With the release of the September Update from GMT Games, a new Falling Sky Expansion was announced. This expansion would be a prequel to Volume VI of the COIN Series and would be titled Ariovistus! I immediately added this game to my growing P500 list and reached out to Volko Ruhnke to see if he was willing to share some insights into the game. He of course was more than gracious and took his weekend to answer my list of questions.
Grant: What was the driving force for an expansion of Falling Sky?
Volko: I had been playing solitaire with the Falling Sky Non-players (“bots”) on the published set and coming up with refinements. I pondered how to get these juiced up Non-players published sooner than some distant and hypothetical 2nd printing of the base game. I realized that we could develop, test, and package such “2.0” bots together with a Falling Sky expansion scenario that would portray the portion of the Gallic War that the original scenarios had by design left out—the first several years of Caesar’s time in Gaul.
I proposed this prequel scenario idea to Andrew as a design that we could produce together with the remainder of our last summer together before his departure for college, and he agreed. I go into more detail about why we thought such an expansion was warranted in an InsideGMT article here: http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=12842.
I gave Andrew a few parameters such as how many cards and pieces we might add. He re-read those of Caesar’s Commentaries concerned with the early war years and, with that in hand, completed the design of Ariovistus’s new Germanic Faction and the new Event cards to go with them in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I focused on a new game-run Arverni Faction needed to enable a fourth player to play Ariovistus instead of Vercingetorix.
Grant: Is adding content through expansions a new trend in the COIN Series? Is it here to stay?
Volko: COIN Series expansions make sense as a trend because they efficiently leverage the initial expense in acquiring the base game. We have Adam Zahm’s Cuba Libre expansion Invierno Cubano—$19 preorder—a sequel covering the post-Revolution 1959-1965 coming out early next year. Ariovistus ($25) is instead a prequel. And we have another sequel COIN expansion in the works that we are not ready to detail yet.
Grant: I feel that the COIN Series is a great value and by adding smaller, affordable expansions to the mix, will only increase their appeal and replayability. Who are the Suebi people featured in Ariovistus? What makes them so prominent in their time? Why did the Suebi lead their revolt against Caesar over other Germanic tribes?
Volko: Caesar wrote, “The Suebi are by far the greatest and most aggressive of all the German peoples. It is said that they possess a hundred villages, from each of which they take a thousand armed men every year for waging war outside their own territory.” [4.1; Hammond, Oxford, 1996]
The “Suebi” were probably a confederation of Germanic tribes, as the term would connote in later centuries, eventually providing the origin of the name “Swabia” (Schwaben). The Suebi’s sway was either quite extensive in north and south Germania, or they moved around a lot within it. Caesar lists six other tribes fighting with the Suebi at their great battle with the Romans in 58BC [1.51].
Whether or not Caesar was exaggerating the Suebi’s extent and warlike nature, it seems clear that they were the greatest force of the day pressing other tribes—Germanic and Celtic—out of Germania and into Gaul. For these reasons, we gave the Suebi alone in Falling Sky a pair of Tribe spaces [“Suebi (North) and “Suebi (South”)] and a special stacking rule that prohibits any non-Germanic Faction winning them as Allies, even if (probably temporarily) Subdued.
Grant: Who was Ariovistus and why does history remember him?
Volko: History remembers Ariovistus, naturally, because Caesar wrote about him. He was the main villain in Caesar’s first year in Gaul—the Vercingetorix of 58BC. Caesar’s communiques describe the Sueban king as arrogant and cruel, a reckless hothead imposing savage dictates on the Gauls that came under his sway, torturing their children and the like [1.31].
Caesar no doubt had to play up his foe as especially despicable, not only because Caesar’s story is that he is taking on the defense of all the Gauls against this savage, but also because Ariovistus had earlier been officially declared a Friend of the Roman Senate! But Ariovistus had thrashed a Gallic grouping at a major battle, Admagetobriga; and Caesar describes the difficulties that his own army had against that of Ariovistus in their climactic clash. So Ariovistus is likely at a minimum to have had some competence in military leadership.
Whether players in the Ariovistus expansion scenario will be reckless or not is up to them, of course. We depict Ariovistus as intent on pressing his Germanic Tribes into Gaul, as capable of intimidation of both Gauls and Romans unless the latter are well led, and as commanding effective cavalry—the Germanic horse that Caesar much later describes as so fierce he must have them for his own army.
