About BoardGameGuru

BoardGameGuru is a UK based online retailer, specialising in board games.

To use the shop, please follow the link below:


To read the full articles below, please follow the link to their own pages.

Pantheon - 2011 Spiel Des Jahres winner?

Its Spring time, and, as they have for the last few years, Hans Im Gluck has released a beautifully produced family game; a chunky box, lovely components and board and eight pages of rules. In 2008 it was ‘Stone Age’, followed a year later by ‘Finca, then last year saw ‘Titania’. The game (firmly aimed at the medium weight German family market) quality has fallen off year by year since the superb ‘Stone Age’, with ‘Titania’ being a bit of a flop (Rio Grande, wisely has not picked up this game for and English language release). No matter the game quality the games have looked lovely, and have been a joy to unbox. The latest HIG game bucks the trend, firstly because the eye candy quality is not up to the previous releases – but far more importantly it has reversed the declining gaming quality and is up there with ‘Stone Age’ as a great medium weight game that takes about an hour anda bit to play – so much so that I think this might be in the running for 2011’s main Spiel Des Jahres award. It may be no coincidence that this is the best in the series since ‘Stone Age’ – because it’s from the same designer Bernd Brunnhofer. Brunnhofer is not a prolific designer, before Stone Age his previous game was ‘St Petersburg’, so it’s quite a pedigree. ‘Pantheon’ I can report adds to his record of putting quality above quantity.
The game is set in a world after the ‘Stone Age’ (and a long time before ‘St Petersburg was built), when the early civilisations were forming, many gods were worshiped and tribes were building monuments to these gods. The aim of the game is to score points by recruiting gods, demi-gods and building columns.
Components and setup
The game is, mainly, played on a map of Europe, North Africa and the near East. A hexagonal grid is superimposed on the board. There are home hexes for each of eight nations (some, for example, Iberia a little distant from the real ancient geography) ,marked hexes for the placement of bonus tiles for each nation and hexes where only columns can be built. In each of the 4 player colours there are a supply of feet (used to move your tribe on the board) and 12 columns. Each player starts with four feet and three columns, the rest form a reserve which he can acquire throughout the game. Other game material includes a deck of cards; the cards are money, steps (used to place feet and columns on the board) and four different types of sacrifice cards. Four of the cards are drawn laid out on the table, Ticket to Ride style, the rest form a draw pile. There is a small special deck of money ranging in value from 2 to 5 in value (all money in the main deck is worth 1). There are 40 god tiles shuffled into a draw pile and a demi god tiles that are shuffled into two piles, one with values one to three and the second with values four to six. The lower value pile is placed on the higher value pile. Demi-gods sound exciting but they only score you points. Gods score points but also have one off or permanent benefits associated with them. There are four types of sacrifice tiles (misnamed because you never lose them) of the same ‘suits’ as the sacrifice cards and each type comes in two tiles , one value one and two on the reverse the other value three and four on the reverse. For a medium weight game there a surprising large number of bits and bobs that you need to play! And there’s more, there are forty hexagonal bonus tiles that are placed in a bag and will be later placed on the map. There are also six starting bonus tiles, eight nation tiles and a card for each nation. And lastly there is s the Big Foot and the Temple, wooden bits. I am a fan of Franz Vohwinkel’ artistic work but there’s something a bit uninspired and washed-out about the design here.
The aim – how do you score points
The game is played over six epochs, with a scoring at the end of the third epoch and the last. Victory points can be acquired in five ways; columns score you points with the point per column increasing with the number of columns you own; from 1 point per column if you only own one to 3 to the almost unachievable 4 points per column if you manage to get all 12 on the board. You also score points from demi gods – these tiles just have a victory point value on them and they can be acquired as a starting bonus, from bonus tiles on the board or from the god Pliasiris. Gods score you points as well, depending on which epoch you acquire them from; one point in the first epoch to six in the sixth and final epoch. Causing the end of an epoch scores you three points, and lastly one god gives bonus points at each scoring
Game play
At the beginning of the game players are randomly given a bonus tile (most are a one off bonus, a god, a demi god, a sacrifice tile, place a column, an extra foot and a column), five cards and four feet and three columns. At the beginning of each epoch the top card of the nation deck is flipped over, the temple marker is placed on the home spot of the drawn nation and then gods (number of players plus one) placed on the board as are bonus tiles from the bag (number of players plus one). Each nation has a ‘trait’ this is then executed. Most traits are beneficial, e.g. card draws, a sacrifice tile or a purchase action. Two of the eight countries are a double edged sword as they reset your hand size to seven, either giving a draw or making you discard. Players take actions in turn into the Epoch ends; which is caused by either the last god tile or bonus tile being claimed. This leads to a lot of variability in the length of each epoch; if the gods available each round are cheap and juicy and the bonus tiles all corkers then the epoch will fly by. If the gods are expensive and the bonus tiles stinkers then players may stock up on cards so it might be a longer epoch. However, a longer epoch will probably be followed by a shorter epoch as players will have a lot of cards to blitz the board or purchase gods. This unpredictability is one of the attractions of the game for me.
