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Khan: The Rise of the Mongols» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A Stab at a Grand Strategic Mongol Empire Game rss

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Wendell
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Khan: The Rise of the Mongols is a strategic-level two-player wargame which covers the rise of the Mongols and the establishment of their world empire in the 13th century (1206-95). A Strategy & Tactics magazine game (issue #229), Khan is of moderate complexity, using the same system as fellow S&T games Charlemagne: Dark Ages in Europe, Xenophon: 10,000 Against Persia, and Belisarius: The Byzantine Empire Strikes. One player is the Mongol; the other plays the rather vague "Kingdoms," mostly defined as being "not-Mongol." There are three scenarios, and one 18-turn campaign game.

Components

Hey, it's a magazine wargame. No meeples, no blocks, cardboard counters all the way, supply your own six-sided dice. Khan has a very attractive 22"x34" map that covers Eurasia from Japan to modern Thailand, all the way to the British Isles and France. The map is subdivided into "regions" such as Japan, Arabia, The (Holy Roman) Empire, Mongolia; those regions are clustered into loose groupings (Christendom, Muslims, Steppes, Sinic, Indies, color coded for easy identification), important for possible revolts and because certain stratagems (more later) can only be used against a particular grouping. In addition to the regions, the map includes cities, including treasure and trade cities that are more valuable to the holder. And various sorts of terrain that can slow movement and aid the defender. And trade routes that are the crucial highways of the 13th Century, that can speed your forces halfway across Eurasia in one turn.

Board Game: Khan: The Rise of the Mongols


The counters depict military units from each of the 38 regions; first number is combat value, second is operations value. And I guess I should discuss the counters. As you can see from the photo below, the designer (Joe Miranda) and developer (Ty Bomba) decided to use modified NATO symbology. This raised something of a stink on ConSimWorld back in 2005 (go check it out if you don't believe me, many many posts to wade through) from many who wished there had been icons or some other depictions. Miranda and Bomba defended their decision, noting that the counters represent many different military formations - a field army for the Empire and a field army for the Delhi-Sultanate, for example, would not likely look similar. So rather than design 38 different sets of military units, they decided on the NATO style ones for ease. (If you don't like them, there are fancy counters available in the file section of the Khan page here at BGG to download and print.) In any case, the counters are functional. Color-coded by regional grouping (Christians pink, Steppes black, etc), they are all two-sided; any of the regions can belong to the Mongol or Kingdoms faction. Even Mongol units can possibly join the Kingdoms in the event of a Mongol Civil War.

Board Game: Khan: The Rise of the Mongols


If you examine the counters closely, you may notice two things. First, the black units - from the Steppes, including Mongolia - include toumens (9-20), powerful and highly mobile units (toumen is the Mongol word for "ten thousand"). Those are the backbone of the Mongol Empire's armed forces. And second, the Mongols have many many more leaders than any other region, most of which have none. Those are crucial.

Game Play

The turns cover four years; even in the 13th century, an army could cover a lot of ground in that time. The counters have a combat strength (first number), and operations value. The higher the ops value (which is modified by a die roll, further modified by the presence of a leader), the farther a force (a stack that begins the turn together; use lowest ops value) can move and the more it can attack. A force composed of toumens led by a two-value leader such as Genghis or Subedai can get from Karokorum to Poland in one turn. This being the 13th century and borders being loose, belligerents can even enter and move through neutral states without declaring war. One trick is to send a large Mongol army with a two-star leader into a neutral, to set up a diplomatic ultimatum the next turn. Of course, either player is free to attack a neutral, which will of course join the enemy camp.

Naturally, in a game about the Mongol Empire, there are crucial advantages for them. One is the number of leaders available, which improve mobility, combat, and diplomacy. Also, the presence of a Mongol unit - and leaders count - allows troops from different regions to stack, so the Mongol player can (as was true historically) put together multinational armies as long as a Mongol unit is involved. The Kingdoms cannot do so; the various anti-Mongol forces remain divided.

Combat is pretty simple. From my experience, most of it involves units defending in cities. Why? Because they are doubled. But those leaders help the Mongols - a one-star doubles their combat strength, and two-stars like Ogedai and Hulegu triple it. You calculate odds and roll on a CRT. Simple.

Diplomacy is crucial. It is not enough for the Mongols to crush a region's forces; simply killing everything and occupying all the cities isn't enough, a successful diplomatic result is needed to make them neutral or better yet, come under Mongol control. Usually the Mongol needs to send a leader to the target region to give a chance of getting a good result.

But to conduct diplomacy, you need to play the right stratagem marker. Stratagems are special actions, that fall into three broad categories. Diplomatic stratagems can be used by either player to try to make a region join its side. Some diplomatic stratagems can be used anywhere, others are specific to one grouping of regions (e.g., "Mandate of Heaven" can be used against any Sinic region). Another group gives bonuses in combat, or deprives a defender in a city the ability to nullify a retreat ("Terror"). A third group confers various benefits, such as building elite units (keshigs for the Mongols which immunize a stack from civil war and increase the total forces available to the Mongols, and various units for other regional groups), bringing on a new leader, or nullifying an opponent's stratagem play. Players can buy stratagems at the cost of treasury points, which ultimately means at the cost of victory points. The Mongols get one or two free stratagems each turn if they have a Great Khan. And stratagems can be drawn by winning battles, and lost by losing them. They can also be lost if the Great Khan dies - ALL Mongol stratagems evaporate then.

This being about the Mongol Empire, the campaign game has optional rules to encourage the Mongols to set up subsidiary Khanates such as the Golden Horde or Ilkhanate, which improve tax collection but bring on the risk of a Mongol civil war.

