Byzantium (S&T 183)

 

Playings, 3 (6 hours), 2 Byzantine wins, 1 Frank

 

After some heavy duty gaming Byzantium was punched as light relief. The game was originally pushed as the follow on to 30 and 100 Years Wars but came out as a multiplayer version of Fall of Rome. The map areas are not quite the same as Fall of Rome but do cover very similar sized chunks yet only represent what is now the Eastern Mediterranean resulting in fewer playing areas. 4 nations are in play, the Byzantines, Franks, Khazars and Moslems with the Byzantines not surprisingly having the central position. The other races each have access to an off-map box that provides income and a refuge as the Byzantine cannot enter any of the 3 boxes. 4 scenarios show different time periods from 711 to 1204 and although all 4 nations are represented in each only 1 is a serious rival to Byzantium at their start, the Khazars are particularly weak in every case.

 

This sort of 4 player game can lead to ganging up on the leader with the Byzantine being the natural target, in each scenario less than 4 players are catered for by having the unused non-Byzantine nations start neutral and possibly entering or leaving the game by random event. If this does not happen it is quite possible for the Byzantine to clean up a single opponent early on and leave that nation in a situation from which it cannot recover. Random events are brought on by stratagem chits which can be bought if a player has an unlikely cash surplus or gained on winning a decisive victory as defined by the CRT. The chits are usually good but can be bad however a player that has lost his general loses all chits making it worthwhile to spend them when drawn, some chits must be played when pulled. If a player loses a battle including his general (Basileus) he will lose all held chits and is probably also suffering from loss of territory and manpower. This will make it difficult to buy any more chits or to win battles to gain them, it may even lead to the fighting of risky battles to try to gain a chit and with the loss of more troops and territory.

 

A couple of bad defeats early on can put a player out of the running because of the nature of finance. This being one of those games where money is awarded for control of areas and that money has to be spent to buy and maintain troops. Every nation starts with a little in the bank but in this case the income and maintenance costs make it hard to keep the starting forces in the field, the pricing situation keeps forces small and spread out. A unit is required in an area to delve any income and in the 1 point areas that will only support the single unit that is needed to maintain control, hence no cash surplus to spend. If more than 1 nation has units in an area they all share the meagre income, Thrace at 5 is the richest area on the board. The Byzantine is at a disadvantage financially because his main combat unit costs 2 to maintain compared to 1 for every other unit. He also has to maintain fleets to communicate between Europe and Asia costing 2 to keep afloat.

 

The combat system is based on that in Fall of Rome with the type and number of attacking units, not the defending force, affecting the combat outcome. A counter-attack result is likely at lower force levels allowing the defender to have a bash. In combats of 1 or 2 units the counter-attacks can move back and forth for a few dice rolls with nothing happening. A force containing at least 50% Nomad units may gain a free move result allowing it to move out of the way as well as a regular combat result, otherwise the Warrior and Field Army units fight the same way and Militia is a little weaker.

 

The system uses activation points based on 100 Years War with a D6 giving the number of points that each stack can spend. 1 point moves the stack to an adjacent area unless a mountain range is crossed when 3 points are spent. Battles cost 1 extra point, a stack can move and fight then move again as long as it has points remaining. A nation has 1 general that has 1 extra point to spend, stacks that have not yet been activated can be picked up and several stacks of the same or different nations can be in the same area. Most areas also have a city that costs 1 extra point to move into and out of and makes stacks of more than 1 unit harder to beat in combat. Except in Constantinople a single unit has no advantage in using the city. The low unit density and relatively few areas make for limited actions in each turn which speed along harmlessly enough. Given the large size of the areas and the few important stacks battles are pretty frequent, a stack can cross the map in 2 or 3 turns and fight the odd battle with a pretty good chance of taking heavy losses in any battle. The I-go-you-go nature of battles often leads to 1 side being wiped out while the other is left unharmed. The need to leave behind a unit in every new area taken to secure control for the next income bout results in forces becoming weaker as they advance into enemy territory. With new units costing at least double the maintenance of old a conquered area will require an income of at least 2 to raise a new militia unit to hold it.

