Name: Britannia: Classic and Duel Edition
Designer: Lewis Pulsipher
Publisher: PSC Games
Player Count: 2-4
Play Time: 90-240 Minutes
The much-loved historical board game Britannia returns – now published by PSC Games! This edition includes over 200 beautifully sculpted plastic miniatures and two ways to play: Classic Britannia (traditional play for 4 gamers on the standard board) and Duel Britannia (faster play for 2 gamers on a new board).
Britannia allows players to recreate the turbulent history of Britain from the coming of the Romans (AD 43) to conquest by the Normans (AD 1085). Each player controls several tribes and leaders including the Angles, Saxons, Irish, Norsemen, Danes, Boudicca, King Arthur, Offa, and many other recognisable names from British history. The power of each tribe will rise and fall as the game progresses through the centuries, so players must work out when to expand and when to consolidate each.
Classic Britannia plays in the way all Britannia fans know and love, benefiting from Lew Pulsipher’s continued development and player feedback. Duel Britannia is a new, fast-playing adaptation for two players, on a new board including Ireland.
—description from the publisher
This game filled a really weird niche, being a game I’ve itched to try for years even though I hadn’t really discovered my passion for playing wargames. I think it caught my interest because of the historical period and the promised inclusion of King Arthur, but needing 3+ players always killed it for me. So when I heard about the reprint campaign with an overhauled game to include a 2-player exclusive Duel mode…let’s just say I was really, really excited to get the game and try it out.
We managed to do so back in December. Yes, I know, we’re a little behind here and that is 100% my own fault for putting off so many of these in 2021 as we’ve continued to explore new games. I can at least partially blame work, as it has been quite busy the past handful of weeks and thus interfered with my productivity and motivation to even set up and play new solo games. It’s been a rough and vicious cycle that I’m shaking free from with renewed purpose and excitement.
When we played the game, it felt a little off. Admittedly, a lot of that was probably based on our lack of creative tactics getting employed to take and hold territory. In spite of a plethora of horrible die rolls early, the game’s score ended up being a lot closer at the end than expected, demonstrating that there was a bit of wiggle room in there for the ebbs and flows of the map presence. It felt like, early on, he was able to conquer everything while I was stuck with the dwindling Romans who couldn’t really survive. I lost every fort in the first two game rounds, and I believe there were only a few of my Roman units who even survived to upgrade to a new faction. Part of the game saw me skipping faction turns because, well, they simply did not exist anymore.
In spite of that, I recall us both enjoying the experience even though it was markedly different than we expected going into the game. And yet we also both expected the 4-player game as where the gameplay would absolutely shine with the push-and-pull of faction divisions.
Insight #1: Most factions never get to be really powerful for board presence
It was a really interesting dynamic, as most factions stuck around for a few game rounds – sometimes getting waves of reinforcements to help them spread a little without ever gaining complete dominion over the entire landscape. Some of them appeared with a whimper, others went out like a lion. And the only thing you could really count on was that things could change drastically across the entire span of a round. Especially given raiding units, who had to return back to the sea at the end of their turn. Don’t expect to make sweeping invasions to conquer most of the map in one turn, even across all of your controlled factions.
Insight #2: The simple mechanics allow room for complex strategizing
This game is really, really simple in terms of the mechanics. I know, the 50-ish page rulebook doesn’t provide that impression, but a lot of it can be greatly condensed down. There are really only a few non-faction specific nuances in the game, which means the vast majority of Britannia allows you to evaluate the placement of troops, the movement of forces, and the management of combat. After playing some games where combat itself is a ten-step process with checking and rechecking rule nuances, it is a little refreshing to encounter something that is vastly straightforward in execution.
Insight #3: Ebb and flow like the ocean
I know this circles back toward the first insight, but it really is that vital to keep in mind with Britannia. Presence of everything here is fleeting – bear in mind this represents hundreds of years of history and that most empires were short-lived in the grand scheme of things. This also means you need to be smart about the utilization of what you do have. If you aren’t doing the best moves to earn points or take points away from your opponent, then you aren’t making the best moves possible. This is a game where, for the most part, it does not really pay to adopt a turtling strategy of building massive forces to defend an area or two. Unless there are no targets to reasonable reach, the best play is usually to have at least a part of your force actively doing something even if it means a risk of taking a few losses later in the round.
Insight #4: Cash in while you can
Because of the board dynamics, you’re going to be trying to eek out as many points as possible during your turn. Nations have scoring centers where they’ll trigger point scoring for each territory in and adjacent to that area. This all sounds good, but then you realize that most of the neighboring areas score for your opponent, with some areas that have overlap in importance. Welp. Looks like you better take the points and run, right? One of the other key things you’ll find are that leaders make a great target for your offensive. If you can take one of them out, that’s an extra 2 points. Which may not seem like much, but consider the grand scheme of things. If you score 100 points in the game, that’s a 2% boost to your score with that kill. This optimization of scoring could lead to some paralysis in players, and makes the game feel like it has a foot in the Euro camp, but it definitely adds flavor and dynamics to the game.
Insight #5: Less is not really more
I love that they came up with a 2-player version of the game that works. It strips away some of the chrome, simplifying things such as the population growth, and gives a shortened span of time to play the game. However, I’d be fooling myself if I thought that this was the ideal way to play Britannia. I enjoyed it. But I can only imagine how much better the game would become with 3 or 4 players, adding in player dynamics in a full game experience. That’s what I want to get played when it becomes viable. Again, the 2-player game was fun and didn’t feel like an inferior experience without the extra players.
This took far too much time to write! It’s been busy, and while I have found less time to write that hasn’t slowed down what we’ve been playing for games. It has been a good chunk of time since our play of Britannia, and I’d love to revisit it again soon. It provides an experience that I can’t find in any other game on my shelf, having a nice hybrid design where you need to balance your military exploits with point-scoring opportunities. Don’t let the rulebook intimidate you: this game is far more approachable than it appears, and once you start playing the game falls into a nice rhythm.