Friday, May 15, 2009

Hera and Zeus

The ages old clash of husband and wife takes on a much more lethal tone when the married couple are Zeus and Hera, gods in the pantheon of spiteful and vindictive behavior. The two are, once again, feuding and have taken hostages that are dear to one another. It’s quite a marriage that those two have. In Hera and Zeus each player assumes the role of one of the gods and attempts to liberate their hostage from the other, using the help of gods and monsters from Greek mythology. The card game is for two players and takes about 45 minutes to play.

Each player has a deck of cards that contains all of their allies in the battle, as well as the hostage that they have taken. Hera has taken Io, while Argus is imprisoned by Zeus. The game ends when the hostage is freed, or when either player is unable to use all of their action points in a given turn. Players put cards face down on the table and build columns and rows of their forces to oppose the enemy. Most cards have a number which represents their strength in combat, the higher the better. The mighty Poseidon battles at a 7, while an Amazon has a score of 2. Some cards contain the mythology symbol to indicate that they also have some sort of non combat power. Dionysus, Pandora, and Pythia are just a few of the gods that have thrown themselves into the fray. There are a lot of different cards that all have unique powers, fortunately the game comes with a little cheat sheet for each player to help keep track of what each one does. The cards are just okay. I am not a big fan of the art. Mythology is such a great subject for visual representation, but the illustrations here fall a little short in my opinion. Both Zeus and Hera are represented by small wooden tiles, instead of cards like every other character in the game. It seems pointless, especially since the tiles are not that nice. And if it was not for these tiles the entire game could fit into a small box for a deck of cards. But with the tiles the game instead requires slightly larger packaging, so it does not travel as well as a quick two player game should.

The game ultimately winds up as a battle of attrition since most cards are pretty vulnerable. A strong card like Artemis (6 strength) can be defeated by Medusa (0 strength). Medusa can not attack an opponent, but wins any combat in which she is attacked, unless she is attacked by an Amazon or a Hero (2 strength). Poseidon and Nemesis are vulnerable to Pythia. Even the normally unstoppable Hera and Zeus can be defeated by the Pegasus, it of the 1 strength. The result is a lot of back and forth, which is fun and keeps the game moving along. Just when I thought I had my opponent on the ropes I found myself scrambling for reinforcements. The strategy is both long term and short term. Sometimes it seems necessary to throw something down to plug a hole in your defenses, and at other times you are planning several turns ahead. It’s good.

The majority of the game is fun, but the ending lacks a bit. Rather than building to an exciting climax, it just sort of runs out. Or the ending comes out of nowhere, such as when Pegasus takes the hostage (Io or Argus) from the hand. With a little bit of luck it is easy to protect Io and Argus (the Pegasus card has the potential to end the game very quickly, but it takes some luck to accomplish) so the more likely ending occurs when a player is essentially cornered and unable to use their actions points. To me it is always better when a game ends upon a player’s actions, rather than another player’s inaction. It’s as if a player is losing the game, rather than a player winning the contest.

Unlike Age of Mythology, Zeus and Hera is a mythological game that is actually fun to play. It does a good job of incorporating mythology into game effects. Hades, lord of the dead, is able to bring a card back from the discard pile. The chaotic and unpredictable Dionysus is able to move cards around in the columns and rows (way better than it sounds). It is also a game that has a lot of replay value as repeated play sheds insight into strategy and planning, allowing players to grow into the game. It’s probably not the best two player game out there, but is still enjoyable.

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