Athens and Sparta. Two states, which have joined forces against the common enemy. And managed to fend it off, although it was a much stronger – a Persian empire. But Persian Wars ended and peace reigned over Aegean Sea and its adjacent continents. But not for long. Between these two victorious forces soon different views began to show. It did not take long, and land was again cought up in the war conflict, but the enemy has not come from the outside. This time, he was right among people.
Go back to the time, when Christianity was just a fairy tale. To the time before the birth of our savior, when the country was ruled by entirely different forces. Sharpen your sword, set sail and get ready for a fabulous Peloponnesian War. You can not outrun them, you can only win!
Greek War is the theme of the game Polis: Fight for the Hegemony, which is published only for a few weeks now. It was introduced to all players on the german fair Spiel in Essen and prepared by publishing company Asylum Games. The whole game was produced in Spain under the supervision of the author Fran Díaz and the man responsible for graphic is Mark Rutkowski.
Polis gets you interested already with its box, which is elongated, but horizontally oriented. Its all dark brown and the only decorative element on the cover is helmet of a fallen soldier. Besides it holds only name of the game, which hides two crossed swords inside its O. You get war ideas already, when looking at the box. But you could be really mistaken, because the game is not about war in first place.
When you open the box, you’ll obviously find game board. This map represents the Aegean Sea and its surroundings, but also the entire column of various boxes on left side of the board. There are four distinct market price of commodities, sections for various territories on the map and offer of their goods. And also pointer of game flow – denoting current round of match.
The map itself is filled with cities surrounded by colorful territories and connected by trade routes. There are also five business locations. Players will place their forces of troops, ships and figures, move them around map and gain control over certain territories.
But the map is of course not the only part of the game. There is also 32 square pieces of cardboard, allowing players to control cities, and then also tiles with projects, which can be built there. There is of course also a portion of cards – forty events are divided into rounds and 24 combat cards will decide the bloody battles. Then there are two individual player boards, where player mark number of their raw materials and prestige.
And because the game is partly a game about war (we deliberately do not use word wargame, which it is certainly not!), you will deploy a number of wooden pieces on the map. There are 45 red and 45 blue cubes with variety of utilization and also five black blocks for determining market prices and round. 25 round wooden tokens for each color will mark domination over cities, while eight boats will allow you to travel with merchants. Now the only piece missing is one pawn of Proxenos (a diplomat) for each player.
You will encounter ground combat with units of hoplites, which are represented by a cube on land. However, if you give it on the sea, it becomes a galley. Cubes are therefore usually used for force solution – no matter, whether you attack or only dominate the region. The only exception are those cubes, which you use to track your inventory on the player’s board. Then there are already mentioned peaceful merchants and diplomats – Proxenos.
The whole game revolves around two basic elements – population in your cities, which increases during time, but also around prestige, which can be obtained in several ways, including battle or construction of important buildings in cities. But when you have underlings, you must also provide them with food. And this is a concept, that comes from a euro games and has real influence on your whole strategy. This is also the place, where the game stops being war game and becomes a political and tactical combat.
First, you must prepare a game board according to instructions. You start simply with the market, where you specify the initial price of raw materials, which are available in the game – metal, wine, wood and oil are on the market. There are also silver and grain present in the game with constant price – grain must be bought, while you can pay with silver. Last black cube is put on round counter.
Each player now selects his side. He will play either for Sparta or Athens, which is clearly determined by his color – red is Sparta, Athens is blue. From the selected color, players take all wooden components and especially gaming board with the name of his side of conflict. Seven blue bricks are simply laid on the number of materials available, determined by the scenario.
Now you need to divide control of the cities. This is fixed according to the historical situation, so for example in learning variant, Sparta gets control of Syracus, Pylos, Gytheion and of course Sparta. The player takes cardboard tiles from these cities and puts them in front of him. They have some numbers printed on them, and also the color of the top line matching with territory on the map, where it belongs. Each city also has its population designated with number of cubes placed next to the city tile.
