Pericles Strategy Guide
This installment of my Delian League Diaries is intended offer deeper insight on how Pericles lets you experience Thucydides’ epic history of this long ago war. I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of the key mechanics and their impact on strategy options.
The heart of the Pericles system is the Theater issue queue that drives the action. Pericles has simple mechanics for developing complex strategies to gain control over a Theater of war. In a Theater of war, it is the sequence of opposing issues in the Theater queue that captures the thrust-counter thrust narrative of the Peloponnesian Wars.
What I have found is first time players can use some tips to launch them on this journey of discovery. This guide is intended to offer some ideas on 5th Century Greek warfare without spoiling the journey of self-discovery.
What is a Theater? There are twenty Theater spaces on the Pericles map (see above). A Theater is either a land or a naval Theater. What this means is if you decide to initiate a battle in a land theater you must fight a land battle, and the winner can optionally fight a naval battle. The opposite applies in a naval Theater. Each side has bases that anchor military forces and represent economic infrastructure. In the final counting, a City State gains Honor for control of Theaters and their bases.
Why a particular Theater is important to your side will be covered later in this guide, but let’s postulate that Boeotia (Land Theater) is important to your strategy. Let’s also postulate that this is the beginning of the 1st Peloponnesian War and Boeotia (Central Greece) is a contested Theater. A contested Theater has both sides’ forces present. Sparta has a Peloponnesian base (Thebes) with four land units opposed by a Delian League base (Plataea) with one land unit. The raw strength count is Sparta 6 versus Athens 3, as each land unit counts for one and bases count for 2. (See illustration below)
Defending and Attacking Boeotia
A good place to start this conversation is how does Athens defend Boeotia and how does Sparta attack Boeotia?
Thucydides describes a war of thrust and counter thrust. This is an era of small armies and large spaces. Geographic chokepoints and enemy bases are where the battles were fought because without airplanes, radios, or drones, it was hard to time the arrival of forces to block enemy activity. The Theater issue queue is how Pericles captures this historical move-counter move dynamic.
Imagine you are Pericles (Aristocrat faction), standing before the Athenian assembly proposing a military expedition to Boeotia to punish Thebes for a failed coup against your ally Plataea. You propose Alcibiades to lead the attack while Cleon (Demagogue faction) counter proposes Demosthenes. Pericles barely wins the debate, naming Alcibiades as the commanding general (3 Strategos tokens), but Demosthenes is also given a command (4 Strategos tokens). Unless there is further debate on this issue, Athens will conduct a military expedition to Boeotia. How you allocate and deploy your Strategos tokens amongst your various enterprises and how you respond to enemy actions is the heart of the narrative that determines the winner of the wars.
In a traditional wargame like For the People, you have named generals and everyone knows that Robert E. Lee should be a “go to guy” for the South. In this period, there were equivalent great generals, such as the Athenian Demosthenes, who held a similar distinction. In Pericles, how you deploy your Strategos tokens determines whether you are sending a Demosthenes (great general) or a Diomedon (an average general). As a rule, if you and your teammate were to gain all of the available Strategos tokens with a full agenda of issues, your team could send out multiple military expeditions, diplomatic missions, muster forces, build several League bases, and even invoke the gods (Oracle issue). Likewise, the other team is conducting the same process to generate their response. I will cover political strategy in more detail later in this article, but now back to the main question, control of Boeotia.
The Theater issue queue is created by players secretly placing active issues into Theater spaces, with multiple placements forming a Last In-First Out queue (LIFO). So if you want something to happen first, it needs to be the last thing put into the queue, Last In-First Out (LIFO). If you want something to happen last, you want the issue to be the first one placed in a Theater queue, Last In-First Out (LIFO). Once you have this basic concept in your mind all else follows.
Historically it took months to prepare and launch a military force, so we cannot react after an attack has already begun. Remember, no radios or satellites, just information arriving once things are in motion. If we do not correctly anticipate our enemy’s strategy, our reinforcements will arrive too late, so they better get there first. In Pericles, the side with superior planning and timing will prevail. So, how does this translate into Athens defending its position in Boeotia? Athens has several choices, but let’s say we simply want to improve our situation in Boeotia. If our issue is at the top of the Boeotia Theater queue, we will have first mover advantage in Boeotia.
