Friday, December 21, 2007

A Return to Perikles

Fantasy Flight recently had a sale in which Martin Wallace’s Perikles went for $10. A couple of the Appalachian Gamers took advantage of the offer, and as a result we had Perikles on the table again last night.

Perikles is one of those games that is smack in the middle of the No-man’s land between Eurogames and wargames. A real Eurogamer would probably find Perikles complicated and fiddly, and a real wargamer might find Perikles excessively simplistic and un-historical. But if both took the time to learn the game, they would find a smart design that rewards intelligent play and that remains challenging to even experienced players.

In fact, Perikles is one of those games that has so many dimensions to think about that I believe I’ll have to play several more games just to train my mind to consider all appropriate elements. The only other game that evokes the same feeling in me is Reef Encounter. Someday I hope to play Reef Encounter and pay as much attention to the coral tiles and algae cylinders as I do to the reef tiles that I hope to consume or have to defend. But so far I haven’t managed that feat, and James Lilly, the Appalachian Gamer Reef Encounter champion, regularly defeats all comers.

During last night’s game of Perikles, I came out of the gate strong, captured the leadership of the city I wanted (Corinth), and managed to win three victory tiles in the subsequent round of battles. The problem was that I had not given much thought to which cities I hoped to rule in the second round of the game, and in the end I realized that it might be smarter to avoid ruling any city, and hope to grab the tough Persian army (which is awarded to the player(s) who fails to lead any Greek City in a round). But Dave also had the same idea, and we ended up sharing control of the Persian army. This was not a disaster because both players get the full score of any victory tiles captured by the Persians. But we failed to appreciate how many points Ted and Tony were snagging by splitting the leadership of all six Greek cities between them.

In the end, Tony won the game because he dominated the leadership of more cities than any other player. I’m sure my too-smart-for-my-own-good Persian strategy helped him in the second round. As we were packing the game away, I realized that I had never played my one-time-use special event tile. Just one more element of the game that I had forgotten about.

Early sessions of a game are often about just learning the rules, and the subtleties of the game. But with games like Perikles and Reef Encounter, I need a few sessions to train my mind to pay attention to the big picture as well as to the details of the rules. In David Rabe’s play Hurlyburly, one character complains: “Everything in my life distracts me from everything else.” That seems to be my problem with Perikles and Reef Encounter. Planning strategy is like trying to hold two hundred marbles with my bare hands. Grabbing some of them only ensures that others will slip and fall away.

Of course, that’s what makes it worthwhile to return to these games again and again.

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