A nice leisurely cruise round the Greek islands it said on the brochure…who were they trying to fool? ( me, obviously)
…so I boarded this rickety wooden ship, The Argo, with my sun hat and suitcase and not a care in the world…little did I know what was to later unfold.
(Press play for an Argonaut/Greek-esque ambiance to accompany your read)
…it started with the navigator sending us through some tiny channel in a hillside… up pops a bloody great bearded bloke and holds the rocks at bay while we sail on by… then screeching bloody harpies and skeletal warriors and some great homping amphibious T Rex jobbie attacks us… a jobbie with breath that was worse than a 100year old privy (outside toilet)
…and moving bronze statues, for the Gods’ sake! You know I thought I was in some 70’s fantasy mythological B movie!
Everyone’s name seems to end in -us for some reason…except some bloke with a big…attitude called Jason…
No more cruises for me, Next year I am holidaying in France in a decent era like the mid 1940’s….
What’s All The Fuss About?
Fuss is as fuss does…I hope I am not getting too technical here.
Argonauts was a small scale game Kickstarted in 2014-ish by Greek game company Alcyon Creative that basically told the well known tale of Jason and his agony aunts. To all intents and purposes if you have only seen the old movie (never having read or heard about any Greek Mythology) then you have a fair idea of what is to come. The game follows a predetermined path around the Mediterranean as the Argo and its crew sail on their epic adventure. It is listed as 1-4 because the crew is made up of four teams of four characters which can facilitate up to four players operating once crew team.. It is a co-op game but is obviously designed for one soloist to play by operating all four crew teams.
At strategic locations throughout the linear voyage, those oh-so famous encounters are relived in full and players are left with the difficult task of assigning crew to negotiate these encounters. This is not a hand management mechanic as such, as there are usually only four cards in a hand, but allocating the skills of each of these four cards can have significant implications later in the game so managing the crew is vital. There is a degree of resource management too, keeping crew fed/free from starvation, keeping the ship ship-worthy and buying resources when the Argo puts into port…the cost of running a ship in these accursed times is ludicrously high.
Immersion or Subversion?
There is a very strong theme here…as we all know of elements of Greek tales of antiquity…and as the game pretty much reenacts the tale of Jason word for word, one could say it is thematic… but does the game-play replicate the theme or is it a dodgy veneer pasted over a poor game?
Not in the slightest. I think as the game is a little like reliving the movie I grew up on as a youngster, and as such, it does play out the theme. The way we have to manage the crew, allocating the right people to the right task at the right time is probably as it would have been for the Argo crew. We have the benefit of foresight as we know who or what will be encountered as we progress but that insight only provides a loose framework to plan around. Keeping the ship in good repair, feeding the crew… all these elements just add to the whole effect and ultimately the way the game has been constructed, it does, overall, feel like a compact thematic game.
Most of the game is simple. Now this is not a negative. Merely a statement of fact. The game is not bogged down with over worked or excessively complex mechanics. So for us to set sail and adventure on, the Argo is moved one space per turn and each space/location it lands on has one of a series of potential encounters for our crew to interact with. A mini adventure with every stop.
Many are safe ports where items and food can be purchased to help with the voyage or tools to repair the rickety ship or vendors to barter with or nail salons for Hercules to get a pedicure…In reality there are a random set of tiles that can be drawn for each port adding an element of unpredictability each game as prices and availability of consumables differs from tile to tile.
(and mimicking the fluctuating Greek market, no doubt). Some locations are event/exploration spaces where a random event card is drawn.
The green exploration cards can be good and the blue sea event cards are usually bad but nothing is ever a sure bet in this game which keeps us balanced on the edges of our communal seat…and then there are the classic bad guy encounters like the Skeletal warriors or the Bronze Titan Talos or the Dragon.
Simple so far? Now food rations have to be depleted each movement or crew health declines so content bellies are key here…but where the game becomes really interesting is in the management of the crew. Teams of four characters all with a selection of ability statistics (including Strength, Sailing, Diplomacy, Stealth and Mystic ability) Knowing what is ahead can help plan a little but the crew management system has a little sneaky plan up its sleeve, the little beggar!
Each team allocates a single character to be considered for an encounter (all relevant stats or special abilities are added up and compared to the encounter requirements re: success or failure) then when the task is over they are moved from an Exhausted state to a Resting state meaning that once used, a character cannot be called upon for two turns. and so planning ahead is crucial.
…there were also some nice double sided tokens to represent the ship and they really help keep tabs on its structural stability (which will receive a severe battering during the course of our adventure) … by flipping each one every time an encounter causes structural damage.
Nothing too mind bending but still, it makes for a very enjoyable, light-ish game (not a filler, as the term filler is, in my mind, rather demeaning to small games saying only big box heavy euros are worthy of a play)
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
As soon as the box is opened, from start to finish this is a ridiculously high quality game. The card tokens are so thick heavy-lifting gear is needed. The quality and finish of the cards both normal and taro sized is excellent and the artwork is a thing to behold both on the playing board and on all components. Even the back of the board has a staggering illustration on it. A small but colourful, well illustrated rule book completes the ensemble.
