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Posted on Feb 2, 2006 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Battles of Alexander – Boardgame Review

By Terry Lee Coleman

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Is Alexander Still Great, or Have Wargames Passed Him By?

When most wargames continue a series well into its second decade, the later games tend to become layered with more and more complexity, in an effort to offer more challenges to the faithful fans. Sometimes, such affairs become almost unrecognizable when compared to the original games in the series. So, it filled me with more than a little trepidation when I heard of a new Deluxe Edition of The Great Battles of Alexander.

You see, I have fond memories of watching an excited Mark Herman and Richard Berg demo their creation at a game convention more than a dozen years earlier – the very first version of Alexander, the game which launched GMT’s superb Great Battles series of ancient and medieval warfare. My wargame buddies and I were even treated to Mssrs. Berg and Herman facing off in a game of Alexander – can you imagine any game designers doing that these days? And while I never found out who won that game, I did console myself with a shiny new copy of The Great Battles of Alexander. While Alexander had its flaws, including more densely-packed rules than was really necessary, it was a revelation – it simply changed the way most gamers viewed ancient warfare, focusing on troop quality rather than sheer numbers.

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So, as I picked the new version of Deluxe Alexander up off the shelf, I had to wonder: After the changes made to the game system in such recent games as Devil’s Horsemen, could a re-release of the original game in the Great Battles series stand up? Or was I, like many hex-based wargamers, simply living in the nostalgic past?

My Summer in Cappadocia

Certainly, the new components in Alexander are worthy of the Deluxe moniker. The double-sided battle maps are printed on heavy cardstock, and are an improvement aesthetically over previous versions. While terrain is still generally sparse – after all, ancient armies tended to like flat plains on which to maneuver their armies – the smattering of trees, shrubs and the occasional river spice up the surroundings in a nice change from the desolate locales of some other Great Battles games, particularly Devil’s Horsemen.

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More varied terrain in Deluxe Alexander makes for more interesting battles.

The cardboard counters by Rodger MacGowan of the various armies involved are of the usual excellent GMT standard, and do a nice job of fitting a lot of info onto a small space in a readable fashion – very important during those late nights fighting to decide the fate of Persia. If you’ve never played any of the previous versions of Alexander, the first thing you will notice are the huge pieces to represent Greek and Macedonian Phalanxes, which actually take up two spaces instead of one on the battle map. While Alexander isn’t the first game to use double-sized counters (Murfreesboro, another Berg game, did this in the late 1970s), it is still an elegant way to correctly simulate these units without a lot of additional rules.

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Even a novice can easily notice the difference between the double-sized Phalanx units of the Macedonians and a normal unit – in this case, the famous Theban Band.

Why Stay in Thrace? See Sunny Scythia!

The battles themselves offer a good overview of Alexander the Great’s career, and of his conquest of ‘the known world’ from Greece and Egypt to Persia, wrapping up with his final campaigns in India. Some of the battles, such as Chaeronea, where a young Alex fought alongside his father Philip, are mainly useful in tracing Alexander’s rise to glory – or in learning the game system. In general, however, the scenarios offer wonderfully asymmetric challenges, pitting the combined arms and unit cohesiveness of the Macedonians against larger armies (Persia), different military systems (Greek hoplites), and military technology both old (chariots) and new (elephants). Deluxe Alexander thus offers a trip through military history, as you can easily see in the game how the Macedonian ‘art of war’ adapted over time.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks Terry, and for the record I always beat Richard as long as he cannot reinvent the rules on the fly. :-)

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