Lords of Hellas Board Game Review

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Lords of Hellas Board Game Review

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And, lo, Moses came down from the mound and said “Bring me a hammer and chisel, my top 10 list has changed.”

To me, Lords of Hellas is a hanging curve ball, out over the plate with the wind at my back and sun in the pitcher's eyes. That is just a convoluted way of saying it is completely in my wheelhouse. Just reading about it and checking out the images online was enough to warrant a mention in My Woefully Incomplete and Wholly Inaccurate Best of 2018 Guide. A cyber-twist on Greek Gods with Heroes, Hunting and Hellas. I'm not sure I could assemble a better list of things I wanted in a board game. But a checklist of cool shit does not make a great game. Assembling them into a well-balanced, smooth-running tour de force, however, has Lords of Hellas bursting into my top games with aplomb.

The game begins with everyone selecting from the (slightly) asymmetrical heroes. While the hero you select can point you into a direction of which of the four victory conditions you might want to pursue, it doesn't constrict you from changing strategy on the fly. Three victory conditions are instantly recognizable as tried and true: Control a preset number of areas, have control of a number of areas containing temples or Hunt and Collect three different Monsters. The final (fourth) victory condition involves building huge monuments to the gods and acts as both an in-game timer and “round” reset mechanism. Player's turns consist of taking any number of regular actions (but only once for each type) and a single Special Action which is then unavailable until someone uses the monument action to “reset” the round.

Of the victory conditions Monster Hunting looks like the default easy win. Why bother amassing an army and slowly spreading them across the map when you can track and kill some cyberneticly enhanced version of mythological creatures?If you do choose to go the Monster Hunting route, you are not at a distinct disadvantage in the other victory conditions. This is because the combat cards used to battle monsters are the exact same combat cards that are used to battle other players. If you decide to pursue this route, LOH gives you enough combat cards that you aren't the proverbial sitting duck if another players decides to sweep though your territories and attempt to remove them from your control. It might seem like a minor detail but it is one that screams “Well thought out and properly balanced.”

Of course, if someone is obviously trying to pursue the Monster Hunter victory condition, you will want to “dissuade” them from doing that. Players don't have a direct way to interfere with another players pursuit of killing monsters but they do have the ability to come in and snipe a monster if a player fails to overcome it in the initial melee. One player can, for instance, get five of the six wounds needed to take down a specific mob but can still be vulnerable to a well-timed kill steal. Even if you aren't actively pursuing the Monster Hunter victory condition, it is still a potent weapon in your arsenal. Defeating a Monster gives you the control token for that region, so it can be a sly way to tip the scales in your favor in other victory conditions or you can use it to acquire new or different battle cards to use versus another player, since you draw battle cards when you take the "Hunt" action. A well timed kill steal followed by "Usurp" action can devastate the holdings of another player...or just the threat of it can change the tactics of the other players. 

If Monster Hunting is deceptive on how you might think it will play out, so is Combat. Combat appears, on the surface to have little at stake. The loser of a battle has to remove one single hoplite and retreat from the region. It doesn't sound like a particularly devastating, army-routing result. But tossing combat cards into play can turn a single encounter upside down. The cards have powers you can activate but usually at a cost of sacrificing a hoplite. The red skull cards might help you win the battle, but can easily cause you to take a major hit in your overall war. The card playing portion of the combat starts with the defender. They have the option of playing a card or passing, then the attacker has the same option. Once you have passed, your plan is set...and if the other player continues to play cards, it can sway a battle you thought was a forgone conclusion.

I really enjoy how the game escalates. For instance, each area has a set number of hoplites that you need to have in that area in order to initially take control of it (think of it as “overcoming” the local population). Once an area has been conquered in this way, the requirement is removed. You can choose to leave a single hoplite to hold an area or even zero troops if you choose to attempt to blitzkrieg around the map. You can even choose to entrench troops inside of cites for a defensive bonus. The escalation comes in both the removal of the troop requirement needed to control an area as each is conquered and in using the Special Action: Recruit. This action gives you 2 hoplites in EACH region you control with a city (4 hoplites if that city...is...Sparta!). So, in the beginning rounds, it may only give you two hoplites but as the game progress you can plop down a bevy of troops on the map with this single action, swinging the dynamic of the entire continent.

