Icaion Review – Beautiful, Boring, Broken – GAMING TREND
Icaion, much like its predecessor Mysthea, is a beautiful game. The art is very nice, there’s your absurd amount of Kickstarter minis again, and I’m a sucker for dual-layered player boards. However, while Mysthea was a game I thoroughly enjoyed despite its flaws, Icaion is a game with such glaring flaws that I simply cannot justify its existence in my collection.
Right off the bat, when I was creating Icaion, he committed his first sin. You see, this game is both very color dependent but also oddly loose with its use of color. For example, Icaion calls the clear crystals gray. The mountain map, whose regions and crystals are brown, is very white. The pink crystals come from the red region. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the region cards have icons on them that don’t repeat anywhere else in the game, despite the regions being massive and the board being double-sided. One side could have easily included region icons and maybe even the colored crystal iconography that is used elsewhere in the game, but instead they opted for an even more occluded side of the board with faded colors and a white mist in every region.
Moving on, Icaion is a long and tedious teaching. In keeping with most point salad euros, there are a host of different actions players can take on their turn, and only one is even slightly simple. For example, if a player decides to build a machine, they must first ensure that the machine they are building is their first in that region, the leftmost on their row on their player board, and then also that no one has ever built a machine of this type in this region. They then spend an amount of crystals equal to the number of machines in that region plus one. These crystals must be the color of the region or brown, which are wild for building purposes. Then score victory points equal to the number of crystals spent multiplied by the number of adjacent similar machines, unless there are none, in which case you always score a minimum of the number of crystals spent. It’s understood? Now repeat this for each of the game’s actions, the turn-by-year progression system, and the endgame score, all of which have their own details. The worst part of all of this is that setting up a game with less than five players requires everyone to place non-player machines, so you need to make sure everyone fully understands the game before diving in, because players will make important decisions before their first action.
I could forgive long and complicated teaching if the game offered interesting decisions, but Icaion’s resource management mechanism works to limit viable decisions to no more than three valid paths on any given turn. When players harvest crystals, they either place them in an empty storage space or remove all previous crystals by one in order to place the newly harvested crystals. In case you didn’t realize it immediately, this means that on any given turn, if players don’t have empty storage space, the optimal play is to perform the action that spends their crystals. Additionally, multipliers for building machines based on already built machines force players into a staring competition when they can finally pull off the most physically rewarding move of removing one of their big minis from their player board, reveal an upgrade and place it on the map.
These problems are all exacerbated by the exclusive and continued use of iconography. Again, just like in Mysthea, Icaion strives to be language independent by communicating all game information through icons. However, again, these icons aren’t exactly intuitive and commit the cardinal sin of sometimes meaning different things in different places. Particularly glaring is the attack icon, which on colossus cards damages all players in adjacent regions, but when on a curiosity card damages players adjacent to the player. A brief aside which has been mentioned in other Icaion reviews – the attack curiosity cards feel extremely out of place in this game, as Icaion offers no other direct player interaction and there is no way to know they are coming or to defend against them.
It all adds up to a game that I want to love but honestly don’t know who to put it in front of. The beautiful aesthetics and natural gameplay suggest this would be a good game to put in front of my friends and family who are considering the next step in board gaming, but the long and complex teaching will inevitably trip them up or have them checked out. So I could play it in a gaming club with seasoned players, but I tried that, and they felt blocked by the tiny decision-making space. I’m sure there’s a band somewhere in between that Icaion will sing for, but I haven’t met them, and as such I find it hard to recommend.
A quick aside – part of the marketing for Mysthea and Icaion was that you could combine the two games to create a third cooperative game called Mysthea: The Fall. After trying it, I definitely wouldn’t recommend anyone bother to play it, let alone buy either game for it. Upon entering I was both intrigued and worried that this was more of a marketing gimmick than anything, and oh boy was that concern immediately validated. It suffers from the same overly long learning curve and simplistic gameplay that sank Icaion for me, with the added issues that you’re using components that obviously weren’t made for it and therefore feel out of place. All that to say, if you want to get Mysthea and/or Icaion on their own merits, definitely do, but if you get both, I’d suggest leaving the material for The Fall behind the inserts where it belongs.
Icaion is a beautiful game, just like its Kickstarter brethren. Unfortunately, like many of them, Icaion suffers from a plethora of questionable design choices that leave me wondering who this game is for. The rules explanation is too long for fresh blood, but the decision space is too narrow for grizzled veterans.
Nick grew up reading fantasy novels and board game rules for fun, so he accepted he was a jerk from a young age. When he’s not busy researching the intricacies of a hobby he’ll never tackle, Nick can be caught cooking or befriending local crows.