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David Dockter
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Background...

Always on the hunt...

My crew and I are always on the hunt for a smart & deep integrated poly/mil/econ game. Always. The heavier, the better. Can't be too epic when it comes to that genre.

Gordon brought Polis by the club ( First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society ) a few times, beginning in 2013. Drew also showed it off a few times. Both dig it.


G.A.A.R. 8/30/13

I took a peak at it due to their rave reviews. It appeared to have both an econ and mil component...Cool...Pel War...VERY COOL... But, WTF?, no manly counters, no leaders, no politicians, no chrome; just soulless euro bits: Kill the Meeple.

And, while I used to detest wood in a game (exception: Risk and Diplomacy), I've changed my view. Wood is good: it allows one to see what is happening in game without squinting at 1/2 counters. Hell, I still like counters, but, some wood can really clarify things. And, it is MUCH more accessible to enlisting new gamers.

Worse yet, it appeared that Polis contained a euroweenie machine (eeeegads!): wheat, iron, olives (but, surprising no sacred sheep). Hate those games where players independently build their little machines (devoid of real interference or chaos) and the object is to figure out some little economic puzzle. Consequently, I planned to avoid at all costs, but...


Added a few titles to the image recently

1st Mn and Ancients


We're fanatics of Richard Berg's Carthage: The First Punic War


Yes, we built balsa wood walls for The Siege of Jerusalem (Third Edition)

...DAMM, we like the ancients topic at the 1st MN. Caesar at Alesia , The Siege of Jerusalem (Third Edition) , Carthage: The First Punic War , The Rise of the Roman Republic , Pax Romana , Genesis: Empires and Kingdoms of the Ancient Middle East are all heavy club fav's. Can't get enough of the topic/story. So, if Gordo and Drew dug Polis, there must be something there worth a toss. And...

...and a personal passion


A geeklist of all these games: Ancients Wargames: The glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome

Ancients wargamers and wargaming blog: Ancients Wargames and Wargaming

...and I am a certified ancients nutter.

I've covered the ancients topic on my podcast, Guns, Dice, Butter , and, episode XXV, to be published fairly soon, will cover it again (I have great guest lined up: and a few big surprises).

So, when 1st MN's Sir Patrick offered to teach me the game (he is a fabulous club dungeon master), I overcame my aversion to euro machines & no counters and finally gave Polis a go: it was one of the best gaming decisions I've made in awhile.


Episode XI: Jan 8, 2013: Conversation with Fred Schachter, designer of Siege of Jerusalem. Conversation with Enrico Viglino (game reviewer {video BGG} extraordinaire) regarding wargames covering the ancients period: Rome and Greece

A desert called the Peloponnesian War


Short discussion of the conflict: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5012092

Why aren't there more war games on the Peloponnesian War [size=8](431–404 BC)[/size]? It is desert for some reason. I'm familiar with this gang of four:


Start here...it's Victory Games and Herman: meaning, it's rock solid good. "A perfect blend of historicity, philosophy, politics, military operations in a solitaire game format. Immerse yourself with this epic struggle between Athenians and Spartans in the classical world: Athenian coastal cities ravaging raids vs. powerful Spartan intercepting land forces. A delicate design with the perfect mix of fun, playability, replayability and complexity." -LH "...There are better Mark Herman games -- because he's the greatest game designer of all-time for a reason (and his epic 2-player games are the best games out there!), but this is a really solid game and probably the most original idea I ever saw in a solitaire game, because you are playing against yourself and the A.I." -JV Review:The struggle to dominate ancient Greece!


...and this relatively recent title:It's a block game; 1st MN Wendell likes it (so, that's a big plus)...but I don't like block games. And, it has mixed reviews: Hellenes: a dull and dreary affair the Peloponnesian War should not be and Hellenes: Asymmetry and Clever Mechanics Combine for an Elegant New Design ...so I've steered clear so far. It did get play at 1st MN a few weeks ago again.


