Spyrium Review

 

 
Spyrium, a very beautiful mineral, has just been discovered. This green gold has attracted your attention. Maybe you can make some money out of it?
Overview:
What you get for your money:
You get 35 workers, 20 discs, 50 Spyrium crystals, 24 numbered tokens, 36 coins, 10 bonus tokens, 72 cards, a small board and the rules. 
How do you play the game:
The goal of the game is to build the most prosperous Commercial Spyrium Imperium. You’ve read it right, a Spyrium Imperium. Try to say that ten times in a row! You have to mine it and process it. To do that you need an army of dedicated workers, acclaimed scientists and patented techniques. These will help you be more efficient and more profitable. Put on your safety helmet on and I will show you around.
Every player starts with the modest number of three workers, some money, a small amount of Spyrium and a token at the first spot of the Residence track, which is basically the size of your company and the amount of money you will get at the beginning of every turn. The game lasts six rounds and at the start of every round, nine cards are placed on the table. These cards can be buildings you can build, techniques you can patent or people you can call upon. In addition to these cards, there is a special event card that you can use once a round.
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A round consists of two phases: the placement phase and the activation phase. In the placement phase players, one by one, can do three things. They can place a worker in between two cards, use the special event or start their activation phase. When you start the activation phase you cannot go back to the placement phase and players can be in different phases at different times.  When you go to the activation phase, you must immediately perform an action associated with that phase. 
You can do several things. You can use the special event card. You can earn money by removing one of you workers; choose a card adjacent to that worker and get one pound for each other worker adjacent to that card. You can activate a card by removing a worker; pay for the card if it has a cost, plus pay one pound for each other worker that’s adjacent to this card. When the card is a building you must construct it and put it in you play area, your neighbourhood. Placing a building there also cost you some money. When it’s a technique you are activating, you also put it in you play area, but placing it is free. When it’s a character, you only use its special ability.
Buildings have a special effect. During the activation phase, on your turn, you can use that effect by tapping one of your own buildings. They may give you Spyrium or convert Spyrium and workers into points. Techniques give you a benefit during the game and, possibly, victory points at the end of the game. For example, removing a worker for money will earn you 2 pounds more and at the end of the game you will earn one point for every two pounds you have left. Characters will give you something, points or Spyrium, or may give you the ability to convert your Spyrium or money into points.
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You can make really nice combinations. An obvious one: get the Automation technique (use mines without workers), construct these mines to generate loads of Spyrium and then build one or more factories to convert these minerals into points.
When you get a certain amount of points (eight and twenty) you will get either an extra worker or five pounds. You can get more workers or advance on the Residence track by building Working-Class Neighbourhoods or Residences or by hiring an Architect.
When every player passes, all cards that are left on the table are removed and nine new cards are revealed. There are three periods, A, B and C. Period A (first three rounds) is about starting up your company, getting you engine started. Period B (two rounds) is about improving it, good things become even better. Period C (last round) is all about cashing in: build luxurious mansions or generate points, points, points. Every new round, another event card will be available, every worker will be active again, as are your buildings, you get money according to the residence track and a new round can begin. After 6 rounds, the game ends, add the victory points from the buildings, if they have some, and the techniques to the current totals and the player with the most points wins the game.
Review:
Theme
Steampunk(ish) Industrialism. The mines mine, the factories produce and you need a housing to get more workers. So you kind of feel like a an industrialist.
The theme is not heavy, but I can feel it, there’s definitely something there.
Gameplay
I really like the main mechanism of this game, placing workers in between cards and removing them later for a card or some money. Timing is very important in this game. When workers are placed, they drive up the price of a card. If you want that card that’s bad news, if someone else wants that card it might be a good idea. If you want money, it’s probably a good idea to place a worker next to a card with many workers surrounding it, but you also increase the revenue for other players. You can place many workers and do lots of stuff, but when you want a card really bad, you might want to place only one worker and quickly go to the activation phase before that card becomes too expensive. As you can see, this mechanism is really interactive.  Players will constantly need to adjust because of the actions of other players, every turn.  
During the first round(s) you probably will only place workers in between cards, but later on, when you have some buildings at your disposal, you will also need workers to work in your factories or mines, so then there are even more choices to be made. Invest in new buildings or fully benefit from your current ones?
You want money, Spyrium, points and workers. So much to do, but it seems that you’re always one worker or one pound short. The fact that you need to manage all three ‘resources’ to generate points, and the removal or placement of a  worker (or a card) can ruin your whole plan that turn, makes this game very thinky. So are you or do you play with someone with AP, be aware!
I like the fact that you can build a really efficient, well oiled machine of buildings and techniques. There are seven different techniques and these makes sure that players will play the game differently according to their technique(s). Some players will score many points at the beginning and other will have to wait for the last turn to score big.
Because of the different rounds, the different periods and the cards that belong to these periods, the game does guide you into a certain direction. If you missed out on mines in the beginning of the game, there is no way you can switch to a Spyrium for points strategy. There are many paths to victory, but you can’t easily change paths and a path is pretty much set in stone. Some won’t like that lack of freedom.
Spyrium is at its best with three or four players. Five is probably a bit too long and I feel that with two players, there is too little interaction, the ‘bidding’/ placement mechanism doesn’t work that well. You can easily place workers on the cheaper spots. Yes you might get less money this way, but you also need less. Also, I have a feeling that the techniques don’t work very well with two players. The ‘Crane’ (a construction discount) feels a bit overpowered and ‘Lobbying’ (you don’t have to pay for other adjacent workers, once) feels a bit underpowered for instance.
A three and four player game has the best balance between being able to manage everything, interaction and playtime.
Looks
The illustrations are very beautiful. I’m not a steampunk fan nor am I a hater, so I’m not biased,  just to clarify. I like the colours and it’s rugged appearance. Everyone has its own ‘neighbourhood’ and there are also nine cards in the middle with workers between them and a small board next to it, it is a card game, but it has board game appearance. Lots of things going on at the table.
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And what’s not to like about the very cool green Spyrium crystals.
Quality of the components
The crystals, the wooden workers, the cardboard pieces and the cards. Nothing to complain about.
Fun
So do I think this game is fun? Yes, I do. That’s why I give it an 7 in this category. Why a 7? Because I think the game is only really fun with three or four players. With five it outstays its welcome and with two, well, this game just isn’t made for two.
There’s lots of interaction, you can mess up your opponents plans and you all change the ‘board’ and the value of the cards constantly. There are lots of decisions to make, lots of things to manage and multiple paths to victory. When your strategy, your brainchild, works out, it’s all very enjoyable. You have to calculate and recalculate a lot. OK, but not as fun when other players do that, right? And there are turns where you, because of the choices of your opponents or your own, can’t do anything worthwhile. Not fun, but that’s the game.
I do have my doubts about the replay value. Some cards from the A (30 cards vs. 27 needed) and B stack (20 vs. 18) won’t be drawn, that’s not a whole lot of variability. Plus, there are only nine cards in the C deck, so you will see them every game. In addition to that, as I already said in the gameplay section, the game has a couple of different paths to victory, but there is not a lot of freedom along a path. So maybe you’re going to play the exact same game, about the same sequence of moves every time, and that probably is going to be boring after a while.
In conclusion: Spyrium is an interactive Euro game with loads of things to think about, sometimes even too much. Don’t play with two or five and don’t play with non-gamers, it’s not a game you easily grasp if don’t play games more often, then the game will take too long and people lose interest. Play with you gamer friends, who will get the ideas quicker and you will have a good time.

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