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Posted on Aug 16, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

A New Edition of a Classic War Game – GMT’s Peloponnesian War-  Board Game Review

A New Edition of a Classic War Game – GMT’s Peloponnesian War- Board Game Review

Rick Martin

Peloponnesian War   Board Game Review.  Publisher: GMT Games   Game Designer:   Mark Herman  Price  $65.00

Passed Inspection:   beautiful components, stunning cover artwork, dynamic narrative to the game play, solo and 2 player rules included, multiple scenarios covering different wars, tons of replayability, can be played in one sitting, easy to learn

Failed Basic:    a few typos or unclear rules, map board doesn’t law completely flat on the left side, counter stacks can get unwieldy

Mark Herman has taken his Peloponnesian Wars game originally published by Victory Games in 1991 and given it an unbelievably brilliant upgrade.  This new edition is winner!


For those who own the original edition, Herman has added the following to the game:

1) This new edition not only covers the 2nd Peloponnesian War (431 BC to 404 BC) but now includes the 1st Peloponnesian War (460–445 BC), the Archidamian War (431 BC to 421 BC – a shorter game which can be played in an hour or so), the Decelean War (413 BC to 404 BC – also known as the Ionian War), the Fall of Athens and the Fall of Sparta.

2) Two player rules (the original was solo only)

3) All new artwork

The box art is simply stunning.  While some have complained about a lack of realism regarding the Triremes’ size, type of sail and positions of the soldiers on the deck, I found the artwork to be totally evocative of the time period in question even if it is somewhat more “fantasy” then “reality”.  I want a T-Shirt with the box art on it and maybe a poster!  Hear me GMT – a T-Shirt and a poster! (Time to put on my editor’s hat – this is not a bribe for a good review. Mr. Martin (notice the 3rd person reference?) will gladly pay for these items.)

Upon opening the box, you will find the following high quality components:

24 page Rule book which includes an index and a gazetteer

48 page Play book which includes a full history of the conflict and designer’s notes

Mounted Game Board: 22×34 inches

2 Counter Sheets

1 pad of Record Sheets

1 Athenian Strategy Matrix

1 Spartan Strategy Matrix

2 Player Aid Cards

2 Six-sided Dice

You will need to provide two containers to draw both the Peloponnesian League (Sparta and her allies) leaders and the Delian League (Athens and her allies) leaders.

First a note about the wonderful quality of the counters and two Strategy Matrixes – the cardboard used is very thick and sturdy.  For those of us “mature” gamers (You mean older right? – ed), we won’t have trouble handling these high quality components.

The mounted map board would look good hanging on the wall. It’s simply stunning and features a point-to-point system connecting the various regions and city states of the era.  A handy key on the map easily shows you what are cities, coasts or sea areas and who controls what areas.  The color coding is red for the Peloponnesian League, green for the Delian League and yellow for those city states that are neutral. Special features such as Athens’ long fortification walls are shown on the map as well.  On the right of the map is a turn counter marked off in three year intervals.  On the left of the map is a victory point tracker.  On the lower part of the map is a Going Home box – this is where you put units which are returning from an expedition or battle.   Also marked on the map is Sicily as well as the dangerous sea route from Cape Taenarum to Syracuse.  The map has numbers from 1 to 7 marked on the top and letters from A to E on the right side.  Using the handy gazetteer on the last page of the rule booklet and you can easily find any island, region or city state, for example Athens can be found at map coordinates 4 D and Sparta at 3 E.

My only complaints with the map are that the map coordinates could be printed a little bigger and brighter on the edges of the map and, since there is no stacking limit, I had trouble fitting all the hoplite, cavalry, leaders and Trireme counters in to a City State area and then kept knocking them over.  It would be nice to have some type of off map holding area for the units.  I know it would increase the already formidable table size of the game but it may be worth it. In addition, a fold on the map’s left side won’t set completely flush with the rest of the map board. It’s not bad only slightly annoying.

The rule book is logically laid out with plenty of examples, designer notes, a key to important terms and a full index. It is laid out in the order of the turn sequence so reading through the rules walks you through a full turn.  I followed the suggestion in the rules that the first game be a “training wheels” game.  You set up the game per the rules and then follow the example game in the Play book.  It worked like a charm and the very next weekend I was playing the full game like a pro.

