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Cyclades

[Frank Hamrick and games crossed paths at a very early age. From the time he was 7 years old – and taught Monopoly by his grandmother, the seed was sown and has since blossomed. From Monopoly, Frank graduated to wargames and, when looking for something lighter and shorter, discovered The Settlers of Catan and his fascination with Euros began. And then he went to the next level. Frank started the Game Knights in the late 90’s which eventually reorganized as the Tar River Gaming Club in Rocky Mount, NC, in 2003. Today, he is an active and respected voice in many gaming forums. Frank first appeared in GA Report in the Fall 2006 issue with his review of Tempus. In this review, his 7th for GA Report, Frank finds favor with Greek gods!]

(Asmodee, 2-5 players, ages 13 and up, 90 minutes; $59.99)

 

Reviewed by Frank Hamrick

cycladesCyclades is a strategy game for 2-5 players that scales well due to its “expanding” playing board. The playing board consists of 2 double-sided boards placed together in different configurations to create a small board for 2-3 players and a larger map for 4-5 players (similar to the way the Small World boards work).

The game, designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, and published in 2009 by Matagot & Asmodee (among others), is named for an island group off the southeast coast of Greece. The Greeks spell it Kyklades and pronounce it Ke-KLA-thes (Their “d” is pronounced as the English “th”.) The box art hints at the “K” sound by adding slight lines to the two “C’s” in the English version, thereby turning the “C’s” into “K’s.” Those of us who speak English tend to pronounce it SIK-la-dees. But if you want to be authentic (and it does have a Greek setting), then you will pronounce it Ke-KLAH-thes.

The game is one of conflict (though I have seen a game won with no fighting), and as such might turn off some who do not like to attack other players. The new expansion (targeted for a 2011 release) is said to be even more “aggressive” by its designers.

In this game, players bid for the favor of the gods in their race to be the first to build two cities (Metropolises) in the Cyclades Island group. But to build a Metropolis you must either a) build four different types of buildings on the islands and exchange them for a Metropolis, b) conquer another person’s Metropolis, and/or c) exchange 4 Philosopher cards for a Metropolis. Each of these paths to victory requires obtaining the “favor” of one of five Greek gods each turn. This is done by bidding against the other players for the favor of the various gods in your quest to build fleets and armies; to conquer other islands; to build Forts, Ports, Temples, and Universities; and to obtain Priest and/or Philosopher cards. The base game provides 5 gods to help you in your quest, along with a dozen mythological creatures that can be “bribed” to help you along. The game ends as soon as one player has built two Metropolises (or three in a 2-player game).

Turn sequence is simple:

1. Lay out new Mythological Creature cards and re-order the “god” tiles (randomly lay them out in order from first to last)

2. Take income. (All players)

3. Bid for the use of the gods

4. Take the actions the gods provide in the order in which the gods appear

5. Check to see if anyone has won the game (if not, repeat the above steps)

Turns (called “Cycles” in Cyclades) pass quickly with little down time.

Without going into too much detail I will summarize the game “Cycle” sequence.

1. Lay out the new Mythological Creature cards and re-order the “god” tiles.
 
A deck of Mythological creature cards is placed on the board at the beginning of the game and the top creature card is turned over and is in play at the beginning of the game. The Mythological Card area is designed to hold up to 3 Mythological Creature cards at a time. Each card slot has a number of coins printed on it to indicate how much a player will need to “pay” in gold to purchase and use that creature. Creature cards first appear in the “4-gold” slot and if at the end of the Cycle, it was not used, it will slide to the right to the next cheaper slot. Thus, the longer a creature stays on the Creature display, the cheaper he gets – ranging from 4 to 2 gold. If he is not bought at the 2 gold spot he will be discarded at the end of that cycle.

In Cycle one, only one creature will be available and will be placed on the “4 gold” slot. In Cycle 2 two creatures will be on the board, and by Cycle 3 all three slots will be filled.

