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Athens & Sparta» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Epic Game, and well-deserving of a second look. rss

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Roger Masters
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(NOTE: my review here was originally written in response to the video review of this game made by The Discriminating Gamer. After I finished my response, I realized it could also serve as a useful review for potential players.)

This is an excellent game from CG that is only surpassed by CG's Shenandoah in being the most under-rated game of our time. Please allow me to explain:

1. The comparison (to CG's Julius Caesar). Julius Caesar is indeed wonderful, and I always use this game to introduce the style and system of Columbia Games. But, I think A&S has more 'chrome', atmosphere, and tension.

2. The strategy. The game really forces both players to devise risky strategies. The Athenian player must prevent their opponent from establishing a beachhead on the eastern side of the map, while at the same time they must also clear out the Spartan strong-holds at Corinth and Thebes. The Spartan player, on the other hand, can't afford to lose its limited navy, and must quickly out-maneuver the Athenian player before they can zero-in on their weak navy. If Sparta loses its navy, Athens will stomp them, and instead of being able to replenish their formidable hoplites, they will have to spend double on re-building its navy.

3. The neutrals. You are in constant fear of your opponent obtaining control of one of the neutrals, as this can really swing the game (and not in a "gamey" way, either). Historically, other minor powers would jump on the chance to sway the balance of power whenever possible. You have to decide whether its better to attack a neutral when you're in the position to do so, or ignore it, and hope you don't get bushwhacked later on.

4. The battles. You'll seldom have epic battles like you might in Julius Caesar. As you mentioned, a lot of the game is hit-and-run tactics involving 2-4 total blocks. However, this design adds value to the epic battles when they do happen, and believe me, they DO happen. When you launch your attack on Sicily, or march into Arcadia, the bloodshed and carnage really comes alive, compared to the trivial skirmishes elsewhere. You can only hope that the Build Points you committed to beefing up your cavalry and hoplites weren't in vain; losing your more elite units in battle can be difficult to recover from, if not impossible.

5. The sieges. Of course, siege warfare plays a huge role in this game, and with the fog-of-war system, you can easily bluff your opponent into not daring storm your city, even if you're only holding it with three 1-strength peltasts. The besieged defender's double-defense makes your opponent think twice. Further, the power of the Athenian navy effectively ensures any blockade of a Spartan island will result in its inevitable collapse through siege attrition. Will the Spartan player risk their navy and attempt to break the blockade? Are those blocks 4 hexes away the rest of the Athenian navy, waiting to strike a death-blow on the Spartan navy??

6. The map. I really like the map in this game. It's color scheme, simplicity, and design really make it stand out. I tend to judge a game based on its board: if I can stare at it for hours and think up epic strategies, then it's a darn-good board. Also, you really get a sense of accomplishment when you capture a major city. The terrain and various waterways make maneuvering your military a real production.

7. The cards. The card use is very similar to Julius Caesar, and in both games it works out very well. The cards here have different Mythology symbolism printed on them (such as the minotaur, Medusa, and Cyclops), and the event cards are definitely more grounded in reality than Caesar (lol, granted, the event cards in Caesar are still entertaining). One such card, Traitor I believe it's called, prevents the defender from having double-defense when the attacker storms (presumably, from opening the city gates). This is one of those "aces up the sleeve" that'll make your opponent furious, much as a real traitor would to the betrayed.

This game deserves more attention than it's getting. About 4 years ago, I quickly glanced over this game on CG's website, and I read a few things that were listed on BGG. I quickly concluded the game was garbage. Now, about three months ago, I randomly came across this game again (I think because someone compared the rules fiasco of Victory in Europe with this game's original rules), and I decided to give this game a second look. Upon concluding my research, I purchased the game, and I instantly fell in love with it. This game is certainly more than meets the eye.
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Shayne Richards
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The biggest problem was that the original game (released by another company as Hellenes form memory) was ready to go but Tom wanted less blocks and to make some changes and the designer picked up stumps (sorry thats cricket slang) and went to another company that demanded less. Tom then designed this game and released it around the same time (a little after from memory) so it was always going to battle. The other thing that hurt it was it came out with a problem with the victory points and the initial comments were it was broken so people steered away from it even though a minor tweak solved the issue.

