Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review -- MURUS GALLICUS

When it comes to board games there are those you buy in the store. Lots of those have been reviewed here through the months.
Then there are the kind where you need to be a bit crafty. The game rules exist, but no publisher has picked up the game, so if you want to play, you have to fashion the board and pieces. It's not that such games are poor. In fact many are better than some you pay good money for. Understanding the vagaries of why some get published and others do not is fodder for a treatise best left to other outlets than this.
And, then there is a third option for finding a great board game to play, and that is the realm of games where rulesets are created for games utilizing existing game boards and pieces.
Most gamers will own a checker/chess board and a set of checkers. It is about as fundamental element of a board game collection as you can get.
With those simple items there are a wide range of games which can be played simply by accessing online rules and digging out the board and checkers.
Murus Gallicus is one such game.
The game is played on a rectangular board consisting of 56 cells (8x7). A standard checkerboard is 8x8, so you simply ignore one row and away you go.
Each player starts with a set of 16 tokens referred to as stones (the checkers).
At the start of the game, each player takes a set of stones and stacks two stones on each of their eight squares nearest them.
The game is supposed to reflect Romans versus Gauls, so the Roman player uses the light pieces, and the Gaul player uses the dark ones.
The basic units of the game are towers and walls. A tower consists of two like-coloured stones in a cell (the starting formation is all towers), and are the only pieces which can move in the game.
A wall is a single stone in a cell. Walls block movement and can also act as stepping stones which can be used later in the creation of new towers.
A tower moves by a sowing method. Pick up the two pieces and seed forward, one each in consecutive spaces, which can include on top of single wall pieces of the same colour.
Tower stones can be used to remove adjacent opponent walls, through a sacrifice, so both players lose a piece sacrifice.
A player is stalemated if unable to move/sow or sacrifice at the start of his or her turn.
The game sounds simple, and it is in terms of rules, but elements such as set formations, learned as you gain experience, make strategy important.
As examples there is the Gallic Wall consisting of orthogonally connected walls (and sometimes towers) requiring the opponent to go around the wall or blast his or her way thorough using a sacrificed stone; The Chariot consists of a tower, wall and empty space aligned, and he battering ram consists of two towers and an opponent wall aligned whereby sacrificing a tower stone, the opponent's wall can be removed.
Overall Murus Gallicus plays like a much older game. You actually get the feeling Romans might have played this in the shadow of the Hadrian's Wall. That is praise, at least in my books, for game developer Phil Leduc who captured such a classic feel when designing Murus Gallicus in 2009.
So if the checker board has been gathering dust search Murus Gallicus online for the full rules, pull out the board and pieces and explore a new game with simplicity and depth. (There is a commercial set available through a European company, although why one would invest in one given the easy use of a checker set escapes me).

-- Review appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper September 21, 2011 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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