'Hellenes, ye must guard the pass by Olympos, in order that both Thessaly and
the whole of Hellas may be sheltered from the war. We are prepared to join with
you in guarding it, but ye must send a large force as well as we; for if ye shall
not send, be assured that we shall make an agreement with the Persian; since it is
not right that we, standing as outposts so far in advance of the rest of Hellas, should
perish alone in your defense: and not being willing to come to our help, ye cannot apply
to us any force to compel inability; but we shall endeavor to devise some means of safety
Is this a final and desperate
PRESS FROM THESSALIA TO BOEOTIA, ATHENS AND SPARTA?
A BROADCAST GREY made by the Persian, intended to confuse people? No. These are
Thessalians representatives' words delivered to Greek cities' delegations, called
together on Corinth's Isthmus in 480 BC to face up to Persian threat. (Reported by
Herodotus in his History, VII, CLXXII, translated by G. C. Macaulay)
'And be assured of this, if by any chance ye were not assured of it before, that
so long as one of the Athenians remains alive, we will never make an agreement with
Xerxes. […] Now therefore, with full conviction this is so, send out an army as speedily
as ye may: for, as we conjecture, the Barbarian will be here invading our land at no far
distant time but so soon as he shall be informed of the message sent, namely that we shall
do none of those things which he desired of us. Therefore before he arrives here in Attica,
it is fitting that ye come to our rescue quickly in Bœotia.'
(Herodotus, ibid., VIII, CXLIV)
We would like to know the contents of the
PRESS FROM ATHENS TO PERSIA
that preceded this one!
Such is the reason why I have devised Aegean - because on reading Thucydides or
Herodotus one feels as though one were engaged in an exceptional game of Diplomacy,
a game in which the players are not only cunning strategists, but gifted writers and
The story begins with a minor fight between the Ionian League and its powerful
neighbor the Persian Empire. It ends some two centuries later with the breathtaking
solo performance of Alexander, king of Macedonia.
2. "La Géographie, ça sert d'abord à faire la guerre."
('The main use of geography is in warfare' - to borrow the title of French
geographer Yves Lacoste's book)
A few minutes exploring The Diplomatic Pouch will be enough to see
the enormous number of variants of the game. It came as a surprise to me that
among more than a hundred of them only very few were devoted to Ancient Greece,
whereas several important ones are about Rome.
I personally side with Allan B. Calhamer in thinking that a "game should
be as simple as possible, so long as the game is of indeterminate length and
reasonably rich in strategic choices." According to this opinion, my purpose
was to devise the simplest variant, the one closest to the Standard game, at
once avoiding over-specific rules and yet remaining true to the historical and
geographical reality of Ancient Greece.
The first condition was not to locate the game at any precise date: at no time
in Greek history before Alexander can one find forces numerous enough and
geographically balanced to justify an interesting adaptation of Diplomacy.
Either the powers were too small (archaic cities, for example) or there were too
few of them (Sparta, Athens, and Persia in the fifth century B.C.). My solution was to
situate the game not at a given date, but within the limits of a well-defined
period - the so-called 'classical age,' from the early Medean Wars to the crowning
of Alexander the Great, covering the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.
Five nations were prominent then: Athens, Sparta, Thebes (the Boeotian Confederacy),
Macedonia, and Persia. The necessities of the game called for two more:
Therefore, the date at which the game begins is totally arbitrary (475 B.C., just
after the Medean Wars). But as the Ken Lowe Judge works with positive dates only [Ed.: The Pouch's judge, the DPjudge, does handle "negative" dates], and
since the Greeks computed time from the first Olympic Games (776 B.C.), 475 B.C .
becomes 301 after the first Olympiad (S301M).
- Ionia: though it never materialized into a state, it was nevertheless an
important cultural and artistic center in archaic times, and boasted several
naval cities, such as Chios and Samos, later to be integrated into the Athenian
Empire. Its rebellion against Persia was the starting point of the Medean Wars.
- Thessaly: famous for its cavalry, whose misfortune it was to coalesce into
a federation precisely when Philip of Macedonia started building in its
vicinity an overpowering irresistible kingdom.
