Full Disclosure: I received a review copy of Field Commander: Alexander from Dan Verssen Games
What is this game about?
Field Commander: Alexander is an entry-level war game in which you take on the role of Alexander the Great during some of his most famous battles. The game comes with four boards, one for Granicus, one for Issus, one for the Siege of Tyre, and one for Gaugamela. You can either choose one of these scenarios and play it, or you can link them all together as one big campaign in which you try to establish Alexander's prominent place in history.
As you move Alexander's army, you'll have a lot of choices to make. Resources are incredibly tight, and you'll find that you never have enough gold—yet you are always tempted to spend more of it. A large army makes it easier to win battles, but can also make it more expensive to move. A small army makes it easier to take damage when making a scouting roll, and will of course make battles a bit more harrowing. Each time you conquer a pivotal area, you will choose whether to raze it for a large amount of gold now, or govern it for a smaller amount of gold during each remaining turn. And you can also spend your gold and glory to build temples, build cities, gain insights (special powers during the game), acquire advisors, and gain access to more and better battle plans. While in some situations you will have to battle opposing armies, there are also times when you have a choice between fighting and intimidation.
You'll also have to choose whether to accept and fulfill prophecies. Prophecies can have annoying conditions when you just want to get on with it and win a campaign—but they are also the key to leveling Alexander up over the course of a game. He is fairly weak and can die easily early on, but over the course of his life, he becomes extremely powerful. This is particularly important in battle, because if Alexander can defeat the enemy leader, he ends the entire fight immediately. However, once he chooses to attack an enemy leader, they are locked in combat until the battle is over, which is a high-risk situation early on when Alexander isn't powered up yet.
Your biggest choice may simply be when to end your turn. While your enemies only get one chance to carry out orders each round, you can complete your conquest turn as many times as you wish—it's up to you when to stop. If you push hard, you have a better chance to end with a higher score because you are rewarded for finishing faster. But the harder you push, the more beat up your army might get, and the less gold you'll have to keep funding your continued movements.
At the end of the game, you'll determine how many victory points you've earned based on how long it took you to complete the scenario, and on how many cities you built. If you're playing a larger campaign, you're playing for immortality points, so you'll also want to make choices that benefit Alexander in the long run.
How does it play solo?
Field Commander: Alexander is a solitaire-only game. Yay!
Field Commander: Alexander is a very enjoyable game, and one that is highly accessible to new wargamers. If you're looking to move chits around a map and have them get into a few fights, but you've never done it before, then I think this game is a great choice. Setup instructions for each scenario, as well as turn order and any other specific information you might need, is printed directly on the game board.
Although there are many choices to make in Field Commander: Alexander, they mostly boil down to how much money you have. The game is very economically tight, and trying to make decisions for the long run when you have immediate needs gives the game a lot of interest, particularly when you are playing the long campaign, which rewards you more for your long term investments. Deciding how far to spend down and how hard to push yourself is the heart of the game, and it provides a lot of tension and drama. The bells and whistles are fun, too—selecting advisors and battle plans is great fun, and also makes battles something more than just die rolling. A well chosen and correctly executed battle plan can be tremendously satisfying.
However, Field Commander: Alexander has its limits. For all of the fun choices it offers, the game is very linear. You'll do roughly the same things in the same order every time, which can make you feel like you've "solved" the game after you've played it enough. Although enemy orders and operations can be a pain, the enemies remain relatively static. The pressure to move quickly in the quest for maximum victory points also takes a little of the fun out of the game, because you don't pause and fully enjoy all of the game's options. Outside of the campaign, your highest scores are likely to be the ones you hit when you were pushing your army hard and getting lucky, not fretting over all of the smaller choices like building or picking up extra advisors or fulfilling prophecies. Things are a bit better when you are campaigning and going for "Immortality Points" instead of VP, but even then you will end up puzzling out the best course of action over time.
Do I recommend it?
If you are a new wargamer or very interested in Alexander the Great, then yes, you will have a good time with Field Commander: Alexander. I have enjoyed my time with it, but don't feel that it is a permanent "keeper" in my collection.
Overall Rating: 3.5 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.