Sunday, April 04, 2010


As you may have guessed from the title of this blog, I don't mind playing solitaire games occasionally. One I've been planning to get for months, interrupted by holidays and lack of finances, is Peloponnes. It's an extra-lite civ game, taking 15 minutes per player. I haven't played against opponents yet, but that's certainly correct for one player. Consequently, after getting it yesterday, I've played it 11 times today. I think I'm qualified to write a review now.

Each player starts with a city on the Peloponnesian peninsula, e.g. Sparta, and this is back in the old days when the amount that a country produced was related to its wealth, unlike Greece today. The city has some number of people, some amount of money, and some ability to harvest wood, stone and food. There are 40 tiles which can potentially be added to the city to improve it. The game runs over 8 rounds, in each of which 5 tiles are available. In a multi-player game an auction is held to allocate the tiles, but in solitaire you just pay the base price for the tile you want, and the other 4 are discarded. So, throughout the game you can make 8 purchases to improve your city.

The tiles are of two types - terrain, and buildings. The terrain tiles provide some resources - wood, stone, food or some combination thereof, and usually give you some more people as well. The building tiles give you some resources, some people, and some special abilities. The buildings require stone and / or wood to be built, as well as the base cost which all tiles have, which is paid in money.

After you've chosen and paid money for the tile you want, you add it to your city and receive any people that come with it. At this point you would usually have to pay resources to build a building, but you aren't required to. You may choose to buy the building on hire purchase, in which case you put one of your spare coins on the building, and that coin is captured until you finish paying for it. Otherwise, the building functions as normal.

Then you gather resources. You just add up how many wood, stone and food you get, and add them to the tally on your player sheet. One of the cities even gives you an extra person at this point - maybe they've invented Catholicism or something. You also receive money by taxing your people - the more people you have the more tax you receive. Now here's an interesting feature of the game - the tracks you record resources on on the player sheet are finite - you will have more resources than you can record. Any extras turn into "luxury goods" and are recorded separately. As luxury goods can be converted back into normal goods at a cost of 2 for 1, that effectively allows you to store stuff, with some wastage. It also simulates trade, when all of my extra food turns into stone if I need it to.

After income is recorded, there's a chance of some disasters happening. There are 5 possible disasters - earthquake, plague, famine, tempest and decline. Each of them attempts to ruin your civilisation in some way, and will cost you something unless you were smart and rich enough to buy a building which gives you immunity to that disaster (that's some of the special abilities I mentioned). Disasters aren't a complete surprise though. For each, there are 3 tokens, and there's a 16th token which is blank. Every round, 2 disaster tokens are revealed. If all three of one type have been revealed, the disaster happens. Consequently, by the end of the game, all disasters will have happened.

Three times during the game - once in the middle, once near the end, and once right at the end, there will be a supply round. At that point, you must pay one food for each of your people, and you must pay resources for the buildings you have on hire purchase, or you lose them. The supply rounds are somewhat predictable, but they can turn up at difficult times, and you definitely need to plan for them.

After 8 rounds of all that stuff, the game is done and scoring happens. First you calculate your prestige, which is the points for all of your tiles plus a few for any leftover money you have. Then you calculate your population score, which is 3 times the number of people you have. Your final score is the lesser of your population and prestige scores. Consequently, if you're playing for a high score, you need to keep in mind how many points you've got and how many people you've got, and try to balance them. People arrive sort of uniformly throughout the game, whereas the high prestige buildings arrive at the end, so it's typical to be behind on the prestige score until right at the end. It's also typical that two disasters happen in the last round, so you need to manage two disasters and the final supply round and balance your scoring all at the same time.

One wrinkle in the tile collection is the rule about terrain types. For two terrains to be placed next to each other, they must produce a resource in common. So a wood + food tile can go next to a food tile, but neither can go next to a rock tile. There are no rock + food tiles, so if your first tile is a rock-only tile, it's very difficult to get food production going. However, one of the buildings is the Barracks, which allows you to ignore the placement rule and invest in the lucrative single resource tiles. As the Barracks is expensive - it costs two people to play it, as well as its other costs - this strategy has to be deliberately committed to.

As I explore the game I'm seeing the strengths and weaknesses of the various tiles, e.g. the 3-rock terrain, and it seems that Bernd Eisenstein has put much more thought into this than I have so far. There are subtleties I am yet to understand.

The solitaire game includes a campaign mode very similar to that of Agricola, but I'm yet to try it. I think I'll play a few more games trying to get decent scores with the cities that have turned out badly, then go on to the campaign mode. There's a lot to be discovered.