Know how you can tell I’m a phony wargamer? I don’t play against myself. Sure, I’ll play solo, but that’s a different thing entirely. I’m talking about playing both sides. Working against my own interests. White knight takes black bishop. Simply can’t do it. What if I need that black bishop’s services next turn? As sure as rain makes pavement smell better, I’m picking a favorite and leading them to victory.
That is, until Mark Herman’s Peloponnesian War. First published way back in 1991 and only recently given a fresh printing, it’s possible that this is the finest play-against-yourself solo system ever crafted.
The ninth volume of the long-running COIN Series, Bruce Mansfield’s Gandhi: The Decolonization of British India, steps into a setting that likely needs no introduction. What may need clarification is the ways in which it stands apart from the remainder of the series — and how it remains locked in orbit.
Today on Two Minds About…, Brock Poulsen and Dan Thurot are here to discuss Here I Stand, the only game about the Wars of the Reformation and the Reformers (and Pope-friends) who fought them.
Brock: It was an event five hundred years (give or take another two) in the making.
Dan: Five hundred years of song.
Brock: I love that one about the bulwark, especially. To commemorate the most iconic bulletin board post in all recorded history, Dan assembled a team of nerds to devote a whole day playing Ed Beach’s Here I Stand. While we’re not doing a proper review today, we did want to discuss some of our impressions, share a few experiences, and maybe finally unravel the state of souls in purgatory.
Failing that, Dan, why don’t you tell us a bit more about Here I Stand?
Given this hobby’s churn of new releases, it isn’t often that I get to stick with a single game long enough for an expansion to roll around. Wray Ferrell and Brad Johnson’s Time of Crisis is an exception, and has reappeared on my table regularly ever since its release nearly two years back.
Good thing I waited around, because The Age of Iron and Rust may be one of my favorite expansions, adding three modules that transform this into one of my absolute favorite deck-building hybrids — and a considerable solo offering to boot.
It never stops. That seems to be the central theme of SpaceCorp, and not only because a single play can easily consume three or four hours. We span an ocean, only to seek a river passage across the continent on the far side. We meet our neighbors, then decide that we should probably also meet theirs. We pen Here be dragons on the fringes of our maps, but never for long. If SpaceCorp didn’t have an ending in mind — a self-aware arbitrary ending that could be considered little more than an intermission — it might go on forever.
Every time an undergrad asks What if?, a history professor gets her tenure. Yet there’s an undeniable appeal to that question. What if Hitler had been shrewder about invading Russia? What if the United States had gone all-in on the Pacific rather than entering the European Theater? What if both Axis and Allied powers had teamed up to battle aliens? There’s no way to know, man.
Other than that last one, those are the questions at the heart of Cataclysm: A Second World War, Scott Muldoon and William Terdoslavich’s take on the devastating twentieth-century conflict. And they’re also the questions that arise approximately every two minutes while playing.
After spending six, seven, and eight hours respectively on the full campaigns of Churchill , Fire in the Lake, and Pericles, a bracing twenty-minute tug of war was the last thing I expected from Mark Herman. Yet here it is: Fort Sumter, a wargame more in the vein of 13 Days than Herman’s usual wheelhouse. But as an experiment in capturing the stresses of the U.S. Secession Crisis in as few minutes and moves as possible, it’s largely successful.
I’ve heard some people mention COIN Fatigue. Not me. For a long time, my attitude was that if the powers-that-be at GMT Games desired to produce a hundred of these things, I’d be there. Each new volume is like a component-dense map pack for some popular train game, sans the trains and plus some deeply clever card play and action manipulation and politicking.
Okay, nothing like a train game.
Then I played the latest volume in the series, Marc Gouyon-Rety’s Pendragon: The Fall of Roman Britain. And despite everything it gets right — and it’s a lot — it dawned on me that I was beginning to feel tired. Though it’s possible that my fatigue may have been philosophical. So let’s engage in some therapy!
Whether it’s tackling the Vietnam War, the Cuban Revolution, narco-terrorism in Colombia, or the shenanigans Julius Caesar pulled before attracting Shakespeare’s fancy, the COIN Series has never shied away from a hard topic. If anything, the French-Algerian War of 1954 to 1962 is a perfect fit for the series’ asymmetric take on insurgency warfare, casting players as either the French colonial government or the Front de Libération Nationale. Even better that it should be Brian Train’s second contribution after the quagmire simulator that was A Distant Plain.
But the stickiness of its setting isn’t why COIN’s seventh volume comes as such a surprise. Rather, it’s because Colonial Twilight is the first entry to feature fewer than four sides — and for all its familiarity, the result is a game that breaks exciting new ground for the series.
Not to be too hysterical about it, but the Peloponnesian Wars were sort of a big deal. By the time the clash between Athens and Sparta grew to encompass Sicily and much of the middle and eastern Mediterranean, and certainly once they drew in the Persian Empire, they practically qualified as an antique World War. The outcome would cut short the golden age of Greece and pave the way for those perky Macedonians to solidify into the force that would Hellenize much of the known world.
It was Very Serious Business, is what I’m saying, brimming with intrigue, oration, and big stonkin’ battles on both land and sea. And in order to capture the freewheeling nature of the conflict, Mark Herman’s sandbox wargame Pericles just might be one of the maddest — and most maddening — things I’ve ever Greek-wrestled with.