I do have to say that this rule book is the only place I have ever seen the word “denude” used, ever . . . it is used in Rule 5.2.1 “If unavailable, denude all possible friendly colored spaces…”

The solo rules for the game do not use “bots” but a very innovative system of tables for both the Athenians and the Spartans.  First you determine if the other side is in a defensive mind set because of your troops being too near specific city states.  If the other side is not in a defensive state and has enough in their treasury to conduct expeditions, you roll a six sided die and consult the other side’s Strategy Matrix.  The main tables include such broad goals as attack the other side’s ally, cause rebellions, cut lines of control or attack the other side’s main city state. Under each of these broad strategies you roll for the actual areas targeted by the other side and you chose how the other side draws up its force mix from allies or other city states by gathering hoplites, cavalry  and Triremes as you form up for the expedition.  The solo system works perfectly and after a turn or two becomes second nature.

The counters have very pleasing artwork and only one statistic for the hoplites, cavalry  and Triremes – Strength Points.  The Strength Points is an abstraction of the offensive and defensive capability of the units.

The scale of the game is that each turn is 3 years.  One Strength Point of Hoplites is equal to 1000 men.  A Cavalry Strength Point is equal to 2000 mounted men.  Each Navy Strength Point is equal to 25 Triremes plus marines and rowers who are armed as light troops when asked to fight instead of rowing.

Leader Counters include the leader’s name, a picture and the leader’s Tactical Rating and Strategic Rating.  Leaders with yellow or black bands on their counters are used for specific scenarios only (a mistake I made in my review game – I removed the yellow banded leaders but left the black banded ones in – oh well – live and learn).

Since each turn is 3 years, quite a lot can happen in a game turn.

The  turn sequence is as follows:

  1. Political Phase which includes random events and checking to see if you switch sides in a solo game
  • Strategic Planning Phase which includes planning for expeditions as well as resetting each sides Confidence Rating
  • Operations Phase – each player (for 2 player) or player and other side (for solo) conduct one operation/expedition alternating with each other.  You move leaders around the map board and they build up their forces based upon the available money in their treasuries.  After the first expedition for both sides, the priests for both sides have to perform auguries to see if the gods approve of your plans.  If the gods don’t approve, your side can not perform any more expeditions and must pass play to the other side.  As your expeditions move through enemy territory, they can ravage the lands to punish those loathsome folks on the other side.  You can also try and stoke the flames of rebellion in the side’s provinces and cities
  • Combat Phase – conduct land and naval battles as well as sieges and take hostages after your land battles.  Keep these hostages locked away to help prevent attacks on your city state – you know the old “attack me and I behead 100 of our prisoners” sort of thing.
  • Rebellion Phase – if each side has provinces or cities in open rebellion, you can try and put down the rebellion but the rebellion may just spread
  • Administration Phase – revenue collection, building new armies of ground forces or expanding your navy
  • Armistice and Surrender Phase – check conditions to see if one side or the other sues for peace or surrenders

It’s amazing how quickly the flow of play works its way into your muscle memory.  The rules are logically laid out and make complete sense.  I did find a few typos though but they were minor.  The example of play should reference set up per pages “5 and 6” instead of pages “7 and 8”.  I think the rules on Athens’ long walls could be rewritten for greater clarity.  I had to re-read those rules 3 or 4 times before I figured out what they were trying to say.

When forming up an expedition, you take your leader and then move point to point across the map gathering up forces.  When your leader reaches a city with some forces he wants to hire, he pays a certain amount of talents to add them to the expedition.  Once you feel comfortable with your army or navy, you can then travel to your objective (placed before you started forming your expedition) and then ravage enemy territory as you travel through it.  This ravaging will hit your enemy in their bottom line – keeping them from earning revenue from that area which may keep them from attacking next turn or possibly even forcing them in to peace talks.

Combat is suitably abstracted based upon the scope of the game and both land and naval combat is handled roughly in the same way as are sieges.  Basically you roll a die 6 for each side and then add various modifiers such as any leader’s tactical rating if he is involved in the battle or a bonus to the side with more ships or troops or a bonus to side supporting its forces with cavalry.  The highest number wins the battle.  Then the loser has to discard the number of units which is the difference in the number of units taking part in the battle.  The surviving forces then go in to the “Going Home” box on the map board.  There is a chart which tells you to which city states or ports the surviving forces travel back to after the battle.  They will be available to form an expedition starting on the next turn baring any events which keep them out of the game.

