Review for Solo and Couple Play
Designer: Bernd Eisenstein (2009)
# of Players: 1-5
Play Time: 45 min
BGG Rank/Rating: #361/6.706
Weight: Medium Light
Category: Gamer’s Game
In Peloponnes, you take control of one of the Peloponnesian city-states at around 1000 BC, trying to guide it to preeminence amongst its peers as you enter the new millenium. Over a series of 8 rounds, each player chooses a new tile to add to its civilization through a simple auction process, gathering enough food to feed their growing population and dodging the effects of inevitable disasters. Personally, I was attracted to the game both because if its “civ lite” theme and for the possibility of solo play. As it turns out, most of my games have, in fact, been either solo or just with one other player (usually my wife), so I’m going to give it a quick review based in that perspective.
Game Basics (click here for complete game rules)
As I begin to talk about Peloponnes, let me start with the end-game scoring. Players earn two different scores throughout the game: one based on their final population and another from the victory points earned by their tiles. Their actual score is the lesser of these two values, so the whole game is a balance of building and feeding your population against picking up tiles worth more points on their own.
Peloponnes is played over 8 turns, each offering the players a chance to obtain 1 new tile to add to their civilizations. There are actually two kinds of tiles, land and building. Buildings are places on one side of your city-state, and have construction costs (of wood and/or stone) that you have to pay to keep them. Land tiles go on the other side of your city-state, and while they don’t have any build cost, they have to match at least one income resource to the last land tile you played. Most all tiles are worth some number of victory points, and many of them generate some income (in resources) each turn. There are also some building tiles that can protect from the five different disasters.
On each turn, five tiles are available. A number will be up for auction equal to the number of players, and the rest are placed in the “Conquest Row”. Each tile has a minimum bid, and the auction gets interesting because if you are ever outbid, you can move your bid, but you cannot increase it. So in deciding what to bid, you need to both consider what you think will win the tile as well as making sure that it’s enough to pick up something else. Tiles in the Conquest Row may be bought outright (instead of participating in an auction, or if you’ve been outbid in it) for a price of 3 gold greater than their minimum bid.
Many of the tiles also increase population when they are added to your civilization. And then at the end of every turn, they usually produce 1-3 resources (food, stone, or wood). Once you max out a resource, extras of that resource are converted into “luxury resources” that can be converted to anything else (or money) 2:1 when they are needed.
But that’s enough about all the fruity-licious love-in stuff in the game; now let’s get to its teeth! After placing the new tile and getting income from your civilization, two disaster chips are turned over and placed on their corresponding disaster tiles (see the picture at the top of this review). When all three chips for any particular disaster are revealed, everyone not immune to it suffers some terrible thing, such as losing 1/3 of your population or food, or having to pay resources for each of your land or building tiles, or losing a bushel of luxury goods.
And in addition to disasters (which you may be able to avoid), you also have to feed your people! Once in the “B” phase (turns 4-6), once in the “C” phase (turns 7 & 8) and then at the end of the game, you’ll have a supply round where you have to pay food equal to your population. And if you don’t have enough, your population is reduced to the number that you can feed, which is pretty dark brutal. It’s especially bad when you have a supply round at the beginning of the last round and then again at the end, so you’d better have a crap-ton of food production or a healthy supply of luxury goods that you can convert to food when you need it.
Once all 8 rounds have taken place and everyone has feed their population one last time, the scores are calculated. Population points (3x population) and Presige points (VP from tiles plus 1 VP per 3 remaining gold) are calculated, and the lesser value is the player’s score. Highest score wins!
Solo Play Report
Obviously, one of the things most interesting to me about Peloponnes was the solo play opportunity. In the rules, they suggest a “Level System” for playing a series of solo games, each getting progressively harder but also providing a little extra bonus to production.
For Level 1, you play using the setup for the 5-player game, meaning that there are no tiles in the Conquest Row. So basically, you just buy a tile for its minimum bid each turn and add it to your civilization. I randomly chose Patras as my civilization tile, and ended up scoring 28 points, 4 more than the target score of 24.
My population was 12, giving me 36 population points, while my prestige score was just 28 (27 from tiles + 1 extra from my 5 remaining gold), so my final score was 28 (the lesser of the two scores).
In Level 2, 1 tile is placed in the Conquest Row each round (thus increasing its cost by 3), but you also get to choose one extra resource to add to your civilization’s income for the game. I randomly chose Sparta as my civ tile, and added an extra food to my income. This time, my population/prestige points were a lot more balanced, and I scored a whopping 33 points, way more than the required 28.
