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BYZANTIUM

(In our quest to find fresh and intelligent voices about games, we welcome Chris Kovac, a gamer from our neighbor to the north, Canada. Chris writes:

“I have been a gamer since my University Days in the 1980’s. Initially a wargamer, I was converted over to Euro Games by a friend when he introduced me to Homas Tour (The Bicycle Racing Game) in about 1992. I then managed to get an invite to The Gathering of Friends and have progressed from there. After over a decade of Euro Gaming and attending Three Essens, I still enjoy Euros and try and play at least twice a week. My favourite games currently include Power Grid, Formula Deux and Acquire.”

In this issue, Chris gives us his take on the new Martin Wallace game, Byzantium.)

(Warfrog, 2-4 players, ages 13 and up, about 120 minutes; $59.95)

 

Byzantium is the latest game by the very innovative game designer Martin Wallace and the game company Warfrog. This is an area control game which can best be summed up by a comment that one player said to me “What a strange little game”. The game seems to be half light wargame and half a heavy Euro.byzantium

The theme of the game is the wars between the Byzantines and the Arabs coming out of Medina and Mecca in the late 900’s A.D. The game board is a map of the near Middle East showing various Arab and Byzantine cities as well as neutral Persian cities which both sides quickly conquer. Each player gets a battle board to keep track of his armies (one Arab and one Byzantine). The object of the game is to score a balance of points between the Arabs and the Byzantine armies since you play both sides.

You get points by attacking and sacking cities using your two armies. At the start of the game you get a certain number of cubes for your two armies which represent its starting strength, free cubes in your cube pool which can be used for various special actions, marking your conquests and building your army (regular troops, elite cavalry and movement). Finally you get some cash for each side which can be used to buy more cubes from a general pile when you have used up your starting cubes.

During your turn you will either be building your army (using up to three cubes), claiming an unclaimed city, moving your army and/or attacking a city or performing a special action. All these actions cost cubes. If you use up your free cubes from your battle board you can buy extra ones using the appropriate side’s cash (three coins per cube). These bought cubes can only be used by the side that bought them. If you no longer wish to do any actions or do not have enough cubes to perform an action, you must pass (first out goes first next round). Once all but one player have passed, that player has one more action, then the turn ends.

You get money for the cities you own for the appropriate side minus your army maintenance costs (with hefty penalties if you do not have enough income). Half the numbers of your cubes in your general pile go onto the free pool on your battle board and a new turn commences.

Combat occurs when you try and take a city. You can fight an enemy army if it is at the city (it can retreat), then the levies of the city’s owner (he can decline) and finally, the city itself. If you have more army units than the strength of the City after all combat is completed (including a siege roll), then you conquer the city, change its color to the conqueror’s (nationality and owner) and earn points/cash equal to its current strength minus one (one being the lowest possible value). It also costs cubes to claim ownership. The city is reduced by one strength point.byzantiummap

You spend a lot of time in the game building up your army then attacking the appropriate city (you cannot attack your own “opposing” cities). You get points by successfully capturing opposing Cities (Arabs capturing Byzantine ones and Byzantines capturing Arab ones). After three rounds the game ends.

At the end of the game, the person with the highest combined score wins. If your higher score is twice as high as your lowest score, then only your higher score counts. The game can also end if Constantinople is captured by the Arabs which results in only your Arab points counting.

The game production itself is done to the very high quality Warfrog standards, my only complaint in that area being over thick city strength markers due to a supplier problem. Overall, the game comes across as a heavy Euro with some wargame-like elements and can have a fair bit of downtime (particularly with four players) between turns if lots of combat is involved. The dual nature of play, where you play both sides, seems to be a bit of a turn off for the wargamers I played with; they liked playing one side or the other, not both. The rules were all right but they seemed a little awkward in parts and some parts required a few re-reads and a consensus among players on interpretation.

The use of cubes, the way armies worked and the combat system were quite innovative as Mr. Wallace has taken ideas from a number of his earlier games and melded them into this game. The combat system is reminiscent of Ancient Empires, the scoring system of Liberté and the use of cubes from Age of Steam. The result, while interesting, seems to be lacking a bit of the coherence and fun of some of the previous games by Martin Wallace While a good game, I do not think Byzantium is as good as some of Mr. Wallace’s latest games such as Struggle of Empires (Spring 2005 GA REPORT) or Age of Steam (Winter 2003 GA REPORT). But it is better than some of his earlier games such as Way out West or Ancient Empires. Overall a game with some interesting and innovative mechanisms but really for Martin Wallace fans. – –  – – – – – – – – – – Chris Kovac


 

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