Onirim Review

Released 2014
Designer Shadi Torbey
Publisher Asmodee (Website)
Players 1 (technically you can play 2, but really solo game)
Playing Time Physical: 15 – 25 minutes (mainly shuffling)
Digital: 5-10 minutes
Category Card Game
Solo
Hand Management
Set Collection
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Can you escape the nightmares?

Onirim is a game that players either know about or have never heard of. Like all well-kept secrets, not only is Onirim a gem of a game, it is also part of a greater universe – the Oniverse.

Why is it such a well kept secret? I think a big part of this is that the Oniverse are single-player games, and solo games aren’t given a significant push marketing-wise.

The Oniverse shares a common theme, taking place in a dreamscape universe. What more do you need to know to play them? Nothing. That’s something else that the Oniverse games share – you don’t need to know the theme at all. It is light enough for a superficial theme, however, go digging and the lore is surprisingly profound.

So what is Onirim?

If you want to get technical, Onirim is a set collection/deck management game. Make sets of three coloured cards with different symbols to unlock doors, unlock all of the doors to win.

Like all simple games, this does not sound inviting. But if you look at all great games, they all boil down to ‘You just do the thing’. The factor of what makes a decent or good game great is the extra feelings the game can give you, and Onirim manages to get into your head in very subtle ways.

All you have to do is open these doors. What can be hard about that?

So why do I want to keep reading?

As I mentioned in Last Week’s Gaming, I recently started playing Onirim again on my phone. Onirim has been on my solo playlist since it was released five years ago, and when I think of what to play next, it always manages to be on the shortlist.

Why is it always good to play? Firstly, it’s a known quantity that doesn’t ask a lot of time from me. These days, that’s always appreciated. Secondly, it has a free digital version that is spot on in terms of game mechanics and simplifies setup so much.

That’s right – for a change, I can do a board game review AND a video game review at the same time! And because the digital implementation is free, I can also highly recommend playing it to see how you like it.

Got a couple of minutes and want to challenge yourself? Onirim Digital is a great choice

OK, I’m listening. So what is Onirim?

According to the theme, you play as a Dreamwalker trapped in a dream labyrinth. To escape, you need to unlock all of the oneiric doors. Vefore you run out of cards. That’s right – you get to go through the deck once and once only.

When dealing with a random draw pile, getting the right cards is hard enough, but there are nightmares as well. If you are unlucky enough to draw a nightmare card, you will lose cards. The game makes you choose to discard the remaining cards in your hand or the top 5 cards in the deck. When you discard from the deck, if you draw a door card or a nightmare, they stay in ‘Limbo’ and are shuffled back into the deck.

I can discard my hand, but I need the green sun to unlock a door. Lucky I have a key that will beat the nightmare!

You can choose to discard what is left in your hand instead. This makes the cards you lose a known quantity, but sometimes you really need the cards in your hand, so it can be a harrowing decision to make.

Lose track of how many cards you have played or discarded, and you will lose. Get a bad run of drawing nightmares, and you will lose. Each decision counts towards a win, but the luck element has you dreading the next draw. It still surprises me that hundreds of games later (yep, I played a lot over the years), I still get that rush of excitement or disappointment as I win or lose.

I just need to unlock the blue door to win. But I have almost a 50/50 chance of drawing nightmares!

So that’s it? You just play cards out?

Yep. As I said before, just describing the game to someone makes it sound boring and question why anyone would want to play it. But once the rules all click (normally takes one maybe two games), you really start to want to beat such a simple system.

And again, the digital base game is free. You can try it yourself for nothing and decide if you like it or not. Yes, digital expansions will cost but it’s only a couple of dollars each, and by then you will know if you want to add new cards, powers and objectives.

That said, if you like the game I would suggest buying Onirim Second Edition physically. Why? It comes with all expansions and variants, most of which are not available digitally. Use the digital app to try before you buy, and see how much you like it for yourself.

The physical copy. So much potential gaming in those cards - and so much shuffling!

So what can I play Onirim on?

