Sailing Toward Osiris
Time: ~75 minutes
Times Played: 15+
A few years ago, I had the privilege of joining a group of playtesters for Sailing Toward Osiris, a light worker placement game with some resource management included. I wrote about that play through previously but now that I own the full version, I wanted to revisit my initial thoughts and speak on the edition available for retail. I will be plagiarizing myself for parts of this review so if you read the initial post, some of this may seem familiar but I assure you, I have updated the changes between the unpublished version and the one I own.
The Pharaoh has passed on to the afterlife and his funeral barge is set to float along the Nile river towards his bodies 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. This is 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 anointed the next Pharaoh.
Players fill the role of the governors 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 Monuments, which consist of Sphinxes, Obelisks and Pylons.
These Monuments are built using resources and the resources are gathered by Laborers. There are regular Laborers and Master Laborers. They come in three colors that match the resources that can be gathered, which are Brick, Clay and Wheat. Each resource can only be collected by the Laborer that matches it (for instance, a red Laborer can only collect Clay). Regular Laborers can only be placed in the area where the Pharaoh’s river barge is currently located or where it has previously visited. Master Laborers can be placed on any space that matches their resource (even those ahead of the barge).
Setup has players receiving their player screens, as well as the components that match their color. They will also receive two of each resource.
At the start of the game, all players 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 may also look in the bag and see which Laborers are left, giving them information that no other player has that may be helpful for the round.
Following the selection of Laborers from the bag, players will perform actions in player order. This will continue until all players have performed the actions they can or that they want. The actions a Regent/governor can choose are:
Harvest Resources – A Laborer is placed on a region on the board that matches the Laborer color and gains the resources listed on the space. Regular Laborers can be placed on locations where the barge is or has been and Master Laborers can be placed anywhere, including ahead of the barge. The terrain spaces on the board consist of two locations so later in the game, it’s a possibility that one of those locations is covered by a monument (and thus, the Laborer only receives the resources on the available location). Only one Laborer can occupy a terrain space.
Visit a City – A Laborer is placed on any City location and two City cards are drawn. All City locations are available regardless of where the barge is. The governor who placed the Laborer looks at both cards, keeps one and gives the other card to an opponent of their choosing. They can try and barter/negotiate with opposing players regarding this card as well. In a two-player game, the governor may discard the card for one grain if they wish.
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.
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 will receive one resource from the second governor. A governor cannot lead two caravans. In two- and three-player games, one Caravan location is blocked and off-limits.
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. Those resources stay on the board and are not available to players until the following round.
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. Resources paid to the market stay on the market until the end of the round, where they are then placed back in the resource pools. Those resources also block players from using that location for the remainder of the round.
Plan a Monument – A governor can select one of the available monuments by paying the resource cost for the monument. After paying the resource cost back to the resource pool, they will place the monument they hope to build on the monument location. No other monument can be built using that resource combination while a players monument sits on the space. If not placed by the end of the round, the monument is removed from the game and the player scores zero points.
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.
Play a Boon Card – Each governor is given five Boon cards at the beginning of the game Each has a different ability that can only be used once per game. The caveat is that each governor has the same cards and once one is played during a season, the same card cannot be played by another governor 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. The first player to withdraw will be the Regent for the following round, which allows them to go first. They will also take one of the withdraw bonuses listed in the bottom of the board. No other player will receive a bonus after the first governor withdraws.
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.
The retail components are top notch. The box itself has a vacuum sealed insert that has space for every component and card that the game offers. I’m a notorious bagger of components so you’ll see them still bagged in the photo below, but that wouldn’t be entirely necessary. The only issue I could see is if an expansion is introduced and owners of the two would want to consolidate them to one box. The box has plenty of room if you remove the insert but if you wanted to keep it, I don’t know that much will fit with the base game. Hands down, I think this is one of the best, if not the best, inserts I’ve encountered from a board game. It makes set-up and clean-up remarkably easy.
The wooden monument tokens add to the scene that extends over the course of the game and the resource tokens are a nice feature as they’re light and easy to pass along since they don’t stay in your possession too long. They match the Monuments and resources that you’re building and collecting and help flesh out the theme of the game more so than cubes would have. I had worries about the durability of the Laborers with their fragile looking bodies and limbs poking out but so far, none have shown any signs of wearing out or breaking. I thought with the way that they’re jumbled about in the draw bag that surely they would break but I’m happy to report that after a year or so of playing, they’re still in good condition. The board itself is large and clear, with players being able to see and read the symbols and action spaces from anywhere along the table. Since most of the action takes place on the main board, it’s nice that I’m able to sit at any angle and see exactly what resources I’m getting or need to give up. The board is only ever hard to read in later turns when Monuments crowd the river but that’s the object so I don’t mind it. The cards have a sturdy finish and have held up well. You’re not really shuffling them in your hand or even holding them for too long so they’ll see less wear then most cards.