...and we have this glorious beast: 5.95 rating and 4.1 game weight...damm, those are The Campaign for North Africa like ratings: "This is appears to be an overwrought, underdeveloped monster. This is a case study in designers who obsess so much over realism that playability gets lost completely, and is precisely the sort of game Jon Compton warned us all about in his famous essay. I seriously doubt more than a handful of people have ever played the entire campaign, maybe even none.What a shame because there are some good ideas in there." - DB and "I'm impressed with Epic of the Peloponnesian War. It has a strong economic component mixed in with a few political cards and a good, strong war effort based around morale." - CT

It is on our playlist! This is the one I really want to give a go. 1st MN Frick & Alsen have played it a few times and say it is worth the trouble. Mustafa Tolga CORAPCI also gives it a thumbs, and, that has A LOT of weight. I even made an attempt at tarting it up "Unofficial CSW Oct 2014 Ron Johnson rules": http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?233@@.1dcfb38d/2861!enclosu...


...and we end with this "effort": A 5.41 rating! "The designer has repeatedly stated on con-sim-world that the game as published was not what was turned over to Decision Games, so I asked D.G. to see the original rules as designed or for a refund: The original rules as designed by Ted Garland are so incomplete and terrible as to be utterly unplayable (I'm sorry I wasted my time even trying)" - RA

I bought this sight unseen due to the topic. The reviews have been so horrible (check out the comments) that it sits at the bottom of the play pile. I've have sworn off further DG magazine game purchases at the moment, without a strong recommendation from gaming mates regarding particular titles - which, is a shame: DG covers some good topics.

So, we have a desert. Slim pickings. Luckily for us, Mr.Herman is returning to the topic with his Pericles design: sort of a Churchill goes to Athens & Sparta. Can't wait to playtest it this summer.

Let's hope someone tackles the Pel War with a decent beast soon. How about Mr.Berg taking his The Ancient World series to the topic? He has announced long anticipated THUNDERBOLT! (The 2nd Punic War, following upon the outstanding Carthage: The First Punic War ) is in the works. So, maybe he'll get the bug. Until then, we'll look forward to Mr.Herman's effort.


MUCH REJOICING: Herman's Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars in the pipe: http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=6467

A bit about this game...


It's all about prestige...other book recommendations: Item for Geeklist "Wargames and books"

So, Polis is about maximizing prestige. Sparta and Athens both have different routes to achieve that (there is a very asymmetrical component to the game reflecting the Spartan land supremacy and Athenian naval might). Prestige (think of it as victory points {VPs}) is generated by:

1. Developments (basically improvements for cities - temples, etc)

2. Battle success

3. Happy cities (population above a certain size)

4. ...and at the end of the game, points for total population (fed)

There are 4 games turns. Each has alternating pulses of 2 actions for each player. A turn ends when both players pass. If only one player passes, the opponent can keep moving (paying 1 resource for each action - plus any required Prestige). Action like moving armies/navies and collecting resources require a point of prestige. Other actions do not (trading, moving your diplomat, instigating civil war, etc). Very cool trade offs regarding what to do when.

One part of the game is resource management; feeding your population and building your military forces. Simple, with good plenty of decent choice angst.


One sample city: pop sizes and eligible projects


Cities and enhancements (projects)


Nice bits: Control markers (disks), armies (cubes), fleets and the infamous Prox


Keeping track of your stuff


Berg Random Events Table via cards

There is beautiful random chance in the game, which, consequently means he or she who arbitrages risk best wins (unless, the dice/card gods want to have some fun with you). The events are sufficiently varied to occasionally toss a real monkey wrench into best laid plans. Beautiful.


A fight over territory & position

The game evolves a fight over precious territory/position: the way it should be. The way combat is resolved is with cards (think Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage with a wrinkle or two). Very cool whether to stay in a battle or flee. If you flee, you give your opponent a prestige point and lose one. Battles result in losing forces and generating prestige points.

There is a VERY good review of the game here that dives deeply into how to play it: [Roger's Reviews] Polis: History Beckons


Battle cards

So, what do we like and dislike?

Likes

1. It's a game of wonderful maneuver. Brilliant in this respect. Lots of cat & mouse...feints...misdirection. It has a real Paths of Glory / Breakout: Normandy feel - GO-like - sumo wrestling - where each opponent is trying to get just the slightest of a positional advantage and then grind your heel into the face of the opponent until they yell "UNCLE!". It takes a real design knack to create that type of game.

