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Obsolete Man
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MMP's Special Ops magazine is always a good value. In Issue #1, for example, you get two magazine games (Raphia and Savage Streets), ASL and ASL SK content, and content relating to other MMP games. This is not a review of Special Ops #1; it is a review of the 'cover girl' game for the magazine: Raphia.

The battle of Raphia was fought in 217 BC between two of the Diadochoi, or Successors of Alexander. The belligerents were the Egyptians under Ptolemy IV Philopator and Antiochus III, called "the Great" even though he was father to one of the biggest jerks in human history. Nearly 150,000 men, horses and most importantly war elephants clashed in this epic battle.

Raphia the magazine game has especially nice components. The map is a featureless plain, which is appropriate, with some necessary information off to one side. The stock is nice and with a bit of back-folding you can play on a flat surface without the need to bring out any plexiglass. Even though I have a nice collection of plexi I thought this was a nice feature. The counter art is by Nicolas Eskubi and is excellent. The colors are nice, the pictures are nice and the information is laid out in a very readable fashion. Nothing is jammed in the corners, so I was able to clip the counters without worrying that I was chopping off important info.

To play, you roll to see who goes first and then the first player sets up his units any way he likes (i.e. there is no historical setup; you may set it up historically or not at your pleasure). This would provide good replayability if not for the fact that you will probably wad the game up and throw it in the trash during or after your first play. Each counter is about 1,000 dudes or 10 elephants.

Supposedly Raphia is part of the Standard Combat Series or SCS, but I find that a stretch. Being familiar with SCS, Raphia only bears a passing resemblance with the other games I know from that series.

Each side has a set number of phalangites, peltasts, archers, cavalry, elephants and medium foot. The interactions of these units are spelled out on a combat chart. The basic thrust of it is that missile troops (archers, lights and mediums) want to run up and missile the enemy phalanxes, and you want to use your own non-phalanx units to prevent this. In fact, ultimately only the plodding phalanxes really matter, because the sole victory hex for each player can only be captured by a phalanx. The whole thing is merely a question of winning the phalanx scrum or at least breaking through with some phalanxes so that you can possess the enemy "tent".

Obviously the actual battle was not fought over who would stick a pike through the other guy's tent, so we can safely regard the victory condition as an abstraction.

I understand the basic idea that everything is supposed to be a sideshow except for the phalanx scrum, but the deterministic nature of the combat chart takes this pretty far. Phalanxes scrum other phalanxes (they put "pressure" on enemy phalanxes which has a chance to cause step loss according to a procedure that I'm pretty sure has at least one too many steps to achieve the desired result), missile units can missile phalanxes, and nothing else can do anything to them. This matter is compounded by the fact that there is no "facing" in this game, so a phalanx cannot be surrounded or attacked from the flank or rear. And then there is the question of the elephants.

The elephants are where this game goes flying straight off the rails. Elephants are either "controlled" (right side up) or "panicked" (flipped). A "controlled" elephant can do nothing to a phalanx. They don't do anything to cavalry or other elephants, either (except drive them back a few spaces without penalty). They can only hurt medium and light troops (oddly). But when you use an elephant, even just to trample some dumb schmucks in cloth armor, it panics. It always must panic. When the elephant panics, it becomes a random cruise missile. It runs half the distance of the entire map in a random direction, wrecking everything in its path.

Since the explode-o-phant runs in an entirely random direction, it has about a 50% chance of wrecking your day, and a 50% chance of wrecking the opponent's day. To make matters more stultifying, if it runs over friendly or enemy elephants in the improbable sprint, those elephants turn into hotrods of mayhem as well. This ends up looking precisely as stupid as you are imagining it. Pinball is a more orderly and military affair than this.

Yes, I'm quite away that elephants rout and trample. Every ancients gamer knows this and should savor it. But the ridiculous speed at which they bounce around is not the only foolishness of it. Remember that elephants cannot harm a phalanx even if you get them around behind and propose to charge the phalanx in the rear (because there is no facing). The only time an elephant can hurt a phalanx, and phalanxes are the only unit that actually matters, is when they are panicked. But half the time, panicked elephants hurt you! Unless... and here's what really breaks it for me: unless you get your elephants around behind the enemy phalanx and panic them by hitting enemy lights/mediums. That's right... the winning tactic with your elephants is to swing them around behind the enemy battle line and then run them into lights/mediums that you have forced to retreat with your other units. Then, when the elephants panic, they have a 1/3 chance of ramming the enemy phalanx line, and no chance of doing anything bad to you.

Up until recently, I could safely say that I had never met a wargame I didn't like. However, Raphia wrecks that perfect record. It is an utterly absurd game. Despite getting to see the Ptolemaic forces righteously trounce the evil Seleucids, this game is a complete waste of time. The "pinball elephants" are ridiculous, and the game play in no way represents the battle of Raphia as it was actually fought or could have been fought, nor ancient warfare in general. I would rather play Monopoly than this thing.

MMP is an excellent company and Special Ops is an excellent magazine. Issue #1 is no exception to that and I do not regret the purchase. I do however regret wasting any time on Raphia, and perhaps the extra time it has taken to write this review will prevent someone else from suffering the same disappointment. Though it would give me a certain perverse pleasure as a gaming packrat to just wad up the components and trash them, the map and counters are so nice that I entertain the somewhat unrealistic hope that at some point I might make up a game of my own to use with them.
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Kim Meints
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Aaron

Yeah,I have to agree also on MMP's Raphia. I loved the GDW game on the battle and was soooo looking forward to this version but there are many things that don't chive right with this game like the elephants rampaging that after 2 attempts I gave up.
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Kev.
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jackiesavon wrote:
Aaron

Yeah,I have to agree also on MMP's Raphia. I loved the GDW game on the battle and was soooo looking forward to this version but there are many things that don't chive right with this game like the elephants rampaging that after 2 attempts I gave up.


My experience was not quiet as bad. I found cav and archers enough to win. Never really got to the pressure point of Phalanx's pressing on each other. I did play pin pong with the Elephants tho and was wryly amused.

It received the single play it deserved. I was hoping for a replacement for GBoH, the 'system' as is, would need some work in all the areas you mention, and of course making the hexes big enough for the counters would be nice too.

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Obsolete Man
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jackiesavon wrote:
Aaron

Yeah,I have to agree also on MMP's Raphia. I loved the GDW game on the battle and was soooo looking forward to this version but there are many things that don't chive right with this game like the elephants rampaging that after 2 attempts I gave up.


Yes, it really is too bad. It seems to be a case of "so close and yet so far" in that the physical components, the map and counters, are really nice. If only the rules weren't ridiculous there could be a sweet little game right there.
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David Schubert
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Terrible game, good review. However, do you mind taking down the review till after I sell my copy on ebay? Don't want it to hurt sales.

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M St
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Requete wrote:
Yes, it really is too bad. It seems to be a case of "so close and yet so far" in that the physical components, the map and counters, are really nice. If only the rules weren't ridiculous there could be a sweet little game right there.

If the rules are ridiculous, how can it be a case of "so close"? The rules, not the components, make or break a game.
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Obsolete Man
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M St wrote:
Requete wrote:
Yes, it really is too bad. It seems to be a case of "so close and yet so far" in that the physical components, the map and counters, are really nice. If only the rules weren't ridiculous there could be a sweet little game right there.

If the rules are ridiculous, how can it be a case of "so close"? The rules, not the components, make or break a game.


The counter mix is not an unreasonable representation of the actual order of battle. The distinction among the units (light foot, missile, medium foot, phalangite, cav, elephant) is good. The turn sequence (Move, Missile, Panic, Pressure, Cav Bonus Move) printed on the map is not an unreasonable turn sequence. The counters are lovely.

Yeah, all that's missing is a decent set of rules. To me that qualifies as "so close". I admit that the term "close" can be subjective. *shrug*

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