Recently I was contacted by Hasan Ali Hatipoğlu, a great fan of Commands and Colors system. He was (and he still is) designing his own game inspired by this great series. You know that I love C&C games, so it did not take me long to get the prototype of Battle of Legends: Rome vs Macedon. I had a chance to play all of its base scenarios, familiarizing in the process with the mechanics, components, rules and theme. Below my report, impressions as well as details on the design itself.
About The Game
Battle of Legends: Rome vs Macedon is a two-player board game that focuses on four battles fought between Roman Republic and Macedonian Kingdom in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, namely
- Elis (208 BC),
- Aous (198 BC),
- Cynoscephalae (197 BC),
- and Pydna (168 BC).
It is developed to simulate those battles on a tactical level with a hex grid board, terrain tiles, unit counters, faction cards, and d6 dice.
The game board is divided into hex spaces for unit placement and terrain tiles are placed onto them to create the battlefield of a chosen scenario. There are no sections! The Hill, River, and Forest are the terrain types which affects unit movement and combat in different ways. For instance, in battle Cynoscephalae (197 BC), which is mainly a hill battle, one hit is ignored if a unit on ground is attacking against a target unit on hill, in order to reflect the difficulty of uphill combat.
A unit is represented by a number of counters (equal to unit strength) on a hex space. The Roman army consists of Principe, Triarii, Velites, Elephants, and Equites units; whereas the Macedon army contains Pezhetairoi, Hypaspists, Peltasts, Hetairoi, and Cretans units, each having its own movement-attack-defense powers, special skills and abilities. Great effort has been made to bring out the differences in fighting formations of two armies, “Legion” vs “Phalanx”, while preserving a simple and streamlined game mechanism.
A leader is attached onto a unit and moves with it while upgrading friendly units in range. Leader influenced units make more powerful attacks, and hold the ground better. Therefore, effective positioning of a leader allows you to take the advantage in the course of battle.
Faction cards lie at the heart of the game. They are kept secret and played to order units (green), activate their offensive (red)–defensive (blue) abilities, or start an event. Each faction has its own unique set and the content is changing from one scenario to another. Order cards allow you to position your units strategically across the battlefield to best coordinate your attacks, while ability & event cards empower you to apply some combat tactics such as charging, flanking, envelopment, phalanx, testudo, and withdraw. There is also a scenario card in each deck which takes the place of a key event happened in that battle. For example, the surprising pass of Romans through a secret path in Aous Battle (198 BC) is simulated by an order card which upgrades their movement up to 5 hexes.
BoL is played over a number of game rounds (scenario specific) in which players take their turns respectively. Each turn consists of three steps:
- Order Units: Order a group of units by playing an order card from your hand.
- Move Units: Move each of ordered units either by marching, or attacking. Play an ability, or event card where possible. You move and attack immediately, which is interesting change to C&C.
- Select Cards: Manage your hand by discarding-taking cards from your faction deck. Yes, unlike C&C you do not draw, but select cards!
- This ordering of steps imposes a strategic depth to the gameplay by forcing you foresee upcoming events and make necessary adjustments beforehand.
The dice combat system is kept simple yet efficient, in which engagements are resolved quickly by referencing unit cards. To succeed in combat, you must consider unit types, unit strength, ranges, terrain effects and leadership.
To win the game, you must bring your opponent down to zero morale, or stand higher on morale at the end of the last round. Morale status may be changed with losses of units, or strategic places on board.
Having discuss the game mechanics, let me now bring the actual game to life by reporting on four scenarios which I had a pleasure to play with my wargaming buddy, Lukasz. It was great to discover that new, unique system and reenact such famous battles. Of course I would not be myself without providing some historical background for all of them 🙂
Elis (208 BC)
To support the Aetolian League, Sulpicius Galba (Roman Republic) and about 4000 men landed on the Elean coast. The Achaean and Macedonian invaders under Phillip V were unaware of the Roman presence when they attacked Elis. The sight of the Roman standards came as quite a shock. The fighting commenced before Phillip could withdraw his troops.
Phillip personally led a cavalry charge against the Roman legion. He was thrown from his horse and a fierce battle waged about him. Phillip V survived, but his army was defeated and Rome had what it wanted. No more meddling by the Greeks while they were fighting Carthage.
A good warm-up scenario, with limited Hand (3 cards each), no terrain features plus small forces contingent. And a victory on morale to Lukasz!
Aous (198 BC)
The Battle of the Aous was fought in 198 BC between Rome and Macedon, at or near modern Tepelenë in Albania. The Roman force was led by Titus Quinctius Flamininus and the Macedonians were led by Philip V. Flamininus approached the Macedonians under Philip at a narrow gorge where mountains on either side of the deep dropped precipitously down.
40 days of stalemate and negotiation ensued until Flamininus finally got his lucky break. A local shepherd revealed to him a concealed path leading to a position above and behind the Macedonians. Flamininus dispatched 4,300 menon nightime marches along the secret path while he skirmished with the Macedonians to distract their attention. On the 3rd day when Flamininus expected the arrival of his flanking force he committed his army to a full scale assault. The Romans struggled to make headway whilst all the while being showered by arrows, javelins and boulders from the heights.
Suddenly a smoke signal from above heralded the timely arrival of his ambush, and seeing themselves in danger of encirclement, the Macedonians turned and fled leaving 2,000 dead and their baggage behind.
