In Elysium, two-four players take on the roles of Greek demigods who are competing to earn the favour of the Gods and win legendary allies and treasures to their side. Each round, a certain number of cards are laid out and players take turns drafting cards from that central pool.
Each card is associated with one of the Greek Gods — each game will have five gods, out of the eight that come with the game — and will also have a level from 1-3. When claimed, these cards are placed in a player’s domain, which is the area immediately above their player boards, and will have various effects. Some cards have one-time effects and don’t do anything subsequently, while others activate either every round or when you’d like them to. The first of many wrinkles, however, is that all of these cards only provide their powers as long as you keep them in your domain; however, to score points, you’ve to transfer them to your elysium.
Each player’s elysium is the area below their player boards, and you are trying to collect sets of related cards (or legends) there. Your goal is either to create a family legend (a level 1, 2 and 3 cards of the same god) or a level legend (2-5 cards of the same level but different gods), and there are bonus points on offer for being the first player to complete any one type of legend. So you’re racing to do this, but that also means that you’ll have to sacrifice all the lovely abilities those cards give you; because, remember, cards in your elysium do nothing except score points. It’s a wonderful contradiction, that you have to tear down the engine you’ve built in order to actually have a shot at winning, and it makes Elysium deeply compelling.
Another feather in Elysium’s cap is how it handles the cost of those cards. Where other games would have placed varying money or resource costs, Elysium streamlines it wonderfully — each player has four columns at their disposal, and each card requires a particular column or pair of columns to claim. After claiming a card, however, you’ve got to remove a column from your board, thus decreasing your options for the next turn. Mechanically, it’s about as simple as you could get; practically, however, it’s the recipe for agonising decisions every turn.
7 Wonders is often hailed as a modern classic, and it’s easy to see why — it’s a great card-drafting game and it’s relatively accessible and quick-playing too. However, if you’re up for something with a little more depth and a slightly different take on the drafting mechanic, I’d highly recommend Elysium. It’s a wonderful game and a great next step up from all the usually-recommended gateway games.