Masters of the Oniverse, Chapter One: Onirim

There is a great disturbance in the Oniverse, my lord. The dreams are getting restless, and some even seem to be turning to Nightmares in order to try to restore the balance. We need the Dreamwalker. But the Dreamwalker is trapped in a bizarre Labyrinth, and must find the doors to escape before time runs out. The Dreamwalker is our only hope. Let us pray that the Labyrinth is merciful.

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Onirim is a game from designer Shadi Torbey that was first released in 2010 by Z-Man Games with three expansions in the box. A second edition, which came in a larger box and which included four more expansions, was released in 2014. It’s a solo game with an option to play with two, and the general theme is that you are a Dreamwalker who is trying to find the eight oneiric doors in order to escape a labyrinth of dreams. It was followed by a series of sequel games in what is now known as The Oniverse – Urbion (2012), Sylvion (2015), Castellion (2015), Nautilion (2016), and Aerion (2019).

For my second solo campaign of the 2022 (following FUSE), I started doing what I call the Masters of the Oniverse cycle, where I play through all expansion modules of each game in the Oniverse, and don’t stop until I win. I’ll be able to do this with all the games except for Urbion, which is out of print and has not yet gotten its second edition.

We’re starting with Onirim, which I haven’t talked about since I did a post back in 2013 with the first edition. Here’s a basic rundown of the gameplay: you start the game with a hand of five cards, and each turn, you play one or discard one. If you play, it goes into a line of cards known as the Labyrinth, and you can’t play two cards with the same symbol next to each other (each card shows a sun, moon, or key). If you manage to play three cards of the same color in a row, you can search the deck for a door of that color and put it on the table before reshuffling the deck.

If you discard, you put the card in a stack to the side. You can discard any card, but if you discard a key, you trigger a Prophecy. For a Prophecy, you draw five cards, discard one, and put the rest back in any order.

You end a turn by drawing back up to five cards. If you draw a door, you set it aside in Limbo (unless you’re holding a matching key, in which case you discard the key and put the door out on the table). If you draw a Nightmare, you must resolve it by either discarding a key, discarding your entire hand, discarding the top five cards of the draw deck (though not any doors or Nightmares), or putting an already collected door from the table to Limbo. Once your hand is full, you shuffle any cards in Limbo back into the draw deck.

You keep playing until the deck runs out (you lose) or you have collected all eight doors (you win). At least, that’s the base game. Here are the changes you’ll find in the expansions.

