Tabletop Review: Hoplite

Hoplite
Publisher: GMT Games
Cost: $75 ($61.19 on Amazon)
Release Date: 04/15/2014
Get it Here: Amazon.com

Hoplite is the fifteenth is GMT Games’ “Great Battles of History” Series. This however, was the first exposure to the GBoH series for any of us here at Diehard GameFAN. I was surprised by this considering how many of us have reviewed a game by GMT Games over the years. I should also point out that Hopilte is a stand-alone game and does NOT require the purchase of any previously released “Great Battles in History” titles. The game also comes with its own simplified GBoH rules set, so if I point something out about the mechanics that doesn’t jibe with your previous GBoH experience, this is probably why.

Hoplite comes in an oversized bookshelf style, which is standard for all GMT games. The front cover is a little drab in terms of colour scheme of tan and khaki, but this is balanced out with a picture of a herd of warriors in full charge. The back cover gives a great example of what to expect from the game including a scaled down example of maps, a look at the many, MANY counters this game possesses and some information about the game such a listing of contents, length of play (1-8 hours) and more. Honestly, if you see this game in a store, the back cover alone will be able to tell you if Hoplite is your type of game or not. I’ll admit, I’m always worried whenever a game as this many little cardboard pieces, but that’s because I have two cats and a rabbit and they are very VERY good at making those pieces go missing. Consider this a warning to keep Hoplite away from high pet traffic areas.

Hoplite comes with two rulebooks. The first is a thirty-two page rules manual, while the other is forty-eight page scenario book which also covers “Simple GBOH Rules Changes” in the back. I’m not sure why these Hoplite specific rules weren’t included with the core rulebook but I wanted you to be aware of this usual breakup of the mechanics. It is worth noting that the core rulebook does offer three “warnings” of sorts – one for people who have never played a wargame before, one for people who have never played a “Great Battles of History” title before and one for people who HAVE played a GBoH title about the rules simplification with this game. Honestly though, Hoplite is a pretty easy game to understand. It’s probably not something I would give my wife to play without a thorough explanation of the rules as the closest she has come to a wargame like this is Ikusa or Conquest of Nerath. I think the biggest problem newcomers will have is remembering what all the different combat units are (and do) and especially to turn the pieces over when “Out of Command.” That happens even to wargame veterans from time to time.

So Hoplite is set during 5th to 4th Century BCE. The boxes states this is the dawning of Western Warfare as opposed to the Persian/Eastern style, and that the game is meant to show you how these battles were fought – as opposed to something like Warhammer which has no basis in reality whatsoever, but follows the same basic core wargaming principles. The game provides you with eleven different scenarios for you and your friends to take part in. Now that might not sound like a lot, but when you factor that each battle simulation can take up to eight hours to complete, you have enough content with these scenarios to fill two work weeks. If that’s STILL not enough somehow, remember you and your friends can always devise your own scenarios.

There are eleven types of military units in Hoplite, not counting specific leaders for each army/scenario. You have basic infantry in Hoplites, the Phalanx, Heavy Infantry, medium Infantry, Light Infantry, Peltasts, Javelinists, Archers, Slingers, Light Cavalry, Heavy Calvary, and Chariots. Each piece has their own specific rules, strengths and weaknesses. It’s going to depend on your own specific play style as to which pieces will be your best troops. I personally tended towards preferring the Calvary and missile weapon troops, but I am a more defensive player. Note that each scenarios, even the smallest ones, will involve a lot of troop counters on the map and you need to pay close attention to who you have moved and when to keep things flowing smoothly. As such, you’re going to want to play the smaller scenarios first and save something like the Plataea scenarios for when you feel extremely comfortable with the rules and sequence of the game. If you foolishly try to start with Plataea and you are new to wargames, you’ll probably end up confused and frustrated.

Overall Commanders will differ greatly depending on what scenario and which battle you are playing. That said, they all have the same basic traits. Command Range, which the base range of hexes he (Sorry, no lady commanders for obvious historical reasons) can effective lead and command with. There is Initiative, which has more uses that just seeing who goes first, like rallying troops or trying to get an extra Order Phase in a turn. Charisma, which is also used for rallying troops, but also for things like Shock or Personal Combat. There are also Formation Commanders which control a specific type of troop. So your Hoplites might have a Hoplite Formation Commander, and so on.

Each game turn has five Sequences of Play that are carried out in the same order. First is Initiative. This is determined by rolling a die and adding the result to the Overall Commander’s Initiative Rating. Highest goes first and ties can occur. Whoever wins initiative gets to specifically choose which of his or her Activation Markers they wish to use first. This is very important as only this first marker drawn by the Initiative winner gets to be used that way. For the rest of the turn, the Activations Markers are drawn blindly. There will be one Activation Marker for each command in a person’s army, so make sure you have a big bowl to hold all of these. When an AM is chosen from the bowl, the player who controls that unit gets to go – but only with that unit. So the randomness does mean that Player One might get six or seven AMs drawn in a row. Now while that is unlikely, it also means that Player One might appear to have an advantage in this situation but it also means Player Two will get a series of command draws similar to this late in the game turn. It’s not necessarily to your advantage to get a heaping helping of AMs drawn at the beginning, but it doesn’t hurt either. Again, it depends on your play style. Now this is a very simplified way of explaining the AM sequence. There are some complex pieces like “Trumping” which can cancel an opponent’s AM and replace it with one of your own. There is also a single Momentum AM for each army that has special ability when drawn on a turn, but I don’t have the space here to go into them.

Once an AM is drawn, the player has three options Move/Fire, Disengage or Rally. Move/Fire is exactly what you would expect. Disengage pulls troops out of combat, and is pretty tricky to pull off. Rally allows you to take back control over routing units. Again, this is a pretty simplified explanation, but this is a review, not a recap of the rulebook. After these actions are taken, any units that are eligible for Shock Combat (think melee) must participate. Combat can be pretty complex as you have to take into account the type of troops fighting, how many there are, positioning on the board and more. I would strongly recommend doing a few mock battles and making sure you understand how deep combat is before going into a full scenario. You have less risk of heated disagreements about the rules that way.

After combat is concluded, you tally up the results. Routed units must engage in routing movement, killed leaders are replaced and missile based troops get to reload. Then you repeat the same sequence until one side wins. How do you determine who wins? Well, when you route an enemy troops, your opponent gets Route Points or RP. Once RP reaches your armies Withdrawal Level, you lose the game. So pretty cut and dry. Just remember you don’t actually WANT points in this wargame as opposed to trying to collect them in others.

Overall, I found Hoplite to be a very complex but rewarding wargame. I will say that if Hoplite features simplified rules, I’m a bit scared to see what the full blown version are like, but then I’m a more casual board gamer/tabletop RPG’er than the usual audience for GMT games. Still, I really enjoyed seeing all the different troop types and scenarios in the game and I kept thinking of lots of “What-If” scenarios when playing. Hoplite is a complex game, to be sure, but once you get the hang of it, it definitely provides you with a lot content and as long as you are a fan of historical wargames, you will DEFINITELY get your money’s worth out of this one. The game’s materials are high quality and pretty durable (except for bunny teeth) and really the only thing you have to worry about is the potential for losing one of the tokens due to the sheer number of them and really wrapping your head around the combat rules if this is your first ever wargame. I won’t deny that it took a little while for myself to learn the rules well enough that I didn’t have to check them regularly to ensure we weren’t screwing up somehow, but once you get past that hump, Hoplite runs like clockwork.

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