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Caesar in Alexandria» Forums » Reviews

Subject: My initial impressions and summary of first session rss

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Mark Sautman
United States
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I want to mention a few things upfront so you have some context for this review. First off, I want to state that I am writing this review solely because I saw this game on a list of wargames that needed reviews. Second, I normally would not attempt to write a review after only one play, but considering the number of other unplayed games I own, it might be several months before I play this one again. Third, the few reviews I have written tend to be focused on game play rather than exhaustively trying to summarize the rules. I have skimmed over the comments that other members have made on this game and will try to address some of them. I also want to acknowledge that the photos in this review were uploaded by Duckweed - thanks!

I am also not a hardcore wargamer or military historian who is focused on playing a realistic combat simulation of a historical battle. I am looking for a game that is fun to play. I mostly play Euros and Ameritrash games, but occasionally dally with wargames that I usually end up playing solo. My experience with the Great Battles of History (GBOH) games is limited. I recently picked up Alexander, SPQR, Conquest of Gaul, and Chandragupta and have played each of those once using the simplified rules. While it sounds like this game was selling fairly cheaply while it was in print, it appears to sell for $75 or so now that it is out-of-print. While I recently acquired this game, I got it in a math trade in exchange for a new game I bought on Tanga for about $25.

The components are fairly typical for GMT with a single one-sided, paper 22"X33" map. As has been mentioned in several geeklists, this map is a lot prettier than others in the series. Several of the maps I have used for the other GBOH scenarios have been fairly boring - big plains where terrain does not have much impact on game play. This map is interesting because it includes the city of Alexandria, several harbors, the island of Pharos and its lighthouse, a bridge, canals, seawalls, shoals, etc.

Several people have commented on the relatively few counters in the game. There are only 280 counters in the game and many of these are cohesion hit and status markers. This can be good or bad depending on your perspective. On the one hand, you use all the markers for the main game and I did not find the number to be overwhelming. The use of galley holding box cards helps reduce the stacks/clutter on the map for the naval units. Land unit types are limited to light, medium, and heavy infantry (LI/MI/HI); cohorts; light cavalry; archers; and field artillery. On the other hand, it is not like you have hundreds of units that you use in the various scenarios. The game is focused on one large battle, which is the one I played. The rules include 2 shorter scenarios that are supposed to take 3 hours. The first focuses on the battle for the Heptastadium and the second is only a naval battle.

The Rules
Many of the comments and questions I have seen about this game deal with the complexity of the rules and how it compares to the other games in the series. There’s a bit of a paradox here because in some aspects the rules are more complex, but in others even simpler than the Simple Great Battles of History (SGBOH)rules. Let me try to explain. In terms of sheer volume of rules and tables, CiA is more complex than SGBOH. The rules for CiA are 21 pages long compared to 16 pages in GBOH. CiA has a full page terrain chart that discusses how the various map features affect land and naval units. The 4-page summary includes another 17 tables. The reason the rules are longer are because not only does in discuss typical hex warfare and movement, but it also discusses naval and urban battles that may also include field artillery. Covering all these topics simply takes time.

While I can’t compare how the rules compare to normal GBOH since I have always played SGBOH, the land movement and combat rules are very similar to the SGBOH rules with some exceptions. CiA has fairly similar rules for unit activation, turn seizure rules, hex terrain movement, facing, hex zones of control, missile and shock combat, and the effects of combat. One thing I did not like is that the leader’s rules are even simpler than SGBOH and thus leaders are less useful. For example, your overall commanders (i.e., Caesar) cannot activate combat units and thus are limited to only providing a charisma bonus in shock combat or conducting turn seizures. Furthermore, subordinate leaders do not provide any modifiers during combat. Command range is based on movement points, not hexes and costs more to go through friendly occupied hexes/points. Some other significant rule changes include :
1. Stacked units may have different facing.
2. Land units pay 1 MP to change facing to any direction versus per vertex
3. Harassment and dispersal rules are a little different than hit and run
4. Any unit can do orderly withdrawal with no movement allowance restrictions, which is more generous than retreat before shock.
5. Some land units require TQ checks before shock combat
6. Shock resolution is simply a number of hits and/or retreat with no DR routs
7. There are no modifiers for TQ differential (other than veteran/recruit training) or hits.
8. Modifiers for size are based on the number of counters rather than each counter’s unit size
9. Units in hexes do not retreat, only those in points

Urban movement and combat does not involve hexes, but points and blocks. Field artillery includes both scorpios and ballistae, which are flame missile capable. Naval movement and combat is supposedly very similar and maybe simpler than War Galley, but I have never played WG so I cannot comment on it. The naval rules cover grappling and boarding, ramming, raking oars, disengaging, the effects of fire, and galley vs. galley missile combat as well as galley vs. land missile combat.

