When I received my copy of Pantheon, I was a little intimidated. The box is pretty big for a Rio Grande game, and it’s packed full of cards, tokens, and chits. Punching out all of the pieces, I felt a little overwhelmed. I was equally overwhelmed when I started flipping through the twelve pages of instructions. So if someone had at that moment told me that Pantheon was only a slightly more complicated version of “Ticket To Ride“, I don’t think I would have believed them.
Now granted, in order to see this game as Ticket To Ride, you kinda have to squint and tilt your head just right, metaphorically speaking of course. There are elements of this game that are similar to TtR, but obviously this game doesn’t have trains in lots of primary colors. What it does have is an alley of cards in which you can choose from on your turn. You choose cards from the alley in an effort to make sets of cards required to purchase a particular gods favor. If purchasing a gods favor doesn’t sound very “Ticket to Ride”-y to you, consider the gods like this: goal cards, that are played open face, that everyone is competing to complete first (almost exactly like the routes in Jet Set). Whenever someone purchases the favor of a god, they receive a given number of points (sound familiar?), and receive an additional little perk. To continue the TtR comparison, in order to travel along the board you place feet of your color, rather than trains. You do this to pick up goodies that populate on the board at the start of each round (called an epoch).
There are four ways to acquire points in this game: via acquiring god’s favor, by acquiring minor gods, by building lots of columns, and by having the favor of a particular god.
*Acquiring the favor of a god is what we talked about previously, simply pay the given price, and the favor is yours. You get a designated number of points, dependent on round, and you go on your merry way.
*Minor gods can be acquired in a few different ways. Either by picking up certain goodies off the board, or by winning them as a bonus when acquiring a god’s favor.
*Building columns is possible when you place your feet on the board, as long as you are on a column space. The more columns you have the more points each one is worth. You tally up these points during specific times of the game.
*One of the gods which you may claim has a special ability that allows you to get a couple extra points during your “special scoring” phase. This is the same time that you score columns.
There is one small detail that I have failed to mention though, and to me it breaks the game, and that is the sacrifice tiles. Normally when you buy the favor of a god, you discard the cards that you use to do this. So in order to get another god, you’ll have to stockpile cards again until you have the right match. The sacrifice tiles stop that. Each of the four sacrifices that you buy the gods favor with are represented on the cards but also on some tiles that you can buy. These tiles can be upgraded from level 1 all the way up to level 4. The level dictates how many of that type it counts for. So if you need five of a given sacrifice to purchase a gods favor, and you have a level 4 of that sacrifice, you only need one card to finish off the payment. And the broken part? The tiles remain in your possession, so you can use them turn after turn after turn.
So why is this broken? In the last game I played, I didn’t bother placing any feet on the board and going for the goodies. Instead, I upgraded these sacrifice tiles whenever I possibly could. The result was that I was near unstoppable by the end of the game. Every turn I claimed a gods favor, and usually at the cost of one card or less. It didn’t matter that I didn’t get points from the columns, because the points associated with the columns was much less than a god in most cases.
The first game that I played, another player won. During that first game he did almost exactly what I just described. To heck with columns and feet, upgrade those sacrifices as fast as possible! Curious if that would consistently work, I tried it on the next game, and didn’t have any problem securing a win. Upgrading tiles is a no brainer, and because of that fact, it tends to sucks a little fun out of the game once you figure that out. Good resource games are suppose to be this struggle and balancing act. Instead, this one turned into “Dump all the resources into this one thing”. How would I fix it? Make there be a cost involved with using those tiles. Either by paying money to “activate” them, or drop a level or two when you use them. I think that would really help to balance the game out.
I must also make one other small complaint, and it’s about components. The board, tiles, and cards are all beautifully illustrated. They have a lot of polish. I can not say the same for the instructions and player references. Both are littered with typos, mistranslations, and inappropriate graphics. One spot on the player reference sheet refers to one god, but shows the picture of another. One case where the word should clearly be “or”, the German word “oder” is written instead. At one spot the word “points” is mispelled. I’m not always linguistically perfect, but this just came across as sloppy.
So my final impression? The game has a lot of promise, but really requires some sort of house rule regarding the sacrifice tiles, otherwise the game is a wash. It’s such a shame, because the game looks and feels like it was someones baby.
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