Falling Sky is one of GMT’s COIN games, a rapidly expanding genre that covers counter-insurgencies throughout various periods of history. Falling Sky centers on the Gallic Revolt against Caeser. Gaul’s factions are set to fight against Roman rule, and the backdrop fits COIN’s system perfectly.
I have yet to see a COIN game with anything less than optimal components, and Falling Sky is no exception. The mounted map is stunning, with its detailed areas and vibrant colors. The place names are easy to read, though the home territory symbols can get lost once the board is full. The map is small compared to other COIN games, but it has ample space for sizeable armies. Faction pieces are wood with clearly distinguishable shapes and colors. Even the cardboard counters are well done. The game is a sight to behold once it is set up.
The four factions come to the table with different agendas. The Romans are looking to subdue the land to reinforce their rule over the area. The rebellious Belgic, led by the skillful Ambiorix, are looking to overthrow their oppressors. Meanwhile, the opportunistic Averni yearn to build a mighty confederation to push the Romans back. Even the Roman sympathetic Aedui want to cut out their own claim to the land. Each has their own winning condition, and you’ll keep as keen an eye on your opponent’s progress as you will your own.
This is a card-driven game, and a card flip will determine player order throughout the game. Along the top of each card is a symbol representing every faction in varying order from left to right. Every faction is eligible to start the game, and the first on the card has several options at its deposal. Every card has an event, and the first player may choose to do that. They may also choose to do a command action as often as they able to afford it using resources or meet the requirements of the action. Commands allow factions to recruit troops, bring allies to the cause, move armies, or battles. There are some subtle differences, but the factions are generally the same here. Additionally, a faction may choose to do a command along with a special ability. This is where each faction’s personality comes into play. For example, the Belgic’s closeness to Germanic tribes allows them to manipulate Germanic forces while the Averni can convert other warbands to their side.
Once the first player is done, the second player on the card can choose an action, but what they can do is completely dependent on what the first player did. If the first player took the event, the second player is free to do a command and a special ability. However, if the first player chooses just the command, then the second player can only do a command in one area. The first player dictates the flow for that particular card player.
Further deepening your decision making is the fact that the next card is always visible to you. A particular event coming up may give you cause to pass on the current turn. Passing is always an option, which allows you to skip the current card and be active for the next. Passing up a potential move now could be advantageous if a better move will be available later.
Speaking of decision making, you’ll find that events are an ever source of consternation. Many events have two events available. One may be a positive for you, which means the other will invariably be against you. Deciding when to block an event is often just as important as deciding when to play one.
Only two factions will play on a given card, meaning the other two will be active for the next card play. Playing off one card automatically makes you ineligible for the next (though some events can make you immediately active again), so it is wise to keep an eye on not just what is coming up, but your order on the upcoming card as well.
Mixed in with the deck are winter cards, where the game’s victory conditions will be checked. Should a faction meet them then they win and the game concludes. Otherwise, the Germanic tribes run through their bot phase to cause havoc.
There is a lot to consider on each and every turn. Even if you are out on a current card, you know what is coming up for your next play. The game has a masterful flow to it, and you never feel like there is any downtime.
Before each day you’ll create your deck of cards. Even with the full deck, the random order will determine a new game each time. Events or faction order that affected one game may show up later or not at all in another game. Your basic premise for your faction may be the same, but card play will ensure your path to victory will fluctuate.
A friend of mine referred to the playing board, with factions in place, as “tight”, and this is meant as a complete comment. There is no slow build up or skirmishes in this game. You begin right in the thick of things with immediate decisions — and enemies — to face. The game has a push and pull to it that sees factions drift toward and away from victory from card to card. The variance in the card play, and the fact that you cannot simply hide from anyone or runaway with the lead will keep the game very balanced.
I certainly need to catch up on reviewing COIN games, because this genre really appeals to me. While I have only played a few so far, this is my favorite one to date. The theme is well presented with card text and faction goals. The conflict begins immediately, and you feel like even your opening decisions matter — setting the tone for how things will play out. This is a tremendous game that feels well balanced, entertaining, and challenging all at once.