Analog Gaming: Why You’re Not Reading a Review of Cyclades

I have two regular boardgame groups, one that meets on Sundays and one that meets on Tuesdays. This past Tuesday Mike, Jim, Kyle, Chris, and I met and played Jim’s new acquisition, Cyclades. This was good because I figured hey, I can review it for Analog Gaming!


Cyclades is by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, who’ve done a number of games together, including the delightful Dice Town, which I love. Cyclades is set in the ancient Greek isles, and the goal is to establish two metropolises (metropoles?) in the isles. To do this you need to win the favor of the gods, hire mythological creatures, and spill the blood of your opponents (or at least sufficiently screw up their plans.)

Briefly, the game works like this. Some islands and some ocean spaces generate income. First you get your income, and then people try and win the favor of one of five Gods. Each God grants a special ability: Ares provides warriors and lets you move them, Poseidon provides fleets and lets you move them, Zeus gives you priests (which make offerings to the gods cheaper) and Athena gives you Philosophers, which can be collected to build metropoli. These four gods also have an associated building that gives some kind of ability, and if you get all four buildings, you can swap them for a metropolis. There’s also Apollo, the slut of the Gods, who is always available to anyone and gives cash. You win favor by, of course, an auction. If you get outbid on a God, you have to immediately move your bid to a different one. Once everyone has their own God, you do the actions in God order (which has been randomized). You can also buy one of the available mythological creatures, which provides some kind of temporary special ability.

Fights are pretty straightforward and are based partly on die rolls. (Pauses to take a sip of water while the luck-averse Eurogamers in the audience clutch their pearls and fan themselves.) You add the number of troops on each side to a die roll, and the loser discards one guy. If anyone’s left, both sides have a chance to retreat, and if anyone’s left after that, you fight again until only one side has troops remaining.

As I said, first player to have two metropolese at the end of the round wins. So there’s nothing overly complicated going on here. We set it up, picked our colors, did a rules read (which got one rule wrong, but that’s okay), and got started.

By round two I realized I hated this game.

Okay, that’s a strong word. I didn’t hate it. I’ve hated games before while playing them, such as Don Quixote. But I realized that I really didn’t care about anything that was happening on the board. None of this was grabbing me, and not only did I not see much of a way to achieve my goal in the game, I wasn’t overly interested in finding one.

Now, I could have offered up The Stick. See, in this Tuesday group, we have a tradition involving The Stick, pictured here:

The Stick

As you can see, the stick is actually a plastic bone. A few years ago Mike, Dan, TJ, and I were playing a game called Alexandros. None of use were enjoying this completely abstract snooze-a-thon, so Mike made a proposition. He reached onto a shelf and found this plastic bone and declared that if anyone wants to stop playing he can “shake the stick” (the bone) and if someone else agrees, we quit. A turn or two later, TJ was pondering his move and Dan said, “I don’t know what the hell you’re thinking hard about over there because I’m shaking that fucking stick as soon as it’s my turn.” If you’re not enjoying the game being played, you can offer the stick and — and this is important — we’ll stop playing if someone else also agrees. You can’t just shake your way out of losing a game.

I wasn’t liking Cyclades, but it didn’t seem like a stick-shaker. It was just not my thing. Everyone else seemed to be into it, so I just decided I would keep my mouth shut, go with a low-key strategy, and keep on. I’m not a big fan of moaning about a game out loud, and I didn’t want to wreck anyone else’s fun.

Eventually Chris won the game, and we all congratulated him. This is about the time, in the case of a new game, when we all give our impressions of it, and I led off saying, “Man, I really didn’t care for that one.” It turned out that neither did Mike. Or Chris. Kyle wasn’t crazy about it. Jim probably liked it the best, but I don’t think he was going to put it on any “Best of 2010″ lists.

In retrospect, it should have been pretty easy to figure out that none of us were really getting into it. The biggest indicator should have been the fact that, for an interaction-intense, combat-heavy game, nobody was fighting. There was one battle the entire game, and it was what ended the game. We did bump people around in the auction, but even that wasn’t terribly confrontational; most people just accepted their fate. Hell, at one point I got to bid on Ares for practically free (plus the start player position, because of the rule we got wrong) because nobody had grabbed him yet — and I was rebidding after being bumped.

Now, I don’t know why Cyclades didn’t click with the others. I don’t know why it didn’t click with me. I certainly like other games it’s similar to, and there’s nothing about it I could see that doesn’t work. Maybe I was just not in the right mood. Maybe my shoes were too tight. Maybe my heart was two sizes too small.

Cyclades has a good reputation. It pleased both Tom Vasel and Michael Barnes, two very different types of gamers and reviewers. Bruno Faidutti, a game designer whose work I really like, nominated it for his Game of the Year. It’s got a fairly high rating on BGG (but then again, it’s a game that came out within the past six months, which gives it like 25 extra Sexy Points there.) My pal Matt, from the Sunday group, likes it well enough (he wasn’t as enthused as those other reviewers, but he still enjoyed it.) Why did I just give up on it almost right out of the gate? I really don’t know.

I feel like I should play it again, give it another chance. Obviously with more conflict and trash talking and beer and some interested players it would be a different creature. But I don’t know. If it were brought to the table, I’d happily join in, but I don’t feel the need to give it a fair shake. Thinking about it now, while I can see it impartially as a game and understand why those people are excited about it, it still doesn’t do anything for me.

Hence, no review of Cyclades from me. I didn’t like it, but I can’t give it a negative review, since there’s nothing I can point to and say, “this bit bugged me.” Everything in it is fine. The rules were fine, the artwork is fine, the little stupid symbols they use for things instead of actual words are ignorable enough, there’s gobs of plastic if that’s your thing (it’s not mine, but that’s not a dealbreaker unless it interferes with gameplay), it’s a well-done game.

That I just don’t care about at all.

Bookmark and Share

2 thoughts on “Analog Gaming: Why You’re Not Reading a Review of Cyclades”

  1. Any game where you need to get two of something to win is suspect as “flawed” from the start. In this vat of wet cement, everyone can easily build one metropolis. So getting Number Two by conquest or 4 philosophers is just not fun. I did think the bumping bidding system had potential.

  2. I, too, hated Alexandros from the moment it hit the table. “See, the man here poops out these roads, and you want to make him poop the right way,” someone else explained.

    Other games that are in high esteem but left me cold: Age of Renaissance, Civilization, Amun-Re, Taj Mahal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>