You can also acquire god powers (secured by taking over the area containing that particular god's monument) and other cards that you can only be used one per round...but should you wait until the perfect moment and risk not using that power this round or pile them on, early and often? Timing is everything and you can rest assured the other players aren't taking what you want to do into account....or maybe they are and just want to prevent you from pulling it off.

The Build Monument is both an end-game timer and who's-going-to-blink first round timer. Since you do one special action per turn and you usually want to do ALL the special actions before the end of a “round” you have to try to judge when your opponents are going to build a piece of the monument. If you were unable to, say, Hunt a Monster this round, they have now pushed your plan one rung further down the ladder. Will you still have time to accomplish everything you want, since you can only Hunt once per round? Thinking “Well, I'm screwed!” a half dozen times during a game is not uncommon. But, just as often, you'll find enlightenment in pursuing a new, different courses of action. If the Monument action that is taken fully assembles the first Monument of the game, a 3 round clock begins. The player who took the action takes the Monument activation card, and covers it’s 3 spaces with 3 of their used action tokens. On each of their turns after that, the player takes a token off the card when they do their Special Action. Whoever controls that monument’s space when the last token in removed wins the game. But don't forget the other win conditions are still valid, and can end the game before the 3-turn clock.

I've been kicking around an (admittedly horrible) comparison of Lords of Hellas with Scythe. Bear with me for a moment while I try to justify what I mean. When trying to explain the immense popularity of Scythe, I came to the conclusion that much of it has to do with giving you a small taste of a variety of excellent mechanisms wrapped up into a stunningly attractive package...a sampler platter of things you might dig. Lords of Hellas does something similar except where Scythe bait and switched conflict, Lords of Hellas leaned into it. And you don't have to do a bit of everything to win a game of LOH, you can just choose a primary focus. This isn't a sampler platter, this is a all-you-can-eat buffet of top-tier Dudes on a Map strategies and execution. The monument victory method owes at least a nod to Cthulhu Wars' Doom Point system. The Madagot holy trilogy of Kemet, Cyclades, and Inis all provide tasty bits to this buffet. The Monster Hunting pulls from the likes of Champions of Midgard and Eric Lang's Rising Blood Sun Chaos in the Rage World are also obvious influences. And the thing is that Lords of Hellas comes out favorably on each of these comparisons. It may not match some of these games stride for stride but they certainly used what they learned from them to create a top-tier experience.

Lords of Hellas is equal parts playing your own strategy and carefully watching the other combatants for anyone making a move. It's strikes a good balance, never falling into the tedious “Got to stop that dude doing the Loki Strategy!” territory. There is plenty that I haven't even begun to delve into in this review, including priests, temples, and Monsters moving, attacking players, and even evolving. Suffice to say that these mechanisms are just as refined and well thought out as those I have gushed about. Lords of Hellas is a legitimate contender, not only in the crowded Dudes on a Map field but also in my favorite games of all time.

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Lords of Hellas Board Game Review
Lords of Hellas Board Game Review
Lords of Hellas Board Game Review
Lords of Hellas Board Game Review
Lords of Hellas Board Game Review

Wade Monnig  (He/Him)
Staff Board Game Reviewer

In west Saint Louis born and raised
Playing video games is where I spent most of my days
Strafing, Dashing, Adventuring and Looting
Writing reviews between all the Shooting
When a couple of guys reminded me what was so good
About playing games with cardboard and Wood,
Collecting Victory Points and those Miniatures with Flair
It’s not as easy as you think to rhyme with Bel Air.

Wade is the former editor in chief for Silicon Magazine and former senior editor for Gamearefun.com. He currently enjoys his games in the non-video variety, where the odds of a 14 year old questioning the legitimacy of your bloodline is drastically reduced.

“I’ll stop playing as Black when they invent a darker color.”

Articles by Wade

Wade Monnig
Staff Board Game Reviewer

Articles by Wade

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hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #299499 10 Jul 2019 08:02
Great review, for a great game!
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #299503 10 Jul 2019 10:02
Lords of Hellas is the type of game that I loved from the start. Maybe I'm pessimistic, but I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, some fatal flaw that would rear it's cybernetic head but I was pleasantly surprised when that never happened. And seeing all four victory conditions play out in my games gives it a thumbs up for balance. Now, if I can secure some expansions (I do have the terrian set, which replaces any standers in the games and gives the cities depth)
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #299506 10 Jul 2019 11:07
I've still only played once. I have the 5th and 6th player expansions and the one vs. many expansion. Troy looks like an interesting area. In our 3 player game, one player was Cassandra, and of course took Sparta because why wouldn't you, but if Troy was in play, I'd take that for sure.

