Cyclades: A masterpiece of ancient Greek conquest and mythical meddling


Cyclades - NATE WARREN
  • Nate Warren
  • Cyclades
I wish more board games delivered as much engaging game with as slight a rulebook as Cyclades does. It’s an unqualified masterpiece — superbly crafted, easy for new players to grasp, and engaging enough to be challenging without an ounce of fat on it.

In Cyclades, you control one of five warring Greek city-states in the titular archipelago. You’re trying to be the first to attain two metropolises and win the game. There are three ways to do this: Build each of the metropolises’ four component buildings, acquire four philosopher cards, or the old-fashioned method: Kick your neighbor’s ass and take one of his.

When you first see the game’s superb miniatures — triremes, troops and monsters spread out over the game’s scalable board — you might be tempted to think you’re looking at a fantasy war game. You’re not. As mentioned above, there are several ways to advance and win, and throwing your armies about is just one of them. This is, all in one, a war game, an economic game and a bidding game in a tight little package.

Here’s the kicker that makes it all go: The deities of the ancient Greek pantheon are forces in the game, as are mythical beasts like krakens and medusas. To claim a certain set of actions for your turn, you must bid for the favor of one of four gods (Zeus, Athena, Ares and Poseidon). First of all, you’ve got to have the money to do it, which requires you to constantly seek ways to increase your city-state’s income while keeping your opponents off your back. Second of all, you’d better hope somebody else at the table doesn’t need that god’s favor more than you, because you’ll be outbid and forced to pick an alternate god. In turn, you might bump somebody else’s bid. The bidding game at the end can get very heated as players try to execute their closing move or prevent somebody else from making theirs.

To make this even more of a pickle, the gods appear in a different order each turn. You might really need Ares this turn, but this time the player who wins his favor is going to go third — and that means the first and second players might snatch a prize from under your nose or sic one of the mythical creatures on you. The creatures add a lot of electricity: For money, you can summon one of three available creatures to pick off enemy troops, attack where nobody thought you could, steal valuable cards and money, and do a host of other sneaky things.

This is the kind of game that can be taught to almost anybody in 15 minutes and usually wraps up in about an hour and a half. It’s engineered to bring on quick conflict for space and resources. You’ll have a turn or two of maneuvering before the game feels like a knife fight in a phone booth. Most players are usually within striking distance of a win when the victory is secured, which keeps it interesting for everybody at the table.

This is not an accident.

This is superb game design.

This. is. Cyclades! *Kicks rest of game collection into a well.*

Nate Warren is a Colorado Springs-based copywriter who offers both the veteran gamer and the uninitiated a local window into the burgeoning and wildly creative world of hobby and designer board games enjoyed by fanatics and connoisseurs — around the corner and and across the globe.

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