Pericles’ ‘Bots at War
In my first Peloponnesian War design, circa 1991, I had a mechanic for an Auguries die roll. In this regard it appears that Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars has been successful in its appeal to a higher power when I got this note (republished with permission):
Note on the 500th preorder:
Hello from Greece!
I was checking the P500 list and I found out that “Pericles” had already reached 499 orders! So I thought that it would be appropriate (αρμόζον) for the 500th order to come from Greece!
So there you have it! Pericles made the cut! Congratulations!
Mr. Herman let me express my congratulations for your work! Our world is a wiser and happier place with your contribution!
If all goes well, someday I will play Pericles with Dimos in Greece, hopefully on the field of Marathon. So, now that Pericles has met its minimum funding goals, I continue to refine what is a finished design. The major refinements and where I spend most of my time these days is in perfecting the “when less than 4 humans are available” ‘Bots that I have named in honor of the Athenian general ‘Phormio’.
My deep dive journey into the assisted Solitaire experience after my Erasmus ‘Bot for Empire of the Sun 2nd Edition has moved to the next level. Phormio is a sequence of very explicit decision flowcharts that I use to continue to perfect the Pericles solo narrative. Now that I have perfected this type of ‘Bot, I will at some point in the near future take Erasmus to the next level so it is on par with Phormio.
The other area that I have spent considerable effort on is expanding the scenarios available with Pericles. My initial scenarios were the 1st and 2nd Peloponnesian War with a combined campaign game. The two Peloponnesian War scenarios take around 3-4 hours to play depending on whether they end on the third turn or last till the end of the fifth. What was of interest to me was to insert all of the historical research I have been doing into the game and this led me to create the Thucydides scenario.
Thucydides is an experimental effort to try and tell the entire story of this period through a series of mini-scenarios accompanied by one (45 minutes) and two turn (90 minute) scenarios. This also allowed me to build a training program that takes one hour or less to finish where you play a series of the mini-scenarios in a defined order so you can learn the various sub-systems in isolation from each other that build up to playing the two turn Archidamian War scenario. At that point you can play any of the 6 one or two turn scenarios, either of the 3-5 turn scenarios, or the 10 turn campaign scenario. All of these scenarios are competitive for 1-4 players. It is my hope that these scenarios combined with the 10 mini-scenarios will give you a large bang for your gaming time with Pericles.
To illustrate these points here is a short synopsis of a recent Archidamian War test session that was executed with Phormio ‘Bots playing all four factions against each other. The Archidamian War begins on turn 6 (430 to 425 BC) and ends on turn 7 (424-419 BC).
The first thing that happens after you pick the Aristophanes card (think Churchill conference card) when playing with Phormio is he needs to pick his primary strategy. This is based on a priority list of strategies that give issue requirements to fulfill them, where to place them, and in what order to place the issues in the Theater queue. Folks are often at a loss in their early sessions with a deep strategy game to know what to do after they have learned the mechanics of the game. If you are stumped or just looking to lower the barrier of entry, just look and see what Phormio would do. Beside myself we have a team of folks who are testing the game in solitaire mode and so far Phormio seems to be tough to beat.
In this game the Athenian Aristocrat faction is focused on an offensive into a contested Theater in this case the Chalcidice while the Demagogues are going after Thebes in the Boeotia Theater. The Spartan Eurypontid faction is focused on raising a revolt in the Aegean with the target the Cyclades Theater. The Spartan Agiad faction is focused on expanding influence into Macedon with the wily King Perdiccas.
To accomplish these strategies the different factions are attempting to win a specific set of issues, so for example the Athenian aristocrats are tasked to win two military and one league issue. In the strategy matrix there are additional instructions on where to place the issues and how to execute them. In this case the Aristocrats are to place one military issue in Athens to raise additional forces, then resolve a league issue in the closest Delian League base to raise more forces, culminating in a military expedition into the Chalcidice Theater to win a campaign to capture that location. Each of the other three factions has similar instructions to execute their primary strategies.
In Athens, following the Assembly Segment flow chart, the Aristocrats gained the upper hand over the Demagogues gaining the favor of the Assembly to remain in power and a shift in oration honor. On the other side of the display the Spartans the Agiads outperformed the controlling Eurypontid faction and war was declared on Athens.
