Not a game that I’ve made this time, but one I bought some time ago: when I found out there was a board game called ‘Cyclades‘ about a bunch of Greek cities fighting for control of the Cycladic islands with the help of various gods and mythical creatures, I pretty much had to get a copy and give it a go. I finally just got around to trying it out with my usual crew of fellow-Classicist-board-game-fans and can report it was a great success (and not just because I won. OK, a little bit because I won.)
Each player represents a different city trying to get control over as much as the Cyclades as possible, each with their own armies and fleets. The cities are supposedly Athens, Thebes, Sparta, Corinth, and Argos, though it was pretty hard to tell which was which – the classicist in me would have liked actual depictions of each city, and for that matter an actual map of the Cyclades rather than some generic islands, but you can’t have everything, and it was nice that each city’s soldiers had different armour and weapons as well as being different colours. You win by getting two ‘metropoleis’ – cities – on islands you control, which you can do by building different types of buildings (ports, harbours, temples, universities); by collecting philosophers (why four philosophers equals a metropolis isn’t really explained, but perhaps you have to have a whole city at that point to stop them all sitting around together arguing); or by invading someone else’s island and kicking them out (obviously the most satisfying way).
Cyclades in progress
Game play basically consists of everyone receiving revenue (in the form of gold coins) from the islands they control, and then spending that revenue to try to gain the favour of various gods, who will let the player take different actions during their turn – e.g. Poseidon lets you acquire more ships, move ships around, and/or build ports, while Athena lets you acquire philosophers and build universities. The twist is that you have to bid for each god’s favour – if I offer Athena four gold coins, but another player offers five, then their offering gets accepted and I have to offer for a different god instead – so you have to try and get the god who will let you take the actions you want while paying as little as possible and also stopping other people from getting the gods they want…and then, once you’ve each made your offerings, you get to pay more money to construct buildings and add or move troops and ships (these are quite authentically mercenary Greek gods: making an offering means they’ll listen, but you still have to give them more stuff to get them to *do* anything for you…). Of course, if by moving you end up on the same island as someone else, you then have a fight to determine who gets to control that island (determined by roll of the dice – the person with the lower score loses one soldier/ship, and it goes on until one party retreats or has lost all their troops). But while you’re busy fighting to take over more islands, you’ve got to watch out for the other people sneakily collecting philosophers who might suddenly produce a metropolis on the other side of the board…and then there are the various monsters that can be brought into play (by paying more money, of course): the Harpies, who can snatch soldiers off islands, proved quite useful in my eventual invasion and capture of another player’s metropolis, and in the photo above, Polyphemus is protecting one of my islands by threatening to throw rocks and sink any ships that come too near.
I have to admit to panicking a bit when I opened the Cyclades box and saw how many different pieces and apparently complicated rules there were, but actually the basic game-play is pretty easy to master – we picked most of it up within a couple of turns – and a lot of the more complicated stuff you just look up when necessary (like what specific monsters do). There’s quite a satisfying balance between luck (the order of play is partly random, changes every time, and can be pretty important towards the end of the game in particular), short-term strategy (trying to bid on the god you want, working out what actions to take) and long-term (are you going to ruthlessly attack anybody in your vicinity, or quietly sit in a corner building universities? Should you spend all your money to do as much as you can every term, or save it up to suddenly produce a huge army of soldiers out of nowhere?). I can report that my particular strategy – of grabbing a lot of revenue-producing islands early on, then essentially outspending everybody while attacking people whenever I could just for fun – proved quite successful, but next time things might be quite different…So to sum up, Cyclades might not be the most historically/geographically accurate board game (though mythologically it’s pretty good), but it’s a lot of fun – highly recommended!
PS: For any new readers who are board game fans, there’s lots more on various ancient-world-themed games elsewhere on the blog.