As is the norm for this series of games, it is very nicely designed and illustrated, with components being very nice (although the Greeks and ships are a little on the small side, they perform their function very well) and storage within the box - a custom plastic tray - being very good indeed. The God cards in particular are gorgeous, evoking classic ancient Greek art with excellently stylised depictions of the Gods featured - Zeus, Poseidon and Ares.
The rules are clear and as concise as possible, with some nice examples taking up a page or two of space in the back of the book. Two cards are provided so that each player has a short summary during the game - this is double sided, with one side clearly listing the turn options and the other a clarification of 'difficult' rules. To have this included is superb - I would normally prepare my own player aid in order to accelerate both learning and teaching a game, but Rio Grande should be applauded for including this in such a helpful form.
The object of the game is to be the first player to own ten cities, which is a lot harder than it would at first seem. This is due to the fact that each player has a limited number of ships and Greeks, so owning and retaining ten cities means spreading your resources very thin indeed. To keep a city you must have at least one Greek in it, and to successfully make a voyage to a new city ships are required.
After initial board set up (each player takes turns to draw a tile and place it adjacent to either the starting tile or two other tiles - players place four tiles each), players take one of each type of God card (Zeus, Poseidon and Ares) and then the normal turn order can begin. Turn options are as follows:
1) Burst of Strength - Players can use this option to perform any three of the following actions in any combination they choose: a) place a Greek in a city owned by the active player (maximum three Greeks per city), b) place a ship next to a city owned by the active player (maximum three ships per tile) or c) draw a God card (hand limit is seven cards, and players must not hold more than three of any one type of God card). One last thing: some cities have temples marked on them - when a player owns the majority of temples in play they get to choose four actions instead of three during a burst of strength.
2) Attack - Players can attempt to conquer a city belonging to their opponent. Attacks over land require that the attacker place Greeks equal to the number of Greeks in the defending city (2 Greeks in the defending city mean that 2 Greeks must be brought from adjacent cities by the attacker), but attacks over water require 1 extra Greek to be brought into the fray. If the attacker loses, all attacking Greeks are removed from the board. If the defender loses, the attacker now owns the city and any ships in the newly owned hex are removed and replaced with ships belonging to the new custodian of the city.
3) Voyage - Players can attempt to voyage to a new city - this means drawing a tile and attempting to place it adjacent to two other tiles, but in order for the voyage to be successful, the active player must place it adjacent to two hexes where he/she has the ship majority. Once placed, the active player must 'pay' for the voyage by removing a ship from an adjacent hex, and finally he/she must place a Greek in the new city. If it is not possible to place the tile (either because the land will not fit next to land that the active player owns or because the active player does not possess the ship majority in any legal destinations for the tile to be placed), then the voyage is deemed unsuccessful and the tile is returned to the bottom of the stack.
That neatly summarises the turns, but added spice is brought into play with the God cards: these have varying (and often quite powerful) effects, with Zeus cards being all-powerful, Ares cards affecting attacks and Poseidon cards being used for voyage or ship based endeavours. God cards can be used at any time during a player's turn, and some can even be used on the other player's turn (those cards are marked with a special symbol to denote this). God cards are often incredibly useful. It is sometimes difficult to know when it is legal to play certain cards, and some cards have slightly ill-defined effects that are open to interpretation. As long as neither player takes the game too seriously, it isn't much of a problem. Also, given the length and complexity of the game, it isn't as jarring or annoying as it would be in a longer or more strategically complex game.
I have found Hellas to be immensely enjoyable - the theme is very well integrated with the gameplay in the form of the meddling Gods and their powers over certain aspects of the game world. The random nature of the cards and the strength of certain cards could have ruined the game entirely - instead it brings an added level of flavour to the ever-present, always interfering Gods. The exploration aspect is also very satsifying. Combat is fast and prone to oneupmanship with the use of cards, and feels slightly wooly with its all or nothing resolution. However, I don't find this to drag the enjoyment of the game down too much - it means that games rarely take any longer than 45 minutes. Hellas also has the agonising but welcome feature of wanting to perform more actions each turn than you are allowed! In short, Hellas is a light wargame designed for players who aren't much interested in deep, complex and drawn out conflicts - for two players that are usually turned off by wargames but are looking for a short, fun experience with a lot of conflict and a side order of God-based, card driven luck thrown in for good measure.
Presentation: Excellently produced map tiles, and very nicely designed God cards add to the overall flavour of the game. The Greeks and ships are a little on the small and fiddly side, and cardstock is pretty thin - which brings the rating down a bit. 8.2/10
Clarity of Rules: Simple to learn but there are many issues with timing that constantly arise during play. A small series of examples in addition to the one included would have helped immeasurably. 5.8/10
Game Length: Games often take around 45 minutes, which is perfect - but sometimes a stalemate situation occurs with seemingly endless tug-of-war style problems. 7.7/10
Value: A very replayable game in a nicely compact package - great components considering the low price point too. 9.2/10
Overall: A simple, fairly abstract wargame that provides a great deal of fun - the meddling Greek gods may add sometimes annoying chaos but this helps to create the unique, Greek-mythology based atmosphere. 7.8/10 (not an average)
Review by Jason M. Brown