OTTO Game Over
- Designer: Franco Caniatti
- Publisher: arcastudio
- Players: 2-4, but rules say best for two teams of 2
- Time: 36 minutes
- Ages: 8+
- Played with review copy sent by publisher
So, you’ve never heard of OTTO Game Over? Neither had I until I was approached by the publisher to take a look at their new abstract strategy game which has recently funded on Kickstarter. Why Otto? Is that the name of the designer? No, instead, it’s the Italian word for 8, and the number 8 takes on a role here in multiple ways. The press release is somewhat hyperbolic – in their own words: “Being completely deprived of any setting, the game can be defined as ‘universal’, as it’s based on visual perception of symbolic geometries. OTTO is the most abstract game ever, with a unique and original design, perhaps even extraterrestrial.”
The MOST abstract game ever? Well, that’s a bold claim. Regardless of the truth of that, it is definitely a beautiful game, and after seeing some of the press pictures, I was certain that I at least wanted to try it out. I am a big fan of elegant games, and the teaser info I had on this one looked quite promising.
The contents are fairly minimal – a game board with a recessed area for 24 of the 36 tiles, a holder for the tiles to keep them hidden, player boards with spaces for the 11 shaped scoring pieces per player, a deck of secret cards and a rectangular scoreboard with markers for scoring.
The tiles are show a black background with white paths squiggling all over them. There are eight possible entries/exits (2 on each side) and as they are placed on the board, you will try to lay them out to make enclosed circles or squares, as this is how you will score points. Each tile has a value which is determined by the possible amount of points that it could score. As you play OTTO Game Over, you will likely play a number of matches (though not necessarily!) until you score 24 points – this is the target score for winning.
To start the game, the tiles are shuffled facedown and placed in the holder; the deck of cards is shuffled. Each player/team gets a scoring board and the associated markers which are placed on the spots that match the size of the scoring markers. Each player then draws one tile, which is placed face up on their board, and one card which is kept secret. (If you’re playing in 2 teams, only one member of each team will have scoring markers – the other player just has a tile/card in front of them).
The starting player is determined by the player with the highest valued tile.
The active player first must decide if they want to play their secret card. If so, you reveal it, read its effect out loud, implement the card, and then discard it from the game. You can choose to not play your card, and if you continue your match, you will then have an extra card to use in the next game. You can only play one card on any turn. The effects of the cards break the regular rules, and each card is explained in detail in the rulebook, though the effects are pretty easy to figure out from the iconography on the cards. You can also keep the short rulebook out as the card actions are all summarized on the back page.
After the decision to play a card or not, the player then draws a tile from the tile tower and then chooses one of those two tiles to play. There are three general rules that must be followed. First, you must place a tile orthogonally adjacent to a previously placed tile (or the one built into the center of the board). Second, if you have the ability to score an “8”, you are obligated to do so, and you will win the game automatically. If you make scoring shapes (small circle for 1pt, large circle for 2pts, and square for 4pts), you claim the score with a scoring marker from your board. If you are out of scoring markers, too bad! The next player in turn order who has the appropriate shape can claim it for themselves! Third, otherwise, you must score something if you can – though you are free to choose amongst any of your non-8 scoring options.
There are a few special tiles that come with their own rules. First is the zero tile – when you draw this tile, you must play it. This obligation overrides all the general rules.
Second is the dark tile – the one with no paths. This tile cannot be played; therefore you are forced to play your other tile. The only way to get rid of it is to draw another one. But, as if it wasn’t bad enough to have the bad luck of drawing it, you then lose the turn when you draw the second one – all you get to do is draw a new tile to have a new one ready to go.
The next player clockwise then takes their turn. The game continues until either the board is full OR any player makes the infinity (‘8”) shape as the game ends immediately at that point (with the score being 8-0). Otherwise, add up the points scored by each team, add them to the scoreboard, and the game ends if at least one player/team has 24 or more points.
My thoughts on the game
The rules are written in a quirky conversational style – actually quite similar to my blog writing – filled with rhetorical questions, jokes, and self-deprecating humor. For the most part, it makes for an enjoyable read, and it’s a fun (and funny) rule book as a result.
As far as this being the “most abstract” game ever…. Well, let’s just say that I might disagree somewhat with the publisher. It’s definitely abstract, but I’m not sure how it could/would be the most abstract!
As the rules suggested, I played the first two games without the special cards; and there was a nice flow to the game. Trying to place tiles in the best places was harder than it looked; especially with the restriction that you must score each turn if possible. For me, the issue was not finding a place to score but rather finding a place to play the tile to then limit my opponent’s ability to score – and definitely not leaving an opportunity to make an “8”. The game tends to start out slow as you have room to find places to not leave good scoring opportunities – but once you start reaching the outer border, nearly every piece laid gives 1, if not 2, scoring places due to the ring of paths printed on the exterior edge of the board.
The two bully tiles – the zero point tile and the dark tile – add in some interesting differences, but they can be punitive, especially the dark tile. If you get the dark tile early in the game (and your opponents do not get one), you might be stuck with being able to only play the tile that you draw from your turns… That is a seemingly unfair and randomly decided fate, and the added penalty of losing your turn when you draw the second dark tile (though you get your ability to save a tile back afterwards as well as an extra secret card).
After those first games, we added in the secret cards, and the full game is more confrontational than I had expected as many of the secret cards have directed attacks and turns the nice abstract game into one with unexpected twists and take-that attacks. For some, this may be a welcome addition to the game as it is admittedly a nice simple abstract without them. When you add in ”attacks”, IMHO, it takes the game firmly out of the abstract genre. Taking or switching player’s tiles? Taking two turns in a row? Those aren’t things I think of when I am playing an “abstract game”.
The rulebook suggests that the four player team game is the best arrangement, but I have found that I personally prefer the two-player heads up version better. For me, the excitement of waiting to see if my partner can read my mind is not outweighed by the lack of control over his/her play. However, the other players that I played with preferred the team format – so YMMV.
The variance is fairly high – the 8 different secret cards (and the 9th one which is a wild – can be any of the other 8) – and they definitely can turn the game on its head in an instant. Sure, sometimes the cards aren’t always useful, so it’s best to wait for the right opportunity to play them; and I like the fact that you can hold them over from game to game to wait for just the right moment to play them. But, the cards tend to add more take-that to an abstract game than I prefer normally.
The game itself is very sharp looking, I like the stark black and white art style here with the colorful scoring markers acting as a pop of color on the board. The tiles are nice and thick, and the tile tower is another nice component as it keeps everything neat and prevents tiles from being accidentally exposed. The weaving paths on the board are mesmerizing to look at, and it really is a pretty thing to look at when the board is complete at the end of a game.
Overall, it is definitely a beautiful game to look at, but one which maybe has slightly more randomness than I’m looking for in a true abstract. But if you don’t think of it as a strict abstract, it’s a solid game that allows for some advance planning, but one where you’re more likely to have to roll with whatever the game throws at you (especially with the secret cards!).
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor