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Saturday, October 15, 2005


Struggle of Empires, brief review.

Now that the summer months are over and Alaskans are spending more time indoors, the good gaming months are upon us. Looks like Friday evening game-night at Lance's house is going to be a weekly event. Although I usually get a game together somewhere on Friday evening it will be nice just to have a regular game group.

Yesterday we had 6 regulars, one guy who is only able to game occasionally, and one new guy. There are at least 2 other guys I would call "regulars", and a multitude of "occasional" gamers who we can expect in upcoming weeks.

I hope that by having a regular, weekly game-night our circle of gamer friends might slowly grow.

Played Struggle of Empires for the first time since I first wrote about it back in July. We even had a full compliment of 7 players. Four of us had played before, but hadn't played enough that we didn't need to consult the rule book frequently. The first war lasted 3 hours, the second war lasted 1.5 hours, and I feel confident that the third war would have lasted about 45 minutes to one hour, but it was getting late and we called the game after the second war.

I'm quite impressed with the game. I think Martin Wallace did a good job of capturing the historical feel of the era without designing a game with minutiae. Players take the role of major European Powers during the colonial age. Players vie for control of other European states, North and South American colonies, Africa, India and the East Indies.

It is an area control game. The goal of the game is to have control tokens in colonies and minor European states. The player with the most control tokens in a territory gains the most victory points, the player with the second most control tokens gains a couple less points, and (in the European nations only) the third place player scores a couple points for having the third most control tokens in a territory. Each player places 5 random control tokens to start the game. Ten neutral counters are added to the game board at the start of each war. If a player can beat the neutral counters in battle, or by enslaving them, he replaces the token with a control token of his own. The only other way to gain control tokens is to take them from other players in war.

Money is very tight in the game. However, players have unlimited access to money. Let me explain. Players can take 2 gold by taking population unrest markers. At the end of the game players with more than 20 unrest lose. Players with the most unrest, yet less than 20, lose 7 victory points. The player with the next most loses 4 points. One unrest is also earned by each unit that is lost in battle.

The game is divided up into 3 wars, each of which are played out over 5 or 6 rounds depending on the number of players. Each round a player can take 2 actions. Actions are: Move 2 units, attack, draw a tile (once per round), colonize or enslave (once per round), build a unit (units are navies, armies and forts), and pass.

Players can buy tiles to gain a specific advantage in the course of the game. Some tiles represent allies, such as North American Indians, Cossacks, etc. who can be used to reinforce a player's own units. Other tiles represent commercial companies that earn the player income. Some tiles give players a specific advantage in war, such as the ability to re-roll dice once each war, the ability to create 2 units with one action, and not pay for one attack each war (it normally costs 2 gold to declare an attack). That particular tile allows the "free war" to not cost an action, also.

There are many more tiles. Some tiles have a couple duplicates, some have many duplicates.

Wars are fought by rolling the dice, adding military units to the roll, and adding allies support to the total. However, the dice aren't added together. They are subtracted from each other. For example, a roll of a 6 and 4 is 2. A roll of 5 and 1 is 4. A roll of 3 and 3 is 0.

The mechanism that makes the game unique is the alliance system. Player divide into two teams each war. Basically, players get to bid on who will be their ally from war to war. Players may not attack their allies. It can therefore become important to try and get your enemies into your alliance, as war is costly in the game. Remember, players gain 1 unrest for every unit lost in battle. If you gain 20 unrest you automatically lose the game.

The rule book is only 5 or 6 pages long. There are no exceptions to rules to keep the game historically accurate, but the rule book is not organized well.

Good game with a learning curve. It takes about a half a game for newbies to gain a grasp of strategy and goals. It takes about half a game to remember what bonus all the tiles impart. Definitely a game I recommend just jumping into with a brief explanation of the goals. Options are immense. Strategy is fairly deep. You can't explain every aspect of the game prior to playing.

I look forward to playing again with an experienced group. Shouldn't last much more than 3 hours with an experienced group.

Here's my brief session report of SoE from February. I didn't clarify the problem then, but the game broke down with people asking hypothetical questions and demanding answers to those questions. With that group at that time, everyone insisted on understanding every rule and strategy before playing. Do not play SoE with such a group.

I anticipate buying the remake of Conquest of the Empire. CoE is an older Milton Bradley game that was part of the Game Master Series (Axis and Allies, Fortress America, etc.). Rules have been tweaked from the original, and a second set of rules based upon Struggle of Empires rules has been added to the game. Do some research before you buy, but from everything I have read it seems as though Conquest of the Empire tweaked Struggle of Empire rules for the better. I might have to wait for Santa to deliver CoE, but it is a game that will hit the table soon after I acquire it (SoE rules, thank you very much).

Good gaming,

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