Dale Yu: Review of Oros


  • Designer: Brandt Brinkerhoff
  • Publisher: Lucky Duck Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 60-120 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Lucky Duck Games

The publisher description: “The Wise One, immortal keeper of wisdom and knowledge, has sent Demigods endowed with earth-moving power to the far reaches of humanity. In Oros each player acts as one of these Demigods. They must instruct their Followers in the wisdom of the mountains through study, worship, and experience. And only in the heights of the mountains can the greatest mysteries be known.

Oros is a tile-colliding, volcano erupting, mountain-making, wisdom-gathering, action-economy strategy game. On individual player mats, players move their Followers between action spaces, allowing them to manipulate a shared environment like a giant puzzle of plate tectonics. Action spaces allow players to shift rows of land, move and collide land tiles, form and erupt volcanoes, worship to gain wisdom, journey their Followers around the ever-shifting landscape, and build sacred places of study and worship on mountains. Building sacred places and worshipping in sacred places brings wisdom which is used to improve the abilities available for each action space. Wisdom is also used to improve the end game value of each sacred place built as well as reach other goals worth end game points. When building sacred places, the Demigods of the Wise One ascend a ziggurat which acts as a timer toward the end of the game. When one reaches the top, players finish the round and then tally a final score.

At the core of Oros is the unique ability to shift, move, build up, erupt, and reposition the land within an infinitely connected play environment. This mechanic turns every action into a puzzle of creative problem solving, abstract thinking, and a constantly evolving strategy. Another chief aspect of the game is the player mat which uses a minimal worker placement mechanic to govern action opportunity. The mat also maintains an action economy that evolves differently for each player as they invest their gained wisdom into a variety of action improvements. Because of these core aspects, there are dozens of strategies for players to explore, and every game plays out in a different, yet competitive way.”

Phew. A pretty long summary, but with so many things going on in this game, it’s hard to reduce it much more.  The game is played on a double-sided gridded board that is supposed to represent a sphere of water, so the rows, columns and diagonals wrap around to the other side of the board per the arrows printed on the board.  There are four hot spots which generate new islands if left uncovered.  One side is smaller than the other, leading to a less complex/challenging game.  The board is seeded with land tiles following a diagram in the rules – essentially a large island in the middle with smaller islands around the outsides.

Each player gets their own player mat which has white action spaces at the bottom – there are columns above each space which show increasing benefits as each action is developed. You start out at the basic level for each of the 8 columns.  The remaining land tiles and volcano pieces are left nearby.  Finally, the Ascension track (looks like a step pyramid) is placed on the table; this is also double sided with one side leading to an extended 4 player game.  The end game is triggered when a player reaches the top step on the ascension track.

Note: If you are playing with 1 or 2 players, you must also set up an automa as a fake player.  The automa has their own player mat, and you are obligated to use at least one. The game apparently only works with 3+ players, so you must make up the player count with automa.  Also note that you can only use the small side of the map when you use an automa.  

The game is played in turns, with each player getting 3 actions per turn.  To perform an action, you must move one of your follower pawns to any unoccupied action space on your board, and then take the action – using any ability found beneath the wisdom cap piece in that column. It is possible to use the same follower consecutively.  To help you plan, there are six foresight tokens (3 numbered and 3 blank) that you can use to pre-plan your move.  You’ll probably have a fair amount of time to think between your turns, and you can constructively use this time to make an initial plan; though the game often throws a wrench into those plans and you might have to start from scratch when your turn rolls around.

Examples of the actions:

  • Shift Tiles – in any vertical, horizontal or edge row – shift all tiles.  Tiles keep their relative spacing.  The edge row is a connected ring, and remember that tiles moving around the corner will rotate 90 degrees to keep their same relative orientation to the interior of the map.
  • Move a tile set one space – move a tile or set of tiles matching your ability level; this could cause a collision – where the value of the two colliding tiles are added and a tile of the summed number is put down in that spot, max level 4.  If two level 4 tiles collide, a mountain is created.  Land tiles colliding with mountains become volcanoes equal to the number of the non-mountain tile..
  • Volcanoes – You can erupt a volcano; with lava flowing downhill, first filling in water sides on the current tile and then spreading outwards orthogonally. The number of the volcano equals its land producing power. You might also be able to form a volcano, if so, add 3 volcano points to any tile – first maxing out any existing volcanoes to level 4 and then placing a new volcano with the remaining value.
  • Study – you have two study spots in the upper right of your player board. As you build sacred sites on the board, these also provide locations for study.  You can either send someone to study or retrieve someone who is studying, which is one of the ways to gain wisdom.  Each time you gain wisdom, you can increase your abilities in one column. Improvements here also allow you more followers on the map.  
  • Move followers – move a follower on the map orthogonally. If on a mountain space with sacred site(s), each of those counts as a step. 
  • Build – build a sacred site on a mountain space where you have a follower, always building the largest possible tile that fits (monolith then shrine then temple). Players are limited to only one sacred site per mountain tile.  When you build, you gain an ascend reward where you move up the Ascension track. You also gain wisdom based on the level of sacred site you built. Other players studying at that site also gain wisdom when you build.

As you gain wisdom, you’ll get different or improved action options.  There are three main ways to gain wisdom: 1) return a follower from study, 2) build a sacred site, 3) have a follower on your sacred site when it is overbuilt by an opponent.  It is important to remember that you must have an empty action space to return someone from study in order to gain wisdom.  Each player has extra followers found to the left of the columns which are unlocked when a player has achieved a step in wisdom in all 5 of the action columns.  When unlocked, the follower can immediately be placed to take an action or study at a free space.

