By Robert Florence on November 13th, 2011 at 11:12 am.
It’s time for me to sit you down and tell you about the game that I’ve played more than any other this year. I think it is the very best game where you have little men on a map and you try to beat all your opponents’ little men into submission. I just love this game. And this is no knee-jerk thing. I have played and played this game. I have won and won and lost and lost. I have laughed, whined, roared, sighed and I have loved. I have loved this game for a long time, and now I ask you to love it too. I will use capital letters to make my passion clear.
It is a classic straight out of the Classics. It’s Cyclades.
There’s a bunch of islands on a map. These are the Cyclades, a group of islands in the Aegean Sea. We’re dealing with Greek mythology, and each player starts with nothing more than a couple of soldier units, a couple of ships, and some coin for making offerings to the gods.
Certain spaces on the board, either island or sea spaces, will generate revenue every turn. You will need that revenue to find favour with the gods, build your forces and advance your civilisation. The objective of the game is to establish two metropolises. You can create a metropolis by building a Fortress, a Port, a University and a Temple. You can also create a metropolis by gathering four philosophers. Or, hell, you can just capture one by FORCE.
Each turn, four god tiles are shuffled. Then Zeus, Poseidon, Ares and Athena are placed in the order they come out, onto a track. The fifth position on the track is always Apollo. Then you bid for whatever god you want. You’re also bidding for turn order here too.
Each of the gods gives you available actions specific to that god, and all (except Apollo) let you summon mythological creatures. Let’s look at what the gods do in detail, because this is where the meat of the game is.
ZEUS: Find favour with the big man, and he will let you build temples and employ priests. Priests reduce the price of future bids by 1, and temples let you summon mythological creatures at a reduced cost. These price cuts are essential later in the game, when you will be desperate to pin down the gods and monsters you want. Zeus also gives you some control over the available mythological creatures.
POSEIDON: Fishy-drawers lets you build and move ships. You will want to move your ships, believe me. The only way to move soldier units from island to island is across a chain of ships. So, a Poseidon turn is essential to lay out those transport lines. He will also let you build a Port, which will increase your ships’ defences. If your ships encounter opponents’ ships in this phase, you will enter combat. Lovely.
ARES: The God of War allows you to build and move soldiers. If you want to do a land invasion, you will need that chain of fleets to be prepped by Poseidon first, so invasion is often a two-turn affair. Ares also lets you build a Fortress, which increases the defence of your soldiers on the island where the fortress stands.
ATHENA: Athena is an interesting one. She lets you build a University and employ philosophers. That’s all. But remember, the University is one step towards the four buildings you need for a metropolis, and a philosopher is one step towards the four philosophers you need for the same. While you are planning wars and invasions, another player might be sneaking towards victory through Athena and her bearded philosopher buddies. It happens. Often.
APOLLO: Apollo pretty much lets you miss a turn, if money is getting tight. He will give you some coin, and will allow you to place an extra revenue marker on the board. Apollo will help you catch up if things go badly. He’s a good god. A good lad. The rest are psychopaths, really.
So, that is pretty much it. This is a very neat and tidy game. And -
Oh, I mentioned mythological creatures, right? Yeah, well. You ready for this? Each creature breaks the rules of the game, and makes some amazingly cool things happen. Have you noticed how most of my favourite games do this? A nice, simple, fair rule set. And then… CHAOS.
Let’s take a look at a few mythological creatures.
THE KRAKEN: If you summon the Kraken, you can pay to move it through the sea. And get this – EVERY SHIP IT ENCOUNTERS IS DESTROYED. Fear a rich man who has the Kraken at his service. FEAR THAT MAN! M-M-M-M-MULTIKILL!
MEDUSA: If you drop Medusa onto an opponent’s island, all the soldiers posted there AIN’T GOING NOWHERE BABY. They are FROZEN like STONE! Just like in the STORIES.
PEGASUS: Summon these flying horses and your soldiers can move from one island to ANY other, by RIDING ON MAGICAL HORSES! Fear the man who summons the beautiful PEGASUS. For he may well be AT YOUR DOOR MOMENTARILY! WITH A SWORD!
POLYPHEMUS: Summon this big monster onto an island and CHAOS will ensue. He starts throwing rocks at the ships around the island, and those ships start fleeing and crashing into each other and THE SEAS ARE FILLED WITH THE DEAD!
Yeah. Fucking YEAH. Oh man, I want to play again RIGHT NOW. Right here is the ultimate wee guys on a map game, as far as I’m concerned. It’s a mix of elegant Euro style role selection and auction mechanics with a gloriously trashy KILL ‘ EM ALL element. Dice rolling and combat and craziness! And dripping with theme! MAN! MAN!
