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Subject: Gheos: The game of games rss

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Alishah Novin
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Franklin
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Wow. To date, I have not felt as excited about another board game as I have with Gheos.

While it describes itself as a game of Gods - Gheos impressively to be so much more than that. What type of game is it? It is a game of strategy, tactics, strategic investment, of being cut-throat, of being noble, of being on the offensive, while maintaining a level of defensiveness, a fast paced game that lends itself to - in my experience - very little analysis paralysis, despite there being so much to do on a single turn. It's a game reminiscent of a number of other games, and yet it stands solidly on it's own.

Imagine the strategic tile-placement of Carcassonne, crossed with the resource development of Catan, mixed with the stock-market volatility of Shark (or, if you're less familiar with Shark, think of a much more volatile game of Acquire), the cut-throatedness of Risk (without the luck of dice). Full disclosure: Catan, Carcassonne, and Shark are my top 3 games, so it's no wonder I like Gheos so much - though one could easily make the claim that there's a high chance for a game of such aspiration to fail.

Each dynamic is, however, unique enough to offer a fresh and exciting take on tried & tested gaming methods.

First dynamic: Variable board. Catan does it. Carcassonne does it. Shark/Acquire are variable through the randomness of dice/numbered tiles. It is a game whose map is unique with each play, requiring a different approach as the world builds out. But Gheos goes one step further (admittedly, it's not the only game, nor the first game to do this...) by allowing the board to vary with each turn as well. In Catan, the hexes are there for the entire game. In Carcassonne, once a tile is placed, it's placed for good. In Gheos, *most* tiles lasts as long as a player desires, and can be replaced by another at any turn. You're a god afterall - you should be able change the structural landscape of the world as you desire.

Second dynamic: Tile placement. Just like Carcassonne, the game progresses with the placement of tiles to build out the world. Unlike Carcassonne, you can replace placed tiles, but you also get an added bonus of holding two tiles in your hand. This means not being restricted to the tile you just drew, as is the case with Carcassonne. It means being privy to some knowledge as to how the landscape can be influenced, giving you some strategy on which tile to play in a particular turn and reducing your need to have your fingers crossed in hopes of drawing a particular tile. It's an element that is similar to Acquire, I found, as you can build out the world of Acquire with the hidden knowledge of the tiles in your hand, the same can be done with Gheos.

Third dynamic: Meeple/Worker/Follower placement - Just like Carcassonne, you get to place a follower. Unlike Carcassonne, you are not restricted to the tile you just placed. Moreover, you're left weighing your options of starting a new group of followers, or by acquiring more followers - or, if you're crafty, you can get the best of both worlds in starting a set of followers, while acquiring some simultaneously. Unlike Carcassonne, and much like Catan though, there's conflict between the followers, and much is determined by resources (Swords during Wars, Wheat during Migrations, and the cost of a single follower for causing either War or Migration). Unlike Carcassonne *and* unlike Catan, followers are obliterated in a war (and sometimes a Migration) and must leave the board.

Fourth Dynamic: Strategic investment. Much like Shark and Acquire, Gheos is a game of investment - but with very limited stock. This creates a tension that causes you to desire more wars, more migrations, and fighting frantically against monopolies forming. Sure there's no money involved, but as it goes in Shark and in Acquire, a diverse portfolio is often a good way to go.

Fifth Dynamic: Epoc tiles. Most reviews I've read, people have tried to come up with ways of preventing Epoc tiles from occuring back-to-back. I don't. Epoc tiles appearing repeatedly is just a risk of the game. The odds are low to begin with, and it's similar to the Downfall of Pompeii, when Omen Cards are drawn. Sometimes, that just happens. The reason why I don't mind Epoc tiles so much is that the tiles themselves are not in favor of any particular player. It may be advantageous for a player to draw Epoc tiles at a particular moment, but because those moments vary, and because Epoc tiles are unbiased in terms of who gets points, I'm really unbothered by how frequent they may appear.

