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Review: Conquest of the Empire (Classic variant)

Posted by Denny Koch on September 22, 2010

Game: Conquest of the Empire

Publisher: Eagle Games
Published in: 2005
Designers: Larry Harris

Era: Ancients; Roman Civil War
Game Type: board game / area movement / plastic miniatures (2-6 players)
Contents: 3 mounted game boards, 2 marker sheets, 1 rulebook (CoTE classic variant, 11 pages), 1 rulebook CoTE II (17 pages), 1 set of playing cards (only used in the CotE II variant), 8 dice, 396 plastic miniatures, 75 plastic coins


HFC Game-O-Meter: E


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 9
Rules: 6
Playability:
8
Replay Value:
7.5

Overall Rating: 8

PRO Fantastic presentation, high heft factor, great multiplayer experience, very thematic…
CONTRA …somewhat static and too long with 2 players, rules wording not always clear

Introduction

After our extensive playing sessions of Julius Caesar by Columbia Games and watching the first season of HBO’s “Rome”, we were in the mood for another Ancients game dealing with the Roman Empire.

Conquest of the Empire is a true eye-catcher

Since we are currently re-writing our old reviews in our operation  “review reset“, this was the perfect chance to bring one of our other Ancients games back to the gaming table and to play it with a fresh perspective.

We had to choose between Imperium Romanum II, SPQR, and Conquest of the Empire (CotE). CotE is a “light wargame” from the Axis & Allies family, so it was perfectly suited for being played again for a few weekends without the major time investment Imperium Romanum II would have demanded from us. In addition, we already had some extensive (German) reviews for both Conquest variants, which were written some years ago – so we decided to bring Conquest of the Empire back to our gaming table and to review it again.

The Conquest of the Empire box contains two game variants: The “Classic” game variant which is based on the old Conquest of the Empire game  from the MB Gamemaster Series (published 1984), and a new variant called “Conquest of the Empire II” which has not much to do with the original game and which introduces politics, intrigue, and diplomacy. It is next to impossible to play the CotE II variant with 2 players (which isn’t mentioned anywhere on the game box, btw!), so we decided to play and review the classic variant first (before forcing a third player to re-play the CotE II variant with us ;)).

Conquest of the Empire Classic is somewhat similar to Axis & Allies but not so static, allowing more different strategies and more maneuvering. The map depicts the Mediterranean (as it does in Julius Caesar by GC) and the game takes place in the Roman Civil War, but on a somewhat more abstract level than the CG game because each player is just “one Caesar” and his forces, fighting other (unnamed) Caesars.

The game can be played with 2-6 players and utilizes area movement, supported by naval movement,  building streets and capitals for more protection and faster movement. Battles are fought with special combat dice showing specific symbols.

Graphic Presentation

The map. Click to enlarge!

The graphic presentation is fantastic. The mounted map consists of three parts and requires a large table. The artwork is great, the area from the Mediterranean, central Europa, up to Britannia and the East is drawn in a geomorphic fashion showing mountains, hills, and other geographical features that don’t play any role in the game mechanics, though. The game design is very “Roman” and antique with lots of Roman chrome, for example creatures from the Roman mythology in the Mediterranean sea, or illustrations of Roman gods, busts, or statues. The font in which the map text is printed is somewhat playful but fits perfectly to the overall topic.

The game box contains an incredible amount of stuff and is one of the heaviest game boxes in our collection. First, there are six sets of plastic miniatures (color-coded, one set for each player, in one of six plain colors which ask for re-painting), which are divided into leaders, infantry, cavalry, galleys, and catapults. The miniatures are very detailed, you can even discover small details on the soldiers’ uniforms, and you can actually move the arms of the catapults. The legion markers (which are used to mark your captured territories) are printed with Roman legion insignia and even the golden and silver plastic coins (the currency to recruit your troops, build your streets and cities) are designed in a Roman fashion with a portrait of an Emperor.

The dice are plain ugly

There is absolutely nothing to complain about the game presentation; it is certainly one of the best looking games of its kind. If you are into painting plastic miniatures, you will have even more fun with the game because the figures are so detailed (check out the image galleries on boardgamegeek where players posted images of their painted miniatures).