On their turn players choose one of four actions. They can take three cards, Ticket to Ride like, from the four on display, or from the top of the draw pile. Secondly they can take a movement action, which will allow everyone else to, Puerto Rico like, take the same action. Movement involves placing feet and columns on the board; the player who selected the action takes the big wooden foot which gives him one free step. He then can play as many step cards (worth two steps each) as he likes. Each step allows him to place a foot or a column on the board. They must start from the temple and form a continuous route back to the temple. If he places a foot on a bonus tile he takes the tile which is activated at the end of his movement action. The number of feet and columns that can be played is limited by the number he has in his personal reserve. Bonus tiles are either yellow or blue, with yellow tiles a one of bonus and blues permanent to be reused. They include demi gods, a free god from the draw pile, card draw, a money card from the special money deck or extra feet and columns, or free permanent steps to be used in future movement actions. He can also place columns, but only in the column hexes. There can be two feet and columns of different players in each hex, but the second foot or column costs two steps to place. The other players may also take a movement action, though they don’t get the free step awarded to the player who initiated the action. However, they may have free steps from bonus tiles or the god Vinthrad. They also may play step cards to place feet and columns. If a player does not place feet or columns on the board they take a card from the draw pile. The decision to take the movement action is a tricky one, you can leach of another player’s movement action but you are going to get second (or third or fourth) pickings of the available bonus tiles and column spaces. As the bonus for ending the round goes to the active player, it means that if the last bonus tile is taken by another player leaching then they are giving three vps to the player who initiated the movement action.
The third action is to buy stuff, and you pay for it with money cards and the god Stonkus (called so, I imagine because he is stonkingly powerful) provides a cash bonus for each buy action. You can buy as many items as you like up to what you can afford. Feet and columns cost one money each (you will need to supplement your starting feet and columns as soon as possible), Sacrifice tiles vary in cost depending on the level of the tile with level one tiles costing one money up to Level four tiles which cost ten money. You can also level up your tiles by paying the difference between the costs of the levels, for example levelling up a level one to a level two tile costs two. You can only own one of each type of tile. You can spend money to buy steps to immediately place feet and columns on the board at a cost of one money per step. This is a rather handy way of getting stuff on the board without giving the other players a free ride.
The fourth action is to take a god tile from the selection laid out at the beginning of each epoch. Each god has a cost in sacrifices. These can be paid for with either sacrifice tiles or cards or a combination of the two. The cost of each god is shown in the number of different types of sacrifices that have to be made (between one and four) and the number of sacrifices of each type that have to be made , for example Stonkus requires four types of sacrifice, with one being four , another three , then two then one. I can pay for that for ‘free’ if I have four sacrifice tiles of these values, more likely I will have to pay with a combination of cards and tiles, with the cards going to the discard pile and the tiles staying in front of me to be reused. Gods are good, but as I have found not essential to winning the game. The most immediate benefit a god gives is victory points, one in the first epoch through to six in the last. Gods, like bonus tiles, either provide one off or permanent benefits. You can own multiple copies of the same god. Permanent benefits help you throughout the games for example gives free steps, Stonkus free money, Detraccus two cards at the beginning of every epoch, Gaiviles helps you jump over occupied hexes on the board. The one off benefits might be another free god (super powerful in the last epoch as you score points or both gods) or the top card from the speciality money deck.
At the end of an epoch any unclaimed gods or bonus and god tiles are removed from the game and all players feet are returned from the board to their personal reserve. The game then moves on to the next epoch. At the end of the third and sixth epoch there is scoring phase where players score columns, demi-gods. The player with the most Victory points wins.
Why I like the game
Each action is simple, however from the four actions available to me each turn most of the time I find myself wanting to take all of them; Worried that if I grab some quick points I am going to sacrifice future gain, on the other hand concerned that the demi -god I am forsaking could decide the game if I don’t take him now. The decisions sit on that delicious cusp right between strategy and tactics and that’s where I like it best.
I have noticed a few comments that the game is too dependent on the luck of the draw – cards, gods, bonus tiles. For me that is missing the point of the game. – The random nature of the draw is one of the games strengths because it poses a new challenge game by game and epoch by epoch. The draw can mean that an epoch might be short or long (five juicy bonus tiles won’t be there for long), or it might be long with hard to pay for gods and weaker bonuses. The three points round ending bonus puts pressure on players to make moves rather than accumulate and you need to be looking for short term scoring opportunities as well as trying to grab gods that help your longer term plans. Making too many long term plans is a mistake in this game; it’s over before you know it and the random draw might militate against it so you need to keep flexible. You just have to play to it as you see it; with a sharp eye on the other players. You might not be seeing feet cards. No problem – you use money to buy map placement or you get yourself cards for a juicy god. One of the joys of the game is that it plays out differently every time and you can’t wed yourself to one strategy, e.g. it would be nice to aim for 12 columns at the beginning of the game however one the random draw of the countries might make it nigh on impossible and the other players are going to block you (well I am going to )
Unlike ‘Stone Age’ (which I love as a 2 player game) the full complement of four is the best number for Pantheon, there’s more potential for screwage on the board, some of the gods increase in value (especially the hex jumping god Gaiviles) there are less turns per player per Epoch which creates more tension. Three is also very good but two is the least enjoyable experience for me as you can pretty well do your own thing on the board (though that might be a plus for some gamers who want more control). I have played five games and none has lasted more than 90 minutes and I think it will come down to 75 minutes with four when everyone is up to speed.
‘Pantheon’ now sits on my shelf between ‘Stone Age’ and ‘World Without End’ as a go to medium weight Euro, for occasions when I like a little bit of unpredictability in my gaming. I understand that Rio Grande hare going to be publishing this in an English language edition later this summer

No comments:

Post a Comment