The third Olympian-themed game I’ve covered on this blog interests me for a couple of reasons, neither of which has to do with the theme. One is the publisher – Ystari, a French company with a pretty good track record of putting out solid Eurogames (Yspahan and Caylus are two I have played and enjoyed). The other is the designer – Philippe Keyaerts. His first game (Vinci) came out in1999, and Olympos, coming out in 2011, is only his fourth title. In between, he had Evo (2001) and the mega-hit Small World (2009). Of course, Small World keeps coming out with expansions and a sequel, but still, he doesn’t have the largest catalog out there.
Olympos is a game is for 3-5 players aged 10 and up, and takes around 90 minutes to play. It features art by Arnaud Demaegd, and the bits of art already up on the internet has already proved to be controversial. I won’t really talk too much about that, I’ll just say that there is nudity in the game. However, given the time period, it’s thematically appropriate. It’s already caused quite a bit of discussion about censorship and the level of appropriateness, but I’d really rather use this space to talk about the game.
You are a tribe that is trying to colonize Greece. You’ll be taking over territories, making scientific advances, and building architectural marvels. Your goal is to be the most prestigious civilization by scoring the most points. The game includes a game board, a development board, 55 discovery tiles, 5 wonder tiles, 32 territory tokens, 28 prestige tokens, 12 hourglass tokens, 1 Zeus token, 8 tribe tokens, 10 Olympos cards, 22 destiny cards, 100 settler tokens, and 28 resource cubes.
The development board consists of six rows, where the discovery tiles and wonder tiles will be laid out. There are two of each type, and they’ll be organized according to the color on their backs. Players start with four random resouce cubes and five settler tokens in their color, with one of these going on the time track. The player on the bottom (i.e. the last player) takes two development tiles of each type and marks 4-8-12 territories on the board (with 3-4-5 players) that won’t be used in the game. One Tribe token goes in each territory containing a star that was not marked off. Olympos cards are shuffled, with one placed face down next to each of the three Zeus spaces on the time track, two placed face down next to each of the three Double Zeus spaces on the time track, and one discarded sight unseen.
Olympos uses a time mechanic similar to the ones used in games like Thebes and Red November – player order is determined by the player who is in last place on the time track (or the player who is on top of a stack on the last place spot). Actions cost time, causing you to move forward. Throughout the game, you may earn hourglass tokens, which help you to not move as far on the time track if you use them.
On your turn, you have two options: expansion or development. With expansion, you’ll be either moving or placing a settler on the board. If you want to add a settler, it will cost you two action points, and you have to put it either somewhere in the northern zone or in a territory where you already have a settler. This settler must be moved immediately. Movement costs one point if you are going into an adjacent land space, or two points if you’re entering a sea space. You can move as far as you like, passing through any territories on the board. You can’t stop in the closed off spaces marked at the beginning, but you can still pass through them. If you stop in an empty territory, you gain control of it and take a territory token corresponding to the resource produced in the region. When you leave, you have to give up that resource.
However, if you stop in a territory occupied by another player, you have to fight. The attacker always wins, but the action costs time depending on your military might, determined by military developments. If you have more swords than the defender, it only costs you one action point. If you tie, it costs 2 action points. If you have fewer, it costs you 3. You mark you victory by placing your settler on top of the loser’s settler. The loser gives up the resource for that region, but also gains an hourglass token. On a future turn, the losing player may flee and move their token to another region. They may immediately return to reconquer the region, but they have to leave first. You can’t add new settlers if you’re on the bottom of a stack.
Tribe tokens must be fought in the same manner (they have no swords). When you win, you take the territory token and the tribe token, star side up. If another player takes the territory, they get the resource and the tribe token. If a player leaves, the resource and tribe token are returned to the board. Future people that take over the territory don’t have to fight since the tribe has already been wiped out.
Your other option on your turn is development. Here, you’ll either make a discovery or build a wonder. To make a discovery, you’ll need the correct resources as shown on the board. This can come in the form of resource cubes (which you return to the stock) or territory tiles (which are yours until you have to relinquish them). You take the tile and are now able to use its special ability. You’ll also place a token of your color (from the general supply) on the bonus you want to take, indicated by circles on the board. To make a discovery, you’ll need to spend seven action points.
Wonders cost stars, which can be acquired by conquering tribes or through developments, cards, or bonuses in the same column as the wonder concerned. The Wonder you take will be worth VPs at the end of the game. This also costs seven action points.
When moving on the time track, you will occasionally pass Zeus spaces. Whenever you pass one, you’ll have to draw a destiny card. You can play it immediately, or can save it for later. Cards give resource cubes, hourglasses, points, a Zeus token, or stars. Also, the first player to reach a Zeus space will have to draw an Olympos card after drawing from the destiny deck. The last player to reach the Double Zeus spaces will have to take an Olympos card as well. Half of these cards are good, half are bad. The good ones affect the player with the most Zeus symbols, the bad ones affect the player with the least (so collect a lot of Zeus symbols). Zeus gives 3 points; Hecate gives an extra settler; Artemis gives resource cubes; Erinyes makes your next action cost two points more; Athena gives a star (one time use); Ares gives two swords until the next Olympos card is drawn; Hades causes you to lose a settler from the board; Keres costs you two points; Siren keeps you out of a sea space until the next Olympos card is drawn; and Nemesis causes you to lose all of your destiny cards.
Your game is over on your next turn after passing the final Zeus space. You can either pass or take one final action. You cannot move past the final space on the track with your final action. Once everyone has finished, add up your points. You get 0-5 based on your final position on the time track (the closer you are to the last Zeus space, the more points you get); Prestige tokens give you the value shown; each normal territory you control earns one point; each Atlantis territory you control earns two points; each discovery tile earns two points; each wonder is worth 8-12 points; Destiny cards are worth one point each (plus the bonuses they provide); and some discoveries give you bonus points. The most points wins.
It’s interesting to compare Vinci/Small World to this game. The main difference that jumps out at me is your relative lack of people to send out around the board. You need to move your settlers strategically so you can have resources. But you won’t be able to use those resources until your next turn at the earliest, so if someone comes in and takes them from you, you’ll have to burn some more time to get them back. That burning of time reminds me of the Small World “going into decline” action, which costs you a precious turn in order to reset. But whereas Small World has a set number of turns, this game uses the time track, which is really one of my favorite mechanics. It moves the game along, but it also gives people a chance to do several small things, compared to one big thing. I know one of my wife’s most common complaints about games is that she wants to do more in a turn (that’s why she doesn’t like Ticket to Ride). I think she would enjoy being in control of how much she does at once.
From the title and cover art, it seems like this is another Greek mythology inspired game. While that’s true to an extent, this is more about conquering parts of Greece in the context of those ancient myths. The gods aren’t so much part of the game as they are trying to mess with the players. At any rate, I’m really excited to give this game a try. The mechanics seem interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how all of the discoveries work together. It’s a bit of worker placement, it’s a bit of area control, and it has a time track. I think the Ystari version will be out at the end of May, but I’m not sure when Rio Grande will be releasing it domestically. I have no idea what they’ll do with the more explicit art, but I think that either that will be changed or the age limit will be changed. We’ll see…thanks for reading.