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Olympus

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2011

by Guest Reviewer Scott Linde

Priests standing in a semi-circle around a marble pillar at the center of a holy grove:

“Glorious Demeter, mistress of fruit and leaf, of olive and grain, we humbly offer up to you our first fruits, these burnt offerings.  We beseech thee, bless our fields and groves that they grow hardy and strong.”

A gentle voice responds wafted in on the breeze:

“Mortals, I receive your sacrifice in the spirit in which it is offered.  Now advance your grain track token and take your grain resource.”

Olympus is a worker placement and resource management game strongly themed on the rise  of the Greek city-states.  Three to five players each control their own city-state and compete in gathering resources and advancing their society.  But this is no standard euro-game.  While no player can be eliminated, there is ample opportunity for conflict – more than some game players find tolerable.

Players start with three priests and can eventually gain two more when certain criteria are met.  Each round the starting player places a priest on the alpha column of one of the ten gods.  The other players them have the opportunity to place a priest on the same god’s beta column.  Those who chose that god resolve their choices in clockwise order.  Now, the next player gets to choose an alpha power of the remaining gods.  This continues until all priests are placed on the board.

In general, the power in the alpha column is twice as strong as the power in the beta column, so always following another player is a sure way to end up in last place.  Each god’s rewards are unique, and some are clearly more powerful than others, and certain god’s spaces become more important later in the game.

An upkeep phase occurs after all priests are placed.  During this period certain abilities can be activated, overflowing warehouses dump excess merchandise, and any captured tribute is moved to the warehouses.  The cycle then repeats with a new starting player.  The end of the game is triggered when four advancement tracks are maxed out by a combination of one or more players.  The round that occurs is the last round, but all priests still get to be placed and their actions recorded.  As an incentive, the player that first maxes out a particular track is awarded two victory points.

The three main ways conflict occurs in Olympus is with the Zeus, Ares, or Apollo.  Ares, the Greek god of war, allows the player to strengthen his military, go to war, or a combination of the two.  Zeus, the king of the gods, has wild card actions that can also strengthen armies and/or declare war.  The difference in military strength determines how may resources are paid in tribute to the victor.  Apollo’s action can utilize a different kind of aggression: the plague.  Whoever activates Apollo’s alpha power chooses whether to simply gain two victory points or to simultaneously gain one victory point, activate the plague, and become immune to the plague.  The other players then must follow on the beta column to acquire one turn of immunity, or lose 1/3 of their population rounded down.  Many players nervously hold onto their last priest to guarantee they will not be a victim of the plague, as your population acts as a limiting factor for the growth of your society.

So once you have acquired resources by either production or tribute, what can you do with them?  Resources are used to purchase building cards.  Each card has a resource cost and a minimum technology level.  These cards have a wide variety of useful abilities as well as some that are not as useful.  Each player has an identical deck of basic buildings, and all players have access to a set of unique temples on the board itself.  Those temples have some of the most powerful effects in the game. Either Zeus or Hephaestus will allow you to build, but only Hephaestus’ alpha power allows you to build two cards.  Mid to late game, Hephaestus becomes the first choice for worship.

The player who amasses the most victory points wins the game.  Many cards reward the player with victory points.  Apollo’s action can award one or two victory points.  The final way to earn victory points is with your advancement tracks.  At the end of the game each player divides the number of each track by two and rounds down.  These scores are added to the existing scores easily doubling any previous points.  It is therefore useful to end advancement track on even numbers to maximize your score.

Imagine a cross of the games Caylus with Seven Wonders and you have a good idea of the feel of Olympus.  I have played this game four times and have learned something new about it’s strategy each time.  There may be a canonical best strategy, but different players and different starting positions determine what strategy will be best in each game.  A final thought: those who have played Olympus and thought the military is overpowered, I recommend you play the game again.  Experienced opponents can easily hamstring a player totally focused on war.  I know because it has happened to me – twice.  A balanced buildup of power appears much more effective with your military used to harass rather than overpower other players.

Fun: 4/5

Substance: 4/5

Re-playability: 5/5