Full disclosure: A review copy of Orc-lympics was provided by Brain Games.
Well, today’s as good a day as any to take another look at a game from Brain Games, makers of Ice Cool, Ice Cool 2, Pyramid of Pengqueen, and Pikoko. Today we’ll look at some of their IP that starts with neither I nor P, Orc-lympics, a fantasy game of athletic (and otherwise) competition.
In Orc-lympics, you’re trying to get a coalition of different fantasy humanoids together to compete in a grand set of games and competitions. You’ll need speed, strength, and cunning in order to come out on top, but you’ll also need wisdom to manage which Orclympians you send to which events. Winning the whole thing isn’t just about winning one event; it’s about doing the best overall. Will you be able to take the gold?
I mean, the obvious first thing to do is assemble the trophies:
Rad. Now, shuffle up the Standard Competition Cards:
Lay six face-up in a row, and then organize them from greatest to least value. For a more challenging variant, just leave them in the order you draw them in. If you’re playing with more than 2 players, place the other six face-down below, silver-side up. Those will be the runner-up awards, which naturally aren’t that useful in a two-player game.
There are also three Final Competition Cards:
Shuffle those up and again, place one face-up. If playing with 3+ players, place one below it, face-down.
Shuffle the Orclympian cards:
Deal 8 to each player and remove the remainder from the game. You’re ready to begin!
So, you’ll notice there are a few types of Orclympians, first off:
These are the types of people you can recruit for the upcoming challenge. The first part of the game, then, is recruiting and building your team. Draft cards by choosing one card in your hand, placing it face-down in front of you, and then passing your remaining cards to the left. Complete this process until every player has chosen 8 cards.
Now, you’ll build your team. Your team may contain whatever types of Orclympians you want, as long as you have three types of Orclympians or fewer. This means you might not be able to take all eight cards that you drafted! If that’s the case, the remainder are removed from the game.
Next up is the competition! This is more of a bidding game. On your turn, you’ll either Enter Orclympians or Pass.
- Enter Orclympians: This is how you put competitors in. You may place any number of active Orclympians from your hand face-up, provided they have at least 1 in the Competition’s skill (Speed [Blue], Strength [Red], or Cunning [Green]). If your total value in that skill is the same as or higher than the current highest value, take the Gold Cup and place it in front of you. If another player already had the Gold Cup, give them the Silver. If your total value in that skill is the same as or higher than the second-highest value, take the Silver Cup. If your total is less than the second-highest value, uh, do … nothing?
- Pass: If you pass, you do not play any more Orclympians this round. If you have a Cup, you may keep it until another player exceeds your value. If you have no cards remaining in your hand, you must pass on your turn.
Once every player has passed, the competition ends. The player with the Gold Cup gains the face-up Competition card, and the player with the Silver Cup gains the face-down Competition card. All Orclympians that participated (even those not used by winning players) are placed face-down in a pile near their players. They’re considered “resting” or inactive. If you did not win Gold or Silver, you may take one of those resting Orclympians and add them back to your hand.
Play continues until the Main Event, and after that tally your scores and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
So the easiest way to talk about this is to tell a story from a probability class I took once. The professor invited two students up to the stage to bid on a $20 bill. The winner would keep the bill and pay their bid; the loser would just lose their bid. The longer the bidding went on, the closer it got to $20 until someone realized they were just going to lose money on this deal and then it kept escalating as players tried to cut their losses. Orc-Lympics has a similar thing going for it at every player count but three. At three, you can just really opt-out and get to take a card. At two, four, or five, you might play before you realize you’re going to get shut out (the same thing can happen at three, but I’ve noticed it less) and then you risk a severe escalation (exacerbated by more players).
That’s about the only difference, I’ve noticed, and it really just doesn’t happen at like, three players. So I generally prefer the game at three, if I’m gonna play it.
- Try to avoid passing as your first move. If you pass early, then you’re out for the entire round. If you know you can’t get first or second, then, sure, knock yourself out. But if you’re one of two players competing and you pass, then the other player can get gold by themselves for basically nothing. That’s not good, because you’re not burning enough of their cards.
