Saturday, 6 January 2018

Odin's Ravens (2nd edition)

Plays: 2Px1.

I remember seeing the first edition of Odin's Ravens at Witch House, Taipei when I was there in 2003. I don't remember whether I have played it. I hadn't started keeping records then. The second edition is slightly different, but I know only from reading others' comments, not from what I recall.

The Game

Odin is the Nordic boss god. Every morning he sends his two pet ravens out to survey his realm. They fly off in opposite directions to see how things are going in the world, and return to report to him. In this two-player game, players are these dutiful ravens, and they compete to be first to return from their journeys.

These are the flight cards, the main card type in the game. To advance your pawn to a new land card, you must play a flight card showing the same terrain.

When setting up the game, you lay out all land cards in a long line. They form your flight path. Each land card has two terrain spaces. They form two long rows. One raven will fly off from the left side, go all the way to the end, make a U-turn and then fly back from the right side. The other raven flies in the opposite direction, taking off on the right, and returning on the left.

Each player has two draw decks, a flight card deck and a Loki card deck. Flight cards are used for movement. Loki cards have various special abilities. You may play any number of cards on your turn. At the end of your turn, you always draw 3 cards, in any combination you like. Your hand limit is 7. If you exceed that, you must discard the excess. Two matching flight cards can be played as a joker. Loki cards are removed from the game once played, but not the flight cards. When the flight card deck is exhausted, you reshuffle the discard pile to form a new draw deck.

This is a Loki card. There are always two abilities, and you pick one to use. On this particular card, the first ability lets you swap two land cards. The second ability lets you shift a land card slightly, so that one flight path is shortened by one space, and one space of the other flight path changes terrain.

The Play

Odin's Ravens is a simple game. It's all about hand management. You try to make the most of your hand. You want to move as far as possible and as efficiently as possible. Both Allen and I tried to maximise our travel distance every turn. Sometimes it is not possible to go far, and we bank on the next turn, hoping the 3 cards drawn at the end of the turn will help. Pairing two similar cards to become a joker sounds powerful, but it is actually a last resort. We try not to have to discard cards, because that means wasting cards. Loki cards are all about waiting for the right moment, or creating the right moment. You want to play it for maximum effect. There was one particular card which Allen drew early. He played it to create a longer path in front of me, stalling me. The game was new to both of us and we learned as we went. At the time he hadn't considered that although he was stalling me, later on his raven would be passing that same location, so he was also stalling himself, just that it would happen later. I drew that Loki card later, and with this lesson learnt, I played it at a location which I had already passed, but he hadn't.

The Loki cards are handy, and it's best to plan to make use of all of them throughout the game. It's not a good idea to keep too many in hand though. With a hand limit of 7, too many Loki cards will mean not enough slots for flight cards. You may end up frequently discarding flight cards, or pairing them to become jokers.

Player pawns are wooden ravens, one light and one dark.

At the top right corner, the flight path has been modified by Loki cards, creating a detour.

It was only after the game that I realised I had played one rule wrong. If a few spaces in a row in front of you are of the same terrain, you only need to play one flight card to move through the series until you reach the final space before the next different terrain. I had thought it must be one card per step. This consecutive terrain rule will make the game more interesting. It will be an important consideration when playing Loki cards.

The Thoughts

Odin's Ravens is a game from a different era. The first edition was released in 2002, and it was part of the highly acclaimed Kosmos 2-player series. When playing this second edition, I felt transported to a different era, a simpler time. It is not a poorer game, nor does it feel outdated, because of this. It is simply of a different style. I guess it's a bit like watching a black-and-white movie, or listening to a song from the 1980's. Old timers may enjoy such a trip down memory lane, if you have never played this game before. Newer boardgamers may enjoy tasting something from an earlier era. Like others is the Kosmos 2-player series, Odin's Ravens is a decent spouse game. Little aggression, and quick-paced.

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