The three major choices are a League, Military, or Diplomatic issue. Athenians as their first action in the Theater could resolve a League issue, build two more land units (each base can build two land or one naval per League base) and now our forces are just under one to one with the enemy forces present. Perhaps the better option might be to build one naval unit. Now our base has a sea line of communication and while our small army might get smashed, we will not lose the base unless Sparta can win first the land and then a naval battle. At this point, Athens’ naval supremacy and control of the Saronic Gulf chokepoint (Athens) makes it very unlikely that Sparta could assemble a fleet and successfully sail it to Boeotia, so our single naval unit ensures our base’s survival.
Athens could instead have put a diplomatic issue into play. This activates a conspiracy of opponents within the Peloponnesian base. As the Peloponnesians have a large army present, I have no chance of a successful coup at this time, but for the expenditure of three Strategos tokens, I place three Treachery markers, effectively increasing my local strength by 3 due to conspirators and other minor City State forces in Boeotia.
Another option is to reveal a Military issue, and assemble several land and naval units in Boeotia, but resolving Military issues in Contested Theaters will bring on a battle or a Raid. Since we do not want to fight a battle, we spend three Strategos tokens and Raid Boeotia, yielding 3 Honor points while forcing our opponents to lose from 1 to 5 Strategos tokens due to ravaging.
One of the truths in war is the enemy gets a vote. So, what are they doing and how might Boeotia play out in an interactive give and take? Let’s say that it played out with the Athenians placing a Military issue into Boeotia first, followed by a Spartan secret placement (don’t tell, it’s a military issue), and at the end of the Theater placement round by an Athenian Diplomatic issue just described. Playing this out, Athens Aristocrats have the highest honor total and resolve the first issue, followed by the other three players in honor point total order. Each player in turn flips one of their side’s issues that is immediately resolved. until all issues on the map have been sequentially resolved. During one of their choices, Athens reveals the Diplomatic issue in Boeotia, spending three Strategos tokens and placing three Treachery markers at that location.
Now how does Sparta attack Boeotia? Really, that’s a question? This is Sparta! We are going to send in the Spartan army and just raze the place to the ground. So, it’s probably time to explain how Battle fits into our Strategy.
As Sparta, I see a known Athenian strength of 6 (two for the base, 1 for the land, and 3 for the Treachery), while I have Peloponnesian forces equal to 6 (1 base and four land). So, this should be easy. The Spartan faction whose color is on the military issue is the commanding general and secretly commits (literally in hand) 5 Strategos tokens (the maximum). The other three players can commit from zero to 4 tokens. This is a secret choice, and how and when you spend your available Strategos tokens will have implications across all of the issues. You have to balance what your strategy and your future Strategos requirements are against the immediate threat you are currently facing. How and when your team spends your Strategos tokens will determine success and failure in the war.
Now the Spartan commanding general and his compatriot reveal their tokens. The commanding general commits 5, think Brasidas, likely half his available tokens, while his Spartan compatriot did not fare well during the political phase and commits zero, ouch! The Spartans now assemble units (land or sea) in Boeotia equal to the number of committed Strategos tokens. The one problem is Athens controls the naval chokepoint; so this is going to be an all land affair with the Spartans sending 1 Spartan and 4 Peloponnesian land units to the upcoming battle.
Warfare in this period is based on the principles of linear warfare. Amongst units of equal capability, the most important consideration is how wide is your line, so numbers matter. Pericles leverages this fact using simple math where all land and naval units are equal to one. However, the Spartan army and the Athenian navy were tactically superior, and are worth 2 versus the normal 1 for other units. This brings the Boeotia score to Athens 6 versus Sparta’s 17 (Each Strategos token is worth a value of 1 also).
Now Athens reveals how many Strategos tokens they previously committed, which was also an all in 4 each for a total of 8, plus they throw in the Athenian state ship in for a total of 9. Now the land battle score stands at Athens 15 to Sparta’s 18. Now comes a random card flip that will generate a number between 1 and 5 for each side to add to their strength total. The gods in this case remain neutral and both sides draw a 2, so no change in the outcome. The differential of 3 allows the Spartans to eliminate the lone Delian League land unit. They could ordinarily use the remaining differential of 2 to eliminate the base. The Athenian base survives because Sparta did not have more Strategos tokens than the Athenians, so the base resists the siege.
In Pericles, all of the Theaters have a coastline, putting you in the shoes of Sparta trying to destroy a naval power with the best army in Greece. In our first battle of Boeotia, the Spartan victory yields 2 honor points for the commanding general (2 times eliminated unit value) and his Spartan compatriot gains 1 honor point, with each Athenian faction losing one honor point. This seemingly insignificant battle has changed the honor point score 5 points; so do not ignore picking off weak forces.
