Epic of the Peloponnesian War – Boardgame Review
A hot breeze is blowing through the horse-hair crest of my helmet. I tightly press my shield against my shoulder. I dare to glance at the oncoming enemy. The shield-glare is blinding. Our pace breaks into a full run. The sweat is streaming from under my helmet and down my neck. In just a few moments, on what was a peaceful plain in my homeland – my phalanx will crash into the enemy’s. Will I be alive left to see the trophy set up over today’s field of battle?
Epic of the Peloponnesian War (EotPW) features more than just tactical hoplite battles. EotPW takes on the daunting task of bringing to life the grand strategic struggle between Athens and Sparta during the Peloponnesian War. EotPW was released by Clash of Arms in the summer of 2006. In it, Kurt Kuhlmann and Jonathan Iwamasa created a solid offering that accurately recreates the complex multi-tiered dynamics that was the Peloponnesian War.
The box art of EotPW is good, though in my view the two warriors fail artistically to convey the monumentality of a full-pitched phalanx-to-phalanx battle. Artistically the duel was meant to remind gamers of COA’s insignia. I guess a couple of mostly-naked men going at it wouldn’t exactly have been appropriate either. It also seems a bit odd that the city of Sparta didn’t actually “make it” on to the very front of the box cover. Sparta instead was relegated to the lowly end of the game box.
Another feature of the box cover that gets my attention is the style of helmet the Spartan combatant is wearing. This helmet is also featured on the Spartan counters. It is not what you would expect as a typical hoplite helmet. The prominence of this style helmet leaves me feeling a bit deflated because it disturbs my notion that Spartan’s were the ultimate epitome of my vision of hoplite-ness.
An EotPW counter that I find is quite a hoot is the “Forage” counter – it’s on the back of the “Raid” counter. On it, an arm reaches from off the edge of the counter to grab a duck by its neck. It’s nice to have a little humor thrown in – just to keep a little perspective that we are talking about a game here folks.
The counter mix lacks anything to use to show how many times an area has been raided; I recommend using dice in its place. There aren’t really enough base/fort counters either. There could have been a few more player aids. The space that the COA insignia takes up on the main player aid could have been used for something a lot more helpful. I would have liked to have seen interesting graphics (or parts of paintings or even color photographs) on the inside of the playing cards.
The charts, oh the charts!
There are two big 11” by 17” charts for tracking regional allegiance and militancy which I wish had been handled altogether differently. These charts are important sources of information during play – their design also unfortunately creates an overly fragile situation that will wreak havoc on your nerves. On the charts, you must track each region’s militancy and allegiance levels by moving the two respective counters (per region) between the values of negative-four and twenty. Because the units of measurement on the Allegiance Chart’s regional tracks were scaled in increments of half a counter’s width, it is necessary to overlap counters (by half a counter mind you) on the same region’s track. If a chart gets a slight bump (or even gentle nudge) you are apt to nuke your counters out of position and lose all the valuable information you have been tracking. Instead of using the provided AL/ML chart and counters, make a spreadsheet, put it on a laptop, and pull the laptop into your gaming space.
EotPW’s game map is definitely a beauty. The only negative criticism I have about the map is that its space could have better utilized to be more functional. By having some of the game’s additional charts actually printed on it, it would have cut down on the amount of space required to play EotPW. If the Leader Displays, Turn Sequence Track, or Tribute Assessment Chart would have been printed either above the Sicily box or on the large used space east of Rhodes on the lower half of the east map…it certainly would have reduced the table space required to play the game.
Let’s face it; putting the word “Epic” in a game title might seem daunting. Well, the campaign scenario of EotPW is definitely a “monster” game-length. The actual rules portion of the rule book is short, short, short. They are only 17 pages long. So don’t be put off by the fact that the rule book is a total of 35 pages long. The rule book that ships out with the game is the missing campaign game force pool list, so make sure you download this from the designer’s support website. Another thing that is slightly odd about the game is that there isn’t a method available for tracking treasuries. You’ll just have to add that component to your handy-dandy spreadsheet.
The game has a combined area and hex movement system – and it works. In a friendly-controlled area you can use area movement; in contested or enemy-controlled territory you must use hex movement. You now have the “fog of war” well represented in a movement system.
For me the best part of the EotPW is its combat system. It is the best ancient combat system I’ve seen. The system is simple, elegant, and easy to manage. It focuses both on force strength and troop morale. Leaders throw in an additional modifier for morale. An optional battle display allows a battle to be fought with center, left, and right wings. If you’re tired of other cumbersome combat systems (used on a similar scales), you definitely should check out EotPW.
The Economic and Loyalty Systems
EotPW’s economic system nails the influence of money in the war. Raising tribute levels over base norms increases your treasury but will weaken a regional allegiance and/or militancy. Victories, losses, foraging, raiding, and unopposed enemy units in areas also directly effect regional allegiance and militancy not only in the immediate region but potentially across the entire board.
The Price Tag
For me, $80.00 is an expensive game. I think EotPW’s price tag will definitely keep people from playing it – which is a real shame. More people should really be experiencing what this game offers.
I like EotPW. There are many aspects of the game that are superb. It is well detailed and realistic portrayal of the Peloponnesian War. Find someone who is not averse to spending a day once a month for a few months playing it and you will be well rewarded.