I had an opportunity to acquire 3rd edition Successors in mint condition. I have been looking for a long time but always found either prohibitively expensive or just not available. Since it is very likely that Successors will not see another reprint in it’s current form – which happen to be the form I do like it, and I would not like to have the opportunity passing me. There are four card driven games that need to be in every gamer’s shelf. In mine they are: Pax Romana, (which is not strictly card driven, but close enough), Wilderness War, Hannibal and Successors.
Successors is a weird piece of game. Something akin to Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. One could argue that it is four player take on it, but H:RvsC is a quite bit more sensible and serious. Pax Romana would probably lend some of the insane chaos to it, but then Successors is not quite Pax either. Very seldom do you find yourself chasing dead body of Alexander around Middle East (or any other body in that matter, game or otherwise). It would be hilarious, if it would not be true. Successor wars were probably the most bizarre sideshow that ancient Macedon/ Greece put up. A pretty good act considering the theatrical history of Greece and not forgetting the fierce competition.
There, a fantastic topic to draw inspiration for a game. But then, how do you execute such a game? There are times that I do not appreciate Berg’s design philosophy (RAN for the fact that it really makes you think seriously about seppuku (with a wooden spoon I might add) when you know you’re losing, but also know that it will take another two hours or more to get there). Then in other times, like Pax Romana he has done things right, and the product is outright brilliant.
I have to admit that I was somewhat perplexed to see Berg’s name on the game designers. Then thought that since the style of the game is closer to Pax Romana than Ran, I would probably be safe. Not a mistake there. Successor is a little gem, a piece of art that has been just under the radar for a long time. There is strong theme to go about, and the act of balancing out the chaotic situation to functional factions is fantastic one. It is one thing to design a game where you have to allow people to gang up on one player, but it is entirely other matter to design a game which positively encourages people to do so. Without breaking the system, or making the game dull.
Successors is a card driven experience, and cards are used in similar fashion to other games, such as Wilderness War. It is a game where each of the four players (optimum group size) choose randomly two generals. Each general then has a bit of region and position. Goals are either victory points which can be obtained by conquering and several other means. Alternatively players can aim for legitimacy which can be obtained by being the good guy (and marrying & sheltering Alexanders relatives as much as possible). Prestige can be used to modify certain aspects of the game. Each faction has a satrap and some amount of armies associated with them.
Successors is not a war-game. It is not about fighting, and fighting will not take you very far. You only make yourself a lot of enemies by waging war. Armies do not really care about allegiances and battles are brutal. Every time you fight, you take substantial risk to your leader, and to the army. First sign of trouble and you no longer have an army. And you may not have general either. So an army is a device to impose power, but in reality lacks the power to execute. This brings a point about the cards. There are many, many ways to affect the gameplay by positioning armies in clever places, and by playing events that drive your benefit, but just tiniest of margin not to make you the Usurper – the target of everybody else. Then, when the time is ripe, you can strike for a victory.
So, in order to win in Successors, you have to be like Seleucus. Cunning, devious and when the time calls, tactically sound – although the last bit is not that important. Overall, if at all interested in the intricacies of this period, and have any inclination to backstabbing, diplomacy and other neat things, but are not really into fighting a prolonged war, you should give Successors a chance. If you can find it.