The 5th player board with the factory temple looks cool too; I like the idea of having a giant monster to send out and terrorize.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #299508 10 Jul 2019 12:45
I hear so many good things about this, you never know when one of these monstrously overproduced Kickstarters is just going to be really good (see Cthuhlu Wars)
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #299515 10 Jul 2019 14:07

Gary Sax wrote: I hear so many good things about this, you never know when one of these monstrously overproduced Kickstarters is just going to be really good (see Cthuhlu Wars)


And that is of course the problem... usually they just aren't, and when you let one pass you by, only to hear 2 years later that it was in fact good, by then it's too late unless you want to get held up on ebay.

I'm experiencing that right now with the positive buzz around Jagged Alliance, a game that looked pretty generic to me when it was on KS.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #299682 16 Jul 2019 07:05
I played this for the first time last night. Oh man, is this game really, really good. Zeus was the popular pick when it came time to send priests out, which did lead to a monster hunting win, but towards the end we all started to see the value in more leadership and speed. There’s a lot I would do differently next time, but I still had a blast with it. Can. Not. Wait. To play again.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #299687 16 Jul 2019 10:18
I really want to play this!
Scott_F's Avatar
Scott_F replied the topic: #299727 17 Jul 2019 02:10
Guess I'm in the minority here. Played it once and the four of us found the game very average. Nobody really liked the monster hunting aspect as it felt like a way to ignore the territory control focus of the game. The upgrades almost had a kemet vibe to it but less transparent and less fun, and the combat felt the same way. Dumped my all in pledge. Dan Thurot has a good review of it that does a better job of pointing out flaws. I'd rather play Blood Rage/Rising Sun/Cthulhu Wars/Cry Havoc for this type of game.
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #299731 17 Jul 2019 08:57
Last night we had a four player game, and it was FANTASTIC! It was my friend, both of my 12 year old boys, and myself. One son and I had one prior game under our belts, which my son won.

Everyone loved it, including my other son who has never stayed focused on a board game for that long. It actually took 3 1/2 hours plus instructions, which was longer than expected but it frankly flew by. The only other board game that has kept his attention for a long time was Fallout, and definitely not to this degree.

I lost every battle I was in, which really had me struggling for any sense of area control. I shifted my focus to killing monsters, which was going well since I got to get the last hit on the Sphinx, and had a protracted battle with Cerberus but needed more cards. I was one turn from killing it when my son won his second game by nabbing 2 lands. Had I been paying attention to him, I could have usurped all of his territory, but ultimately all that would have done was hand a victory to one of the other players.

I continue to be impressed with how this game allows for shifting focus as it relates to victory conditions. If you set down one path and someone thwarts you, it's relatively easy to start trying for a different condition.

Everyone loved it when Typhon showed up on the board. He's basically Mecha-Godzilla with assault rifles. He looks awesome.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #299735 17 Jul 2019 09:13
Yes it has a very clever quality baked in where it feels as though you can instantly pivot without putting yourself way behind. The way it controls pacing (allowing this to happen while not forcing the game to end too soon), is pretty remarkable.

Although, 3.5 hours is way longer than my longest game of this. We always clock in right around 2 hours. I've played 3 player games of it in 60 minutes.

We're playing tonight with the Poseidon expansion and new monsters/events/combat cards from the Dark Ages expansion. Pretty pumped as it's been a few months since we last played. Group chose this over Gods War unanimously.

I'm still sort of shocked by your reaction Scott. I'm less surprised by Dan who also isn't a fan of Cthulhu Wars and some of the more Ameritrashy area control games.

This is a hybrid, but it's much looser and chaotic than something like Kemet, Cyclades, or Inis (which I also love but for different reasons).
hotseatgames's Avatar
hotseatgames replied the topic: #299739 17 Jul 2019 10:01
I've had the Dark Ages combat cards in the mix the entire time, there's no problem with them.