#514 – Cards of Olympus [Preview]

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2 players.
Play time: ~20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas

Check it out on Kickstarter!
Logged plays: 3

Full disclosure: A preview copy of Cards of Olympus was provided by Concrete Canoe Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, while I don’t charge for Kickstarter previews, the publisher was charged a rush fee due to the tight timeline they needed the review completed in.

And part two! I covered A Wizard’s Shelf last week, and this is another game in the Kickstarter series that’s dropping tomorrow! Whereas the previous one focused a bit on set collection and tableau-building, this is something entirely different: an 18-card deckbuilder! It’s Cards of Olympus, and it features more art from Beth Sobel, one of my favorite artists in board gaming. But, it’s new, it’s hitting Kickstarter soon, so let’s dig into it and see what’s up.

In Cards of Olympus, you need to curry favor with the Greek pantheon. Naturally, you’ve already got one god on your team, but you need more. Gather Mortals, convert them to Heroes, and then inspire those Heroes to become Gods if you’re going to outpace your opponent, who seeks to do the same. Just be careful that none of your Mortals become Monsters along the way…

Contents

Setup

Not a ton to do, setup-wise. Shuffle the cards Mortal / Hero-side up:

Heroes and Mortals

Give each player one (or let them choose one) that they can flip over and use as their Starting God. It doesn’t go into their hand or anything; it just stays in front of them, God-side up:

Gods and Monsters

Shuffle the remaining cards and deal eight of the Hero cards into four pairs to form the Market. The remaining eight will be split; turn four so that the hero is facing one player, and turn the other four so that the hero is facing the other player. Shuffle that stack and “draw” (pull from the top of the deck without flipping them) four cards and place them so that each side faces a player; this will be each player’s “hand” for the round. Choose a player to go first!

Setup

Gameplay

Gameplay 1

So, like many deckbuilders, Gods of Olympus is a game of collecting cards and trying to earn victory points to defeat your opponent. Unlike most deckbuilders, your cards are physically split with your opponent. There are Mortals and Heroes on one side, and Gods and Monsters on another. Whichever side is facing you is the side you use. First player to 10 points wins!

On your turn, you first collect Tribute — these are the blue spheres on the bottom-left of most cards. Gods, for instance, provide your choice of a point (the laurel), a Tribute, or a Drachma, and Monsters provide nothing, just rough intimidation. Not their fault; they’re kind of just like that. Certain amounts of Tribute can activate certain actions (each can only be done once per turn, unless otherwise stated):

  • Quest: A Hero can take a Quest action to provide some benefit, usually cards or Drachma.
  • Bless: A God (including your Personal God) can grant a blessing for Tribute. These are usually pretty good!
  • Hire: Any Hero may be hired from the Market for 4 Tribute; simply add them to the discard pile with the Hero side facing you.
  • Convert (Promote): There are a collective set of actions called Convert actions, that allow you to change cards to other cards. A Mortal may take a Promote action for 4 Tribute that allows them to turn into a Hero by flipping the card around after both players have taken their turn. A card designated by a Convert action cannot be Converted by another player.
  • Convert (Slay): A Monster can be slain (slew? slought?) with 8 Tribute, a truly preposterous number. Similar to the other Convert actions, you may flip it over to the Mortal side at the end of the round.

Gameplay 2

If you earn enough Drachmas, you may instead Convert one Hero into a god for 4 Drachmas. Unfortunately, all three of the Convert actions are considered under the banner of Convert, so you may only do one of those per turn, no matter how many Drachmas / how much Tribute you manage to piece together.

At the end of your turn, you do not discard your cards unless you’re the second player in the round. You may have some leftover Tribute / Drachmas, and you can use those:

  • Foresight (Tribute): If you have leftover Tribute, you may look through the draw pile.
  • River Styx (Drachmas): If you have leftover Drachmas, you may move one card from the discard pile to the bottom of the deck.

If you finish the round, discard the four cards and reveal four more (again, without flipping). If the draw deck runs out, shuffle the discard pile while preserving the orientation of the cards. That’s pretty critical.

Gameplay 3

Play continues until one player has earned 10 points; that player wins!

Player Count Differences

None! It’s also a two-player game.

