Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean
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Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean immerses you in an exciting, competitive world filled with aggressive trading, perilous voyages, and the construction of grand monuments. Parthenon is a game of commerce for 3 to 6 players set in the islands of the Aegean Sea. The time is 600 B.C. and mainland Greece stands on the threshold of glory. The Aegean attempt to share in that glory and to thrive in an increasingly profitable (and dangerous!) world.
Players: 3 - 6
Time: 120 - 180 minutes
Ages: 12 and up
Est. time to learn: 30+ minutes
Weight: 1,490 grams
Language Requirements: Game components are printed in English. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English. This is a domestic item.
- game board
- 440 playing cards
- 6 reference cards
- 1 Archon stand-up counter
- 20 plastic counter stands
- 18 fleet counters
Average Rating: 4 in 1 review
Parthenon is a difficult game to explain why I like it - but I simply do. It's lucky, and a bad twist of fate can hurt you at different parts of the game - something I'm not normally fond of. But I can forgive this in Parthenon because the game is simply so much fun! Players are active and involved for the entire game; there's little if any downtime; and every game plays differently. Parthenon will not please those who want perfect control over their game - but all those that I've played it with have had a blast - and there's just something intriguing about having piles of cards all over the table!
A map of the ancient Aegean area is placed on the table with six harbors indicated on it: three of them "foreign" harbors: Italy, Carthage, and Egypt; and three of them "neighboring": Ionia, Sparta, and Athens. Piles of basic commodities (grain, grapes, olives, ore, timber, and wool) and rare commodities (pottery, spices, tools, and papyrus) are placed near the board, as well as a pile of gold cards. Each player is given an island card, along with an associated "build" deck and three fleet counters. Piles of philosophy cards and Aegis cards are placed face up near the board, as well as four shuffled face down decks: "Wonder Plans", "Hazard", "Harbor Status" and "Event" cards. One player is randomly selected to be the "Archon" and receives the Archon counter. Four "Year 1" event cards are placed next to the board face down, and players set up their individual areas. Each player has two starting villages that they place next to their Island card (reference card) to show that they are "built", along with their "Fleet A" card. A random Harbor Status card is placed face down at each of the six harbors, and the first round is ready to begin!
The game occurs in three "years", each of which consists
rounds. Each round consists of ten phases - in which all
- Event Phase: The next event card is flipped face up (except at the end of a year, in which four new event cards are placed near the board). The effects of the event card are carried out immediately and hold effect for the remainder of the year.
- Production Phase: Each player receives commodity cards for each building they have that produces them.
- Island Trade Phase: Players may trade commodity and Aegis cards with each other as much or little as they want.
- Journey Phase: Each player may load up their ships with cargo (Aegis and/or Commodity cards) - six maximum. They show which cards are on which ship by placing them under the Ship card. Players then determine where the ships sail to, by placing the fleet counters on the board next to the harbor they want to go to.
- Hazards: For all ships that are going to a neighboring harbor, one hazard card is turned over - which may be nothing, or may cause an accident for one or more ships. After this is resolved, two hazard cards are turned over for the ships going to foreign harbors. Some Aegis cards allow players to avoid certain hazards.
- Fleet Trade Phase: Players may examine the harbor status card at their harbor and decide whether or not to reveal it (if they refuse, they cannot trade there). There is a specific trade rate for neighboring ports and foreign ports, but these harbor status cards often change the value of a commodity or cause players other problems. It is much better to trade at a foreign port then at a neighboring port. (for example, a player can trade eight basic commodities for one rare at a neighboring pots, while they can trade four for one at a foreign port). Some ports allow special things, such as Papyrus may only be purchased at Egypt, Fleets may be bought at Carthage, Armies may be bought at Italy, and Great Wonder Plans can be picked up at Athens.
- Return Phase: All fleets come home, and players must make sure that they still have a maximum cargo of six cards.
- Build Phase: Players may spend Commodities to build any of the structures in their build deck. Players can build more villages, workshops, shrines, and more. Players can also use abilities of their buildings, if applicable.
- Discard Phase: Players must discard all but three commodity cards, or they may keep one of each commodity card but must display them to all players.
- Archon Phase: Starting with the Archon, each player gives a special Archon card that they have to another player, demonstrating that they are voting for that person. The player with the most votes becomes the Archon.
At any point, if any player has built all the structures on their island, plus two Wonders of the World, they win the game. Otherwise, the player that has built the most structures at the end of the third year is the winner! There are plenty of other rules, and I'll mention some of them in the following comments...
1.) Components: The majority of the components in the game are the cards, which are good quality and have great artwork on them. It does take a bit to sort the cards out and set them up each game, since there are so many; but they have different backings / colorings, that it's easy enough. One does need a decent amount of room on the table to fit all the piles of cards - especially as each player's island area takes up a lot of space. The ship tokens are simply cardboard counters in a plastic holder; but since they're not used that much other than where to show where each ship sails on the board, they're functional enough. The Island cards are very nice, showing two trading charts (one for neighboring lands, and one for foreign lands), as well as a pictorial reference to each building a player has. On the back of each Island card is a short description of what each special building a player has does. Everything fits well in a plastic insert that holds all the cards and other components well, and the small but very nicely drawn board also fits inside the large square box quite well.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is a large one - with twenty-four pages of rules with many, many examples and color pictures. The rulebook does have some excellent formatting, and I found it easy to navigate, although a table of contents would have been useful. Parthenon isn't that difficult to learn, but it does take some explaining - maybe about fifteen to twenty minutes, because there is a lot to absorb. I was able to teach the game fairly easily to people, and teenagers as well as adults grasped it; but it's not a game you can just throw down and play. After about two turns, everyone quickly understands what is going on, and suddenly they realize the vast array of options available to them.