Some notes on Analysis Paralysis: When I first learned to play (I read the rules, rather than be taught by another...) I thought it would take me forever to learn all the rules, and all the many possibilities. With my first few turns I had little idea what to do, and had a hard time remembering what to do. Rather than over-analyze though, I just played, and it all came to me rather quickly. When teaching the game to my girlfriend, I told her that she probably would not get the full scope of possibilities, or remember everything until about the 5th turn and that rather than analyze, she should just make the moves, and I'll explain details as it goes. I avoided getting into a lot of strategy, and kept to the basics. And just as I had, she picked things up really quickly (I could tell by the annoyance in her voice when I'd explain what I thought were slightly less obvious details, that she'd already considered...)

About the game being Cut-throat: The game is not cut-throat in the way that Risk is, in that you lose friends by the end game. Instead, it asks that you be competitive. Rarely do you find yourself in a position in which you really suffer from any cut-throat plays that other players make. The game moves so quickly that it's easy to rebound from them. Because most players try to be diversified, and have a varied group of followers, it's rare that one person suffers unfairly.

One final note about the game: Of all the games I've played with my girlfriend - Catan, Carcassonne, Shark, Acquire, Downfall of Pompeii, Scotland Yard, Through the Desert, and others... this is the only game that got her being exceptionally competitive, and cut-throat. It was pretty exciting for me to see - though, I have now become reasonably fearful of the rath she'll often show to her humble peasants. Every other turn, she was starting another war and killing off my followers. In the end, she beat me by a 3 point margin.

I can't stress enough how exciting Gheos can be. Because it's particularly fast paced too, it doesn't leave you feeling bogged down, or overwhelmed. It's fast, exciting, and you'll see a side in your significant other that will likely leave you with an incurable stutter of fear.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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otiose321 wrote:
About the game being Cut-throat: The game is not cut-throat in the way that Risk is, in that you lose friends by the end game. Instead, it asks that you be competitive. Rarely do you find yourself in a position in which you really suffer from any cut-throat plays that other players make.


I don't have enough experience to say for sure, but I have a feeling that would change in a group of wargamers.
 
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Dan Poole
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Goldsboro
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I don't know. This game is pretty nasty with regards to messing your opponents. I think this game is very cut-throat
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Patrick W
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Thanks for the review. I really liked the style that you used to present your thoughts on the game.
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Alishah Novin
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Franklin
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voynix wrote:
I don't know. This game is pretty nasty with regards to messing your opponents. I think this game is very cut-throat


You know, you could be right - if it could make a cut-throat player out of the lady, it could potentially have a much worse effect on an already aggressive player.

On the same token, however, I think there are so many options available, that it can actually be tough to effectively be cut-throat. The only thing that kept me from being slaughtered was that my gf had 3 blue followers to my 2, so as the blues were dashing about killing off all the other innocent civilizations of the world, it only hurt me so much. Eventually I just started staving off attacks from the blue tribe by constantly having them migrate to areas with less attacking power.
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Matt Lee
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In a 3 or 4 player game, it's happened where a dominant color was used to effectively eliminate the player who was invested in other colors that could be wiped out.

One other reason to spread out the Epoch tiles is that I've seen games where the game was over with just about half the tiles leftover, so the game came out too short and unsatisfying. The variability of the Epoch scoring is fine and the game plays quite well, but when it feels like the game ended prematurely, it spoils the opinions of the game.
 
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Ben Stanley
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I really liked Gheos, and still do, but it has some inelegances and tons of scoring during the course of the game. Another game I have found that has all of the positives of Gheos for me and none of the admittedly minor negatives, is UR. Anyone who really, truly loves Gheos owes it to themselves to play that one. It may have a little more analysis paralysis, though, because there is no randomness after the set-up.
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Brian Gee
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Great review, thanks!

I have this but haven't got around to learning it yet. Based on this review I think it might be a good one for my partner and I to learn. I will take your advise and teach myself first from the rulebook, and then introduce it to her in a similar way as you did.
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Adam Daulton
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I just recently traded for this game after having played it twice over the past couple years. I'm really liking it. I've had the chance to play it 4 times in the past couple weeks. Two games with 3 players and two games with 4 players. I think your review hit is right on the head. It plays quick has some great investment strategies and some good cut-throat action. I'm looking forward to more plays and hopefully with 2 players as well.
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