04 September 2018
Freaky Greeks battle for supremacy in a sci-fi-embellished ancient world
It’s fair to say Homer knew how to spin a good yarn. And who would argue that the legends of ancient Greece, from the Labours of Heracles to the Quest for the Golden Fleece, don’t require much embellishment? Yet a straightforward Greek-mythic theme wasn’t enough for Polish designer Adam Kwapinski (Heroes, InBetween) or his Awaken Realms developer Marcin Swierkot. For some mystifying reason, they’ve decided that what their table-smothering area-control title Lords of Hellas really needed was a rigorous sci-fi workover.
Here, myth-plucked player characters like Achilles, Helen and Perseus stomp around a stylised map of Greece while sporting neon-tinged, superhero-esque outfits and power armour. The minis of the monumental gods and monsters (which are, we admit, of extremely high production value) come festooned with cybernetic gadgetry. And we’re told in the background that said gods (namely Zeus, Athena and Hermes in this base set) are actually “mysterious and technologically advanced beings” who “arrived in this world” to arm the heroes “with advanced weapons of terrible power”. Yet there is nothing whatsoever in any of Hellas’ mechanisms or card descriptions that convinces you this vague sci-fi skinning is relevant to the gameplay. It feels like a last-minute graft-on, as if Kwapinski were told: “Blood Rage with Greeks ain’t enough of a USP. Fix it.”
While this doesn’t directly impair the play experience, it is a baffling distraction. The resulting design has both a faint air of naffness (particularly if you remember watching the very silly Ulysses 31 cartoon series as a kid), as well as an unwelcome, leery adolescent-boy feel to its bosom-thrusting female figurines.
The good news is that beneath the uneasy cheesy surface lies a solid conquest game – one which owes much to Eric M. Lang’s aforementioned Norsepocalypse title. Leader and troop (or hoplite) figures jostle for supremacy on a map divided into lands and regions, combat is based on the revealing of potentially tricksy cards, and there are some whopping monster minis.
However, here the creatures are to be battled by the heroes rather than deployed as allies, with fun-to-execute monster hunts offering one of a few alternative routes to victory. So, while the game will typically end when a player controls two lands (three in a two-player game), it can also conclude either when three monsters have been slain by a single hero (via the collection of specific combat card sets), or when five temples are controlled. Or, if you’re not playing it with two, it can end when a player fully builds a monument – neatly represented by three massive five-part miniatures which are gradually and satisfyingly assembled through the game – and maintains control of its region for three turns in a row.
Along the way you’ll go on quests (though this is the least engaging and most skippable element), and earn magical – sorry, ‘hi-tech’ – artefacts and blessings that will offer a valuable edge. A solo ‘Persian Invasion’ mode is also included (300 with lasers, anyone?), but sadly proves too overcomplicated and exception-ridden to truly thrill.
Lords of Hellas is not spectacular, then, but will satisfy anyone who likes a big, beefy, strategy game, and who doesn’t mind digesting lots of chewy rules. Or the fact that in this weirdy mythology, boss-god Zeus waves a big electro-whip rather than simply hurling lightning bolts.
A hefty area-control game whose impressive minis are undermined by an odd and superfluous theme, by which ancient Greek mythology is turned into silly sci-fi.
Designer: Adam Kwapinski
Artist: Patryk Jedraszek, Ewa Labak
Time: 60-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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