Chris Montgomery
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Joliet
Illinois
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Hellenes: Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War:
Asymmetry and Clever Mechanics Combine for an Elegant New Design




Introduction

Craig Besinque -- the famed designer, most noted for the EastFront, Westfront, MedFront, EuroFront series of games -- has released his latest game design, a block game on the various campaigns of the Peloponnesian War. The game is called Hellenes: Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War (hereafter “Hellenes”) and like many block games, it is easy to learn but hard to master.

For those not familiar with the conflict (and I am by no means an expert), the Peloponnesian War was a battle between two warring city-state leagues: the Delian Leauge, led primarily by the economically powerful city-state of Athens, and the Spartan League, led by militarily powerful city-state of Sparta. Corinth (the economic rival of Athens) became embroiled in a diplomatic issue with Athens over the status of Corinth’s colony, Corcyra. Athens, seeing an opportunity to expand its league and put mud in the eye of Corinth, backed Corcyra. Corinth didn't take the snub lying down. Instead, Corinth plotted a revolt in Athens’ distant former colony, Potidea. Athens moved swiftly to crush the Potidean revolt. Corinth then used Athens’ siege of Potidea to argue to the Spartan League that Athens was, essentially, growing too big for its breeches and threatened to make all of Greece an Athenian hegemony. Sparta backed its ally, Corinth, and the Peloponnesian War began.

The subsequent series of wars lasted nearly thirty years and is known collectively as the Peloponnesian War. The violence is punctuated by a short seven year period of peace known as the Peace of Niceas, which like all peace treaties, had been meant as a formal end – forever – of the conflict. Think of the Peace of Niceas as the years between World War I and World War II. For the Greeks at the time, these were literally world wars.

I give this game a huge thumbs up for the block game genre and its ability to capture the flavor and feel of the conflict. Though the game paints the war in broad strokes, ignoring fine lines, it captures the feel, if not necessarily the historicity, of the conflict. In that sense, it is EastFront for ancient Greece.

This is a long review; if you are already familiar with the game, components, and mechanics, skip to the sections entitled “Things I Liked" and "Things I Didn’t Like” and read from there. That’s the meat-and-bones for critical discussion.

This game would be recommended not only for an ancients enthusiast looking for a lighter game on the subject, but also newer wargamers looking to break into block games.

A Note on Images: I do not own and did not create the images used in this review. I am a horrible photographer - take a look at my gallery sometime. These images were used from the game’s gallery on BGG. These images belong to their respective authors. If you like the images, give the author a thumb, and maybe some GG.

My Experience

I’m tired of reading reviews from people who either haven’t played a game sufficiently to review it in depth, or don’t have enough of a wargaming background to evaluate the title as it contrasts and compares to what’s already on the market. Because of that, I always give a little blurb, like this, briefly talking about my qualifications to review this game.

My Wargaming Experience. I’ve been a wargamer for nearly – sheesh – twenty years (18, actually). I’ve been gaming since sixteen, with a primary interest in black-powder era stuff like the American Civil War, American War for Independence and Napoleonics. I have had a long-running admiration for miniatures gamers, but have never had the patience to complete a painted army (despite many failed attempts).

There’s been lots of off-and-on in that span of time, including a stretch in college where I was hardly gaming at all. I have made a serious come-back to the wargaming world, and the strides they have made since I left have my head spinning. I have acquired a dizzying amount of titles, and I know that I probably won’t be able to play all of them (such a shame!), but it's always fun to try.

I own over 100 wargames, and I usually try at least one new game a month.

I am not a picky wargamer and use a very loose definition of that term.

My Experience with Hellenes. I have played Hellenes five times (various scenarios), as well as moderating a newb game. I played the 431 Campaign once solo and twice against face-to-face opponents. I have moderated a newb game of this Campaign as well. I have also played the Sicily Campaign twice and the 413 Campaign once. Unfortunately, I have not played the 415 Campaign (which combines the Sicily and 413 Campaign scenarios). This is particularly frustrating to me, because I suspect it is the best of the four scenarios.

I wrote an AAR (in narrative, free-license form) on the game that I moderated, HERE.

All of my Hellenes games were finished a couple months ago, and I have since moved on to other games (most notably Dean Essig’s interesting Civil War Brigade Series). My playing of this title slowed down mainly due to my interests (which run toward the American Civil War) and the fact that my regular opponent was less than enchanted with the game, which he found to be interesting and novel, but not solid enough for serious, repeated play.