Players now shift to the Theater issue placement flowchart that creates the theater queues that are subsequently resolved using the Theater issue choice flowchart. Depending on the issue revealed in the sequence a different flowchart is used for each issue with two for military issues. The point of this is Phormio will hold your hand and walk you through its logic as you resolve what happens next.
In this session during the opening of the ten year Archidamian war that stretches over two game turns, Athens prevailed in Boeotia and Chalcidice while the Spartans gained control over the Cyclades Theater, think an active Melos. The result of all of this was Athens was now firmly in the lead with a combined Honor score of 41 to the Spartan 17 with the Aristocrat faction (Pericles) in first place.
Now at this point you are saying why continue, the game is clearly over, but this is not the case in Pericles. In one 4 player session I was the Spartan Eurypontid faction down to one Honor point in a second to last turn and ended up with Sparta winning the war and I lost by one point. This illustrates that you are never out of it in Pericles until the final count. So, now in the second and last turn of the scenario the Aristophanes card seemed to be channeling the dead playwright when Lysistrata B was turned up. This put government control for both sides on the table (Ostracism issue) and the Assemblies for both sides were in an uproar (actual text on card) calling for control of the Chalcidice that had just fallen to the Athenians. You can’t makes stuff like this up, I was very excited to see where this went next.
Due to the Ostracism issue control in both city states changed sides with the Demagogues and Eurypontids now the controlling factions. Then the real action began. Earlier the Eurypontids were tasked with coming to the rescue of a now humbled Thebes, while the Agiads are aimed at reclaiming Sparta’s fortunes in the Chalcidice. On the other side of the table the Aristocrats are focused on maintaining Athenian control over the Chalcidice, while Cleon’s aggressive Demagogue posture is aimed at raiding Sparta itself.
Now things get very interesting. The Athenians build up their forces in the Chalcidice, but the Spartan army is the first to get on the road. Due to the strong Athenian position in Boeotia, part of the Spartan effort is to hold open a passage, while the remaining forces arrive in the Chalcidice for a battle. Before I describe the action I would like you to hit this link or watch the short video below.
Yes boys and girls, the battle was an even up battle with each side showing a military value of 13, but the battle card flip was the feared 5 (Sparta) versus 1 (Athens), resulting in an Athenian loss. Sparta has now recovered some of its lost Honor.
Now more issues are resolved and the next major action was the Eurypontid attack into Boeotia. If you failed to see the video the first time or you need to know what happens.
That scene just does not get old for me. Now this time the battle card was not the determining factor, but the size of the Spartan army was and it was a decisive victory yet the Athenian base held due to the superior generalship committed to the battle that withstood a direct assault. So, while Athens had now seen two land battle defeats in a row, they were still contesting Boeotia.
The other issues resolved with Athens raiding the Peloponnesus (Sparta), but the Spartan army had spoken and did what it did best, win land battles. The final result was Sparta 42 to Athens 18 with the Agiad faction winning the game. As I said earlier you haven’t lost until the final scores are tallied.
Now what could the Athenians do to have avoided this defeat? One thing you will learn is no plan survives contact with the enemy. Not losing the first battle in the Chalcidice would have been a good start. This was just a matter of the timing of how the Theater queue resolved. In Pericles you have to preplan reactions, which Phormio had anticipated, but all of the early fighting had exhausted the respective Strategos reserves, so the Athenian response was too little, too late.
Based on this session, I have continued to tune the ‘Bot logic and I have since played several more sessions where the ‘Bots are a bit better at reserving Strategos tokens for future efforts. I think with the newer charts the Athenians might have held on. That said the chaos of the Theater queues offers exciting interactions that are sometimes very hard to predict yet always generate a very strong story arc.
Now this session was conducted in hands off mode. In a two or three player game some human input would have likely made a difference and in solitaire mode there would be one human to challenge the ‘Bots. In either case I find that the ‘Bots still have a winning record against most of the play testers, so they are quite good even at this early stage. I will be spending a good portion of the summer perfecting them further, so watch out.
With that I will sign off until the next time.