Spotlight on Games > 1001 Nights of Military Gaming

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Eketorp
Game for up to six chiefs of bands of medieval Vikings. Possible activities include building, fighting over building materials and raiding others' fortresses and it is all pre-programmed – in short something of a Wallenstein in miniature. Viking activities are controlled by written order to preserve simultaneity. Collection is reminiscent of Hick Hack in Gackelwack, except that the Vikings never negotiate (how disappointingly stereotypical). Combat is resolved by each player secretly choosing a combat card. The loser goes to a penalty box similar to that used for caught thieves in Adel Verpflichtet. An interesting innovation is that each player receives the other's card, places it face down and waits until the entire hand of four is face down for it to be available again. In building up the six fortress walls, players have some decisions to make. Should the fortress be built evenly all the way around or concentrated on one section at a time? Should the less valuable, but more easily carried off pieces be hidden at the bottom or vice versa? Of course the Vikings left to defend the fortress are not collecting anything, providing another dilemma. Since the winner is the player with the highest quality fortress, not the most finished, but the game ends when the first fortress is finished, another question is whether to collect for speed or quality. How the group is thinking, especially about the ratio of time spent collecting vs. time spent raiding is going to be an important issue for every playing. Overall this is something like a light American war game, but leavened by more dilemmas, the use of cards rather than dice and tending about half an hour or slightly more. Since the availability of supplies is generally high, combat tends not to overwhelm matters with nastiness so probably only the most squeamish need avoid this. Others should find it an enjoyable romp. Against all odds, even works well for six players. Eketorp (oak tower?) is a fortress on the Baltic Sea island of Öland, Sweden, actually dating back to ancient times.
Dirk Henn; db-Spiele
Elric
Multi-player wargame based on the Elric/Eternal Champion series of novels by fantasy writer Michael Moorcock. Initially published by Chaosium and later by Avalon Hill in an edition with improved rules. Confusingly, this is also the title of a role-playing game by Chaosium, which already had an RPG named Stormbringer based on the same stories. In hindsight, these novels, always written from a single point of view, were always bound to work much better as role-playing games than as a wargame in which national aspirations are considered. The wargame never really seems to come together as players tend to thrash around rather helplessly for the most part unable to pursue much strategy, their actions mostly dictated by which tiles they are fortunate enough to draw. When this is added to very poorly written rules, map and counter vagueness and errors, the game becomes rather a chore. Probably would have worked better if the game's center had been a solo adventure, more like the novels. There is one such scenario included but strangely enough does not include Elric, and its nonsensical rules make it unplayable. It might be nice if someone were to invent some such scenarios based on the individual novels. [chart] [summary] [scenario] [errata] [origin of the sardonic grin]
Emperor of China
Multi-player wargame depicts the uniting of China in the ancient Warring States era prior to the Qin dynasty. Combat is achieved via simple dice rolling rules. As the game only ends when one player controls fifteen out of the twenty-one provinces of China, players will be eliminated along the way. An interesting though vague rule provides that the losers join the victor. Although there are some other vague rules as well, does provide some interest and possibilities for strategy and negotiation. Unfortunately the event cards wield an undue influence on matters, not so much the negative Yin cards, but the positive Yang cards, which are not well balanced. Would probably make for a fairer game if all of the fields, mines and cities were set up before the game starts and the crossing cards were all dealt out to the players ahead of time. Not particularly historical apart from the geography. Players should decide in advance whether there are mountains along the border between Honan and Shensi. There is some ambiguity in the rules as well. [summary]
Empires in Arms
Grand tactical multi-player wargame depicting various stages of or the entire Napoleonic era. Everything here is well thought out including political rules which are often vestigial in other vehicles. Unusual for a game of this scope to provide such a satisfying level of detail in the combat. The only two downsides are that the game works best for seven players and that dozens of hours are required to complete it.
Empires of the Ancient World
Martin Wallace-designed light wargame posits up to five no-name empires on a map of the ancient world from Britain to Egypt. But akin to a society game, each player's turn is quite short, consisting of just one of the following options: (1) place a base, (2) place a fort, (3) attack, (4) recruit an army, (5) disband an army, (6) expand trade routes. Each player begins with a different basic army, one emphasizing elephants, another foot skirmishers, another cavalry, etc. These are customized by drafting mercenaries. Leveraging the fun of examples like Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage and Phantoms of the Ice, combat is conducted by simultaneously revealing cards from ordered decks. But by no means is combat the be-all and end-all. Points can be achieved by trade routes, by plunder and by diplomatic conquest, etc. Some have claimed that the Diplomat specialist is too powerful, but considering its costs, this is doubtful. In fact it is most useful for taking over neutral territories and later on not particularly so. The only serious downside here is that it seems to last too long. The first game turn is generally sufficient for the board to fill up, the second to permit the initial jockeying and scoring and the third for the final contest. An entire fourth game turn seems rather unnecessary and if this means that the trade strategy does not have enough time to develop, perhaps their rate of income and placement should be increased. Other quibbles: control of the sea seems unrealistic for at least the early part of the period depicted, although admittedly this may be necessary for good flow. Fortifications are also unrealistic for the era. Trade routes seem a bit of an afterthought and would have been fascinating if their contiguity, length or variety could have been part of their scoring value. Physical quality is quite good, but player aid information is desperately needed. A scoring track running around the board would have been a nice addition as well as better differentiation between the blue and black sea connectors. Armies are rated either fast or slow, but this information is not on the cards (note that all slow armies have shields depicted). Overall a very strong outing, enjoyable for many different reasons and the best "third generation" game seen in a while. Like most freewheeling military games, there can be some diminishment of fairness if not all players are of equal ability. Curiously, seems to have less attraction for those who have played a lot of collectible card games. [summary] [variant] [analysis]
