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Doug Bonforte

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Review: Caesar's Gallic War (CGW)
Publisher: Worthington Games
Designer: Daniel Berger

Period: Julius Caesar's conquest of the Gallic tribes from from 58 to 51 BC. One player represents Caesar and the Romans, the other represents the Germans and rebelling Gauls.

Physical Quality: Very nice components: box, wooden blocks, unit labels, rules, map, dice.

Map: It's functional enough, but isn't reflective or evocative of the period. Garish colors, IMO. The map is missing a key fortress, Bibracte; make sure you add it before playing.

Game Niche: Per the Designer's Notes, it's a 'light' war game. I'd put it in the same broad category as Hammer of the Scots (HoS), Quebec 1759, A House Divided, Crusader Rex, 1812, Napoleon and Axis & Allies. This is also the type of game my friends and I play most often.

Game Time: My friend and I have played CGW about 5 times now. Both of us are veteran war gamers. It has taken us about six to seven hours per session. Since average play time of HoS is 2 to 4 hours and CGW has more game features (see below), this is understandable.

Game Play: We found game play to be very reminiscent of 'Hammer of the Scots'; so much so we started calling it "Hammer of the Gauls". We had 5 out of 5 Roman wins.

Similarities include: Map with areas/provinces; Tribes of neutrals who can swing back and forth between players; Cards which drive the number and type of player actions in a turn; Blocks for unit step reduction; Units with sequence ratings (A,B,C) for when they roll in combat; A 1d6 "To Hit" firing combat system; A main 'Home Base' province for the invader; A special Leader unit who confers a unique combat bonus; and an ability for him to "Over-winter" outside his Home Base only once per game.

Game Features:
The designer has written that "CGW is a deeper game" than Hammer of the Scots. I agree.
Here are some reasons as listed by the designer:
* CGW has a supply system and supply actions. HoTS does not.
* CGW has the concept of forced marches (tied to the supply system). HoTS does not.
* CGW has Roman amphibious invasions. HoTS has a single unit that can move by sea, if it's on the board.
* CGW has variable, but deterministic reinforcements. HoTS has random reinforcements.
* CGW has the concept of repairing units in the field. HoTS does not, except for one card.
* CGW has special terrain/combat rules for mountains, rivers, forts and amphbious invasions. HoTS has the red/black border movement restrictions only.
* CGW has general political actions. HoTS does not. It has one card that can swing a noble.
* CGW has the concept of neutral pieces. HoTS does not.
* CGW has weather. HoTS does not.
* CGW has special leader abilities. HoTS does not.
* CGW cards are multi-purpose. HoTS cards are single purpose.

Historicity: Here's the biggest stumbling block (pun intended) to my enjoyment of CGW. The rules omit or abstract out much of what a player with a knowledge of history might expect to see in a game ostensibly about 'Caesar's Gallic Wars'.

Examples:
- Sieges: Caesar judged that some forts were too strong to attack conventionally, and laid siege to them. Perhaps the most famous event of the entire war was the siege of Alesia. (There were other sieges as well, notably the Gallic siege/defeat of Cotta's Roman Camp. The game has no sieges.

- Rivers: Rivers on province borders limit players to attacking with only 2 units. What's the historical basis for the rule?

- Fortified cities: While there are sieges, there are fortified cities. However, since they convey a defensive bonus to all units in the province, they have the effect of being fortified PROVINCES. That's a pretty big stretch, leading to unrealistic gameplay. To ring in Roman expansion, a smart Celtic player will attempt to set up a band of provinces stretching hundreds of miles across Gaul; the equivalent of an ancient 'Maginot line.'

- Trans-alpine Gaul (TAG): If the Romans lose this province they suffer significant penalties. Because of the way the tribe rules work, the Gaul/Celt can flip control of provinces deep in Roman rear areas. Prudence therefore demands leaving behind garrison legions to protect an otherwise vulnerable TAG. But history record that Caesar took all his legions with him deep into Gaul. So either he was dangerously unconcerned with his supply base or the game is inaccurate. (I do recall reading that he had 15 or so cohorts of Romans providing him with rear area security. That might be worth looking into as an inherent TAG garrison. But its not now in the game). We also found when playing that the Roman routinely returned "home" to TAG with the bulk of his army each year to build up supply. Historically, they stayed out in the provinces. Again,something's not right.

