D Conklin
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North Carolina
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INTRO

I'm not going to spend much time in this review on the theme, art/graphic design, components, miniatures, or KS fulfillment for Mythic Battles: Pantheon... needless to say the theme, art, graphic design, and especially miniatures are what drew me to this game and are all top notch. Likewise components, cards, and books are clean, well designed, and good quality if not perfectly operational as advertised(Clips issue).

As far as KS fulfillment and shipping woes go, I was one of the lucky ones who had all of my stuff delivered with barely any issue by end of December.


OVERVIEW

Instead I will focus on mechanics and game play, primarily from the skirmish mode perspective.

As a "dudes on a map" junkie I will review the game in light of my experience with other miniatures skirmish games I've played and enjoyed and try to point out what I think this game has done well by comparison.


UNIT TYPES

A core concept of the game is different unit types: divinities (gods & titans), monsters, heroes, and troops. This is a thematic and logical distinction which is also important in drafting and gameplay. Many other games do this, but having 4/5 different tiers seems on the upper end of what I've seen elsewhere. I love that there are multiple tiers and different purposes for different units, yet not so much difference that they can't interact...you can attack a god with a troop and maybe even do some damage if you really want to.

To my mind, this roughly translates into sort of a chess analogy: Gods hold a position somewhere between queens & kings (queen-like power, but the fragile importance of the king)... monsters are rooks, doing the heavy hitting or strategic blocking...heroes as bishops/knights are more subtle in their uses to gain ground, cancel their opposing counterpart, or pressure the divinity....while troops are fodder like pawns, but debatably more useful since they can keep coming back and can synergize with heroes.


DRAFTING

Instead of players bringing pre-built armies, skirmish requires players to draft their forces from a common pool using a points limit per number of players. Additionally the draft pool can optionally be limited to certain units. I love that there is a "meta" to this, with strategic choices that are driven by what earlier players have drafted. The draft order balancing mechanism of having the player who picks the last divinity be the first to draft the first non-divinity enforces fairness but also adds tension, and dare I say a bit of bluffing (I don't really want "un-killes" any way, you can have him...).

In addition to the pure strength of units, players must consider special powers, the number of Art of War cards they will bring to their hand, and intangibles like how they will fare for the terrain & conditions on the map. There's a bit of theory-crafty and anecdotal experience that plays into this and with so many units in the game there's always the lure of being the first to try an un-tested unit. This may disarm some players who are used to tuning their forces prior to coming to the table, but I find this "pre-game game" just as engaging as the actual game itself.


VICTORY CONDITIONS

The theme and feel of MBP makes it tempting to just want to run out and bash the other player's units as quickly as possible but the game quickly shows it is more layered and nuanced than that. The dual victory conditions of defeating the opponents' divinity OR gathering omphalos keeps you flexible and the games interesting. I find it refreshing to have a dudes on a map game that is not just another "kill 'em all" fest.

Unlike some other skirmish games where aggressiveness is encouraged and rewarded, MBP seems to reward a slower more thoughtful start...but without the usual downside of bogging the game down. Drafting and playing the early game in such a way that you leave your options open to execute on either goal later seems to be the best strategy, especially as the number of players increases.


CARDS

Cards are at the heart of the action economy in the game and here folks unfamiliar with CCG-style hand/deck management (like me) might struggle at first. On one level activation cards simply introduce a fog of war element like some other skirmish games do (as inherited from their big brother wargames), but on another level they add a new strategic layer. MBP introduces ways to speed up or slow down your card usage and even manipulate both your deck and your opponents deck without going so far as to make it feel like a card game with a theme pasted on.

Deck exhaustion adds a natural "game timer" that kicks the action up a notch right about the time it could start to fall into a stalemate. Art of War cards act as the wildcard action enabler and they do it well... not only letting the active player do more with their turn but also giving the inactive player options and something to do. The "combos" are not the cards themselves, but the string of actions the cards allow you to do. I love that the cards compliment the core miniatures game in this way without stealing the show.

DICE

The dice mechanic in the game is a gem. Not only does the game (thankfully) not resort to the normal buckets-of-dice "attack minus defense" or (even worse) the Risk-inspired dice compare gimmick (put dice in order, compare one by one, blah, blah), but the game manages to introduce a truly unique little dice mechanic that is both thematic and fun. Only the attacker throws dice, which is unusual but not unheard of in skirmish games, but the whole 1st/2nd assault "set aside"/exploding dice system is truly different, engaging, and surprisingly satisfying. It takes a couple throws to get the hang of it, but after that it flows naturally and never seems cumbersome or pointless.

There is just the right amount of push-your-luck, such that it is not always a no-brainer to push your luck and decisions seem meaningful even though you really don't have as much choice as you might think you do (it is usually pretty clear what you should do). Limiting rolls to max 10 dice is great. Allowing dice to "bump" other dice is great. One-explosion exploding dice are great. Overall this makes dice rolling fresh and fun!


