Pericles: Pregame Show
Back in January I reviewed and approved the “white copy” of Pericles, which is a physical copy of the game without printing to ensure that everything fits in the large box.
Pericles White Album showing all of the components without ink.
All was well and now I had a final set of the wooden pieces for the game including the embossing. So, with wood in hand I decided to set up and play a solo 1st Peloponnesian War scenario (Turns 1-5). Like Empire of the Sun I like playing Pericles solitaire and I thought that while I was waiting for the first finished copy I would write up this session report.
The victory conditions for the 1st and 2nd Peloponnesian War scenarios are similar. Both are 5 turns long, but the end is variable. If during the last three turns of either scenario if Peace is in effect the scenario ends and you calculate the final honor score. A faction’s score is its running score from the game with a final set of bonuses focused on bases and Theater control.
I am playing as the Athenian Aristocrats with the ‘Bots’ playing the other Athenian faction (Demagogue) and both factions on the Spartan side (Eurypontid and Agiad Royal houses). I am not going to describe the solo ‘Bots’ in excruciating detail, but this report will lay out their logic as we proceed. I am playing the version where the Spartan ‘Bots’ each get a 20 Honor point handicap, so I start the Athenians in a 40 point hole. Those who know me will tell you that I play my designs exhaustively. As a consequence I have found that a 40 point handicap is tough to beat, but I have a mechanism for you to dial this up or down until you have found your personalized balance point. As you will see 40 is a good balance point for me.
I also realized about halfway through this play that I was using ‘Bot’ strategy charts that are one generation back from the final, so a few of the Spartan actions will be slightly different in the final. I switched to the latest version around turn 4 (literally a one word change), so this had little to no impact on the situation.
Turn 1 (460-455 BC)
Each turn begins with the drawing of an Aristophanes card and Apollo was clearly angry as the game started with Archarnians B, Plague event. One thing to note is in the longer scenarios you use the Ravages of War rule, all Plague losses are permanent as are a portion of your combat losses. The plague always affects the Athens Theater and all other contested theaters (those with forces from both sides). As a consequence several Peloponnesian allied units are also laid low by the spread of the plague.
During the Political Phase I debate the Demagogue ‘Bot’ whose strategy is focused on ending the Persian war, while I decide to try and flip Thebes into a democracy. Both strategies mirror the historical paths chosen by the Athenians. Once a ‘Bot’ has a strategy the chart describes an explicit set of issues that the ‘Bot’ will nominate and attempt to win in debate to implement its objectives. The Spartan Eurypontids were focused on gaining control of Boeotia (Thebes) and the Agiads are focused on trying to get some forces into the Hellespont. The game begins with Athens and Sparta at Peace, which holds through the political phase. I should also note that the Theaters are large historic areas that all have a coastline, so naval and land combat is always possible in any situation.
The result of these conflicting objectives saw a major battle in the Boeotia (Athens versus Peloponnesian League, no Spartans) that was decided by my throwing in the Athenian sacred ship Strategos and Thebes rising in revolt against its oligarchy. The Demagogue ‘Bot brought on the Peace of Callias ending the Persian War. Overall these opening sets of results are good for Athens minus the effect of the plague. I did not write down the score until turn 3, so all I remember is Athens is still losing the war.
Turn 2 (454-449 BC)
This turn opened with the performance of Peace A that sees a Will of Assembly event (hereafter WoA) focus Athenian efforts on Sicily and Sparta on the Hellespont. Will of Assembly events if successful award 5 points per faction while unsuccessful efforts reduce each faction by 5 points with 5 Strategos unavailable next turn. Turns like this where both sides succeed or fail has a status quo effect, while an asymmetric outcome of a success and a failure will see a 20 point swing in the war. This is the main reason for the handicap as a human has advantages over the ‘Bot in these circumstances. That said, there are some WoA events that bring both sides into direct conflict.
This is a tough situation for the Spartans as they have to get a force into the Hellespont via land to build a base that is tough to do whereas Athens is advantaged given the current map situation. However what occurred surprised me. My Demagogue ‘Bot’ successfully accomplished the WoA with our collective forces suffering a major defeat in Boeotia and losing Thebes. The implication of Athens suffering a major defeat is the opposition faction (the one not in control of the Athenian government) forces the War/Peace issue onto the table. In this case the Demos is howling for a war with Sparta to avenge their defeat. So, while the Spartans failed to accomplish their WoA objective in the Hellespont their battle victory offset their honor losses.
Turn 3 (448-443)
One of my favorite personalities in history is Alcibiades. In earlier versions of the design I a had a complex rule that captured all the nuances of how his multiple treacheries impacted the war. Upon reflection I have come to believe that his main effect was during his time in Persia. The Aristophanes card Frogs B (Persian Intrigue) has Alcibiades leave Athens for Persia that meets one of the two ways Persia can become active. The other condition is the establishment of a Peloponnesian base in Ionia. The card event creates a WoA event for both sides in Ionia with the mission of establishing a base in that theater. The Eurypontid ‘Bot takes on the Ionian mission with the other royal house (Agiad) focused on a mission to Sicily.
Due to Athenian war party, Athens and Sparta go to war. It takes one side to cause a war, but it takes both sides to bring on Peace. On the Athenian side the Demagogue ‘Bot gets the mission to deal with Ionia. I focused on diplomatic and league issues to build up the Athenian base infrastructure. There was one small battle with one Peloponnesian naval unit being eliminated. In addition, Athens built a base in the Cyclades Theater. I also recorded the score for the first time. Sparta was leading by one point with a score of 58 to Athens 57. The Eurypontids were in the lead in Sparta and I was on top in Athens.
