My second Secret Santa gift, Mykerinos (BGG, FunAgain), is another game from the new and ambitious publishing company that has put out the highly complex games Caylus and Ys.
While Caylus is a real brain burner, I'm actually not too fond of it, because there is just too much fighting with the game's mechanics, the board and tactics are overly complex, and the game lasts a good 40% longer than it really should. Ys suffers from a similar malady, having no less than ten separate tracks to keep track of, which is just complexity for its own sake. I enjoy Ys a bit more, because at least the game is shorter.
Happily, Mykerinos is the right length for complexity, and the complexity of the game is much simplified. Here we have a traditional Euro-game, a basic area-control game with choices and decisions that are not so complex that the aspect of competition is overwhelmed.
I came in expecting a cross between a light-Caylus and a Louis XIV, but the end result is that the game is much more reminiscent of Louis XIV than Caylus. In fact, the only aspect of Caylus to carry over is the passing track, where the order of passing is significant to the next phase of the game-play.
Essentially, like Louis XIV, there are four rounds of area control that are determined by placing cubes on a special arrangement of ability cards, and then subsequent cubes in a line from out from the first cubes places. During this time, players can use the ability cards they have previously acquired and which are also their main source of victory points (again like Louis).
After cubes are placed, area controllers then have the option of taking the ability card (areas) they have won, or leaving the card for the next person and instead placing a cube into a very limited museum area, the net effect of which is to multiply the values of one or two of the types of ability cards you have acquired.
There are five types of cards, and each area of the museum multiplies one or two of the card types. Only one person can occupy the x5 or x3 areas for a specific type of card, and there are x2 areas that each affect two of the types of cards. In our first play, it seemed that the obvious strategy was to quickly take control of at least one, but preferably two x5 locations. Failing that, at least one x5 location and one x3 location is necessary. Then you just acquire those cards for the remainder of the game.
Like a number of other games that seems to rely on the idea that you have a choice between acquiring what you need vs blocking what others get, the limited number of cubes you get each round appears to make blocking a self-sacrificing non-winning strategy, that will simply ensure that both of you lose, while other players continue on to victory. So the best you can hope for is to hinder your opponents with plays you wanted to make, anyway.
Since we only played once, I didn't get a good feeling for which card types to go for, initially. Additional plays should help with this.
All-in-all, the game was fairly clean and appealing, doing for area control sort of what Modern Art does for auctions. While some thought is required, the game will probably not devolve into too much AP. The choices are meaningful and interesting. I am looking forward to trying it again.
However, the game has number of obvious flaws, apparent even after one play.
First of all, the rulebook is watermarked with dark hieroglyphics behind the rules, making them very difficult to read. Apparently this is a printing error, but it's a bad one.
Secondly, the scoring tokens are too big for the scoring track. If a few players' scores are one number away from each other, the tokens simply don't fit on the track. You can instead use one of the little cubes of your color to keep score, but it's another sign of poor physical design.
Thirdly, the cards are faced on both sides, so there is no real way of randomizing them fairly, unless you pick them out of a bag. There was no need for this, as one side of the card indicates it's color and ability, and the other side represents the area markings used for the area control phase but also indicates the color of the card. A little redesign could have fit all of this information onto one side.
Fourth, if you are locked out of all x5 areas in the museum, you can forget about winning. A compensation bonus is given to collecting all types of cards rather than focusing on one or two types, but this bonus is inadequate to support such a strategy.
I will need to play a number of more times to see how this plays out. I suspect that it's not a problem, and simply a matter of poor play from not having experience. Nevertheless, an alternate version of the museum design could have prevented this type of situation from happening.
For instance, instead of the current museum design, imagine one where each player can advance a marker along one of the tracks in the five types of cards. At the end of the game, the player most advanced along any track receives the x5 multiplier, second place the x3 multiplier, and third the x2 multiplier. Anyone else, or not on the track, receives no multiplier. This type of arrangement would make the museum area of continual interest throughout the game, instead of only for the first two rounds.
As a result of the current arrangement, third and fourth place controllers in the third and fourth rounds receive nothing in areas, which makes the area control aspect less interesting as the game goes on rather than the reverse, which would make more sense.
Overall, the game is fairly dry, so won't appeal to those who are not expecting a mid-range Euro-game. Unlike other mid-range Euro-games, however, such as Elfenland, Rheinlander, and so on, the rule complexity to game-play ratio is right, making it a notch above the typical over-produced, underwhelming Euro-game. Even though nothing is dramatically new in the game, it is put together simply and well.
Each round you have eight cubes with which to play, for a total of 32 during the game. One of the cards gives you bonus cubes each round. Also, the order of passing gives you, in effect, bonus cubes, because ties are resolved in the order of passing.
Some of the cubes need to go into the museum. The most efficient scenario is three cubes in the museum, one in a x2 space, followed by two cubes in each of the neighboring x5 spaces. That is enough to assure that your card collection is nearly unblockable (2/5 of all cards on the board are now worth at least five points to you). If this happens your chances of winning are already pretty great, unless someone else managed the same thing.
If not, a x5 and a x3 are the next option, which also requires three cubes, preferably with the third cube on the x2 giving you a slight bonus for a third type of card, and not uselessly occupying the x3 location now nullified by the x5.
If you haven't managed this, you will need to spend more cubes in the museum, hoping to gain from the flexibility of being able to control any regions and specifically blocking others from gaining what they need, as well as collecting the bonuses for sets of cards. As I noted earlier, I don't think that this strategy is currently viable, especially as it requires you to put more cubes in the museum, which is less cards collected, which defeats the entire point.