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Italia by Phalanx

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28 Jan 2008 17:38 #1579 by jur
Italia by Phalanx was created by jur
Played my second game of Italia last weekend. As this does not live up to a real review I don´t offer it as submitted article.

There´s lots of things to like about Italia. If you loved Brittannia, this is a worthwhile offshoot. It offers two different games, a pre-empire three player game and a post-empire four player version. Both have the epic scale and the long play time you are accustomed to. The game doesn´t reveal itself easily. Unlike Brittannia, the events and reinforcements are not noted on the gameboard so there´s a lot of referring back to the nation cards to see what´s going to happen and where points can be scored, and thus opportunity for analysis paralysis. Production values are high although the rulebook suffers from similar weaknesses as the original.

We played the three player version and even though two had played before quite some time was taken up by going through the rules. Ruleswise, the game has developed a bit, mainly by the addition of campaigns, which are linked to leaders, who can continue to roam the board as long as they got money to pay for it. This makes for quite dynamic play, but adds a lot of extra and complicated rules and increases downtime. Everyone will decide for himself whether it´s worth it.

Also, armies are no longer increased by population, but by income. There´s special units like elephants, knights, consular legions and fleets. Towns are sources for extra income and victory points, but also the target for raids (ie extra income and victory points).

In the three player game the nations are distributed as follows:

Red: Romans/Greeks/Roman senate
Yellow: Samnites/Kelts/Epirotes/Mauretanians/Populares
Blue: Carthaginians/Illyrians/Etruscans/Cimbri/Optimates

The game for the Red player is interesting as the Romans are very powerful but have to build their position carefully, especially as they will be the bucket to be kicked at the end of the game. ALso their towns are targets for raiding nations. It's a long term view.

For the blue player, the game also has long term issues, especially trying to make the Etruscans and Illyrians survive while scoring some points. This also goes for the yellow Samnites. The Carthaginians should score a good number of points, but it is never as strong as Rome and cannot threaten retalition in the same way. Later in the game the Cimbri and Optimates offer interesting campaigns.

The yellow player has to have a more opportunistic attitude. The Celts have their moments, but must watch their back as well as their front. The Epirotes make for a fun campaign with the option to go for glory (with the risk of Phyrric victory) or wedge into a niche of the board for longer term value. And the Populares offer a climactic final to the game.

The game has a delicate three way balance, where it is unwise to drive one nation too deep into the mud, because you waste too much resources on it, only to the benefit of the third player. A case in this game was the decision of the Greeks to abandon southern Italy and engage the Carthaginians. While it wrecked the Carthaginian position and scoring, in the end it just benefited the Samnites and the Mauretanians, while the Epirotes drove the dagger deep in the Greek back to take Sicily.

A similar case I've seen is too much pressure on the Etruscans by the Celts, who then find themselves overstretched against the Romans and without sympathy from the blue player.

So apart from the cardboard counters, Italia is a proud descendant of one of the great AT titles of all time. Complexity, combat, dice, assymetry and a good deal of theme despite the abstractions and generalisation that are required when several centuries are compressed into a few turns. And yet you have to also provide the dynamic great campaigns. All in all, I think Italia accomplishes that. That means good replay value, especially since there are two variants and each player has a different set of challenges.

ps Has anybody ever played the Hispania version?

pps. I don´t know how well known Phalanx is outside Europe, so I give it some introduction. Phalanx started as a hobby project of Michael Bruinsma of Dutch 999 Games (who survived the early ´90s thanks to Magic and then went into translation of eurogames like Settlers) and Uli Blennemann, German game designer. It aimed to bring out more complicated games for a smaller market, also with less fashionable themes, including wargames. They did a translation of a House Divided, published War of the Ring, Age of Napoleon and First World War (Ted Raicer´s attempt to do WWI in under 2 hours), Revolution and a great number of other games. Definitely a publisher worth mentioning when talking of AT.

Note that I don´t have personal stake in this company. Although Bruinsma used to advertise in my club´s club magazine in the early 1990s, I´m was particularly fond of his business tactics in those days. However, his role in getting games to the Dutch people cannot be denied and I own and play a number of Phalanx games with great pleasure.

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29 Jan 2008 08:32 #1597 by Xerxes
Replied by Xerxes on topic Re:Italia by Phalanx
Sounds fun, I'm severely tempted.

I've got & play Hispania, it to is a step up in complexity from Britannia, mainly due to the numerous peoples who appear who all seem to have their own special rules. The map is absolutely gorgeous, it looks a bit like a satellite image complete with snow on the mountain peaks. I will try and find the time to write a review & submit it with a few images.

Cheers

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29 Jan 2008 21:46 #1645 by Gary Sax
Replied by Gary Sax on topic Re:Italia by Phalanx
Thanks for the nice review, BTW. Appreciated.

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25 Feb 2008 02:11 #3332 by jur
Replied by jur on topic Re:Italia by Phalanx
Played it again yesterday. Three player version. My head still hurts. Eight hours of play and despite this being my third outing, still too much opportunity to make mistakes.

Seems like the campaign mechanism adds that extra layer of complexity we can't handle. This ruined the turn 10 climax.

Otherwise, we all agreed that the flow of the game is much better than in Brittannia. Everybody is actively involved all the time.

I still hope to play the four player version soon (so I still remember the rules).

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