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Yes, it's very dark isn't it? Almost... black. Yes, I shall need to get the black out. Black.... BLACK!!! Like The darkness of space that leads into the chasm of clams.... My eyes!! My eyes are pies..and yours are lies...
Successors III - My Review.
Designer: Richard Berg / Mark Simonitch / John Firer
Publisher: GMT (2008)
Age range: 12 upwards (do pretty much all games say that?)
Duration: 3-6 hours
What's in the box?
The most striking component in the box is the mapboard, it’s a hard mounted folding board, which is very nicely done (more on that later). There’s a 32 page full colour rulebook, with a detailed example of play (9 pages!) and an index, which is always a good sign. The rulebook builds things up in a pretty logical fashion and is well written, so I had no problem getting through it.
Next up are the cards. These are your standard CDG fare, with most used as the Tyche Deck, which drives the game. One card represents each general and there’s one card which is used to label "The Usurper".
Lots of card counters come with the game, which are used to represent Generals, a variety of troop types (and strengths), fleets, elephants, heirs, potential wives, Alexander’s body, minor generals, control markers and other miscellaneous gubbins. There are plastic stands for the main generals in the game. Finally, there’s a couple of player aids to round things off.
I’ve already mentioned this, but I have to say it again, the mapboard looks fabulous. The board is very reminiscent of the Hannibal:Rome vs Carthage board, and as in that game, a lot of the information that you will need to play the game is printed in tables right there on the board. The board is of the point-to-point style, with different scale of cities and different styles of roads clearly marked. However, with all that said, I’ve still found it necessary (or useful) to refer to a player aid card during the game. The player aids that come with the game could do with some more information on them and ideally, there would be 4 copies rather than 2. There’s room for a file upload or 2 here on the Geek to get that all sorted out. My game group is using a double sided play aid and I am hoping that will get uploaded here.
The cards showing the generals are nicely laid out and the rest of the Tyche cards are easy to read. There’s no confusion here and I’ve not seen a lot of scope to misinterpret the wordings.
The faction colours (control markers and minor generals) come in four colours. The control markers have a different colour on each side. One set of control markers are red / blue and the other yellow / black. There’s a different logo for each player faction, but I don’t really recall them. The logo’s are quite different, as are the colours, so there should be no confusion.
The general counters themselves also feature good artwork – plus they’re very clear and easy to read from across the board. The stands provided for them are all well and good, but for some reason, they come in 3 colours, not 4. You really need to get some black stands (we sourced some from The Napoleonic Wars).
Rules of the Game and How to Win
The rules are available online, like most GMT games, which is always handy. I would recommend that a new player should read these upfront, to save learning time. Even for experienced players, there’s something in there that will trip them up if they don’t check up on things beforehand!
The rules lay out the different ways in which you can win the game. You can win outright by reaching a certain number of victory points (which varies with number of players) that are gained mainly by taking control of regions marked on the board. To control a region, you must take control of the major city in the region, if there is one, plus a number of the other cities therein. The number of cities and the number you need to take control is marked on the board, right next to the number of VPs the region is worth. There’s a few other ways to get VP’s, either having the largest fleet or controlling a specific set of cities or regions.
You can also win outright by gaining 18 legitimacy points LP’s. You begin with 3 LP’s by being a champion and you can have more by holding a particular role or one of the heirs within the game, but the main LP source is the 10 LP’s you can get by burying Alexander’s body in Macedonia. This is pretty hard as it starts in Babylonia!
Other ways the game ends are if an Heir is around at the start of turn 4 or turn 5. Otherwise, the game ends at the end of turn 5. In these cases, the winner of the game is the player with the highest combined VP + LP total. You can kill an heir if you control him but don’t have the highest VP + LP total.
Each player starts the game with 2 generals, dished out at random. A player can lose generals in combat or to natural causes, but he can also gain more through succession or drawing a card from the Tyche deck. The generals each have a pre-defined starting location and bring a pre-defined amount of legitimacy, prestige (like legitimacy, but only used in combat), starting combat units and VP’s. This starting layout will determine each players strategy. If you start in Babylonia and also hold a region en route to Macedonia, you might want to go for the burial approach to win via legitimacy. If you hold a couple of strong regions (Egypt gives 6 VPs for instance) then you may want to try for VPs. I’ve started the game being stuck between other players so had to go for a VP rush to get an automatic win, before someone could bury Alexander, get an heir or win through other means. I knew that if I didn’t win early, I would not win at all, as my legitimacy score was so low. This is an interesting aspect to the game as you have to see how each opponent may win and as happened historically, ensure that he can’t win that way!
With combat units, Mercenaries have an attack value of 1 per combat unit (CU). Macedonian troops have an attack value of 2 per CU. The Silver Shields (the best unit in the game, gained from a tyche card) has 3 strength per combat unit - this unit can be 1 or 2 CUs only. Elephants are also present and they vary in strength.
Sequence of Play
As said above, the rules are available online, so I won’t go over everything to do with combat, leader death, how fleets work, sieges, independent armies and a lot of the other aspects of the game. However, it’s worth running through how the game plays. In each of the 5 turns, the same sequence is followed.
(1) Turn Order - player with lowest VPs determines who goes first this turn.
(2) Label the Usurper - player with the most VPs is the usurper, who can be attacked freely. Other attacks will cost you your "Champion" status (3 LP’s).
(3) Determine Reinforcements - (turns 2-5) 2 mercenary CUs per player. 2 more to the player with most VPs. 1 loyal CU to the player owning Macedon and one to the player with most LP’s.
(4) Shuffle the pack and deal 5 Tyche cards per player
(5) The Strategy Phase. The main part of the game!
(6) The isolation phase - remove control markers that are no longer connected to a friendly major city or combat unit.
(7) Move the turn marker on
The strategy phase goes round in turn order, five times, as each player has 5 cards to play.
The Strategy phase goes like this...
(1) Surrender Segment - replace an opponents control marker with your own in any space you have a combat unit if you want. Also conduct free siege attempts where you have 3 CUs against major cities or independent controlled spaces.
(2) Tyche Segment (play a card). Cards can be played for events or Ops points as in many CDG’s. Some cards allow you to play BOTH Event and Ops. Ops let you force march, place control markers or train troops. There’s too many events to describe!
(3) Movement segment - Move all generals or raise a mercenary unit. If you want to move, roll a dice and compare to each generals initiative rating. Roll Greater than initiative, 4 movement points (MP), equal to initiative, 3 MPs. Under initiative, 2 MPs. Initiative ratings for generals are 2, 3 or 4. Generals can move, remove opponents control markers and so on.
(4) Forage segment - ensure you have less than 3 CUs in transit spaces (between cities) or 8CUs in city spaces, otherwise remove a CU from each such "overstack".
Land based combat is so bloody, that combat itself deserves a mention here. There’s interception and evasion rules to get past, but once battle is joined, each player rolls 2 dice and cross references this roll with the strength of their army on a CRT. Each of the 2 dice is increased to be at least the battle rating of your general in battle. Hence a general with a battle rating of 4 can roll snake eyes, but still in effect rolls an 8. A modified roll of 9 forces a leader death check. Win the battle and roll a 6 and your leader is dead and out of the game. Lose the battle and this risk increases to a roll of 5 or 6. So, good generals are at more risk of being killed in battle. Very historically accurate! Anyway, the losing value on the CRT loses the battle. The loser suffers very badly. All mercenary units and elephants are gone. All Macedonian units suffer attrition (roll on a table) and the survivors are placed in a dispersed box along with any losing major generals. The winner either loses one or no CU’s depending upon the difference in values from the CRT. Dispersed units are out for the rest of the turn, so you don’t get them back until the next reinforcement phase, so all the cards have to be played first. This can be a lot of enemy movement you have to face with a lot of your army gone!
When I set out to play Successors III for the first time, I drew huge comparisons to Hannibal:Rome vs Carthage. The board style, both the illustration and the tables, is hugely reminiscent of Hannibal. Then you have the use of the control markers, the evade and intercept rules, the ratings of the Generals and the design of the cards. 4 player Hannibal would be a very short review of this game in fact. The combat system is very different from Hannibal though, with the CRT making combat a lot faster here (and very deadly too).
The different ways that you can win make for an interesting game, one that you can’t really prepare for in advance. There’s the usual room in the game for diplomacy and backstabbing, plus that overriding fear of combat (not only the fact that you can lose legitimacy, but also that your army can be wiped out easily) so this is another example of a game where you can definitely lose by fighting too many battles. This would be most evident in the 3 player game, where the person who can watch the other two go at it in combat will win, unless one of the others has the sense to stop!
I have not mentioned the marriage options in the Tyche deck in this review and have skipped fleet rules and a number of other things that add flavour to this game, as this review is already long enough, but suffice it to say that the rules are clearly explained and seem to fit historically.
Other than the "luck" of the dice in combat, the main time in which there is a random element is the movement dice roll. However, this just has to be taken in to account from the start. The odds are that a general with a bad initiative score will be out manoeuvred by a better opponent, so beware!
I’ve played Successors a few times recently and really enjoyed the experience each time. I found Successors easy to learn and it will prepare me (and the others in my group who are playing this) for moving on to Here I Stand and The Napoleonic Wars, which appear to be a bit more complex.
I am rating this game an 8 out of 10. Definitely one to keep getting back to the table.
oooh that tickles!
My game group is using a double sided play aid and I am hoping that will get uploaded here.
The QRS that we have been using is now available in the files section - if you backprint the last page of the rulesbook on the same sheet - it gives you most of what you're going need during the game.
How successful to be played solo please?
Superb review, Dave.