Further, during this phase, 4 gods tiles will be shuffled and placed in random order from top to bottom on the bidding track. This is the order in which the gods will be used this Cycle. The four gods and their powers are as follows.

  • Ares – allows the building and movement of player armies and the building of a fortress
  • Poseidon – allows the building and movement of navies and the building of ports
  • Zeus – allows the hiring of priests and building of temples
  • Athena – provides the player with philosophers and universities.

 
Note: A fifth god (Apollo) is printed on the board and is available as well.

Thus, the order in which the various gods will take their actions varies each turn – with the exception of Apollo who always goes last.

2. Take income
 
Players take income by looking at the playing map. Every island with a “cornucopia” produces one gold per cornucopia on the island. Every water space with a printed cornucopia produces cyclades2one gold. Players take the gold only if they control the island or the water space with the cornucopias. Naturally, those islands with the most Cornucopias will be more valuable and thus, the focus of greater conflict.

3. Bid for the use of the gods.
 
Players next turn their attention to the gods that were laid out on the bidding board in the first phase (there will always be one god less than there are players) – but not to worry. If a player does not win the bid of one of the gods, a fifth god (Apollo – printed on the board) is available for all who prefer to use him. He requires no bid and provides income for those who choose him, or who get shut out of the bidding for the other gods.
 
Bidding is reminiscent of Amun-Re (Summer 2003 GA Report). Each god has a “bidding track” on which the players’ bid markers are placed. A player may bid any amount on any god he chooses, but if someone outbids him, he cannot immediately re-bid on that god, but must move his bid marker to another god, or pass and place his bidding token on Apollo. Each player will thus get the services of exactly one god each turn. Once all players have won the bidding on a “god” all players pay their bids to the bank.

4. Take the actions of the gods in the order in which the gods appear on the bidding board.
 
Each player takes the actions provided by the god whose favor he won. Turn order is based on the order in which his god was laid out in Phase 1.
During a player’s turn he may also purchase the services of one of the Mythological Creatures that is face-up on the Mythological Creatures track. To do so he pays the amount printed under the creature’s position on the track, takes the card and uses its power. When creatures are purchased new creatures are NOT added to the track until the end of the Cycle. Thus, there will never be more than three creatures available during a single Cycle – and since a player may purchase more than one creature, it is possible that players taking their actions later will have no creatures available. This is just another thing to think about when biding for the use of the gods.
 
When a player finishes taking his god’s actions, he places his “Bid Marker” on the Turn Order Track taking the lowest slot still available. Thus, players who take their actions first in one Cycle will bid last in the following Cycle.
 
Once all players have taken their actions, the player(s) who placed their bid markers on Apollo then receive income of one gold, and the player who first chose Apollo will receive a cornucopia which he may place on any one island he controls.
 
5. End of the cycle.
 
Once every player has played, the Cycle is finished. If one or more players own 2 Metropolises, the game ends. Otherwise a new Cycle begins. If only one player has 2 Metropolises, he wins. If more than one player ends the Cycle with two Metropolises, the one with the most Gold remaining wins.

Battles will generally occur since the map almost requires players to expand into other players’ territories. When Ares and Poseidon are used they often result in conflict. If two players have their fleets in the same sea space a naval battle will occur. If two players have their armies on the same island a land battle will occur. Naval battles are fought by both players counting the number of fleets they have in the contested space, adding “+1” to that number if the space is adjacent to an island containing one of that fleet’s ports, and rolling a die. The higher modified die roll wins the battle and the loser removes one of its fleets. Players may then choose to either fight again or retreat. If a unit retreats it must have a legal path to retreat to an adjacent legal sea space (not occupied by another player). If it cannot do so, it is eliminated. Fighting continues this way until only one or neither player has fleets left.