As to territories. I have tried my best to keep to the known borders of the various
cities, countries, kingdoms, federations or Persian satrapies. The smallest
territories, though, have been suppressed or reorganized, hopefully without damage
to cultural or historical integrity. Thus I have had to downsize Athenian
possessions, allowing the city only one dominion in the Aegean Sea, the Delos
Sanctuary facing alone the Ionian navy. If Athens is bent on a maritime empire, it
will have to build it up in the course of the game. I have also included Naupactus,
which in reality was a loyal ally of Athens, in the Boeotian Confederacy, which
otherwise would have been too weak. The location of supply centers was defined more
in accordance with the requirements of the game than on a historical basis, although
they are all cities or sanctuaries which were actually or symbolically important.
Ithaca or Troy, for example, had no major role in the classical age, but it would
have been frustrating to leave them out and not to revisit the Iliad (the Trojan War)
and the Odyssey (Ulysses' return to Ithaca).
Similarly, the maritime provinces have retained, if not their complete historical
reality, at least a sort of geographical relevance. The intricate outline of the
Aegean space, with its peninsulas, isthmuses, islands and archipelagos, on top of
the economic and strategic importance of the maritime space and of insular territories,
absolutely required a few specific rules listed and explained below:
One last point: to prevent isolation and the subsequent excess of tranquillity
enjoyable by corner powers such as Sparta, Macedonia, or Persia, I have deliberately
tried to 'bring together' neighboring countries. Distances from East to West in
particular are considerably shortened by the greater extension of land and sea
provinces (Thrace or Cretan Sea, for example), so as to increase the relations
between Europe and Asia. For the same reason, extensive territories to the periphery
allow for quicker movement around. Basically, the map should be seen as circular,
with Delos, the 'navel' or 'omphalos,' at the center,
two maritime inner powers
(Athens and Ionia) and five inland powers adjacent two by two.
- Six Athenian, Ionian, and neutral territories are 'insular centers,' that is
sea-bound countries, conceived as both sea and land. There are none in the standard
rules, but they exist in some variants. A fleet in such a district can convoy an
army. Conversely, no army can go there unless it is first convoyed, or unless a 'bridge'
connects the territory to the mainland, or again unless part of the territory is
on the mainland (such is the case for Ithaca). These six centers are Ithaca, Aegina,
Delos, Lesbos, Chios, and Samos. Obviously, it is more profitable to control these
centers with a fleet rather than an army, but one cannot be sure. Delos might serve
as a convenient relay station for troops on the way from Europe to Asia....
- In contrast to the Standard game, there are no distinctions between coasts in the
three territories which have two seafronts (Corinth, Megara and Thebes). Although
it seems to us unlikely that a fleet arriving in Thebes via the Corinth gulf would next
leave it via the Euboic gulf, yet it is true to historical reality and to the very plain
fact that boats and crews carried so little weight as to make transfer by land easy and
frequent. The isthmus of Corinth, moreover, offered early in Antiquity a canal which
made the crossing of this strategic obstacle even easier.
- Similarly, armies would have had no problems in negotiating the Straights
(sailing coastwise). Hence the presence on the map of thirteen 'bridges' between
neighboring inland provinces or between one of them and a few islands off the coast.
These bridges help in making the game less constricted (they solve such questions
as how to enter Peloponnesus or to cross Propontis). The specific rules concerning
these bridges are explained in the help file of the 'Classical' variant, to which
I refer the reader. Just remember that the crossing of a bridge by an army in
no way affects the movements of fleets 'under' the bridge.
- When Athens eventually built up its maritime empire, the cities it conquered
were immediately required to sustain its military power: Samos and Lesbos provided
a number of ships yearly, other cities paid tribute, all to the same end.
Similarly, the allies of the Peloponnesian League provided Sparta with troops,
in the same way as the provinces under Persian dominion. So it would have been
irrational to allow constructions only to national centers: the powers may launch
constructions, as in the 'Aberration' variant, in any of the free centers they
rule over so long as they hold on to at least one of their original centers.
