Board Game Review: Elysium – Almost Great

Ely - Game

Players seek the favor of the gods, and try to write their legends. In Elysium, it’s about finding the right combos, working them for points, and knowing when to keep the favor active and when to turn it over for scoring. That and writing the legends of the gods.

The Basics. Elysium comes with eight total gods, each with 21 cards. However, in any given game, the players select a subset of five gods and mix their cards together. Each player also starts with four pillars – yellow, blue, green, and red – along with some coins and points.

In turn order, players select one of the god cards or one of the quest cards from the Agora. God cards generally provide a special power. Some are one time use, others are ongoing, and some provide a particular benefit when triggered by another game effect. Each card lists a cost in colors. In order to take that card, the player must still have the pillars of those colors. Once the player takes a card, they move one of their four pillars out of play.

The Agora starts full, but empties quickly

The Agora starts full, but empties quickly

Importantly, the player doesn’t have to remove one of the pillars he used to take the card. So, for example, if a card takes red and green and I have those pillars, I could take it and then remove my blue pillar.

Players can take a total of three god cards and one quest card. The quest card sets forth the player order for the next round and also bestows points, coins, and transfers. Players can use those transfers to move cards from their play area, to their Elysium.

I have the blue and yellow, so I can remove any pillar to purchase this card

I have the blue and yellow, so I can remove any pillar to purchase this card

Once moved to the Elysium, the cards generally cease providing any special power. However, as players transfer cards, they can try to get a card of every type, or each level card from a particular god. Complete or even partially complete legends are worth end game points.

After five rounds, players score their Elysium and count up any in-game points they received. The player with the most points wins.

Cards above the board are active. Cards below the board are end-game points only

Cards above the board are active. Cards below the board are end-game points only

The Feel. Elysium has a unique and interesting method for choosing cards. It forces tension and players have to be constantly on the alert to see what their opponents are choosing and which pillars remain. It really enhances the decision space, and it is a element to interact with.

The shame is that the rest of the game is not all that interesting. In fact, it’s pretty banal. You simply find the combos that work, grab those cards, and then run your engine for as many turns as possible. That part of the game is so mediocre that even the interesting way in which the cards are acquired does little to elevate the overall feel of the game.

First, let’s hit the positive. I’m really quite enamored with the card acquisition method. In the first turn of a round, you basically have access to everything. But the order in which you buy the cards becomes very important. Maybe there’s a card that costs blue and red, well, I can’t buy that card last when I only have one pillar. Maybe there’s a card that only costs one color, but it has a good ability and I should snap it up before my opponents do.

The Legend of Hades

The Legend of Hades

The considerations get more intense as the round progresses. Each player needs to buy a quest card each round, and there is one for each color of pillar. But, it’s not always a good idea to wait until the final round. Maybe I’m last in turn order. I see that my opponents have a red, blue, and green pillar left. Maybe I take the red quest card now. That leaves the player with the red pillar no option. When that happens, he gets a pity quest that provides few transfers and coins.

Despite this interesting mechanism, though, Elysium otherwise feels standard and uninspired. Players are simply gathering cards and trying to create combos that play off each other for maximum points. This is the same general experience as hundreds of other games.

In addition, the Domain (cards can use their special abilities) vs. Elysium (cards only worth end-game points) dichotomy is less interesting than I thought it would be. I had hoped it would require tough decisions each round, trying to figure out which cards should be written into legends and lose their powers. In truth, it’s not that hard to figure out. Some cards give one-off abilities. Once used, they can go to a legend without further thought. Some cards are worth bonus points in legends but have no other special ability. It’s easy to choose them. And, sometimes you get stuck with a “meh” card in a round. That becomes prime legend material.

A legend of the lesser god powers

A legend of the lesser god powers

As a result, that decision points are fairly straightforward during the game. It’s true that some cards generate in-game points (particularly Zeus cards), so those decisions can be harder. But for the most part, you simply move to your Elysium those cards that have exhausted their benefit.

Plus, I’m not a big fan of the random nature in which the cards are displayed. The Agora will have one card more than three times the number of players – a maximum of 13 cards. Over five rounds that means you’ll see 65 total cards. The deck of five gods, though, has 105. Which means a little less than half of the deck won’t be used at all. Maybe in the fourth or fifth round, you need a level 2 Hades card to complete your legend for maximum points. If one doesn’t happen to come out, then too bad for you.

Despite my love for the pillar-purchase mechanic, the rest of the game just falls totally flat. Sometimes one interesting mechanism can really save an otherwise average game (i.e. almost all Feld titles). But this isn’t true for Elysium.

If Apollo is in the game, then so is the Oracle

If Apollo is in the game, then so is the Oracle

Components 3.5 of 5. The cards are on good stock and have nice artwork. Player bits are all pretty standard for the industry – punchboard and painted wood. The colored pillars do have stickers that you can use to mark them for the colorblind, which is a nice touch.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 4 of 5. Your decisions and strategy are surely the superior factor in how the game progresses. Over the course of five rounds, you’re likely to see a card from every level for every god. But there’s an undeniable element of luck. Even from round to round, you don’t know what cards will be coming up (unless Apollo is in your game). So whether to take the first player marker or not is a bit of a gamble.

Mechanics: 4 of 5. I’m really enamored with the pillar purchase system. It forces players to plan out their turns and, especially as pillars are discarded, puts them in direct conflict for remaining cards. It’s a bit of a shame that the rest of the game is far less novel.

Replayability: 4 of 5. For me, the game is a little too bland to return to that often. However, if you enjoy this game, there is a ton of replay value. You’ll only ever use a subset of five gods and each has a different and unique feel. The combination you choose will open up different strategies.

Spite: 3 of 5. There are a few “take that” cards, mainly from a few gods like Poseidon. If you don’t like that, you can always remove him. Even when included, though, it doesn’t feel like players are ganging up on one another. Instead, it feels dispersed and adds a strategic decision of whether to buy the card for safety (so it doesn’t happen to you), or bear the effects while getting something else.

Ares means a battle for prestige

Ares means a battle for prestige

Overall: 3 of 5. Elysium has a novel and interesting mechanism for selecting cards. That right there makes the game out of the ordinary and worth investigating. But, after that, it devolves into a bland title with little to recommend it over numerous similar games. I hope we see the pillar mechanism again in a game with a bit more substance.

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