Marathon 490 B.C. Review

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Marathon 490 B.C.

Marathon 490 B.C. Review by David Lent

The Battle of Marathon occurred during 490BC in Marathonas, Greece. The Persians landed over 25,000 infantry and cavalry on a beach South of Marathonas. A Greek force about 1/3 the size of the Persians, set-up positions in the hills overlooking the Persian Army. After nearly a week, the Persians sent their cavalry away. The Greeks took advantage of this by attacking. In response, the Persians fired hails of arrows, but the Greeks ran through the missile fire and took only light casualties. The Greek flanks were strong and they were able to envelope the Persian flanks and caused the Persians to route (even though they broke the Greek center at the last minute). It resulted in a strong Greek victory where the Persians lost 6,400 men to the Greek’s 190 men killed.

This simulation of Marathon can be purchased in either a boxed edition or in Ziploc format. I choose to go with the Ziploc format as it still has the exact same components as the boxed version, but for a cheaper price and without the box.

Marathon’s components are very nice for such an inexpensive game. The artwork on the cover is fantastic and the artwork on the counters is good. Marathon’s map is mounted and looks reasonably good. It has a sequence of play track on it, along with a morale and turn track. A player aid card is included and it has the terrain effects chart, melee combat results table (with modifiers and column shift information) and information on adjusting morale and fire combat.

This game can be won with an automatic victory if your opponent’s morale falls to zero. Otherwise, the game ends after ten turns and victory points are tallied. Your victory points are equal to your morale level plus one point for each enemy unit routed or reduced. In addition, you get two points for every enemy unit you eliminated. The Greek player gets an additional five points for each beach hex occupied at the end of the game, while the Persian player gets an additional 10 points for each Greek encampment hex they occupy at game’s end.

Sequence of Play:
1) Initiative Determination Phase
(Begin impulses)
2) Operations Phase
3) Active Player’s Movement Impulse
4) Reactive Player’s Reaction Movement Impulse
5) Reactive Player’s Defensive Fire Impulse
6) Active Player’s Offensive First Impulse
7) Active Player’s Melee Combat Impulse
(Repeat steps 2-7 until all activation chits have been drawn from the cup)
8) Rally Phase
9) End Phase

The initiative determination phase is skipped on the first turn of each game as the scenario determines the initiative. Otherwise, it is rolled for and each player adds the total command ratings of their leaders to the dice roll.

During the activation phase, an activation chit is pulled from a cup. This chit states which side activates and which formation. It could be their left, right, center or reserve chit. This is the beginning of the impulse.

The active player may move any units from his active formation during the active player’s movement phase that are not routed. If the unit is disrupted it loses one movement point and may not enter an enemy’s zone of control. What I don’t like about movement in this game is not only can you move around inside an enemy zone of control during this phase as long as you started in it, but you can move directly from one enemy zone of control to another.

During the reactive player’s reactive movement impulse, they may move units that are not in an enemy’s zone of control, disrupted or routed. This is an interesting movement option that I can’t recall ever seeing in an ancient wargame.


In fire combat, all defensive units that haven’t fired a missile weapon may fire before any offensive units. To prevent them from accidentally being fired again, you are supposed to mark them as fired. I don’t see any “Fired” markers in this game (as mentioned in section 4.3 of the rules), so I am going to hazard a guess and assume you are supposed to use the activated markers. Fire combat is very simple in this game and causes a unit to be disrupted when successful. If the unit was already disrupted, it becomes routed. Missile units may fire over friendly units to hit an enemy unit if they have sufficient range. However, there is no rule that prohibits them from firing into an enemy unit that is adjacent to one of your own. Most ancient miniatures and hex and chit wargames I’ve played don’t allow that. However, a few do but in those you have to roll to see if any of the missile fire hits your own unit.

Melee combat is the last phase in each impulse. It is very straightforward and there are modifiers for your die roll and column shifts in certain circumstances. The possible results are miss, disrupt, route and step loss. It’s really hard to give the enemy a step less when you are attacking. However, if you attack at poor odds you may get one on your units since the combat results table is heavily weighted in the defenders favor. Also, if any of your stacks cannot attack all the enemy stacks in its zone of control, your stack is eliminated. The easiest way to destroy enemy units in this game is not by attacking by them, but putting them in situations where they can’t attack all your units in their zone of control. That’s a little too gamey for me.

