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How Mythical Creatures can Change Cyclades

The Ancient Greeks are at war. With the help of the gods they fight fierce battles with one another over land and sea. Ares, Poseidon, Zeus, Athena, Apollo – each playing their part, helping civilisations and tribes in their search to be the greatest there is amongst the isles of Cyclades.

Cyclades, the board game, was designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc. It was released in 2009, and has since garnered a fair reputation online. The base game of Cyclades is rated within the top 200 games on BGG (Board Game Geek). We’ve had it in our collection for almost two years, and where it isn’t a game we break out really regularly, it is a game that we have been playing more of recently.

We’ll review Cyclades in due course, and write more about it over time; however, today I wanted to explore one aspect of the game that changes the form of how Cyclades plays so dramatically that it is worth exploring – the Mythological Creatures.

The Kraken

The Role of the Mythological Creatures in Cyclades

Mythological creatures are a kind of “added extra” in Cyclades that deserve some thought. Behaving a little bit like the development cards do in Catan, the mythological creatures are cards that can be bought during the player’s turn and then played to have a certain effect upon the state of the board. They range from protecting certain troops, to destroying others. Certain creatures also have miniatures that have a fantastic board presence, and they can be beautifully fun to play.

That being said, we’ve played Cyclades a fair amount (and we will be undoubtedly be playing it a lot more over the coming weeks) and it has to be said that where being able to break out a snazzy miniature and put it on the board is kind of cool – we have found that the the mythical creatures are an optional addition to the game.

What is more interesting though, depending on whether players choose to use mythical can dramatically change the style of the game, and it is that we’re going to look a little closer at below.

Playing Cyclades with Mythical Creatures

There is no doubt that playing Cyclades with mythical creatures is definitely how the game is meant to be played. Not only are there a vast selection to choose from, there are the aforementioned snazzy miniatures that have a real table presence. When you break out monsters like Medusa, Chiron, or the Minotaur, they tower over all the other miniatures, looming as great beasts on the battlefield. It’s great; however, it also changes the way that players play the game.

One of the biggest things about Cyclades is that the map is huge. Space is never really a commodity for a 45 minute game, and this means that it is possible to completely avoid the other players. Using monsters helps move players closer together through effectively declaring war on the opponents. If you use the Kraken, and steer it through a fleet of enemy ships, then the odds are that whoever’s ships they were would want revenge.

It is this way that creatures encourage interaction between players. They can directly influence other players, and in hiring monsters an imbalance happens that needs rectifying within the game. If I destroy three of your ships with the Kraken, then you are effectively one round and around 8 gold down (depending on how much you had bid for Poseidon). The easiest way to level the playing field is by using creatures in return.

This can escalate into a fantastic game of myths and monsters, emphasising the “take that” style that the game can have, wherein players are constantly at war with one another. That being said, it is not the only way to play the game.

Playing Cyclades without Mythical Creatures

Now, this is where things get interesting. Where it is possible to play Cyclades with mythical creatures, and where that is undoubtedly the way it is meant to be played, it is possible to play Cyclades in an entirely pacifist way, routing for economy over conflict.

This is, purely accidentally, how our last two player game of Cyclades went. Neither of us were particularly woo-ed by the mythical creatures that were on display. Instead, we ended up both playing a game that focused on building our individual economies rather than attacking one another.

In a normal game of Cyclades some of the coins you earn each round are meant to come from the territories you take from your opponents. In a two player game, even though the board has reduced in size dramatically from the larger player counts, it is still incredibly large. With Apollo as the god you can always choose, it is possible to expand and buff up your land to get a really decent income each round – especially if you are not buying mythical creatures.

The big question is: how does this change the game?

Well, it changes the game in a couple of ways. Firstly, rather than fighting over Ares and Poseidon as the gods of choice, Athena and Apollo became the gods we both wanted. Secondly, in the end it didn’t come down to who was able to take territory by force or wage war on the other for the last buildings they needed. Instead, it came down to who had built the strongest economy over the course of the game. In the end, it literally came down to who could bid the most for Athena.

The Game in Question

Is Cyclades better with Mythical Creatures or without?

That leads us to the final question – what is better? Cyclades with creatures of Cyclades without? Well, to put it bluntly, it is better with creatures. The reason for this is because they spice the game up. Where it was enjoyable to try the money focused approach, the game lost a lot of its drama. By a five turns in we both had four buildings, traded in for a metropolis. Going into the very last round, we each had two philosophers, hoping to buy two more through the use of Athena.

It was weirdly symmetrical.

That being said, mythical creatures are odd within Cyclades. If no one goes for them the game can turn out one way, whereas if one player goes for them then the balance tips so much that very often turns out another. That tipping of the scales can start a fantastical waterfall effect that leads to competition within the game.

So, there we have it – a bit of a general piece today, looking at the role of mythical creatures within Cyclades. Ultimately, they form a really interesting part of the game and can change it dramatically based on how you want to play.

What are your thoughts? Do you like the mythical creature aspect to Cyclades? How do you like to play? Let me know in the comments below.

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