During a recent session of Pericles, JR Tracy (host and ASL expert) and myself represented Athens versus our worthy Spartan opponents, Roberto and Nate. We played the 1st Peloponnesian War scenario, which can last from 3 to 6 turns, ending when Peace is declared. In keeping with the history, this one ended up being a true death match and went the distance, as no one wanted to declare Peace.
Turn 1: 460 – 455 BC
As Nate writes Operas for a living, he was the official reader of the Aristophanes cards and gave nicely intoned dramatic readings of the quotes on the cards. The Aristophanes cards set the context for the turn by putting several issues into play, while at the same time setting the mood of the respective assemblies.
Design Note: Since this game, the Aristophanes cards have evolved and now incorporate historical events into the narrative of the game.
The 1st Peloponnesian war was sparked by Megara (Isthmus of Corinth Theater) leaving the Peloponnesian league and becoming an Ally of Athens, which is built into the opening set up. During the Assembly debate neither side chose to declare war, so the opening round of conflict would be a League on League (Delian versus Peloponnesian) affair.
Pericles is a ‘sandbox’ design. You are not forced to go to war or follow any historical script. Peace in ancient Greece is a relative term as the only real restriction is Athenian and Spartan forces cannot directly engage each other in battle. The design uses these periods of peace to simulate the normal amount of internecine conflict between rival city-states. In this case Corinth and other League forces are going to deal with Megara. Pericles, unlike its predecessor Churchill, is unabashedly a wargame.
Author Note: Although I wrote in the opening line of the box copy that “Churchill is NOT a wargame”, it seems that the BoardGameGeek crowd disagreed. Thank you to all those who voted Churchill the Golden Geek Best Wargame of 2015 and nominated it for the Most Innovative and Best Strategy categories.
The two main contested Theaters of war (a Theater occupied by both sides forces) are the aforementioned Isthmus of Corinth and Boeotia (Megara and Plataea respectively). Early on, both sides are cooperating as teams not competitors. So the Athenian Demagogue faction (JR) and I (Aristocrats) divided up our efforts, with the Demagogues going off to the Persian war, while I focused on how to deal with the Peloponnesian League.
Athens, realizing that our weak Allied bases were vulnerable before Sparta attacked, managed to reinforce the Isthmus with some Athenian naval assets to maintain our sea lines of communication, making them difficult to capture via assault (siege) without a Spartan naval victory. Roberto (Eurypontid royal house) and Nate (Agiad royal house) quickly built up their forces in the Isthmus and smashed the small Delian league army, but chose not to fight a naval battle, allowing us to maintain our Athenian base.
Athens chose to expand its influence via our base structure in the Aegean and in the west (Corcyra Theater). Over in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Athenian expedition to Egypt was eliminated and the Peace of Callias soon followed, ending the Persian War. Due to the land battle in the Isthmus, the honor score stood at Sparta 45 to 21 with the Eurypontid faction in the lead (26 to 19). Although we did not lose our base, the Corinthian battle trophy announced to the Greek world that “Here stand Titans.”
Turn 2: 454 – 449 BC
JR and I decided that we needed to declare war, with the Demagogues gaining control of the government, something they would hold onto for the remainder of the war. This would inevitably not turn out well for the Aristocrats, but at this time I was more interested in answering the clarion call of battle.
Sparta chose to launch a major offensive into Boeotia that led to the loss of our base (Plataea). The other major effort was the expansion of Spartan influence into Aetolia. Nate focused his strategy on Diplomatic efforts to cause rebellions through the use of Treachery.
Overall, things continued to deteriorate for Athens. The only bright spot being my using superior knowledge of issue combinations to first send an Athenian naval expedition into the Spartan theater (think naval raid) that allowed us to build a base (Pylos), which in turn brought Argos over to our side. I hoped that this would give Sparta something to think about while JR and I tried to recoup our sinking ship, as the score now stood at 66 to 10, with an automatic victory looming if the situation did not improve during the next turn of the game.
Turn 3: 448 – 443 BC
JR and I realized that if we did not go on the attack we were likely to lose this war and the game. The only thing we had going for us was that the Argos force threatened Sparta. While Sparta girded themselves to deal with their traditional enemy, we built up the Athenian army and launched our forces at Boeotia (Thebes). Central Greece was the historical Athenian objective in this war. More on how our attack turned out in a moment.
Design Note: Some of the Aristophanes cards now place ‘Will of the Assembly’ markers, similar to the “Forward to Richmond” card in For The People. If a side does not accomplish the mission given by the Assembly, your side loses honor and available Strategos tokens next turn.
Out of each Assembly phase, issues are won by both factions, which are then deployed onto the map. If the two factions get into a difficult internal fight, say over the Ostracism issue and who is running the government, you will likely reduce what your forces can do during the ensuing Theater phase. In essence the game organically generates political gridlock. If both sides are experiencing an internal fight, their operations tempo in the game slows. If this happens asymmetrical then one side is likely to gain an edge.
Design Note: The Aristophanes cards put issues into play that cause increased operations tempo or inconvenience, especially when they trigger a factional fight over Ostracism or create the conditions for War or Peace.
