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ATLAS & ZEUS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Eurogames/Descartes Editeur, 2 players, ages 12 and up, 30 minutes; $19.95)

 

In the days of my misspent youth, I would love to play pinball. I’m not talking about the video game simulations of pinball games. I’m talking about those man-sized, garish machines that flashed and clanged and assaulted the senses as a big silver ball bearing careened around bumpers and bounced from side to side, hurtling madly downward, past your flippers, only to reappear when it was time to launch your second ball. Great, chaotic, fun! And that’s the feeling I get every time I play Atlas & Zeus, the latest game in Eurogames’ “Games for 2” series.

Atlas & Zeus is the brainchild of Bruno Cathala. The game contains 16 island tiles, 8 game markers, 16 character tiles, 2 decks of 25 cards, an action order track and instructions. The object of the game? Be the last man standing when all of the islands of Atlantis sink into the ocean!

The 16 island tiles are numbered 1 to 16. Play begins with the tiles shuffled and randomly arranged in a circle. The 16 character tiles (8 red and 8 blue) are shuffled and randomly placed, one per island, starting with island number 1. The Rising Waters marker is placed on island number 1. Each player begins with a Tortoise, Net and Pilings marker in reserve. Once each player shuffles his 25 card action deck (each deck is identical) and draws six cards to create a starting hand, the game can begin.

The player with his color character on island 1 has “initiative”, meaning he can place his cards first. Card placement allows for a semblance of planning – but planning can be abruptly disrupted!

The player with initiative chooses three cards from his hand and places them, face down, on the Action Order Track. The Track is divided into three sets of 2 so there are six spaces available for cards. Each set of 2 is color-coded. When placing a card, a player is restricted. He may only play cards on DIFFERENT colored spaces! So, for example, a player may NOT play his cards on spaces 1 and 2 (since both of these share the same color). He MAY place his cards on spaces 2 and 3 (since 2 and 3 are colored differently). Once the player with initiative has gone, the second player places his cards on the three unclaimed spaces on the track. Now, going from space 1 through space 6, the cards are turned over and actions resolved.

Cards can do many things. For example, they allow you to move your characters to adjacent islands or even to ANY island (the “Flying Fish” card) subject to an island’s capacity to hold characters, shift the Rising Waters marker to any island of your choice, prevent other characters from moving (denoted with your “Net” marker), protect characters from harm (denoted with your “Tortoise” marker), force your opponent to play his Action cards on the Action Track FACE UP next turn, remove an enemy Action card BEFORE it is played, increase the capacity of an island (shown with the “Pilings” marker), attack an enemy character and more!

Once the actions are carried out, the island left with the Rising Waters marker SINKS into the sea! That island tile is removed from play and any characters stranded on that island are out of the game! The Rising Waters marker now shifts to the next lowest numbered island. (If the marker was on island 4 with island 4 sinking beneath the waves and island 5 is still in the game, island 5 inherits the marker.) Now, each player draws three cards from their individual draw piles, the remaining islands are adjusted to form a smaller circle, initiative shifts to the other player and the whole process begins again.

As soon as either player loses their last character, the game ends immediately. The player with at least one surviving character wins the game! (Should both players lose their last characters at the same time, both players have LOST!)

Forcing your opponent to play his cards face up is an extremely powerful play. It allows you to adjust your own actions accordingly. Since the rules prohibit you from taking actions 1 and 2, a satisfactory alternative is claiming actions 2 and 3. This allows you to do, in effect, a double move, making it more difficult for your opponent to counter. But, because of the nature of the game, there is only so much control you can exert.

Atlas & Zeus is a game of shifting positions – initiative shifts, islands shift, the threat of sinking shifts (as the Rising Waters marker moves from island to island), card actions can shift. Liken it to Roborally or Dragon Delta (Fall 2000 GA REPORT), where your brilliantly conceived plans will often go astray due to circumstances beyond your control. Admittedly, this can be frustrating for gamers who always want to be in command. But, if you’re willing to go with the flow, just like in pinball, the wild ride can be lots of fun. – – Herb Levy


 

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