Yet one should not make too much of this apparent circularity: it covers a strong
dissymmetry between ancient Greece, with its numerous provinces and centers, and the
more sheltered territories on the periphery to the North and in Asia Minor, with
their looser structure and their fewer centers. A quick survey of the available
centers (38 of them altogether, which means that victory is obtained when 20 have
been secured) and of their location on the map shows two main structures, of vital
importance to those that crave hegemony:
All this is true to the facts of the age; whilst the old cities, enclosed in
restricted areas, fought over trivial questions, new powers that had for long
been looked down upon as barbarians in spite of their Greek culture took a
broader and more prospective view of things, settled on the margins of the
Greek world and rang the knell of their preeminence (Macedonia, later on the
Hellenistic kingdoms that superseded the Persian Empire, finally Rome).
- a binary structure: 19 centers are in European Greece, if one includes
Thessaly and leaves out Delos and Dodona; the other 19 are elsewhere on the map,
to the North, in the Aegean sea and in Asia.
- a ternary structure: 12 centers are in central and southern Greece:
Boeotia (except Lamia and Chalcis), Athens (except Delos) and the Peloponnesus; 13
in northern Greece, Macedonia and Thrace; 13 in Asia Minor and the Aegean sea.
3. 'For I dread our own mistakes more than our enemies' designs.'
(Pericles, reported by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian War, I, CXLIV)
The 'Aegean' variant aims to simulate with a fair amount of realism, and
chiefly maximum playability, the wars between seven hegemonic nations of similar
force in the Aegean world in the classical age. Those seven powers are fairly
balanced, yet far from identical. One of the great pleasures afforded by Diplomacy
rests on the particular nature of each of the nations concerned, its assets and
its flaws. On this point too I have tried to stick as much as possible to
historical and geographical truthfulness, at the same time as I preserved the
balance of forces. Here is the description of each of the seven participants.
(If the reader wants to know more about openings in Aegean, I refer
him to the excellent article of François Laude - that will be soon, hopefully,
translated and published on the web).
- A. Old Greek Cities: Athens, Boeotia and Sparta
This threesome is a recurrent feature in the classical age; Athens, Sparta and T
hebes (The Confederacy of Boeotia) had enjoyed prestigious status from archaic
times; they had never ceased fighting for supremacy until they were eventually
vanquished by Philip of Macedonia. Of course, there was too little space in central
Greece and Peloponnesus to give free scope to all three ambitious cities. These
three countries together can control at the beginning of the game as many as fifteen
centers or more. The problem for them is to share dominion equitably and to
avoid wasting their strength in trivial fights, thus allowing free play,
especially on sea, to the countries on the periphery. Alliances between
two of them against the third are thus to be expected, while each has to
keep an eye on its rearguard both on land and at sea.
Athens is central in Aegean. Early in 301 it is in a position to control two
places of major strategic value: Delos, in the middle of the Aegean Sea, and
the Isthmus of Corinth, the nodal point of ancient Greece. Standing thus at
the crossroads potentially attracts greed, therefore the Athenian 'strategos' has
to be more watchful than anyone else of everybody. It is not a really maritime
power, at least in its early days. The neutral centers in its vicinity (Megara,
Corinth) are on the isthmus. What Athens has to fear is the cities inland (its
long-standing rivals Sparta and Thebes), the borders off which need fortifying,
before it can contemplate to go to sea - supposing Ionia does not interfere.
Thus Delos at the beginning is more of a liability than a strategic asset. One
can imagine that Athens would be ready to give it up to Ionia so as to
concentrate on its enemies to the West.
The Athenian leader might first think of these possibilities:
- 'The Aegean opening,' with Ionia as a target and maritime development as a
long term aim: that is clearly very risky and implies at least strong alliances
with Sparta or Boeotia and Persian connivance.
- 'The Isthmus opening,' which implies that Ionian neutrality has been obtained
(Ionia is probably quite willing to fight against Persia). Two alternatives
open up at this stage:
- 'The Peloponnesian variant,' resting on help from Boeotia; this is
probably the most natural move, or at any rate the easiest initially. It aims at
the elimination of Sparta.
- 'The Theban variant,' resting on alliance against Boeotia with Sparta.
Its aim is the sharing out of central Greece with Lacedemonia and Thessalia
before going out to sea.
