Photos by Cassidy H.
Ever since seeing a few top ten articles and videos around, I have been struggling to figure out what my top ten games are. I have an answer for my favourite game locked and loaded because people ask that all the time, but to figure out my top games is a little more difficult. The boundaries are a little more fluid. My opinions ebb and flow rather quickly, and it is quite common for a game that I love and adore to fall out of my favour over time. These things change. They ebb. They flow. A Feast for Odin doesn’t. It is a constant. It sits in my brain in an area reserved for my top ten games with a few other titles, unmoving, unrelenting. Other games dance in and out, but not A Feast for Odin.
A Feast for Odin is one of these viking games that has come out over the past decade. Another drop in an overflowing bucket. Between the Midgard games, and the North Sea Saga, and Blood Rage, and dozens of other titles, it lives in a theme as overdone as zombies or Cthulhu. The theme for A Feast for Odin does itself no favours. Now, I’m a gamer with pretty eclectic tastes. I like games of all shapes and sizes, but I tend to be drawn to more involved games: ninety minute strategies games with good themes and better mechanics. Feast confirms my love despite its rather bland theme by having some of the best mechanics I have ever encountered. It also helps that it plays wonderfully at two players, but accommodates 1-4.
There is no good way to give you a solid understanding of the rules from an article because I bet you would stop reading it. There are rulebooks for that! And here it is if you’re looking for that! The rules are relatively straightforward once you see the size and scope of the game. It’s not simple, per say, but it is much simpler than it looks at a glance. If you have ever played an Uwe Rosenberg game, you’ll already be familiar with some of the mechanics (except Bohnanza – Bohnanza won’t help you here, reader). It has a spine of worker placement, using the mechanic we know and love well to create an elegant game. On top of the worker placement aspect, there is also a grid based polyomino tile-placement game. You need to excel in both of these aspects to do well in the game.
There are a few great innovations here which need to be addressed. First and foremost, we have to look at the board. This board has sixty one places where you can place workers. To put that in context, that is the same amount of spaces as unique spaces in Lords of Waterdeep, Everdell, Underwater Cities, and Viticulture combined. It’s plenty of spaces, but the game rewards you with a lot of workers over the course of the game, and you can place them in the different columns of spaces – the first column costs one worker, the second column costs two, et cetera. You can easily blow through ten workers in just a few turns. The sixty one spaces are the most intimidating aspect of the game, by far. In most worker placement games, you only need to learn ten or twelve actions. The game does a great job with iconography and grouping the actions to help make it easy to understand and digest. Once you get into the game, figuring out how another space works is quite straightforward.
The polyomino tile placement aspect is the heart of the puzzle this game brings forward. Gather your tiles, fill in your grid. Do this better, and you win. Easy. There are a lot of specific rules about how you are able to fill in the grid, but solving this puzzle is deeply rewarding. Green tiles cannot touch other green tiles and must be separated with blue tiles, money, or pillaged rewards. This is less straightforward and easy to mess up, so if you mess up somewhere, don’t worry about it. One of my favourite things is to look closely when people share Feast photos on Instagram – I can often find a mistake somewhere in the background. I find this process weirdly fulfilling.
Enough mechanics. Let’s talk about how the game feels. The game looks terrifying. More than sixty worker placement spots, surely it is ripe with analysis paralysis and whatnot? From my experience, no. I think that the sheer amount of options in this game does the players a favour and actually cuts down on analysis paralysis – because of how different all the spots are, it quickly becomes clear that many of the spots will simply not benefit you in whatever strategy you are using. It is not uncommon for the players to take drastically different paths through the game, and spend a lot of time avoiding that lovely moment in worker placement games where the other player steals the spot you need right before you get to it. You go through the game happily getting the spaces you want, hoping to make your engine work better than the other player, until absolute tragedy hits — they steal that spot. It happens rarely (at least in a 2 player game), but wow does it hurt when it does happen. Apart from games that actually remove that blocking element (Raiders of the North Sea, Coldwater Crown, Architects of the West Kingdom), I have never had a worker placement game with as few blocks as Feast. And it has never hurt so much.
The polyomino tile placement aspect challenges all the parts of your brain that don’t get engaged with the worker placement. Your pattern recognition, your spatial planning, etc. A lesser designer would not have been able to integrate them as well as Uwe did here, but the two main mechanics are so drastically different and yet so uniquely integrated. They truly feel like the same game, which I suppose is good because they are.
Uwe’s masterpiece A Feast for Odin is one of the most outstanding experiences I have had in board gaming in my experience. Every new worker placement game, every new polyomino game, every game with a viking theme: they all have to measure themselves up to A Feast for Odin in my brain. This magnificent game will firmly sit in my ebbing top ten for years to come. I have absolutely no doubt.