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Hellenes: Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Hellenes and Athens & Sparta Compared rss

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James Miller
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No doubt people who have played either GMT’s Hellenes or Columbia Games’ Athens & Sparta (A&S), but not both, may wonder how the two compare since the subject of both games is the Peloponnesian War and both are card driven block games with similar game mechanics. This review compares the two, but is by no means comprehensive in its presentation.

In Hellenes the player has the option to play a card either for the actions or the event (provided the event is playable) but not both, whereas the majority of A&S cards provide only actions, the remainder, with some exceptions, allowing the player to play both an event and action. Two of the A&S cards allow a side to recruit a neutral if that power has not yet entered play. Both games have act-of-God type events, e.g., Plague, which I disagree with, as such events are more realistically simulated through a random event table. On the plus side, none of the events are potential game busters such as the Mud event in Crusader Rex.

In both games, players start each turn with a hand of six cards allowing both players to be able to have the god-like power to plan the play of a card up to six rounds in the future. This is probably my biggest objection to card driven games (in addition to the act-of-God type events mentioned above). The mechanic sacrifices realism for gamesmanship. Coumbia Games’ Texas Glory provides a more realistic mechanic here by limiting the initial hand size and then allowing players to draw a new card each round.

A&S is at a larger scale, each ‘game turn’ (here, I use the term ‘game turn’ to mean the play of a complete card hand by both players) being termed an Olympiad and covering four years, whereas in Hellenes, a game turn corresponds to a single year. Since the actual wars covered 27 years, the scale of A&S allows the entire conflict to be played in a single sitting of 7 Olympiads. Experienced players can complete a game of A&S in about three hours. Hellenes breaks the war into several scenarios: (1) the 431 Campaign lasting 10 years (that is, ten sets of card hands) with an estimated playing time of four hours, (2) the 2 hour Sicily Campaign of 5 years, (3) the 413 Campaign of 10 years (4 hours), and (4) the 415 Campaign which combines the previous two scenarios for an estimated 6 hours of playing time. Both games have a traditional sequence of play of move-combat-move-combat as opposed to the move-move-mutual combat sequence of Hammer of the Scots.

Both maps cover approximately the same geography with the A&S map, despite the larger time scale, depicting more towns and cities. The A&S map is hex based while Hellenes is area based. The most striking difference in the map designs are that several key cities in A&S are unfortified, whereas ever city in Hellenes is fortified including Sparta which historically wasn’t.

A major difference between the two games is the roster of forces. In A&S every major city has its own force whereas in Hellenes the cities of the Athenian empire (not including non member allies such as Corcyra and Naupactus) have no corresponding forces except for Athens and Platea. From my reading of Thucydides (admittedly it’s been a while), the Hellenes design seems the accurate. The difference is in part due to another difference in the designs. In A&S, one can simply walk into a vacant city and capture it, whereas in Hellenes every city has a garrison which is placed whenever the city comes under siege. A garrison is worth a single step, and each city, regardless of size is limited to a single such garrison. I find the Hellenes’ roster the more historical. In essence, the A&S design reflects an earlier time before the Delian League was turned into the Athenian Empire, and most of its members were converted into Athenian vassals.

In A&S, replacements and reinforcements are obtained at the end of an Olympiad, the number available being dependent on the cities controlled. Reserve blocks, not on the board initially, are available at the end of the first Olympiad and their recruitment is important in garrisoning cities to allow the release of more forces for operations.

In Hellenes, card actions may be spent for reinforcements instead of movement. Unlike A&S where the player has a choice of which new units to build (the cost for fleets and cavalry being twice that for infantry), in Hellenes for each new build the player blindly draws three blocks from the force pool and keeps one at single step strength.

As is typical of Columbia Games designs, there are hexside limits for movement and hex stacking limits which I find unrealistic for the game scale. In one sense this is offset in that each card action allows the movement of a single block as opposed to a group of blocks, so at most, five blocks may be moved. No such limits apply in Hellenes allowing the game to more realistically simulate history.

Revolts were a key aspect of the Peloponnesian War and are key parts of both game designs. In A&S they are simulated by the placement of a rebel block through the expenditure of action points. In Hellenes they are activated by the play of card events. Both games provide penalties against Athens should Sparta control the strategically vital Hellespont and choke off the Athenian grain supply.

The mechanics of field battles are similar with units firing in order of type (e.g., cavalry, light troops, etc.), and defenders firing first for units of the same type. A field battle is limited to two rounds in A&S, after which the attacker must retreat, as opposed to unlimited rounds in Hellenes. Hellenes has the unique mechanic that a unit has equal probability of rolling a rout as a hit, one of the opponent’s weakest units becoming hors de combat (excuse my French) for each rout result rolled. Because there are no stacking limits in Hellenes (other than inside cities) and an entire force can be moved by a single action point, battles in Hellenes can often involve a large number of blocks compared to A&S. Hellenes realistically accounts for group uncoordination, that is, groups that enter a contested area by different routes engage as separate groups, a mechanic that I heartedly agree with for ancient-medieval games (see my review of Richard III). This is not an issue in A&S which I concur makes sense considering its larger time scale.

