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Peloponnes

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

(Iron Games, 1 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 15-75 minutes; 28 Euros)

 

peloponnesboxCivilization-building games have proven to be very popular amongst a large segment of dedicated gamers. For many, the biggest drawback of these games is the length of time it takes to play, which can often be multiple hours. The granddaddy of all civilization style games is undeniably Francis Tresham’s Civilization, but it certainly has this problem, usually taking ten or more hours to play to completion. This significantly limits its audience and the opportunities for play on most regular game nights. For quite some time, the Holy Grail of board game design has been the creation of a quality civilization-building game that can be played in just an hour or two.

The latest candidate in this quest is Peloponnes by Bernd Einstein. The game is set in Peloponnesia in 1000 B.C., with players representing budding civilizations vying to become the most dominant in the region. Each player will develop their civilization by acquiring land and erecting buildings, both of which will allow their population to expand and enjoy greater wealth, luxury and power. This burgeoning population, however, requires a consistent supply of food, and the area is fraught with natural disasters, including earthquakes, plagues and famines. Players must plan properly for these requirements and threats, as failure to do so will result in disaster and even the collapse of their civilization.

Each player begins with a unique civilization tile, a few coins and a mat upon which they will track their resources (wood, stone, food and luxury goods) and population. Five disaster tiles are displayed, each of which will be triggered at some point during the game. The game then follows a set pattern through eight turns:

Reveal Tiles. A number of land / building tiles equal to the number of players are revealed. Each tile depicts the resources necessary to construct the tile, the minimum bid allowed, the additional population and instant resources granted, per turn resources earned, prestige points earned, and any special powers granted (building tiles only). If one of the revealed tiles depicts the supply icon, the order of play is interrupted as a supply round is immediately conducted. More on this in a bit.

Bidding. In player order, each player places a monetary bid on one of the tiles. The bid must be at least the amount depicted on the tile. A player may bid on a tile that already contains a bid, which displaces the previously placed bid. Unlike when this occurs in games such as Evo or Amun-Re, the displaced player must place his bid on another tile. However, he cannot increase or decrease the amount he has bid, which can result in the player being unable to bid on another tile. In this case he must take his bid back, receiving one coin as consolation. This procedure forces players to carefully assess the tiles available and plan their one-time bid accordingly. A player may always choose not to place a bid, in which case he receives three coins from the bank. This is sometimes necessary if a player is short of cash, or if none of the available tiles are attractive.

Adjust Player Turn Order. Turn order for the remainder of the turn is adjusted based on the amount the players bid, with the player spending the most money going first. If multiple players bid the same amount, the order for those players remains unchanged.

Add Tiles to Civilizations. Players pay for the tiles acquired by adjusting the resources on their mat. As an alternative, players may still take and place their tile, but choose not to immediately pay for it. They indicate this by placing a coin on the tile. The resources and benefits granted by the tile are still enjoyed, but the player must pay for the when the next supply round occurs or he will forfeit it. This rule allows a player to acquire a tile he cannot immediately afford, helping all players remain competitive even when they are resource poor.

peloponnes2When placing tiles, land tiles are placed in a row to the right of a player’s civilization tile, while building tiles are placed in a row to the left of the tile. A land tile must have a resource icon matching the tile immediately to the left of it. If a player cannot legally place a tile, it is discarded. Thus, care must be exercised when bidding on land tiles to insure that they can be legally placed.

Increase Population and Earn One-time Income. The player receives population, coins and one-time resources as indicated on the tile. This is not to be confused with regular resources, which are earned for each tile a player possesses. These are earned in the next phase.

Earn Income. Players collect resources for all of the tiles they possess. Coins income is dependent upon the size of a player’s population, with more people yielding more taxes. If a player obtains more resources than the limit on his mat, excess resources are recorded on the “Luxury Goods” track on their mat. These luxury goods can be used as any other resource or even coins, but on a 2-for-1 basis. It seems to be a wise tactic to concentrate on one type of resource, which will almost inevitably result in the accumulation of luxury goods. Being able to use these goods as any type of resource or as coins gives the player tremendous flexibility in acquiring tiles and feeding his people.

Reveal Disaster Chits. There are a total of sixteen disaster chits, three for each disaster plus one blank. Two are revealed each turn, and placed underneath the matching disaster tile. If a tile receives its third chit, the disaster is triggered. Disasters cause players to lose a significant portion of their food, population, resources or luxury goods. Certain buildings offer protection from specific resources, so these buildings tend to generate lively bidding when they appear. I personally wish there were more blank chits, which would allow for uncertainty as to which disasters would occur. As it is now, players know that each disaster will be triggered at some point during the game, usually in the latter turns.

As mentioned earlier, when a tile is revealed depicting the supply icon, a supply round occurs. Each player must feed his population, with each inhabitant requiring one unit of food. Any people that cannot be fed perish, with the player adjusting his mat accordingly. Players must also pay for any tiles that they acquired previously but did not pay for. These tiles are easily identified as they are marked by coins. If a player cannot or chooses not to pay for these tiles, they are discarded, but the player does retrieve his coin.

The game ends following completion of the round when the final land / building tile is revealed. This takes exactly eight rounds, and generally takes one hour or less to complete. Players must then feed their population one last time and pay for any incomplete buildings. Points are then tallied as follows:

· Prestige points: the sum of land and building tiles, plus one point for every three coins a player possesses.

· Population points: three points for each person.

The smaller amount of these two is the player’s final score. Players compare these scores, and the player with the greatest total is victorious and dominates Peloponnesia. If there is a tie, players compare their larger amount of points to determine the winner. This scoring system forces players to pursue a balanced approach, concentrating on both prestige points and their population.

Peloponnes is a tight design, with very few add-ons or extra chrome. It is very straight-forward and it flows smoothly. The rules are easy to understand, and their simplicity means players will not be forced to delve into the rule book often during play, if at all. The number of decisions to be made is somewhat limited. Players will be acquiring at most eight tiles during the course of the game but, on some turns, the realistic choices a player has are few. Sometimes a player will need cash, and elect not to bid in order to obtain three coins. So, in many cases, a player will only make five or so important choices during the course of the game. While these decisions are important, it is still not a lot of decisions for a strategy game. That is a big knock against the game for me: there simply aren’t a lot of important decisions to be made.

I have other concerns as well. Feeding one’s population is tough, and it is made especially tough by the fact that disasters often occur in groups near the end of the game. This can rapidly deplete a player’s storehouses of resources and food, leaving little if any food to feed one’s population on the final supply round and again shortly thereafter at the end of the game. While a player can mitigate this a bit by securing certain building tiles, it is virtually impossible to protect oneself from all of these perils. In a word, this combination of disasters and supply rounds are harsh – perhaps too much so.

One of my good gaming buddies Jim McDanold often describes a game as “fine”, which those of us who game with him have come to interpret as meaning “the game is OK, but it is nothing special.” Sadly, that is the same reaction I have had so far with Peloponnes; it is a game that is pleasant to play, but not very taxing or exciting. It has some interesting features and it plays smoothly, but just doesn’t “wow” me. I certainly don’t want to be too harsh, as the game is reasonably enjoyable. It is just that I tend to look for more decisions, angst and challenges in a civilization-building game. For me, the quest for the Holy Grail of a civilization game that can be played in a few hours continues.

 


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