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Athens, the birthplace of democracy, could look back on her leadership against the might of Persia with pride. As always, though, pride comes before the fall. Sparta and the other city-states of ancient Greece decided that Athens needed to be brought back down to earth, resulting in the Peloponnesian War.
In Perikles each player represents a Greek family with political influence spread across the six main cities of Greece. Players will use their influence to gain control of these cities, which in turn allows them to use their military forces to win glory on the battlefield. Over each turn, players will use their political savvy to ensure that members of their family are in leadership positions in as many cities as possible. Once leadership is established, armies march and battle over famous battlefields, while historical figures influence events. Finally, leaders die and the best of them have statues erected in their honor... and the game (and the war) goes on.
Interestingly enough, when you look at people's comments for Martin Wallace's games, you'll invariably find them compared to his other games - but never to games of another designer. That's because Mr. Wallace, one of the greatest game designers alive, has managed to find his own niche - a cross between war games and Eurogames, with enough "meat" to make them absolutely fascinating games, while retaining a tremendous historical flavor. Perikles (Warfrog and Fantasy Flight Games, 2006 - Martin Wallace) is the latest in this line, allowing players to recreate the Peloponnesian War.
Perhaps not Wallace's best game, Perikles is certainly a magnificent, well designed game. It has a terrific historical theme but manages to dilute it enough to make an interesting, well balanced game. Combining a clever multiplayer war game with area control and elections, Wallace has managed to capture the chaos of the Greek cities, while still maintaining the political intrigue. Let's take a look at several features of the game…
1.) Components: As with many Wallace games, there are piles of tiles and cubes in the game of many colors and sizes. All are of good quality, although I bagged them all (with the included bags) to keep them separate. The board is simple and uncluttered, looking good with a map of Greece in the background, but also having spots for all the necessary tiles. Everything fits nicely inside a sturdy, well-illustrated box.
2.) Rules: How Warfrog rules have improved from their first games - with eight full-color pages, showing all the parts of the game, and giving illustrations and examples. The rules are clearly written, and everything works together like a well-oiled machine. At the same time, this game isn't for the feeble hearted - most folks I taught the game to didn't really understand it until we played a round. It's not a family game, but rather a game for those who enjoy heavier rule sets; although once I understood it, I hesitated to call it complicated.
3.) Cities: The game revolves around six important cities of ancient Greece: Thebes, Athens, Megara, Corinth, Argos, and Sparta. During the course of a game, players are attempting to control each of these cities, which give them control of the armies in that city and also awards victory points to players. Cities are unique; and players, since they can't control them all, must decide which are the most important for them at that moment. The armies for the cities are radically different: Sparta has the largest army, Athens has the largest navy, and both have armies that dwarf those of Megara and Argos. The player who controls Sparta decides who attacks first in the military phase, and the leader of Athens goes first in the influence phase. But lest Athens and Sparta be the most logical targets for acquisition (and they certainly are tempting), they are also worth the fewest victory points; and since they will be the target of many attacks, possibly be worth extremely few or no victory points! This differentiation between the cities keeps the game extremely interesting; and while I have an affinity for Athens (for historical reasons), I certainly see the uses of other cities.
4.) Influence: Each player starts with two influence cubes in each
city (three in two cities of their choice). At the beginning of the
three rounds, players will take turns drawing from face up influence
tiles. These influence tiles either allow a player to
- place two influence cubes in the city mentioned on the tile.
- place one influence cube in the city and propose a candidate in ANY city
- place one influence cube in the city and assassinate a cube of any color in any city (even their own color and/or even a candidate!).
Players leave these tiles that they draw face up in front of them until each player has five tiles (four in a five player game). This is one part of the game in which luck is evident; but I don't feel it is too big a deal, since players have ten tiles at any point to draw from. Seven location tiles, where battles will take place, are also shown each round; and players must pay attention to that when choosing which city to place their influence in. Now, this might sound like a typical area control game, but there is one thing that makes it different - candidates.
5.) Candidates: Some tiles allow players to propose a candidate in a city of their choice; otherwise, players take turns proposing candidates in all the cities after the influence phase is over. Players must take an influence cube of any color in a city and push it to the alpha candidate space (or beta space, if the alpha space is full). There are only ever two candidates in a city; so even if a player has the most influence in a city, they have no power without a candidate. After all cities have two candidates, each city holds an election. The candidate with the most influence cubes wins the election but must remove one cube for each influence of the opposing candidate. Both candidate cubes are also removed. The winning player then places a leader counter of their color in the box of that city, showing they control it. This is probably my favorite part of the game, because it can lead to so many interesting scenarios. A player can control a city, but their chance of controlling it on succeeding rounds is less, since they've used up their influence. However, a clever player can make sure that the candidate running against them is of a weaker faction, which means that they will then win the election with little repercussions to themselves. A player with the most influence can also position it so that other players control both candidates, saving their influence for the following round. And players can also stop a player with a lot of influence in a city by simply promoting two other candidates. All of this political maneuvering (yes, I know it's simply moving cubes around, but the simulation is obvious) is great fun and definitely points out why this game is MUCH better as a five and four player game rather than three players - which has a different feel and is not nearly as enjoyable. Rarely, in a four or five player game, do I see one person control more than two cities; and a player who controls two powerful cities (such as Athens and Sparta) does so only because of the ineptness of the other players, or because they played incredibly well.
