Games can be separated into three tiers.

First-tier games are so awful they never should have been printed. Second-tier games are average games that are fun to play a couple times but lose their luster quickly. Third-tier games are excellent. They are well designed, look great and are fun to play again and again. Z-Man Games' Helios is a third-tier game.

The theme of Helios is all about harnessing the power of the sun. Two to four players attempt to earn victory points by creating land and buildings, moving the sun, gathering resources and mana stones, and hiring characters.

Play begins by selecting one of three actions: a player can add a land token to his or her player board (including the corresponding resource), build a temple or building, or move the sun. A unique thing about actions in Helios is that they are limited. Only a certain number of actions are available to the players each game round (actions are represented by cardboard tokens). Once they're gone, they're gone.

Land tokens produce resources that can be used to build temples and buildings. Temples help score victory points and generate mana stones. Buildings offer victory points and special powers that influence the game. Moving the sun around a player's earth tokens can score massive points. There are so many choices to make.

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A second part of the game involves hiring special characters. These characters are hired on a first-come-first-served basis by using only mana stones. But even when a character is hired, a player must spend resources to activate the character. Activated characters cause wonderful effects to the game and are crucial to winning.

The components of the game are stellar. Each player gets his or her own playing board for laying terrain, keeping track of sun movement and purchasing buildings. The mana stones are cool red crystals that are impossible not to touch. There are colorful wooden cubes, cardboard counters, a personalized bag to hold victory points and an awesome 3D dragon starting player marker.

It’s hard to go wrong with Helios. It is a medium-level strategic game that takes an hour to play. There are a lot of strategic decisions to be made. The fun theme is unique and the game play enjoyable for board game lovers. I recommend it.

rmorgenegg@desnews.com

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