Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pyrrhic Victory

During its early years, Command Magazine on several occasions used extra space on its counter sheets to publish major variants to previously published games. Sometimes this was to indulge in some pretty fantastic alternate history stuff (Tiger of Ethiopia) or looks at a major what-if (Plan 1919) but in a few cases it allowed a completely new historical game (Xenophon, Successors) to be included. Pyrrhic Victory from Command No. 19 is one of these, using a mere 39 additonal counters and six pages of rules to turn I Am Spartacus into a passable simulation of one of the Roman Republic's defining moments, the war against Pyrrhus in 280-275 B.C. It was this war that proved that the Roman military system was superior to the long-established Alexandrian system and paved the way for Rome's rise to world power.

For a description of the basic system, refer to I Am Spartacus. This review will scan the differences.

For Pyrrhic victory the time scale has been changed from the monthly turns of I Am Spartacus to turns representing three months. This has little game effect, but does illustrate the arbitrariness of time and space scales in ancient period wargames. Things moved at a different (and slower) pace than later times.

Because the war with Pyrrhus occurred about two centuries earlier than the events of Spartacus, there are a number of map changes. A number of cities depicted on the Spartacus map didn't exist yet, and some cities important in 280 BC were decidedly less so 200 years later. So all on-map cities are ignored and replaced with eight markers representing the important cities for this war. In addition, the three rebel sanctuaries of Spartacus are ignored.

In Spartcus fleets play a minor role, but in the interstate conflict of Pyrrhic Victory naval forces played a major role, so another three markers and expanded rules add a naval component to the game.

About half of the remaining counters add the new leaders required while the rest add Pyrrhus' army.The Romans use units from the I Am Spartacus counter mix, with legions limited to a maximum strength of 5 (instead of 6-8).

A few of the slave units from Spartacus are used to represent various auxilliary units and the wild tribes outside the civilized zones of Carthage, Syracus, Rome and Epirus. As in the earlier game, units are full color iconic depictions of the warriors.Because it represents a traditional interstate power-politics war rather than a slave revolt, PV has a very different feel from Spartacus, but a familiar one.

The main problem for the Pyrrhus player is his army. On the one hand the units are very powerful. The six phalanxes, Agema and Thessalonian horse and Epirot Royal Foot Guards are all virtually guaranteed to decimate their foes in combat. But at the same time, they are very fragile, with all but the Epirot guard having just two steps. In a fight with a comparable number of legions the Greek troops will lose the battle of attrition with the 5-step Roman legions.

Fortunately for Pyrrhus, he won't necessarily face equal numbers. The Romans start with just four legions and have to raise the rest.

Unlike Spartacus, which depicts the core of a huge empire that extends far off-map, PV shows the adolescent Rome that has just secured its immediate neighborhood and is now looking further afield. Only four areas (Latium, Etruria, Sabina Montes and Campania) start Roman. Each player can raise new units or replenish existing ones each Spring using replacement points earned through control of provinces. Fertile provinces provide two and mountains one, giving Rome seven and Pyrrhus four RPs from their starting territories. Basically the Roman can raise a new legion every year, with some supporting auxilliary units.

Additional special rules cover elephants, sieges, and some special units.Victory is determined by scoring victory points. Most come from controlling provinces, although some can also be acquired by eliminating key units and leaders. As befits a Republic, no Roman leader is vital, and if they all die the Roman player can simply draft new ones from the Spartacus countermix. Only if Rome is captured do the Romans lose immediately. On the other hand, Pyrrhus' war depends on his personal fate, and if he is killed, he loses, no matter what the point score.

Setting up the game will take about 20 minutes and the entire five-year 20-turn war can be played in an evening.


(Yes) For wargamers: If interested in ancient warfare this is an interesting match up between two dissimilar military systems. Both sides are challenging to play.

(No) For collectors: Nothing special.

(No) For Eurogamers: In addition to the normal intricacy of hex-and-counter wargames this is a variant, requiring cross-referencing between two sets of rules and noticing many exceptions and changes.

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