Meeples and Standees:
Design Team: Lefteris Iroglidid, Konstantinos Iovis, Ioannis Stamatis
Art Work: Giota Viorga
Graphics: Ioannis Stamatis
Rules: Alexandros Boucherelis, Jenni Mark beesley
Published by Alcion Creative
This is very solo friendly and managing four teams of four cards is not over taxing for the soloist. The only taxing element is when we have only two available crew to choose from and both are useless drunkards. This, then, is the curse of all captains, I should say.
It is a lighter game but an exciting one and an enjoyable one nonetheless. A game need not make your brain melt and spill from your ears for it to be enjoyable. There is a concern, I have occasionally read, about replay-ability…in that each game is just retelling the same linear story each time…but as the Sea Encounters and the Exploration Cards are all random, as is the resource availability for each port encounter, no two games can be played the same. Additionally, the crew is chosen randomly from a pool of potential heroic Greek deckhands all presenting player skill combinations that will also differ from game to game. There is not an infinite set of possibilities but enough here to prevent early stagnation. At the risk of being accused of name dropping, my friend and colossal genius designer of Gloom of Kilforth fame, Tristan Hall, claims to have logged 50+ plays with his son so there is obviously plenty of mileage in the game for all ages.
Bots And Wotnots:
There is not a Bot or a Wotnot in sight. This is purely solo (or multi-person cooperative crew operation). A solo adventure against the game its self. There is a track/path we follow with nodes placed along our journey that indicate locations for us to experience the many varied encounters offered by the game. There are cards are drawn from appropriate decks, all of which contain a pre-constructed encounters and offer us ways to die or lose bits of the ship or say tatty-bye to valued crew members.
The Real Nitty Gritty:
- Winners and Losers: Oh, this is a real toughy to win. A very simple game-play but so many plates to spin (a silly analogy as plate spinning on board a ship would be sheer madness…but you get the general idea) We have crew to feed, moral to keep up, sooo many encounters both on land an at sea as well as the iconic bad guys taken right out of the book (assuming Greek mythology was recorded in a book…or collection of scrolls) or for ease, the film.
- Rules is Rules is Rules:
- Lucky Buggers: Those pesky little dice feature in certain aspects of this game including combat/completing tasks/defeating obstacles thrown in our crew’s way. now don’t be put off by this as it is only one die…a single d12. How dreadful could it be? Well, providing we are careful, plan and select crew with care, we should have the skill/traits to over come everything we encounter…be it multi-headed serpents, bronze statures or squirrels with a nasty glint in their eyes. Ah, yes..we also have to role to see if we have the favor of the Gods with us or encounter their displeasure. This can throw the occasional spanner in the works too. There is always going to be a high risk/high luck element but we do have the means to negate a large percentage of this…and leave ourselves just enough randomness to make the encounters rather exhilarating.
- Highs and Lows: This is a tricky chappie to win and the further we progress, the less crew survive, the harder the tasks become resulting in a rather nail biting yet exhilarating adventure. Now I know the game is very linear as we face the same major perils at the same locations on our journey but each journey presents events…stumbling blocks in different ways each time. our crew are never available at the same moments from game to game, so the draw here is… can we survive and if we do, just how much is left of our damaged ship or crew. Admittedly it may not be a title to pull out frequently, but when I do, I most certainly get a high from playing
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: There is a small board and space required for the four lines of four crew needed to sail the Argonaut. As such we should feel quite comfortable on a 40cm x 90cm area ( I have my teams of crew to the side of the board in their lines…just feels more convenient.
- Set It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: Sorting the crew takes only a few moments (as Hercules and Medea are not to be on board at the same time) but random crew team selection is a fast affair and ensuring the Legendary Encounters and Port Cities are in the correct order. The sea and land encounter decks are randomly shuffles and placed on the appropriate board space…other than that there really isn’t any vital setup activities. We should be looking as, say five or no more than ten ,minutes setup and less to pack away. this is a very quick set up and play
Me, Myself and I:
I’ve enjoyed numerous plays of this and it does look good on the table. I will admit I don’t pull it off the shelf too often but then again, it is one of those smaller games that is always nice experience to jump into periodically. Ultimately it will depend on your tastes in games. If a fan of Jason and his cronies, or you like light adventure/exploration or just need something for those less heavy gaming experience then this is well worth a look. I recommend it and think it offers players an incite to the myths of Greece. The rule book has some interesting background details which further embellish the gaming experience.
Yay or Nay?
This lavish production sails its way through perilous waters into a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (6). An excellent, yet at times frustratingly difficult game suitable for any collection.
Alcyon Creative are currently running a short Kickstarter campaign for a deluxe edition and upgrade pack (adding an Argo miniature and extra content to the base game) Link to campaign;
…well now all that is done, let’s go kick some skeletal arse…which considering they a series of bones that are inexplicably held together, there is not much arse to kick.
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Something For the weekend, Sir?
Alcyon Creative on Twitter: https://twitter.com/alcyoncreative
Alcyon Creative website: https://alcyoncreative.com
Link to the Argonauts BGG page: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/171356/argonauts
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