Reviewed by Herb Levy
WAR!: AGE OF IMPERIALISM (Eagle Games, 2 to 6 players, 2-3 hours; $49.99)
The late 19th and early 20th Century was a time of vast expansion as major powers sought to increase their influence and holdings throughout the world. In War! Age of Imperialism, that world comes to life as players compete to build the largest empire in the world.
War! Age of Imperialism comes in a large deep box and, like its sister game The American Civil War (featured in the Spring 2002 GA REPORT), is designed and created by Glenn Drover with stunning artwork by Paul Niemeyer. The game comes with a huge 46″ x 36″ mapboard, over 800 detailed plastic miniatures, play aids and a comprehensive rulebook containing three sets of rules: Basic, Standard and Advanced.
The map of the game depicts the continents of Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia divided into regions and sea areas. (Land regions are “color-coded” to show their Global Region affiliation, which becomes an important consideration in the Standard and Advanced rules). Unlike many of your traditional war games, area movement rather than hex movement is the norm.
Two main types of pieces populate the game: those that move (armies [subdivided into infantry, cavalry, artillery and leaders], ships and explorers) and those that cannot (buildings and markers).
Each player begins with a set number of regions (from 10 in a two player game down to 4 when six players are competing). Regions are claimed by the players, one at a time, by placing an infantry piece in it. One native and one resource marker is then placed face down in each unclaimed area. Now, players may “build” their starting forces.
Players begin with a “bankroll” of 120 Production Points. Infantry, the weakest army piece, costs 10 PP, cavalry 15 PP, artillery 20 PP and a Leader, the most powerful piece, a pricey 40 PP. Explorers costs 10 PP while ships require 25 PP to be built. All buildings (which include cities, ports, railroads, factories and forts) cost 20 PP. Buildings not only give advantages to the controlling player (e.g. ports allow the production of new ships), they PRODUCE (with the exception of forts) Production Points each turn. New pieces begin in any claimed area of the player. After that, although infantry may be placed in any area belonging to the player, ships may only be placed in areas with ports while cavalry, artillery, Leaders and explorers may only be placed in areas containing a city. (Forts are an exception to the rule of only one building per area.)
Three phases make a game turn. The first phase is a movement round where each player moves any or all of his forces and then resolves any battles that may occur. The next phase is ANOTHER movement round where, once again, forces are moved and battles resolved. The last phase is production. Players total up the production points they have generated (from regions, resources and buildings) and use them to purchase more pieces.
Military pieces can move from 1 to 3 areas (and an additional area if a railroad is present). Explorers can move up to 2 areas and are extremely useful in helping add territory to your empire and discovering resources.
When an explorer enters an unexplored area (an area not claimed by a player that has face down native and resource markers), the native marker is flipped over. Native markers are marked with a number (ranging from 4 to 12) to indicate the number and aggressiveness of the tribes living in the area. The explorer rolls two dice. If the number rolled is equal to or greater than the native number, that region joins that player’s empire and the native marker is removed from the board. The resource marker is then turned over and reveals the number of Production Points the area will generate during the next production phase. Should the number rolled be less than the native number, the explorer is ELIMINATED! (That piece is removed from the game!) Should a native region be invaded by a player’s forces, the natives will fight back!
Native forces are comprised of infantry (an equal number to the number on the native marker and sometimes cavalry (half that number rounded up should a + symbol be found on the marker). Occasionally, natives will even have an artillery unit to use against the invaders! Battles against the natives are resolved in the same manner as battles against an opponent’s forces.
Any time two opposing forces occupy the same region, fighting erupts. Battle resolution follows a series of steps. Both players choose one piece from their forces and they each roll two dice. Any modifiers inherent to the piece (for example, a Leader adds +3 to a die roll) are added to the roll. The player with the lowest modified dice roll LOSES and his piece is eliminated. (Ties are re-rolled.) In the Basic game, combat continues until one side has NO pieces left in the fight. (No retreats are allowed.) Battles at sea are resolved differently.
Ships of different powers may peacefully co-exist in a sea area. Should they choose to fight, however, the combatants roll two dice for each ship in the battle. A roll of 9 or better is a hit and eliminates a ship. The last player to have at least one surviving ship wins.
The game ends either at a set time, after a set number of turns (in which cases, under the Basic and Standard rules, the player with the most regions under his control wins) or when only one power is “left standing”.
The Standard rules make a few changes to the Basic game. In the Basic game, a player that has a “set” of buildings (city, factory, port and railroad) earns an extra 20 PP. This bonus is now eliminated. However, each “Global Region” under the control of one player earns that player a hefty additional 30 PP. The Standard rules also introduce engineers (used to build buildings more cheaply) and schools (to give a player an advantage on “military technology” which equates to a positive modifier on battle dice rolls.) The Advanced rules add a few more wrinkles to play including “westernizing” the natives and the possibility of native rebellion, new technology research and allowing forces in combat to be in reserve and to retreat. In addition, the winner is not necessarily the player with the most regions but the player with the most Victory Points (based on regions controlled, Global Regions completely controlled, buildings and forces). Keeping the differences in the rules straight is helped by two large charts provided with the game that highlights the differences.
War! Age of Imperialism owes a debt to Risk in its similar combat system (with a lot of die rolling) and the awarding of bonuses for area control. The incredibly detailed miniatures only add to the playing pleasure (although it can be a job in the initial set-up as you have to remove the pieces off the “trees” and put the artillery pieces together). But its use of Production Points to generate reinforcements, its exceptional graphic design and the multi-tier strategy levels as you move from Basic to Standard to Advanced rules, add elements to play that make this game a demanding one for armchair generals.
Eagle Games has rapidly created a name for itself for gorgeous games with The American Civil War. War! Age of Imperialism follows the same mold (pardon the pun) with a generous helping of molded plastic figures, beautiful artwork and solid game play. – – – – Herb Levy
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Fall 2002 GA Report Articles