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Subject: Emperor of the Steppes, a game in Alpha test rss

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This month was Roman month for our wargaming group. We are now large enough to require two games for every session. To add character, I decided that instead of playing two Barbarian, Kingdom, and Empire games side by side, I would instead take a chance on "Emperor of the Steppes", a game with an unique premise.

Sadly, I lost the gamble.

Summary:

Emperor of the Steppes pits 2-5 Central Asian tribes against each other in a quest to become the master of the steppes or at least Great Khan and "Emperor of China". The time period is vaguely defined, but is set around the Song dynasty.

Components:

The map is clearly computer made and somewhat colorful. It is not particularly attractive, but it is serviceable and is printed on mildly-heavy paper. It depicts Central Asia from the Caspian Sea to Korea, from the Taiga down to Tibet. There are problems with the map, particularly a few wonky borders and superfluous mountains, but I found it playable.

The pieces are laser printed on construction paper and require extensive cutting. There are only two types of counters--control markers and leaders.

The rules are only a few pages long and clearly were not well edited. The entries are not numbered and it takes extensive searching to find what you're looking for.

Gameplay:

The leader is the only piece which moves. He represents your nascent Khan and his job is to acquire neutral areas and/or attack Chinese/Tibetan/other player-owned provinces. Each leader has a range (movement) of two, and mountains cost +1 to move through. At the beginning of each turn, two cards are dealt out which determine initiative in movement and combat. Combat involves adding a d6 to your leader's strength. Each area has a defensive value which you are rolling against.

As you accumulate areas, you gain more leaders so you can conduct more than one action per turn. In addition, your initial leader upgrades to three movement points. Securing areas along the silk road gives you money every turn as does taking cities and provinces in China. Money can be used to increase your attack strength by up to two, and two coins may also be spent to subvert cities when attacking them.

Players who take three Chinese provinces and the two cities in each become Emperor of China and gain tremendous income as well as an extra leader who is limited to China.

The game ends when any player holds on to at least 15 areas for one turn or 9 areas plus three Chinese provinces.

Conclusion:

It sounds like fun, doesn't it? Sadly, the designers confess they did not put too much effort, it being sort of a freebie for being a member of their society. The rules are poorly written, and while most of the time we could deduce the proper interpretation, there were some rather ludicrous exceptions. For instance, each control marker has a back side which, when used, indicates that an area has lost two from its defense value. In no place in the rules does it explain how an area gets into this condition. In another situation, a leader lost a combat and had to retreat into an area being attacked. Does this leader get to aid in the combat? The rules were silent on this matter. Add the untested map and you end up with a game which is admirable in its choice of topic, potentially a fun, simple diversion, but ultimately has to be fixed before it can truly be enjoyed.
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