2.Distillation. The designer distilled enough of the Pel War into this under 2 hour game to make you want to keep coming back; that's also quite a design trick.

3.Simplicity, but depth and choice angst. Easy to understand the game, but, you'll get your arse whipped a few dozen times before you see the moves one can and needs to make.

4. Lots of design elegance. Three in particular are top of mind:

Athens naval edge is reflected by giving it the initiative (they have the ability to inflict losses first on Sparta, prior to Sparta "firing" on Athens) in naval battles, while Sparta receives the same benefit when it comes to land combat.

Another one: stacking limit is 3 on turn 1. Given that it takes 8 forces (friendly & enemy) in area, there is no Athenian - Sparta direct combat game turn 1. The stacking limit goes to 4 game turn 2, and 5 for the last two game turns. So, you've got a very interesting dance on turn 1 to position for turn 2. The war is thus throttled up by a simple rule.

And a third one: the designer has baked in a simple inflation mechanics for the trade of goods: the more you ship, the cheaper they get - meaning you will have to send more in the future to purchase the same amount of wheat.

There are more such good design touches...

Dislikes

1. No/little chrome. Bummer, but, the 2 hour game limit probably is the culprit. Where are the great personalities of this story? Why leave them out, when they could have been easily included without burdening the design. Would like to see an v2 of Polis...with some chrome and what not.

2. Some dynamics of the Pel War are missing/wrong. For example, players can keep their armies in the field and fleets at see indefinitely. Occur, let's give the designer the benefit of the doubt that armies marching back home at the end of a season and returning in the spring has been abstracted. However, you still have goofy things like fleets being able to blockade. Where are the notorious storms that would destroy fleets? (something for v2).

3. Mindless meeples: there is no "friction" (ex: troops refusing to implement orders, etc). This wood goes where it was told and when. Old school.

4. Perfect intel: Each player knows EXACTLY what there opponent has where. Bummer; would be much more interesting with some hidden opponent capability.

5. Will it hold up? Not sure yet. I've played a few dozen games since learning it two weeks ago. So far, the games have been very different - similar, but a lot of variability.

So, on balance, an "initial" impression that this is a fabulous game - despite the items we do not like.

On to the AAR...

Game Turn 1: Opening and Parity


T3 (Turn 3)

The game began with a standard opening: Sparta went conservative, sent 3 hoplites ("hops") to Messina to protect its precious grain supply (NEVER lose Messina as Sparta) and traded for some grain. Athens made a grab for Ak (3 silver there) and dispatched its diplomat to Corinth. So after, Sparta sent 3 hops to Macedonia and Athens countered with 3 of his own. Given we both had the same number of hops there, neither side could attempt to gain control of a city (and, then be able to harvest the resources).


T7

The point of conflict occurred at Sicily: Sparta sent its diplomat to Gela and caused it to revolt. Athens countered by sending its navy to block access to Sicily and tried to siege Sela: they failed a 50/50 die roll. Both sides were left with 2 hops on the island.


T15


T17



Rest of the turn played out with an aggressive move by Athens on Messina. Sparta sent 3 hops to Thessallia and sending its navy to achieve parity off the coast of Sicily. Turn ended with Sparta and Athens in a roughly equal position.

T23

Game Turn 2: Prancing in Peloponnese


T29

The war of maneuver proceeded in earnest turn 2.

First, Sparta caught a BIG break with the event card and was able to seize Pylos with treason! Sparta then dispatched a force to harvest the grain. Athens responded by successfully taking Gela; potentially a fatal development of Sparta that would remove Sicily grain from its food supply. Sparta sent forces to Sikella to trigger the games first battle (conflict occurs when there are 8 or more units in a space - although there is an event card that permits conflict with 7 units). The Spartans prevailed, inflicting 2 losses on Athens and reaped a further reward via some needed prestige.


T29 Battle


T33

As we neared the end of the opening part of the game, Athens tried to besiege a city in AK, but failed miserably. The turning point in the game probably occurred when Sparta sent its diplomat to Corinth and instigated a civil war: the apple fell into Sparta's waiting hands. Additionally, Sparta continued its hold on Macedon. Athens determined it would need to take a chance at attempt to regain Pylos. A battle was again forced. And, Sparta, again routed the Athenians, with Athens losing 3 precious hops.


