Sailing Toward Osiris Review
Time: ~75 minutes
Times Played: 1
For the past few years, my lovely city of Baltimore has hosted Unpub, which is a board game convention for unpublished games. Games available at this convention range from being currently available on Kickstarter (Dinosaur Island, at the time) and games that are just an idea. It’s a lot of fun to just play and talk games with like-minded people and the creators of these games. Over the three day event I probably played somewhere near twenty new games and one that I would like to speak about is Sailing Toward Osiris, a game that recently concluded its Kickstarter run.
With that being said, the version I played was still a prototype and I did see a few changes between what I played and the Kickstarter version. Due to that, any photos below may be outdated or were prototypes so please keep that in mind. There were also some rules changes so I tried to note what I was aware of but things happen.
Sailing Toward Osiris is a game where the Pharaoh has passed and his funeral barge will float along the Nile river towards his final resting place. As this Pharaoh had no offspring, the governors of the region will need to build monuments to mark and celebrate the Pharaoh’s life so that the God Osiris will look kindly upon the Pharaoh’s spirit as they head towards the afterlife. The governor with the greatest tribute to the late ruler will be the next Pharaoh.
Players fill the role of governor and over the course of four seasons (tracked by the movement of the Pharaoh’s barge), they will use elements of worker placement and resource management to complete their Sphinxes, Obelisks and Pylons.
Laborers are the workers that can be used to gather resources. There are regular Laborers and Master Laborers. The resources that can be gathered are Clay, Brick and Wheat. Each resource has a set number Laborers that correspond to it (so Clay Laborers can only gather Clay). Regular Laborers can only be placed in the area where the Pharaoh’s river barge is currently or where it has previously been. Master Laborers can go to any space of their resource (even those ahead of the barge).
So how is this done?
Over the course of four seasons (which is depicted on the map by breaks in the river Nile), governors will have the following actions. They will:
Obtain Laborers – The Regent (first player) will randomly draw laborers from the bag and that number will depend on how many players there are. These drawn laborers are placed behind their player screen and out of view of the other players. Once drawn, the bag is passed to the next player and everyone draws their laborers until the bag returns to the Regent. The Regent will draw all but two of the remaining laborers from the bag and put them in the Labor Pool on the board. The Regent can also look in the bag and see which workers are left, giving them information that no other player has.
Perform Actions – Starting with the Regent, governors can perform one of the many actions below before play passes to the next governor. This continues until all governors have performed all the actions that they can or that they want. The actions a Regent/governor can choose are:
Harvest Resources – A laborer is placed on a space and gains the resources listed on the space.
Visit a City – A laborer is placed on a city and two City cards are drawn. The governor who placed the laborer looks at both cards, keeps one and gives the other card to an opponent of their choosing.
Start or Join a Caravan – A laborer is placed on a caravan space and gains the resources listed. The first governor to place a laborer also places their camel meeple on the space to signify that they began the caravan. The second governor to place a laborer gets the other resources that are listed while the starting governor receives both spots. (I believe this may have been changed since I played and now the starting governor is only paid one resource from the second governor).
Hire an Additional Laborer – A laborer can be hired from the Labor Pool (that was populated earlier after everyone drew their workers). The cost of hiring a worker is any two resources, either identical or different.
Trade at the Market – Governors can make a trade by paying the market set (as seen on the board) to receive the corresponding resource set.
Plan a Monument – A governor can select one of the available monuments by paying the resource cost for the monument and then placing the monument behind their player board.
Build a Monument – Governors can move their monument token to a valid location on the map. Monuments cannot be built where existing monuments are located, where a laborer is located and they can only be placed on locations that have the appropriate resource amount. (I also believe that a monument that was taken in one season and not built in that season cannot be built in later seasons and is instead removed from the game. This did not come up in our game and in fact, we may have been allowed to build in later seasons just to get us accustomed to the gameplay.)
Play a City Card – Governors can play a City card and in doing so, they will either gain the resources listed on the card or they can utilize the special action listed.
Play a Boon Card – Each governor is given five Boon cards at the beginning of the game and each has a different ability that can be used once. The caveat is that each governor has the same cards and once one is played during a season, the same card cannot be played until the next season. Once a card is played, it is removed from the game at the end of the season.
Withdraw from the Season – Once a governor has no more moves to make or does not want to make any additional actions, they withdraw. I believe a change was made that the first to withdraw is made Regent for the following season. In the version I played, there was a space on the board where you could bid on becoming regent using resources for the following season. If this change is true, I much prefer it as having to use already scarce resources to bid on who goes first was a mechanic that we all passed on.
Negotiate – While negotiate is not an actual action or phase, governors are free to speak with one another and make declarations and/or trades. Just like with most games, future deals are not promised to be enforceable (ex: I’ll give you two stone now for two clay later).
After every governor withdraws, the season ends. The new Regent is announced, camels are returned to their governors, resources in the market and Labor Pool are returned to the supply, laborers are returned to the bag, played Boon cards and planned but unbuilt monuments are removed from the game and lastly, the Pharaoh’s barge is moved one river section forward. When the barge reaches the Temple of Osiris, the game ends and any bonus points are awarded. The highest score wins and that governor is the new Pharaoh.
At first glance, this seems like a lot to process but in actuality, it isn’t. I won’t go as far and call the game simple but you get the hang of things fairly quickly and if I had a second playthrough, I would have been ready to explain the game to any newcomers. I would say that Osiris sits comfortably in the range between light and medium weight games. There is more there than meets the eye but it’s not too much that players will feel burdened by their turn. With ten actions available plus negotiating, players can set their own destiny and there will be options for them to pick from; they won’t be stuck and pigeonholed into one action. The choices are vast for the governors. Do they gather more clay so they hold a monopoly on the resource? Do they use their Master Laborer early? Do they think an opponent will play a Boon card and if they do, should they use theirs first? Should you grab a City Card? But if you do, who do you give the extra to? Do you think anyone will return the favor? Add to that the fact that with the player shields, you never truly know who is holding what and it adds that much more to your action decision.
This game is said to play from two to five players. I played with a full table of five but I was given a quick overview of the two player version (which just restricted some of the spaces that players could move to). I thought five was great as it made every decision important and you had to be bold with your actions if you wanted to ensure that you were able to utilize them the way you wanted. There was almost no negotiation until the third and fourth season as we were feeling one another out but after the first deal, everyone got in on the action.
I see no reason this game wouldn’t be just as good at four players. At three and two, the regions and resources are limited and the idea is sound that it would work at those levels. I cannot say for certain that it would but the changes don’t impact the gameplay and everything is pretty much still the same. Would I play this game at two? I would but if I only had two players, I would pick a better suited two player game.
During our playthrough, we did have one player run ahead and seemingly win the game after the first two seasons but with smarter play and the end of game bonuses, they ended up finishing second and for the game itself, we all finished within ten points of one another (after a much larger earlier divide).
Something else that I thought was a neat addition was that the resources were finite. I have played plenty of games where the moment you run out of resources, that’s it for them but it is rare that ever happens. In this game, we had scenarios where all the wheat was spoken for between a player or two. It made the market and trading a hot commodity and everything is in constant flux. The rate you establish on the first season might be totally outrageous by season two.
One thing that Sailing Towards Osiris nails is the theme. This game bleeds theme. The components and meeples relate directly to the Egyptian theme and the art and color scheme really drive everything home. Even the verbiage of the game ties in with everything.
Sailing Towards Osiris just concluded its Kickstarter campaign and is aiming for the backers to receive their copies in February of 2018. I did not back this game (although I regret not doing so) and really hope I get a chance to pick it up when its available for retail.