Dale Yu: Review of Helios

 

Helios

  • Designer: Matthias Prinz & Martin Kallenborn
  • Publisher: Z-man / Hans im Glueck
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: ~60-90 min
  • Players: 2-4
  • Times played: 7 (3 on review copy provided by Z-Man)

helios-box

Helios is a new spring 2014 release from Hans im Glueck which has just had an English version release from Z-Man. It is on the thinkier side, and (when viewed with Essen 13 release Russian Railroads), it hopefully heralds a return to more complex games from HiG.

While the varied mechanics can be overwhelming for a first game, once you are familiar with the game, it actually is pretty streamlined – I will try to give an overview of gameplay here –

The game is mostly played on the two different player boards in front of each player.  There is a common supply of tiles that sits in the middle of the table, but most of the rest of the action happens on the individual boards.

helios-setup

The first player board starts with the sun on it and one hexagonal land tile.  ON this board, you will build a “planet” of sorts which will be circled by the sun.  The other player board is a city board, filled with many different buildings.

In a 4p game, there are 4 rounds in the game, each following the same pattern of three phases – player actions, characters, clean up.

In the first phase, players perform actions.  There are 3 actions which can be chosen: a) create land, b) build a building, or c) move the sun.   At the start of each round, a supply of action tiles will be set up, six tiles each of the three different actions.  When you want to take a particular action, you take the tile from the supply and then perform the action.

These actions tiles can be of four different colors (Red, blue, yellow and white – which is wild).  When you choose an action, you must take the tile from the bottom of the row.

Create Land – At the start of each round, one tile of each color is available as well as one tile chosen randomly from a pool of tiles.  There are also four types of bonus tokens which are always available.  when you take this action, you may choose from the land tiles available for the round.  This tile is then placed on the player’s player board.  The new tile must touch a previously placed tile.  If it is a land tile, it comes with one resource cube of matching color on it.  Bonus tokens do not receive anything now, but they will provide endgame bonus scoring.

If you are able to build your tile on top of a resource cube icon printed on the board, you collect a bonus resource cube to be placed on that tile.  Similarly, if you build over a printed mana icon, you get a mana token to your supply.

Build Building – there are two different sorts of things that can be built.  First, you could build a building on your player City mat.  The various buildings have a cost in resource cubes – and you pay this cost by discarding the matching cubes from your planet board.   The purchased building is marked with a white wooden building and then the player can now take advantage of any special abilities that the building provides.

helios city board

credit: duchamp on BGG

For example, the City Hall building provides +1 to your sun movement when you build it.  Additionally for the rest of the game, any time a temple is illuminated by the Sun, it scores an extra 3 VPs – this happens for every temple that scores for the rest of the game.

The other type of building that can be built is a temple.  This temple is placed on a land hex on the planet board (using the same white wooden marker).  The cost for the temple is a number of resource cubes equal to the number of temples on your planet board.  So, the first temple costs one cube, the second temple costs two cubes,… When you build the temple, you are also rewarded with mana (the red gems), in an amount also equal to the number of temples on your planet board.  Temples are important to score points when you move the sun.

Move the sun – the third action allows you to move the sun around the planet board.  The sun always moves clockwise, and it moves around the land and bonus tiles that have been placed.   The number of spaces that your sun can move is determined by the movement limit.  At the start of the game, all players are limited to 2 spaces of movement.  However, many buildings and characters allow you to increase the maximum movement per action.

You may move the sun any number of spaces up to your limit.  The reason why you may not move the full allotment of spaces is that the space where the sun stops can be crucially important.  Once the sun stops, it shines on any adjacent land tiles.  If those tiles are regular land tiles, they will generate a new resource cube (if they were empty).  If the sun shines on a temple, that temple scores VPs equal to the number of tiles directly adjacent to the temple plus 1VP for the temple itself.

Additionally, for each full revolution of the board, the sun will score a 5VP bonus (this is marked with an icon printed on the board at the very top of the circle.

Bonus action – after you take your regular action (by taking a action tile from the supply), there is the chance that you get an extra action.  As you take action tiles, you place them at the bottom of your planet board – there are areas for each of the three colors (Red, blue, yellow).  If you choose a white (wild) tile, you may choose to put it in any of the the columns.  If you have managed to collect four tiles of the same color, you must immediately take an extra action after your regular action.  You may not save this extra action for later.  The extra action is simply any of the three regular actions as described above.  You do NOT take a tile from the supply though when you take the extra action.

You might also get an extra action if you have built the palace building on your City board – the special ability of this building is to give you an extra action.

This first action phase continues until all players have chosen 4 actions.  There will be two action tiles left over, and they are discarded from the supply.  Then the game moves into the Character phase.

At the start of the game, the 8 character tiles are set up in the supply.  In this phase, the starting player is the player with the most mana.  On your turn, you can hire a character, activate a previously hired character or pass.

