I have played Churchill: Big 3 Struggle for Peace designed by Mark Herman several times with my gaming friend Alexander (in fact we played it this weekend) and love the mechanics, especially the conference table. When Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars 460-400 BC was announced and it was to have this conference table as a central mechanic, I was immediately intrigued and interested. I followed the game as it increased in orders on P500, until finally in July I pulled the trigger. Since then, I have reached out to its designer Mark Herman and he was gracious enough to provide me great information in our interview, which is as follows:
Grant: What made you want to design a game on the Peloponnesian War?
Mark: When I did my VG design on this topic I did not have a way to handle the political debates that are such an important part of the Thucydides narrative. Once I was armed with my Churchill debate mechanic I wanted to revisit this topic and integrate city state politics into the military narrative. Unlike Churchill, which is not a wargame, Pericles is a wargame and the political dimension drives the action.
Grant: What truly sets Pericles apart from other designs on this period?
Mark: I think it is embedded in my previous answer as this game is a true political-military game where the political conflict ultimately determines the winner of the game. The other distinction is Pericles covers the entire period described in Thucydides and the Xenophon histories. I believe most Peloponnesian war designs only focus on the 2nd Peloponnesian war.
“Once I was armed with my Churchill debate mechanic I wanted to revisit this topic and integrate city state politics into the military narrative. Unlike Churchill, which is not a wargame, Pericles is a wargame and the political dimension drives the action.”
Grant: Why did you believe the conference table mechanic from Churchill would work in this game? Brilliant use of it by the way!
Mark: The Churchill debate mechanic is designed to simulate the back and forth nature of a political argument. When I am playing a political card to win a military issue I can see in my minds eye the debate on whether to launch the Sicilian expedition.
Grant: What kind of experience are you trying to create for players of your “Great Statesman Series”?
Mark: I want players to experience the real world connection between political decisions and how these impact a war. Churchill was another way to look at how the conferences shaped the post war world. Pericles examines faction politics and how they shaped the half century of conflict described in Thucydides. I am eyeing the Versailles Treaty as a possible next effort.
Grant: Ooh, that sounds awesome! The debate over how to stop future wars, that ironically led to World War II. Sign me up! I love the concept of a historical “sandbox” where the events are not scripted but players get to chose how they write their history of the Peloponnesian Wars. How did you accomplish this “sandbox”? Does it work well?
Mark: Only the gamers can determine whether it works well for them, but it works great from my perspective. The sandbox was the hard part as I wanted the players to have incentives to go to war and then go to peace. The testing indicates that this works well. I used the Aristophanes cards to introduce the random element, but I purposely did not over describe the events to enable the ability for each game to tell its own story.
Grant: Why do you describe Pericles as cooperative-competition game? What makes it such?
Mark: In the war portion of the game it is US versus THEM where you are a member of a two faction team trying to defeat the other team. In the political arena it is ME versus YOU where our overall score does not change, but the relative score between myself and the other faction shifts in a zero sum manner. So, in the end you have to cooperate politically to win the military competition, yet at the same time I have to out perform you in the political arena to win the game.
Grant: What is so fun about the issue queue pre-planning mechanic used in Pericles and how did you come up with this idea? How does this mechanic replicate the historical timeline?
Mark: The issue queue mechanic has been around for a while. At its core a queue mechanic focuses on timing events. It has been used in card games such as Magic to handle card play timing and a recent 40K game, Forbidden Stars, used commands in star systems. My take on the queue mechanic allows players to apply issues that they control from the political debate to be deployed in the Theaters of war in combinations that tell a story about the war. How the issues are revealed and resolved across multiple Theaters creates intricate strategy interactions without any rules beyond understanding how a Last in-First Out queue works. Historically these are militia armies that have to be mustered before use. It allows for a Spartan invasion of Attica to be followed by an Athenian invasion somewhere else once the Spartans go home.
Grant: How is the battle mechanic handled using Strategos tokens?
Mark: Due to the sixty year nature of the conflict and the very high attrition of the historical personages it would have been clunky and unnecessary to have a counter for each historic general. I instead introduce the idea of Strategos tokens as a collective measure of the leadership talent available to the factions at any given time. If you send 4 Strategos tokens to a battle, you have sent a great general like Demosthenes. If you send two, it’s a lesser light. I also have a rule in the campaign scenario where there is a steady attrition of Strategos tokens simulating the historic reduction in experienced leadership as the wars entered their sixth decade.