 

The general feel of Byzantium is that there is not a lot to it. If the systems were part of some bigger game dealing with something else (perhaps an economic game of managing nations with mega-turns of peace and the game used to represent brief periods of war) the simple systems would be appropriate. If regarded as a brief free for all the system speeds along with some nations falling rather too fast as they lose their economic base to recover from defeats. The 2 player games rely on the losing player to gain control of a neutral to have any chance of pulling back into the race, this is not very likely. I have changed the 2 player rules to have the non-Byzantine player able to choose his new nation if his general is eliminated. This can be the same bunch but would be another nation if things were looking pretty bleak. This gives a nice touch of having everyone ganging up on the Byzantines but not quite being able to co-ordinate and 1 side joining in just after another suffers a major reverse. I was also unhappy with the number of battles and cut back on these by having a search system before combat, this also helps smaller stacks which are harder to find but give more opportunities for searching.

 

Byzantium Rules Variants

 

A: 2 player and Solitaire Nations

Start each scenario with the recommended 2 nations and the other 2 nations neutral. Control of neutral nations may still change with chit play but can also change when a non-Byzantine general (Basileus)is killed. When the non-Byzantine general is killed the owning player must immediately decide to continue in control of that nation or may take control of any other nation not currently under control of the Byzantine player. Rebel forces may not be chosen, the old nation controlled by the non-Byzantine player immediately becomes neutral with its general replaced in its peripheral area at the beginning of its next turn. The player controls his new nation from the beginning of its next turn, which may result in him having more than 1 player turn in a row. At the end of the scenario only victory points controlled by the currently active non-Byzantine player are counted.

 

B: Increased Purchase Costs.

To reflect the difference between rebuilding existing cadres and raising new units, all units that are raised for the 1st time cost 1 extra point. Put dead units in a separate pile to distinguish them from the pool of unused units. If rebel units of the nation are destroyed they go to the unit pool not the dead pile. If previously rebel units are converted to loyal before the are destroyed they go to the dead pile. Once a wholly new unit is destroyed again it goes to the dead pile not the unit pool.

 

C: Searching of Areas.

This rule supersedes the interception rule case 26. Before combat in the open an enemy stack must be found, pay the 1 operation point for combat and roll on the search table. A force may search for the same enemy force several times if 1 operation point is paid each time. Stacks in fortresses are always automatically found and no search roll is made. Roll D6;

< or = 1 Not found plus forces of the player not searching of at least 50% Nomad units may spend 1 operation point to move or attack (in turn requiring a search roll)

2-4 Not found, no combat.

5-6 Found, conduct regular combat.

7+ Surprised, conduct combat with the attacker gaining a +1 in combat as if a stratagem marker had been played.

 

Die modifiers

+1 Area is pillaged.

+1 Non-searching stack is 5 or more units strong.

+1 Area is Kyprus, Krete, Sicily, Pelopenisos or Cherson.

+ or -1 Basileus with either stack, owner's choice of modifier.

-1 Searching stack contains >50% militia.

-1 Non-searching stack is at least 50% nomad.

-1 Area is adjacent to any peripheral area.

 

Note, for interceptions the non-moving stack makes a search roll but does not pay any operations points. A stack may make any number of interceptions per turn on units in the same area but may only intercept after the stack has paid operations points to move into or within that area. Interception may not be used to avoid combat, if the moving stack declares that it is searching an area then it may not be intercepted. Multiple enemy stacks in the same area may all be intercepted in turn if they move. If a stack does not move it cannot be intercepted.

 

The 1st Arab Israeli War (S&T 185)

 

Playings 2, (7 hours), 1 minor, 1 major Arab victory

 

This game is probably the best that can be expected from the magazine format. It is just about balanced, gives both sides a share of attacking and defending and covers an uncommon subject. It is the only strategic game of this war that I know of although the convoy battles around Jerusalem were covered by the SDC game of that name. GDW’s Sands of War also has some handy scenarios on the subject. The game is not going to be played a lot because of the limited strategic choices and the fiddly stacking. Units can get a bit dense in some of the crucial terrain areas. The game is not one of the very few issue games that will be around for years. This is not in the league of PanzerGruppe Guderian or Conquistador but is well up amongst Manchu, Sideshow or Jutland.