  • The Book of Steps Lost and Found: This expansion gives you eight door goal cards, which you shuffle up and lay out on the table. This is the order in which you must discover the doors. This expansion also has a Spells card, which gives you three Spells you can cast by removing discarded cards from the game – Paradoxical Prophecy (5/6 discards) lets you look at the bottom five cards of the deck, move one to the top and put the rest back in any order; Parallel Planning (7/9 discards) lets you swap the order of two goal cards; and Powerful Punishment (10/12 discards) lets you discard a just-drawn Nightmare without having to resolve it. There are two sides to the Spells card, one being easier as you have to discard fewer cards.
  • The Glyphs: This expansion gives you four additional doors you must discover. There are also Glyph cards that get shuffled into the deck. These can be added to the Labyrinth in order to help you discover a new door (they have a different symbol, which is helpful), or they can be discarded to trigger an Incantation. This means you draw the top 5 cards of the deck, and if there’s a door there, you can place it on the table. If there are multiple doors, you can only place one. All the rest of the cards go on the bottom of the deck.
  • The Dreamcatchers: Four Lost Dreams are shuffled into the deck, and four Dream catchers are placed on the table. When cards would go into Limbo (doors, Nightmares, Lost Dreams), they don’t get shuffled back into the deck. Instead, they go onto an empty Dreamcatcher. If there are no empty Dreamcatchers, one is discarded from the game and anything on it goes back into the deck. You do have two Failsafes that can be discarded to free cards from a Dreamcatcher before they get to fill, or you can also free cards whenever you search the deck for a card. You need all eight doors on the table (not on Dreamcatchers) and all four Lost Dreams on Dreamcatchers for you to win.
  • The Towers: Twelve Towers cards are shuffled into the deck. You need to play these out into a sequence of four, one of each color, to win (in addition to the eight doors). The Towers have sun and moon symbols on the edges, so you have to be careful not to put edges together that have the same symbols. You’re allowed to have multiples of a color in your Tower line, but you need all four colors in a row to win. Nightmares cause you to discard a Tower in addition to their normal effect, but you can choose not to discard a Tower by putting the Nightmare into Limbo instead of discarding it (you still have to resolve the Nightmare as normal). Once you have your sequence of four, you don’t have to discard Towers anymore (unless you’re playing the advanced variant).
  • Happy Dreams and Dark Premonitions: Four Happy Dreams are shuffled into the deck, and four Dark Premonitions are laid out on the table (drawn from eight possible). The Dark Premonitions will trigger when you have certain combinations of doors out on the table, and could cause you to put a Nightmare back in the deck, or lose two keys, or lose a door, or other nasty things. The Happy Dreams will allow you to get rid of Dark Premonitions, or they can be used to reorder the top seven cards of your deck (discarding any that you like), or even to take the card of your choice from the deck.
  • Crossroads and Dead Ends: There are 6 Crossroad cards that are shuffled into the deck. These are basically wild cards – they have a sun, moon, or key symbol, but can be used as any color. You also shuffle in ten Dead End cards. These are dead weight that cannot be discarded unless you’re discarding your whole hand due to a Nightmare, or because you’re triggering an Escape (which is basically just discarding your whole hand at the start of your turn).
  • The Door to the Oniverse: You’ll randomly select eight of sixteen Denizen cards, then shuffle them and one extra door into the deck. When you draw a Denizen, you can choose to discard a card from your hand to play it to the table, where it will be available for use with its special power. Special powers include changing the color of a door, trading a card from your hand with one in the discard pile, play a card in the Labyrinth that is the same symbol as the one before, and others. You can also choose to just discard the Denizen. To win, you need the eight standard doors and the special Door to the Oniverse, which can be claimed with a sequence of three cards or a key of any color.

OK, let’s talk about just the basic game to start out with. It really is a very basic game. A lot of your success or failure is determined by luck – there’s not a lot you can do if you hit three Nightmares in a row (which happened to me during my campaign). You get three cards in your hand that will work for a door, and you play them out, but you have to hope against hope that a Nightmare doesn’t pop up and screw you up. You just have to be lucky.

The biggest place where strategy plays into the game is triggering those Prophecies by discarding a key. Keys are partly protection against Nightmares, which makes it a little agonizing to discard one, but Prophecies are necessary for your success. The ability to draw five cards at once and put them in order (after discarding one) can be HUGE. You might get a key and a door of the same color, and make sure you get them together. You might get that third card you need for finding a door. You might get a Nightmare, which you can discard. You might get three Nightmares, a door, and a sun card. You might get no Nightmares at all, giving you the sometimes agonizing decision of which card you may potentially need do you have to discard. It’s impossible to know what you’ll get when you trigger a Prophecy, but it’s still pretty critical to your success.

Other than that, it’s a lot of hoping you get the right cards when you need them, discarding what you have to, and trying to avoid Nightmares when possible. There’s a lot of shuffling in the game, as you’re frequently putting doors (and sometimes Nightmares) back in the deck. This, of course, randomizes things further. You can try to use shuffles to your advantage. In the example above of getting three Nightmares, a sun, and a door during a Prophecy, you can put the door on top, followed by the sun, and then the two Nightmares (having of course discarded one Nightmare). The door goes in Limbo, the sun goes in your hand, then you shuffle the door back into the deck, hopefully moving those two Nightmares away from the top.

Thematically, the game is pretty abstract. The card art is very dreamlike in that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But it’s very stylistic, and it’s an art style that carries over into future games. I would say this is probably the most abstract of the series.

