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Subject: Hellas: New Impressions of an Old Game rss

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Joe
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Hellas is a Kosmos 2-player entry released by Rio Grande Games in 2002. So I'm a little late to the party, but it seems the party was never really that big for this game so that's alright.

It's an area control, tile-laying, card game. This combination of mechanics is what caught my eye and convinced me to order it. That, and I love two-player games. Can't get enough of them. And with how much I loved Jambo, I was excited to try another title in the Kosmos two player library.

Components

The game's box is the standard size for the series it's apart of. A good size. It fits all the pieces and there's really no wasted space. The cover art is pretty decent. Nothing special. There's a Greek soldier and some boats. That pretty much covers the basic idea of the game.

Their are four sheets of tiles to punch that come apart with no problem. Because this game came out in 2002, which is one year after the release of Carcassonne, I kinda expected a little higher quality tiles. These are fine. the colors are great and they're attractive to look at. I just wish they were a little thicker. They won't bend accidentally or chip, I think. I just wonder if after some repeated play they might show age a little faster than your Carcassonne tiles might. But, alas I love tiles and I have a hard time not loving these tiles too.

The cards come shrink-wrapped together but comprise three different decks: a yellow Zeus deck, a red Ares deck, and a blue Poseidon deck. Each deck has 16 cards each. The cards are relatively plain, but of good quality. The pictures on the cards are very simple illustrations styled after the historical art of the Greeks. It gets the job done without being to busy.

The Greek and Ship minis are tiny. Pictures on this site do not represent how tiny these little guys are. But really, any bigger and they would crowd the board. You're going to want a stable playing surface for this game. A slight rocking and these guys will drop.

Rules
The rules as written are pretty good. You'll have to reread things a couple times to really get it, but you'll pick up the game pretty fast. Sometimes they are a little vague when specificity is called for, but you can usually logically work through any issues. There's a pretty fantastic rules reference sheet available in the files section. It condenses all the rules of the game on to a single sheet. You'll still need the rules sometimes, but you could easily teach the game with the reference sheet.

EDIT: I just tried to teach this game to a non-gamer, and I must include this experience in my review. Because of the nature of the cards, specifically that they do not state when they can be played, this game caused GREAT frustration for the new player and we had to stop playing and choose a different game to play. He tried to play the card, "Swith cities with an opponent" to try to switch a city of mine with another city of mine during a battle. I tried to explain how I interpret the card to mean that he has to switch a city of HIS with a city of MINE. He didn't think that was really the case and became too upset to continue. This is only PARTIALLY the game's fault. He's a really bad gamer. BUT, if the cards had some sort name and classification that allowed people to better understand when they could be played this game would be much more approachable for non-gamers.

Gameplay
The game begins with a dolphin. Which is kinda weird and not really relevant to Greek warfare, but whatever. The dolphin is the start tile. You'll take turns putting down four tiles each and placing a Greek and a ship on each city depicted on each of your tiles. There's only ever 1 city per tile.

Once this is done, players draw one of each of the god cards and you're ready to go.

Now on your turn you can choose one of three things to do. You may:
-Burst of Strength
-Attack
-Voyage

If you choose the interestingly named "Burst of Strength" you'll be doing three things, which could be any combination of these actions:
-Deploy a Greek
-Deploy a ship
-Draw god cards

You can have no more than 3 Greeks in any city and you may have no more than 7 god cards in your god hand. Choose to burst with strength when you want to gather your forces for an attack or put yourself into the position for the chance to voyage.

If you choose to attack you do so in essentially the same way you would in any simple area control game. Move figures into an enemy's territory either by land or by sea. You just have to be adjacent. Unless you're going through the dolphin tile. The rules state Greeks can jump the dolphin and go to a tile on the other side of it and this counts as adjacent. Which is very thematic, because Greeks are historically the finest of the dolphin-jumping cultures.

If you have more Greeks in the city you're attacking than your opponent, you win the city.

If you choose to Voyage, you'll draw a new tile and place it by matching it to two other tiles adjacent to some of your ships. If you draw a tile that you can do this with, you can place a Greek in the city on that tile. If not, tough luck. But this is a good way to gain a quick city if you're sitting in a good spot for a turn.

All of these admittedly plain actions are made new and interesting by the god cards. They really succeed at throwing a wrench into the best laid plans. That's not to say there is no strategy. There is. But it's more tactical. Turn by turn. Your opponent may throw something at you and you have to be able to react. To your opponent and to the cards you draw.

