Alea Jacta Est

By Chris Reichl 21 Jun 2013 0

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Introduction

It has been pretty good time for the Romans. In 2004 Creative Assembly launched Rome: Total War, which was a RTS battle/Turn-based Campaign game. Paradox Interactive followed later with Europa Universalis: Rome, and its expansion Vae Victis.  Last year saw the announcement of not one, but three games about possibly the greatest empire the world has ever known. One of these was by AGEOD, a French development group led by Philippe Thibaut, creator of Europa Universalis and Pax Romana.  AGEOD uses an interesting turn-based engine that resembles boardgames in terms of art and mechanics. Their maps are divided into areas, and the units are represented by wooden tokens with a framed picture of the unit's uniform, or a portrait of the leader. They are also playable as single player, vs. AI, PBEM, or hotseat.

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AGEOD have been largely successful with a string of games: Birth of America, and its sequel Birth of America II: Wars in America; The Rise of Prussia; The American Civil War (one of their most popular games); Napoleon's Campaigns; Revolution Under Siege!; Pride of Nations (which detailed 19th century Imperialism); World War One; and now their march into the ancient world, Alea Jacta Est: The Roman Civil Wars. (Alea Jacta Est is Latin for ?The Die is Cast?; a phrase coined by Julius Caesar when he crossed the Rubicon)

Overview       

For starters this is a massive time period. Alea Jacta Est (AJE) covers the period from 87 BC to nearly 198AD!  The game is broken down into scenarios, each depicting a period of Roman Civil Wars. The first standalone expansion released recently, Birth of Rome, extends this by covering the infant Republic's wars with the Senones, Samnites, King Pyhrrus of Epirus and even Carthage in the 1st Punic War. This latter has two start dates - one the historical date and one an earlier date - as well as The Mercenary War (in which a defeated Carthage faced a revolt by mercenaries hired during the 1st Punic War).  In future releases AGEOD intends to cover the wars of the Roman Empire. A DLC, The Cantabrian Wars, goes into what was Augustus Caesar's final conquest of Hispania. Spartacus? Revolt details the slave revolt led by Spartacus. My press release copy included the Spartacus Revolt DLC. Further expansions planned include Britannia (Longuinqua Britannia), Germania (Furor Germanicus), Dacia ( Regnum Dacium), and Parthia (Bellum Parthicum). Each DLC further expands the range of the game up until the final collapse of the Western Empire in 476AD. On the AGEOD forums there is a rumor of the next DLC to be released, and that it will be Parthia.

Each scenario has one, two, three or four factions to choose from. Rest assured you won't be facing just the factions you're fighting against. In some cases you might also be dealing with revolts and foreign rivals such as Parthia, or the Sassanid Persians.

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Movement is very similar to other AGEOD games that use the AGE engine. You basically click, lift and drop to where you want to go. Also you set your posture (Offensive, Defensive or Assault) and that determines if you encounter an enemy, whether or not you will engage. In some cases you might go with an offensive stance and target the enemy you wish to fight but the enemy might elude you. One turn in the game is 30 days in length.

Ships move from area to area, or in sea zone to sea zones to raid commerce ships. You can transport your leaders and units using transport ships, but bear in mind there are storms at sea, and ships can suffer damage or be sunk.

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There are also two new features that are in Alea Jacta Est these are:

1) Construction (noted on the game map by the Eagle statue) - you can recruit legions, auxiliaries, even allied troops. What is interesting is the cost of recruitment of legions costs you morale points in addition to the cost in time and money. Also, you're restricted to where you can recruit units. Legions in some cases are only constructed in Italia, while auxilia can only be recruited in a particular region (e.g. Macedonia, Oriens) this is because the auxillaries were raised from the locals in the particular regions the Romans controlled.  You can construct ships in ports. Ships allow you fight pirates, raid commerce fleets, and transport troops as well as blockade. Supply wagons (Impedimentia) can also be constructed for supply on the march.  You don't have the luxury of recruiting legions at will, you have a limited amount of troops you can raise per scenario and this also applies to ships and other units. Siege weapons are a different matter, and I'll explain that later. You don't get the unit right away; units take time to be organized and trained. So a legion would take longer than a militia unit, but you are getting a better quality unit, this also applies to cavalry. There is an exception: mercenaries you get them when you agree to hire them.  Ships take time to build as well; transport ships take less time then warships.

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2) Decisions (noted on the map by the Emperor statue) - these influence your game. They include Requisitions, Pacify, Punish, Enslave, Reforms, Urbae (where you improve cities), Roads, and Subversion to name a few, as well as Triumph. Each decision costs points in terms of Victory Points and Morale. In some cases you gain money, morale and victory points. Some affect loyalty of the province you're in, some will increase it, like Reforms, or in others like Punish, will increase revolt risk.