We have only one minor complaint: the dice are amazingly ugly, showing black symbols on orange ground. The symbols are horrible and cannot be told apart from a distance, especially the galley and catapult symbols are very similar (and similarly ugly). Often you can’t recognize the symbols your opponent just rolled, and you even have to take a closer look to tell your own symbols apart. A clearer design would have been really helpful, or at least a different coloring for each symbol.

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Posted in Games A-Z, Historical Games A-Z, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Introduction to Warhammer: Invasion (LCG)

Posted by Denny Koch on July 26, 2010

Warhammer: Invasion – The Card Game is a Living Card Game (LCG) by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). In contrast to the other LCGs by FFG (Call of Cthulhu – The Card Game and A Game of Thrones), Warhammer Invasion isn’t the re-launch of a former Collectible Card Game but an entirely new series.

The game is based on the Warhammer Universe by Games Workshop and was designed by Eric M. Lang.

What’s a Living Card Game?

A Living Card Game is a fully customizable dueling card game, where players create their own custom decks which support their favorite tactics, and deck theme. They choose one or more factions and create a deck of a given number of cards. Depending on the game, you have to follow a basic rule set for constructing your deck (a minimum or maximum number of cards, a point or cost system, allowed number of copies of each cord in one deck etc.), but apart from this, you are free to build and explore the “ultimate deck“ which utilizes or exploits the different strengths and weaknesses of game factions. This deck is then pitted in battles against the opponent’s custom deck.

 

Battle Packs add additional cards to the Core game and allow for deck customization

In contrast to a Collectible Card Game (CCG) or Trading Card Game (TCG) (for example Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, Marvel Vs, The Lord of the Rings TCG, Pokemon) where new cards are added by buying so-called randomized “Booster Packs”, Living Card Games start with a fixed set of cards in a Starter Pack and fixed expansions. While you don’t know the contents of a CCG booster pack (thus probably spending hundreds of Dollars in search for a very rare card), you always know the contents of the LCG starter pack and all expansion packs. New booster packs are constantly added to a CCG card system, so you have to spend a huge amount of money if you are a competitive player who wants to be “up-to-date” with all-powerful and rare cards. This “blind buy” model of CCGs is somewhat problematic because it burns a lot of money while you find copies and copies of the same cheap cards over and over again while you are searching for the “one” powerful new rare card. Nevertheless, CCGs are quite popular, mostly because the thrill of “not knowing what’s inside” is somewhat addictive to many players.

The Living Card Game has a different distribution model – the expansions (=new cards) are not sold in booster packs with random contents but in fixed add-ons (called Battle Pack, Asylum Pack, Chapter Pack or Adventure Pack, depending on the game). These are published regularly (usually once a month) and the contents are public knowledge. You don’t buy the pig in the poke, but you know exactly which cards you will get when you buy a certain expansion pack. If you don’t want to buy all packs but are only looking for some specific effects in order to make your deck stronger or to counter an unbeatable opponent, you can do some research of which cards are available for your favorite faction(s) and then buy specific expansions which will support your deck and individual playing style. Since the costs for such an expansion are moderate (about 10 $ for 60 cards), most LCG players will buy all expansions anyway, but it’s still much cheaper than buying tons of booster packs without knowing if you will ever get the card you are looking for.

Besides from the distribution model, there is no difference in gameplay and deck-building and customization between a CCG and a LCG. You still buy more cards, you customize your individual deck and you want to find the “ultimate weapon” against your opponent’s decks. So LCGs give you the best of both worlds.

For more information on the Difference between CCGs and LCGs, you should also have a look at our  introductory article to Call of Cthulhu – The Card Game (LCG) by Fantasy Flight Games.

I own Call of Cthulhu / A Game of Thrones. Do I really need another LCG, aren’t they alike?

If you are afraid that Warhammer: Invasion is just a Call of Cthulhu or A Game of Thrones clone simply in a different setting, you can rest assured that this ain’t the case. All three LCGs are actually very different from each other and they are entirely new games. Of course they share certain similarities (which all CCGs / LCGs / TCGs do), but their game mechanics, factions, objectives, and rules are absolutely different and not interchangeable.

Many players who like dueling card games play two or all three  of the LCGs – because they are all great and very special. All three LCGs are good  representations of their portrayed universe and you won’t ever confuse the games or the rules.

What’s Warhammer: Invasion – The Card Game?

