Unplugged: Tartarus breaks loose in Cyclades: Hades

May 18, 2012

Cyclades was one of my favorite new games in 2010, but it has not made it to the gaming table too often since then for various reasons. Perhaps the mix of expansion modules contained within Cyclades: Hades can bring it back a little more often? Three new additions and one optional rules modification flesh out the mythology of the game. Players can use as many of these as they wish, perhaps adding one at a time to get used to them, although adding everything is probably the way to go.

Module #1 is simply a change to how the players’ forces are positioned at the start of the game. Well… “simply” might not be the best word here, as it is actually fairly involved. Players start with seven gold instead of the normal five, but the board begins completely empty. Thus the first round of god-bidding is now used to determine priority in addition to the base rewards of their chosen gods. It is important to note that in this initial round of bidding, only one player may bid on Apollo (essentially the “skip turn” option at all other times). In god order, players receive two troops and two fleets that must be placed on/adjacent to at least two different islands. The trick here is that when the first real round begins, players will not receive income. How much you are willing to risk on better positioning has to be carefully weighed against the possibility of not being able to actually do much in your first actual turn of the game, and the player who opted to take the coward’s way out with Apollo and last pick of islands/locations will have all seven of their starting gold for the next round of bidding.

Zeus and Poseidon are joined by their brother Hades in Module #2, as the god of the underworld will periodically emerge from his hole to wreak havoc on the proceedings with his undead legions. Hades’s bidding tile is two-sided, with the reverse containing a “threat” track that runs from zero to nine. Prior to changing the positions of the gods each round, both combat dice are rolled and Hades’s threat track is advances by that amount (from zero to six). When it reaches nine or more, Hades will replace whichever god winds up in the pre-Apollo position for that round. Hades provides an undead recruit of the player’s choice (either a troop or a fleet) and the option to buy up to four more in any combination. Paying a gold allows the player to move troops or fleets in a manner similar to Ares and Poseidon, with the condition that at least one undead unit must be present in the moving forces. The catch? Undead units are temporary, and are removed from the board at the end of the round.

Hades always goes last (ignoring Apollo’s marginal effects), but the possibility of adding more combat than normal for a round will certainly keep players on their toes as the threat track nears its peak. Like the other gods, Hades also has a building to offer: the necropolis. The necropolis is a metropolis-sized building that collects a gold for every non-undead unit that is removed from the board for any reason, then awards that gold to the controller of its island during the next income phase. Only one necropolis is available, so if a second player chooses to build one later in the game the original is destroyed, although any gold that might have been accumulated on it remain on the island.

The base set of Cyclades contained a deck of mythological creatures that mostly provided one-shot effects along with some that remained on the board for an entire round. Module #3 adds a few more (one of which is only useable with the Hades module) as well as a new Chiron the Centaur card that takes the cards in this module into account, but also introduces a half-dozen heroes to the mix. Heroes, at their most basic, count as troops and all of them have some sort of effect when in battle (one, Hector, is strictly defensive).

After collecting your income each round, you must pay two gold per hero you wish to keep; heroes who are not maintained are removed from the board and their card removed from the game. Heroes who have been maintained gain the ability to be sacrificed for a beneficial effect as long as you have not selected Apollo for that round. You cannot sacrifice a hero on the turn you recruit it, nor can you sacrifice one in the middle of combat, as they are quite powerful and generally involve building a metropolis or making it easier to do so. It is very important to note that although they share the same deck and slot into the same spaces on the bidding board, heroes are not creatures and are not affected by abilities granted by Zeus (temple discount, discard a creature from the line-up) or the Chimera’s “re-use” effect.

Finally, Module #4 fills out the Cyclades pantheon a little, as eight other gods and goddesses emerge from Olympus to randomly bestow divine favors on the player who selects the last non-Apollo position each round — unless Hades is showing up that round, in which case the “favor” tiles are reshuffled. Each favor consists of two parts. The first part is either a priestess card, which can be discarded either to pay for a Hero’s maintainance or to retain the services of a creature figurine for an additional round, or a magic item. Magic items are a collection of ten one-shot effects that you can use at any appropriate time, the details of which are described in the rules summary that also describe the new creatures, divine favors, heroes, and other new features. Magical item cards are kept face-up, so there is no chance of total ambush. Each divine favor also includes a one-time effect that also varies and potentially swing the game in the right circumstances.

Cyclades: Hades certainly brings an assortment of new tricks to the base game, at the cost of a little added complexity as you now have two different summaries to reference for all of the cards, gods, and whatnot. It will also cost you about $40-50 of actual cash depending on where you pick it up. Like base Cyclades, Hades somewhat justifies its higher than normal price by including plastic pawns for the undead troops, heroes, and new creature as well as heavy-weight cardboard tiles and tokens, but unless you really enjoyed Cyclades and want more it might not be worth the added expense.