Friday, July 25, 2008

Alexandros comprehensive review

Alexandros is an area movement-and-counter wargame depicting the Alexander the Great's campaign of conquest against the Persian Empire from 334 BC to 323 BC. The game, which was the issue game in Command Magazine No. 10, covers the whole ten-year campaign in quarterly turns.

Units are Macedonian Phalanx' of about 6,000 men and comparably-sized units of infantry and cavalry from all over the region. Each unit is rated for attack and defense strengths.

The 12-page rule book describes a game of low to moderate complexity by wargames standards. The colorful Mark Simonitch map is attractive and functional, depicting the entire Middle East from Greece to India divided into large provinces. Those provinces are rated as either rich, fertile, mountain or wilderness with varying ability to support an army.

In truth, the game is fairly straightforward as Alexander and his Macedonians totally overmatch their Persian opponents. The Macedonian army with Alexander alone has a dozen units that match or exceed the best native Persian unit (the Royal Guard) in combat strength. Like some rock tour, Alexander and his boys pretty much hit all the sites, steamrollering any Persian force that happens to get in the way.

The only viable Persian strategy is to engage Alexander in combat and hope for a lucky roll (snake eyes) to kill him.

The typical XTR response when faced with a strategically sterile wargame situation is to add in a lot of colorful chrome and Alexandros has it all, from The Gordian Knot and Roxanne to the Indian Prince Porus and his elephants. The game includes a fairly involved tactical schematic battle system for resolving battles. This would be more of a problem if battles were common but the historical campaign only had four major pitched battles and the game probably will have a similar number.

Alexander is such a singular historical personage that any wargame would have some trouble dealing with his campaigns. The game designer is faced with the problem of replicating his success while not having Alexander on hand to do it. If the game player (who necessarily is not "Anyone" all-that-Great) were left to his own devices and talents he'd be very unlikely to get anywhere near Babylon, let alone trapsing through Afghanistan and India!

And his opponent is not likely to be as bad a "Great King" as the hapless and cowardly Darius. So the Macedonians and Alexander are given very high factors and lot of special abilities and the game plays out more or less historically.

The same map and rules and many of the counters were used in two major variants published in Command Magazine ("Xenophon" and "Successors," reviewed elsewhere) which make more interesting games, as they are not saddled with dealing with Alexander. Xenophon and many of the Successor generals were talented leaders, but more within reach for the typical wargamer.

The units use the full-color iconic representations first seen in Kadesh. The Macedonians are on light blue backgrounds while the Persians are beige. Some revolting Spartans are on black backgrounds, Greek mercenaries are "bronze." The Indians are described as "saffron." Some barbarians that may show up via random event are "gold" and similar raiding Arabs are "sand." It will take a keen color sense to pick out the difference between beige, saffron, gold and sand, but the icons are different enough there should be no problems for the game players.

The game turn starts with a mutual supply phase. The Macedonians move, followed by the Persians. A mutual combat phase follows, with so-called minor combats resolved before big battles. After field battles sieges are conducted. Tactical battles are resolved on a separate display, where units are lined up against each other. Each battle is a duel between to units. The only advantage of numbers is the ability to take losses and keep fighting, but there is no way for a bunch of weak units to gang up on a strong one. This feature of the combat system enhances the power of strong units tremendously. A typical 3-2 Persian infantry unit fighting an 8-8 Macedonian phalanx attacks at 1-3 result,with the best result being an "engaged" result with no immediate effects and a mandatory refight in the next round.The most likely result is an "AL" attacker loss which will send the hapless one-step Persian to the dead pile. Meanwhile, the 8-8 phalanx has a solid 4-1 against the Persian duing its attack. The best the Persian can hope for is still an "engaged," but the most likely result is a "DL" which also kills the one-step Persian. The Persian player will be forgiven if it feels like he's playing at the short end of a "heads I win, tails you lose" proposition. While there are a few better Persian units, none can manage as much as a 1-1 against a phalanx unless assisted by a leader, and only the very best, leader-assisted, can manage a 1-2 against Alexander if he's stacked with a phalanx or the Companions (and he should never be stacked with anyone else), which is the minimum odds needed to have a chance for a "DL" result and a chance to kill Alexander.

The Persians win if Alexander is killed or captured (fat chance) or if they manage to keep the Macedonian victory point count below 16. Alexander gets 1 VP per controlled objective (there are 11 possible) and controlled province (there are 26 of those). More than 20 brings some level of Macedonian victory. The historical result was 25, which most players should manage.

The game is playable in one sitting and only takes about a quarter hour to set up. There is just one scenario, but there are also two major variants "Xenophon" and "Successors" that were published in a subsequent issue.


(Yes) For Wargamers: An unusual ancient battle with some interesting choices, but play balance is, to put it mildly,questionable. The best solution is to play a match with the player with the higher VP total winning.

(No) For Collectors: No remarkable collectibility.

(No) For Euro gamers: As a hex-and-counter wargames the game play is intricate and detailed and play balance a secondary consideration.

1 comment:

  1. This game is unwinnable by Alexander. All the Persians have to do is avoid battle. Simply move into the area Alexander just left. Alexander either controls only one area at a time, or he divides his forces into may small stacks that can be defeated in detail.