I first became acquainted with Morgane Gouyon-Rety as a result of her entry in the COIN Series called Pendragon and our interviews that we conducted for the blog in 2016 (Part I, Part II and Part III). I consider her a friend, although we haven’t ever met, but just felt a nice connection as we talked about things as that game progressed through the design process. She has also been working on a new game during that same time that I have known her, not in the COIN Series, but a historical setting dealing with the successors of Alexander the Great called Hubris and it was announced on the P500 in October 2020. I reached out to her almost immediately after that announcement and we have finally been able to get this interview to this point at this time for you to read.

Grant: With your upcoming game Hubris: Twilight of the Hellenistic World, I understand that you started working on it even before Pendragon. How long have you been working on the design?

Morgane: Indeed, I started working on the concept of Hubris in the spring of 2013, more than a year before I got the idea for Pendragon. The first playable prototype of Hubris was ready in June 2013, and I pitched it for the first time at the GMT West Weekend in October 2013. For about a year, I focused all my efforts on Hubris, going through a number of versions and quite a few live playtests in the San Francisco Bay Area where I was living at the time. I started working on what became Pendragon in April 2014, and went at work on it full time in the summer. After its first public outing at the GMT West Weekend in October 2014 and it being essentially guaranteed a spot in the COIN Series lineup, I put Hubris on the back burner for nearly 3 years, going back at it only occasionally, with new versions once or twice a year, typically in line with the yearly Stack Con in Montreal in May. In 2017, with Pendragon finally wrapped up, I was ready to go back to Hubris, which I thought was largely done and needed only a few minor adjustments for publication. Both Compass Games and GMT were interested at this point, and I naturally elected to stay with GMT with whom I had built a very positive relationship.

However, the “few minor adjustments” I had in mind quickly snowballed, and I quickly realized nothing short of a thorough redesign would allow me to implement my new vision for the game. After some very open exchanges with Mark Simonitch, as we had already a P500 blurb ready, we agreed to put the lid back on the game and let me completely overhaul the design. This was shortly after the summer of 2017. Unfortunately, this is also the time in my life when a long deeply buried and denied identity issue exploded into a major personal crisis, quickly eating up any available bandwidth or creative energy for me… It was only during the summer of 2018, once I had at long last come to terms with my identity and accepted it, that I was able to return to the design table and get started on Hubris v2 in earnest. And I have been largely committed to the design since then, though it is now in v3. So, while it has been now about 8 years since I’ve started the design of Hubris, only about half of that time has been truly devoted to working on this game.

Grant: Why has it taken this long to get to this point with the design? Do you believe it will ultimately be better for it?

Morgane: As explained above, the occurrence of Pendragon, which immediately gained incredible traction thanks to Volko’s interest and support, and then of a much delayed reckoning with myself are the main reasons. Beyond that, the game started life as a relatively classical Card-Driven Game but, as I progressively grew disillusioned with the CDG hand management focus through my deeper involvement with the COIN Series engine, and, in parallel, came to realize that the original Hubris game (v1), while playing well, was not providing the narrative focus on individual leaders that is so prevalent in ancient sources, I eventually felt that I had no choice but to rebuild the game essentially from the ground up around the leaders, their actions, strengths and weaknesses, with the deck as an event generator but nor the main game driver (Hubris v2). 

Still later, I ran into a wall late in 2018 as my desire to model military operations on a yearly basis, while providing a very satisfying model of military campaigns in the Ancient World, essentially made it impossible to play through the decades of evolution that had always been my big picture vision. Because, similarly to Pendragon, Hubris is about portraying a key “hinge period” of history, when one long-dominant paradigm crumbles, to be replaced by a new world. Where Pendragon was about the breakdown of Roman order and its replacement by petty kingdoms and warlords, Hubris is about the great Macedonian successor kingdoms, heirs to Alexander’s epic campaigns and the wars of the Diadochi, and which had dominated the Mediterranean and the Middle East for more than a century, being confronted with the emergence of a new predatory power to the West, the Republic of Rome. Even cutting it down to the main events, this period extended over slightly more than half a century, and the game scale had to take this into account to be playable within a reasonable timeframe. This led to a second comprehensive overhaul, though less drastic than the first one, which eventually led to the current game (Hubris v3). 