The rally phase is used to try and rally disrupted or routed units. You need to roll less than or equal to your morale rating to pass. Disruption is removed if you pass and if you pass a check for a routed unit it becomes disrupted. If you fail your morale check for a routed unit it retreats 2 spaces. The second time you fail a moral check for a routed unit it is eliminated.

Your morale level is very important in this game and it can change when certain events happen. It increases by one for every ten enemy combat factors eliminated. It drops by one for every one of your leaders killed. Persian morale drops by two for every beach hex entered by the Greeks. Greek morale drops by three for every Greek camp hex entered by the Persians.

There are two other unique aspects to this game that I haven’t mentioned yet. They are facing and the stacking limit.

Units must face a vertex in their hex and the two hexes faced are the unit’s zone of control. It seemed to work well and was an interesting twist to the typical hex and chit ancient’s game.

The stacking limit is sometimes greater than one, which is very unusual for a hex and chit ancient’s game. In most ancient games, you can only stack one unit plus one leader in a hex and that is it. I’m not a fan of this type of stacking in an ancient’s game, because the stack can receive a rout on just one of the units and that unit retreats and leaves the other there. Historically, what exactly does this represent? Does it mean the units were side by side and there is now a hole where one of the units was, but can’t be seen or exploited since they were both in one hex? Does it mean that just the back ranks of the unit ditched their comrades in the front?

Marathon includes two scenarios: a historical and a hypothetical one.

The Greeks’s get the initiative on the first turn of the historical scenario. They need to quickly move into contact with the Persians on the beach and start pushing them back into the beach hexes so they can’t get any more reinforcements. I found that this scenario played pretty similar to how the battle occurred in real life. The Persians did well in the center, but were completely overwhelmed on the flanks. Eventually, the Greeks pushed them so close together that any Persian unit that needed to retreat was both unable and eliminated or went through another Persian unit causing it to take a morale check. The Greek’s won this scenario without much difficulty.

In the hypothetical scenario, the Persians decide to attack the Greeks and march onto the Greek positions in the hills. The Greeks get to use 8 abatis markers (which I assume are broken tree branches used as some type of barrier). These provided negative effects when the Persians attack through them or try to move through them. The Persians can attempt to remove them with units that are adjacent to an abatis and have not moved or attacked. I found the abatis barriers to be an effective defensive measure in this scenario. The Greeks would have lost their left flank without them. This was a very tough battle and it lasted the full ten turns. The Greeks won through victory points.

Here’s the biggest problem I had with this game. It’s section 7.3.2 in the rules. This section states that a routed unit doesn’t retreat until the rally phase and only if it fails a morale check. This really broke the game. However, I discovered later that somebody brought this up with the author on Boardgamegeek and the author said that he actually meant that routed units should retreat immediately. That thread was on July 26th, 2019. I bought this game in March 2020. Why weren’t errata added to the game I bought? It would have saved me several very long games where the game just didn’t seem to play right and I was constantly looking in the rulebook to see if I was somehow misinterpreting the routing rules. After I found out about the error in section 7.3.2 and used the corrected rule the game played fine (the game play I mentioned in the scenario part of this review is the games I played AFTER this rule problem was solved). I’m really upset that errata weren’t included in the game when this defect in the rules was known for a year.

This is actually a decent game, once you are using the correct rule for section 7.3.2. The components are good and the game plays quick. Sure, I wasn’t a fan of the stacking or being able to shoot into an enemy unit that is one of your unit’s zone of control but the game did feel like I was gaming the Battle of Marathon. In addition, it would have been nice if you could advance into a hex after eliminating or routing an enemy unit. The hypothetical Persian attack scenario was fun and adds some more replayability to this game.

I think this game is suitable for somebody who is looking for an inexpensive, simple and low-footprint game about this ancient battle. Gamers looking for a super detailed and very historically accurate simulation will probably be better served with something else.

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Good

  • Plays fast
  • Has both a historical and hypothetical scenario
  • Having two hexes as your zone of control is interesting
  • Low complexity
  • Plays solitaire well, even though it's a 2 player game
  • The morale feature of the game worked well
  • The reactive movement is interesting.

Bad

  • No errata included for a known rulebook error that was discovered a year ago.
  • Missile results say must roll below combat factor. I assume this is a misprint and you must roll under your missile factor.
  • Can't advance into hex when unit retreats or is eliminated
  • I'm not a fan of stacking in ancient games
  • Can move directly from one zone of control to another.
6.4

Fair

Rulebook Clarity - 5.5
Fun - 6.5
Originality - 6
Component Quality - 7.5
Replayability - 6.5
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