A Feast for Odin (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer:  Uwe Rosenberg
  • Publisher:  Feuerland Spiele, Z-Man Games
  • Artist: Dennis Lohausen
  • Players:  1 – 4
  • Ages:  14 and Up
  • Time:  30 Minutes Per Player
  • Times Played: 5 (With 1, 2, and 3 Players)

AFeastforOdin.png

Uwe Rosenberg’s latest design, A Feast for Odin, was a big hit in Essen.  The publisher describes it as “a saga in the form of a board game,” one in which players “raid and explore new territories” and experience the “day-to-day activities” of the Vikings.

Like many of Rosenberg’s bigger releases — Agricola, Caverna, Fields of Arle — his latest title is, at its core, a worker placement game.  But A Feast for Odin also has some of the resource conversion of Le Havre and the polyominoes of Patchwork or Cottage Garden.  In short, this feels like a mashup of several of Rosenberg’s popular designs, and if you’re a fan of his, I suspect you’ll enjoy A Feast for Odin.  

Gameplay Walkthrough: Worker placement, resource conversion, and polyominoes…

I normally try to give a deep dive into the rules of a game, but that would be nearly impossible for A Feast for Odin, which is a large sandbox with at least 60 different actions you can take on your turn.  Rather, this review will focus on giving a flavor of gameplay.  

The ultimate goal is to earn the most points at the end of the game.  This is primarily accomplished by placing green and blue goods tiles on your home board, covering the negative point spaces that are initially there.  To get the goods tiles, you need to either obtain them by raiding or via exchange of farm goods.

feastplayerboard

The Home Board.  The goal is to fill the negative spaces.  The top right of the board shows the feast table.  The numbered spaces will initially be filled with extra workers.  As the game progresses, you get these workers, but additional spaces must be filled at the feast table.

The problem is that the green and blue tiles are challenging to get: you’ll probably start with orange or red tiles, then convert those up once or twice to get them to green and blue tiles.  Orange tiles convert up to red, which convert up to green, which convert up to blue.  Only the green and blue tiles can be placed on your board to cover the negative spaces, and even then, only blue tiles can sit adjacent to each other, so you’ll probably need a large number of blue tiles.  

feastgoodstiles

The Goods Tiles.  Each tile shape can be upgraded from orange, to red, to green, to blue.  The game comes with these trays, which were a nice touch.

In addition to your home board, you can discover other islands, or build sheds, stone houses, and longhouses on which you can further place goods.  

Each round, the following steps will take place:

  1. A New Viking.  Take a new viking from the top right of your player board.  This helps track the end of the game; in total, there will be seven rounds, so you’ll eventually receive seven additional vikings.  
  2. Harvest.  During the first, second, fourth, and sixth rounds, you receive certain orange crops.  These crops will help you during the “Feast” stage discussed below, or you can convert the crops into other goods.
  3. Turn Exploration Boards and Take Silver.  As mentioned above, you can use your ships to claim additional placement boards.  If boards go unclaimed, they eventually turn over, revealing a new location.  Additionally, silver is placed on these boards to make them more valuable.  
  4. Draw a New Weapon.  You’ll need weapons for raiding, pillaging, and hunting, which are described below.  
  5. Perform Actions.  This is the bulk of the game.  This is true worker placement style.  The action board is roughly divided by the type of action you can take.  Actions in the first column cost one worker, the second column cost two, the third column cost three (although you get to draw an occupation), and the fourth cost four (although you can also play down an occupation).
  6. Determine Start Player.  This was the last player to place in the previous round.
  7. Income.  Players receive income based on the smallest uncovered value on their home board.  You must cover income values in ascending order, so your income should progress throughout the game.  
  8. Animal Breeding.  If you have two sheep or two cows, one of the animals becomes pregnant, and in the next round, if you still have it, you’ll get an extra sheep or cow.
  9. Feast.  This is the “feed your people” phase.  You must pay orange and red food tiles from your supply to cover the empty spaces near where your extra workers are on your home board.  The colors must rotate, so it isn’t helpful to have all orange or all red tiles.  One of each type (red, orange) can be placed horizontally; others must be placed vertically.  Players not able to fully feed must take a penalty, although because of the Harvest phase (discussed above), players usually have enough goods.  
  10. Bonus.  There are spaces on your home board showing resources and/or goods.  If you’ve completely surrounded (but not covered!) these spaces, you get these items now.
  11. Update Mountain Strips.  Mountain strips provide building resources such as wood.  You remove the leftmost from each strip, and if the strip is towards the end (where only the last space is showing), then you flip up a new mountain strip.
  12. Remove Placed Vikings from the Action Board.  In other words, recover your people.  

