Alexander the Great
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In Alexander the Great: Birth of an Empire by Ronald Hofstaetter the players follow in the path of Macedon's famous king. With his army they move all the way to Persia and found important cities and temples. In the end, Alexander ruled over a world empire that stretched from the Danube to the Adriatic Sea, to Egypt, to the Caucasus, Persia and India.
The players gain points for the occupation of provinces and for the founding of temples and cities. Who amasses the most points at game's end is the winner and may name himself Alexander the Great.
Average Rating: 3 in 1 review
I sighed when I first laid eyes on Alexander the Great (Mayfair and Phalanx Games, 2005 -- Ronald Hofstatter and Dietmarr Keusch). A game with a name like that from Phalanx games was bound to be a wargame, a genre that I'm not too fond of. But upon opening the box and reading the rules, I found that it's actually an area control game, using the Alexander conquests as its theme. There's no fighting whatsoever -- except in the most generic, abstract terms.
I enjoyed playing Alexander the Great, because it's an area control game where one must carefully watch what their opponent is doing at all times. The interaction is high, but the strategies are few, which means that it's easy for one player to get left out of the scoring in some rounds. The game reminds me of similar games, such as Power Grid or El Grande, but on an ever-changing board and with a little less simplicity. Alexander the Great is a very good area control game, but for now, it lacks something that takes it to the "great" stage.
The board is placed in the middle of the table, showing a map of the Middle East and part of India, divided into six regions. Each region is made up of several smaller provinces, some with city and/or temple symbols in them. A large arrow points into one province in each region, showing what number campaign that region is and the first province in the campaign. Each region also connects to the other regions via white arrows, red arrows with an associated number (1 or 2), or a sea line with an associated number (3). Players take a player board and a screen, placing the playing piece of their color on the starting position of the scoring track. Players also receive fifteen resource markers, eight cities, and ten temples in their color. The first campaign is ready to begin.
Each campaign begins the same way. Players secretly allot their fifteen resources to four different spaces on their player board. At the same time, players reveal their screens, showing everyone else where they invested their resources. The player who put the most resources in the Player Turn Order box decides what turn they want (invariably last), followed by the player with the second most, etc. In case of ties, the player with the fewer points wins. All resources spent are placed aside for the remainder of this campaign.
Players now take their turn in turn order. On a player's turn, they place all the resources in their army box into the starting region. They can then move these armies three provinces. If a player moves the armies along a red arrow or a sea zone, they must pay the amount shown next to the arrow. The amount paid may come from either the province box or temple box -- set aside until the end of the campaign. Once a player has finished moving their armies, they can attempt to build one city or one temple in each province that has that symbol and at least one of their armies. They do so by placing the city/temple on its side. Once a player has finished their turn, then the next player takes their turn until all players are finished, at which point scoring occurs.
In a scoring phase, each region is scored in order (according to the numbers in the regions.) The player with the most armies there scores two points (ties get nothing). If only one player has attempted to build a temple, they pay one resource from their temple box and turn their temple upright to show its completion, scoring three points. If only one player has attempted to build a city, they pay two resources from their city box and turn their city upright, scoring five points. If two or more players are attempting to build a city or temple in the same region, then the player who has placed more resources in their temple/city box pays the amount of resources that the second-most player has in their box plus one. All other players remove their city / temple, while the winning player builds their temple / city and gets three or five points.
Once all regions are scored, the players have the option to continue the campaign, which means that all the previous steps are followed again, except that players may distribute their remaining resources only between the temple and city boxes. Everything happens the same way again, including the scoring phase. Players may build a temple in the same spot they or another player have a temple, but only one city may be built per province. There can only be three campaigns per region maximum, at which point the same thing happens again, in the second region.
In the second region, the same order of events is carried, with each player removing all of their armies from the board and starting once again with fifteen resources. Once all six regions are finished scoring, one final scoring occurs. The player who has the most cities on the board gets the ten points, the one with the most temples gets fifteen points, and the player with the most cities or the most temples in each region gets five points. Ties give both players no points. The player, at this point, with the most points is the winner of the game!