I was immune to every disaster except for the earthquake as well, as you can see from the symbols at the bottom of some of the tiles.
In Level 3, 2 tiles are in the Conquest Row each turn, but you get two extra income as well. My civilization was Argos, and I chose to get 2 extra food each turn. I again scored 33 points (just one above the target of 32). I had a lot of population (due to my extra food), but couldn’t get ahold of the bigger scoring tiles.
Apparently, I don’t mind earthquakes too much, because again it was the only disaster I wasn’t immune to…
For Level 4, 3 tiles are in the Conquest Row each round, which really starts to get tough. I started with Korinth as my civ, and chose to have 2 stone and 1 food as extra income each turn. I worked hard to keep balance throughout the game, and thought that I had enough prestige points to just barely meet the 35 point target. Unfortunately, I ended up taking the hit from several disasters throughout the game (since their prevention tiles tended to show up in the Conquest Row), and must have miscounted, because my final total was only 34 points (just two measely gold from success!).
I don’t know if disasters robed me of some money, or if I just miscounted, but I still came up one point short…
I could have tried again at that level, I suppose, but just haven’t had the time. At Level 5, you add a 4th tile to the conquest row, but do not get an additional resource added to your income. The target score doesn’t change (it stays at 35), but that would still be pretty tough.
What I think…
In addition to these solo games, I’ve played a couple of other solo games (not using the level thingy) and a handful of 2-player games (mostly with Gwen, my lovely wife, and one with Tom, who is a good friend but not particularly lovely… in my opinion, of course). Two-player games are especially brutal, because only 2 tiles are available for the auction each turn. Since all the other tiles are at +3 cost, things get very expensive very quickly, and disasters seem to hit really hard (since buying the prevention tiles may be hard or impossible). Overall, I don’t know that it’s all that great a 2-player game for that reason, even though I’d be willing to try it out with at least one or two more tiles available in the auction area. And while the auction mechanic works for 2, I could see that it would be a lot more interesting when you get to 4 or 5.
As a solo game, though, Peloponnes is really top notch. First of all, it literally takes 15-20 minutes. You’re basically making one decision each turn and then doing some housekeeping. But it certainly feels like there’s a lot more depth and weight to the game than the mere 8 decisions would indicate. Maybe it’s because those decisions are never really easy, making you choose between production, population, protection from disaster, and victory points in every tile that you take.
To some extent, there’s an element of “multiple paths to victory” in the game, which is probably my single favorite thing for any good eurogame to have. So even though your choices are limited, I still feel like I have some room to explore my options and try out different approaches from game to game. And even though I flunked out of this solo series, I’m ready to try again with some different strategies to see if I can pull it out next time.
Peloponnes isn’t perfect, of course. Chance plays a huge factor in how difficult it is, both due to when the disasters hit and the timing of the supply rounds (especially the second one). In one game I played, the second supply round happened at the beginning of the last turn (making us feed our people and knocking down our food accordingly), the Decline disaster hit at the end of the turn (reducing our luxury goods by 10) and then we had to feed again at the end of the turn. Gwen and I both were reduced to 6 population, and I eeked out a win by having a slight edge in prestige points (since the other kind of points is the tiebreaker).
I also feel like the game lacks a certain bit of granularity in scoring due to the way that population points are calculated. Since they will always come in 3-point chunks, it seems like one population more or less will usually determine the winner a lot more than I might have wanted. But even as I try to sit here and explain what bothers me about it, I’m coming up with counter arguments about why it’s not a big deal, so don’t worry too much about this.
If there’s anything else that I want to make clear about Peloponnes, it would be that it is not really a “civ lite” game at all, so there may be a little bit of false advertising floating around about it. There is no “tech tree” or anything like that, and again, you’re talking about 8 auctions/decion points in the whole game. Instead, it’s all about resource management and, in the non-solo game, working the auction mechanics. It’s extremely tight, and mistakes (or bad luck) can be pretty brutal, but it’s also very quick and continually challenging, at least partly due to the whim of fate that you must always account for and deal with.
• Rules: I picked them up easily from the rulebook (with only one little mistake), and they become pretty automatic after a couple of plays.
• Downtime: Virtually none, because the auction is inclusive, and then everything else on the turn is simultaneous bookkeeping.
• Length: The solo game is incredibly quick (15-20 minutes), and adding more players doesn’t add in all that extra time. Probably up to 45 minutes or so at the most.
• Player Interaction: Pretty much limited to the auction.
• Weight: Medium Light
• GamerChris’ Rating: Peloponnes is quick, it’s fun, and it makes you think. I rate it a 7.5.
Even adorable babies like to play Peloponnes!