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Subject: Hellenes: a dull and dreary affair the Peloponnesian War should not be rss

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Severus Snape
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Hellenes: a dull and dreary affair the Peloponnesian War should not be

By way of a most long-winded introduction:

Given my realities—full time teaching, part-time student, and all around mental—my tendency is to “come late to the dance.” By this I mean, when I write a review of a popular game, I am usually a Johnny-come-lately who finds himself entering late in to the discussion. Such was the case with Richard III; such is the case with Craig Besinque’s Hellenes.

Before I get to the review itself, let me comment on my fellow geeks and commentators. Among some, a noisy few, I notice a tendency to express shock & awe over other gamers who love or hate a particular design. A few of us have a “who dare you, how could you be so stupid as to love/hate this great/awful game?!!” Sigh. We are an opinionated lot, we devoted gamers, beginning with this Mandarin.

With precious spare time, I write reviews because I enjoy entering in to discussions of the history relevant to the wargame in question. I like discussing aspects of historical “accuracy,” and how well, or unwell, the design matches my, and your, understanding of the history in question. I like tweaking the egos of the ego-centric, while having mine tweaked in return. I enjoy pulling a face at the humourless, and testing the thin-skins of certain designers, my preference for which should be clear to anyone who cares to follow my passions and peeves.

In the end, the questions I raise have no real answers. Uber-Mandarins like Richard H. Berg will remind us that none of the wargames in question are historical simulations. We all know that these designs, regardless of the game in question, are abstracted to a degree that not even the designer can appreciate, unless he or she can travel back in time to the history in question.

If, if, if, I had more time to write more reviews, I would; but part of my reluctance, even if, if, if, I had more time is I want to say something worth saying. I am not impressed or satisfied with my Richard III review, but I had a couple of hours to go before bed and a strong itch to say something. And what can be said after the Uber-review by EndersGame? With the use of many images, arrows, and what not, you have the most instructive review of how to play a game. For other reviewers, it is the equivalent of a surgical nuclear strike. Yet, this great review does not stress what I like most: history, accuracy and how the design reflects both. I do not normally write reviews to teach others how to play, perhaps, in part, because I give my audience credit for being able to read (or have someone read it to someone who needs it read, if this is the case).

Before I turn to Hellenes—at last!—let me say that Craig Besinque is an outstanding designer, whose EastFront will always, always, always, be one of my favourite games. Sometimes, when I am feeling down, I just pick up my copy and sit in a corner sighing over its greatness. Therefore, as I go on to express my disappointment with Hellenes, it is not because he is not amazing, but amazing people can have off-days, and this is such the case.

Hellenes introduction:

This is a 2009, GMT design, subtitled “Campaigns of the Peloponnesian War.” The campaigns in question begin in 431, 415, 413, along with the Sicily campaign. No, there is no unifying campaign from historical start to historical finish. This means that there is a level of artificiality built in to the design. The design justification for this is the historical “time out” between Sparta and Athens, a view which ignores all the “little” wars, strategic and political maneuvering which occurred as each side got its breath.

Components:

Anyone who knows me, or wants to know, of who would prefer to forget that he or she knows me knows that, as a rule, I am a GMT fanboy. I will likely continue being on the p-500 list after I die. One reason I like GMT is the consistent quality of the components. From the standpoint of colour and overall design effect, what is in Hellenes is quite good. What I find disappointing, a word I rarely toss in GMT’s direction, is just how flimsy most of the components feel. And if something feels flimsy to me, then it also feels cheap.

For a while now, GMT has been putting out these maps that cannot decide if they want to be throwbacks to the old, and wonderful, mounted map days of Avalon Hill, or if they want to be stored in the bathroom by the toilet paper. Maybe it is just the cuts in the Hellenes’ map, or the way it unfolds, but the map looks and feels wrong.

Then again, the map is just way too bloody dark; dark as in one step away from stepping in to a coal mine. Yes, it’s that kind of dark. Seriously, what was GMT thinking when it approved this map by Donal Hegarty? Mark Simonitch, who designs great maps in his sleep, while sick, while hospitalized, while having twins, while being on American Idol, is given credit for labels and player aids. Why on earth was he not hired to design the map?

A dark map affects the quality of the design because it impacts the quality of the play. Look at some of the images. It looks like a four-year-old stuck bright hexagons over a field of mud-pies. Seriously.

The play aids are a cross between terminally flimsy—I know this seems to be the word of the day, but look at the game record sheet—and hey, I can actually handle this thing without having it fall apart in my hands. By the way, did anyone play test the game record sheet? It is next to useless.

Probably the best thing that can be said about the player aids is that the gaming community was so enamored with both their quantity, design, functionality and number that a slew of intelligent people, with the skills and software, came up with some extras that filled the gap, a gap so large that belugas are swimming through it even as I speak.

Oh, did I mention how everything, everything—well, everything but the game record sheet—is in colour! Colour! Now, at the risk of bringing eternal gaming damnation upon my pour soul, I am of two minds about colour. My first mind likes it much when it works. My second mind does not much like it when it does not much work. In this case, it works okay, once you get used to dealing with the flimsy quality of the paper. If I have a choice between a sturdy, well-illustrated black & white rulebook and a flimsy one with colour, I’ll go with the sturdy.
However, I can certainly understand anyone’s preference for colour.

To help sort out the questions and ambiguities common to every rulebook known by man, and a few by women as well, there a well-illustrated example of play booklet with large colour illustrations.

The Mechanicals (I am just cover certain aspects for which I have a strong opinion):

1) Set-up

Because this is a Craig Besinique design, you have an order of battle where the designer actually pays some attention to what goes on the stickers. There are a variety of unit types and nationalities representing the Peloponnesian players and their would be allies or enemies.

The down side is that the set-up calls for precision and time. We have been spoiled by many block games as of late and the ease of putting the blocks in their proper places. I can set-up the opening campaign of Richard III is about two minutes. The set-up for Hellenes sees you using player aids to assist in the process.

The up-side is that it adds colour and chrome to the game, enriching the gaming experience.

You have to decide which you prefer: tedious set-up times or less colour, less chrome. For me, it depends on how important these chromatic details are for the historical wargame in question. I have taken Craig to task for his cookie-cutter OB in EastFront; it is drab and in accurate, but it meets Columbia’s limitations on the number of blocks that go in the box. Does the EastFront OB affect game play? Not in the least. But because the eastern front is in my top five for military interest, I would have appreciated the chrome.

With the Peloponnesian War, it matters less to me. I kind of wish Craig had streamlined more along the lines of Athens & Sparta, which, for its own reasons, it another Peloponnesian disappointment. Just go with your preferences; and, if you like Hellenes, it likely won’t matter one way or the other.

2) Recruitment of units

Since we were on the subject of setting up the units, let’s address how more units come in to the game. You recruit them with action points available from the cards you draw (we will get to the cards further along). Again, like the chrome and time for set-up, up-side/down-side, there is a pro and con for this design decision. Your blocks are in the proverbial opaque cup and you randomly choose three, keeping one of the three you select. You then put this unit in its proper area, which might be on the other side of the map.

If you like randomness, then you have your up-side. If you like being able to plan ahead and formulate a strategy because you know from where your forces are coming, well, that is the down-side. I also find it highly questionable in terms of historical accuracy. Both sides planned ahead, recruited appropriately, and implemented their decisions. Of course, “reacting” to what the other side did took time, oh, says weeks and months of time. But a Spartan plan to invade Attica does not mean recruiting units in . . . Sicily.

