Review: Pergamemnon

A Minotaur in sheep’s clothing…

Pergamemnon is a strange beast, and like many misunderstood creatures, it gets a bad rap. It was billed as a deckbuilder, which it sort of is, but not really. It’s got an unusual turn order mechanism that can rub people the wrong way. And most importantly, it’s a harsh game that lets you shoot yourself in the foot, over and over again. If people aren’t going in with the right expectations, they’re going to be soured on the experience.

On the surface, the basic play is straightforward. Everyone gets an asymmetrical army deck of Persians, Romans, or whatnot. When it’s your chance to act you either recruit a powerful, mythical creature to join your army, or you attack another player. Combat involves playing unit cards in a jazzed-up rock-paper-scissors manner with attacks and counterattacks. Defeated units are removed from their owners’ decks, often being added to the victorious army’s forces. The game ends when a certain number of creatures have been recruited, or an army has lost too many cards, and then victory points are tallied.

So far, so good, but there are a few catches.

First, the easy one: the deckbuilding. Don’t think of it as a deckbuilder. Think of it more as a combat game in which your army grows and shrinks, sometimes becoming more efficient, and other times being chewed up and spat out. The limited deckbuilding is unique and supports the army system well, but marketing it to a deckbuilding crowd is asking for trouble. Nobody in Dominion burns down your Duchy or murders your Moneylender.

The next sticking point is the fact that this isn’t a nice game. It’s the sort of game that relies on the players to look out for themselves. It doesn’t hold your hand, it can be tricky to dig yourself out of a hole, and it pretty much laughs at you when you shoot yourself in the foot. The thing to remember is that the game doesn’t screw you, you screw yourself.

The biggest way people get in trouble here is through combat carelessness. Many games expect you to throw everything you have into each battle. In this game, you lose every unit involved in a defeat. Don’t fight just to fight, especially with your leader involved. If you do, you’ll likely cripple yourself.

You’re often better off cutting your losses than risking more in a losing effort. Discretion is the better part of Pergamemnon. To put it in poker terms, don’t let yourself get pot committed. Be wary of throwing good money after bad.

I’m a fan of games that hold players accountable, so this is a big plus in my book. Overcommitting, either in combat or when spending resources to recruit creatures, will cost you the game. This is true of a lot of games, usually heavier, economic ones, and is quite polarizing even then. A particular friend of mine would never, ever consider losing a battle to win a war. This game would break his brain.

Finally, the turn order is peoples’ biggest gripe with the game, and is also the most misunderstood part. Everyone starts with their nation card on the “active” side. The player taking the turn can attack other active nations. The loser of a battle becomes inactive, and the winner is now the player taking the turn. Since inactive nations cannot be attacked, everyone will definitely have a chance to battle. If you recruit a creature on your turn, you become inactive, and the next active nation clockwise gets to go.

I describe it like tennis – the active player is serving, but all the other players must be prepared to volley. The game is about combat. If you’re fighting, you’re playing. It’s not that you aren’t participating in a turn, it’s that you’re not the one calling the shots. In this case, you should have one goal in mind: to get into a combat and steal control; to break his serve.

How would I describe this game?

Pergamemnon is an unforgiving card game of mythical battles featuring an exciting back-and-forth combat system and a small amount of deckbuilding. It requires big-picture planning, hard sacrifices, and knowing when to press the attack or cut your losses. It’s a game of Pyrrhic victories.

Also, there’s an expansion that adds some variety and wrinkles, and ups the player count to seven, but it’s still the same game. If you like the base game, the expansion is a fun add on. It doesn’t make any big changes.

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