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Subject: A dream come true for the light strategist in me rss

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Martin Hoefer
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Finally I will post my first ever review here on BGG. This and the fact that I am German may not result in a journalistic masterpiece but I hope to provide an entertaining and informative read nonetheless. Alright, let's start:

Introduction:
I have played both Battle Cry and Memoir '44 (without the expansions) and I liked the system a lot but some things simply were missing. When I first heard that GMT was planning to release a game on ancient warfare using the C&C-system I couldn't wait to get my hands on it as I am a great fan of ancient history (especially Alexander The Great and The Punic Wars). I hoped for a good portrayal of the ebb and flow of ancient battles like the exchange of skirmish volleys before the initial clash of infantry or the benefits of a solid infantry line. Of course I also hoped for special rules for the leaders like Hannibal and Alexander. When I heard that GMT decided to use wooden blocks for the game I had no problem with that. The fiddly minis found in the predecessors never suited my taste. Finally, last week I got my copy of C&C: Ancients. Sadly it was the first edition so this is the version I will review.

Components:
First of all the game box is great. A solid and sturdy box with good (not great) artwork. The weight is another plus. Makes the money invested feel less of a pain.

As I am used to Euro games I was a little disappointed with the map. A very thin cardboard map that already was bent before I even played my first game. Of course I know that GMT is not famous for producing the best boards ever but I simply cannot believe that this is all that they were able to provide. I thought of using my Battlecry-map but soon found out that the section widhts are not the same.

Another big disappointment were the dice. Are they serious? Hollow plastic dice? Well, I ordered the wooden dice from Valleygames which really was not necessary as I opened the provided plastic dice and filled them with screeding compound (I hope that's correct. German word is Spachtelmasse. I do not always trust the Babelfish-translation.). Now my dice are heavy and "feel" like their Battlecry-equivalents. When I found out that the stickers for the dice had to be cut as they were too big I simply couldn't believe it. Would KOSMOS or Hans im Glück publish such an unfinished product (component-wise) the Euro gamers would run amok! I am aware of the fact that GMT adressed this problem in the second edition. That's a great thing for those who ordered the game half a year late. I'll stop complaining now but really these were unpleasant surprises.

Now the wooden blocks: More than 300 of them and every single one of them has to be provided with two stickers. That was masochistic but still somehow disturbingly satisfying. Those people who tell you it will take about two hours are either professional appliers of stickers or simply liars! When I finally had filled my dice with the screeding compound, cut the stickers for the dice to the correct size and applied more than 600 stickers I felt exhausted and lucky.

I bought two plastic boxes to store the blocks in and they fit perfectly in the big box. As I had ordered the game from a German webstore I had received the German edition including German cards and a German translation of the rules (1st ed.). The cards are of good quality and so is the translated rulebook. I then downloaded the second edition of the rules and the scenarios from the GMT-website (great service!). The rules themselves are easy to understand and all my questions on initial play could be answered from looking into the rulebook. Especially the examples of play are great for newcomers to Borg's system. The scenario booklets are great as well. I believe there are now 20 battles available. It will take quite a while to play them all!

Overall I am pleased with the overall quality of the components and the rules. A major letdown are the quality of the board and the dice of which the latter has been adressed to in the second edition.

Gameplay:
Rather than explaining the rules in full detail I'd like to describe the "feeling" of gameplay. Anyone interested in the rules can download them for free from the GMT website.

Setting up a game doesn't take longer than 10 minutes. The amount of available units is stunning. Light, medium and heavy infantry and cavalry, chariots, elephants, war machines and leaders all have different strengths and rules applied to them. Gamewise this works great as light infantry is really skirmishing and might score a lucky hit or two in ranged combat but never poses a serious threat to complete units of the enemy. Heavy infantry, the tanks of ancient warfare prove to be devastating as they can roll 5 dice in close combat. Together with a leader these are the most powerful albeit slow units in the game. Cavalry adds flexibility to the flanks and works great when chasing wounded or evading enemy units. Elephants are strong but unreliable creatures that might rampage through your own lines. All in all the units provided are brilliantly performing the way you would expect them to. This diversity alone makes the game stand out from its predecessors which were very limited in this regard.

