Thank you for checking review #40 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.
**Note: A copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.
An Overview of Sellswords: Olympus
Sellswords: Olympus is a game designed by Cliff Kamarga and was published by Level 99 Games. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 15-20 minute play time.
Description from the publisher:
The gods of Olympus have gone to war! Who will heed the call? Skilled warriors from all across the land rally to fight, met on the opposite side by magical beasts and monsters from myth. Lead your heroes to victory and become the champion of Olympus!
Sellswords: Olympus is a fast-paced strategy game of drafting soldiers and deploying them to the field of battle. It takes only a few minutes to learn, but with fifty different heroes and monsters, each with their own unique ability to use and master, the possibilities for forming your army are limitless! Capture enemy units to turn them to your side in the battle. It’s not enough to simply control the most of the field, though; you have to choose your targets carefully to outflank your opponent! Four different terrain tiles provide alternate play methods, giving you new strategies to explore!
Sellswords: Olympus is a standalone sequel to the tile-placement game Sellswords that can be played alone or mixed with the original!
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
Choose one of the four location tiles and place it in the center of the table. Then shuffle the character tiles and draw 7 of them. Players take turns drafting one of the tiles until they both have 3 in hand, discarding the final tile. Repeat the process again so each player begins with 6 tiles.
Players alternate placing a tile orthogonally adjacent to at least one tile on the table. When a tile is placed next to an opposing-color tile, the numbers on the adjacent sides are compared. If the new tile placed has a higher number, the other tile is flipped to its other side. If it is lower, nothing happens. Each tile has an ability, whether in the form of a mandatory ability when placed, an optional ability when placed, an ongoing ability, or a scoring ability. Players continue to place tiles until their hands are empty, but must be sure to maintain their tiles inside of a 5×5 grid.
Scoring is based on the number of tiles of your color in each column and row. Having one tile gets no points, but they increase from there from getting 1 point for 2 tiles in the same row/column all the way up to 7 points for having all 5 be your color. After scoring, two more sets of 7 tiles are drafted like before and the game repeats with a play phase and a second scoring phase. The player with the highest score after the second scoring phase is the winner.
As is the case with every Level 99 game I’ve played to date, this game has a fun system. It plays fast, yet involves a lot of strategic depth and analysis along the way. This has smooth, simple set of mechanics that provide a game you can play to relax at the end of a long day but that also provides a lot of avenues for planning and strategizing. You can be totally causal and play to have fun, or sit down and have a strenuous battle over controlling parts of the grid. I love that this can fill both roles, and can do so in around half an hour.
The artwork is great. This is another thing I’ve come to expect from Level 99 Games. I understand this art isn’t for every gamer – it can be downright off-putting for some gamers – but someone who grew up during the NES and SNES eras of video games will enjoy this (just like they’d enjoy that aspect of Pixel Tactics)
The powers are where it is at in this game. Each of the four locations is different, and all 50 of the characters do something unique. That opens up replayability, since you are going to use a single location in a game and see only 28 of the characters (unless you get ones with the power to draw from the deck). You can’t bank on getting a certain character in the second half of the game because they may never appear. This guarantees that every game will have its own flair, as well as its own set of strategies that you’ll need to adapt to over the course of the game.
The drafting is so key in this game. My wife forced me to teach her without using drafting in our first game. Let’s just say she was gifted the second half of that game, getting several overpowered cards that she wouldn’t have been able to hoard if we had drafted. It turned the game’s state from fairly even to lop-sided in the final plays and showed just how important those powers, and the drafting, are to this game.
In spite of my love for the powers, they are not even close to being created equal. Sometimes the power of a card’s ability isn’t obvious until it is played, leading to moments of regret for allowing your opponent to draft that tile while you picked something that ended up being pretty unspectacular. This game rewards multiple plays, learning what the powers are, what they are capable of, and which ones you’ll want to target first during a draft. That’s a good thing, but it may not feel that way while you’re on the losing side of those hard lessons.
The scoring system isn’t bad once you get used to it, but the first few times reading the rules it just wasn’t clicking. It takes playing a round and walking through the scoring, one row or column at a time, before it really starts to make sense. I don’t know that there is a better way to make it intuitive, though. It is one of those that simply makes more sense once you see it in action.
The mid-game scoring almost feels pointless. You’re scoring a handful of points, single digits in every play I have so far. The winner in almost every game has been the person who was behind at the halfway point. It slows the game, adds bookkeeping, and seems to hold minimal impact. The only real benefit, which is why it gets a half star, is because it does let you see the scoring concept before the end of the game, allowing you to gun for certain combos in order to score effectively at the end.
While the scoring system itself isn’t a complete negative, the one thing I really wish they included in here was something to keep score on. There is no pad of paper, so you’ll have to supply your own scoring method and writing utensil. And with there being two rounds of scoring, you’ll need a way to tally the scores during play. Plus there are ways to lose/gain points as you go, etc. I get that leaving it out keeps costs down, and I respect that, but for a game like this it should be included. You need a way to track the score throughout the game.
I became a fan of Level 99 Games when I first saw Pixel Tactics. That style of artwork evoked childhood memories that I was fond of, and I was eager to dive into that game. Since my first experiences with Pixel Tactics, I have branched out to several of their other titles and am yet to be disappointed. Sellswords: Olympus is another fantastic 2-player only title from the company that provides a fun and rewarding game experience in a short period of time. Much like Pixel Tactics, this game is not suited for those who dislike conflict or interference with the other player during the game. If you let your opponent live in their own little “bubble” on the grid, you will probably lose. The game encourages and rewards aggressive play, tactical timing, and usage of tile powers to turn the tide of the game in your favor.
At its heart, the game is simple. You play a tile and flip any tiles of the opposing color whose adjacent number is lower than yours. But anyone who has played a game with similar mechanics will know it isn’t nearly as simple as that. You have to consider the powers on the tiles, where that tile is weak (and thus allowing the opponent to flip it to their side), and many other variables that reward repeated plays of the game.
Players who dislike “building” things, as one of my friends detests, will probably not like this game because you are building a 5×5 grid of characters over the course of the game. The placement – where and the orientation – of the tiles matters and one small mistake could be the opening your opponent needs to run away with the match.
Players who dislike drafting could, in theory, remove that part of the game and simply deal out tiles and toss one into the discard each round. My wife wanted to play that way in our first game and she ended up with a series of vastly more powerful tiles in the final round, letting her gain a one-sided victory. The drafting is important for balance, but could be discarded if you are willing to accept that chance could favor one player over the other.
All in all, this is a very fast and fun game in a small box. It requires a fairly big footprint, but as long as you have some table space there shouldn’t be too much issue in playing. Those who like playing with just two, and don’t mind causing your opponents’ pieces to flip, should definitely check out this game.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.