Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Alexander the Great: Anatomy of a Legend

Episode 10 of Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt doesn’t really talk about a pharaoh, because their time has passed. This episode is about Alexander the Great (about whom you can learn much, much more in Dr. Kenneth Harl’s Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire).

Alexander, as you probably know, conquered the Persians, and it was the Persians who ruled Egypt at that time, so Alexander also conquered Egypt. As Dr. Brier has mentioned previously, the Greeks kind of revered the Egyptians, a civilization ancient beyond even the time of Homer, in Greece’s own hazy past at that time (333 BCE). Dr. Brier is counting him as a pharaoh, because Alexander took the role of pharaoh after the conquest and passed it along to his successor.

Not to quibble with the professor, but I consider this a bit of a cheat. Unlike the Nubians, who were very close culturally to Egypt and focused their efforts there, Alexander wears Egypt like jewelry. It’s awesome to have, but he has other matters that interest him. Had Alexander survived into old age, I don’t think there’s any real evidence he was likely to settle in Egypt. He did not rule as a pharaoh and did not speak Egyptian. The only Ptolemy who did speak Egyptian was Cleopatra.

I guess I am arguing that Alexander is not of Ancient Egypt, and while he might be great, was he really a great pharaoh?

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the episode, but the part I found most interesting were not about Alexander himself (again, for that, check out Dr. Harl’s lecture series), but about the Siwa Oasis and it’s oracle. The loss of a Persian army in the desert on route to Siwa conjures a huge number of story and adventure ideas in my head, and Siwa itself sounds like a very intriguing backdrop.

This isn’t anywhere near my favourite episode, but it’s not a bad episode. I can’t imagine that there weren’t two or three other pharaohs about whom Dr. Brier could have spoken without resorting to the Greeks. However, his knowledge of Ancient Egypt, sprinkled throughout all the episodes, helps make this one enjoyable. And as I’ve said before, I just like listening to Dr. Brier. I like his style. That certainly helps.

 

 

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Review – Warhammer Quest The Adventure Card Game

Warhammer Quest the Adventure Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games is a reinvention of the classic miniature ‘Quest’ game by Games Workshop. In the original game, a band of adventurers entered the dungeon, fought monsters, encountered peril and if things went well escaped with their lives and forgotten treasures. Thankfully, that is still the premise of WQACG.

WQACG_BOX How to play – in a nutshell 
To setup the game you pick one of the 6 included quests and each player (1-4) picks a character(s). The specific quest will tell you how to build the quest decks; which include the locations you will encounter, the monsters you fight, the items you may find as well as what happens if you win or lose. This part is cool because this game strings 5 of the quests together to create an ongoing campaign, the sixth quest is basically a mega dungeon. It also suggests that future sets will come up with more quests, monsters, adventurers etc. Let’s be honest it wouldn’t be FFG if they didn’t set a game up for expansion and WQACG is ripe for it. Based on how quickly it’s selling and the number of fans, an expansion is practically a guarantee.

There are four characters to choose from: a Warrior Priest, a Dwarf Ironbreaker, an Elf Waywatcher, and a Bright Wizard. If you aren’t familiar with Warhammer – Cleric, Fighter, Ranger, Blow-stuff-up Wizard. Each character has four basic actions that can, through the course of a campaign, be upgraded.

WQAG_HeroThe four actions are Attack, Aid, Explore and Rest and while each character has those actions each character’s actions works differently giving each a distinct feel. On your turn you play an action and follow what the card says. Your action will give you a number of positive dice and a number of negative dice for every monster you are currently engaged with. This is FFG so of course these are custom dice.

The game precedes like this as each character plays actions, battles monsters, explores the dungeon, collecting loot and hopefully winning the quest based on the conditions of the quest card, which is not always kill the boss monster. If you are playing through the campaign win or lose in a quest you proceed to the next one in the campaign. Between each quest you return to town to lick your wounds. This is also where you can upgrade you basic action cards to more advanced action cards. You can also upgrade your equipment and in the one arbitrary rule increase the number of magic items you can carry. This rule is a throwback to the original game and I think really only exists for balance in the game so you can’t load up on magic items. I don’t like the rule from an RPG concept but I get it from a design perspective.

Monsters have AI that works surprisingly well for a non-tactical game. Monsters will charge players, snipe them, inflict various status effects and generally be a pain in the players’ ass. This works well to create a very active feeling dungeon game. It doesn’t give the depth of tactics that minis on a board would have but it does successfully distill that feeling into a card game.  If you’ve played the Dungeons and Dragons Board games the AI is similar.

