Odin’s Ravens

Designer: Thorsten Gimmler

Artist: Johan Egerkrans, Anke Pohl, Thilo Rick, Andreas Steiner

Publisher: KOSMOS

Muninn and Huginn take on the world! (Photo credits: Rob Hamilton@BGG)

Odin’s Ravens was first published under the incredibly popular KOSMOS “Spiele für Zwei” (two player) series. The series is still alive today even though it faces a lot more competition in the market for two player games. While it is no longer as dominant as it once was, I have kept a handful of these games in my collection. Among them, Jambo, Lost Cities, Times Square, Rosenkonig, Kahuna, Hera and Zeus and Odin’s Ravens will stick around my collection permanently. These oldies are durable and will give any new game a run for their money.

Odin’s Raven is a race game, both in terms of collecting victory points and also thematically. In the game, players control Odin’s two ravens: Muninn and Huginn. The ravens are racing around the kingdom, visiting different locations seeing who can reach the destination first and score victory points. The entire game consists of several races with the first person to score 12 points being the ultimate victor. Each race is relatively short and lasts perhaps 5-10 minutes. On average, the game probably lasts somewhere between 3-5 races though I suppose scoring 12 points in 2 races is possible.

Before each race, 9 terrain cards are laid out between two players. The illustration on the terrain cards are different for both players forcing both players to navigate their crows across different terrains. Both players have their own individual deck of terrain cards featuring different landscapes including plains, mountains, hills, etc. As to be expected, players will have to play a matching landscape card in order to move from one terrain to the next. If several cards with a similar terrain are adjacent to each other, then playing a single matching terrain card will move you across all those cards. The first player to reach the end of the track of 9 cards will score victory points equivalent to the difference in position between the two ravens. There are a few twists to the standard movement to make things more interesting. First, in the deck of terrain cards are Odin cards. These Odin cards allow you to manipulate the terrain by swapping, rotating, removing or adding cards to help yourself and hinder your opponent. One can also play Odin cards to put an obstacle in your opponent’s path which will double the number of terrain cards needed to move from one location to the next. These cards aren’t fancy, but will make things slightly more interesting for the standard play and move mechanism.

If the rules for Odin’s Ravens wrapped up right here, the game would just be very plain and likely forgettable. There are two features that I think flips the game from just plain to darn good. First, is the creation of the auxiliary deck. Players draw and play with 5 cards in their hands and are allowed to play 3 cards each turn. These 3 cards can either be played to move the ravens, start or add to an auxiliary deck or contribute to the Magic Way points. The auxiliary deck are cards that you can play in addition to the normal 3 cards to your hand. That means, if you have previously played several cards to build your auxiliary deck, then in your normal turn, you can play up to 6 cards in total, 3 from your hand and 3 from the auxiliary deck. Functionally speaking, the auxiliary deck plays like a reserve deck where you store cards you may want to use down the road. For example, if you see a mountain terrain at the end of your track and would like to reserve a mountain card currently in your hand for later use, you can place them in the auxiliary deck. Cards from the deck are placed face down and the order cannot be altered. So, you need to plan the order of how cards are placed. The auxiliary deck may sound rather silly and useless when you first read the rules, but it is a game changing mechanism. It converts a straightforward race that depends largely on luck-of-the-draw to a more tactical affair. Playing to the auxiliary deck requires discipline, a small leap of faith and rewards patience. For example, it is often tempting to play two matching terrain cards as a wild to move your raven one step forward when those two cards would be better served later on. If you play to the auxiliary deck and draw the required terrain card for your next hand for your raven to move, it ends up being more optimal for you to play the two cards to the auxiliary deck now. It is hard to swallow that delayed gratification works for a short race, but believe me, it does. There have been many times when I have pulled off a come from behind victory because I stashed my cards in the auxiliary deck. In fact, I recall being able to move 5-6 terrain cards in one shot by using the auxiliary deck. This mechanism makes the world of a difference to Odin’s Raven card play.

Another feature of the game is the contribution of terrain/Odin cards to a magic way point. Each round, a magic way point card that features either two terrains or a terrain and an Odin card is flipped over. Players can play cards from their hand or from the auxiliary deck to the magic way point. By contributing to the magic way point, the player that has a majority at the end of the race will earn 3 victory points to the total. I think this mechanism is added on to provide an alternate way to compete for points. So, even if you lose the race, you might actually end up winning more points if you can also contribute to the magic way point. I think this contributes to the overall balance of the game and making things slightly more competitive in the race for 12 points. Thematically, the magic way point is a little out of place (what exactly does a magic way point do for the ravens again?).

Odin’s Raven is a delightful little package fit for the KOSMOS two player series. It is relatively short, light and a tactical race fo rtwo players. The only minor issue I have is length. Each game consists of several races and if the scores for each race is on the lower end, then the game can last a few races too long. That is the main drawback. I think the designer recognized this fact and when the reimplementation came out from Osprey Games, I was intrigued. To my surprise and disappointment, the new edition decided to discard the auxiliary deck mechanism which I thought, made Odin’s Raven special. The magic way point system was also left out and the game became a pure and simple single round race game. To be fair, there are elements in the redesign which I thought were great ideas. First, the game no longer consists of multiple races and the track is lengthen to 16 cards with the ravens flying one direction on one half of the terrain and then turning around and flying back on the other half. That’s a great concept and incredibly thematic. Odin’s ravens were supposed to be his eyes and ears and acted as his scouts. It made sense the ravens would fly around the country to survey the landscape and return to report their findings. The Odin card powers remains intact in the new design but are renamed as Loki cards. Again, an improvement! That Loki would manipulate the terrain to make the ravens’ journey harder made a lot of thematic sense. Finally, I also liked that adding terrain cards to lengthen the circuit did not impact the main track but only creates a detour. Terrain cards are not inserted directly into the main track, but rather, added horizontally between two terrain cards on the side to lengthen the path by forcing the ravens to take the detour. That’s a great idea as well.

In all fairness, I haven’t played the new version of Odin’s Raven but there are changes in the new design that I like. I think the new design maybe decent, but I also love the auxiliary deck from the original. I wonder if incorporating the auxiliary deck in the new design would work as it doesn’t seem to require any structural changes to the game itself. That idea must have been playtested by Mr. Gimmler and discarded for a reason, possibly to streamline the game and make things less complicated. As it stands, I think I am fine with the original version, but regardless of which copy you have, Odin’s Ravens is a solid two player race game.

Final word: Good

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