Another thing that is a standalone feature of C&C in comparison to its predecessors is the benefit of using formations. Solid lines of infantry were common in ancient times and C&C portrays this very well as many cards support those players that keep an eye on holding formations. It might be possible to order up to a dozen units in closed formation if one plays the cards accordingly. This really gives you the feeling of being a commander (the German word "Feldherr" fits much better for describing that feeling).

It is now possible for units to fight back when being attacked. This was one thing that absolutely ruined the atmosphere of Battlecry. Now the attacker really has to consider if he should attack or rather wait for a better opportunity. Some units have the possibility to evade which is also nicely portrayed as the unit might still suffer losses when evading but the chances are highly reduced. Evading is also a strong option for cavalry and especially for light cavalry as retreats are no longer one hex for a flag on the die but a full movement. That means that a light cavalry unit would have to retreat 8 hexes if the attacker rolled two flags when attacking. In most cases this would destroy the unit as the blocks are reduced if you cannot retreat any further (i.e. when you reach the end of the board).

The most rewarding gameplay-element have to be the leaders and their special rules. Any unit to which a leader is attached and all adjacent units score hits not only with the appropriate color for the enemy unit or swords but with helmets as well in close combat. The leader casualty check is a nailbiting experience, especially if the attached unit has been whiped out during the combat sequence. Again this is a nice adaptation of the real thing. Guard your leaders and move them in vital positions on the battlefield. It will pay off in the long run.

Finally some words concerning the luck-element: Of course winning a battle in C&C partly relies on luck. In fact, there are two luck factors: The drawing of cards and the dice rolling. While the card management should give you enough options despite bad luck when drawing replacement cards the dice might prove to be the real threat for people who consider themselves great strategists but unlucky dice-rollers. Over the course of a game this shouldn't be a problem however. I have absolutely no problem with luck being a decisive factor in a close game. Of course a person who is lucky with die-rolls might win with a poorer strategy but this should rather be the exception than the rule. A positive effect of luck playing a role is the short playing time a scenario takes to finish. Most games are over in no more than 60 to 90 minutes. Considering the depth this game has the playing time is absolutely great as it allows you to do a refight the same evening (I'm a dad you know).

I could go on and on describing the atmosphere this game creates but I think you have already realised that I love this game. I hope to be able to play it a lot in the future and I cannot wait to get my hands on the expansions which are quite hard (expensive) to get here in Germany.

Conclusion:
This is the game I have been waiting for since first having played Battlecry. Back then I pondered over house rules to play the game with ancient miniatures. I have stopped pondering now. This game is worth every penny (or cent if you prefer) I paid for it. The quality of the board and dice aside this has to be my personal game of the year. Kudos to Richard Borg and GMT! They have produced an outstanding light strategy game with lots of depth and replayability. Ancient wargaming has never been this much fun. This is a game where I think of strategies when trying to get to sleep. This does not happen often and it is a sign for the greatness of C&C. Do not miss out on this gem!

Thank you for reading!
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Ken Takacs
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Your review was very well done and I agree with a lot of your observations and analysis. I can't believe English is not your native tongue, I think you write better than I do.
 
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Hunga Dunga
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Quote:
The fiddly minis found in the predecessors never suited my taste.


"Fiddly" is the word!

Excellent review. I'm buying this game
 
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Dennis Bingham
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Great review and as i already said in your session report, you made me order....

PS: Spachtelmasse is simply filler and Feldherr is field commander. Ansonsten muss ich auch sagen, dass dein englisch sehr gut ist. Besser als das von vielen Amerikanern
 
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Edward Wehrenberg
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Es ist viel besser als mein Deutscher, sicher zu sein.
 
