'When two tribes go to war….they roll some dice and push around some cubes.' Not sure those were exactly the lyrics of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood classic 80’s tune. However, Glyph is a duelling game with dice, and the last tribe standing wins.
Designed by Justin Potter and published by Kazoodoo, Glyph is just one of many Kickstarter board games that have benefited from the explosive success of the crowdfunding platform. It definitely has all the style and the swagger of a Kickstarter. The components are really well done: from the double thickness boards with indents to the 65 custom dice in a variety of colours, enormous plastic resource cubes and good-quality card stock. Sergey Vasnev's art is superb on the player boards and in the rulebook. The only blemish on what would otherwise be a component clean sweep is the graphic design, which primarily consists of the glyphs on the dice and player boards. They are unfortunately not intuitive to the point of being confusing. It’s akin to trying to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, which I suppose isn’t really surprising given the name of the game! However, that’s a minor and forgivable quibble.
Glyph is, at its core, a two-player game. Each side selects three heroes and takes the dice shown on those heroes’ boards along with a starting set of four dice which are available to all the heroes on the team. Each hero has starting cubes added to their board: red for health, green for armour and blue for energy. That’s really all there is to the commendably quick and simple set up.
Each colour of dice is more likely to produce a particular type of glyph: red for war, yellow for money, green for defence, etc. If you play with more players you still only have six heroes on two teams, you just have multiple players on one or both teams. I have to say, although the box says six players, realistically this is a two-player game and I wouldn’t play it at any other player count.
This is a dice-rolling game; nothing more, nothing less. Each turn, you select one of your three heroes and a set of dice from those on your player board and the pool available to your team. You can roll up to four dice, although you can add an extra two dice to the pool for each point of energy (the blue resource) that you discard. You have the option to reroll any or all of the dice. You then take one primary action, which could involve:
one of the unique character actions on your hero’s board, matching the glyphs rolled to those required by the action; or
a basic attack reducing one of your opponent’s hero's armour and potentially taking their health down by one point; or
an ability listed on a card similar to a unique character ability.
Once the player has taken a primary action, they can then take multiple secondary actions. These include purchasing one of the cards on offer, which can add dice to the available pool for either the hero or the entire team. Players continue to take turns back and forth until one team is defeated, and to the victor the spoils...
Fantasy-themed Yahtzee with some bells and whistles, pretty much sums up Glyph. Now that isn’t a negative per se. However, the problem is that there are not really enough interesting decisions to make, or indeed much agency in the game. Sure you can decide to roll more dice in your pool, and you can aim to deploy certain character abilities, but it requires a degree of luck, particularly to trigger the more powerful abilities. That said, it is possible to mitigate the dice rolls to a degree and to coordinate between the heroes to achieve a particular result. The problem is that the abilities just don’t feel that important.
The rules are also not wholly clear in all circumstances. For example, one character’s ability talks about adding defence tokens to a character’s board but there are no defence tokens in the box. Other card abilities have you roll white dice, but in my game all the white dice were in use on players' boards. This was not a big issue but just an example of some slight rules ambiguities and edge-case scenarios.
With games typically taking 90-120 minutes to play, Glyph runs long in relation to the amount of randomness involved. An unusual feature of Glyph is that you know precisely how much damage is required to defeat an opponent and win the game. Many other games keep at least part of the scoring opaque so as not to discourage players who are not winning. Glyph, with its transparency on the state of the game, and a rule that states that a basic attack can only ever do one damage, means it's tough to come from behind for the win. Consequently, once a side has the lead, particularly after they have just defeated an opponent hero, there is a tendency to create a runaway leader scenario and this can lead to the last hour feeling like a procession to the inevitable victory.
(Review by Jason Keeping)