Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 25 October 2014

or I Wouldn’t Myth It for the World

> Bad pun overload.
> Rebooting…
> Fatal exception in pun database. Puns cannot be prevented at this time.


Ahem. Sorry about that.

Anyway, it was all about Martin Wallace’s new game Mythotopia on Saturday. It would have been about Bios: Megafauna as well, but the second bout of spousal illness in three weeks meant I couldn’t get to Newcastle until 7.30. I got in a few hands of Love Letter with some guys I didn’t know (thanks, guys I didn’t know – you all seemed lovely) while others wrapped up the final season of a particularly epic five-player Keyflower with The Merchants expansion.

Once the vast black wooden cabins had been cleared away (seriously, those components are ridiculous), John Sh, Michael and Olly joined me for Mythotopia. It’s an intriguing combination of mechanisms and ideas, many culled and streamlined from A Few Acres of Snow, and it’s so very Wallace. There’s deckbuilding of sorts, hand management, resource management and direct conflict. There’s also artwork that leaves something to be desired. The board looks like someone designed a map and ran it through Instagram’s sepia filter – it’s very brown – while the player counters look (as Olly pointed out) like they were printed with ink cartridges about to run out. Luckily, we could tell the difference between the colours, even in the notorious lighting at the club.

This was actually relatively late in the game. Note my red pieces aren't very numerous; note also Olly's rugged-terrain green stronghold, with Ranger and Queen cards helping a great deal.

This was actually relatively late in the game. Note my red pieces aren’t very numerous; note also Olly’s rugged-terrain/inland-sea green stronghold.

[Note: my copy is the standard edition. The limited edition for Treefrog subscribers (and early visitors to the Spiel fair in Essen) uses brightly coloured wooden pieces instead of cardboard counters. Having seen pictures of the limited edition, I actually prefer the standard counters because they fit better with the overall look and feel of the game, match the card iconography, and having ten wooden army counters per side piled up in a single small province, plus castle, plus roads, plus city… well, it might get impractical.]

The initial random province draw combined with the variable victory point cards to give John 2 VPs straight away (he was Lord of the small Isle), while I was in a strong position to take the larger Isle for 3 VPs early in the game (which I eventually did, but not for a few turns). Michael was spread around a bit, while Olly started with a few provinces in the rugged terrain areas around the larger inland sea.

We all drafted some Improvement cards quite early on, with John taking the second Army card (“Go big or go home!” he proclaimed), Michael grabbing a few like Militia and Diplomat to help him out with war situations, Olly going for the Ranger to bolster his rugged terrain properties, and me buying the Warehouse. Combined with my slightly later purchase of Providence (“draw two cards”), the Warehouse allowed me to churn through my deck pretty quickly by filling up my expanded Reserve with unused cards. Even without building any Cities, I could have an effective hand size of nine cards if my Reserve of four was full, and ten cards if Providence was also in my initial hand.

Unfortunately, John was also going for a deck-churning strategy, mainly by Reserving an Army card or two and discarding much of the rest of his hand in preparation for a big assault next round, occasionally using his Portal to attack anywhere he liked. He was habitually using five or six armies to initiate an invasion, leaving it difficult for others to respond… with the exception of Olly, whose Ranger, rugged terrain defence bonuses and two ships floating in the larger inland sea left him with a starting defensive strength of 5 in particular provinces. (Michael was also churning through his deck, but mainly in a vain attempt to get some useful cards into his hand; the initial draw of provinces had been a bit poor for him.)

Olly was starting to look unassailable, and it was rarely worth getting into a war with John (unless he had armies tied up elsewhere), so I took to picking on Michael and building as much as I could. Drafting a second Build card helped enormously, so I soon had Castles and Cities throughout my little empire, with a few Roads wherever I had adjacent provinces. I was too spread out to maintain any sort of effective ‘front’ to enable tit-for-tat retaliations, so by the end of the game I was entirely based in the ‘west’ of the map – the larger isle and the western coast of the mainland.

It was here that it all started to bog down a bit, after it became clear that Olly would almost certainly win, but we still had a little way to go before we met the conditions under which Olly could take the “End the Game” action (more accurately, “Win the Game”, given that you’re only allowed to take that action if you end up winning). With three victory point cards empty, nobody except Olly wanted to put in work towards emptying a fourth and allowing the game to end. That left about 30–40 minutes of slightly pointless to-ing and fro-ing amongst the rest of us, essentially jostling for second place. I, with my Build-heavy strategy and love of stone resources, found it hard to defend against both John and Michael, so I found myself pegged back to six provinces again, just like the start of the game. They were mainly different provinces from the start, but six nonetheless. It was only my huge stack of Build-related VP counters that kept me in any sort of contention for second place.

In the end, Olly managed to clear out a fourth VP card (Roads, I think), which is where my second gripe comes in. It was clear that he would end the game at the beginning of his next turn, and none of the rest of us could bring him back down the VP track to prevent this. That meant we were still battling amongst ourselves, but as the player to Olly’s left, I wouldn’t get the chance to respond to any wars started against me before Olly ended the game (and thus resolved all wars). John, just behind me on VPs, invaded one of my provinces, but luckily Michael invaded one of John’s, leaving John victim to the ‘unable to respond to the last invasion’ problem. That meant that when Olly ended the game, John jumped ahead of me into second place, but then got pulled back to a slim third by Michael’s invasion.

Final score – Olly: 48 / Me: 37 / John: 36 / Michael: 31

The final board. All I have is the large isle and some north-west provinces... and a massive pile of VP counters for building stuff.

The final board. All I have is most of the large isle and some north-west provinces… and a massive pile of VP counters for building stuff.

Thoughts? I think it’s a good game, but not a brilliant game. It’s got a lot about it that I enjoy (I’m a fan of deckbuilding + board) and the variability in setup should produce a very different game each time, so I’m happy to have it in the collection and hope it comes out every now and then. I suspect the sweet spot might be three players, where each player receives eight starting provinces rather than six (thus hopefully giving more chance of a consolidated clump of provinces to concentrate on), there’s less chance of having a runaway leader, and there’s no danger of it devolving into A vs B alongside C vs D as could feasibly happen with four.

Special mention has to go to the province names. Ranging from things that sound like diseases (Scombroid) to things that sound like Yorkshire villages (Hatchel, Nesh, Welkin, Grimp, Ogdoad) to obvious literary influences (Malebolge, from Dante’s Inferno) to… well… Fadge. In fact, they’re all worth googling, because they all have a basis in something historical, mythological, literary or linguistic. The Ogdoad, for example, were apparently the eight deities worshipped in Hermopolis in Egyptian mythology. And scombroid is indeed a type of food poisoning. Odd choices, but fun all the same.

All photos by Olly and me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is on the second and last Saturday of every month, from 4:30 pm at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!

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