Openings in the Ancient Mediterranean

by Don Hessong

I have been told on a few occaisions that the first year of Ancient Med is boring. Although it is true that striking at each other is rare – and indeed only possible between Greece and Rome – I don’t agree that it means the opening year is necessarily boring. Perhaps the subtleties are not so apparent unless you’ve played the game a few times. Or perhaps I give my variant more credit than it deserves. But there are a number of neutral supply centers whos ownership might well be contested in the first year. This will have a significant effect on the entire game, and thus makes diplomacy very important in the first year.

Greece/Persia: Both can reach Chersonesus and Miletus in the first year. Obviously Greece considers it very important to have Miletus and Crete since they both border on the Aegean Sea. However Greece will often want Chersonesus as well, especially if it sees Persia focusing in the south. One opening possibility is for the army in Macedonia to go to Dacia. If Persia opens Dam to Arm, Dac can still go to Byz. If not, Che is free for the taking in the first year and Byz can wait until the second year. As for Persia, the problem is that there are just too many juicy supply centers within reach and deciding which way to go can be a problem. If Persia does not trust Greece it might open with both armies to the north. Another possible opening is Dam to Arm and Ant to Sid. This allows the taking of Che and moves a unit south to take Tyre without doing it in a way that is threatening to Egypt if that is desirable. Sinope would be picked up in the second year, although this could be risky. The fleet can move to Syrian Sea or Cilician Strait to possibly take or threaten Jer/Cyp or Cyp/Mil.

Persia/Egypt: Both can reach Cyprus and Jerusalem in the first year. Another possible opening for Persia is Sid to Tyre and Dam to Arabia and Ant to the north. Although this does not assure two builds in the south, it assures more builds than Egypt – unless Egypt opens with its fleet to Egyptian Sea – then it is assured Cyprus. As the Egyptian player, I think it is very important to aquire Jer and the first order of business diplomatically is to convince Persia to allow it. The Egyptian fleet opening to Egy also threatens Crete for move two – Egypt will often find that it can get either Cyprus or Crete if she is not picky at this point in the game about which one. Imagine an Egyptian fleet in the Egyptian Sea, a Persian fleet in the Cilician Strait, and a Greek fleet in the Aegean Sea after the first move.

Egypt/Carthage: Both can reach Leptis in the first year. Another possible opening for the Egyptian fleet can be using it to grab as much as possible in the west. Alexandria to Cyrene and Memphis to Marmarica will ensure two builds in the area – unless Carthage moves its fleet east. Leptis is a great place for disagreement. Carthage has more flexibility. It can move the fleet to GoT or Num and can move the army in Cirta to Num or Phazania. This allows the choice of moving the fleet or the army forward into Leptis on the second move. (Having the fleet forward is better than you might think because GoS is an important space in this battle.) The Carthaginian army in Carthage could also be used to go for Numidia in a way that would not threaten Egypt. In this case the army in Cirta could go get Saguntum which is a job normally relegated to the army in Carthage.

Carthage/Rome: Both can reach Sardinia and Sicilia in the first year. Another possible opening for the Carthaginian fleet could be to move it to the Punic Sea and use it to go for Sardinia or even Sicilia. Furthermore, neither Rome or Carthage can reach Baleares in the first year, but both will be able to reach it in the second year. This point will obviously need to be addressed while the two powers discuss the first year’s moves. Rome’s big decision is Sardinia. Rome could do the mundane and send the armies north for Mas and Vin (or Dal, but Vin is more realistic) and the fleet to Sicilia. But Rome may prefer to not allow Sardinia to go to the Carthaginians. Here Neapolis to Tyn Sea is obvious, but the army in Roma has to either go south to get Sicilia – which Rome obviously considers sovereign territory in this game – or risk going north to grab Mas and go for Sic in the second year. Going for Sic in the second year allows Rome to place a fleet forward. But moving the army there in the first place is safer. Rome should try to persuade the Carthaginians to move the fleet to GoT on the first move. If it does not – and if the army in Roma did move north – you end up with a guessing game over Sad and Sic. Rome could do the safe thing and go for Sic. Carthage could assume that Rome will do the safe thing and in turn go for Sad. Or Rome could do the interesting thing, take the risk and move to Sad, making the assumption that Carthage will do the same thing. If they bounce in Sad, Rome ends up in better position by building a fleet which can move to Sic on the next turn. Or Carthage can counter Rome’s risk by taking Sic.

Rome/Greece: Both can reach Vindobona and/or Dalmatia in the first year as well as Neapolis/Athens/Sparta. Usually players don’t risk an opening gambit into the Ionian Sea. The risk doesn’t seem to be worth the payoff. It’s ironic that the only powers who are in a position to attack each other in the game’s first year, rarely do – but it’s probably for the better. As for the armies, not too much going on here either. If Greece gets too distracted in the east, Rome can end up with Vin and Dal rather quickly, but not both in the first year. For Rome to attack Greece it takes a year to let it develop. For Greece, a thrust of Mac to Illyria and Athens to Epirus in the first year, would be quite a problem for Rome. And I think it’s feasible too if Greece is willing to cede Chersonesus and Crete to Persia and Egypt respectively – using the fleet to get Miletus and taking Byz in the second year – but it is risky. More than anything, Greece and Rome are set up to hand each other some ugly stabs later in the game.

In conclusion, I believe that the first year’s moves in Ancient Med bring quite a bit of subtle variance to most powers, Rome not withstanding, and those variables interrelate quite a bit. I have noticed that players don’t seem to explore some of these variables very much. I’m not sure why – maybe I’m grasping at straws. But assuming that’s not the case, I hope I’ve given you something to think about and try out in your next game of Ancient Med.

DIPLOMACY copyright Hasbro Inc.
The Ancient Mediterranean map and rule variations copyright Don Hessong