09 January 2023
He who chases two heirs catches neither
In Successors, Alexander the Great’s 13-year reign has come to an end and you are one of a handful of generals vying to inherit control of his empire. But you can’t just draw your sword and go marching off to war – well, you can, but it’ll make you look like a ruthless megalomaniac – which you are, of course, but you don’t want the public to know that. Not until it’s too late, anyway.
What ensues is a fascinating, sometimes migraine-inducingly fastidious simulation of a struggle that happens half on the battlefield and half in secluded courtyards, the wheels of power greased by wine, flattery and bribes. You’ll be advancing across territories while also securing the endorsement of ancient influencers and heirs.
Phalanx have done a phenomenal job with this new edition. For all the eye-rolling that goes on when we think of Kickstarter-style games with oodles of miniatures, here the production feels lavish and appealing without being ridiculous or surplus to requirements. Given that the game comes with enough tokens to retile the average British bathroom, it helps to have key generals and pieces represented in three glorious dimensions, just for basic game state comprehension.
Successors is not for everyone. The rules explanation alone can take a good hour as you explain the various mechanics involved in taking territories and battle, as well as how the shifting victory conditions and dual victory point system work across different phases of the game. If a player hits the victory conditions you might have a relatively short game, or it can easily stretch across a full afternoon and evening.
But if you like the setting, if you like strategy and theme and needing to use a good deal of tactical flexibility as you adapt to your changing fortunes and the actions of your rivals, Successors is pretty special. It’s an event game, built for telling stories, and with the right group there are all the ingredients here for some truly memorable gaming nights. And – as with many games with epic historical themes – it’s worth emphasising that as well as being exciting and grand, it can also be very darkly funny.
Trying to tow Alexander’s coffin all the way back to his home city for a grand burial only to be attacked on the way, then eventually deciding it’s not worth it, we’ll just bury him here always feels faintly ridiculous and entertaining. The gradual accrual of political support and way you’re expected to bump off heirs in your custody if you realise you haven’t done enough to secure their backing – it’s both horrible and very silly. Ultimately, Successors does a great job of highlighting just how arbitrary and ludicrous a lot of the trappings of power are – accidents of birth, putting on a lavish funeral and excusing your use of force by claiming you’re doing it in self-defence.
Aspects of the rules feel like they could be streamlined or more intuitive, with rather fiddly, subtly different processes for sieges, attacking, defending and retreating that can bog your first playthrough down a bit. In fact, this is the sort of game where your first play almost certainly has to be about getting the hang of the rules – it’s only with successive attempts, assuming you warm to it, that the depth and negotiating and epic sweep of the story really rise to the top.
So, be warned: this is not a game for the fainthearted. The fact it comes with a separate playbook that gives a blow-by-blow runthrough of an example game is both evidence of the great care that has been put into this edition, and of just how demanding the game can be to learn. But if you can imagine you and your friends gathering round a table for a long evening of political manoeuvring and conquering, this is a rich, immensely rewarding title that commits to its theme hard and tells a great story.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Twilight Struggle...
While the specific mechanics feel different, if you enjoyed the epic historical sweep of Twilight Struggle, Successors offers some of that detailed, flavour-rich experience – with a similar potential for ‘sudden death’ endings or a final victory on points – while seating more players.
Designer: Richard H Berg & Mark Simonitch
What’s in the box?
- Game board
- 5 Player aids
- 16 General miniatures
- 20 General stands
- 20 General counters
- Funeral cart & Alexander’s tomb miniatures
- 3 Female & 3 heir miniatures
- 7 Royal family counters
- 30 Plastic rings
- 20 Plastic stands
- 70 Tyche cards
- 33 Province cards
- 5 Faction cards
- Movement allowance card
- 20 General cards
- First player marker
- Usuper marker
- 20 Minor general counters
- 200 Political control markers
- 10 Faction markers
- 5 Capital markers
- 5 Capital construction markers
- 45 Independent political control markers
- 5 Independent armies
- 3 Victory markers
- 44 Mercenary markers
- 8 Elephant markers
- 24 Cavalry markers
- 28 Loyal macedonian markers
- 4 Royal army markers
- Silver shields marker
- Helepolis marker
- 4 Siege markers
- 3 Looted markers
- Game turn marker
- 8 Fleet tokens
- 12 Legitimacy markers
- 8 Popularity markers
- 5 six-sided dice
- 2 Elephant dice
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