Masters of the Oniverse, Chapter Three: Sylvion

The Forest of Sylvion is under attack! The Ravage has turned is blazing gaze upon the woods, threatening all who reside there! We need the Dreamwalker to stop it, but it can’t be done alone. The Dreamwalker will have to recruit the inhabitants of Sylvion to help stop the Ravage before the forest is reduced to ash!

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Sylvion is the third game in the Oniverse series by designer Shadi Torbey and published by Z-Man Games. It was published in 2015, following Onirim and Urbion*. As with all of the games in the series, Sylvion is for 1-2 players but is really primarily a solo game. This one is essentially a card-based tower defense game where you’re trying to stop the flames before they burn all the trees down.

The game has four main modes of play – an introductory game (Planting a Seed), an advanced game (The Siege), and two expansions (Extraordinary Feats and Betrayal; The Elements). We’ll start with a look at the introductory game, which forms the basis for everything else.

There are four kinds of cards you’ll be using in the Introductory game – 24 Sylvan cards, 48 Ravage cards, 16 Blazing Elemental cards, and 12 Edge cards. The Ravage cards are shuffled into four equal piles and placed in a column. The Edge cards are placed one at a time to make the edges of a 4×4 square battlefield. Six of these edges are turned to their Desolated side, while the other six are on their Bloom side. The Sylvan cards are shuffled into their own defender deck, from which you’ll draw a starting hand of eight. The Blazing Elemental cards are not shuffled, but set aside to be used later.

image by BGG user jungle_boy

At the start of each round, you’ll reveal the top card of each Ravage stack. There are two types of cards you’ll encounter: Elemental cards and Support cards. After revealing, you’ll resolve the Support cards in order of the letter shown on each card. In the Introductory game, the letters are C and D (because A and B are in the advanced game).

First, resolve the Blaze cards (C). You will increase the value of each Elemental card. Elementals have a value of 0-3, so 1 will go to 2, 2 will go to 3, and 3 will go to 4. This is done by replacing the cards with Blazing Elemental cards of the appropriate value. But what about 0? Doesn’t it increase to 1? Nope, it increases all the way to 4. 4s don’t increase any further, but you could have to resolve several Blaze cards at once.

Next, resolve the Simoon cards (D). Every Elemental card, including those just revealed, immediately moves one space to the left. A space is the imaginary intersection between row and column as defined by the Ravage and Edge cards. Again, you could have to resolve several Simoon cards at once.

Once the Support cards have been resolved, every Elemental card moves one space to the left. If an Elemental hits the left wall (i.e. has nowhere else to go left), it destroys trees based on its value. So a 3 will destroy three trees. This means, as you can see, that you’re going to want to stop as many Elemental cards as you can as quickly as you can because you can’t really be sure when they’re going to increase in value or move quickly across the board.

Fortunately, the Sylvan cards are here to help you. Once the Elementals have moved, you draw three cards from your deck and play as many as you want. Cards each have a cost, which is the number of cards you must discard from your hand in order to play the one you want.

In the Defender deck, you’ll find Animals, Fountains, and Trees. Trees are planted in any empty space on your battlefield, and serve to add vitality to your forest. You need your total value of trees to be equal to or greater than the number of destroyed trees at the end of the game in order to win (and remember you start with six trees already destroyed). Fountains are also placed in empty spots, and strengthen your defense. When an Elemental hits a stronger Fountain or Tree, it is destroyed. If it hits a weaker Fountain or Tree, the Elemental takes its place. If it’s a tie, both cards are destroyed.

Animal cards are played to help you manipulate the game in order to win. There are four types in the Introductory game:

  • Elephants: Discard an extra card, then remove any Elemental from the Battlefield.
  • Hedgehogs: These are the only cards that can be played when the Ravage cards are revealed, and they’re free to use. You simply discard the Hedgehog, then discard the revealed Ravage card. This is a great way to get rid of pesky Blaze and Simoon cards, or even Elementals you don’t want to face.
  • Owls: Discard an extra card, then draw three new cards.
  • Whales: These are free to use. Move an Elemental three spaces in any direction (except diagonally). They can’t move into or through spaces occupied by other Elementals, but you could move it onto a Fountain or Tree, hopefully destroying it. Or, you could just move it back closer to the beginning so you have more time to deal with it.

