Infidel – Boardgame Review
Men of Iron Volume 2 – Infidel. Boardgame Review. Publisher: GMT Games: Designer: Richard H. Berg. $55.00
Passed Inspection: Handsome looking, elegantly designed game about a subject not overly covered – the Crusades. Nice selection of scenarios. Dynamic “turn” sequences. Nice counters and maps.
Failed Basic: Rules need some re-organization and an index. Each scenario takes almost an hour to set up. Some rules confusion.
The year is 1097. A group of Crusaders on their way to Antioch are confronted by Seljuk Turks under the leadership of Kiliz Arslan. Kiliz had ambushed the 20,000 strong army which is made up of Norman men at arms and knights and remnants of the People’s Crusade under the command of Peter the Hermit. The Crusaders immediately moved their non-combatants and men at arms in to a defensive position while the knights moved out to form a battle line between the more vulnerable footmen and Arslan’s mounted archers.
The Muslim archers begin by harassing the Crusaders but Robert of Normandy’s 1,000 mounted knights ride out and smash headlong in to the flanks of the medium mounted archers. The Arslan line begins to crumble as units either become disordered or completely demoralized. Suddenly 750 mounted Persian archers under their charismatic leader Hasan make a dash towards the vulnerable baggage train guarded by Peter’s infantry (composed mostly of skirmishers and pike men). Peter’s forces take massive casualties and try and retreat towards the rest of the men at arms in the guarded camp. As Hasan’s troops charge again towards bow range, Adhemar of Le Puy arrives with hundreds of his Provencal Knights. They charge Hasan’s troops from the flank and the Persian mounted archers are effectively destroyed as a fighting unit.
When scouts reported over 1,000 more mounted knights and cavalry approaching, the Turks begin to retreat as the Crusaders regroup and prepare for the next battle. What had begun as a Turkish trap for the Crusaders had become a trap for the Muslims. For now, the Crusaders’ casualties are moderate and the Battle of Dorylaeum is won but what will fate bring for the Crusaders and Muslims during the endless wars for the Holy Land?
GMT’s new game in their medieval-themed Men At Arms series is Infidel which, as the box says, covers the “supremacy of cavalry in the Crusader era—11th-12th Century”. The game is a fluid and dynamic look at the wars of that time period.
Upon opening the beautifully illustrated box, the player is confronted with a rule book, a scenario book, two play aid charts, a “flight point” tracker, two double sided sheets of die-cut full color cardboard counters, two handsome double sided maps, two 10-sided die and plastic zip lock storage bags.
The double-sided maps are nicely detailed and each map conforms to one of the six scenarios in the “Battle Book”—the campaigns covered are Dorylaeum (1097), Antioch (1098), Ascalon (1099), Harran (1104), Montgisard (1177) and Arsuf (1191)—giving the player almost 100 years of mounted warfare. The sieges themselves are not specifically covered, as the scope of the game is on the mobile war of that time period. For siege warfare, I would recommend locating the out-of-print game from the 1980s, SPI’s The Art of Siege which offers two scenarios of medieval sieges in exquisite detail.
Each hex in Infidel is 250 yards and each unit is from 150 to 600 men. A normal game can be played in from 1 ½ to 3 hours with set-up often taking up to 45 minutes to locate the units needed.
Each counter is color coded to represent its affiliation—Normans, Templars, Persians, etc. Unfortunately, the set up instructions for the scenarios do not list the color of the commander and units, making it frustrating to locate a specific unit. This small inclusion would have also cut down the rather lengthy set-up time for each scenario. Counters are included for such legendary commanders as King Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin.
Infidel features a loose turn sequence in which die rolls are attempted to keep the initiative with one side or another based upon the leadership ratings of the commanders. The opposing player can attempt to seize the initiative by rolling against his commander’s leadership rating but if he fails, he gives the opposing player a free turn! This makes for a dynamic where both players are constantly watching and plotting. It’s a great break from games in which one player can go make tea while the other makes his or her moves.
Each class of unit is rated for defense, movement, and type of unit with the reverse side of the counter showing that unit’s disordered quality. To attack with melee weapons (called “Shock Attacks”) or cavalry charges, the weapon type of the attacking unit is cross-indexed on an easy to read chart with the type of unit which is defending. Combat results can include damage to the attacker, defender, or even retreats or routes. Ranged weapons (bows, crossbows, etc.) are also handled on a simple and easy-to-understand table. As in real life, an attack against a unit’s flank has the potential of being far more dangerous than attacking with a frontal assault.
Capturing a unit’s “standard” can devastate an army’s morale, while capturing or killing a leader may turn the tide of the battle. Victory points are tracked through a system called “Flight Points” for each army. “Flight Points” cover the effects of morale loss due to casualties and losses of leaders. At times during the game, an army must make a die roll modified by their “Flight Points” in order to not leave the battle field and give a victory to the other side. This tracking can affect the players’ decision as to how to focus on offensive or defensive strategies.
Infidel brilliantly illustrates the style of medieval combat and showcases the devastating affects of heavy cavalry charges, Muslim mounted archers, defensive tactics with polearms, and other forms of ancient combat. It also demonstrates the effect of charismatic, intelligent leaders on this form of combat.
The rulebook is only 16 pages long and is well written but could benefit from some re-organization for ease of use. In addition, an index would have been appreciated. For example, I needed to reference the section on the stacking of units in a hex and couldn’t find it with a quick check of the game scale. Instead, the stacking rules were located under the zone of control rules. These minor complaints aside both the rule book and the scenario book were very informative about combat during this time period and also illustrate the author’s wicked sense of humor. A nice change from boring “rules lawyer” style of writing.
The counters are well illustrated but on at least one counter, an issue with the glue caused the counter to start to peel apart.
One of the scenarios in the Battle Book includes the classic battle between King Richard and Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf in 1191.
The rules and box mention that the game has a high degree of solitaire suitability, but no solitaire rules were included. As a long-time gamer, it is no problem for me to play the game and be fair to both sides, but some type of solitaire rules should have been included for the all-important “new gamer market.” In addition, more examples should have been included in the rulebook. A nine-page errata and FAQ document can be found at www.gmtgames.com to help with some rule and typo issues.
Overall, Infidel is a mesmerizing game whose armor is tarnished by some minor issues. Highly recommended!
Armchair General Rating: 85 %
Solitaire Rating: 3
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)!