Both games appropriately give native Spartan hoplite units the edge in land combat, and Athenian fleets the edge in naval combat. In Hellenes, Greek ground units may be transported by fleets, a mechanic I believe was in an earlier design of A&S but was dropped. In A&S, fleets have the same combat factor in both a naval and land combat, whereas in Hellenes fleets have a reduced combat factor for land combat to simulate the crews being used as soldiers. Ground units may be strategically moved from friendly port to friendly port by sea in Hellenes.

In both games sieges can be drawn out and attempting to take a town by assault expensive as defenders get double defense (that is, it takes two hits to eliminate a step). In Hellenes, in any round a player plays a card for actions, the opponents besieged cities (in the case of ports, they must be both besieged by land units and blockaded) roll for siege attrition. Similarly in A&S, except the attrition rolls apply to both besieged and besiegers which I believe to be more historically realistic.

Victory in A&S as well as the production of replacements and reinforcements is determined by city control. This tends to make it a game of attrition, appropriate for the war. Outside of sudden death victory conditions (for example, Sparta capturing Athens), an Athenian victory results if Sparta cannot gain the requisite victory points by game end. There has been some (much?) controversy over the level required for Spartan victory with the game being judged as unbalanced in favor of Athens. I believe that Columbia is addressing this issue. The other common complaint about A&S is what is perceived to be insufficient incentive for Athens to carry the war to Sicily. I am not among those critics as I prefer game designs that don’t force players to behave in a historically stupid fashion. Hellenes avoids having to confront the issue by making the Sicilian campaign a separate scenario with additional Peace of Nicias rules.

Victory in Hellenes is determined by the net number of prestige points, prestige changing as a result of capturing cities, winning battles, pillaging enemy city states (a historical tactic omitted in A&S), and control of enemy cities at the end of a game turn. If a player’s side has obtained sufficient prestige, the player may attempt a sudden-death victory through the play of the proper event card and a successful die roll. Although probably a mortal blow, the fall of either Athens or Sparta to the enemy does not result in a sudden-death victory.

Although I feel Hellenes is the more realistic simulation of the two, in part due both to its use of a smaller time scale and more complex rules, I rate both games as excellent not only in gaming experience but as simulations.

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James Miller
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Correction. The sentence about port-to-port movement of ground forces refers to A&S and not Hellenes. Also my apologies for some typos.
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Martin McCleary
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thanks for the comparison. If you could only buy one, then which one and why?
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Chris Montgomery
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Very nice comparison, thanks. I purchased Hellenes, and after a solo play-through today, really, really, really, like it. After reading your review, I think I made the right choice between the two.

Thanks for the review. Here's a small GG tip for you.

Chris
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Stokey Brown
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Rallye72 wrote:
thanks for the comparison. If you could only buy one, then which one and why?


Athens & Sparta (at least shortly after it was released) was an unplayable mess that I would recommend only for kindling. People who claim to like it are either playing a different game than I played, are from a different universe, or have discovered some mysterious secret about it that was lost to me.

Hellenes, by contrast, is a finely-tuned, interesting and competitive game that has obviously had a lot of thought and energy put into it.

If you want to flush your gaming money down the toilet and have a steaming pile of doggy doo delivered to your door, get Athens & Sparta. If you want a one of the better block games made in the past 15 years, get Hellenes.
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James Miller
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Quote:
If you could buy one then, which one and why?
I would buy Hellenes. Not only do I find it the better simulation of the two, but the design invokes a lot of the tension and tough decision making (gee, do I play the card for the event or for the actions?) of a good card-driven game.

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Jim Patterson
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Excellent job, James.
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Terry Perdue
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zurupeto wrote:
Rallye72 wrote:
thanks for the comparison. If you could only buy one, then which one and why?


Athens & Sparta (at least shortly after it was released) was an unplayable mess that I would recommend only for kindling. People who claim to like it are either playing a different game than I played, are from a different universe, or have discovered some mysterious secret about it that was lost to me.

Hellenes, by contrast, is a finely-tuned, interesting and competitive game that has obviously had a lot of thought and energy put into it.

If you want to flush your gaming money down the toilet and have a steaming pile of doggy doo delivered to your door, get Athens & Sparta. If you want a one of the better block games made in the past 15 years, get Hellenes.


This is a disgusting rant. I own both games, and both games are playable. I owned A&S first, played it several times and it was EASILY playable. Hellenes was also easily playable. Why would you have such a nasty restarded view of someones product unless you have some vested interest in the opposite product? however, I will give you this= you seem to be an expert on fecal matter, either from having a head full of it, or from a steady diet of it.
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Stokey Brown
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Markeedeesade wrote:
This is a disgusting rant. I own both games, and both games are playable. I owned A&S first, played it several times and it was EASILY playable. Hellenes was also easily playable. Why would you have such a nasty restarded view of someones product unless you have some vested interest in the opposite product? however, I will give you this= you seem to be an expert on fecal matter, either from having a head full of it, or from a steady diet of it.


