I picked up Elysium, from Space Cowboys, in a multi-item order after the Dice Tower Award nominees were announced. After reading the rule book, it looked like a really good game, that scaled well with two, three and four players. As an added bonus, Cortnie was really excited to play it because of the theme. I set up the game and explained the rules and scoring. Through this process of writing the blog, I realize I have been spending much more time explaining rules on how to play the game, but I glaze over how the scoring works, which hasn’t been fair to Cortnie.
I’m going to try to explain this game in a bit more detail than I normally go into, so if you’re not into that, you can skip to the play through section. I will try this format for a few posts, please let me know if you like this level of detail in the comments. [Thank you!]
In Elysium, Each player takes on the role of a demigod in Greek mythology trying to claim a place on Mount Olympus. Players have a player board that contains Gold, Victory Points, and four Pillars. The Pillars are Red, Blue, Green, and Yellow and are used as a way to acquire cards. In the middle of the table is a pool of cards that the players are collecting. There are eight different Gods in the game, five of them are selected and shuffled together to make the deck. There is also a Temple that contains numbered quests equal to the player count. These quests will determine player order each round and offer gold, victory points, and transfers (explained later). The game takes place over 5 rounds, called Epochs.
Cards have a variety of powers that offer bonus victory points, gold, hurdles for your opponents, and other special benefits. In addition, each card has a number 1-3, and a God the card represents such as Zeus or Athena.
Phase I (Skipped on the first Epoch): Discard all the cards from the middle, then place a number of cards, depending on the player count in the middle to create the Agora.
Phase II: The player with disc #1, which is obtained from quest #1 (given randomly for the first Epoch) take one card, or one quest. To take a card or quest, you must meet the acquisition condition for the card/quest that is being taken. The acquisition condition is either a single color, two colors, or a color and any other color. To meet these conditions the current player must have the matching pillars on their player board. Once the conditions are met and the card/quest is taken, that player chooses any one pillar to move off their board. The removed pillar does not need to match anything from the card taken.
If you cannot pick up a card, but have not spent all your pillars yet, you get a citizen instead (a face down card). If you don’t have a quest, and don’t meet the requirements for any remaining quests, you take one and place it face down. This gives you 1 gold and 1 transfer at the end of the round, which is far inferior to any regular quest.
Phase III: In this phase, players will perform three steps. First players trade turn order tokens based on which quest they have, followed by collecting gold and victory points based on their quest. Finally players will, in the new turn order, move cards from their Domain that had been placed above the player board, to their Elysium below their player board. Most card benefits are lost once the leave the domain, as they are being written into legend. At the end of the game, all your legends will score points.
When you move a card to your Elysium, you must choose whether to create (or add it to) a family legend — made up of a 1 – 2 – 3 from the same god, or a level legend — made up of the same number, one from each god. Each family legend offers a bonus to the first person to complete it, and each level legend offers a bonus to the owner of the largest, or first complete level legend.
Cortnie started the first turn, and since neither of us had looked through the cards, we were not sure what was coming up, and which cards would combo with other cards. She started taking Poseidon cards when possible, and I Zeus. Unfortunately after the first round there were not many Poseidon cards that came out. She changed focus and started working on all the Level legends. Almost every turn (all except one) Cortnie took the first player quest. Her early acquisition of a quest allowed me to select two cards in a row, but forced the second player token on me, and limited my end of round gold.
My favorite part of this game was almost every time a card was selected Cortnie went into a story about the Greek God/Goddess that the card was depicting. She always started “Did you know…” In fact, when we were selecting the five gods to make the deck, I added Zeus to the mix and she started ranting about how terrible he was. I simply backed away and made sure I was grounded for the impending lightning strike.
Play continued without any ah-ha moments, the rules were relatively clear and understood from the outset, with one exception. Cortnie thought that when a card had two colors, you need either color, not both, so for a few rounds she may have been taking cards without meeting the acquisition condition. When playfully discussing her “cheating” later, she claimed it was my fault since I was “conductor of the games” and did not explain things well enough (although I’m sure, as the world knows, I’ve never gotten any rules wrong in any game). I say there were no revelations as play progressed, but the layers of possible strategy unfolded as we played and saw more cards. The pillar you choose to remove from your board is SO important. I would sometimes take a minute after selecting my card to remove my pillar, because I didn’t know which one to remove. Sometimes Cortnie, getting impatient for my analysis paralysis would take her turn anyway, making my decision easier knowing which pillar she removed. ADVICE: In Elysium, always wait for you opponent to complete their turn before starting yours.
In the end, I was able to complete my Zeus family legend and start all three level legends. Cortnie got two of the level legend bonus tokens, but still lost by five points. Even though it was a lose, she was very excited to play again, especially since the score was so close.
Final Thoughts: Both Cortnie and I loved this game and it will stay in our collection for many years. The depth of the choices one has to make in every round is amazing. The choices are not complex, but also not easy. Being able to correctly anticipate your opponent’s move is a huge benefit, and acting unpredictably, while sometimes a gamble, can pay off big time. The game is recommended for ages 14+, and I would agree simply due to the depth of decisions.
The component quality is fantastic with art that matches, and included with the game is a booklet describing and clarifying every card, which answered any questions that came up as we played.