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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
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hoover2701 wrote:
This is the game I have been waiting for since first having played Battlecry. Back then I pondered over house rules to play the game with ancient miniatures. I have stopped pondering now.

Same for me since first having played M44. I had the M44 board, some plastic ancient minis, began to think about house rules... Once I knew this game was coming I stopped! And I'm glad I did...

hoover2701 wrote:
This game is worth every penny (or cent if you prefer) I paid for it. The quality of the board and dice aside this has to be my personal game of the year. Kudos to Richard Borg and GMT! They have produced an outstanding light strategy game with lots of depth and replayability. Ancient wargaming has never been this much fun. This is a game where I think of strategies when trying to get to sleep.

Same here too.

hoover2701 wrote:
Thank you for reading!

And thank you for writing!
 
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John Foley
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Martin, what a thoroughly delightful and engaging review. Thank you for writing! You've made me want to get the board on the table tonight and PLAY!

Thank you again for writing so eloquently.
 
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Johnny O aka Johnny Soul
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Excellent review of a great game. Or vice versa. I agree on every point
 
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robin h.
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ScYcS wrote:


PS: Spachtelmasse is simply filler


Spackle? like for drywall patching?
 
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Spachtelmasse is the German High Holy Day of Spackling, when all drywall professionals gather to eat copious quantities of Speculatius cookies. It's relevant in my town, at least, because the occasion is also marked by a C&C:A festival in which all the lovely peoples play in a great, day-long tournament!

I'm tired and a little loopy. Great review, and welcome to the fold.
 
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Dennis Bingham
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robinh wrote:
ScYcS wrote:


PS: Spachtelmasse is simply filler


Spackle? like for drywall patching?



yep....
 
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Kevin Duke
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Big dice filled with drywall spackling? I don't know-- that sounds dangerously heavy to me.

Those dice might get out of control and put a hole in the table... much less what happens if someone loses their temper!


 
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Martin Hoefer
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Thank you all for your kind words! Looking forward to write some more reviews in the future. It's good training!

kduke wrote:
Big dice filled with drywall spackling? I don't know-- that sounds dangerously heavy to me.

Those dice might get out of control and put a hole in the table... much less what happens if someone loses their temper!


In fact they are very heavy now. More so than the Battlecry-Dice. I hope my furniture won't take any damage before the Valleygames-Dice arrive.
 
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Richard Young
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This game follows in the footsteps of Battlecry and Mem' '44, the primary feature of these being the sector/order card engine. In the previous two outings the mechanic was acceptable because the remainder of the mechanisms were very light and their whole packages were very much beer and pretzels experiences. Light, frothy and over quickly!

Here however, the miniatures/wargame flavour is much stronger. The much increased unit variability, the combat mechanics, mutual support, leadership, etc. are all extremely well developed. This game borrows heavily from full blown miniatures interaction yet without the fiddlyness you often find there. As a result, I found the artificial contraints posed by the action cards, rather than being a somewhat novel way of regulating the action, to be extremely frustrating!

Cohesion is so important here that if you get a lame card mix (more likely than not), you are forced to mark time or risk losing it. This game cries out for a more orderly action scheme (action chits, leadership initiative, you name it). I found the end result frustrating and dissapointing, and it could have easily been so much better...
 
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Ken Takacs
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Richard, how many games have you played? I have played quite a few games and find that the cards work very well. I don't find ordering units to be frustrating at all as there is always something that can be done. Unlike with Battle Cry, when the main text of a card does not apply, at least you can move a unit of your choice. The card management and planning makes the game fun and exciting.

I find your comment "Cohesion is so important here that if you get a lame card mix (more likely than not), you are forced to mark time or risk losing it" to be totally off base.
 
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Martin Hoefer
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Bubslug wrote:
Cohesion is so important here that if you get a lame card mix (more likely than not), you are forced to mark time or risk losing it. This game cries out for a more orderly action scheme (action chits, leadership initiative, you name it). I found the end result frustrating and dissapointing, and it could have easily been so much better...


