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Posted on Feb 2, 2006 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Battles of Alexander – Boardgame Review

By Terry Lee Coleman

Enough of the battle maps and unit ratings have changed in Alexander Deluxe from previous versions, however, to give armchair historians plenty to argue about. My feeling is that generally, the Persian and Indian armies now have a slightly better chance in some of the revamped scenarios, particularly Issus and Samarkand, than they did in the original version of Alexander. Part of the reason for this is that the new rules have cleaned up a lot of the clutter and confusion surrounding movement, stacking, elephant charges, and the like.

New rules, or those modified from previous versions of Alexander, are noted with a >> symbol, which helps. But as with many other wargames, get ready to pore over a number of detailed rules before jumping into your first scenario. The rules index isn’t perfect, but it does seem a bit better organized than in some games of this series, which helps when you don’t know the rule for what to do the first time a cavalry unit meets an elephant in battle. Those vets of the Great Battles series or of wargames in general can add detail as they like, in the form of advanced and optional rules for such things as cavalry formations and coordinated elephant charges.


The Clash of Spears

At its heart, however, Alexander Deluxe is a pretty straightforward game. Basically, each player, in turn, activates a leader. The leader issues orders to fire missiles (arrows, etc.), moves units under his command, and fights with units engaged in combat. Where the fun comes in is that when troops charge into battle, they must pass a troop quality check, and each type of unit has to be compared to its enemy on the aptly-named Clash of Spears chart. Units then hack and slash in Shock combat.

Casualties aren’t so much the issue, as taking ‘hits’ in combat means that a unit’s cohesion goes down – and eventually those troops retreat, or rout from the battlefield. The rest of the game involves trying to rally collapsed/retreated troops, cavalry pursuit, removing cohesion hits, Leader Combat, elephant charges, and the like.

Alex_sequence.jpgThe most interesting game mechanic, though, which has remained much the same since the original Alexander, is the idea of extending your own turn through momentum, or even ‘trumping’ your opponent’s move, which allows one of your leaders to activate troops instead of your opponent. If you take the risk and try to trump only to fail, your leader is basically inactive for the entire turn, and may even have a ‘crisis of faith’ which causes his troops to withdraw from combat. You may even blow the momentum roll so badly as to give your opponent a free activation.

So, to put it mildly, the Trump and Momentum system makes for a wild game, as it places both you and your opponent into a tense state which few other turn-based games can match; you are never quite sure from one minute to the next when your next move is coming. Best of all, especially in a face-to-face game, there is ample opportunity to bluff and trash-talk while the Momentum dice are rolling…

The original Alexander will always hold a special significance for launching the Great Battles series. But any fan will want to own the new Alexander Deluxe – the new maps offer new life to old favorite battles, and the changes to scenarios and unit ratings make the game more tactically challenging. While all of the Great Battles games are of moderate complexity, Alexander Deluxe is more accessible than most of the series, and the Momentum system makes for a very replayable game; it’s also one of the few wargames in recent memory that is fun to play solitaire.

If you are at all interested in the time period, or if you’ve ever just wanted to see whether you can match the feats of Alexander the Great, it’s hard to recommend this one too highly. And if you want to have the majority of the fun with less complexity, I found that Alexander Deluxe works well with the Simple Great Battles of History rules, also available from GMT. All in all, it’s a fine example of how to update a classic, while preserving the core of what made The Great Battles of Alexander a success those many years ago. My guess is that Berg and Herman would be just as thrilled to demo this version as they were for the original – although I still can’t say who would win if they faced off…


The Great Battles of Alexander – Deluxe Edition – 93%

38/40 – Gameplay
13/15 – Components
17/20 – Rules/Documentation
15/15 – Replay Value
10/10 – General’s Rating

GMT Games

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Author’s Information

Terry Lee Coleman is former Senior Reviews Editor of Computer Gaming World magazine. He has written about board and card games for several years in such publications as Fire & Movement, The General, BROG, and others.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks Terry, and for the record I always beat Richard as long as he cannot reinvent the rules on the fly. 🙂