I do not see the harm of allow sides to choose what they want, where they want. We are not talking about trying to build a panzer army first. The Spartans knew they were outclassed on the seas, but, in the random nature of this game, who knows when the might get something close to a fleet.

Again, your preference decides.

3) The Cards

Whether you consider Hellenes to be card-drive, card-assisted, or just plain card-annoying game, clearly the mechanism of the cards is crucial to the overall design and gaming experience.

With all the attention in recent years to having cards as a part of a wargame design, one might think that the cards would reflect creative, historical and enjoyable aspects; one would be mistaken. Many card-drive/assisted games have cards that blow harder than a hurricane. If you went by the cards alone in recent games like Washington’s War, Athens & Sparta, Richard III and, yes, Hellenes, you would wonder what’s the big deal with the American War for Independence, the Wars of the Roses and, yes, the Peloponnesian War?

In my discussion of the cards, I will treat them as a whole, ignoring, for time’s sake, their restrictions to particular campaigns.

If my math is correct, there are twenty-six neutral cards, whose events can be played by either side, twenty-two Spartan event cards, and six event cards for the Athenians. Without even knowing what events are on the cards, the discrepancy between the number for Sparta and Athens should raise eyebrows, and ire.

The six blue Athenian cards cover just two events: raising taxes (which provides more action pints, but risks more rebellion in the empire) and Helot uprising, which can only be played if the areas of Sparta, Messenia or Pylos are not occupied by the Spartan side. Knowing this at the outset, Sparta is not likely to leave any of these areas—and never the home territory of Sparta itself—unoccupied. There are enough weak units to serve as garrison forces. Thus, from the outset, realistically, the Athens’ event cards become the Athens’ event card.

The green event cards, which can be used by either side include the following: civil war (3), augury, which prevents an attack or assault by the opposing side (1), war/peace faction, which impacts when a peace offer can be made, possibly ending the game (1 each), plague strikes selected city (1 and only good when Pericles leads Athens), hunger (1) and earthquake (1). Finally, there are fifteen cards that either appoint or remove leaders. The better ones, like Alcibiades or Lysander, give you an extra action point. The average ones give you nothing. And that is the extent of the qualitative difference between leaders. Yes, you can pick up any good history book on the Peloponnesian War and see that the good leaders are all equally good.

Yes, I know you have to make an abstraction, but when must abstraction equal equality?

The red Spartan cards include six that bring the plague to Athens, and are only good for the first campaign. Persian aid (3) is good for the later campaigns. Next, there is a no quarter (1) for captured Athenian crews and one civil war in Corcyra card, for just such an occasion. The remainder bring fire & brimstone upon Athens in the form of revolts. Just as with the Helot uprising card, the Athenian side knows the likelihood of having to deal with a revolt every turn of a particular campaign. It will take more than one unit to deal with these revolts; a fire brigade in the form of naval and land units will be kept busy.

Finally, these cards provide action points, from one to three, to drive play along its merry way.

Given what I have read about the history, are there not alternatives or additions to these cards? Given the large number of the same sort of events, e.g., leader change & revolt, the play of the game falls in to predictable patterns. One is left feeling that the game is not good at history, not good at variety, not good at time, as in having a good time.

A change at the top should mean something of significance; one action point, either way, does not provide a significant advantage; if it is not intended as such, why bother? Why not have leaders replaced by rolling a die, with the odds affected by whether they won or lost their last battles? I am not saying it is a better mechanism, but it would free up a bunch of cards for some creative, fresh thinking. And six plague cards for Athens during the ten-year campaign? The intention is to remove and kill Pericles. There is nothing remotely subtle or hidden about this, so why not make this “cause & effect” happen in a different manner—a dice roll each turn?—and instead put six fresh, different, ideas on the cards?

What is on the cards, as in these other games, shows lazy, “do it because it works, not because it is good/fresh/innovative/historically insightful” thinking. But if we continue to buy these bloody designs, myself included, then designers call fall back upon this laziness all the way to the bank (which is not to say that anyone is getting rich off of this, but you get the point).

Richard III’s idea of events is let’s not have any. Okay, let’s have a few. But we won’t repeat any. Too few, too drab, but not eleven of the same bloody thing, and six of that bloody thing, because we ran out of bloody ideas, but, hey, that doesn’t stop anyone from buying the game.

4) Combat

I am not sure to what this amounts other than a “let’s have our cake and it eat too.” Hellenes tries to incorporate features of a quasi-tactical system within a strategic level game. Like Richard III, like every other Columbia block game I have played, Hellenes uses four sides of the blocks for “hits” (for a maximum strength of four) and the alphabet system of “A, B, C, D, E” for the speed of the units (the “who goes first & fastest” method). I am hardly the first or only gamer to find this system past its prime, but, like the CRT’s of Avalon Hill games of yore and legend, it sticks around because it sells.

To try to be brief(?), you match up your A units against your opponent’s A units, B against B, etc., with the defender rolling first. You apply hits against the strongest enemy units, blah, blah, blah. What is different is the ability to be able to “rout” an enemy unit, driving out of combat, while exposing it to possible pursuit or harrying rolls. If you rout all the units of your enemy, a panic ensues. If you win a battle by panic, you score two prestige points (the game is won or lost on the basis of prestige points, which is Hellenes’ term for victory points).

I think this combat system succeeds at making the standard Columbia system different without making it overly complex. There are possibilities for finding “nuances” in the battle system, which experienced Hellenes’ players will share with you.

You might very well like it: I did not. I am not sure why it fails to “click” with me. Perhaps it is the cumulative effect of the disappointment I feel with the other aspects. Perhaps it is the idea of trying to insert a tactical combat system in to a strategic level game that operates around seasonal turns. Perhaps it is the difficulty of wrapping my imagination around the idea that a routed unit cannot return to combat in a seasonal turn that represents months of time. And, finally, perhaps it is in the lack of play aids to assist in these battles (you have to depend on the ideas created by the fans of Hellenes and find them outside the game, like in the CRi magazine).

The Game and its Historical "feel":

Well, one cannot say that there is so much historical chrome in this game as to be difficult to play. I find little in the way of such chrome.

Look at the Order of Battle. No one can expect the sort of detail that you might find in a modern period wargame and its OB; it would be unfair to ask Craig to make one up for Hellenes. But he does try to add variety and make the labels pretty, so to speak. Yet, I feel the vacuum of history, not its presence, for all of his efforts.

Look at the map. It would be difficult to get it "wrong," but the overall design, the choppy areas, the dark colours, work against its historical "feel," not for it. I feel like someone used a box of Crayolas and went to work, albeit carefully, in order to give it what ambiance it has. Such as it has.

Look at the combat system. It is so abstracted, even while it tries to be tactical, that there is no colour beyond the labels of the units.

Look at the short and long-term plans for each side. We are just following the script here, one heavily-handed out by the history books and the card design. Events, like the plans that guide them, or are directed by them, are predictable, turn after turn. I haven't felt a game was this scripted since the last time I played that Ted Racier abomination known as WWII: Barbarossa to Berlin.