Martin Wallace; Warfrog; 2000
Empires of the Middle Ages
One of the most peculiar of all the SPI efforts has curiously become the one of the most highly sought. The SPI staple was a World War II or, at worst, American Civil War outing (this is medieval), was designed for two players (this takes up to six) and was filled with tiny numbered hexes (here changed to abstract rectangular status boxes). Some twenty years later, it is less surprising. Often the most unusual creations, those which strive to break new ground, are the ones with the most staying power. Dante's Inferno was sui generis, and yet an enduring masterpiece. But also, in lavish use of color, in multiple strategic options and de-emphasis on pure warfare (which here is a very abstract matter), it presaged the current advent of today's popular German-style games. Here a player represents the rulers of a particular land with borders which can change considerably. Each turn is a year and the player may perform one of the following actions: conquest, administration, diplomacy, fortification, pillage, convert. In addition, every five years it is possible to tax, plunder and colonize. Success or failure depends on the ruler's three abilities, amount of gold spent and the results found on a revealed card. Every five years a player also draws an event card which may indicate famine, heresy, even plague. There are also non-player raiders and magnates to negatively influence the fortunes of empires. In this way, the players are competing as much with the game system as with one another. At the same time, the board and cards give off a strong feeling of historicity, at least from the imperial vantage point. For me, this is one of the best games that SPI ever did. I have twice completed the four-player campaign games (Charlemagne to fall of Constantinople), each of which is about thirty-five hours of play, not to mention playing all of the three-four hour scenarios several times. After many playings there is no longer the same feeling of trying to find the best approaches to the game and sense of discovery of what works best. In retrospect, the influence of language differences, although a fun system, is probably overly strong, as are some of the raiders. Certain event cards and magnates may be overly powerful. Long distance trade is entirely absent. The notion that military endeavors depend on the relative social states of the two areas involved is dubious; more likely an emperor just gathered together a big army and tried it out. Some empires are too weak and the game is probably best for no more than four, but all that said, it remains a very satisfying game even after all these years. The system was realized only once more, in The Sword and the Stars, a less satisfactory transplant to a science fiction setting. Review of the 2004 second edition. [summary] [Age of Invasions scenario] [errata] [raiders variant] [scoring variant] [grand scenario variant] [endeavors flow chart] [game turn chart] [status record chart I] [status record chart II] [languages chart] [analysis] [leader names]
Encounters
Early Mayfair card game with a theme of up to four fantasy parties traveling in a dungeon. Players arrange cards in front of them as if a dungeon party while in their hands they hold monsters and items and spells which are played on others and themselves, respectively. Combat is realized by adding a die roll to each side's strength. Fairly random and something like a very early Magic: the Gathering, and showing definite similarity to Nuclear War as well, it is rather quick and amusing. Later published by Lion Rampant as The Challenge (not discussed here).
Das Ende des Triumvirats
"The End of the Triumverate" portrays an alternate history in which the ancient Roman magnates Caesar, Crassus and Pompey do not remain peaceable, but instead open hostilities, vying to become first in Rome. In reality of course, Crassus got himself killed trying to conquer Parthia while Caesar and Pompey eventually tangled to the latter's detriment, demise and decapitation. In this game for up to three, players being with a set of named, disconnected provinces, each of which produces legions, gold or a little of each, but only on every other turn. Combat is only possible using the main leader, represented by a large block of wood that like a magic carpet can carry a number of wooden cube armies (sorry plastic figures fans). He can theoretically battle four times per turn, combat being resolved by drawing cubes from a bag – each one of yours pulled is a hit, but then it leaves the bag – then any defending inflicts hits and finally symmetric annihilation leaves just one player in the area. Other turn activities include picking up one's taxes and recruits as well as investments in three areas: putting cubes in the bag, buying votes for the periodic election and buying progress on the political and military tracks. This tripartite arrangement is also reflected in the three ways to win: victory in two elections, reaching the end of both tracks or owning half the board. It would have been nice had this also led to three very different strategies, but actually military power is a pre-requisite for all of them and thus cannot be ignored. Despite the de-emphasis on war games in Germany, there is a small group there that hungers for such and it appears that this game has that audience in mind. At the same time it fails to avoid the problems inherent in multi-player war efforts: the kingmaker effect that is engendered whenever one player can freely attack any other. Consider its most degenerate case wherein a low EQ player decides another has offended him and he will do nothing but get revenge for the rest of play, thus taking both out of any possible contention. Thematically, it's nice that the protagonists and provinces are named, but there are problems too. Fleet considerations are almost entirely glossed over, for example. The sniping nature of the war in which one attacks first one opponent and then the other does feel right either. More likely one of these leaders would have declared war on just one other and hoped for the benevolent neutrality of the third. Otherwise it's unlikely Romans would have been willing to fight Romans during this period. Speaking of periods, it's surprising that scenarios for more players were not devised, such sa the five-way war described by my scenario for Empires of the Ancient World. Not many additional components would have been needed. Of course it's not for a review to re-design a game (dissatisfaction naturally leads in that direction, however). The history was that Crassus wsa great at making money, but not a very good commander. Pompey's abilities were pretty variable, but he made a good ally. Caesar was a wily, successful commander (and willing to fight dirty), but had perennial money problems. It would have been fun to see such strengths and weaknesses reflected in the design. Overall, if one wants a military game for three, it's easy to do worse, but kingmaking, lack of true strategic options and limitation to just two or three players keep it from being the best.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 5
Enemy in Sight
Card game about Napoleonic-era naval actions is another in the Naval War tradition. Although it looks much nicer, in terms of game play the same comments apply. [Take That! Card Games]

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