I felt a review was warranted on Hellenes since I enjoyed it very much and it fills an interesting and much-needed niche in the block game genre. I also noticed that it has not had many reviews compared to other games of its type.

I hope that’s enough information for the reader to be satisfied that I can make an informed opinion of the game. Anyway, on to other stuff.

Components



The components to Hellenes are what I call “GMT Standard”, offering high quality and functionality.

The Blocks. One of the most important components of a block game is the blocks. I found the blocks in Hellenes to be very well done, with bright, appropriately contrasting colors and well-designed, functional stickers. As with any block game, putting those stickers on is a pain in the kiester, but I’ll do it if it keeps the game’s price down. Here’s a photograph of some of the blocks up close without stickers:



And a couple Spartan blocks up close with stickers:



There were, however, a couple of criticisms with the blocks. The first was that the GMT blocks were not as thick as the blocks from Columbia Games, and while I am not sure that this is a criticism as much as an observation, it was, nonetheless, true:



I found that to the extent anyone complained about this difference, it was a minor complaint. In fact, the thinner blocks seemed to stand up just fine, and it allowed me to get more units into smaller spaces. This is especially true of the Attica area, where Athens is located.

In any case, if the board is too crowded, there are markers that allow you to take the blocks off-board.

Other critics have pointed out flaws with the blocks such that they are unuseable for purposes of a block game due to flaws which include a wearing off of the paint onto the sticker surfaces causing damage.

Take a look at the discussion on the paint rubbing off and possible solutions, HERE.

I have not had the above problem with my copy of the game, but I also do not have a terribly over-used copy of the game, either. Some people have pointed out this problem in other block games as well, so I wouldn’t think this is some special problem with Hellenes or GMT. In any case, GMT will always replace any components if you find you have problems, and the complaint appears to be isolated considering that the thread itself is only a few posts long.

The Map. The map of this game is simply beautiful and very thematic. It is printed on heavy cardstock a la the “deluxe” maps that GMT used to print. Recently, GMT appears to be moving toward a standard production of mounted maps (see, for example, Washington’s War, and the reprint for Here I Stand), but this game at the time of publication, was printed with an “upgraded” card stock map. Here’s a pic:



As you can see, the game has Sicily and the tip of the Italian boot in the lower left corner, which is used for the Sicily Campaign and later scenarios. The map divides ancient Greece into areas, and each area has a city which is either a port, or land-locked. Cities are shown as colored squares or hexagons with a number in the middle; port cities are hexagons, land-locked cities are squares, as here:

 


The map is not only serviceable, but doesn’t need plexiglass (like paper maps). Instead, by backfolding the map, you can get it to lie flat without difficulty. Of course, if you already have invested in plexi, then by all means use it.

The Cards. The game comes with fifty-five (55) cards, very well done. Here’s a close-up of the cards:



The cards are grouped into interlocking sets of categories. Red banners for Spartan events, blue banners for Athenian events, green banners for either side. These cards also have bronze, silver, and gold borders to identify which scenarios the cards are used in. Additionally, all the cards are numbered.

I would like to point out, here, that while the bronze, silver, and gold borders are nice and thematic, these colors were not at all useful – to me – in sorting the cards for the various campaigns. The gold was simply too close in color to the bronze. Instead, I just used the card numbers.

The Rule Book and Example of Play. The game comes with a Rule Book and an Example of Play and these two components are definitely of the best quality. The Rule Book is a 16-page, full-color, semi-gloss finished product with examples and margins chock-full of historical tidbits and insight. Here’s a pic of it.

The front cover . . .



And the Example of Play is right up there. Again, full-color, semi-gloss pages, 16 pages long, and a useful reference for in-game examples of common rules questions . . .



The Scenario Cards. The scenario cards are used to set up each scenario by giving each player a list of the blocks he begins with and where they are placed. I liked the concept of the scenario cards, and they are beautiful.

Here, for instance, is the scenario card for the 415 Scenario (the Sicilian Campaign, see below, under “The Scenarios and Lessons in History” for more information):



As you can see, the blocks above are grouped according to the geographic area in which they start.

When I first played the game, this caused no end of problems. The identifier under the blocks is either an entire nation such as Lacedaemon, which is composed of five areas, or the identifier is only a single province. The real problem arose because some of identifiers are both nations and areas, such as Corinth. Where are you permitted to place the blocks, then: only in the single province of Corinth or anywhere in the nation? The answer is that the Corinth blocks may be placed anywhere within the nation of Corinth. In fact, any time a nation is used on a scenario card it is referring to the nation, not just the province/city.