Conclusion:

I respect the publisher and the designer, but Hellenes is a major disappointment. The sum of its parts add to a tedious exercise that works neither as a game or as a representation of the Peloponnesian War. It is ironic that it is too well polished and crafted, because the polish and the craft only combine to show just how disappointing it is. If you have played Athens & Sparta, you have to wonder how two experienced designers developed two fundamentally different approaches to the same history, neither of which work.

I had a geek recently ask me my opinion about the game; he was interested in a trade. When I told him the truth, he thanked me and the trade is off. I don’t blame him. I would not have traded for it either. If anyone wants it, it is in good condition, waiting for someone who will appreciate its strengths, more than its weaknesses.

goo

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Robert Wesley
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Well, thanks especially "on bearing the weight of contra-complaints" that will surely become elicited from any adherents for this, with what you'd provided in the form of 'written ammo' about what you've covered thus far. I wonder if anyone could provide a "Google-map" depiction of the areas this encompassed, to display whatever CONTRAST(S) there were, as regarded actual terrain considerations? At the very least, then the sub-section 'lines' separating a larger portion into smaller areas could have been plain WHITE? I then wonder if you can utilize some WHITE marker/correction fluid solution, in order to re-draw them on the matter? You shouldn't have HAD to be doing that now, if it had been given of some aesthetic considerations beforehand either. Why don't they "step back", and permit another neutral observer to 'critique' about this sort of stuff? Oh yeah, that's right, since THEY'RE the: "supposedly professionals" then shouldn't these ought to ACT accordingly? Whose idea was it to make this entire MAP out to "B": the lower extension of them 'Pripyet Marshes'?
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Severus Snape
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Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
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"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."--Pascal
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Why don't they "step back", and permit another neutral observer to 'critique' about this sort of stuff? Oh yeah, that's right, since THEY'RE the: "supposedly professionals" then shouldn't these ought to ACT accordingly? Whose idea was it to make this entire MAP out to "B": the lower extension of them 'Pripyet Marshes'?


GROGnads, the "Pripyet Marshes" is too funny!

I have made the same comment--suggestion--in regards to proofreading and understanding the rules. The designer--obviously--is too close, and the developer & playtesters seem equally effected towards a bias that says all is well with said rules, maps, play aids, components, down to the box in which it is all found.

It would be an extra expense, though I am sure that there would be volunteers who would edit for nothing more than a credit in return. Some designers, such as Sir Charles the V, cannot waste time on fools like ourselves who find their rules sometimes a bit thick (perhaps in proportion to said egos?).

goo
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Given that your self-professed goal with this review is to bring to light "how well, or unwell, the design matches my, and your, understanding of the history in question", I am afraid I see very little of the sort in the text as given. Would you take the time to actually discuss some of the history you feel has been slighted in the game beyond, for instance, how a combat system which is "tactical" is dull and doesn't "click" for you? Sources would be nice.
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Severus Snape
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sdiberar wrote:
Given that your self-professed goal with this review is to bring to light "how well, or unwell, the design matches my, and your, understanding of the history in question", I am afraid I see very little of the sort in the text as given. Would you take the time to actually discuss some of the history you feel has been slighted in the game beyond, for instance, how a combat system which is "tactical" is dull and doesn't "click" for you? Sources would be nice.


Scott, it would help if you brought something to the table of discussion besides a poke in the eye.

"Sources would be nice." But sarcasm is cheaper, and always at hand. I would love to have sources for every comment I make about a game, or some aspect of history to which it relates. But for what purpose? Who pays for my time to write it or your time to read it? There are plenty of thumb seekers, and suckers, in BGG land, who blow wisdom out their orifices in their pursuit of said thumbs. Their glory is their reward.

Here are three ideas for discussion:

First, outside of sieges, or large scale raids to burn & waste the land, hoping to provoke a fight, how many instances do we have of large scale troop commitments that lasted for months or longer in the Peloponnesian War? I am not saying they did not happen, but are they not rare?

The structure of Hellenes allows for as many slam-bang large scale fights as both sides can muster in a season. So, for the purposes of combat, we have to abstract a number of weeks or months into a turn of combat. We either have to imagine the forces of Athens and Sparta lining up, manly man to manly man, with our Alphabet in hand, or some sort of running engagements that take place in an area of the map, or both.

Is Sicily an exception that proves the rule? Or is it just an example of an extended siege, one that taxed Athens' resources to the breaking point, one that came.

Second, there is the blessing & curse of historical hindsight, which both guides and hinders the designer and the player. Although both sides had a good assessment of each other's strengths and weaknesses, neither side had a long-term strategy worked out from the start. There was much in the way of "trial & error." Pericles wanted to just focus on raids and out lasting the Spartan slash & burn tactics. The Spartans wanted to embarrass the Athenians in to a fight, and take advantage of any discontent in the Empire. Both sides were opportunist and "played" accordingly.

The game design allows both sides to play with such knowledge of the long-term strategies that won--and lost--the war that the play seems reduced to die rolls and card play (and what joy are those card choices). The Spartan player knows revolts will happen with regularity. The Athenian side can have its "firebrigade" of naval forces ready to put out the fires around the Empire, all in a fight for prestige--victory--points. If I raid here, I get a point. If a revolt last until the next year, I get a point. Both sides play for victory points and hope for a quick end to the war; but both sides play with predictable strategies, ones I am not so sure were available to their historical counterparts.

The problem of hindsight enriches and harms every design; it is not novel to Hellenes. But the impact is such that the game is reduced to lucky rolls and lucky cards. And, one thing I failed to mention in my review, lucky "gods." Craig either had a brain cramp or a vision that his vision was a lame duck of lameness when he came up with the "god-roll." Shades of Pax Romana! Yes, Scott, you can search Kagan, Tritle, and Lendon for plenty of historical examples of divine intervention.

History is "slighted" which it is packaged cheaply and neatly in a design.

Third, as far as the combat system and history, I am not sure how to turn to any sources to support why it does not "click" for me. It is an improvement on what has come before in the "standard" Columbia design. It hardly has the feel of combat, a statement so silly that Richard H. Berg might shoot at me with live ammo. But if you want a piece of history, how about the impact of leaders? In the design, they add, at best, one action point. Whoop. De. Do. But some of these "guys" had a direct impact on combat, winning or losing the battle as a result. So, we will stick in a quasi-tactical combat system in a strategic level game, but make no allowances for the flesh-and-blood contributions of a Demonsthenes or a Lysander. Sigh.

goo


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Colin Hunter
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Thanks for the review. I disagree with much of it, although I think Hellenes is a good game. I'll make a couple brief points and see if I can't pop by later to offer more (and hopefully more indepth discussion).

With regards to historical feel - you may well be right here, frankly though I don't expect great historical feel from columbia style block games, so I get over it, but I think this is fair.

I think if nothing else though Hellenes works as a game. I think complaints over cards and recruitment, may hinder historic feel, but I'm not convinced they massively change your ability to plan, ultimately, you need to be aware of what is left in your block pool and play accordingly, the god that lets you redraw these is actually pretty good and under rated. The combat system also works to me as do the events. I'm not saying it has the real strength of say a Paths of Glory for example, in terms of interesting card play, but no block game has come close to a pure CDG in this regard yet and Hellenes is far closer than any others I've play. Ultimately yes I agree it is flawed, but for me the sum of its parts add up to much more than you might think.