While I of course look wistfully at the number of years “lost” since I began working on Hubris, there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the game is much better for it, with the proper focus and scale. My opinion appears to be corroborated by those playtesters who happened to play earlier versions of the game, and who have all told me that the game is even more fun and interesting now that it was before… As for the many great design concepts that did not, ultimately, make the cut, I am not forgetting them and may one day, for instance, use some of them to build games on operational campaigns in this period…

Grant: What lessons have you learned about design from your experience with Pendragon?

Morgane: Having gone through the whole process from early concept to validating the final game materials from the art department, I am much more aware of what designing a game from start to finish entails, of the myriad of devils in the details, etc. I have also a better feel for what playtesting can and cannot do for you, and I’ve learned from the Great Volko himself that, in the end, one should trust our guts because we, as the designers, have the vision of what the game should be and play like. From the post-release interactions with players, I learned that even rules and concepts that seem simple and obvious to you and your team can still be woefully misinterpreted by players, as some of them seem unable or uninterested in actually reading what is written, but rather go with preconceptions, often coming from other games.

I have also gained an intimate understanding of the key mechanisms of the COIN Series engine, and in particular of its differences with classical CDG’s with regard to event cards. I have grown thoroughly disillusioned with classic-CDG-style hand management which, in my opinion, all too often is a pure mechanical trick with very little relationship to the reality being modelled, and often devolves into a meta-game where the actual issues and means that the historical figures faced and had becomes rather accessory. It also tends to provide a degree of control that is wholly unrealistic. It is my personal belief that many historical processes are largely chaotic, and that in reality, those who prevailed were those who proved best able to manage this chaos, build robust and flexible positions, be resilient when dealt setbacks, and seize opportunities when they appeared. I do not think that classic CDG hand management models this very adequately, and I’ve come to appreciate a lot the common event deck of the COIN Series engine.

Grant: How has that knowledge made the process for Hubris better?

Morgane: From my experience with Pendragon, I have made it a design goal of mine to have simple and consistent mechanisms across the game. I love deep and complex games, but I want the complexity to reside in mastering gameplay, not in mastering the rules. Like COIN games, every single Hubris mechanism is in itself very straightforward, and actually they are essentially all based on the same core principle. It is the high number of game dimensions (internal stability, military, diplomatic, loyalty, minor powers, external threats…) and possible interactions with the other powers (played or not) which delivers the depth and richness of the game.

Drawing from my successful experience with Pendragon, I have used my personal solo playtesting sessions to debug and calibrate the game mechanisms and ensure that the game offers the right level of interactions, narrative, pace and possible outcomes. Kevin Bernatz, my developer, has more focused on making sure the rules and leader and event cards are as clear as can be, and organized playtesting, with a particular focus on rules clarity, gameplay and balance of the various scenarios. We are lucky to have a core of very committed and knowledgeable playtesters who have been playing the game relentlessly and helped us identify a number of potentially ambiguous rules, and provided feedback on gameplay and balance. Their help is invaluable.

Grant: What COIN Series mechanics have influenced your design? Have any made their way into Hubris?

Morgane: Not that many actually! I did mention the single event deck with no player hands, and this is really the only thing I’ve brought into Hubris, which started life as a conventional CDG. However, unlike the COIN Series, the upcoming event card is not flipped up in advance, only the current card is visible by the players. And the event deck works differently than in COIN games, as some cards are recurrent, and new events are added at the start of every turn, and the event deck reshuffled. Also, some events occur automatically, without any choice by the players, while others can remain pending until a layer triggers them.

Also similarly to the COIN Series, I am using events to determine activation sequences, but unlike the COIN Series, there is no eligibility restriction: all players are always eligible to activate a leader on every such card, according to the particular sequence of activation on that card.

Grant: Who is your developer Kevin Bernatz? What experience has he brought with him and what has he contributed to the effort? 

Morgane: Kevin is a veteran developer who has worked with GMT Games and Compass Games, including on projects such as Cataclysm and the ‘4x series by Mark Simonitch, who actually strongly recommended him for the position on Hubris. Kevin’s day job deals with the study and validation of patent applications, and he is very good with precise wording of rules to avoid any confusion, and this is how he did initially approach the game, by doing a deep dive on the rulebook. He has also mobilized his inner circle of playtesters, including some well known game designers, and undertaken a number of play tests, with a particular focus on game balance.

