About game:

Cataphract portrays the development of the art of war wrought by the early Byzantine empire (also known as the Eastern Roman Empire) during the reign of the Emperor Justinian under its great generals Belisarius and Narses. During this period, the Byzantine Empire for a brief period re-captured a large portion of what was formerly the Western Roman Empire. Although successful in its attempts to re-conquer Italy and North Africa, the Byzantine empire’s resources were insufficient to hold onto its gains.


The game covers all the major battles that defined this era. To place these battles in their proper historical context, the Campaign Game, Justinian, is enclosed, which covers the quest to reconquer the Roman Empire under one ruler. Thus, Cataphract contains: the decisive battles of the era; a Campaign Game; plus a special bonus Viking raid scenario. The second edition of the game also covers the Battles of the Utus River (447 CE) and the Catalaunian Fields (451 CE) from the original Attila: Scourge of God Module

It is important to remember that Cataphract is the eighth volume in the Great Battles of History Series, following titles like The Great Battles of Alexander which portrayed the Macedonian art of war or SPQR which presented the legion of the Roman Republic. As such, it uses the same “basic” system as the preceding titles in the series, with rule changes and additions that portray the advances in tactical concepts and weaponry. You will find also many historical notes within the materials, so that you can see what questions of military history arose from the individual battles.

Would you stand-up to the task and manage to prevail against odds, leading the Byzantines to the victories in the field?

Number of players:

This is a great 2-player tactical game. Still, it plays fantastically solo and can be used also in that mode.

Playing time:

Many previous Great Battles of History (GHoH) volumes featured battles in size which lasted for long hours. In Cataphract we have mainly smaller scenarios, easily played in up to 2 hours, with occasional larger ones, up to 4 hours. I do not have to add that this increases appeal of the game for me enormously.

Complexity:

After playing so many titles I might be slightly biased but I would rate this as medium-complexity wargame and one of the more straightforward in GHoH series. It is true, that the rulebook is long and there are some specific situation you need to take into account when playing. Still, just organise a session with an experienced player and he will quickly introduce you to all nuances of the game.

What I like:
  • Game theme – I am huge fan of antiquity and Rome. Still, the early Byzantine era always eluded me. Here I am able to learn about those fascinating years – both on low, tactical level (battles) as well as strategic one (Justinian mini-game). A fantastic feast for history-geek!
  • Scale of the game – do not get me wrong, I like Alexander or SPQR. Still, Cataphract hits my table much often thanks to the size of battles it depicts, number of tokens used and simply – time needed to play.
  • Components – second edition provides a very nice look and feel, while still keeping the economy side. The maps are thin but from good quality paper, the chits are ideal – medium thickness, ideal for clipping. All looks nice and practically, without too much ornamentation. 
  • Rulebook – on one hand it might seem very long and daunting; but all those Designer Notes or Historical Comments made the read so much more digestible and interesting. Also, once you read it once, further GBoH games will be pretty straightforward for you.
What I do not like or would like to see in the game:
  • Sometimes the map can be very crowded with all those additional tokens like Cohesion Hits, No Missiles, Rout, TQ-Check, Leader Wounded, etc. You can get used to it or even simplify some of those a bit still that can be pretty annoying.
For whom?

Not a game for an entry wagamer, but if you already familiarised yourself with some of the titles in the hobby, that one would be a great continuation. And definitely (for me) best intro to the GBoH series, before behemoths like Alexander or SPQR.  

More about the game:

And now let us have a look at the components – all pictures / videos taken during my plays:

All game components in short video
An overview for the decisive moment of Casilinum scenario.
Tricameron (533 AD) – Belisarius obliterates Vandals and completes “Reconquest” of North Africa under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
Callinicum (531 AD) – Belisarius fighting Sassanids near Euphrates river
Casilinum (554 AD) – Franks charging Roman lines

VERDICT:

I acquired Cataphract after buying Alexander and SPQR. What a nice surprise it was for me – a much more streamlined and easier to play in reasonable time game from the Great Battles of History series. Great theme, with Roman glory once again (for the last time?) shining brightly over Mare Nostrum. If you would like to familiarise yourself with more strategic dimension, there is Justinian mini-game. And on top of this, second edition covers all additional modules to the base title.

If you have heard about Great Battles of History and was thinking if this is not too overwhelming for you, try Cataphract – a great entry into the system. Also, very suitable for the solitaire play. Highly recommended!

See you in another game review!