Philippe Keyaerts


No. of Players:
3 - 5



The year 2011 seems to be a good year for civilization-type boardgames, since not only HEIDELBERGER was able to produce a smash-hit game with Sid Meier's Civilization - Das Brettspiel, but also YSTARI and Philippe Keyaerts are returning with a new civilization game called Olympos. Mind you, this game is not to be confused with last year's novelty Olympus by STRATELIBRI, but instead we now have a total different game at hand which is running under a distinct but similar name.

During the game the players will try to collect as many Prestige (victory) points as possible, and they have a broad variety of scoring options at hand which will all help them to reach this aim. So, among some other options, points can be scored by Prestige tokens collected throughout the game, by regions occupied at the end of the game, by developments discovered during the game, by erected wonders and by Fate cards. The points scored through all of these options will be added up, and as might be guessed the player with most points will have won the game.

To further this end, a player has two types of actions which he may chose during his turn - movement and development. The performance of both types of actions takes an amount of time, but whereas a development always consumes a total of seven units of time (which will be marked on a timeline around the board), the performance of a movement takes a varying amount of time depending on the specific movement which is made. So, Olympos actually uses a mechanism of time consumption similar to QUEEN GAMES' Jenseits von Theben, and the game will come to its end when all players have used up a certain amount of time units. Also, the timeline will be used to determine which player's turn it is, since it will always be the player who has consumed the fewest amount of time units who may perform the next action.

Some of the spaces on the timeline have a special function, since they will trigger the drawing of a special event Olympos-card, and they will also allow each player who passes that space to draw an additional Fate card which may come handy during the course of the game. Considering the Olympos-cards, these cards show the portraits of different gods and creatures from Greek mythology, and the appearance of each card usually means that one or more players will receive a benefit or a penalty, depending on the type of the card. Here the players may influence they Fate by possessing markers, developments and Fate cards showing the face of Zeus, and the player(s) with most of these symbols will benefit from positive events whereas the player(s) with fewest symbols will be punished if a negative event is revealed.

A player's performance in the game strongly depends on the developments he acquires, but each development (inventions and wonders) needs to be purchased through the use of resources. However, unlike other civilizatory games, the cost of a development varies from game to game by the semi-random fashion in which the development tokens are assigned to the spaces on the purchase board at the beginning of the game, and so the players face a new constellation of developments which each game they play.

The four types of resources needed for development may be acquired as simple one-use resource cubes which are available through Fate cards or through the previous completion of a development, but resources also are available on specific regions of the gameboard. A player in possession of a region with production capabilities simply is considered to be in possession of one unit of the resource depicted in the region, and so the conquest of a region effectively means that the player has this resource available until he looses control over the region.

This brings us to the question how movement and conquest are organised. At the beginning of the game, none of the players has any settlers (figures) present on the board, but instead all player figures have to enter the Greek hemisphere from the Northern border of the board. The rules for movement are fairly easy - one unit of time is consumed for a step from one land region to the next, whereas two units are needed for each step on sea. A region containing a settler is considered to be occupied by that player, and any Zeus or resource symbols which can be found at that region now are at the disposal of that player. In addition, new figures may be brought into the game on all regions which are already in the possession of the active player, so that the occupation of a region means that a player does not need to come across the Northern border anymore.

However, the situation may arise that another player desires possession of an already occupied region, and in this case the present owner may be disposed through the means of combat. In general, the military strength of a player is determined by the number of sword-symbols available on the player's inventions, but - coming perhaps a bit surprisingly - combat is resolved mainly on the question how much time the attacker is willing to invest. So, apart from the time it takes to move a settler into the desired region, the attacker simply must spend one additional time unit if he attacks a player with less sword symbols, whereas three time units are needed to attack a "stronger" player. In case of a draw considering the number of sword symbols, two time units are needed.

Thus, the battle rules do not contain an element of luck, so that the outcome of a battle always can be taken for granted in a player's strategic planning. The ousted player on the other hand does not loose his unit of settlers, but instead he receives an hourglass token as a consolation gift, meaning that he may make one free move to place his settlers in a neighbouring region during his next turn. He may even spend more time units of his own, moving further away or attacking the same region again to force the former aggressor out once again.

Actually, the same observation about luck also is true for most of the game, since many aspects about moving and making developments are a simple matter of calculation. Luck only comes into the game through the means of the Fate-cards and the Olympos-cards, since these cards always carry a moment of uncertainty how their contents will fit into each players' strategy. Indeed, Olympos features a very strong strategic approach which should not be underestimated, since it takes a great deal of care of the players to invest their individual "time-frame" with maximum use. Time is money in this game, and since direct revenge for another player's unwarranted attack is expensive, it is more wise to spend time to find some alternative ways to score Prestige. Otherwise, two vindictive players may find themselves in a deadlock which will only lead to the benefit of the remaining players.

Considering the manifold alternatives by which the players can gain Prestige, it seems that the variety of scoring options available in Olympos is a strength and a weakness at the same time. On the one hand the players always have a possibility to go for alternatives, since Prestige points virtually can be scored by every step which is made. On the other hand, the variety of scoring options sometimes makes it hard to decide which option seems to be economically wise, and since all Prestige points are added up only at the end of the game the outcome sometimes may be surprising to all players but those blessed few who keep calculating the current scores all through the game.

So, Olympos clearly takes a position in the field of strategist boardgames, and here it leaves a clear and strong footprint with its comparatively easy but challenging rules. However, it is not just the rules which move the game a bit away from the path of mainstream family games, but on a more subjective note it is also artwork of the game which makes it stand apart from other modern age games. While it is true that a criticism on artwork always is a matter of taste, the artwork chosen in Olympos does not really unite all playing components as a harmonious whole. The colourful gameboard actually looks quite nice, but the accumulated development tokens on the purchase board actually look dazzling and confusing at the same time. This impression is even more profound since the inventions do not feature any language explaining their special functions, but instead everything is explained through symbols which are competing with the cards' artwork for the players' attention. Even the Olympos cards with the mythological gods and creatures are received in different ways, since some players have reacted quite disappointed due to the colourful and "un-greek" drawing style. If you want to be fair, the graphic presentation of Olympos can be named as being quite unconventional, and on a larger scale this actually fits the whole game quite well!

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany