WDYPTW: A Knee-jerk Review of Ethnos
Designed by Paolo Mori
Art by John Howe
Published by CMON Limited
Hype, Hype, Hype and more Hype. That's honestly what brought Ethnos to my attention. We had just been to Geekway to the West and I had heard rumors about Ethnos. People had been playing it and enjoying themselves all weekend, and yet, I never saw the game on any table that I ever walked by, and I did an awful lot of walking that weekend. So, I return from Geekway to the West and in my haste to buy all the games, I sat down and watched the Shut Up & Sit Down review and watched them gush about the simplicity, the elegance, the depth while being an easy to teach and play game. I won't mention their complaints about the generic art, which is actually quite nice in my not so well thought out opinion. I ordered it on the spot, Amazon had it for a decent enough price and the highs in that review seemed to fit me perfectly.
So, what is Ethnos? Well, Ethnos is ultimately an Area Control game where the players are fighting over control of 6 areas in the land of Ethnos. You do this by using a "rummy" style mechanic to place down Tribes.
On a player's turn they can do 1 of 2 options, which are:
- Recruit an Ally- There is an offer of Allies available to everyone on their turn equal to two times the number of players, so in a four player game there will be 8 allies out there to start with. At the beginning of the game, you'll choose, either randomly or just pick, the 6 tribes that are going to be active this game, the rest will go back into the box, and this is what the offer is made of. So on your turn, you either take one of the face up allies in the offer, or you draw a card from the top of the deck in hopes that you get what you want.
- Play a Band of Allies- So here is the meat of the game. On your turn you may play a group of cards that represent a Band of Allies that you are sending to an area to help control it. This band must consist of either the same color(ie area) or of the same allied tribe. In doing this, you are going to be hopefully placing a control marker out on the board. You choose a leader for you Band, and if you are able, you will place a control marker in the area that matches the color of the leader chosen. In order to place a marker, you need to play one more card in the Band, than you have control markers already in that area. So the first one just costs, one card. After you do that, you may have a power that you can use from the leader which you will do, and then, and here's the kicker, you have to discard all the cards that remain in your hand to the public offer(unless of course a leader power allows you to not do this).
That's all you do on your turn, then play passes to the next player and they do the exact same thing. Turns are going to move pretty quickly here.
The deck of cards will have 3 dragon cards in it and those are your timers for each Age. The game for 4 and above players will be over 3 Ages. When a player draws that third Dragon card, play ends immediately and end of Age scoring takes place. Each area will have randomly assigned scoring tiles letting you know how much each area is worth after each age. You score those, and then you will score points based on the Bands of Allies that you played that Age. A 1 Ally Band will score you nothing, a 2 Ally Band will score you 1 point, 3 Ally Band equals 3 points so on down the line getting even more valuable. After scoring that, everyone discards all their cards and their allies, the deck is rebuilt and play proceeds to the next Age with the person last in points being the starting player. Do that through 3 Ages and the most points wins the game.
Each of the Tribes has a special power, and last night I believe we played with the Giants, the Trolls, the Elves, the Skeletons, the Wizards, and the Centaurs. Each of these Tribes do different things. The Skeletons are basically "wilds" that are used to increase the size of your band when trying to place control markers, but they go away before scoring during end of age. The Wizards allow you to draw X number of cards after discarding, where X is the number of cards in the Band. So the variability and the ability to "break the rules" is here.
The problem, if you can call it one, is that the public offer often goes empty and you are forced to just keep drawing random cards from the deck in hopes of getting what you want and sometimes you're going to do that anyway because nothing in the public offer fits your plans. The Tribes we had in play allowed for a lot of keeping of cards so the offer just wasn't being replenished, you see if you take an Ally from the offer, it isn't replaced. There were multiple back to back rounds where we all were just drawing the top card from the deck in rapid fire succession because that was really our only option and this made the game feel a bit weird to me.
But other than that one complaint about gameplay, after only one game, I thought everything else worked perfectly. It was easy to teach, even if the teacher did forget to do the Band scoring at the end of Age 1. This really does feel like a Gateway into more area control titles, like a baby El Grande.
The bits are fiddly, fiddly as hell. The Control Markers are supposed to stack so you can easily see who is in control, but they don't interlock in any sort of way so if they get knocked a bit, the tower just falls apart and you have to hope you don't get mixed up in a different area. Plus, while I appreciate the effort that CMON took with the insert for Ethnos, you will never store this one vertically without just forgoing the insert and bagging those control markers. Oh, and if you sleeve your cards, you'll be pitching the insert anyway.
I love, absolutely LOVE, the discarding of cards from your hand when playing a Band of Allies, it really makes for some interesting choices of when to try to play cards vs when to collect cards and how many do you keep. You really don't want to give up some of the cards in your hand because you just know that the person to your left has been collecting Trolls all Age long, or they are looking to gain control of a certain area. It's decisions like this, in a simple to learn game that make the game stand out.
Will I play Ethnos again? Absolutely, and I am greatly looking forward to it, especially at 5/6 players, but I think I won't allow Tribes that are going to compound the lack of public offerings to be played together, like the Elves & the Centaurs. Which kind of disappoints me, as part of what I really like about games like this, is the complete random setup. But, I guess you can't have it all, now can you?