 

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Posted in Fantasy Games A-Z, Living Card Games, Warhammer, Warhammer Inv., Warhammer Invasion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Short Introduction: ASL – what’s that?!?

Posted by Denny Koch on March 24, 2010

ASL (“Advanced Squad Leader”) is a tactical level, hex- and counter based consim which allows you to play almost all fronts of WWII battlefields. It is probably the most realistic and detailed game system out there and was originally developed by The Avalon Hill Game Company (TAHGC). Later on, the licenses were taken over by Hasbro and they decided that from now on the game system should be published by Multi Man Publishing (MMP).

ASL is the successor of Squad Leader (published 1977), a successful classic, and is – generally speaking – an improved and plainer version of the former SL system, incorporating all four original modules named “Gamettes” (which caused so much problems over the time because the new rules introduced by the gamettes didn’t fit well with the standard rules of the SL core game).

ASL is not a single game but a highly detailed and complex  game system, consisting of a three-ring-binder rulebook with the basic rules chapters A (Infantry), B (Terrain), C (Ordnance), D (Vehicles), E (Misc) and several modules which contain the scenarios, boards, counters, and OOB (“Order of Battle”) of all participating factions. Each module adds more specific rules or even new chapters (desert warfare, Pacific theater) to the rulebook.

Germans facing US forces

ASL portrays the battles of WWII on every scene and setting you can imagine and offers over 3000 scenarios which are very detailed and based on historical events and often with background information.

These scenarios describe the initial starting situation of every battle regarding manpower and leadership qualities, hours of the day, season, weapons, tanks and other vehicles, as well as the goal of the scenario, called “Victory Condition.”

A game is played through several game turns and these are divided into two player turns in which the players are taking actions one after another, although there are some phases where the non-phasing player can react to the actions of the moving player. This makes the game very interactive and downtime is reduced to a minimum for those participating in this game.

Men (single men, squads, half squads etc..) and machines (tanks, jeeps, trucks, weapons etc..) are portrayed on so called “counters” (if you take all MMP products together with the 3rd party stuff, the system contains about 20.000 counters) which contain different information and numbers printed upon them.

It is this information on which the interaction of the simulated battles is based on: Morale, Line of Sight, firepower, portage costs, terrain, malfunction, ammunition shortage, MG salves, etc.. and additional charts, diagrams and odds tables allow to simulate historical events on the gaming table pretty accurately.

Essential: A pair of tweezers

Movement is executed on geomorphic boards which are used to portray the terrain where the battles and maneuvers actually did take place. There are more than 50 boards available which can be combined in every way to fit any historical circumstances. The boards are printed upon with a hexagonal grid structure, each hex portraying 40 meters in reality. ASL tries to simulate battles and maneuvers with as much realism and detail as possible and it’s very successful in doing this. This is not Axis & Allies, but a true consim that is as close to reality as possible! But it is still very playable despite of this accuracy and its complexity, and it’s a rather fast going game, providing the players with great fun and enormous tension.

The rulebook of course is quite heavy because it contains rules for any situation you can think of, but all rules are well explained with many examples to help you jumping into the ASL game experience. Yet, it remains a book with some hundreds of pages of rules printed in small letters and a very technical English with tons of acronyms, which have to be mastered to get full satisfaction out of this game. A daunting task at first, but after overcoming this, one will realize that there’s no game experience comparable with ASL.

What do I need to start playing ASL?

In order to play ASL, players are required to buy the rulebook. The rulebook adds no counters and no boards and is sold separately at about 80$.

The gaming table with maps and charts

In addition, at least one of the core modules is required; later modules require ownership of the former modules. Module #1 “Beyond Valor” is required for all later modules because it adds the entire German army, vehicles, and ordnance weapons as well as the Russian OOB. If you want to test the game system first because you don’t know whether to delve into this very expensive game system with its rare and hard to find modules, you can alternatively start with module #2 “Paratroopers” which serves as a small introductory standalone module with all necessary counters included (US and German). Its scenarios are smaller and offer a step-by-step introduction to the more complex aspects of the game (starting with basic infantry fights before learning to use ordnance and vehicles). If you start with Paratrooper and decide that you like the game system, you have to buy and play Beyond Valor nevertheless, but the Paratrooper scenarios are nice for play on short game meetings because they are smaller and faster than the scenarios in the core modules.

