Friday, September 07, 2007

A Rules Comparison of Hellenes and Athens vs. Sparta

This week, I noticed that two separate game companies have upcoming block games based on the Peloponnesian War, and both of these games have rules that are available for download. GMT Games may eventually publish Hellenes: Athens vs. Sparta, a game designed by Craig Besinque. Columbia Games hopes to publish Athens vs. Sparta, a game designed by Tom Dalgliesh, in the near future. I believe that Mr. Besinque’s game was originally going to be published by Columbia Games, but the backstory on the production of these games is of little interest to me. I just want to compare the rules, and note the similarities and differences.

Both games seem to be based or inspired by Jerry Taylor’s Hammer of the Scots system (although Mr. Besinque might say that it is based on EastFront or Rommel in the Desert—two of his earlier block games), and gamers familiar with the HotS will have little trouble learning these new games. Players get a hand of cards every turn, and then play these cards for their action point value or to trigger certain events. Card play also determines which player goes first in a turn.

RULES: The rules for Hellenes are nine pages long, and the rules for Athens vs. Sparta are eight pages long. The games seem to have roughly the same level of complexity.

MAPBOARDS: The mapboards of these games look remarkably similar. Hellenes has an area map and Athens vs. Sparta has a hex map, but the areas of Hellenes are about the same size as the hexes in Athens vs. Sparta.

SCENARIOS: Hellenes features several scenarios while Athens vs. Sparta only has one. The Hellenes card deck has some cards that are used only for certain scenarios.

GAME LENGTH: The Hellenes rules claim that the game can be played in four hours. The Athens vs. Sparta rules note that the game will last two to three hours.

GAMES TURNS: Turns in Hellenes represent a season, and there are special rules for winter turns. Turns in Athens vs. Sparta seem to represent a number of months, but the rules aren’t specific about what this length of time is. There are no winter turns in Athens vs. Sparta.

VICTORY POINTS: Both games award victory points for control of cities. In Hellenes, players can also gain points by winning battles or pillaging enemy cities. In Athens vs. Sparta, only control of cities gives players victory points.

LEADER CARDS: Hellenes features leader cards that remain in play from turn to turn and that give extra actions to players.

MOVEMENT: In Hellenes, all the units in a single area can be activated for movement. In Athens vs. Sparta, players must use action points to activate individual units. In Hellenes, units can attempt to force march, but they risk becoming weaker due to stragglers. In Athens vs. Sparta, units can double their movement allowance in a strategic move as long as the moving unit avoids enemy units. In both games, fleet units can transport land units.

COMBAT: Combat is remarkably similar in both games. Both use much the same system as Hammer of the Scots, except that both games have special rules for sieges and fleet combat.

CONCLUSIONS: Hellenes and Athens vs. Sparta are remarkably similar games (and you can probably guess the reasons why). You can preorder Hellenes from GMT at a price of $48.00. The Columbia Games website claims that Athens vs. Sparta will be available this month at a price of about $70.00. This would make Hellenes the bargain hunter’s choice, but there is no guarantee that GMT will get enough pre-orders for this game to publish it anytime soon.

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