Today we're reviewing the latest game from Space Cowboys: Elysium. You're a demigod, trying to earn your way to Mount Olympus by acquiring cards and using their powers, before writing them into your Elysium where they'll become the stuff of legends. Let's take a look!
- 1 Temple in 2 pieces (the double-sided Pediment and the Steps)
- 1 Oracle board
- 16 Columns--4 each of 4 colors
- 6 Quest tiles
- 4 Order of Play discs
- 1 Epoch marker
- 12 Trigger rings
- 4 player boards
- 4 Player Aid cards
- 10 Bonus tiles
- 40 Gold tokens
- 25 Prestige Point tokens
- 45 VP tokens
- 8 Families--each consisting of 21 cards
It's worth noting that this is one of the best inserts I've ever seen.
Randomly choose a side of the Pediment to use, and place the four Quests below the Pediment (two Quests in the 2-player game). Then place the Steps below the Quests and put the Epoch marker on the first space of the Epoch track.
Each player takes a player board, four Gold, one of each of the four colored columns, and a random Player Order disc. Each player take the starts with the same number of VPs as the number on his starting Player Order disc.
Choose five of the eight available starting Families and shuffle them together. There's a suggested "first game" set of five, but if you're a gamer, you could play with any of them out of the gate.
Deal out cards equal to three x the number of players, plus one more card. The cards are a mix of iconography and explanatory sentences, so for your first few games you'll probably want to go over each card in each round. The rest of the cards go in a facedown pile.
(If you're playing with the Apollo Family, you'll set out the Oracle board above the temple, and deal out four faceup cards and place them under the Oracle board.)
Set out the three Level Bonus tiles, along with the 10 Family Bonus tiles matching the five Families you're using in your game.
Game Terms and Details
Each player has two play areas: The space above his player board is called his Domain, and the space under his board is called his Elysium.
Let me explain the cards, because there's a LOT of info on those tiny pieces of crushed trees.
- Each card has a 1,2, or 3 in the upper lefthand corner. This is the card's Level. Below that number is a symbol of the Family the card belongs to.
- In the upper righthand corner there are one or two colored circles that show the Columns required to take that card (yellow, red, blue, green--and black, which is wild).
- There's the card's name and a nice, big image on the top 2/3 of the card. Missed Rule Alert: You can never have more than one card in your Domain with the exact same image. There are some cards with the same name across Families, but with different images, and it's fine to have more than one of those.
- There's a special power on the bottom 1/3 of each card. Between the image and the special power is an icon that shows the circumstances under which that power can be used. For example, some can be used once per turn. Some are a one-time use. Some can only be used if you have to cards with that same icon. Others trigger as an end-game special power when scoring.
Finally we have Quest cards. These have a 1,2,3, or 4 on them, along with varying amounts of Gold, VPs, and Transfers.
There are five Epochs in the game.
The player with the 1 Player Order disc goes first, and chooses a card or a Quest and places it in front of himself.
During each of the Epochs, each player will take exactly three cards and one Quest card. It's completely up to the players as to which they take first. If a player really needs to be able to Transfer three cards to her Elysium, then she may opt to take her Quest card first to make sure she gets that one. Similarly, if she really needs a certain card to complete an end-game scoring condition, she may grab that first. It's very tactical.
Above each Quest on the Pediment is a single color of circle. And as I said, each card has one or two colors of circle on them, as well. In order to take a card or Quest you have to have the matching column in front of you. You simply take the card and place it in your Domain, or the Quest and place it next to your player board. Then you get rid of one of your remaining Columns. It does NOT have to be the column you needed to "purchase" the card or Quest you just took. It can be any of the Columns, and that's another layer of strategy as you figure out what Columns other people still have, and which ones you need to keep in order to not get blocked out.
Oh, blocked out? What's that, you ask? Well, it can certainly happen that you're unable to legally take a card or Quest based on the Columns you still have available. If you can't take a Quest, then you'll take whichever one is left and flip it to its grey Incomplete side--which has only one Gold and one Transfer, and no VPs. You'll also go last in the next Epoch.
If you can't take a card, you draw one off the top of the deck and place it facedown in your Domain. It's a "Citizen" now.
During this phase you might be able to use the special power on cards. You can use the power of more than one eligible card--and even use the power of a card you just took. But you can ONLY use special powers of cards in your Domain, and not ones in your Elysium.
After everyone has taken three cards and a Quest, the phase is over, and you start "writing Legends."
First, you change Play Order discs based on which Quest players took. If someone was forced to take an Incomplete Quest, he'll take the highest-numbered Player Order disc. Each Quest shows varying amounts of VPs and Gold, and players take those now.
Then players begin Transferring cards to their Elysiums, starting with the new 1st player (which can be important). You can Transfer as many cards as the number in the Lyre symbol on your Quest card. There are cards that also have Lyres and let you Transfer, but that's generally taken care of in the previous phase, as part of your actions.
There are plenty of rules regarding Transfers and Legends.
- Each Transfer costs Gold equal to the Level of the card. You pay the Gold and move the card down to your Elysium.
- Each card will either start a new Legend or be added to an already existing Legend. There are two kinds of Legends:
- Level Legends are made up of cards from the same Level, and each has to be from a different Family, so a Level Legend can have a maximum of five cards in it (one from each Family). But you can have multiple Level Legends in your Elysium.
- Family Legends are made up of cards from one Family, but each has to be a different Level, so a Family Legend can have a maximum of three cards in it (1, 2, and 3). But you can have multiple Family Legends in your Elysium.
- You can add cards to Legends in any order (you could start with a 3, add a 1, and finish with 2, for instance).
