In the past three weeks we’ve examined the various hoplite units that appear in Hellenes, Craig Besinque’s new block game on the Peloponnesian War. So far we’ve looked at the hoplites in general, the hoplites of Sparta, Arcadia, and Boeotia. This week I want to look at the Athenian army and navy.
Though it is primarily a naval power, the wealthy Athenian Empire has a very respectable army with a remarkable combined arms potential.
The Athenian hoplite corps consists of one 4-step C2 hoplite block, two 3-step C2 hoplites, and three 2-step C2 hoplites. The Athenian non-hoplite infantry corps consists of one 4-step B1, one 3-step B1, and three 2-step B1 infantry units. The Athenian army also consists of a two-step A1 archer block and a two-step A1 cavalry block.
This is a formidable array of troops. Nevertheless, the Athenians player will often find himself rushing troops to the far corners of the map to put down Spartan-inspired revolts. The large number of 2-step blocks makes this possible. In order to transport units by sea, the block to be transported must be smaller in step size than the fleet block that is transporting it. For this reason, the four-step Athenian hoplites and infantry will serve as the home guard of Athens. The other units are all useful to transport by sea to either invade Spartan territory or to put down revolts.
The primary Athenian strength is in her fleet. Her fleet is truly awesome and when concentrated, unchallengeable. The Athenian navy consists of two 4-step E2 fleets (all fleets are considered C1 units when fighting on coastal land areas), two 3-step E2 fleets, and four 2-step E2 fleets. Athens can also call upon four non-elite levy fleets: one 4-step F2 fleet, a 3-step F2 fleet, and a pair of 2-step F2 fleets.
Unlike land units which can only move two spaces (cavalry can move 3), fleets can move up to 5 spaces! The only restriction is that they must stop when they enter a coastal area, and they cannot move into a non-coastal land area. Duh. Elite fleets like the elite hoplites of Sparta get a +2 drm when they try to force sail (the naval version of forced march). This means they will only fail to move into a 6th space on a dr of ‘1’! This is tremendous mobility!
Moving by sea is not without risks, however. There are three different types of boundaries between sea zones: regular crossings, straits, and deep sea crossings. Regular crossings are just that and invoke no special rules. When fleets cross a straits crossing and engage in battle, only the defender fires in the first round. This, by the way is how the Spartan fleets can inflict harm on their Athenian nemesis. When fleets cross a deep sea crossing, there is a chance that they will encounter storms at sea. During the two Summer turns only a die roll of ‘1’ will produce storms. During Spring and Fall turns, storms will occur on a die roll of ‘1-2.’ During winter moves, storms will occur on a die roll of ‘1-3.’
Storms are the bane of fleets and their precious cargo in Hellenes. When a storm is encountered by a group of fleet blocks, a die is rolled for each ship. On a dr of 1-3, the block is destroyed along with any cargo it is carrying! On a dr of 4-6 the block and its cargo take a step loss. Cross deep sea at your own peril!
For the Spartans, war against Athens poses some interesting problems in that the fortifications of the city of Athens are very formidable and the Athenian naval supremacy enables the Athenians to avoid siege attrition. The Athenian naval supremacy also carries with it the threat of a sudden strike upon the Spartan homeland.
At this point it might be a good idea to discuss the difference between ports and cities. All cities in the game are on coastal areas but not every city is a port. Ports (in playtest art) are depicted by hexagons. Cities are depicted by squares. These are color-coded to the units which call that city or port “Home.” (Units can be recruited and reinforced only in their home cities.) Cities need only be besieged to inflict siege attrition on the defenders. Units in besieged cities cannot be reinforced (have their step-size increased). Nor may new units be recruited in a besieged city. Ports, on the other hand have another requirement. To inflict siege attrition on the defenders besieged in a Port, the Port must be both besieged and blockaded. To blockade a city, a fleet must be stationed in the sea zone opposite that Port. The Athenians, however, get an automatic de-facto blockade of every port on the map unless the Spartans have a fleet stationed in the offshore sea zone. If a Port is besieged but not blockaded, new units may still be recruited in that Port and units in that Port may be reinforced. Also, if a port is besieged but not blockaded, fleets can sail directly into the besieged city—thus reinforcing the garrison—without having to fight the besiegers! In short, the Athenian naval supremacy makes it very problematic for the Spartans to take an Athenian-held Port.
So how do the Spartans bring down this maritime behemoth? I like to treat a game of Hellenes like a game of tennis. Get the Athenians focused on one quarter of the map, and then spark a revolt on another corner of the map. Try to get several revolts active at the same time. Keep this up and it becomes a case of six holes and five fingers for the Athenians. Try to start revolts in places where the Athenians have to cross deep sea zones in order to crush the revolt before you can reinforce the rebels. Get them to tempt fate and hope the sea aligns itself with your cause. In the meantime, constantly threaten Athens by land and force them to keep as much of their army and navy at home as possible.
The Athenian must keep a flexible battle plan. Keep one or two mobile task forces ready to crush any revolts that arise. Recruit often so that forces can be sent to garrison trouble spots that may rebel (Samos, Chios, Byzantium, Rhodes, etc.). Take advantage of your superb mobility to hit the Spartans where they are weak.
Next week we’ll look at the cards used in Hellenes and discuss how to best use them to gain victory.
(All art is playtest art.)