The funny thing with Kevin is that we tend to have fairly different approaches to game design, rules writing and, beyond, to what we are looking for in game, so this has led to a number of sometimes lively debates between the two of us which have, overall, been very useful in my opinion because it has allowed me to take into account still fairly early in this process of final development gaming approaches and expectations that are not necessarily my own. Now, Kevin recognizes that Hubris is centered on a strong narrative and chaos management, and he supports fully my vision.

Grant: What period of history does Hubris cover?

Morgane: Hubris covers the central years of the Hellenistic period, between 220 and 165 BCE, i.e. roughly from the accession to the thrones of the three main Hellenistic kingdoms of new, young kings, namely Antiochos III, Ptolemy IV and Philip V, to the imposition of undisputed Roman supremacy in the Eastern Mediterranean after the destruction of the kingdom of Macedon following the battle of Pydna in 168 and the humiliation of the Seleucid king Antiochos IV in front of Alexandria the same year. This means that it starts at a time when the great kingdoms born of the wars of Alexander’s Successors are still essentially supreme and only concerned with trying to assert their dominance among themselves, and ends with their effective destruction or vassalization by Rome. The kingdoms of the Seleucids and Ptolemies would go on to exist for more than a century, but their history onward consists mostly of debilitating dynastic struggles and steady shrinkage under the pressure of internal and external enemies such as Rome, the Hasmonean Judean kingdom or the Parthian kingdom.

This period is particularly interesting because we have three well established dynasties, with complex networks of influence and alliances, led by some of the most remarkable individuals of the period, but who are confronted by rising challenges both within their traditional domains, with the rise of the Greek Leagues and of the kingdom of Pergamon, and without, with the emergence on the scene not only of the Roman Republic, but also of the Parthians, not to mention traditional enemies such as the Illyrians, Thracians or Nubians. It is also contemporary with the Second Punic War, this great struggle which decided the fate of Carthage and Rome and, ultimately, though they could not have realized it at the time, that of the Greeks and Macedonians and the many peoples and cities that they were ruling over.

This period is particularly well documented thanks to the Histories of Polybios, a contemporary who decided to document, as he put it, how in slightly over 50 years, Rome upended the balance of the world and came to dominate it…

Grant: What sources did you consult for the background on the game? What one source would you recommend as a must read?

Morgane: Polybius, as mentioned above, remains the main source both for the Second Punic War and the Hellenistic wars of this period, but it is an extensive read that I would not necessarily recommend to a newcomer to the period. There are a wealth of books in English about the period, but my preferred author covering is by far, John Grainger: pretty much anything he has written about the period is highly recommended reading in my opinion, especially his book on the Syrian Wars (the name given to the many – he counts twelve of them within two centuries! – wars between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies), and his trilogy on the Seleucid kingdom, of which the middle volume focuses on the reign of Antiochos III. A good single volume synthesis of the period is The Twilight of the Hellenistic World by Mike Roberts and Bob Bennett.

Grant: What does the choice of the name for the game Hubris mean in your mind? What message do you want it to convey to the audience?

Morgane: “Hubris” in the ancient Greek world have meant the madness that the gods inflicted on overambitious men, blinding them to their dangers to precipitate their ultimate doom. When I first read about this period, and later started thinking of making a game about it, it always struck me as the great kings of the Hellenistic kingdoms remained essentially blind to the Roman threat until it was too late, and even then continued largely to pursue their dynastic rivalries and quest for supremacy even when the game was up. This appeared to me as the quintessential manifestation of the Ancients’ Hubris, and the word quickly imposed itself in my mind for the title of a game on that period.

This, to a large extent, is why I have elected to have only the main Hellenistic dynasties playable, and made Rome a non-player power. Part of the rationale for this is that Rome, as an aristocratic republic, worked along very different principles than the Hellenistic kingdoms, which contributed to the repeated difficulties the kings had in understanding and dealing effectively with Rome. But even more importantly is that I wanted to clearly represent in the players’ minds Rome as an alien power, one that can be, to an extent, influenced but certainly never controlled, one that is unpredictable but also one that is both a major threat and an opportunity that can at times be leveraged in the only struggle that is important for the players: hegemony over their fellow kings.

Grant: What does the subtitle Twilight of the Hellenistic World mean to the design?

