Dr. Robert Smith
We first got interested gaming wise in this topic due to the Khyber Pass Games simulation The Jewish War: The Zealot Rebellion against Rome 66 AD to 73 AD. The second time I got interested was when Gary Graber sent me Masada, one of his new Battlegame Books he is selling on Amazon in an effort to expand his gaming reach. The Zealot Rebellion was an attempt by Jewish nationalists to throw off the yoke of Rome in a war of national liberation. The end result was the sacking of Jerusalem, the beginning of the great Diaspora and the advent of a new Judaism. As we all know, Romans hated to lose. The final act in this rebellion was the destruction of the Jewish garrison at Masada.
The annals of history are filled with Epic Stands. But it is the epic last stands that most fascinate us. We try to imagine our ourselves in the beleaguered and foredoomed boots or sandals of those surrounded men. Some battles readily come to our lips. Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Brest-Litovsk 1941. Isandlwana 1879. The Alamo 1836. But Masada falls into a category unto itself, as it was both motivated by religious fervor and had not a shred of hope of rescue. The defenders at Masada knew they were doomed if the Romans stayed, despite the fact that the water cisterns were filled. The men knew their options under the Roman, that even if their surrender was accepted they still might be crucified. For those the Romans cared to single out, they would be crucified upside down, a particularly onerous method of crucifixion. Should they be simply "enslaved", their lot would be likely one of being worked to death as a galley slave or the mines. Is it no wonder that the Jewish defenders at Masada chose death to surrender? It is certainly no surprise that today the Israel Defense Force swears in its new armored soldiers at Masada with the vow "Masada shall not fall again".
On Amazon, Masada looks like a nice glossy book, and it is exactly that on the outside. What Masada lacks is components in the traditional sense of the word. Now this isn't unusual for Minden Games but it's something you should know up front. There are eight Combat Rosters one can detach from the booklet, eight maps of Masada that allow you to track various game events and turns and one Page of Game Tables. In sum total the booklet contains 58 pages of which nine are intentionally left blank. The maps and all the pages are black and white. So in terms of graphics or such, Masada is a bit old school. What you are interested in though here because of this them is the intellectual components, and those are rich.
Masada in sum has ten pages of rules. But considering the book is small in terms of dimension and much of those rules are detailed examples of play, they are at tops a total of twenty minutes to get through. They are well enough detailed that I did what I seldom do - not screw anything up. I played nothing wrong which is a yea for me. Masada has a series of different victory conditions that are simple and generally clear cut. By generally clear cut, that means if the Jewish game engine gets to the Combat Phase, every six rounds of combat they survive drives down the Roman Victory Points by one. And - the game has the kicker that the Roman player could by the game tables simply pack it in and go home early. Now that was highly unlikely, but the Roman besiegers did exactly that at Jerusalem in 66 A.D. for reasons that are still murky to historians.
Game play is as simple as it gets as you simply roll dice, consult the various Tables and move along to the next turn after doing the requisite bookkeeping. Masada is a game on the epic siege of Masada in 73 A.D. You as the Roman are trying to win as timely as possible. The game system replays the siege. The sequence of play is simple as it has an events phase and an action phase. Both these phases involve rolling dice to see what the Roman accomplished or how game events up to that point impact the turns die rolls.
In the Action Phase, the Roman is hoping that they get to place a ramp. Placing a ramp means the X Legion is getting closer to the plateau where they can assault the redoubt. What can also happen is the result ends up with you rolling on the Defenders Response Table. It's a series of simple calculations - add together the current Supply Index and the sum of two dice, comparing it to the current number of ramps placed. If the Defenders total is higher the result is simply no effect. HOWEVER if it is lower - urk...roll another die and compare that to the current Defender's morale Index to get your results. Upon conclusion of the action phase, you end that turn.
It is interesting to note there is no turn limit in the game as historically the Romans were committed to destroying this last resistance. Upon placing the 16th Ramp, the siege ramp is now completed and combat now happens. First though you roll to see if the defenders commit mass suicide (the historic result) or if there is a fight to the death. The combat phase can last up to 19 combat rounds. Each Roman roll of six eliminates a defender, and Romans roll first. There is no simultaneous combat where each side gets a chance to roll before results are implemented.
The system neatly handles the increasing Roman legionnaire presence on the plateau as each turn the Roman combat value increases by one to a maximum of 19. This means the Roman would roll nineteen combat roles for the final combat round. The surviving defenders roll with each die roll of six moving the Combat rounds forward by one. Each six combat rounds the defenders survive results in the Roman Victory Points being lowered by one.
Let me tell you this - when I first received this game in 2004, I tried reading it and gave it up because it lacked something. Nothing about it stood out, I mean come on now - no components or such and what was I to do really here? Fourteen years later Minden Games republished it and sent me a review copy and a friend who badly wanted this game was iffy about his copy after receiving it I forced myself to play it and was blown away. Seldom have I been so mistaken in my first impression about a game as Masada is simply aces for what it sets out to achieve. I found myself enthralled each game despite the mechanism being no more than rolling dice, comparing the results to the various Tables and moving to the next dice roll. Masada is truly a dark horse, and is simply a veritable delight for both the gamer who wants to play something or lacks time and the for the discerning gamer who is looking for that special, fun niche game.