There’s a special board outlining the above that acts as a player aid.  

At any time, you can place green or blue goods on your home board, and you can also place silver there too to help fill in any gaps.  Green goods — which are inferior to blue goods — cannot be next to each other.  You can also place goods on the exploration boards or on your house tiles.  You can also buy a ship at any time by paying its cost in silver; change silver out; or put ore on your ships.  

feastactionboard

The Action Board with more than 60 spaces.  The different columns show the cost in workers for using that column.

As I said above, there are more than 60 different actions on the action board.  I’m not going to go over them all, but here are the broad frequently-used groupings:

  • Production Spaces.  These spaces give you either goods tiles or resources.  For example, one space lets you have one stockfish tile.  One space gives you 1, 2, or 3 milk tiles if you have 1, 2, or 3 cows.  
  • Exchange Spaces.  These let you trade resources/goods for other resources/goods.  You can also use these spaces to build ships.  
  • Mountains and Trading Actions.  You can take goods from the mountain strips or trade goods up one level (i.e. red to green, for instance).
  • Knarr Action Spaces / Emigration.  If you have a knarr, you can do overseas trading (which lets you convert different types of green goods to blue goods), buy special grey-colored tiles (see picture below).  For emigration, you can put a longship on your “banquet table” to reduce the cost of future feasts.  
  • Raiding, Pillaging, and Hunting.  In short, you roll a die, and you are allowed two re-rolls.  You then spend weapons and/or resources to make up the difference of your die roll.  (If you’re raiding and pillaging, you want to roll high, and if you’re hunting, you want to roll low.)  These spaces are a great way to get several high-value goods tiles, but they are risky, although the risk is mitigated by the re-rolls and the ability to spend cards/resources to change the die rolls.  
  • Exploration.  This is how you get additional exploration boards.  
  • Occupations.  You start the game with one occupation, but you can get additional ones from these spaces.  These spaces allow you to take additional occupations or place them down.  The game comes with three decks of occupation cards, so there’s a high degree of replayability.  
feastspecialtiles

The Special Tiles.  You can earn these to help fill in your home board.

The full version of the game ends after seven rounds.  At that point, you get points for ships, emigrations, exploration boards, sheds and houses, sheep and cattle, occupations, your silver, and your final income.  You lose points for negative point spaces showing on your boards and buildings.

The game includes solo rules, and I enthusiastically recommend that variant.  In the solo game, you use two colors of meeples, rotating colors each round.  You leave the meeples on the board for an extra round, so in effect you’re blocking yourself with your earlier moves.  It is actually one of the better solo variants I’ve tried!

feastothercomponents

A few of the other components.  At the top is a mountain strip; on the left are the ships in the game; and on the right are the start player marker, the two dice used in hunting/raiding/pillaging, and a sample occupation card.

My thoughts on the game…

As I said above, this feels like an amalgam of many of Rosenberg’s bigger releases.  A Feast for Odin takes the worker placement from Agricola, Caverna, and Fields of Arle, mixes it with the resource conversion of Le Havre, and then adds in the polyominoes of Patchwork or Cottage Garden.  The result is a sandbox of a game with an unprecedented level of choices.  Fans of Rosenberg’s games will likely enjoy A Feast for Odin.

Gamers will love how deep and think-y A Feast for Odin can be.  There are genuinely numerous paths to victory: you can focus solely on resource conversion, spend time rolling dice on hunting/pillaging adventures, or use clever polyomino placement to earn a high income and bonuses.  I suspect the best path is to do all three, but after five games, I still haven’t figured out how to do well at this game, and I haven’t been doing well enough to justify exploring other boards yet.  

Even without the occupation cards, there’s enormous replayability here, perhaps more than any other Rosenberg title, but the occupation cards take it to the next level.  Imagine the freedom of Caverna with the infinite replayability offered by the cards of Agricola: that’s what you get with A Feast for Odin, which comes with three occupation decks.  

Despite the enormous number of choices, A Feast for Odin is surprisingly straightforward to learn.  Don’t mishear me: this is a true heavy-weight gamer’s game, and I don’t think most non-gamers would be able to play this.  But the gameplay does feel intuitive, and the rulebook is well designed.  The only challenging part — and it is a challenge indeed — is remembering what all of the different spaces do.  I’d say a rules explanation is taking us 20-25 minutes, but thanks to well-designed iconography, in-game questions and rules references are minimal, though they still happen.