- Gallic Uprisings and History: In broad terms, each year the Gauls 'rebelled' against Caesar in one 'region' such as Belgium, Brittany, the Loire area. The region appears to have consisted of a central 'core province' and 4 to 5 adjacent provinces. A glance at any map showing the campaigns by years will bear this out. This doesnt normally happen though in CGW. Instead, the Gaul attempts to create that amazing line of fortified provinces across Gaul and/or tries to get province(s) deep in the Roman rear to rebel.

However, again we are at odds with history. Those tribes which did 'rebel' were basically those which the Romans had not yet beaten. But in the game, previously subjugated tribes again take up the sword fairly easily at the play of a card or the roll of a die. There is basically no tribal "memory." The result is that the Roman (in our playings at least) became so concerned about protecting his lines of communication and overextending himself that he hesitated to go deep into Gaul - until the end of the game, that is. Then he'd go on a mad dash to seize provinces, hoping to put himself ahead when the Time Record Card announced the "end of the world". That strategy also had the effect of delaying /denying the arrival of the Gaul's big asset, Vercingetorix.

A more accurate representation of the campaigns would have Victory Conditions which drive the Romans to conquer each province on the map at least once. For the Gaul, Roman-subjugated provinces should not be available to fight again until either 'liberated' by other Gallic units or Vercingetorix enters play. (This could be done via a variable die roll, tied to number of provinces the Roman has conquered at that point, but I don't want to be accused of redesigning the game.)

Bottom Line / Verdict:
I knew before I bought CGW that it was not intended to be a simulation. That's not what Worthington is known for. However, it has very serious disconnects with history. Any reader is welcome to do the most rudimentary of research to verify the validity this statement.

Playing CGW was fun. We definitely had a good time doing so. Its just something that we are not rushing back to play. With so many other similar block and card wargames out there that have a better veneer of history, its hard to want to play this again. If the Designer were to come up with a new set of rules addressing some of the points raised above, we'd be more than eager to give it another try. But for now, historically speaking, "Hammer of the Gauls" is a indeed a "HoG."
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Chad G
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Thanks for the review.
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Kevin Garnica
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Yay! Finally a review on this game! I've not even read it yet, but I'm just happy this was written, as I've been interested in it. Thanks.

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Kevin Garnica
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...And now it's promptly crossed off my list. Thanks for the heads up.
 
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Daniel Berger
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Hi,

I thought I'd chime in with a few counterpoints.

zeitsev wrote:
Map: It's functional enough, but isn't reflective or evocative of the period. Garish colors, IMO. The map is missing a key fortress, Bibracte; make sure you add it before playing.

Actually, Vesontio. But yes, definitely add it before playing.

Quote:
A special Leader unit who confers a unique combat bonus; and an ability for him to "Over-winter" outside his Home Base only once per game.

Once every other turn, actually.

Quote:
Historicity: Here's the biggest stumbling block (pun intended) to my enjoyment ot CGW. The rules omit or abstract out much of what a player with a knowledge of history might expect to see in a game ostensibly about 'Caesar's Gallic Wars'.

Examples:
- Sieges: Caesar judged that some forts were too strong to attack conventionally, and laid siege to them. Perhaps the most famous event of the entire war was the siege of Alesia. (There were other sieges as well, notably the Gallic siege/defeat of Cotta's Roman Camp. The game has no sieges.

While it's true that there were sieges, they were also short. The siege of Alesia was 1 month. Given that 1 turn of game time is 1 year (or one campaign season, if you prefer), representing sieges more literally did not make sense to me. Given the scale of the turns, and the desire to keep the game simple, sieges were abstracted as defensive modifiers.

Quote:
- Fortified cities: While there are sieges, there are fortified cities. However, since they convey a defensive bonus to all units in the province, they have the effect of being fortified PROVINCES. That's a pretty big stretch, leading to unrealistic gameplay. To ring in Roman expansion, a smart Celtic player will attempt to set up a band of provinces stretching hundreds of miles across Gaul; the equivalent of an ancient 'Maginot line.'

Wow, you must really get annoyed with Hammer of the Scots then, with what we have dubbed the "Mentieth Line".

But seriously, I'm not sure what you mean here. Between Minor Revolts, Political Actions and good old fashion skull cracking, forming some sort of "defense line" just isn't going to work for very long. The complaint about "fortified provinces" seems an odd one to me, since many area based games do this sort of thing.

