Game takes players to realm of the gods

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I've had an interest in Greek mythology almost as long as I can remember. I recall many hours spent reading classical tales of gods and monsters. So it should come as no surprise that I love the premise of "Cyclades," a board game about vying for the favor of the gods to prove you're the greatest of all the Greek city states.

"Cyclades" looks superficially like a military conquest game; you control a lot of little Greek soldiers and boats. And there is a combat component to be sure, but it's all in the service of the game's real objective.

The basic idea is that you want to end a "cycle" of the game with two Metropli, which means the gods like you the best and you win the game.

You can get these in one of three ways: building one of each type of structure, having four Philosopher cards, or by taking a completed metropolis by force.

This is all pretty straightforward, except for the game's central mechanic: bidding for the favor of the gods.

There are five gods in the game, and you will need to play each at some point to win the game. Players in a particular order say how much gold they're willing to pay to play the god they want, and other players can then counterbid higher if they want it more. This also determines the turn order, since the gods are randomly shuffled every cycle.

Each god does something different.

Zeus lets you buy things now that make bidding for gods and summoning monsters cheaper later.

Poseidon lets you buy boats and build harbors that protect them.

Athena allows you to build one of the buildings you need to make a metropolis, and gives you Philosopher cards that also allow you to build a metropolis if you get four.

Apollo lets you buy soldiers, build fortresses and attack any island on the board you can reach via a chain of boats. Apollo always goes last, and lets you skip your turn and get a bit more money, both now and later.

The interplay of the gods gets very interesting. To take over other islands for gold, or to claim structures by conquest, you need to have a chain of boats from one island with your troops on it to the island you want to conquer.

You can only move your troops when you play Aries, and you can only move boats when playing Poseidon.

In addition to the god-specific actions, there's also a set of a few Monster cards at the top of the board. The monsters cycle through each turn, and they cost gold to play. Each card does something different, and using monsters is a surprisingly important part of the strategy.

"Cyclades" sounds like a chaotic game, but it's actually based on careful thinking more than chance. Most of the random elements change things for all the players at once, so it's very difficult to win a game through pure luck.

Strategy is complex, but understandable. You can learn the game in an hour at most, and it only takes an hour and half to play.

"Cyclades" is one of the best board games I've ever played, bar none.

Designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc, the game retails for about $45.

Walla Wallan Noah Hinz is a tabletop and electronic games aficionado. A graphic arts student at the Evergreen State College, he's working on various art projects and game designs. Email your questions and comments to noahhinz@gmail.com.

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