Arbela – Richard Berg’s compelling new war game!
Arbela –Gaugamela 331 BC Board Game Review. Publisher: Turning Point Simulations Game Designer: Richard H. Berg Price $34.95
Passed Inspection: Easy to understand rules, nice components, highly solitaire suitability. Interesting subject matter.
Failed Basic: Needs an index. Initiative rules are unclear. Perhaps add some event cards to provide extra challenges.
Richard H. Berg, perhaps the most prolific board game designer in the world, has returned to a subject that he clearly loves – the battles of the ancient world. Arbela – Gaugamela 331 BC is a release of Turning Point Simulations and this game is not what you may expect. There is no board and no terrain, the real battle was fought on a nearly perfectly level field so this style perfectly meets the needs to simulate the real battle. The units in this game are not chits or miniatures – the units are cards but it’s not a traditional card type war game either as this review will reveal.
First some back ground on this decisive and historic battle directly from Turning Point’s own webpage for the game:
“One of the interesting aspects of military history, throughout the ages, has been the match-up of commanders. Two single people, each commanding a mighty army, “meet” on a battlefield and decide… something.
They very seldom actually “meet,” of course, and crossing swords has almost never happened. But the battle of wills, of ideas… the conflict of strategy and the execution of tactics inspired by just two people can be fascinating.
But, throughout history, it is hard to find a battle (and campaign) that sees the individual clash of PERSONALITY in a more important way– a decisively important way– than the clash between Darius III of Persia, ruler of the largest empire in the world– and a young man named Alexander, who ruled a small, semi-backward nation and a collection of Greek states where he had only recently had to suppress rebellion.
The odds? Best modern estimates put them at something worse than 5-1 against Alexander. His 47,000 troops are fairly well documented. Darius commanded something over 250,000 (although some accounts place the figure much higher).
At times like these, the smaller force generally picks favorable ground for a defensive battle– except Alexander always liked to attack and this was Darius’ chosen battlefield, with room enough to deploy his masses, and ground carefully smoothed to improve the performance of his hundreds of chariots. Alexander’s commanders SUGGESTED a night attack, but he refused… which didn’t stop Darius from keeping his army in their battle lines all night, expecting the attack that never came.
When Alexander attacked, he personally led the force that broke the enemy line, coming close enough (it was said) to throw a spear at Darius and to challenge him to personal combat. Darius had none of it and fled. His army was doomed, and so was his reign. And the empire of Alexander was begun.”
The 12 page rule book is logically laid out and nicely written. My only complaints are minor – an index would have been nice and some background to the battle and why it is so important would have added value to the book. Also the initiative rules are not well explained. Is combat simultaneous and, if not, how do you figure out who goes first?
Each unit in the game is represented on a card. There are cards for the leaders and for the troops. Troop types include light, medium and heavy infantry, Persian war chariots, different qualities of cavalry, archers, slingers, war elephants, Macedonian phalanx troops, hoplites and other types. Each unit is rated for combat strength, missile attacks (if any), armor (rated for the unit’s front, sides and flank), and other specific stats. A series of figures on the front of the unit show its speed and types of maneuvers it can perform.
The units “feel” right and are obviously very well researched. Each type has its unique strengths and weaknesses. War elephants are amazingly powerful in the attack but are prone to rampage when hurt. These rampages can be just as deadly to friendly troops as to enemy troops.
Leader cards are very important and can greatly add to the battle effectiveness of the units. Leaders are rated for combat modifiers, ability to order a flank attack, overall command ability, ability to seize the initiative, casualty value if killed or captured and whether the leader starts on turn 1 or on a later turn.
The cards are laid out on a table and the rows and columns represent battle lines. The “battlefield” is 7 cards across by 7 cards deep. The lines are broken in to reserve areas, 2 deployment rows, 2 advance rows and 1 battle line. Units are moved per their formation ability and speed. Some units can attempt to outflank and attack to the rear. That’s where your cavalry comes in handy.
Missile Combat is resolved by looking at the unit card and determining range and then a handy chart is provided on the card itself for determining what is a hit or a miss using 2 six sided die.
Shock Combat aka “melee combat” is also equally resolved. Figure the attack rating of the unit based upon where the defender is in relation to the attacking unit’s front, side or flank, roll one six sided die and add that result to the Shock Combat Strength of the attacker. Subtract the number of hits the attacker has received from other combat rounds, add the Combat Rating of the Leader if he is stacked with the unit and then compare the results to the Defender’s die roll plus his Defense Rating. Units can be eliminated, disrupted, damaged or have successfully defended. When a unit is eliminated, the card is retained by the victor to determine victory points.
And that’s pretty much it. The game is easy to learn and play and elegant in its design.
I, personally, think that replayability would benefit from some type of “event cards” which could help add additional drama to the game play.
But, none-the-less Arbela is a great game and a wonderful value for its low price. It deserves to be on the book shelf of anyone interested in the battles of the ancient world.
Armchair General Rating: 94 %
Solitaire Rating: 4
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!