All other neutral cities are put above the board, where can they be picked up by their eventual conqueror. Each city is wearing three numbers – basic defense, maximum growth, and the highest population possible. On the sides of the tile, there are names of the projects, that can be built inside this city. You also prepare shuffled deck of project tiles, and you reveal the top three.
Now you need to reflect situation in the cities in the map itself. Players therefore move their hoplites according to given scenario to different regions. Besides, they must also mark controlled cities with round token – this is decided by number of hoplites.
The first of these scenarios is simplified and does not provide you with events and projects. But nothing prevents players from adding these two principles and get a full experience even from this set.
In the beginning of each of the four rounds, you reveal one event. The rounds themselves are somewhat unusually identified as 3, 4, 5, 5 alpha and 5 beta. Why? Since these numbers serve other purpose, than only show time of game. They also determine maximum number of forces, one player can have in one territory, therefore in the beginning, its three.
The progress of the game is very simple. Each round continues until both players decide to pass. What can force them to do so? Situation in the round and shortage of raw materials.
The big rounds are divided into smaller units – turns, within which everyone can perform two actions, but not one after another – alternating with his rival. Player, who has less prestige, starts the turn. He performs one action, then comes opponents action, and then both get a second chance. For each action, you can choose from a wide selection of twelve options – four politics, four development and four battle, which cost you one prestige and will therefore be used rarely.
Selection is always wide and it is up to the player, what will he do. You pay for action only in the case of military operations. However, if one of players has already passed and the second wants to continue playing, he must pay for each event one of his raw material inventories (arbitrary).
Only at the end of these two actions of both sides, battles can take place. And that will happen only in situation, when there is a total of at least eight units of different colors in one territory. To the course of battle itself will we return in a minute, but first we have to look at various actions, you can perform.
We should begin with peaceful actions, which support the development of your nation. The game allows you to recruit hoplites, merchants and produce galleys. You pay in raw materials for soldiers, but you need to take one population cube from any city and move it to the map in that city’s region. The same happens with building a ship, when you need the crew, which slices you one cube of your city population and you also pay one wood. In contrast with merchant, the cube is replaced with one ship from stock, but you still lose this cube.
The last event of a development series is the launch of a project. Every city has a project list, which may they try to complete, if they are also in the common offer. You start by paying the specified materials. The project is completed at the end of the round (which makes up for another reason to pass), when his owner (which may change in the meantime) can collect a specified number of victory points.
What’s next? Political actions. You can trade with one of the five available shops on the board, but you must have free access via some sea route to your own port, without intercepting it by enemy forces. This is easy way to do a blockade. Then player can move his galley on a free and active (more become available during subsequent turns) business position in the commercial spot. The player can buy with money or exchange for raw materials. After barter exchange price of goods is increased.
Other political action trio had something to do with your Proxenos. Motion (for moving from town to town you bribe foreign troops to pass), release of Proxenos from enemy captivity and especially causing civil uprising in a city. But you have to pay twice the population in silver, when you are trying to capture neutral cities and even three times, when opponent is the owner. But then the city is under your control – without violence and spending prestige! We love Proxenos!
But you can also do military action. But in case of each of these four actions, you must always pay one prestige for it. The possibilities are move hoplites and shift galleys, which have to apply the constraints of the turn number regarding their maximum number. But all your units must also have the same destination, but you can gradually add them, respecting all limiations. You can try to besiege a city, with the help of hoplites, which is second available action. You have to have more troops, than your opponent in this territory and also more, than is city defense number. In this situation, you immediately gain control over the city.
The last military action is very interesting and its collection of taxes. With the help of troops present in the region, you can plunder given area once per round and obtain raw materials like this. And that is what the left part of the board is used for. The more units on the territory you have, the more taxes you get, according to territory boxes in the left column.
Fights take place with the help of formations. Players always draw as many cards, as they have troops in the region. Then the attacker chooses two of them and plays them on the table. The task of the defender is to even it up. If he fails, he loses one cube from the region and successful attacker gains one prestige point. The fight ends, when you run out of cards, one of the participants has two or fewer units, or decides to escape.
