Recommend
118 
 Thumb up
 Hide
16 Posts

Polis: Fight for the Hegemony» Forums » Reviews

Subject: [Roger's Reviews] Polis: History Beckons rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
"L'état, c'est moi."
Canada
Vancouver
BC
flag msg tools
admin
designer
Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
badge
Caution: May contain wargame like substance
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb


Polis: Fight for the Hegemony
A game for 2 players designed by Fran Diaz
2014 Edition published by Mercury Games


“In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it.”
― Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War


Introduction
Ah, ancient Greece. Home of some of the great philosophers. Source of and basis of many of the cultural traditions we live with. And one of the hardest conflicts to put to a game board.

Athens was a major sea power, and Sparta a major land power, a classic asymmetric match up. I've played several wargames on the topic including Mark Herman's intriguing The Peloponnesian War, 431-404 BC and Craig Besinque's well crafted Hellenes: Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War. However well those games have been designed though, I've always felt somewhat dissatisfied with the outcome. The war spanned the better part of three decades and thanks to geography and relative capabilities, it's just a difficult conflict to model.

Nevertheless, it is a compelling period of Western history, and the outcome had ripple effects for centuries to come.

Enter Polis: Fight for the Hegemony, a game that began as a print and play effort and became a 2013 Golden Geek award nominee. Mercury Games has now reprinted Polis for a wide release. If you're unfamiliar with Mercury Games, they have been making games since 2012 and were the folks who brought us The Guns of Gettysburg.

Components, Rules, and Gameplay
Polis comes in a beautiful box complete with all the cards and wooden pieces you need to play, two very thick player boards, a well illustrated replete with examples rulebook, thick counters for the poleis and projects, and even includes plastic ziploc storage bags for the punched components.

The quality of the production is once again top notch.

All the bits in the game, set up for both sides.

Polis is a two player game with one person taking the Athenian forces and the other the Spartans. Each player begins with a group of poleis on the board, their population cubes, prestige points, and the resources you'll need to start your ascension to hegemonic supremacy of ancient Greece.

Let's begin with the end: how to win. At the end of the game, your total VP will be the sum of the population cubes of the poleis you control, your current prestige level, and any posterity points for projects. High score wins.

The game ends and scores are tallied when:
- someone can't supply their capital with wheat/prestige
- a player has no prestige left after a round ends
- a player has to lose some prestige but has none
- the fourth round (5b) is over

The Basics
Polis is a game played over four complete rounds, and each round begins with a random event. The events range from "nothing happens" to an event affecting both players (usually differently) to something really good for only one side. Although there is a large number of events, only four will happen per game.

Once the event is resolved, the player with the lowest prestige begins (ties going to Sparta) and that player takes two different actions from a menu of a dozen options. The actions can be broadly broken into three categories: development actions, military actions, and political actions. Building actions require resources, military actions require prestige, and political actions require silver.

Polis has a strong logistical ethos underpinning the game system. At the end of each turn you'll need to feed the population of the poleis (the hoplites and sailors in galleys fending for themselves), and in order to do that you'll need wheat. Wheat was a commodity in short supply in ancient Greece, and you will have to trade to obtain some, or else you will lose control of cities you've taken control of.

Of course, losing control of cities isn't fatal, because you can strategically choose which ones you lose. And sometimes, there are good reasons to let a polis go.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's have a look a the three action types.

Development actions. Development actions are all about building things. You can build hoplites, galleys, merchants, or begin projects (which I'll cover later).

You need hoplites for combat and control on land, galleys for combat and control on water, and merchants to trade. Projects can earn you prestige, and may earn you bonus points at the end of the game assuming you still control the polis that has them attached.

Hoplites cost metal, galleys and merchants cost wood. Silver can here be substituted for wood and metal.

Projects usually cost a mix of resources, and not every polis can have one built for them. Those that can only want certain kinds.

Military actions. Military actions are exactly what the name suggests. All military actions cost 1 prestige point to execute, so they need to be carefully considered before using them.

You can move units (sea or land) to a location. You cannot move through spaces your opponent controls, nor into/through spaces that are at the max capacity for your units. Units are always moved one at a time, so things like capacity and control are dynamic.

