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 Action Point 1, we covered the Map examining the different positions where troops and ships are placed and walls and counter walls may be built and their spatial relationship. In Action Point 2, we took a look at the available Orders for the Athenian player and how they are used. In this Action Point, we will examine the Counter Order Deck for the Syracusan defenders and their structure as well as take a look at the Athenian Leader cards that are included in the deck.
Counter Order Deck
You have already read about how the Athenian player uses their Orders to take actions when playing the game solitaire. I also made mention of the Syracuse Counter Order Deck in that post but now want to dive into the Counter Orders and how they work.
In the solitaire game, the Syracuse defender uses a Counter Order Deck that is only used during the solitaire game. These cards contain two separate parts that effect the Athenian player. The two parts include an Action, or what I would have probably called an event, and then the Syracusan Counter Order that provides information that is used by the player to identify the appropriate chart that is to be used with the die roll to determine the outcome. The Counter Order Deck is seeded somewhat as certain events, specifically #38 Spartan Expedition and #39 Second Athenian Expedition, are found in specific parts of the deck but the rest of the deck is made-up randomly from two different phases of the deck, Phase I referred to as the Syracuse Phase and Phase II referred to as the Spartan Phase.
Phase I covers cards #1-19 and Phase II includes cards #20-37. The really cool thing about this deck and how the game uses these cards is that the number of cards in the deck equates to how difficult the game is. The more cards you include, the easier the game is as you have more time to accomplish your task of driving the Syracuse Morale to zero or by building the complete circumvallation wall and setting up the naval blockade. The less cards you include the harder your task though as you are up against the clock and simply have less time to accomplish your task. There are three distinct difficulty levels including Weak (30 cards), Good (27 cards) and Strong (24 cards). When you are building the Counter Order Deck at the start of the game you simply take out a certain number of cards in each phase to set your difficulty. In the Strong setting you remove 7 Phase I cards and 8 Phase II cards. With the Good setting you remove 6 Phase I cards and 6 Phase II cards and for Weak you remove just 4 Phase I cards and 5 Phase II cards. The other really interesting part of this random removal of cards from the different phases is that your games will never really be the same twice as you will have different cards that are removed and contained in the deck to give you different challenges.
The other part I would like to discuss about the makeup of the Counter Order Deck is the inclusion of the Leader Cards. There are 6 Leader Cards included in the Phase I and Phase II portions of the deck, with four in Phase I and just 2 in Phase II respectively. These are randomly included and removed from the Counter Order Deck just like the normal cards and this is a really interesting conundrum. See, these Leader Cards when drawn by the player from the Counter Order Deck require you to draw an additional card to see what counter action the Syracuse defenders will take. This means that you got a cool ability that can be used with the Leader Card you drew but also means that you just had to draw two cards from the Counter Order Deck for just one turn’s worth of actions. Their inclusion is somewhat of a poison pill as they definitely provide great benefits but eat your time away. A very cool part of the design and adds some depth and interest to how things play out.
The Leader Cards provide various benefits such as DRM’s for a specific Order, an additional opportunity to roll an additional die and take other enemy troops off the board or even build a wall. They are not all good though as if a poor roll, the Syracuse player can build a Counter Wall, destroy an already built Athenian wall segment or inflict Morale or troop losses. Leaders can be a bit of a mixed bag but are nice to have as an option to enhance what you are trying to accomplish.
How Do Counter Orders Operate
Simply. The player first chooses their Order from their Orders Menu and decides whether they will play a Leader Card from their hand to supplement and enhance the Order if they have one. See the Leaders are not required to be played immediately upon drawing them but can be held over until a player needs their ability as they must be used along with specific Orders. The player then reveals the next Enemy Counter Order Card from the top of the Counter Order Deck to find out what Action is going to happen and then refers to the bottom portion of that card to find the Counter Order letter. This letter will be an A, B, C or D. The Action on the Counter Order Card is always carried out first and all results will be fully implemented before the player gets to check for what table they will be using. The really important part of this step is that sometimes these Counter Order Cards will cancel the just played Orders of the player which also means that any Leaders played with that Order are also canceled and they will simply be discarded without effect. This is very painful and will happen quite often as there are 8 total cards that cancel Orders, 4 each in Phase I and Phase II.
