Sunday, 2 August 2015

Blaugust 2, 2015: Elysium

Today I was supposed to be going to a family birthday party out at Dad's place, for the half dozen of us with July and August birthdays. Unfortunately this got cancelled due to a couple of illnesses. So, left with a Sunday to fill, I did what any sensible person would do and stayed in bed until midday. Admittedly I was up temporarily to make myself some porridge since I don't have anyone around to make it for me, but I got back in bed pronto.

After that, I spent the afternoon murdering English Ivy, brushcutting the 'lawn', and applying the chainsaw to logs of wood I got from work. All in all, a very normal-person kind of Sunday. The only problem with this is that it isn't exactly inspiring Blaugust content, so I'm going to talk about board games instead like an enormous nerd (I know my audience!).

Elysium is my current jam. I was first exposed thanks to a promotional copy AVCon was given for use at the most recent event. Being in charge of the board games, it was obviously my duty to try it, so I took one for the team along with John and Ale. I ended up loving the game and buying my own copy after the convention was over.

Elysium is essentially a set collection game, with a few interesting twists. First, taking cards requires that you have a particular coloured pillar available, you needn't spend it. However, you are then required to reduce your future choices by sacrificing one of your coloured pillars. This makes for interesting gameplay as you are managing versatility, not resource use. Your opponents can see what choices remain to you on future turns, and either frustrate your goals or try to avoid having their goals frustrated by you.

Second, the cards you are collecting are kept in one of two areas: Your active area (Domain) where cards can do things, and your scoring area (Elysium) where your cards are placed in sets to score points at the end of them game. All cards are first placed in your Domain, and then you have to figure out when and how to best transfer them down. Transfers are a themselves a somewhat scarce resource, operating in tandem with gold.

Third, player order changes throughout the game. This is managed by players having to select a 'quest' at some point during the card acquisition phase. Each quest has a number of gold, transfers, victory points, and a position number. Once the acquisition phase is complete, the transfer or 'Elysium' phase commences, and players first adjust their positions in the player order before gaining the appropriate resources. Finally they transfer the cards they want and are able to transfer, before the next acquisition phase commences.

Player order is important as certain bonuses for sets are only available to the first or second player to complete them. Further, a better position in the order naturally gives you more card choices next time around. In a given round (epoch) it is often a sensible option to forgo an early pick of the cards in favour of getting the most advantageous quest, positioning yourself for the next epoch.

Fourth, the game has eight 'families' of cards, representing gods of Greek myth. During the setup, five are selected to form the play deck, the combination of families heavily influencing the style of play dynamics in the game. So far, I have only played with the suggested starting five, and have found play interesting and lively across the half dozen games I have played. I am looking forward to trying some new combinations which will significantly alter the strategies involved.

The suggested starting families are Zeus, Hephaestus, Athena, Poseidon, and Hades. Zeus cards primarily give direct victory points while in your domain, and suit a player who prefers to accumulate these during the game instead of relying on points for sets at the end of the game. Hephaestus cards augment the accumulation of gold, which is used for paying for transfers. Further, some Hephaestus cards allow the conversion of gold to points, which is otherwise impossible. Athena cards allow for card cycling, better use of citizens (wild cards which when used in sets attract a minor score penalty), and improved versatility in general. Poseidon is the most aggressive of the families, with cards that force card discards, and loss of gold and victory points (importantly affecting all other players). Hades cards are, fairly obviously, useful for giving more transfers than would otherwise be possible.

Currently I have encountered two very hard to beat strategies utilising the starting set. The first involves attempting to make a set with five 'Gathering' cards, one from each family. These cards grant a point bonus for each card within the set from different families, allowing a maximum of five bonus points per card, and thus twenty five for a set of five of them, on top of the regular scoring for the set, and the likely bonus award for a full set of rank one cards. This, in addition to another set or two and some in-game point accumulation is extremely strong, and it is advisable to prevent a player from dominating the Gatherings.

The second involves direct point gain and augmentation with Zeus, ideally supplemented with gold to points conversion from Hephaestus. Zeus has cards that grant additional points for points already held. If you focus on direct accumulation throughout the game, and are allowed to take these cards, the resulting bonus is formidable indeed. If you are lucky enough to get 'Sacrifice', the Hephaestus card that allows you to directly trade gold for points during the game, you can make this build truly scary.

The three families I am yet to try are Ares, Apollo, and Hermes. Ares cards add a mechanic called 'Prestige Points' (PP), which grant a sum of victory points determined by your PP relative to the other players. Apollo cards allow you to access cards that are not yet available for selection during this epoch, essentially allowing you to select things ahead of others. Hermes cards allow a degree of re-use for already discharged effects, and otherwise tweak situations to your advantage.

I am interested to see what strategies will come out of the combinations I have not tried. The 'Gathering' strategy will be present no matter the combination, but no Zeus will certainly make things a little interesting. I am particularly keen to try a fairly aggressive game, using Poseidon, Ares, Hermes, Athena, and probably Hades.

In any case, is is clear that I have a lot to learn yet and I'll be playing this game with friends whenever I get the opportunity. I heartily recommend you give it a go.

1 comment:

  1. I will indeed try, when you can lure me away from my other card games :D