Anyway good review.
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Severus Snape
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I think if nothing else though Hellenes works as a game. I think complaints over cards and recruitment, may hinder historic feel, but I'm not convinced they massively change your ability to plan, ultimately, you need to be aware of what is left in your block pool and play accordingly, the god that lets you redraw these is actually pretty good and under rated. The combat system also works to me as do the events. I'm not saying it has the real strength of say a Paths of Glory for example, in terms of interesting card play, but no block game has come close to a pure CDG in this regard yet and Hellenes is far closer than any others I've play. Ultimately yes I agree it is flawed, but for me the sum of its parts add up to much more than you might think.


Colin, good to see you, my friend from the land next to the land down under.

If a group of us were locked in a room until we came up with a list of games that were both great games and good history, we would die first. The liking, or disliking, of wargames is much like the writing of history books. Historians constantly go at it hammer and tongs, something of which I have seen again in my reading of the Wars of the Roses.

Let's briefly address your points: what is in the force pool is likely to be the ancients' equivalent of infantry. If you want to build, or rebuild, your navy, you have to draw until you get lucky. So, even with the Spartan foresight, or hindsight, that "tells" you that you need a navy to rush troops to support rebellions, you are at the luck of the draw. You cannot "plan," but you can . . . hope. This may make for a fun game (no sarcasm here), but it is loopy history.

Second, the "god-play" is another layer of luck, and not a luck supported or enhanced by any historical modifiers. In a game with dice and cards and a forces/pool draw, we will add an ahistorical layer of luck.

Third, if Hellenes is the new trend in CDG's, then I am doomed. Let's take steps backwards, limit the choices, make them predictable, stale, dull, and call it a CDG. Block games and CDG's can do much better. Much better.

Still, I am glad you find it fun. We need to keep both GMT and Craig in business.

As for history, I am but one voice, and not a "professional" one at that. If historians can differ, so can we, in the common passions that we share.

goo
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bentlarsen wrote:

Colin, good to see you, my friend from the land next to the land down under.


HEY. We are down under, too!

Quote:

Let's briefly address your points: what is in the force pool is likely to be the ancients' equivalent of infantry. If you want to build, or rebuild, your navy, you have to draw until you get lucky.


The game reinforces the historic reality of the Athenian naval superiority, and the ease at which Spartans recruited infantry (both at home and from allies), by modifying the chance by which you may have the opportunity to recruit navies as a Spartan. It is not 'pure chance', it is modified chance, which is one of the backbones of wargaming and, well, gaming itself. To say one cannot plan unless one has complete and full knowledge of the outcome of any action is pure silliness.

Quote:

Second, the "god-play" is another layer of luck, and not a luck supported or enhanced by any historical modifiers. In a game with dice and cards and a forces/pool draw, we will add an ahistorical layer of luck.


Another layer of luck? As Colin pointed out, many of the gods work to actively lessen the randomness of the game by allowing repeat actions - in other words, skewing by choice the pure randomness of the tile draw or the dice. Since you may choose a god with 100% certainty, there's absolutely no way in which the re-draw god (in specific) adds more chance to the game.

Now, historicity. It is undeniable that the ancient Hellenes thought that the Hellenic gods influenced battles, as they influenced many areas of life. This does conflict with most modern worldviews, but is undeniably historic. I also dare you to prove that they did not. It was a brave choice for a game, and one that was inevitably going to send some wargamers a-whinging, but it's one I admire.
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bentlarsen wrote:

Colin, good to see you, my friend from the land next to the land down under.
wolvendancer wrote:
HEY. We are down under, too!

North or South 'isle'? whistle
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I guess what I'm getting at in terms of the block draw is that it is marginal. Yes luck exists in it, but given that you can track what blocks you are likely to get and weed out particular sorts of blocks in order to get them later in the game, I'm not sure it matter that much. The luck technically adds depth, as you have to do more probability analysis, that is balanced against control. All I'm saying is that this is close to zero sum for me, yes I too would probably prefer more control here, but for me personally it is a very marginal point that I don't care about. However I take your point from a historic stand point and I should so easily dismiss this idea either. It does feel odd when I stop and think about and me merely claiming that its block game it doesn't matter is a spurious if I am 100% honest, well of course it matters, otherwise we should all go play go right? ) Game wise I'll say this though, I look at the block pool in much the same way I look at the deck in Paths of Glory, I'm trying to thin it so that I get the blocks I need when I need them. Does this mean building navy at times I don't really want it? Yes, but this might let me get to those excellent barbarian blocks when I need them and stop me drawing the stuff I don't want (or whatever your strategy is). I see myself pretty much always recruiting most of the blocks anyway, the question is what order I get them and what I pick first, Also you are only talking about a single ops point for a draw, not a massive cost really for a gamble of some kind.

Cards: As I aluded to, Hellenes isn't a masterpiece on this front and I agree, I think though it does a better job than the other block games with cards, purely because some of the decisions on whether to use ops or event are actually quite difficult. Space must be made to play events, I like that. Is it perfect? no, it isn't close, is it more interesting than RIII, HotS etc...? Yes by a country mile. One day I hope to see a block game with PoG/TS/ToC like card play, then I'll be a happy man. Untill then Hellenes is the pick of the bunch.

This isn't a response to your review more my musings
Combat: One aspect of combat that took me a while to realize, was that it almost never happenes. That is one side should almost always withdraw to siege or run away rather than fight in the field. Sieges happen, yes, but actual field battles are rare. I'm not a massive fan of the combat system either, give me a good old CRT any day, but again it is minor to me, since almost all battles between good players are sieges, even most sieges are resolved by surrender, so most field battles I find are between small numbers of units, where both sides can reasonably expect to win. These don't usually matter significantly in the game, so they don't worry me too much.

What I really like about hellenes is two fold. Firstly hellenes like all good wargames is largely about making small, but important decisions well and accumulating advantage. I like incremental play, it works for me. Secondly, the asymetry works for me, Sparta is strong on land, Athens can raid and is good at sea, the interaction between these is cool and the ability of each side to "buck the trend" and go for a different strategy is good as well. Athens can go for a more land based approach in order to punish a greedy sparta player, who spreads his forces too much, Sparta can do the same in the sea. I like that both sides have interesting levels, which they can pull and force particular plays.

Ultimately, I think I actually agree with almost every point you make, I just perhaps am less disturbed by them than you are. My only real bone of contention is that I'm not convinced that the strategies are quite as scripted in a game sense as you make out, but even here, I doubt we are very divergent. Again thanks for your thoughts.

Complete Aside:
Speaking of the War of the Roses, I recently read the the Paston Letters, which was an amazing insight into the war and the life at the time. It made me realize how much I felt Richard III failed at capturing anything interesting about the war.
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HEY. We are down under, too!


Sorry! It seems like anytime we heathen from up here confuse you "guys" with those "guys" to the west of you "guys," you want to sling us heathen up.

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The game reinforces the historic reality of the Athenian naval superiority, and the ease at which Spartans recruited infantry (both at home and from allies), by modifying the chance by which you may have the opportunity to recruit navies as a Spartan. It is not 'pure chance', it is modified chance, which is one of the backbones of wargaming and, well, gaming itself. To say one cannot plan unless one has complete and full knowledge of the outcome of any action is pure silliness.


The Athens naval superiority and the Spartan ground superiority are so obvious that I chose not to mention them. If there is one "fact" we know, it is this. As for "modified chance," we can bandy that until the cows come home. If the idea is to slow down the logical plans of either side, it comes across as contrived.

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Another layer of luck? As Colin pointed out, many of the gods work to actively lessen the randomness of the game by allowing repeat actions - in other words, skewing by choice the pure randomness of the tile draw or the dice. Since you may choose a god with 100% certainty, there's absolutely no way in which the re-draw god (in specific) adds more chance to the game.


You are speaking to a Roman Catholic; I don't rule out "divine intervention" in any form, and it's not the "heathen gods" that bother me. And, yes, everyone knows that the ancient Greeks believed in their deities. But show me a historical instance of when one of their gods changed the outcome. Since we won't find it, we just call it what it is: luck. A redraw is still another chance at luck. I would rather you just say that you like the mechanism and leave it at that; but don't avoid the "L" word. Seriously. But if you find it fun, then roll with it.

goo
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bentlarsen wrote:
Scott, it would help if you brought something to the table of discussion besides a poke in the eye.

Fair enough, I appreciate you answering my flippancy at all. I regret my tone a bit; I find your prose provokes a reaction in me which is part amusement, part road rage.

I admit up front that I don't have a lot to bring to the table, historicity-wise, since I only understand the subject in broad strokes. I maintain that it is up to you to stick to the goal of your review, mainly because that's what I want to read!

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First, outside of sieges, or large scale raids to burn & waste the land, hoping to provoke a fight, how many instances do we have of large scale troop commitments that lasted for months or longer in the Peloponnesian War? I am not saying they did not happen, but are they not rare?

This lies in the realm of player strategies. Yes, you can have all the slam-bang fights you can schedule, but it's a loser for one side or the other (no need for me to say which is which). In fact, as my ability to play the game improves, I find a great deal of the maneuvering of the game consists of the very things you cite: sieges, large scale raids to burn & waste the land (an important source of VP for Sparta), and hoping to provoke a fight (which should often fail against players with experience).

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The structure of Hellenes allows for as many slam-bang large scale fights as both sides can muster in a season. So, for the purposes of combat, we have to abstract a number of weeks or months into a turn of combat. We either have to imagine the forces of Athens and Sparta lining up, manly man to manly man, with our Alphabet in hand, or some sort of running engagements that take place in an area of the map, or both.

Is Sicily an exception that proves the rule? Or is it just an example of an extended siege, one that taxed Athens' resources to the breaking point, one that came.

I can't speak to this, except such abstractions are tried-and-true tools of the trade.

Quote:
Second, there is the blessing & curse of historical hindsight, which both guides and hinders the designer and the player. Although both sides had a good assessment of each other's strengths and weaknesses, neither side had a long-term strategy worked out from the start. There was much in the way of "trial & error." Pericles wanted to just focus on raids and out lasting the Spartan slash & burn tactics. The Spartans wanted to embarrass the Athenians in to a fight, and take advantage of any discontent in the Empire. Both sides were opportunist and "played" accordingly.

The game design allows both sides to play with such knowledge of the long-term strategies that won--and lost--the war that the play seems reduced to die rolls and card play (and what joy are those card choices). The Spartan player knows revolts will happen with regularity. The Athenian side can have its "firebrigade" of naval forces ready to put out the fires around the Empire, all in a fight for prestige--victory--points. If I raid here, I get a point. If a revolt last until the next year, I get a point. Both sides play for victory points and hope for a quick end to the war; but both sides play with predictable strategies, ones I am not so sure were available to their historical counterparts.

The problem of hindsight enriches and harms every design; it is not novel to Hellenes. But the impact is such that the game is reduced to lucky rolls and lucky cards. And, one thing I failed to mention in my review, lucky "gods." Craig either had a brain cramp or a vision that his vision was a lame duck of lameness when he came up with the "god-roll." Shades of Pax Romana! Yes, Scott, you can search Kagan, Tritle, and Lendon for plenty of historical examples of divine intervention.

History is "slighted" which it is packaged cheaply and neatly in a design.

Now, this is a bit silly. You yourself indicate that hindsight affects every design; one can hardly take Besinque to task for daring to include revolts or plagues in a game on the Peloponnesian War! In fact, the CDG format allows these events to have a reliable potentiality without guaranteeing anything, which makes for a bit of push-your-luck tension. Surely the ancients were aware of the possibility of both.

As for strategies, it is true that there was some blind searching for means that would work, but surely the "correct" strategies were "available" to the participants! I might add that my first plays duplicated that same search for good strategy as I learned (painfully and slowly) to correctly apply the advantages each side has. Spartans knew their superiority on land, and Athenians theirs at sea; these advantages alone suggest natural strategic developments that I feel are reflected well in the game.

As for the gods and their inclusion, I can think of nothing better to help capture the mindset of the original "players" -- and as someone else has pointed out, these act as brakes on the randomness and so serve a good game purpose as well. Make your offerings to hold Lady Fortuna in check...

Quote:
Third, as far as the combat system and history, I am not sure how to turn to any sources to support why it does not "click" for me. It is an improvement on what has come before in the "standard" Columbia design. It hardly has the feel of combat, a statement so silly that Richard H. Berg might shoot at me with live ammo. But if you want a piece of history, how about the impact of leaders? In the design, they add, at best, one action point. Whoop. De. Do. But some of these "guys" had a direct impact on combat, winning or losing the battle as a result. So, we will stick in a quasi-tactical combat system in a strategic level game, but make no allowances for the flesh-and-blood contributions of a Demonsthenes or a Lysander. Sigh.

The only reason I brought up combat in my first reply was to point out the digression from your stated goal; I can not and need not offer a criticism or defense of a system which does not "click" for you.

However, I do take offense with your suggestion that the +1 AP granted by good leaders is somehow not a big deal; it is, in fact, very strong to have an extra AP every season, i.e. five a year, possibly for many years. This very advantage provides the tension the Athenian player feels when he must balance his tax policy with keeping his league happy.

As I said, I do appreciate your elaboration, we can now meet on the chosen field of battle, and not in the dank back alleys that the internet usually resembles.
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What I really like about hellenes is two fold. Firstly hellenes like all good wargames is largely about making small, but important decisions well and accumulating advantage. I like incremental play, it works for me. Secondly, the asymetry works for me, Sparta is strong on land, Athens can raid and is good at sea, the interaction between these is cool and the ability of each side to "buck the trend" and go for a different strategy is good as well. Athens can go for a more land based approach in order to punish a greedy sparta player, who spreads his forces too much, Sparta can do the same in the sea. I like that both sides have interesting levels, which they can pull and force particular plays.


Colin, I think what you say is truer for the longer scenarios; I see it less in the ten turn one which opens the game. I do wish that Craig had allowed for the possibility of just playing it through from end to end. This would allow for more long term planning, and where you would see the increments of which you speak, working for good or ill.

With Richard III, I think Jerry is fundamental wrong in not designing it as an improved Kingmaker. He depends too much on Carpenter's interpretation, with not enough attention given to the scholarly dissenting voices. My sneaky feeling is that his overlords at Columbia would not let him do it. A game on the Wars of the Roses must have a serious political component or it is just . . . Richard III. But I need to start another discussion on the RIII page.

goo
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Scott,
My wife says the same thing--amusement and/or road rage--on a regular basis. Yet, still I survive.

To some of your points:

Quote:
This lies in the realm of player strategies. Yes, you can have all the slam-bang fights you can schedule, but it's a loser for one side or the other (no need for me to say which is which). In fact, as my ability to play the game improves, I find a great deal of the maneuvering of the game consists of the very things you cite: sieges, large scale raids to burn & waste the land (an important source of VP for Sparta), and hoping to provoke a fight (which should often fail against players with experience)
.

You have likely pointed out why Hellenes has more "yahs" than "nays." In the context of history, as I understand it, and without mine ever being the last word, it does not "work" for me.

Quote:
I can't speak to this, except such abstractions are tried-and-true tools of the trade.


And this is a part of the problem, if not THE problem, in terms of design. Guys like Craig are good. Very good. Is it not time to move past this tried and true--tired and worn out--and move the block design along to another level. I like Richard III, but I still tire of the same old same old.

Quote:
Now, this is a bit silly. You yourself indicate that hindsight affects every design; one can hardly take Besinque to task for daring to include revolts or plagues in a game on the Peloponnesian War! In fact, the CDG format allows these events to have a reliable potentiality without guaranteeing anything, which makes for a bit of push-your-luck tension. Surely the ancients were aware of the possibility of both.


Yes, it is a bit silly. I should probably think of a more nuanced way of describing the advantages and the disadvantages, for gamer and designer, of historical hindsight.

A questions: is this issue of hindsight more a problem, or potential weakness, of CDG's than other wargames?

What I would like to do is to increase the cards, both in quantity and in historical ideas, for Richard III. But how can I do this at a reasonable cost, while getting something of good quality in return? The same could be done with Hellenes. Look at the decades this war lasted.

Quote:
As for strategies, it is true that there was some blind searching for means that would work, but surely the "correct" strategies were "available" to the participants! I might add that my first plays duplicated that same search for good strategy as I learned (painfully and slowly) to correctly apply the advantages each side has. Spartans knew their superiority on land, and Athenians theirs at sea; these advantages alone suggest natural strategic developments that I feel are reflected well in the game.


I don't think the Spartans knew that they would have to have a naval race with Athens, bribe away Athenian sailors, bring in a Persian alliance, etc. All this developed over time. The books support this. As for the Athenian side, Pericles was a short-sided nimrod, but don't get me started on this bag of democratic gas. One of the ironies is that the "democracy" was the warmonger. Sigh.

Quote:
However, I do take offense with your suggestion that the +1 AP granted by good leaders is somehow not a big deal; it is, in fact, very strong to have an extra AP every season, i.e. five a year, possibly for many years. This very advantage provides the tension the Athenian player feels when he must balance his tax policy with keeping his league happy
.

Certainly, if the Athenian side was to tax to the hilt, risk rebellions, and add those extra AP's every season, it can bring long-term victory or death. But my point was the value of leaders in combat. History shows its significance, Hellenes its absence.

Thanks for the friendly and fruitful banter.

goo
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bentlarsen wrote:


Colin, I think what you say is truer for the longer scenarios; I see it less in the ten turn one which opens the game. I do wish that Craig had allowed for the possibility of just playing it through from end to end. This would allow for more long term planning, and where you would see the increments of which you speak, working for good or ill.

A fair call. I still think the initial 10 turn one is similar. It has been a while since I played now, although I played it quite a bit when it came out. One of the scenarios gives half prestige for capturing locations is probably better, I forget if that is the early one or the later one. I think that is the later one, which is indeed longer.
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bentlarsen wrote:

The Athens naval superiority and the Spartan ground superiority are so obvious that I chose not to mention them. If there is one "fact" we know, it is this. As for "modified chance," we can bandy that until the cows come home. If the idea is to slow down the logical plans of either side, it comes across as contrived.


No, it very much does not, no matter how many times you state it in a 'just so' manner. This is not chess, it is a wargame. The randomness represented by the block draws is simulationist.

Let us say I am the grand commander of the Spartan forces. I wish to commission another naval unit, and I give orders as such. But:

1. I can't find enough experienced crew.
2. I can't find enough experienced commanders.
3. The bronze from Ilyria was a bit crap this season, and it's difficult to import because of Athenian naval superiority.
4. Some hot-blooded young Spartan warriors insist we instead form a new unit so that they may be sent into battle.
5. An ally is demanding money for better spearheads or they may begin to side with Athens.

All of these are perfectly plausible historically, and all are reasons why Sparta has 'drawn three land units'. It's a strategic-level wargame. In history, one cannot simply 'choose' everything and expect reality to conform 100% of the time. Dealing with the unexpected, managing chaos and the unknown, are integral parts of the strategic-level wargame experience.

What you are asking is for the game, in this respect, to be less historical and more game-y. Which is ironic, given the thrust of many of your critiques.

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Since we won't find it, we just call it what it is: luck. A redraw is still another chance at luck.


It is not. You seem to be either intentionally or unintentionally refusing to comprehend this. I didn't think it necessary, but let me break it down.

Let us say there is a 15% aggregate chance that I draw the block I am looking if I draw three blocks, a 'normal' recruitment. But lo, in a turn past, I have (with 100% certainty) sacrificed to Apollo. I may now redraw any failures. By planning, I've doubled the likelihood that I will draw my desired block. I have, in other words, reduced randomness by 50%.

Redrawing, or rerolling, in support of a desired aim is by its very definition not more randomness but less. Picking up the dice again and throwing them all is simply more randomness (although it isn't adding any more randomness to the overall situation, as you are still throwing X dice and tallying the result; the first roll didn't count). When you take the 'pure chance' of the draws or the dice rolls (which are already not pure chance, but chance modified by the systems of the game) and adjust them to suit your will, you are lessening the overall effect chance has on the game.

There is a point at which even the modified historical randomness of a wargame can cease to be a virtue and become a vice - if, for instance, chance impedes the ability of the commanders to plan at all. I've never felt that way playing 'Hellenes'. I suspect that a good Hellenes player could beat a mediocre Hellenes player more often than not, which is the real test of such a thing.
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This is a good thread.
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bentlarsen wrote:

The Athens naval superiority and the Spartan ground superiority are so obvious that I chose not to mention them. If there is one "fact" we know, it is this. As for "modified chance," we can bandy that until the cows come home. If the idea is to slow down the logical plans of either side, it comes across as contrived.


No, it very much does not, no matter how many times you state it in a 'just so' manner. This is not chess, it is a wargame. The randomness represented by the block draws is simulationist.

Let us say I am the grand commander of the Spartan forces. I wish to commission another naval unit, and I give orders as such. But:

1. I can't find enough experienced crew.
2. I can't find enough experienced commanders.
3. The bronze from Ilyria was a bit crap this season, and it's difficult to import because of Athenian naval superiority.
4. Some hot-blooded young Spartan warriors insist we instead form a new unit so that they may be sent into battle.
5. An ally is demanding money for better spearheads or they may begin to side with Athens.

All of these are perfectly plausible historically, and all are reasons why Sparta has 'drawn three land units'. It's a strategic-level wargame. In history, one cannot simply 'choose' everything and expect reality to conform 100% of the time. Dealing with the unexpected, managing chaos and the unknown, are integral parts of the strategic-level wargame experience.

What you are asking is for the game, in this respect, to be less historical and more game-y. Which is ironic, given the thrust of many of your critiques.


Given this rather wordy defense(?), I think I can move beyond "it comes across as contrived," to it is contrived. Thank you for helping to prove my point. I also appreciate how you have been able to increase the gamey qualities, while hitting on some of the historical issues which I have with Hellenes. Help sometimes comes from unexpected places.

Quote:
It is not. You seem to be either intentionally or unintentionally refusing to comprehend this. I didn't think it necessary, but let me break it down.

Let us say there is a 15% aggregate chance that I draw the block I am looking if I draw three blocks, a 'normal' recruitment. But lo, in a turn past, I have (with 100% certainty) sacrificed to Apollo. I may now redraw any failures. By planning, I've doubled the likelihood that I will draw my desired block. I have, in other words, reduced randomness by 50%.

Redrawing, or rerolling, in support of a desired aim is by its very definition not more randomness but less. Picking up the dice again and throwing them all is simply more randomness (although it isn't adding any more randomness to the overall situation, as you are still throwing X dice and tallying the result; the first roll didn't count). When you take the 'pure chance' of the draws or the dice rolls (which are already not pure chance, but chance modified by the systems of the game) and adjust them to suit your will, you are lessening the overall effect chance has on the game.

There is a point at which even the modified historical randomness of a wargame can cease to be a virtue and become a vice - if, for instance, chance impedes the ability of the commanders to plan at all. I've never felt that way playing 'Hellenes'. I suspect that a good Hellenes player could beat a mediocre Hellenes player more often than not, which is the real test of such a thing.


Let's shorten this to two words, or three, not counting the contraction: It's luck. Again, just say you like it, you prefer it, it is fun. But the rest is just wasted energy, which just proves my point. If you like it because you find it fun, who can argue with that? But another layer of luck it is. It is just a layer that you prefer.

goo
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bentlarsen wrote:
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I can't speak to this, except such abstractions are tried-and-true tools of the trade.

And this is a part of the problem, if not THE problem, in terms of design. Guys like Craig are good. Very good. Is it not time to move past this tried and true--tired and worn out--and move the block design along to another level. I like Richard III, but I still tire of the same old same old.

The abstraction I had in mind is one of compressing months of action (2 or 3 in Hellenes) into a single "combat". This sort of abstraction is fundamental to the "game" part of "wargame". Could Besinque have hit on another method? Perhaps, but would it be as playable?

Quote:
Yes, it is a bit silly. I should probably think of a more nuanced way of describing the advantages and the disadvantages, for gamer and designer, of historical hindsight.

I have no intention of demeaning any attempt to investigate the hindsight issue -- it is the elephant in the room for all historical game design. Part of the art of design is choosing how much to address it and in what way; there is a school of criticism against strait-jacketing, for instance. So it can be discussed in detail, though there is a risk of becoming as irrelevant as art criticism, or of ending up in the "horses for courses" corner.

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A question: is this issue of hindsight more a problem, or potential weakness, of CDG's than other wargames?

In my view, there is nothing particularly special about CDGs in this regard from a mechanical standpoint -- however, the CDG concept, in practice, has gotten very stale and is implemented inappropriately with alarming frequency. So, yeah, it's a problem, particularly in the Raicer school of scripted decks separated by side and time.

Quote:
What I would like to do is to increase the cards, both in quantity and in historical ideas, for Richard III. But how can I do this at a reasonable cost, while getting something of good quality in return? The same could be done with Hellenes. Look at the decades this war lasted.

What are the events you feel are missing from Hellenes?

As for R3, the generic nature of the events fits with the Columbia house style; I wouldn't expect any major deviations from that formula any time soon.

I will comment that in one version of R3 I playtested, you had a smaller hand, but drew a card every time you played one. Each campaign lasted (I beleive) 10 plays. It was hard to plan for the whole campaign, but that's a benefit to the historicity in my opinion.

Quote:
I don't think the Spartans knew that they would have to have a naval race with Athens, bribe away Athenian sailors, bring in a Persian alliance, etc. All this developed over time. The books support this.

I should point out that none of this will happen in the first scenario, only the second (which is, at least, historically timed).

Quote:
Certainly, if the Athenian side was to tax to the hilt, risk rebellions, and add those extra AP's every season, it can bring long-term victory or death. But my point was the value of leaders in combat. History shows its significance, Hellenes its absence.

And mine was that +1 AP is significant.
I can envision leader cards that provide different types of bonuses and abilities, but can't suggest why Besinque ruled those out (it would be trivial to come up with ideas, so I assume he considered it).

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Thanks for the friendly and fruitful banter.

Likewise.
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bentlarsen wrote:


Let's shorten this to two words, or three, not counting the contraction: It's luck. Again, just say you like it, you prefer it, it is fun. But the rest is just wasted energy, which just proves my point. If you like it because you find it fun, who can argue with that? But another layer of luck it is. It is just a layer that you prefer.

goo
Luck is much more than just people liking it or not. Luck adds depth, possibly simulation value (up to you in this case, but you get my point) and many other facets. I don't inherently like or dislike luck, I doubt Wolvendancer does either, it is about what it brings to the game. Often you can give up a small amount of control to make a decision much more interesting. At times luck can significantly increase the size of the trees required to calculate a give decision, this could be good or bad, take it as you will, but I think all of us are beyond the intellectual idea that "I like luck" or "I don't like luck". I believe wolvendancer is suggesting that the luck mitigation provided by the gods means that the arbitraryness, the bad side of the luck, is not that significant. I might argue this outweights the downside of it, but that is up to taste.
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Mark McG
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bentlarsen wrote:
Hellenes: a dull and dreary affair the Peloponnesian War should not be


2) Recruitment of units

Your blocks are in the proverbial opaque cup and you randomly choose three, keeping one of the three you select. You then put this unit in its proper area, which might be on the other side of the map.

I do not see the harm of allow sides to choose what they want, where they want.


I thought this was quite a clever mechanic. Maybe the recuits you want are standing ready, the ships drawn up on the beach.. or maybe they have gone. In any case, the draw 3 and pick one has a make the most of what you get decision function. I expect really experienced players count the blocks to see what is left in the bag/cup.

bentlarsen wrote:

3) The Cards

Given what I have read about the history, are there not alternatives or additions to these cards? Given the large number of the same sort of events, e.g., leader change & revolt, the play of the game falls in to predictable patterns. One is left feeling that the game is not good at history, not good at variety, not good at time, as in having a good time.


To be honest, there really isn't that much else in the Peloponnesian War. There are of course the dramas of the Athenian democracy in action, but in terms of historical events that effect game play, it in mostly about revolts, leaders, Persian influence. In my view, the 2 most important Event cards are Peace Faction & War Faction, since these cards can change the Victory conditions.

bentlarsen wrote:

A change at the top should mean something of significance; one action point, either way, does not provide a significant advantage; if it is not intended as such, why bother?


You understand this this is 1 extra action per Action card, so 4-5 actions per year (maybe a 25-33% increase in the total number of actions)

bentlarsen wrote:


4) Combat

You might very well like it: I did not. I am not sure why it fails to “click” with me. Perhaps it is the cumulative effect of the disappointment I feel with the other aspects. Perhaps it is the idea of trying to insert a tactical combat system in to a strategic level game that operates around seasonal turns. Perhaps it is the difficulty of wrapping my imagination around the idea that a routed unit cannot return to combat in a seasonal turn that represents months of time.



Battles were generally quick and decisive. Although the campaigning is in months, and sieges lasted years, battle lasted a few hours, and it was decided. I can't think of a single battle that lasted more than a day, or was of the character of a series of battles.

bentlarsen wrote:


The Game and its Historical "feel":

Look at the short and long-term plans for each side. We are just following the script here, one heavily-handed out by the history books and the card design. Events, like the plans that guide them, or are directed by them, are predictable, turn after turn. I haven't felt a game was this scripted since the last time I played that Ted Racier abomination known as WWII: Barbarossa to Berlin.



So it has no historical feel, but is heavily scripted??? Does that make sense to anyone else?

bentlarsen wrote:

Conclusion:

I respect the publisher and the designer, but Hellenes is a major disappointment. The sum of its parts add to a tedious exercise that works neither as a game or as a representation of the Peloponnesian War. It is ironic that it is too well polished and crafted, because the polish and the craft only combine to show just how disappointing it is. If you have played Athens & Sparta, you have to wonder how two experienced designers developed two fundamentally different approaches to the same history, neither of which work.




have you tried Epic of the Peloponnesian War? You will appreciate the easy of Hellenes after that.

I've played Hellenes a number of times, and each time I have had the feeling of making strategic decisions. Lots of things to do, not enough actions to do them all. Hellenes is NOT an event driven game. Victory is achieved through the careful use of units to maximise the effect out of the actions you can do. The Athenians generally have more options in terms of action, which probably accounts for the greater number of Spartan events (specifically revolts) to burn up Athenian actions.

Aside from the Plague in Athens, which is scripted into the game, and the Invasion of Sicily in the Sicily/415 scenarios, I can't think of any scripted events in Hellenes. There are certainly advisable strategies for each side, and these seem to correspond pretty well to the historical strategies as far as I can tell, but there is no limit to player's actions beyond the management of the resources they have.

The Players have to make choices every year. They have to choose
1. Sacrifice or Event in the New Year
2. Manage their hand to play events at the right time, and sufficient actions to achieve 1-2 strategic goals
3. Manage their winter maintenance and sieges.
4. All recruitment or reinforcements over the year

So I fundamentally disagree with the basis of the review in that it has missed the point. The cards should be considered as a hand for the year, and the management of the hand in implementing your forces towards strategic goals is the essence of the game. In the New Year period, you get 6 cards and you should be planning the play of all 6 in the New Year. This aspect seems to have been completely missed.
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Severus Snape
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Pascal said, "The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me."
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"The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."--Pascal
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Quote:
To be honest, there really isn't that much else in the Peloponnesian War. There are of course the dramas of the Athenian democracy in action, but in terms of historical events that effect game play, it in mostly about revolts, leaders, Persian influence. In my view, the 2 most important Event cards are Peace Faction & War Faction, since these cards can change the Victory conditions.


I'll be sure to pass this summary along to the professionals. I am not sure how Kagan will feel about wasting all the time, space, energy and paper on his many volumes. It seems Lendon and Tritle have come to he party too late.

Quote:
You understand this this is 1 extra action per Action card, so 4-5 actions per year (maybe a 25-33% increase in the total number of actions)


Yes.

Quote:
Battles were generally quick and decisive. Although the campaigning is in months, and sieges lasted years, battle lasted a few hours, and it was decided. I can't think of a single battle that lasted more than a day, or was of the character of a series of battles
.

This is a fair description and reinforces my lack-luster feelings about how combat is addressed in the design. It is a tricky thing, even with the best designers, as to how to abstract combat, particularly in a strategic level game. I do see what Craig attempted as a step in the area of improving the standard alphabet formula of the block game. It is certainly more creative than Jerry's Richard III combat system, which depends on a recycled wheel. I also understand why Craig's approach to combat is a hit, more than a miss; I am one of the few misses.

Quote:
So it has no historical feel, but is heavily scripted??? Does that make sense to anyone else?


Yes, it makes sense when one applies irony; you should certainly understand the concept, given how much fills your comments. I especially like the "plea for help."

It is ironic that a scripted game can lack a historical feel; it is certainly true for the Raicer game. I do not mean to imply that Hellenes is as scripted as WWII:BtB. But any CDG that forces events through the cards depends upon a script. It is the nature of this multi-headed beast. Sometimes it is done with a deft touch. Other times you feel a heavy hand, as if the Fates (something the ancients would appreciate) were guiding every move.

What works for some, does not work for others. If everything had to make "sense," we would not be here; we would be elsewhere, helping others in need, and saving an argument over a game for last in a long list of priorities.

Quote:
have you tried Epic of the Peloponnesian War? You will appreciate the easy of Hellenes after that.


I have had the EPW map on the table for months because it is a reminder of wasted possibilities; it is also pretty. On top of it, at the moment, is Richard III. Beside it is Kingmaker.

Hellenes is not hard, it is just dull. For me. Senseless and otherwise.

Quote:
Aside from the Plague in Athens, which is scripted into the game, and the Invasion of Sicily in the Sicily/415 scenarios, I can't think of any scripted events in Hellenes. There are certainly advisable strategies for each side, and these seem to correspond pretty well to the historical strategies as far as I can tell, but there is no limit to player's actions beyond the management of the resources they have
.

We are not speaking the same language here--another irony since we both are using English--when it comes to defining scripted events and their impact upon the game, and its subjective "feeling." This puts us in dead horse territory, to be sure.

goo


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Severus Snape
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Scott, it would be nice to begin two discussions on your following points.

The first is:

Quote:
I have no intention of demeaning any attempt to investigate the hindsight issue -- it is the elephant in the room for all historical game design. Part of the art of design is choosing how much to address it and in what way; there is a school of criticism against strait-jacketing, for instance. So it can be discussed in detail, though there is a risk of becoming as irrelevant as art criticism, or of ending up in the "horses for courses" corner.


The second is:

Quote:
In my view, there is nothing particularly special about CDGs in this regard from a mechanical standpoint -- however, the CDG concept, in practice, has gotten very stale and is implemented inappropriately with alarming frequency. So, yeah, it's a problem, particularly in the Raicer school of scripted decks separated by side and time.


As a game designer, wargamer, and thoughtful person, you could shed light on each of these areas.

goo
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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I have been interested in this game since I played the disappointing Athens & Sparta. It might be Columbia's biggest flop. This review in general has made me wary of Hellenes, but this comment in particular from Snape really made me halt in my tracks:

Quote:
I haven't felt a game was this scripted since the last time I played that Ted Racier abomination known as WWII: Barbarossa to Berlin.


Given that I think of WWII: Barbarossa to Berlin as a "straitjacket for the ETO" I certainly hope Hellenes does not give me that same feeling of tedium.

Thank you everyone for the discussion on game design and mechanics.
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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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gittes wrote:
Quote:
I haven't felt a game was this scripted since the last time I played that Ted Racier abomination known as WWII: Barbarossa to Berlin.

Given that I think of WWII: Barbarossa to Berlin as a "straitjacket for the ETO" I certainly hope Hellenes does not give me that same feeling of tedium.

It won't; it's not that bad. There is only one chain of linked events, and that's for plague returning to Athens. There is no A->B->C->D nonsense going on.
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