You can get the digital version of Onirim on Steam for PC, and there are Android and iOS versions as well. If the links don’t work for you, just search for Onirim (maybe add Solitaire Card Game) from Asmodee Digital and you can’t go wrong.

Final Thoughts

Onirim is a rare board game. It’s a highly abstract game that makes it easy to immerse yourself. While the core gameplay is simple, the physical version comes with expansions that let you scale the complexity to increase replayability.

Five years later, and I keep coming back to Onirim. I have that much fun with it.

But. Like a match 3/tap to continue mobile game, Onirim is a fun and challenging quick game before mobile gaming was a science. It’s not a campaign/legacy game, and yet it is a game that has continually pulled me back after long absences.

And best of all? You can try the excellent base game digitally for free. Even if you don’t enjoy digital gaming, the implementation is spot on. Also, the in-game tutorial is excellent, making the digital version a great try before you buy experience.

Overall
9/10
9/10

Pros

  • Easy to learn and play
  • You can set your difficulty/complexity with expansions
  • Digital version makes games lightning quick to get into

Cons

  • The physical version is a lot of shuffling and setup
  • High luck factor can put off some players

 

Until next time,

JohnHQLD

HMS Dolores Review

HMS Dolores Cover Art
HMS Dolores Cover Art
Released 2016
Designer Bruno Faidutti, Eric M. Lang
Publisher Asmodee (Website)
Players 2 – 4 (Really want 3-4 though)
Playing Time 10-20 minutes (About 5 min per player)
Category Hand Management
Set Collection
Negotiation
BoardGameGeek View on BGG

Salvaging goods from a shipwreck is one way to make a living.  Wrecking the ship first comes with a different name though…

Combining the design talents of Bruno Faiduti and Eric M. Lang, HMS Dolores was a game that I had my eye on for quite some time.  All I knew about it at the time was the name, so I was expecting a shipping game of some sort.

What we ended up getting was a quick filler game of negotiation and risk.  Like so many small packages, things are not always as they seem.

Setting the Scene

For such a small quick game, the basic theme of HMS Dolores is quite dark.

Players take the role of shipwreckers – thieves that lure ships onto dangerous coasts during bad weather to salvage the cargo.

Each turn will always take place between 2 players that divide up four crates that have washed ashore.  Feel free to talk out your strategy and wishes for how to divide the loot, but be careful.

The final decision is made by a game of Rock Paper Scissors, where greed will be swiftly punished.

HMS Dolores Components
Except for the manual, HMS Dolores is just a small stack of cards. Ditch the box and bag it.

Playing HMS Dolores

Setup is pretty simple but has a few steps.  Shuffle all of the crate tiles together, and deal some cards to each player (the number depends on the number of players).

Now, add the five message cards to the remaining pile, and shuffle the deck once more.  Finally, take the bottom 15 cards, add the sunset tile (the end game timer), shuffle this smaller deck and put it back under the deck.

Once this is done, you can begin playing the game.  Each round, there is a dealer that deals out four tiles on the table, and plays against the player on their left.

The goal of the game is to get as many points as possible, with the score of your highest item and the lowest item being added together.  This will be explained in detail later, but for now, think that you are trying to make as many even scoring piles of items as you can.

HMS Dolores Almost Setup
Setup is a bit fiddly as you need to sort out the cards, but the distinct art makes this easy

Looking at the ‘salvage’ on the table, you and your opponent decide how you wish to split the bounty.  In general, you will take the two items on each player’s respective side – but there are other options.

You could choose to go first and take one item from the board, leaving your opponent whatever remains on their side.  There is also war, where you try and take everything.

All of these options are freely discussed beforehand, but it’s what you present in the final phase that counts.  This phase is played like Rock Paper Scissors, and you have three options.

Peace (an open hand) means you are happy to let things stand, and take your respective halves of the board.  If both players take peace, everything is quickly settled.

War (a closed fist) means that you want everything.  If your opponent counters with peace, you have everything.  If you both go to war, everything on the table is discarded – no one gets a prize.

