Recently, Worthington Publishing released 3 games in their Great Sieges Series, one 2nd Printing (1759 Siege of Quebec) and two new games (414 BC Siege of Syracuse and 1565 Siege of Malta). Volume 2 in the series 414 BC Siege of Syracuse deals with the Athenian siege of the city of Syracuse in Sicily from 414-413 BC and is a 1-2 player game that is pretty interesting, with simple rules, a very unique order and counter order system that plays in about 30-45 minutes. To date, I have only payed the game solo so this Action Point will really take a look at this mode as opposed to the 2-player version that we have yet to play.
In this series of Action Points, we will cover the Map examining the different positions where troops and ships are placed and walls and counter walls may be built and their spatial relationship, take a look at the available Orders for the Athenian player and how they are used, examine the Counter Order Deck for the Syracusan defenders and their structure and how they determine the column used for the die roll as well as the Athenian Leader cards that are included, review the victory conditions for the Athenian player and finally take a look at some points of strategy to give you a primer on how to accomplish your task in the solitaire mode.
The Map’s production is extremely nice as it is a mounted map that is functional yet very attractive in it’s layout and color choices. The map depicts the areas surrounding the city of Syracuse, including positions in the lowlands and on the plateau. The city of Syracuse is comprised of the four darker spaces in the east. The dashed line running through the Syka fort at the center of the map divides the southern lowlands spaces from the northern Epipolae plateau spaces. The sea which backs up to the city also plays a role in the game. There is no need to take or occupy the Syracuse areas (denoted by their darker brown color) but the player must understand the various locations and how they work together.
There are 10 locations shown on the board that include colored rectangular boxes. These represent key areas of the battlefield over which the opposing sides fought to gain control of the area and either engage the siege or relieve it. These positions have boxes for anywhere from 3-6 different units and some have units from the start of the game and some get units only after certain events or cards come out or a player takes an action to Command troops to move their. These locations include the Plemmyriun, Olympieun, Lysimeleia Camp, Syka, Epipolae, Euryelus, Labdalum, Archadina, Temintes, Neopolis and Ortygia. Also shown on the map are 4 locations on the sea including Lysimeleia, Great Harbor, Damaged Ships and Blockade. Let’s take a look at the role of each location.
Plemmyriun – the headland and southern most point overlooking the entrance to the Great Harbor, which made this a convenient position for watching the movement of enemy troops and for harrying resupply attempts by sea. Three separate small forts were built here and were crucial to support naval forces in the harbor. No Athenian troops will start here but must be moved here by the player. When troops occupy this section of the map, the Athenian player will gain a bonus to the Move Ships order as this area could offer support to those movements.
Olympieun – a temple fort which housed the Syracusan cavalry forces and as long as Syracuse maintains troops there, devastating cavalry raids can be launched to harass the Athenians as they attempt to build their wall. 3 Syracusan troops start the game in this location.
Lysimeleia Camp – the location where the Athenians made their main camp. This areas starts the game with 6 Athenian troops.
Syka – located on the the southern side of the heights of Epipolae, this location is where the Athenians built the 2nd of three forts and called this one “the Circle”. This was to stand as the center point of their circumvallation wall. 3 Athenian troops start the game here. In order to build the plateau wall, the Athenians must have troops occupying either this location or Epipolae.
Epipolae – a key strategic point on the plateau which protected the approach to Syracuse. Whichever side controlled this site could control the action of the siege. No troops start here but the Athenians can move troops into this location. In order to build the plateau wall, the Athenians must have troops occupying either this location or Syka.
Euryelus – a key approach to the city. No Syracusan troops start the game in this location but can be moved here through various events.
Labdalum – one of three forts constructed by the Athenians as a part of the siege infrastructure from which to sally forth and build walls or fight off Syracusan attacks. This fort protected Epipolae and the troops there as they guarded the workers who built the circumvallation wall around Syracuse. It was also used a supply depot for the Athenians. 3 Athenian troops start the game here.
Archadina – the first of four positions comprising the Syracuse areas. No Syracusan troops start the game here but can be moved here through various events.
Timentes – a forward position in the city that is controlled by Syracuse. 3 Syracusan troops start the game here.
Neopolis – one of the areas controlled by Syracuse where a large number of troops are staged. 6 Syracusan troops start the game here.
Ortygia – location of the original city of Syracuse on the island called Ortyga with various structures around the Agora in the mainland and a robust wall. One of four areas on the map that comprise the Syracuse areas. 3 Syracusan troops start the game here.
The key to understanding these areas is that the rectangular spaces are troop locations—red for Syracuse and blue for Athens. The spaces with a solid background show starting locations and the shaded background spaces indicate where troops can be moved. The ship symbols indicate where the Athenian ships are placed and can move.
When the Athenian player takes various actions, such as Attack Lowlands or Build Plateau Wall, this action will effect one of a few positions nearby that location. When losses come as a result of those actions, those losses will be taken from identified locations on the Order sheet. If the Athenian player has no troops in a certain location, that action cannot be taken until the location is occupied by at least 1 troop.
