The premise for Side Room Games' Elements of the Gods is that players are gods at the dawn of civilisation. You'll be using your command of the elements to manipulate worshippers so that they erect monuments to your glory, beautify them with gardens and fulfil your divine rituals.
Many games claim to be easy to learn but hard to master, but that's certainly true of Elements of the Gods. Jay Vowles has succeeded in designing a game here that combines surprisingly simple rules with considerable depth. There are five elements (fire, water, air, earth and death). On your turn, you choose one of the elements not previously used that round and you place it out on the board for its effect on the surrounding meeples. You then play a card from the five in your hand, again for its effect: monument cards will let you build a monument in a square; garden cards let you build a garden; divinity cards score you points for meeting the requirements on the card and they also give you end-game scoring. In practice, players are likely in the first instance to be placing out monuments and gardens before focusing on the divinity cards, but the divinity cards yield potentially big scores and they also double as a game timer (game ends in the round when a player completes five divinity cards), so it can be a winning strategy to focus early on them.
The worshipper meeples come in four colours: grey meeples are stonemasons (principally used to build monuments), green are gardeners (used when planting gardens), purple are mystics (used to complete divine rituals) and red meeples are zealots who willingly sacrifice themselves for the glory of the gods. These may be your workers but Elements of the Gods is not so much a worker placement as a worker manipulation game. You need to get the right combination of workers in position on the board to meet the requirements of the card you play and you achieve this by using an element to attract (water), repel (fire), push (air), birth (earth) or take the souls of meeples (death).
The divine theme notwithstanding, Elements of the Gods is an abstract strategy game. The set up is randomised (meeples are drawn from a bag) and there's inevitably a small element of luck in the cards you draw, but this is essentially a game of skill. It works with all player counts (1-5: the solo game has its own separate challenge deck). We especially liked the game at two players because it's easier with this number to plan your strategy Chess-like a 'move' or two ahead. The game becomes a little more chaotic as the player count increases, tho' it's no less enjoyable for that. Just be warned tho' that if you're playing with the maximum complement of 5 players, the board is going to change a lot before your next turn comes around.
Be warned too that there's a risk that some players may succumb to Analysis Paralysis (AP) as they try to evaluate all the options in Elements of the Gods, especially at the start of a round when all five elements are available to them. This is definitely a game where we'd recommend having a chess clock (or multi-player timer) to hand. Try playing with each player allocated just 20 minutes for all their actions. If you do play with a chess clock or player timer, you can even handicap players by upping the time allocation for younger or less experience 'gods'.
Shown here on Board's Eye View is a preview prototype of Elements of the Gods produced ahead of the game's Kickstarter campaign. Art is by Apolline Etienne and Brigette Indelicato. The campaign is currently live so click here to check out the game for yourself and secure yourself a copy. There are just a few days to go on the KS campaign, so don't delay in checking it out!
Editors' note: no zealot meeples were sacrificed in the writing of this Board's Eye View preview.