At first glance, Pylos looks like a game where players race to have their color bead on top of the pyramid. Which is pretty much what the game is about. But if you try to do just exactly that, the game seems silly in deed. The second player always wins. Unless you read the rules.
If you find a square of beads already on the board, you can put one bead on top, either from your “reserve” (the troughs on your side of the board), or by moving a bead that is already on the board. If you build a new square of your beads (four adjacent to each other), you get to take one or two (the number being of great, yet subtle strategic significance) of your “free” beads (freedom being measured in terms of not having any other piece on top of you), and return them to your reserve. Which gives you an extra piece or two to play. Which makes it more likely that the other player will run of pieces before the top bead can be placed.
It helps if you understand the game of Nim, or the chess concept of opposition. It’s about timing, about leaving the other player with one less move.
It especially helps if you read the rules carefully. Even though Pylos is an easy game to learn, and the rules are brief and succinct, they are also quite dense. The game looks so much like a simple race to the top that it’s almost too easy to overlook what the game is really about. It’s a strategic game, requiring planning and logic.
There are “advanced rules” when you’re ready for them (if you get 4-in-a-row on the bottom level or 3-in-a-row on the next level, you also get to take back one or two of your beads). And of course you can simplify the game by eliminating one of the two square rules (the rules allowing you to move or take one or two beads from the board when you complete a square of your color or a square of mixed color).
Designed by David G. Royffe, Pylos is another well-made, wooden, aesthetically pleasing, casual strategy game in the Gigamic collection, available in the US from Fundex Games. Recommended for two players over the age of seven, it takes about 10-20 minutes to play, maybe 10 minutes to learn. For younger players, making a pyramid out of beads, especially when you have a base that keeps all the beads in one place, is so satisfying, and so much fun, that it might take them a while to get to the beauty of the game itself. When they’re ready, they will learn.