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INVASIONS VOL. I from W ISDOM O WL This was a game that I have been waiting to review for a long time. A magnum opus from Phili...





This was a game that I have been waiting to review for a long time. A magnum opus from Philippe Thibaut. a legend himself as the designer of Europa Universalis, and a long time in gestation - I expected something spectacular.  

Its arrival promised well when I opened the package to find not just the huge game itself, but the two expansions from the Kickstarter. It is stunning to look at.  A vast box and magnificent mounted map board with a number of important tracks unobtrusively edging the play area. Nine sheets of equally impressive counters representing all the major historical players and many, many minor ones are divided into four player factions: Romans, Persians, Goths and Huns.

These counters are the typical thick, rounded-edge Euro-game format that simply press out of their frames with no tags to be dealt with.

Here you can see just a few of those sheets, along with the two books, one of rules, the other labelled Appendices.  Barely glimpsed, still in the box are, 33 full colour cards supplying information on those many tribes and nations that play a very small to impressively large part in history and the game.

Definitely a major player!

Five A4 size player aids, each of 4 pages in length, repeat some of the details covered on the smaller cards, along with a wealth of information necessary for game play and a final sixth player aid contains information on the Events and Calamities introduced through a variety of cards.  What surprised me was that turning to the Appendices book, I discovered that this was a compilation of all six of the Player Aids.  

This is a massive game of astonishing quality that I suspect has had layer upon layer of detail and information gradually build up in the course of its development, but the more I tried to peel back those layers the more disconcerting and overwhelming the task became.

I had expected depth and detail and a need to work slowly through the rulebook.  I had assumed there would probably be a number of smaller scenarios to help build understanding and acquire enough comfortable familiarity with the parts to eventually tackle the whole campaign.  There are smaller scenarios, but you'll need to go online to download them, as the boxed game and the thick booklet entitled Appendices simply give one Scenario: the full Campaign for 4 players.

To be frank, the six Scenarios provided online look remarkably like something that really should have been there from the start.  Below is the shortest intended for two players, a mere one turn and not including all the possible Phases.

As working step by step through these shorter scenarios seems the sensible way to approach such a vast amount of information, I assume cost more than anything determined their not being included as a prerequisite of the package.

Even with them downloaded, it is still an uphill battle.  For me. one of the basic obstacles to coping has been the decision to number all thirty-one sections of the rule book in Roman Numerals.  It may be in keeping with the period, but it would have been easier to think Section 18 that's Movement, rather than XVIII - ah, that's Movement.  What's more these cross-references come thick and fast, usually accompanied with a subsidiary letter [e.g. XVIII.J], so there is a constant backwards and forwards checking, checking, checking.

Looking at the Sequence of Play in the Rule Book everything looks beguilingly straightforward.  The sequence of play has a well known trajectory from probably the first such game, Decline and Fall [1972] through the various iterations of Conquest of Empires, History of the World, plus A Brief History of the World and History of The Roman World and so on.  All of these, I should add include very little of what Invasions covers and do so by comparison in the most cursory way.

Broadly the game divides into four major Phases, starting with the TIME PHASE. What in most of these games involved no more than acquiring a new nation and a new set of units at the beginning of a specified turn mutates into a substantial section entitled the Status of Nations  This seems straightforward enough as there are only three statuses: Barbarian, Kingdom or Empire.  Then you discover that some nations are inactive and don't need to go through the usual activities of nation and don't earn VPs, but then you learn that they may become a client, federate or vassal.  At this point they do have the potential to earn VPs.  There are also Raider nations who do even less, but some may settle down and become inactive while others later become normal active nations.

You have to take into account the Aging of a Nation, the differences in play of a Kingdom as opposed to an Empire both of which count as being civilised, along with the fact that Barbarian nations will at some point become civilised and transition into Kingdoms.  Throw in the fact that differing religions also play their part along with heresies and you begin to see the depth and complexity involved.

Every step of the way is fraught with substantial detail that is given in a list of bullet points containing information that is typically presented in a sequence of short phrases which are cross-referenced to another section of the rules.  A typical example would be the rules on Nomads which, we're initially told in the first of seven bullet points, are a special type of Barbarian.  Among five of the remaining bullet points there are ten references to other parts of the rules.  Below is a picture of the typically densely texted pages with very little in the way of illustrations.

