The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Struggle of Empires

Now that I’ve played twice, some thoughts.

In Struggle of Empires, each player commands one of the major powers of Europe. The game consists of three wars. In each war, players get 5 (or 6) rounds of taking two actions each. But first, an auction determines player order and the alliances. There are two sides, and players cannot attack their allies, although they don’t have to help them. This alliance mechanism prevents players from picking on the leader, always an issue in multiplayer games with conflict. After the auctions for player order, players then get two actions each. The actions are:

  • Taking a tile,
  • Colonizing an area,
  • Building a unit,
  • Moving two units,
  • Attacking another player

There are around 30 different tiles, and they all provide some bonus or rule-breaking exception (like genes in Ursuppe, or the powers in Cosmic Encounter). Most of the tiles can only be used once per war, and some can only be used once.

Colonizing an area takes an action and either costs a population (to colonize) or requires having a ship in Africa (to enslave) and it’s one of the main ways that new areas open up. The tile and colonization actions are limited, you can only perform each action once per turn. You can take any of the other actions twice.

The other three actions form the standard basis of a light wargame. You build units, move them around and attack for control markers. Interestingly, you can keep control of an area without troops, but that makes it ripe for attack.

Troops (and colonizing) require population. Attacking (and tiles) require money. You can always squeeze the peasants for money if you run out, at the cost of unrest. You also gain unrest when your lose units in battle. Death and Taxes may be inevitable, but they still chafe.

I’ve never seen the battle mechanic before — Roll two dice and take the difference, which you add to your troop count (basically one per army, adjusting for naval superiority, tiles and allies). Loser suffers a one unit loss (and a control tile changes hands if the attacker wins). However, if either player rolls a ‘7’, they suffer an additional unit loss. As mentioned before, each unit lost causes a point of unrest.

At the end of the turn, each area scores. However, all ties let each player score full points, and only count as one spot. So the East Indies (which score 4/2) have Russia with two control tokens, Britian with two and France with one. Then Russia and Britian each get four points, and France still scores.

This has interesting implications. The leader in an area gets nothing for pressing the advantage (except costing others points, or a comfort faction).

After three rounds, anyone with 20+ unrest is eliminated, then the remaining player with the most unrest losses 7 VP, and the next worst losses 4VP. Most VP wins.

Anyway, thanks to the Geek, I can just point you to a file that summarizes the mechanics. [The rules are also online].

After two games, I like Struggle. But there are flaws that will keep it from being a big hit. As you can expect from Warfrog, it’s a longer game. Additionally, it’s overwhelming at first, since you can do anything on your first turn (and have more options than any other time). Expect four hours for the first game, but about 2.5 to 3 after that.

While players can evaluate the position exactly, it takes time (and most players won’t, I imagine). This leads to an evaluation issue. For example, in Age of Renaissance, players would often hit the leader even after he’d been ground down. That happens here, too. In the 3rd war, the leader will often receive attention. Struggle does mitigate that through the alliance mechanism, so only half the players can hit the leader, but it happens. [In theory, players can count out the 3rd wars scores, but that takes time. Unrest is trackable but hidden.]

One complaint I’ve heard is that the game has too much luck. Too some extent, that’s a judgement call. Bad dice rolls can cause you to lose combats, but that’s true of any die-based system. The ‘7’ gotcha adds risk to even a guaranteed attack, and I doubt I’ll ever see one. [Six points of units is huge — Players only get 5 population a turn]. In addition, naval movement has a chance of troop loss, which will probably hurt a player or two. There is also a random setup, where each player gets five colonies, and there’s the possibility of a very bad draw (all five in the same area guarantees a first, but not many points).

So yes, there is luck and a fair amount for a long game. Given the subject matter and scale, I’m not put out by it. I haven’t seen a runaway leader or a player fall behind due to egregious bad luck (as compared to poor choices), but I’ve only played two games.

On the plus side, Struggle gives you plenty to think about. You have 30 actions, limited population and cash. You can print more money for free, at the cost of unrest. But being 3rd worst in unrest (assuming nobody goes over) is the same as being pristine! Population is tight as well, and necessary for troops, colonizing and income. The tiles allow you to trade resources, for example spending money and an action to get a tile that will get you one extra action per war. There are about 30 different tiles, with varying number of each. There are some very good ones, which mean the first auction for player order can quickly get expensive. There are quite a few strategies on tiles, money and the like, and I suspect I’d enjoy this for a dozen games, given the opportunity. [I don’t know that I’ll get the chance to play that often].

So overall, I’m pleased with Struggle. Then again, I’m pleased with Age of Steam and Liberte, both Wallace designs under the Warfrog label. If you like the long (by Euro-standards) conflict game, then Struggle is worth looking into.

Incidentally, the number of players is listed as 2-7. I’d be interested to see how the game works with 2-3. I think I’d generally play with the 5-7. Four still seems the same, but three would be odd (one player vs two each war). Two, being zero sum, would be interesting and odd, I wager.

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Written by taogaming

March 30, 2005 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Reviews

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