English language edition
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Each morning, Odin, the father of the Gods, sends his two ravens: Hugin and Mugin out into the world to watch over the land. The players try to help the feathered spies along their way over the various lands of the northern hemisphere. To move the ravens, the players must play appropriate flight cards from their hands. They may also get help directly from Odin. With skillful use of the cards, a player can move his raven quickly over the land.
Correction to "The Magic Way"
The six magic way cards show either two land types or one land type and a picture of Odin. At the beginning of each race, one of the cards is face up on the magic card stack. At the end of a race, the player who has played the most cards to the face up magic way card earns bonus points. To play a card to the magic way card, a player must play a flight card without moving his raven or an Odin card without taking its action. The card played must match one of the two pictures on the magic way card (an Odin card matches the picture of Odin). The card may come from the player’s hand or from his auxiliary card stack (top-most card). When a player plays a card to the face up magic way card, he places it face up next to the magic way card.
Example: At the beginning of the game, the magic way card shows Odin and a mountain. Either player may play to the card by playing any Odin card or a mountain flight card.
The player places the card played face up in the space he reserved for magic way cards. The players should overlap the cards they play to the magic way card so that they can see how many each has.
This is one of my very favorite two player games. The race path is a great mechanism that I haven't seen in any other game. It is simple and simply brilliant. Games between two good players can be very intense and still be wrapped up in 30 minutes. My wife and I still pull this one out frequently.
My wife and I play a lot of two player games and she is convinced that Lost Cities is the best. I thought Carcassonne was the best two player that we owned. We recently received Odin's Ravens as a gift and we've played it several times. Both of us love this game. I think words like brilliant and great get overused when describing good games, but Odin's Ravens probably deserves both words, especially for a two player game.
It is a unique game with a clever "auxiliary stack" mechanic that allows you to set yourself up for a big play on your next turn if you are stuck on your current turn. It gives me the feel that I can do something positive on each play.
When we went through the rules for the first time, my wife questioned the Magic Way card and how it seemed "awkward" that you would play cards to it during the game. Both of us have since learned that this aspect of the game provides another positive play when you may otherwise be stuck and provides for some challenging decisions when you and your opponent have already played several cards to the Magic Way. Do you go for the 3 points by adding another card or will you need that card to win the race as you near the finish?
Let me start by admitting that I am a bit of a novice at games, since I have only recently (in the past year) ventured into this brave new world of amusement.
Let me also share the psychology that would determine my evaluation of a game. I prefer games that are easy to learn, don't play for very long, and are a mixture of both luck and skill. I am not a particularly skilled gamer and have a short attention span – read that ADD. I like games with a nice aesthetic and creative presentation in their artwork and pieces. The beauty of a game is something that I actually enjoy as a part of the process. I also enjoy games with lots of interaction between players - games that are conducive to smack talk and kibitzing as a part of the playing process.
I have purchased and tried out a few games now, and Odin's Ravens has been the greatest success in the above criteria for both my husband and me. We actually enjoy it more than Lost Cities, as it seems more interactive. It reminds me a bit of dominoes with a specific scenario and a few enjoyable twists. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in a two-person game more elaborate than a simple deck of cards might offer. We have really enjoyed it.
Nine random land cards, each resembling a domino but with terrains in lieu of spots, form two parallel tracks. The first player to get his raven to the end of its track wins the race, scoring points for how far the opponent trails. A simultaneous battle takes place on a randomly selected Magic Way.
Start with five cards drawn from your personal deck. Play up to three per turn, and replenish. Flight cards illustrate terrains. Move your raven forward by playing a flight card matching your raven's next space. Odin cards offer assistance; they may enable you to delay your opponent's progress or to advantageously rearrange land cards. Discard cards matching the Magic Way's terrain; you earn points for most discards when the race ends. You can play cards into a stack, neatly saving them for future use in addition to those playable from hand. Win by reaching the target score over several races. This game is an accomplishment worth crowing about.
