What's Eric Playing?: Review of They Who Were 8
Full disclosure: A review copy of They Who Were 8 was provided by Passport Game Studios.
I’ve always been a big fan of mythology. Played way too much Age of Mythology growing up, took a Greek Mythology class in college, and bought Santorini to really keep the fun going. As such, I was intrigued when I heard about They Who Were 8, a game coming from Ludicreations in which you play as players serving two of a pantheon of Gods, praising their Glory and sidestepping their Infamy. Can you ensure your story survives?
There are two game modes, Pantheon and Titanomachy. I’ll cover Titanomachy first, and then outline the differences between that and Pantheon later.
Setup for Titanomachy is fairly simple, as this plays somewhat similarly to Between Two Cities. Each player gets dealt two of these God tiles:
As well as three cards:
Set it up such that you have a God tile near your left and right side. Those will form a pair with the right God of the player on your left and the left God of the player on your right, respectively. Choose a player at random to take the starting player tile.
You’ll also notice two sets of tokens — gold Glory tokens and purplish Infamy tokens. Set those within reach of all players.
Once your play area looks like this, you should be ready to begin:
For Pantheon, you just don’t have pairs. Instead, you play with the player sitting across from you. This is a 4-player-only mode, played in teams of 2.
They Who Were 8’s Titanomachy (and Pantheon, incidentally) is played over a series of rounds, with two phases per round. I’ll cover each in depth.
You may also use one of the powers of your God, in a situational sense. There are 9 Gods, each with their own powers:
- Anatoc, the Unseeing: Before a player of your choice chooses a card to play, shuffle all players’ cards and then re-deal them.
- Bold Endymina: Before you play your next turn, draw two cards and then discard two cards.
- Cassana Who Was Loved: If any player has more than four Glory tokens on one god, add a Glory token to any God of your choice.
- Cymele She Creates: You may skip drawing a new card during the Renewal Phase to look at the top four cards of the deck and choose one to add to your hand before the Renewal Phase starts. (This isn’t how the card is worded, but this is its intended effect, I believe.)
- Evertwisted Aristiphane: You may swap the Glory and Infamy tokens of any two gods. Really unclear what this one means or when you can use it. We’ve ruled that the gods being swapped must have both Glory and Infamy, and you can only make a swap during your Card Play phase. It’s a significant nerf, but, we’re not sure.
- He Who Is Nanos: You may skip passing an Action card at the end of the round. Instead, the player to your right passes a card to the player on your left. That’s not what the tile says, but it’s the only way that the gameplay makes sense.
- Lost Praxis: Use this power at the start of a round to make Praxis immune to Action cards (not god powers, mind you) for the rest of the game.
- Piton the Wandering: You may use the power of any god that hasn’t been used, yet.
- Rymon the Uncaring: Redirect an Action card played targeting you to another player of your choice. We assume this means you can choose which god it affects, too.
Anyways, let’s talk about Setup. It’ll make more sense.
Each player takes a turn playing, resolving, and then discarding an Action card from the three in their hand. Each card can affect gods differently, depending on the symbol below it:
You’ll resolve the card by adding, removing, swapping, transferring, or doing something with the Glory and/or Infamy tokens on the table. Note that you must be able to play the card in its entirety — if you’re trying to add two Glory tokens and there’s only one left, or you want to remove an Infamy token but nobody has taken one, you cannot play that card. If you cannot play any of the cards in your hand, reveal them, discard them, and draw three more. If you still can’t play any, discard one card from your hand and your turn ends. I have never seen this happen.
Once all players have played a card, move on to the Renewal Phase.
There are four steps in the Renewal Phase, each done in order unless otherwise stated:
- Pass a card. Each person takes a card and passes it to the player on their left. You may not look at the card you received until you pass a card. If you used He Who Is Nanos, you skip this step.
- Change Start Player. The player to the current Start Player’s left becomes the new Start Player, taking the Start Player tile.
- Shuffle Cards. The new Start Player shuffles the discard and the deck together to form the new deck.
- Draw a Card. Starting with the new Start Player, each player draws a card from the deck.
Keep playing rounds like this until either the Glory or Infamy token pile runs out, at which point the game ends.
GAME END (FINAL REVELATIONS)
Count the Glory and Infamy tokens on each player’s God tile, scoring them like this:
- -1 – If you used that God’s Power.
- -1 – Infamy Token
- +2 – Glory Token
Determine which Pair of gods is “Dominant” (has the highest score). If there’s a tie, the pair with the most Glory tokens is dominant, and if still tied, then the pair with the god that comes first alphabetically (unclear if they mean by name or by title)
Then, the winner of the game is whichever of the two gods in that pair has the lower score. If they’re tied, then the winner is whichever player has the lower scoring other god (as in, the one not in the pair).
In Pantheon, you play with partners, and you’re on a team with the player across the way from you. There are only a few differences:
- You may show your partner your cards at any time.
- There are no pairs of Gods.