HMS Dolores Hand Combinations
Keep this page out for new players, but it's Rock Paper Scissors, with a thumb instead of scissors

Going first (thumbs up) means you wish to only take a single tile – but you can take this tile from anywhere.  If your opponent played peace, and you took from there side, they will also only get one prize.  If they played war, you pick first but they get the remaining three crates.

Harshest of all is if you both decide to go first.  Similar to a dual declaration of war, the crates on the table are all discarded.  Both of you will also have to discard a crate from those before you as a further penalty as well!

Once you have split the bounty, the player on the dealers left becomes the dealer, and the process continues until the sunset tile is drawn.

This is the heart of HMS Dolores.  Similar to the prisoner’s dilemma, do you watch out only for yourself?  You may get more than the others, but you could also lose everything as well.

Do you decide to play ‘straight’ and share a victory with others?  This makes honest negotiation the better play but leaves you open to betrayal.  How do you convince a player that both of you discarding a crate each will actually help you both?

HMS Dolores Typical Hand
How much do you want the salvage? Or do you want to wipe it and score nothing?

End Game Scoring

Once the sunset tile is dealt, the game is instantly over – do not finish the round.  Each player sorts their tiles into the individual commodities and adds up the point score on the cards of each item.

As previously mentioned, you then add the point scores of the highest and lowest amounts of stock, this combined total being your score.

For example, the top player has 3 + 2 + 2 + 1.  The highest score is 3, and the lowest score is 1, so four points total.  The middle scores are disregarded.

The middle player has 2 + 3 + 3 + 1, and scores 7 points – the two 3 stacks and the 1 stack.

The bottom player though has scored big with the bonus double trick.  They have 4 items as well, but each is worth 2 points – 2 + 2 + 2 + 2.  Two being the highest value, they score 8 points.  2 is also the lowest value, scoring another 8 points for 16 in total.

HMS Dolores Scoring Example
Scoring sounds complicated, but once it's been seen once it tends to click with players

Everything about HMS Dolores is about balance.  Having only a couple of items of equal value can lead to a decisive victory as illustrated.

Achieving such a balance requires quick thinking in negotiating the split, and going back on your word can destroy your opponents’ score.

Only want the one crate, but you know that any crate is bad for your opponent?  Convince them that you will both play war and wipe the table, then pick first and let them take the remainder.

Desperate to get rid of that one item that is throwing your score balance?  Convince your opponent that you want as much as possible and will go to war, so they should pick first to get anything.  When you both pick first, you can get rid of that score destroying item easily!

This is how HMS Dolores is meant to be played, and it holds a lot of appeal to me.  But I need to be playing with the right people.  Not everyone is comfortable with bluffing and deception, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t play HMS Dolores.

HMS Dolores Message Powers
I have skipped them, but there are 5 player power cards included in each game as well. I usually add them on the third game.

Forget the Prisoner’s Dilemma, what about the Player’s Dilemma?

If you play with ‘kind and honest’ player types, the cooperative puzzle of maximising scores has its own appeal.  It also helps to play teaching and learning games like this.  Players can listen to your advice without needing to weigh up a ‘deception’ factor and can get a fast handle on the scoring of HMS Dolores.

Mixing the gentler, more cooperative players with the more backstabbing kind is where I see games of HMS Dolores fall down the most.  Because you only interact with the player on your left and right, someone that always ‘honest’ or always out to mess with you can be disheartening, even in such a quick game.

And this is where I think HMS Dolores biggest weakness – you need to be with the exact right group for you.

Now this common among many forms of entertainment, so I don’t count it as a con of the game as such.  But you can easily spot the right and wrong group at the end of a game.

If the group played similar styles, they will shuffle around a bit to change player order and have another go.  If the group is too disparate in their gaming choices, the minority if not the whole group will shuffle off to other games.

HMS Dolores Hand 2
It's quick, it's fun, but the game is the same rough decision over and over again

Find the right group though, and you have a fun little filler for any occasion.

