Mick Weitz
United States
Iowa City
Iowa
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“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, because he was a baby.”

Do you like history?

How about military history?

Have a fancy for Alexander the Great?

Play war games?

If you answered yes to the 4 questions above, there is a 75% chance that you’ll like GBoH, The Great Battles of Alexander, The Deluxe Edition.

Straight away, this game is not for the faint of heart. If you find Memoir 44 “fiddly” or even “heavy,” forget about it. This is conflict simulation. See, much like how far you can piss after a 6 pack, you can make a “contest” out of anything. This game immerses you into the world of Philip of Macedonia and his kid, Alex. You get to learn about ancient orders of battle, troop types, weapon systems, and command and control. Put it all together, and you have a contest within the framework of Alexander’s world.

It is based on reality, or historical? Who knows? Is it fun? You bet!

The deluxe Alexander comes in the cookie cutter war game box that so many of us know and love. Incidentally, I’ve always liked the cover art. The hapless and seemingly unaware Persian is getting quite a nasty look from the slightly a-historical hoplite (the hoplite looks about a hundred years out of date, but who knows, armor lasted a long time). Slash the cellophane, pop the top, and you’re greeted with two booklets, 3 (double sided!) maps, and a whole bunch of counters. GMT has graciously tossed a handful of tiny ziplocks into the box as well. However, I miss the old counter trays with clear lids that AH used to put out.

As noted, the maps are double sided, and of excellent quality. There are no significant errors that I am aware of on any of the maps. They are of course, paper. The paper vs. mounted argument will probably never go away. I myself was pro board/mounted until I started putting my maps in a poster frame. Suddenly, paper is much better than a mounted board. It’s protected, portable, and pretty to boot (depending on your frame, I guess). Some also use Plexiglas, season to taste. The bigger battles (Gaugamela springs to mind) take up an entire map side (or more), while several of the smaller engagements are fought on only a half map.

The booklets include a Rules Manual and a Scenario book. People argue endlessly on whether rules are well written, or needlessly complex, or poorly organized. These seem fine to me. Not great, not bad. Of course there’s a higher level of complexity, because C&C Ancients, it’s not. Mr. Berg is the author, and I for the most part really like his stuff. Others don’t. Both the rule book and scenario book are full of historical information and anecdotes, making them immensely entertaining to read (particularly the historical speculation in the scenario book concerning the individual engagements). Like Mr. Berg, I tend to support Delbruck’s theories. He was a curmudgeonly old German from the late nineteenth century who thought the Persian numbers were MUCH less than history (written by Greeks) suggests.

Moving on though, the scenario book has some nice variations which support the rival camp’s theories on units present, numbers, set up locations for armies, and even a few “what ifs” for fun. Good stuff, cause this is why we’re here, right? Each scenario has a suggested complexity and length, so you don’t bite off more than you can chew. The rules have the standard numerical sections (rule 7.2 etc.).

The counters are the usual very high quality stuff from GMT. Good old Rodger MacGowan used his tiny little crayons, and managed to put a colorful, yet distinct and informative little dude on each unit. There are counters representing the Greeks, Scythians, Danubians, Indians, Persians, and of course, the Macedonians. There are a lot of the very cool “double” sized units which normally represent large units of hoplites or phalanxes. Instead of having a “reduced” side, the reverse just indicates, sans picture, that the unit has moved that turn (during game play, I often don’t bother to flip, only doing so when needed).

Also thrown in are all kinds of markers. You see, each unit has a value called Troop Quality, which basically means how many “hits” it can take before getting the flock off the battlefield. These hits are represented by “cohesion hit” markers. You don’t just get cohesion hits for being spanked. You also get them by moving through difficult terrain, anything that would disrupt the somewhat static linear formations of the day. There are markers for routed units, for charging (shocking) units, for fired catapults, sticks to hind behind, and other esoteric circumstances which can befall your befuddled troops.

Last and not least, you get a ten sided die. Of course, in this game, a 0 is actually 0, and not a 10. Why you ask? I don’t know.

So how does it play?

Well, once you know what you’re doing (which will take a few plays), pretty fast and intuitive. The cornerstone of the game is the command system. Each army has a certain number of leaders, with differing levels of ability and hygiene. To have any of your units move (like, a block of hoplites, or a squadron of cavalry, or those annoying Peltasts), you need to issue a command from a leader. Leaders can only issue so many commands a turn (from 2 to 7, depending on the leader) and can only reach so far with their commands (from 3 to 8 hexes, I believe). So… you could have the biggest, baddest, toughest block of crack troops on the acropolis, but get your but spanked by Anatolian Levies, cause they’ve got a leader nearby. Un-commanded troops do fight back, and can even “react” to nearby units though.

