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Ethnos Review

Review of: Ethnos
Board Game Review by: :
Tahsin Shamma

Reviewed by:
On Sep 5, 2017
Last modified:Sep 5, 2017


We review Ethnos, the set collection and area control board game published by CMON Games. Ethnos puts a fantasy spin on the area control mechanic as each player is recruiting bands of fantasy monsters ton control the world of Ethnos.

Ethnos Review

EthnosEach game has a personality. Like getting to know someone, when choosing a game, there are things that may be instant attractors and then aspects which, once experienced, become real annoyances. CMON has presented a set collection and area control game filled with this dichotomy.

Ethnos is for 2-6 players and takes about 60-90 minutes to play. It plays best with at least 3 players.

Gameplay Overview:

Each player in the land of Ethnos leads tribes of creatures ascending to dominance. To win, players acquire victory points by maintaining control over land areas, having large bands of warriors, and collecting various racial bonus points.

Each card in the game has two features: race and color. Players holding a hand of cards have two choices on their turn: play a set of cards (called a band) or take a card from the display or the deck.

Ethnos Cards
After Bands are played, players keep them to gain points at the end of the age.

A band of cards is a collection which shares the same color or the same race (like a suit). When a band is played, the player decides which creature in the set will be the leader. That card determines any special powers the player can use and the location for an area control token.

If the band has more cards than the number of tokens for the player in the color region, the player may place an additional token, thus gaining more control. Certain races allow for different rules when placing the control token and optional ways to score points. For example, each color of Orc leader played as the leader of the band allows the player to place a token on their own personal “Orc Board”. When the deck runs out, players can score points based on how many colors they’ve acquired.

After playing a band, any cards remaining in a player’s hand go to the display row for other players to pick. This keeps players from holding on to valuable cards throughout the game.

The game timer is a set of three dragon cards near the bottom of the creature deck. When all three dragon cards have been drawn, an “Age” ends and the board is scored. After three Ages, the game ends.

Ethnos Game Experience
The board and control markers really lack strong table presence.

Game Experience:

Before Ethnos even hit the table, a keen-eyed user on BoardGameGeek noticed something. The outer borders of the land of Ethnos is the exact outline of the country Slovakia. This isn’t a casual coincidence. The outline is almost exact. The graphic designer must have used the outline as a shortcut to create the island realm. Despite the efficiency of this method, the image has stuck in my head. This reviewer certainly feels that despite the efficiency, it distracts from play. It takes gamers out of a mythical world and reminds them of our own too much.

The second big miss that is hard to overlook are the stacking control markers. Plastic doesn’t seem like it should be “slippery”, but keeping a stack of markers together was a feat to admire. In addition, stacking the markers so that they fit back in the box insert was an additional challenge. Add to this the horrendous bright colors that do not mesh with the theme and gamers are left scratching their heads.

Ethnos Board
The Merfolk board is one of the more interesting tracks to compete for.

Those who can easily overlook these issues will certainly see deep and interesting gameplay. There are lots of tactical choices every round building upon strategic decisions. This is a superb example of light but challenging play.

Another thing that Ethnos also pulls off well is variety of setup. Each territory players wish to control has a varying number of victory points for each Age. Some ages deserve attention early, while some are only useful late-game. This ties in well with the strategy, as players will need to balance early and late objectives. Add to this the randomization of creatures in the game and there’s plenty to feast on for quite a while.

This strategic element is coupled with some interesting, if somewhat plain, race powers. There’s a good mix of abilities, none of which appear to be game breaking. This goes a long way to keeping each play of Ethnos fresh.

Even after all those positives, the resulting production still feels unpolished. A lot could have been done in terms of more refined production values to spice this offering up and raise gamers hopes for future CMON games.

Final Thoughts:

Despite the praise for its gameplay, this reviewer is going to conscientiously pass on plays of Ethnos in the future. The game is certainly engaging, and it fills a niche like a pseudo Ticket to Ride for fantasy wargamers. While that does sound exciting, the issues with the board and the pieces in Ethnos are too distracting.

Final Score: 3.5 Stars – While Ethnos is entertaining, challenging, and can be filled with tension, the overall production aesthetic drags it down.

