Pericles is hot off the press, and we’ve been eagerly anticipating this next game in the Great Statesmen Series from GMT Games and Mark Herman. Churchill was the first in the series, and it’s one of my favourite games. It’s very unconventional, in that the focus is on the political debates and interactions between the statesmen, and then how the outcomes of these debates shape the war. Pericles builds on that system and gives you a lot more meat, as well as intrigue. Watch out for an upcoming video review as well as an indepth look from Grant.
Pericles, unlike Churchill, pits 2 sides, the Athenians and the Spartans against one another. The real game-changer is that each side is made up of two factions. As such it plays best with 4 players, each working to not only have their side win, but to have their faction within that side end with the most honour, and thus be victorious overall. The good news for most of us, is that there’s bots for solitaire, or 3 player games and there’s a fascinating 2 player variant, where eaech player plays a faction on each side. That’s what we played, and you really have to wrap your head around pitting forces against each other that you control, whilst still trying to defeat the other player.
The heart of this game is the Assembly Debates. I was expecting to debate between the Spartans and Athenians at a peace conference each time, but in actuality, the debates in the game are factional disputes within your side. You debate the person in your faction only, and do so in order to dictate how and hopefully where the war against the opposing side is waged. Conveniently, the game prints each factions cards on on the same deck, they’re dual usage and you just flip them around if you’re looking at the wrong colour.
The Assembly, and the debates therein are actually very different from Churchill. You’ll still feel the same tense tug-of-war on each issue, but the cards played by both sides are played secretly and simultaneously. This means that it’s much more of a gamble when you play your best statesmen, because you might still lose. In Churchill, it was obvious that debating would be pointless because you could see what someone had played, and if you didn’t have enough to make a difference, you wouldn’t bother. Pericles makes the debating much tighter in that sense, because an issue will rarely move more than 1-3 spaces, and as such every issue feels “within reach” at all times.
The issues are also a bit more in depth. They ususally have more than one option you can utilize them for, and there is another set of constrictions if the two sides are at peace vs. war. Knowing that, planning super far in advance requires a lot of mental acuity, and a helpful ally (hopefully) to get you there.
Another major difference is the ‘currency’ of the game. Each statemen has the capacity to provide you with Strategos markers, if used in conjunction with their printed bonus attribute (even if they lose that debate). These markers are used to pay for the resolution of every issue, especially those used in the Theater Phase. Many of these actions require that you commit 0-4 tokens, so the more you have, the stronger your actions can potentially be. Management of this resource is critical in doing well in Pericles.
The physical war is fought on the Theater Map, and shows many different connected locations in the form of boxes. You’ll place the various issues that are won by your side secretly into Theaters you wish them to resolve in. There’s a lot of strategy and interaction during this placement phase and then the subsequent resolution order, let alone in the actual issue resolution. On top of all the issues that you won, and any given to you to place by your faction compatriot, each player gains rumour tokens to use as decoys. After all issues are placed they are resolved in turn order.
Many issues have multiple uses, and there can be a lot to consider for each token that gets revealed. After the first few, and a good time pouring over the rulebook, we started to come to grips with those. Clearly this game rewards investment of time, but from our first dealings with it, Pericles is well worth that input.
The combat in this game is simple at its heart. You have land units, and naval units that participate in different battles respectively. At first, the visual chart for losses was a little hard to decipher, because I’m used to CRT charts being numbers instead of pictograms. After we agreed on how to inflict losses and conducted our first combat it became simple, and intuitive. The battle system accounts for troops, bases, treachery tokens, strategos tokens and a random card draw as well. With all of these variables, you’ll never be totaly out of a fight, and it’ll be difficult to completely wipe armies off the board unless you catch them completely off guard.
And just remember, even though you might be at peace with the opposing city state that doesn’t mean you can’t fight. If you have League Forces already in contested areas you can duke it out on the battlefield all you want!
Almost everything positive that you do in this game generates Honour, which is the measure of how you win. So make sure to debate hard, and fight harder. You’ll need all of your wits, brain power, and a little luck to win the Peloponnesian War, so make every Strategos token count.
So, that’s a very brief look at some of the aspects of Pericles. Look for Grant’s upcoming review after a few more plays, which will go over a lot more of the nuances of the game, and how all the mechanics interact and the manifold decisions they present you with.
This game is excellent. It’s a lot more complex than Churchill, and that comes from someone who has played a lot of Churchill. There’s little abstraction in the war phase, so it feels like you’re playing the debate part of Churchill, and the war part of a COIN game. I cannot tell you how much fun that is. Just know that this means the game is significantly longer than Churchill, and again, there’s a bigger learning curve.
I’m no expert on the Ancients, and it’s really not my first port of call for historical games, but this game draws me in, and makes me really enjoy that period.
If you are interested, we do these little rules/strategy tidbit sized posts after playing these type of new wargames and we call them Action Points. After our first play last week, we posted a few of these and here are the links if you are interested: Action Point 1 – The Brain Trust and Action Point 2 – The Assembly Phase.