In the past four articles, I’ve expounded on the various units—especially the hoplite units—found in GMT’s upcoming wargame on the Peloponnesian War: “Hellenes.” In this article, I want to talk about card play in the game.
Hellenes comes with 55 cards. Thirty-three of the cards are used in every scenario of the game. Eleven cards (and these are color-coded) are used only in the 431 B.C. campaign. Eleven cards (also color-coded) are used only in the 415 B.C., 413 B.C., and Sicily campaigns. Each game, therefore, will use a deck of 44 cards.
Each card in the game has two pieces of information on it: an event (and any prerequisite conditions to play the event), and 1 to 3 action points.
Before I discuss the cards in depth, I need to explain the dynamics of card play. Each scenario or campaign in “Hellenes” consists of a series of years. The 431 B.C. campaign, for instance lasts from 431 B.C. until 422 B.C. Each year is played out in a series of five seasons: Spring, Early Summer, Late Summer, Fall, and Winter. Each year begins with a New Year phase. At the start of the New Year phase, each player collects tribute in the form of Prestige Points (which function like victory points) for enemy cities they occupy. After this, the deck is shuffled and each player is dealt 6 cards.
One card must be immediately played (Sparta first) for one of two purposes: It can be played as an event or it may be discarded (“sacrificed”) in order to secure an appeal to one of seven “Olympians.” I’ll discuss the “Olympians” in a future article. For now, let me just say that they function somewhat like Special Action chits in “Europe Engulfed.”
After the New Year event/sacrifice is conducted, the Spring seasonal turn begins. Each seasonal turn begins with each player playing a card face down. If a player wants to play the card as an event, he plays it upright (from his point of view). If a player wants to play the card for the card’s action points, he plays it upside down (from his point of view). Both cards are then revealed simultaneously.
The cards played determine the order of play—the initiative—for that seasonal turn. The lower action value played goes first. Events have an action value of zero, and thus will be resolved first. If the action values of the two cards are tied, the Spartan player resolves his card first.
Before discussing events, I want to discuss action points. Action points are like oxygen. Just as you can do without oxygen only for a limited amount of time, players can do without action points only for short periods of time. Action points may be used to do the following activities:
1. Move units
2. Recruit new units
3. Reinforce existing blocks
4. Pillage a city under siege
In order to survive, let alone crush your opponent, you need action points. Action points are at a premium. But at the same time, manipulation of the initiative is a key to success. The initiative is determined by the action point value of the card played for any given season. Low card goes first. Since ties go to Sparta, Sparta, with any 1-action card, will always go first unless Athens plays an event (which has an action value of zero). If both Athens and Sparta play events, then Sparta will go first. The Spartan player MUST harness this capability and exploit it to the full. It is very powerful to get back-to-back turns. The Athenian player, conversely, can ensure that he goes last by playing any 3-action card. Going last is especially valuable in Winter turns. Since the Athenian player will often need to react to Spartan moves—using his incredible naval mobility—going last can be a really powerful asset.
Now, to the event cards. Let’s talk first about the 33 cards which form the core of the deck in any scenario. These fall into 6 categories:
1. Revolt cards
2. Civil War cards
3. Siege cards
4. Leader Ostracized cards
5. Athens Raises Taxes cards
6. Miscellaneous cards
There are 8 revolt cards playable by the Spartan player and three “Helot Revolt” cards playable by the Athenian player. A Revolt simply places a Spartan garrison block in any vacant Athenian city mentioned on the card or in an Athenian subject region containing a Spartan-controlled city. A Helot Revolt places an Athenian garrison block in Sparta, Messinia, or Pylos (if vacant). A garrison block is a one-step block that fires at agility A and strength ‘2.’ Garrisons may not leave cities.
Timing of the play of Revolt cards is CRITICAL for the Spartan player. Since events are always resolved first, the Spartan player would be advised to play a Revolt when he suspects his opponent is going to play a 1-action card in order to try to go first. This presents the Athenian player with a problem: Does he abort his plans and use his single action to try to crush the revolt? Or does he continue with his plans and hope to gain the initiative on the next turn and hopefully keep the Spartans from reinforcing the rebels?
The purpose of a Revolt: Each city has a numeric value attached to it. Players receive prestige points equal to the value of each enemy city they control during the New Year phase. So for a Revolt to be of any value, it must be held until at least the New Year. The trouble is that the players also get prestige points for defeating an enemy in battle or in sieges. If a player takes an enemy-occupied city by assault, he gains 2 prestige points immediately. If Sparta plays a revolt, assuming the Athenian player played a card for its action value the Athenian player may besiege the city, and on the next turn, assault it. Cities held by only a one-step garrison are very vulnerable to assault. The end result of such an exchange can be that instead of Sparta profiting from the Revolt, Athens profits from crushing the Revolt.
The trick is to either spark a Revolt where Athens cannot immediately besiege it, or play a Revolt when the Athenian player will face a tough choice to either call off an operation or allow the Revolt to proceed, or play back-to-back Revolts on opposite sides of the map. Once you get multiple Revolts in play Athens will be forced to try to deal with all of them or suffer the prestige loss during the New Year. If he deals with all of them, then the city of Athens itself may be made vulnerable.
Once a revolt is in place, the Athenian can use a 1-action card to hopefully seize the initiative and sail some reinforcements to the city. The Athenian player must be careful about this. If the Revolt is in a port, remember that even though the city is besieged by you, the Spartan player can sail reinforcements into the port. To prevent this, leave at least one of your elite fleets outside the port entrance. This weakens your assault force as you will not have that fleet’s marines but you must respect Sparta’s ability to seize the initiative.
Helot Revolts are a terrible threat to the Spartans. The only safeguard against these is to garrison the cities of Sparta, Messinia, and Pylos. One-step fleets can perform this duty well so don’t shun recruiting these units. Sometimes you have to take the chance and empty out Lacedaemonia but be forewarned, there are 3 such Helot Revolt cards in the deck, and if on pops up on Sparta, you could be doomed. With Athens’ naval supremacy they could likely reinforce the revolt before you could crush it.
Next week we’ll continue looking at the cards and the strategies to best employ them in “Hellenes.”
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Remember, all artwork here is playtest art!