- At two players, I think it’s not a bad idea to basically always play one card. Especially if you’re playing weaker cards, you’re forcing your opponent to either outbid you (which requires a better card) or pass and give you the win for very cheap. If they outbid you too many times, then they run out of steam before the Main Event and you get a ton of unanswered points.
- Sometimes just taking second is worth it. If you can play a Halfling and pull a Silver Cup, might as well. It’s only one card.
- If you have no resting contestants, you might as well play something. Worst-case, you win and that contestant is resting, or you lose and you can reclaim the card. Either way, forcing your opponents to work for their bid might lead to the perfect opening for you, down the line.
- Focus early. You generally want the Orclympians with stats in the events that are worth the most points, and you want to make sure when you’re drafting that you’re not pulling too many different types of Orclympians, lest you have to discard a bunch of them to condense your team down. I’ve seen players do okay with eight Halflings (can’t recommend, but you live your truth, especially at lower player counts). Generally I try to have a few three-dots, a few two-dots, and some Halflings to round me out. If I can get eight cards that way, great!
- Don’t forget to like, go for broke on the final round. You better just max out your bid (and don’t forget to actually have cards to bid with for the final round) if you want to stand a chance of winning the big points. Either way, I mean, there’s no prize for having the maximum leftover Orclympians. Just leave it all on the court, you know?
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Relatively light setup. Shuffle a few sets of cards and you’re ready to go. Honestly, you could probably play this in a car without much trouble, if I’m thinking about it. Might take some work to display the Competitions, but I’m sure it’s doable if you apply yourself.
- Plays pretty quickly. So quickly, in fact, that the rulebook recommends a multi-round variant. You know how much I dislike those, so, naturally, didn’t immediately go for it.
- Pretty portable. It’s a small-box game and it doesn’t have much else in there, so that’s pretty nice. The insert is pretty good, too, which I always appreciate. Well-made stuff.
- The art is fitting for the theme. It’s a very whimsical fantasy competition. The art is sufficiently whimsical, as well.
- The draft makes sure that no player is truly out of contention. Everyone usually has a pretty good hand for something; it’s just more about figuring out which cards to bid with and when that should be your primary motivator.
- Not the most interesting at two. Either you take it or the other person does. You still need to be smart about your plays, but baiting your opponent into spending too many cards too early is generally the right move. This just means that there’s not an awful lot you can do to really spice it up.
- Everyone’s kinda … white? Other than the orc / djinn / goblin, but if you really want to come to my part of town and talk about that, well, that’s going to be a good time. It’s just odd how even in a fantasy world everyone’s sort of white for no discernible reason. Off-putting, as well. The most generous comment I can make is that this kind of follows from a LOTR-style fantasy trope which is fairly nondiverse, but, oh well.
- I think I just don’t love bidding, as a mechanic. I think that’s definitely more of a “me” problem than a problem with this game, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and it’s easily one of my least favorite mechanics in games. Oh well! Not everything’s for everyone.
Overall: 5.75 / 10
Overall, Orc-lympics is fine. I think, for me, this is indicative of a wider distaste that I have for bidding games (I didn’t even super enjoy High Society, so it’s pretty clear to me that I have no taste whatsoever) rather than being the result of any particular problem with Orc-lympics. Personally, as far as drafting games go, I’m going to prefer Sushi Go Party! pretty much every time for light gaming with a fun theme, but I can see circumstances in which you’d like to tilt a bit more towards bidding games that might make this more appealing. The art’s nice and the game plays quickly, which are both points in its favor, and breaking ties in favor of the challenger keeps the game moving, which is interesting. That said, I’m a bit miffed at the lack of people of color (kinda a high fantasy trope, at this point, but doesn’t make it any less disappointing), and I’d challenge them to be a bit more inclusive if they make a follow-up to this game. That said, a lot of where this game misses the mark for me is around the mechanics (since they’re not particularly ones that interest me), so I think it’s pretty reasonable to assert that if you’re a big fan of them (if you liked Favor from The Lady and the Tiger more than I did, for instance) then you’re more likely to enjoy this one. Either way, if you’re looking for a lightweight family game that’s not just drafting, but has a bit more contention around bidding for points, Orc-lympics may be worth checking out!