Full disclosure: A review copy of Pylos was provided by Hachette Games.
It’s always a lot of fun to try games in a series! Gigamic has had this ongoing set of abstract games for a while, now, and I have a few of them, so, expect that to start in the near future. These games are on the older side, so it’s fun to see that! I think Pylos is listed as a 1993 title on BGG; it’s only one year younger than I am. That’s fun. But yeah, without further ado, let’s dive right in and see what’s going on with Pylos!
In Pylos, you want to be on top of the world. The only way to get there, however, is building up the ideal pyramid. Your opponent wants what you want, so you’ll have to be efficient about how you plan your moves, where you place, and ultimately how you execute your building strategy to get there. It’s a challenge, but you’re probably up for it!
Essentially none, which is always nice. There are 15 spheres of each color:
Place them in the trench surrounding the board:
You’re ready to start!
In Pylos, you will be building up a pyramid of spheres! Last player to run out of them wins!
On your turn, you may place a sphere of your color on any open space on the board. An open space is either any space on the board itself, or on top of any square of four adjacent spheres. If possible, you can, instead of placing a sphere, move an uncovered sphere of your color up at least one level, placing it on top of a square of four adjacent spheres.
If you ever create a square that’s exclusively your color spheres, you may remove one or two uncovered spheres of your color from the board, returning them to your supply. Those spheres you return can even be from the square you just created.
Should one player ever run out of spheres to place, their opponent wins! Otherwise, the last player to place a sphere (completing the pyramid) wins.
For younger players, you can ignore the “square in your color” rule, to make the game simpler.
For experienced players, you can add a “line in your color” rule. This works very similarly to the “square in your color” rule, but it requires a straight line instead of a square. The line cannot be diagonal, but it needs to be four spheres on the base level or three spheres on the next level up.
Player Count Differences
None at all! It’s a two-player game.
- The nice thing about a two-player game is that disrupting your opponent’s plans is just as good as advancing yours. You can just play to try and block your opponent, if you feel like it; that will generally work out pretty well. You just need to make sure that if obstruction is your goal, you’re not going to end up losing. You should make sure you’re at an advantage with spheres if you’re going to junk up your opponent’s moves.
- It’s very much worth it to create a square, just because that puts your opponent at a two-turn disadvantage. Getting to take (up to) two spheres back can be pretty critical, since it really gives you a leg up over your opponent. Naturally, it means that you should be blocking your opponent from forming a square at any opportunity.
- Similarly, look for opportunities to move up! It saves you a sphere. Moving up essentially turns spending a sphere into conserving a sphere, which is fantastic. Ideally, you want to conserve spheres and make your opponent play them so that you can win.
- Additionally, moving up from a square you created may give you the opportunity to remake that square, which will essentially let you double-dip. Pulling a sphere from a square that you built of your color (to move it up) will leave an empty corner of that square. If your opponent doesn’t block it (for some reason), you can place in that same spot on your next turn, form a new square, and repeat as long as they’ll let you do that. For your opponent, ideally, that should not be very long.
- Making a very obvious square on the board can force your opponent to play and block it, which will then let you move another sphere on top of it. Maybe not force, per se, but at least bait them into playing and blocking it, which can be useful. Even if you don’t get the explicit benefit of removing two spheres, getting your opponent to set you up for a free move up isn’t particularly bad, either.
- Try to find spots that your opponent cannot block (ideally, ones that allow you to create a square in more than one possible location). It’s hard to create those spots, but if you can, capitalize on them. It’s essentially pinning them, so keep an eye on those! You can make them with a pretty simple T-shape in your color (one that lets you, when made, place a sphere on either side of the T to form a square).
- Also, keep an eye out for ways in which you force your opponent to make certain moves (only one valid space on the board, for instance); you can occasionally use that to your advantage! My particular favorite variation of this is leaving your opponent with one valid move, which completes a square (not in their color) and allows you to place a sphere on top of it. That frees up another spot on the board, which forces them to move there again. And so on! It’s a very fun loop to be a part of.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The board and spheres are really nice! They’re very fancy! I guess the most appropriate word is “ornate”, since they’ve got a good amount of weight to their presentation. It reminds me a bit of this Vintage Collection of board games that Target used to sell. Made of wood, sufficiently fancy. It’s a nice thing.
- Basically no setup, here, either, which is nice. You just separate the spheres by color and then you’re good to go. These quick abstracts are kind of ideal, like that.
- This is one of those hyper-quick abstracts where you can play, lose, play again, win, and keep looping on. I love that kind of stuff. We always call them “rack ’em” games, since, like pool, you can pretty quickly re-rack them and start again. As soon as you realize you’ve been beat, you can essentially just go for another round, which I think is very fun.
- The verticality of the game is quite delightful, as well. I like games that play with more than two dimensions. It improves table presence and it gets away from just kind of being flat cardboard on flatter cardboard. I like having something that’s a bit more exciting in a physical sense, when I can do so.
- I was originally a bit worried that this was going to be formulaic, but the ability to move spheres and remove spheres keeps this one pretty fresh. There’s the fear on description that this is going to be one of those Nim-style games that’s solved, to some degree, but thankfully, there are some nice little tricks to keep gameplay from feeling stale. Being able to move spheres up a level instead of taking a standard action is a big one, since it means that players may not necessarily be able to solve the game from their current board state. The bigger one, in my opinion, is being able to remove spheres upon completing a square (or line, in the advanced variant). There, you work backwards, essentially, which can be an even bigger help.
- It does have one of those nice-looking finishes that makes it look classic. I particularly like the finish on the board; it looks very good.
- A few odd translation quirks in the rulebook, which strikes me as a bit confusing, given how old this game is. There are just a few mistakes and odd word choices; it could probably have used a once-over. Nothing makes the game hard to play; the rulebook can just be a bit jarring to read, occasionally.
- The spheres just barely don’t fit in the board, which is genuinely vexing. I’m not entirely sure why they don’t quite fit in the trench around the board; they hang out a little bit until you’ve played at least one. My sense of aesthetics is deeply upset by this slight.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Pylos is a quick and pleasant abstract game! To some degree, it makes me think of an Othello game that I’m less bad at, since there’s simple interactions, short turns, and some clear strategies. What I particularly like about the game is that nice components make the game feel classic, and the box design is classy, easy to recognize, and modern. Good mix of classic and modern, with this one. I’m a bit confused as to why there are a bunch of small errors in the rulebook, given how long the game has been out, but, I suppose that happens. I really don’t understand why the spheres are so … finicky and don’t quite totally fit inside of the board’s trench, but I suppose that’s either a quirk of my particular set or, more likely, a problem that goes away pretty much as soon as one of the spheres is played. That all said, Pylos is more clever than it may first appear, which I think is part of its charm. Maybe not my all-time favorite abstract game, but still a pleasant one. If you’re looking for a fun abstract, you enjoy a game with a few spheres, or you’re looking to find a quick two-player game, Pylos might be right up your alley!
If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!