Richard, I think this game could as well work the way you describe it, i.e. using action chits or leadership initiative like e.g. Warhammer Ancients does. Nevertheless there is a significant difference in the intentions the game designers had in mind. While using "movement points" or "action chits" allows more freedom concerning the own "plotting" of strategies the use of command cards limits you in this regard. I like that a lot as it forces you to make the best out of what you got. Rarely has it happened that I had bad cards during the course of a whole game. Of course you will most likely not have that "Move 4 units on your right flank" when you need it most, but adjusting your strategies to the cards you hold in your hand is almost a second game in the game. This to my mind is great as it portrays the limited intelligence and slow delivery of orders in ancient battles quite well. I can imagine ancient leaders gathering after a battle exchanging descriptions of what happened during the battle. Had all of them known of these things during the fight they would all have acted accordingly, i.e. different. Another thing that the command cards provide is clarity of rules - you always know what has to be done when playing the card. So it is limited, but it is elegant as well. The more freedom rules allow you in committing actions the more rule ambiguities will arise. As C&C is intended to be a short and light to medium wargame the decision to go with command cards is the perfect choice.
 
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Derek H
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hoover2701 wrote:
Bubslug wrote:
Cohesion is so important here that if you get a lame card mix (more likely than not), you are forced to mark time or risk losing it. This game cries out for a more orderly action scheme (action chits, leadership initiative, you name it). I found the end result frustrating and dissapointing, and it could have easily been so much better...

...adjusting your strategies to the cards you hold in your hand is almost a second game in the game. This to my mind is great as it portrays the limited intelligence and slow delivery of orders in ancient battles quite well. .. So it is limited, but it is elegant as well.


This is the most succinct and "elegant" answer I have seen to the "I can't play a wargame with cards!!" outcry that arises, often from players of more mainstream wargames. There are very few other types of wargames that can simulate the effects of both limited intelligence AND delivery of orders in a single, playable mechanic. If you don't "get" this, then you don't get C&C:A and the fact that the actual battles were not "orderly" at all!
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Richard Young
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I would argue that the battles fought were often indeed more orderly than you often get to recreate using the sector/action cards as found here. Moving beyond chaotic massed melee action is what distinguished the small unit manoevres of professional cohorts and the development of the early versions of "combined arms." If the cards don't have the effect of preventing you from doing what you know you should be doing then what is the point of having them? The constraints are very real and I find they just don't make sense in this context. The rest of the game has been highly well developed and one can see that the card mix has been adjusted to give the hope of being able to make the necessary moves in an orderly fashion, but the odds are...

So what I'm offering is the observation that the Battlecry card system which worked adequately in the earlier publications has not kept pace with the sophistication of the rest of the game's development. And, to me at least, points out its limitations in a more serious wargame. I simply believe it was pushed too far.

Card-driven games at the strategic/operational level offer choices more than constraints and the tension of having to decide how to use your cards (events vs ops), is what make them so strong as game experiences. You are having to constantly make strategic level decisions as you reevaluate your card holdings after every play. I'm not convinced that trying to use a similar device works well here at the tactical level.

For example, you need to form a line and refuse a flank based on the terrain assessment and the tactical situation (attack versus defense). You have a plan as to how the various unit types need to mesh to accomplish your objectives. You fan your cards and determine what? Nope, can't do that yet - or that - but maybe in a couple of game turns? On the other hand, I have a couple of cards that I could use to push those units there and there and maybe score a flag if I get lucky? Grrr...

You can rationalize that somehow this fairly represents fog and friction but the command thought processes aren't even close to what I imagine ever went on. There would have been better ways to recreate the realities of fog and friction. Because the rest of the game is so well developed beyond its predecessors, I was frustrated to find the card device just didn't keep pace in terms of the overall package I was hoping to find.

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Martin Hoefer
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Bubslug wrote:
The rest of the game has been highly well developed and one can see that the card mix has been adjusted to give the hope of being able to make the necessary moves in an orderly fashion, but the odds are...