Morgane: Quite simply to situate the game in its historic period, stressing its nature with regard to the grand history of the Hellenistic world, as the hinge period between its glory years and its decadence and growing irrelevance in the grand scheme of things except as a prize to be fought over by the Roman warlords.

Grant: Why are you drawn to the Ancients? What do you like most about the time and why is it a great subject for wargames?

Morgane: My love for the Ancients goes back nearly as far as I can recollect memories: I vividly remember watching the travel pictures of my grandparents in Egypt, Greece and Italy and being absolutely fascinated by the ancient monuments and ruins. I must have been 3 or 4 years old. This is, I believe, how my love of history was born. Quickly, I deluged my parents and grandparents with questions, to the point that my grandfather suggested I learn to read because there were all these books full of history. Which I did. I was not even five. For many years, I was set on becoming an archaeologist or an historian. And for me, history meant the Ancients. Everything else was borderline irrelevant. It is only progressively, over the years that I have discovered and learned to enjoy reading about other time periods. But the Ancients retain primacy by far in my mind, even though I made the mistake of listening to everyone else and veered toward a career in engineering…

There is so much historical material, so many greater-than-life characters, incredible stories and plots. Plus there are also gaps in our knowledge, due to the loss of so many history books of the times, and of the biases of those which survived. This makes it even more fascinating to me. But we know enough that the roots of our civilization are there: philosophy, politics, science, art, architecture, war, even religions… And the Hellenistic period, though sadly neglected, is in my opinion possibly the most critical period of Ancient history. It is the moment where the ideas of Classical Greece met and merged with the ideas of the Near and Middle East, prompting an absolutely unprecedented progress of human thinking. How many are aware that Archimedes, Epicuros, Erathostenes (who first calculated the circumference of the Earth), or the founders of the Sceptic and Stoicism schools all lived at that time? Sculpture reached near perfection in this time, with such master pieces as the Venus of Milo or the Victory of Samothrace. In many respects, the “Greco-Roman civilization” is really the Hellenistic civilization, born of the fusion of Greece and the Near East, taken over and continued by Rome over the centuries of its existence.

But what makes it such a great period for wargamers is that it was a nearly uninterrupted period of war, from the conquests of Alexander and the wars of his Successors, to the always recurring conflicts between the great Hellenistic periods, and eventually their desperate struggles against the rising power of Rome and Parthia. The rival dynasts and kings are fascinating characters, and their epic conflicts provide us with an unending source of great gaming material.

Grant: What was your design goal as you started on the game? Has that goal changed at all?

Morgane: At the very beginning, Hubris was born of my frustration with Twilight Struggle, a game I admire immensely for its superior design, but have never quite warmed up to the theme. So initially, I was thinking of porting Twilight Struggle to a period I actually cared about. And the middle Hellenistic period, with its established superpowers and networks of alliances, looked like a good candidate. I even initially conceived of Rome (which was always a non-played power in my mind) as a “Defcon you can fight (to some extent)”… So the first versions of the game (v1) hewed fairly clearly to the Twilight Struggle model, though with the inclusion of an explicit military component, as wars were an essential element of the period.

As I describe above, I progressively distanced myself from these premises, to the point where I doubt there is anything remotely similar to Twilight Struggle in the current version of Hubris. The key turning point was when I ditched the classical CDG event system and hands to build an engine based on the leaders, drawing some inspiration from one of my favourite classic games: The Republic of Rome. By substituting the management of a court of leaders to the management of a hand of events, I was able to place clearly the focus of the gaming experience on these characters, their strengths, their weaknesses and their interactions, just like the ancient authors did in their histories.

Grant: What about the history of the Successors of Alexander did you need to model in the design?

Morgane: Even though the period of the Successors themselves (323 to 279 BCE) is my favourite period within the Hellenistic period, the game covers a later period (220-165 BCE) when the dust has settled and the major kingdoms are strongly established, along with their networks of influence and alliances. The initial era of conquest, consolidation, city-founding, endless backstabbing and errant adventurers is – mostly – over, replaced by organized armies and military systems, and strong modern walls. It is also the time when the Greek cities, under the rival Aitolian and Achaian Leagues, finally are able to resume significance on the world stage, even though they are still overmatched by the great kingdoms in a stand-up fight, and where new aspiring powers such as the kingdom of Pergamon emerge on the scene. 