Once you’ve done all you’re going to do, start a new round by revealing the next set of Ravage cards. If there are no more, it’s time for the Final Assault. You won’t be playing any more defense cards, but each Elemental still on the Battlefield moves as far to the left as it can, until it’s destroyed or hits the forest wall and does damage. At this point, check your vitality against how many trees are destroyed to see if you win. Please note that you lose immediately if every tree is destroyed.

image by BGG user EchoOperative

So, that’s the introductory game. And I’ll pause here in my overview to talk about it for a bit. It feels like this game has a lot of rules, and it does, but it’s not too complicated. Fortunately, the introductory game only has the four animal powers and two special Ravage cards to work with, so it’s a bit of a minimalist design.

There’s a lot of luck in the draw as to when things come out and must be dealt with, but there’s also a significant hand management aspect to the game. Because you have to discard other cards in order to play many of the cards in your Defender deck, you’ve really got to prioritize what you need. Hedgehogs are ALWAYS worth keeping, because you really have to control the Blaze and Simoon cards. The Owls are good for replenishing your hand, but sometimes they’re good discard material so you can play something else. Other times, you may just want them around so you can cycle through your deck quicker. Elephants and Whales are necessary to keep Elemental cards in check, but sometimes your just don’t need them when you have them. Hoarding cards is often a bad idea. Discarding is better, knowing that when the deck runs out, you can reshuffle and they’ll be available again soon. I almost always discard 1 and 2 value Trees and Fountains, unless I need something fast and cheap to get in the way.

Once you’ve gotten through the Introductory game, it’s on the the Advanced game, which I really think is the way to play Sylvion. It plays just like the base game, but there are a few differences. For one, there are four new animals added to the Defender pool. For another, you get two new Ravage Support cards. For another, there are two new steps in the game – Mobilization and Demobilization.

We’ll start with the Ravages, which are labeled A and B.

  • Dessication (A): When this Support comes out, you either discard a random card from your hand or choose two cards from your hand to discard.
  • Demobilization (B): When this Support comes out, you either remove a random card from your discard pile from the game, or choose two cards to remove from the game.

These are shuffled in with all the other Ravage cards, making piles of 16 instead of 12, thus making the game longer.

You’ll notice that one of the new Ravage cards is called Demobilization, and I mentioned that this is a new step in the game. That’s because it happens not only when the Ravage card appears, but also when your deck runs out and you have to reshuffle a new one. It works exactly the same way – remove two cards of your choice from the game or a random one.

But you also get four new Animals!

  • Doves: Discard an extra card to discard the top unrevealed card of each Ravage stack.
  • Fish: Discard an extra card, but then you have three points to use in the purchase of another card. This means that you’re basically paying two cards instead of three.
  • Squirrels: Discard an extra card to reveal the top two cards of each Ravage stack, then put them back in whatever order you wish.
  • Stags: For free, you can either flip two destroyed trees over to their Bloom side, or flip one destroyed tree for every Tree you have on the battlefield.

At the start of the game, you have a Mobilization phase. This is basically where you’re going to draft the cards that will be in your Defender deck. You’ll shuffle up all 64 Sylvan cards into a deck, and shuffle all 12 Edge cards into another deck which you’ll keep Bloom side up. Then you’ll deal out four cards from the top of the Sylvan deck into a row and choose one to add to your deck. You’ll deal out four more cards that overlap the cards you dealt before, with one card going in the empty space created from the card you took. Once this is done, flip the top Edge card, and remove from the game the card(s) from the space indicated, counting left to right. This means you’ll never get the chance to add these cards to your deck. This will continue – deal more cards, take a stack, deal more cards, flip an Edge card and remove cards. No stack can ever contain more than four cards. This goes on until you have no more cards to draft, or until the Edge deck wants to take a stack that hasn’t been refilled.

