Sparta! Struggle for Greece, a clash between Athens and Spartans [Review]

The Peloponnesian War, a bitter conflict between Athens and Sparta, is the most renowned events that decided who controlled the ancient Greek hegemony. Many games previously took this setting for inspiration, making this crusade one of the most romanticized historical campaigns in the tabletop industry. Sparta! Struggle for Greece becomes the latest addition on the list.

Plague Island Games set their sights on delivering an approachable and accessible card-based wargame, yet contains well-designed depth to entertain the veterans. Their previous project, 2 Minutes to Midnight, was also well-received by our gaming group. Hence, we agreed to try their prototype of their future release in this article.

Disclaimer: We had the preview copy for this review, and it was not the final version. There might be possible changes and alteration from the publisher regarding the components, printing and build quality, rules and concepts in the official released product.

For starters, I find the rulebook (and the rule itself) incredibly straightforward. Each aspect is described in details. It is expected to re-read some lines multiple times due to the complexity of the game, but the wordings are all well-written and easy to crunch. Regardless, players need to grow accustomed to the jargon before playing. For example, the Talent is actually an ancient weight unit that, in Imperial, equals to approximately 57 pounds (ca. 26 kg), which becomes the currency in this game. Some other terms, such as Hoplite etc., may sound foreign for the ‘muggles’ who want to jump into this game. Interestingly, it can be an opportunity to learn history and geography for all players, too. It required some time to get to know the name and location of the cities, too.

Sparta! Struggle for Greece’s focal point is to manage the cards in our hands, so they can be beneficial for our campaign. Since both parties share and draw cards from the same deck, there are some cards that may potentially harm you, as well as reward the opposing side at the same time. Thus, discarding these cards when they are drawn in your hands is crucial to avert any damage in both long and short-run.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when we talk about the game as a whole. Devising a long-term strategy is very rewarding in this game. Both players need to sequence the actions via their cards carefully to ensure maximum advantage. There may be some setbacks, perhaps from the opposing sieges and raids, and that’s the art behind the gameplay, too. Quickly adapting to the situation when something goes south is also a must-have, especially when the carefully planned scheme is backtracked or, even worse, fails completely. Planning two, or maybe three, steps ahead is crucial to seize control over the region. This chess-like mindset fuels the game with many hard decisions and exciting skirmishes on the board.

Besides managing the cards, it’s essential to manage the resources as well, especially Talent, the currency in this game. This is another axis that builds the game around. Do you need to mobilize and deploy your troops? Well, you need Talent to pay your army. Do you want to escalate a raid into a siege? Or in need of more Battle cards? Naturally, full-fledge wars require money, which is Talent, so to speak. Raiding a city gives you a Talent back as a reward, so constantly pushing the offensive is usually an option to generate resource while denying your opponent the control over a strategic city.

Another main core of the game is to control the most region on the map. There’s no counting points at the end of the game, nor who owns which resources more than the others — it’s simply about seizing power and asserting dominance in the end. Despite how simple it sounds, the ‘how’ to reach that pinnacle requires exquisite attention to the board situation. As mentioned above, pulling off the victory requires not only well-calculated strategy planning, but also cunning tactical manoeuvre.

The game comes with two campaigns and a grand one. There is a solo-mode for the lone wolves, too, which I haven’t touched because I’d rather play with my friends than alone. The scenarios offer high replay value and variability. And thanks to the different card constellations within a deck, the skirmishes between the Athens and the Spartans (as well as the Thebans, actually) will never be the same. Don’t worry, despite having some what-ifs, they will still be rooted from the actual and factual historical events.

Final Thoughts

Both players are in a race, as they are allowed only six game rounds to carve the path to total domination. Sparta! Struggle for Greece feels very tense in every phase of the game. It has ‘strategy’ written all over. This is a game with depth, thinking for 2-3 steps ahead to reap the control and spreading influences. The complexity is still something approachable by many types of gamers. It’s not an asymmetric game like the predecessor, but this one is capable to bring out a new experience of card-based wargaming for me.

Sparta! Struggle for Greece is now live on Kickstarter. You can grab your copy with an option to upgrade the components with miniatures.

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