Ever wanted to know what it’s like to rule your very own set of islands? Are you a fan of auction shows like Bargain Hunt or Storage Wars? Do you love ancient Greek mythology and all its monsters? Well, if you answered yes to any of the above, have we got the game for you! Matagot’s Cyclades sees up to five players bid for the favour of the gods as they expand and develop their island empires. Cyclades is joined by the Matagot alumni Inis and Kemet, forming a tremendous triad of games covering fascinating ancient cultures. Gamers familiar with these will know of their impeccable component quality and excellent mechanics, and I am pleased to report that Cyclades is no different.
A union of civilisation building, area control, card drafting, bidding, and warfare, there’s something for everyone in Cyclades. Even with this impressive amalgamation of elements, Cyclades is remarkably easy to play and quick to pick up. So, let’s see what it is that makes Cyclades tick.
Along with its brothers Inis and Kemet, Cyclades is packed with brilliant components. Each of the five factions come complete with their own distinctive player screen, Troops, and Fleets. Despite their size, these miniatures are wonderfully detailed, if not a tad fiddly, and just great to play with. Along with the player pieces, the board itself captures all the beauty of the Aegean while remaining simple easy to use. The art of the cards is also exquisite, depicting some of the most horrifying monsters of Greek mythology. As if just artwork wasn’t enough, five of these horrifying beasts are brought to life with their own, equally horrifying miniatures.
I now move on to one of my favourite components of this game, aesthetics wise – the building tiles. The four types of building tiles are just so charming and intricate. The big-kahuna Metropolis tiles combine aspects of the other four tiles so well you can make them out! While I accept that this is quite a nerdy thing to get excited about, I just adore the attention to detail in this game. For me, these little touches just add that little bit extra to the game and just make Cyclades feel more like an experience than just an ordinary games night.
Thanks to the eight-page booklet, Cyclades takes very little time to set up as you can simply follow the step-by-step instructions. Players must choose one of the five factions for gameplay. These have no unique abilities and so whichever you choose has no bearing on your playing experience. I do have to say that the most striking thing I noticed during set-up is Cyclades’ adaptability. The two boards that make up the Cyclades islands are double-sided, with different playing areas that either compress or expand the play area depending on the number of players. This means that players are forced to interact and engage one another as they attempt to assert themselves as the dominant force of the Aegean.
After initial Troops and Fleets have been placed, players shuffle and order the god tiles on the bidding track and place the shuffled monster deck on the indicated space, drawing the top one and placing it in left-most space below the deck. Just like that, you’re ready to get battling!
Gameplay in Cyclades is as simple as its set up. What players might be shocked about when they first come to play is that most of the actual game is played on the bidding tack, where players bid for the favour of the gods Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Ares, and Apollo. These gods grant unique boons, such as gaining a troop or a ship.
Gaining a god’s favour also allows players to build their respective building, be it a Temple, Fortress, Port, or University (there is no building for Apollo). This bidding mechanic makes gameplay tenser and surprisingly fast-paced as everyone scrambles to outbid one another to gain the resources they need to succeed. This works wonderfully with the adaptable board. As players are forced to fight it out for control of the islands they need to build their cities, they risk losing control of their valuable prosperity tokens, which are how they gain money and are tied to their islands. The risk of deserting an island and the possible income it represents weighed against the possible reward of gaining an all-important building keeps the game fresh and keeps the tension high.
Given your opponents can see which buildings you have and what you might need, they can try to outbid you to scupper any plans or to simply defend themselves against a possible attack. The game’s bidding system means that to succeed you have to be fast and ready to adapt, as who knows how the gods will look down on you?
I also want to mention the nice way in which Cyclades balances the odds if one player falls drastically behind. One other way players gain money in Cyclades is by the god Apollo, who grants a coin to players if they control multiple islands. If a player controls only one island, however, four coins are awarded. While this might be quite easily overlooked as a gameplay element, I believe it goes to show once again the attention to detail that has gone into this game. I must admit that this little saving grace has gone on to help me out in a tight spot more than once.
While some might not think too deeply about it, this mechanic gives players on the back foot the lift they need to stay in the game and, more importantly, continue to enjoy the game. We all know how miserable it is to be stuck watching someone else soar with an insurmountable lead while you just sit twiddling your thumbs.
As a lover of both board games and anything ancient Greek, I accept that Cyclades does cater to many of my areas of interest. However, I can honestly say that everyone will find something to love when they open up a copy of Cyclades. From the simple mechanics and beautiful… well, everything, board-game newbies and seasoned pros alike can enjoy playing. I have to commend the sheer attention to detail that designers Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc have poured into this game. From the smallest Troop miniatures to the magnificent board itself, every square inch of this game is glorious and will be a superb addition to any collection. To make your game of Cyclades come to life, even more, there is a Monuments expansion, which allows you to build monuments to the four gods.
Every aspect of this games combines to make something excellent that I can thoroughly recommend to anyone, not just those other mythology nerds out there like myself. The mechanics of Cyclades are so quick to learn you’ll be up and playing in no time, and I have had a blast every time I’ve played.