Most of wargames which I know are following similar pattern: both sides having more or less same amount and type of forces, with some small variations of course. Who better uses them with pretty common set of rules – of course, again with some variation – wins. A typical hex & counter game would look like this. For many years a titles which were supposed to depict a completely asymmetrical fight – like proverbial Dawid and Goliath – were very rare. How to depict guerrilla warfare with realistic victory conditions? How to shape interesting design when the other side could be many times more powerful?
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Then the COIN (COunter INsurgency) series by Volko Ruhnke started to appear and a breach in the wall was made. It was proved that an elegant and very interesting design can be done about Cuban Castro insurgency, Columbia guerrilla warfare or War on Terror in Afghanistan. Other designers and publishers followed the suit and today we have pretty broad array of such titles. Among them I would like to present my 3 favourite. Enjoy!
The Falling Sky, the COIN series Volume VI, in wonderful way describes story of last years of Julius Caesar conquest of Gaul – culminating in great revolt in 52 BC. We have all powerful Romans, whom nobody can match in open field, the mighty and proud Arverni confederation, savage Belage in the North and cunning Aedui working with both sides of conflict.
The COIN system was created already from the start with solitaire module in mind. We have specific flowcharts and behaviour mechanics for all factions. Still, I often play this game in a way “what is best decision at this moment for that faction”. Really, that gives also very good effects.
The title already received a very interesting expansion – Ariovistus – which adds 5th faction – playable Germans. Thanks to this we have two additional playable scenarios with additional hours of joy. Truly, this is my favorite depiction of asymmetric struggle, with victory conditions greatly reflecting aims and goals of all the sides of conflict.
The game and system has a widespread fans community and you can get a lot of additional stuff – one of the best is fan made TRu’ng bot system, which was be implemented in Fire in The Lake game. I hope we will get it also for Falling Sky.
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ROOT by Leder Games
Surprised? You should not be! While there is still a heated debate on BGG whether rating of “wargame” for ROOT is accurate, this is for me a quintessence of asymmetrical design. Which grows better and better with every expansion!
In essence, Root is a game of adventure and war in which 1 to 6 players battle for control of a vast wilderness.
- You can start as The nefarious Marquise de Cat which already seized the great woodland, intent on harvesting its riches.
- But you can also assume role of the leader of the proud, squabbling Eyrie who will aggressively expand into Cats territory.
- If you are up for a challenge, take lead of the Alliance – who hides in the shadows, recruiting forces and hatching conspiracies. They begin slowly and build towards a dramatic late-game presence-but only if they can manage to keep the other players in check.
- Last but not least, there is Vagabond – a true RPG twist in wargame. He plays all sides of the conflict for their own gain, while hiding a mysterious quest.
Not enough asymmetry and variety? Well, jump to two expansions and lead:
- the Lizard Cult – outcasts, who tries to convert other creatures to their Cult
- the Riverfolk Company – focused on peaceful cooperation and trade
- the Crown Conspiracy – a secretive faction that hatches plots directly into the hands of their opponents.
- or become leader of the Underground Duchy – an imperial faction that mixes the flexibility of the Marquise with the escalating Eyrie Dynasties.
In Root, players drive the narrative, and the differences between each role create an unparalleled level of interaction and replayability. The strategies, actions and abilities of each faction are completely different. I think most vivid example are Cats – with 15 pieces on map at the start and Alliance – with 0. What is more, game in clever way allows for various combinations of already exiting eight factions, making sure the game is competitive. If you have not tried yet and wonder if it will be fun for your group, you can start from online version.
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Time to come back from abstract struggle for the woodland to very much historically established HiS. Here I Stand – a truly large and thorough story of the Europe during the time of Reformation. Few realize that the greatest feats of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, Henry VIII, Charles V, Francis I, Suleiman the Magnificent, Ferdinand Magellan, Hernán Cortés, and Nicolaus Copernicus all fall within this narrow 40-year period of history! This game covers all the action of the period using a unique card-driven game system that models both the political and religious conflicts of the period on a single point-to-point map.
In full version allows six players to lead key political and religious powers of 16th century Europe. Great replayability value – each faction plays completely differently, so you have at least couple of games before you would be able to experience all the subtleties of this title. Among major belligerents are:
- The Ottomans
- The Habsburgs
- The English
- The French
- The Papacy
- The Protestants
Here I Stand prominently and explicitly feature secret deal-making. A true six-sided diplomatic struggle, the game places a heavy emphasis on successful alliance-building through negotiations that occur away from the table during the pre-turn Diplomacy Phase. That can be really surprising when people come back to table and start to announce what was agreed!
Here I Stand integrates religion, politics, economics, and diplomacy in a card-driven design. Games vary in length from 3–4 hours for a tournament scenario up to full campaign games that run about twice the time. Rules to play games with 3, 4, or 5 players are also included. The 3-player game is just as well balanced as the standard 6-player configuration, taking advantage of the natural alliances of the period. There is variant for two players, with special deck, but that I still need to test.
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I could not restrain myself and avoid mentioning one of the latest creations of the Mark Simonitch – Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul.
Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul is a fast-playing, easy-to-learn, two-player card-driven game on Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. One player plays Caesar as he attempts to gain wealth and fame in Gallia at the expense of the Gauls. The other player controls all the independent tribes of Gaul as they slowly awake to the peril of Roman conquest. The game covers the height of the Gallic Wars, the period between 57 BC and 52 BC when Caesar campaigned back and forth across Gaul putting down one rebellion after another and invading Germania and Britannia. Units are individual Roman Legions or Gallic Tribes. Each turn represents one year.
I had already chance to play the game twice (Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul – playing as Romans & Caesar: Rome vs. Gaul – playing as Gauls) and each time it was a true blast. Such engrossing and exciting game, with really some refreshing mechanics. Need to play more and it might jump to top 3!
Now, when I look at my list a really see I skewed toward the Ancients, and especially Roman conquest of Gaul 🙂 I will not deny – this is definitely my favourite period of history and the games depicting this – of the highest quality. On a side note, the asymmetrical designs – aside from being very interesting and often challenging – have one more very important feature: re-playability. The factions usually are so varied that you feel like almost in completely different game – this is very vivid in Here I Stand for example.
And what are your favourite asymmetrical wargames? Please let me know in comments!