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Subject: Of starving ancient people, disasters and bidding rss

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Stefano Castelli
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Designer Bernd Eisentein sure loves ancient civilizations, considering that right now four of his five games deal with archaeology or history. That said, Peloponnes is his latest game, published in time for the 2009 Essen Spiel fair along with a small expansion.

The game is basically another representative of the ever-growing category labeled "Civ-Lite", which contains games like Tempus and Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation. The idea here is to simulate the expansion of several mediterranean people using a very slim set of rules. The game is fairly abstract: no game board, no battles, no commerce. Just pure and simple auctions to gain advancements during the eight game rounds.

Up to five players (six if you own the expansion) can compete in the game, each in the role of a randomly-assigned "civilization" (Spartans, Attikans and so on...). Each Civilization is granted with different starting supplies of wood, rock, food, money and inhabitants, plus it has a different "special ability" which is always active during the game in the shape of a fixed revenue.

Long story short, during every turn the players bid for building and land tiles in order to expand their civilization (a number of tiles equal to the number of players is revealed each turn). Tiles are paid with money and building tiles require resources to be built, otherwhise the plauer must invest a coin to keep them and later pay the cost in resources or destroy the building. Land tiles can be bought without resource cost, yet they have to be placed in our civilization according to a simple chaining rule based on the resources they provide.

After every bidding turn is resolved players obtain income from their tiles and money according to the amount of citizens. Surplus resources can be converted into luxury goods, which works like wildcards when paying money or resources. Then, a pair of disaster chits is revealed and put on the related seven disaster tiles: when a tile is assigned with three chits the disaster itself happens, damaging the players in several ways (citizens are reduced, tiles are destroyed and so on...). Several buildings provide players with defenses against specific disasters.

The tiles are divided in three ages (A, B anc C) and are revelaed in sequence, thus providing a sense of progression during the game. During the second and third ages a specific event may trigger a supply round: during this phase players have to feed their citizens with crop (otherwise the population is decreased) and pay resources for the buildings marked with a coin (or destroy them).

After the last set of tiles is auctioned a last supply phase is resolved and the game ends: players sum the prestige points on each of their tiles (plus a small bonus given by remaining coins) and compare the total with another amount given by the amount of citizens multiplied by 3: the least of these two amounts is the final score.
For instance, if a player has 6 citizens at the end of the game and scores a total of 17 prestige points by money and tiles, then the final score of that player is 17 (because citizens generates 6 * 3 = 18 points). Thus, it is important to balance the growth of our civilization, trying to keep a proper relationship between citizens and tiles, and this is probably the only concern in the game mechanics: in some cases it becomes very difficult to get the elements needed to balance the civilization, as tiles are revealed randomly. There is basically no possibility of building a proper strategy during the course of the game and deep is highly reduced by this.

On the other hand, the very light nature of the game and the short duration of each game (experienced players can complete one game in about half an hour) make for a proper civ-lite experience, good for players looking for a not-too-much complex game with a Civilization flavor.

There is also a set of rules for solo playing, although I haven't tested them (i rather play videogames than solo-boardgames).

On a side note, Peloponnes shares lots of elements with Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation, a game that I prefer over this one due to more depth and superior decision tree.

In the end, I rather enjoyed playing Peloponnes, as it is quick and very easy to teach to new players. Yet, the game is lacking something which would render it a first choice. There are basically no other strategies than improvising and in some cases a player may be literally destroyed by a bad chain of events. So, if you like games with a high level of control over what's happening, stay away from this one (expecially considering the price of the game).

For me, it is rated six ninjas out of ten (although ninjas are not that common in 1000 BC Greece...).
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The Bottom Line: Quick, easy to teach and very replayable. Yet, it lacks deep and some times the random events (expecially disasters) tend to advantage some players too much, unbalancing the game. Could have been much better, yet it still remains a nice civ-lite game.
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KAS
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Nice review. I agree with your assessment on this one. Quick and fun but not a lot of depth. Maybe with a future expansion other elements can be added.

