I hope you enjoy "Ascari" as much as I did.

Nigel
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Lawrence Eagleburger
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This is among my favorite of the Command Magazine productions. Many Command issues were "cookie cutter" in design, but LoE is a real gem. There is an expansion module that was published in Command #7 (I think) with more complicated rules and upgraded counters. It's worth getting.
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Nigel Twine
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Hi Heath,
Thanks for the response. In the last 12 to 18 months I`ve sourced all of those except the "Wargamer: Siege of Peking", and the "Berg: Zulu" games. I will hunt them down.
The most difficult to find (apart from "Maiwand" which I can`t) was "Sun Never Sets, Vol.1" but I eventually managed to score a still-in-shrink copy from Canada. I was happiest to get my hands on a mint copy of "Remember Gordon!".
I aim to play them in chronological order over the next few years. "Blackbeard" is on the table at the moment and then it`ll probably be "Asia Crossroads".
Regards,
Nigel.
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Nigel Twine
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I`ve taken the plunge and bought an Ex+ copy of "Lion of Ethiopia" from Noble Knight. I notice there are variant counters to be had in the "Kadesh: Mobile Warfare in the Ancient Middle East" issue. Might have to look into that after I have a couple of plays under my belt
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Nigel Twine
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heath p avery wrote:
For some light hearted shoot em ups....wargamer mags Seige of Peking is worth the small investment..its cheap too..


$90.00 at Noble Knight. Won`t be picking THAT one up !!!
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Andrzej Cierpicki
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heath p avery wrote:
Noble knight used to be my one and only supplier and I spent well over $2500 with him in one year
Sadly over the last 2 years his prices have SKYROCKETED INTO THE YOU MUST BE JOKING MATE CATAGORY
I recommend NWS games as by far the best out there
However they dont have many older games but highly recommended for anything newish and the prices are so cheap for magazine wargames and folios...you would insane not to shop at NWS Games
PS I have no affiliation there Im just a happy customer


As an overseas purchaser, I have to agree, NWS Games are the best value for money and provide a great service.

PS I have no affiliation with them either!
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Scott Clinton
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$25 delivered via eBay. Unpunched. It can be found if you keep your ear to the ground.

Good luck.
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