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The victory conditions of Hellenica: Story of Greece are simple with players needing to complete several individual objectives to win. The objectives are shown on objective cards and the large variety and many possible combinations provides for quite deep game play. These objectives are a combination of public objectives shared by all players and private objectives that a player selects secretly as their sole victory conditions.
The victory condition objectives are determined as follows:
First, 3 public objective cards are dealt face-up from a deck of “Societal” objective cards. The rest are put away, not to be used in this game. These cards represent the shared goals of the Greek people as a civilization and are things like displays of power, control, expansion, or occupation. All players share these objectives.
Then players make a few setup decisions based on those public objectives. We will discuss details of those setup decisions in another post.
Next, each player has the opportunity to select their private “Personal” and “City-state” objectives for the game. These represent the goals of YOU and the goals of other factions within your city-state. To determine these, each player is dealt a number of these private objective cards and chooses which 2 to keep. For these private goals, only the player with the card in hand has that objective as a victory condition, though there are some duplicates. The other 3 cards are shuffled back into the objective deck. Players keep these 2 cards secret so as to not tip off your opponents to your victory conditions.
Mulligans... for a price
One innovative suggestion that came out of a playtest was this - How can I select my end game win conditions until I know how the first couple turns play out? I agree. There should be a way to delay the selection of your objectives. In Hellenica, if a player does not like his or her options, or simply wants to delay making this decision until they have more information, they may pay a small penalty to the gods and discard the 5 objective cards. This penalty is in the form of "favor" with the gods. Less favored players move later in the turn and are less able to bend the rules of the game by invoking the gods. More on that in another diary entry.
At the beginning of subsequent turns, any player that has not made their objective selections will repeat the process of receiving a hand of cards and either selecting 2 of them or losing an increasing amount of favor to discard them to postpone the decision.
Once set, these objectives are unchanging. The first player to meet any 3 objectives from the combination of their own personal objective, city-state objective, or the 3 shared societal objectives at the end of a turn wins the game and is remembered as the premier representation of Greek civilization for all history. In real life, most people think of Athens for their great strides in democracy, arts, philosophy, and strong naval power.
This victory system allows for many approaches to win. While I pursue the arts, you are building your armies. While your neighbor is expanding onto the islands, my neighbor is using philosophers to advance his military technology. Which of us are pursuing victory conditions and which of us are pursuing in-game advantages or resources? The combination of objectives allows for a near endless blend of approaches.
Because a player must complete at least 1 publicly known objective, a smart player stays mum about any that they satisfy. Why? Because players who satisfy a public objective are threats to win the game and that can bring unwanted scrutiny.
One thing I have enjoyed significantly is the number of play tests that end with “Dang it. I was one turn away from winning myself” or “Oh man, if I had enough favor to leap frog you in the turn order, the game was mine”. That is a holy grail for a designer - a real gaming sweet spot where many players are "in the hunt" and jockeying for final victory knowing that the clock is ticking.
Evolution of Victory Conditions:
When I first designed Hellenica, the victory conditions were to progress along a graduated track toward a final milestone - possessing 8 cities and 9 civilization advancements. Along the way, a player had to have 3 cities and 3 advancements and then 5 and 5, etc., until one player reigned supreme. All players shared these goals and the first one to get to the end won.
The problem was that this became stale quickly as everyone played with identical goals that everyone knew. Anytime a player advanced on the victory track, it became a game of whack-a-mole to beat them down. Games quickly devolved into purely military campaigns - not a game I wanted to play. Also, because of the whack-a-mole effect, games would often stretch to 20 turns or more and 4 hours of game play. I wanted a game in the 2.5 hour range, even at higher player counts.
Another nagging question was how to include other game features like city upgrades and the deities as victory conditions in the game. i.e. if I simply added a goal of X number of temples or Y amount of favor with the gods, it would force the flow of the game to ALL players. Again, not what I had in mind.
This victory system also did not fully leverage the rich mythology of the period wherein players could invoke the gods on their behalf. Mythology played no part in formal victory conditions other than their use to drive towards some military or scientific advancement. I wanted each player to have their own victory conditions unique to them.
The solution was the inclusion of the objective cards I described above. This system allows players to select their own path to victory leveraging their own play style. It also allows some objectives to be pursued in secret – since you don’t know what 2 of my objectives are, you must be on guard for me making a play for victory. It ratchets up the positive “tension” of the game nicely. Are you close to victory? Do I needto delay my plans to disrupt yours? Can I disrupt you through invoking the gods or triggering a world event or does it need something more direct? Tension is good.
One other side benefit of the objective card approach is that players can choose their own game length. Play tests have been clocking in around 2.5 hours for 6 and 7 player games. For players looking for a Twilight Imperium-style epic game, players can simply assign additional objectives to be met.
I will have more to follow in upcoming diary entries. Look for posts about the map board, the city upgrades, the movement and combat system, player counts (including solo), mythology, deities, and more!
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Thanks for reading and may Apollo always shine his chariot down upon you….