Elysium review by Luke Rathburn, Guest Blogger

The up-and-coming French board game publisher Space Cowboys—the people behind Splendor—have brought us yet another game that has nothing to do with either space or cowboys. Elysium is a game of literally mythic proportions that takes you back to the glory days of Greek mythology. The purpose of the game is to gather heroes, resources, and even the gods themselves from the center of the board in order to “write” legends. There are two kinds of legends you can write: family legends, where you combine three differently numbered cards from the same Greek god’s family; and number legends, where you combine up to five different family cards with matching numbers.

It should be noted that while the game claims you are “writing” these legends, there is no actual storytelling involved. This game is about pure strategy, and using the resources that are available to your advantage. At the start of each epoch (the five rounds that make up the game) a number of domain cards—which varies based on the number of players—are laid out in the middle and over the course of four turns each player must choose three of these cards and one of the quests. The cards and quests chosen can grant you bonuses at the end of the epoch, by giving you extra gold or victory points, or by allowing you to transfer another card into the Elysium to write your legend. The cards can also give you special abilities that either give you an extra boon, or force your opponents to lose resources of their own. Each god’s family had a specific theme to their cards’ abilities: for example, Hephaestus’ cards revolved around giving you more gold, and Poseidon’s cards always hurt your opponents in some way.

As somebody who has drafted cards in Magic: the Gathering, the feeling of picking domain cards was all too familiar for me. Not only did I have to think about which cards might benefit me the most—whether they help finish one of my legends or give me some other resources—I had to think about which cards would hurt me or help my opponents as well. Many times I found myself taking a card that did not help me at all, only so that it could not be used against me.

At the end of the game, whoever has the most VPs (victory points) is the winner. You earn these VPs throughout the game, either through your quest or your domain cards, but the end of the game is where you start raking in the big bucks. You earn so many VPs for having complete, or almost complete, legends, and specific cards you have in your Elysium can grant you even more points if certain conditions are met. And gold is not worth a thing at the end of the game, so don’t be afraid to spend it all!

Space Cowboys might be new, but their future projects are definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Five Tribes Review by Luke Rathburn, guest blogger

As the creators of Smallworld and Ticket to Ride, the people behind board game publisher Days of Wonder are no strangers to publishing big games with a lot of staying power. Five Tribes continues their trend of putting out complex, strategy-heavy games that experienced gamers and newbies alike will love.

At first glance, the rules of the game sound deceptively difficult. As I first read them aloud to my friends there was a fair amount of head scratching and asking me to repeat myself two or three times, and we worried for the game’s enjoyability as we set it up. But once the pieces were all laid out in front of us, it was so obvious that we wondered why we ever worried. In a nutshell, the object of the game is to displace the five tribes of wooden meeples by moving them across the randomly placed game tiles, and claim any tiles you completely empty of meeples in order to hoard points for the end.

Depending on the color of the meeples you claim at the end of your movement, you perform one of five different actions, such as gathering coins with the blue merchants, or killing another meeple with the red assassins. The tile you end your move on also has an action for you to perform, such as placing a palace or palm tree on it to make it worth more points, or allowing you to trade some of the meeples you’ve collected for Djinn, which have special abilities that can either help you, or hurt your opponents. When you take the last meeple off of a tile, you place a camel on it to claim it as your own, and you gain points for it at the end of the game.

The game also features a unique turn order system; players bid coins at the beginning of the round to determine who goes first, and then turns progress in order from most coins bid to least. This forces the players to read their opponents, making you think “If I let him go before me, what move would he make and how could I benefit from it?” Or, as I was wont to do in the games I played, “If I go first, how badly can I affect everyone else’s turns for this round?”

Perhaps the best thing about this game is that there are so many ways to win. You get points at the end of the game based on how much stuff you have amassed, including game tiles, yellow and white meeples, coins, and Djinns. While it all comes down to the number of points in the end, there are so many ways to earn those points that ever game is different. One game you could hoard all of your gold while scoring coins off of the blue meeples, and in the next you could collect all of the viziers. Claiming tiles might seem like the object of the game to start, but in all honesty you could probably win the game without placing a single camel.

In short, Five Tribes is a game for people who love to strategize, and it has a lot of replayability. I personally cannot wait to test out the new expansion, The Artisans of Naqala.