Sparta, more due to bad choices than any internal friction, neutralized themselves in a couple of debate rounds, reducing their output. Factional cooperation in Athens produced four military issues with two league issues in support. We turned this into a buildup of Athenian land and naval forces, and our offensive into Boeotia was a huge success.
Sparta was not entirely left out of the honor pool, as the Spartan army eliminated Argos from the war. Athens got the better of the exchange and the score stood at Sparta 65 to Athens 31 with the Demagogues ahead of the Aristocrats due to their leadership role in Boeotia. This was a major comeback! With the two sides still at war and no auto victory in sight, the conflict continued.
Design Note: The way honor is apportioned in battle is the player who won the Military issue is the commanding general and, if victorious, gains the most honor points. His compatriot gains based on the overall Strategos commitment, with the losers being reduced by the forces lost.
One last point of interest is Alcibiades, who roams around the map when misfortune occurs. His effect is the controlling faction of the city he resides in gains one Strategos token if they win a military issue. Alcibiades was in my estimation the first defense consultant and he adds a bit of flavor to the narrative.
Design Note: Alcibiades has a minor role in the game and his mechanism has been made simpler through the Aristophanes cards.
Turn 4: 442 – 437 BC
Nate had been consistently winning and employing diplomatic missions to undermine our control over our Delian League allies (Athens). This created many Treachery markers deployed in Naupactus and in the Aegean Theaters. These efforts now bore fruit, with the Athenian bases in Naupactus and Chios revolting and joining the Peloponnesian League.
In compensation, Athens gained Aetolia in a brutal campaign that closed the honor gap and raised the Aristocrats for the first time out of last place. Athens also gained Sicily, ensuring our Athenian grain supplies in case we were to lose the Hellespont to revolt. The score now stood at Athens 64 to Sparta’s 52 with myself in the temporary lead in Athens. This by the way sent Alcibiades to Persia, where he enabled Persian support for Sparta.
Turn 5: 436 – 431 BC
At this point peace would have been in Athens and my own self-interest, but the Spartans would have none of it. Athens needed to get its Allies back into the fold, so we recaptured Chios and Naupactus. The Spartans shifted their diplomatic offensive and successfully caused Samos to revolt, while neutralizing our position in Aetolia and wrecking our forces in Boeotia.
The Boeotia battle was huge. Athens had a large army in Boeotia, but they were unable to stop the Spartan army from prevailing. In fact, this was the largest battle of the war. The result of this back and forth and the epic Spartan victory near Thebes was the Spartan honor rose to 74, while Athens took a step backwards to 60. It was under these circumstances that the war went into its last turn.
Design Note: The resolution of an issue can be viewed as a one or two year campaign that occurs within a six-year game turn. When a force assembles from various locations to a theater, you can see as many as 18 land cubes (2000 Hoplites and auxiliaries) form an army. This represents the largest historical force used during this period, around 35,000 soldiers or a fleet of ships, or a mixture of both.
There is no reaction or intercept system. The design achieves the historical back and forth through the Theater issue queue system. The initial reaction to this mechanic is, and I quote, “insanely fun” from the initial play testers.
If you want to reinforce a Theater, you have to place a Military expedition or League issue high in the queue, so you can go first and send forces to where you perceive your opponents are going to attack. Another stratagem is to place a Military issue at the bottom of the queue, so if your opponent empties out the Theater to attack somewhere else they are vulnerable to a late riposte.
Then there is the option to place one of your Military issues low in a critical Theater queue to allow for a late turn counterattack if the enemy launches an earlier successful attack. To top it all off, each faction has two rumor (dummy) markers, so you can keep your opponent honest. If deployed well, your rumor markers act as psychological offensives in this game.
Turn 6: 430 – 425 BC
Now things got nasty in Athens when PLAGUE stalked the streets of the city. JR and I just looked at each other; the hill to victory just got steeper. I put the Ostracism issue on the table in a bid to take control over the government. I failed, while Nate succeeded in a reversal of roles with Roberto. Both sides limped into the end game with a reduction in operations tempo due to these internal fights. The result was the overall map situation did not change significantly, with no major battles or major shifts of honor.
Design Note: The end game strategy often can be for an Athenian and a Spartan faction to cooperate and negotiate a peace. If this happens in turns 3, 4 or 5 it ends the game, and each gains 20 Honor points that may yield victory to one of them.
The game now went into its final scoring round, where bases (economic power) and theater control (strategic position) were evaluated. It is here where the controlling faction gains points on a 2 for 1 basis with their compatriot (one point gain per base or Theater). This gives a player many options to close and gain the lead in how they end the conflict. In our matc,h the final score stood at 148 to 138, with Roberto beating Nate by two points for the win. There were smiles around the table over this very close finish.
Design Note: Being the Controlling faction in the final scoring usually translates into a 15 point advantage at the close.
Developer Note: Since this playtest the Aristophanes cards have added historical events and the military issue now has a Raid option. The design is evolving very nicely from my perspective.
So ends this narrative of a war. More to come…