The map also shows spaces where walls can be built by both sides. The numbered blue spaces (1-8) indicate where Athenian wall segments can be built and the numbered red spaces (A1-A2, B1-B2 or C1-C4) show where counter-walls are built. The key spaces are those that intersect and as you can see in the picture below, there are two of these sections of the wall in the Lowland Wall area of the map that have shared symbols for both the Athenian player and the Syracusan player. This happens to be wall section 2/A2 and 4/B2.—if the Syracusans build counter-wall B2 for example, the Athenian player may not build walls beyond 3 until that counter-wall is destroyed through the use of an Attack Order.
The Athenian must complete all eight wall segments, 4 on the Lowland Wall and 4 on the Plateau Wall, as a prerequisite for victory (along with establishing a naval blockade). This wall building is a major focus of the game early on as you cannot allow yourself as the Athenian player to get behind in wall construction as it simply makes it harder on yourself. You only have a limited number of actions and the more you have to invest into wall building the harder it will be to accomplish your other tasks, such as moving ships into the Blockade location of the Great Harbor. This does not mean that wall building is the only action that you will take early in the game, but you must establish the walls before venturing into other areas of focus.
As mentioned earlier, there are 4 locations on the sea that play a major role in the game including Lysimeleia, Great Harbor, Damaged Ships and Blockade. Lysimeleia is adjacent to the Lysimeleia Camp where the AtheniansD landed and built their main base. The ships in the game portray squadrons of rowed galleys called triremes and are docked here. If the ships stay in this area, they will provide no use to the Athenian player. They will start with 2 ships at the beginning of the game but eventually must successfully move those ships into the Great Harbor and then into position to blockade the city in the 3 Blockade spaces. This is important to remember that this takes 2 actions and the Athenian player has to have at least one ship in the Blockade location in order to win the game, unless they drop the Syracuse Morale to zero which is very difficult to do.
You must also keep in mind that there are several events in the Counter Orders deck that will damage the Athenian ships or push them back towards Lysimeleia. These are Bad Weather and Fire Ships. Once a ship is damaged, it is moved to the Damaged Ships location and must be repaired at which time they will be relocated back to Lysimeleia to be ordered forth again. This can be devastating if those ships are in the Blockade spaces as your efforts will have been erased and you will have to start the blockade process all over again.
One of the major focuses of the design is that of Morale and driving it down. If the Athenian Morale ever reaches zero on the Morale Chart the game will immediately end in a loss. Also if the Athenian player can force the Syracuse Morale to zero they can also win an automatic victory. But this is a difficult proposition…at best! As you look at the Morale Chart contained on the left hand side of the Map, you will notice that there are 10 spots for both sides. However, at the start of the game, the Syracuse Morale begins at 8 and the Athenian Morale begins at 10. This is an advantage to the Athens player and should not be squandered.
Morale losses will come about due to three different reasons. One will come from an Attack or other Order where a Loss result is rolled on the table. Anytime a troop block is removed the player who owns that piece will lose 1 Morale. Morale can also be lost due to Events on the Counter Order cards that direct the player to lose Morale or through a roll on a table on an event or on the Counter Order chart where a -1 or -2 Morale loss result is noted. Morale is also a bit of a resource that must be managed as sometimes Orders will be cancelled by an Event on a Counter Order card unless the player loses a Morale as a cost of continuing with the action. This is tricky though and should be carefully considered after looking at the current situation, what objectives are remaining and how many Counter Order cards are left in the deck.
Spatial Relationship of Locations
There you have an understanding of the various locations on the map and the way that they interact somewhat. The player will need to study the Orders and understand what spatial relationship the different areas of the map have to each other. Understanding this is a basis for a victory and because you only have a limited amount of orders before the game is lost due to the Counter Order deck running out, you have to be efficient with what you choose to do. This will mean doing certain Orders prior to attempting others. Not because you cannot do them or their is no chance of success but when the proper strings have been pulled in this game, some of the actions simply become more effective and the possibility of success is increased. For example, I never try and Move Ships until I have successfully Moved Troops to the Plemmyriun because when Athenian troops occupy this area of the map the player is granted a +1 DRM to the Move Ships Order.
The other thing that the Athenian player has to always be concerned about is the management of their limited troops. Because you have to have troops in certain areas to take those actions you have to be smart about moving those troops around and also preserving them. Losses from bad attacks will absolutely gut your chances of future success. The Athenian will receive reinforcements late in the game with the 2nd Athenian Expedition card, but that can end up being too late and you may have already failed.
The map is a very well done component of the game and makes playing the game very easy. The only complaint that I have with the map is that the Sequence of Play was not printed directly on it. I really like it when that is the case in these solitaire games as they make playing the game much more efficient and quick. I get tired of going back and forth to the rulebook the whole game.
In Action Point 2, we will examine the 7 available Orders for the Athenian player and show you how they work together to break the city of Syracuse.