Saturday, 19 May 2012

Field Commander: Alexander

In 2009 (yes that long ago) I received a game from the Boardgamegeek Secret Santa program: Field Commander: Alexander, by Dan Verssen Games.  Field Commander Alexander is a wargame that seeks to recreate some of the more important campaigns in the career of Alexander the Great.  It’s a game that is designed specifically to be played solo, which is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to get to the table.  I’m not completely averse to solo games, though when I do take the time to set one up and play it through I usually go for American Megafauna, or Origins: How we Became Human (both by Sierra Madre Games) - I enjoy the storied arcs of both those games, and the themes they recreate.

I do, however, also have a soft spot for the history and story of Alexander the Great, and have enjoyed reading many books about his life and campaigns.  The 'Field Commander' series of games contains a variety of titles that recreate the exploits of some of the great generals from history, though Field Commander Alexander is the first of the series I have played.

So far I’ve really only dabbled with the game - I’ve played two of the four scenarios that come in the box; Chaeronea/Granicus and Issus (the game also includes the siege of Tyre and a campaign including the battles of Gaugamela/Hydaspes). So far the net conclusion is that I like it.  As a solo game there is a serious risk that a player’s choices will be a simple veneer over an essentially random game engine - but in Field Commander Alexander it feels as though the myriad of choices you make have a lasting impact on how well you do in any given scenario.

There are multiple aspects to consider, glory from winning battles and taking over strongholds can be used to purchase once off special abilities or advisors who provide a lasting bonus of some sort.  Gold earned from territories conquered and armies defeated can be invested back into building a larger army or for building monuments - but is crucially also required to move a large army from territory to territory.  The armies one buys need to be carefully considered as well - units are rated not just on their ability to cause damage, but on their ability to take damage and the speed at which they attack - with faster units hitting earlier in a battle round.

Combat is resolved through simple dice rolling, but choosing when to use special abilities, and who will take the hits that come your way are crucial aspects of winning a battle and preserving your army for future battles.
It might seem an obvious thing in a solo game - to expect the player to make the choices about what damage the enemy takes - but it adds another layer of choice to the game as damaged units are usually slower and less effective - so do you spread the damage and weaken the enemy army - or do you concentrate that damage and destroy chunks of the army, but potentially leave intact units that can cause serious damage.  

All these various currencies, systems and sub-systems are neatly and simply encapsulated in a scenario that drives a coherent and engaging narrative. As the game progresses you feel a tension between wanting to push on and disallow the enemy too much opportunity to reinforce (handled by the game engine), or wanting stay put and consolidate your forces before engaging with an enemy that may outmatch you.

All in all Field Commander Alexander is an interesting and engaging game - the scenarios provide each session with a different flavour, and optional starting conditions make each even more replayable.  The game is also very nicely produced - with solid and well made mounted boards for each of the four scenarios.  On reading the rules through first time I thought it might be more involved than it in fact turns out to be.  It is, in my humble opinion, a good solo game that doesn’t take up a huge amount of space, is easy to set-up and play, and most of all is enjoyable and fun.  I look forward to pushing on to Tyre and the Persian and Indian empires that await beyond.


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