Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Olympos - An Olympic Effort That Ends Up Like Kim Kardashian

So, for the second installment of the Nate Review series, we'll be looking at Olympos, a medium complexity Euro civilization builder based in the world of the Greek Gods. At first glance, one might even think it's similar to Cyclades, a vastly superior game, but in reality, this game could almost be described as an analogue Small World, but with an economic engine, no dice, and a negligible amount of entertainment.  It's incomprehensibly dry, which made this hard to play three times, and this game is the single most divisive game that the Circus has ever played. Truly, it is either loved or hated, but there's no middle ground. Here's a preview of the ending for those who like spoilers: I vehemently dislike this game.

The one standout in the whole game is the turn order mechanic, which is pretty novel for this type of game. Instead of the usual turn order where everyone goes sequentially, they've opted to go with a Red November style time track which forces players to really think about the importance of what actions they take because everything takes time, and the more time you take in-game, the more opportunities your opponents have to take actions. It's really quite clever for a game of this type, and if I had to point out one thing that I thought worked, that's the one.

There's even warring and murdering, but the problem there is that it's deterministic because the attacker always wins, even with a vastly outnumbered and under equipped army, it simply takes the attacker far more time units if they're outnumbered. And then, the icing is that you don't actually kill the enemy, you simply take their shit and leave them alive to fight you back on the next turn, knowing that they will win if they decide to do so, irrespective of force size.

The whole point of the game isn't even to crush your enemies and hear the lamentations of their mustachioed Mediterranean matrons, although doing so does help you get resources. You don't even have the option of winning through killing and maiming your enemies. To win, you have to build more shit and have a more advanced civilization than the next guy. Even if you stomp the hell out of all your opponents, militarily, all game long, if they have a prettier set of statues, they win. If anything, the game really is all about timing, making sure all of your ducks are in a row so that you can build a certain advancement at just the right time when you have all the resources you need at that moment, without running out of time to do it.

Speaking of resources, the game's core is that there's a bunch of territories, and some are neutral with apparently no significant value, where others produce one of four different resource types. Don't know why Europeans seem to think that four is the magic number, but there you go. There's technically a fifth, which is these little stars that represent military choke points but that act as special resources that are used to buy the most expensive advancements of all, the wonders. As in "seven wonders of the world" wonders, but there's only five. So, you chug along, taking territories and getting resources to buy up advancements which earn you victory points, and trying not to spend too much time doing it, if I had to boil the entire game's "gameplay" down to a sentence.

That said, there's one tremendous kick in the balls that doesn't fit into that whole scenario, though: At pre-determined points on the time track, the Greek gods come along and start stirring the pot. Even that can be mitigated to some degree because you can collect Zeus symbols which is what most of the gods seem to target, therefore allowing someone else to catch their shit over you, but all in all, the game would've been better served without it. I am convinced that they tossed that mechanic in purely to have some replayability and randomness so it might be able to masquerade as more of an Ameritrash-style "Dudes On A Map" game than what it is, a Euro-style economic game.

Now here's the rub, though. I can see why people would like it, especially the hardcore Eurolitists who believe that all German games are superior. This game does something that I've never seen before in that it attempts to be a light, fast civilization builder that doesn't really reward military prowess, has a shitload of player interaction, and has a smattering of luck involved.  It really is the Euro version of a Dudes on a Map as best as I can tell. I mean, it's not remotely a hybrid game like Cyclades; if it had a passport, it would clearly come from the Euro zone and have visa stamps for Greece and Germany at a minimum. It's pretty, no doubt, but once you get past that, you're looking at a sheep in wolf's clothing.

It's like Kim Kardashian in that sense; it's reasonably pretty on the surface, but in the end, it's rather vapid, is almost entirely comprised of regurgitated, worn-out stuff, and underneath the veil you're pretty much left with something that's packaged well but isn't something you want to take home because for the most part, it's been done to death by pretty much everyone. It is ambitious, I'll grant it that, in that it really tried to be a fast-paced light civ-builder with interaction and some luck, but man did it set sail for Failville, where it was the first one the tribe voted off the island. It simply wasn't fun. Smart, but not fun.

Another bitch about the game is that while many games use symbols well, this one doesn't. You will incessantly be referring back to the back of the book to figure out what all of the items you can buy do, what the cards you can play to get resources do, and that sort of thing. It's a real pain in the ass, and that was the one thing that every single person that played with me agreed upon, even those who played it all three times. There's five or so rows of five advancements that you can buy, and while some are duplicated, in a five player game there's in some cases three stacks of five for a couple of those rows and so the rulebook is constantly being fought over not only on turns, but in between turns while people are planning. If I knew that going in, I'd have photocopied that reference page for everyone before the game ever started. I suggest doing so if you buy this.

So, I guess it's pretty clear at this point that I really don't like this game. I mean, I don't "Hitler hate" it, but I would never pick it out of a lineup and say, "Yeah, I totally want to play that!" It would never happen. I mean, if it was a choice between this and Munchkin, I'm playing this. But, since this website is a group effort, I get to put on a smiley face and tell you how much everyone ELSE liked it.  There's stuff that can be liked in the game, sort of in the way that some kids are so ugly that only their own mother thinks they're cute.

What the folks that scored this highly liked most was the fact that it had the novel turn order with the time track, and that instead of being a simple war game with an economic engine beneath it, it's flipped and is an economic engine with a war game underneath. Another thing that was universally liked, myself being paramount, is that the game is only about 70 minutes with four players, which for this kind of game seemed to be amazing that they pulled it off. It always felt like you wanted to get one more turn to do what you wanted to do, which is a hallmark of a game that's paced properly. And even I have to admit, the artwork on the game is outstanding, bright, colorful, attractive and evocative.

So, in the final analysis, if you like economic games and/or games where there's virtually no luck other than the initial setup and the order that the same 8 random events happen, this might be for you. As I said, it's not a total failboat, it's just not my cup of tea. More than half of the players who scored this had rated it up around an 8.5 of 10, which is why it ended up with the score it did. I was very close to exercising my rights under our policies to drop the final score down a point, but in fairness to the Circus and to the readers, I left the score alone and am going to let my commentary try to persuade you to try this before you buy it because it really is a hit or miss affair.

Why Olympos Wins The Gold Medal:
- The pacing is perfect for the kind of game it is
- The production value is exceptional, with great art and beautiful wee bits
- The time track based turn mechanic is truly novel and creates a lot of tension
Why Not Even Photoshop Can Hide The Cellulite On This Kim's Legs:
- If it was any drier, Jawas would rise up from the desert and rule the Earth
- If 20 kids armed with water guns attack the 3rd Marine Division, the kids always win
- The world needs another "Wonders" game like it needs another fascist dictator
- This game was a chore to play, and I found it to be a fun murdering snore-fest

While I hated this, don't let my spite fool you. There's a lot of neat stuff in this game. It's just not FUN neat stuff, in my opinion. One of my guys who is a Heroscape nut like me really loved it, and scored it highly, whereas his Heroscape loving girlfriend scored it very, very low. So, it's a mixed bag, and I encourage you to try it at a convention or game shop and decide for yourself. But if it was up to me, the every copy should be burned at the stake because this game sucks fat donkey balls, in my humble opinion.

3.675/5 Stars

Learn more about Olympos here, at Ystari Games' page:

1 comment:

Bobby said...

Absolutely awesome review. Unfortunately for me, my wife is into this kind of dry-ness, so we may have to try it. I say, no random dice rolling, and conquering the world doesn't actual do you any good?!? Blech...