You can also conduct sieges against a polis. You need at least as many units as the fortress value of the space being besieged, and roll the d4 included in the game to meet or exceed the fortress value. This means the polis with a fortress value of only 1 is an easy targets, but the strength 3 and 4 ones are more challenging. Note that Athens and Sparta cannot be besieged. A successful siege has benefits and challenges. The benefit is you earn prestige points and control of the city, but the challenge is that you also get the population of the city and then have to feed those folks at the end of the turn.

Last but not least, you can use your troops to collect tribute from areas you both control and have a polis. You can only do this once per turn, but it's the only way other than trade to earn resources.

Note that if there are eight or more military units in the same space after someone's turn, a battle occurs. More on that later.

Political actions. Political actions are the counterweight to the military actions. Whereas military actions cost prestige, political actions are free of that particular burden, but can be expensive cash wise.

The trade action only requires a free trade vessel and access to a trade location. Sparta starts with an early advantage here, but the Athenians have more fleets to begin the game and could interdict quickly if they're clever and fast. More on trades below.

The other political actions all revolve around your special unit represented by a pawn - the proxenos. The proxenos is your diplomat. He can move freely on the board, but has to pay silver to cross enemy controlled areas (paid to the bank, not the opponent).

Once in a polis, a proxenos can foment a civil war within the walls. It costs double the base population of a neutral polis and triple for an opponent controlled polis, payable in silver. It's automatically successful and earns you prestige equal to the base population.

If a proxenos happens to be in a city that falls to siege, he is captured and you will have to use an action and pay 2 silver to your opponent to redeem him.

That covers the basic set of options available to you. Players alternate turns until someone passes (on either one or both actions), at which point the remaining player may continue taking as many actions as they like, but each action costs one resource. Once the second player has passed also, then the round ends. After round 5b, the game ends.



The Details
The game has four rounds numbered 3, 4, 5a, and 5b. The numbers represent how many military units each side can have in a space. It also denotes which market spaces are available for trading. The keenly observant will note that this means no conflict is possible in the first round because battles can only happen when you have eight or more units in a space. The corollary is that you can avoid combat in round 4 by only having three of your units in a space, but in the final two rounds your opponent can take battle to you by bringing five units to bear.

Control of spaces is important. If you have more units in a space than your opponent, you control it, and that's vital for movement and trade. Open spaces are easily traversed. Some poleis have sea access, some can only be reached by land. Trade routes can be blocked, and this will hamper your plans.

Resources
Resources in Polis are very tight, and developing a successful trade strategy early is key. Wheat is vital for feeding your poleis. Prestige is vital for executing any military strategy. Silver is needed to incite civil war and sometimes to outright buy what you need.

Metal and wood are needed to build units. Oil and wine are needed to trade for silver and wheat. Silver, wood, and metal don't spoil. Prestige is vital.

Attika - a good source for wine and oil not so good for wheat.

There are two ways to obtain resources.

One is with the prestige costly tribute extraction, but depending on the number of hoplites in the locale and the resources available this can be quite lucrative.

Heading to Persia can let you trade for wheat or silver.

Two is to send a trade galley to a trade region. The number below the good indicates both how many of the good depicted is needed and also which round that trade option is available. Trading for silver isn't available until the final two rounds in Persia, but you can always trade wine for wheat.

The only part of the game that felt somewhat incongruent with the flow and feel of the rest of the game is the market. If you trade for a good, then the price shift to the right by a roll of the dice, i.e. 1-4 spaces.

On the flip side, you can buy the goods in the market with silver. If you do, then the price is 1:1, i.e. 3 wheat cost 3 silver. If you pay cash for goods, then you simply toss the d4 twice and move the marker to the left.

The price fluctuation for goods certainly makes sense, and I don't have any issue with it per se, but it is mildly clunky compared to the rest of the game, which is quite elegant.

As an added incentive to spend your resources, or at least get them converted to silver if at all possible, the perishable goods (oil, wine, and wheat) all lose 50% of their stockpile at the end of the round. And yes, that's rounded up.

Not least amongst its uses, once your opponent passes, you can continue taking actions for as long as you like, but you must pay one resource of your choice each time.

Prestige
Prestige is a political commodity and it's easy to spend but hard to earn. Any military action requires prestige.