You are correct it is a good game that deserves more attention but I guess its a VHS v Beta or Blue ray v HDDVD. publicity counts.
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Lee Troutman
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I am called Huginn..., or is it Muninn..., I forget...
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I've always liked the game. Pre-ordered it (back when CG still used "Gameplan" instead of Kickstarter) and was very happy with it.

I liked it so much, in fact, that I ordered a second set of labels and some orange blocks so I could have seperate sets of Spartan allied neutrals (orange) and Athenian allied neutrals (green).
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C Sandifer
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Wiseguy4187 wrote:
This is an excellent game from CG that is only surpassed by CG's Shenandoah in being the most under-rated game of our time.

(I think because someone compared the rules fiasco of Victory in Europe with this game's original rules), and I decided to give this game a second look.


I believe you've hit the nail on the head, though perhaps not in the way that you intended.

For the past decade, Columbia has released a number of games with severe rules, gameplay, and/or component issues. This tends to upset the "original purchasers" (i.e., the people who bought the game immediately upon release), often to the point where they immediately give up on the game (trade it, sell it, burn it, etc.) and vow never to return. So when the rules are significantly revised 1-2 years later - which is too long to wait for a revision, imho - they tend not to care.

Edit: The revision time for Athens & Sparta was worse than I remember. It took 2 to 3 years for v1.1 to come out (2010), and then another 2 to 3 years for v1.2 to be released (2013).


Examples of game issues upon initial release:

Athens and Sparta: Confusing rules and map, poor victory conditions - significant rules rewrite necessary

Shenandoah: Pretty much unwinnable for the confederates out of the box - significant rules rewrite necessary

Shiloh: Day 2 scenario is broken (and was never fixed), also problems with the Union in the two-day scenario consolidating lines too easily and never needing to attack - victory conditions eventually changed (much later) so that a draw result isn't possible

Crusader Rex 1st ed: Completely unbalanced in favor of the Saracens (v1.0), also rules confusion.

Crusader Rex 2nd ed: New combat rules still baffle new (and some old) players to the point that a step-by-step combat procedures document was released (by a playtester, not by Columbia)

Borodino: Not sure what issues are, but a rules rewrite was just released.

Gettysburg: People are still complaining that you have to get lucky twice in a row with initiative (die roll) or the game just doesn't work. Issue never fixed, I believe.

Victory in Europe: Confusing and incomplete rules and a map that is far too small - significant rules rewrite necessary (twice!)


Note that Julius Caesar does not fall into the "problem" category (minor rules questions, nothing major), which is one of the reasons why it's well-loved - and deservedly so.
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Brad Miller
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Releasing version X which makes previous purchasers' games obselete is another thing that has cost them goodwill. Napoleon and Crusader Rex being the latest examples.
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Roger Hobden
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Nice review.

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Roger Masters
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Thank you for the responses, gentlemen.

Shayne, I do remember reading about this incident. It's unfortunate, but I reckon it worked out for the best. I'm sure Hellenes is a good game, but the rules look to be quite a bit heavier and complex than A&S. I always appreciated the CG system used in the majority of their games. You're absolutely right about the publicity.

Lee, not a bad idea, especially if you're playing the game solitaire.

C Sandifer and Brad, I can understand the frustration. I was fortunate enough to only discover CG in 2013, and by then, most of the games you mentioned had been fixed (or were fixed by the time I came around to them). I was very disappointed when I initially received my Kickstarter version of Victory in Europe, and I came close to selling it, but luckily, they have recently released the updated rules which saved the game, IMO, and I enjoy it a LOT more.

Roger, thank you!
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Ric Manns
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I agree that the game as released had issues. The VC was the main one. It seems that Columbia had these problems after the home runs with Hammer and Liberty. This created some perception problems.

IT seems that the other companies are now experiencing some of the same issues. GMT's Montezuma, Crown of Roses and a couple of others have had to have serious rewrites. Let's not for get the mess Compass Games failure of Nations at War (Which was over $100) and is still not playable.

MMP has had little of these issues.

I really enjoy Columbia and it does seem they don't get much of a break compared to these other publishers mis-queues.

It was definitely worth coming back to this game.
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James Eisert
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Just wanted to let everyone know someone submitted some rules and we would like to see how well it plays out. If you are interested...

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/28894834#28894834
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