“At my signal…unleash Hell…”
One of the interesting things that occurs when a new game is released is that members of our tribe try to push the rules to the extreme, then immediately conclude that there is a problem. The purpose of this strategy piece concerns the redeployment rules. Redeployment in Pericles is very broad and allows for very aggressive force concentrations that, when first seen, can surprise the other side with thoughts like, ‘you can do that?’ For today, let’s consider not that you can do this, but rather what should you do about it when someone, like in Texas holdem, goes ‘all in’.
Historically, Athens had a long term aspiration to gain control of or neutralize Thebes (Boeotia Theater) and Megara (Isthmus of Corinth Theater). The Athenians fought several hoplite battles in this period in the Isthmus (Solygeia 425 and Nisea 424) and on the Boeotian plain (Oenophyta 457, Sacred War 449-448, Coronea 447, Delium 424). The majority of Athenian hoplite battle losses also occurred at these locations. They are important to Athenian strategy because these two land Theaters are the main land routes into Attica (Athens), and control of these locations impedes overland attacks.
During the Archidamian War (scenario 14.1.06 A), Athens attempted a three pronged offensive into Boeotia that was bold but unsuccessful. One of the military expeditions was in fact caught by a Theban counterattack, resulting in the second largest Hoplite battle of the 2nd Peloponnesian War (Battle of Delium). So, how does this all work in Pericles?
In Pericles, all of these strategic options and outcomes are possible, based on how the Theater queues resolve. But part and parcel to how one deploys and resolves issues is how redeployment can be used as a tool for creating large offensive force concentrations. One important distinction between movement during a military expedition and redeployment is that the latter does not require a movement path, but rather focuses on the reshuffling of forces within your base structure. The redeployment rules in Pericles allow you to simulate their 424 Boeotian offensive by concentrating forces in Aetolia (Demosthenes), Boeotia (Base + Treachery), and Athens (Hippocrates), and then open with a military expedition that is poised to deliver a knockout blow. Athens has a small advantage here, because they redeploy last in the sequence (rule 11.3) and the Spartan army, without any bases outside of Sparta, must redeploy home.
Now the obvious use of the redeployment rules is to set your defenses for the next turn. However, the redeployment rules are by intent very flexible, allowing you to also enable offensive operations. As a consequence, in your early games, the side that sees this possibility first tends to create a ‘gotcha moment’, especially if you have not seen nor considered this tactic before. This tactical note is in response to someone asking ‘is this right?’ on a BGG thread. As I wrote on page one of the rules, “…revel in the experience of a self-inflicted military disaster before you worry about balance and whether the design is ‘broken”, and just remember that the Athenians in Sicily (415-413) inexplicably did no better.” So, what follows is the downside to this seemingly overpowered tactic. In Pericles, there is no free lunch.
Let’s say you are Sparta in the Periclean Peace scenario (14.1.04 A), and your team is at peace with Athens. At the end of the first turn, the Athenians (who redeploy last, 11.3) move their entire force (as in every land unit on the map) into the Boeotia or the Isthmus of Corinth. As long as Athens has a base in each location, this is totally legal. Now there is a force limit of 15 units per Theater with a friendly base (again read 11.3). In addition, the maximum number of Athenian land units (sans Argos) is 22 (10 Athenian, 12 Delian League). Athens begins the scenario (turn 4 set up) with 11 land units (5 Athenian, 6 Delian League). It is technically possible, but unlikely, that in one turn this force can be increased to its maximum size, but let’s says that this is the case. So we’re going to use the most extreme case that you are unlikely to ever see, but I like using extreme cases to make my points. Therefore, Athens can overload one of these two land theaters with 15 land units plus a base, for land strength of 17 with no naval support (other than the base itself). What should Sparta do?
Let’s say we are transported to 442 BC. An out of breath messenger stumbles into the Spartan Assembly, bearing news that Athens has concentrated a massive army to attack Thebes. Here is the conversation that the two Kings of Sparta need to have (see last 15 seconds of video if you are in a rush. Wrong period, right thought.):
The result of this conversation is that the Spartan War/Peace issue needs, nay, must be on the Boule agenda (5.3). The two factions then need to figure out how to get this issue through the Gerousia (Spartan old guys and root of the word Geriatric) for a declaration of war. Supporting this declaration of war, the Spartan factions need to get agreement for at least two and hopefully four military expeditions. For this example let’s split the difference, and say they get three military issues, with each faction holding 10 to 12 Strategos. If for any reason the Spartan’s fail to declare war, then the Athenian force concentration likely blocks out the Spartan army from interceding for Thebes, and the loss of Boeotia is inevitable. This apparently is what happened in the game that inspired this article. What can I say except “when threatened, behave like a Spartan king.”
The Spartan strategy has two simple components. First, resolve a military issue in Sparta and pump up the army to full size (or close to it), then attack. The Spartan army did not go into the field often, but when they did, things got resolved.
At the beginning of the scenario, the Spartan army has the ‘300’ and 4 land units. So even in the worse case, if Sparta ignored any force enhancement during the first turn of the scenario, you can now add an additional 4 land units, for a total land strength of 19 (remember the ‘300’ is also a Strategos). As a sidebar, a nice Spartan capability is the Agoge issue, that resolves before the Theater phase, so you can ensure a full strength Spartan response if you plan correctly. Second, march everyone to the Athenian force concentration, in this example Boeotia, with a nine Strategos commitment to the Military expedition (9.3). A nine Strategos commitment gives the Spartan army an initial strength of 28 (19 + 9), plus whatever Peloponnesian forces are in the Boeotia (usually 4 land), and a minimum of one base (plus 2), for strength of 34 (although it can easily be 36 or more).
Now if the Athenians used last turn’s redeployment to put every land unit they could into the Boeotia (15 land units + base), they would have a maximum land strength of 17. Let’s say they throw in 8 Strategos and the Sacred Ship, for a total of 26. Even if the battle cards drawn are a 5/1 giving the Athenians a total strength of 31, they lose to Sparta’s 35. A four differential eliminates 4 Athenian land units to one Spartan, and Sparta delivers a major defeat to Athens (9.54). Rinse and repeat with the second military expedition. Of course there are many variations for this situation, but this is one of the more extreme examples to make my point. The first major defeat will add 12 Honor to Sparta and reduce Athens by 8, for an honor differential of 20 honor points. This nicely simulates one of Athens’ historical Boeotian plain defeats (Coronea or Delium).
This was a best case for the Athenians pulling off the strongest redeployment possible. It’s something that I have seen in playtesting. The only mistake that the Spartans can make in this situation is to not declare war, something that is totally within their control. If Athens gets in the first blow, they will score some honor, but payback is coming when the Spartan King says, “…unleash hell.” Even if the Athenians manage to attack, defeat Thebes, and then march away, they cannot move out more than 9 of the 15 land units, so the Spartan army that shows up later still wreak havoc on Athens, neutralizing their earlier success.
The flip side of this example is: what if the Spartans create a base in one of the Aegean islands, then using these same redeployment rules, they concentrate a sizable fleet at that location? This simulates the numerous Spartan fleets that did manage to slip through the Athenian blockade, and the War in the Aegean period that saw a vicious naval war end the conflict (scenarios 14.1.09 C, 14.1.10 A). That said, the Athenians will wreck the Spartans if this is attempted prior to the reduction of their fleet.
In conclusion, I am reminded of the quote by that great screen logician Vizzini (The Princess Bride) and the great Athenian general Eisenhower: “Never fight a land war in Boeotia.”
Photos of components and gameplay provided by Scott Mansfield.