Grant: It sounds like the new faction will fit my personal play style perfectly! What new forces are added to represent the Suebians? Are they the same color black as the Germanic tribes? Same embossed symbol?
Volko: Indeed, Ariovistus’s Available Forces add another 15 Germanic Warbands—black pieces with silver axes—to enable the Suebi to call a suitably impressive horde of Germans across the Rhenus. Of course we provide Ariovistus himself as a Leader piece: he provides the same effect on the attack as the shaded Germanic Horse Capability from the Falling Sky deck.
To that we add 6 Germanic Settlement pieces. Because Germanic migration was a key driver of conflict in Gaul in this earlier period, Andrew wanted additional pieces to show the Germans establishing new settlements west of the Rhenus. The Settlements function somewhat like Allies without Tribe spaces, render the space equivalent to Germania for Germanic Rally and Settle, and are key to Germanic victory; their survival also subtracts from Roman and (if the Germans are doing well) Aedui victory.
Grant: Tell us about the new Aedui leader Diviciacus. Why is he important and how will having a leader change the play of the Aedui? What is his ability?
Volko: Caesar’s druid friend Diviciacus is a key character throughout the Gallic War, but especially so in the early years. Together, they blocked anti-Roman machinations among the Aedui nobility and organized a joint Celto-Roman defense against Ariovistus in 58BC and against the resistance of the Belgic Nervii and Atrebates in 57BC.
In Falling Sky, we portray Diviciacus’s role through a Capability Event that enables Roman and Aedui forces to gather, move, and fight together. But that Event may or may not come into play. For Ariovistus, Andrew thought that Diviciacus’s appearance on the stage should be assured, and his location in Gaul matter explicitly.
The new Diviciacus Leader piece provides an Aedui-Roman coordination benefit like the Falling Sky Capability, but enhanced by affecting Special Abilities not just Commands, while limited to a range of 1 Region from Diviciacus’s person. Diviciacus is a mixed blessing for the Aedui in other ways: He counts as a piece for Control, while being very hard to catch in Battle (as he was not a battlefield commander like the other leaders in the game). But he also limits Aedui Special Abilities to within 1 Region of his location, just like other Leaders do for their Factions.
With the idea that Diviciacus is nevertheless a net plus for the Aedui player, we provide in the expansion set a replacement Diviciacus Event that places the Leader piece and brings the Ariovistus Diviciacus rules into effect instead of adding a Capability. So Falling Sky players will be able to add this new piece to the earlier scenarios, representing the possibility of Diviciacus again coming into prominence during Caesar’s later years in Gaul.
Grant: I understand you flirted with adding a 5th player to the game rather than turning to a bot. Why was this idea ultimately not implemented?
Volko: I’m not sure the idea even got as far as flirting. The 5th Faction in Ariovistus, the “Arverni and Other Celts”, represent largely or entirely uncoordinated actions at different times by the Arverni in the south, the Helvetii and Sequani north of Provincia, the Veneti in the northeast, the Seduni and others in the Alps, and so on. Moreover, the entire initiative structure would have to be reworked to accommodate five players, so the expansion could not leverage the existing Falling Sky deck.
Grant: Also how does the new Celtibot (Arverni) play in the game? What can we expect as their focus and role in the new structure? What events or circumstances trigger the Celtibot to go to war?
Volko: The game-run Arverni/Celts Faction pose a fresh challenge to players in Ariovistus—particularly to the Aedui and Romans, who will face Germans from the east, Belgae in the north, and Celtic uprisings in the east and in their midst!
The Arverni/Celts work somewhat like the Germanic Tribes in Falling Sky in how the game system guides their Commands. However, they are rather more aggressive whenever “At War”: provoked by enemies near their Allied Tribes or entering their “core” Regions—shown on this mini-map—essentially a triangle of territory from the Arverni homeland up to the Veneti and over to the Carnutes.
Rather than activating each Winter as the Germanic Tribes do in Falling Sky, the Arverni do so if “At War” whenever an Event card comes up bearing their trigger symbol (a carnyx at upper left—see Winter Uprising! and Abatis samples below). The trigger appears on many of the new Ariovistus playing cards, dictating the Arverni tempo but keeping the timing uncertain to the players.