This leader system sets the pace for how every engagement plays out. Sure, the Macedonians have great troops, but so do the Persians and the Persians have more. However, the Macedonian leaders and command structure are an order of magnitude better than the Persians. This enables the Macedonian player to reenact some of Alex’s remarkable victories and specifically his “spear thrust” cavalry maneuvers. An important feature of the system is the ability to gain “momentum,” which is a fancy way of saying “getting an extra turn (or two).” Only leaders who are pretty good to begin with (like Alex) can usually get “momentum,” so it really magnifies their effects. Of course, there are penalties for moving the same troops multiple times (you ain’t gonna get another klick out of me, Craterus!), but it still allows for some sweeping and profound moves.

As should be the case, missile fire is helpful, but never a primary means of inflicting your will. Interestingly enough, it is often the cavalry which are the primary achievers in this game. While the phalanx “pins” the enemy line in place, the horsey boys punch holes in the lines, widen the exposed flanks, and then roll them up. Position is KING in this game. Even a chump has a good chance of putting the hurt on anybody if he’s got em’ from the rear. So, in a nutshell, you have to use your command to achieve positional superiority (fastest with the mostest).

The games take a good long while to play. Some of the shorter scenarios can be played in two to three hours with experienced players. The longer ones are, well, longer. Maybe a long afternoon for some, or a whole day for the likes of Gaugamela.

This game plays very well solo, particularly as some of the scenarios are very unbalanced in favor of the Macedonians. Of course discipline is needed with this approach, and you do lose “tactical surprise,” but still, lots of fun.

I bust out GBOA quite a bit, cause I read a lot of ancient history. There’s nothing like reading a good treating of the subject, complete with new and competing theories, and then laying out your counters for the battle you just speculated on. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “If this isn’t good, then what is?”

So, if you scored a 4 on the quiz up top (yes being 1, no being negative 15), give this game a try. Better yet, move to Iowa City, and play me.

Good Gaming~! Mick
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Mick Weitz
United States
Iowa City
Iowa
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Whoops!

Forgot to mention that GBOA has several expansions. Alas, Diadochi and Phalanx are out of print. Can't speak for Diadochi, but Phalanx is really good fun. It has lots of Spartans and Acheans thrown into the mix, so you can explore Hellenistic combat a century after Alex bit it.

However, the best of the bunch is Tyrant, and it's readily available and cheap to boot! Tyrant has 10 more scenarios, mostly taking place in Sicily in the 4th century BCE. Lots of good stuff here, with Carthaginians, Iberians, Samnites, and of course the Orangemen thrown in. These battles are fairly balanced too, so they make for good f2f action.

Good Gaming~! Mick
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Colin Hunter
New Zealand
Auckland
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Good review I just got this one (and tyrant as well) and I'm looking forward to playing it.
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Chris Milne
United Kingdom
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Herts
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I'm no GBoH fan - give me something simpler and faster for my ancient needs - but I will also recommend the Tyrant module. Interesting and (this is rather rare for a RHB game, and may have something to do with his lack of involvement in the module) balanced scenarios abound.

Something that you didn't mention about the GBoH command rules was the line command rule - for my money a useful way to reflect the greater ease of moving troops before combat starts to mess up those nice formations.
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Australia
Sebastopol (Ballarat)
Victoria
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That's Karl on the left. Eternity on the right.
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I love Melissa, but don't tell her. It's a secret if she can find this. Shhhhh....
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nice review. Next time I'm in Iowa you're on!
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Mick Weitz
United States
Iowa City
Iowa
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Only 9408 miles away! I'll keep an eye out.

Good Gaming~! Mick
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tiger tiger
United States
Lexington
South Carolina
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I use the handy X markers to note which units have moved, and still see the unit. You can get them from Boulder Games.
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Paul Breslin
United Kingdom
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Cracking review; entertaining style but packed with info about the game.
Now shall I bid on the 1st Edn up on ebay this week...
//Paul
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Mick Weitz
United States
Iowa City
Iowa
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Hello Paul! If it's extremely cheap, go for it. Don't pay ANY kind of premium for it being a "classic" edition though... The current reprint won't happen for a year or two, so if you can find it, the 2003(?) reprint is the way to go.

Good Gaming~! Mick
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
United States
Corvallis
Oregon
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Lou Ann Barton: The Best! || The Dixie Hummingbirds: Thank You for One More Day || The Derek Trucks Band: Songlines
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Archilochus wrote:
If it's extremely cheap, go for it. Don't pay ANY kind of premium for it being a "classic" edition though... The current reprint won't happen for a year or two, so if you can find it, the 2003(?) reprint is the way to go.

Absolutely correct. As with most GMT games, the newer edition (2003) incorporated rule corrections and superior components.
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