Posted by Damon O'Hanlon
Number of Players: 2
Ages: 10+ officially, clever 8 year olds could keep up
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Ever wish you could fly? Your wings would surely get a workout if you were one of Odin's ravens. In Norse mythology, he would rise each morning and send his two ravens out to watch over the world. In Odin's Ravens, you play as one of those two ravens, either Hugin or Mugin. But you're not just looking out for the world — you have to beat the other guy. It's a race to the finish.
When you begin the game, the path is actually a series of nine cards laid out in front of your little ravens. Each card has a landscape pictured on it: River, snow, forest, hills, or mountains.
In your hand you also have cards with landscape pictures on them. On your turn, if there's a mountain in front of your raven, you simply play a mountain card from your hand to move forward.
If there are two or three mountains in front of your raven (or more), you can move your raven across all of them simply by playing a single mountain card! But what if you don’t have any mountain cards at all? In that case, to continue moving forward you can play two cards of another type, such as two hills or two forest cards. You can play up to three cards from your hand. At the end of your turn, you draw back up to a full hand of six cards, and can also decide whether to add one more landscape card to the path, making the game slightly longer for both players.
When your raven or the raven of your opponent reaches the the last landscape card, the round is over. The winner gets a point for every landscape card their raven was ahead by at the end of the race.
At the end of the round, if either player has twelve points, the game is over and that player is the winner. Otherwise, you play again until someone has accumulated twelve points.
It's a simple premise, but Odin's Raven has several little twists to keep the game fresh and engaging. First of all, you can only play three cards from your hand on your turn, but not all those cards have to be played to move your raven forward. You can also play cards face down in a stack. On subsequent turns, you can play the normal three cards from your hand plus up to three cards from your stack. But there’s a catch: You have to play them in order, there’s no rearranging the stack. So you could play up to six cards on a single turn (three from your hand and three from your stack), but it requires a decent bit of planning.
Instead of playing cards to move their raven forward, a player can also play cards to the 'Magic Way'. At the beginning of the game, a Magic Way card is drawn that will have two landscapes pictured on it, such as mountains and hills. This means that the only cards you can play to the Magic Way this round are, you guessed it, mountains and hills.
At the end of the race, whichever player has played more cards to the Magic Way gets three points, no matter whether they won or lost the race. So you might win the race by a point or two, but the other player still gets three points because they played all those Magic way cards. (A really useful strategy if you find yourself falling behind.)
Probably the best twist, though, in Odin’s Ravens is the powerful 'Odin Cards'. These are cards you play for their special powers. These special powers let you do things like move your opponent’s raven backward, switch landscape cards around, or make it twice as expensive for your opponent to move forward by placing the dreaded ‘Odin Marker’ in their path. Using the Odin Cards is great fun, but requires you to make a decision. Each Odin Card has two powers listed on it, but you can only play one power or the other. For instance, you could move your own raven forward, or your opponent’s back, but not both.
There are a lot of strong points to Odin’s Ravens. For starters, the artwork and design are fantastic. Every color is rich and vibrant, whether it’s the leafy green forests or the pink sky hanging over a snowy plains. Much like some of my favorite books from childood, it feels almost as if there’s a subtle call to adventure in every illustrion. It's so inviting you just want to climb in and explore.
In any board game closet dominated by intricate games, Odin’s Ravens is refreshingly straightforward. It certainly won’t take you twenty minutes to teach the game to a new player, and that’s nice, especially since the game itself also doesn’t take too long to play. I usually finish a game, box opened to box closed, within 30 or 40 minutes.
A lesser game might've gone with cheap plastic pieces for the ravens, but Odin’s Ravens uses attractive wood that feels nice in your hand. Of course, the game is mostly cards, but these aren’t cheapo cards either. They’re on a decently thick card stock sporting a pleasant texture. One can even appreciate the box’s design. Every component has a neat, snug place to sit, just more evidence that everything about this game got some real thought put into it.
Odin’s Ravens does get minus points for a few reasons. When you first pick up the game, the instructions are a little wordy. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not particularly confusing. They just err on the side of over-explaination. Also, because of the way cards get added to the path, Odin’s Ravens can take up a lot of space. Unless you have a super long table, you're likely to find yourself shuffling cards around quite a bit. It wouldn't be practical to play Odin's Raven's on an uneven surface, such as on the floor of a camping tent, or while sitting on a picnic blanket.
Finally, all the little options that exist give you a lot to think about on your turn, but you have no real knowledge of your opponent’s planning. So while you can certainly make chaos for one another (fun chaos, I might add), there's no deep strategizing going on. Odin’s Ravens is a great change of pace game, but it probably won’t bring you back night after night.
Of more concern to most people will be the price of Odin’s Ravens. If you can find a copy of this well-liked game these days, it’s often listed for $40 or more. Yikes!—Considering how little there is to the game...
Still, if you’re looking for a board game that’s fun, quick, and diverting, Odin’s Ravens should be magically satisfying.