3.) Archon: At first, the Archon doesn't seem to be that powerful of a person. As the game progresses, they are shown to be a rather mighty force at the right moment. For example, some Hazard cards state something to the effect "the ship with the most goods loses all of them". If there is a tie between players, then the Archon decides who breaks that tie. An Archon breaks all ties, actually - including those that involve timing. Ties don't happen all the time; but when they do, it's a big deal, thus the voting phase for the Archon is crucial. Players can't vote for themselves, so some wheeling and dealing occurs, as players try to vote for a player who will help them. The Archon often is the player who is in last place, so it serves slightly as a game equalizer.
4.) Trading: I've seen on the internet that some people advocate that they never have to send their ships out and can simply stay at home and trade with other players. This will certainly decrease a player's risks, but I don't think canny players will allow one person to "sit at home". They can simply stop trading with him. Besides, there are often some useful trades at certain harbors, as well as the fact that a player can get cheap armies and warships overseas. It's certainly fun to trade and get good deals, and players must learn to balance trading with other players and with the different harbors.
5.) Hazards: Of course, every ship that sails takes a risk. The more goods that a player carries, the greater the risk, and I enjoyed how there is a distinct difference between sailing to a neighboring land and a foreign land. Players can help decrease bad events by hiring warships to ward off the pirates, or "Gifts of Poseidon", which allow them to redraw a hazard card. Yes, it's frustrating to have a fleet wiped out with a lot of goods on it, but a player should know what risks they are taking and can spread out their trading on several ships to help mitigate the risks.
6.) Great Wonders: The first time a player goes to Athens, they receive a random "Great Wonder Plans". If they follow the instructions on that card (for example - pay two gold commodities), they can upgrade the card to "partial construction". Following the instructions on that card, they can then upgrade it to the Great Wonder card itself, which gives a special ability. A player cannot avoid getting Great Wonders, since they are necessary to win, but they are expensive; and so a player must be careful when to pay for them. The effects a Great Wonder gives are fairly good benefits (I particularly like the Temple of Isis, which allows a player to ignore Storm Hazard Cards when going to a foreign port). A player has no real choice over which Wonder they build, and the Wonders are of unequal power, so at first it might seem that luck of the draw is important. But the wonders that are more powerful than the others are also much more expensive, so it all evens out in the end. The first Wonder plans are free, but the second cost one gold.
7.) Philosophy: A player needs to get Papyrus from Egypt (the only way to get it), because it allows them to build an Academy. When a player builds an Academy, they choose one available Philosophy (Epicureanism, Idealism, Materialism, Nihilism, Sophistry, or Stoicism). Each philosophy gives a special ability to the player - such as Stoicism, which allows a player to ignore all hazard cards for one fleet once per year. Players can expend gold to adopt the philosophies of other players, which is an interesting twist, and can give a shrewd player many multiple powers. Philosophies may seem like a waste of time to novice players (why not build more villages?), but they can help a player win the game when used correctly.
8.) Commodities: The way a player gets commodities is a little like Settlers of Catan, in that the more villages they have, the more goods they have. In fact, I've seen most beginner players build all of their villages as quickly as they can. But avoiding the more expensive, powerful buildings may put a player behind. The rare commodities are much more valuable, and each player has one specific one that they can produce.
9.) Players: The game plays best with three or six players, because the rare commodities are distributed most evenly in that situation. However, the game rules acknowledge this and give the players in a four or five player game who are at a small disadvantage extra bonuses in the beginning. Still, a six player game is my favorite, not just because of how evenly the game runs, but because the player interaction, especially the trading and voting, is so high.
10.) Time: I've found that our games run about two hours, if all players move at a good clip. Two hours may seem long for a trading game of this type; but since all players are involved throughout each phase, the time flies by. Yes, a three player game goes much more quickly, but I'll sacrifice time to have more players.
11.) Choices: A player has a huge amount of choices in the game. What buildings should they build? Should they go for the Academy, which gives them powerful, useful philosophies? Should they build a Fortress, so they can produce their own armies? Should they build the Treasury, so that they can store six cards per turn, instead of three? Should they build their villages and workshops, to produce more goods? And which Philosophy to pick? And where to send your goods? Should you buy warships to protect each of your fleets, or suffer the vagaries of chance? There are a LOT of choices in this game, and each player can play a completely different game, and try different tactics and strategies.
12.) Fun Factor: Because of all the choices involved, I thought the game was immensely fun. Even when one of my best ships sank to the bottom of the sea, I still had a great time. There's just something satisfying about building up your island and slowly increasing in power and wealth as the game goes by. The battle to see who is Archon, the fierce trading, and the way that players are totally immersed in the experience, make this one of the most fun games I've played recently.
13.) Education: I normally can find an excuse to use most board games in education, but Parthenon naturally lends itself to it. When playing with my school kids, I was able to teach them about the different philosophies of the ancient Greeks, the importance of certain trade goods, the hazards of ancient travel, and how to be a shrewd trader. Parthenon is an excellent classroom tool.
If you don't mind a bit of luck in exchange for an excellent, immersive theme, then Parthenon is great choice. I haven't seen it on too many top ten lists for 2005, but I suspect that it has great staying power and will be played in the years to come. If Z-man Games continues to produce original, fun-filled games such as Parthenon, they will surely become an American board company to be reckoned with. Are you tired of Mediterranean trading games? Don't let that discourage you from picking this one up - it's one of the best.
"Real men play board games"