So what do you do? The Mongol player early on needs to consolidate control over the other steppe regions - Uighurs, Kara Khitai, Tartary, and Cumans. This is partly for defensive purposes - fellow nomads have a habit of popping up every turn with nothing better to do than raid Mongol cities. But more important, unlike other regions, the Steppe regions also have toumen (and less powerful but nearly as mobile nomad bands) that will bolster the initially not very large Mongol armies without slowing them down. Then the Mongols need to defeat enemy armies to gain stratagems, then use the diplomatic stratagems plus Mongol leaders to bring various powers into the Mongol camp. That is a problem, I think. If you achieve a certain combat result, you get the requisite number of stratagem markers (one or two usually), whether you just destroyed the massive field army of the Ayyubid Sultanate or Holy Roman Empire, or defeated the outmatched garrison of Sarai. Defeating city garrisons is an easy way for the Mongol player to keep the Kingdoms from accumulating many stratagems.

As for the Kingdoms... well they only start with Xi Xia (in NW China) and the Uighurs. And diplomacy for the Kingdoms is unlikely to succeed because of a dearth of leaders. That's where random events come in. Random events favor the Kingdom player strongly. Thru random events, neutral powers can rise against their occupiers (usually Mongols). Regional groupings can revolt, which gives a good chance of bringing new regions into the Kingdoms' camp. I solo'd the first scenario (turns 1-5); on turn one, half of Christendom joined the Kingdoms camp, bringing huge financial benefits to the Kingdom and helping subsidize the struggle of the Sung against the Mongols. Or the Great Khan can die, or a Mongol civil war can erupt.

How to Win

With victory points, of course. At the end of the game, each side gets VPs for occupied unpillaged cities (note cities have innate garrisons, unless destroyed; garrisons can be rebuilt and automatically belong to whatever camp the region is part of), with treasure cities and trade cities worth more than run-of-the-mill cities. Public works and colonies are also worth VP. Both players get VP based on the levy value of each region they control (not just occupy, control - it is a part of the Mongol or Kingdom camp), ranging from zero (Crusader States) to five (Mongolia).

The other source of VP is treasury points. Each turn, taxes generate treasury points, which can be used to raise armies, provision forces, and buy stratagems. But most importantly, at the end of the game, each treasury point is worth one victory point. In the two games I played, treasury points swamped the other sources of VPs. I understand wanting to give credit for accumulated victories and control, but given that some turns the Mongols can bring in over 100 treasury points (and will not need to spend much if any most turns), it seems too much.

Final Thoughts

I bought this game because I am fascinated by the Mongol Empire. There are few games about this period, and fewer still at the sweeping grand strategic level. Maybe only this one, as far as I can tell.

The game is not bad, but I think it has problems. First, the vagueness of the Kingdoms. Who IS the Kingdoms player playing? Even the NAME is vague. It isn't a coherent side, not like playing the Axis in a WW2 game, or the Spartans and its allies in a game about the Peloponnesian War. It's simply all those powers that are neither neutral nor aligned with the Mongols. And given the constant loss of stratagem markers from the Kingdom player's hand due to combat losses AND the lack of leaders, diplomacy as a way to bring regions onto the Kingdom side is not a real option.

So basically, the Kingdoms get whoever the Mongols decide to whack (and frankly, the armies of those regions are usually destroyed pretty damn quickly; Subedai plus 4-5 toumens is hard to resist), and whatever regions might be thrown their way by random events. And it's a bit weird when during the course of a Mongol war in Asia against the Sung and Koreans and Japanese, all of a sudden France, the Pope, Poland, the Byzantine Empire, and Novgorod decided to join the anti-Mongol camp. There is little connection between the situation on the map and the decision of regions to join the Kingdom side. And there is little of the political in the game.

Ironically, Khan: The Rise of the Mongols might work better as a solo game, perhaps with some tweaking. Because we all want to be Genghis and Hulegu and Ogedai and Batu and Kublai Khan, making new conquests and bringing new lands under the Mongol yoke I mean, into the benevolent world empire being ruled from Karakorum.

I think the ultimate strategic-level treatment of the Mongol conquests is still to be made. But Khan isn't bad.

Board Game: Khan: The Rise of the Mongols


edits: various typos. Plus I misspelled "Uighur".
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Troy Adlington
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I am also fascinated with this period.

This sounds like a good Solitaire game?
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Wendell
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Troymk1 wrote:
I am also fascinated with this period.

This sounds like a good Solitaire game?
I think it works well solitaire. Stratagem markers are supposed to be kept hidden, but playing them fairly (as in any other 2-player wargame you are solitairing) works out well.
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Steve Herron
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Does the game have the Khan who was in a bluegrass group that went into show business, Mandolin Khan? laugh
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Wendell
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sherron wrote:
Does the game have the Khan who was in a bluegrass group that went into show business, Mandolin Khan? laugh
No, nor is there the Genghis Cohen from the Terry Pratchett books!
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Ethan Van Vorst
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Good review!

I'm sorry...I can't resist.

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Bill Eldard
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An excellent and very informative review, wendell. Thanks!
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Michael Debije
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What would you estimate the playtime to be? Is it a single-sitter, or would it need to stay out a couple days?
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Wendell
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mi_de wrote:
What would you estimate the playtime to be? Is it a single-sitter, or would it need to stay out a couple days?
Set-up isn't bad, maybe 30 minutes. I think you could play one of the scenarios (5 or 6 turns) in an evening. The campaign game you need to leave out, it's probably around 10 hours.
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