Landlocked as it is, with a scanty maritime involvement (initially restricted to
the Ionian sea), Boeotia may seem vulnerable. Yet it has a few assets; Boeotia
is the only country that can easily rely on an additional three centers within the
first year (Lamia, Chalcis, Olympia or Ithaca are eligible). There is no doubt that
diplomacy plays a vital role in such a country with many neighbors; more particularly,
the Theban 'boeotarch' will have to negotiate the distribution of neutral centers
with Thessaly and to convince the latter to look northward. An unplanned war with
Thessaly always proves lethal to Boeotia. It is of primary importance to Boeotia to
control the gulfs of Corinth, Patrae, and possibly at a later time the Euboic gulf
as well; the sea means a defensive barrier rather than an opportunity for development.
At least three options are available to Thebes:
- 'The Sacred Union' with Athens, which is probably the safest and allows the
quickest growth at first. It entails collaboration with the Athenian fleet to
resist Spartan expansion and the sharing of the neutral centers with Thessaly.
If this alliance holds, another two possibilities open up:
- 'The Lamian War,' in which the Boeotian league fights against Thessaly (an interesting
possibility if the Thessalian opens up northward) while Athens fights against Sparta.
'The sharing out of Peloponnesus' with Athens after ensuring the neutrality of
Thessalia, or at least trying to contain Thessalian ambitions to the North.
- 'Attica's Invasion,' a dangerous radical move which is likely to be more
profitable to the neighboring countries unless a strong bond with Sparta and/or
Thessaly has been established and the complicity of Ionia secured.
Sparta is probably most privileged of all as far as defense goes; it is protected
by its corner position, the presence of neutral spaces to the north and vast
expanses of sea to the east, where Ionians and Persians are fairly distant.
An inland nation Sparta at first controls only a few maritime outlets;
challenging Crete might trigger off an untimely war with Asian countries.
Besides, it can rely on only one or two neutral centers: Argos and/or Olympia.
With this in mind, the occupation of Arcadia, the nodal point of Peloponnesus,
becomes vital, and its loss fatal to the Spartan power.
The Lacedemonian leader must first consolidate his prominence in Peloponnesus;
then - a hard task indeed - devise his release from its limits. The king of Sparta
will have to choose between alliance with Boeotia and alliance with Athens, at
the same time keeping at a distance intruders from Ionia and Persia in the Cretan
sea, provided his northern neighbors do not enter into an alliance against him.
'The Theban Alliance' may serve to free the fleet from its defensive role and make
for a quicker maritime expansion to the East, while 'The Athenian Alliance,'
although it is rougher to handle, would open up interesting possibilities in
the Ionian sea and later in northern Greece when Athens takes to the sea.
Last but not least, Sparta must preserve its relations with more distant
powers; it would have to support Thessaly against Thebes, Ionia against
Athens and Persia, all the while keeping Peloponnesus from turning into
the epicenter of the turmoil.
- B. North Greece: Thessaly and Macedonia.
Although Thessaly, contrary to Macedonia, plays an early part in Greek history, it is a
minor one as provider of horses and horsemen when necessary in a major war. Those two
vast territories, on the margins of the Greek world, are regarded as backward or
barbaric by the older southern cities; they became organized and unified quite
late, in the course of the 4th century, the former as a confederacy of cities
ruled by an elected 'tyrant,' the latter as a kingdom firmly held by an ambitious
dynasty. Unlike their southern neighbors, those two powers may evade involvement
in warfare at the beginning of the game; both must consolidate their borders by
ensuring domination over the strategic centers or territories close to them.
Are they to be firm allies or inimical brothers? Which option they choose is
a determining factor for the rest of the game.
