Deck building games are a genre I enjoy, but a lot of them follow the same old mechanic – play all the cards in your hand, willy nilly, and discard them all at the end or your turn, regardless of whether they were of any use to you. That’s fine for a quick game like Dominion or thematic fun like Marvel Legendary, but it’s nice to have a change!
A Few Acres of Snow, Discworld and A Study In Emerald twisted these mechanics in various ways – endgame conditions, smaller decks, more actions in a turn etc.
I haven’t played A Few Acres of Snow so I can’t comment on that, however I was underwhelmed by the latter two. Firstly, I’m not a Discworld fan and the game has some balance issues anyway. Secondly, I love the Cthulhu mythos, however, after enjoying Arkham and Eldritch Horror – A Study In Emerald seems devoid of immersion and rather soulless.
So along comes Mythotopia, seeking to correct the issues with A Few Acres of Snow – for example – the 2 player cap. It follows similar mechanics for the deck building element. Basically, it’s like a deck-builder with a fantasy theme that gives you plenty of options each game and also a variety of victory objectives to go for. This changes the way you approach each game you play. Sounds good! But will it deliver and can it improve on my bad experiences with the aforementioned titles?
Designer: Martin Wallace (2014)
# of Players: 2-4
Play Time: 60+ Minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 2731 / 7.31
Dice Tower 2014 People’s Choice Rank: n/a
Category: Deck Building with Area Control
Cool cover!!! But it doesn’t really give an impression of fantasy does it???
The first criticism I will make of Mythotopia is the slightly misleading “fantasy” aspect! Aside from a couple of victory point cards that involve Runestones and Dragons and only affect certain provinces that you might aim for – there really is nothing in this game that is fantasy themed! The various cards you can draft have abilities that fit the title (Quarry gets you more stone for example), but really this is a game about mechanics and you’re a faceless warlord out to expand your empire.
In essence, when you play Mythotopia, you have to accept that you’re playing it as a gaming experience, not as a story experience, because there isn’t a story here!
As with so many other games, you can banter with the other players about how your empire is peaceful or warmongering, etc, but you don’t develop any characters, there are no story event cards and you can end the game by simply calling it as an action which can be very anti-climatic. In Discworld you at least had locations and characters that referenced back to the books, of which I’ve read none, but I still can see that in the game. A Study In Emerald tries to tell a story with the team aspect and even though I don’t like that game, it at least tries. But here there’s little to no effort in creating immersion other than the Medieval style artwork used on the cards and board which even if a little bland isn’t bad by any means.
OK So it’s Not Really Fantasy… How Does it Play???
You will start off with a basic deck of starting cards and a random selection of provinces. Each turn you will get two actions from a list including buying or placing armies or ships, invading provinces on the board and tinkering with your deck in various ways. The board, as you can see from the picture, doesn’t have the most colourful layout, but it’s done well and is perfectly functional.
The aim of the game is to amass the most victory points and these can be obtained by building cities, roads and castles in your empire. There are also some randomly selected victory point objectives that vary each game that you can go for which may require you to be more aggressive/defensive or focus on developing your provinces. Each has a limited number of VP tokens so you can’t spam the same tactic constantly.
As well as the objectives there are also 16 random cards that you can draft into your deck (one per turn if you spend an action) that have special abilities. Your choice of these will depend on your overall strategy that you go for.
As you conquer more provinces by way of deterministic combat you’ll add more province cards to your deck each of which has a specific resource (stone for building, food for invading and gold for buying). Obviously as with all deck building games, too many cards means an inefficient deck, but as an action you can choose to permanently remove up to two cards from your deck, thinning it out so that you can focus on your chosen strategy better.
As the game continues, you’ll buy armies and ships, conquer neutral and player owned provinces all while tweaking your hand and deck every turn to prepare for the late game. When four of the seven victory point objectives have been cleared of tokens, one player – who is in the lead – can end the game as an action and the player with the most victory points is the winner.
Decisions Make a Game… and Mythotopia Has Plenty to be Made!!!
Even though I’ve been negative about the theme here, the mechanics themselves work very well and that is what keeps you entertained in this game. You have a lot of different actions that you can choose from and they’re all going to be useful in some way which forces you to make choices and priorities. Even discarding cards from your hand is an action so if you want a better hand to work with, you need to increase your reserve and deposit some cards in there, or discard them completely. However, this is all at the expense of increasing your armies or building new structures! Add the fact that each card can only perform one single function and your choices expand immensely. This is the bread and butter of this game and you’re never short of options. Do you strike now while you have the armies available? Do you continue tweaking your deck? Do you focus on building cities so you can add more cards to your reserve? Will you only conquer territories with gold in them so as to grab the money related victory point tokens? – These are all just examples, but this is a game that needs your thinking cap on or you’ll get brain burn.