Strategy

  • Go for gods. I mean, the game is about Olympus, so it seems like recruiting more gods to your cause is pretty much always going to be the right move. Generally, their abilities are better and they’re going to score you more points when they’re active, but most importantly they’re going to throw absolute dead weight into your opponent’s deck.
  • If you want gods, you’re going to need drachmas. This is a bit tricky, since you can’t really earn drachmas via any means beyond Quests and Blessings. Make sure your drachma-earning cards all kinda go off around the same time so that you can get at least 4 in a turn.
  • Flip your opponent’s cards. This one is good; flipping cards provides more than an explicit benefit to you; it also junks up one card for an opponent, reducing its utility and making it occasionally very difficult to be rid of. Those are things you want to have happen to your opponent, not to you.
  • I wouldn’t necessarily slay any monsters. Not only is it heinously expensive to do so, but it just means that you end up with a Mortal, not a Hero or anything. I usually write off monsters as a lost cause and just try to recruit Heroes that can gain benefits from monsters.
  • You may not find yourself buying many Heroes. That’s totally fine! You might actually start with a perfectly good synergy that lets you make more Heroes / gods quickly. If so, lean into that and don’t worry too much about pushing for something else.
  • Remember that getting gods will fundamentally junk up your ability to do things like Slay, Bless, and even Convert. They’re good cards, but they don’t provide much in the way of additional resources (like Heroes do). They usually let you have your choice of a couple things, but that’s not
  • Try to keep a few ways to earn major tribute around. If not, you’re going to let your engine die out and you won’t be able to get blessings from the gods. Neither part of that is good.
  • At some point you gotta focus on earning points. That’s kind of how you win the war of attrition this game occasionally falls into. Rather than focusing on combos, try to make sure that you have a solid way to generate points every turn or so. Remember, you only need 10 to win.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Beth Sobel’s take on the heroes, mortals, and pantheon of Olympus is incredible. It’s diverse, intense, and brilliant; I’d be inclined to call it some of my favorite work that she’s done, though she’s going to get upset with me for saying so. Frankly, I hope they’re considering using the art for more things; I’d love a deck of cards with some of the gods / goddesses / heroes. It makes the whole thing feel a bit more true-to-life, and for mythological characters that’s really saying something impressive. Like, I love the depictions in Santorini, but Beth’s decision to capture the realistic side of the myths (rather than the stylized depiction you see there) really elevates this from just a few cards to an actual work of art. Then again, I’m a sucker for Greek mythology.
  • I’m also a sucker for Greek mythology. Did I just say that? Well, it remains true. I love Greek myth games on principle. It means you end up checking out a lot more Kickstarter games, but, maybe it’s worth it in the long run? Who can say. Either way, I think there’s still tons to do in this space.
  • An 18-card deckbuilder is a particularly ambitious idea. It’s definitely not something I thought was possible and I know that others had been thinking about trying something in this space, but I’m glad something’s finally come from it! I definitely don’t think this is a perfect game, but I think it’s an interesting foundation point and I’m intrigued to see if the format lends itself to remixing / building up. I’d love to see what the next wallet deckbuilding game looks like (and obviously I’d be interested in playing it).
  • As always, very portable. These 18-card games always are, and I really appreciate that. I’m on work travel at the time of writing and I’ve got like, 10 in a very small pocket in my backpack to play.

Mehs

  • Some of the rules are unclear. One in particular is that the rulebook and the text on the cards aren’t always aligned since the cards can be your Starting God, which means that it’s easy for players to get confused by the points available on God Cards (even moreso if they get Zeus or any other god that gives multiple points, since they note that you normally get two of that resource). It would be nice to have some clarification around that.
  • I’m not totally sold on the (effective) zero-sum nature of the cards. Basically, the better of a turn you have, the worse of a turn your opponent has to have (every card has a good / bad side, with the Best Side of a card giving your opponent the Worst Side). I’d rather have something more like the Card Crafting System from Mystic Vale, where everyone’s cards gradually get better over the course of the game (although understandably that’s not terribly feasible for this particular medium).
  • The different currencies can be a bit confusing on your first play. It’s not the largest icon in the world on the cards, so it’s very easy to confuse Tribute for Drachmas, or, at least, that’s the experienced we’ve had. Just be careful with those types.

Cons

  • Not having a way to track points sure is irritating. It would have been nice to have an extra card or something that slides under our Starting God; I was using a d10 / d12 for a few games when I had access to my dice, and when I didn’t I was doing tally marks on a nearby whiteboard. Either way, it’s easy to lose track if you’re trying to combo, so having something game-provided is understandably more ideal.
  • The starting deck being randomized means that luck is a pretty major factor in the game. If you start out with a really good synergy to your opponent’s really poor synergy, you’re going to be able to get a lot farther, a lot more quickly than they will, which doesn’t always feel fun.
  • Having some of the gods be a player’s Starting God can be frustrating to the point of actually bricking up the game a bit. I had to face off against Artemis, who can block any conversions that happened during the round. This means that if I Convert and they have a bad-but-not-terrible draw, they may just thwart my entire turn. My only hope of taking useful Convert actions was to try and do them on the same turn they did them, but the zero-sum nature of the cards means that if I have a Great Turn they inherently have a Bad One, so it was almost impossible to get anything resembling an engine going. Astonishingly, I managed to eventually pull it off, but I’d be hard-pressed to call the experience enjoyable. All it really did was slow the game down.
  • Yeah, it feels like the Starting Gods have some unfavorable / explicitly bad matchups. It makes me feel like the Starting Gods thing was thrown on at the end and not tested enough. I had Hephaestus in my most recent game; his ability is that he can turn any remaining drachmas into 2VP. Since he can … always generate 1 drachma, as long as I got 4 Tribute on a turn, I could get 2VP. Either the card is confusingly worded, or the game’s only going to last five rounds. No matter what, though, that’s not a good experience. Match that against my friend’s Apollo, which would … let her use the ability of a recently converted Hero, and you’ve got a pretty explicit tilt in my favor before the game’s even started. The game shouldn’t feel decided before a player takes a turn.

Overall: 4 / 10

In Progress

Overall, I’m disappointed with Cards of Olympus. Frankly, it feels like the bit with Starting Gods is a bit unpolished and that singular ability being reserved for one player can, situationally, tilt the game aggressively in the player’s favor. That kind of weighs the game down and makes it feel … un-fun? Pointless? Something like that. I’m definitely not a fan of that feeling. This particularly disappoints me because there’s so much I want to like about this game. The art is incredible! I seriously think this is some of Beth’s best work (my personal favorite of hers is the Terragon card in Herbaceous, I think). It’s an 18-card deckbuilder! What an ambitious concept! I’m actually pretty convinced that this is a great model for building a tiny deckbuilder, and I’d love to see what V2 of this game looks like. It also has one of my favorite game themes! I love Greek Mythology so, so much. I just wish I enjoyed this particular game more, but I didn’t. I’m hoping I messed up a rule or played poorly or something, but with a few games under my belt, that’s unfortunately seeming less likely. That said, if you’re looking to see how an 18-card deckbuilder could work or you want some of the best card art in the business, Cards of Olympus may be worth checking out! I’m just disappointed to say that the game didn’t really do it for me.

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