Like Sparta, Thessaly initially enjoys a rather privileged position, insofar as
its neighbors can derive no profit from a hasty challenge: Macedonia has an
eye on Thrace, Lemnos and the Straights (but also on Dodona) and Thessaly is
sheltered by a line of neutral centers from the Boeotians. The task of the T
yrant of Pherae is to try to reassure the Boeotarch so as to come to an agreement
on a fair distribution of these neutral centers (possibly to be ignored if
convenient...). For Thessaly grows rather slowly, has only few easy potential
extensions, and limited maritime openings, at least at the beginning. The Pherae
fleet cannot sail far, and shipbuilding facilities in Ambracia and Dodona
come up late (Winter 302). The Thessalian Confederacy therefore has only two
strategic possibilities, but as has already been mentioned its choice is all-important
for the rest of the game; one can expect its leader to be courted by Boeotia and
Macedonia as well as by Persia or even Ionia and Athens. It is up to him to make
the best of these alternatives.
There remain two options:
- The so-called 'Sacred War' (on account of the Delos sanctuary), based on a
strong alliance between Thessaly and Macedonia, one of the two countries
rushing southwards and the other eastwards. Although it seems an obvious
natural choice, it might prove risky for Thessaly, inasmuch as an uncontrolled
Macedonia could be dangerous. The Thessalian leader must at least make sure
that Boeotia, for a start, turns southward (an alliance with Sparta or Athens
against Thebes would be useful), so as not to mark time in the shadow of a
- 'The Stab in the Back' of Macedonia; properly handled, it might be less risky
than it seems, provided diplomats do their job carefully with Boeotia.
Only a slight push is needed to launch the Macedonians into an Eastern
campaign. Consequently, the occupation of the Thermaic gulf by a Thessalian
fleet in Spring 301 means serious problems for Macedonia.
Macedonia enjoys a privileged position in an angle but its growth may prove
slow and difficult. The Macedonian leader's priority, whatever his
strategic choices at the start, must be an alliance at all costs (or
at least his neutrality) with the tyrant of Pherae, so as to
avoid a Thessalian version of Trafalgar in the Thermaic gulf.
He must also try to prevent a possible alliance between Persia
and Ionia which he would be sure to suffer from. Finally, control
over the two seas serving as borders to his territory is vital to the
Macedonian king, as hostile presence off his coasts would bring about his
defeat. His is a difficult choice in early 301: should he look South or
East? Both options raise serious problems and imply a very carefully
- 'The Byzantine Venture' is tempting and promising, provided he has achieved
an alliance with Thessaly and obtained the help of Miletus; crossing the Straights
is risky, and he must be careful not to allow Ionia the biggest piece of the Persian cake.
- 'The Conquest of Greece' is no easier, but it can be achieved if Macedonia
has lulled Thessaly off its guard by fine promises and can take it by surprise.
This opening is in the long term more productive, but an initial failure might
bring to an end the hegemonic ambitions of the Macedonian.
- C. Asia Minor: Ionia and Persia.
Ionia, the initiator of the Medean wars, was the thorn in the side of the
Great Barbarian, and the force that triggered off the fall one hundred years
later of one of the most powerful and extensive empires recorded in history.
These two powers are radically different. Ionia is genuinely Greek in its culture,
its restricted territory opening out on to the sea, its internal wars, its
democratic tyrants. Persia is typically oriental, mostly a huge expanse of land,
vigorously ruled by a godlike monarch who delegates his functions to powerful
satraps (governors), such as the Satrap of Sardis in Asia Minor. Persia is obviously
a super-power, but its size is at the same time its weakness, insomuch as it entails
considerable delay in putting its resources to use and managing them. The Aegean Sea
to Persia is little more than a distant backwater far away from Persepolis. Everything
contributes to making these two countries radically inimical, which is most profitable
to their Western neighbors; all the same, an improbable alliance between them could
be most dangerous, should one control the Aegean sea and the other invade Thrace.
The Ionian territory, bound as it is between the sea and the Persian Empire, seems
very vulnerable. Yet, Ionia is fairly safe from the inroads of the Barbarians thanks
to the insularity of two of its centers as well as to the deficiencies of the Persian
navy. Ranking as a major naval power, Ionia must extend its domination in the Aegean
Sea and as the same time protect its rearguard from Persian assaults. Its first
efforts will have to go westward, where it is likely to conquer its first centers:
Lesbos is sure to be conquered, Delos, Rhodes and Cnossos are also within its reach.
