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Preview: Philippe Keyaerts, Ystari Invite Players to Mount Olympos

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: Olympos
Designer Philippe Keyaerts scored a success with Vinci, which he later transformed into an even bigger hit with gamers, namely Small World from Days of Wonder. Small World has seen a handful of expansions since its debut in 2009, and the system can accommodate many more additions that challenge players to re-evaluate the game each time they play, but at heart each turn in both Small World and Vinci boils down to a simple choice for players:

Expand or decline?

Use your civilization's special abilities to claim new territory and dislodge opponents, or else step away from that civilization and prepare to launch a new empire on the following turn. For all the details about where to expand, how best to use your abilities, who needs to be attacked, which territory will be easy to defend or not counter-attacked, and so on, each turn starts with a (sometimes) simple binary choice.

Keyaerts follows that same design model with Olympos, coming in April 2011 from French publisher Ystari Games, with each turn inviting a player to either expand or develop, expand or develop, expand or develop. As in Vinci and Small World, random elements come into play in Olympos – specifically in the revelation of Olympos cards and the use of Desinty cards – but for the most part everything is determined via player actions, with the board open to expansion in all directions and the developments waiting to be claimed by those who profit well from expansion.


As you might expect from a game titled Olympos, the action is set in Greece, with players representing tribes who are trying to control certain territories in order to gain resources with which to develop their culture and build wondrous structures.

Board Game: Olympos

If you choose to expand, you either add a new settler token to the game board for a cost of 2 action points – in the Northern region or a territory you already control – then move it, or move one of your existing settlers. You can move as far as you like, passing through occupied territories if needed, with movement into a land space costing 1 action point and movement into water costing 2. Land on an unoccupied space, and you can claim it; land on a territory owned by someone else, and you take it away from that player at a cost of 1-3 action points depending on the relative strength of your military. In either case, you then take possession of the appropriate territory token, which shows one of four resources in the game.

Certain territories are marked with a star; by defeating the tribes that start in these lands (or taking control of the territory later in the game), you receive a tribe token showing one star.

At the end of your turn, you move your marker ahead on the time track equal to the total number of action points spent. You can spend as many or as few as you like, with the player who has spent the fewest over the course of the game taking the next turn.


Why expand – or rather why expand into one territory over another? Because you want to develop particular abilities for your tribe. In Vinci and Small World, players draft special abilities in combination with a civilization or tribe, and your success or failure in the game will often depend on your skill at valuing a certain ability at a certain time in the game based on what everyone else is doing.

In Olympos, every tribe starts with nothing more than four settler tokens that have all the power inherent in being a plain colored wooden disc – that is, they have nothing. They can change that, however, by developing and making a discovery of astronomy, religion, surgery, metallurgy or other skills.

Board Game: Olympos

At the start of the game, discovery tiles are laid out semi-randomly on the development board. (All red-backed discoveries are placed in the top row, for example, but in random order; all yellow-backed discoveries are placed randomly in the second row; and so on down to the wonders in the sixth row.) The development board has costs printed on it, so the discovery tiles will cost different combinations of goods each game. Each territory token you hold provides a particular resource whenever you want to develop; during the game you might also acquire resource cubes that provide a one-shot resource.

To develop, you pay the cost of the tile you want to acquire, then claim one of the bonuses (if any) underneath the tile, with the bonuses being points, resource cubes, time (hourglasses) and additional settler tokens. Making a discovery costs 7 action points. (If you hold hourglasses, you must spend them instead of advancing on the time track. Time stands still, possibly allowing you to take two turns in a row.)

Instead of making a discovery, you can develop by founding a wonder, which requires 4-6 stars. You claim stars during the game by controlling particular territories, and you can acquire additional stars by discovering architecture or engineering or by claiming discoveries in the same column on the development board as the wonder itself. (In the image above, for example, claiming engineering in the fifth row on the left both earns you a star from the tile and provides a star toward the Lion Gate wonder in that column. Halfway there!) Founding a wonder also costs 7 action points.

Destiny, the Gods and You

Expansion and development are under your control – well, as much as they can be given the actions of other players – which means that you advance on the time track on your own schedule. But not everything is in the hands of the players. At various points during the game, the gods will step in to reward or smite players based on their piety.

Board Game: Olympos

The time track includes positions with one or two lightning bolts on them, and when any player reaches one of these spaces, an Olympos card is drawn and its effects carried out. Half the gods reward the player or players with the most lightning bolts – which are acquired by controlling Olympos on the board or making certain discoveries – while the other half punish those with the fewest lightning bolts. On the plus side, players might earn resources, military strength, and settlers; fail to show proper obeisance, and you might lose points, time or the ability to cross the ocean. (For spaces with two bolts, a second Olympos card is revealed when the last player reaches this space.)

Each time a player reaches or crosses a lightning space, he receives a destiny card that can be used immediately or on any later turn. Destiny cards provide resources, hourglasses, points, stars and lightning bolts.

Once a player passes the final lightning space on the time track, on his next turn he can either pass (and take no further actions in the game) or take one final action. Once everyone has passed or taken their final action, the game ends and players tally their scores, earning points for their position on the time track, prestige earned during the game, the number of territories held, wonders and discovery tiles acquired, and destiny cards still in hand.

Civilization simplified – that's Keyaerts' specialty...
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