Cyclades (pronounced SICK-luh-deez) is a new boardgame for 2-5 players in which each player takes the role of an ancient Greek city-state (Argos, Athens, Corinth, Sparta or Thebes) and attempts to show the dominance of their home by being the first to have two metropolises in the eponymous Greek archipelago.
Cyclades is interesting in that at first it appears to be a distinctly Ameritrash game, with loads of detailed plastic miniatures and a hex-map (well, the spaces are actually circles, but same thing) to do your building and fighting. This initial impression isn’t unfounded, but Cyclades also incorporates some of the best ideas of Euro-style games.
The components in Cyclades are absolutely beautiful. Each player gets a screen to hide their money, and each screen has some unique artwork on it. Each player also gets 8 ships, 8 warriors, 2 offering tokens (broken columns), and three counters for showing islands they control. The interesting thing is that each color’s warriors and ships use different molds, and further which molds belong to which colors appears to vary from game to game; for example my female warriors are green, but I’ve seen pictures of them elsewhere where the female warriors were blue or yellow.
The game also comes with a large number of cardboard gold coins which are interesting in that they’re not perfectly circular, but rather have an aged, irregular look and cut which is a nice touch. You also get cornucopia tokens, metropolis and building tokens, and some monster tokens which aren’t actually used in the game (it seems likely the counter sheets were designed before the publisher settled on using miniatures for some of the monsters). There are two six-sided dice with sides labeled 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, and 3 which are used for combat, and three decks of cards.The cards in the priest deck are all identical front and back, and are only used to keep track of how many priests a player has. Ditto for the philospher deck. The mythological creatures, however, have very nice illustrations, but suffer in that each card is unique and has a unique power, but the power is explained in symbols rather than being printed on the card. Until you memorize the different monsters, an accompanying reference sheet must be used to figure out what each monster does.
Also worth noting is the back of the player screens. The publisher tried to make the backs of the screens into a reference, showing the steps of the game and all of the monsters. Unfortunately they used the same arcane symbology for everything, making it less of a handy reference than it is a massively intimidating wall of hieroglyphics seeming designed specifically to scare off new players. I encourage ignoring the backs of the screens.
The board is split up into three parts, and they’ve taken a page from Small World. The first two parts are double-sided, with one side a small semi-circle and one side a larger one. The number of players determines which sides of the boards to use, so that a 2-player board is smaller than a 3-player board, which is smaller than a 4-player board, which is smaller than a 5-player board. The last piece of the board is where the gods and creature cards reside, and where all the auctioning takes place.
Each round starts with players collect their income by counting prosperity icons (cornucopias) on all islands they control and in all sea spaces they control. Next up, players will bid for the favor of one of the five gods. The first four–Ares, Athena, Poseidon and Zeus–are given a randomized order each round, and if playing with fewer than five players some of them may not be available. The last god, Apollo, is available every round and is always last.
Each of the gods except Apollo has a track for bidding. On your turn, you place your offering marker on the god you’d like to gain favor with for the amount you’d like to bid. When you’re outbid, you immediately must place your offering marker elsewhere, and further may not bid on the same god you were just knocked off of. This adds an element of strategy in that, for example, if you really want Zeus, you should be careful bidding on him because if knocked off you must bid elsewhere and hope someone else outbids you again.
This continues until every player has placed their offering marker on either a bidding track in which they haven’t been outbid, or on Apollo. Then you resolve the gods in the order they appear, from the top to the bottom. Each of the first four gods allows a player to build a building and to perform certain actions. Apollo is essentially a “pass turn” god, and does nothing but give you a token amount of money and, for the first person to place their marker on him, a cornucopia (it should be noted I’ve never seen more than one person go to Apollo, but it’s possible for everyone to in theory).
- Athena does little, compared to other gods. Her building, the university, has no power and is notable only in that, like all other buildings, it is required to build a metropolis. The philosopher cards she gives you provide another route for building a metropolis; as soon as you get 4 of them, you immediately trade the cards in for a metropolis.
- Ares, as one might expect, is the god of war. Players use Ares to build forts, which defend an isle from land assaults; to recruit warriors; and to invade other islands.
- Poseidon, of course, gives the players ships, allows the building of ports which defend against naval attack, and allows for the movement of fleets.
- Zeus reduces costs for players farther on down the line, giving them priests which directly reduce how much you pay for your offerings during each auction phase and allowing the building of temples which reduce how much one pays to recruit mythological creatures. He also allows you to replace one of the creatures with a new one from the deck.
In addition to the other powers granted by your god, at the beginning of each turn there are three mythological creatures made available from a deck of about 20. Each of the creatures has a unique and potentially powerful effect, things like stealing money, destroying buildings, or even summoning the kraken to devastate an opponent’s fleet. Since the first player to go gets first crack at the creatures, this lends some additional importance to the gods which appear closer to the top. There are times in the game where you may want to bid on a god you don’t need just so you can ensure you get to exercise a creature’s power.
The game is over at the end of a round when someone controls 2 metropolises. The player with the most metropolises wins, and remaining money is used as a tiebreaker. It’s possible, but extremely rare, for a player to get more than two metrpolises, and it’s not mentioned in the rulebook but the designer has said on BoardGameGeek that a player with three metropolises should beat one with two metropolises but more money.
Metropolises are gained in one of three ways. If you control one of each building (Fort, Port, Temple and University), you must immediately sacrifice one of each and place a metropolis on any island you control. If you ever have 4 philosophers, you must immediately discard them and place a metropolis on any island you control. Finally, you can use military force to take over an island controlled by someone else with a metropolis on it.
I really enjoy Cyclades. I’ve played it with 2 players and with 5, and it played very well in both extremes. The mix of auction mechanics and economic development with a very light war game make for an exciting, tense, and unique experience. I’m also quite happy that there is so much direct confrontation in the game, not just in the battles but in the auctions as well where one can honestly be more bloodthirsty than any invasion force you might send out…