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Saga Holiday – A Feast For Odin Review

A Feast For Odin is the latest big box release from designing behemoth Uwe Rosenberg, breathlessly awaited for many months and now, finally, it is here.  Frankly, we knew it was on its way because the box can be seen from space and has a gravitational field all of its own, known to entrap unwary gamers.  On the back of Fields Of Arle, Glass Road, Caverna and, of course, the epic Agricola (and others!), A Feast For Odin is the latest in a long line of Rosenberg games that refines and develops previously used ideas, a constant evolutionary line of gaming greatness.  So does A Feast For Odin deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as these extraordinary games or is it a step too far?  Or is it even – whisper it quietly – better than its forebears?

Vi-king of the hill?  Let’s see!

A Feast For Odin Board Game

The box is massive – poor little Hanabi has been drawn into its orbit…

Opening the massive, heavy box confirms what you already suspected, that A Feast For Odin bears all the hallmarks of quality gaming.  Four decks of cards, sixteen (yes, that’s sixteen) punchboards which will necessitate about an hour of your spare time, and, best of all, two custom plastic trays in which to store all your many goods tokens. So many in fact that they only just fit, and even that’s with a bit of creative storage.  The Vikings knew very well that first impressions counted, and it’s appropriate that somebody somewhere has realised that the same applies to games.  The boards are satisfyingly thick, while the goods tokens are just a touch bigger than I have found in other games, decently chunky – put the wood and stone tokens side by side with those in Via Nebula and you’ll see the difference (although Via Nebula at least comes with a fantastic insert while Odin has none).  It’s an impressive start.

Reward yourself with a pat on the back and a lie down after you’ve punched all those bits of cardboard and when you have your breath back you can get going on reading the three booklets.  Three?  Worry not, for this is less fearsome than it sounds and far from a recipe for confusion and disaster.  In fact, the booklets in A Feast For Odin complement each other in a wonderful manner.  The first gives you the rules, the second gives more detail on various elements in the game, including the cards and actions, while the third is an almanac, explaining why various things are in the game, and their places in Viking history.  Even in the rulebook Uwe’s cartoon alter ego gives advice about teaching, ways to learn, history, and even diet – again, it’s evidence of meticulous attention to detail.  There’s even a lovely remark about Queen Elizabeth II and her visit to Frankfurt in 2015, which made me chuckle.

A Feast For Odin Board Game

Cardboard carnage – and this is only part of what awaits!

All aboard for cardboard?  Time for actions!

For a game of this weight, both literally and in terms of complexity, you would expect there to be all sorts of exceptions and edge cases in the rules, necessitating running back and forth to the booklets. But, the bulk of the decision process in each round gravitates to choosing actions, while the other phases, such as income, feasting, animal breeding and so on, are quick and easy to deal with, barely getting in the way at all.  If this is your first encounter with Uwe’s more substantial fare then it will definitely take a while to get your head around all sixty plus action choices, but it is nowhere near as confusing and frustrating as some games can be, and the solo variant can be used to splash around a bit and find out how everything fits together.  Essentially players will probably refer to the rules to clear up ambiguities rather than to remind themselves what comes next.

A Feast For Odin Board Game

Lights, camera, (a millionish) actions!

At its heart A Feast For Odin takes the central concept of Patchwork and ramps it up several levels, as players begin with negative points and haul themselves back into positive territory by covering squares on their personal boards.  Players begin the game with one of these boards, but more of various types can be acquired as the game goes on, and the squares are covered with various types of goods which are gained via the actions.  These let you exchange and upgrade goods, visit the weekly market, go raiding, hunting, pillaging, raise livestock, build houses, explore the nearby mountains…and so on and so on.  Each action requires the placement of some of your Vikings, with more of them needed for the most powerful choices, although these also offer bonus actions, so yes, A Feast Of Odin is a worker placement game, but for some reason it does not feel like it.  There is a veritable cornucopia of choices on the board, so many that blocking between players, even at the highest player count, is rare rather than de rigeur, accidental more often than intentional, and in any case there is always another decent choice available.  There are also some genuinely lovely touches – if you fail in the hunting or pillaging actions (the dice hate you too, right?) then you receive items in consolation which will help you to succeed the next time you take those actions.  Or when sending your Vikings off to explore their boat is placed on your feast table because there are now fewer ravenous mouths to feed.  Or the way that you can lose an animal when it gives birth (rare but possible).  All these small details turn A Feast For Odin from a big pile of cardboard into a genuine joy to explore, and it really does feel like exploration.

A Feast For Odin Board Game

Randomness is limited and easily mitigated. The start player moose is not a-moosed, though…

Playing Odin is easy!  Playing well takes more time…

A Feast For Odin Board Game

Each round passes by fairly painlessly.

It takes a little while to become au fait with the iconography, but not long (a play and a bit in my case), and there are one or two small rules that might be forgotten here and there, but for a game of this complexity and weight the learning process is commendably smooth and easy.  Playing A Feast Of Odin well rather than competently is a completely different matter, though, and it was only several rounds into my first game that I finally felt that I was beginning to discern some kind of strategic vista and not just flailing around aimlessly, and even after writing this review I think it will take several more plays to become proficient.

