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Subject: Boards and Bees Review of Sellswords: Olympus rss

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Jesse Hickle
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This review originally appeared on my blog, Boards and Bees. Thanks to Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of today's game.



Sellswords: Olympus is a game by Cliff Kamarga that is published by Level 99 Games.  It's a two-player only dueling game (shocking for a Level 99 product, right?) where players are gods summoning different mythological heroes and creatures to help them defeat the other.

Olympus comes with 54 square cards - 50 heroes and 4 terrain tiles (please note - whenever I say tiles, I mean cards).  At the start of the game, you'll choose one of the four terrain tiles and place it in the center of the table.  Each terrain has a different effect on the game.  For example, Mt. Olympus (the suggested first terrain you use) gives one extra point to the controllers of each adjacent tile at the end of the round.  You'll then deal out seven cards to the center and you and your opponent will draft three cards each, discarding the seventh.  You'll do this one more time so that each player has a hand of six cards and there are two in the discard pile.  Each card is double-sided, and sides are almost identical - the only difference is that one side is red, and one side is blue.  As such, one player should play the red side, and the other should play blue.

I'd like to take a moment to insert this little pre-review section.  If you've played Sellswords before, this will all sounds very familiar.  The core of the game has not really changed.  There are a few small differences between editions.  First, in the original there was one terrain tile that did nothing, which was good for learning.  In this edition, all four have an effect.  Next, the draft has changed - in the original version, you dealt out twelve cards each round and just picked from those.  Dealing seven and seven each round means you're not necessarily going to get stuck with something bad just because you went last.  Other than the differences between the cards in the set (as well as some cosmetic changes, like the font), the games are identical.  So if you liked the original, you'll probably like this and will welcome some new cards to mix in.  If you disliked the original, this probably won't change your mind.  The rest of the review will be aimed at people who are new to the system, so feel free to skip it if you're an experience Sellsword.  Now, on with your regularly scheduled review.




On your turn, you will play a tile.  It must be played orthogonally adjacent to an already played card, either a hero or the terrain card.  It should be played with your color face up, and you may rotate it any way you wish.  The entire field will be 5x5 at the end of the game, so if you ever play the fifth card in a row or column, you have officially defined a limit of the field.

You'll then proceed to apply any relevant abilities - every card has an optional (your choice whether to use it upon placement), mandatory (you must use it upon placement), continuous (it works as long as it is on the field), or end of round (only used at the end of the round) effect.  There are symbols to represent what type of effect each card has.  A few examples:

d10-1 Centaur (optional): You may take another turn after this one.
d10-2 Athena (mandatory): Ignore the Mandatory and Optional abilities of the next two tiles placed.
d10-3 Pegasus (continuous): When your turn begins, if you control this tile, you may move it.
d10-4 Zeus (end of round): You gain 1 point for each allied tile adjacent to the terrain tile.

If your tile is placed next to an opposing tile, you then have a battle.  Check the adjacent numbers.  If yours is higher, flip the opposing tile (unless an effect stops you).  If yours is lower or equal, nothing happens (they don't fight back).  There are no chain reactions.  When flipping tiles, flip them horizontally according to the artwork to maintain orientation.

Once both players have placed all six cards, you score.  Evaluate each row and column and score based on how many tiles you have in the row or column - zero points for 0-1 tiles, one point for 2, two points for 3, four points for 4, and seven points for 5.  Don't forget to add score for any end of round effects (including the terrain tile).  You then set up for the next round, drafting a hand of six cards in exactly the same manner as before (except that the player who has fewer points goes first).  Once the second round is finished, you'll have a 5x5 grid, and the player with the most points wins the game.



COMPONENTS: The cards are the same size as the original, about 3.5 inches square.  This is good for mixing the sets.  Each card is illustrated with a cute representation of the hero or creature in question.  The font of the original was more reminiscent of Pixel Tactics, but has been changed for this version to something a little more standard.  They feature numbers so they can be cross-referenced with some clarifications on the back of the rule, as well as a sun or moon indicating red or blue side for color blind players.  I have found a couple of misprints while looking at the cards, including a mislabeled icon on Theseus indicating that his is an optional ability when it is in fact an ongoing ability (that is mandatory).  So there are a few small things that make me wish they had proofread a little bit more.

Most of my component comments from the original version stand - I kind of wish the "tiles" were actual tiles instead of cards, but I can't fault Level 99 for going with what is probably the more cost-effective option.  The cards are a good size so there's not a problem in knowing what everything is.  I think the rules are laid out a little bit better than they were in the original edition, so that's good.  My big complain, as always, is the box.  I've review four games from Level 99 this year in this size box - Anansi, Tomb Traders, I Can't Even With These Monsters, and Sellswords Olympus - and in every case, the box has been a lot bigger than it needs to be.  The original Sellswords box was just big enough for the cards, and that worked.  This box is big enough for the cards and some empty space on either side.  If it was big enough to hold both sets, I wouldn't have a complaint.  But it's too small for that by about a quarter inch.  I understand wanting to have a standard box size for these smaller games, I just wish that standard size was a bit smaller.

Overall, the component quality is not stellar, but it is functional and there's nothing that will REALLY inhibit your enjoyment of the game.

