Rob: Buckle-up all you dream defenders; Gameosity is going back to the “Oniverse.” Sylvion is the latest game from designer Shadi Torbey (Onirim, Urbion) and publisher Z-Man Games, and takes us back to the land of dreams. Because apparently the land of dreams is extremely bad at staying out of trouble.
Unlike our previous visits to Torbey’s other games, Sylvion has no dream labyrinths to navigate and no umbral cities to balance this time. Instead, you have to protect the grand forest from a really big jerk who also happens to be something like the king of the fire elementals. Naturally, he went and brought said fire elementals to the party, too, and that’s your problem to solve.
If you’ve never played any of Shadi Torbey’s other games before, don’t worry about jumping straight into Sylvion. It really only shares three similarities with its older siblings: the art style, the overall setting, and the fact that it’s bone-crushingly difficult. But fun! Bone-crushingly difficult and fun! All of Torbey’s games require a lot of strategy, forethought, and a bit of luck. What’s different with Sylvion is that it plays, oddly enough, a bit like Plants vs. Zombies. No, seriously, that’s the first thing that came to mind as soon as I started playing.
The play area is made up of four columns and four rows, with a total of 12 forest cards placed along the outside to act as a sort of health meter. Enemy fire… things approach from the right and will keep moving to the left until they’re extinguished or until they reach the forest – at which point they destroy a number of “health” cards equal to their strength. If you want to stop them and save the forest you’re going to have to set up defenses using water-spraying fountains, sprout trees to (hopefully) undo the damage caused by all the inevitable burning, and enlist the help of some friendly animals to give you the tiniest bit of an edge.
Another less obvious but still pretty cool mechanic is how you have to discard your own cards in order to play others. For example, a really powerful fountain might be really useful for blocking the advance of a bunch of little fire demons, but you’ll have to toss three cards to place it. But what if you only have four cards total in your hand, counting the Rambo fountain? And what if one of those other cards is for an elephant, which can be used to remove any one elemental from the board regardless of its strength? Tough choices like these are a big part of Torbey’s games. As is the always-surprising amount of variability.
Sylvion comes with what is essentially three add-ons. First you have the base game, which is the most straightforward of the bunch and the best place to start. Once you’re comfortable with that, you can shuffle in the Advanced cards and start using the Advanced rules (including a pre-game draft to construct your deck, along with lots of other helpful and hurtful additions). If that’s still not enough, you can also incorporate two different expansions that change things up even further. Whether or not these expansions are worth adding depends on how complicated (and difficult) you like your games, but I think they’re a must once you get used to the regular game. And I definitely think playing the Advanced game is a must once you have the basics down – it only requires learning a couple more rules and it’s significantly more intense.
This is all from the perspective of playing solo, however. Sylvion does offer co-op for up to two players, but it’s a lot harder. I mean a lot. The basic rules are the same, only instead of sacrificing your own cards to play something you have to sacrifice your partner’s cards (and vice-versa). This isn’t to say you can’t have fun playing with a friend, but you’re both going to be in for one heck of an uphill battle.
Regardless of the number of players it also feels a little awkward in places. Initial setup is okay for the basic game, but the card draft for the advanced game is a little slow. The logistics of flipping over attacking element cards from four different decks at the start of each turn is also a bit clunky – especially with how the cards tend to slide around. I can’t honestly think of another way any of this could’ve been handled, and none of it detracts from the actual fun of playing, but it does throw off the pace just a teensy bit.
I’ve been a Shadi Torbey fan ever since playing my first game of Urbion, and that hasn’t changed one bit after playing Sylvion. In fact, I’m having trouble deciding which of the two I like more at this point (sorry, Onirim). I suppose my cop-out decision would have to be Urbion for portability since it comes in a much smaller box, uses fewer cards, and takes up less table space.
Aside from being travel-sized though, I’d probably have to give it to Sylvion. Not that it really matters, since having both means I never really have to choose, but with Urbion a little hard to find these days, you can’t go wrong with Sylvion.
If you’re ready to dive into Shadi Torbey’s Oniverse (and we strongly recommend you do), you can snag Sylvion right here!