The word "odds" says it all, I believe. C&C:Ancients is not intended to be a game that comes without "odds".

Bubslug wrote:
So what I'm offering is the observation that the Battlecry card system which worked adequately in the earlier publications has not kept pace with the sophistication of the rest of the game's development. And, to me at least, points out its limitations in a more serious wargame. I simply believe it was pushed too far.


I don't think that the card system worked adequately in Battlecry. If I couldn't use a card in Battlecry I had to draw a new card discarding the one I couldn't use without the possibility to perform an action. In C&C:Ancients I have the possibility to command one unit of my choice instead. I can understand your point of view though. You seem to want C&C:Ancients to be more serious. Of course it could be more serious using another command mechanic, but the headline of my review says "a dream come true for the light strategist in me". I like the short duration of a battle, I like the luck factor using the dice and I like the card driven command mechanic. All these factors make C&C:Ancients a light wargame. I agree with you though that the command card system is the one that is the least modified in comparison to the predecessors. I could not think of a better system though without losing clarity of rules or speed of play.

Bubslug wrote:
Card-driven games at the strategic/operational level offer choices more than constraints and the tension of having to decide how to use your cards (events vs ops), is what make them so strong as game experiences. You are having to constantly make strategic level decisions as you reevaluate your card holdings after every play. I'm not convinced that trying to use a similar device works well here at the tactical level.


It's not fair to compare this low complexity tactical level game to the "real" card driven games on strategic/operational level. All I can say here is that in one scenario it works well in the other it doesn't. That's alright with me as long as I had my fun. In addition I can always blame it on the bad cards (or the bad command mechanic if you prefer) if I lose.

Bubslug wrote:
For example, you need to form a line and refuse a flank based on the terrain assessment and the tactical situation (attack versus defense). You have a plan as to how the various unit types need to mesh to accomplish your objectives. You fan your cards and determine what? Nope, can't do that yet - or that - but maybe in a couple of game turns? On the other hand, I have a couple of cards that I could use to push those units there and there and maybe score a flag if I get lucky? Grrr...


I'd rather call it: I have to adjust my strategies. That's what I said in my previous post: "Adjusting your strategies to the cards you have in your hand is a second game in the game." If I cannot perform the action I want then what are my alternatives? Maybe there even is a card in my hand that offers another very promising action I hadn't thought of before. I love to check my cards and applying tactics to the board in my head before my turn. I couldn't think of a better (more fun) mechanic.

Bubslug wrote:
You can rationalize that somehow this fairly represents fog and friction but the command thought processes aren't even close to what I imagine ever went on. There would have been better ways to recreate the realities of fog and friction. Because the rest of the game is so well developed beyond its predecessors, I was frustrated to find the card device just didn't keep pace in terms of the overall package I was hoping to find.


In German we say: "Über Geschmack lässt sich nicht streiten.", which roughly translates to: "One cannot argue about taste." This is what we are doing here at the moment. I can follow your argumentation but I cannot understand your taste as mine is different.
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Derek H
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Bubslug wrote:
I would argue that the battles fought were often indeed more orderly than you often get to recreate using the sector/action cards as found here.

You took one phrase I mentioned and beat it to death! Lets be fair here - the gist of what I was saying is "There are very few other types of wargames that can simulate the effects of both limited intelligence AND delivery of orders in a single, playable mechanic." You did not argue with that so I assume you agree (to some extent?).

What you seem to be arguing is "the game does not allow me to set and play a fixed strategy" and this is, I think, a separate issue. I guess we could debate all day what having the option means; how well this desire corresponds to 'reality' and how best one can achieve it in a game. Arguably, if you want a playable game that gives you almost complete control over your troops, then DBA might be more what you are after. You could even take the approach of using the C&C blocks, mounting them on strips, and using these for your troops!

The "limited control because you cannot get the cards you want" argument is one that had endless debate when BattleCry first came out. Sure, some of the rules around use of individual cards have improved since then, but the overall problem still remains. Here are a few variants, in increasing order of control:

* each player has his/her own decks (spare decks are $9 from GMT)
* each player can select his/her starting hand drawn from his/her own deck
* each player can select his/her starting hand drawn from his/her own deck, then set-up a mini-deck representing the next set of 'most desired orders' and shuffle and use those before the rest of the deck.
* etc.

The third option attempts to simulate that (a) you start off with a good plan and (b) in the initial stages of the battle your control is still reasonable but not perfect until (c) as time goes on you move more into 'reactive' mode.

There are endless tweaks one could use e.g. activate a general to draw a card of your choice from the deck [brilliant tactician knows just what to do and when to do it!] to help give you more control, if this is what you feel the game needs. Perhaps you could try out some ideas and let us know how it goes!?
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Ken Takacs
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Richard, I guess the game is just not for you. By the way, I have played many very complicated wargames since I was a kid in the 70's. Many of those games attempted a simulation of warfare and tried to model many aspects of ancient combat. I found that the increased complexity did not necessarily translate to a more enjoyable or even more accurate game. It became tedious remembering all of the rules and exceptions to rules, and opponents were hard to find. Ironically for all of the supposed complexity of those games, a few dice rolls could be decisive.

In all of the CC:A games that I have played my tactical goals for the game were achieved. They may not have been achieved perfectly, but I would not expect them to be. That is the nature of warfare. One analogy is American football. The players practice the same plays almost daily but when it comes to the game, execution is far from perfect. Guys run the wrong patterns, commit false start penalties, and even run the wrong play.

I really think all games give the players too much control over the battle, but I think CC:A models the limitations and imperfect executions quite well. The general did not look down on the battlefield and move units like chess pieces. In fact, Alexander the Great was often charging into battle himself—he was not around to give orders to many of his troops. Often in an ancient battle the tactical plan was established prior to the battle and any tactical changes during the battle would have been few if any. I think that if one were able to create a true simulation of ancient combat, you would find it quite dull, without much to do.

I have to say that CC:A has been the best ancient wargame that I have found. It has an excellent combination of straight-forward rules, playability and excitement, and offers a satisfying model of ancient warfare. Even better, people who would normally never touch a wargame, will play and enjoy this game. Having a game you can enjoy with your children is something that really makes this worth it.

I hope you find an ancients game you like Richard. I have found one that I really like.
 
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Kevin Duke
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FwiW, I'm very solidly on the "it works" side of the fence. The lack of total control and the forced "make the best choices with what you have" are the heart of the game to me. The different unit types and mechanics and capabilities are fine, but the core engine IS the card deck and how it makes you deal with the situation as it changes.

While I don't want to slide off the "simulation" slope, from what I've read, commanders had very little control of troops once they engaged. Most of the big "great strategy" moves that happen during the battle were done with troops that were hidden or kept in reserve, because once troops got engaged shield to shield, there was not much the commander could do beyond urge them to keep pushing forward or decide to give them the order to break and fall back. Which is what Ken is saying.

Gamers get used to omniscient control with most of their games-- the chess board example. We are used to being able to see the whole board clearly and move the game equivalent of a knight or bishop where and when and how we want to.

Every game that has limited this kind of control has run into complaints from folks who want it back, and if a person is not willing to give up that control and work with the card system here, playing "what's the best thing I can do THIS turn, with what I have?", then CCA is not going to be a pleasant experience.

It's not the fault of the game or the gamer-- that line about "can't argue with taste" rings true.

 
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It's guys like you Martin who make me run out and buy games. Very nice review, and great sense of humour too.
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Aaron Gelb
United States
Los Angeles
California
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yeah, that sealed the deal, i'm definitely going to get this game.

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LJ
United States
Spokane Valley
Washington
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Do or do not, there is no try.
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Excellent review. I hope you continue to post reviews of this quality! Well done.
 
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