The expansions add a lot of variety to the game, so you can throw one (or more) in to make the game simultaneously more challenging and different. Back when I talked about Onirim, I played all three of the included expansions at once (the Book of Steps, the Towers, and Happy Dreams, in case you’re wondering). I wasn’t brave enough to try all seven this time, but maybe someday. But, I’ll rank them all individually, from my favorite to least favorite.

  1. The Door to the Oniverse – The addition of Denizens adds some really cool strategy to this game. You have to discard a card to get them in play, but then you get a special power to use at some point. The Denizens also lead into future games of the series, which is a great way to end the expansion set.
  2. Happy Dreams and Dark Premonitions – This is my favorite from the original set. The Dark Premonitions force you to think about the order of the doors, but you still have some choice (as opposed to The Book of Steps). Sometimes, it’s OK to trigger a Dark Premonition. Other times, you want to dump them as quickly as possible. It’s a really good addition to the game.
  3. The Glyphs – Even though you have to discover four more doors, I like how The Glyphs give you a new action. The Incantation is great for discovering doors – if one of them happens to be in the top of your deck, you get it, no questions asked. Plus, you may be able to move a Nightmare to the bottom of your deck. Despite the extra doors, the Incantation makes it seem like only a small step in complexity.
  4. The Dreamcatchers – This one is hard. Cards in Limbo go onto a Dreamcatcher, which means you could get Nightmares out of your deck, but also doors. Ideally, you want to get multiple Lost Dreams onto a single Dreamcatcher at once, but luck usually prevents this. Figuring out when to trigger escapes is the big thing in this game. It’s fairly complex.
  5. The Towers – This expansion comes with the extra challenge of needing to line up four Towers of different colors. It’s almost like a separate game from the standard collection of doors. I find that you want to try to get this done as quickly as possible, especially since Nightmares will mess with the line. That part of it drops it in the rankings for me.
  6. The Book of Steps Lost and Found – I really like the Spells, and would play with these all the time. However, they’re in the same expansions as the ordered Doors, which I don’t like as much. I feel like they give you less agency in the game. The Spells really help with them, and would probably help in other expansions as well, but I feel weird splitting an expansion up and playing with the individual parts.
  7. Cross Roads and Dead Ends – It’s cool to have wild cards, but getting dead weight in your hand doesn’t seem that worth it to me. It makes you hope for a Nightmare so you can discard your hand. This one falls a little flat for me.

To be clear, I don’t hate any of the expansions. But some are much better than others, and are ones I would want to play with more often.

As mentioned, I did a campaign through all the expansions. There are advanced versions of each module, as well as a Little incubus appendix (which basically can just make the game easier or more difficult). I didn’t play these. But, here are my stats for the campaign.

  • Played from January 13 to January 24.
  • Won the base game on the second try (got seven doors in my loss).
  • Won The Book of Steps on the first try.
  • Won The Glyphs on the first try.
  • Won The Dreamcatchers on the second try (only got four doors in my loss).
  • Won The Towers on the first try.
  • Won Happy Dreams on the third try (got seven doors in both losses).
  • Won Cross Roads on the first try.
  • Won The Door to the Oniverse on the first try.

So I went 8-4, and I think it’s pretty good to win 2/3 of my games. It also shows that, once you get it, this game is not too tough. I still think the Dreamcatchers is the hardest one, even though I got that one quicker than Happy Dreams (which I think is second toughest). The base game is the easiest simply because it doesn’t have any extra stuff added in (and yes, I realize I lost a game of that one – I was rusty, and I won the second one pretty quickly).

Overall, I really like Onirim as a solo game. You can play with two people, but don’t. It’s a solo game with a two-player variant, and there are better two player games out there.

On through the Oniverse!

The Dreamwalker has safely emerged from the Labyrinth, my lord. But the Nightmares aren’t finished yet. The Dreamwalker has much work to do. We must provide all the support we can. Time is running out.

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