Nonetheless, other than this small snafu, set up is greatly enhanced with these cards. A warning to new players: match the block numbers to the numbers on the cards - not all blocks are created equal simply because they have the same color and icon.

Finally, here’s a pic of the 431 Campaign set up and ready to go. Looks pretty awesome, huh?



The Scenarios and a Quick History Lesson

There are four scenarios in the game, and they are all chronologically tied to one another based on the history of the conflict. They bear some discussion, here, before moving on to the mechanics of the game.

The Conflict: Assymmetry Personified. The Athenians were an economic and naval power. They did not have large armies. They used their navy to keep control of the seas and protect their shipping empire (sort of like England 2200 years later). They relied on the protection of fortified cities and the loyalty of their subject city-states in order to keep power and control. Sparta, on the other hand, was a land-based military power. While all Greeks, to some extent, used navies, Sparta’s strength lay in her over-land armies, which, at the time, were simply unrivaled in battlefield acumen. Add to this mix that Athens’ subject city-states did not like Athens at all (sort of, quasi, a little bit, like the various colonies of England 2200 later). Athens taxed them and controlled their trade, but they longed for independence.

So, Sparta’s problem is how to wage a war across islands without a proper navy; Athens’ problem is how to wage a war on the mainland of Greece without an army. Sparta’s job in the game is to keep Athens’ navy off quelling rebellions in its subject city-states while it maneuvers its army to attack and conquer provinces on the mainland. Athens’ job is to carefully balance the number of resources spent on quelling rebellions while at the same time having enough resources left over to defend itself on the mainland.

Here’s the various scenarios put in their historical context.

The 431 Campaign. This segment of the Peloponnesian War lasted from 431 BC to 422 BC, or about ten years. It is known as the Archidamian War, named such after the King of Sparta. This is the first stage of the Peloponnesian War and after ten years of fighting, this stage of the war culminated in a movie-climax-like huge battle between Sparta and Athens, with each army led by the respective leaders of each city. In the battle, both leaders were slain and Sparta won the battle and routed the Athenians. After the battle, the two leaders were dead and Sparta had a powerful neighboring enemy (Argos, remember Jason and the Argonauts?) who's thirty-year truce was coming to an end. Sparta and Athens therefore agreed to the Peace of Niceas, which ended the ten year conflict. The two leagues signed the Peace of Niceas in 422 BC. In the game, this scenario can last up to ten turns (ten years), or can end earlier, if the Peace of Nicias is signed sooner.

The Peace of Niceas. This is not a scenario, but was a seven year period of peace between the end of the Archidamean War and the beginning of The Syracuse Expedition. During this period, the Peace of Niceas basically said that Sparta and Athens were allied to one another and that neither of them would wage any wars against the other. In the game, the rule is that neither side may attack the other within the boundaries of Greece. There were some other things that both sides were supposed to do that they didn’t, and both of them pointed fingers at one another for violating the Peace of Niceas when war broke out again.

The Sicilian Campaign. In history, this campaign was basically dreamed up by an idiot in Athens. Similar to the spark in the Archidamian War, two small city states asked for Athens’ help against its hegemonic city-state leader, Syracuse. Syracuse supplied grain to Sparta and had Spartan leanings. BUT, Syracuse was not located within the boundaries of Greece. Therefore, Athens reasoned it could attack Syracuse without violating the Peace of Nicias. This ill-advised campaign resulted not only in defeat for Athens at the hands of the Syracusans, but also resulted in the loss of half the Athenian fleet.

This defeat led Sparta to immediately attack Athens while Athens was weak, reigniting the Peloponnesian War. This scenario lasts from 415 to 413 BC.

The Decelean War. The period immediately following the Sicilian Campaign is the Decelean War and ran from 413 to 404 BC. Athens had just lost half of its fleet, and almost immediately began suffering from revolts by its subject city-states (they knew that Athens was weak, too). Sparta had declared war, but had taken out insurance this time. Sparta cut a deal with Persia, Greece’s ancient enemy, to renounce any claims to Greek Ionia if Persia would help Sparta defeat Athens at sea. Persia and Sparta then engaged in a series of ship-building periods and challenged Athens on the open sea. Though Athens won most of those engagements, Athens could not keep up with the production levels of the Persians and Spartans. Once Athens was defeated at sea, its grain shipments were cut off, and it could no longer feed it’s one-million-plus citizens and surrendered.

