Sunday, October 11, 2009


Well, it has been a few months since I last wrote about a game in my collection. This has been due to a number of things, but one of the primary reasons is the specific game that was randomly chosen. Ran is the twelfth volume of GMT's Great Battles of History series. If you like tactical-level games focusing on famous historical conflicts, then this is a fantastic series. If you like your games more on the low-complexity scale, however, this is a pretty lousy series. While not having the rules complexity of Star Fleet Battles, these games are still relatively complex. So much so that a number of years ago the publisher put out a separate rulebook that simplified the rules for those who wanted to play the games without learning the rules to the point where they could write a PhD-level thesis about them.

Ran, as you might have guessed from the name, focuses on battles from Japan's history, specifically the Sengoku Jidai, or Warring States, period. This is actually the second Great Battles of HIstory game focusing on this era. I have played, and own, the first one, Samurai, and I think I like Ran better. Why? Because they took those simplified rules to heart, and Ran plays a lot like Samurai, while being less complex. It still has the same "counter overload" problem, where an individual unit counter can have three status counters stacked on top of it, but that problem is lessed in the streamlined rules used by Ran.

As is common in Great Battles of HIstory games, you don't just eliminate enemy units, as that has almost never happened in real life. Instead, you try to get them to rout and run away. The way this works in the game is that once combat is joined, units take "cohesion hits," which represents combat casulaties as well as the loss of unit formation (and morale) that can happen in the chaos of close combat. Each unit has a Troop Quality rating, and once enough hits have been taken to match that rating, the unit becomes "disrupted," and is flipped over (missile units are wiped out at this point). The disrupted side has lower quality and movement ratings. Once a disrupted unit takes hits equal to its lowered Troop Quality, the unit has routed. You win games by making your enemy's units rout off the map, as each scenario has a specific rout level, where if you can get enough points of enemy troops to rout to meet or exceed that number, then you win.

Troops don't just rout from direct combat, though. To try to mimic the peculiarities of combat in this period, each unit is part of a contingent, led by a specific leader of a clan. Battles consist of groups of allied clans fighting each other. For example, in the Battle of Nunobeyama, the Mori fight the Amako, but most of the fighting soldiers are from allied clans, each clan having its own contingent. If enough units from a contingent are routed or disrupted, the entire contingent has a chance of turning tail and running away. This is checked at the end of every turn. This can lead to a situation where due to really bad die rolls, you could be winning a fight on the board, but if you get enough units disrupted your entire contingent could run away and all of those units are immediately GONE. If you have any wargame experience you can imagine how this could be a problem. In fact, in the game I played (the aforementioned Nunobeyama), the Amako had two of their five contingents roll really bad and run away at the same time, which immediately put them over the rout limit and they lost. This feels very "gamey" to me, and I'm not sure if I like that game mechanic or not. Yes, troops historically did rout for seemingly strange reasons from time to time, and a mechanic is needed to address that, but I'm not totally sold on this being the right way to do it.

There are other aspects of the game, like individual samurai duels and using a commander with a good quality rating to try to get extra turns with your forces, but I have covered the core of the game. You get your troops, you try to engage the enemy in advantageous terrain, and you try not to botch dice rolls at critical times. It sounds simple when I put it like that, but maneuver of troops is not easy, and you can get hammered very hard if you get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. So this is a good game, and definitely one I will be keeping in my collection, but I don't plan on trying to get it on the table all the time.

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