Thursday, 21 July 2011

Omen: A Reign of War

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Omen: A Reign of War is a card game by a small publisher Small Box Games, and I think currently the only way to buy it is to order it directly from their website. This is a strictly two player game, with Greek mythology and warring city states as the backdrop. Players fight over three cities by playing cards next to them. Each city has 4 rewards, and every time a fight breaks out, the winner gains one reward. Each reward is worth 2pts. They have special abilities which, if used, reduce the reward value to 1pt. Players can also gain points by completing feats, which are special conditions like having an oracle at every city, or causing your opponent to discard 3 cards within the same turn. Each feat is worth 2pts. The game ends when 2 cities are exhausted of rewards, or when one player completes 5 (of 6) feats.

The game box seems to be a video tape box. I wonder whether the publisher got hold of a lot of old stock to turn them into game boxes. That's an environmentally-friendly thing to do - re-use.

At the start of your turn, you gain coins and/or cards. You can then play cards, paying the costs stated on the cards. If certain conditions are met, battles are triggered and resolved. At the end of your turn, you can discard cards to earn coins and/or cards. There are two conditions that trigger battles: (a) when a city has 5 units in total, (b) when a city has 3 of your opponent's units. Condition (b) means that if you quickly deploy 3 units to a city while your opponent is unprepared for battle, you can't fight yet on your turn. You need to wait for his turn, i.e. he still has a chance to make preparations to fight. This is quite clever. Battle resolution is a simple comparison of the total strength of your cards. The winner claims a reward from the city, and must discard all but one unit. The loser discards all but two units. This means the winner is left weaker now and the loser has a better chance next time.

Yellow number is cost to play the card. Blue number is coins or cards (or any combination) earned when selling the card. Red number is fighting strength. The card power is written at the bottom.

Each player has his own set of 6 feat cards. Once a feat is accomplished, it is turned face-down to indicate 2pts.

There are three types of unit cards. Soldiers are the most common, oracles and beasts less so. Oracles are usually weak in strength, but they provide benefits every turn, e.g. a free card or a free coin, making them quite attractive (okay, I admit, being beautiful women also makes them quite attractive in another way). Beasts are strong fighters, and also have powerful special abilities. However, they can be used for fighting or for their special ability, not both; and when used for fighting, they count as two units. Every card has a special ability, so for first-timers some time need to be spent reading the card text. The special abilities are not complex, and despite the variety, are easy to understand. There are 3 exact copies of every card in the game, so after the first game you'll have some idea what special abilities to watch out for.

The Play

So far I have only played one game against Han, both of us being new to the game. Cards moved quite quickly. We could always draw new cards on our turns, and if we didn't like them we sold them off for coins or to draw other cards. So cards were never really useless. In fact I found that I was often torn between which cards to sell, because all seemed nice. However I had to force myself to make a choice, because without coins I could not play my cards.

Game play was very smooth. The game structure is very simple. In fact I think the rule book makes it sound harder than it is in practice. Despite having to read so much text, the card powers were easy to understand and to use. I think it's partly because most powers apply only when a card is played, so you don't need to bother to remember the power after a card is played. Only the powers of the oracles are activated every turn, so you only need to check the oracles on your turn.

Han started off better than I. However I was later able to get three oracles into play, and the benefits I gained from them turn after turn gradually tipped the scales to my side. Whenever I won a reward, I used its special ability soon afterwards, despite knowing I'd lose 1pt. The special abilities were quite strong and often helped greatly towards winning my next reward or completing my next feat. I quickly ended the game by exhausting two cities while I had the lead, thus winning the game.

The artwork is good. Oracles, like the one on the right, are all young pretty ladies. In the background you can see the three stacks of reward cards, representing the 3 cities.

Game end. Two cities, leftmost and rightmost, are depleted of rewards. I still have lots of cards on my side of the table.

The Thoughts

After the game Han and I both agreed immediately that it was a good one. I like the fact that I always feel I have many options. Every card has its uses, and it's up to you how to make the most of it. In the worst case, you sell it for coins or to draw more cards. The many card powers are not hard to learn because they are mostly quite straight-forward. You do need to watch out for some of those powers, e.g. there's a card that forces you to discard all cards, and another one that forces you to discard all coins. Both Han and I have been victims of such cards, so we know it's not safe to hoard too much.

Sometimes you want to hold on to cards to wait for the right moment to play them. Often you want to coordinate your card play to help towards both completing feats and battling effectively at the cities. There is a bit of psychological warfare when deciding which cities to commit forces to. Committing early gives you a foothold, but your units are revealed and your opponent may try to find other units that can counter the committed units.

The fact that points come from both feats and rewards make Omen feel less like a pure fighting game. If your cards have weak fighting abilities, you can focus more on the feats.

This is one delicious, beautiful game. Highly recommended.

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