T43

Sparta followed up by harvesting a windfall of silver and wheat in Corinth. Athens dispatched its diplomat to Samos and nabbed the important city. The turn ended with Sparta suffering two siege failures at AK and Gela.

Military forces were tight: Sparta had 10 hops and 4 fleets, while Athens had 6 hops and 8 fleets.


T51

Game Turn 3: Athenian Collapse


T55

Turn 3 began with two big battles on land: in Messina and Iona. In both cases, Sparta again cleaned house. With its manpower reserves essentially exhausted, and a Spartan straggle hold on Messina, Sicily, Macedon & Corinth, Athen's failed a morale check and resigned.

Overall, it was a VERY tight game (that, just suddenly collapsed due to lopsided fortunes of war). Lots of cat and mouse...wonderful choice angst. It's a great mechanic, with each player have 2 moves in an impulse. I wonder what a variable number of moves (each side gets 1, 2 or 3) would be like (to borrow from the wonderful The U.S. Civil War mechanic).

Anyways, it was a fun, challenging match.


T68

Wrap up: FABULOUS Wargame: Great Design


G.A.A.R. -- 3/4/16 -- 18xx Strikes Back!


Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman, Universal, Wargame Definition and Simulation Inquisition is summoned! Good discussion here: http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@@.ee6eca2/16385

Inflammatory Question #1:Is this a war-game?

Yes. Markus ST called it "an expressionistic war-game": I like that. Therefore, we must ask:

Inflammatory Question #2: Is this good history?

Oyeeee. I'll take a punt at it:

1. It depicts some of the dynamics of the conflict: SPICE...

Wheat is SPICE in this game. Importance of Sicily is quite clear - as is Corinth. Really like the simple land/sea component: it's handled very well.

2. It misses some of the dynamics of the conflict: Internal political divisions

Not modeled at all: both Athens and Sparta in Polis are monolithic hordes without squabbling. Totally unified and an unshakable strategic will (well, if you can't feed them, they surrender). Corinth doesn't have a mind of their own, like they did historically.


Omar for President.

3. It models some of the elements of ancient war: Rip and Run

Raiding; you do that a lot in Polis. Run into an area, rip out supplies and move on. Trying to turn cities, without bashing down their walls with the use of money/incentive: very cool.

4. It misses some of the elements of this particular ancients war. Well, a lot

No restrictions on Sparta developing a fleet quickly and no restrictions on Athens developing an army quickly, fleets maintaining blockades indefinitely, no greek politics cry

5. It misses the personalities involved in this particular story.

Such a RICH set of characters in this conflict, and, yet not one of them is here.

SUMMARY: It is CLEAR from this design - being able to model some of the elements of the Pel War, well, in an accessible/under 2 hour/rich play value package - that the designer loves the Pel War story and did his homework.

OF COURSE, it does not include the myriad of the Pel War dynamics/personalities that something like Epic of the Peloponnesian War does, but, hey, that's what this designer was trying to do: short, sweet and a high play value pop game. He accomplished that.

Inflammatory Question #3: Do we give a sh*t {about questions 1 & 2}?

We (us wargamers) do. We hate pasted on theme (most of the time) and "unrealistic" simulations (most of the time). The history has to ring true for us; otherwise, what is the point if the story the game is paying homage to isn't really being told?

So, why is Polis fabulous?

Overall, it's a game in the spirit of Triumph & Tragedy or Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan. While I've slightly soured on T&T, both are great games.


Triumph and Tragedy Tournament


A club fav

Polis gets some of the conflict right and tells a portion of the rich Pel War story in a HIGHLY accessible package. No rules issues: none. ELEGANT, rich design (about the highest compliment I can give a game). Nice dose of chance/chaos (yeeeeeehaw!). Sadly, no chrome and only a pinch of politics... cry ...but, not a deal breaker in this RARE case: it's that damm good.