Hellenistic kingdoms were still, by modern standards, incredibly unstructured with minimal apparels of state. They relied near exclusively on the person of the king himself and his immediate entourage, his circle of Friends whom he used as needed as generals, diplomats or administrators. The personal ambitions and relationships between these people often drove the narratives of the period and had to be represented, while their capabilities were the main determinants of success or failure.

Grant: What pressures were present historically on the Western Mediterranean and Central Asia?

Morgane: In the Western Mediterranean, the period is contemporary with the Second Punic War, which impacted considerably both the availability of Rome to intervene in the affairs of the Hellenistic East, and its eventual strength. While a detailed treatment of this major conflict is beyond the scope of Hubris, it was essential to represent it in an abstract way, including with some possibility for the players to influence it. Obviously, if Hannibal somehow manages to buckle the historical trend and actually triumph over Rome, the general context of the game changes quite a bit. This is possible, if not common, in Hubris. If, as historically, Rome eventually prevails, the players will soon feel the weight of the full attention of battle-hardened Rome on them, though if playing the full campaign, brief distractions in Northern Italy or in Spain, not to mention within the Senate itself, will offer momentary moments of respite to the players.

In Central Asia, Parthia is still relatively weak, though already a definite nuisance, as it cuts the road to resources- and men-rich Hellenistic Bactria, and may occasionally threaten Media, a major source of military resources to the Seleucids. Bactria itself is starting on the path to independence and will require a major effort to bring back under Seleucid authority. On the perimeter of the Seleucid kingdom, many local dynasts, from Bithynia through Pontos, Armenia and Atropatene to Persia, defy Seleucid authority, and are often barely worth the effort to subjugate. But the Seleucid kings, if they are able to get a reprieve from the wars in the Mediterranean, can still exert at least nominal suzerainty over Central Asia if they are ready to make the effort, as evidenced by Antiochos III’s Anabasis (campaign into Upper Asia), which was at least as much a propaganda stunt in conscious imitation of Alexander himself as an actual reimposition of Seleucid overlordship. None of his successors would prove able to repeat his achievements though…

Grant: In your mind what villains and heroes were there in this time? Why would you classify them as such?

Morgane: I’m not sure I would speak of heroes and villains, but since the game’s perspective is firmly set from the points of view of the kings of the three major kingdoms, all their rivals and enemies, from the pesky Aitolian League and the upstart kingdom of Pergamon, to the various barbarian peoples threatening their borders, would be the “villains”. And the “arch-villain” of the game would clearly be the Republic of Rome, whose growing power is threatening not only the ancestral order of things, but the very existence of the said kingdoms, though they can also at times make useful allies. 

The “heroes” would obviously be the kings themselves, though of course some of them are in my mind more brilliant or heroic than others, for instance Antiochos III, in my opinion the most brilliant king of this great dynasty after the founder, his great-great-grandfather Seleukos I Nikator, or the last two kings of Macedon, Philip V and his son Perseus. Some others have suffered from bad press for centuries: regarding the Ptolemies, the days of glory of the first three kings of the dynasty are past, and the line is beginning what historically was a slow but steady slide into internecine struggles and global irrelevance that only their distant descendant, the last Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII, would buckle to some extent in one last gasp of defiance a century and a half later. The first Lagid king of the game though, Ptolemy IV, while not quite to the level of his ancestors and definitely lacking in energy, is competent enough and did win the largest battle of the time at Raphia in 217 BCE. Among their rivals, Antiochos IV, who acceded to the throne of his father through, most certainly, the elimination of his brother and nephew, and who garnered much bad press for his capitulation to the Roman ultimatum in 168, and for his bad relationships with the Judaeans, was actually a fairly capable ruler…

Grant: The game is designed as a 1-3 player game. How are each of these player counts different?

Morgane: The core game has been designed as a 3-player game, one for each of the three major kingdoms: the Seleucids, Ptolemies and Macedon. All regular scenarios are designed with this player count in mind. However, all of these can also be played with only 2 players, Macedon being then handled by the game system. Finally, there is one dedicated solitaire-only scenario pitting Antiochos III’s Seleucid kingdom at his apogee against Rome (the Syrian War), and I am working on a solitaire system allowing to play any of the regular scenarios in full solitaire mode, as any of the three kingdoms.

Grant: Is the solitaire system like the COIN Series with bots? Is it like Versailles 1919 where you switch sides during the game?