Certainly, if you have experienced Agricola or Fields Of Arle then you will have a decent idea of how A Feast Of Odin is going to play out, although it definitely has the wide-open-spaces feel of the latter rather than the restricted space of the former.  In fact, even if you are new to Uwe and have only played the much lighter Patchwork it really should be easier than you might expect.

Add to the approval?  Or be a voice of dissent?

It has been a long time since I have been so excited to see a game set up and ready to go for the first play, providing me with a genuine “Oh the possibilities!” moment, and it helps that it looks so inviting and polished as well.  Whether you end up liking A Feast For Odin or not, you know that you are going to get a heavily tested and polished product for what is admittedly a decent amount of money to spend on a game, and not just flimsy bits of card, an indecipherable rule book and some plastic miniatures with snapped off bases.  Better still, it is going to take many, many plays before you feel that you have seen everything A Feast For Odin has to offer.  The sheer number of occupation cards (three decks) and options in each turn practically guarantee it, not to mention the solo option and the possibility of a shorter game.

A Feast For Odin Board Game

Wonderful detail everywhere you look!

It is going to be really difficult not to join the massive chorus of approval that has greeted A Feast For Odin, so I am going to go hunting for some negatives, just to be picky.  Well…um…you might find the decision space too open and…um…it might be a bit complicated and…err…um…you might not like Vikings, I guess, but then there’s really no need to go pillaging if you don’t want to.  You could always stay at home and focus on livestock instead, and that is one of the many things that make A Feast For Odin so great, and what it has in common with Rosenberg’s other heavy hitters.  While we envisage Vikings out and about in their longships discovering new lands and putting the fear of Odin into all they encountered, plenty of them stayed behind and did other things, including crafting, trading and what have you, and the option to do just that is available in the game.  Fancy yourself as a purveyor of fine jewellery in Viking times?  Do it!  Would you rather be Farmer Sven?  Go right ahead!  Or do you want to strike out, discover and colonise new lands and reap the financial and agricultural benefits?  Be my guest!

The only – and I mean the only – criticism I have of A Feast For Odin is a personal one, and it is that I prefer the stresses of Agricola when it comes to decisions, the fear that somebody else is going to swipe the only action I really want. But that is personal inclination rather than anything amiss with the product itself. So, be aware that if you like pressured games and obstructive interaction you are likely to feel the same way.  A Feast For Odin certainly qualifies as one of Rosenberg’s sandbox games, and I cannot deny that it is a liberating experience to be able to say “I wonder what will happen if I do that” and be able to try it without your entire family being reduced to begging and losing you the game.  Having said that, if you have doubts about dropping a large amount of money blind on A Feast For Odin but somebody near you has this game then you should definitely play a round or two to get the feel of it, and if you are new to this kind of experience you may very well have that kind of Damascene conversion I had when I first played Agricola.

A Feast For Odin Board Game

Double-sided boards for different player counts and game versions.

Evolution or revolution?  Depends on what you already know!

Many people are justifiably going to wonder if A Feast For Odin is better than all those other Rosenberg games and if it is worth obtaining if they already own the complete set.  Well, to answer the first point, the evolutionary nature of Rosenberg’s recent trajectory means that any notion of “better” is going to be slight, but it may well be.  As to whether you need it if you already have, say, Fields Of Arle, then it really comes down to how many big box Rosenbergs you feel is enough.  Any rational human (but that’s not us, right?) could happily spend their gaming life with only two or three of these in their collection, and for me they are Agricola rather than Caverna, Glass Road and now A Feast For Odin, and even then I wonder if that is one too many, simply because there is so much to explore in each of these.  So if concerns of price, time or space are an issue then think carefully before dropping your money on this if you already have something similar, because, yes, it is brilliant, but it is refinement and evolution rather than big bang originality.

A Feast For Odin Board Game

Don’t just sit there, raid something!

Undeniably and spectacularly, though, with A Feast For Odin Rosenberg must surely have dispelled any doubts that he is among the very finest game designers out there.  Naysayers may cite the similarities between games, but those games are all at the top of the tree, and let’s not forget Bohnanza or the much underrated Babel.  Whether big or small, light or heavy, you are never going to get something shoddily slapped together over a weekend.  A Feast For Odin is a simply fantastic piece of work, polished from start to finish until it positively radiates light and joy, and any serious gamer with a penchant for this type of game should welcome these Vikings into their home with open arms.  You will like this less if you prefer conflict and stress on your table, but this is still a great game, and a wonderful solo experience too.  I know I’ll probably be told that I am following the horde, but sometimes there is logic in the madness of crowds, and personally I cannot find any reason to give this epic in its own right anything other than 10 out of 10, but you should deduct half a mark from that for each big box Rosenberg you already own, and a whole point if Fields Of Arle is on your shelf.

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Nick O'Neill

I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and i'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.

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