- You can have as many incomplete Legends as you want, and you don't have to finish a Legend to begin a new one.
- Once a card is down in a Legend, it can never be moved.
- You can Transfer a Citizen to your Elysium, and it acts as a Wild in a Legend--but the Legend has to have at least two cards in it before you add a Citizen. Citizens count as -2 points in endgame scoring, but it can still be worth it to get a larger Legend (and thus more VPs).
- The first player to finish a Family Legend gets a 5-VP Bonus tile. The second player to do so, which could be the same player, gets a 2-VP tile.
- There are also Bonus tiles for Level Legends--one for each of the 1,2, and 3 Levels. The first player to have a Level Legend of at least two cards takes the corresponding Bonus tile. If another player creates a higher Level Legend, he'll take that Bonus tile away from the player who had it. Thus, the first player to create a Level Legend with the max of five cards will get that Bonus tile, and it can't be taken from him. Those Bonus tiles are worth 3, 6, and 9 VPs, because it's costlier to create a Level Legend of 3's than it is to create one of 1's, since you have to pay the Gold of the Level to Transfer a card to your Elysium.
Finally, when each player has finished Tranfers you put your four Columns back on your player board, straighten any cards you "tapped," and move the Epoch marker. (I put tapped in quotes so Wizards of the Coast won't sue me for using that term, even though it's the term everyone uses and it's become so ingrained that we'll never stop. Tapped. Tapped. Tapped.)
After the fifth Epoch comes Final Scoring!
First you remove single cards in each player's Elysium--they're worth no points, and aren't even technically Legends.
Some cards have a Chronos symbol, which means their special power is only used during final scoring--and only if they're part of a Legend.
A Family Legend of two cards is worth 3 VPs and one of three cards is worth 6 VPs.
A Level Legend is worth 2, 4, 8, and 12 VPs for 2, 3, 4, and 5 cards, respectively.
Add up Chronos VPs, Legend VPs, Bonus tiles, and VPs on your player board that you gained throughout the game, and then subtract 2 VPs for any Citizens in your Elysium. Most VPs wins--with Gold as the tiebreaker.
Man, reading over that overview, it sure seems like there are a million rules, but actually it's a very straightforward game. The most "difficult" thing is reading each card every Epoch, but after a game or two you'll know what everything does, and it'll be a non-issue.
I'm definitely a fan of Elysium. You're creating combos and an engine with the cards. But then you have to bust that engine up as you move cards into the Elysium, gaining you VPs, but removing their fun powers. That's one of the many unique decisions you're given in the game.
The other major decision, of course, is the "column game." I enjoy having to figure out which to keep, which to remove, and which one will gain you the most versus your opponents. There's angst on nearly every turn, and I love me some turn angst.
I've played with all of the Families multiple times, and they feel genuinely different. And they interact with each other differently, so this game with Zeus will feel different than the last game with Zeus. (Unless you have the exact same Families, but even then, the cards will come out differently.)
Poseidon: He's aggressive--and thus my least-favorite Family. Most of these cards cost your opponents cards, VPs, Gold, and Citizens.
Athena: In mythology Athena is opposed to Poseidon, so thematically she's the opposite of him, in that she usually gives the owner something cool, and the other players something less awesome--but still something!
Hephaestas: She helps the players get Gold.
Ares: Surprisingly, he's not about aggression. But what he does do is introduce Prestige Points (PP), which you can earn through his cards. Whoever has the most PP scores 16 VPs--then 8, 4, and 2 for the next-most PPs.
Hades: He creates alternate ways for players to Transfer cards.
Zeus: He generally gives you VPs.
Hermes: He lets you use and reuse the special powers of cards--even those in your Elysium.
Apollo: He's the craziest one. You add another board to the table, and deal out cards that will come into play next Epoch. But Apollo also has cards that let you buy and manipulate those cards. It's really powerful.
The artwork on these cards is just beautiful. And Space Cowboys sprang for a different artist for each of the Families! So in addition to each one feeling different, each one looks different, too. So good.
And this game is just ripe for expansions--and I LOVE expansions! Bring 'em on, Space Cowboys!
I should mention that this game deals with Greek mythology. So if you're uncomfortable with references to gods, steer clear. I should also note that a few images on the cards might keep this from being family friendly. Ares is the god of War, and his cards have some bloody pictures on them. As you can see in the Sparta one on the right, there's a lopped-off head. and lots of blood. And the Antaeus card has him naked for some reason--although the card really doesn't show anything but the side of his hip. The more important question is "How is he able to sit on a throne of skulls while naked? Ouch!" I've only played this with my game group, so haven't even considered playing it with the family. It might be okay for my middle-schooler, but I'm just not sure.
If I had one complaint, it's that the theme sort of falls apart. The Families themselves feel thematic and different, but creating Legends doesn't feel like you're creating LEGENDS, but more like creating...legends. You're collecting numbers and Families, and moving columns around.
But that's a small complaint, because the gameplay is so solid.
Okay, I guess I have two complaints. Fairly often, Player A feels forced into taking a certain card to keep Player B from taking it and being able to do something awesome. Player A may not even want that card, but they still feel obligated to do it. And maybe Player D wants a certain card, so then it's up to Player A, or B, or C to keep that from happening. And Player A and B may not do it, putting the obligation on Player C. I really don't like that.
Firestone's Final Verdict
Elysium is a fun game of card combos, tough decisions, and building an engine just to break it down again. I've enjoyed every game I've played, and I hope Space Cowboys continues to support this with new Families, so we can have even more unique experiences and combinations. I'm writing Elysium into LEGEND!
What do you think? Have you played Elysium? Is it on your radar? Let us know in the comments!