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Subject: Chalons: The Fate of Europe, a Review rss

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Phil Garland
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Of the battle fought in that part of Gaul called by the learned the Campus Mauriacus, by the vulgar the Catalaunian Fields, and known to recent peoples as Chalons, few details are known...… .

First impressions out of the box:

Folio—nice, reminiscent of the original folio series—will have to pull out an old SPI folio and compare sizes. After checking, Chalons is exactly the same size as the original SPIs, both folio and map. New folio has a pocket on each side rather than just the right side. Current map is nice, but I still like the old non-glossy SPI maps.

The map is colorful, semi-glossy, and contains a lot of empty space. The game comes with a set of Ancient Battles rules in six pages, followed by a page of specific rules for Chalons. A small zip-lock is included for the counters, while the whole folio comes in a large zip-lock.

Counters: Colorful and workable. Not up to GBOH standards, but then I don’t expect them to be. Huns & their allies are Green, with different color stripes for the different “nationalities,” of which only the Ostrogoths are named, the rest being identified simply as “Barbarian.” Romans and their allies (Visigoths named) are Orange with varied stripes. 100 counters, with two being the game turn and demoralized markers. Not sure what the Demoralization marker is for, since there’s no particular place to put it once one side has hit its demoralization level.

Counter types are leaders (Attila & Aetius), cavalry, infantry, and (for the Romans) ballistae.

Game Play: This is as basic an old-school wargame as you can get. I move, fire/throw missiles, melee attack, then try one rally attempt, then you do the same. Different missile troops have different ranges, and missile attacks can only disrupt (cut defense strength in half) rather than destroy an enemy. Cavalry can charge, doubling strength, across clear ground. Players must keep constant track of total strength points destroyed, for by that means the players determine Demoralization/Disintegration levels. When Demoralized, attack odds are shifted one column left (2:1 becomes 1:1). Upon disintegration, the other side wins automatically.

The game reminds me of PRESTAGS. Never having played Ancient Battles, I’ll assume that the system is a descendant of the earlier system (and the even earlier S&T ancients tacticals such as Armageddon that PRESTAGS descended from). Combat is not terribly bloody unless you can get 5-1 odds or better. Most results are retreats at close odds.

One of the few problems I have with the game is the relegation of 1/3 of each army as generic “Barbarians.” The sources agree on Aetius having Franks, a unit of Alans of uncertain loyalty (whom Aetius had to keep close watch on lest they switch sides), and some Saxons. The battle, coming only two years after Vortigern invited Hengist and Horsa to Britain, makes me imagine several Saxons on the field who had declined the brothers’ invitation, and now having second thoughts as they watched the Huns charging toward them… .

The battlefield depicted is, of course, hypothetical. We don’t know exactly where it was. Historical records give us few details, other than there being a height/hill of some kind on the field. This is reflected on the map by a long, snaking hill/ridge in the west/center, and a taller hill to the southeast. The only other terrain is woods to the west beyond the ridge and the three “Attila’s Camp” hexes on the North map edge near the east end of the map. The two hills help to both channelize the attacks and helps create an atmosphere of command decision-making. A completely flat, open map would lead to nothing but a slugfest, and surprisingly Chalons turns out to be more than that.

I’ve played the game through twice now, solitaire, pulling out an old tiny SPI D6 for the game. In the first game Aetius died on turn three (this allows only a draw for the Romans unless they can kill Attila. It also means Romans cannot rally, and even though rally only occurs on a 1 or 2 on D6, when it does happen, bringing back an 8 or 9 strength cavalry unit next to your leader can be very useful). The Huns, as might be expected, broke the Romans in that first game.

In the second play-through, the Romans acted more cautiously, and crushed the Hunnic right wing north of the ridge. By holding in the center and on the left, the Huns were gradually whittled down and broken.

So, victory for either side is possible, at least in early gameplay. There is some leeway in dispositions, even using the standard setup (at least for the Huns). Free deployment may make for an even more interesting game. I began by expecting that the game would have only limited replayability. After two games I no longer believe this, and expect to revisit the Mauriac Plain a number of times in the next few months. So, overall, I rate the game as follows:

Components: 4 out of 5. Clear, readable, better than many Decision Games productions.
Rules: 4 out of 5. Clear, simple, won’t take long until they’re internalized.
Set-up: 5 out of 5. With 2 players, less than ten minutes.
Playing Time: 5 out of 5. 2 hours or under.
Gameplay: 5 out of 5. This game is fun! The situation is tense, the battle tough.
Replayability: 4 out of 5. Different tactics are possible using the terrain and setup.
Historicity: 3 out of 5. Too little detail with the allied Barbarians, a hypothetical map, and a lack of a means by which some troops could desert to the other side.
Overall: 4 out of 5. Very Good. A solid game, and I’ll be ordering more Folios. Might even pick up the earlier versions of the Ancient Battles series.
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Richard Berg
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Title is somewhat of a misnomer . . ..Attila was on a booty raid (the old style booty, not modern). Europe - or rather Rome - was in nio danger at this time, mostly as Gaul was a bad place for Attila's cavalry: too many woods. At The Catalaunian Plains most of his men fought dismounted.

RHB
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Phil Garland
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BROG wrote:
Title is somewhat of a misnomer . . ..Attila was on a booty raid (the old style booty, not modern). Europe - or rather Rome - was in nio danger at this time, mostly as Gaul was a bad place for Attila's cavalry: too many woods. At The Catalaunian Plains most of his men fought dismounted.

RHB


Aye, and it's also debated as to how many actual "Romans" were with Flavius Aetius, let alone whether the battle was in any way "Decisive" as Creasy put it.

"Fate of Europe" might be overdramatic, but I think it's a minor quibble.

And anyway, O Master of the Ancient Battle, $20 max for the folio version, $90 for Cataphract+Attila to get to game the battle with your system, sometime in the future, when Cataphract gets reprinted...

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Lawrence Hung
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Wan Chai
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A hypothetical map? It is hard to find one good game in the series that is interesting to me but this one came close. I have a positive impression about the simple but elegant Battles of the Ancient World system but Chalons is the only game released so far. My question is: are the quad standard rules inadequate to simulate the individual battles? Or simply the system is out-moded in the current design trend? Is there any plan to utilize the Battles of the Ancient World system to other battles in the Folio series?
 
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