To me the word “mechanics” would once have suggested cars in need of fixing, or maths exams in need of sitting, but it is now the series of interactions which make up a board game. In my (limited) computer programming vocabulary, mechanics are simply if-then statements: IF player owns all properties in a set THEN player can build houses on them. How many if-then statements should a game include? That, I’m afraid, is a question with no meaningful answer.
The Greek myths are so brutally complex (and my aim, remember, was to re-tell all of them) that it has taken me years to boil them down to a handful of simple mechanics. I have included in this article the “player mat” which, though not much to look at, shows players three actions, one of which they will, secretly, choose during the Planning Phase. Once chosen, all actions are performed simultaneously (there are no player “turns” in Master of Olympus) before the next actions are chosen, and so on.
Build – This action causes cities to produce the troops and ships which will stack up into armies and fleets, respectively. A player has sufficient resources (food etc.) to support one army and one fleet per city they own, although heroes and Knowledge cards can help here. Players can exceed their support limits, but will have to disband forces if they have not resolved this by action 3! The game, in other words, punishes players who fight wars on multiple fronts and rewards those with fewer, larger stacks.
Move – This, surprisingly, is the most complex action, because it can bring players’ stacks into contact. Players have the option of dropping pieces off from their stacks as they move: this is often necessary when collecting Victory Points.
Create – Player can send inspiring heroes to lead armies, which enhances their battle prowess and, crucially, allows them to go on quests for distant artefacts.
Summon – Concerned about the growing strength of the player on the far side of the board? Or do you simply want to make an artefact difficult to reach? During action 2, players may slap a mighty creature on to any vacant land tile, and doing so will give them a Power card to boot! For a player taking on the role of Artemis, strategic deployment of creatures is crucial.
Play – The ancient world is full of many wondrous people, trophies and weapons. Choosing this action will help players to support fleets and provide a one-use bonus action. The Trident of Poseidon, for example, allows its owner to place the Sea Creature on a tile of their choosing.
When playing Master of Olympus, only one question really matters: which player controls which tiles? Does a player have armies on every land tile bordering Sparta? Good, the besieged city surrenders. Is each water tile linking Crete to the mainland occupied by a fleet? The island is now vulnerable to attack.
The observant among you will have noticed that there may come a time when two players want control of the same tile – the game must need a combat system. I’m going to dedicate a full article to this system because I want to tell you how it evolved from simple beginnings to, well, an even simpler end product.