Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Battlefields of Olympus

Battlefields of Olympus is a 2-player only (I think) card game with a Greek battle theme. The Greek part is pretty thin, as the game could have been about any type of ancient or medieval battles, but at least the battle part is more or less thematic. You compete to grab land cards, which are worth different victory points. Whoever reaches 16pts wins instantly, or the game ends when all the Ares cards appear.

The Game

There are two stacks of cards in the game. The Warrior cards are all in one separate deck, and the rest of the cards are shuffled into the main deck. You start the game with 4 Warrior cards. On your turn, you normally either draw a card, or start a battle to fight for the top-most visible land card. When you draw a card, if it is a land card, you just add it to the "discard" deck or face-up deck, covering any previous land cards. You also get to draw a random Warrior card. If you draw an Action card, you keep it. Action cards have various special effects, and most are played during battle. If you draw an Ares card, you must start a battle, to fight for the current top-most visible land card.

You have a hand limit of 4 Warrior cards and 4 Action cards. If you get more Warrior cards, they go to your personal Reserve deck, from which they can be taken only after a battle. If you get more Action cards, you can't keep them and must discard them. You can, on your turn, swap any number of Action cards for Warrior cards (drawn randomly), but if you end up with more than 4 Warrior cards in your hand, you put the excess into your Reserve deck.

Given the limit of 4 Warrior cards and 4 Action cards, battles are quick and simple. There are only 5 types of troops, and each troop type defeats one or more other troop types, kind of like a slightly more complex version of paper-scissors-rock. E.g. Heavy infantry can defeat swordsmen, spearmen and archers, but are themselves vulnerable to cavalry. Players take turns playing Warrior cards, with playing Action cards being optional. If you play a Warrior card, you must either defeat or match your opponent's Warrior card. Action cards can be used to modify the outcome, e.g. the Flank Action card makes a losing Warrior card the winner instead. You can decide to pass, which may cause you to lose the battle, but not necessarily (e.g. your opponent's previously played Warrior card matched rather than beat yours). Whoever wins the battle wins the land card and draws one Warrior card. The loser draws 2 Warrior cards. Both can then mix cards from their Reserve decks into their hands, but the limit of 4 Warrior cards must still be obeyed.

There is a concept of Mercenaries. When you control 3 land cards of the same colour, you draw a random Warrior card and place it in front of you. This is a Mercenary unit, which you can swap with any Warrior card in your hand at any time. This gives some flexibility and sometimes can be critical in a battle.

The Play

Han and I played two games. At first the interaction among the 5 types of troops was a little confusing, but it is actually quite logical so I got over that quickly. The game moves quickly, because every turn your decisions are simple. I read the Action cards texts as I played. They are quite straight-forward too. They add some interesting twists to the battles.

In the first game, Han was first to capture 3 land cards of the some colour, which meant he received a Mercenary. He went on to win the game. In the second game, it was the other way round. Mercenaries are quite handy. So sometimes even if the points on a land card is low, it may be worthwhile to go for it if you can make a set of three.

In both games the winner reached 16pts before the 5th Ares card appeared. I guess we were quite aggressive. The Ares cards are basically a timer forcing the game to end. We never got close to having Ares forcing the game to end, so I can't really comment on that aspect of the game. But I guess it can be quite tense, because if you are trailing in points, you may be torn between fighting for a cheap land card and gambling that a better land card will come up before the last Ares card does.

Warrior cards on the left, and Action cards on the right. On the Warrior cards the top left icons represent the troop type, and the smaller icons on the top right represent the troop type(s) that the Warrior cards can defeat.

A battle in progress. The land card being fought over is on the right. In the centre are the Warrior cards fighting it out. Current the Heavy Infantry (on my side) is beating the Archers, because one of the top right icons (the green one) matches the icon of the Archers. Han had played a Flank card on his side (next to the Archers), which turned a defeat into a victory, but after that I played a Surround card (next to my Heavy Infantry) which cancelled his Flank card.

Two land cards and an Area card. Olympus is the highest valued land card, and it can be treated as a land card of any colour.

Close-up of a Warrior card (left) and an Action card (right).

The Thoughts

I liked the game more than I expected. It is quite simple, but there are quite a few interesting aspects that you need to manage. Quite a number of tough decisions are forced upon you. Managing your Reserve deck is one interesting aspect. It is good to have a healthy Reserve Deck, because it means in the longer run you will likely win more battles. During a battle, sometimes you may want to try for a tie (i.e. noone gets the land card) rather than trying for a win. If you pass while the troops on the table are tied, your opponent may not be able to play another Warrior card that can beat your Warrior card. The battle would end in a tie. However, if you do play another Warrior card that beats his, he may just have the right Warrior card to beat yours in return, or an Action card to modify the results in his favour. Sometimes you may even want to lose a battle to conserve your strength for the next one. Whenever you lose, you draw 2 cards, as opposed to the one card that the winner gets.

Battlefields of Olympus is quite a tense little game. You are never quite sure what your opponent has up his sleeve. Battles are generally short and sweet. The pace is quick, and yet quite a number of tough decisions are packed into the game. This is a 20-minute game, so it's filler territory. It's a good one, as long as you don't mind the confrontational theme.

No comments: