The Play List: Perikles



BY Pete Butler-Davis

Perikles by Martin Wallace

 3-5 players, 2-3 hours

Some games surprise you with how seamlessly they integrate obviously different influences. Eclipse turns Euro cube-pushing into a wonderfully theme-heavy tale of galactic conquest where you can shoot anti-matter cannons at your foes. Akrotiri, a favorite I highlighted in an earlier article, combines tile-laying with pick-up-and-deliver to wonderful effect.

Then you have games like Perikles, which combines European cube manipulation and old-school wargaming with all the elegance of a machine gun duct-taped to a bear.

But much like a grizzly packing an M60, it’s kinda freakin’ awesome.

Where democracy leads to violence — as it usually does.

Photo taken from Deleted User 1 on BoardGameGeek.

Perikles is set in Greece, ostensibly during the Peloponnesian War. Historically, that war involved Sparta building-up a posse big enough to curb stomp Athens. In the game, the war is a raging clusterfail where alliances form and vanish on whims based on whatever is convenient at that moment.

That’s because you and your buddies aren’t taking control of individual Greek city-states the way you’d expect — at least, not directly. Each player represents a powerful, influential Hellenic family. Control — temporary control — of an individual city goes to whoever can best manipulate the local political scene. Control a city, control that city’s army and navy, and go forth and conquer! Or, you know, prevent conquest. Glory’s glory, but you’d just as soon your own stuff not get wrecked.

The game plays out over three rounds. (Probably. If Athens or Sparta get completely wreck’d, the game will end sooner.) And each round follows the same steps.

First, setup! Lay out the tiles representing the seven battles that are to take place soon. Each battle will show which city is defending, the VP value for whoever wins, and information about how important naval and ground forces will be for the fight. For now, you’re just establishing which cities have the most skin in the game. Because next comes….

Politics! Greek politics! And Greece is part of Europe! So … Euro politics! Cube pushing! Each player takes turn grabbing from a group of face-up influence tiles, which will allow them to add a cube to one of the six cities and do something else. That something else might be … add another cube! Nominate a cube for City President! Murder a cube!

Much like a grizzly packing an M60, it’s kinda freakin’ awesome.

Once everybody has grabbed enough cube-pushing tiles, they take turns nominating candidates for President of each city. Wait … president? That doesn’t sound right. Mayor? King? Supreme overlord? Let’s check the fluff text … ah. “Leader.”

Right. Once every city has two candidates for City President, you see who actually wins the election. The winner is the candidate whose city has more cubes. Hooray! They get to put a little cardboard chit of their color with a dude on his President Throne onto what is now their city. And the loser gets revenge by removing a number of the winner’s cubes from that city equal to their own cube total in that city. Ouch.

Choosing City Presidents makes for a lovely little mini-game all by its lonesome. The rules are simple and clear, but with enough depth to allow room for interesting and clever choices. You don’t want to just take control of a city — you want to run against the weakest opponent possible. And just loading-up cubes in a city isn’t enough; you need to get that nomination if you’re going to actually take control. Meaning that a sharp-eyed player may be able to snake control of the city out from under another player with vastly more influence. It’s a really nifty piece of game design.

But once that’s over, the game doesn’t so much “shift gears” as it “puts itself on ‘pause’ while you run off and play a completely different game.” It’s fightin’ time!

You create a pool of army and navy dudes from all the cities you control. (And if you get completely shut out in the political round, you get to control the Persians. Thanks for crashing the party, Xerxes! Or whoever was in charge! Diarius II?) Each city’s military has its own flavor. Athens is extremely ship-heavy. Sparty has a killer ground game. Megara … exists, and has pointy sticks and boats and everything.

Players take turns sending military forces to either attack or defend the seven battle sites, by using the influence tokens they collected back in the political phase and, if they’re really serious, expending a city’s influence cubes. (Okay, so maybe this phase of the game has a bit of a connection to the political stuff.) You can’t send forces out to wreck stuff you own, and if you’d like to defend another player’s property, you’ll need to get their permission first. There’s also some rules about alliances that you’ll probably ignore; it’s a military free-for-all!

With hoplites and triremes! That’s fightin’ old school. And if you’re gonna represent old-school fightin’, you may as well do it with old-school wargaming! Add up the numbers of all the attackers, add up the numbers of the defenders, divide the first by the second, and see which column on the combat table best represents the odds. Roll some dice, collect some victory markers, see who wins.

Whoever wins gets the fight token, and all the victory points therein. If the attacker won, whichever city owned that battle site gets a little “Loser!” token placed on them, which will reduce the value of the city itself during the endgame.

Once all the fighting is done, the round ends … with death! Each City President token gets flipped over form dude-on-a-throne to dead-dude-who-is-now-a-statue, and put in the city’s statue pile.

You’ll do this for three rounds, or until either Athens or Sparta gets completely fragged with four “Loser!” tokens. You then add up your victory points. You get VP from cubes in cities, from battles you’ve won, and from statues you own — the less screwed-up a city got during the fighting, the more each individual statue in it is going to be worth. Most points wins at being Greek!

Sparta’s in for a lively time. And somebody is serious about ruling Megara.

Photo taken from Rik Van Horn on BoardGameGeek.

This is such a wonderful game. Its two incredibly distinct halves may have next to nothing to do with each other mechanically, but their strategic interaction never fails to delight me. To do well in the fighty part, you’ll need to play the politics right. And your goals in the fighty part — beyond simply “Whore for victory points” — will be influenced by political bits. Who are your biggest rivals? See which cities they control, and then punch those cities right in the junk.

But even if you got clobbered during politics, clever use of resources can see you steal a fight or two. And if you do have a lot of troops at your disposal, is it worth spending influence to get more of them in the field? Or is what you have out there likely to be enough?

If a friend were to present this game to me for playtesting, I’d look askance at the wildly disjointed nature of the two distinct mini-games at its core, and recommend trying to get them more aligned with each other — I’d be deeply skeptical of the game finding a publisher otherwise. (So the lesson is, as always, “I have no idea what I’m talking about.”) And who knows, maybe it would have done better if it’d felt more like a unified whole.

Or maybe not. Regardless, the game as it exists is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s definitely worth playing if you get the chance.

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