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Subject: 4VP REVIEW - Cyclades rss

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Chris MacLennan
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I’ve had real trouble reviewing this game. Doing it any amount of its deserved justice is a challenge but I figure it’s about time I bit the bullet.

I bought Cyclades on a whim. I had no real idea what it was – It just looked pretty and my brain informed me that there were objects I definitely wanted in my house. I decided to listen to my brain.

So, let’s take a look.

In the box you’ll find a whole bunch of stuff. A large, modular board in three pieces, loads of building and money chips, some cardstock god tiles, three decks of cards – philosophers, priests and mythological creatures, five player armies, five play screens, some big, chunky, beautifully sculpted miniatures and some custom dice.

Now, at its heart Cyclades is a light wargame set in the South Aegean, hence the name. The aim is to be the first player to control two metropolises. These can be achieved in three ways – You can build four different buildings to make a metropolis, collect four philosophers or, of course, go to war and take somebody else’s city.

The twist with Cyclades, and the thing that really brings the game into a league of its own, is the bid system.

You see, unlike most wargames, players will not all have the same options each round. Instead, the type of turn a player will take is decided by bidding for favour with a certain god. Players have a choice of Ares, Poseidon, Athena, Apollo and, of course, Zeus, and winning the bid for each god will allow you to perform different actions, as well as build a unique building to make up a metropolis.

Ares, being the god of war, will allow you to get more troops, move your troops around and build fortresses. Without his favour, you won’t be going to war this turn.

Poseidon essentially plays the same as Ares but with boats rather than soldiers. Boats are pretty much the only way to get your soldiers from island to island. Without Poseidon, your soldiers are offensively useless.

Athena grants you access to philosophers, who are a great way of gaining a metropolis without going head to head with another player.

Zeus is all about the priests on your side. Priests lower the cost of bidding on the different gods and are an important advantage to gain once the bidding gets more intense in the later game.

No two players can win any one bid so, as a result, no two players will ever be taking the same type of action on their turn.

If you get outbid on your desired deity you must bid on a different track – Only if you are subsequently outbid on that track may you return to bidding on the first. This means that the system acts not only as a means of securing the abilities you want – It can also be used to force your opponents to waste there money.

Your final option is Apollo. Apollo is free to play but doesn’t offer you much to do on that turn. The first player of each round to opt for Apollo will, however, be able to increase to value of one of their islands which can be very useful in the long run.

You see, money is not just for bidding on the god tracks. You may pay to take extra actions from your chosen god to maximise the efficacy of your turn. It may be costly, but often speed is more valuable than coin. It can also be spent on creatures.

Ah, yes. Creatures.

Cyclades’ mythos sits in a somewhat anachronistic and culturally diverse vein when it comes to its selection of creatures. Seventeen unique creatures from various mythologies ranging from the Cyclops and Pegasus to the Kraaken will become available throughout the game for players to purchase. Each has a specific ability to give you an edge in combat, be it flying troops from one island to another or munching down an opponents navy. Some of these are instant effects while others are persistent and represented by some rather lovely miniatures.

Smart and timely use of these creatures must become integral to your plans if you are to emerge victorious.

Every aspect of Cyclades is simple. The wargame aspect is reduced to soldiers and ships and a handful of dice; the civilisation building is light – just four buildings to worry about; the integration of creatures is a simple, one time purchase of an effect and yet this works so solidly in the games favour because its meta-game ties it all together. The elements are all simple but the game is so much more than that.

It’s elegant. It’s clean. It’s a thing of beauty.

It all comes back to those bids on the gods. Earlier on, when you’re building an infrastructure, it is simply a matter of trying to get the actions you want for your turn but as the game progresses there’s so much more to consider.

You see, the god-track’s order is randomised every round, and your choice of god not only governs your turn but also the turn order. It’s no use getting the actions you want if another player is going to get a turn in before yours and wipe you out. It becomes as much about blocking off other players’ options as it is about securing your own. It’s often worth bidding on something that you know another player wants and can outbid you on just to do them out of some gold before taking the path you actually wanted. It’s really a highly nuanced system, and one that gets more and more fun the better you know (or think you know) you opponent.

While I think that it’s this bidding mechanic that makes Cyclades shine, there’s a lot to keep me coming back to this game. It sits at just the right point on a number of scales to make it pretty accessible to newer gamers while still appealing to the veterans of your group. It’s thematic enough to not be dry but not so involved as to be alienating. It’s simple enough to explain in a few minutes but nuanced enough to be endlessly replayable, rewarding a player for trying a new approach. It’s strategic enough to appeal to the more mathematical gamer while still having enough variables each turn to put a spanner in the works and force a more spur-of-the-moment, tactical way of thinking.

All of that… and it’s just damn pretty.

If you’re looking for a full on wargame, this isn’t it, but I really belief there’s something here for everybody. I can’t recommend it enough. A worthy addition to any collection.

Buy the crap out of it.

For more reviews as well as podcasts and the like, visit http://4vp.tumblr.com
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Ian Allen
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Very nice review. Agree 100%

There can be a bit of a bash-the-leader situation in this game when someone is trying to go for the win. However, since there are several
ways to win, I usually set up at least 2 paths to victory before I make a stab at winning. The other folks team up to stop me on, say the area control path, but then I sneak in and win with Zeus/Monster Cards or sneak in and win with a Metropolis built out of philosophers.

There is a lot of room for clever play here with lots of choices. One of my favorite games.

I haven't tried the expansion yet. Supposedly it makes physically attacking less of a 2 or 3 round project. We'll have to see.
 
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Travis Berry
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Well, you just cost me fifty bucks. Nice review, thank you.
 
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Chris MacLennan
United Kingdom
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YOU'RE WELCOME.
 
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Aaron Gelb
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Great review...

what is average play time for a 3/4 player game?

Also, how does it play with 2?

Replayability?
 
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Ian Allen
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Other people may have different opinions, but my answer is - a 5 player game is best, maybe not the best game for 2 players - much less interaction but the mechanics still work.

A 5 player game takes about 1.5 hours.

Replayability is high because of all the creature cards that can be used at different times in different ways on top of all the other interesting mechanics.
 
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Chris MacLennan
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I would agree. 4/5 players is Cyclades at its best. 3 players is fine I guess but I wouldn't play it if we were looking for something two player.
 
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