OH WAIT! WAIT!
The expansion’s just come out. Oh man. OH MAN! I wanted this expansion so BAD. It was going to be available at Essen before it would be available anywhere else. This was just about a month ago. And at Essen the expansion would have promo items too! And I WASN’T GOING TO BE THERE! I was heartbroken. I put the feelers out. Would anyone do me a favour and pick up my Hades for me?
Michael Fox of the Little Metal Dog Show podcast offered to bring me the game back. It’s a great show, and he’s a great lad. THAT MAN BROUGHT HADES BACK FROM GERMANY FOR ME. Why? Because he GETS it. He gets that when you love a board game, shit has to HAPPEN. I love you, Michael. Thanks.
What a fucking incredible expansion. You know how some expansions add a lot of shit you don’t need? Hades gives you expansion modules you can choose to add or remove to mould the game to your liking. The core of Cyclades stays the same. But lets look at what you can throw in the mix.
HADES: Hades himself. God DAMN. This bad motherfucker will, at a few points in the game, replace one of the gods you can bid on. And he lets you BUILD UNDEAD TROOPS AND SHIPS! And MOVE THEM BOTH! You feeling this? Hades will let you do a ONE TURN INVASION, BABY! With undead warriors who VANISH at the end of the turn. TERRIFYING! He also lets you build a Necropolis. Haha! A Necropolis will generate money every time anything on the board dies. HADES RULES.
NEW MYTHOLOGICAL CREATURES!!!!! With bad bastards like…
CERBERUS: Summon Cerberus to an opponent’s island and HAHAHA! ONLY YOU WILL GET THE REVENUE FROM THE ISLAND because there is a BAD DOGGIE ON IT!
EMPUSA: A really creepy looking thing that steals money from the Necropolis. I’m scared of this thing. I mean, look at it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d shag it, but it’s scary.
Wait, what? Heroes? What do you mean? Heroes? You summon them like monsters, but you pay them every turn and they stay with you? YEAH. LIKE…
MIDAS: Who will let you pay a gold to re-roll a die in battle. Oh, yeah, and you can SACRIFICE him when you have 15 gold to establish a metropolis. SORRY, BIG GUY, YOU GOTTA DIE.
PENTHESILEA: This Amazonian Queen will let you win battles on tie results. And if you sacrifice her when you build a metropolis, THE METROPOLIS IS BUILT ON THE SECRET ISLAND OF THE AMAZONS! It can NEVER be captured!!!
Oh, man that’s plenty. That’s a lot of stuff in this expansion. This is great!
EVEN MORE GODS!!!! Wait, what? More gods? Yes, divine favours from minor gods that you can win alongside the main gods. WHAT? Like what?
APHRODITE: Let’s not mince words here. Aphrodite will double the amount of soldiers on one of your islands. And you know why that happened.
ARTEMIS: She will let you turn your priests and philosophers into soldiers. ENOUGH THINKING AND BOOKS, MEN. TO WAR!
HEPHAESTUS: The big fella will craft you some magic items. And-
WAIT, WHAT? Magic items? What do you mean? YEAH, BABY. MAGIC ITEMS! Like-
THE PALACE ON MOUNT OLYMPUS: This lets you rearrange the order of the gods on the bid track. This is SOME MAJOR SHIT, believe me. MAN!
APHRODITE’S BELT: This lets you…oh man, this is a killer. You can prevent one opponent of your choice from bidding on a god of your choice for one turn. OH. MY. GREEK. GOD.
Okay, calm down. Seriously, though, this expansion is amazing. The promo item I got, Hecate, lets you build an underground tunnel between two islands. A total game-changer. But the beautiful balance remains, somehow. That amazes me. This game is perfect, it always was, and the expansion keeps everything as perfect as it was but adds more theme and variety and flavour. This is how expansions should always be done.
Why isn’t Cyclades THE board game right now? Why isn’t everyone raving about it? I don’t understand it. It plays QUICK. There’s next to no downtime. The theme is strong. The mechanics are beautiful. The art is glorious.
Is it maybe that some people might think it’s a boring Euro? It isn’t. God, no. Is it maybe that some people think it’s a mindless dice-chucking battle game? It isn’t. God, no. What Cyclades is, is the ultimate distillation of the best of modern game design, in all its forms. The very best of every world.
We’ve all played it to death here. We all love it. We will play it forever.
So should you.