The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Cyclades initial thougts

I got a copy of Cyclades in the mail last weekend, and it hit the table Monday. Cyclades has two core concepts:

  1. You have an Evo/Amun-Re style auction for the Gods. You get outbid, you have to bid on another god or pass. (Technically you “Make an offering to Apollo”) This auction determines what actions you can take and in what order.
  2. The winner of each God (not Apollo) gets a turn to buy mythological creatures (if any are left), gets a free something (army, fleet, philosopher, or priest) can buy more stuff, build a building, and maybe move armies/fleets.

The play on the board matters, but it’s a minimalist design. Each player starts with 2 armies and 2 fleets, and you can win without gaining many more.  Armies move (if you won the bidding for Ares) by just hopping over a chain of fleets. Battles are a single roll of an (averaging) die plus number of troops (fleets) and loser removing one unit, then possible retreats.

You earn a metropolis by turning in 4 philosophers or a set of four buildings (one from each God). Or by capturing. Two metropolii win.

The mythological creatures are minor rule breakers … Cosmic Edicts, perhaps. Things like:

  • Convert an enemy fleet to your side
  • Destroy a soldier
  • Take an extra income phase
  • Fly some troops around the board
  • Convert a building to another type
  • Destroy a building (not metropolis)
  • Freeze some troops for a turn
  • Shove some fleets around
  • Steal a philosopher

There are 17 possible creatures, and 3 show up each turn. Given the minimal nature of most turns, creatures are powerful. The only way to move troops besides winning Ares is to buy Pegasus. A few creatures can move/affect ships, but otherwise you have to win Poseidon. If you want to re-arrange your fleets and armies, that’s two turns (one with each God) or buy a few creatures.

This means that (after the opening), when Ares is the first God, usually one (or more) player can win if they can get Ares cheaply — Attack a metropolis, and use a mythical creature to convert a building/steal a philosopher/prevent any potential retribution. In our game I used a mid-game early Ares to build troops, Pegasus to fly them over to a newly-built enemy metropolis, then Polyphemus to shove all enemy fleets away from the newly conquered Island (making it immune from counter-attack for 2+ turns). But that was only my first metropolis, and later on I got outbid when Ares showed up first. That player took one of my islands (not the metropolis), earned bonus income (a lot), and built troops. Next turn Ares was first again, I got outbid again, and this time Pegasus was available. Game over.

After mulling it over:

  • Cyclades builds up, maneuvering for income, building infrastructure,  a few fights, then a quick conclusion.  But it may all be opening and endgame, not enough midgame.
  • We played five player game, with fewer players you randomly skip one (or more) Gods each turn. I could easily see winning/losing a four player game because Ares doesn’t show up for several turns, so that someone can quietly build up their Philosophers and get a second metropolis.
  • One of the creatures (Chimera) lets you root through the discards to re-use a creature and reshuffle. When he shows up, if there are more than a handful of creatures discarded then he’s amazing. The winner used him (on the Penultimate turn) to play the “Gain income” creature twice.
  • The player lost a Metropolis to me wasn’t actually careless. I used Zeus’s special ability (pay to discard a creature and randomly redraw) saw me get the Chimera (ding ding ding!). Zeus’s special feels randoms, compared to the game it’s in.
  • The end game had 2-3 turns where it was “Stop X from getting Y or game over.” I’m not sure that’s a tension I like. As players get better and can see more ply into the future I suspect you’ll get more build-up, then more aggressive attacks (2:1, or using Zeus’s dig through the deck) to set up an early make or break shot, and hope for some luck on turn order (of the Gods, not players) and creature to let you win. If not, you’ve left a huge opening. In other words, I’m worried that as players get better and seeing threats, the game will turn into “Opening, take a shot, done.” or “Opening, shot, miss, rebound dunk, done.”
  • The owner of the set we played with had painted the 5 creatures that have pieces (Kraken, Chiron, Minotaur, Polyphemus, Medusa), which really improved the look.
  • There are some balancing mechanisms — a player with only one island is immune to attack unless the attacker would win the game, and gets a much better deal from Apollo — but given the game’s length (with aggressive play), I suspect you can’t really play Backgammon from a poor position, at least in a five player game.

