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Posted on Jul 23, 2019 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“With you it rests, Callimachus, either to bring Athens to slavery, or, by securing her freedom, to be remembered by all future generations.”  Marathon 490 BC Board Game Review

“With you it rests, Callimachus, either to bring Athens to slavery, or, by securing her freedom, to be remembered by all future generations.” Marathon 490 BC Board Game Review

Rick Martin

Marathon 490 BC   Board Game Review.  Publisher: Turning Point Simulations   Game Designer:   Paul Rohrbaugh  Price  $33.95 zip lock bag, $39.95 boxed

Passed Inspection:   beautiful components, fun to play, can be played in 2 or 3 hours, small table footprint, easy to learn rules, high replay value owing to both a historic and a hypothetical scenario

Failed Basic: abatis counters are printed too lightly, counters must face a hex vertex which I kept forgetting to do, needs slightly bigger hexes

 ‘With you it rests, Callimachus, either to bring Athens to slavery, or, by securing her freedom, to be remembered by all future generations. For never since the time that the Athenians became a people were they in so great a danger as now. If they bow their necks beneath the yoke of the Persians, the woes which they will have to suffer…are already determined. If, on the other hand, they fight and overcome, Athens may rise to be the very first city in Greece.’  Herodotus


The Battle of Marathon is one of history’s most important battles.  That is why this game is the first in Turning Point Simulations’ series on Decisive Battle of the World.

As published on Turning Point Simulations’ website description of this game:

“Terms from military history have entered the English language in many ways, but primarily fairly literal ones. If we say someone “met his Waterloo” we know it means a final defeat. But one battle’s name means a far broader range of things, most of which have little to do with actual battle.


Today, a “marathon” is a long race — possibly of 26 miles or so but often different. Or it may be a long session of doing something — nearly anything. There are “movie marathons” and “shopping marathons” and many other kinds, all picking off a word that means “long distance” or “long term.”

But originally the word was the name of a small Greek village and applied to the plain nearby — a plain noteworthy for being a good place where hundreds of Persian ships could offload thousands of Persian troops and let them get organized, before proceeding the distance to Athens and burning the city in revenge for the Athenians supporting a rebellion against Darius I. It was a place where, oddly enough, two armies confronted each other for FIVE days with almost no fighting, and Athenian democracy was put to the test as the Greek forces debated (and voted) whether or not to attack the Persians, finally reaching the affirmative only after seeing most of the Persian cavalry reloaded onto ships for use…somewhere probably unpleasant for Athens.”

“As to the battle itself, numbers are uncertain but we know the Greeks were heavily outnumbered. We know also that the two armies’ fighting style and equipment were near opposites, with Greeks depending on shields, armor, and close-quarter fighting and Persians depending on missile weapons and skirmishing. It seems pretty clear that the Greek army ran (or advanced at speed) as soon as they got within bow range, to reduce the time they would endure arrows without being able to retaliate. And it seems pretty clear that, once the Greek army closed with the Persians (who had no room to withdraw and maintain a firing distance) that the battle would be a slaughter. It was.

After the battle, the Greeks knew Athens was still at risk, either from ship-born Persian forces or from traitors, a key Persian tactic having been buying support from local citizens. The Athenians at Marathon represented the city states’ only army and the city itself was vulnerable to attack or betrayal… and false reports of the army being destroyed would make capitulation the most logical response to a Persian force demanding surrender. Thus the urgency of getting news back to the city as quickly as possible. But the greater urgency of getting actual troops.

We forget that horses were not much of a Greek tradition at this time and that what small animals they did have could not carry a man for long. Thus the habit of long-distance runners as messengers. It is true that a runner (possibly called Pheidippides) had run as messenger to Sparta and back, before the Greeks left for Marathon. After the battle, the main body of Greek troops staged a quick march back to the city. Somehow the two stories were blended and popular legend has Pheidippides running back to Athens, to cry out “Victory” and then die. It makes a nice story, and 26 miles makes a better race than the 140 miles actually run to Sparta.”

Brilliantly designed by veteran game designer Paul Rohrbaugh, Marathon either comes packaged in a zip lock bag or, for a few dollars more, a box.  My review copy was the zip lock version.

The components of the game are:

A Full color, 11” x 17” mounted map board
194 full color, large 5/8″ die-cut counters
8 page rule book
Player’s aid card

You’ll need a 10 sided die just remember that the “10” result is read as a zero in this game.

The components are beautiful and the counter and map layout is logical and uncluttered.  My only complaint about the graphics is minor – the counters for the abatis defensive obstructions are a little too light – the yellow printing without a drop shadow makes it difficult to determine just what the wording on the counters say.

The fully mounted map shows the coast and the two mountains, Mount Agrieliki and Mount Ketroni which make up 4 levels of elevation with a pass running between the two mountains.  The Greek camp is located further up Mount Ketroni. The Athenian and Plataean armies are arranged in a left, center and right wing formation upon the two mountains and in the pass.

The coast is flanked by swampland on the North and South.  A coastal road runs from the North to the South with an intersection from a road running West through the pass between the two mountains.

The Persian forces start the scenario with most of their forces on the beach with the possibility of reinforcements arriving by ship throughout the 10 turn game.  In the historical scenario, the Persian cavalry have already set off by ship to parts unknown but in the hypothetical scenario, the Persians can bring their full forces to attack the Greeks – that includes their cavalry.

