Somewhere in the back of our brain sits the desire for conquest. We long to hold dominion over huge tracts of land and thousands of people, bending them to our will. We want to drive them forth onto the field of battle, to see them victorious, claiming new conquered lands, and returning the heads of our foes on pikes. And yet, for some of us, this desire is tempered with a love of planning, of seeing an idea through from its initial stages to its completion. If that completion spells doom for others, so be it.
And thus we have Mythos, a (believe it or not) non-violent, almost pastoral game of empire building and conquest set (roughly) in ancient Greece. Each player takes the role of a city leader and, through both exploration and conquest, attempts to build an empire of land, buildings, and armies.
One of the most striking aspects of Mythos is the incredible range of choices allowed the players. There are four basic hero types: Priest, Warrior, Thief, and Admiral, each with particular strengths and weaknesses. Each hero gains experience from a variety of tasks, and periodically gains levels. With each level, the hero can improve various aspects of him or herself, producing troops faster or more cheaply, exploring land faster, or preventing enemy spies from stealing resources more effectively. There are also four different terrains: mountains, plains, island, and forest. Again, each terrain in Mythos gives particular advantages to the cities there.
Perhaps the most important initial choice for a new Mythos player is that of a patron god or goddess. There are 12 patrons, Greek gods and goddesses all, and each one offers a base set of advantages and an additional bonus that can increase or decrease over the course of the game depending on the actions of the players. Each Mythos deity has a special troop that only his or her worshipers can build. Bonuses include additional attacking power or defensive strength, larger populations, reduced battle casualties, and more. Of course, some gods provide negatives that help balance out these benefits.
Each game of Mythos is played over the course of 40 days, with 24 turns every day. Essentially, players can act whenever they wish, but each “movement” takes place at the beginning of the hour in which it occurred. Attacking a neighboring kingdom at 7:01 essentially takes place at 7:00, as does an attack at 7:59. Each hour, troops become a little more trained, buildings get closer to completion, and troops get a little closer to home. Additionally, at the start of each hour, each city produces more of each of the four main resources: drachmae (money), iron ore (for troop production), lumber (for buildings and ships), and food (for the citizens).
The genius of Mythos is in several aspects of the game’s design. Each of the patron gods offers what is called the “guard” for the first few days of each player’s start. In essence, this period, which lasts from 54 to 72 hours, depending on the patron, gives the player a chance to add some additional territory to his or her kingdom, build some troops, and create some buildings. It’s a “get up to speed” period that can help new players adjust to the way the game works and allow them to build up a city that won’t immediately become the target of attacks from the other Mythos players.
Another ingenious decision from the Mythos team is the creation of kingdoms. Rather than simply pit every player against 2000 or more other cities, the various players are grouped into kingdoms. Players cannot attack others in their own kingdom. Instead, these are, essentially, teams. Mythos players in the same kingdom can trade information and ideas, share strategies, and commiserate losses, but are unable to trade resources or troops. Each city is responsible for its own welfare, but each city also has a network of others to rely on for some help. So it becomes a cooperative effort in that each kingdom wishes to become the most powerful as well as a competitive effort within each kingdom to be the biggest and the strongest.
To keep things on a more level playing field, players are only able to attack cities of a roughly similar size, which is determined by the amount of land each city possesses. Players can mount a campaign against cities that are between 2/3 and 1 Ã?Â½ times their size. So, a city that possesses 600 land can attack anything between 400 and 900 land. This keeps the bigger cities from stomping the smaller ones into the dust while still offering a large range of potential targets. Since new players can join up until the end of the age, this allows those wishing to get their feet wet and learn Mythos to avoid having to wait for a new game to start.
A successful attack kills off troops on both sides and takes some of the loser’s land and gives it to the winner. A normal attack gives the attacker barren land that can be built. A conquest attack returns less land and inflicts more casualties on the attacker, but returns the land with buildings intact. Unsuccessful attacks just kill off some troops.
Let’s get one thing straight, though. Despite all of the fighting and killing, there’s no action in Mythos. Building and maintaining one’s city consists of navigating a series of static screens. To adequately plan an attack, the player sends spies into enemy territory to see what the city has in terms of defensive structures and troops, then sends whatever army he or she can muster. When the attack is successful, the results are displayed immediately, showing the amount of land taken and the casualties that need to be replaced.
The real genius of Mythos, though, is the way in which each city is internally balanced. Each city can produce four basic troop types, biremes (ships), and the city’s patron god troop. Additionally, each city can build six different structures: academies (assist on attacks), docks (for biremes), farms (to grow food), houses (to produce population), shops (to create money), and watch towers (to increase defense). However, the benefit from half of these structure types-academies, watch towers, and shops-come not from the raw number possessed, but from the percentage of the total they make up of the user’s city area. For instance, each 1% of total area covered by watch towers increases the city’s defense by 2.5%.
Fifty towers spread out over 250 land offers a substantial bonus, while those same 50 towers in an area of 1000 land offers a much, much smaller benefit. So the maintenance of a city is a balancing act. Docks, farms, and houses (especially houses) are needed to create resources and people, since you can’t have an army without villagers. But without enough shops, academies, and watch towers, all the villagers in the world can’t help you attack, build more, or defend territory.
Thus, Mythos requires each player to constantly stay on top of not just how much of each building is created, but the overall percentage of each type. Build too many houses, and the shops suffer. Build too many shops, and defense suffers. Mythos rewards micromanagement and careful planning, something rare and interesting to see in online gaming.
Mythos has both breadth and depth. The simple fact that there are 192 possible combinations of hero type, land type, and patron makes this a game that can be played with a variety of strategies. Additionally, since it is currently only the fourth round of the game, additional tweaks and changes are added as play progresses. Each age is different from the previous in subtle ways, and those players who can best adapt to the changes are the ones who are the most successful. The next age, which starts in the middle of July, will change the face of the game once again, altering the way that players strategize their way to becoming the largest city.
Ultimately, Mythos is a fascinating and worthwhile game for the online enthusiast who wants to try something a little different and who isn’t troubled by the thought of playing a long-term game in which brains are far more important that manual dexterity. It’s fun, it’s addictive, and I have to stop writing now, because I need to build more troops to protect my people from invasion.