Some cards allow ships to add defense to cities. Others allow you to attack from a non adjacent city. Some god cards are very simple and add a greek or void a card your opponent just played. Each deck succeeds at having its own feel to it. Ares benefits your attacking by land and Poseidon will benefit you at seas. Zeus will change the way you play your turns. Some might find these cards too powerful. But I like that actually. It's very thematic. Sure you've got what looks to be a solid strategy in front of you with your mini's, but it all comes back to how well you can play the cards to benefit your warplan. If it didn't, this would basically be Modular Risk.

This is where I think most of the major criticism comes from for Hellas. It's advertised as a light war game that really is played with the cards. The board matters, sure. But to some degree, it's just place to put your people while you lash out with your mighty god powers. In my opinion, that's what gives this game it's identity.

The game continues this way until one player controls ten cities. The box says it should last about 45-60 minutes. I think your first few plays could easily go 75 min to even 90. Mine have, but that certainly hasn't been too long for me. I've enjoyed each play all the way to the end.

Overall
This game is a total winner for me. It's a totally portable, two player war game with an active theme and some really interesting decisions to make. What really stood out to me was the tension. First game I played out of the box was won 10 to 9, with no clear leader for most of the game.

Because it's a card/war game, I suppose there's the chance that you could just not get the right cards and the game would fall apart for you, but I don't see that happening as frequently as it does when you're playing something like Jambo or even Memoir '44, which isn't all that often.

When considered with the price, which is pretty reasonable for the game you're getting, Hellas is pretty stellar war game. I highly recommend picking it up if you are a Kosmos 2p fan or if you're in the mood for a light war game. The aforementioned party for this game should have been bigger. Hellas deserves it.
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Paul Taylor
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My son and I pulled it out last weekend, I had forgotten how good this game is.
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Sander Sijssens
Belgium
Kapellen
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I'm glad you like this game, I totally love it. You can make great comebacks with cards, after a while you know the cards and you can start bluffing. Are his ships for extra defense or can I capture his fleet?

People that don't like the seem to forget that you need to voyage to be able to win. I always shuffle the temples back in the pile after the setup phase to make sure that that extra reason to travel and get 4 bursts of strength are in there. Only once I totally annihilated my opponent but usually it is super close.

Oh I love this game.
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Trygve E. Rosenvinge
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Hellas is a great little game, and if you liked it, you should consider the other games Delonge designed. The rest of us are still waiting for Valley Games to release their new version of Delonge's Big City.

Hellas is one of those games I feel has an incorrect rating on BGG, but when I read the comments negative reviewers have supplied, I find that I tend to agree with some of them. Like how you're almost completely dependent on good cards and how combinations of cards will win the game for you, but you have relatively little control on which cards you draw (the three piles negates this somewhat).

The game has several novel and interesting mechanics, the combination of an ancient exploration game, war game and card game is unlike anything I've played since, but the game does suffer some from a few balance issues, such as the randomly drawn cards and the temple majority mechanic. In my many games of Hellas, the player who gets temple majority typically wins.

Still, I find I don't mind the imbalances so much, while those flaws are both more visible and perhaps more consequential in a 2-player game, with a 2-player game it's easier to simply agree to start over if you find that the game is coming to an end or the setup turned out badly.
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Genghis Ahn
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I like this game a lot:

1. High quality componets
2. Small size box which makes the game highly portable
3. There is a lot of strategy in placing tiles during voyages to build the world. This can be a subtle as roping off new territory making it harder for your opponent to advance in that direction to connected to be adjacent to his vulnerable strongholds
4. There is a lot to the tactical strategy as well, and I don't find the card particularly over powering as you have to integrate strategy and card play. If you do not you will always lose to someone who does understand the value of cards through CDG and CCG games.

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Phil Walker-Harding
Australia
Summer Hill
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I'd also like to chime in and say this is a totally underrated game in my opinion. Great stuff!
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Fedor Ilitchev
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I came across this last week and was thinking of purchasing it for the $20... I decided not to, though, and am now no longer in the city where it was sold. Your review has made me regret this decision.
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Joe
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Zingraff wrote:
Hellas is a great little game, and if you liked it, you should consider the other games Delonge designed. The rest of us are still waiting for Valley Games to release their new version of Delonge's Big City.


I have been checking out his page since playing this. From what games of his are still in print, are there any you highly suggest?
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Caleb
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As a counterpoint, I found the game seriously lacking in any control. The vagaries of the voyages plus the randomness of the god cards make it impossible to do any planning - the entire game is reacting to what happens each turn. I found it frustrating to play.
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Joe
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cannoneer wrote:
As a counterpoint, I found the game seriously lacking in any control. The vagaries of the voyages plus the randomness of the god cards make it impossible to do any planning - the entire game is reacting to what happens each turn. I found it frustrating to play.


