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Subject: Civ light? A first session with notes. rss

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Bruce Murphy
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Peloponnes was the 2009 entry into the civ-lite category of games that Uruk took last year. It's a simple tile and token based game centering around a cute auction in which players compete to expand their lands, buildings and population in order to have the most valuable civilisation at the end of the game.

The game is boardless and has quite simple components. Each player receives an (ugly) player mat on which they track resources and population and above which they lay their initial terrain tiles and additional purchased terrain and buildings.

In the early game, J had an advantage with the population-growth city. A couple of folks had cities with some food production, B had wood. Over the first couple of rounds, noone worried about the slowly approaching disasters, instead concentrating on enough food for the harvest.

During the game, the auctions were a little odd as people slowly got used to the unique move-bid-without-increasing it mechanism that's the heart of this game. J in particular dominated the early land tile auctions as he collected food + something combination terrain tiles ahead of any other players. His constantly growing population was an advantage in bidding here. Most players had a fairly balanced set of terrain and building tiles except B who ended up with only a single food production at the end of the game and relied on luxury goods.

The first harvest was okay for most people except J with his massive overpopulation and B who simply had next to no food and was reduced to 4 population.

The drought hit shortly after the first harvest when people already had little food, so had relatively little effect. Earthquake soon after caused some damage to some players except B with a massive oversupply of sadly inedible wood and stone.

Plague hit a little before the second in-game harvest. By this time, several players had collected tiles granting immunity to various disasters and were paying less attention to them. Losing population just before a somewhat tight harvest where they would likely starve anyway just seemed a little like extra bookkeeping, though.

Decline hit just before he final disaster, Tempest. Decline in particular took its toll by slashing the accumulated luxury goods of some players (particularly B) needed for future disasters.

Tempest was simply used by most folks to discard extra terrain tiles that they didn't need in order to preserve some food for their population in the final harvest. This was really the only point in the game where everyone descended into point-counting to figure out precise actions.

Final scores: B:12 R:17 G:18 J:23 C:25, B was the only one population limited due to starvation, G was close. Despite J's overpopulation and winning of all the food tiles, C pulled off a victory with a really well balanced tableau, mostly building heavy with an emphasis on disaster avoidance.

During the game it's easy to get into a situation where you specialise in certain types of production. Any sort of unbalance can be balanced by conversion of luxury goods but you become very sensitive to certain disasters (particularly Decline). The strategy probably still works, but you need to be able to win the appropriate disaster protection tiles.

The requirement of terrain tiles to match the neighboring terrain contributes to this pressure to specialise and makes the combined terrain tiles extremely valuable in auctions. That some of the combined tiles also produce nicely might make them a little overpowered.

The disasters are quite significant parts of the gameplay, and moderately random (although heavily biased towards the end of the game). It's possible to plan for them insofar as you should be able to work out how to fix your specialisation so it can cope as well as possible. Given the very different starting positions, this seems as though it makes for an interesting twist in the game.

Finally, the auction in the game is quite appealing. Having to choose your bid (with the highest paying bidders in the last round going first) once for the whole auction and then only being able to move it around between items makes for some agonising choices (but not paralysis, fortunately), particularly in situations where the minimum bids have a big range.

I like Peloponnes, it's a light weight civ-themed game with a few cute mechanisms but which doesn't come with a lot of unnecessary complications. There's a lot of significant randomness in tile draws and disaster orders, but that's okay for a game that plays this quickly. I think it works well, and I'm looking forward to trying it out more and getting a feel for some of the very asymmetric starting tiles.

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