Published on July 18th, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen2
From The Heights Of Mount Olympus
Mythology, particularly Greek mythology, has always been an interest of mine. I grew up reading the stories of Orpheus and Bellerophon and their heroic interactions with the Hellenic gods. One of my favorite themes to explore in literature and in games of any type is ancient myth and ancient civilizations. I was pretty excited when I saw that Olympus was a civ-building game set in ancient Greece where the Olympians and their worship play a key component.
In Olympus you represent the leaders of a Greek city-state who are competing with their neighboring states to be the very best, like no one ever was. To increase your reputation you will need to do things like collect food, increase your population, educate your people, wage war, and build new structures for your city. To do any of these things successfully you first need to gather your priests and pray to the gods to receive blessings for your venture.
After playing a couple of times, the thing that most struck me about Olympus is how beginner friendly it is. Olympus is very much a “follow my lead” worker placement game, with tracks and cubes of resources and everything. But the theme of the game is so well executed and the mechanics so straight forward that it is incredibly easy to teach to people who don’t know a lot of game jargon. While this means that it isn’t very complex and fiddly, that doesn’t make it less fun at all.
The physical production of the game is at Fantasy Flight’s usual high mark of quality. The box, inserts and components are all typical standard quality. Cubes and meeples are wooden and the only complaint was that the blue is so dark it’s hard to tell from black in dim light. The artwork is fine but doesn’t stand out too much. Some sort of difference between the player mats would have been cool, even if there is no mechanical difference between them. Each of the building cards you get does have distinct art, which is a nice touch.
Olympus is a worker placement game that finds a different way to build conflict than most worker placement games. Typically games of this sort are set up so that once a player commits to an action, that action becomes locked out for the other players until the worker is recalled. Olympus instead lets the main player lead with their first choice, which gives them the “alpha” reward, then anyone else who wants to do that same action can also commit right then, but for the “beta” reward. With limited space on the board, this means everyone (if they counted right) will get to use all their workers, but not necessarily optimally.
A lot of the actual game play revolves around figuring out which tracks on your player mat you want to increase at what rate so as to build buildings with higher victory point values. Which tracks you want to increase, and in which order, determines which gods you are going to send your priests to. Once someone has maxed out a track they get an achievement card worth two victory points and once four of those cards have been dealt the game finishes at the end of that turn.
Of course, other players are going to want to play cards or score resources in a different order than you which is where a lot of the fun comes in. A lot of the game is paying attention to what other players are doing and getting a building action in while they have no resources to build. Counting cards is difficult though because each player has their own set of buildings they can buy, only the expensive Shrines are communally available. I like this because it makes what each player is going to do next turn less obvious, but still predictable because you know exactly what’s in their deck.
Another thing that Olympus does well is that it has mechanics that allow players to mess with each other- something that is sadly missing from most eurogames. Just because I like worker placement games doesn’t mean that I just want multi-player solitaire! Olympus changes this up by letting someone use Ares to declare war, which loots resources from players with lower Military track ratings. Waging war is the only way to exceed certain resource limits, and this adds a good reason other than being a jerk to attack someone. You can also choose to worship Apollo as the Plague-bringer which causes anyone who doesn’t follow your lead to lose a third of their population.
We have talked a lot about theme recently; Olympus does a good job of making a common type of game more interesting by executing its theme well. A well integrated theme, the ease of learning its mechanics, and the interesting action bid mechanic make Olympus an amazingly well rounded eurogame. This won’t impress someone who regularly plays crunchy euro titles, but if you’re looking for a great intro eurogame or something lighter and fluffier, Olympus is a great choice.