To me, it’s this Mobilization phase that totally makes the game. While I love deck building games, I’m not big on pre-game customization builds, as in games like Magic. I love the tactics of building my deck on the fly, not so much the act of trying to build the biggest combinations I can without knowing what my opponents are doing. In this case, the card draft is me trying to get cards that work for my own personal strategy and hoping the Edge deck doesn’t take the cards I want. It’s like I’m making a pre-constructed deck, but with some elements of tactical decision making that one doesn’t get from that type of game. And I really like it.

Honestly, I find Squirrels to be pretty useless in this game. I see their use if combined with the Doves, so you know exactly what you’re getting rid of, but otherwise, they’re just discard material for me. Doves are very useful, but I find it’s best to use them fairly sparingly. Fish are nice for getting out those Trees and Fountains you need, and Stags are best in the endgame. I’m not a big fan of Demobilization or Dessication, but then, I’m not supposed to be. They are my enemy after all.

image by BGG user freechinanow

But wait! There’s more! Two expansions! In Extraordinary Feats and Betrayal, you get eight Betrayal and eight Extraordinary Feats that are shuffled into the Sylvan deck. During Mobilization, Betrayal cards get added to a column and then immediately have a new card placed on top of them. Betrayal cards don’t count against the limit for a stack, so you could have lots of cards when they are present. They do go into your deck when drafted. Extraordinary Feats don’t affect stack size, but are set to the side when drafted.

Betrayal cards essentially just clog up your deck. They can never be removed by Demobilization. When you draw one, you can either discard it immediately, or remove it and another card from your hand from the game.

Extraordinary Feats are special one-time actions, allowing you to take cards back into your hand from the deck, remove all cards from the Battlefield, skip the Reveal Ravage cards step, rearrange cards from the top of different Ravage stacks, or immediately win if certain conditions are met.

In The Elements, you have 16 Element cards that are shuffled into the Ravage cards before they are split into four decks (now of 20 cards each). They affect the row they show up in, and are lettered as the other Ravage cards.

  • Stone Rain (C): You’ll either destroy the first Fountain or Tree in a row, or flip an Edge card to its desolated side if there are no Fountains or Trees.
  • Temporal Tornado (B): Return all Fountain and Trees from the row to your hand, or return two cards from your hand to the top of the Defender deck if there are no Fountains or Trees.
  • Acid Lake (B): Put this in the empty space furthest from the Ravage stack. Ravage cards now skip this space when moving across the board.
  • Geyser (A): Put this in the empty space furthest from the Ravage stack. If an Elemental card moves onto it, they are both destroyed. However, you can choose to trigger an Eruption, which discards all Elementals in one straight line from the Geyser. The Geyser is discarded after this.

These expansions add more challenge to the game, and honestly, this is the only game in the Oniverse where I say you could play with all expansions at one (and that includes Castellion, which only has one expansion…but more on that when I get to my discussion of that game). I like both of these, and the variety they give the system.

At this point, I want to talk about my solo campaign which was my fourth of the year (following FUSE, Onirim, and Cartographers). As with Onirim, I wanted to beat every mode of the game. In this case, that’s the introductory game, the advanced game, and both expansions individually. It only took me six days to finish this one, with one loss each on the intro game and Extraordinary Feats and Betrayal. There aren’t any scores to report with this one – either you win or you don’t. And I while I wouldn’t say this game is easy, I certainly didn’t struggle with it. A lot of that comes down to luck – if the Ravage cards come out in an order that you can’t deal with, you’re going to have a really hard time. I happened to get lucky several times – there was one game where the first card on every Ravage stack in the first turn was a Ravage that didn’t do anything because there was nothing it could affect.

I’m not really a Tower Defense person, but I like Sylvion. I think it does everything cleverly, and I look forward to doing a full blast of everything at once sometime.

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!

*Urbion is the only game in the Oniverse I do not own. It was out of print when I started really getting into the series, and does not yet have a second edition in the same size box as the others. You may have noticed that I skipped Chapter Two in the titling of this series. I plan to do Chapter Two if Z-Man ever gives us Urbion 2.0. Until then, consider it a lost chapter.

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