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PELOPENNES CARD GAME

Reviewed by Pevans

PELOPENNES CARD GAME (Irongames, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-60 minutes; €17.99)

 

I really enjoyed Bernd Eisenstein’s Peloponnes (Winter 2010 Gamers Alliance Report) when it first appeared from his imprint, Irongames, in 2009. It’s a clever, entertaining game of developing an Ancient Greek city-state. I was thus intrigued by the arrival of his Peloponnes Card Game last year, essentially a card game version of the game. The question is whether it would live up to its big brother.peloponnescardgame1

The game is, of course, made up of cards, though there are also some wooden discs: three for each player (choose a colour) plus two black and five grey ones as markers. A good half of the cards are money: they show a coin on one side with the other being a resource (wood or stone), food (grain) or population figure. To start the game, players get a random “civilization” card (though I’m tempted to deal two each and let players choose one). This represents one of the historical city-states of the Peloponnese in Ancient Greece: Corinth, Sparta, Thebes and so on.

Each city-state provides the player’s starting position: coins (cards of course), initial population and, possibly, some production. Each card is worth “power” (victory) points (they can be lost) and is numbered to give the initial player order, shown by arranging one disc from each player in a row. Players also get a card on which to track their stock of “luxury goods” using a second disc.peloponnescardgame2

The game is played over exactly eight rounds, regulated by the power cards that are laid out at the start of each round. These are divided into “A”, “B” and “C” decks with more production cards in the “A” deck and more power points in the “C” cards. Cards are either land, which can just be played (adding to the right of players’ starting card), or buildings that have to be constructed (with wood and stone) and placed to the left. Most of them provide production, most of them are worth power points and some of them have special abilities.

Each card also shows a coin value. This is the minimum bid for the card, since players have to bid for cards each round. There are always six cards dealt out at the start of each round. However, the first wrinkle is that only as many cards as there are players go into the auction. The others are available as “conquests”. Instead of bidding on a card, players can buy one of the conquest cards outright by paying three more than the minimum bid. This is a neat option, balancing the extra cost against the certainty of getting the card you want.

The auction is also a clever mechanism (as it is in Peloponnes). Players bid by placing coin cards alongside the card they’re bidding on, marking the pile with their third disc to show it’s their bid. If another player overbids, the first player must move their bid to a different card – as long as it meets the minimum and overbids any bid already there. Players cannot add anything to their bid once it’s been played. What a clever feature! You really have to think about the amount you’re bidding and what options it gives you. Suddenly those conquest cards don’t look as expensive.

Once all the bids have been sorted out – players who don’t bid or withdraw their bid get coins instead – turn order is changed. The player who bid most becomes first player, then the second highest and so on. Only then do players get their new card. In another interesting twist, players do not have to pay resources to construct a building at once but still get its benefits (it’s “under construction”). The wood and stone to construct a building comes from the player’s existing production (and any cards played), with any excess production becoming luxury goods. These can be used later as resources, coins or grain.peloponnescardgame3

To complete the round, players get income (coin cards), based on the amount of population shown on their cards. More population means more income, of course. However, people are also a cost. One card in each of the “B” and “C” decks shows a “supply” icon. This interrupts the normal flow of the round and players must feed their people (and complete – or lose – any buildings that are under construction). Each population figure needs one grain from players’ production and cards in hand. People cards in hand can make up the balance but otherwise, players have to remove cards from their display to reduce their population. Since they will have built up their population by the time the first supply card comes out, this can be tricky. Even worse, there is an extra supply phase at the end of the final round, potentially meaning players have to feed their people twice in a row. This really is a test and you have to be prepared for it.

There is one final element of the game: catastrophes. There are five catastrophe cards and this is where the grey markers go. As power cards are drawn, catastrophe symbols on the cards mean the marker is moved along the track on the appropriate catastrophe card. The catastrophe is triggered when the marker reaches the end of the track. There are two good things about this mechanism. First, it will take a while for any catastrophe to happen and, second, players can see it coming and get ready. Some power cards provide outright protection from particular catastrophes, making these cards more valuable, as can a set of the same symbol. If you’re not protected, you will have to work round whatever setback the catastrophe produces; they won’t knock you out of the game.

Okay, that’s the complexity of the game (not too different from Peloponnes, but game play has been streamlined) and there is quite a lot to take in. With just eight rounds, there’s not much time, making each purchase important – and you should definitely aim to get a card every round. The question is how to value the cards available. Do you need production? Population? Protection from a looming catastrophe? And how much should you bid to get the card you want? Boy, this is a clever, demanding game. However, it plays quickly and definitely does not outstay its welcome.

The final twist in the game is the scoring. Once that last supply phase is dealt with, players total up their power points from their cards. They also add up their population. The lower of these is their score. Yes, more cleverness, particularly as you need to be able to feed those people just before scoring them! Players will build up their population during the game anyway, as this increases their income. The trick is balancing population with power points and producing enough food to keep your population while having the income to get the cards you need.

I was hugely impressed with the Peloponnes Card Game. It is just as tricky and rewarding as the original game while playing more quickly (unless analysis paralysis hits anybody). I’m also struck by the way my copy had been played several times at the Swiggers games club before I got a chance to play! I give it 9/10 on my highly subjective scale. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Pevans


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