[ This post originally appeared in Game Nite Magazine #16 ]
“In the end, when it’s over, all that matters is what you’ve done.”
-Alexander the Great
You are Alexander and with his army conquer their way from Macedon on the Grecian peninsula through Mesopotamia to Indus and finally ending back in Babylon where Alexander would eventually die in 323 BC. If your campaign is successful, he shall be glorified as he completes Prophecies, governs enemy Cities or razes Enemy Strongholds. Can you conquer the ancient world and become history’s most successful military commander, Alexander the Great?
Field Commander: Alexander is a solitaire game published by Dan Verssen Games. The game includes four mounted campaign maps to choose from that include Granicus, Issus, Tyre, and Gaugamela. The Battle of Granicus is the best scenario to start with as other maps add more difficult armies to face as well additional rules. You may also string your plays from map to map for one giant, world conquering campaign! As you overpower more and more areas on each map, you will encounter Prophecies that you may or may not complete. These objectives will allow your Alexander to level up and become more powerful.
Various game counters represent your forces as well as those of your enemies. They include Archers, Light and Heavy Cavalry, Phalanx and Infantry, among others. Each counter possesses a strength value as well as a speed, or initiative, that determines who strikes first in battle. Having the sequence of play printed right on the board is a great reminder of the order of the steps you do on each turn. Initially, you can spend Gold to flip your counters from their reduced side back to full strength. Then, each unconquered Enemy Stronghold gets their chance to execute randomized orders that can build up their city with walls, place more Gold in them for you to loot, or even make them harder to beat by placing a garrison with extra forces within the city. Next, you get to scout ahead to see if the adjacent area you wish to move into offers any resistance or you may have to spend more Gold in order to have enough supplies for your troops.
Engaging enemy forces on the battlefield occur when you enter an occupied enemy region. Each enemy force counter draws a random enemy Battle Plan counter. The number drawn may be modified by Advisors you’ve brought along on your campaign. The Battle Plans give their assigned force an advantage. Likewise, Alexander’s forces get their own Battle Plans based on Alexander’s level as well as those plans that are purchased with Gold. Battle resolutions are based on the speed of the counter denoted in the upper right corner of the counter. Forces of the same speed are resolved simultaneously. Each hit reduces the opponent’s unit to its reduced side, or if already reduced, removes it from play. The game includes a player log sheet (that may be photocopied) to keep track of stats as you play your campaign. It also has an area for your battlefield at the bottom. A free, printable 8.5” x 11” battle mat on BoardGameGeek makes battling enemy forces easier to organize and, quite frankly, more thematic.
If you are successful in your war-like ways, Alexander will gain Glory. Additionally, pivotal areas of the map can be governed (Gold over the course of the game) or razed (a one time Gold pay out). The last step allows you to spend your acquired Gold and Glory on items such as purchasing forces, a City that gains you VPs, random Insight counters or Advisors that both allow for your forces to have special abilities, and you can level up Alexander to make him more formidable and allow you to gain additional Battle Plans to use against your enemy.
This is an over simplification of the rules because like most DVG games, there are some persnickety rules and exceptions, and the rulebooks are generally not laid out especially well or indexed. Also, the game is heavily lucked based since it relies on dice for battle outcomes although those rolls can be mitigated through Battle Plans, Insight and Advisor counters. For those that may be scared that this game, like many war games, comes with a lot of counters, it does not. It’s very manageable. Overall, the system is fairly straight forward to understand and after a couple of plays you probably won’t need to refer to the rules. Deciding which Battle Plans to use against enemy forces, when to Govern or to Raze a pivotal area, and what Advisors to choose, all add juts enough complexity to the game.
All that being said, it is a very enjoyable game. It’s a light-weight, dice rolling war game. But make no mistake, it’s not necessarily easy to win. The best experience you can have with it is to play the entire linked campaign. Or if time, and for many of us, space is an issue, you can play just one of the maps instead of all four.
There are other games in the Field Commander series including Rommel and Napoleon. Coming soon from DVG will be a Robert E. Lee version. So, depending on your interests, there might be a Field Commander game just right for you. This game is a great entry-level game into the system and a fantastic way to dip your toes into the shallow end of the war gaming pool. Heavier war games are out there for sure, but if you want something light, fast and quick, you can’t go wrong with Field Commander: Alexander.