The game continues until someone reaches to the top space of the Ascension track – at which point players will complete the current round.  In the course of the game, players will move up this track, and if their movement ends on a space already occupied, the player will continue moving forward to stop in the first available unoccupied spot – unless every space ahead is full, the player simply moves to the highest possible space.  Players always move forward two spaces when building a sacred site.  They may also move forward when shifting, moving, volcano-ing or studying if they have advanced far enough on the track to also grant that bonus.  

The final scoring is fairly simple, summed from these components:

  • Points equal to progress on the ascension track
  • Points from unlocked abilities on the player board
  • Bonus for followers in study at the end of the game (based on unlocked followers)
  • Points for sacred sites – the multiplier is generated by the progress in the matching column on the right of the player board.

The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player furthest ahead on the ascension track. 

My thoughts on the game

After a few plays of this, man, there is a lot going on in this game!  You’re constantly watching the board trying to anticipate what your opponents do, trying to plan for future turns, and also constantly looking for hidden opportunities on the map.   Timing is crucial. You need to be able to finish what you started on the same turn; too much changes between turns – so if you make a new mountain for instance, be sure that you can sit on the space if not also be able to build a building on it.  If you don’t, someone could swoop in and make things difficult for you in the future.  (Also, you’ve now done a bunch of work for them for free). 

The map is really neat – the topography is hard to wrap your head around.  I think the actual shape would be a torus?  Anyways, with all of the possible wrap-around angles and shifting tiles, there are plenty of options on each turn to consider.  Getting things lined up to make mountains is a big part of the game, as once sacred sites provide wisdom, but they are also doors!  Being able to have multiple places to teleport your meeples can be key – especially in the endgame where you have a lot of movement at your disposal.   Also, don’t forget that temples are hard to get to as you have to climb up the stack to get there.

I think it would be fair to mention that the game can be quite long.  You can try to plan, but the game doesn’t really let you.  Things move, situations change, etc. with every turn. This can be a big AP issue for those that are prone to that.  We had one game that pretty much would grind to a halt each time that certain player had to take their turn.  Additionally, the Ascension track scoring promotes sandbagging behavior.  As you move forward to the next empty space on the track (well, until someone gets to the top), there is a bit of a reward in waiting until people move ahead on the track so that you can get free spaces on the track when you land on an occupied space.  I mean, why would I want to only score 2 points for my initial building when a little bit of waiting might yield 4 points for that same action.  Of course, my opponents recognize the same, and then we all kinda wait it out until someone finally breaks the seal.

Collusion may be a way around this.  If you and an opponent can get two mountains close to each other, you can synergistically build in rapid fashion to score lots of points quickly.  You can only build one building on any tile, but if there is another one close – two players can build monoliths and then trade spots on the next turn to build the second step on the next tile. Everybody in the arrangement wins.

At first glance, it feels like the main strategy is to be able to move people and tiles. You have to be able to collide things to make mountains to build sacred sites.  You really can’t do anything else until that happens.   You’re free to develop your player board how you want, but again, the game seems to want you to go in a specific direction at first.  The columns feel a little unbalanced – in my games to date, some actions in the columns (i.e. volcano lava flow direction) seem to never get used.

The rules include a full page of common mistakes and Tips/strategies.  Not sure how I feel about the rules telling me how to play – but the game seems pretty fragile, and your chances at winning are shot if you get too far behind early on.  Much of the game is about momentum, and if you have none at the start, you’ll never catch up to your opponents.  Since we’re talking about the rules… They are OK, a bit disorganized but everything is in there.  It took me two read-throughs to get it all when I first opened the box, so be sure to set aside some time to read through it carefully when you are learning the game.

As a developer, it makes me wonder… Are there too many things going on? Also, if there are three or four things that the rules tell you to do early – why not cut that out of the game and simply make those things part of the setup?  Do I need to play 3 or 4 turns to unlock the map and have a monolith to teleport through, or could the game be shortened timewise by starting with these things right off the bat without losing much of the game arc. In a game that is suggested at 90-120 minutes (and took us 150+ minutes to finish), maybe shortening the buildup and removing the sandbagging would have let us get into the game quicker and made the time spent in the game more meaningful.  Honestly, I haven’t played enough to know for sure, but the extended game length makes it harder to get back to the table.

The games I have played so far have been enjoyable and interesting, though the pace (in certain games) has been a bit slow for my tastes.  I think that this will definitely appeal to those who prefer these sorts of games with multiple interacting systems – you know who you are (Mr. Levy).   I’m hoping to get another play or two in of this when I can, and if nothing else, Oros has definitely put Mr. Brinkerhoff’s designs on my radar, and I would certainly try future games from him. This one is certainly not perfect; but it has been interesting to play thus far.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Lorna: I really like games with wrap around boards and this tile placement game has some cool mechanisms. I have only played the game with two which is probably not the best number. Hoping to try it with more players though or perhaps play 2 handed.

Dan B. (1 play):There are some interesting ideas in here but I think it needed more development. Some of the actions (e.g. shift) don’t seem as useful as others. The way the board wraps around is neat but hard to visualize and I am not convinced it adds anything more to the game than a simpler approach would have.

More importantly there doesn’t seem to be enough time to do much, which greatly reduces the strategy space, especially given the high movement costs for moving up and down the mountains. We were surprised at how quickly our game ended – in terms of the number of turns, not playing time, which was fairly long – and my initial assumption was that one of us played badly and let the other get a quick win, but on BGG the designer has stated that the game is only supposed to last 10-12 rounds. That’s not a lot of time in this game, and makes it very clear that doing things like getting all your tracks bumped up for extra workers is a bad idea.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers.

  • I love it.
  • I like it. Dale, Alan H, Lorna 
  • Neutral. John P
  • Not for me… Steph H, Dan B.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Oros

  1. Greg C. says:

    Thank you for the review. I can now avoid this one like the plague.

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