I really enjoy the game–so why I have I just rated it as “I like it.” below?  Agricola is my favorite game, and I’ve always enjoyed how streamlined and tense it is.  Worker placement has a natural tensions to it, that will-they-or-won’t-they fear that somebody may take the space you need.  But that’s missing in Odin (and even Caverna) because of the sheer number of paths available and the duplication of certain spaces.  This game feels too open at times, leading me to think I’m playing multi-player solitaire with a lot of time — often too much time — between turns.  

The number of decisions to be made is staggering, and the result is slow gameplay.  Gameplay on the box says 30 minutes per player.  I play games fast, and so does my group, but I don’t see 30 minutes per player ever happening for us.  My solo games have taken over an hour, and my multiplayer games have taken closer to two hours (with two players) or three hours (with three players).  I’d guess the more accurate time is an hour per player.  

I haven’t yet played with four players, and I don’t think I will.  I think A Feast for Odin is a game best played solo: the solo variant is brilliant, and while I’m not normally a fan of solo board games, I’ve really enjoyed this one.  Three players felt too long, although two players was fine by me.

In short, if you’re a Rosenberg fan, particularly of his recent work, you’ll probably like A Feast for Odin.  I’ve enjoyed the deep and variable gameplay, and this game offers an extremely cool — and impressively original — mashup of several popular mechanics.  There are a lot of interesting decisions to be made in game (possibly too many, in my view).  This is one of the better heavy-weight games of 2016, and it looks like Uwe Rosenberg has another hit on his hands.

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers

Patrick Korner: First off, a quick disclaimer: I was one of a few folks who helped edit the English rules to this monster, and a copy of the game was included in my payment for same. As such, know that my opinion might be slightly biased. That said, I really, really, enjoyed the feast. There appear to be several discrete strategies to try and employ, and several different ways to try and make each of them work best for you. That level of strategic depth, though, comes at a price, which Chris has well outlined in his write-up: Without much in the way of guardrails, the game pretty much lets you do anything you want, and spend as long as you want puzzling out whether what you want to do is really what you should be doing. If you find yourself plagued with self-doubt or indecision when playing a game, or if you feel like you want to be able to wrap your arms around the game right from turn one, well, this might not be the game for you. On the other hand, if you are willing to pull a bunch of levers and see what works along the way, then you won’t find a better game. The spatial element that the board brings, and the decisions that ‘stronger actions need more workers’ create elevates this, at least in my opinion, beyond the usual worker placement fare. Now not only do you have to decide whether an action is more important to you than to someone else, but you also have to decide how badly you want it – badly enough to use up a bunch of workers? And then puzzle out how to most efficiently turn your proceeds into things that will help cover your boards and bring you points / income. Great stuff and fuel for many plays.

Larry (5 plays):  Feast is indeed a beast.  The 60+ actions (arranged on a central board that’s smaller than it should be), the large number of different subsystems, and the plethora of additional islands, houses, and occupation cards you can acquire practically guarantee that you will spend your first (or even second) game mostly in a fog.  However, it does eventually come together and what you’re left with is a hugely ambitious and open game with all sorts of fun things to explore.  So far, it’s my favorite game of 2016, although there are many more I need to try.

I disagree with Chris about the game time.  I think 3 players with reasonable experience should be able to play this in 2 hours.  4 player games, though, will probably take close to 3 hours, even with fast players.  I much prefer the game with 3; it flows better and feels considerably snappier than the 4 player game.  With 4, the game is still pretty good, but I’ll be much happier if my future games are all with 3.  This is similar to my preferences for many of Rosenberg’s designs.

Positives:

  • Great overall system with tons of variety and lots of things to check out.
  • I think Uwe got the balance between tension and frustration right.  There are certainly actions you’ll want to get and hope that others leave them for you.  But even if they’re taken, there’s almost always other profitable things you can do (including, in some instances, copies of the taken action that just require more workers).  The openness of the system works for me and most of the people I’ve played it with.
  • The majority of players seem to love the Tetris-style puzzle aspect of the game, that lets you cover your board while you leave spaces for the valuable goods you surround.
  • The system of introducing one additional worker per turn works really well.  Not only does it give the game an excellent arc, but it smoothly and elegantly increases the feeding requirements each turn.  Superior design work from Rosenberg.

