When A Few Acres Of Snow came out and I could pretend to be Daniel Day Lewis, keep mumbling about Ken-Tuck-Eh, and ridicule my opponent by repeatedly calling him Grey-Hair – all while playing an engaging conflict heavy game of Dominion on a board, I was smitten. When the rumblings of a broken strategy surfaced, and were later verified, my heart was broken and the game quickly became marred and corrupt. It was like my sweet kid Timmy grew up and became a twisted and loathsome punk and all I could do was kick him out of the house and sever my ties. When Mythotopia was announced it was with guarded optimism that I began to pick up the pieces and my new prodigal son, Jimmy, could be ushered in to fill the void.
While A Few Acres Of Snow had a fantastic French-Indian War setting, Mythotopia espouses a kind of low-fantasy similar to A Game Of Thrones. You will see the occasional Dragon, Runestone, or Army marching via portal, but the touches are small and overall it feels like a somewhat gritty Medieval conquest game. The setting itself folds into the background so that the deck-building mechanisms can take center stage.
The mechanical evolution from its predecessor is intriguing to say the least. It still bears that Dominion heritage where you have a deck comprised of location cards corresponding to your territories supplemented by additional special cards. You have a standard hand of five cards and can take two actions on your turn, typically fueling these choices with card play. Cards are played for either a resource symbol in the top left corner, to perform a special action listed on the card, or for the location on the card in order to stage an Invasion or build a structure there.
Players find themselves launching attacks into neighboring territories, acquiring new improvement cards, and laying down infrastructure in territory they already possess. The idea is to gain victory points which are awarded typically by building cities/castles/roads and by taking provinces. One particularly neat aspect is that both the improvement cards and roughly half of the victory point condition cards are randomly drawn at the beginning of the game. This ensures each game will play out somewhat differently mimicking the Dominion Kingdom card approach. This also dovetails with the design philosophy of starting players with a completely random set of Provinces which provides for a typically spread out and somewhat exposed layout allowing for quick friction and varied strategy game to game. This seems to be the primary fix to the broken strategy in A Few Acres Of Snow and it does seem to work remarkably well.
What I found particularly interesting was the gentle refinement present in the cards and actions available in Mythotopia. In A Few Acres Of Snow the gameplay was sometimes clunky yet this was overcome due to the genius of the design and wow factor. It also was afforded more leeway due to being a historical wargame as opposed to a more general strategy game with a wider audience. Here we see a much smoother flow to the game as you no longer need to play specific cards to generate economy or jump through hoops to play simple actions. You simply play a card with a coin on it and you can buy a new card, or you throw down a card with army symbols and can add troops to one of your territories. Combos and room for clever play certainly still persist as things haven’t been dumbed down and long-term strategy coupled with tactical card play is present and strong. Still, things run a touch smoother and much more fluid making for quick and enjoyable turns that keep the game constantly moving.
Invading in Mythotopia retains a similar feel to its lineage as you build up troops in a Province until you are able to maintain advantage and declare an End of War action at the start of your turn. This is one of my favorite elements of the design as it feels like you are laying siege and engaging in an extended military campaign. The cost-analysis decision point is also interesting as committing multiple armies to an invasion over several turns can be costly in terms of actions and tying up units. If you and Matt are engaged in a prolonged battle Ben and Jeremy may be sneaking ahead by acquiring new cards and building up cities in their Provinces. Yet, this is not an overriding deterrant as taking an opponent’s Province is a 6 point swing between you two. There is also always a number of neutral provinces with a static defense affording you options in who you wish to push the offensive against, although attacking Droab’s static defense is never quite as satisfying as burning Ben’s castle to the ground.
There is a tremendous amount of depth in this design due to the process and swirling strategic considerations around the thinning of one’s deck. This was another culrprit in really allowing the broken strategy in A Few Acres and it’s a core tenet of Deckbuilding so it’s no surprise to find this a core element seething below the surface of the design. The thought process in determining what to trash in this game is not nearly as easy as one would think due primarily to the fact that you are required to play a location card to stage an invasion or to build in that area. Thus, if you chuck two vital areas from your deck you won’t be able to stage an attack from there or add the VP generating cities or castles. You can manipulate the situation by building roads between adjacent Provinces, which allow you to substitute a location card for another in the road network. This is one of the strongest additions Martin has brought to this system as it adds a strong level of advanced play where you attempt to massage the layout of your kingdom and attain maximum flexibility. This is absolutely fantastic and looks to perfectly meld with the game’s gentle yet extremely long mastery incline.
Everything is humming along great and the mechanisms are flowing like fresh Dr. Dre beats when all of the sudden the rhythm drops out and you careen off the road into a fiery death. I’m exaggerating slightly but the one glaring flaw in this release that everyone is talking about, for good reason, is the End Game. The protracted End Game takes up about 40% of the total play time and can feel excruciatingly drawn out if your expectations are not properly set. How the end is triggered is that players are earning VP tokens off of several cards throughout the game. Once 4 cards have been emptied of all their tokens, the player who is in the lead can declare the End Game action but only on their first action (much like ending a war). All battles are resolved and if the person who declared the action is still winning the game is over and he’s taken the trophy. If, however, after resolving battles he would not be in the lead then he is not allowed to declare the End Game action. On its surface that sounds fine but if you start to analyze the different ways to interact with this final sequence then things begin to unravel a bit.
Cyclades is a fantastic Matagot release that sits among my favorite titles. One slight issue with that game however is that near the end gameplay shifts to this kind of gamey procedure of forcing players to stop assessing their options and instead to take actions simply to deny the victory from another player. Mythotopia’s end game is this but protracted from a 10 minute sequence into one that can last 30-60. It’s not game breaking and doesn’t completely ruin the experience but you have to shift your mindset and adopt a new focus. You basically adopt this new strategy of tearing down the leader by launching or maintaining an invasion, while simultaneously trying to further yourself and eke out another point or two with your second action. The game ultimately ends when a round goes by with no one able to take out the leader, which is easier to come by with less players as there are less participants to nip at your heels and claw into your backside.
So Jimmy’s finally here and he’s kind of a Harvey Dent. The majority of gameplay is spectacular and game of the year material while the opposite portion is a bit clunky and tedious. Overall I think there’s a lot going on here and ton of depth to sink your teeth into without requiring too heavy of a ruleset. Jimmy won’t be cast off like his kin but he still isn’t quite perfect.