Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Andrea Chiarvesio &
Luca Iennaco


No. of Players:
3 - 5



The game Olympus was first released by STRATELIBRI in 2010, and this period still was the high-time of the worker placement games which have dominated the games market over the last few years. It may come as a surprise that only a handful of reviews yet have been released for this game, but the reason for this can be seen in the fact that that game took some time to get a wider distribution. After the success of Kingsburg a year earlier, the Italian/English first edition of Olympus sold out comparatively quick, and despite the fact that FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES released a second edition in English, it took until 2013 before the German-based publisher HEIDELBERGER re-released the game in Europe. In terms of the games-market, three years are a considerable timespan, and so a dominating aspect for this review certainly is the question whether Olympus can still keep up with newer products so that the rather delayed re-release of the game is justified.

As indicated by the initial reference to worker placement games, Olympus falls strictly within this category of games. It is settled in ancient Greece, with each player taking control of a small city state which is trying to win most glory. The players actions are decided by sending priests to the temples of ten different gods from Greek mythology, and these actions usually allow the player to gain resources or improve his city state in the one or other way. This may sound rather streamlined and well-known especially for seasoned players, and indeed many elements known from other worker placement games can be found in Olympus. So, the players may improve their city states in six different categories (culture, population, military, and the production capabilities of grain, meat and fish), and the advancements in these categories are interwoven with each other and the other mechanics of the game.


So, for example, the produced units of food can be used to pay for buildings, but a building only can be built if the player also has reached a culture level corresponding to the requirements of the building he wants to purchase. On the other hand, the maximum levels of a player's food production and military are determined by a player's current population level, so that these other categories never may be higher than the player's current population level. The population level also determines how many priests are available to a player, but its own maximum level once again depends on the buildings the player has purchased so far.

Advances of these different levels can be gained by sending priests to the different gods, so that Athene as the goddess of wisdom will increase a player's culture level, Aphrodite (the goddess of love) will increase the population level and Poseidon (god of the ocean) will increase the player's fish production (if Poseidon knew that his importance had been reduced to fish production…). However, apart from these gods which will bring increases of the different levels, one of the most important gods is Hephaistos, since he allows the players to purchase buildings. Each player has an identical deck of building cards, and if a player possesses the required amounts of grain, meat and fish plus the required culture level he may use Hephaistos action to erect the building. Buildings will bring the players victory points, but each building also possesses a unique function which will bring the player either a one-time benefit or a permanent attribute. So, for example an Agora is needed to increase the player's population level higher than 5, or a Harbour allows the increase of a player's fish production by one. The more expensive the buildings become, the higher will be their victory points value and the better the benefit they provide.

Okay, buildings with special attributes also are no new element in gaming terms, and so you may slowly ask yourself where some unique elements have been included in Olympus. For one, such unique elements can be found in the worker placement mechanism itself, since the players cannot simply send priests to the gods of their liking and afterwards collect all benefits. Instead, Olympus features an increased element of timing, since a player collects the benefit from a god directly upon the placement of his priest. In fact, the first player to place a priest with a specific god will gain a better benefit than all following players, and in addition to this importance of priority follow-up priests from the other players only can be placed with the same god directly after the initial placement of the first priest. This may result in the fact that the other players have to change the plans for the placement of their priests, since they might have wished to place their priests in a different order to profit most from the attributes of each god. All in all, this modified worker placement mechanism constantly requires the players to rethink their current options, and this happens at a scale which seems to be one step more complex than in average worker placement games.


In addition, Olympus features a level of direct player interaction which is unusual for many games of this category. Usually such games limit themselves to indirect player interaction which is caused by the fact that each placement of a "worker" closes this option for the current round to the other players. However, in Olympus the players may choose to send their priests to two gods which offer a possibility to directly influence their competitors. On the one hand, a priest can be sent to Ares (the god of war), and a placement with this god allows the player either to increase his military level or to go for a raid against another player. If the raid is chosen, the military levels of both players are compared, and if the attacker has a higher military level he can plunder resources from his victim (with the amount of resources being equal to the difference of the military levels). The other option is to send a priest to Apollon. He is the god of light and arts, but he is also the bringer of plagues, and so a player who has sent a priest to this god either may take some victory points or trigger a plague. Triggering a plague means that all other players have to decrease their population levels by one third (rounded down), and this may cause follow up problems with the military and production levels of these players since - as explained - the maximum level of each of these categories is determined by a player's population level. Before the effects of a plague or war are resolved the other players may opt to send follow-up priests to the same god to partly counter such an aggressive step, but nonetheless a well-timed placement with one of these gods may considerably infuriate the other players.

It is exactly this increased level of player interaction which makes Olympus stand apart from many other worker placement games, and in fact it is rather interesting to see how different the outcome and strategies of the players will be from game to game. In one game the players may engage in a more or less peaceful building competition, whereas the next game may see the players constantly trying to snatch some resources from each other. However, with the high number of included buildings (33 buildings are available to each player, plus 12 buildings which are unique and available to all players) many different ways to victory can be explored. Playtesting revealed no way to certain victory, and this is mostly due to the fact that the mechanism chosen for the placement of the priests differs a bit from "traditional" worker placement games. Here the players are invited to send follow-up priests to gain some "windfall" effects, and this often results in the players changing their plans to optimize their possibilities.

With the total absence of luck, the players indeed need a keen eye for possibilities which open up during gameplay, and they are faced with a tough optimization task which is increased by the high number of available buildings. A beginner may feel a bit overwhelmed with the choice of available buildings, but after a first game of try-outs and exploration all players should feel mostly comfortable with the playing mechanism and the available options. All this makes Olympus a game which can still stand its ground in 2013, and so it seems that the re-release of the game is really justified!

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany