Azure Wish Edition
Designed by Andreas Steding
Reviewed by Stuart Dagger
4 hours plus
This game is second generation Britannia or, if you prefer, third generation Ancient Conquest. Like Maharaja, it takes the basic game system from Britannia, gives it a new setting, adds a few wrinkles and tries to bring off that most difficult of balancing acts for a game designer - producing an asymmetrical game that keeps everybody involved throughout and gives each player an equal chance of winning. Unlike Maharaja, it seems to me to bring it off.
The setting is Spain (that shook you, didn't it?) and the time scale runs from 320 BC to 1200 AD. The full span takes 21 turns and a very long time, but it is not expected that you attempt that very often, if ever, and there are other scenarios lasting 12, 13, 16 and 19 turns. In some of these you play an assigned grouping, in the way that you do in Britannia, and in others you put together your own team by bidding for nations using Victory Points as currency. To help you in this there is a table giving the average number of victory points you can expect each nation to score and so you don't have to accumulate masses of data for yourself before attempting these more advanced rules. Even so, these advanced rules are not the recommended starting point. That is the 13 turn, pre-assigned teams scenario that begins with Hamilcar's Carthaginians and ends with the Franks under Roland trying to defend Charlemagne's foothold in Northern Spain and to stop the Omeyyads crossing the Pyrenees. This scenario is supposed to take you 4-5 hours and probably will once you are familiar with the game. That is how long we reckon for Britannia with its 16 turns and 17 nations and I can't see why this with 13, 19 and rules that aren't significantly more complicated should be much different. However, be warned that for your first attempt you should allow 2 hours longer.
There are six types of units: infantry, elite infantry, cavalry, knights, forts and castles, but you don't have to spend time deciding which to buy, because most nations operate with standard infantry and the specials are assigned to particular nations. This is much as in Britannia, where the Romans have elite infantry and forts and the Normans and Romano-British have cavalry. Combat also follows the Britannia pattern of throwing a die for each unit and applying modifiers for leaders and terrain; the only difference being that instead of a d6 you use a d10, which allows for a finer grading of the effectiveness of the various unit types. The scoring of victory points again follows the familiar pattern, with each nation being assigned objectives: occupy that area, kill that leader, destroy forts, and so on. Differences from Britannia, and they are more refinements than radical departures, are more sensible stacking rules and a much more sensible set of rules on submissions.
The historical feel of the game seems to me to be good. From a gaming point of view this isn't critical, but it does add to the enjoyment if you feel that the game has got things right and that the designer has read more on the subject than the Reader's Digest Potted Guide. I have been interested in the post-Roman, pre-Norman history of Britain since I was a child and find that I have to put my knowledge of the subject out of my mind if I am to enjoy Britannia, a game whose presentation of history is '1066 And All That' without the jokes. I know very little about Spanish history and so the risk of offence was less, but one of my group does know a fair amount and the game got the thumbs up from him.
The rules are clear and well written; the map, though unmounted, is attractive and full colour on thick, glossy paper; the counters are large and beautiful. The only ones that I have ever seen to rival them have been in other games from the same publisher. There are also some useful player aids: information sheets for each nation, mini maps, combat tables, turn record summaries and the like. We noticed one or two proof reading errors in this supplementary information, with something being assigned to turn N on one piece of paper and to turn N+1 on another, but fortunately there was no case where common sense didn't make it obvious which piece was right.
The game is expensive, something which seems to be inevitable with French games, and is at the long, serious and war-gamey end of the Sumo range. However, if you enjoy Britannia, you will enjoy this. It is the well designed follow-up that we were hoping Maharaja would be. In addition, the choice of scenarios and the optional rules give it a flexibility that its predecessor lacked.
The Game Cabinet - email@example.com - Ken Tidwell