ACTIVATION

The rounds & turn structure in MBP has the typical IGoUgo baseline, but the robust Turn Sequence keeps this game from being run of the mill. There is more complexity here than some games, with several different "paths" a player can take through their turn (Turn and attack sequences in flowchart form). This happily results in some real choices. A pass in this game is not just a last "I don't know what else to do" resort but a legitimate move. Choosing to activate only one of your units or spend the precious Art of War card to activate another unit has real implications to your overall strategy.

The timing of taking complex actions (and the implications thereof) matter and players have the opportunity to pull off some interesting combos if they are patient and can wait it out. Turns are snappy with little down time. While it seems like you would get analysis paralysis, you hardly ever do because there is always some game situation driving your next tactical move or a clear next activation for your overall strategy. Defenders might not get to roll dice, but they better not tune out...watching the active player's turn for chances to evade or retaliate (elegant reaction mechanisms) keep other players engaged.

BOARDS/MAPS

The boards/maps may seem a little tight at first (especially with big models in play) but I find they are big enough to allow a little bit of strategic draw up, but tight enough you can't turtle, run, or hide for too long. The irregular areas that make up the map is a concept I find I enjoy way more than either the too fiddly tape measuring or the too restraining hex/square grid of other games. It does come with a few unexpected implications that can lead to "gamesmanship", but it ultimately speeds up moving dudes across the map while adding an almost organic feel.

The corresponding adjacency/los rules are fine although LOS is always something that skirmish games struggle with. Because most ranges are short and the number of obstacles is minimal (relative to some other games), point to point line drawing works fine and is easy enough to explain and remember. Terrain types and corresponding game impacts are meaningful but not overdone. 3D terrain objects add visual punch but are also tightly integrated into the rules making them fun additions so much so that a "bare" map seems to lack something.

COMBAT

Besides the direct impact of the already mentioned card, dice, & board mechanics, the combat system as a whole has a few other shiny bits that make it one of the best designed and most thematic combat systems in a skirmish game that I've played. The basic steps of resolving an attack are clean and easy but this ease doesn't come at the expense of abstracting it too much. The conflicts are less about the mechanical act of exchanging blows and more about bolstering the overall epic cinematic mood. Modifiers have impact but aren't over emphasized. Multiple attacks, area attacks, flying units, etc all fit nicely in with the core rules. Ultimately, combat is the meat & potatoes of this type of game and MBP combat is a tasty morsel.

The results of combat --taking wounds and losing vitality-- are straightforward and make sense. The game is not as "brutal" as some skirmish games can get, but jumping into an exchange of blows should be carefully considered. With many Talents and Powers (see below) directly impacting combat strength, cohesiveness in your forces and careful consideration will help your units last longer. The "heroclix"-ish mechanic of losing stats and powers with loss of vitality is done much better than I've seen elsewhere with units staying relevant longer than you would expect. Troop recalls are a nice little touch that keep these units in the game.

TALENTS

I'm a big fan of variable player powers and using multiple ways of implementing them. Talents & Special Powers are the way they're done in MBP and they are done well with talents as meaningful "rule benders". Since all units have one or more Talents they are fundamental game concepts and an important way units can synergize, although the use of synergies is not as emphasized as much as I've seen in some other skirmish games...which I'm ok with.

The Mighty Throw Talent in particular is a huge part of the game allowing a tactical advantage that breaks up toe-to-toe slug matches seamlessly. Guard, Leader, Bolster, and Phalanx give troops a meaningful way to contribute to the game flow. Other Talents add other cool chrome to units and give them specific ways to do jobs which help achieve the victory conditions other than just marching forward and attacking.

POWERS

Powers are the icing on the cake with some really cool, thematic, and powerful game impacts that let you add "cinematic moments" on top of the solid core rules. Like most games of this type, the wording on the powers could have been more consistent and clearly written, but the intention and timing is usually plain enough. Having four different types of powers with different conditions that govern them makes sense and weighs into strategy.

AoW costs for some powers and not others seems to correlate nicely with recruitment costs, but it is not an exact science. I think the fact that no unit has been declared "over powered" by the masses yet (although some have come close) is an indicator that powers are for the most part balanced. One of the best things about this game is that the powers seem very thematic. There aren't any "factions" per se so it never feels like they were looking for a unit to fit a power profile the game needed. Some powers are even detrimental to their units, something rarely ventured in "dudes" games. Powers just make sense for their units. By the way, one of the first pages of the rulebook gives a clear hierarchy of rules (power beats talent beats core, etc) and a catch all rule to handle effect & timing disputes...something more miniatures skirmish games could use.

CONCLUSION

Overall, I have to say that MBP far exceeded my expectations on game play & mechanics. We all knew we were getting awesome miniatures, but I don't think I was convinced the game itself would prove to be this solid and so much fun. There are quite a few "edge cases" in the rules needing clarification (Topics for FAQ) but I've never played one of these games that didn't have that to some degree.

This is an awesome "dudes on a map" miniatures skirmish game and I look forward to many more plays in the near future.
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