Monday, 19 April 2010

Cyclades

Cyclades is a Euro-ish conflict and development game with a Greek mythology setting. I would say it is more of a conflict game than a development game, but battles are but a means to an end, because to win the game you need to control a certain number of metropolises. This can be achieved through conquest of course, but it can also be done by building them yourself.

The Game

The game board is made up of various islands very close to each other. The islands are of different sizes (meaning they could accomodate different numbers of buildings and metropolises), and have different income values. They are all very close, and typically an island is one step away from 3 or 4 other islands. This means most of the time every island is vulnerable to invasion. The starting positions of players are pre-set, and players start with islands of different charateristics. There is quite a significant spatial element to this game.

The actions in the game are all centred around the auctions to "win" a god (Zeus, Ares, Apollo etc). The god that you "win" determines turn order, the actions you can take, and the creatures you have the opportunity to "hire". There are 5 gods in the game whom you try to win the favours of. The number of gods available for bidding each round is the same as the number of players. This means when playing with less than 5 players, not all types of actions will be available every round. There are four "proper" gods whose tiles will get shuffled and laid on the board. Players who win the favour of these gods will take actions according to the order of the tiles. There is one "consolation prize" god, Apollo, who is always last in turn order. He doesn't give you any fancy action. He only gives some money, but sometimes he may give you a fruit basket (sorry I don't know the proper name for that thing), which you can place on any island to increase its income value.

The four "proper" gods allow you the better actions. E.g. Ares lets you raise troops, and/or make one island invasion, and/or build a fort. The basic benefit (one free army in the case of Ares) is free, but you can pay to gain more (in the case of Ares, you can buy more troops). There are 4 types of buildings in the game, and most give some benefit. When you have a set of all four types, you can convert them into one metropolis, which has the benefit of all building types. You can also gain philosophers and priests. 4 philosophers get you a metropolis (assuming you have space for it). Priests give you discounts when you try to win favour from the gods.

This is a game of building and conquest. You need islands to have income (four special sea locations also give income). You need islands to have space for constructing buildings and metropolises. You can go the peaceful path of collecting philosophers, but beware of your neighbours.

One element of the game which adds a lot of spice is the creatures. Every round there will be some creatures available for hire. The system is a bit like Through the Ages. The creatures get cheaper and cheaper, and once they hit rock bottom price but are still not sold, they are discarded. There are many different creatures giving many different abilities, some defensive, some offensive, some monetary, some quite whacky. They are quite fun, and throw in some chaos.

The Play

I played a 3-player game with Han and Allen. I suspect the game is better with more, but even with 3 it is quite fun, despite some rules mistakes we had. Actually the rules mistakes made our session a funny one. Here's what happened.

Early in the game. Every player starts with 2 islands. By now Allen (red) had a 3rd island. Some buildings have been built.

The sculpts look quite good. The fruit basket thing in the foreground represents income level.

In the early game I was rather careless, and was first to lose an island. Allen was first to build up militarily, and quickly conquered my large 4-space island, on which I had built 2 temples (discounts when recruiting creatures). Ouch. So I only had one 1-space island left. Not a good sign. Allen continued to be the military leader. Han was in the middle ground. Han and I knew that Allen was the one to watch out for, so we didn't really bother much attacking each other. I eventually managed to break out of my lone island, taking one of Allen's islands.

I was down to one island. I had to build up my navy so that I could get off this rich but tiny island.

Things started going crazy when creatures came into play more and more. Polyphemus is a cyclop carrying a big round stone. When he is played on an island, all adjacent ships are pushed away, those unable to move being sunk. Also no ships are allowed to approach the island. After I conquered Allen's island, round stone guy was played on this island, which meant my 3 dudes were stuck on the island. I couldn't build ships to carry them to invade the next island. Thankfully later I managed to move him to another island. I moved him to my own island, that small one which I had left undefended. He would keep it safe for me until someone else moved him. Unfortunately Medusa was then played on my 3 dudes. Medusa prevents armies from moving. So my 3 dudes continued to be stuck.

Some of the creatures that will come onto the board because they have a lasting effect. Most other creatures have a one-time effect, e.g. giving extra income, killing one enemy unit. They don't have any sculpt.

Round stone guy (Polyphemus) visited my island and pushed all ships away. There are no ships anywhere on the coast of that island.

Polyphemus later sent to protect my vacant home island. That green marker is used for marking island ownership when there are no troops.

Soldier A: "Round stone guy just left, and now you?!!" Soldier B: "Hey we're supposed to be frozen, stop talking." Soldier C: "She's cute".

I collected many priests, eventually reaching 6! That meant a discount of $6 when bidding for gods. My armies on the board were a non-factor, and I was so much into discounts, it was like I was playing a different game, some Tesco discount supermarket on Hawaii game. Very isolated.

