Review: Ethnos

Ethnos review

I’ve been looking at lighter games over the past few months. Things to bring out at Family Games Night that will be easy to teach and explain. So the term Gateway often springs to mind. Gateway games are usually used to introduce  new people the hobby. Ethnos intrigued me. It seemed light but a step above gateway.

Ethnos is a 2017 release from CMON and Asterion Press. Unlike most CMON games this one has no miniatures. In fact for a company that usually makes games that are visually striking, this one looks rather bland.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the Box

Specs on the box:

  • Ages 14+ (should be 10+, 8+ if you don’t just the race powers)
  • 30-60 min
  • 2-6 players

The game has very few components. A rather small but functional board. 13 decks of cards, I know that sounds like a lot but there are only 12 cards in each deck and you only use 6 decks per game. 2 small punch boards worth and 6 sets of plastic tokens, 1 set per player, rounds out the contents.

Ethnos review
I’ve got mixed feelings about this insert, but keeping player pieces in baggies makes setup quicker.

CMON has recently started making inserts for their games. This one is almost perfect. It just does not work as well as I would like. For one thing sleeved cards don’t fit in the slots. I know lots of people don’t sleeve their cards but a lot of people do. In addition to that if you don’t store the box flat, some of the components move. This means that I leave the plastic tokens in their baggies, which does make setup easier.

Sleeves

I’ve sleeved all of the cards with these:

Theme

The story goes that the kingdom of Ethnos has fallen apart. All of the various races (Elves, Merfolk, Giants..) have scattered and things are just generally very bad. You, the players, have made it your mission to reform the kingdom. It’s your job to go about recruiting people of the different races and forming them into bands/armies/groups that you send out to exert your influence on the land.

Your goal is to become the new king by scoring the most points…. Ok the theme is not that strong in this one. It’s there, you can look for it and the quotes in the rule book from the different races are actually pretty decent. None of it matters though. The game is just so fun and fast that you won’t notice the theme, or lack of one. It also won’t matter because you will be itching to play again.

Gameplay

I have to give you fair warning, the rules are so simple that reading them might make you think that the game is too. It’s not. It’s great.

Setup

I expected setup to be quicker, it’s not difficulty but it just feels like it takes longer than it should. First you lay out the board, then you take the Glory tokens and mix them up. These will be randomly dished out, 3 to each province on the board. These are then arranged from lowest to highest and placed in the little numbered blocks next to each province.

Next you need to see which of the 12 races are going to be used in the game. So the deck of setup cards is shuffled and from there you draw 6 cards, those are the races you will be using for the game. Find the decks belonging to those races and return the rest to the box.

Ethnos review
Will all the tokens on the board it can look “nice” but I still find it a bit bland.

The race cards are shuffled thoroughly and then the deck is split in half. 3 Dragon cards are shuffled into 1 of the halves with the remaining half placed on top. This way the dragons are in the bottom half of the deck.

Next deal each player 1 card from the deck and then lay out, face up, cards from the deck equal to twice the number of players. So 8 for a 4 player game and 12 for a 6 player one etc. Finally each player selects a set of the plastic tokens and you are good to go.

NB: I’ve described the setup for games with 4+ players. For 2-3 players there are some modifications to the setup to compensate for the change in player count.

Turn Sequence

During your turn you can do 1 of 2 actions.

Draw a card

If there are any face up cards available then you can draw any one of those that you wish, these cards are not replaced as you draw them. Alternatively you can draw a card from the top of the deck. If you would draw a dragon card you must discard it and draw another card. When the 3rd dragon is drawn the round will end. Every one discards their hand and then scores points.

The reason you want to draw cards is because of the 2nd action that you can do

Play a band of cards

This is how you actually do stuff. From you hand of cards, each representing the people of the land, you get to send out a band of them to do things for you. A band is a group of cards that meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • They are all the same race. OR
  • They all have the same colour borders.

Playing a band lets you do 2 things. First the band goes off to exert your influence in the province that matches the colour of the top card of your band. This is the leader of your band. Exerting your influence means placing one of your plastic control markers on the board. So if you have a red leader then you get to place a read marker in the red province.

Ethnos review
The band on the left is made up of 4 Minotaurs while the one on the right are all blue cards. It’s still got a Minotaur leader though.

To control a province you need to have more markers in that province than anyone else. This is not quite as easy as it sounds. In order to place more markers, all future bands need to be larger than the number of markers that you have in that province otherwise you won’t get to add a marker.

This means that if you have 4 makers in a province then play a band of 2, you won’t get to add another one. You need to play a band of at least 5. There are however reasons to play smaller bands. Remember your leader? Each race has a special power. The leader of your band gets to use his special power.

These powers are all unique, with each race having a different one. Wizards let you draw more cards equal to the number of cards in your band. The Elves let you keep cards in your hand. Giants can score you extra points etc…

Now, here is part of the fun. The rest of the cars in your hand, after you play your band is discarded, face up. Anyone can draw from the discarded cards if they want to draw a card on their turn!

Some cards add new boards or tokens to the game, each adding a neat little sub system or mini game that changes things up. Not in a bad way, in a very good way because it’s all very small and manageable.

Everyone takes turns either taking a new card or playing bands until the 3rd dragon is drawn. He is big and scary, all of the cards left in your hand just runs away. This marks the end of an age (round). The next thing to do is score points. For each province whomever has the most control markers in it will score the points based on the current round. So in round 1 only the points in the number 1 box, in round 2 then the number 1 & 2 boxes can be scored for 1st and 2nd place. Additionally you score points for the bands that you have played in that round. The larger the band the more points they are worth.

Ethnos review
It’s time to score round 2. So in the red province Green would get 8 points and Blue 4.

If it’s the 3rd round the game is over and the winner is the person with the most points! Otherwise the cards are reshuffled, the dragons again in the bottom half and a new round is played (leave your control markers where they are on the board).

Conclusion

Simple, right? Ethnos very simple, well the rules are anyway, playing the game is something else. It’s delightful. A friend of mine remarked “Really enjoyed the game. I can’t remember liking a new game from the start even though I have no idea what I’m doing.” Ok, that might sound odd, but even while you are still learning the game you are having fun. You don’t have many decisions but each one carries weight. Enough to make you agonise over it. Especially when you have to discard cards that you know the next person really needs!

That’s not to say you will get AP. It’s awesomely quick. Even with 6 players we found ourselves reminding people that it’s their turn, not because they were playing slow but because while they were looking at the card they drew 7 seconds ago the other 5 players had played their turns.

Fast, very easy to teach and with a random selection of cards, and points for the provinces, each time you play makes for a lot of replay value. The powers in each game will have you running in different directions trying to combo them off of each other or just looking for the way to squeeze the most points out of every last card. After 6 plays I’m yet to play the same game twice.

Ethnos review
It was Trevor’s first game. Every one had at least 2 games to their name. He still had a fantastic win! No one at the table would call it beginner’s luck

Ethnos has rocketed to my new go to gateway game.

Can you play this at a braai?

This is a tough one. Its light enough for it to be fun at a braai, but is also plays fast enough that you might forget about the meat on the fire 😀 I would recommend it and foresee myself trying it. Everyone else will just have to wait a bit if my turns take a bit longer.

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