Odin's Ravens is another in the excellent Kosmos "Spiele fr Zwei" series, and this time each player is racing a Raven across a continually-changing landscape with a little help from the father of the Gods himself. Thorsten Gimmler from Berlin has had only a few games published, but in at least two (Cape Horn and Pool Position) his designs have shown creative thought and execution. Odin's Ravens fits the Kosmos line perfectly in both length and weight.
The race course begins by laying out nine land cards, shaped like the Caesar and Cleopatra cards, with each showing two land types in a dominoes-tile format. This creates two flight paths, one for each player, and initially no two land types can be next to each other. Each player also receives a deck of cards which contains mostly Flight cards. These show a picture of a land type, so if my raven needs to fly over a mountain card, I will need to play a mountain flight card to do this. In addition to the Flight cards, there are also Odin cards that allow special actions including changing the landscape and blocking your opponent's flight path. By playing the cards needed to fly over the land types on a flight path, ravens advance and the first player to reach the end of the course scores points equal to the lead over their opponent. Races are played until one player reaches 12 points.
Each player gets five cards from their stack, and on their turn they can play up to three. "Playing" a card can mean placing it in your auxiliary stack, and as this builds you can also draw from the top of this stack. So, on a single turn you could play as many as six cards by playing three from your hand and three from your auxiliary stack, though the auxiliary cards can only be played in reverse order of placement (last card placed will be the first one played). Managing your auxiliary stack is a critical component of the game play and the player who does this best can both gain an advantage and better manage an otherwise random card draw.
The Odin cards are played as normal, but instead of moving a raven they allow a specific action. One type allows you to move either raven one space forward or backward. This is a good way to get over terrain for which you have no flight card, or to slow down your opponent. Other Odin cards let you modify the landscape by removing a card completely, rotating a card 180 degrees to change each path, or swapping two cards. This can be a powerful move, since a single flight card allows movement over a connected set of similar terrain. For example, if I can manage to chain together three forests by use of Odin cards, I can fly over all three with a single forest flight card. The remaining Odin card allows you to place an "Odin's Marker" in front of your opponent's raven, blocking their way. This must be removed before that raven can move again, and when played at the right time it can change the balance of power considerably.
Two other mechanics add spice to the game and lengthen it. After each play, a player can choose to lengthen the course by a single land card. With 40 land cards in the deck, races can get very long indeed as a typical strategy will be to lengthen the course when you're behind in order to have more time to catch up. Another feature is called the "Magic Way". These are represented in a set of seven special cards, set to the side of the race course. Each Magic Way card shows either two landscapes or one landscape and a picture of Odin. Controlling the Magic Way is worth three points when the race ends, and this can be significant. The Magic Way rules have been a source of confusion for the game, since the English edition offered a simple and less effective method for control. In these rules, a flight or Odin card can be played to physically take the Magic Way card and then reveal the next. Whichever player held more cards at the race end gets the three points, but in most games this quickly devolves into grabbing Magic Way cards in order to get four before the other guy, guaranteeing three points.
The since-corrected way is to "bid" for a single Magic Way card during each race. As one of the cards played on a turn, players can place cards next to the Magic Way card as long as it matches the land type and/or Odin picture. When the race ends, whoever has bid more for the card gets the three points. This works better. Either way, it seems as if the Magic Way cards were added after the original design but played properly they add a nice strategic element to the game and can make the card play more interesting.
Odin's Ravens is an interesting game that plays well but is a bit long for what you get. People have posted variants to shorten the play, but the easiest would simply be to play to a lower total or limit the course extension somewhat. The game moves quickly and turns don't take long, so this is not a serious issue. More important is the fact that there are good strategic decisions to make, especially in the card management, and there are enough variables to change the balance of power. This is a nice addition to the Kosmos series and a promising release from Herr Gimmler; let's hope for more in the upcoming year.