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Subject: A GFBR Review: Almost Great rss

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GeekInsight
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Players seek the favor of the gods, and try to write their legends. In Elysium, it’s about finding the right combos, working them for points, and knowing when to keep the favor active and when to turn it over for scoring. That and writing the legends of the gods.

The Basics. Elysium comes with eight total gods, each with 21 cards. However, in any given game, the players select a subset of five gods and mix their cards together. Each player also starts with four pillars – yellow, blue, green, and red – along with some coins and points.

In turn order, players select one of the god cards or one of the quest cards from the Agora. God cards generally provide a special power. Some are one time use, others are ongoing, and some provide a particular benefit when triggered by another game effect. Each card lists a cost in colors. In order to take that card, the player must still have the pillars of those colors. Once the player takes a card, they move one of their four pillars out of play.

Importantly, the player doesn’t have to remove one of the pillars he used to take the card. So, for example, if a card takes red and green and I have those pillars, I could take it and then remove my blue pillar.

Players can take a total of three god cards and one quest card. The quest card sets forth the player order for the next round and also bestows points, coins, and transfers. Players can use those transfers to move cards from their play area, to their Elysium.

Once moved to the Elysium, the cards generally cease providing any special power. However, as players transfer cards, they can try to get a card of every type, or each level card from a particular god. Complete or even partially complete legends are worth end game points.

After five rounds, players score their Elysium and count up any in-game points they received. The player with the most points wins.

The Feel. Elysium has a unique and interesting method for choosing cards. It forces tension and players have to be constantly on the alert to see what their opponents are choosing and which pillars remain. It really enhances the decision space, and it is a element to interact with.

The shame is that the rest of the game is not all that interesting. In fact, it’s pretty banal. You simply find the combos that work, grab those cards, and then run your engine for as many turns as possible. That part of the game is so mediocre that even the interesting way in which the cards are acquired does little to elevate the overall feel of the game.

First, let’s hit the positive. I’m really quite enamored with the card acquisition method. In the first turn of a round, you basically have access to everything. But the order in which you buy the cards becomes very important. Maybe there’s a card that costs blue and red, well, I can’t buy that card last when I only have one pillar. Maybe there’s a card that only costs one color, but it has a good ability and I should snap it up before my opponents do.

The considerations get more intense as the round progresses. Each player needs to buy a quest card each round, and there is one for each color of pillar. But, it’s not always a good idea to wait until the final round. Maybe I’m last in turn order. I see that my opponents have a red, blue, and green pillar left. Maybe I take the red quest card now. That leaves the player with the red pillar no option. When that happens, he gets a pity quest that provides few transfers and coins.

Despite this interesting mechanism, though, Elysium otherwise feels standard and uninspired. Players are simply gathering cards and trying to create combos that play off each other for maximum points. This is the same general experience as hundreds of other games.

In addition, the Domain (cards can use their special abilities) vs. Elysium (cards only worth end-game points) dichotomy is less interesting than I thought it would be. I had hoped it would require tough decisions each round, trying to figure out which cards should be written into legends and lose their powers. In truth, it’s not that hard to figure out. Some cards give one-off abilities. Once used, they can go to a legend without further thought. Some cards are worth bonus points in legends but have no other special ability. It’s easy to choose them. And, sometimes you get stuck with a “meh” card in a round. That becomes prime legend material.

As a result, that decision points are fairly straightforward during the game. It’s true that some cards generate in-game points (particularly Zeus cards), so those decisions can be harder. But for the most part, you simply move to your Elysium those cards that have exhausted their benefit.

Plus, I’m not a big fan of the random nature in which the cards are displayed. The Agora will have one card more than three times the number of players – a maximum of 13 cards. Over five rounds that means you’ll see 65 total cards. The deck of five gods, though, has 105. Which means a little less than half of the deck won’t be used at all. Maybe in the fourth or fifth round, you need a level 2 Hades card to complete your legend for maximum points. If one doesn’t happen to come out, then too bad for you.

Despite my love for the pillar-purchase mechanic, the rest of the game just falls totally flat. Sometimes one interesting mechanism can really save an otherwise average game (i.e. almost all Feld titles). But this isn’t true for Elysium.