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There are three things you need to pay attention to as well; Victory Points (indicated by the lightning bolt), National Morale (the laurel), and Money ( shown as coins).  Victory Points are given as a result of holding on to valuable objectives such as Rome, minor objectives and defeating an enemy. In some scenarios you have sudden death where you have to have a certain number of victory points at each turn, otherwise, you lose. National Morale is the big one, if at any time this drops below the minimum national morale in the scenario, you lose. If you do achieve the maximum possible in a scenario you automatically win. You gain National Morale by winning battles, the bigger the victory the bigger the gain, you lose it by losing battles. You can also gain National Morale by political decisions, such as "major propaganda efforts". In some scenarios you have to have high national morale to trigger events. For example in my game of the Year of Four Emperors I needed a 110 national morale. I had 70 and it wasn't enough to win over the legions in Moesia, which I needed badly to march onto Rome, even though I had more than enough victory points and plenty of cash.

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Money is listed by thousands of denarii. You need this to recruit troops, purchase replacements, or carry out political actions or diplomacy. You gain Money via your merchant fleets, some decisions such as "requisitions", which gives you some cash (but at a cost of loyalty), selling prisoners, or raising money.

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There are also Replacements and Political Decisions (Imperator and SPQR) which give you options to raise morale or money and engagement points.  Imperator (F3) has decisions such as "hire German Mercenaries?, "Influence Legions in Moesia" or "Assassinate Macer". Some cost you money and engagement points, whilst some also require your victory points and morale to be at a certain level. SPQR (F4) has decisions ranging from "throw minor games" or "Sell Prisoners" to "repair merchant fleet."  All your forces are listed in a ledger which is Force Listing (F1).

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Production and Replacements (F2). You can purchase replacements from a pool to replace those elements lost in combat. These are purchased with money you have. One thing to keep in mind is there are only so many replacements per game you can have, and some like legatus will cost national morale points. You can also add replacements to your fleets, provided they are in a harbor.

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In terms of sieges the Romans, as they did historically, have an edge. They construct their siege weaponry when they are laying siege to a fort or city. However, only a Roman Legion  can construct ballistae for the purpose of laying siege to a fort or city. Once the siege is over the units are dismantled and they can go back on the march. Once there's a breach they can commit to assault, or in some cases if the leaders they have an "Assaulter" trait, they can make an assault during siege. Bear in mind, losses tend to be heavy. Also, Naval ships can aid in blockades which help sieges resolve quicker, and ports under siege cannot be used for supply. For the non- Romans they have to construct their siege machines and transport them to where they intend to lay siege to, which is slower, or storm the fortress, which is costly.

There are a lot of scenarios. They cover Spartacus' Revolt, Marius Vs Sulla Vs Pontus, Caesar Vs Pompey, The Year of Four Emperors (69AD) from which Vespasian emerged as the winner and established the Flavian Dynasty. Another one is Septimius Severus vs Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus in 193AD, Sertorius' War, and The Great Mithridatic War.

Conclusion

Did I like this game? Yes I did.  Once I was able to wrap my head around the basics of the game, and instead of thinking tactics thinking in terms of logistics and overall strategy, it started to come together. But it took a lot of time and patience to understand it.

Luckily there is a great series of You Tube videos done by Charles Cummings. Just warning to purists; he does mispronounce a bit of the Latin, and that's forgivable as he does a great job explaining the mechanics and how the game works.  It took a few videos to get an idea on how things work in terms of ?why won't my Legions move when I want them to?, and more importantly how to replace my losses. In fact I recommend his tutorials, as well as a great AAR done by Narwhal on the Paradox Forums - "The Hero, The Traitor and The Barbarian" - which is an AAR done on a PBEM (Play by Email) game featuring the Marius Vs Sulla Vs Mithridates scenario. Plus it has a great "beginner's corner" section to explain the game.

There is a lot of flavor in this game. It reminds me of those classic boardgames where they added "chrome" such as Imperium Romanum II, to flavor up the game. Little rules and add-ons to add to a game's enjoyment. This one has it in spades. Everything from the portraits of the historical leaders and generals, sieges, pirates, revolts, raids, naval battles, etc. Events can be triggered which can change the course of a campaign. It could mean the death of a faction leader, or a General's sudden retirement, or in other cases a foreign power deciding to take advantage of the political turmoil.

In terms of game play there is a lot of depth, in fact to get into each detail would require another article to explain the gameplay.  This is definitely a game worthy of grognards. There's a lot for ancient warfare fans to really dig into as well. The learning curve might be a bit intimidating, but you are rewarded with a great game. Technically speaking it ran nicely on my machine. Unlike the Pride of Nations game which had notorious turn resolution problems, AJE doesn't have that, though the turn resolution time is a bit long (30 seconds), and this is being worked on as patches are forth coming. It's not flawless, the tutorial could use some fixing, but as I mentioned the videos by Charles Cummings and the AAR on the Paradox Forums, plus the AGEOD forums are great resources to learn the game. I recommend it, and if you're a bit unsure of buying it, there is a demo.

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