Sharks crush the good players and the good players stomp everyone else (meaning, there better play rules and it takes a commitment to get good at the game). And it's bloody addictive; like Acquire and Puerto Rico were when they came out. I'm in the middle of my Polis obsession now with multiple games going on zombie

Yeah, it's on both Boardgamearena and Yucata: so, give it a toss now.

Tip of the hat to the designer: great job!


=========

World's best gaming club: First Minnesota Historical Wargame Society

Other 1st MN, Herr Dr, Sawatdee session reports: 1st MN/Sawatdee/Herr Dr Session Reports

Overview of wargaming: http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX/?233@@.1dd309ee!enclosure=....
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Gordon J
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Re: Prancing in Peloponnese: 1st MN Gives Polis a Punt...and gives it TWO Thumbs up: March 19, 2016
It's an excellent game and it's the perfect length for me. I really don't know anything about that time period, so for me a game like this makes me want to learn more about the history of it.
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David Dockter
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Re: Prancing in Peloponnese: 1st MN Gives Polis a Punt...and gives it TWO Thumbs up: March 19, 2016
Thanks for tipping me off to this title, Gordo. Agree, it causes you to want to consume more Pel War content; games, books, vids, etc
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Sean McCormick
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patton55 wrote:
It's an excellent game and it's the perfect length for me. I really don't know anything about that time period, so for me a game like this makes me want to learn more about the history of it.


It does a very good job of capturing the history at a 10,000 foot level. The noted omission is the politics of the period, which presumably will be addressed in Mark Herman's upcoming game.
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David Dockter
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seanmac wrote:
patton55 wrote:
It's an excellent game and it's the perfect length for me. I really don't know anything about that time period, so for me a game like this makes me want to learn more about the history of it.


It does a very good job of capturing the history at a 10,000 foot level. The noted omission is the politics of the period, which presumably will be addressed in Mark Herman's upcoming game.


10,000 foot level; a good way to summarize it. However, I usually detest 10k ft level games; this one has a decent play value (enough decision paths).

The one slick nod to politics is the ability to instigate civil wars in neutral or enemy territory.
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Roger Hobden
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Nice session report of an excellent game.


 
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David Dockter
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The designer, Fran Diaz, is a guest on just published episode XXV of Guns, Dice, Butter ; he has a great story or two
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Rich Horton
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The haters are wrong about Hellenes. They are looking for an historical simulation of the Peloponnesian War and it is much more of a sandbox of the Athenian/Spartan rivalry. In that it is more Triumph & Tragedy than Unconditional Surrender. If you like the scope and latitude the sandbox approach gives you you will enjoy Hellenes.

Take the game Patrick and I played on Friday at The Source. Right off the bat Patrick played an event to increase taxes for the Athenians, squeezing their empire and giving him +2 ops for every card he plays... a BIG payoff. However, that comes at a price, namely making Revolts worse. The question is what to do as the Spartan. I decided to play a political game. I turtled militarily... I built up units for Sparta and her allies but I didn't venture out where Athens greater mobility and extra ops could hurt me. Instead I played 2 revolts (the max possible) each and every year. The high taxes caused revolts to spread and Athens had to spend most of her extra ops putting out fires. Finally I launched an expedition against a minor Athenian holding which prompted a reply... and diverted resources and ops AWAY from holding the Athenian empire together. Athens quickly lost control of her empire and thus lost the war.

All that and we never fought a large battle (which is the kind of thing that drives a "slash and hack I love a TANK" sort of wargamer up a tree with frustration - but which is just good clean fun to me.)
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David Dockter
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Thanks for the insight, Rich. I'd be interested in giving Hellenes a toss at the club soon.
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Mark Herman
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rhorto01 wrote:
The haters are wrong about Hellenes.


The Haters are almost always wrong as I find most folks view of history is based on a book they read. Nerd rage should be ignored and folks should decide for themselves.
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David Dockter
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Polis in the classroom: http://warontherocks.com/2016/04/wargaming-in-the-classroom-...
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Fran Diaz
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Herr Dr wrote:


Senior US military officers playing Polis
Absolutely overwhelmed modest

You made my day year David.

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David Dockter
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Damm; the 1st MN has been out "pimp'd out". A gauntlet has been tossed down. Time for us to pick up our game and get some more BIG game maps. arrrh
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