Prestige is earned through successful sieges, but sieges are not a sure thing. There is a suggested variant in the rules to help your sieges succeed over time. If you're the type of person who can't live with the idea that a die roll may fail, then I suggest you play with it. However, I feel the rewards of sieges are is well balanced to the risk without it.

Prestige is also earned from civil wars. Your proxenos will drain the treasury, but there are no die rolls here. Success is guaranteed! Just spend and bask in the glory.

Three projects are revealed each round, max twelve per game from a pool of fourteen.

The third way to earn prestige is through projects. Projects are simply paid for and placed on the polis where it's being constructed. At the end of the round, if you still control said polis, you earn the prestige in the lower right hand corner. If you control the polis at the end of the game, you get the number in parentheses as a bonus for posterity. Projects once bought are permanently tied to the polis and if the polis changes hands, the project goes with it.

Battles
Combat in this game is abstracted with cards.



At the end of a player's turn, if there are eight or more units in a land or sea space, a battle will occur. Each side will draw a hand of cards equal to the number of units they have. Although the cards have adjectives like hold and advance on them, they are really cosmetic as it is only their type that really matters. On land, the Spartans always have the initiative, and on the waters, it's always Athens that acts first.

The player with initiative selects two cards from their hand and plays them. The opponent must match the suit of the card. If I play a phalanx and a peltast, you must likewise play one of each). Any suit you cannot match causes a casualty on your side, and I will earn prestige points for it.

If you do match my cards, you or I will earn prestige based on the difference on our cards. If my phalanx only has 1 prestige and yours has 2, you will earn one prestige.

At the end of each round, the initiative switches, and this will continue until the combat deck runs of out cards, or one player voluntarily retreats (paying 1 prestige in the process), or one player has two or fewer units left.

The top right corner of each battle card shows you the distribution - e.g. there are only three peltasts cards, but there are eight phalanx ones. This gives you some ability to plan your best strategy.

Maintenance
At the end of the round, after both players have passed, you have to pay maintenance costs. You need to feed all the people in your poleis, one wheat per cube, and any wheat you're short you can pay off in prestige points. You then have the opportunity to increase your population at the cost of one wheat per cube (no substitutions). If your population exceeds the base population, your earn a bonus prestige point for being able to have such a well run polis.

Some of the poleis that await.

However, if you can't feed everyone, then you have to start dropping your poleis, one at a time, until you can feed everyone. And the poleis you drop become neutral, and they take any projects with them.

This is also when your perishable goods - oil, wheat, and wine - spoil and half of your stockpile is lost.

Conclusions
Polis is one of those elegantly crafted well integrated games that really reward solid planning. There are significant logistical elements in the decisions. Taking a polis now for the prestige is all well and good, but the implications of keeping and maintaining it becomes an immediate priority if you want to keep it.

But not keeping a polis can be a strategic option too. You may wish to conserve wheat or prestige and use some of the surplus silver you have next round to send your proxenos to incite them to civil war. You then not only get the polis back but also earn some prestige in the process, prestige you can then turn around and use for military affairs. For that matter, if you used up the populace of a polis to built hoplites, letting it go and reacquiring it makes it an easy source for additional population cubes!

This game also requires crafty timing on when to pass. Pass too soon and your opponent can merrily continue spending resources to conduct multiple actions, even doing the same thing over and over, building up a significant advantage going into the next round. Wait too long and your opponent may pass on you just when you're short a resource or two to keep going long enough to make those market deals to secure the final amounts of grain you needed to feed your people.

The game has some luck in it beginning with the event decks, the sieges and market adjustments being adjudicated by a four sided die, and the combat system of course sees you putting the fate of your forces in the hands of the combat deck. But I like and indeed prefer games with this kind of random element.

Although this review covered the full campaign game, the rules do include three scenarios for the first and second Peloponnesian Wars, and one for the Corinthian War. The latter scenario is especially meant to help newer players understand the combat system and the importance of trade.

Polis is an excellent conflict simulation of this important period. The abstraction of the military side, especially with cubes standing in for hoplites and galleys, is more than compensated for by the emphasis on logistics and the need to manage trade for key resources to prosecute the war. Highly recommended.


