Posted Saturday, 14-Nov-2015
A compilation of reviews for Elysium, a 2015 Kennerspiel des Jahres Nominee.
2015 Kennerspiel Des Jahres nominee Elysium gives players the chance to move from demigod status to sitting alongside Zeus in the Geek Pantheon. Designers Matthew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilbert teamed up to bring out this Space Cowboys card drafting and resource management game that’s simple to learn but offers a level of complexity that makes it impossible to master.
Elysium’s gameplay is based off of card drafting and resource management. Players draft cards with special abilities then seek to move those cards from their “Domain” into their “Elysium” by matching up colors or numbers. These matches are referred to as “legends” by the game and players who complete their legends more quickly will receive more victory-points.
Play begins with 5 out of the 8 decks being chosen and then shuffled together. A series of cards is placed in the “market place” which will be drafted by players later in the game along with “quest” or “adventure” cards which also determine turn order.
Keith Law from Paste Magazine explains the drafting phase of the game:
“Each player has four columns, red, green, blue and yellow, which are used to collect the quest card and the cards from the agora, using a non-intuitive system: Each card or quest has one or two colored column icons on it; to take that card, a player must still have that colored column”
This adds level of complexity means that players will need to be especially careful about what columns they use since using one color could eliminate many others. If you don’t have a viable option on your turn then you’re given a “citizen” card which at the game is worth negative two points.
Divided into 5 Epochs (or rounds) which are broken down into four phases, Elysium offers many ways to score victory-points and numerous combinations of cards that offer special abilities.
While the game is quick, (perhaps quicker than some would like) Kristo Vaher’s Board Game Geek review praised the game’s variability. Vaher comments “…every game uses five families (decks), which you can pre-select or randomize out of those eight decks. This means that the games and combinations are really different every time you play.”
So while the game’s rules may seem all over the place at first, things are actually rather simple in terms of a core rule set but there’s a high level of complexity that comes into play once all of the individual cards are considered.
Elysium is a good game for player’s who are fans of the “easy to learn, difficult to master” moniker as the game’s rules are actually very simple once you catch on but building an optimal strategy is another thing entirely. For all its complexity however Elysium is a rather quick game, with average playtime taking around an hour.
Reviewers such as Derek Thompson of Meeple Town praised the game’s simple rules:
“What I really like about Elysium, is that just as in games like Castles of Burgundy or Dominion, the central rules aren’t very complex – in fact, the main rulebook is pretty short. Instead, the complexity comes from the special abilities on the cards in the game.”
Likewise Kristo Vaher from Board Game Geek loves the tactical deck building mechanic mixed in with its lighter, faster game play; making it a great choice for fans of games like 7 Wonders. Vaher comments, “7 Wonders is easier than Elysium, but Elysium can be grasped by beginners quicker than 7 Wonders. And Elysium has elements that make it a much deeper game than 7 Wonders, which I love.”
Meanwhile most reviewers caution players who are looking for a “theme” in their next game purchase but if players are able to overlook the mediocre attempt to incorporate an “Ancient Greek” theme then players will find themselves enjoy each other much more.
Both Thompson and Vaher agree with this sentiment with the former stating, “If you’re a theme-first kind of guy, maybe stay away from this one, but if you love great artwork, tough decisions, and card combos, then you can pick this one up blind with no regrets.”
Meanwhile Vaher warned, “Drop any ideas about this game being thematic. Ignore the rulebook sections about theme, it gets in the way. Consider theme as something that has been carefully tacked onto the game as ‘flavor’, and not as theme. If you stop thinking about theme, then you can focus on the game.”
Other critics caution against getting this game if you’re looking for long, lengthy tactical battles of attrition. Keith Law of Paste Magazine writes, “With only five epochs, and maybe the power to transfer 12 to 15 cards over that period, there just isn’t enough time to do very much of anything.”
Elysium is an ideal choice for players looking for a deck builder and resource management game that has a light rule set but great complexity in terms of its strategic potential then Elysium is definitely worth considering. On the other end of things, if you’re looking for a long drawn out mental marathon with a heavily incorporated theme then Elysium is probably better left on the shelf during game night.
Elysium received mostly positive reviews from critics with only a few minor hiccups in support.
Derek Thompson from Meeple Town, who gave the game 4 out of 5 “Meeples”, commented “Elysium is a quick, innovative, tough game full of great artwork and cool combos, that makes great strides to overcome its thematic disconnects.”
Likewise Boards and Bees writer Austobone was excited about the game at the time of his review; “This one looks like another excellent game – not a lot of resources to manage, but some careful planning is needed in order to get what you need.”
Will Freeman from The Guardian also gave Elysium praise in his board game round-up: “It presents considerable variety, and thus boasts much potential for longevity. It, too, has a snappy pace, and the intricacy is complemented by relatively short game times.”
Perhaps the biggest praise came from the game’s Kennerspiel Des Jahres nomination. The award’s elite honor was noted by Keith Law of Paste Magazine who explained, “Elysium just earned one of the three nominations for this year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres award, given to the top complex (or “connoisseur’s”) game of the year”
However, Law also echoes a common criticism of the game; it’s just too short. Law writes, “The game has so many options and so much texture that it’s far too short to explore it, and any attempts to craft a long-ranger strategy were met with abrupt ends because time ran out.”
http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2015/05/elysium-boardgame-review.html (Paste Magazine. Keith Law)
http://meepletown.com/2015/05/review-elysium/ (Meepletown.com. Derek Thompson
https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1338845/passionately-about-elysium (Kristo Vaher Board Game Geek)
https://boardsandbees.wordpress.com/2015/01/24/0424/ (Austobone. Boardgame Buzz)
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