The last issue in the Boeotia queue is an Athenian military issue. Because Boeotia is still a contested theater, Athens decides to Raid Boeotia and gains 3 honor points. Now if you count up what happened, Sparta gained 3 Honor points from the Battle and the Athenians gained a net 1 Honor point and still have their base in Boeotia. The direct approach is not always the best way to handle things in ancient Greece.
On the other hand, let us say you are a “hammer and tongs” kind of wargamer. Athens has been hoarding their Strategos tokens, and due to aggressive play the Spartans are now running short of available leadership (tokens). You can only fight so many maximum efforts in a turn. Besides the activity in Boeotia, Athens played a League issue (Hellespont) and two Military issues (Athens) to build up their land forces, giving them 10 newly mustered land units. Sparta’s opening strength is a formidable 12 (1 Spartan and 8 Peloponnesian land plus 1 base), while Athens still has 5 (base plus Treachery that persists). Athens goes all in with 9 Strategos tokens, allowing them to bring 9 of their newly mustered land units into Boeotia for a base score of 14 plus 9 Athenian Strategos. So it’s 23 for Athens against an unknown amount of remaining Spartan Strategos, but presumably less than 8, so a high probability counter thrust to regain Athenian honor.
On the risk reward side of the equation, under all circumstances this is going to be a close battle, so the losses will not be significant, but if Athens wins the land battle, they will gain Spartan hostages for a significant honor bonus. While Sparta won every large land battle during the 5th Century, they did lose some small engagements such as Pylos.
Now the obvious thought is the Spartans would not allow themselves to run short of Strategos tokens. Good point, but the problem with this is you have limited control over when the first military campaign in Boeotia occurs. When it is a Spartan faction’s turn to resolve an issue, they must resolve one Spartan issue if one is available. You can only pass if no Spartan issues are on the top of any Theater queues. Therefore, when you are up at bat and the only option is Boeotia, that is when that campaign is going to be resolved. I can offer no guidance other than to say “the best laid plans can go awry due to timing.” So, if the Spartan Boeotia campaign came early in the turn, the Spartan ability to go with the full 9 Strategos tokens comes at a potential cost. If you commit less, as happened in this example, the Spartans might have lost that battle. But send in too many and you are vulnerable to an Athenian counter thrust later in the turn; welcome to the world of Pericles.
So now that the basics of a Theater campaign (issue queue) are better understood, how does Pericles fight a war? The first thing to understand is in order for you to win the game; your City State must win the war. If your City State loses the war you could have the most theoretical honor, but hey you lost the war, full stop. Historically the losing leadership, if they were lucky, would be exiled, but more likely assassinated or executed. If your City State wins the war, the faction with the most honor wins. So in the war it is US versus THEM, but in politics it is YOU versus ME.
This is the portion of the game that shows its Churchill lineage. Each team of two factions debates issues. I am not going to go into this in detail, but the main strategy point is this is the arena where the two factions cannot change their total Honor points, but redistribute their City States honor based on political performance. So, while you are a team during the war, it is YOU versus ME as measured by who wins issues with a higher oratory score (box number on the track where an issue is won).
Political strategy is very important in Pericles. Becoming the Controlling faction comes with Honor perks and potential penalties. Successfully ostracizing your teammate has a large benefit, but once this issue is in play it can boomerang on you. As I said, assuming your side wins the war, how you play in the political arena will usually decide the winner of the game. Lose the war and your orations become a footnote.
The downside of excessive infighting is political gridlock. If your side cannot collectively generate won issues, your side is going to place less issues into play than your opponents. If your side is generating less activity than your opponents, your team is going to find it difficult to win the war. This is the delicate political balance that each side has to consider during political debate.
Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian war is studied in war colleges as an example of asymmetric warfare. Athens is a naval power and Sparta is a land power. It was the protagonists collective inability to attack the other’s center of gravity that led to a half century of conflict. In the end, Athens was defeated only when Persian gold built a Spartan navy that finally destroyed the Athenian navy (Aegospotami).
With this as preamble, how does Athens defend Boeotia? The answer may be to just support your base with a naval unit and frustrate any Spartan efforts to capture your base and call it a day. The Periclean strategy that died with him was to defend the Empire, avoid expansion, and maintain naval supremacy. This is a viable strategy in Pericles.
