Mythology stories are everywhere. They permeate our media and give us a healthy reminder of the stories of old. Poets such as Ovid and Homer gave us the Roman and Greek tales. The Old Norse religion passed down the stories of the Asir and Vanir. Every culture has its own myths and legends which are used for morality tales, warnings, and lessons to each successive generation. So it’s of no surprise that these stories have integrated themselves into the medium of board games. There are dozens of titles out there that take their main theme from the mythological world. Several even take the Lovecraftian mythos as inspiration. Elder Sign, Unspeakable Words and Eldritch Horror to name but three.
So if you’ve got a hankering for a mythology themed games evening, let us humbly offer up our top five mythology games.
I love mythology deeply, particularly the Greek myths. I was hooked from a school trip to the British Museum years ago and have since grown up with the stories of Percy Jackson and heavily integrated the Greek gods into my Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. Because of this fascination of all myths Greek, I’ve picked up a couple of mythology themed games, Olympus and Elysium being two. A friend of mine excitedly told me about a board game he had backed on Kickstarter. It was based in Greece and involved tactical movements, clever building and utilised the Greek gods. It’s almost as if a game had been designed for me. Two years after being introduced (and falling in love with it), I received it as a Christmas present from my sister.
Santorini is based on the island of the same name in the Aegean Sea and takes inspiration from the unique square buildings with blue domes. The gameplay is very straightforward. Two to four players move one of their two pawns to a square adjacent to where they are. They then build a part of a building in a square adjacent to where they now are. Players win when one of their workers climbs to the circular peak of the third story. However, your opponents are also able to climb your buildings, and with the single step per round, it’s easy to see what strategies are forming. Whether you’re able to do anything about it is another matter. You can cap the buildings at their peak with a blue dome. Or you can use your god or goddess powers to try and influence the game.
What I love about the game is the simplicity, the speed in which rounds can be played and the replayability of the variety of gods, with an expansion of the Golden Fleece also available. The gameplay is simple to teach, but like Chess or Draughts, there are so many tactical options. It can take a good while to fully master it. The artwork is stunning too, so I would highly recommend picking up a copy when you can. You will not be disappointed.
You may be wondering why I am suggesting a book about the noble Norse God of War. Well, even though this little black box looks like a book, it isn’t. And even though mythology is indeed the focus of Odin’s Ravens, it isn’t really about Odin. Rather this is a fast-paced, duelling race game centred around his helping spirits, Huginn and Muninn.
Legend has it that Odin’s Ravens, Huginn and Muninn would perch on his shoulders like Noir Polly Parrots. Bringing gossip and news from the world back to Odin’s ears, those feathered friends were probably hoping for some battle-based bounty. After all, wherever Odin was, war was never far behind!
And Odin’s Ravens is indeed a duel. But rather than just picking holes in each other’s sets or strategies, these two birds are in a race to end the world. Fight and Flight are therefore the order of the day in this game!
Using a track of slender domino-style terrain cards, you can only progress down your individual racing line if you have cards in your hand that match the regions over which your bird is swooping! This being a game about Odin, however, means his mischievous son, Loki, is also in the mythological mix. Bestowing a limited number of one-time opportunities, Loki cards are available to boost your moves, or hinder your opponent’s progress. And it is down to you as to when you unleash his naughty-ness!
Odin’s Ravens is a light racing, filler type card game for two players. There is a little bit of luck of the draw, and a little bit of tactical decision making – ideal for a 10-minute dash to Ragnarök! I am not sure the wooden meeples are exactly raven-esque but calling the game “Odin’s Chickens” would probably lead to a different type of game altogether!
Cyclades lifts the championship for me when it comes to mythology themed games, and it is up against stiff competition. It gives you turn by turn interaction with the Gods: the auction for favour will determine the actions you can complete. This game gives you an epic struggle to control the islands, develop your civilisation, and clutch a win by constructing or conquering 2 metropolises. And to top it all, Cyclades allows you to recruit mythical beasts to fleetingly do your bidding. Be that the Pegasus, helping you launch an airborne assault from across the map. Or the devastating Kraken dragging all adjacent fleets to the bottom of the deep blue sea.
