Ethnos is a deceptively simple game of cards that also comes with a board. The theme is that you’re forming bands of allies (cards) to take control of areas on the map. Sometimes a band can be a single card, but the size of the band you put together is also very important…
Each game uses just six of the twelve fantasy races the game comes with, in the form of sets of cards. You can either choose randomly or settle on the races you find most interesting. The six races are shuffled together to form a draw deck, a certain amount (depending on player count) are laid face up, each player is dealt one card, and play begins.
On your turn you can either pick up a card – from the draw deck, or any of the face-up cards – or play a band. A band can be between 1 and 10 cards, on the proviso that either the race or the colour of the cards all match. The top card serves as the band’s leader, and most races have a particular power that is activated when played as a leader: Wizards allow you to claim cards back, Centaurs allow you to play a second band, and so on.
Having done so, you can add a control marker to the board in the region that matches the colour of your leader – if your band is big enough. If you already have a control marker in that area, your band needs to be at least two strong. If you have two control markers there, it needs to be three strong, and so on.
At the end of each round, players will score for how much control they have on the board – but also, how big their bands are. A bunch of small bands of one to three cards will only get 0-3 points. A band of six will get you fifteen points. So although it first looks like the battle is all about the board, there’s a kind of secondary game going on at the same time, of building big bands.
After the third age ends, the player with most points wins.
It’s a strange beast, Ethnos. I like the fact that in a market drowning in 4-player games it plays up to six. I like all the variations the dozen races supply. I like that the play is so fast – once you get what you’re trying to do, it really speeds by. And I like the idea that you can forego a battle on the board in order to build some big bands (of the non-musical variety). But it is a game where you can be undone by luck as well, especially if you’re going the latter route – if you keep drawing cards that don’t match, you can find yourself falling behind, and some races are definitely more powerful than others. The Halfling race in fact has no power, and can only be used for band-building. Hopefully that ill-fortune balances out over the three rounds (two in a 2 or 3 player game) but obviously there’s no guarantee of that. I do enjoy it all the same, and if you don’t mind a bit of swingy luck, this is a decent and potentially more-ish family game.
I[‘ve played Ethnos once, and really enjoyed it despite doing pretty badly. I love the speed of turns, and he combination of set collection and area control. There’s a nice brinkmanship to the card market – once the cards are all gone the players are drawing blind from the deck, until someone cracks and plays a set, leaving the others to hoover up their discards. Want to play more!
Although it's not a game with combat as such, you're constantly jostling for position on the board.
Low. After a first play you'll find Ethnos plays really fast!
Moderate. Although there's tactical play here, there's a fair amount of luck-pushing too - picking up a card in the hope you'll get a matching race or colour.
Lots of variety here - only six of the game's twelve races get used in any one game, so you can try a number of combinations.