Components 3.5 of 5. The cards are on good stock and have nice artwork. Player bits are all pretty standard for the industry – punchboard and painted wood. The colored pillars do have stickers that you can use to mark them for the colorblind, which is a nice touch.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. Your decisions and strategy are surely the superior factor in how the game progresses. Over the course of five rounds, you’re likely to see a card from every level for every god. But there’s an undeniable element of luck. Even from round to round, you don’t know what cards will be coming up (unless Apollo is in your game). So whether to take the first player marker or not is a bit of a gamble.

Mechanics: 4 of 5. I’m really enamored with the pillar purchase system. It forces players to plan out their turns and, especially as pillars are discarded, puts them in direct conflict for remaining cards. It’s a bit of a shame that the rest of the game is far less novel.

Replayability: 4 of 5. For me, the game is a little too bland to return to that often. However, if you enjoy this game, there is a ton of replay value. You’ll only ever use a subset of five gods and each has a different and unique feel. The combination you choose will open up different strategies.

Spite: 3 of 5. There are a few “take that” cards, mainly from a few gods like Poseidon. If you don’t like that, you can always remove him. Even when included, though, it doesn’t feel like players are ganging up on one another. Instead, it feels dispersed and adds a strategic decision of whether to buy the card for safety (so it doesn’t happen to you), or bear the effects while getting something else.

Overall: 3 of 5. Elysium has a novel and interesting mechanism for selecting cards. That right there makes the game out of the ordinary and worth investigating. But, after that, it devolves into a bland title with little to recommend it over numerous similar games. I hope we see the pillar mechanism again in a game with a bit more substance.

(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)
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trevor

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That's for another great review, though I don't totally agree with all your points. We always play with the oracle, this has improved the game tremendously. Hope to see an expansion for this!
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Kevin Garnica
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MyParadox wrote:
...it devolves into a bland title with little to recommend it over numerous similar games. I hope we see the pillar mechanism again in a game with a bit more substance.


Emphasis my own. I'm wondering what other numerous games you consider to be similar? Since I'm quite fond of Elysium, I'd like to know what other games scratch a similar itch. If you dismiss the pillar mechanic, then sure, it's basically like glorified M:tG drafting. Does every aspect of a game have to be new & innovative in order to be worthwhile?

On a separate note, I find your overall rating a bit curious. Personally, if the strategy/luck balance, mechanics, AND replayability are all 4 out of 5, then....man, the spite and components must be pretty crappy to bring the score all the way down to a 3 out of 5. Or else I don't fully understand how much weight is given to the things that really matter to you.

Not trying to nitpick, just want to better understand where you're coming from.
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GeekInsight
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pacman88k wrote:
If you dismiss the pillar mechanic, then sure, it's basically like glorified M:tG drafting. Does every aspect of a game have to be new & innovative in order to be worthwhile?


Yep. I feel like Seasons scratches a similar itch. Even San Juan or Roll for the Galaxy. Any game, really, where you take cards/tiles/abilities and combo them into something awesome. It's been done a lot and I don't think the way that aspect is implemented in Elysium is anything to write home about.

Quote:
On a separate note, I find your overall rating a bit curious. Personally, if the strategy/luck balance, mechanics, AND replayability are all 4 out of 5, then....man, the spite and components must be pretty crappy to bring the score all the way down to a 3 out of 5. Or else I don't fully understand how much weight is given to the things that really matter to you.


Yeah. The "Overall" score isn't an average or amalgam of the other scores. It stands on its own as a measure of how "fun" or "enjoyable" the game is. And a 3 isn't a bad game. If everyone wanted to play it, I'd play, too. But it's just hard for me to recommend this game despite the novel pillar mechanic.
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Panu Trivej
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Your feeling mostly reflects mine. I too love the pillar mechanic, and it's the sole reason Elysium constantly hits our table even though it falls flat almost every time.

I think the problem is not exactly the rest of the game being too bland. On the contrary, it's too much. Transferring card is interesting enough because you have to do it at exactly the right moment. The problem is the set-collecting aspect. It feels added on and is not very thematic. (Say, what if San Juan requires you not only to build but also to have the same type of buildings in order to score?)

Then, on top of set-collecting, there are some victory condition cards that just give you an insane amount of point, so much so that you can almost ignore the set-collecting -- except only to make sure the powers of the said cards are activated.

I can imagine liking this game more if you only just score whatever cards being transferred. As it is, Elysium feels like it's carrying too much unnecessary baggage on top of a very fine and elegant mechanic.
 
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