Long before the popular games like Age of Empires and Warcraft tried to bring us a flavour of historical strategy gaming to our PC there were a number of board games that did the same on a more traditional gaming format. Britannia is one of the best of these and has been going strong with a few updates since the mid 80s.
This review deals with the 2nd edition of the game brought out by Fantasy Flight Games featuring revised and updated rules from the games original creator, Lewis E. Pulsipher and including new graphics and streamlined game play but rules and game are essentially the same for original edition brought out in 1986.
Britannia is turn based historical strategy game that aim to take the player through the history of Britain from the Roman invasion of 43 AD to the Norman invasion of 1066. This is a very interesting historical period since it was a time of great change when many races made a claim for the control of Britain, the Romans being dominant in the early period but with the gradual fall of the empire giving way to a host of invaders including the Saxons and eventually the Normans.
In the game 17 tribes/nations are represented including Romans, Angles, Saxons, Picts, Norsemen, Scots, Irish as well as some lesser-known but equally important lesser tribes. The different tribes dont all appear at the start of the game they are introduced chronologically as they appeared in the real history so you dont get the Romans pitted against the Normans. At the beginning each player control a nation represented by different colours Blue, Red, Yellow and Green. The players control a mixture of nations, which are separated from each other by geography and by time so the player that controls the Romans will have a huge advantage in the early game but by the later stages when the empire has fallen other players have a chance to come to the fore. Each player will control major and minor nations so at different part of the game they will be able to maximise their advantage and gain points while at other parts of the game faced with daunting odds they will have to minimise their losses and hope to simply survive.
The game rules are such that no historically unrealistic alliances can be formed and that for the most part the course of history will be followed although some exceptional (or lucky) player might overturn this.
As in a game like Risk each player has objectives to aim for usually holding on to certain areas of the country and will gain points for doing so in each game round. Some tribes will find it impossible to hold on to territory those that in the real history of Britain were destroyed by invaders but they can still gain important points by defeating invading armies even if they dont win the overall battle. The players will gradually move their armies throughout the map trying to gain control of more territory but the winner is not directly decided by territorial advantage but by points accrued throughout all the phases of the game. They will be crowned King!
The beautifully designed map represents Britain divided in to a series of regions those of you familiar with Mediaeval Total War will se some similarities with the PC game. Each player starts off with a set number of armies and at certain times these get reinforcements or through population growth based on how much territory and the type you control.
Each turn consists of different phases.
Phase 1: Population Phase- armies are placed on the regions of the board.
Phase 2: Movement- Players can move their armies around the board and can start battles
Phase 3: Battles and Retreats- Combat resolution
Phase 4: Raider Withdrawal- invading armies can chose to withdraw.
Phase 5: Overpopulation- This control the number of armies any player can have a limit of twice as many armies as regions controlled applies any more are removed from the game.
After each turn each nations score points based on territory controlled and battles won etc.
Armies can be moved around the board and if the enter enemy territory a battle will ensue which is resolved as in all strategy battles games with the roll of a dice. The combat resolution is quite simple and depending on the throw you get to kill your opponent or you dont. Certain modifiers can apply that will bias the throws for particular type of troops or for certain heroic figures such as Arthur or Cnute in each tribe. Basically the rules are simple and will not be unfamiliar to any players of risk of similar board games. One further consideration in battles is the terrain. Wide open field being low defensive areas but good for population growth while hilly or rough terrain will be better to make you defensive stand on but less appealing for bumping up the numbers of your tribe.
Small thick card tokens are used to represent the tribes each colour coded and with an image of a tribal warrior on it. Each tribe has detail information cards that will tell you the territorial positions for each at the start of the different rounds.
As with all strategy games a blend of luck and skill is needed to succeed but the tactical possibilities are varied enough to allow good player to consistently perform well if not to win every time. The complexity of the game comes form the mix of tribes and their differing aims which will lead to inevitable conflicts, the way that the historical events are followed and catered for in the game allow each player to potentially have their moment of glory although some players may feel that some nations are easier to play with than others. Having played the game a few times with differing nation I do have my favourite but I dont think this necessarily means that it is an advantage it simply means that my playing style might be better suited to it but each player will be different and part of the challenge of the game or with any game of this type whether it be a board game or on PC is over time how to get the best out of each possible nations.
Normally the nations would be allocated randomly to each of the players but if you find that certain nation do consistently better in the games you play the game does come with ready made rules on how to auction the different nations between the player for game points thus player that prefer the Blue nation for instance because they feel it is the strongest will be able to ensure the play with it by outbidding others with game points that will then be taken away from their total at the end thus reducing any real advantage to any one nation.
The game is educational is as far as it sets out the chronological history of early Britain in the rules and strategy but it is not totally accurate, I dont think this matters too much it is after all primarily a game not a history lesson. The game is designed for 3-5 players but is probably best player with four. It does require some concentration to play and get the best out of it so it is not suitable for the very young, it says 12+ on the box but I would think that a 10 year old with experience of strategy games would be fine playing. An average game played by people who know the rules well will last about 3 hours for inexperienced players with looking up rules etc tit will obviously take more.
The overall look and feel of the game board counters token and cards is of very good and you know you are playing with an established and quality product from the moment you open the box. I think this is a great game for the serious gamer but can also be enjoyed by novice gamers who have a little enthusiasm for learning more challenging games. It does bear being played again and again and you will have to adapt your tactics to improve your scores.
It should appeal to all board game lovers although an interests in history or war games will help, it will require more skill than Monopoly.
Britannia can be bought online forma variety of gaming site typically for £24.99 (at the time of writing this review) but you can get it a little cheaper if you look around.
© Mauri 2006