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Posted on Feb 24, 2006 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Assyrian Wars – Boardgame Review

By Johnny L. Wilson

I particularly like the fact that AW provides Army Group counters and cards. Though we often play with large stacks of units on the map. It is nice to be able to put one counter on the map and the rest of the army on the card. (see picture) This is true to history because large forces were common during this era. For example, we know from inscriptions at Nimrud that there were 30,000 archers alone garrisoned in that fortress.[3] Archaeologists estimate a total garrison between 70,000 and 100,000.

AWArmygroup1a.JPG(left) GARGANTUAN GARRISONS: Assyrian Wars reflects the large forces involved in this era of warfare by letting players transfer their large stacks to Army Group cards and replace the stacks with counters on the board.

The Bad News (Problems)

The primary problem with AW belongs to this reviewer. The game is one of those more the merrier games. I don’t like the 2-player version (though it exists) and it took months to get an assembled game club group together to play. I understand there is a cyberboard in progress and I look forward to playing via email when that happens. In the meantime, it looks like playing at the game club or nothing.

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The second problem with AW is the documentation. It seems disjointed and contradictory. Our game club had more rules disputes than usual and my brother’s game club had some of the same problems. The biggest problem seems to be with tribute, a major portion of the game.

On the one hand, it appears that the dice rolls for determining Tribute position only reflects minor powers. "The player controlling a power decides if that power and any minors allied to it will pay tribute to Assyria." On the other hand, if another power says, "No tribute" and Assyria fails to "punish" it, Rule 5.2.3 states "…the country gets 1 additional die roll for its tribute check next turn."

So, does Assyria risk anything by not punishing major powers who refuse Tribute? It doesn’t look like it. Who knows? It seemed like a big gap in the game to our club. AND, it might make a huge difference going forward.

The third problem with AW is, to paraphrase that great line from Amadeus, too many counters. There are so many counters for record-keeping that it just seems overwhelming at times. Indeed, why does one need the record sheet if one is using all of the provided counters. Sometimes, the extra counters simply become a problem rather than a solution. We felt that way with AW.

The Good News (Color)

Historically, it feels like AW got it right. Though UGG uses the 722 B.C. (BCE) date for beginning Sargon II’s reign and I prefer the 721 B.C. (BCE) date, AW has the right flow of history and the right color. When Sargon bragged about his victories in his annals, he wrote of deporting 27,290 inhabitants from Samaria and forming a contingent of 50 war chariots from the leftovers. [4] When he conquered Hamath, he bragged of creating 200 chariots and 600 horsemen from the remnant of the defeated foe. [5] AW has a mechanic where players can take ECO points from conquered cities and transfer them to their own cities, enabling them to do the same thing. This is so perfectly in tune with the historical record that it is exciting to me.

Conquest (Evaluation)

AW is a marvelous multiplayer game, once the assembled players iron out their house interpretations of the often confusing rules and begin to play "on the same table." The components are nice, though the smaller counters for record-keeping are sometimes more annoying than helpful. The map is colorful and practical. The charts, while not the most attractive seen in the hobby are useful.

The mechanics are simultaneously familiar and surprising. The historical color seems right and the optional rules are worth pursuing. It is a game that players will love because of all the opportunities to accomplish different objectives or a game that players will hate because it has too many options.

Historically and geographically, it is a learning experience. In terms of game play, it is a challenge for all concerned. Assyria starts off with a huge military and economic advantage. However, its leaders get weaker and it suffers a – 2 VP penalty each turn as a balancing factor. If the other powers ally properly, they can keep Assyria on the run. An aggressive Assyrian can build up a sizeable lead in the first round, however. If so, it will be hard to trim that down without dozens of bloody little battles. (Note that the General’s Rating below is lower than the reviews I normally write. I was very interested in the game and the period, but my interest diminished as I had trouble getting opponents together.)

Armchair General Score: 81%

37/40 — Gameplay
11/15 — Components
10/20 — Rules/Documentation
15/15 — Replay Value
08/10 — General’s Rating

Assyrian Wars Website

Author’s Information

Johnny L. Wilson is the former editorial director of Computer Gaming World and publisher of Dragon, Dungeon, Star Wars Gamer, Star Wars Insider, TopDeck and Undefeated magazines. He is the author of The Sim City Planning Commission Handbook and co-author of Sid Meier’s Civilization or Rome on 640K a Day. His most recent game-related book is High Score: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games, written with Rusel Demaria. Today, he balances his game playing with his work as a freelance novelist and author of multimedia study guides for the books of the Bible. His passion is any game that causes him to study more history. Not the strongest player, he is nonetheless an avid player. Johnny and his wife live on the shore of Castle Lake in Tyrone, Georgia.


[1] James B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1958), pp. 195-197.
[2] Sabatino Moscati, The Face of the Ancient Orient (Garden City, New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1962), p. 68.
[3] Harry Thomas Frank, Bible Archaeology, and Faith (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), p. 198.
[4] Pritchard, p. 195.
[5] Ibid, p. 196.

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