So when you add up all of the above rules, the complete set of rules is lengthier (or you could say more complex) than SGBOH even though the rules for any given topic are about the same or even simpler than the comparable rule in SGBOH. While some people have commented that the rules are too complex, I did not really find this to be the case. The turn sequence is not overly long compared to some games I have played (flashbacks of a monstrous Multi-Man Publishing game I played once). In any given turn, only some of the rules were applicable so I found my turn lengths to be comparable to those I had with SGBOH. While I had to do more referencing initially on the naval and urban rules, most of the rules and tables were pretty straightforward.

In general, I found the rulebook easy to understand and presented in a logical order. There are a few noticeable omissions or unclear rules. For example, the rules for exhaustion are incomplete. I assume the meant to say the exhaustion points applied to eliminated units ala rout points. I also was a little confused about some of the urban combat rules. The rules state that "only one unit can attack into a point." It was not clear to me what happened if a defender in a point had units on the point in front of him and one or two of his flanks. Did that mean that only 1 of those units could attack him or whether all 3 had to attack him individually? The rules also made it sound like you could attack from a block into an adjacent point, but not the other way around.

The battle itself is interesting because it is going on in several places at once: a galley battle in the arbor; galley/land battles on the island of Pharos and the bridge; and street fighting in the city. Unit activation causes this to be even more disjointed because you or your opponent may interrupt a naval battle to suddenly make an advance in the city. While it would be more realistic to allow all the units on the map to move/fight at the same time rather than jumping around, it does add an interesting twist to the game. In fact, it almost reminds me of a Euro where you can’t do everything you want due to limited resources. Here, you can’t battle on the island, harbor, and city simultaneously, but this can allow for some interesting strategies. While some people may hate this aspect of the game, I did not find it any worse than Command and Colors where you may be restricted to only using units in certain sections of the map based on the cards you have in your hand. It's hard to say how long it took to play because it was split over a couple of days and I had several interruptions. I'm guessing about 4-5 hours total, but that includes flipping through the rules when questions came up.

Session Report
Since some people have complained that certain units or areas never saw action, I’ll quickly describe my game. Two of the Roman legions started around the palace while the remaining legion filled up the larger transports and several auxiliaries boarded the smaller ships. The Egyptians started in 4 areas: a mix of HI/LI on Pharos, an army full of heavy infantry to the south of the Palace, an army of mostly LI/MI/a few HI to the east of the palace, and the remaining armies near the harbor of Eunostus. Both the Romans and Egyptians quickly launched their fleets. The Egyptians intercepted the Romans, ramming two ships and grappling another one, while only having one ship sunk by fire. The remaining Roman transports beached on Pharos and unloaded their troops. The smaller Roman ships tried to debark on the slips in Eunostus harbor, but Egyptian cavalry blocked their way. The Egyptian then launched a large attack from the south with their heavy infantry. Although initially successful, their luck turned and the cohorts caused the assault to lose momentum. The Roman veteran cohorts quickly decimated the Egyptian light infantry on Pharos and proceeded towards the nearby redoubt. The Egyptians then diverted their army attacking the palace and ran back to reinforce the redoubt on the Alexandria side. While the veteran cohorts slowly killed the defending heavy infantry protecting the Pharos redoubt, the Egyptians moved their army of LI/MI on the eastern edge along the south and attacked the section previously weakened. Unfortunately, the Romans captured the Pharos redoubt and the rest of the Egyptian army became exhausted. I invoked the optional victory conditions at this point since it was hopeless for the Egyptians and the Romans had only lost a few units. While the game is biased towards the Romans, I did not find this as unbalanced as some of the other GBOH scenarios I have played.

I’ve enjoyed CiA much more than the other 4 GBOH games I have played. There is simply a lot more choices and things going on. Do I do a straight forward land attack, do I act like marines and make a beach assault, or do I focus on my naval battles? I found the options for ramming, grappling, oar raking, and using artillery with flame missiles certainly increased the “cool” factor. I definitely liked this more than simply maneuvering a bunch of armies on a flat plain or commanding boring barbarians like you do in Gaul. The downside is that this game is mostly one battle. You do not have the dozens of scenarios you have with Alexander and SPQR. If you like to concentrate on playing one game system, you might feel limited by the number of battles in CiA. On the other hand, if you are like me and only get around to playing each game a few times, than I would seriously consider getting this game rather than some of the other ones in the series. My thoughts are based on getting a copy fairly reasonably priced – I probably would be less satisfied if I paid $75-120 for a copy.

As I said in the beginning, I’m writing this review since there is little information on BGG on this game. I don’t claim to be an expert and I apologize if I garbled any rules. Despite some of the negative comments about this game, I enjoyed this battle more than any other I have played so far. I may find the game’s replayability to be a bit limited after a few more plays, but so far I think it is definitely worth checking out. I gave it an 8 after one play.
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Richard Berg
United States
South Carolina
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Glad you enjoyed the game . . . I had a bit of fun designing it, as i went off in some directions different from the base GBoH system. ALEXANDRIA was not designed with the casual gamer in mind . . . but, for histo-gamers, it is a most interesting situation, one with many options . . .as you discerned.


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