Actions are after passing followed only by clean up phase. You complete projects, but then you turn your attention to wheat. You must have enough to feed your entire population. Then you can invest rest of the grain in urban development and born some new population (cubes) – for one grain one new resident. Some foods deteriorates, and your supply drops to half (grain, wine and oil).
The game ends, when one of the opponents lose his capital or spends all of his prestige. In the event, that none of the conditions is fulfilled, the final scoring happens after fourth round (5 beta). You now have to take into account population, prestige and reward of some projects. The player with the highest total wins.
Polis: Fight for the Hegemony is an exciting game created specifically for the conflict between two rivals. Well-tuned political duel can provide really excellent entertainment, as we were already convinced by several games from GMT Games, such as 1989: Dawn of Freedom (review). And Polis can compare itself proudly with those, even though it is not a card-driven game.
But don’t let the looks of the game fool you. This is no wargame, although it may seem like one. In fact Polis is a pureblooded strategy with really strong theme, which will captivate you. But to understand the atmosphere and uniqueness of the game, you must play the game. Reading rules is really not enough.
Turn length is player-dependent. They can continue with alternating actions as long as they have sufficient materials and they are willing to spend them. But once one of them decides to quit the round, other must make quick arrangments to adapt to it.
Due to the unique disposition for each side, playing is a completely different experience every time. And even with playing one side, you always get to different results in few turns. Each city has other prerequisites for building projects, so you have to consider very carefully, how to allocate your military resources in an effort to dominate regions and conquer neutral cities.
You need to pay for military action, which is excellent. Each player thinks twice, before he really uses movement or siege, and it will happen only during important situations. But you do not have to worry, that these battles will decide the game, although victorious player gains valuable prestige each time. Stille there will be battles, but prestige can also be picked up peacefully.
Equally important, however, is the collection of raw materials, trading and deployment of troops. Fighting is the only conclusion preceded by complex tactical maneuvers of both sides. There are clearly defined rules for conflict, as well as for its evaluation.
Resource management is crucial here. You have to plunder, trade and spend materials and still be ahead of your enemy. You can use blockades to make it tougher for your rival. There is quite a lot of resources, each usable for other options, but all tradeable via barter for each other. Nicely done here!
We are about to mention perhaps the only complaint about the game. Polis can be from time to time affected by luck in a way, that will not please you. And we are not talking about fighting, where the players draw cards randomly, but according to the number of troops present. The main concern is projects offer. They are uncovering from the shuffled deck and you are never sure, that yours will be there, although you are able to build it. But you can conquer cities, which build it! So no harm done in the end.
Polis borrows possibility of raising the population of cities from civilization games, as well as projects. Only in cities are you able to recruit new troops into your service, which is very clever and it works great. But with increasing number of blocks, also food demand of army increases.
Another benefit of Polis: Fight for the Hegemony is the historical accuracy and the ability to bring these events to your desk and still make it a thrilling entertainment. It will please not only fans of history, but also all those, who love balanced, historical and less action games. Polis is in fact one of those more thoughtful games, and to really enjoy it, you must not mind a little longer game time, which is approximately two hours. But thats not long for an experience, you will get!
Polis: Fight for the Hegemony is an excellent game for two adversaries. You compete for domination over Balkan Peninsula not only with strength, but mostly with politics and clever resource management. Who does not control strategic positions, plenty of cities and their economies can not tighten the whole empire, can not think of a successful campaign. If you favor diplomacy and you usually play your games in two, then try and taste Peloponnesian wars.
+ historically accurate and interesting
+ round length depends on players
+ lots of options and paths to victory
+ tactical difficulty and freedom
+ elegant movement system
+ lesser accent on battle, more on strategy
+ perfect atmosphere
+ more scenarios
+ upgrading cities, recruiting soldiers
- longer gametime for some players
- random project offer