Thursday, April 8, 2021


One of the few unambiguous of the pandemic has been my ability to play board wargames more regularly with my friends via VASSAL. Recently, we started playing Pericles: The Peloponnesian Wars 460–400 BC from GMT Games. Since I was a child, I've loved ancient history, particularly Greek and Roman history. When I was in college, I had to read the History of the Peloponnesian Wars by Thucydides. Doing so ushered in a brief, intense period in my life when I devoured everything I could about the period. Consequently, when the opportunity arose to play a wargame set in the fifth century BC, I jumped at the chance.

The structure of the game is quite unusual. There are two sides, represented by Athens and Sparta, as you might expect. However, each side has two players, each one representing a faction within the side. In the case of Athens, it's the demagogues and the aristocrats, while in Sparta, it's the dynasties of the two kings, the Eurypontids and the Agids. The fundamental tension in the game is that each player is trying to achieve the most honor overall and thereby win the game while still cooperating with the other faction on his side. There's an intriguing "tug of war" on each side, as the factions compete to set the agenda in their respective assemblies (the boule for Athens and the gerousia for Sparta) in order to gain the upper hand in the conduct of the war against the other side. 

Pericles is thus divided into two phases, the first dealing with debate in the assembly, the second dealing with the war between Athens and Sparta itself. Though we're not very far into the game, I've very much enjoyed it so far. There's a bit of a learning curve here, as there almost always seems to be when picking up a new wargame. I find that, as I've gotten older, it's often harder for me to pick up new rules and that was certainly true here. Fortunately, the friend who owns the game is very patient and did a good job of initiating the rest of us into its intricacies. The result was a pretty satisfying start of the game and I expect that future sessions will go much more smoothly.

I continue to learn a great deal from my recent forays into board wargaming, not just about modern designs, some of which are very different from the older Avalon Hill or SPI-style wargames with which I was familiar from my youth, but also about different ways of modeling conflicts and large "world events." This is an enduring interest of mine, one that I keep hoping will yield some fruit with regard to my roleplaying game campaigns. I don't know if Pericles will provide me with the flash insight needed anymore than did Here I Stand, Liberty or Death, or Falling Sky, but I am having fun with my friends regardless, which is the important thing. 

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