Since ASL was originally meant to attract SL players, ownership of the old SL geomorphic game boards is required to play many modules. Newer editions and reprints come with new cardboard maps and many modules add new SL style maps to the collection, but ownership of the basic SL maps is a prerequisite if you want to play all scenarios available. Fortunately, the old SL games are not too hard to come by, the gamettes are still sold on eBay and the maps can often be bought separately.

Beware, many ASL modules are out of print and prices on ebay or other marketplaces can be astronomous. Fortunately, MMP has started reprinting the core modules but if you are a dedicated ASL collector, you have to be on the watch constantly if you want to purchase one of the extremely rare modules (for example the Pacific modules) or scenario collections. Check out module availability at the MMP website; sometimes, you can find a special bargain here.

So if you decide to jump into ASL, you can choose between these options:

  • Buy the rulebook (80$) and module #2 Paratrooper. If you like the game system, you will have to buy the other core modules; Paratrooper is a standalone and no other modules are based on ownership of this game. You could even search for an older 1st edition rulebook on eBay; it is much cheaper than the 2nd edition which contains some clarifications and additional rules chapters from the start which originally came with later modules. The 1st edition rulebook is perfect for getting into the game without taking financial risks; if you decide you like ASL, you will buy the 2nd edition sooner or later.
  • Buy the rulebook and module #1 Beyond Valor (about 100$), avoiding Paratrooper for the moment. Beyond Valor will be the foundation of your collection and is an absolute prerequisite to play the other modules.

Consulting the rulebook

(To be fair, there’s a third option: MMP published a spin-off series called “ASL Starter Kit” with a light version of the rules and a lower complexity. The starter kits should offer an easier (and cheaper) introduction into the game system, but they are NOT full ASL and jumping over to the full ruleset afterwards can be quite challenging. Many people decide that they are satisfied with what the Starter Kits have to offer and don’t switch over to full ASL at all. In our opinion, the “Rulebook & Paratrooper” or “Rulebook & Beyond Valor” (for more experienced consim players or even SL veterans) are the better options because you learn handling and navigating the monstrous rulebook from day 1. We started with an older (cheaper) 1st edition rulebook and Paratrooper and switched over to Beyond Valor and the updated and clarified 2nd edition rulebook afterwards.)

Paratrooper won’t be reprinted by MMP because in their opinion it became obsolete by the ASL Starter Kits, so keep your eyes open if you are interested in the Normandy invasion / Band of Brothers style scenarios included in this module.

How many modules exist?

Core Modules:

#1 Beyond Valor: Russian and German OOB
#2 Paratrooper: Germans and US paratroopers, Normandy invasion standalone introductory module
#3 Yanks: US OOB
#4 Partisan: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
#5 West of Alamein: British OOB, desert rules, out of print
#5a For King and Country: British OOB, replacement for West of Alamein without the desert rules
#6 The Last Hurrah: Allied Minors OOB
#7 Hollow Legion: Italian OOB
#8 Code of Bushido: Japanese OOB, PTO rules, extremely rare, out of print
#9 Gung Ho: US Marines and Chinese OOB, PTO
#10 Croix de Guerre: French OOB, reprint planned for 2011
#11 Doomed Batallions: Allied Minors and Guns extensions
#12 Armies of Oblivion: Axis Minors OOB

Historical Modules (containing large accurate game maps based on aerial images and additional rules)

#1 Red Barricades: Stalingrad
#2 Kampfgruppe Peiper 1: Ardennes offensive
#3 Kampfgruppe Peiper 2: Ardennes
#4 Pegasus Bridge

Deluxe Modules (containing larger boards):

#1 Streets of Fire: Street fighting of the Eastern Front
#2 Hedgerow Hell: Normandy

Solitaire ASL: A complete solitaire system for playing ASL with a good ‘paper AI’

The Paratrooper module

Since the game can be played online or via PbEM (Play by Email) with VASL, you will surely find opponents even if you are stuck in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, VASL is only a virtual representation of the maps and counters without AI, ownership of the ASL rulebook and the scenarios contained in the modules are still required. The same is true for rules knowledge; without that, you can’t play neither Face to Face nor with VASL.

If you want more information, check out our ASL microsite with many useful links! And don’t worry, ASL is extremely complex and getting into the game is a challenging task, but the ASL community is very supportive and friendly :).

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