Everyone everywhere should have a shelf of ‘I love that, why don’t I play it more?’ games.
A home for games played extensively during the first few weeks of ownership that then languish indefinitely as other, newer, games hold your attention.
Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea (ACIS) spent the better part of a year gathering dust on mine.
When newly acquired, ACIS was permanently on my table. I loved watching the ebb and flow of civilisation, building and burying Wonders, all of it wrapped in a wonderfully flexible system. For around a month I played it repeatedly.
And, then I didn’t.
I began to notice the game could run very long, it fell flat with my game group due to the strong take that elements and the solo game AI priorities were a faff.
Also, I became so sick of hearing phrases like “you can’t build a pyramid in Troy!”.
Actually, yes. Yes, you can. ACIS is historically themed, not necessarily historically accurate!
Time passed and ACIS was overlooked time and again.
Then, for no particular reason, like carboard buses arriving together, several games were played in a row. And memories of how great this game can be came flooding back.
Three Cool Things
When I think of wargames, I think of hexes, combat factors and dice. Of positioning units to provide a favourable result on an odds-based CRT. Of checking supply and command limits. I think of poring over a map filled, to the casual observer, with near identical pieces, tweezers in hand, dice at the ready. Of course, I do. It’s a stereotypical wargame image.
What the casual observer doesn’t appreciate is that those counters represent infantry, artillery, AFV’s, command units, engineers, cavalry. All of which have distinct battlefield capabilities, are based on a genuine historical order of battle, and carefully scaled to provide as close a simulation to real military command as thickened paper can provide.
ACIS dispenses with all that.
When opposing sides clash it’s on the Civilisation level. Those simple wooden disks represent, not only evolving military technologies, but also the power of trade, of religion, of intermingling traditions eroding a civilisation of time.
When there is a Competition in ACIS, it’s a clash of cultures happening over the course of decades and spanning hundreds of miles.
All of it done without a single die roll.
It’s always the same. Just as you think you have conquered Mesopotamia, crushed Gaul beneath a sandaled foot and set Minos ablaze, up pop a bunch of barbarians to spoil all the fun.
Appearing from all compass points, including the Deep Ocean, the barbarians are a lurking menace. Blocking victory points, absorbing resources, soaking the shifting sands of time like floodwater.
At first, they appear as sweeping events decimating the fringes of civilization everywhere. Then they appear in a densely populated region, then in your home area, forcing you commit all your resources in one Competition after another in a vain attempt to retain your empire.
Then, from across the table, the grinning face of Troy, sweeping down the coastline of Phoenicia into the heart of Egypt and you realise that it was all part of an evil plan.
Like many things in ACIS, the barbarians appear chaotic. The secret is learning to ride the chaos. To turn it to your advantage, to use the barbarians as a blocking mechanism and a resource sponge, before, at just the right moment…kicking your opponent when they are down.
Maniacal laughter at that point is optional.
Targeted Geological Warfare
Yes, despite any evidence to the contrary, the civilizations that once bordered the Mediterranean could use geological calamity to their advantage.
Not only that, they built entire empires by clever manipulation of tsunami and earthquake to selectively eliminate exactly the right number of an opposing civilization at the most beneficial times.
Apparently, they could also do this with disease. With religion. With famine. Even with trade.
And, life in the Ancient Med was so much more fun as a result.
After all, as fascinating as a strict simulation of the supply issues experienced by a Celtic-Iberian tribal war may be (I’m being serious), sometimes, it’s just more fun to wipe out a few cities with a millennial volcano.
There’s a lot of that type of fun in Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea, if you want it.