Cyclades: Get Your Greek On
Theme is an important aspect of board games. Of course some simply don’t have a theme, such as Backgammon, and others have tired themes which are vastly overused, like the annoying influx of dungeon crawl games out there. But when you see a game with a theme based on one of your other interests, it’s only natural to get excited. For me, that theme is Greek mythology.
Cyclades brings Ancient Greece to your table in a really neat way. It involves armies and ships, a pantheon of gods and goddesses, and classic mythological creatures such as Medusa, the Cyclops, harpies, and krakens. And there’s even a tiny element of civilization building, since the Greeks were all about building up civilization.
I love when games fit in with their theme, and especially if the theme is one I’m very interested in. Cyclades is one of these games. There are quite a few mechanics in play here, but they each make sense in the context of the god or monster you are dealing with. Let’s see how that works.
Cyclades brings quite a few different mechanics to the table in one big, Olympian mash-up. The center of the game, and perhaps the coolest aspect, is the bidding war for the gods. This is basically a role selection, a la Puerto Rico, except that you have to bid for the god or goddess you want, and you may be outbid my other players. Each god/goddess will let you do something different for that turn. Apollo will give you wealth, Athena philosophers, Ares armies, etc. And they make thematic sense according to the god’s power.
The goal is to end the game with two metropolises on the islands which you own. But the brilliance of this game is that there are a few ways to do that: build an island by building a set of four different buildings, develop one using philosophers, or conquer other people’s islands which already have one. This helps make each game a different gaming experience since there is actually a lot of variety in the dynamics that play out depending on everyone’s strategy.
But what about the creatures? Well, you can pay for their services as well, which can add chaos to the game. For example, if you are worried about being attacked, you can hire the minotaur to protect you, or hire Medusa to freeze the other player’s army on their island. There are a lot of different creatures with 3 available to use each turn. This can really mess with people’s plans and create even more variability in gameplay and they can influence your strategy in neat ways.
The Cyclades board is adjustable based on the number of players. The board consists of a series of differently shaped and sized islands. This forces players to think about their navy as well as their army, since they must transport their warriors from one island to the next. Each island has spots for buildings and metropolises and it all balances together very well while giving players the idea that their island is unique.
The artwork is excellent on both the god tiles and creature cards. But this comes from the same artist from Small World and 7 Wonders (Miguel Coimbria), so great artwork is to be expected, though I love how it’s still a distinctive style. The creature cards have quite a lot of emblemology which isn’t quite obvious to figure out, but there is a reference booklet as well.
Where the components really prosper however is in the figures. Each player has their own unique solider and boat figures. The red figures are different than the black, etc. There are also five creature figures which look amazing, especially the kraken! (I dare you not to cry out “Release the Kraken!” when you play it)They aren’t painted unfortunately, but the detail in these figurines are amazing. The Kraken for example ha a ship sailing into its mouth and the pillar-shaped player markers even have sword notches in them! It’s this kind of detail that shows that the game publishers care about the theme as much as I do.
Cyclades is really just one big mash-up of mechanics. There is the auction mechanic in bidding for the gods. There is the battle mechanic when armies invade other islands. There’s the civilization aspect where you are building buildings and investing in philosophers. And then there’s the creatures which throw a rapid beast into the whole works.
This mash-up can make the game a bit fiddly and perhaps not flow as smoothly as it could. However, it also creates a lot of variability in gameplay and strategy, and always keeps you on your toes. There are a lot of ways to screw over someone’s chances of winning and a lot of ways to take the underhandedly take the win without anyone noticing.
I love the idea of a Greek myth game, and Cyclades delivers on its thematic promise. It has the Spartan warfare, the Athenian culture development, the pantheon powers, and the wackiness of fabled beasts and beings. It’s a great package for classical myth fans like me.