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ORBIS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

ORBIS (Space Cowboys, 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; $39.99)

 

Games cover a whole range of subjects, from the sublime to the ridiculous. touching upon almost everything imaginable in the world. But what about creating your own world? That is this challenge presented in this new Tim Armstrong design: Orbis

In Orbis, each player will be constructing a world made up of various regions. The goal is to create the most “successful” universe as measured by “Creation Points” aka CPs aka Victory Points. There are 65 Region tiles (levels 1, 2 and 3) in five colors (red, blue, orange, green and white) which denote different land types. (These tiles comes in sets of black, purple and white with the sets used based on player number.) Region tiles are separated by level, shuffled and placed aside. Nine level 1 tiles are drawn and organized as a 3 x 3 display. These worlds also have gods and a few of these 10 tiles (depending on the number of players) are drawn and are available throughout the course of the game. (Leftover deities are removed from play.) Temple tokens (values from 2 to 11) are placed alongside the play area. (Again, the number of temple tokens used is based on the number of players). “Worshipers” (colored cubes in the five colors of tiles) are also placed near the play area. The youngest player starts. 

On a turn, a player MUST choose and place a tile. (If a god tile is chosen, that may be put aside for now.) Tiles are the “building blocks” for a pyramidal structure that represents the world that player is creating. The pyramid starts with a five tile base and, as tiles are added, the tiers get smaller, from 4 to 3 to 2 until, finally, the chosen god tile caps the structure. 

There is no restriction on placing a tile in the base row of the pyramid but, once the pyramid starts to grow, there are two conditions that need be met for a legal placement: subsequent tiles, higher in the pyramid structure, MUST be supported by two tiles beneath it AND the color of at least ONE of the tiles below it MUST match! When a tile is chosen, worshipers are placed on tiles that border the chosen tile, either horizontally or vertically. (NO diagonal placement.) Some tiles have a cost (in worshiper colors) and some will reward you with worshipers when chosen. (Tiles with worshipers already on them are collected by the player choosing that tile and those cubes may be used to pay that tile’s cost. But no hoarding. There is a limit of 10 worshipers per player but you can exchange 3 of one color for 1 of another to keep your holdings below the limit and prepare for a possible future tile purchase.) Some tiles have an additional cost tied into its Creation Point (CP) value such as sacrificing (removing) certain colored worshipers from the display or even your own holdings and, if those conditions are met, that tile is considered “validated” and will score. (If not, a marker is placed over the CP value and that tile will not score at all.) Other tiles will score points at the end of the game providing they border a specified number of a certain color(s) of tiles. White tiles show temples and/or a “mystic value”. Players will earn bonus points for having the most (or second most etc.) of them. (If a tie, the player with the highest “mystic value” gets the edge.) And, if you cannot fulfill the requirements of placement, you can still place a tile – but as a Wilderness tile. 

The flip side of all Region tiles is a desolate Wilderness. Each of these is worth MINUS 1 point at the end of the game.  The saving grace here is that a new Region tile is an automatic match to any color when it comes to placement. 

At the end of the 15th round, all players will have completed their universe and then we score. Creation Points are totaled and to that is added any CPs gained from temples and deities. The player with the highest total wins! Tied? Then the player with the most worshipers wins! Still tied? Then victory is shared!

As with Azul (featured in the Winter 2018 GA Report), Orbis is essentially an abstract game with a strong puzzle aspect as you create a colorful and consistent structure.  The tiles are thick and colorful although their hexagonal shape makes shuffling them a bit less smooth than you might expect. (You might be better off just mixing them on the table and then stacking.) And it is a bit surprising that there is no insert to easily store the tiles once the game is done. While the cube “worshipers” are perfectly functional, using “people meeples” to represent them might have aided in boosting the theme. 

In forming the base line of your pyramid, think diversity. Legal placement choices tend to disappear as you move upward so a varied and colorful base will grant you significantly more leeway in placement, at least for a time. Although all tile colors are equally represented, not all tiles are used so “tile counting” is not as effective as you might hope. As your pyramid rises, you will feel the “walls start closing in” as your options for successful validation of tiles gets more and limited.  With game scores relatively small (generally ending up in the high teens to mid to upper twenties), avoiding those negative 1 Wilderness tiles can mean the difference between winning and losing. Choosing the best god tile for your structure is another consideration.

Although all of these god tiles have, at most, a face value of 3 CPs (which, in itself can be the difference in the game), some have the potential in certain situations to be even more valuable (such as the tile that negates any negative points accrued by placed Wilderness tiles). In this respect, players have to be aware as to what their opponents are up to and gauge the relative value of the available god tiles. If everyone is following their own path, then all is well and good. But if there are god tiles that offer important advantages to more than one player, then timing, as to when to choose that particular tile, comes into play. While you may not want to give up a turn to grab that particular color tile that would fit so perfectly into your structure, you also don’t want someone else to get that “finishing touch” to a pyramid that could cost you the game! 

Orbis works well with 2, 3 or 4 players and plays quickly. It is deceptive in a very good way: easy to teach and, while appearing to be very simple, still manages to present a “world” of meaningful and engaging choices.- – – – Herb Levy


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