Thank you for checking review #109 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
An overview of Omen: A Reign of War
Omen: A Reign of War is a board game designed by John Clowdus that is published by Kolossal Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 30 minutes.
You are a child of Zeus poised to conquer all of Greece, but first you must prove your worth to the gods, as there is another who contests your claim. To determine who shall rule, gods have devised a contest and lent their most powerful forces to both sides of the conflict.
Omen: Reign of War is a head-to-head strategic card game where you compete to gain the favor of the pantheon of gods, and prove that you are the rightful heir of Zeus. Powerful forces of antiquity and legend are at your command as you raze and pillage cities, strategically manage your resources, and eliminate your rival’s forces. Choose your battle strategy with rules for standard and draft play, and expand your war with other, fully compatible, games from the ‘Omen Saga’!
Omen: Reign of War
– Head to Head demigod battles for supremacy of ancient Greece.
– Tactical battle card-game where every unit has its own unique abilities and uses.
– Definitive Omen Saga gaming experience and endlessly expandable.
The first phase of the game made me sit up and take notice right away. You can take 3 in any combination of cards from the top of the deck or coins to begin your turn – that’s standard enough. Coins are needed to play cards, and cards are needed in order to have any units to deploy into the three cities in order to earn victory points. Nice decision point, right? It gets better. If you take all coins or all cards here, you get an extra one. Suddenly you have an incentive to go all-in at the start of your turn. But if you have only 1 coin and 1 card, for instance, is that worth the all-in, or would you be better served to divide between the two? What is normally the least interesting step in a game (draw cards/gather resources) is suddenly a critical decision point each and every turn because you’re never going to feel like you have enough cards nor coins for most of the game.
Unit deployment is simple, as you pay gold equal to the card’s cost and place it from your hand into one of the three city locations. You’re trying to gain the majority of power in a city, to gain a nice 2 VP token upon the resolution of that city. And there are a delightful variety of units: Soldier units are placed into a city and usually have an effect that triggers upon deployment. After that they are essentially their stat line, providing power as you try to trigger the city into a war-torn state. Beasts are fun, because you can deploy them into a city – they usually have a LOT of power – or pay and discard them for the printed effect on the card. And let me tell you, it isn’t always easy to determine which is the better approach during the game. Oracle units are interesting ones because they don’t add much to your overall power in a city, but they add an effect that will trigger every single turn so long as they remain in play. Heroes have abilities that can be used outside of your Surge (deployment) step of the game, but they also contain a Treasured keyword that gives you 1 VP if they are in your hand at the end of the game. And Spirit units have two options under their Deploy ability, and you choose one when playing them to a city – or you can pay their Invoke cost and discard them to use both abilities.
Some units have the Colossal keyword on them, which is a cool thing in the game. Essentially it means that the card counts as two units – and Kolossal Games has provided tokens you can put on a card to help remind you that a unit is Colossal. This means you can up the unit count with fewer cards, and they usually have some nice power level to them. However, once a war-torned city resolves the victor can only keep one unit in that city. Which means if you win with a Colossal unit on your side, it is for sure hitting the discard pile. On the other hand, if you lose a city you can keep two units, meaning you could keep that Colossal unit (and nothing else) on your side, giving you a strong start to win that city on your turn since you’re staying close to triggering the city again.
The offering step in the game is another great spot, because each card has a gold value, a combat value, and an offering value. And while you may be tempted to play the cards for their attack value in order to win cities, or to trigger their effects, you could also discard a card during this step on your turn to take either gold or cards in the card’s offering value. Those weak Oracles? Yep, they have pretty solid offering values. And in a game with such tight economy of cards and coins each turn, sometimes the best play is to toss that good card so you can do something of value on your next turn.
I love the change by Kolossal Games to make the city cards into tiles. Each of the three cities has four tiles randomly placed on them, face-down. When you win a battle in a city, you get the top tile – if two cities are empty of tiles is one of the end game triggers. In the older version it was a card that went to your hand and there was no hand limit. Here there is a hand limit of 5, but these don’t clog your hand. Rather they are worth 2 VP at the end of the game…but they also have a wonderful ability on the other side and you can use one of those on your turn – but once a tile is used it can no longer be used for that ability again. Not only that, but the tile remains flipped over and now that 2 VP tile is worth just 1 VP at the end of the game. In a game where scores are often under 20 (my experience so far), that extra point can be absolutely critical.
There are six feat cards a player begins with on their side – also not in their hand – with an objective for the player to try and meet. Once you are able to meet that objective, then you can flip that card over during your Feats phase of the game and it scores you 2 VP. If a player flips five of their six feats, that is the other end-game trigger. I like this system, especially since there are indirect ways you can react to an opponent making progress on some of them.
The game comes with several easy-to-use variants in the rules. Not only that, but it can be mixed-and-matched with other expansions for the game. That could be argued as a negative point almost, because you’re not going to want to stop with just the base game. I know I won’t be, because this is a really, really good game. One of the best 2-player only games I have played.
So much of the game revolves around the city spaces and getting them into a war-torn status. This part reminds me of Haven, another 2-player game I absolutely love, in that you’re deploying units on your sides until a threshold is met. Typically until there are either 5 units total in that city, or 3 units on a single side. The key difference is that this will trigger at the end of the current turn – whereas in Haven it would be at the end of the opponent’s next turn. I’m a little disappointed, because it means you have no chance to counter what your opponent did on their turn if they triggered the war-torn city – and why wouldn’t they unless they would win it? This means you need to try and think ahead, seeing what area they are vying for and decide to either try and drop units there to win it first, or place your strong units in another city spot.
When you immerse yourself in the 2-player gaming circles there are games you inevitably hear mentioned time and again as titles to check out. Many of them are absolutely worth trying out, and a select few of them are so incredibly good that you have to instantly play it more times, even if you had other plans for the games you would play that evening. Omen: A Reign of War was one of those games I had always heard mentioned but brushed it aside as a game I’d get back to eventually. Then last year Kolossal Games launched a Kickstarter to republish the game under their lineup, and it placed the game back on my radar even though I didn’t have the ability to back it on Kickstarter at the time. And so it sat in my wishlist until I saw a really good price – and one came for the 2nd Edition of the game with its first expansion during a BGG Auction. I bid on it, won the auction, and was delighted when the box arrived. I knew just the friend to play it with, and took a handful of 2-player titles I wanted to try out that night.
We opened the evening with Omen – his choice, based on the aesthetic of the box – and what followed was a fantastic game. Followed immediately by another play of the game. That night I left knowing I wanted to get the newer edition, and I left this one in his possession. Two weeks later we got back together for another gaming night and he told me about all the people he had taught it to in those two weeks, and we played it again that night. Ever since it has been pulled out every time we get together – even if it hasn’t always hit the table to get played – and that will continue into the foreseeable future. Why? Because this game is really, really fun. I had no regret taking birthday funds and picking up a copy of the newest version of the base game, either, so now we both have a version of Omen.
Spolier alert: The upcoming Heir to the Dunes box is really good, too – more on that in a week or two!
Omen: Reign of War has everything I look for in a 2-player game experience: tight gameplay, simple ruleset, engaging mechanics, tense decisions, strong player interaction, fast setup. It checks every box on the list for me, and has the added benefit of alternative game modes (such as drafting – I love drafting!) that I intend to explore in greater depth. It has the ability to add in small expansions and combine the larger boxes in ways to make unique experiences every time. But even if you only pick up the base game, a $30.00 entry point, you’ll have a damn good game on your hands that will get played many times before it runs a risk of getting stale.