In addition, a series of Uprising Events—most with the Germans first on initiative—trigger Arverni activations regardless of provocation. When activated, the Arverni and other Celts may simply defend their territory; but they may also strike out beyond it. So this game-run Faction can be quite dangerous for the players!
Grant: What changes have you made to existing game play in Falling Sky? Changes to Commands? Special Abilities?
Volko: The Germanic Tribes Faction adds two new Special Abilities to the previously familiar Ambush: Intimidate and Settle. Ariovistus through his storied Suebi brutality can Intimidate nearby Forces and Tribes to scare them off (remove them) and prevent them from Rallying or Recruiting anew—but only in the absence of a Leader such as Caesar or Diviciacus. He also can place Germanic Settlements—migrants from across the Rhenus—to add, in effect, one new Germanic Allied Tribe to each Region for Germanic victory and other benefits.
In addition, smaller adjustments mesh the other Factions’ actions with the new aspects presented by the player Germans. Belgic Enlist is more limited (see below). Roman Besiege is extended to Germanic Settlements. Battles account for the particular attributes of Ariovistus and Diviciacus, and so on. We summarize these smaller changes on playing-card reference aids for the Belgic, Aedui, and Roman players to keep handy.
Grant: How have you dealt with the Belgae’s Enlist Special Ability in relation to the Suebi in the expansion? How have you limited the ability without unbalancing the game?
Volko: Belgic Enlist in Ariovistus can still take Command of Germanic Forces or treat them temporarily as Belgae. But here we constrain that Special Ability so as not to enable the Belgic player to entirely undo a separate Germanic player’s position, nor to give Ariovistus’s entire army the ability to activate twice in a row against a common enemy.
We achieve this balancing simply by restricting each Enlist to a maximum of four black pieces, never Settlements or the Germanic Leader.
Grant: What changes were made to the existing Event cards? Why? Can you give us one example?
Volko: There were two reasons for updating certain Falling Sky Event cards in the Ariovistus expansion.
The first reason was the opportunity to improve a card here and there on the basis of experience since publishing the base game. In a few cases, an Event turned out to be not as potent as we had intended, or more so than intended, and Andrew and I wanted to tweak these to get as close as we can to balanced impact and attractiveness among all the Events in the Falling Sky deck. In other cases, we spotted a way to clarify the wording on the card to avoid confusion. All these adjustments concern a total of six Falling Sky cards, plus the updated Diviciacus card discussed above, which we provide with the suggestion that players substitute them for the originals in all Falling Sky scenarios.
The second reason for updating Events appearing in the base game was to integrate them smoothly into the merged deck used in the Ariovistus scenario. Slight rewording of five Events—Alpine Tribes, Arduenna, Gallia Togata, Rhenus Bridge, and Winter Campaign—align these Events with the new effects introduced by a player Germanic Faction, an already playable Cisalpina, and so on.
Grant: Also how many new Event cards are there in the expansion? Can you spoil one card for us and help us understand its affect in the game?
Volko: In addition to the reference aid and tweaked Falling Sky cards noted above, we add 34 brand new Events for the Ariovistus deck, inspired by Andrew’s re-reading of Caesar’s books on the first half of the war. Many of them, as you might guess, concern the Germanic Tribes; another set deal with the Nervii and other Belgae of Boduognatus’s day. But the Aedui and Romans also add interesting new characters and occurrences from the early 50’s BC, as do the Helvetii from their starring role on the stage in 58BC.
Here is an illustrative couplet of Germanic Capabilities that show something of the military threat that Ariovistus’s hordes may or may not become.
These Events both derive from Caesar’s description of his climactic battle with Ariovistus. Caesar states therein that the Germans “as was their custom, quickly formed a phalanx to sustain our attack” and that the legionaries along part of the line were able to overcome that by “leaping onto the massed enemy … and wounding them from above” and elsewhere by the quick reaction of Caesar’s cavalry commander to the shape of the infantry lines [1.52]. Caesar also notes that the Germans had surrounded their battle line with their wagons and “their women, who, with outstretched arms and weeping, begged the men setting out to battle not to hand them over into Roman slavery” [1.51].
