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Subject: "Gin Elfy": A review, with pictures, of a oddly mini-less game from CMON (!) rss

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CARL SKUTSCH
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New York
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Agricola, Sekigahara, Concordia, Innovation, COOKIE!!! (and Guinness)
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SANJURO: You're all tough, then? GAMBLER: What? Kill me if you can! SANJURO: It'll hurt.
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TL;DR

Really? You couldn't even read a super short review? Man, Twitter really is destroying this generation's attention span. Ok, here it is: A smooth easy-to-learn game of playing cards and variable powers. Highly recommended as long as you're not a brain-churner-only fan-boi/gurl.

A four-player game (mock up; no actual scores were counted in the making of this mock up).

The longer version

Ethnos, as my title suggests, is gin rummy with a board and variable card powers. That's it in a nutshell. Sound appealing? Not to me either, but I checked out Shut up Sit Down's video review and then I bought it and then I played it and then I was sold.

Here's what sells it for me. Each turn you only do one of two things:
1 - You pick up a card, either from the open market, or from the deck.
2 - You play a band of "invaders", which is to say a collection of like-labelled cards, which sometimes leads to placing one of your colored markers (invaders) on the board.

That's it. So easy to explain, so quick to play. Draw, draw, draw, play a band of cards, put a marker on the board, draw, and keep on going. When the deck runs out (actually when you draw your 3rd "dragon" card) the age ends, you do some scoring, boom! Reshuffle all the bands, but keep the markers on the board, and repeat. Boom do a third age, boom done!

Its simplicity reminds me of Concordia (another play one simple card kind of game) only it's simpler because there aren't all those trade goods to worry about.

(Actually, the game play is so quick, one thing to be aware of in a 2-player game is you might miss that it's your turn. Truth! Your opponent's turn is so fast you might miss that it happened!_



Making sets and runs (or What's that Elf doing with that Centaur?!?)

So you keep drawing cards until you decide to play a "band" of "invaders." You know, gin. A band consists of either all one type (Elves, Halflings, etc) or all one region (each region has its own name and color). Same color/region or same creature type, that's it, period. Oh, and you have to pick one card to be the "leader" of the band.

(What's that brown Skeleton doing with those grey cards? Scroll down and read about special powers. Skeletons are special. Poor things.)

When you play a band, you can often place one of your markers in the region with the same color/region name as the leader of the band. ("Often" meaning if your band has more cards than the number of markers you already have in that region: a region with none of your markers could be invaded by a 1 card band; a region with 3 of your markers already there would require a 4+ card band.) Markers in regions are important for end-of-age scoring.

Oh, wait, one more thing! When you play a band, you discard all your other cards. This can be painful because those cards go into the face-up market for other players to grab! Suppose you spent 4 turns drawing extra cards from the deck just to get that extra Dwarf you wanted, that means you'll have to dump the 3 non-Dwarf cards that aren't part of the band of Dwarves (along with all your other extra cards). Hmmm, do you really want to keep on drawing?

How do you score?

This is slightly, just slightly, trickier. You score
1 - For each band you played that age. The more cards in a band, the higher the score for that band.
2 - For each region in each age. There are variable points for each region and each era of the game. It's the usual majority/2nd place/3rd place sorta thing, with scores ramping up as the game goes on.
3 - Special scoring for certain special creatures. (I'll explain.)


Orc Bingo!!!




Special powers!

So far the game is fine but not that special, until you add the special creature (species?) powers. Each type of being (Elf, Dwarf, Giant) has their own special rule breaking ability. It's these rule breaking powers which give the game its charm. I'm not a gin rummy fan so set collection, even with a map element, wouldn't interest me much. It's the special powers that make this game more thinky and more fun.

There are 12 different species and you only play with 6 of them each game so there are a huge number of different game set-ups! This makes for some very different games. When I played with Skeletons and Halflings it was easy to make up huge bands to place markers on the regions you wanted. With Centaurs in the game, suddenly everyone wants to grab the horseys because they get to place one extra band (it's like moving twice!).

Some species, like the Orcs, have their own special scoring bonuses. Every color of Orc leader gets to place a marker on his own little Orc Bingo Board (OBB). (I don't know how it works thematically but I love the image of all those Orcs bent over their Bingo boards, fangs-a-drooling.) Giants get bonus scores for bigger bands, Dwarves get to up their band scoring size by one, and Merfolk have a special shared scoring board where players race against each other.

Other species, like Skeletons (Should Skeletons be a separate species? Aren't they just dead other people?) have special in-age powers. Skeletons act as band wildcards, allowing you to conquer bigger regions. Minotaur bands count as one stronger (bulging bull muscle). Other species have special card drawing abilities.

The end result is each game has six variable powers you have to consider when drawing for cards. You also have to keep in mind what other players are drawing. (Hmmm, Samantha drew a purple Wizard. Does she want Purple, or Wizards, or is she just blocking Seymour?)

Dragon say BOOM!

All good ages must come to an end and each age ends when the 3rd Dragon card gets drawn. This makes for a "press your luck" feature of the game. Once that 2nd Dragon is drawn, you will feel a lot of pressure to get those cards out of your hand to make some kind of a measly score before Dragon #3 shows up. Or do you try for just one more card...? Aiiii!!!! Smaug!!!!

The downside of bloody fantasy card warfare as designed by Cool MINI Or Not...


The ever-so-exciting player markers...


Seriously. That's your board? Those are your player markers? Blandly pastel tiddlywinks? Oh, my, the island folk be terrified of your roundness and obscure indentations. Bah. Couldn't CMON shelled out for some stackable mini castles or at least markers that look a little more fantastical? Sigh.

(The card art is fine, even if I think those Elves look super constipated.)

For those of you who don't care about the look of a game: You're dead to me. For the rest of you, yeah, it's kinda bland. Still, the game is so quick and easy and clever, I forgive it its dullness.

Conclusion

It's a quick fun game. It's not super deep but I'd put it easily a cut above Splendor. The species variety give this game more legs in terms of long-term playability. The 3 ways to score (band size, board presence, special powers) make for variable but equally viable paths towards victory.

I think it's both a solid gateway game and a solid gamer filler. It doesn't do anything super brilliant or new but it puts it all together in a clever (if blandly decorated) package.

Sauron seal of approval!!!
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