Quote:

- Trans-alpine Gaul (TAG): If the Romans lose this province they suffer significant penalties. Because of the way the tribe rules work, the Gaul/Celt can flip control of provinces deep in Roman rear areas. Prudence therefore demands leaving behind garrison legions to protect an otherwise vulnerable TAG. But history record that Caesar took all his legions with him deep into Gaul. So either he was dangerously unconcerned with his supply base or the game is inaccurate. (I do recall reading that he had 15 or so cohorts of Romans providing him with rear area security. That might be worth looking into as an inherent TAG garrison. But its not now in the game). We also found when playing that the Roman routinely returned "home" to TAG with the bulk of his army each year to build up supply. Historically, they stayed out in the provinces. Again,something's not right.


It is incredibly difficult for the Gauls to capture Transalpine Gaul because the Roman legions can always return home and smack any enemy units sitting there. There were a couple of close calls, but I don't think it ever happened in playtesting. Typically the Gauls will run 1 unit in there on the last phase to force the Romans to send 1 or 2 legions home to kill it.

I cannot remember, nor find any mention of, Caesar having a 15 cohort garrison stationed in Transalpine Gaul.

Quote:
However, again we are at odds with history. Those tribes which did 'rebel' were basically those which the Romans had not yet beaten. But in the game, previously subjugated tribes again take up the sword fairly easily at the play of a card or the roll of a die. There is basically no tribal "memory."


True, but my goal was to represent the inconstancy of the Gauls in a very general way. Caesar comments on the fickleness of the Gallic tribes (Book IV, 5). Consider the Aedui or Atrebates, for example. Implementing some sort of "tribal memory" would require redesign and additional complexity.

Also keep in mind that at the scale of the game each tribe really represents an amalgam of tribes.

Quote:
The result is that the Roman (in our playings at least) became so concerned about protecting his lines of communication and overextending himself that he hesitated to go deep into Gaul - until the end of the game, that is. Then he'd go on a mad dash to seize provinces, hoping to put himself ahead when the Time Record Card announced the "end of the world". That strategy also had the effect of delaying /denying the arrival of the Gaul's big asset, Vercingetorix.


That trick is beatable. And merely hoping that your opponent doesn't draw the Massive Revolt is unwise.

Quote:
A more accurate representation of the campaigns would have Victory Conditions which drive the Romans to conquer each province on the map at least once. For the Gaul, Roman-subjugated provinces should not be available to fight again until either 'liberated' by other Gallic units or Vercingetorix enters play. (This could be done via a variable die roll, tied to number of provinces the Roman has conquered at that point, but I don't want to be accused of redesigning the game.)

Aye, this approach would require redesign I think. Might be a good basis for a solitaire design.

Quote:

Bottom Line / Verdict:
I knew before I bought CGW that it was not intended to be a simulation. That's not what Worthington is known for. However, it has very serious disconnects with history. Any reader is welcome to do the most rudimentary of research to verify the validity this statement.


Well, we'll have to agree to disagree about "serious disconnects with history". But, I thank you for the review anyway as it may at least alert people to the fact that it may not contain the level of detail they would like it to have.

On a side note, I definitely think there's room for a heavier and/or solitaire version of this conflict, should some intrepid soul out there ever choose to design it. I'd be happy to playtest.
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Tom Grant
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I'm not sure that making lines of supply and communication important is necessarily a bad thing for a game about this campaign. Caesar's aggressive strategy for charging into Gaul got him into trouble on multiple occasions. It also was, arguably, one of the keys to his success, but it wasn't quite Sherman's march to the sea.
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Reinhard S.
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Quote:
However, again we are at odds with history. Those tribes which did 'rebel' were basically those which the Romans had not yet beaten. But in the game, previously subjugated tribes again take up the sword fairly easily at the play of a card or the roll of a die. There is basically no tribal "memory."



True, but my goal was to represent the inconstancy of the Gauls in a very general way. Caesar comments on the fickleness of the Gallic tribes (Book IV, 5). Consider the Aedui or Atrebates, for example. Implementing some sort of "tribal memory" would require redesign and additional complexity. [/q]

Hallo Daniel,
I think there are already two ways to keep up the tribe's "memory of just having been subjugated".

Method 1: Leave them Weak:
The Roman Player MAY build up steps of subjugated tribes, he is NOT obliged to. So let them stay at 1 Step of Strength! - not attractive for a revolt.
Method 2: Garrison them!



[/q]

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Daniel Berger
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Quote:
Hallo Daniel,
I think there are already two ways to keep up the tribe's "memory of just having been subjugated".

Method 1: Leave them Weak:
The Roman Player MAY build up steps of subjugated tribes, he is NOT obliged to. So let them stay at 1 Step of Strength! - not attractive for a revolt.
Method 2: Garrison them!

This is true!
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