Review: Spyrium

   Posted by: Jim   in Board games, Reviews

(Part of a series, reviewing games I played in September 2013 at That Board Gaming Thing.)

Designer: William Attia
Publisher: Ystari
Players: 2-5
Playing time: 75 minutes
Age range: 12+

(Image courtesy of duchamp@BoardGameGeek)

The worker-placement game has become a staple of the Eurogame these days, starting with Caylus and morphing into such diverse games as Agricola, Stone Age and Lords of Waterdeep. In my mind, the mechanic is getting a little bit tired. The latest entry is
Spyrium, which takes the basic worker placement mechanic and puts a slightly new twist to it.

Spyrium is set in a steampunk universe, where a new energy source called Spyrium has been found. You use your mines and spare workers to mine Spyrium, and then can use the Spyrium and other workers in a workshop or factory to generate victory points. You can also get points by buying buildings, or from training workers in universities, or from fulfilling event cards.

The game is played in three phases made up of two rounds, the main difference between the phases being what cards are available. The cards are laid out in a 3×3 tableau, and dictate the new actions available for that round. Unlike other games where you place your workers on the cards, and you use it exclusively, you instead place your workers between two cards, indicating you want to use one card or the other. You may place multiple workers between the same two cards.

Halfway within the round, at a time of your choosing, you then switch over from placing workers between cards to activating the workers as well as generating resources from your tableau. Activating a worker can allow you to use the card it’s next to; the cost of the card depends on the number of workers around it, from all the players. If the card is a building you take it into your tableau. Alternatively, you can forgo the card and collect money, again dependent on the number of workers around it. In both cases, you remove your worker.

What each card does depends on its type. Mines, once placed in your tableau and activated with an additional worker, give Spyrium. Workshops, factories and laboratories allow you to exchange Spyrium for points. Residences give you money or points. Neighborhoods give you workers. Techniques improve your efficiency. Unlike the other cards, Characters remain in the 3×3 grid and allow conversions or bonuses.

So in general, the game goes as described above: you want to generate more and more Spyrium as the game goes on, collect more workers and more money so you can perform more actions and buy more cards, and in general improve the efficiency of your economic engine to get as many points as possible.

Spyrium does have some nice things in it. One mechanic that I believe is new for worker placement is when you place the workers between cards, rather than on them. This has a couple of effects. First it makes more popular cards more expensive, and may force some players to choose the card on the other side of their worker. Alternatively you can use this to your advantage and cash in on the money, rather than buying the card. The other effect it has is if someone’s worker is between two cards that are bought by two other players, that worker can be left high and dry. So placement and timing when you buy cards is very important.

The other new mechanic I thought was interesting is that rather than having a fixed time when you switch from placement to activation (e.g. usually when everyone has placed all their workers), each player decides for themselves when to make that switch. Any additional workers are then used to drive their mines and factories on their personal tableau.

The one downside that I ran into is that the decisions you make early dictate the rest of the game. In my case, I was unfamiliar with the rules and got stuck with a low-performing engine. By the time I figured out what was going on, I couldn’t recover. I’m not sure that’s a terrible knock against it, but it does make it more difficult to bring new players in.

In the end, I’m on the fence about Spyrium. I think it has some nice new ideas, and lots of interesting choices, but I’m still not sure that it overcomes my weariness with new worker placement games. Perhaps I’d change my mind if I played it more, but until then…

Final Verdict: Borrow

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 10th, 2013 at 11:02 pm and is filed under Board games, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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