An innovative core to the solo rules is something I have never seen before in a solitaire game, namely, if you do to well for your side but don’t get a quick overwhelming victory or if you don’t prosecute the war fast enough, you may have to change sides during the Political Phase.

In the game designer’s own words:

“Most current solitaire systems on the market today have the player take one side for the entire game. This pits the player against a random ‘Bot system, even the best of which have some difficulty giving you the same challenge as playing against a human opponent. In Peloponnesian War, you get to play both sides, pitting yourself against the best that YOU can offer. If the game system is winning, the player is forced to continue with the losing side. Success, on the other hand, will eventually force the player to change sides and recover the losing side’s fortunes. The duration of the war and the player’s performance determine victory. In this manner the player competes against himself in the classic tradition of the Greek tragedy.

– Mark”

So each side has a couple charts which help track things on their respective Strategic Matrix Sheets.  You track the Treasury in Greek Talents, the Strategic Confidence Index and the Bellicosity Rating.  As more battles are won the Confidence goes up or down for the loser.  The Bellicosity tracks how determined and aggressive you are in prosecuting the war.

During the 2nd and subsequent game turn’s Political Phase, if the player’s Confidence Rating is zero or higher, you have to roll a die and add the Confidence Rating to the die roll.  If the modified result is six or higher, you have to immediately change to running the other side.  At first I thought this would be a hindrance to an important element of solo war gaming – identifying with your side.  But it really doesn’t.

The solo system is amazing!  If one side gets too much of an edge or, conversely, takes too long to win a decisive battle, you make a roll and add the tracking bonus for how aggressive you are playing and then you may have to switch sides and play the other side.  It’s a very dynamic and fun system.  The game encourages you to be aggressive and bring the war to an early end by decisive aggressive campaigning.  In real life the war lasted 27 years.  If the war goes on too long you’ll keep switching sides.

In my last game, I started as the Athenians and was doing well in my prosecution of the war but a plague broke out in Athens and decimated both the population and the economy for about 3 years.  It was those three years of inactivity that came back to haunt me as it completely broke up my strategic plan to cut Sparta off from her allies in Corinth.  Because of that the war drug on and I had to switch sides.  When I switched to the Spartans, I saw how I had taken most of my Athenian forces to the South and left only a token army in Athens with only a few Triremes to guard the harbor.  Now as the Peloponnesian League’s Spartans, I planned a three pronged attack with one of my allied city states and gained control of Athens’ port, Marathn, and Piraeus and Sunium, an important city to Athens’ South East and then took Athens herself when we collapsed her long wall fortifications.  The Athenian will to fight broke and she and the Delian League surrendered.  But, after totaling up my Victory Points, I didn’t do well enough to establish Sparta as a future power and she ended up falling to the Persians sometime in the near future.

I played the full 2nd Peloponnesian War game scenario in about 6 hours.  Shorter scenarios can be played in 2 or 3 hours.

You will need a large game table for the map board and the handouts and the two draw cups will take up some room.

Aside for the aforementioned scenarios and the 2 player rules, Peloponnesian War’s Play Book is stuffed with goodness.  There are articles on the economic factors of the Peloponnesian War, the naval war, designer’s notes and a complete play through of the game as it historically happened.  In addition, there is a brilliantly informative article on “The Peloponnesian War – A Look at Strategy” by the late Captain George E. Thibault, Jr.

If wanting to play this game every few days is any indication of how successful this game design is, then this game is a pure winner!  And with a 2 player system and many different campaigns to play, this game has a wonderful value to cost ratio!  I need to start on another game review for Armchair General but all I really want to play either the first Peloponnesian War or maybe the Fall of Sparta scenario.  I think this means I’m in love!

For more information and articles on GMT’s Peloponnesian War, go to:

Armchair General Rating: 96 %

Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 to 5 with 1 being Poor and 5 being Perfect for Solo)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!  Rick is also the designer of Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit and Sherman Leader.

Box Art
The full map board
Archidamus goes to battle
Athenian fleet and its commander
Two heroes do battle
Strategy Matrix for both sides
Events for the 2nd Peloponnesian War
A decisive Spartan victory

1 Comment

  1. Dand, I need this game.