Definitely a legitimate counter point. I tried to convey this in my review but I think it kinda got lost to revisions. What I wanted to say was that I think what polarized players when this game was released was that some people will like the ride this game takes you on, others will despise it.

I fall in the former. I like surprises. I like feeling like you're playing moment to moment and reacting to the game's curve balls. It's fun and it's not without it's numerous tactics.

However, if you enjoy games that you can really dig into a deep war strategy that you can follow through with for your entire game play and not a back and forth card game, probably avoid this title. You'll find yourself too frustrated by Poseidon's floods and Ares' constant meddling.
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Trygve E. Rosenvinge
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I've only tried Container and Dos Rios, in addition to Hellas.

Container, which is an economical simulation which leads to an interesting meta-game, is a really good and nicely balanced game, Dos Rios is an odd, unpredictable game that I've still not made my mind up over, but the mechanic with the changing rivers is really intriguing.

Big City has something of a following.

Fjords looks like a relative of Hellas, and it's been better received by the BGG community as well. I don't think it's out of print either, but I've not seen it on the shelves of my local shop, so I've yet to pick it up myself.
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Ronald Tweakston
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Excellent review though I think you were too kind about the ambiguities that pop up. Can you play a "flood" card during a battle? Indeed, as you wrote, some exact reading, reasoning and also a little graciousness will resolve each issue.

The game unfolds in a surprising variety of ways. There have been rugby scrums for the middle ground; in other matches, the winner bursts out from a succession of successful voyages. Accepting that some of your fate rests on the whims of the gods is a key to enjoying this game. I still hope to see a session where a victory was gained by playing a "voyage with equal ships" card, the weakest in the decks.
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Joe
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Your last sentence there made me realize something I oddly didn't while I was playing the game. Why didn't they name the cards? Could have really helped the theme along, actually.
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Caleb
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jheaney wrote:
Why didn't they name the cards? Could have really helped the theme along, actually.


Language independence of the components, most likely.
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Ronald Tweakston
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The cards have instructions and a picture but a title would've been nice. Rules require reading the whole text but after playing a while players will develop some mutually acceptable verbal shorthand. Even a "HA!" works. Don't forget to pause for a response.
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Russ Williams
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cannoneer wrote:
jheaney wrote:
Why didn't they name the cards? Could have really helped the theme along, actually.


Language independence of the components, most likely.

I don't think so, considering the cards already have text describing their effect...
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Peter Marchlewitz
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Great little game. Haven't played it in quite a while! Will have to bring it to the table soon.

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Caleb
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russ wrote:
cannoneer wrote:
jheaney wrote:
Why didn't they name the cards? Could have really helped the theme along, actually.


Language independence of the components, most likely.

I don't think so, considering the cards already have text describing their effect...



Heh. I'd forgotten that. Been many years since I played.
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Pete Martyn
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jheaney wrote:
cannoneer wrote:
As a counterpoint, I found the game seriously lacking in any control. The vagaries of the voyages plus the randomness of the god cards make it impossible to do any planning - the entire game is reacting to what happens each turn. I found it frustrating to play.


Definitely a legitimate counter point. I tried to convey this in my review but I think it kinda got lost to revisions. What I wanted to say was that I think what polarized players when this game was released was that some people will like the ride this game takes you on, others will despise it.

I fall in the former. I like surprises. I like feeling like you're playing moment to moment and reacting to the game's curve balls. It's fun and it's not without it's numerous tactics.

However, if you enjoy games that you can really dig into a deep war strategy that you can follow through with for your entire game play and not a back and forth card game, probably avoid this title. You'll find yourself too frustrated by Poseidon's floods and Ares' constant meddling.


With a few games under my belt, I'd probably say (and tell new players) that if you don't have helpful cards in hand, don't attempt a voyage or an attack. Burst of Strength instead, in most cases. Failing either sets you back and puts you on the defensive, and the game is so short that regaining tempo can be tough. Without the Gods, it's a very tough battle.

Also, my thumb is for the phrase "finest of the dolphin-jumping cultures. "
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Mike Fox
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Playing Hellas is a joy. Winning is meaningful; but, win or lose, playing this game is extremely rewarding. Solid game.
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John Liosatos
United States
Palatine
IL - Illinois
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I had been considering buying this game for quite some time, but never got around to it. It's now OOP, but did manage to find one at a great price on the marketplace of this site. Reading your review, 'm glad I did and don't know why I waited so long. hanks for the review. I can't wait til I get this game.
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