Delian League Diaries #3

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The First Peloponnesian War


Pericles is now starting its public testing with my favorite gamers, the 1st Minnesota. This means that Pericles is now officially launched and from early responses doing very well. I am now getting a breather where I sit back and see how things are going, modify stuff that needs improving and so on. However, the design is finished and I cannot stop playing, which is my key metric for any of my designs.

Before I launch into some game descriptions I want to discuss a topic that is of interest to me and in many ways sets Pericles apart from other designs on this period. Back in October of 1962 the Cuban Missile Crisis almost ended civilization. Graham Allison wrote his epic Essence of Decision that examined the crisis from a decision-making perspective. He articulated three models of decision behavior. The first one in Political Science is known as the RAM that stands for the rational actor model. It views a nation’s response to a crisis as a single minded, coordinated activity. This simplifying assumption is used almost universally in wargames where the player represents a monarch, a government, and a military as it reacts to enemy stimuli. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that there are very few situations in history described by this model.


His second model is a government response based on Organizational Process or how a bureaucracy responds to a crisis. In ancient Greece there was nothing like the level of bureaucracy that we have in the 21st century, so this model is not all that applicable to Pericles or most ancient games. Lastly, there is the Governmental Politics model, which is often summarized by the phrase, “where you sit, is where you stand.” This model describes government behavior as competing factions and parties vying for strategy agenda control. I feel that it explores a dimension of this period’s history not explored in earlier efforts to include my earlier Peloponnesian War.


Most if not all of games in my collection examine these wars through the rational actor model (RAM). Like my VG design they focus on the economics and military aspects of the conflict. Pericles use of the Government Politics model begins to describe the behavior of the two sides as they moved from crisis to crisis during the latter half of the 5th century BC.

In Pericles you represent one of two factions in your City State, Athens or Sparta. Each turn of the game represents a series of debates using a variant of my Churchill mechanic. As a city state team of two you are collectively trying to gain ascendency over your rival city state, while awarding victory to the faction that dominates the winning strategy.

The Political portion of the game is balanced against a simple mechanic where strategies in the guise of the issues just debated are aligned with Theaters of operation, such as the Isthmus of Corinth.  Where you place issues determines how military forces, leadership, infrastructure, and treachery advance your strategy. As in ancient Greece being the commanding general leading a major military expedition is the surest way to gain honor in Battle for your side and yourself. Failure in battle brings dishonor.

I will now try and briefly recount the game I played recently at GMT East with GMT’s Andy Lewis and two friends of mine, Jonathan Haber and Charles Finch. Charles (Agiad Royal House) and I (Eurypontid Royal House) were Sparta and Andy (Demagogue faction) and Jonathan (Aristocrat faction) were Athens.

Pericles is at that part of development where I try and discover the best strategies for winning, which I will eventually pass along in c3i articles. In this play test the Spartans opened up with a series of campaigns in the Isthmus of Corinth Theater causing some significant land battles. Despite victory on land the Athenian navy kept Megara (Athenian base) from being successfully besieged creating a classic land/naval standoff. Now how does this happen in Pericles?

A turn begins with an Aristophanes comedic play that sets some unique context to that turn. If Arcarnians is in the house, the Plague stalks the streets of Athens and other locations. If it’s Lysistrata, Peace is discussed and debated in the Assembly. Each play performed during this period (460-400 BC) has three copies with different effects for each version of the play. A game may see no Plague or a series of Plagues (there were at least two historically) besides a host of other impacts on the game play.

Then the Boule (Agenda) Phase has the factions nominate issues from Military, League, Diplomatic, Games, Oracle, Ostracism, plus War/Peace. There are also, two unique issues for each side (Citizenship, Tribute, Krypteia, Agog). For example if the War/Peace issue is up for debate it takes one side to declare war and both sides to sue for Peace. If you hold enemy hostages you can force the other side to discuss Peace.

Each player is dealt a hand of Political cards from a common deck. Each Political card has two specific personalities aligned with an issue attribute for each faction. This is the portion of the game that is similar to Churchill, although that is where the similarity ends. Players debate issues with their teammate. In alternating fashion a faction nominates an issue then each player simultaneously reveals political card in debate. The issue moves in the direction of the higher card play in the direction of the stronger card. Each time a Political card is played on its personality attribute, whether you prevail in that debate or not, you gain from 1 to 4 Strategos tokens. Strategos tokens represent Leadership that is expended for political and military activity over the remaining course of the turn.

After 6 debate rounds the player who won Ostracism or the most issues is the new or returning Controlling faction. Players now convert their issues into matching theater markers emblazoned with their faction on one side and their city state on the other. In honor order (highest to lowest) the players place their theater markers face down into one of the Theaters on the map. If you place a Theater issue marker in a Theater where there already exist one or more other markers, you place yours on the top of this LIFO (Last in First out) queue.

Then the markers are revealed one at a time, resolved, then another marker is revealed and so on until all issues have been completed. The player whose faction is on a revealed theater marker is the one that decides how it should be resolved. So, how did the war go in the Isthmus of Corinth at the opening of the war? Both sides seemed to be cooperating with their fellow citizen. Sparta managed to get a League issue near the top of the queue that allowed Sparta to build up our land and naval forces. The Athenians planned to send in reinforcements but were preempted by a Spartan invasion that failed to knock out the Athenian base because Athenian naval superiority controlled the seas.

The 1st Peloponnesian War scenario ends on turns 3, 4 or 5 if the two city states are at peace. As the fourth turn began both sides had the War and Peace issue in the assembly, but the Athenians just did not want to discuss the issue, so the war continued.

Athens had been outplaying Sparta the entire game, but then opportunity knocked and I wanted to open the door. Athens over the course of the game had sent most of its navy away from Athens and I pointed out to the Agiad king (Charles) that we had a shot at invading Athens, winning a naval victory and then our massive army could force a land battle winning the war. Great plan, but Charles and I got our signals crossed and our attack was not properly prepared and we fell one point short of conquering Athens. By the way there are no dice in Pericles, so this was not a bad die roll, but insufficient resources committed to the fray.

Then Athens strategy played out gloriously in Central Greece. The Theban army was denied Spartan support and Athens won a land battle that destroyed three, yes three Spartan bases and gained unfettered control of Boeotia. That was all she wrote and Athens gained an automatic honor victory with the Athenian Aristocrat faction winning the game. I do not regret going for the win, as I wanted to see how it would work. The answer is quite well, as historically Athens needs to maintain its naval blockade of Sparta and the Isthmus. If Athens takes its eye off the naval ball, disaster can strike, so I am quite happy with how it works in the design.

I think I will leave it there for now. Public play testing is just beginning so I should have more to share soon.


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