Your entire progress is tracked by the peril meter which makes things more difficult for you as you progress.  If you are familiar with other games that use this mechanic, like Arkham Horror, getting to the end of the peril track does not cause a loss. Instead it just sits on the final space and continues to punish you.

Overall Impressions
They have managed to turn a board game into a card game and keep distinctive characters, monsters, dungeon locations and quests. The players really need to work together to plan their actions as this game can go south really fast.

In the last game we played things seemed to be going well and then as we entered the boss layer it just erupted and kicked all out asses. We were too bold, stormed in too fast and got swarmed. The previous time though we were too cautious and basically died the death of a thousand cuts on our way through the dungeon. You really need to balance your approach, too fast and you’ll get mobbed, too slow and you won’t have enough resources left.

You need to make choices that will both immediately help you but also consider the long game as an action played now won’t be available next turn. Do you take a hit to help ensure another players survival? Do you push ahead or try and clean up your back trail? The co-op element really comes out when you are all working together as a team to overcome the obstacles in front of you.

The game scales well from 2-4 players, solo play is also an option by playing two characters with no other special rules. The game is keyed to a higher degree of difficulty with the goal of making you work for it. Fortunately losing doesn’t stop your progression it just makes it harder. So you can finish the game without ever winning, which is kind of a unique feature. While there are only a handful of quests in the set the variability does provide a lot of replay.

WQACG_TableComparisons
I’ve seen the game compared to Space Hulk Death Angel and LoTR LCG. I have and like Death Angel but have never played the LoTR game. You can definitely see the framework to Death Angel underlying it. I also think this game pays homage to its original, miniatures game in the same way Death Angel does to Space Hulk. In terms of difficulty I’d say it’s similar and both have that impending doom feel. I also find that both games feel pretty fair and losses make you reflect on what you should have done and don’t just feel like randomly getting stomped beyond your control.

Another similar game I’ve played that comes to mind is Shadowrun Crossfire. A game I enjoyed but always felt like it was missing the story and the difficulty felt very arbitrary and out of control. A bad random seed right from the start can kill your game in Crossfire. I played WQACG on a Friday and sold Crossfire on Saturday. WQACG completely addressed all my issues with Crossfire to the point where I’d never want to play it again. I also have far more confidence in FFG to keep a product going than Catalyst games.

If you’ve read this far my love for this game should be pretty obvious. I think it’s great and has grown on me with repeated plays. It has also grabbed the attention of the people I’ve introduced it to. For our group this is a success.

I could grumble about the rule book. It isn’t perfect – it’s typical FFG. Trying to follow through the tutorial and learning from that alone will leave a lot of questions. But if you read it all through as well as the definition book it does answer most questions and the index is actually pretty good. The game also has a very active BBG forum for it with the designers answering a lot of questions until the official FAQ comes out.

If you enjoy co-op games and fantasy themes this game should definitely be on your radar. Even if you aren’t a fan of co-ops, like Pandemic, Forbidden Desert or Castle Panic (I’m kinda burned out on them myself) you should still consider this game as it appeals to the adventure side of the equation especially if you are an RPGer at heart. This game scratches a lot of itches.  Grab your sword, grab your bow, use powerful magic to lay waste to your enemies and maybe, just maybe you’ll save the town in Warhammer Quest the Adventure Card Game.

Reviewed by Chris Groff

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I Have Returned

I’ve returned from a long trip, and after spending about a week at home alone – my wife and children still in Korea – I am finally going to go pick them up at the airport. It’s a very good day.

I’ve also finished my first paper for my master’s program. It wasn’t too bad except I was away for three weeks and so I only really had three days when I returned to get it done. Luckily, the prof had mercy and gave me a few extra days. Yesterday I handed it in and I feel a lot better. There are a few other smaller pieces that need to be done to complete the course, and I can do them this weekend.

I have a week before my other courses – that’s right, plural; I’m taking two courses over the next two months – and I hope to get some work done here.

On the docket are some more listen throughs of the last episodes of the Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt course and a review of Five Bloody Heads which I mentioned back in October.

So stick around. These won’t all be dropping immediately, so there’ll be maybe a couple of weeks of posts and then we’ll see how I handle two courses at once.

Daring!

Also, go check out the Bundle of Holding, which includes Nefertiti Overdrive and a bunch of other awesome indie games.

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So Far Away And So Saddened

I’m far away from both Paris and my home as I read about the horrible attacks. I wish I could write something profound and inspirational, but I’m not there. Right now I’m split between my heart – that desires bloody, violent retribution – and my head – which knows that is exactly what the terrortists want.

