Reviewed by Herb Levy

SAILING TOWARD OSIRIS (Daily Magic Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 60 minutes; $50)


The Pharaoh has died. Now, his funeral barge will slowly sail down the Nile towards his tomb where he will face the judgement of Osiris. But his death creates a political vacuum that must be filled and the question remains as to who will fill it! In this game designed by David MacKenzie, players are all “Governors” (and would be successors) but only one can become the new Pharaoh – the one to construct the most and most impressive monuments to the deceased Pharaoh’s glory while all are Sailing Toward Osiris.

In Sailing Toward Osiris, all players are given a set of monuments (obelisks, pylons and sphinxes) and a camel, a withdraw token and a set of five “boon” cards. Players also receive a screen (to hide resources and cards) and a scoring marker to chart Glory Points (which begins at 0 on the perimeter scoring track). Finally, the City card deck is shuffled with one dealt to each player.

The critical task facing the Governors is to use the three resources of the game (grain, wood and stone) to construct monuments. Obviously, Governors cannot build these monuments themselves – and that is where workers come in. 

Workers come in three specialized types:  farmers (tan) who only harvest grain, brickmakers (red) who will only deliver brick and stonecutters (gray) who will only gather stone. These are your “basic” unskilled workers. Workers with white highlights, however, are considered “skilled” or “masters” at their craft and provide additional benefits. Governors “recruit” workers by a semi-blind draw. 

All workers (unskilled and skilled) are tossed into the game’s bag. Starting with the first player, Governors blindly draw a specified number of workers (based on player number). Once done, the first player (the “Regent’ in game terms), draws three more out of the bag and places them in the “labor pool” on the board. There should be a few workers remaining in the bag. The Regent may look to see what remains. (This little bit of information may come in handy later in the round.) Now players may use their forces (workers and cards) towards building those monuments. 

On a turn, each Governor may do one action from a menu of 10 possibilities.

Harvest Resources – The board shows Egypt with the Nile dividing it into opposite banks. The Nile itself is divided into four sections. The Pharaoh’s barge is placed at the beginning of the Nile. Basic workers may only be placed on areas that touch river segments where the barge is or has already been. The advantage of skilled workers is that they may be placed on matching terrain ANYWHERE on the board. (As territory gets claimed, this becomes more and more important!) Each terrain section is divided into two areas. If a worker is placed first in a section, that worker will harvest the resources of BOTH areas. (Later on, a monument may occupy one or more sections. Sections with a monument do NOT produce resources.)

Play a Boon Card – Everyone has the same 5 boon cards, each bestowing some sort of advantage and may only play, at most, 1 per round. But if someone has already played a particular one, that identical card may not be played at all that round. 

Visit a City – Place one of your workers (of ANY type) into a city space (anywhere on the board) and receive 2 City cards. Keep one and give one to any opponent! City cards are similar to boon cards except they have a dual potential. They may be cashed in for resources shown on the card OR used for a listed special power (such as being able to build a monument using fewer resources, building a monument where one already stands – completely forbidden in the normal rules – and more). 

Play A City Card 

Start or Join a Caravan – There are two caravan spaces, each divided into two sections. If you are the first to place any worker there, you immediately get the resources listed and place your camel to show you are leading the caravan. If another player chooses to go there, they also receive resources but must give you one of them! (Of course, you may also spend another worker and join your own caravan for the extra resources.) 

Hire another Worker – Exchange any two of your resources for a worker found in the labor pool.

Trade at the Market – There are four “exchanges” found at the market and any player may go there and exchange resources at the specified rate. Once done, that particular exchange is not possible until the next round. 

Plan A Monument – The 3 types of monuments require specific sets of resources. By paying those resources, a Governor may move his appropriate monument to the planning area. 

Build a Monument – A monument already in the planning area may now be moved to a valid area on the map. Monuments may not be placed in an area where a worker or other monument is. In addition, each requires placement in areas with specific resource amounts or a city. Built obelisks are wroth 2 Glory Points, sphinxes 4 GPs each and pylons 7 GPs. As a further incentive, the first Governor to build all of his/her obelisks earns an extra GP while the first to build all of their sphinxes or pylons will get an additional 2 GPs. 

Withdraw – When a player either cannot or does not wish to make another move, that player may withdraw. Although out for the rest of the round, that player does receive a bonus of his/her choice as compensation AND will go first next round. (The bonus chosen is then covered and no longer available in future rounds.)

With the round completed, all workers are collected (no “saving” for the next round), returned to the bag and the barge advances down the Nile. This continues for four rounds until the Pharaoh’s barge reaches the river’s end. (At that point, skilled workers still provide a bonus. When placed anywhere, in the fourth and final round, they generate one extra resource.) 

To the accumulated GPs gained from monuments, players receive points for monument positioning: 2 GPs for a set of 3 adjacent monuments and 3 GPs for each set of 4 monuments built on the same river section. The Governor who has amassed the most Glory Points becomes the new ruler of Egypt (and the winner of the game)!

Board, card and component quality of the game are quite good. The Pharaoh’s barge is a nice addition as it travels down the Nile as well. However, the board tends to become quite crowded with workers and monuments, especially with 5 players.

Worker placement is a large part of the game so whenever possible, it is good to hire extra workers from the labor pool. While it costs 2 resources, you can parlay the extra worker into greater benefits. Although there is a luck element here (in the initial drawing of workers, drawing of City cards), the wide array of decisions facing players (where to place your workers, managing resources etc.) as the game unfolds keeps you involved and provides meaningful decisions to make. Even though 10 actions are possible, all are very straightforward helping game play move quickly. Boon cards can be very handy as they allow you to bend the rules (such as planting a monument where a worker already is situated or even MOVING an already built monument to try to get those end of game bonuses or drawing one of the remaining workers out of the bag – and that’s when being the Regent is a distinct advantage). Player screens act as a helpful reminder regarding end game bonuses. Still, a little suspension of disbelief is needed. The game is totally ahistorical;  Pharaohs were not chosen by building monuments. And there are a few design decisions that you might want to tweak. 

Using boon cards wisely can be advantageous but they are not always needed. Players who manage to achieve goals without using them should be rewarded. Under the rules, leftover boon cards are worthless. A 1 GP bonus per each unused boon card at game’s end might be an incentive worth exploring. Withdrawal from a round can be critical as going first in the next round is a distinct advantage and the bonus gained from doing so (extra resources, another GP etc.) can come in very handy. But the value of withdrawing diminishes as the game goes on. Bonuses claimed are covered and no longer available, making withdrawing less and less attractive. During the fourth round, going “first” has no value at all since there is NO fifth round! NOT covering bonuses, allowing players to access all potential bonuses for withdrawing first, would help keep that option viable.

For decades, ancient Egypt has been the inspiration for games we love from Caesar & Cleopatra (featured in the Summer 1998 GA Report),  Reiner Knizia’s Ra (featured in the Summer 1999 GA Report) through Egizia (Winter 2011 GAR) and more. As in Egizia, travelling down the Nile sets the pace for the game play here in tandem with worker placement and resource management challenges. All make for an interesting journey as you are Sailing Toward Osiris, . – – – – – Herb Levy

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