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In 1991, veteran board game designer Mark Herman released a new wargame for the company GMT Games. Titled The Great Battles of Alexander, it was the first in the Great Battles of History series. It promised to recreate linear combat in the ancient world faithfully. Despite starting with the campaigns of Alexander, the series would also see the armies of Caesar, Hannibal, and even Genghis Khan in cardboard form. Original copies of the Great Battles of History (GBoH) games are popular and fetch high prices.
The Great Battles of History Series
The GBoH series in publication order:
Volume I: The Great Battles of Alexander
Volume II: SPQR
Volume III: Lion of the North: The Dawn of Modern Warfare
Volume IV: Caesar: The Great Battles of Julius Caesar – The Civil Wars 48-45 B.C.
Volume V: Samurai
Volume VI: Caesar: Conquest of Gaul
Volume VII: War Galley
Volume VIII: Cataphract
Volume IX: Caesar in Alexandria
Volume X: Devil’s Horsemen
Volume XI: The Siege of Alesia: Gaul, 52 B.C.
Volume XII: RAN
Volume XIII: Chandragupta
Volume XIV: Chariots of Fire
Volume XV: Hoplite
Origins of the Great Battles of History Series
The Great Battles of Alexander featured the new GBoH system. Unit counters represented hundreds of men. The weapon system matrix simulated combat between Alexander’s Macedonian army and the forces of Persia and the Greek city-states. Individual leader counters were also present. What made the game different was its order system. This was not historical chess. Units could not simply move where the player wanted them to go. Like the actual battles, orders could sometimes be confused, with units left out of command. There was even a “Dieroll of Doom” mechanic to simulate a leader having a severe crisis of confidence.
At a time when wargame sales were on a downturn, The Great Battles of Alexander proved a major commercial success. Fans were left craving more.
Herman and Berg: A Winning Combination
In 1991, Richard Berg was already a rising star in the wargame community. His first publication, Hooker and Lee: The Battle of Chancellorsville (1975), received critical acclaim. The following year, Terrible Swift Sword came onto the market, sweeping up awards and marking Berg as a first-class designer. Terrible Swift Sword covered the three days of Gettysburg. Having over 1000 counters, players observed that the game usually took longer to play than the actual battle.
Throughout the 1980s, Berg became known for his excellent tactical simulations of historical engagements. When it was announced that he was going to team up with Herman on the next installment of GBoH, gamers were interested.
Volume two of GBoH came out in 1992 and was an instant hit with the wargaming community. Titled SPQR, it featured the battles of Republican Rome against Pyrrhus and Hannibal. There was even a counter for Hannibal’s elephant.
After SPQR, Herman and Berg took the series in an unusual direction. Lion of the North moved the action to central Germany in the 17th century and included cannon, pike, and firearms rules. Next came Caesar, which saw the Roman Civil Wars depicted in a series of intensive battles. Another departure from ancient warfare occurred in Volume V: Samurai. This game simulated conflict in feudal Japan.
Notable volumes after Samurai include War Galley, which depicted ancient naval battles. Devils Horsemen included the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan and his successors. Chandragupta depicted fighting in ancient India. Chariots of Fire, as the title suggests, looked at ancient chariot warfare in the Near East. Hoplite examined the Greek world before Alexander, simulating the battle of Marathon, among others.
For most of these games, expansion packs were released, and official battles were published in wargaming magazines. These publications are too numerous to be covered in the scope of this article.
Richard Berg sadly passed away in 2018, but not before co-designing fourteen volumes of the GBoH series with Herman, from SPQR to Hoplite.
Collecting the Great Battles of History Series
Original GBoH games are still extremely popular. Caesar in Alexandria is rare and fetches incredibly high prices despite only covering a single battle. Other rare series entries are War Galley and Chariots of Fire.
The battle booklets included with each game are collector’s items on their own. Genuinely informative, each contains the wry wit of the designers, often critical of dubious historical sources. In the booklet for SPQR, one source translated from Italian is described as “about as readable as a Victorian legal contract. Also, somewhat less interesting.” Details for the leaders present in each game are also included, with SPQR having extensive and often hilarious notes on the peculiarities of the Roman command system.
Expanded-deluxe editions of SPQR and Alexander were published by GMT in 2008 and 2014, respectively. These expanded games contain every original battle, plus extras from numerous mini modules. They have updated maps, counters, and battle books.
C3i Magazine was founded in 1992 and publishes news, analysis, and commentary for the historical gaming community. In 1998, they brought out a special edition dedicated entirely to SPQR. This copy of the magazine is now a highly collectible item.
When collecting wargames, it is typically the quality of the item that determines its value. Boxes in good condition containing unpunched counter sprues will attract much higher prices.
GBoH is an ongoing project. Caesar is now getting a significant update —a super-deluxe edition combining the Gallic and Civil Wars into one box is set to be released by GMT. The series shows no signs of grinding to a halt just yet. Suppose you are intrigued by what you have read in this article and are new to the series. In that case, I recommend starting with the expanded-deluxe edition of Alexander (published in 2014 and sub-titled Macedonian Art of War). After all, what other game has an elephant rampage matrix?
Matthew Doherty is a writer, editor, and teacher specializing in all things history-related. His work has been published in the UK Defence Journal, the Small Wars Journal, and The Collector. He holds an MSc from the University of Edinburgh and a BA from the University of Leeds. In his spare time, he also writes science fiction stories.
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