Since being released in early May this year, Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar has invaded social media with the raw power of a Roman Legion. Everywhere you look you can see pictures of the game being played and videos of unboxings. The reason for this excitement? Well, unless you have lived under a rock since 2012 and the release of Andean Abyss, you have heard about the COIN Series of games by GMT Games or played one of the other 5 volumes. You also most likely know that they are great card assisted war games that appeal to many euro gamers and have brought a horde of new “war gamers” into the fold. The difference with Falling Sky though that has caused such a rabid following is probably not as obvious as one would think.
The other 5 volumes in the series have dealt with more modern warfare including such conflicts as the Vietnam War (Fire in the Lake), the War in Afghanistan (A Distant Plain) and even reaching into the 18th century and the American Revolutionary War (Liberty or Death). But Falling Sky is the series’ first foray into antiquity delving into the 1st century BC revolt against Roman control in ancient Gaul (France).
This departure from their proven formula for success, I’m sure, was a difficult choice for the brain trust at GMT and their star performer Volko Ruhnke. But so far this calculated risk has paid off hugely and GMT is already working on the next volume in the series dealing with the Saxon, Irish, Pict & Celtic revolt against Rome in the 4th & 5th century AD Brittania in Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain. In fact, Falling Sky garnered 2,058 pre-orders through the P500 program and so far Pendragon has 1,394. There is obviously a lot of interest in the subject and more importantly the proven game play system. The purpose of this blog entry is to give you a feel for the major differences in Falling Sky as compared to the other five volumes. There are a lot of changes other than a new time period, different factions and the change in geography. This article will not however be an insight into strategy or a guide to each faction. With that being said, I will start with a simple look at the 8 major changes or differences (this list is not exhaustive and there are other differences in the game).
Addition of Forts & Citadels
Forts were first introduced in Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection and their main function was to reduce losses in battles where present and assist in Rally but they also added to resource collection at the end of Winter Quarters phases and contributed to victory. In Falling Sky the forts reduce losses by half in a battle by the owning side and also act as a piece to be removed. When it is down to only a fort or citadel in a battle, a 6 sided die is rolled and causes a loss of the fort/citadel only on a roll of 1-3. If the roll is a 4-6, there is no loss and that loss disappears unfulfilled. During recruit actions, the presence of a fort plus a leader and an ally allow for the placement of additional Auxilia totaling the sum of leaders+fort+allies. The forts and citadels also protect against raids from the Germanic tribes preserving resources in the Winter phase. Forts and citadels are well worth building as they offer a lot of new benefits and can make your commands more efficient. Plus they look pretty intimidating on the map!
No Traditional Support or Opposition on Spaces
In previous volumes, players were not only battling for control of territory but also for the hearts and minds of the people. This still is the case in Falling Sky but their is no Support or Opposition and there are not x1 & x2 markers. Instead the game focuses on placing allied tribes. Each of the factions has the number of allied tribes as part of their victory condition. As the map shows an empty tribe circle is Subdued which means it is subservient to Rome and not at war. The Romans can use a Seize action to disperse a subdued tribe which blocks the placement of allied tribes on those spaces. Subdued and dispersed tribes add to Roman victory. The Gallic tribes can place allied tribe markers in circles during their Rally commands or their Entreat or Suborn Special Abilities. This mechanic represents the battle for control of the people.
A Fifth Faction – The Germanic Barbarian Tribes
The Germanic tribes represent a continual threat and uncontrollable obstacle to both the Romans and the Gallic tribes. The Germans are a fifth faction that typically acts during the Winter phase and is controlled similarly to the “bots”. The only exception to their actions is that they can be “controlled” or used by the Belgic tribes using their Enlist Special Ability. The Germans will always raid across the Rhenus River in the Winter Phase in an attempt to take control of territory, rally new tribes under their control and steal resources from both sides. They are not good allies though and will never agree to Supply Lines or Retreat into their territory. This 5th faction adds depth to the game and another threat that must be managed and planned for, deepening the strategy of the game.
Battle Procedure – Retreat & Counterattack
The game is about battle though and how to destroy your enemies with overwhelming force. The Romans are the masters at battle as their technology, weapons and tactics were far superior to any in the ancient world. The Battle command has 6 steps but I would like to focus on only the new ones here, namely Declare Retreat, Counterattack and Retreat.
First off, the side being attacked has the option of declaring retreat once they are targeted but this action does not prevent the loss of units as you would think. If they are outnumbered and if they would rather fight in a friendly territory with a fort or citadel to limit losses in the future, retreat is a very tactical choice. What is the old saying, run away to live and fight another day! In order to retreat the retreating side must have the permission of the territory’s controlling faction that they are trying to retreat into. Without permission, there can be no retreat. The Germans never retreat or agree to allow a retreating faction into their territory. Losses are still absorbed for the retreating faction but they are unable to attack back.