The 'Tyrant' in Miletus can consider two possibilities:
- 'The Aegean opening' needs a strong alliance with Persia, which might consist of
a pre-arranged distribution of the insular centers to the South (Rhodes and Cnossos),
unless the Great King agrees to break up his south fleet and to lose Halicarnassus,
counterbalanced by Lesbos for instance. Once the Persian and the Ionian have settled
their neighborly quarrels, an alliance between them is apt to be a lasting powerful
arrangement (an Aegean juggernaut?). Ionia's first target will then be Delos, and the
second to eliminate Athens for good, so as to establish a thalassocracy that no one
- 'The Persian opening' seems more natural, but how is one to go at a landlocked
giant with three fleets? Sardis, where the Lydian Satrap dwells in summer,
at the heart of Aegean Persia, is initially out of the reach of Ionia. An alliance
with Macedonia and the neutrality of Athens are necessary, and probably easy to
achieve but equally easy to lose...
The most privileged country at the beginning on account of its four centers, Persia
nevertheless is a vulnerable colossus; its position on the margins is a handicap more
than an asset: Ionia stands in its way to Greece, and its two separate fleets will
find it difficult to reach the Aegean Sea. Moreover, Persia has only one available
neutral center, Troy; the Halicarnassian fleet alone cannot hope to get Rhodes or
Cnossos without proper negotiation; as to Byzantium, it might be claimed by Macedonia.
The Great King has a choice of two options:
- 'The Ionian war' until Ionia is completely destroyed, is tempting yet difficult, since
Macedonia may run the risk of a Byzantine venture and cross the Straights. Such a move
goes with an alliance with Thessaly, provided one has made sure that the Tyrant of
Pherae will rush in from the North. Ideally, an alliance with Athens is then to be
achieved, for Ionia cannot afford to fight on two fronts.
- 'The War of the Straits:' The conquest of Byzantium may be followed up by an extensive
assault in Thrace against Macedonia. Here again, cooperation with Thessaly would help,
but even more helpful would be an alliance with Ionia or a least its neutrality, which
can be made up for, although at a high price, by the negotiated total defeat of
Halicarnassus. If the great King can control the Thracian Sea, he can have high hopes
indeed, including that of reenacting the second Medean war.
'For in dealing with neighbors, it is always equality of force that guarantees
liberty; and when the contest is against men like these, who are trying to enslave
not only those nearby but those far away, is it not necessary to fight to the very last?' (From the exhortation of Pagondas - Theban boeotarch - to Boeotians, before
Tanagra's battle against Athens, during the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian
War, IV, XCII, translated by Charles Forster Smith.)
How admirably serene is this statement, which declares that it is the usual practice to
enslave one's neighbors, provided one does not aim at hegemony! It is a beautiful rendering
of the unwritten law of Diplomacy, a law which is for ever being debated and never clearly
defined, according to which any attempt at solo action must be countered by the unconditional
alliance of the survivors, and that in any case success in a solo is merely the consequence
of the enemy's errors.
Just imagine the situation if all the cities had stifled their disagreements and fought
together against Macedonia: would Alexander then have succeeded in his solo?
This lengthy presentation, hopefully, will not detract the reader from trying 'Aegean;'
he will perhaps be tempted to explore the subtle ways of Aegean geostrategy. I shall be only
too happy if even a few are attracted and play the game spontaneously.
Here is a list of useful hints:
My very special thanks to Millis Miller, Judgekeeper of USTV, who has spent a lot of
time and attention installing and testing several versions of the variant;
to Philippe Lalande, Judgekeeper of FROG, who gives a home to my files; to François Laude
and Pierre Fedon, who have had a hand in the final adjustments and in the first
tests of Aegean on the Judge; and to many others who have helped, encouraged,
criticised, and advised me, and played with me the first test games.
- Where can you play Aegean? On the Judge USTV (email@example.com) and, hopefully,
on other Judges soon… The maps of games in progress are at www.floc.net.
- Where can you find information, files and maps? On the website of the French
Judge FROG, at
http://frog.born2play.org/downloads. You can find there maps, files,
a short history of Ancient Greece, and all files you need for installing the variant
on Realpolitik, with beautiful icons designed by François Laude.