The other weakness is player downtime.  HMS Dolores is a quick game, but waiting for your turn to come around can take you out of the game a bit.  There isn’t much that can be done about this, but I tend to stick to 3 player games for this one.

Until tomorrow,

JohnHQLD
HMS Dolores

Final Thoughts

Teaching players HMS Dolores is pretty simple – it’s a variant on Rock Paper Scissors, with combination consequences.

Playing with like-minded players is a fun diversion, but playing with someone that enjoys backstabbing friendly players kills the mood for everyone.

I have found my favourite plays to be with people that are working to get the best score.  When I see a player pointing out combinations that help maximise their opponent’s score makes me happy.  This style makes HMS Dolores suitable for mixed ages as well, as you can help younger players optimise their set collection strategy.

Not a game that I will reach for constantly, but a game I will usually be a part of if it’s on offer, and quick enough to be a different filler experience for many games night.

Overall
7.5/10
7.5/10

Pros

  •  Easy to teach
  •  Simple premise allows for fast gameplay
  •  Easy to take travelling for instant filler game

Cons

  •  Negotiations can break down
  •  Some player types can drag a game out (e.g. Analysis Paralysis)
  •  Downtime as each round is only between two players

T.I.M.E. Stories and why it has dropped of my ‘must play’ list

Time Stories Box Art

How to take a sure-fire hit and do everything wrong

Near the end of January, I wrote a few lists to go with the start of the site.  Number 8 on my most anticipated expansions of 2018 were the T.I.M.E. Stories expansions.

Pay special notice to two words in that sentence – expansions and were.

As a series, I really enjoy the premise of T.I.M.E. Stories.  A gaming system with different adventure scenarios each expansion, the ability for narrative-driven deck exploration is limitless.

There is even the added benefit of an overarching narrative.  This was added mostly secretly a couple of scenarios ago, and I was really looking forward to seeing where Space Cowboys could be taking things.

But, there were issues.  I don’t mean the fact some scenarios were better than others.  This is just to be expected, especially when each scenario is essentially a different game.  I mean the general execution and apparent disinterest of Space Cowboys in general.

For starters, without trying to spoil things, there is a meta backstory of T.I.M.E. Stories has you making decisions on an external website.

This allows you to choose branches and see different story elements, with a story unfolding based on both gameplay decisions and on the spot choices.

In theory, this is simply amazing.  However, in execution, I was left wanting.  A lot.  Where this had become unlocked, I was slow in picking up the scenario.  And the site hadn’t been updated 6-8 weeks after the scenarios date to the scenario before.

Think of it like looking at the T.I.M.E. Stories homepage.  There are 2 more scenarios released with another announced, but the page shows none of this.

TIME Stories Scenarios 20180729
As of July 29, there are still two published scenarios missing from the Space Cowboys site

The other issue was the release schedule of the scenarios themselves.  To me, I would like to see scenarios released no more than eight weeks apart.  Partly, this is because I love the game and want more.  There is nothing unique about this – all fans want more.

But add the inclusion of an ongoing story behind the scenes, you need to be keeping to a stricter schedule.  You want players to be remembering the scenarios they have played, and be riding that “What’s Next?” wave.

The last official T.I.M.E. Stories expansion was Estrella Drive, and it was fun.  It released at the end of November 2017 in the US.  As is usually the case, I had to wait a bit longer here in Australia – February 2018 to be specific.

Wanting to keep with the story and having played the different scenarios with different people, I started organising three others to play the entire series from the start.  I was ecstatic – a new group that collectively had the spoiler of a deeper game happening.

So the call went out for players, with the idea of starting play with the next expansion was released in the US – the pirate-themed Brotherhood of the Coast.

TIME Stories Organiser
My game is ready. My players are ready. I am ready. Guess who isn't ready?

So remember I put out the call for a dedicated T.I.M.E. Stories team just over 2 months from when the last scenario was released.  Yes, it takes longer to arrive in Australia, but I figured as did many others that Brotherhood of the Coast was imminent.  Playing through each scenario maybe every two weeks, with some scenarios taking multiple sessions, ending up to date with the latest scenario seemed a no-brainer.