A very interesting tactically scenario, in which Lukasz flanking maneuver decided the day (just as in history). First time I used my Phalanx ability extensively here and appreciated how strong Melee Infantry can be in attack.
Cynoscephalae (197 BC)
One year after Aous, Flamininus and Philip V met again. This would be the first contest between the Roman legion and a true Macedonian phalanx (Pyrrhus’ phalanx had been composed of Epirotes, and Hannibal’s of many nationalities). The two armies were nearly identical in size, with around 23,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry each. The battle would be won by the superior tactical system, not weight of numbers.
Still, the hilly Greek terrain at Cynoscephalae did favor the legion. The two armies were marching on opposite sides of a ridgeline and met unexpectedly in the early morning mist. A skirmish began between light troops, and Philip decided to commit his entire army. Philip took command of the right wing and successfully attacked the Roman left.
Flaminius seized the initiative and launched an attack spearheaded by elephants on the left flank phalanx, breaking it before it was fully deployed. Each army’s right wing was now victorious. An unknown Roman tribune, ‘seeing what ought to be done’ detached some maniples from the Roman right to strike the flank of the victorious Macedonian right wing phalanx. Philip’s phalanx was shattered in a textbook example of flexibility versus rigidity. Philip’s hopes to unite the Greeks under Macedonian hegemony ended with his defeat.
A truly climatic clash of Roman Legions and Macedonian Phalanx in which the latter was surprisingly decisively victorious. The quick occupation of hills, proper formation usage as well as hit with cavalry during the end of scenario allowed for that victory!
Pydna (168 BC)
The Roman victory at Cynoscephalae (197) had humbled, but not eliminated, the Macedonian army. As the reality of Roman world domination became clear, most of Greece rallied to support Perseus, the son of Philip V. The Third Macedonian War broke out in 169, but the initial Roman campaigns were plagued by inept commanders and ili disciplined troops. Then Lucius Aemilius Paullus was elected consul and immediately instituted a tough regimen of drill and discipline.
Perseus offered battle on a flat plain near Pydna but Paullus declined to fight and encamped behind rough ground. The following day fighting broke out between the two armies’ watering parties. Perseus responded by suddenly advancing his entire army on the Roman camp. In the center the Macedonian phalanx drove back the Roman legions, but lost its cohesion as it advanced into broken ground.
The Romans counterattacked when the Macedonian phalanx began to fragment. After hard fighting, the legionnaires were able to penetrate and destroy the phalanx. It was a decisive victory for the Romans, and the final major battle in establishing Roman dominion of the Mediterranean world. Pydna is also considered the classic Legion versus Phalanx battle, demonstrating the superiority of the Roman system.
That was a climatic conclusion to our mini-campaign which – if true in reality – might have changed the course of history. Elephants like in C&C are powerful although unpredictable beasts, best tackled from range. Phalanx and Testudo have its great advantages but also drawbacks. Really, great scenario!
Let me now share my observations, but pointing to specific design areas:
- Hand Management – this is pretty innovative and unique. First of all, you have all your “Order / Command” and “Combat / Dragon / Special” cards together on your hand. You choose them each turn from the full palette dedicated for particular scenario – and each uses different subset from the whole deck. Seems easy to get perfect hand? Not so much, as number of cards is limited and if you spend all your best in one turn, you will be left with not much at the end of scenario.
- Combat Resolution System – we use here simple d6 rolls. Still, the beauty lies in simplicity 🙂 Each unit has an attack (melee or range) and defense (also, melee and range) ratings. When those are equal, on die roll of 1-3 nothing happens, 4 forces defender to retreat, 5-6 inflicts one hit on defender. Now, if attacker has advantage (for example his melee attack 3, defender melee defense 2) he adds +1 to his roll, having more chances to hit. Simple? Yes? elegant and quick to resolve? Very much indeed!
- Units Strength – like in Napoleonics, units here roll the number of dice equal to number of counters in the unit. What is more, Leader has its own unit and in particular situations can also fight!
- Flanking Mechanics – this is very neatly implemented, as one of Abilities cards allows you to perform it; similarly for Evade, First Strike and couple other special mechanics. You want them? Fine, choose at the discard phase, but remember each such card limits number of regular Order cards in your hand, reducing flexibility to react. A nice trade-off.
- Special Cards for Scenarios – for each scenario, each player has one, history-based card which implements something unique which happened during this battle. This is so thematic! I like it very much!
To sum-up, we are getting very elegant, fresh and innovative system which plays quickly and enjoyably. It requires some time to realize how different from C&C series it is and get use to specific solutions used here. What is important, all this novelty is well balanced, adds up nicely in coherent way, providing good gameplay, narrative and a lot of satisfactions when smashing opponents 🙂
What are the next plans? Hassan will finish the design – there are couple of fixes still to implement, and I am glad our play-testing allowed to nail them down. Further scenarios will for sure be added and hopefully we should see this published! The plan is for that title to be beginning of series, where other prominent conflicts are also depicted – like Rome vs Carthage, Macedon vs Persians (Alexander the Great) or even England vs France (Hundred Years War). Keeping fingers crossed for this to come true! And if there will be further developments, I will let Dear Readers know.
Looks interesting! I look forward to seeing its further development
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