The player then simply refers to that column on the Order, rolls a die, making sure to add in any negative or positive DRM’s from events or from having troops in certain locations, and executes the determined result. This process is really simple and might seem somewhat random but it actually all works together really well. And the best part is that it always keeps you guessing as you just don’t know what cards are included in the deck and in what order they will come out. This is the one major difference in this game from the solitaire to the 2-player version. In the solo game it is a random draw from a randomly created deck while in the 2-player game you have a human opponent across from you trying to guess what orders you are going to take and how they can best counter them.
Now that you understand the Counter Order Deck makeup and the process of how they work, let’s take a look at a few examples of these cards.
Counter Order Card Examples
Here is a look at four of the different Counter Order Cards. The shown cards here are all found in the Phase I deck (as you can see the card numbers of 3, 5, 8 and 15 are cards in the series between 1-20). Let’s take a look at each of the cards and discuss its effect.
Card #3 Sicanus Redeploys Troops
This card is in reference to Sicanus who was a leader from Syracuse, son of Execestus who in the autumn of 415 BC was elected as a plenipotentiary strategoi. The function of the card is that the player will have to move at least one Syracuse troop found on the board from any area that has a surplus of troops, being defined as more than one, to any other areas that are completely vacant of troops. Another qualifier is that if the Athens player occupies Epipolae, these troops will be moved to Achradina slots first until they are filled. So why does this matter? Well when a player attacks a specific location and that location has no troops of the enemy and losses are incurred, the attacker gets to choose those losses from any other locations on the map. This is important because certain areas are areas that will be focused on with attacks and can lead to losses that reduce Morale which is one of the victory conditions and important to focus on if you are not having success with the building of walls. But the most important part of this is that most of the Counter Orders require at least one Syracuse troop to be present. So if a roll is made that states the Athenian attacker will take a loss, if there is no Syracuse troop present then that result will not happen. This card then takes their surplus troops and moves them around the map to fill those vacancies. At the wrong time, this card is killer. I do love it though when it comes up early as the effect at that point are very negligible.
Card #8 Command Conflict
Command Conflict is a card that simply sucks! When it is drawn from the Counter Order Deck, it will Cancel your just issued order, along with any Leader Card that you may have played along with it, and force you to discard those cards. This hurts but there is an option. You can ignore the result though and incur a -1 DRM on the die roll. So there is a bit of light at the end of that tunnel but sometimes depending on the Counter Order listed on the bottom of the card a -1 DRM is very bad and can possibly result in multiple troop losses or Morale losses. The player will get to think that decision through though for the moment and decide how to proceed. That is at least better than an outright cancellation of the order with no recourse. There are 8 of these Command Conflict cards in the Counter Order Deck and I always feel like they come up at the worst time!
Card #5 Daimachus’ Cavalry Raids
Daimachus was a Syracusan leader who was known for his skillful use of cavalry during battles. He used those horsemen under his command at Syracuse to harass supply lines and slay many of the Athenian soldiers as they would forage outside of their camp at Plemmyrium.
This card is an example of an “if, then” style of card as there is a prerequisite of at least one Syracuse troop being located at Olympieum in order for the Action to go off. If there is a troop there, then the player will be forced to roll a die and on a roll of 1-2 the Athenian player will have to remove one troop from Plemmyrium or if there are none there then from any other space, on a 3-4 the Athenian player will lose one Morale and on a 5-6 there is no effect.
Card #15 Tellias’ Counterattacks
Tellias was a Syracusan leader who was chosen as a replacement to a previous strategoi who had failed on the battlefield. This card is one of the 8 Cancel Order cards but has a slightly different second choice for the player if they want to avoid losing their Order and the associated Leader Card if played. This choice is not a good one though as the player will will be forced to roll a die and on a roll of 1-3 the Athenian player will have to remove one troop from Plemmyrium or none if no troops are there, on a 4-5 the Athenian player will lose one Morale and on a 6 a Syracuse troop will be removed from Olympieum. So only a 1 in 6 chance of a good result. A tough choice but it could be an important point of the game. But at least you have a choice.
I hope that you have enjoyed this Action Point and better understand the effects of and how the Counter Order Deck Cards work. In Action Point 4, we will review the victory conditions for the Athenian player.