THEME: The original was themed in Indines, while this one goes into the more well-known Olympian theme.  The heroes and creatures should be recognizable to most people, and there are some thematic links between the characters on the cards.  In the end, the theme doesn't really matter - you don't really feel like you're summoning your minions for some big grand scale battle, you're just strategically placing pieces in a grid to get the best score.

MECHANICS: This is a tile-placement game, and the play is driven by that.  The game begins with a card draft, which is one of the most significant changes from the original edition.  Instead of each player choosing their hand of six from a field of 12, you're now picking three cards at a time from a field of 7.  This is a significant improvement for a couple of reasons - it means that you're not going to have so many choices at once, and the last player is not necessarily going to get stuck with the least desirable card.  The last two cards may still stink, but at least you have a choice.  This draft is done twice per game, with a random start player at first and the player with fewer points for the second round.  The draft plus the double-sided cards means that, once the game has begun, there are no secrets - everyone knows what's out there.

Card play/tile placement is pretty simple - just put a tile adjacent to another tile and orient it how you wish.  Combat is similarly simple - the higher number wins, and if you're the aggressor, you get to flip the other tile.  There are variable card powers, and these can cause a bit of confusion in resolution.  For example, Jason allows you to swap positions with an adjacent card up to three total times.  Let's say you did this, and now his 7 side is next to  the Hydra, which, when flipped, allows its controller to flip an adjacent card.  But it doesn't really matter, because the only adjacent card that is eligible to be flipped is also adjacent to King Midas, whose adjacent cards can't be flipped by any means.  It's usually easy to work out what happens, but you may have to untangle a few threads.

Every card does something different, and while there are a few similarities to the original game (both sets have a card that does nothing for example), there's not really much crossover.  Each one may be beneficial in different situations, and not in others - the real secret is figuring out the different synergies and getting them in play.

Scoring is a fairly simple affair - count up how many cards you have in each row and column and give yourself points according to the chart in the rules.  This gives the game a bit of an area control feel on top of the tile placement.

Mechanically, this game is pretty simple.  Play a card, apply its effect, flip opposing cards that you defeat in combat.  It's the overall strategy of the game that gets a little tough.

STRATEGY LEVEL: In general, this is a tactical game.  You're playing cards to try to get the board state to where you want it, i.e. a place where you have majorities in the rows and columns.  And it's hard to build an overall strategy as you're constantly having to react to where your opponent places her tiles, and which tiles she flips.  But that's what the draft is for - you get six cards that you hope will work together and build a plan based on that.  Timing is important, but is so is the ability to think on your feet.  As previously mentioned, there's no randomness outside of what comes in the card draft.  It's pretty much a perfect information game after that.

ACCESSIBILITY: While the rules aren't complicated to explain, the synergies of the card effects do take some getting used to.  Level 99 does this cool thing with their games where, rather than giving an age range, they give an intensity level of the game.  This one is rated as light, and I can give it that (especially compared to some of their other titles).  It probably goes into that "easy to learn, difficult to master" category.

REPLAYABILITY: This game has 50 characters, and you'll only play 24 per game.  The different combinations in which they come out, combined with the four different terrains to change the feel of the game, means that this is a very replayable game.  And if you have the original Sellswords, you can mix them up to provide even more variety.  In my last review, I suggested a 7x7 variant, which I still think might be interesting, though I have yet to try it.

SCALABILITY: The Sellswords system is only for two-players.  Even if you mixed sets, it wouldn't go above that.  There's red and blue, and unless they make a dice version with different colors on every side, I don't see this one going above two players.

INTERACTION: This game is highly interactive - you have to play cards so that they will be useful in the moment as well as protected against your opponent's attacks.  Knowing what they have is helpful.

FOOTPRINT: Olympus doesn't take up much room on its own - it's just a deck of square cards.  In play, you need about two feet of table space.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? As mentioned previously, if you already like/dislike Sellswords, you already know if you'll like/dislike this.  I fall very much into the "like" category.  It's a fun game with lots of tactical choices to be made, and you really have to be able to go with the constant state of flux to enjoy it.  If you enjoy abstract dueling games, then you should check it out.

Thanks again to Level 99 for providing a review copy of this game, and thanks to you for reading!
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Ian H
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Interesting, I've not heard of this game at all. I'm going to date myself a bit here, and its been probably a decade since I've played a JRPG. But this game sounds really similar to the Triple Triad minigame that was a part of Final Fantasy VIII. Same basic idea of four side "powers" to a card with the action of flipping adjacent cards in combat. Given that Level 99 often works with classic video game themes in their games I'm guessing that was the inspiration.
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Jesse Hickle
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TheFightingFish wrote:
Interesting, I've not heard of this game at all. I'm going to date myself a bit here, and its been probably a decade since I've played a JRPG. But this game sounds really similar to the Triple Triad minigame that was a part of Final Fantasy VIII. Same basic idea of four side "powers" to a card with the action of flipping adjacent cards in combat. Given that Level 99 often works with classic video game themes in their games I'm guessing that was the inspiration.

It's entirely possible. I've never played FF, so I'm not sure about Triple Triad. I looked up a description and I can see what you mean. That game, however, looks like it's just 3x3, while this one is 5x5. I also don't think TT has special powers for the cards, just different ranks. Thanks for pointing that out to me!
 
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