Game Length: 90 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 4 or 5 players wanting a beautiful hybrid game
Cyclades is a game that defies easy categorisation. It contains an unusual hybrid of game mechanics – it’s a war game, a set collection game, an auction game, a route building game and an area control game, all in one. The mechanic that ties the game together, however, is the auction mechanic. Each turn, players will be bidding for the favour of one of the four main gods – Zeus, Athena, Ares and Poseidon. Each god has a different building, unit and action associated with them, and it’s by making best use of the gods (and denying them your opponents at a critical time) that you will win the game.
Physically, the game is stunning – the board is lovingly rendered with inviting ocean and verdant islands. The card art is dynamic and beautifully drawn, the tokens are satisfyingly thick, the miniatures are highly detailed and the colour palette is broad without clashing. Even the boat and army miniatures for each different player are subtly different, a touch that just goes to show how much love has been put into this game.
Players win the game by controlling two Metropolises at the end of a game round. They can build these by either building one of each type of the four buildings, getting four Philosophers (Athena’s unique unit) or conquering another player’s metropolis. However, conquering is not straightforward – you will need to build a line of boats between your island and your opponent’s island (which requires Poseidon), then you will need to move armies onto their island (which requires Ares). As your moves require a lot of telegraphing in this way, your opponents will be able to see your attacks coming and are able to stifle your plans by denying you the opportunity to gain control of the god you need, or just by building up extra defenses of their own.
As players start to build the Metropolises the game will come to a speedy conclusion – they cannot be destroyed, so the more there are on the map the more options a player has to own two of them. Furthermore, players cannot be eliminated from the game – their last island is immune to invasion unless it contains a metropolis that would allow the invader to win the game, and they gain extra income when passing if down to a single island, helping them to catch up. As the threshold for victory is so low, you never feel like you are truly out of the game, and can always make a power play to win the game at the right moment.
One criticism of the game is that some of the mythological creatures (which can be hired with Zeus) can be very powerful – one in particular, the Pegasus, allows a player to invade an island directly without having to build a chain of boats. This does break with the flow of the game somewhat, as it negates the careful maneuvering of the rest of the game and adds a dose of luck into an otherwise very tactical game.
Cyclades is a unique and compelling game that deserves a play, and not only because of the beautiful artwork – the meshing of gameplay elements provides a blend of tactics and strategy not seen in other games.