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Remembrance Day

The poppy is ubiquitous in Canada around 11 November, which is our Remembrance Day, when we are supposed to remember the sacrifices made in wars great and forgotten. The poppy is used based on the poem “In Flanders Fields,” which is worth reading.

And it’s remembering the people who have suffered and died around the world fighting to make this world a better place. Wars are not great, but sometimes great people serve through them.

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Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – the Nubians

As you might imagine, my favourite episode of Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt has to do with the 25th dynasty. The Nubians, the Kushites, the Sudanese, call them what you will, the 25th dynasty is the focus of Nefertiti Overdrive. More specifically, the fall of the 25th dynasty is the focus.

Dr. Brier considers the whole dynasty great because, for a brief moment, they brought Egypt back from the brink. It had been in decline since Rameses the Great. By the time of the Kushite invasion, Egypt had already seen a 200-year period in which it was ruled by Libyans, then it fell apart, leading to a factional struggle for control among a collection of petty princes.

Then the Kushites swept in and made everything better.

Maybe not, but the 25th dynasty restored Egypt to its former glory. And they did not impose a foreign religion or culture. The Kushites had their differences, but they admired and copied Egyptian culture and worshipped Egyptian gods. And yet they were foreign occupiers who didn’t last as long as the Libyans thanks to the coming of the Assyrians to back up a rival from the town of Sais.

In Nefertiti Overdrive, after the initial adventure, there is a discussion of possible story hooks and characters the player characters might encounter. In that discussion, one possibility is that the Saite dynast – the prince whom the Assyrians backed to remove the Kushites – was a patriot who was trying to liberate Egypt from foreign rule. In history, the 26th dynasty did turn on the Assyrians after accepting their help in removing the Kushites. Maybe the Saite dynast was a patriot, but in removing the Kushites, he removed the last great dynasty that would rule Egypt as Egyptians, even were they foreign. The next major dynasty is the coming of the Greeks, and the end of an Egypt ruled by Egyptians.

 

 

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Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Rameses, the Decline and Fall?

This is very, very late, and I hope you’ll forgive me. However, I’m afraid that’s going to happen again. I’m heading off on an adventure on 10 Nov and won’t be back until Dec. I’m hoping to get a couple of episodes ready for later release, but seeing as I also have two assignments for a course, I’m afraid this is taking a backseat.

However, all that aside, let’s talk Ramses the Great. As related by Dr. Brier in the Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, he honestly doesn’t seem that great. I really wonder if his longevity is the basis of his reputation. In the last episode, Dr. Brier indicated Rameses was known as the great chiseller because he replaced other pharaoh’s name with his own on many edifices. Then he lives into his eighties, giving him eighty or so years to build more stuff. Is that all it is?

Maybe I’m just way too cynical.

Okay, so this episode charts Rameses decline from his heyday as the “victor” of Kadesh – see the last review for my comments on that. And I loved it. Dr. Brier said from the outset he wanted us to see the pharaohs and other subjects as people, and this episode certainly does that. I again have some issues with how the history is presented (more on that later), but the portrayal is amazing. Even if much of this is projection by the historian, the character created is fascinating. With each event related, I was going through plot points and story hooks in my head.

But there wasn’t a lot here about Rameses being great other than he built a lot. Listen, the more time and money you have, the more you can build. And that money is likely because he signed a peace treaty with the Hittites. That treaty, though, was desired by the Hittites who were being pressured by the Assyrians (Assyrians! It had to be Assyrians). Rather than take advantage of an old enemy’s weakness, Rameses made an ally.

And maybe that’s what makes him great. Dr. Brier takes about this as Rameses decline, but maybe it’s just him becoming wiser. Seriously, he’s been on the throne for about twenty years. He’s seen some stuff. Maybe he finally figured out that war just wasn’t that awesome. And because of that, he had money and manpower with which to build stuff. That’s an analysis I’d buy.

But my problem with this episode is the amount of weight Dr. Brier gives to the Exodus. While admitting there is absolutely no archaeological evidence of either a large Hebrew population in Egypt at the time or for the movement of a large number of people, Dr. Brier uses textual clues within the Book of Exodus to claim it likely happened during Rameses time.

So, again, I have to reach back to the episode on Hatshepsut and how Dr. Brier deemed it impossible that she led an army because women did not and compare that with “we have no archaeological evidence, but I’ll twist some textual evidence into a shape I like and declare victory.”

I honestly like Dr. Brier as a presenter even though I’ve had some real issues with his presentation of history. This is just something that really annoys me.

But I’ll be in a better mood next time, because the next episode is the 25th dynasty. Nefertiti Overdrive y’all!

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