The components and artwork help create a lively theme as the barge floating down the river makes the game feel like more than converting small pieces into bigger pieces. I may not feel like I’m competing to be a true Egyptian Pharaoh, but it does make me feel like I’m doing more than just playing a simple game and that’s really all I ask for, for reality to be suspended for an hour or more.
The rules are relatively simple. I believe this game to be slightly more complex than many introductory games, like Ticket to Ride. It is a step up but not a large one. The rulebook is clean and offers plenty of images to help clarify the possible rules. It might look daunting as it’s several pages long but that’s only due to the amount of photos and graphics that were included as aids and the text being so large.
Sailing Toward Osiris doesn’t reinvent the wheel as the worker placement and resource management seen in the game is very similar to the mechanics found in other games but what makes it stand apart from its contemporaries (such as Stone Age) is the fixed market and non-random resource gathering. Depending on player count, the resources available are static and once a resource pool is depleted, there’s a very good chance that it’s depleted until the following round. This dynamic alone adds a weight to the game as players will deal with commodities controlled by other players as well as interacting in a world where placing a Monument to score points may not be the best play. Having control of the market limits what your opponents can do and while you won’t be able to stave them off for long, it might just be long enough. Coupled with the stock resource distribution, Sailing Toward Osiris goes from an interesting game to a puzzle as players need to place their Monuments which in turn covers the locations that Laborers are visiting. If players rush the cheaper and easier to build Obelisks early in the game, it can create a shortage on locations to send Unskilled Laborers and drive the demand for Master Laborers sky high. It’s such an interesting conundrum presented by a game of this weight.
Where the game really excels is the tug-of-war and risk/reward opportunities that are available to the player. Do you spend your resources now to build a Monument with the plans of placing it in a particular location? Do you hoard your resources and cash out during the next round? Do you negotiate a trade with the player in first? The decision making is engaging from round one to round four as every action you take will directly influence your decisions in the future. It could be as simple as trying to place Monuments in a row or it could be about mathematically deducing the amount of resources that would be left if the player uses their own at the Market Place.
As a two-player game, Sailing Toward Osiris loses some of its charm as the negotiation aspect is limited, which impacts the City Cards. It also hinders the effectiveness of Boon cards in my opinion as you’re almost guaranteed to be able to play the card you want. For two-players, the board is tightened considerably which does make the placement of Laborers more challenging and helps thwart players from just staking claim to a location on the board. This doesn’t necessarily make Osiris a bad game at two-players; it just that there are much better games to play at two-player counts instead of this one.
Some of the same pitfalls impact the three-player game, as it can become quite easy to play Kingmaker. Players in the lead can easily be targeted or relegated as the opposing players team up to swap City cards and block building locations. This is in the spirit of the game but it doesn’t make for an enjoyable experience. If players can avoid playing the role of Kingmaker, the game is fun with three-players but I still feel like it’s still not a game I’m clamoring for at that count.
Four- and five-players is where the game shines. The tension related to worker placement, the stress as resources are depleted, the rush to negotiate a fair deal, all add to the game. Players will need to utilize all of the actions available to them, which isn’t necessarily needed for the two-player game (and sometimes three-player). Spaces on the board, for gathering resources and for building Monuments, are at an absolute premium and the game becomes a race as players try to lay their claim to Monuments and caravans and more. Boon cards show their value during the higher player count as the strategic decision of when to play them looms over each player. Play too early and you miss a spot on the board that you’re eyeing up while playing too late means someone else may have beaten you to the punch.
Due to the worker draw at the beginning of each round, the game has a set standard on how long each round will last. Nothing feels like it’s overstaying its welcome. I don’t ever feel like I want an additional turn either as by the time the round comes to a close, all locations are typically taken on the main board. Sailing Toward Osiris is definitely a game that rewards multiple plays however as players will better understand the values they place on the locations on the board and how best to plan their placements over the course of the round. It almost feels like a fantasy sports draft as players need to argue internally about when to reach for a particular space and when to not pass up a location due to the value.
With a full player count, games can run as long as ninety minutes but that only ever happened for us when we were introducing the game to two or more new players. If you have a group that is either experienced in playing these types of games or has played this game before, you can easily cut twenty minutes from that time estimate.
What endears me most about Sailing Toward Osiris is that every game is close. As I check our previous scores, there isn’t a single game where one player won by more than seven points. There have been games where a player vaulted out to a commanding lead by chance and hung on to win, but the players behind were still able to catch up and at least make it competitive. Going into the final round, you may be able to mathematically eliminate yourself from contention but that’s not necessarily unique to this game and the fourth round tends to be somewhat short anyways as players near the end of the Nile.
Sailing Toward Osiris is my hidden gem in the board game world. Board Game Geek has it ranked as the 3,927th best game and that’s a travesty in my opinion. The game is light enough for new players to not feel intimidated and features enough decision making to keep players accustomed to heavier games engaged. I highly recommend this game if you’re a fan of worker placement or resource management style games. I absolutely love Sailing Toward Osiris and hope to see the developers return to this game and provide more content.