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 Action Point 3, we examined the Counter Order Deck for the Syracusan defenders and their structure as well as looked at the Athenian Leader cards that are included in the deck. In this Action Point, we will review the victory conditions for the Athenian player.
Before we dive into the actual victory conditions, I want to make sure that I have made very clear that the Counter Order Deck that is used to play solitaire versus the Syracuse defender is a deck of cards that represents the passage of time in the siege of the city of Syracuse.
Deck Makeup and Connection to Victory
Once the final card is played from the Counter Order Deck, the campaign comes to an end and the game is over. If the player has not met their victory conditions by that time, they will lose the game. It is always important when you play any game to remember what your victory conditions are and also what parameters are given to the player to achieve them. The last card of the deck represents the arrival of the Corinthian reinforcements, which means that the Athenians are outnumbered, outmatched and outflanked and are doomed to the same historical fate that beset them over 2,400 years ago.
One other point I want to emphasize is that the player has the ability to set the difficulty for the game. The less cards that are included in the makeup of the Counter Order Deck means that you are making the task that much harder as you are up against the clock and simply have less time (cards) to accomplish your task. As a reminder, 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 desired difficulty. I would always recommend that players start on the middle rating of Good (27 cards) and try the game out first, learning the mechanics as they make connections on how the game works and how the different Orders advance their efforts. After playing, you can then determine if you want the game to be easier, by adding more cards, so that you taste victory or harder, by taking cards away so you delay the ultimate time that you succeed at your task.
Two Ways to Win
There is nothing overly complex in the victory conditions for the game. The Athenian player can win the solitaire campaign immediately in one of two ways:
(1) Completing all 8 segments of the circumvallation wall AND having moved a ship into a Blockade space;
(2) Reducing Syracuse Morale to zero on the Morale Track.
A reminder that the player will lose if they exhaust the Counter Order Card Deck without having won; OR also lose immediately if the Athens Morale is reduced to zero on the Morale Track.
You might be saying that this is pretty simple and doesn’t really involve destroying the city of Syracuse by force….and you would be absolutely correct in this assessment. Sieges were very rarely about total destruction of the defenders behind the walls but simply about getting them to surrender and stop fighting. This game models that aspect very well and I really enjoy the concept of the Athenians trying to build the walls. It is very interesting, and can be the easiest way to win the game, but keeps the player engaged and involved and also makes the experience tense as you just never know when your rolls will go poorly and you will fail building those walls or the Syracuse defender will get a leg up with a few counter walls.
The second part of the wall strategy though is the concept of getting the naval blockade setup, which is a bit more challenging than you would think. The Athenian player will start with 2 ships at the port in Lysimeleia adjacent to the Lysimeleia Camp where the Athenians landed and built their main base 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, the Supply Convoy, Reinforced Triremes 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.
With a wall building/blockade victory, the challenge for the Athenian player is that they have two main competing objectives to accomplish as soon as possible—building the walls versus positioning the fleet and occupying Plemmyrion. Any delay in building the wall allow Syracuse to get ahead in the race with counter-walls; slow movement of the ships opens the player up to adverse results whenever the Supply Convoy, Fire Ships and Reinforced Trireme events occur. Players must balance building and naval moves to stay ahead in both areas.
Finally, the Athenian player has to constantly watch their Morale and decide when to Rest and Refit rather than take positive actions. Morale is tracked for both sides. Morale can go down or up, but mostly will go down. Every time a unit is destroyed morale is reduced by one, and some events cause direct morale reductions. Morale can also be raised by reinforcement cards and the Athenian Rest and Refit Field Orders. Morale provides an alternate path to victory, or defeat. If either side’s morale level drops to zero, that opponent loses the game. For the Athenian player, attempting to win a morale victory is very risky—a prolonged series of attacks will likely result in as many Morale losses to the attacker as to the defender. It is more often a case of striving to avoid a Morale defeat.
Victory can be a great challenge, and the luck of card draws and poor dice rolling can ultimately sink a player’s hope of victory. But the victory conditions are clear and straightforward and a good plan and strategy will insure that the player is in the game till the last Counter Order Deck Card draw. Remember, building walls and setting up the blockade are your easiest paths to victory but you must be opportunistic, paying attention to what is happening and be ready to move away from wall building if the Syracuse Morale drops low.
In Action Point 5, which is the final entry in this series, we will take a look at some points of strategy to give you a primer on how to accomplish your task in the solitaire mode.