To hire a character, you simply pay the amount of mana shown on the character tile and then you take that tile and place it in front of you.  It goes grey side up, showing that it is not yet activated.  To activate a character, you discard resource cubes matching those shown on the character tile.  You then flip over the character to the colored side to show that it is activated.  If you get any bonuses (collecting mana, resource cubes, increase sun movement, etc), you get it upon activation.  If you pass, you are out of this phase.  The phase continues until all players have passed (i.e. they have hired and activated all of the characters that they want).

helios people

credit: duchamp on BGG

In the final phase, the supply of land tiles and action tiles is restocked. The start player marker is moved and players last in turn order get bonus resource cubes.  The game then continues on going thru another action phase.  In a 4p game, there are four full rounds.  At the end of the fourth round, you move into a the end game (bonus scoring).

In addition to the VPs scored during the course of the game – there is a lot of scoring at the end of the game:

  • • Each Corner space with an adjacent Earth or Bonus token is worth 4 VPs
  • • Each Bonus token is worth VPs depending on how it is arranged on a player’s Personal board
  • • Each building on a player’s City board is worth the VPs printed on it.
  • • Each activated character is worth VPs
  • • Each remaining Mana stone is worth 1 VP
  • • Remaining resources are worth nothing!

The player with the most VPs wins the game.

My thoughts on the game:

Helios is a well constructed game, with multiple mechanics that intersect and interact well with each other.  Players have a number of ways to score points through the different actions.

I enjoy the puzzle-y aspect of building on your player board.  You have so many different things that you need to take into account when deciding where to place a tile – mostly involving how you plan to score points. If you want to generate a lot of points by moving the sun around the board, you want a very compact shape.  However, you could choose to go the other direction and sprawl out over the area to gain the VP and cube bonuses for reaching the outer edges of the building area.  You also need to consider how and when you will be able to re-supply the tiles.

The characters help give you direction in scoring bonus points, though you have to be able to acquire the card you want!  To help do that, you will need to get gems in the early rounds – but of course, any energy you spend getting gems takes you away from doing other things to score points.  And then, once you get the bonus character, you still have to collect the correct cubes to activate it.  All of these things have to be taken into account when deciding which, if any, characters you try to get.

Some of the characters do seem better than others – but since they are all available at the start of the game, the differential in power just adds to the tension of the mini-game of acquiring them.  When I first played the game, there was some question as to whether the character that gives uncapped bonus points for gems at the end of the game was a game breaker.  While I did win two games running away with use of that bonus scoring, other attempts have not proven as successful, thus making me believe that it is the best bonus card but not invincible.

I also like the way that you have to manage your action choice.  First, the number of each type of action is limited for each round, so you need to make sure that you don’t get shut out of the action that you want to take!  But, then, you also have to watch out for the colors of the tiles.  You generally want to try to collect similar colored tiles so that you can get more bonus actions – but you also want to make sure that you can do something with the bonus action when you do get it (i.e. you are in a good position to build a building that you want OR a land/bonus tile that you want is available to be bought).

I have enjoyed my seven games thus far, though I do wonder how many more games I still have in me.  The setup for the game is the same, and all of the characters are in every game (as are the buildings on the player board).  This has led to players in our group developing one or two set strategies, and the game has started to feel a bit stale after 7 plays as there isn’t much different to consider with repeated games.  Surely, there is a bit of a race to see which players are able to buy which characters, but the strategies themselves don’t vary – only which one you choose to play.  Of course, this is about 3 plays more than most games get in the gaming world of 2014, so take that with a grain of salt…  Additionally, after 7 games, I do not think that I have developed/discovered an unbeatable strategy, so it’s not like there isn’t still room to experiment with the game.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

 

Jonathan Franklin:  I admire the effort that went into designing Helios.  The circular movement of the sun is almost like an oval track racing game where you can choose the inside or outside track, with each having benefits.  The game has lots of different ways to score and even buildings that act in opposition to each other.  The first few times I played, I chose actions that inherently conflicted with one another.  Also, if you don’t get any of the special characters, I don’t see how you can win, so for us, once we understood it better the first round became a mana rush, as the player with the most gets to pick first.  I’d happily play/teach it if asked, but not sure I will be actively seeking it out in the future.

 

Larry (2 plays):  This is a hard one to judge at this point in time.  I’ve really enjoyed the two games I’ve played of this.  The sun mechanic is very unusual and gives the game a unique feel.  I like the fact that the special characters can be really powerful–this is not just another efficiency Euro.  And the game just zips along; I’m sure with a little bit of experience, 60 minute games will be very achievable.

 

However, replayability is a genuine concern and Dale’s experiences do nothing to allay it.  It’s worrisome enough for me to downgrade my rating from “I love it” to “I like it”.  I’m sure I’ll get a half dozen or so good games of this, but “love” means not having to say you’re sorry after only 10 sessions.  Maybe I’ll wind up being pleasantly surprised, but right now, I have too many doubts to assign this one the highest rating.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale, Larry, John P
  • Neutral. Jonathan F., Greg Schloesser, Karen Miller
  • Not for me.

 

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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One Response to Dale Yu: Review of Helios

  1. My husband played a demo of this at Origins. He liked it, but watching, I wasn’t impressed.

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