Fair to say it has theme in spades. But alongside that, it has some pretty epic gameplay too. Cyclades rewards strategising. There are enough varied routes to gaining the two metropolises to make a meaningful decision about your broad approach. However, auctions don’t always go your way, and combat involves dice. Strategy has to be balanced by some tactical flexibility and savvy which add spice to the experience.
I also like Cyclades because it is swingy. Odd you might think, but the swing is less about pure luck and more about exploiting opportunities. I still remember a game when a player on the back foot faced the conquest of their only territory. They reacted by launched a daring counterattack and snatched the win by conquering a metropolis themselves aided by a mythical creature.
It’s a mythic game that creates an epic narrative. And not only that but it has one of the best expansions ever made. Cyclades: Titans stays faithful to the spirit while drastically re-engineering enough of the rules to create a distinct experience. It also adds team play – the holy grail of high player count games, in my opinion. If you don’t own Cyclades, you really should. The Gods will smile upon you.
7 Wonders Duel is widely tipped at the smaller yet better version of the drafting game 7 Wonders. It is a two-player specific engine building masterclass that plays in anywhere from 20-30 mins. There are three ways to win; military victory by battling your way to your opponent’s fortress along a tug of war style track. Dazzle your opponent with your superior science skills by acquiring 6 different science symbols. Or if neither of these occur “in-game”, then the winner is the person with the most VP at the end.
You are trying to collect cards into your engine that will later allow you to gain cards for less money or resources. These cards can be worth points or will boost your engine further. You can also throw cards away for a much-needed boost of cash. Or you can use them to build one of your Ancient Wonder cards. The game is split into three ages each with its own deck of cards. The complexity and power of the cards will increase as the game progresses which gives this game a perfect arc.
The Pantheon expansion builds on this beautiful game, by bringing in a new type of powerful type of card, the God cards. These each have beautiful artwork depicting a mythical god. Each card has an associated ability that may help catapult you into the lead.
The god cards are gained during the earlier ages, whenever you gain a card with a mythology token on it. You get to choose the cost of that card in later rounds. Cards placed in a gate opening that is closer to you will cost less to buy. These God cards are powerful, and more than that, you can turn the tide by NOT taking a card from the age arrangement. This can be a powerful strategic move. The base game is really excellent, and this expansion and also the newer Agora expansion too all contribute to shaking the game up completely. After over fifty plays, the game still has real mileage for me, and the expansions ensure this.
The Vikings were awesome warriors, adventurers, and settlers, but sadly so much of their mythology was never written down. What we have managed to translate and capture has inspired so much, from the Marvel comics following a certain god of thunder, to the fantastic mythology themed game known as Champions of Midgard.
Champions of Midgard is a wonderfully thematic worker placement game, similar to Lords of Waterdeep but with dice-based combat and with a Norse theme. You play as a leader of a port town who is competing with others to become Jarl and protect the civilians from Trolls and the undead Draugr. You’re also a Viking, so you can go off on your ship and do Viking things, taking the battle to the many monsters of the mythology.
What sets this game apart from Lords of Waterdeep is the player interaction and combat system. Whilst you don’t have the mandatory quests which are used to ruin your opponent’s day, you do have blame – something you can assign to your opponents when you best a troll and they didn’t, (puny them, they’re weak!) This blame creates negative points at the end, so be sure to earn yourself some glory in battle.
The combat is dependent on the collection of swordspeople, spear wielders and axe champions. You gather these from your various actions and use to attack the monsters with a set defence value and attack. In true Norse fashion, these warriors will gladly charge into battle, even if it means certain death because they will ascend to Valhalla (one of the expansions). It reminds me of a certain Lord Farquaad meme…
Anyway, Champions of Midgard is an excellent game and wonderful to use as an infection game and introduction to the worker placement mechanic. The gameplay is simple, and you can see your strategy develop as the game goes on. Ride on, my Valkyries, and sound the battle horn!