The next part I’d like to focus on is Counterattack. When attack is declared and if the targeted faction doesn’t choose to retreat, their surviving forces (after taking losses from the attacker) will get an opportunity to counterattack causing losses to the attacking force. The losses from the attack will have weakened their capability to attack back but it allows at least something for the target. I also like the rules for removing Legions, Leaders or forts or citadels. If the final remaining pieces are one of the above the defender rolls a 6 sided die for each loss that is to be suffered and on a roll of 1-3 results in a loss of the units but if a 4-6 there are no losses. I like the battle procedure but it definitely takes some getting used to and at first seems a little complex as you have to follow a fairly large flow chart.
The leaders for each faction are very important and are true to the history of the conflict. For the Romans, Julius Caesar is the leader. He provided many benefits including during Rally commands by adding Auxilia but most importantly while under the direct command of Caesar each Legion causes 2 losses vs. 1 with no leader. Vercingetorix is the leader of the Arverni Confederation and allows for Rally in devastated territories (not normally possible) and provides additional warbands up to total number of leaders, allies and citadels present +1. The leader of the Belgic Tribes is Ambiorix and he increases losses for warbands from 1/2 to 1.
The Aedui Confederation leader is nameless, has no pawn for a presence and offers no additional benefit. I like the way the leaders have been handled in Falling Sky. I prefer the cylinders to the standup or circular cardboard chits that represent leaders in Liberty or Death and I also think that the leaders feel more appropriate for the game.
New Special Abilities – Scout, Besiege, Devastate and Rampage
There are several examples of new Special Abilities in Falling Sky for each faction including Scout (my personal favorite), Besiege, Devastate and Rampage. One of the most difficult parts of fighting insurgents and guerrilla units in the other volumes is when they are hidden. In Falling Sky the Romans have a new way to reveal the hidden warbands by using the Scout Special ability. When forces are scouted, a marker is placed on them and in order to become hidden they must first remove the marker. This is a hindrance to their efforts to ambush in battle and makes them easier to eliminate. The Romans also have the new ability of Besiege where they can assault a citadel and remove it from the board but not before it halves the losses from the battle.
For the Arverni, there is the Devastate special ability. This ability allows them to slash and burn areas to hinder and slow the March and other Roman Commands. The devastated marker blocks Recruit and Rally, doubles a region’s command cost, halts March, blocks Roman resource seizure and Raid and hinders quartering in a region over Winter. This also causes the Arverni forces to have to remove 1 in 4 of their forces as well as 1 in 3 of other faction’s forces. It is definitely a last ditch effort but when used strategically it causes serious difficulty for the invading Romans. The Belgic Tribes have the ability to Rampage. The Rampage demonstrates ferocity and is designed to frighten forces causing them to retreat or even surrender. It is foiled though if their is a leader, citadel or fortress in the region.
The new abilities are very thematic and really help the players to understand the tactics and motivations of each of the factions. From the ferocity of the Belgic tribes to the win at all cost attitude of the Arverni, the new Special Abilities of the factions help establish the identity of Falling Sky and separate it from its brother COIN games.
The Capability Markers are handled in a very different and improved, I might add, way than the previous volumes. In the past, the player would have placed a small marker on the board in the capabilities area to remind them of a special addition or discount to various actions. In Falling Sky, the card event that granted the continuing capability is marked with a marker that says either “shaded” or “unshaded” by placing the card and marker in front of the player for quick and easy reference. I was able to have the full text of the capability directly in front of me in easy access so I could readily review the full text to remind me of the added ability. This eliminated me forgetting about the capability and also allowed me to think about the best ways to utilize the benefit as I planned for each turn. I think this is a big improvement over some of the previous volumes.
Board Size (Addition of Faction Available Forces Display Cards)
The first major difference I noticed with the game was the size of the board. Falling Sky has a smaller 17″ x 22″ mounted game board which as compared to most of the other COIN games size of 22″ x 34″ is significantly smaller. Falling Sky’s board is the same size as Cuba Libre. The difference between this board and Cuba Libre though is that there are 16 spaces as compared to only 13. I know it is only 3 spaces more but it does give more options for maneuvering and eliminates a little bit of the predictability inherent in small linear boards, as there are only a few ways you can go. The other change is that each faction has a separate available forces display card that they keep in front of them during play. Typically, the available forces are contained on the larger board itself so this is a change. I actually like the change but was a little disappointed in the thin card stock used to print the boards. They should have chosen a little bit thicker stock as it would last longer and resist bends and other damage.
I hope that this preview has opened your eyes and educated you on some of the differences in Falling Sky: The Gallic Revolt Against Caesar and helps you in making a decision about whether to play this ancient version of the COIN series or to add it to your collection. I definitely love this game and while I have only played the walk through and one 2-player game, I can definitely see that the hype around the game is real and justified. I look forward to many plays of this game in the near future and the hours of enjoyment that are ahead.