Thank you for reading this latest instalment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
  • [+] Dice rolls
Andy Andersen
United States
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Outstanding review. My thanks.
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Anders Olin
Finland
Vasa
flag msg tools
badge
Justice for the 96!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Nice cool

This is bloodthirsty game that keeps biting me in the butt Really challenging options to choose from and that die goo
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Andy Andersen
United States
Michigan
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
And my stylish new microbadge.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
"L'état, c'est moi."
Canada
Vancouver
BC
flag msg tools
admin
designer
Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
badge
Caution: May contain wargame like substance
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Orangemoose wrote:
And my stylish new microbadge.


Thank you kind sir!
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Jeremy Martin
United States
Fort Worth
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
I've got nothing up my sleeves
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
One note about combat: I do not think that the defender can gain prestige when he/she plays a card, even if the number is greater.

EDIT: Sorry, I should also say that I liked your detailed and helpful review!

EDIT2: Oh, and you don't lose half your oil/wheat/wine rounded up, you keep that much.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dennis Ku
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
flag msg tools
badge
"You can spend all your time making money / Or you can spend all your love making time."
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Your reviews are the only ones I read beginning to end every time. This was another great one.

I have had Polis for a while and really like it. It's not a very light game for those of us more used to Euros, but it is certainly a very good game.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Serious? Lee
United States
Coppell
Texas
flag msg tools
badge
Lost in thought.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Roger, thanks for highlighting my favorite game with such an excellent review! I really enjoy the tension in this game; and, like you, I find the randomness of the die roll acceptable for determining success at sieges.

I did catch one thing in your rules explanation about battles that may be incorrectly stated unless Mercury Games has adjusted the rules:
leroy43 wrote:
If you do match my cards, you or I will earn prestige based on the difference on our cards. If my phalanx only has 1 prestige and yours has 2, you will earn one prestige.
Actually, only the attacker gains prestige during battle. If the defender plays a matching card, only the attacker gains prestige if the difference between the number on the cards played favors the attacker. Otherwise, no prestige are awarded.
5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
C. Rexford
United States
Bremerton
Washington
flag msg tools
badge
Thufferin Thuccotash!! It'th Cold out Here!
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb

I just received this game today, and your review was not only a joy to read, but your logical presentation of the game play has given me a solid foundation to read the rules on, (as well as raise my anticipation to get the game to our table). Thank you!

5 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dennis Ku
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
flag msg tools
badge
"You can spend all your time making money / Or you can spend all your love making time."
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Wait a minute...why can't Sparta be besieged? Is there something different in the reprint? On my first edition copy, Sparta's base population is 4. Is it 5 in the new edition?
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
"L'état, c'est moi."
Canada
Vancouver
BC
flag msg tools
admin
designer
Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
badge
Caution: May contain wargame like substance
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
futhee wrote:
Wait a minute...why can't Sparta be besieged? Is there something different in the reprint? On my first edition copy, Sparta's base population is 4. Is it 5 in the new edition?


Yes.

Ditto for Athens.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Fran Diaz
Spain
Zaragoza
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmb
futhee wrote:
Wait a minute...why can't Sparta be besieged? Is there something different in the reprint? On my first edition copy, Sparta's base population is 4. Is it 5 in the new edition?


It's not possible:
"You can not besiege the capital of the opponent"

1st column / Page 9 / 1st Edition Rules
4 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Dennis Ku
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
flag msg tools
badge
"You can spend all your time making money / Or you can spend all your love making time."
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
blush

Thanks for the clarification! I'm clearly not very good at reading board game rules. I'm terrible, in fact!

Fran, I absolutely love the game, even though I've misplayed several rules each of the three times I've played it.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mike Wall
United Kingdom
Ormskirk
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Super review.

Other than the Combat mistake.

Just one crucial slip.


Quote:
The game ends and scores are tallied when:
- someone can't supply their capital with wheat/prestige
- a player has no prestige left after a round ends
- a player has to lose some prestige but has none
- the fourth round (5b) is over



Scores are only tallied in the case of your fourth point, the first three cases cause the immediate loss of the game by the player to whom the situation applies
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Florent Leguern
France
Saint-Martin-d'Hères
France
flag msg tools
Groaning Grognard
badge
After all, a murder is only an extroverted suicide.
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
This review sold me the game cool Now let's hope my wife agrees ^^'
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
jamuki (Jueguetistorias)
Spain
Madrid
flag msg tools
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Good call to get this game. It's really a superb-game.
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.