Grant: Who are the historical leaders used in the game and do each of them have their own flavor to them? Do they all have specific abilities or powers to affect the direction of the wars?
Mark: All of the historic leaders in Thucydides are represented on the political cards. The playbook has an extensive section on who these people are and what is known about them. Each of the named personages has a political issue specialty that directly impacts play.
Grant: How does the battle card system work? Do the cards only have numeric values or is their a CDG element to their use with events?
Mark: There is no battle card system per se, but at the end of each political phase you have around a dozen cards that were not used that turn. When a battle occurs, you add up the strength of units and Strategos in the battle and then each side flips a card and uses the 1 to 5 value of the card to arrive at a final battle score. The difference in the battle scores determines potential losses.
Grant: How are the military units represented on the board?
Mark: Its real simple. There are two kinds of military units, land and naval. Each side has an infrastructure of fortified bases. Fortified bases are both land and naval units. All units, treachery markers, and Strategos tokens have a strength of one, except Spartan land, Athenian naval, and all bases all have a strength of 2. To calculate your battle strength you simply add up your ones and twos and arrive at your total.
Grant: How does honor affect the game? Why is it given after victory in battle? Does the loser lose honor?
Mark: Honor is a measure of a factions success/failure. The city state whose combined faction honor total is higher wins the war. The faction on the winning side with the highest honor wins the game. Honor is awarded for almost every game action. The war increases and decreases the honor totals for the two city states, while the political debates shift honor between a city states factions. In Battle, both factions on the winning side gain honor and the losing side loses honor. A successful commanding general gains a bit more than his compatriot. Suffering a major defeat, loss of 5 or more honor, results in your assembly forcing the War/Peace issue onto the debate stage.
“Honor is a measure of a factions success/failure. The city state whose combined faction honor total is higher wins the war. The faction on the winning side with the highest honor wins the game.”
Grant: What types of fortified bases are there and what affect do they have on battles?
Mark: There is only one kind of fortified base, each counts as a land and a naval unit with a value of 2 that only impacts battles in its Theater and is the value used for a base to resist revolt.
Grant: How does economic dominance factor into the game scoring? How does one gain dominance? Can you be successful in both military and economic war?
Mark: Bases are both military units and your economic infrastructure. The amount of military forces you can sustain is directly tied to how many bases you have in play. Each theater can have up to 3 bases, both sides combined, so a large component of strategy is the creation, capture, and conversion of bases.
Grant: What is an Aristophanes card and how does it start the conference phase?
Mark: There are 24 Aristophanes cards. At the beginning of each game turn (six years), there are no conferences in Pericles, a Pericles card puts several issues into play plus an historically inspired event that effects the situation for that game turn.
Grant: What are the major issues that are debated? Do you have a few that are your favorites? Why?
Mark: The main issues that effect the war are the military, league, diplomatic, and the oracle issues. In addition there is a War/Peace, Ostracism, Games, and two unique issues for each city state. I do not have any favorite issue, but I do have favorite issue combinations such as the Oracle followed by a diplomatic issue causing a rebellion in an enemy base.
Grant: What are the Rumor counters and how do they affect the debates?
Mark: As I said earlier using a queue mechanic one is trying to simulate relative time. Rumor markers allow a player to metaphorically alter the timing in a particular Theater queue with a rumor of enemy activity through the presence of the marker in the queue.
Grant: What still needs fine tuning?
Mark: The game is finished and in final art. The only thing left at this point is to work everyday to try and eliminate all typos and unintended errors.
Grant: Are you on schedule to print in 1st Q 2017?
Mark: I have met every deadline set for me with this design and we are on schedule. It will go to the printers on schedule and then it is out of my hands. That said, I am comfortable saying the game will be in everyone’s hands in March 2017.
Grant: What are future ideas you have for games in the series?
Mark: Looking at Versailles, but currently working on several other CDG designs. Thanks for the great questions.
Thanks for your time and for the great information on the game Mark! After reading your “Delian Diaries” entries on InsideGMT for more information (http://www.insidegmt.com/?p=6467), I am truly looking forward to owning this game and battling it out with my fellow wargamers. If you are interested in ordering Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars 460-400 BC from GMT Games, here is a link to the P500 page: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-587-pericles-the-peloponnesian-wars-460-400-bc.aspx