Athens opens the game controlling Athens, Naupactus, and the Hellespont. If Athens never loses control of these naval choke points and builds up its bases and control of the Aegean Sea, it may be sufficient to win the war. Now Spartan counter strategies will be covered shortly, but as Eisenhower said, never fight a land war in Asia or in this case go up against the Spartan army without an edge.
This is not to say that Athens does not have offensive land strategies, but looking to go toe to toe with the Spartan army did not work in this period and Athenian players will likely have to learn this lesson, as did my early play test groups. In fact, what has happened at least a dozen times in my presence is that play testers with little to no knowledge of this period organically repeated the exact mistake made by Athens in the real war and then asked, “how do you beat the Spartan army?” Even Pericles never figured that one out. Remember, I am an historical game designer, guilty as charged.
So what are Athens’ offensive options? Think Raids and Treachery! Athens can move its fleets pretty much wherever it wants until the Spartans build a navy. So, first off, do not let them build a navy. The Athenian goal is to not let Sparta build bases to support a large army and a navy, while gaining Honor through raids and counter thrusts.
At interesting question is how does Athens neutralize the Spartan army if it is tough to defeat in a land battle? The simple answer is keeping the Spartan army in Sparta. The Spartan army can march anywhere overland, but if Sparta is captured, they lose the war immediately. So, a standard Athenian strategy is to maintain an Athenian naval presence in Sparta, build a base, get Argos into the fight and continually put a couple of issues, often rumor markers, to keep the Spartans guessing whether Athens is going to attack when the Spartan army is not home. If the Spartan army is in sufficient strength in that Theater when your occasional Military issue is revealed, Raid with your navy. If the Spartans leave insufficient forces to guard their city, it may be worth attacking for the win. So, how does Athens defend Boeotia? Don’t let the Spartan army leave their home space without risk.
An Athenian path to victory is to avoid major defeats (can you say Sicilian disaster) while gaining incremental honor through raids, establishing bases, and visits to the Oracles. Then, once peace or the last turn occurs, win the war in the final scoring by controlling more bases and close to two times the number of Theaters. How you get there is up to you, but it is likely to be won with the oar and not the spear.
Sparta is a land power. Sparta became the hegemon of Greece by defeating the reigning champion Argos, and then not losing a major land battle for over two centuries. The Spartan economy was designed to do one thing: create an unbeatable army. In Pericles, the Spartan army is a beast. If you send all of it into a battle, you are not going to lose. How does Sparta attack in Boeotia? Send in the Spartan army.
If Sparta has any Athenian issues located there and you put the Spartan army on the march, always remember to leave sufficient land forces behind to prevent losing the game. How much should you leave, well it usually depends on how many Athenian land units are in Athens and whether there is the potential to muster the four Argos land units. If the Athenian army is small and there is no potential for a Delian League base in Sparta, then a couple of land cubes are sufficient. If the Athenian army is large, it may be best not to put the Spartan army on the march, or attack Athens and conduct the historic raids of Attica. I leave it up to you to decide based on your risk-reward calculus.
So, how does Sparta win the game? Sparta receives more honor points for controlled Theaters than the Athenians to account for the denser populations. First, you need to expand into the north. This means that you should systematically gain control of the Isthmus and Boeotia and once that has been accomplished expand into Thessalia, Macedon, Chalcidice and beyond. If Sparta has parity of bases with Athens, it should be sufficient for victory.
Sounds too easy. Best army, then capture a few land Theaters, add up the points and its happy dance time. The fly in the ointment is you only get points for Controlled theaters. That means no Athenians in sight. The problem is it is easy for Athens to maintain naval units off your coasts and deny Sparta its empire. The solution is you will need to spread out the Athenian navy and build a Spartan navy that can threaten the Athenian Achilles heel: grain supplies.
A critical Spartan tactic is to send a series of diplomatic missions into the Athenian empire to promote rebellion. Once Delian League bases convert to your side, it is harder for Athens to support their navy. Expand into Ionia and bring Persia into the war. Persian gold will accelerate construction of a Spartan navy. From there, apply your newly-found naval power with your tough land army and knock Athens out of the war.
Obviously, Athens is not going to sit idly by while you do all of this, but if Athens is busy fending off your strategy, they are not prosecuting theirs. As you can see, the number of possible situations is large and there is no script, just a recipe with uncertain ingredients.
The intent of this guide is to lower the barrier to your initial understanding on how to proceed during your first couple of sessions with Pericles. This guide is not meant to be an exhaustive catalog of all possibilities, but a window into the art of the possible. So, I hope you come along for the Pericles journey. I predict an exciting ride.