- The winner is whichever team has the most points once the Glory and Infamy tokens run out.
That’s about it!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
I can’t really imagine playing this at two. It seems frustrating, and I’ve heard as much from others who have tried it. I’ll update this if I try it at two.
Playing at four, “teams” start to form between pairs of players as they try to slowly end the game against each other, which can kind of drag a little.
At three, it seems to be a good balance of trying to figure out which player you should be helping or hurting depending on the context, which is usually good. I’d recommend this at three for Titanomachy and four for Pantheon mode.
The strategy’s a bit opaque, but there are still things you can do to help your chances:
- Only end the game if you’re sure you’ve won. I know that sounds obvious, but usually when I play a player ends the game and gets surprised. Keep track of God Powers, Action card abilities, etc. If you think you can end it and win, go for it. Just don’t forget the scoring rules.
- Keep an eye on God Powers. Evertwisted Aristiphane can really wreck you, and if you’re not careful Lost Praxis might lock themselves down before you can mess with them. By the same note, be mindful that when you play a card against Rymon the Uncaring, they might just redirect it to another player and win the game.
- Know the Action Cards. Some are pretty useful! One lets you take a token from whichever pile has fewer tokens, and another reactivates your God power, which is awesome.
- Think about the cards you’re passing. What do you think your opponent needs, based off what you can see of the board state? If they want to add Infamy Tokens, give them a card that only lets them remove tokens. If they want to remove Glory tokens, give them a card that only lets them add Glory. Just try to unsubtly screw up your opponent’s future turn, if you can.
- Piton the Wandering’s card is solid. Being able to use any unused God Power is really good at the start of the game and gets progressively less useful. Keep that in mind, especially if you can reactivate cards.
- It’s sometimes worth just sitting on a card. The card that lets you reactivate your God Power is probably too good for Piton or Aristaphane, so if you get it, you might just want to hold on to it for as long as possible… unless you end up needing it!
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- Love the theme. The whole idea of a mysterious pantheon is super cool, and it really feels very story-like from the cards and the esoteric representation. Which brings me to another pro:
- The art is awesome. It’s very, very cool. I honestly kind of want to just make a shadowbox for this game and keep it as an art piece. It’s very nice. Nice range of colors, cool edges, just all-around, neat.
- Game seems to play a bit slowly. There’s a lot of opportunity for analysis paralysis in this because there’s so little you can do on your turn (play one card, maybe activate a God Power at most), but it’s weird because despite it being about the same content level as, say, a microgame, it feels like it’s a bit meatier. Unfortunately, not to its advantage.
- It would have been a good idea to include some gameplay examples. Take Lanterns (one of my favorite rulebooks) as an example, which includes many examples of gameplay, including one edge case that players will likely run into. This helps new players really understand how to play your game, since they can compare it to actions that they’ve already taken on their turn. They Who Were 8 doesn’t have this, so you’re left to interpret that.
- It’s missing some context. The game is based on some poems, sure, but at least with my copy there were no poems and I couldn’t find them online. This makes it hard to get fully immersed.
- The game doesn’t really have a solid “flow” to it, thematically. I think that it’s unclear how we’re supposed to be playing bards weaving the tale of our gods, since there’s no narrative flow to the cards. Do we invoke them? Is it “The Jealousy of Cymele She Creates”? This also makes the flavor text a bit confusing, since you can’t really read that to lead into the next player’s turn. It’s not that I expected a storytelling game, but it felt like there was some implied opportunity to tell a story while playing that never really manifested.
- The rulebook leaves a lot of ambiguity to certain abilities. It’s unclear when you can use God Powers or if there are exclusions. Some seem obvious (Praxis can be affected by God Powers after using his ability), some require a bit of a leap (Cymele She Creates probably forces you to skip drawing a card), and some are completely opaque (when / how can you activate Evertwisted Aristiphane?). Also, when playing with two, how do you use the ability that takes a token from a player’s God and puts it on another player’s God, but you cannot target yourself? It’s … frustrating.
- There are a lot of symbols for such a short game. The entire back of the rulebook is just symbols, and that inflicts a ton of cognitive load on new players. It’s not a particularly good way to ingratiate your game with an introductory crowd.
OVERALL: 4.75 / 10
Overall, They Who Were 8 is … fine, at best, for me. Like, you could talk me into playing it again, but it might take some doing. I like the art and theme a lot, and wish it had come out more in the gameplay, maybe with some kind of storytelling aspect, given the theme. I’d also like to have seen text on the cards instead of icons, as it would give them an opportunity to eliminate ambiguity rather than passing it on to the players (and there’s a fair bit of ambiguity). I want to cut it some slack because I like the art so much, but unfortunately, relative to other games in my collection, I don’t see myself coming back to this one when I have Between Two Cities, unless I want to stop and admire the art some more. That said, I could be talked into it again, and likely will try to play it more in the future to see if my opinion changes. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t sit well with me, given how neat the art is, but that’s how it goes, sometimes.