Turn 4 (442-437)
There are three copies for each of the plays with the Archarnians A bringing on a second round of the plague. This version of the play also puts the War/Peace issue on the agenda, but with no active Spartan peace party the delegation is turned away at the border and the two sides remain at War.
The Spartans focus on Sicily and Aetolia. The Demagogue faction is concerned about the safety of Naupactus so they bring up issues to bolster its defense. My review of the situation focuses on eliminating the few Spartan forces that have managed to get into the Hellespont and Samos. With all four factions heading in opposite directions I have an easy time cleaning up the Hellespont while the Spartans are frustrated in their Sicilian efforts although they do establish a base in Aetolia. The score now stands at Athens 67 to Sparta’s 58, with my Aristocrats firmly in control. What you will find in Pericles is any score differential of less than 20 honor is essentially tied, but I feel good about my chances to beat the ‘Bots with one turn to go.
Then fate stepped in…
Turn 5 (436-431)
Half of the 24 Aristophanes cards are WoA events and the other half vary across a score of important period events. One of the more interesting cards is Birds B that brings on the Sacred War (449-448) where Athens and Sparta fought directly and through surrogates over control of the Delphic oracle.
Aristophanes card event; Sacred War sees the Will of the Assemblies demanding that the Delphi crisis be dealt with immediately.
It also throws the Oracle issue into the political arena. If I were superstitious I would think I had angered Apollo. What makes this one of my favorite events is it usually brings on a Hoplite battle. If I was playing Sparta I would be excited, but as Athens this can throw a major wrench into my visions of victory.
The Spartan ‘Bots have the Agiad faction focused on Boeotia (location of the Delphic oracle) with the Eurypontids determined to gain control of the Isthmus of Corinth. There is no question that the Spartan army is going into the field this turn. My Demagogue faction has the mission to fight the Sacred War, while I am going to focus on cleaning up the remainder of the map to gain bases and reduce Spartan Theater control where they are weak, such as Aetolia.
Here is the game turn 5 (436-431 BC) situation after the Political Phase after the issue queues have been established but prior to Theater Phase resolution segment.
As you can see in the first photo I am playing on my supersized set which is a bit of a pain (in my back) when I am playing solo. Since the Aristocrats are in the overall lead I decide to try and accelerate the action in the Isthmus hoping to tie up Spartan leadership (Strategos) tokens early in the hope that I can get them used outside of Boeotia. The result of this is Sparta wins a small naval battle eliminating the Athenian base in the Isthmus. This causes a 10 honor swing in the score. The way battles score honor is the losing side loses one honor for each piece (base, land, or naval) lost. The winning general gets double this with his faction compatriot gaining one honor per piece eliminated. In this case two Athenian pieces (base and naval) are destroyed, so collectively Sparta gains 6 honor and Athens loses 4 honor. Any time a side loses 5 or more honor in a battle the War/Peace issue automatically is in play next turn. In this case Athens is just under the threshold.
Over the course of the turn my efforts in Sicily bear fruit with the establishment of a new base, but that is just a sideshow for the main event. I have played quietly so I will have Strategos to throw in to support my side when the clash of shields begins.
Will of Assembly: Sacred War; Athens attacks
The Demagogues reveal their military issue and send in a full strength 5 land unit army. Athens is victorious picking up 9 honor with the Spartans losing 6 honor for a 15 honor point swing. But now it depends whether my plan to get them out of their before the Spartans counterattack works out. As it turns out the queues and rumor markers work against me with the Spartan army showing up before I can get the boys out of there. Not good…
Will of Assembly: Sacred War; Sparta counterattacks
All I see is a vista of Lambdas on gleaming shields. Despite my best efforts Athens suffers its historic defeat in Boeotia with a 20 honor swing. Due to the intensity of the battle one Spartan hoplite falls, but this has no honor implication. When you couple this with the fact that Sparta accomplished its WoA objective and Athens failed another 20 honor swing occurs. This leaves the running score at Sparta 84 to Athens 59; quite a turn about. Now it is time to calculate the final score. Each controlling faction gains 5 honor, this does not change the overall score, but does effect the faction positions. Athens has 12 bases so Athens gains 36 honor split evenly between the two factions. Sparta has 6 bases for a total of 18 honor also evenly divided. Lastly control (not contested) theaters score three for Athens and 6 for Sparta. Athens gains 24 honor to Sparta’s 18. This gives a final score of:
Aristocrats (Me): 88
The Eurypontid ‘Bot wins by one Honor point. And YES, the player with the highest honor total did not win, but there is not much honor in losing a war. In fact being the leader in this circumstance comes with a cup of hemlock.
So there you have it, a near run affair between myself and three figments of my imagination.
Imagination 1, Me Zero.
Given the interesting situation, I am going to continue playing out the full campaign from this position. What this means is since both sides suffered a major defeat the peace parties from both sides will be active with turn 6 likely to lead to peace and if this persists for a couple of turns the game will end around turn 8, but its always hard to say how things unfold in Pericles.
NEWS FLASH: Just as I was finishing this session report fate stepped in and the first production copy of Pericles showed up. I shot an unboxing video with Judd and Sarah Vance who just happened to show up for lunch 15 minutes after the game arrived. You can find the unboxing video on this BGG page.
As a present here is the final position on a real live copy of Pericles. It really does look amazing and now I can finish out the Campaign game with less stress on my back. This getting old thing is annoying, but it beats the alternative. Enjoy!
End of the 1st Peloponnesian War: Sparta 125, Athens 124; Eurypontid ‘Bot WINS!
Wow, extensive write up. Thanks. How do you feel the bots compare to those in Fire in the Lake in complexity? How about overall complexity of this title?