The sheer extent of detail in the Rule book alone is enormous.  On top of this each player has his/her separate Player Aid with a significant extra set of Additional rules and a minute breakdown of all the different possible victory point  scorings of each of the various tribes and nations that they will control in the course of the game.  There is a also an individual card sheet [33 in total] covering either one or several of these peoples.  Attractive though they are, they only include some of the most basic points included, but by no means all that are on the 4 page Player Aids.  So, once again it's back to checking between one source of information and another to make sure that you've got all the information you need.

So far, we've barely advanced any distance into game play.  Next comes Reinforcements  including units and two types of Leaders, who arrive with accompanying displacement of previous occupiers. Consult the timetable for these, though Civilised nations primarily have to purchase reinforcements rather receive according to a schedule.

Events covers card draw and play, plus possible raids and income from caravans!  Of importance to these and many other points in the game is Province and Area control.  Considering the huge span of years covered by the game, it's to be expected that fixed boundaries cannot be delineated on the map, instead you have a very small image on the relevant player aid card to refer to.  Most of these are fairly clear, but add another detail to check and work out

Oddly the final part of this first PHASE, Diplomacy, doesn't get covered until almost the very last page of the rules [SectionXXX], and appears to be a very simple process of card play, until you realise that you need to master the several, immediately preceding sections on Alliances, Clientele, Foedus and Submission [Vassalage] in order to execute the card you play.

The second major PHASE is the ADMINISTRATION PHASE, which takes in the play of Administration cards, Income and Purchases and Revolts. By and large, it provides some of the easier, quicker and more accessible rules with Income the lengthiest part.

Then the third PHASE brings us to the inevitable MILITARY PHASE, which encompasses the Movement and Combat rules. With the complexity and scale of detailed reference and sub-reference that I'd met so far, I approached this next stage with some trepidation.  I was pleasantly rewarded to find that this Phase is without doubt the easiest and clearest to deal with.  There is an alternative choice of rules called Advanced Combat.  These I personally didn't choose.  My main reason for missing out the latter was not because of added depth or length [Advanced Combat is an even shorter set of easy, clear rules], but because they do away with the very nice specially designed combat dice.
Must admit I'm a sucker for such touches and the rules provide two and a half pages covering 5 detailed examples of play.  Fortified Cities, Sieges and Naval Movement and Warfare do add quite a few more rules, but as with the essential Combat rules they are, by and large, a simple sequence and lack the convoluted sub-references, exceptions and multiple variations that made the first PHASE of the game such an endurance test.

Finally on every 3rd Turn, you come to the 4th PHASE SCORING.  Now that does sound nice and easy, but it really isn't! First of all, some form of scoring takes place every Turn, but what makes it so convoluted is the variety of scoring possibilities for each player and for each different historical group that come under their control in the course of the game.  Where I to focus on just learning a single one of the four player factions [Romans, Persians, Goths and Huns],I cannot imagine ever mastering an awareness of exactly when, where and how I would gain my victory points for that particular faction.

All in all, there is just too much information to comfortably handle.  So many rules, so much detail, so many exceptions, so many differing presentations of the information through differing play aids and on top of that too many inaccuracies and contradictions.  Many of the latter are fairly minor, but they all add to the problem of getting to grips with this game.

Through BoardGamegeek, the company is working extensively to support and clarify the many questions and requests for clarifications that have been raised.  Living rules are available and work seems to be underway to produce a simplified level of play.  I sincerely hope this comes to fruition, otherwise for many this beautifully lavish production will languish unplayed.

As always many thanks to WisdomOwl for providing the review copy

RRP 99 euros


  1. Do you think there is away back for this game if the rulebook is redone? Or is it beyond any help to make it playable. Also do you think certain types of gamer would love this because of it's detail?

  2. There are definitely gamers out there already who are determinedly working their way through playing this game. As it stands I think you need to be both an experienced gamer and committed to the topic to enjoy the effort and time needed to cope just with the level of detail. Even with greater clarity, I would find the sheer amount of rules referencing and checking daunting and I say that both as a gamer of 44 yrs experience and one who loves the topic and concepts.