Delian League Diaries #2

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mark-herman1As I write this, the Yankees just lost to Toronto and I just lost the first full playtest of Pericles to my wife. We played the Pentecontaetia scenario, which is the beginning of 1st Peloponnesian War and the Campaign game, and covers the period from 460 BC to 400 BC. The way you win the game is your City State (Athens or Sparta) wins the war and of those two players the one with the most Honor (Timē) wins.

Carole and I played the two player version. Before you ask, the game can be played with one, two, three, or four players, ultimately with ‘Bots for each faction. While Pericles uses a variant of my Churchill conference mechanic this design is not a clone of its predecessor. I will also say that the rules should clock in at around 8 pages of rules without diagrams.

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In the two player version, we each played one of the two factions for each of the City States, so we were both Spartan and Athenian. The way it works is you start by drawing an Aristophanes card; we drew Clouds, performed in 423 BC. It satirizes Socrates and his philosophy, while taking several meaningful comedic shots at General and Politico Cleon. This play puts the War/Peace issue onto the Assembly’s (Ecclesia) agenda for both City States, resulting in a declaration of war. During the Boule (Agenda phase) five additional issues for each City State (amongst the categories of Military, League, Diplomatic, Ostracism, Oracle, Games) went onto the final issues for consideration.

Then each faction was dealt 6 cards (from individual City State decks of 30 cards) to which is added your Faction Leader card (home card). Then in each assembly, starting with the Controlling faction, an issue is designated and both players simultaneously reveal a chosen card. The cards work in a manner similar to yet different from Churchill. Each card has a value and an attribute for each faction, like Churchill, but with separate and asymmetrical sections for each faction. However, if you play a card aligned with its attribute, you get both a boost in your strength and from one to four Strategos tokens, which are the coin (not COIN) of the game. If a card is not played for its bonus, you do not receive any Strategos tokens. So, you are strongly encouraged to play on certain issues to gain additional political/military capital that is used later in the turn to facilitate your strategy.

Each City State debates 6 issues with the last card used during Issue resolution to gain additional Strategos tokens from the Strategy board. As long as the Ostracism issue was not debated, the player for each City State that won the most issues (plus a boost for the favor of the Assembly) is the new or returning Controlling faction. If a player won the Ostracism issue, they are automatically the Controlling faction. The Ostracism issue can get nasty when it’s on the table late in the game.

Based on who won which issues, these are converted into Issue markers that have the issue and the player faction on one side and their City State symbol on the other side. In addition, each player is given two Rumor (dummy) counters.

Then in honor order (person with the most honor to least), the players deploy one of their markers to one of the twenty Theaters of war on the map. This continues until all markers are placed on the map. If a second or subsequent marker on placed in the same Theater, they are stacked into a LIFO (Last in First out) queue.

Then, using the honor order, a player reveals any of his City States markers that are visible, with that issue being resolved by the controlling faction, which results in various Strategos deployment decisions. This continues until all issues are resolved. So there is a set of Strategies around creating combinations such as having a diplomatic mission at the top of a queue to support a military expedition, with local sympathizers (rebellion markers) deeper in the queue.

The key resource available to a player in resolving issues is the Strategos tokens that were accumulated during the Assembly phase. They are used in a variety of ways, from fueling Diplomatic missions to create rebellion, league issues to build fortified bases and Allied troops, the Oracle and Games to gain honor and Strategos tokens, and finally military expeditions to contest and gain ascendency over key Theaters aligned to your strategy.

An instructive example would be when Carole sent the Spartans on an attack in Boeotia. The Boeotian Theater at this time contained a Spartan base (Thebes) with a large land force and an Athenian base (Plataea) with a single land unit. The Spartan army assembled from Sparta to Boeotia, where the Theban army awaited. Then each player secretly chose from one (mandatory) to four Strategos tokens, with the Commanding General (the player who won the issue) able to commit up to five. Carole was the Commanding General and I did not want her to gain too much honor plus the Athenian ‘Bots’ decided to give solid support to Plataea. Each Strategos token counts for a value of one if used on its embossed side (COIN guerrilla tokens) and negative one on its non-embossed side. Carole committed 5 Strategos tokens and I committed 4 on their negative side, in essence I did not support her attack. This is a key tactic in the game on how you can politically stab your fellow City State citizen. Often during the real war opposing factions were often plotting in like manner to gain power. As a consequence, Sparta could only send a smaller force and barely won the battle, but because the Athenians sent more Strategos tokens, the siege of Platea failed, although we did eliminate the single land unit for one honor point for Carole.

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I mention this example because it was just about my only real success against her as she just continued to cream me in the Assembly chamber. A turn closes with a maintenance phase where you can support units based on a four to one ratio with the number of bases you control on the map, with naval units counting for two to land units requirement of one. This is a very simple way to handle the economics and logistics, with no collecting and distributing money or assets. This is followed by a redeployment of forces and then you are into the next turn.

The game continued with some deft maneuvering by Carole causing the Hellespont Theater to revolt, cutting Athens off from its grain supply, which was not restored during the next turn, ending the war with Carole winning by a margin of twelve honor points. The margin was only two, but the Controlling faction when a City State surrenders gets a 10 point bonus, so it was her Ostracism issue that gave her control of the government just when winged Victory crossed the threshold. Now I am ready for a four-player game and I am not going to play on her side. Then I might have a chance at the winners’ circle.

I would emphasize that this game is another cooperative-competition game. It is also a sandbox design in which you can shift from war to peace and back again while living in the narrative of the latter half of the 5th Century BC. Periclean Peace is a relative term. The main restriction is that Athens and Sparta cannot attack each other directly. That still allows for continuing conflict with the other side’s Allies, which was characteristic of this time and caused the 30 years truce to only last 14.  That in turn led to the 2nd Peloponnesian war captured by Thucydides and Xenophon in their classic works. Too much backstabbing and your City State loses, too little too late and your City State wins and you still lose. I cannot wait until I turn my local group loose on this game. I should have some interesting narratives to share in future installments.

As you can see this one is now moving into the playtesting stage of its development. My next Delian League Diary entry will come soon with news of the other playtests.

Until then…

Mark Herman
Baxter Building
New York City

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4 thoughts on “Delian League Diaries #2

    • I am very excited, too! I am a big fan of cooptition games, but they require a finely balanced, well-considered design to work. Otherwise, the game dynamics degrade and often, the game ist just broken.

      Since, IMHO, Mark did exceptionally well to achieve this balance in Churchill, I am very confident that this degree of quality will be reached in Pericles, too.

      Michael

  1. “In the two player version, we each played one of the two factions for each of the City States, so we were both Spartan and Athenian.”

    Very interesting way to divvy the roles!

  2. can’t wait to get my dirty hands on it !!

    loving the game dynamics and the in house power struggle! really exited, GJ !