Morgane: Not really either. The system handles non-played kingdoms along the same principles that it handles the activities of the various minor powers in the game, through recurrent events: when players either solitaire or with only 2 players, some of the standard recurrent events are swapped for alternate recurrent events which include actions of the non-played kingdoms, and exclude barbarian attacks or other minor activities that would be irrelevant with this player count.

In Hubris, there is a stark difference between times of peace and times of war between kingdoms so, in the solitaire mode, when a state of war exists between the player’s kingdom and another major kingdom, a bot chart is then used in order to ensure that the enemy conducts war in a logical way, though with always an element of unpredictability.

Grant: What type of experience does the solo mode create?

Morgane: I am not a huge fan of solitaire modes because I loathe the extra rules overhead coming with it, and much prefer playing in “God mode”, as my priority is the narrative, not the challenge. My experience with Pendragon in this regard is enlightening: the non-player rules have nearly as many pages in the rules (14) than the core rules (20), and still generate by a huge margin the greater number of questions on BGG and other social media. Like Pendragon, Hubris has no hidden information and so plays perfectly well in God mode. For these reasons, I was not convinced a full solitaire mode was necessary.

However, when developing the 2-player rules, which I wanted to keep as close to the core experience as possible, it occurred to me that it should be possible to provide full solitaire modes for each kingdom using the same principles, and thus to provide to those players that do not want to play three-handed a full solitaire experience that would be very similar and essentially as easy to play as the regular game with three players. Mostly by lack of time at the moment, the solitaire mode is still in development but I think that this aim is very achievable, with the help of GMT One if need be, though I want to develop the core logic myself. Should it prove a false hope, I will drop the concept of a full solitaire mode rather than offer what would be in my opinion a suboptimal experience with a heavy non-player system.

Grant: What do you believe are its relative strengths and weaknesses?

Morgane: If I can achieve my objectives, its main strength will be that it will deliver essentially the same narrative experience as the core game (less the depth of interactions with other human beings of course) without needing a significant additional layer of rules. I want it to be essentially as easy to play as the regular game. Now, while it will include some random factors in order to not be too predictable, it will be necessary not be as subtle and polished as dedicated solitaire game systems can be. After all, Hubris remains first and foremost a multiplayer game with a solitaire mode.

Grant: Can you provide any details on how it will work? 

Morgane: As briefly outlined above, the player will play their kingdom as per the standard rules, except that some parts of the board will not be in play, and that some events, in particular the recurrent events, will be either alternative events or removed from play entirely (when irrelevant). These alternative events will call for some simple actions to be undertaken by the non-played kingdoms, similarly to the actions of minor powers. When at war with a non-played major kingdom, the player will roll on the enemy kingdom’s War Chart when that kingdom is up for Activation and will conduct enemy activations (mostly campaigns) as indicated. That’s it.

Grant: What area does the board cover? What interesting strategic challenges are present in the geography?

Morgane: The game board covers the whole Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, from the heel of Italy and Cyrenaica (Western Libya) in the West to Iran in the East (with an extension to Bactria, i.e. modern day northern Afghanistan and southern Uzbekistan) and southern Egypt in the South.

Strategically, the coastal areas of the Mediterranean and the rich plains of Mesopotamia and Babylonia were the key regions, which means that we have a fairly compartmented geography with major regions separated by seas, straits, deserts or mountain ranges, providing a limited number of strategic chokepoints: Central Greece, Macedon, the straits between Europe and Asia, Cilicia, Southern Syria and the Sinai, and Parthyene. As a result, control of these chokepoints and their key fortresses was essential, and in many cases, would be dependent on dominance at sea.

The board also presents a girdle of harsh and underdeveloped areas, homes of warlike nations, always ready to defy central authority and/or to be the source of raids in the rich lowlands. Campaigning in this unforgiving terrain was always a major logistic hurdle, without much prospect of establishing a durable authority, which explains why historically these regions mostly stayed outside of the core domains of the great kingdoms. Likewise, players will find that campaigns in these regions are rarely worth the investment, though they may provide the key victory points that will make the difference…

Ancient navies were mostly coastal navies, as warships were built first and foremost for battle, not for long range seaworthiness. Control of naval bases, as well as of the resources necessary to build, refit and crew the ships, are hence the key drivers for naval supremacy.

