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"Hopefully, the game allows people to explore what were the tactics used in that era . . . within, of course, the 2-D parameters of a boardgame. I'd really like to see what some of the experts on chariot warfare would say about what the game proposes." -- Richard Berg, on Consimworld.

Introduction

GMT has several series of games that have captured the imagination of wargamers. Their Musket & Pike Battle Series is tremendous, and nobody can deny the popularity and success of the Combat Commander Series.

For sheer breadth and scope however, it's hard to challenge the truly epic Great Battles of History (GBoH) series, which attests to what can happen when you take two extremely talented designers in Mark Herman and Richard Berg, add some ancient history and let them design a game system.

Chariots of Fire is the 14th GBoH game, yet is surprisingly my first foray into the world of GBoH.

The Bronze Age represents an interesting opportunity for game designers. Although much history is known, there is no strong agreement about how chariots were used and what their capabilities were. Educated guesses need to be made, and then this needs to be translated into a game system.

Chariots of Fire covers nine battles spanning 1100 years, from ancient Sumeria to the battle of Troy.

Components

Chariots of Fire comes in the standard sized GMT box with three full counter sheets (840 0.5" counters total), 3 back printed full size maps (22x34), rules, scenario books, player aids to keep track of game information, and a 10 sided die. The counters are particularly well done in my opinion - the colours selected have good contrast relative to one another, and the information on the counters is clear and easy to read.



The components are more functional than beautiful. The maps are fairly plain including one which is completely clear terrain, but given what is known of the battles in question this is perfectly reasonable. The rules and scenario book are clearly written and well detailed, although there is no colour as there has been in some of the other recent GMT releases.

Rules and Game Play

GMT rates the rules complexity as high. I found them to be on par with the Musket & Pike rules in terms of complexity.



The rules have a lot of detail to keep track of and there is a lot of chrome to absorb if you're going to learn to play. I'll note as a sidebar that there are differences from one GBoH game to another that need to be taken into account; this is completely reasonable given the simply immense scope and range of time and locale; GMT did release the Simple GBoH, which allows you to play any game in the series. You lose some of the detail, but gain a universal system for the series. This review will not cover the rules in detail.

Chariots of Fire is a chit pull activation game. Each side is given one or more activation markers for each wing in their army, as well as one "momentum" chit, which can be used to activate any wing whose leader is within range of the army commander. I have mixed feelings about chit pull systems. I feel they simulate the chaos on the field of battle quite well, but I have also been burned by bad pulls. That said, from a game perspective, it works well.

The flow of play follows this sequence:
1. Initiative is determined, and if there is a winner, the select an activation marker from their pile and put the rest are placed into a cup to be drawn from later.
2. Activation markers are used to activate the wing listed on the marker. (In the Sumer and Troy scenarios, a heroic challenge can be issued in this step).
3. Units in the activated wing are ordered (movement and missile fire, then shock combat if applicable).
4. "Replace (dead leaders), Reload (eligible missile units), Remove (moved and rallied markers)"
5. Withdrawals.

This sequence is repeated until one side has left the field.

Units in Chariots of Fire have a "Troop Quality" (TQ) factor representing how tough they are. It governs how well they stand up to being attacked, and also how quickly they will rout; in essence, the TQ value is the number of cohesion hits the unit can take before it routs. Related, the higher the value, the more likely the routed unit will move to its banner to be rallied rather than run off the field of battle and count against your total rout point losses.

There are seven unit types in Chariots of Fire:
Barbarian Infantry: largely unorganized but usually tough light infantry.
Battle Wagons: heavy wheeled carts that carry javelin throwers. They're relatively average units, but can only initiate shock combat against light infantry.
Chariots: This is the appeal of the game. There are two kinds of chariots, 2-man and 3-man. The 2-man chariots were rolling missile platforms, not exceptionally tough, and unable to initiate shock combat against anyone except light infantry; they are the fastest units in the game however, highly maneuverable, and deadly against light infantry. The 3-man chariot is also relatively fast, can initiate shock combat, but is particularly vulnerable to shock infantry.
Heavy Infantry: Armored and somewhat more organized. Great against all comers but will suffer if attacking 2-man chariots, or heavy and barbarian infantry.
Light Infantry: These are your missile weapon guys, including archers, slingers, and javelin throwers. They cannot engage in shock combat and are highly vulnerable to every other unit on the board. Ideal as cannon fodder, but as long as they can chip away at incoming units, they'll serve well.
"Runner" Infantry: The historical notes in the rules say that these units were fit fast runners that would, quite literally, run with the chariots and provide support for them. It makes 2-man chariots much better against barbarian and light infantry.
Shock Infantry: Good against all but heavy infantry (and even then they're "ok"), these relatively slow moving units are perfect to mop up whoever is left after the chariots race in, or provide that last stand.

In the game charts, there is a matrix showing which units are particularly good or vulnerable against other units. If the unit type is "attacker superior", then it inflicts double the cohesion hits in battle, and if it is "defender superior" (i.e. you're not good against that kind of unit), then your unit will suffer triple cohesion hits. Combat causes cohesion hits to both sides, so it's vital to try and set up ideal matches between your units and their foes. Using "attacker superior" units increases the chances of routing the enemy, and attacking units that are "defender superior" should only be done either in extremis and otherwise avoided if possible.

