Board Game Review: Elysium

Elysium is a new board game by the makers of Splendor (which is excellent), a company called Space Cowboys.  My husband and I picked it up recently and got the opportunity to play it a few times while my sister and her friend were visiting over Memorial Day weekend.

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Let me start off by talking about the box and the game’s packaging – WOW!  I was super impressed and grateful for the designers’ attention to detail here.  Since we play so many board games, we get frustrated when things don’t have nice compartments or at least baggies to put the pieces away in.  This box has it all.  I mean check it out, slots for everything!  And when everything is put away nicely, the view is pretty and in keeping with the game’s Greek mythology theme, since the shapes and pieces look like the Parthenon inside the box.

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Onto the gameplay!  Elysium is for 2-4 players and take about 60-90 minutes to play.  The first time will take longer for sure.

The game can be randomized by which decks you use.  Each deck corresponds to a Greek god and has a theme.  For instance, the Hades deck is all about transferring cards from your domain into your elysium, which makes sense for the lord of the Underworld.  All of that will make sense later, I hope.  We played both times with the same 5 decks since we were learning, and the decks we used were Athena, Hades, Posidon, Zeus, and Hephaestes.

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In a four player game, there are five rounds.  Each round, players take turns buying a combination of three cards and a quest.  As you buy cards, you place them in your domain, which is separated from your elysium by your player bar, which helps you keep track of your various currencies.  The game is won by moving cards from your domain into your elysium and creating legends there which give you points.  The player with the most points at the end of the game, wins.  Below is a sample of how a round’s buy phase is setup – along the top are the quests, and then 13 randomized cards are placed face up in the play area for players to purchase.

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The currency to purchase cards and quests is a bit different in this game than in a lot of others I have played.  During the buy phase of each round, each player gets a set of four columns, one of each of four different colors.  The columns represent the four purchases you get to make each round – the three cards and one quest, which can be done in any order.  On your turn, in order to by a card or quest, you must have available to you the column(s) shown in the upper right of the card or at the center top of the quest.  Once you have made a purchase, you get to choose one of the four columns to get rid of for the rest of the round.  For instance, if you remove the green column, you will not be able to purchase any cards with green columns on them OR the quest card with the green column in the next 3 plays of the round.  It is pretty easy to wind up with no cards you can purchase on your last turn, or with the incorrect color column for the last quest left.  In the case of a card, you take a citizen (a wild once it is in your Elysium, but worth negative points).  In the quest case, you take the card anyway, but flip it over to the back side which gives greatly diminished rewards.  The quest card gets you some resources in between rounds, and also tells you how many cards you can transfer from your domain to the elysium during the Transfer phase.

Below is a shot of a player’s area.  Above the white bar is called the Domain.  Cards go here immediately after you purchase them.  There are reasons to leave some cards in your domain, mostly because they have different effects while they are there.  For instance, the purple Zeus card in the picture below allows you to take one gold every time you buy a Zeus card or transfer a Zeus card. I’m skipping the details of the different types of domain cards for now – you can read them in the instructions.  But how they work is based on what symbol they show in the black circle on the left of the card.

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Below the bar is called the Elysium.  You score points in this game based on which cards you have moved down to your Elysium.  Cards are moved during the transfer phase, based on the number of transfers you got with your quest for the round.  When you transfer a card, you must pay a number of gold coins equal to the number in the top left of the card.  Once cards are in your Elysium, you have to create legends with them – decide if they will become “runs” or “books”. A “run” is like the set on the bottom right of the above picture – a 1, 2, and 3 of any single deck – in this case, Hesphaestes.  A “book” is like the set in the bottom center – a set of at least two cards of the same number but different decks.  You receive different bonus points for being the first to create a “run” legend for a deck, or being the person with the highest number of cards in a “book” legend.  The extra points for “book” legends move around from player to player as the game progresses, kind of similar to the Longest Road or Largest Army cards in Settlers of Catan.  If I started with a “book” legend of two 3’s, and then my husband created a “book” legend of three 3’s, he would steal the extra points from my “book” legend, at least until I transferred some more 3’s to my Elysium.

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Above is the cheat sheet card that tells you how points are scored at the end of the game.  The top tells you how points work for “run” legends, the next part tells you how points work for “book” legends.  The next part is related to one of the decks we did not play with yet.  The bottom left deals with any cards that have the hourglass symbol on them that have moved to you elysium – this symbol indicates that you score points for that card at the end of the game.  And the bottom right says you lose points for any citizens you have.  Plus you get whatever victory points you’ve earned over the course of the game.

That’s pretty much the gist of it.  Before I give you my rating of this one, let me say that I feel like I have only reviewed games that I like thus far, so to prove to you that I actually don’t enjoy some games, there will be a post on that sometime in the future!  I also want to say here that ratings are subjective – and I know that I rate games with mechanics that I enjoy playing higher in general.

All of that being said, I am rating Elysium a 7 out of 10.  From me, this is high praise for a card game.  Card games (particularly deck builders) are not normally my thing, but this one is different enough and for a card game, I enjoyed it a lot.  I am still likely to pick up a tile placement or worker placement game before this one, but that is because I enjoy those mechanics more.  Elysium has a lot of depth, and I like that it can be different each time based on the decks you play with.  I would place this game closest to something like 7 Wonders – I guess because the games are card based but not deck builders – but they are still quite different.  The theme is a neat one, and I will once again mention the awesomeness that is the game box.  It’s a pretty unique game and worth picking up (even if card games are not always your thing!).

As usual – don’t forget to check out boardgamegiveaway.com for this month’s contest – I believe Ryan is giving away Lords of Waterdeep this month!

 

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