For the longest time I held off from conducting this review on the sole reason that I think the game is brilliant but completely undermined by its lack of AI and a tutorial. To date I’m still not 100% sure how to play the game to completion but from what I’ve experienced this is a game that would be brilliant, if only it were a finished product. More on that later.
This game takes place in the Cyclades archipelago, off the coast of a not-yet unified Greece. Its historically renowned cities of Sparta, Athens, Corinth, Thebes, and Argos are struggling against each another to establish their supremacy, through the patronage of their gods.
The principle mechanism of Cyclades is an auction mechanic. At the start of each turn you are attempting to bid gold to win the favour of one of four major gods: Zeus, Poseidon, Ares, and Athena. Note Apollo is also present but you should consider him separately despite being a major god himself in ancient Greek mythology. Each turn only three of those four major gods will be available as they cycle through.
At the start of each turn the players will bid gold to win the favour of the three visible gods, with Apollo as an always available last place. Not only is winning these bids relevant to acquiring the privilege of those gods, but since the order of those gods determines turn order, it becomes doubly important. Because the iPad implementation is the two player variant it means that you will be required to bid for two gods rather than one in normal multiplayer.
Roughly speaking, Poseidon gives you ships (and allows ship movement), Ares gives you troops (and allows troop movement), Zeus gives you priests (which helps reduce the cost of bidding for gods), and Athena gives you philosophers (which help you get metropoli necessary for victory). Also each of the four gods allows you to build a special building: harbours (helps with naval defense), forts (helps with land defense), temples (reduces cost of purchasing mythic creatures), and universities (no use but necessary to win).
Apollo is described as an option that technically allows you to skip your turn while saving your money (like the Prospectors from Puerto Rico?). The player who has chosen Apollo gets 1 money if he owns more than one isle or 4 money if he owns a single isle. Additionally, the person who firsts claims Apollo gets a prosperity marker which he increases earnings for the next turn.
Throughout the game you will manouevre ships and troops to attempt to conquer enemy islands while simultaneously trying to build up your own defenses and structures. The game ends at the end of a cycle where at least one player owns two metropoli and that player wins. Ties are broken by the most amount of money.
There is one additional feature to the game that can help mix things up. The purchase (hiring as mercenaries?) of one of eighteen mythological creatures, which includes the Kraken, Minotaur, Medusa, Polyphemus, and Chiron. These creatures are singular effects that can drastically alter the balance of a game. They give opportunities to claim tactical victories over certain areas, steal things from opponents, and just generally do something unexpected.
Cyclades is a production by the French company Matagot, who are also renowned for the game Khronos. These are both excellent games and it is for this reason that I find this release to be highly disappointing. I find it disappointing because what has been released is far from a final, polished product.
There is no tutorial and the rulebook is a bit difficult to penetrate. A number of people have complained that they do not realise the rulebook is a multipage affair since it doesn’t always turn when you swipe. Personally, I’d recommend reading the pdf version of the rules available. Without these two things it becomes incredibly difficult for a new player to access the game, particularly if they are not familiar with the game to begin with (like me). I have deliberately tried a number of times to get my head around the game only to give up in frustration.
Worse, there is no AI opponent and there is not even an online multiplayer option. This is a huge let down as it means there is no opponent for you to train up against or even other active minds to pit yourself against. You are reduced to only in person tabletop or pass’n’play modes. Personally, even if I were a person familiar enough with the game to play it I’d much more prefer to use the physical version (if I owned it) than to use an iPad. Since this implementation does not really offer me solitary options it effectively becomes an accessory to the board game itself.
Lastly, but hardly the least of these offences is the limitation of the game to a two player mode. This is not the native mode of the physical game, which is normally three to five players. To accommodate only two players you’re forced to use a modified rules variant which clearly gives us an incomplete game. What I don’t understand is why they didn’t at least include a three player option, which uses the same board size as the two player version. Only when you have four or five players do you use slightly bigger sized boards.
What I will say in its favour is that it looks beautiful. It looks like a game that has smooth and intuitive user interface and a really good framework for a game. I really want to play this game and I hope that Matagot pay attention and fix these gaping holes.
5/10: This game would have been a major contender if only it had not committed such cardinal sins. I’m torn between recommending to hold off from acquiring this until the major issues are fixed and suggesting you should support it simply so that they have the incentive to update it. Tough call.