Chuck and I converged on Michael's beautiful North Portland home for a three-player game of Successors. This game has a long and checkered history, but almost always satisfies me in a way that no other games do. In fact, I GM'ed or assisted the Successors tournaments at WBC for three years, and I'm sorry to say that it somehow fell off the list of games at that con last year.
The topic covers the wars of succession of Alexander the Great's generals after his death. Since he hadn't designated a heir, and he had a few progeny that could fit the bill, the generals began plotting how to best use the various members of the royal family and heirs to their advantage. The result was the War of the Diadochi, which ended up breaking up Alexander's empire and setting the stage for another Mediterranean power to fill in the vaccuum. That power, once Carthage had been defeated in two wars, was Rome.
The game started out as a Richard Berg effort, full of his trademark multiplayer mechanics like random events. Avalon Hill, seeing the success of We the People and Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, decided they wanted to (in the words of RHB), "Hannibalize" it. As such, the game was given over to Mark Simonitch to make into a card-driven game. This was the first time that this style of wargame had been done multiplayer, and as such it feels much different than it's predecessors, not to mention the games that came after it. Also, this game marked the last year of AH, along with For the People and Bitter Woods (and, amazingly, Titan: The Arena). In fact, the final issue of the General had the first half of a series replay game, although the game had a major rule played incorrectly!
In 2000, Mark S. and John Firer came up with a set of "second edition" rules that addressed many of the game's shortcoming, primarily that the event cards were useless after the board had been filled up with control markers, "garrisons" in the games lexicon. You had always been able to move generals in a separate phase, now you could move them twice by using the number on the card. You could also use the cards to raise extra units if necessary. The second edition greatly improved the game, even though the rules are a bit difficult to read through, and those were the rules used at WBC in 2001 on.
One of the quirks of this game is that it can end in a variety of ways. First of all, you can win by gaining enough Legitmacy (very rare with good play, as it requires taking the body of Alexander pretty much across the board) or Victory Points from controlling ground and/or fulfilling specific conditions. You can also win at the end simply by having more VP than anyone else. What is really wacky is that if you control a specific heir at the start of a specific turn, and have more combined Legitimacy and VP than anyone else, you can win as well. That makes the game very tense, as you always feel that someone is about to win, and that someone can change from turn to turn.
We only had three players, so each of us drew three generals to start. Chuck started out with Fortress Europe, controlling the three generals in Europe and across the straits in what is now Turkey (the Hellespont, as it was called back then). Michael controlled the most powerful heir, Alex 4, as well as Antigonus in central Turkey (Phrygia) and the extra general Eumenes. I had Egypt, Media (Iran), and Craterus in Cilicea, in the NE corner of the eastern Med. Chuck had the strongest position, as he only really had two fronts for all three generals: Greece and Asia.
Early on, I made a run for most VP, and got up to 22 points in the first turn (it takes 26 to win with three players). However, I became the Usurper at the start of the next turn, which made me a target for other players (you lose Legitimacy if you attack another Champion other than the Usurper). Generally, this is not considered good play, but with three players you have to grab land while you can. Chuck came on strong, and actually got to the required 26 points, but I had misread the victory conditions and forgot that we had one set of player rounds around the table to beat him down, not until the end of the turn. However, I think he was knocked back to 25 on a couple of occasions before Michael came on strong and pushed him back down the track.
By the end of turn 3, things were looking very good for me. I had Heracles, the guy you need to end the game early at the start of turn 4, and while Chuck was knocking on the door of Tyre to take him, he needed three siege points to do it, and only had two rolls from his last card play. That meant he needed a six and a three or better on the two rolls. Which he got. Bastard. Chuck took Harry, killed him off, and we were on to turn 4. I shouldn't bitch about Chuck's die rolling, I rolled boxcars on more than one critical battle, so he was due.
I still felt pretty good about winning, as I had Alex off in Media, and didn't think that Michael's general in Babylon could take him (Eumenes). However, he did have a card that allowed him to steal an heir if he was close enough. I chose not to attack him, as I would have lost my Champion status and 3L, endangering my chance to win. However, Michael stole lil' Alex, ran back to Babylon, and I realized I'd lost the game. However, I did take a shot at getting an auto victory on VP, but couldn't hang on to it even though I took Rhodes and had the largest fleet for a while (worth 4 VP). Michael was looking strong, as his Legitimacy had gone way up when he stole Alex, but we barely managed to kick his VP down to the point where he was forced to kill the little guy rather than crown him. Shame! On to turn 5.
In the final turn, only VP really counted. Chuck took most of Michael's Asia Minor holdings, while I managed to trounce Chuck's navy and had the free run of the Med. I went to Cyprus, managed to take it on the last turn to get 6 VP (including largest fleet), and moved in to protect Phonecia and Coele Syria from Michael, who was way behind. I also had managed to get to 27 VP at this point. However, Michael had kicked me out of Susiana (modern day Basra), and was threatening to take the only major city in Media. If he accomplished this, I would lose all of my control markers on the east end of the board, worth 5 VP to me. Michael did so, and Chuck took the game by a point. Which was fair, as he might have won the game earlier had we been playing correctly.
I'd always thought that Successors really needed four players to work well, and in many cases that is still the case. I ran two three-player games at WBC (beat the GM), and won both with little effort because of good card draws and good initial generals. However, this game proved me wrong, as there was constant tension, every player had a chance to win (and came within a hair of doing so), and lots of upsets kept the game fresh. I will have to pull this out more in the future, as we managed to play in under five hours, not including breaks.
The only problem with the game is that it is very tough to teach, as there is a lot of chrome, as befits an RHB game. My understanding is that Mark S. and John Firer are working on an updated 3rd edition, hopefully to be published soon. While the 2nd ed rules are an improvement, there are several card text changes that can fool players, and several markers that have incorrect information. With more concise rules and fixes to the component text, this should be a real winner and give new life to an underappreciated game.