And here is the single fact that has killed almost all enthusiasm for T.I.M.E. Stories for me.

Brotherhood of the Coast will hopefully be released September or October this year.

Almost a year after the last scenario.  So much for the three expansions a year timeline – there will be one scenario released this year, with no official word of any following.

Now Space Cowboys isn’t the biggest of publishers.  They tend to make quality games, and ones I enjoy playing.  This lack of support for what could have been a genre-defining backbone of their catalogue has left a rather bad taste in my mouth though.

Now I will probably play through Brotherhood of the Coast.  It’s the pirate scenario – I really do want to play it.  But will I not be going out of my way to import it as I have many other scenarios.  I may not even start the entire series playthrough with the playgroup.

Fair or not the message from the publishers from early on has been a growing “We don’t care about this game”, and if they don’t care, why should players?

Yes, I will buy the next scenario.  But it will probably be my last.  Three years later, any good feelings and enthusiasm have been well and truly wasted by Space Cowboys on T.I.M.E. Stories.

Portal Games, on the other hand, has a history of caring about its community.  And I have recently received my pre-order copy of Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game.

Detective A Modern Crime Board Game
It's not the same type of game at all, but Detective has improved on the player experience that T.I.M.E. Stories promised straight from the get go

Now, on paper Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is not a T.I.M.E. Stories killer.  They aren’t really even the same concept.  There are two similarities though.

Firstly, it’s a cooperative game where all players work together in a common story that can change depending on the decisions made.  Secondly, there is a wider connecting backstory.

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game comes with five cases that I am likening to scenarios, and because I preordered I have a sixth case as well.  This means that I will be able to play everything ‘as is’, without having to wait to continue the story – if I am ready to continue, I simply can.  If I let so much time go between cases that I lose interest in playing, that’s on me.

Space Cowboys has let so much time go between scenarios, that lack of momentum in interest for the game is definitely on them.  Imagine your favourite television series, and having to wait months between episodes.  How much do you think you would enjoy a 12 episode series that takes 3 years to finish?

TIME Stories In Game
So simple and elegant, with such promise. But how long can just the promise keep you hooked?

T.I.M.E. Stories is a game that I enjoy playing, and will gladly sit with anyone that wants to play my copy or even lend it out.  But recommend it as a game three years later?  Not to buy.  A game that teases an intriguing metagame and just leaves you hanging?  Who honestly can recommend that as a good purchase to anyone.  I am sure there are plenty of people that will happily sell their copy cheap, or like myself let you play theirs at the very least.

And in regards to looking forward to the continuation of the series?  Nope.  Sorry Space Cowboys.  It’s a great experience (fluctuates between scenarios, but I am speaking generally).

The feeling I have is that Space Cowboys have created a textbook case on how to do everything you can to kill your own momentum and goodwill.

But that is all the bad news.  Next time, I will talk about my learning game of Detective: A Modern Crime Story, which has definitely taken the place of T.I.M.E. Stories in my playlist going forward.

Until then,

JohnHQLD

Mayfair Games, a publishing staple is closing it’s doors.

Mayfair Games Website Logo

After many years, Mayfair Games has announced they have sold their remaining catalogue to Asmodee.

The Settlers of Catan.  Even though the newer 5th Edition is known simply as Catan, this is a game like Monopoly that even non-gamers know about.

Back in 2015, Mayfair sold the license for Catan to Asmodee North America with the intention of concentrating on their non-Catan properties.

Today, after almost 40 years, Mayfair has announced the sale of the remainder of their catalogue, including Lookout games.  Lookout Games has the Uwe Rosenberg games such as Agricola and Caverna.

While the board game industry has been booming over the last few years and acquisitions and mergers have become almost a constant, the passing of a company that has done so much to help bring the gaming renaissance we are enjoying right now is something to be regretted.

At least with the sale to Asmodee, we know that these great games are going to remain in circulation for a long time to come.

You can see the announcement on Twitter here.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD