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David G. Cox Esq.
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Siege of Jerusalem


Tactical Military Simulation of the Siege of Jerusalem, 70 A.D.
Deisgned by Fred Schachter, Steve Weiss & Bruno Sinigaglio
Published by Avalon Hill (1988)


I have played Siege of Jerusalem twice – once in 1992 and again last week, seventeen years after my initial foray into the game. Obviously I enjoyed it the first time or I would not have played a second game.
SoJ is a tactical game. A strong and efficient Roman force is pitted against four tribes of Judeans whose main advantage is the walls surrounding their city. The Romans should win the game in a military sense but may lose due to political factors beyond the control of the Roman player UNLESS the Roman is successful quickly and with a minimum of loss. Apparently the Romans were always concerned about unnecessary loss of (Roman) life during military campaigns.

Both times I have played SoJ it has been in a team situation with two players sharing the Roman legions (two each) and two players sharing control of the four tribes of Israel. I like this method of playing the game as the game is fairly intricate and I don’t think the game would be as enjoyable as a two-player game.

It is a delightful game with two totally different forces in conflict. The highly efficient Roman military machine against a combination of Jewish zealots, archers and old women armed with stones. If the Romans can enter a section of the city they will almost certainly take control of it, killing most of those who oppose them – such was the Roman way.



The City: Jerusalem has many walls separating different parts of the city. Some parts of the city are fairly easy to take (such as the New City) due to thin and exposed walls – other parts (such as the Temple Quarter) have thicker walls while, depending upon your axis of attack, some parts of the city has walls constructed in such a way as to provide effective cross-fire opportunities for the defenders. The Roman player has a strict timetable and must achieve certain levels of success regarding how much of the city they capture each Assault Period for the siege to continue.



Assault Periods: The game is broken into a maximum of five assault periods. During each period the Roman must achieve a minimum level of success for the game to not immediately result in a Judean victory – for example, the Roman must hold 10% of the city (the New City) by the end of the first assault period and hold at least 20% (the New City plus the Tyropean City) by the end of the second assault period. The Roman player decides between each assault how many weeks they will spend in preparation before the next assault – the longer the time spent in preparation the better chance of digging mines, building armoured rams and getting replacements. Also, the more time the Judeans have to repair walls and the more victory points the Jews will receive. Another important factor is that if the entire siege takes more than 26 weeks the Roman player will lose.



Playing the Romans: the keywords for the Roman are planning and coordination. The Roman has four legions under his control. Each legion has 10 cohorts (made up of three counters) of heavy infantry, light infantry, cavalry, ram, towers, ballista, onager and catapults. The challenge for the Roman is to coordinate the efforts of the units within each legion and to coordinate the efforts of the four legions to take the city and with a minimum of losses. Approaching the walls of Jerusalem in the face of artillery, archers, boiling oil and stones thrown by little old Jewish housewives is quite dangerous. Planning each assault is essential for success and having an overall plan of how to take the city of the five assault periods is crucial.


Playing the Judeans: the key word for the Judean is caution. One of the Judean’s key strengths is his initial replacement rate. Assuming that the Romans take the New City on the First Assault the Judean player will receive 90% of his losses as replacements – if the Romans then take the Tyropean City during the second assault the Judean player will receive 80% of his losses as replacements before the third Assault Period. The Judean player also receives additional reinforcements as each new part of the city comes under attack – this represents the citizens leaving their homes and manning the walls as the Romans approach. What the Judean player does have to be careful about is losing parts of the city too easily and unnecessarily. While it feels great to be on the walls wreaking havoc amongst the Romans as they move into the killing zone it is important to know when a city section has been lost and to pull out quickly and to fall back and cover parts of the city that may come under threat as the Romans advance. The Romans have what are called Multiple Attacks – this means that if a Roman advances after combat it is allowed to attack again – Romans within a city area work somewhat like a vacuum cleaner in the way that they clear Judean units (in the group I play with we call it the ‘Hoover Manoeuvre’). Despite not having the quality military force available to the Roman player the Judean has several factors to keep in balance. The longer the Roman player takes over the siege the more points the Judean player accrues. The walls give the Judean player a massive defensive advantage and allow them to kill lots of Roman units which also give victory points. Towards the end of the game, after the Roman player has captured at least 75% of the city, the Judean player can try to effect a massive exodus from the city which, again, gives victory points. The Judean player also has the option to sally forth and try to retake previously captured city areas – this will rarely be a viable option but it will force the Roman player to cover city exits, even where the assault is not taking place.

If the Roman player takes more than 26 weeks, fails to adhere to the schedule for capturing sections of the city, loses more than 400 points of troops in a single assault or the Judean player scores more than 1500 points by the end of the game they will lose. The Judean player has lots of ways to win and has an interesting situation despite the weakness of their troops.


In Summary: Siege of Jerusalem is a finely balanced game between two totally different armies. Playing the Romans is an unforgiving experience where coordination and planning are rewarded. Playing the Judeans puts you in a position where you know that you should ultimately lose your city and the challenge is to make it as costly as possible and to know when to fall back and run to the shelter of your next barrier in your city’s defence.
Be warned, this is not a game for the faint-hearted. The rules are poorly put together and there is a steep learning curve in the game. It takes a significant time commitment. Between equally inexperienced players the Judeans should expect to win – between equally experienced players the Romans have a much better chance of winning. However, in a historical simulation such as this it doesn’t really matter whether you win or lose, playing the game is a great experience.


“The Game is Afoot!”


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Ethan Van Vorst
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Great review! One has to wonder what would have happened in history had the Judeans been able to pull it off. This game should have a Masada expansion, methinks.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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StealthDonut wrote:
Great review! One has to wonder what would have happened in history had the Judeans been able to pull it off. This game should have a Masada expansion, methinks.


It's funny that you should say that - the Judean units that manage to escape from the city without being killed or captured are actually going to that very location just to chill-out for a while.
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Magister Ludi
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Looks a bit like 'Red Barricades' (ASL) but in an ancient setting....can you set fire to things?
 
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Pete White
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Quote:

Between equally inexperienced players the Judeans should expect to win – between equally experienced players the Romans have a much better chance of winning. However, in a historical simulation such as this it doesn’t really matter whether you win or lose, playing the game is a great experience.


Our experience (with about half a dozen plays to the end) has been that the Judeans always win, because the Romans have such a punishing schedule. Usually, the temple assault fails, but sometimes a little later. Inexperienced players suffer a catastrophe early.

You seem to reckon it's much more balanced than that - and I'm a bit surprised. Maybe you're better at it than we are!

Another good review though, and it's a great game. If only I still had time...
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Anwar Dalati
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I've played it three times now (always as the Roman player, since my buddy is Jewish and "insisted" on playing his people in one of their finest hours).

And while I have lost all three games it was a very close fight in both the second and third games (in the first not so much, as you can indeed easily commit some grave blunders as the Roman). Overall I think it is slightly skewed in favour of the Judeans, but still very enjoyable.

Note that we've only ever played the single day scenario, so experiences with the campaign game may vary.
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Darrell Hanning
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Thanks for the review, David. It's been about as long for me, since last playing it, as it had been for you. I'm putting it on my mental list of games to cycle back onto the wargame table.
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Wulf Corbett
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The change between the single assault game and the campaign is massive & painful for the Romans. I've only played the full campaign once, it ended with a Roman loss through excessive casualties and lack of progress, but that was at least after the fourth assault period... I did feel like it was a no-win situation for the Romans, although possibly I didn't prepare between assaults as long as I should have.
 
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Steve Herron
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Very nice review, I was reading one source about the siege. It was saying the lack of food weaken the Judean forces ability to fight. The game does not address that aspect. It is a terrific game. It has one of my favorite maps.
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Wulf Corbett
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sherron wrote:
Very nice review, I was reading one source about the siege. It was saying the lack of food weaken the Judean forces ability to fight. The game does not address that aspect.
The diminishing percentage of replacements may be intended to cover this (along with the lack of living people available to replace losses!)
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Steve Herron
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Quote:
The diminishing percentage of replacements may be intended to cover this


I had thought this was just due to the loss of parts of the city but I imagine one may be able to say it would be supplies also.
 
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David G. Cox Esq.
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Wulf Corbett wrote:
The change between the single assault game and the campaign is massive & painful for the Romans. I've only played the full campaign once, it ended with a Roman loss through excessive casualties and lack of progress, but that was at least after the fourth assault period... I did feel like it was a no-win situation for the Romans, although possibly I didn't prepare between assaults as long as I should have.


the first time I played the full campaign I was one of the victorious Romans - we played it as a team game and my partner was extremely competent and by the end of the fifth assault period we had taken the entire city and were using our cavalry to hunt down the remaining jews as they fled towards Masada.

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Karl Bergström
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That's the first time I've heard of anyone winning as the Romans. A good game it is, but well balanced it is not. It is also a bit too fiddly for my taste - a lighter siege game would really be my kind of game...!
 
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Profit wrote:
That's the first time I've heard of anyone winning as the Romans. A good game it is, but well balanced it is not. It is also a bit too fiddly for my taste - a lighter siege game would really be my kind of game...!


You should give Caesar: Epic Battle of Alesia a try.
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Alan Lipka
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Yeah ... good game, heavily skewed towards the Judaean. Fun to play as the Roman though. I think a Rule that enables the Roman to set things afire would be the key to a much more balanced game. After all, that's what happened historically, wasn't it ? Maybe just something that allows the Roman to set the Temple ablaze. Otherwise, I cannot figure out how a competent Roman can get a better than 50/50 chance at capturing the Temple against a competent Judaean. And that's AFTER winning Phases I & II. ~ Alan
 
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Dan Fielding
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Where did you get those wooden counter holders?

Anybody still making Nebelwerfers ?
 
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