Castef wrote:
On the other hand, the very light nature of the game and the short duration of each game (experienced players can complete one game in about half an hour) make for a proper civ-lite experience, good for players looking for a not-too-much complex game with a Civilization flavor.
We have been able to get the time down to about 8-10 mins per player but even with 6 it clocks in around an hour which is nice.
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Stefano Castelli
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kneumann wrote:
Nice review. I agree with your assessment on this one. Quick and fun but not a lot of depth. Maybe with a future expansion other elements can be added.


One thing that bothers me and that happened several times is that certain chains of random events (like two consecutive supply rounds plus a pair of disasters) can actually disintegrate a player without any possibility of salvation.

There is a sense of impending tragedy that is not very nice.
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Brian Robson
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Castef wrote:
One thing that bothers me and that happened several times is that certain chains of random events (like two consecutive supply rounds plus a pair of disasters) can actually disintegrate a player without any possibility of salvation.

There is a sense of impending tragedy that is not very nice.


You really need to plan for the supply rounds in advance ... assume that they will happen in rounds 4 and 7 and anything else is a bonus. Likewise disasters ... you know already what may happen during the round and need to at least mitigate the effects as much as you can.

From mid-game, it's usually worth paying a bit over the odds for a building that will cancel the effects of a disaster which will have a large impact on you.

As for the "sense of impending tragedy" ... it's part of what makes the game enjoyable!!
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Stefano Castelli
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brainrob wrote:
As for the "sense of impending tragedy" ... it's part of what makes the game enjoyable!!


I agree with this. Yet, with so few rounds you can get scrambled with just 1 "bad auction" and suffer for the rest of the game.

That's a little too much, even if you properly take into consideration the planning.
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Derek H
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Castef wrote:
On a side note, Peloponnes shares lots of elements with Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation, a game that I prefer over this one due to more dept and superior decision tree.

I'd really like to see your review of Uruk; the single review (as at Christmas 2009) attached to that game is a very critical one, and basically says it hardly qualifies as a "civ" game at all...
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Stefano Castelli
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gamesbook wrote:
Castef wrote:
On a side note, Peloponnes shares lots of elements with Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation, a game that I prefer over this one due to more dept and superior decision tree.

I'd really like to see your review of Uruk; the single review (as at Christmas 2009) attached to that game is a very critical one, and basically says it hardly qualifies as a "civ" game at all...


Uh... well, it is quite true that Uruk: The Cradle of Civilization "hardly qualifies as a "civ" game". It is a civ-themed card-game, after all.

Also Peloponnes can hardly be considered a "civ-game", indeed.

I'll try to write a review of Uruk as soon as possible.
 
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Stefano Castelli
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Castef wrote:

I'll try to write a review of Uruk as soon as possible.


In fact, here it is.
 
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Kevin B. Smith
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Quote:
There is basically no possibility of building a proper strategy during the course of the game and deep is highly reduced by this.

I have to disagree with this somewhat.

As an auction game, you can often get what you want/need...but it might cost you dearly. There are definitely different strategies you can pursue, but as with most games, you can't pick a strategy early and blindly stick to it. You do have to respond to what the game and the other players offer you.

You need food. But if you can't get food, you can use luxury goods. Maybe you get locked into non-food land tiles. But you can buy buildings that produce food instead. If you buy mostly land and almost no buildings, you are effectively immune from earthquakes.

So while the game is highly tactical, it is not completely lacking in strategy. There are definitely some long-term plans and decisions.

Quote:
in some cases a player may be literally destroyed by a bad chain of events. So, if you like games with a high level of control over what's happening, stay away from this one

This, I will agree with. It is less predictable than most heavier games, although it's far less chaotic than El Grande, for example. I'm not sure you have less control in Peloponnes than in other games in its "class", which I would define as including Kingsburg and Stone Age.
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