The game scale is 700 feet per hex  with each cavalry unit being about 500 men and the infantry units being around 800 men.  Each terrain elevation is about 10 feet of height and each turn is about 1 hour.  There are 10 turns in the game.

Each infantry unit is rated for combat factor, movement speed, missile factor and missile range (archers and spearmen).  Each leader is rated for his command factor and movement factor.  Many of the units have two sides – side 1 is full strength and side 2 is the unit’s reduced rating from taking battle damage.

Unit counters should be put on the map facing a hex vertex with the front two hexes being the front arc, the side two hexes are the sides of the force and the two rear arcs being the rear of the combat formation.  Being a gamer since 1978, it has become almost muscle memory to have a counter face a hex side and not a hex vertex so, consequently, I had to keep adjusting the units to face the vertex and not the hex side.

A small concession for playing the game solo is to have the units all face the same direction for ease of reading the counters (that way you do not have to constantly get up and walk to one side of the gaming table from the other side – hmmmm – maybe a good way to get exercise while playing the game, perhaps?)  When you play solo, you’ll just have to remember if you are attacking the side or flank of a unit.

Units can stack with up to two infantry, archer or cavalry unit in each hex or three units with a leader.  I did find the hexes to be a little too small for ease of stacking and during my two plays, I knocked stacks of counters in to other hexes when trying to pick them up.

The turn sequence is as follows:

1) Initiative

2) Movement and Reaction Movement

3) Offensive and Defensive Missile Fire

4) Melee Combat

5) Rally

6) Back to # 1

The turn sequence is also included on the map and a counter can be moved along the track to help the players remember where they are in the turn sequence during the game.  There is also a tracker on the map for the moral ratings of the two sides as well as the game turn (from 1 to 10).

Most units move 2 or 3 hexes – cavalry being the exception. Different types of terrain or the abatis defenses can slow the units down.  You activate a formation by pulling a chit from a bowl or bag.  The chit tells you whether you can activate a “left”, “center” or “right” formation.  Sometimes a formation just stays where it is and won’t move.  This happened to me in the second game when I couldn’t get the Persian center to advance for three turns!  Some chits allow the Persians to bring in reinforcements.

Hoplites and archers can use missile attacks from range – either spears or bows.  For the archers, the higher they are above the target, the longer the range they can attack from.

Missile attacks are easy to perform.  Simply roll a 10 sided die with a “0” or “10” (depending on the 10 sided die you are using) being a zero.  After applying some die modifiers if you roll below the attacking unit’s combat factor, you’ve hit the target.  The target then gets to roll a saving through by rolling a 10 sided die and trying to get lower than its side’s moral rating.

When units go in to melee combat, the system is just as easy as the missile fire rules.  Add the combat factors of the attackers including modifiers for terrain, leaders, etc. and compare to the combat factors of the defenders.  You get standard war gaming ratios of 1:1, 2:1, 1:4, etc.  Roll a die and look at the combat chart to see what happens.  Results can include being locked in combat with no resolution during this turn, defenders and/or attacks retreating, being disrupted, routed or losing one step in strength.  Units with only one sided counters are destroyed after losing one step – these are mostly light infantry, archers and such.

Units which rout must lose a step in strength and retreat.  If they retreat through other units, those units have to make a morale roll or they get routed as well.  Morale is critical in this game.  Just like in real combat you don’t have to kill everybody to win.  In my first game which was the historical scenario, the Greeks charged in and within the first four turns routed some Persian units and killed one of their leaders.  Other units routed and retreated though other units which failed their morale roll and also routed.  Soon five Persian units were retreating to their ships and getting as far away from the fields of Marathon as they could.

It also worked for the Persians in the hypothetical scenario in which the Persians aggressively attack the Greeks.  I had some light infantry and some Persian heavy infantry attack the Greek’s left wing.  After the Hoplites fell back, I had my cavalry lead by a commander charge up the hill and take the Greek camps on Mount Ketroni.  I then had light infantry follow up and hold the two camp hexes.  This caused a massive drop in morale for the Greeks and then an aggressive push from the right and center formations hit the Greeks hard even though they initiated a pincher attack with the help of some forces of Spartans (who can actually show up in the hypothetical scenario) on the Persian left formation.  When two Greek leaders fell, the overall Greek morale plummeted and the disrupted and routed Greek units were unable to rally resulting in a Persian victory on Turn 6!

The rules are very clear and easy to learn.  The only rule that I wish was in the game was an advance after combat rule allowing units to capitalize on retreating units by advancing in to their hex they vacated.

This is a great game!  It has a high replay value as you can keep going back in and trying new tactics and strategies.  While it’s not designed to be solo, as long as you can play fairly for both sides, it solos very well.

The entire game can be played in 2 or 3 hours – just perfect for an afternoon of fun.

Turning Point Simulations “Marathon 490 BC” is a triumph of simple rules and challenging game play.  Put this on your “Get It Now” list.  You won’t regret it. 

Armchair General Rating: 98 %

Solitaire Rating: 4 (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.

beautiful artwork
the battle begins
Leontis charges his foes
hypothetical scenario Persian Cavalry Charges the Greek Camps
hypothetical scenario Spartans attack


  1. So it seems this game has a number of optional rules? Greek Cav? There was none. But there was Persian Cav, but they never made it to the battle field. The images I’ve seen show a significantly larger Greek army? Is that correct, or are they just display images? The Force mix looks odd to. I will have a closer look tho.

    • Those are images from my play through of one of the scenarios. The optional rules give some interesting “What if” scenarios to play with.