|I am green.. SIGH|
I have heard about this game, seen it for sale on various online sites and been pondering if it makes sense to get this game to give it a go [insert Jon yelling NO here]. So when Dion mentioned he had a copy and brought it over, I was itching to give it a go.
Struggle of Empires is a war game by famed designer Martin Wallace. It plays 2 to 7 and about 3 hours and was released in 2004. It has since had 2 newer editions but seems there isn't much difference between the editions. A war game by Martin Wallace? Really ? Yes its true and, as far as I have played, this is the first war game of his. I does look like an attempt into the war game arena and not a bad attempt at it. The fact that it plays 2-7 should raise some eyebrows but shouldn't be that surprising since games like Axis and Allies often can reach that number. However the fact that it supposedly plays better with larger numbers should be surprisingly because most games often bog down or get too unwieldy when there so many players. The time frame of 3 hours may scare away some and this can be a big problem especially if you are dead last. There is no catch up mechanism, but like a lot of war games, this is expected.
So how does the game play like? The game lasts over 3 WARs (or 3 rounds) and each WAR consists of 6 turns. Each player will perform 2 action per turn (in a predetermined order) and at the end of each WAR, a scoring will occur. Before players start taking their turns though, a number of tokens will be randomly drawn from a bag and place onto the map. These represent either native units which can be defeated or Population tokens which can be converted without a fight. After which, there is a bidding which will determine turn order. In addition, it will also determine which alliance you belong to and thus whom you can and cannot attack. Each player will belong in one of two alliances. This, to me, is one of the more interesting portions of the game. A player will propose a pairing of any 2 players. That player will choose between the 2, who will go first and then have an opening bid. If anyone wants to outbid, then they have a choice to reconfigure the arrangement in any order with the remaining players' tokens. Once no one opposes the highest bid, that player pays in coins and the arrangement is locked in. Once all players' tokens are decided, then the round can begin. It is interesting because you can pay more so as to side with a potential enemy and focus his energies on destroying your competitors. You can also pay more to set previous allies upon each other by ensuring they are on different alliances. So as you can see, a lot of interesting dynamics can be created for the rest of that round, making this auction very important!
During a player's turn, they can do a variety of things from creating units (soldiers or ships), moving them, to purchasing improvement cards which lend a variety of benefits. One of the key actions will be to fight, as expected in a war game. As long as you have a soldier in an area, you can designate it to fight. If there are supporting naval units, then those get to fight first. After which, surviving naval units can support the player in the land battle. The battle determination is a very interesting one. Each player will roll 2 D6s and then see the difference between the 2 dice. That will be the initial attack value. This will be added to the number of soldiers as well as improvement card benefits. Players then compare their total attack value and see which player has won. The player who lost, will lose a soldier unit and gets an Unrest token (if any). If the attacker won, then he gets to replace 1 of the defender's country token with his own. if you happen to roll a natural 7 from the 2 dice, then you also will lose a soldier unit and get an Unrest token. This rolling of dice is about the only irritating random thing I dislike about the game. If your rolling luck sucks, then its going to be a long long game as you get frustrated over your poor rolls.
What are the Unrest tokens for? You get them when you lose a soldier in a fight and when you have to borrow money to use when you run out. Esssentially, this is the Loan marker that is present in so many of Martin Wallace's games. There is also the same penalty at the end of the game for the number of Unrest tokens that you receive. Luckily there is a number of improvement cards that can help you to remove Unreset tokens but these are limited so its wise to choose your battles carefully and when to borrow money to spend. Nothing too unexpected from his games by now.
At the end of each WAR/Round, there is a scoring. Each location on gameboard has points written on them for scoring. The first two players with the most number of their Country tokens in each region will score points, with ties allowing both players to score the points in full. At the end of 3 WARs/rounds, after deducting the points for Unrest tokens, the player with the most points will win the game.
As expected by now, Jillian started hammering at me in the first round and causing me to be far behind the pack (we played with 4 people) at the end of the first war. Sigh, I am so reminded of my Dominant Species devastation again. I must remember to strike back at her next time we play such area control games. I never really quite recovered from that and together with some awesomely bad dice rolls, I was effectively out of the game. But this caused whomever to ally with me to suffer as well because i was doing so badly I could not contribute much. I did however became a sort of king maker at the end when I was allied with her and she was forced to send troops to support me, losing some in the process so this is an interesting aspect of the game. It is quite an interesting game with a lot of in your face and direct confrontations and I can see why Dion mentioned an odd number of players means that the last player will be the swing vote when deciding which alliance to support. If playing with 7, then I feel that the battles will be coming in fast and furious. Also some of the improvement cards that give you +1 to your dice roll will be snatched up pretty fast. Alliances will also be fairly important then. I am not too sure though if I can get 7 players to sit there and play for 3-4 hours though especially one of two will be dead last and wil probably not enjoy it.
So all in all, I feel that it is an interesting war game with a few quirky rules to add in randomness for replayability as well as the awesome feeling when you roll 6 and 2 to get 4 points to defeat your opponents 3-3 roll. But it will not be for everyone as it can get draggy and is essentially a lengthy game. I would love to try it again with 7 though but I don't think I need to own it. Give this a try!