ODYSSEY: WRATH of POSEIDON
This is a game from ARES, the company who have given us so many excellent games, such as Wings of Glory, Sails of Glory and War of the Rings. ODYSSEY not only comes from a wonderfully creative games company it is also designed by one of the best designers of games in the family/gamer genre, Leo Colovini; known for such excellent games as: Cartagena, Carolus Magnus, Clans, The Bridges of Shangri-La, Carcassonne: The Discovery and Atlantis.
Everybodys first thought is that ODYSSEY resembles Battleships, and I suppose that because it is a hidden movement game with a wall that separates two exactly identical ocean and islands boards, that association is inevitable. Unlike its obvious predecessor this is for 2-5 players aged 13 to adult rather than being just a one on one guessing game.
In my review I may cause some confusion by my use of "Player" and "Navigator" to represent the players, whilst calling the opposing player "Poseidon".
One player takes on the role of Poseidon and has control of the master board whilst the other players are Navigators searching for the Sacred Island where they need to be in numbers to make offerings and prayers to the gods. Poseidon does everything in his power to blow the navigator's ships off course, sending storms and whirlpools and lashing rains that blind the helmsmen to everything except that which they are so very close to. The players need to get three ships to the Sacred Island in order to beat Poseidon but they have a very limited amount of time in which to do it. There is a lot of communication and player interaction in ODYSSEY along with some skillful and thoughtful play.
As a one on one game it works excellently, as a one versus 2, 3 or 4 opponents it only works if you can create a game location where the multi players cannot see Poseidon's board - it is very important that neither Poseidon or the Navigators see each other's board. Those playing as Navigators have a ship each, created in solid colour plastic, each different for ID purposes. If there are less than 4 Navigators the ships are divided amongst the players but in every game all four ships must be on the board. Poseidon has special tiles but no ship.
The beginning of the game is balanced with each ship placed on the ocean square containing a symbol of the same colour to the ship; this set up is the same on both boards. Both Poseidon and the players (as a group) has a Compass Rose for navigation, there is also one printed on the boards. Other components apart from the ships and the compasses are 4 boards, double-sided and marked A, B, C and D (2 x A/C and 2 x B/D), 16 tokens (4 of each ships colour) 11 Storm tiles and 14 other tiles (Sea Monsters (2) plus 4 each of Lighthouses, Maelstroms and Fog Banks) - the special tiles are used in variations of play, not the basic game.
Play is over 11 rounds and each round follows the same order, Poseidon's turn then Navigator's turn. Poseidon selects (the Poseidon player should use their skills to choose a tile each round. For fun we have tried doing this randomly but it doesn't always work out and spoils the game, so hopefully having read this you will now feel no need to try it.
On Poseidon's turn he chooses a Storm Tile and plays it out so that all players can see it clearly. There are different types of Storm tile so selection is important (hence the Don't Play Randomly warning). Eight of the Storm tiles represent the ships by colour, two tiles for each ship, whereas the other three Storm tiles are jokers that are used for all colours at the same time. Thus if Poseidon plays a White Storm tile he will move, only on his board, the White ship, saying nothing to anyone. The players only know that the White tile has been moved; they know not which direction of the 8 possible it has traveled. If Poseidon plays a Great Storm tile (a Joker) then ALL four ships are moved, but again only on Poseidon's board.
Now the Navigator's get to move their ships, one at a time and in whichever direction they wish but by one space only. When a Navigator moves a ship they say aloud which way they are moving it - so for instance North-East, South, East etc as by the points on the compass. Then they survey the area and Poseidon tells them what type of water they are in, as in whether it is Deep (dark blue) or not, and whether they can see anything - players can see everything that is in one of the 8 spaces that is directly adjacent to their ships. So if they are close to an island Poseidon says "you can see an island" or if they are adjacent to a ship he says "you can see a [colour] ship" Poseidon never mentions in which direction whatever they can see is. The Navigators always know the type of terrain, sea, deep sea or island, their ships are actually positioned on.
Once Poseidon has spoken the players may move their ships to where they think they are based on Poseidon's information and their own movement. Then it is Poseidon's turn again and another of the Storm tiles is chosen and the ship or ships thus moved. Poseidon may only use each Storm tile once so he needs a strategy that will keep at least two of the ships away from the Sacred Island. Can he outsmart the Navigators or will they outguess him.?
When a ship reaches the Sacred Island it no longer moves, it stays there so all other ships can see it if they pass in the adjacent spaces. If all 4 Navigator ships reach the Sacred Island then the game ends, otherwise it ends after the 11th Storm Cloud has been played and all ships moved accordingly.
The variations on play include Poseidon having the Sea Monster tiles available as well as the Storm tiles. Poseidon may use one or both of the Sea Monster tiles to add one or two rounds to the game but the moment the 11th Storm tile is used the game will end; a Sea Monster tile remaining will not then be used. Sea Monster tiles simply prevent a ship from moving for one tile, neither by Poseidon or the Navigator. Using the Lighthouses is an advantage to the Navigators as they count as extra things the Navigators can see if they are adjacent or on them, obviously helping in determining where the ship currently is. If the ship sails onto a Maelstrom tile by Navigator movement (not by a Poseidon Storm Tile) then Poseidon tells the player and then moves the ship one space away without telling the player the direction.
If the Fog Bank tiles are used Poseidon places them on his board, secretly as with the Maelstrom tiles, and tells Navigators if they are in or next to a Fog Bank. Navigators cannot see other ships that are in (as in on the tile) Fog Banks. There is also an alternative scoring system of points for the Navigators though they all still lose if Poseidon outwits them and not enough ships reach the sacred Island.
I first approached ODYSSEY with trepidation, expecting it to be a bit of a cross between Bingo and Battleships, and with the rather bland components it looked pretty much uninteresting and boring to play. I am pretty sure that had I not been given a review copy I would most probably have passed ODYSSEY by without a second thought, even though it is one of the least expensive large box euro boardgames available (it's just £6.95 + £3.95 postage on eBay). That would have been a big mistake, passing it by, because it is a good interactive game, playable by all age groups, easy to learn and great fun to play. To be able to buy a game of this magnitude and of such quality in production (solid tiles, cleverly constructed boards, good artwork) for so little expenditure is highly unusual and thus it is well worth grabbing a copy when you can. So many games say they are for 2 or more players but so many of them do not play as well with just 2 whereas Odyssey is as good one on one as it is one versus several. Yes it looks sparse and could maybe have done with some of the better ship design that ARES have put into the player pieces in some of their other games, but for sheer entertainment and enjoyment it's a winner all the way.