You know, Terry, I'm resentful that Columbia charged me $70 for that underdeveloped dribble, and I'm entitled to feel strongly about it. Maybe they've since revised the rules (like they did with the originally unbalanced Crusader Rex), but when I played it it was equally horrid both times. I do not enjoy spending my own money to playtest Columbia's games, and based on the fact that Columbia released it in the condition they did, I'm willing to bet that's close to what they expected of me.

Hellenes is an excellent game, which I recently discovered after my GMT pre-order arrived. I feel it's a disservice to Hellenes to mention it in the same company as Athens & Sparta, and I hope that people who feel the same way I do about Athens & Sparta won't write off Hellenes because of the unrelated experience.

In any event, I was hoping to make my point without revealing that I secretly diet on feces, but you were able to read between the lines and discover the embarrassing truth. Kudos to you.
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Terry Perdue
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Hellenes is an excellent game, which I recently discovered after my GMT pre-order arrived. I feel it's a disservice to Hellenes to mention it in the same company as Athens & Sparta, and I hope that people who feel the same way I do about Athens & Sparta won't write off Hellenes because of the unrelated experience.

In any event, I was hoping to make my point without revealing that I secretly diet on feces, but you were able to read between the lines and discover the embarrassing truth. Kudos to you.[/q]

Stokey, you just made me laugh my ass off! I liked both games. HOWEVER, after you mention it, A&S did have some missing spots. I had played enough block games and new the period well enough to be able to make it work, and enjoyed it; but having said that, it did feel like playtesting. I made it work and we enjoyed it, but I cant tell you what I did to do so, as the friend I played with passed away shortly after. It was the last game we played, so perhaps I was emotional for the wrong reasons.
Hellenes is awesome. A&S REWORKED was fun.
Don't get me started on the OTHER Pelopenesian(sic) war game. It was a disaster.
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Joel Toppen
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Quote:
Don't get me started on the OTHER Pelopenesian(sic) war game. It was a disaster.


You mean Epic of the Peloponnesian War?

I had HIGH hopes for this one. In fact when HELLENES went into final development I intentionally put it and Peloponnesian War aside as I didn't want any distractions from the work on HELLENES. Then, after it went to print I dug it out and read the rules. The rules were detailed, but that's what I expected, and they read ok. Then, I set the game up. Immediately the game began to crash. I'm sad to say the game is almost unplayable. cry It's a shame too because it looks so good.

I'll probably give it another go as I WANT a Pelop. War game that handles the war at that level of detail--a step or two more detailed than HELLENES.

-Joel
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Thanks for the comparison. I bought Hellenes yesterday and began a solo game (413 scenario, Sparta 6 points ahead at the half way mark) last night, I am very impressed. A&S was sitting right next to Hellenes in the shop and I am glad that I seem to have made the right choice!

For me Hellenes falls into the category of simple-yet-deep CDGs also exemplified by Unhappy King Charles (UKC) and Twilight Struggle. The rules are clear and fairly intuitive but throw up all sorts of combinations and options. My next step will be a FTF game when more tricks will certainly emerge.

Two queries: (1) Has anyone made a war-long scenario? I'd say it is crying out for one; (2) In UKC the designer has made a big effort to give apparently "gamey" decisions a real-world correlate (eg do I dissolve my army or fight, risking prestige points?). I haven't yet got a feeling for whether that is true with Hellenes. What do others think?

I have a bit of an obsession with Pelopponesian War games. I have a long, lovely and odd game from Simulations Canada (I have been "in the middle" of the same game for more than 20 years); the solo game that came out in the 90s, which I played quite a lot but it didn't really satisfy me (for some reason I dislike games with unlimited movement - except the Richard Berg RRR series; and the mechanism for switching sides as the solo player is gaminess personified); the Epic (which like Joel I too broke out, wanted to love, and didn't have the courage to begin) and now Hellenes, which feels like what I was looking for all along.

Paul
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Russ Williams
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Cool review! I finally got Hellenes to the table yesterday and enjoyed it a lot, and I enjoyed reading your discussion of how its system reflects the historical situation.

One rule correction:
dracorex wrote:
In Hellenes, in any round a player plays a card for actions, the opponents besieged cities (in the case of ports, they must be both besieged by land units and blockaded) roll for siege attrition.

This seems incorrect. You can do Siege Attrition during an Event or Action turn. Siege Assault is the one that can only happen in an Action turn. The rules say:

Hellenes rules wrote:
During Event player-turns, only Siege Attrition can occur. If Actions have been spent, either Siege Assault or Siege Attrition can occur.

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James Miller
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Oops, my snafu. Thanks for the correction, Russ. Siege attrition happens every turn. That certainly makes sense.

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