6.) Persians: It's quite possible that one player will control no cities because of poor positioning, or perhaps even deliberately. This player is then given control of the Persian armies - which, while slightly smaller than the Spartan armies, are extremely powerful and give the player some unbridled power in the army phase. In one game, I won specifically because I controlled the Persians on my last turn; but it's a bit of a gamble, since a player will then gain no points from controlling the Greek cities.
7.) Committing Forces: Seven battles are available each turn, and players take the armies of the cities. Each tile shows the location of the battle and in which city it is occurring. Players take turns committing their forces to the different cities, starting with the players who took influence tiles that let them place two influence in cities. This is a neat rule, because those who spent their time placing influence must now show where they are battling first. When committing forces, players place army or navy tiles (with values from "1" to "4") from their forces face down on the corresponding spot at each city. There are restrictions to placing forces, which I won't go into too much detail; but suffice it to say that players can make alliances to attack or defend certain cities and must honor alliances for the entire round. Players can even sacrifice influence cubes in cities to send in additional troops. Players may wish to defend cities of other players to protect the value of that city, or as part of a deal, or simply because they want victory points for winning. Once all forces are committed at the battles, they commence.
8.) Battles: At first I thought that battles would be a complicated affair - there was a CRT (combat result table), hearkening back to the clunky Avalon Hill war game days. But this chart really did well, simply taking the odds into account, and showing the number that the player must roll higher than to win a round. Each battle is either two rounds of combat, or sometimes only a single round. In a round of combat, a player must win two battle tokens to win that round. In a two-round combat, the player who wins the first round starts with an automatic battle token on their side in the second round. The player who wins the second round wins the battle! Sometimes the final battle is at sea, other times it is on land, and players must add up the values of all defenders or attackers and their allies (I was almost reminded of Cosmic Encounter here) and then use the combat table to determine what they needed to roll on the die. Yes, here is another spot in the game in which luck plays a rather big role. But I've seen dozens of battles fought, and the player who has better odds wins "most" of the time. Battles are quick, exciting, and - I think - fairly original. The loser of each battle loses one counter as a casualty; and the winner takes the location tile, which is worth points at the end of the game. Also, if the defending side loses, the matching city must place a defeat counter on it, reducing the value of leader tokens there.
9.) Turn End: At the end of a turn, players must remove all leaders from cities, placing them on the "statue" spot. Unkilled military units are returned to their cities, and then the game goes to the next round. The game ends after three rounds, or if Athens or Sparta suffers four defeats. At that point, the game ends, and players total their score. Players receive one point for every influence marker they have on the board, the sum of location tiles that they've won, and points for each statue they have (statues are equal to the current value of the city, if any). The player with the most victory points wins the game! This is the way I like games to end, with three different and very important ways of scoring points. No player can ignore battles - if you don't win any, I doubt you can win the game. Players who put little influence on the board or have it wiped out by elections will also hurt at game's end. And having statues is very nice - especially in lucrative cities like Corinth and Thebes.
10.) Special Tiles: Each player gets one random, secret special tile that they can use once per game. These are nice tiles (i.e. "double the value of all hoplites in a battle", "move two cubes from one city to another", etc.) but aren't game breaking; and if you forget to play yours for some reason, I don't think it's the end of the world. Still, they are nice (although I'm not sure they're balanced) and give players a nice surprise move at possibly a critical point in the game.
11.) Fun Factor: For me, the game was fun because everything worked together in one nice package. Players need to have influence in cities to get leaders, thereby giving them armies, to defend their cities, so that they can get points. Once players understand the ebb and floe of the game, it's amazing how well it works. It's a game that one has to commit some brainpower to, but it's nice to see a war game that can be played in less than three hours - two hours if you're fast.
I give a high recommendation to Perikles, it really plays like no other game I own, and yet still certainly retains the flair and options that Mr. Wallace has in his games. The components are nice, the rules flow together smoothly, and the game rewards clever placement and long term strategy. Direct confrontation, negotiations, and elections are all contained in an action packed period of time. You could step back and see the cold mechanical parts of the game; but when you add in the historical trappings, it becomes a game that I will gladly play any day.
"Real men play board games"