Britannia – Game Review
Britannia, By Fantasy Flight Games, Designed by Lewis E. Pulsipher, $39.95 MSRP, Available now
Passed Inspection: Solid multiplayer game combining diplomacy and resource management.
Failed Basic: Somewhat weaker gameplay with three or five players.
England’s storied history involves dozens of invasions of the island – it can be argued as the most popular major piece of real estate for over a thousand years. Originally published first by British firm H. P. Gibsons in 1986, and a year later by American firm Avalon Hill, Britannia attempts to catalog the dozen or so of the most notable invasions of England by its various neighbors, beginning with the Roman invasion in 43 A.D. and culminating in the Norman Conquest of 1066. Now produced by Fantasy Flight Games in a stunning new edition, Britannia looks ready to continue on as one of the great titles in the world of games.
Britannia begins with the Roman invasion; in a four-player game, each player chooses one of the colors – red, green, blue or yellow – and controls the pieces of that color for the duration of the game. Initially, the Romans, by dint of superior forces in both training and numbers, treat the current residents – the Welsh, Belgae and Brigantes – primarily as speedbumps on their way to conquest and glory. The player lucky enough to begin as the Romans may appear to have the game sewn up after turn one, but play balance corrects this overabundance of points for the Yellow team roughly midway through the game.
Players are assigned victory points – represented by die-cut cardboard coins – throughout the game in various turns for meeting various conditions. Early on, the game is all about conquering territory for the Romans, or about killing Romans or destroying Roman forts for everybody else. Tactical demands shift periodically as new invaders enter the scene with different goals in mind. As the next wave of conquerors arrive beginning in turn four, the Roman legions have already begun to collapse, and the truth that it is easier to conquer a land than hold it is brought firmly to bear. The Romans are still mighty, but are no longer receiving reinforcements, and so are fighting a losing war of attrition. By turn six, the Romans have completely gone, replaced by their successors in yellow, the Romano-British, who, with their leader Arthur, attempt to hold at bay the Saxons, Angles and Jutes swarming ashore in the south. In the north, the Romans are represented by the Scots, who do their best to capture victory points for the yellow team with very limited resources, while competing with the Caledonians, Picts, and Irish for what little choice real estate exists in the North. Meanwhile, the Welsh, representing the green forces, sit in their remote, uninviting fastness and continue to quietly amass victory points for holding key territories. Players earn victory points not in every turn, but during specific turns of the game, so holding prime real estate is important, but timing is far more crucial.
The redesign by FFG is handsome; counters are oversize squares with rounded edges, and each color has a set of icons in the upper right corner to identify the various groups. The board is sturdy and attractive; the Nation Cards match the color of their corresponding counters and show at a glance what conditions deliver victory points; the rules are clear and fairly concise, but one oddity remains: the counter tray seems to have been harvested from a different game. The slots and holes don’t correspond to the pieces in a rational way. This is a minor concern, but annoying when one tries to retrieve pieces from a very small hole without dumping over the entire box. Players are advised to purchase a set of zip-close bags in which to store the various components, and throw the plastic insert into the trash.
Britannia does very well in capturing the sweep of history, allowing us to participate as entire peoples are swept from the face of the earth through warfare and assimilation into other cultures – in one turn as conquerors and later, as the conquered. My only true complaint with this game – and it is a very small one – is that Britannia’s strength lies in having the correct number of players to maximize play. While playable quite nicely with three or five, the power and enjoyment to be had from the game is still at its peak with four players. Britannia, now entering its fourth decade in print as a game, has already stood the test of time and can without doubt be called a true classic. If you have four players ready and willing, make Britannia your first choice.