Since its publication, I was very curious of Almoravid. It definitely touches one of the more interesting for me periods of medieval history – the Reconquista of the Spain. On the other hand that would be my first encounter with the new Volko Ruhnke system – Levy and Campaign. I am a huge fan of COIN (COunter INsurgency) genre which was designed also by him so I do not deny I had high hopes!

In below material I am sharing my experiences form solo games of Almoravid. I had a chance to play both training scenarios – A and B, plus on top of this the mini game depicting the largest battle of this war – Sagrajas. That gives me enough material to share my initial thoughts.

The Game

Before jumping into the session reports, some more details on the game. Above you can find the unboxing – where I show the components but also talk about the game mechanics. Below similar information passed in the text form.

Almoravid, is a board wargame about a pair of tumultuous campaigns in the Spanish Reconquista – Leonese King Alfonso VI’s advances against the 11th Century’s fractious Muslim Taifa states, and the resulting intervention by a fundamentalist African Muslim army seeking to roll the Christians back. It is the second volume in GMT Games’ Levy & Campaign Series portraying medieval military operations. And it looks simply fantastic!

A little more about rules and mechanics. Both sides every 40 days will levy various lords and vassals and their forces, transport, and capabilities, backed by higher political authorities. Each lord is rated for fealty, lordship, service, and command and lays out his forces and assets on a mat.

The players then plan and command a campaign for that 40 days with the lords who have mustered. To represent the limits of communications on medieval operations, stacks of command cards commit players to activating lords in a sequence that may or may not meet the needs of the developing situation (I love that mechanics!). Cylinder pieces on the map show the lords’ maneuvers, while markers on a feudal calendar show how much longer the lords will serve, influenced by success or failure in their campaigns.

When lords clash in field battle or storming a castle, players array their lords’ mats left, right, center, and reserve and attempt to rout the enemy. Various event and capability cards reveal cultural and technological particulars that influence levy, campaign, and combat.

Ps. Here you can find great storage solution which you can see on main article photo:

Sessions Reports

In this section I will present three short session reports from my solo games – with short introduction and then a lot of beautiful pictures. I had a lot of fun with them and while Almoravid cannot be deemed as solo game, it is definitely very much solo-friendly.

Scenario A, Toledo Beset, Spring 1085

Situation: León seized Toledo from the isolated al-Qádir as his rivals sat by. But what if the Taifas had risen sooner and tried to react? Introductory scenario, played over two 40-Day periods, from the first Levy of Spring 1085 (box 1) through the end of Spring.

  • Starting situation - Toledo besieged
  • Pedro & Sancho ravage Zaragoza.
  • Abysmal Storm by Christian troops on Toledo.
  • Losses from the Storm.
  • Super rolls of Alfonso allows siege of Toledo to succeed (Battle Ram helps!)
  • A lot of Ravaging on both sides. Final result: Christians win 12.5 to 10.5 VPs.

That was quick and exciting scenario; I learned that storming the castle – especially fortress – it not such an easy task and can finish pretty painfully. On the other hand logistic element seems to be a very powerful aspect of the game – as well as living form enemy land (ravaging)!

Battle of Sagrajas (23 October 1086)

Situation: The Battle of Sagrajas (23 October 1086) was a violent clash – the largest of the 1085-86 war – between the Almoravid army led by their King Yusuf and forces led by the Castilian King Alfonso VI. The Almoravids responded to the call of Jihad by the Taifas which commonly fought amongst themselves however they had united to battle the powerful Christian states to the north. The Taifas aided the Almoravids during the battle with troops, which lead to a severe defeat for the Christians.

  • Things did not went well for the Muslims in the initial round. The Taifa Lords were supposed to soften Christian forces (2 Knights are out!). While they hit 5 units, all their armies were routed in this defense!
  • Definitely a decisive moment in the game. Sir fights valiantly, crushing Pedro but outflanked Yusuf starts to falter and routs in the end. The melee will decide the outcome!
  • The numbers (and Knights!) start to tell. Yusuf finally yields under the attack from Alfonso & Garcia; Pedro takes the brunt of the Sir attack, but that sacrifice will be very important for the final outcome.
  • Alvar enters from reserves & joint attack of Christian lords obliterates Sir forces. Muslim army Routs, history is changed.

Do not get used to such large battles – this is exception and great training before actual game. Usually, you will see max 2-3 lords engaged in one clash. The above set-up is great to learn the battle mechanics and I suggest everybody to try it.

Scenario B, Quelling of the Tajo, Summer 1085

Situation: The Leonese broaden their hold on Toledo as al Mutamid of Sevilla seeks to rally the Muslims. Another introductory scenario, played over two 40-Day periods, from the first Levy of Summer 1085 (box 3) through Summer’s end.

  • Start of Scenario B. Toledo is already conquered, but Taifa lords start with coffers full of coin to balance the situation.
  • The Round 1 sees Alfonso concentrating on Zaragoza (and defeating lord there). Taifa Lords deposit a lot of gold into Taifa Box.
  • The Levy for the second season sees arms and capability race between both sides.
  • Al-Mutamid bravely ravages large part of Toledo Taifa but is intercepted by Alvar and crushed after fierce battle.
  • Alfonso is in a conquest mood. He finishes successfully the Lerida siege.

What an incredible scenario! Very much balanced thanks to the small corrections (errata) in initial set-up. The Christians were on a conquest streak while Muslims were balancing it with ravaging and deposits to Taifa Box. Can’t wait to play it with two players!

First Impressions

Let me share now my initial impressions about the Almoravid in general and solo play specifically:

  • The theme is very deep and clearly visible in the game. You feel like in the Medieval Europe, with all those feudal lords and feudal interdependencies, communication and provision problems, planning glitches and inertia of things put into action.
  • The game’s uniqueness lays in the fact that that it puts a lot of stress on logistics aspect of the game. Most Wargames assume you have forces ready to battle and just start to move and attack with potential to be encircled and cut from supplies. In Almoravid the battle is a very costly and uncertain endeavor which you use as a last resort – in desperation or having huge advantage in size of the forces. I really appreciate that approach although I am fully aware not all players might be fond of it.
  • It is much easier to play Almoravid than learn to play it 🙂 Strange as it may see, I strongly suggest that after one read of the rulebook, you immediately put the pieces on board and jump into the initial scenario. When you do, you will see how streamlined and easy to grasp the game of Almoravid is. Sometimes to see the things in practice is the easiest way to learn them.
  • The game is simply beautiful. All the components, graphics, material and board are created with great attention to detail. I am used to GMT’s superb quality of their products; still this is one of the best I have seen.
  • It is very easy to play Almoravid solo – the planning phase has to be randomized a bit but in general I deem this game as a solid solo-friendly title.

I truly and thoroughly enjoyed playing Almoravid – from the story it tells, through the mechanics it uses to beautiful components it features. Soon I will have possibility to bring this to the table with some of my boardgames colleagues – and than I will most probably discover even more depth to it!