Grant: What kingdoms do players control at the various player counts?

Morgane: In the standard game with three players, they control the three major Hellenistic kingdoms: the Seleucids with their heartlands in Northern Syria and Babylonia, the Ptolemies (Lagids) with their heartland in Egypt, and Macedon.

Historically, the Ptolemies were the dominant power at the onset of the game, with their main strengths being the huge wealth of Egypt and other major commercial cities under their control along the shores of the Levant and of the Aegean, backed by the premier navy of the day. A spell of dynastic difficulties including a number of weak kings and nasty court politics, and growing unrest in Egypt led to the slow but inexorable decline of the kingdom in the face of recurrent aggression from their rivals. 

The Seleucids in 220 BCE are in a historically weak strategic position, following three decades of civil wars and predation from aggressive neighbours including Egypt, Pergamon and the Parthians. When the young king Antiochos III acceded to the throne in 223 after the assassination of his elder brother, and immediately faced a rebellion of the Upper Satrapies and internal opposition at the court, few people gave him or the kingdom much chance to succeed. Remarkably, this is exactly what he did though, leveraging the considerable military resources and talent of the kingdom to deal with each threat one after another, restoring Seleucid authority to unprecedented heights within 30 years. His ambition and successes however brought him on a collision course with Rome, and his subsequent defeat at Magnesia in 190 spelled the eventual demise of his kingdom.

Young king Philip V’s Macedon in 220 was no longer the dominant powerhouse of the time of Philip II and Alexander, drained by an exodus of manpower and decades of war, but it was nonetheless on a strong footing with extensive positions and alliances in Greece thanks to the remarkable work of its late king Antigonos III Doson. It faced however mounting challenges from the Greek Leagues, in particular the stubborn Aitolians, who would eventually call for help from a new power from across the Adriatic Sea: Rome. Despite initial successes, Philip V would eventually have to yield to the vast power of this new enemy in 197, losing much of his influence in Greece. Despite his efforts, continued by his son and successor Perseus, a second round of war with the Sons of the She-Wolf would prove fatal to the dynasty in 168.

With only two players, Macedon is not played and is handled by the game system.

When playing solitaire, except for the specific solitaire scenario on the Syrian War, which is only playable with the Seleucids, the player may chose to play any of the three kingdoms.

Grant: What are the major and minor kingdoms of the time? Which are playable?

Morgane: Besides the three main kingdoms, there is a fourth “major power” in the game, namely Rome: like the major kingdoms, Rome gets to Activate its leaders (the Consuls) as called by the Activation Sequence on the recurrent events in the deck. 

Then, there are six minor powers which, like Rome are not playable but which, unlike Rome, can be either conquered by or allied with the major powers. They are the Aitolian League, rough mountaineers from Western Greece who are constant troublemakers (usually for Macedon); the Achaian League, the rival Greek league, predominant in the Peloponnese, which is more an alliance of city elites, originally created to hold off Macedonian power, but which now tends to seek them as allies against popular movements, often backed by their Spartan enemies; Sparta, whose power has much declined but which remains proud and very unstable; Rhodes, a powerful insular city, fiercely independent behind its massive walls and its elite navy, the best of the period; Pergamon, an upstart Hellenistic kingdom centered on a near impregnable fortress in Northwestern Asia Minor, whose capable kings are tirelessly trying to extend the power on both sides of the Aegean, and who are ready to make alliance with Rome to achieve their goals; and finally the Parthian kingdom, still relatively weak, but which already has ambitions on the eastern Seleucid lands, and which seats astride the road to Bactria.

Then, a number of local dynasts and major cities try to steer their route as best as they can amidst the greater conflicts, defying the kings when they can, submitting when they can’t. These include of course the various Greek cities, but also barbarian or semi-barbarian dynasts such as the Illyrians, Thracians, Bithynians, Pontos, Armenia, Atropatene, Persia or Bactria. Of all these various states, only the three major kingdoms are playable.

Now that we have a good understanding of the historical background, and the players involved, in Part II of our interview we will get more into gameplay and take a look at how this titanic struggle will play out.

If you are interested in Hubris: Twilight of the Hellenistic World you can pre-order a copy on the P500 game page for $59.00 on the GMT Games website at the the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-891-hubris-twilight-of-the-hellenistic-world.aspx