 

Supply is handled rather well for most of the game with supply units being burnt up to provide bonuses. Burning a supply unit will upgrade certain Israeli units, double its stacks combat factor, double the stack’s movement and allow forts to be built. The Israeli supply arrives pretty close to the front in Haifa or Tel Aviv. Two other supply units arrive in hexes that are chosen once only during the game. Jerusalem is a tempting site for one entry point as it will beef up the Israeli units in the new city. The Arab supply turns up outside Palestine and can take more than one turn to get to the front. Stacks of supply units can burn up one of their number to force march to the front more quickly.

 

The supply rules encourage the use of convoy stacks. Strong stacks with at least one supply unit to force march and another to double the combat value. A stack moves off fast and uses overrun and enhanced combat values to brush away small stacks. It then stops at the front line and joins in with a multiple hex attack for more serious fighting. Towards the end of the game the Israeli supply becomes more than adequate and there may not be enough supply units available. Truce turns do not allow any fighting but the supply still arrives. A long truce can also lead to supply build up. I was forced to use small D6s to represent some supply units for both sides.

 

Combat is the usual mix of losses, retreats and disruptions, supply units remove the latter. In turns before the British mandate ends combat uses a weaker CRT that will often take more than 1 turn to eliminate a unit. Both sides can be disrupted even at top odds and the attacker may be eliminated at 1:1. This makes combat dodgy even when overrunning single militia units. It pays to be strict in preventing stacks from being examined and accept that both sides will have some setbacks. Air units can bomb stacks and cause the loss of supply units or disrupt others. The Israeli gets gradual air superiority as the game progresses.

 

As might be expected from a Miranda game random events play a big part and can be a major factor in who will win. After the British pull out there is a 1in 3 chance of a UN cease fire each turn. During these turns there are no attacks and units may not move through enemy zones of control. Random events occur at the beginning of the Arab turn so he may use a truce to slip units forward and form a ring that the Israeli cannot cross. If the truce comes during the early part of the Arab invasion these units will not enter Palestine and this invasion will be delayed. The game has a set number of turns like most others but the truce event can cause the last few turns to have no effect on winning giving some feel of a random game length.

 

The map has a few problems in forcing units to cramp together in certain key areas. All Palestine is covered down to Eilat, the big chunk of the Negev is not going to be much used. In the game TransJordan can slip into Eilat and will hold it unless the Arabs lose badly. Historically this is quite fair as it is only walking distance away from Akaba. If an off-map box covered Eilat and the Negev the scale of the rest of the map could be cranked up. This is a matter of taste because I do not like stacks, historically Eilat should be on the map because it gives Palestine an outlet to the Red Sea.

 

The victory conditions do the job but are a little fiddly. Some points are gained during the turn and others at the end of the game. Players get one point for each hex of Jerusalem that they occupy each turn. There are two of these hexes, usually each player will have one each so why add one point to both victory tallies? When a settlement is terrorised the displaced player gets one point immediately and the other player gets two at the end of the game. As victory is determined at the end of the game a single point can be given to the terrorising player straight away. This keeps the same final differential. Terror is definitely important in this war as it reflects the movement of populations, Israel is dotted with piles of stones that used to be thriving Arab villages. Most points are gained through the destruction of enemy units and that is how the game will be won. You get points for destroying the enemy and because he is no longer present you will also be getting points for moving into the territory where he used to be.

I have played S&T Byzantium and enjoyed it, you can see its development from the 100 Years War game. Although I suspect that the victory conditions are for the full game with the taxation rules otherwise it is difficult to obtain the victory levels. Byzantium is a game which I will punch out and play while my Command games at present don't interest me. I find that the Command magazine is interesting while some of the articles are rather shallow. I the recent issue on Irish military history it had the casualties at the Drogheda massacre at some 30,000 however in the Gentiles book "The New Model Army" a figure of around 3,500 was given while the fact that the soldiers were English Royalists was not mentioned.

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