As an aside, consider that the expansion pack includes an extended-length scenario covering the entire war: any such new Ariovistus Capabilities that come into play in the first half of “The Gallic War” scenario remain in effect. Caesar, Ambiorix, and the rest may have to deal with a more robust game-run Germanic Faction in the latter half of the war, depending on what the Germanic player or others chose to enact in the first half!
Grant: What is the new Winter Uprising phase and how does it differ from Winter in Falling Sky? What are these new abatis markers and how are these fortifications used by the Gauls?
Volko: Both of the new markers that you spotted relate to Events for which the Belgic Faction has the first option, though others also might get to deploy them. Ambiorix’s winter uprising of 54-53BC is already well known to Falling Sky players, but we wanted to add the possibility that something similar might well have confronted the Romans or other Factions earlier in the war. As for abatis, Caesar describes the Nervii’s favored reliance on such scratch fortifications to hinder the enemy along the wooded approaches to their positions [2.17].
Grant: I notice that Britannia appears to be out of play for the expansion. What prompted this choice? How does it affect the strategy and game play?
Volko: With the action in 58BC focused on the Helvetii emerging from the vicinity of Cisalpina to threaten the Aedui at Bibracte, Caesar making his first move north from the traditional Roman Province in Gaul, and Ariovistus pressing from the Rhenus toward Vesontio, we needed a bit more room for maneuver in the southeast area of the game map. So we start the Ariovistus scenario with Cisalpina automatically in play and add a new Tribe space there (the Nori).
With the shift of the center of action toward the southeast, we do not really need Britannia in play. During this earlier period, some defeated Belgic leaders did flee there, but Roman military expeditions to the island do not occur until shortly after the end of the new scenario, in 55 and 54BC.
With the Nori added and the British Catuvellauni out of play, the game board conveniently remains even at 30 Tribes total.
Grant: How can Rome best attempt to subdue Suebia?
Volko: Caesar in 58-56BC—before enjoying the luxury of the smaller threats and strategic pause of 55BC that allowed him to undertake his Germania and Britannia expeditions—is trying to contain and defeat Ariovistus and Belgae in Gaul. Subduing Suebia itself may not be necessary—but that opportunity may present itself, depending on how Ariovistus and the other Factions maneuver.
Grant: In contrast what must the Suebi do in order to prevail? What are their victory conditions?
Volko: Ariovistus seeks to maintain Suebi dominance of Germania (or, rather, that part of it along the east bank of the Rhenus) and to win and defend additional Germanic settlement into Gaul. So Germanic victory in Ariovistus depends on German Control of the two Suebi Tribes as Germanic Allies plus Control of Germanic Settlement pieces (which Ariovistus’s Settle Special Ability can place in Regions outside Germania). The Germans’ victory threshold is Control of more than six such Suebi + Settlements (the same threshold, by the way, marked for the Arverni—the Faction that the player Germans replace—along the edge track).
Grant: How does a more active Germanic presence affect the game? Does it significantly change the major dynamics between the other factions?
Volko: It sure does! With the shift in focus toward the southeast, the interplay of a Germanic player and that player’s Settlements and victory conditions with Aedui and Roman victory, a different potential ally or enemy for the Belgae, and the potentially quiet or quite aggressive game-run Celtic 5th Faction…well, the dynamics between any pair of players around the board must be considered anew.
How closely do Diviciacus and Caesar cooperate now? Do they deal with the Helvetic migration or let it be? Does one or both of them attempt to expand into the Celtic east? Should they seek to crush Ariovistus before moving north to contain Boduognatus’s Nervii, or the other way around? Do the Belgae work hand-in-glove with Ariovistus, or seek to exploit one another’s vulnerabilities?
I will be as eager as anyone during playtest and development to get smarter on these questions, as it is far too early to set any opinions on strategy within these new dynamics. And I am certainly looking forward to that exploration!
Thanks Grant for the questions and the interest in Ariovistus!
Another great look into the machinations of the design process for the COIN Series of games from the Godfather himself, Volko! Thank you for your time and thoroughness in sharing with us what we can expect from this great looking expansion. If you would like to order Ariovistus, follow this link to the P500 page: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-603-ariovistus-a-falling-sky-expansion.aspx