The only mechanic that feels a little clunky to me is invading other provinces. You have to play a card with a location you’re attacking from AND a food card AND an army symbol for EACH army you want to deploy – that’s just for normal invasions! If you’re attacking over hills you need a SECOND food and if you’re attacking over seas you need a Ship card as well. So that’s a lot of cards required to do an invasion meaning you’re likely having to build this hand up over time and I found that people forget one of the parts required to do the action! One of my friends kept forgetting about the food! It’s a minor quibble but I think that maybe this could have been made simpler in the rule book! – Don’t let that worry you though! After a few plays it becomes second nature!
Variety is the Spice of Life…Which Path Will You Choose???
The variety in this game comes from the variable victory point cards and the extra improvement cards. There are 10 of the former and 29 of the latter, but you only use 4 and 16 respectively. This means there’s a considerable amount of variety in the games you play particularly with the improvements!
As you play Mythotopia more, you’ll have games where the choice of improvements available affect your chosen strategy, for example – If an extra “Build” card is available with a “Quarry” it makes building easier and suddenly a peaceful “sit and build up behind your walls” strategy becomes viable. What you need to remember though is that there’s only one of each improvement, so you have to grab what you can before the other players do!
That being said, the victory point objectives are a little generic mostly being extra points for conquering regions and some for defending or building. Even the one for Dragons simply means that some provinces become harder to conquer but give extra points for doing so – again mechanics over theme here. We can only hope that an expansion would bring in some more interesting cards, but being a Martin Wallace game, that’s probably unlikely. But despite this, because you only use a few each game, you’ll get plenty of variation for your money and different players will approach the same strategy in different ways.
A Game of Bloodshed… Don’t Leave it All to Luck!!!
As you can see from the picture here, the board gets very contested in multiplayer games so you can expect some bloodshed! Even if you go down the peaceful route, you have to accept that conflict is a big part in this game – If you want more resources you need more provinces, pure and simple! So everyone is going to have to conquer some provinces be they neutral or owned. However, this remains a fun aspect to the game and with only two actions to do each turn, you have to be careful about how you perform your invasions or how open you leave yourself to assault.
The combat is deterministic in that you compare military strengths and bonuses without the use of a die. That’s a good thing, the fact that the only main luck aspect in this game is what cards you draw means it’s very strategic and you can mitigate that luck a lot by tuning your deck right.
Mythotopia Might Not Look Pretty… But it’s a Thinker Through and Through!!!
Mythotopia may look a bit bland and thematically it’s somewhat lacking, but there is quite a “thinky” game to be found here if you look past the exterior.
I especially like how Mythotopia makes discarding your hand, automatically, a thing of the past! I love that you have more flexibility in thinning your deck out, or reserving cards, allowing you to better pursue your chosen strategy! These two things plus the deterministic combat means the element of luck is mitigated to a more manageable level.
Mythotopia is a deck-builder with a twist – recommended for gamers who prefer mechanics to theme! I know that should mean that I should hate the game – but I respect a game for quality mechanics too – In fact, Terra Mystica was my No 1 Euro game on the podcast and that’s a poster child for mechanics over theme!
As with many other Martin Wallace games, Mythotopia isn’t a short game – certainly not for your first few tries. You should expect conflict on a regular basis even with two players. Increase the player count to four and although actually playable, expect a long game if anyone is AP or if you’re teaching new players.
Mythotopia’s rulebook may require a couple of read-throughs to fully grasp the plethora of actions. But persevere! There’s a good amount of meat here and a lot of variety on the menu!
You Will Like This Game If:
- You have played A Few Acres Of Snow and like the deck building mechanics from it.
- You prefer a strategic game that isn’t destroyed by bad luck. You can mitigate it well here.
- You enjoy conflict – you’re going to get your hands dirty here.
You Will Not Like This Game If:
- You were expecting more “fantasy” elements – any fantasy here is completely abstracted.
- AP is a continual problem – you have a lot of options available especially in 4 player games.
- You want theme as it’s not present here. This is mechanics over theme pure and simple.
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I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.