The final scenario is called the 415 Campaign, which combines the Sicilian Campaign and the Decelean War into one 12-turn scenario.

Game Mechanics and Game Play

Object of the Game. The object of the game is to win the scenario by garnering more prestige than your opponent. You gain prestige by winning battles, sacking cities, pillaging provinces, and collecting tribute at the beginning of the year. The collection of prestige during the game is a tug of war between the players so that if Athens gains a prestige point and Sparta is ahead, then Sparta simply loses a prestige point. To win the game, a player must have at least 5 prestige. Anything less than 4 prestige is a draw.

The Game Turn. Similar to most block games, you have a hand of cards. In Hellenes, each side has a six-card hand. A full game turn is called a Game Year, and simulates all the action that will take place in that year. Every phase is mandatory and you can’t keep cards from year to year.

The game turn is divided into a New Year and then five seasons: Spring, Summer, High Summer, Fall, and Winter.

The first phase of the turn is the New Year. Tribute is collected in which each side counts up the value of their cities. The smaller number is subtracted from the larger number and the player with the larger number is given that amount of prestige.

Cards are then collected from the last turn and reshuffled into the deck. Six are dealt to each player.

The first card-play is a New Year card which can be used to make a sacrifice to the gods (giving you the chance to affect the dice in specific situations during the upcoming year) or you can play the card for its event (which fires immediately). These cards are played face-down simultaneously. Events fire first.

In subsequent card play, each card play represents a Season of the Game Year. Similar to Hammer of the Scots, both players simultaneously play a card face down and then reveal the card.

To play a card for the event, the card is oriented with the top of the card facing the opponent face-down. To play a card for the points, the card is oriented with the bottom of the card (the coins) facing the opponent, face-down. Players then simultaneously reveal their cards. A player who plays a card for the points receives points in the amount of the coins on his card (from 1 to 3). Events fire first, then points. Players with lower points play before players with higher points. In case of ties, Sparta goes first.

This can create an interesting strategy where you play a high-value card to go last in one card play, then a low-value card to go first in the next card play, allowing you two back-to-back activations.

Every season has an action phase, which is the card play itself (resolving events and spending points) and the combat phase, which allows players to fight battles, siege cities, and assault enemy walls). Note that players do not play points in Hellenes to siege, assault walls, or fight, you pay points for actions other than fighting.

If you play the card for the event, you execute the event text. These events truly do run the gamut of choices, from changing your (or your opponent’s) leader to really nasty things, like Augury, which doesn’t allow your enemy to attack or assault you for the season, or Treachery, which allows you to attack an enemy’s city walls without double-defense.

If you play a card for the points, then you may spend those points in a number of ways: movement, recruiting new units, reinforcing existing units, building a garrison in a captured city, pillaging, or winter maintenance (only available in winter, of course).

All the actions are pretty straight-forward and simple, but I will briefly describe each one, then move on to combat and sieges.

Movement. For one action point, you can muster units into a single area from up to two areas away, or move units out of a single area in all different directions. Part of movement can include forced marches and forced sails, which is a little too in depth for this review.

Recruiting. For one action point, you can randomly draw three blocks from your face-down force pool (not all the blocks are included in all the scenarios), look at all three of them, and select one to be placed on the game map in a home city. The other two blocks go back in the force pool.

Reinforcing. For one action point, you can add one strength point to a unit that is located in a home city.

Building Garrisons. For one action point, you can build a garrison unit (a small block) in an enemy’s city that you control. This allows your conquering units to leave that city/area and still keep control of the city/area.

Pillaging. Pillaging is a simple process whereby, if you’d rather not assault a city and lose troops, and you’d rather not wait them out by starvation, you can simply pillage their province and burn all their crops and leave. All your units retreat to an adjacent area and a pillaging marker is placed in the province. Pillaging gives you 1 prestige.

Winter Maintenance. Maintaining armies over the winter was very rare in this period. A unit that is in an enemy city or province that has not been conquered must either go home or be maintained. You may maintain one unit anywhere on the map for one action point.

At the end of each game turn, the last card play is the Winter Season, which requires units to return home, players pay for winter maintenance if they so choose, some limited battles and assaults might be fought, and sieges are continued.

There are many nuances to how these actions interact with combat, and many restrictions on them, as well. If readers wish to know more, they are encouraged to see the Living Rules on GMT Games’ website for more details.

Combat: Sieges and Land Combat

Combat will feel familiar to anyone who has played a block game by Craid Besinque, but there are some nuanced differences worth discussing. I have not mentioned naval warfare, mainly because I needed to cut something to shorten up the review. Check out the rules if you'd like at GMT's website.

Units. Units are either cavalry, archers, infantry, hoplites, or navies. There are other types, but those are the main ones. Occasionally, barbarians will rise up from northern Greece, as well. Each unit has an agility rating from A to E and a number from 1 to 3. The letter signifies the unit's speed. The number signifies its firepower. So, an A1 is a fast, weak unit (an archer). An A2 is a fast, medium powered unit, like Cavalry. A B2 unit is a slow, but very powerful unit, like a Spartan hoplite. There is even a massive C3 unit, which represents a huge 50,000 man barbarian horde.

Sieges. Sieges are done by simply moving into an enemy province. If there are no enemy units present, a siege is automatically established and a small garrison block belonging to your enemy is placed in the city. If there are enemies present, your opponent decides if he wishes to retreat into the city or fight. There is a unit limit of two times the number in the city’s icon, plus a garrison, which does not count as a unit.

At the end of every season (i.e., during the combat phase of each turn) after a siege has been established, you may roll for siege attrition or you may assault the walls. If you roll for siege attrition during any season except winter, you roll a number of d6's equal to the number of units plus garrison in the city. On each 1 that is rolled, your opponent must reduce a unit by one strength point. Your opponent decides which units are reduced or eliminated ,but the garrison unit is always the last unit to die. During winter, if you have paid for winter maintenance, then the siege roll is a 1-3 on each d6 to cause attrition.

If, instead, you want to assault the walls, then you have to declare the assault to your opponent. You are then required to carry through with an assault (no pulling out of it, now!). Your opponent then decides if he will capitulate. If he capitulates, all units are eliminated and you get the city, but you only receive 1 prestige for its capture. If you opponent decides to fight, then you perform a combat, as discussed below. If you win, you gain the city, and you gain 2 prestige.

The biggest restriction on besieging a city is that if the city is a port, you also need to blockade the port. Athens is considered to automatically have naval control over all spaces on the map unless Sparta cancels that control by placing a fleet in a naval zone.

Land Combats. Land combats can occur in a variety of situations, but you mostly see them during siege assaults and at times where your opponent things he can win a land battle instead of crawling inside his walls.

Every unit has a speed value, a to-hit number, and a strength value. Just as with most block games, as a unit is reduced, it is rotated to lower and lower strength values until, finally, it is removed from the game. As most readers probably know, each side will match up his units. Defender “A” units go first, then attacker “A” units, then defender “B” units, etc. As each group of units comes around, a die is rolled based on the number of strength points in that category. A number that is less then or equal to the to-hit number is a hit and reduces the opponent’s blocks by one strength point for each successful hit.

BUT WAIT . . . THERE’S MUCH MORE TO COMBAT . . .

The Awesome Rout Rule. I have given this topic its own section because I want to highlight it. It is an awesome new development for block gaming and one that I think will satisfy some critics who complain that the block-gaming genre is simply too bloody to be realistic (a criticism which I agree with when I’m in a more grog-y mood ).

Every unit can also ROUT other units. Think of think the die as a linear spectrum of 1 to 6. Units have a rout number that equals the opposite end of the spectrum. So a unit with a to-hit number of 1 will hit on a 1 and will also rout a unit on a 6. A unit with a to-hit number of 2 will hit a unit on a 1 or 2 and rout a unit on a 5 or 6. And, yes, the indomitable phalanxes will hit on a 1, 2, or 3, and rout a unit on a 4, 5, or 6.

What does this mean? It means you can lose a battle without losing any troops. For each rout result your opponent rolls, you have to remove a unit from the battle.

If you eventually win the battle, all your units that routed are returned to the map in the victory location (they ran away but formed back up after their bout of cowardice). If you lose the battle, your routed units are allowed to retreat, if they can, to fight another day.

In sieges, besieged units cannot be routed, but they can rout attackers. Also in sieges, every unit that is besieged is treated as an “A2" unit. This means that no matter their designation, they hit on a 1 or 2 and rout on a 3 or 4, and they ALWAYS go first. You will find in a siege situation that you will be praying for those rout rolls against an assaulting opponent more often than you will want to land hits.