Some comments on the game...
- Components: The bits in Alexander the Great are very nice, starting with a large, beautiful board. It's a bit odd to play only on one small part of such a large board at a time, but one gets used to it. The board is very easy to read, although we often found ourselves forgetting to notice the sea routes. The resources are small wooden cubes, and the cities are large wooden cubes with a black dot on them, to show they are completed. The temples look like wooden Monopoly hotels, but everything looks good on the board -- the colors of the pieces, resources, etc., contrast well with the colors of the board. The player boards are clearly marked, and the player screens are nice, although it's not too hard to see over them. In fact, in our game, we had to make sure that we were sitting at certain angles so as to not see other player's pieces. Everything fits in a sturdy, medium-sized box with a nice plastic insert and great artwork on it.
- Rules: The rules are seven pages of full-color, illustrated rules. They're okay but weren't very clear. The biggest hole for me was how exactly campaigns continued. The rules weren't clear on who decided to continue -- was it one player, or a majority vote? I don't know, so we just said that one player could decide to continue, and that the other players have no choice but to comply. Of course, this meant that we played three full campaigns in each region, but we followed the rules as best I read them. The game isn't the easiest to teach, but once players play the first region, they know how to do the rest. So when teaching a game, I usually play one campaign just to show players how the game works.
- Bluffing: A lot of the game comes to the part where players allocate their resources behind their screens (this reminded me of Samurai Swords). If everyone decides to try and build houses and only one player decides to build temples, then that player has a distinct advantage. It's annoying when another player does exactly what you want to do -- as that raises your prices, and your competition -- but this can be avoided, if only you can read other players' minds and know what they are about to do. There is absolutely no randomness in the game -- except for the decisions that the others make when placing their resources. This will please some players and annoy others.
- Turn Order: Alexander the Great, probably more than any other game I've played, places a HUGE importance on turn order. The person who goes last has incredible advantages over his opponents, as he has perfect information as to how to complete his turn. Therefore, it's often a lot of good to be behind in points during the game, as this means that a player can usually win ties for turn order (which happen frequently.) In this game, the last truly are first!
- Resources: Before I mentioned bluffing, but I also wanted to state just how interesting the allocation of resources actually is. Since turn order is so important, how many resources are you willing to sacrifice there? At the same time, players need to put down enough armies to spread across the board so that they can build temples and cities, and maintain some majorities. And should the player invest heavily in cities, temples, or both? The decisions aren't long, but they are hard.
- Strategy: In the games I've played, I keep trying the "get as many majorities as you can" strategy, and it's failed miserably. I'm close to writing this off. In fact, in the games I've played, the person who built the most temples (+15 points!) won the games in each. Now, I'm sure there are untapped strategies that we are missing, but it seems so far that building things = good, and maintaining majorities = not as important. The strategy reminds me very much of Web of Power, although a little more refined and less simplistic.
- Fun Factor: Alexander the Great is a fun game, IF you come into it prepared to play a fairly heavy game of area control. It's not a game of laughs and a jolly good time, although it's fun (or irritating) to see what the other players have assigned their resources to. The game is fun, but probably only to die hard gamers.
- Time and Players: I've played the game with three and four; and while it plays differently with each, I didn't notice any difference of quality between the two. Games are fairly long (for a game of this type), lasting almost two hours and can occasionally FEEL longer, because players often have to wait for the others to maximize their moves on their turn. Still, it's an engrossing game, and I wasn't easily bored.
If you are someone who is looking for a heavy "Eurogame" that has a good historical theme and allows for fairly deep, strategic play, then Alexander the Great is a good option for you. It has a good combination of mechanics and allows for good tactics and bluffing (although long-term strategies may not differ much). I would try it before buying, if possible, but I know that this game will make many people happy. For me, I enjoyed the experience and will gladly play again but only with "die hard gamers", as the casual folk I played the game with were a little overwhelmed.
"Real men play board games."