Negatives:

  • The huge number of actions will overwhelm many.  Even if you’re up to the challenge, as Patrick said, there’s no guardrails, so there are many false approaches you can take that seem reasonable, but will prove to be suboptimal.  If you start to feel frustrated with the game, don’t be afraid to check out some of the hints on the Geek (that’s what I had to do and it made all the difference in the world for me).
  • The Occupation cards don’t seem well balanced.  Some are almost always useful, while others only work for a specific strategy, and some are so specific that they’re worthless the majority of the time.  You’ll probably be drawing enough of these that it will even out, but if one player gets off to a good start with them, while another draws a bunch of crappy cards in a row, it can certainly decide the game.  There are a bunch of proposed variants for these on the Geek (I’ve contributed one of them, in fact), but so far, we haven’t implemented any of them.  The game seems to work without them, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better with a variant for the cards.
  • If you prefer Worker Placement games with more focus and more tension, this may not be the design for you.  It definitely will appeal more to fans of Caverna than it will to Agricola stalwarts.
  • The way you acquire weapons (where you draw a new card blindly every turn) seems wonky.  Players often end the game with a slew of cards that just didn’t fit their strategy.  I suppose Rosenberg wanted to encourage players to occasionally try an action because of all the weapons they have, but it still feels a bit peculiar.

Mr. In Between:

  • Resolving actions with die-rolling in a game with this level of planning is indeed unusual.  But I think that Uwe did as good a job as he could of minimizing the effects of failure.  So it fits the game well, but there’s no denying that there are some times (particularly at the end of the game) where you desperately need to succeed and it sucks when Lady Luck chooses that moment to desert you.

Overall, this is a great game (particularly with 3) that lives up to its advance notice.  Personally, I don’t think it quite stacks up to Rosenberg’s best, but with a designer of this ability, that’s hardly an indictment.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Patrick Korner, Larry, Luke Hedgren, Lorna, Alan How
  • I like it. Chris Wray
  • Neutral.  Jonathan Franklin
  • Not for me…
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6 Responses to A Feast for Odin (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. Variant to mitigate both the variance in occupation card usefulness and randomness of dice: Any occupation card can be discarded as any weapon.

  2. huzonfirst says:

    Despite my voluminous comments on Odin, there’s a few things I forgot to mention:

    * Despite all of the Viking-themed trappings, including appropriately named actions and a well researched almanac, I still think the feel of the game is fairly abstract. This is probably due to the main goal, which is placing polyominoes on your game board. This has nothing to do with Vikings, nor any other real-world activity, and serves as a pretty large impediment toward feeling like a member of the Norse tribes while playing the game. That doesn’t bother me much, but it might be a concern for others.

    * I said in my comments that the Tetris-style puzzle appeals to most players. But that isn’t true for everyone and I’m one of them who views this as more of a chore than an enjoyable activity. Fortunately, Uwe Provides! Some of the islands are much easier to fill up than your home board, so I grab one of those early, take advantage of its benefits, and am able to competently play the game by skillfully choose actions (something I really like), rather than worry about squeezing oddly shaped pieces in an optimal fashion on my board (something I don’t care for).

    * Despite the huge number of actions, there seems to be only a small number of approaches that you must specialize in if you want to win. There’s lots of ways of implementing each of those approaches, but you’ll need to work out what those actions are to have success. Figuring that out isn’t too hard, but be aware that there may not be as many ways to prosper in Odin as you might think.

    • Well, you can’t really choose an extra island to fill up INSTEAD of your main board, due to all the -1 spaces on your main board. So choosing an extra island is not really a viable option if you’re looking to avoid trying to fill up your main board.

      • huzonfirst says:

        Ah, but I can! :-) What I’ve done the last 3 games (all wins) is to get Iceland early and focus almost exclusively on that. Then, when it’s filled up (providing a nice income and a couple of bonus items), I switch to the main board, but only worry about the -1 spaces, ignoring the 7×7 square in the lower left hand corner. These are much easier to cover, since the only squares I have to build around are the income ones; plus, there’s no hurry to place things, since all I’m doing is avoiding game-end penalties. So I just concentrate on accumulating big tiles, preferably blue ones, and only worry about how they’ll be placed during my last turn. That may not be optimal, but it works for me and allows me to accentuate the positives of Odin, while eliminating the things about the game I view as negatives.

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