Aggression is rewarded in Chariots of Fire. When your units attack an opponent, the opponent must first make a "TQ check", rolling the d10 (a 0 result is in fact zero and not 10) and comparing it to their unit's TQ. If they roll higher, the difference is applied in cohesion hits immediately before the attacker even rolls. Once engaged, the defender still needs to make TQ checks before resolving combat. Odds are good that at least a few defenders will rout this way, saving precious cohesion hits on your own units. Unengaged units adjacent to foes who decide to attack must, however, also make a TQ check before resolving the die roll.

There are ways of maximizing your advantage on the battlefield. Matching unit types is one. Having the wing commander present gives you a DRM bonus, but could lead to leader casualty. Having the army commander present gives you a DRM based on their charisma. Each additional unit ganging up on the defender gives a 2 column shift on the shock CRT. There are also terrain and flanking column shifts.

Speaking of commanders, each leader has a command radius, so keeping your formations tight is important. Furthermore, in order to take advantage of your momentum marker requires that the potential (re)activation wing commander is within the command radius of the overall commander. This adds a nice constraint to how you can move your units.


3-man chariots attempting to come around and flank the vulnerable 2-man chariots.

One intriguing twist to Chariots of Fire is heroic combat, although it is only possible in two scenarios - Sumer, which only has two leaders, and Troy, which features a good number of Greek heroes of legend and lore. When two leaders are adjacent to one another and about to engage in combat, the attacker can declare that his leader is challenging the other leader to personal combat! There's a fair amount at stake in such a combat too, as the winner may return his activation marker to the pool (if he wins, otherwise the activation marker is spent) and gets a +2 drm modifier to the ensuing shock combat (or a -2 if he loses!). It's not clear to me how often this situation will arise, although Troy appears purpose built for this.

Winning

Chariots of Fire has a very nice simple victory system - rout points. You accumulate rout points by inflicting cohesion hits on their units, causing them to rout, and hopefully flee off the map (rather than move to their banner for a potential rally). Any unit moved off the map counts its TQ against the rout total for your side.

Routed units near the banner can be rallied with a successful roll, but then you need to get them back to their leader and back in formation to fight again. Also, if they take any cohesion hits while in routed mode, they run off the board.

So, for a simple example, in the Sumer scenario, which has 57 total TQ on both sides, one side will win as soon as it inflicts 20 rout points on the opponent. It's important to note that the relative rout levels are measured at the end of the turn, so it is possible that both sides will flee from the battle, in which case the winner is whoever has fewer points over their rout level. For example, in the Astarpa scenario, the rout level for the Hittites is 50 versus 65 for the Arzawans. If both sides flee, and the relative rout levels are 54-68, then the Arzawans would "win" because they're only 3 over their level to 4 for the Hittites.


End of the Sumer Scenario, with Sargon the victor looking on

Conclusions

Chariots of Fire offers nine scenarios, and with that comes a lot of opportunity to explore how chariots can make a difference on the ancient battlefields. The historical notes for each scenario gives a lot of insight to how the designers approached the game: "We don't have much information on warfare in the third millennium. BC" (Sumer); "This is one of the rare battles where we pretty much know exactly where it took place, along with a knowledgeable estimate of what the battlefield looked like" (Megiddo); "There is very little information about this battle, other than it was quite important in terms of the Hittites dealing with the ambitions of Arzawa and its Aegean allies" (Astarpa); "Ok folks, here is where we have a bit of fun while staying within the boundaries established by what this game wants to do..." (Troy).

Each scenario has historical background, pre-game notes about playing time (anything from an hour to four plus), which map to use, and what I feel is a beautiful touch, a note about expertise level. Newcomers to the GBoH series in general, and to Chariots of Fire in specific, can use the expertise level notes to either dive right in at the deep end, or start with the introductory Sumer scenario and move up the complexity and chrome scale. Each scenario also comes with play balance notes, which is also a nice touch. For veteran gamers, one can bid rout points to play one side or another or make adjustments to the victory levels. I found the play balance and time estimate notes to be particularly useful and accurate.

I feel that Chariots of Fire really delivers on its promise of letting one explore chariot tactics. Chariots are both highly maneuverable and fast, but they're neither invulnerable nor overpowering. You need to make judicious choices about how and where you want to use them while making sure you don't leave them open to a mauling from shock infantry. Timing can be everything in this game, and the fickle fate of the activation marker draw can be fatal to your plans.

I found Chariots of Fire to be a highly accessible introduction to the GBoH series and a very interesting game in its own right. I expect that anyone with an interest in this broad span of history will find many hours of pleasure at the gaming table.
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Steve Herron
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Never play block wargames with a dentist, they have those little mirrors to peek behind the block.
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Quote:
Chariots are both highly maneuverable and fast, but they're neither invulnerable nor overpowering. You need to make judicious choices about how and where you want to use them while making sure you don't leave them open to a mauling from shock infantry


I don't have the game but I wondered if they should have the ability to retreat before combat? Very well done review.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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sherron wrote:
I don't have the game but I wondered if they should have the ability to retreat before combat? Very well done review.


There is the option of an "orderly withdrawal", but the unit attempting to withdraw must be both faster and more importantly unengaged. If your 3-man chariots are engaged and shock infantry can get to them, it's going to hurt.
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David Bohnenberger
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Very well done review. And I was trying to resist buying this one...shake
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Richard Berg
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Thanx for your kind comments . . . really enjoyed working in this era, and i hope y'all enjoy playing it.

RHB
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Mark Herman
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BROG wrote:
Thanx for your kind comments . . . really enjoyed working in this era, and i hope y'all enjoy playing it.

RHB


Ditto
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