3.5 StarsHits:
• Rummy + Area Control
• Good mix of race powers
• Tense Gameplay

• Ethnos is a map of Slovakia
• Difficult to use and ugly control markers

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  1. What a terrible review, I am sick of bandwagon wannabe reviewers acting like this game has the worst art and design in the industry. It’s not great, that’s easy to tell from the looking at it, but that is SUBJECTIVE.

    No wonder this site has no credibility among the boardgaming community.

    • I assume you do realize that every review is subjective. I never commented on the art for the cards, which was fine. The map is a different story, and I stand by my comments. Your hyperbole regarding “bandwagon wannabe reviewers” is misplaced if you have read any of my other articles. My review was written at least a month ago and is only now getting published due to scheduling priorities. As soon as the issue of the map of Slovakia was pointed out, I couldn’t escape seeing it.

  2. Fair review, the Slovakia thing drives me nuts too. I don’t find the plastic markers difficult to stack, they’re actually my favorite component. I keep them in plastic baggies too, so I don’t even bother using the tray. It makes it much easier to hand out pieces to everyone at the start of the game.

    All in all I really like this game. It’s my current go-to gateway+, perfect for meetups with gamers of all experience levels.

    • Thanks for your comments Jason! I actually really liked the gameplay, just wish the components were different.

  3. This is a great game. Excellent mechanics. Real good family or portal game for me gamers. Staying away from play beacause the map looks like the country of Slovakia is probably the most absurd reason to not play I think I have ever read.

    • Matt, I’m with you on this one! Really?? As for the components, I find they stack very nicely and, in fact, feel like this is a plus for the game… nicely stacked components on the board. Great game, great replay ability.

  4. I think passing on playing a pretty solid game based on a map and plastic tokens is pretty shallow. The game is poorly and loosely themed. I never feel like I am immersed in a fantasy setting so the fact that it takes place is Slovakia does not take me out of a mythical world. The theme could actually be anything for this game. The game itself offers something for new gamers and experienced alike. It introduces new players into light card drafting and area control. It couldn’t be much simpler to explain and grasp yet provides a good element of strategy and planning as well as some blocking and press your luck with the dragons appearing randomly in the second half of the deck.

    Really a disappointing review. It’s not that you have to love the game, but not wanting to replay it based on some minor superficial elements is pretty stupid.

  5. Since I haven’t played Ethnos, so I can’t comment on this game specifically, there have been games I’ve not wanted to play further because of sub par components. So I really can’t fault Tahsin for not wanting to rush it back to the table because of the disconnect for him.

    To be honest, there are SO MANY games coming out on the market every month, there is no reason to force yourself to play a game that’s not working for you. It doesn’t matter if it’s because you hate the game, or there is some part of it that just not working. We have more options than ever to occupy our game nights, play what’s going to give you the most enjoyment.

  6. A review is an opinion, not a statement of fact, I feel like some readers are confusing this. Reviews and opinions need to be interpreted by the reader. If you only look for reviews that reaffirm your own beliefs that kind of defeats the purpose of reading reviews.

    This summation is a good representative of the review:

    “Final Score: 3.5 Stars – While Ethnos is entertaining, challenging, and can be filled with tension, the overall production aesthetic drags it down.”

    This tells me the game is well balanced with strong mechanics but this reviewer didn’t like the components. With any review you need to look for things that are important to you- if the map is not important to you and the other mechanics sound interesting then it could be a game to look into.

    Honestly I want to play this game- the reviewers concerns are not ones that bother me and gameplay sounds simple but with depth.

  7. I have gone to this site for reviews that are usually pretty good, but you obviously were reaching for something negative to say, due to the Slovokia and brightly colored pieces you lower the rating of the game?? That seems a bit off the mark on this one, I will still check the reviews on this page, but the credibility has for sure taken a downward turn.

    • Sorry you feel that way BlackSwan. I promise you, I was not “reaching” for anything negative. The issues I had with components I experienced every time I played. I felt the attention to detail of the physical presence of the game, which is normally very good with CMON, just wasn’t there. Why they decided to take this direction is beyond me. But these issues alone bothered me enough to give the game away. The gameplay is fabulous. I just wish the components were up to that level. As far as credibility goes, if you don’t agree with something that I feel is important, it’s understandable if you’re looking for a reviewer that comes in line more with your taste. For me, components are a big deal in liking a game.

  8. Couldn’t agree more. Aesthetic issues shouldn’t drop 1.5 stars from something described as “great” from a gameplay perspective. Doesn’t make any sense.

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