It is said that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
In the land where everyone is throwing fireballs, it’s far less clear who the champion is.
Such is the way of things on the island of Kallos in the card game Brave the Elements. Being in Kallos is sort of like what would happen if Avatar: The Last Airbender took place in ancient Greece, minus all of the cool animal hybrids. Here, people have the ability to control the four elements of nature, and that will come in handy as you and your fellow city-states conjure powerful elemental storms to throw at one another as you slug it out for control of the island’s locations.
(You know, for strategic sheep purposes.)
Location, Location, Location
Each player starts Brave the Elements representing one of the elemental powers through your starting territories, called Locations. Everyone starts with four functionally identical Locations, but this harmonious symmetry doesn’t last long.
The game takes place over several rounds. After each player draws some cards, everyone takes turns selecting new Location cards from a central pool. There are no hoops to jump through, nothing to purchase: players continue simply selecting Locations one at a time until everyone has five Locations. Each Location you can get has three main attributes: a defense value, a VP value, and a special ability. Some abilities have passive benefits, such as making specific elemental storms more powerful, while others are one-time benefits you get from building it, such as getting to draw a card or place an elemental token on it for use later on.
Once everyone is set with their happy little regions, it’s time to begin the fireworks.
Cards in Brave the Elements serve for more than one purpose. In fact, they can be used four different ways. Since each card can only be used once, however, and you only normally have six cards for the entire round, balancing between how to use each card when is key to the game’s strategy.
Your first option is to play a card using its Action ability, letting you do things like get some free VP, draw more cards, or even get tokens to help defend yourself. (Just don’t expect an Action to summon Captain Planet.) Playing an Action card is entirely voluntary, though, and there are certainly times when it’s more worthwhile to hold on to your cards for later in the round than for short-term gains.
Next, players attempt to infiltrate each other’s holdings. Whether that’s by spreading the gospel of the Red God R’hllor or maybe just that your leadership offers lower taxes, we can’t be sure. Still, everyone now tries to steal Locations from one another, and capturing Locations is at the heart of Brave the Elements. Indeed, a Location’s VP amount isn’t how much it’s worth to you, but rather how much it’s worth when stolen.
Players infiltrate by selecting someone else’s Location, and rolls a die, adding in bonuses from special tokens or Location abilities. If your result meets or beats the Location’s defense, you steal it, Carmen Sandiego style. Captured Locations are scored at the end of the game.
Of course, there’s always a chance that your infiltration may fail. If that happens, though, you get to place a Follower token on that Location. They stay on that Location, helping sow disloyalty, and giving you +1 to future die rolls on it, as well as +1 to a spell you may conjur at that Location later on.
Conjuring is what happens after everyone is done being passive about trying to steal territories and decide breaking out the ice storms and hurricanes is the best recourse. Players select a Location they wish to destroy using a storm from their hand. Storms like these:
Storms all have a base value, and just like infiltrating, that value must meet or beat the Location’s defense. Storms can be strengthened by abilities or by playing other storm cards in your hand matching its elemental type.
If successful, the defender has a chance to counteract your storm with some magic of their own. This is done by matching the opposing elemental symbols on the left side of the storm card. This is done by rolling elemental dice, pitching elemental tokens from your Locations and / or discarding cards matching the elemental type. If you match every symbol, the storm is prevented. Otherwise, that player steals and claims your Location.
At the end of the round, if you have more than three Locations standing, you get some extra VP. For surviving. Good job.
Then a new round begins. At the end of the game, the player who mastered the elements best emerges the victor.
Brave the Elements also adds player-driven balance to the gameplay, as it’s a free-for-all dash for points. There can be rounds where everyone targets the same player because they have valuable Locations or are in the lead, and there can be rounds where you aren’t touched at all. And it works. The game is very fluid; your focus can change from phase to phase depending on what other players do, and this keeps everyone engaged during its hourish runtime.
Players do have to be very careful about when and where to play their cards, though, judiciously using them to their fullest effects, and there is also some minor number crunching in the game because of the various bonuses. That said, Brave the Elements proves to be simultaneously simple to follow and full of strategic choices. This is a card game that accomplishes a lot in its fairly small packaging. Brave the Elements makes for a great game of magical conquest, and it can put a spell on you. If this little island battleground sounds like a place you’d like to vacation, be sure to check out their travel agents over on their Kickstarter.
This project has earned the Seal of the Republic