6 priests and 2 philosophers.

Allen's armies were going strong. He had built buildings of 4 types, i.e. they could be converted to one metropolis. He only needed one more to win, and his armies were poised to attack Han's island containing a metropolis. However Han also had two philosophers, which meant if he gained another two, he would convert them into his second metropolis and win the game. He had been quietly amassing money to bid for the god which gave philosophers, and then suddenly pulled out a $17 bid, which was unheard of up to that point in the game. Allen and I realised we couldn't do anything about it. We didn't have that much money.

Allen's amassed troops (red, near centre of board) preparing to invade Han's (yellow) island with a metropolis, on the right. My 3 green dudes were still admiring Medusa's beauty.

But wait... one of the available creatures allowed us to use another creature which was in the discard pile, and we remembered there was one such discarded creature which stole philosophers. Han came later in turn order, and one of his philosophers was stolen right under his nose. Talk about the best laid plans being wrecked at the last possible moment. It was hilarious (but maybe not that much so for Han).

Han continued to save money, and managed to execute his plan on the next attempt. Allen still wasn't able to invade Han's island with the metropolis. This time we couldn't stop Han. So the game was won by building and not by conquest.

Later on, we realised our mistake. Creatures which come onto the board should not have stayed that long. They should have left by the next time the player who played them took another "proper" god action. So my 3 dudes should not have been stuck on Hawaii for so long by round stone guy and snake hair lady. It was a funny game, but funny only because it was so distorted. We'll play with the proper rules next time.

The Thoughts

The first thing that Cyclades reminds me of is The Settlers of Catan. They are very very different games, but they are similar in complexity level. There are multiple aspects you need to think about, but each of them are not very complex. Go for the discount (gods and creatures) strategy? Go military? Focus on getting a good income quickly? All these are strategies you can plan for. Then the creatures throw in some chaos and some tactical opportunities, spicing things up.

I like the Amun-Re style auction. If you are outbid, you are not allowed to bid on the same god immediately. This means when you bid on a god that you really really want, you better bid a high price, else you may not get him. There are some tough decisions in the auctions. Turn order is sometimes quite important too, especially when there is a creature that you want to use.

When I first read about Cyclades and saw the game board, the game didn't appeal to me much. "Just another Euroish conflict game", I thought. Now that I have played it, I find the board very well designed. Everyone is very near everyone else, so the game is quite tense. It is still just another Euroish conflict game, but I think it is well designed. Streamlined but not bland. I normally don't comment on production qualities of games, but Cyclades impressed me. The sculpts are quite good, and are unique for each player. It isn't necessary but it is a nice touch. Graphics are quite good too.

I'm sure I'll play this again. And I won't be playing like Hawaii next time.

7 comments:

naugem said...

This game has been on my wishlist for a while, but mostly in a "I'll see what this is about later..." kind of way.
It had fallen off my radar, but your description has moved it up my wishlist. I like the theme, the artwork, and it sounds like the kind of game I'd enjoy.
Good description!

Hiew Chok Sien said...

For me it's a game I'm happy to play but don't need to own, since I have games of similiar complexity and also games of similar nature (multiplayer conflict). Anyway, my regular gaming partner owns this. But it is quite a well crafted game, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Mart said...

Is Cyclades available to purchase in KL ?

Hiew Chok Sien said...

At the moment I don't think it is available for purchase yet in KL. My friend ordered his copy from overseas. Try contacting www.boardgamecafe.net. I think they are planning to stock this. Their website is not too up-to-date. It'll probably be easier to reach them on Facebook.

naugem said...

That's an interesting point.
I don't have many games, and I don't think I have anything similar to Cyclades (civ-building, multiple paths to victory, conflict).
What games would you consider that are similar, but better than Cyclades?

Hiew Chok Sien said...

naugem,

I actually can't think of any game that is very similar to Cyclades but is obviously better than Cyclades. I have other multiplayer conflict games like Struggle of Empires, A Game of Thrones, Wallenstein, Samurai Swords, but they are not really similar to Cyclades. Mare Nostrum seems to be similar to Cyclades - a Euroish multiplayer conflict game with an economic aspect in addition to just plain fighting, but I have not tried it before.

I have other games that are of similar complexity (Settlers of Catan, Elasund, Amum-Re, Yspahan), but are of course quite different in gameplay.

In Cyclades I see familiar aspects that remind me of other games, so it doesn't give me an urge to rush out to buy it. But I feel Cyclades as a complete package is unique and is nicely done.

Lord of Midnight said...

Mart, Cyclades will be available early July :)

CK, Boardgamecafe.net