So, short form —  Cyclades works as a game for groups that won’t play it too often. (A bold assessment after a single play, to be sure). Perhaps I’m wrong, but I want to see more middle-game. (As we were playing, someone else had brought Mare Nostrum, and while I jumped at the chance to play Cyclades, I secretly wondered if we wouldn’t all be better served by old Horse Nose. The extra hour is all mid-game.)

Also, I nominate “Make an offering to Apollo” as gamer lingo for “No thanks.” For example — “Would you like to try my sauerkraut brownies.” “I’m making an offering to Apollo.” I wouldn’t be surprised if that meaning lost out to a “I’m going to the restroom” joke.


Written by taogaming

July 21, 2010 at 9:33 am

Posted in Reviews

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10 Responses

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  1. I really like Cyclades so far (after 3 plays with 5 people in each), but I agree with most of your concerns.

    As the game moves on and incomes and (more importantly) the number of temples increase, mythical creatures just seem to start flying around everywhere. Compared to the methodical, plotting nature of the early game, the endgame seems to get more and more chaotic and random, which I’m not sure is a good thing.

    One of your points isn’t right, however, because in a game with fewer than five players, any gods not used in one round are automatically included in the next round, with the rest being filled in randomly. So Ares would only be missing for one turn in a row (which, I admit, could still cramp someone’s plans).

    And as far as the “Stop X from getting Y or game over” scenario goes, we actually had a pretty big discussion about the ethics of calling out somebody about to win a game over at my blog. I think it’s due to the game having such simple and obvious winning conditions, and I don’t know whether, in the long run, it will hurt the game’s replayability.


    July 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm

  2. I watched the last few turns of a game and got the same impression. Lots of endgame, resulting in too much trying to stop people from winning. It kind of reminded me of Tribune except that Tribune tends to actually end quickly because everyone makes so much progress every turn.

    Sean McCarthy

    July 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    • I was writing up my report for this week’s game night and was thinking of exactly the same comparison!


      July 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm

  3. It reminded me of Illuminati. Build resources, wait, wait, wait, and try for an unstoppable, hopefully unexpected major one-turn attack for the win when your target is weakened.

    The creatures are flat-out overpowered. You can easily win the game by having a hoard of $$ and getting a lucky first god + creature assortment. Going first with a bunch of money and a temple or two is ridiculously powerful. I guess that can be adjusted for through bidding by experienced players, but if some people undervalue going first then the people who don’t have a huge edge.

    You could also just remove Pegasus.

    Fred Bush

    July 21, 2010 at 6:12 pm

  4. I thought Pegasus was potentially problematic, the rest of the creatures (well, by extension Chimera is crazy too) seemed fine.

    As a clarification, with <5 players the god that's left out is not entirely random. If playing with 4 players for example, a god left out 1 round is automatically in the next round, in fact they are FIRST next round. I liked that dynamic in the 4p game I played.

    Seth Jaffee

    July 21, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    • In that case, the 4 player game actually gives you a bit more information to plan with. I must have missed that rule.


      July 22, 2010 at 8:19 pm

  5. “Would you like to try my sauerkraut brownies?”

    Hmm. I like sauerkraut and I LOVE brownies. I see no reason to invoke the Sun God in this instance. (Which makes me wonder why ol’ Apollo got the short end of the offering stick in this game?)

    I haven’t played Cyclades (I was playing something else the one time it got played in my group), but I did get to try out Ad Astra last week. Too little control with 5 players, but I wouldn’t mind trying it again with 3.

    Larry Levy

    July 22, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    • My one game of Ad Astra (with 3) seemed way too fast, but it may have just been us.


      July 22, 2010 at 8:19 pm

  6. How do you feel it would play 2-player?

    Anthony Rubbo

    July 26, 2010 at 4:42 am

    • I don’t know. There are special rules for two players which I honestly haven’t looked at.


      July 26, 2010 at 11:44 pm

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