I’ve always been a big fan of one versus one card games, the most famous of which is probably Magic: The Gathering. There’s little time or money in my life to keep up with expansive and costly trading card games nowadays though, so I’m forced to get my fix elsewhere. The recently re-released Omen: A Reign of War from John Clowdus and Kolossal Games might be just what I need.
With several expansions either out already or on the way, Omen: A Reign of War has been slightly updated in terms of rules and content, but completely overhauled when it comes to the actual production, artwork and overall package. As always, Kolossal Games has towed the line between cost efficiency and impressive quality, with a small box and components that look the part, but without the inclusion of any unnecessary clutter.
Omen is a fairly straightforward game that comes in at about average complexity, and as a strictly two player experience, it weighs in at about thirty minutes per game. The objective, as always, is to obtain the most victory points, with the key mechanics in the game being the purchasing and deployment of units onto three cities that sit between the players on a small, fold out board. Omen ships in a small box and when set up, the footprint is fairly small, so I’d consider it to be a moderately portable experience, whilst not quite being an actual travel game.
Despite this small footprint, there’s a lot going on in Omen, and it certainly makes the most of the powerful ways in which cards can be used to various effects. The three central cities will be the focus of most of your attention, and players will take turns to play out their units onto them. At the beginning of each round, the first step is to take any combination of three gold coins, or cards, and if a player takes only coins or only cards, they can draw a bonus one of the same kind. This step sets the tone for the rest of the turn, as it allows players to either hedge their bets or double down on whichever resource they feel most lacking in.
The actual units that can be deployed into cities come in five variants, including beasts, spirits, oracles, heroes and soldiers, each of which has its own unique benefits. Beasts, for example, generally have the colossal keyword, meaning that they count as two units (and can assault a city on their own.) Spirits tend to cause immediate effects when deployed, whilst oracles are weak in terms of combat strength, but have an ongoing benefit that makes it worth keeping them in play.
Balancing immediate and ongoing effects with the need to deploy powerful units to win the battle for a given city is a really key aspect of Omen, and there are other things to consider as well, such as the fact that beast cards can be discarded to provide an instant effect (but no additional power.) When combat is resolved, the more powerful side takes the victory point token, but the losing side will be able to keep two units in play, whereas the winner can only keen one. A colossal unit counts as two units, so a colossal unit on a winning side will always be discarded, which can swing the next battle in favour of the side that just lost.
There are a few other interesting mechanics too. Hero units, for example, are powerful in combat, but they also have a treasured keyword that makes them worth extra points if kept in hand. There’s also an offering step each round during which players can wantonly discard cards in order to gain yet more resources. Whilst players will be drawing blindly from a shared deck most of the time, this ability to discard, draw and take coins more or less freely puts a lot of focus on the decision making aspects of the game, rather than on luck of the draw.
Outside the main focus on winning combat in cities, there are also six feats cards for each player to target. These include the likes of Ares Feat, which focusses on amassing a large army of five or more units in a single city, or Artemis’ Feat, which asks the player to control a beast in every city. When achieved, these feats can be flipped over for victory points, and when either player reaches five completed feats, the endgame process is triggered (with the other trigger being that two cities run out of victory point tiles.)
Omen has a lot of theme to its gameplay, in particular for those who understand Greek Mythology. I haven’t played with much of the add-on content, but I can say that the additional content I have seen introduces even more deities, heroes and creatures of legend, in some cases from the wider canon of mythology that resides outside Greece. With that as the background, the potential for expansion is almost unlimited really.
Aside from the thematic concepts of placing monsters and heroes in direct conflict to win control of cities and claim the favour of the Gods, Omen also has beautiful artwork that really brings the game to life. Every single card is unique and exceptionally well penned, with enough detail to give players an idea of what they are looking at, but with a level of detail that allows the imagination to really flourish and complete the picture.
The tight focus on just three cities and the strict head to head nature of Omen give it a high level of tension that is only enhanced by the theme and the excellent artwork. The players have a huge amount of control over their destiny thanks to the way that each game phase is laid out. I also like that players draw from a shared deck, so whilst there’s a deckbuilding element to Omen, it happens entirely within the game and not outside it.
As a smallish box, two player proposition, Omen is a really interesting prospect. It has a lowish cost and offers a lot of potential for expansion, but it’s also an excellent looking game with a quality feel, and it is likely to impress anyone who plays it. Omen is very good head to head card game that offers a genuine alternative to higher cost mainstays like Magic: The Gathering. Well worth investigating further.
You can find out more about Omen by visiting their website.