This leads to less-bloody battles, when you have them, and makes it possible for you to win a battle despite being pretty heavily outnumbered.

It also makes combined arms a bit more important, since those A1 archers might be able to rout away some C3 phalanxes!

Enough about the mechanics, though. Head over to GMT’s Website if you’d like to check out the rules and read some illustrated AARs.

The Criticism

This is the actual critical part of the review. It includes some positives and negatives about the game.

Things I Liked

I’m just going to touch on two things I liked in this game. First, I liked the new mechanics, especially the rout rule. Second, I liked the chrome, which I felt was present, but not over-powering.

The New Mechanics. The best thing I liked was how the block gaming genre was opened up in this game. While I won’t pretend to be the expert on block gaming, I have played quite a few of them, including Rommel in the Desert (probably my favorite), East Front II, Hammer of the Scots, and Richard III. Hellenes is now my preferred intro-game for block gaming instead of Hammer of the Scots (unless the particular player really has a hankering for the Hammer of the Scots period).

The genre felt opened up by the subtle, but innovative, changes that designer Craig Besinque (and by extension, developers Joel Toppen and Ron Hodwitz), introduced in this title. From the pillaging option (rather than simply “marching through” an area), to the rout rule, to the interesting way that the card play mechanics interact with planning some type of limited strategy.

The mechanics all combine to create a great game system that constrains players from being able to plan too far ahead, but still allows them some strategic options. I really liked that a battle can be won with low casualties and that besieged defenders aren’t always doomed. I guess, as with many Besinque titles, I feel that Hellenes captures the flavor of the Peloponnesian War, even it doesn’t quite hit the sweet-spot on historical accuracy.

Chrome. Players familiar with the history of this war will recognize many of the events. Some of them have been “genericized” to make the events more applicable and useful, but many of the significant events of the Peloponnesian War are present. This includes the plague in Athens, the death of Pericles, Athens raising taxes (and having more revolts because of it), appeals to the gods for intercession (granting re-rolls or modified rolls to the dice), the Hellespont being the source of Athen’s food and therefore its strength . . . and on and on. The chrome is integrated in a way that makes it, for the most part, seamless.

Another bit of chrome, pillaging is a welcome addition to the block-game genre. And amazingly, the game system found a way to encourage pillaging without imbalancing the game. This also allows the Spartan player to use Sparta’s traditional plan: march up to Athens, siege all year long, fail to take the walls, pillage the countryside, and march home. Sparta did this for many years, and while it led to no small amount of starvation, it did not, alone, result in victory.

Hardcore gamers seeking a more thorough and accurate simulation of the Peloponnesian War will likely not be satisfied, but light-to-moderate gamers will definitely feel like they’re waging war in ancient Greece and fighting the Peloponnesian War (or a portion of it) all over again.

Things I Didn’t Like

There are some things bearing comment that weren’t as pleasing, and they can get in the way of enjoying the game.

First, as I mentioned above, I found the scenario set-up cards confusing at first. This is a minor problem an quickly resolved.

Second, the rules can be moderately confusing if not read with care. On a first read through, the player will not likely find any problems. Indeed, the rules are very well edited, in full color, with a nice lilt and flow, good examples and graphics, and hordes of information crammed into the sidebars. Even upon a solo play of the game, nothing really comes to the fore. But upon face-to-face play there will be some wrangling with some of the rules. Joel Toppen has attempted to address these issues in responses on BGG as well as in FAQs and updates to the Living Rules. I don’t find this to be anything out of the ordinary for any game, but some things can actually create problems if not discovered before hand.

For instance, as each category of units rolls to hit, it is possible that enough hits and routs will be rolled to eliminate and/or rout the entire enemy army - but which came first, hits or routs? If routs, the army might still be alive. If hits, it might be eliminated. Compounding the problem is the cavalry harrying rule, and the pursuit rules. Definitely check out the FAQ and the updated rules to make sure combat is handled correctly and in the right order. Trust me, though, figuring it out does result in a much more rewarding gameplay experience than past mechanics. Prior mechanics to handle the end of a battle were either (a) fight X number of rounds at which time, if no one is eliminated, the battle ends, or (b) fight until one side chooses to retreat. I like the rout rules very much.

Finally, while this is not necessarily a criticism, I have some misgivings about some of the scenarios. I think the 431 Scenario might develop into having a “standard” opening. I think the short (415-413) Sicilian Scenario is the weakest of the four scenarios, mainly because the Peace of Nicias cannot be broken during the scenario - this allows Athens to send all their forces to Sicily without regard for any type of defense of Athens. Of course, in the extended 415 Scenario (the 12 year scenario) this problem is likely remedied. Just from reading and looking at it, along with the special rules on the Peace of Nicias, it appears that the best of the four scenarios is the one that I have not played: the long “Campaign” scenario running from 415 to 404.

[Note: After some geekmailed comments, it was brought to my attention that the Sicilian Scenario only includes the forces that actually traveled to Sicily - basically meaning that you are supposed to empty out Athens for purposes of the scenario. There are other units there, they just aren't present because they aren't relevant for the scenario. Comparing this to the starting forces for the 415 Campaign scenario bears this out, as Athens has more troops in the long game. Nonetheless, I have to stick by my initial impression that things seem a bit easier for Athens than perhaps they should be in the Sicilian Campaign. Again, just an opinion. I suppose I would need to play the scenario several more times to prove that opinion to myself.]

Conclusion

In this reviewers opinion, Hellenes is a really great addition to the block game genre. It takes block games in the same direction they’ve always been headed, but gets further down the road than earlier titles. Nice, innovative, yet subtle changes combine to provide more depth to a block game than I have seen in a long time. While of comparable complexity to Hammer of the Scots, and offering the same relative amount of chrome, Hellenes offers a more rich and complex menu of options for its various scenarios.

However, as with any game, your tastes need to match your stomach for complexity. This game, despite what you may think after reading this rather lengthly review, is a breeze to learn and play, especially if you already have experience with other block games. For those that don’t have prior experience, Hellenes provides a good jumping off point, mainly because it offers complexity comparable to other block games, but has more to offer from the perspective of strategy and game-play choices. This game is definitely not for the armchair, ancient Greece grognard looking for a serious and in-depth simulation on the Peloponnesian War, but it does have enough meat on its bones to satisfy a player (like me) with a passing interest in the topic and a moderately serious interest in block war games.

If I had to give this game a grade, it would get an A-. Hellenes falls in that special group of games I’m nearly always willing to play, but isn’t quite interesting enough to unseat my current favorites. This failure is more due to my particular interests (American Civil War) than any flaws with the game.

I think this game will eventually be mentioned on a par with Hammer of the Scots. Then again, Hammer at least had a (very well made) film that sparked interest in its subject-matter, which is something that Hellenes, unfortunately, does not, at present, have.

Cheers.

And happy gaming.

Edits: Grammar, spelling, punctuation.

Edit 2: Corrected "black-power" to "black-powder". Fixed some other typos.
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Colin Hunter
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Re: Hellenes: Aseymmetry and Clever Mechanics Combine for an Elegant New Design
Great review, this is indeed a great game.
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Re: Hellenes: Aseymmetry and Clever Mechanics Combine for an Elegant New Design
A very good review, the quality of which speaks for itself.

(If that sounds like a backhanded way of saying I don't think prefacing it with your resume was necessary, I'll plead guilty as charged.)
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Re: Hellenes: Aseymmetry and Clever Mechanics Combine for an Elegant New Design
Good review of a great game that I wish would receive more attention that it gets.
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Re: Hellenes: Aseymmetry and Clever Mechanics Combine for an Elegant New Design
Sphere wrote:
A very good review, the quality of which speaks for itself.

(If that sounds like a backhanded way of saying I don't think prefacing it with your resume was necessary, I'll plead guilty as charged.)


Well . . . thank you?

I've done that "resume" thing the last few reviews, and I'm thinking about dropping it, only because it makes the review even longer - and boy do I have diarrhea of the word processor sometimes.

In all seriousness, thanks.

Chris
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Re: Hellenes: Aseymmetry and Clever Mechanics Combine for an Elegant New Design
grouchysmurf wrote:
Good review of a great game that I wish would receive more attention that it gets.


I have to agree with you, there. In my opinion, its one of the most accessible, best-playing block games out there.

Chris
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Re: Hellenes: Aseymmetry and Clever Mechanics Combine for an Elegant New Design
Great review Chris. In particular, your concluding remarks regarding suitability for those with and without block game experience were quite good. Plus it was fun to read!

This designer certainly has come up with some well regarded games and I look forward to see what is in the future.
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Re: Hellenes: Aseymmetry and Clever Mechanics Combine for an Elegant New Design
Capt_S wrote:
Great review Chris. In particular, your concluding remarks regarding suitability for those with and without block game experience were quite good. Plus it was fun to read!

This designer certainly has come up with some well regarded games and I look forward to see what is in the future.


I would also add that Joel Toppen is now a name I look for in a development team - he has had a few titles now that I really enjoyed - Washintgon's War and Hellenes are but two of them. If he's listed, I pay more attention to that title, even if it's something I might not normally be interested in.

I think developers often do not garner the appreciation that perhaps they should. While the designers are alchemists making diamonds out of coal and gold out of iron, the developers are charged with polishing the damn things for market, and it takes no small amount of instinct and skill, methinks. Though I've never done it myself.

Chris
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Nice review, thanks.

My main complaint about the game is that GMT didn't use 1/2" blocks instead of 3/4" blocks. They're just too big! I actually did write to GMT to see if there was any way to get 1/2" blocks, but no such luck.

But, still a very good game IMO.

BTW, it's a nominee for a CSR award, so vote!

http://www.alanemrich.com/CSR_pages/voting.php
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Excellent review. I have to agree overall. I think this is a fantastic blockgame. It is certainly the best one I have tried to this day (based on a few games of East Front, tons of games of Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex, and others like Richard III, Asia Engulfed, Wizard Kings, Rommel in the Desert).
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Great review. I totally agree with you when it comes to the criticism about the rules. At the first read everything seemed to be in place. But once we started to play, question after question arose and 70% of the playing time was spent on searching the internet.

You could have expected things to have been cleared out after the first play, but no. The second time was even worse in this regard.
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Marvellous review, readable and to the point. If I hadn't just blown all my cash on other games I'd go out and buy Hellenes on the back of this review alone. Perhaps next year.

You have made my day in another way though: your interest in "black-power" era wargaming. Do you mean Angola?
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gypsydave5 wrote:
Marvellous review, readable and to the point. If I hadn't just blown all my cash on other games I'd go out and buy Hellenes on the back of this review alone. Perhaps next year.

You have made my day in another way though: your interest in "black-power" era wargaming. Do you mean Angola?


Now that's a typo that, for some reason, I never caught. Thank you for catching that. I'll fix it right away. Though I have no opposition whatsoever to "black-power", I didn't mean to use the term in that context.

Angola is a game that looks interesting!

Cheers!

Chris
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Great review, that has finally tipped me over into wanting to buy this great sounding game.
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Wow, excellent review Chris. Thanks for taking the time and effort. thumbsup
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Nice review. I think i am convinced to buy it since its $40.00 on GMT and they are having a half price sale. I agree with your frustration about people writing negative reviews without having played enough to really know the game very well. But, the second point about not being able to evaluate it in relation to what is on the market I cannot agree with. I think a review by a person who cannot do that with a game is valuable because the reviewer is seeing the game standing alone and so has a unique and worthy perspective on it that an experienced gamer cannot have. They bring fewer preconceived notions to the table. I guess it kinda irks me because I haven't played wargames for 20 years and I haven't played a lot of the games that are out there, including most of what I understand to be the classics, but still think I am entitled to share my opinion about my gameplay experience without needing to put my gamer credentials on the table. This sort of gamer elitism is widespread and I believe it severely hurts the hobby.
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NerdofDoom wrote:
Nice review. I think i am convinced to buy it since its $40.00 on GMT and they are having a half price sale. I agree with your frustration about people writing negative reviews without having played enough to really know the game very well. But, the second point about not being able to evaluate it in relation to what is on the market I cannot agree with. I think a review by a person who cannot do that with a game is valuable because the reviewer is seeing the game standing alone and so has a unique and worthy perspective on it that an experienced gamer cannot have. They bring fewer preconceived notions to the table. I guess it kinda irks me because I haven't played wargames for 20 years and I haven't played a lot of the games that are out there, including most of what I understand to be the classics, but still think I am entitled to share my opinion about my gameplay experience without needing to put my gamer credentials on the table. This sort of gamer elitism is widespread and I believe it severely hurts the hobby.


Kyle! I'm sorry I'm so late to the party in getting back to you. I had accidentally unsubscribed from this review - silly me.

I agree with what you're saying - I also have not played many of the "classics" . . . while I have been a wargamer for over 20 years, I've only been doing it seriously for about 7.

I was more speaking to the reviewer who's played one partial game, has no frame of reference for the historical period, and "just didn't like it" without being able to explain to me why.

Thanks for reading, and posting.
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