Land battles are fought the same way except that armies get a bonus if the island contains a Fort belonging to that army. Armies trace their retreat path over a line of their fleets that link to an island they control. It takes at least two turns to set up a land battle. To move armies from island to island, you must have a “chain” of ships stretching from your island to the one to which you want to move. So you must first obtain the services of Poseidon in order to build enough fleets to join the two islands. Then, you must take another turn in which you obtain the services of Ares in order to thus move your armies over your chain of ships. Of course, this gives the opponent fair warning of what you are doing and can give him time to set up his defenses by either attacking your fleets (if he gains Poseidon’s help) so as to break your chain. And thus, battles require careful planning.

When a player captures another player’s island all the buildings on that island become his and may immediately grant him a Metropolis if he now has at least one of each of the four building types anywhere on the board. In this case, the four buildings are removed and are replaced by the Metropolis. A Metropolis has the inherent power of each of the four buildings.

These are the main functional rules, though there are a number of other rules regarding discounts for bidding payments per Priest owned, discounts for Mythological Creatures per Temples owned, and special rules concerning the various creature cards. Four of the creature cards require placement of a molded plastic creature. These creatures have special characteristics that may endure for more than one turn (the other creatures give only a one turn/immediate benefit) and are then discarded. They may not be kept and played later.

Overall, Cyclades is a well-produced game. The game board is attractive and the art work beautiful, in my opinion. The plastic “fleets” and “armies” of each player are different from the other players, adding a neat touch to the game. Though the game plays simply, there are a lot of things to think about on a turn.

Turn order is important. A player must consider the order in which the gods will take their turn. For example: If I am poised to strike your island with a large army (I have an unbroken chain of fleets leading from an island with many of my troops to one of your islands) you will be anxious to either outbid me for Ares (who allows me to move armies), or should Poseidon come before Ares in play order, you will try to take Poseidon and attack one of my fleets, thus breaking my chain and keeping me from attacking later in the round even if I do get Ares. Or perhaps there is a Creature available that will allow you to make an important move or will allow me to make a key move. Then, the person who gets the services of the god who goes first, will have the first opportunity to purchase that creature!

Money is important. It takes money to bid and money to buy additional fleets, armies, buildings, and philosophers. Thus, some may play to garner extra income by capturing those places on the board that provide extra income. They might also bid for Zeus who provides a free Priest (gives a discount of 1 gold per Priest owned when bidding for gods), or take a creature that steals half of someone’s income.

Philosophers are important. Four philosophers will give you a Metropolis. And the god “Athena” gives you a philosopher and also grants you the right to purchase a second one if you have enough money. Thus, on one turn a player could get two philosophers, giving him four and an immediate Metropolis. If he already has one Metropolis on the board, game over!

How do I like the game? I really enjoy playing it. But one caveat – I love games of conflict. Yes, this game can be played without conflict, but the threat of conflict is always there. Cyclades reminds me of two warriors in a pit. They don’t actually have to fight – but if either one drops his guard the other can seize the opportunity and pounce for an easy victory. It is this constant tension that I enjoy. I feel like I’m right on the edge of both winning a losing at the same time. The game can end quite suddenly if everyone is not alert. And therein might be its weakness for some. I’ve heard complaints (especially among newbies) for how suddenly the game ended. However, experienced players will learn to anticipate how quickly a person can end the game and be prepared to avoid such sudden endings. (It is certainly possible for a player who has no Metropolises on the board, to gain two on a single turn, to the surprise of the non-suspecting.

If you don’t enjoy conflict in a game, or if you don’t like the threat of someone taking you out, you probably won’t enjoy the game. But for my gaming group, this one is a hit! Even those who did not enjoy it at first, came to like it after a couple of plays. [By the way, the game has a built-in rule that keeps anyone from being eliminated. No one may attack a player’s last remaining island. Thus, I’ve seen players reduced to one island come back to win the game!]

I find Cyclades well thought out and play tested. It is balanced and the luck is minimal. It’s currently in the upper echelon of the new games I’ve played in 2010. I recommend it to anyone who is not put off by direct conflict in a game.

 


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