Omen: A Reign of War Review

Omen Reign of card game in play

So, after letting it sit in my closet much longer than intended, I finally got in some plays for Omen: A Reign of War. (BoardGameGeek link - it's apparently not on Amazon.)

In Omen, the players are in the midst of a mythological war that seems to be set in ancient Greece.  They are struggling to accomplish feats and overtake a few war-torn cities by using Soldiers, Oracles, and Beasts (such as Satyrs, a Phoenix, and Minotaurs).  Each turn consists of a few different steps - first is the wealth step in which you are allowed to take a combination of three cards or coins.  If you use all three of these choices to take the same thing (three cards or three coins), then you get a bonus item of the type you selected.  Next, you play hoards of cards from your hand into the three different cities.  When playing soldiers, they have effects that occur immediately, with beasts you either get to use their ability or play them for strength, and with oracles, they have abilities that occur every round.  After you are satisfied with what you have played (generally because you ran out of coins), then all of your oracle abilities occur.  Next, you check to see if you have accomplished any of the six feats (such as having a soldier in each city).  Finally, it's time for action.  You check to see if any of the cities are "war torn."  A city is war torn if your opponent has three units in it, or there are a total of five units (or more) in the city.  If this occurs, both players compare strength in the city, and whoever has the highest strength is the winner  - thus getting to claim the top card from the city (each city has four cards).  Whoever wins must remove all but one of his units, and the loser can keep two of his.  (Note: during all parts of the game, including this one, beasts count as two units, and so the winner cannot keep a beast.)  The last step of the turn is an optional offering - the active player has the option to discard a card from his hand in order to gain extra cards or coins (not a combination) equal to the card's offering value.  Play alternates in this fashion until one player has accomplished five of his six feats, or until two of the cities have been scored four times.  At that point, whoever has the most points (from scoring cities and feats) is the winner.

Omen Reign of War card game - war torn city example
A war torn city
Honestly, I have a lot of feelings about Omen; this review might be a bit tricky as I attempt to translate those feelings (that have been swirling in my head for a few days) into more eloquent thoughts about the game.  Either way, let's start like normal - with the pros.  The first pro for Omen is that I like the war torn rules.  Specifically, I like that they're setup to allow your opponent to respond, yet allow you to intentionally overload a city enough that it forces it to score immediately.  This is especially true early in the game, before either player has many troops on the table.  During those turns, in order to force a city to score, you may have to place five units in the city by yourself (which happens to also be a feat, so it's not necessarily a bad thing to do).  Later in the game, though, there are more turns when you will end your turn with three units in a city; either because that's all that you can afford, or because you don't think that your opponent will be able to take the city from you before the end of his turn.

The next pro that I have for Omen: A Reign of War is that I like the different unit types. I like that each type has a different way of being used in the game, and that each of these different types can be incredibly effective if used correctly - oracles can give you long running bonuses, soldiers can give you a one-two punch of gaining strength and an effect, and beasts can powerfully swing a battle for a city (or do some other ridiculous ability).  This diversity of types is a nice touch, and it is also nice that there are different Feats that can reward you for each of the different types.  (There is a feat for having one soldier in each city, another for having one beast in each city, and a third for having one oracle in each city.)  Granted, the downside of the feats focusing on having several units of the same type is that this adds a luck of the draw element to being able to accomplish some of the feats - which can be frustrating, since feats are one of your only two ways of scoring points.

The final pro that I will mention about Omen are the amazing combos that are possible.  It is really interesting to watch how some of the different cards combine together to make for incredibly powerful turns.  You may be able to play a soldier that allows you to draw two cards and force your opponent to discard two cards, then you can play another soldier that allows you to move the first soldier - thus triggering his effect a second time.  (And, by doing so, accomplishing a feat of forcing your opponent to discard three or more cards in a turn.)  If you add in another card that allows you to draw a card and steal money from your opponent, suddenly you've been able to cripple your opponent in both cards and money, draw five cards (yet another of the six feats), and get a lot of strength on the battlefield - all with three cards!  (Plus, you've refilled your hand, which helps set you up for the next turn.)  Again - watching some of these combos can be a lot of fun.

Beasts can have amazing abilities
And that leads us into the cons.  I mentioned "watching" some of these combos.  That is because Omen can be an incredibly streaky game.  Even in the combo that I just mentioned, it not only does powerful things to help you, it also severely cripples your opponent.  Because of that, there will be times when one player feels somewhat helpless.  You won't be able to do anything, your turns will be useless, and you're just waiting for your opponent to score and remove troops.  This can grow even worse if your opponent has a lot of oracles in play, as they have effects that occur every round!  So, if you are struggling to get anything out on the table, and your opponent has oracles that are forcing you to discard a card, and giving them a coin and a card every turn, it is very hard to feel relevant in the game.  You will wind up spending several turns in a row doing nothing but wealth actions and offerings, hoping to get something together.  However, once you finally do get some more meaningful turns, you might suddenly be able to turn the tables and have some insane combinations of your own - and hopefully your opponent won't be outscoring you so badly by that point that your turns are irrelevant.

My next con for Omen is also about combos.  Too often, executing powerful combos feels like a result of luck more than a result of planning.  Why?  Because the best combos generally come from getting to draw cards mid turn.  Let's take the scenario that I gave in my final pro.  On most turns, you will start with only a few cards.  So, first, you play the soldier that allows you to draw two cards and force your opponent to discard two cards.  This card is strong, all on its own.  Now, say that you draw the soldier that allows you to move another soldier - boom, you're able to trigger your original soldier again.  And thus you draw two more cards.  What do you get next?  A card that allows you to get more coins (or steal them from your opponent)?  Now, you can play that, which then gives you enough resources to play yet another card.  But what part of that was planned at the beginning of the turn?  Playing the original soldier.  More often than not, I felt like the combos, though powerful, were very reactionary.  I'm not going to say that everyone agrees with this opinion - but it was definitely a sentiment that I had after playing.

The last con that I will mention has to do with countering your opponent.  In this game, every strategy seems to have cards that help you counter them.  This is a good trait.  So, you might be wondering, why is it listed in the section for cons?  Because whether you actually get the cards you need for countering them will all be based on the luck of the draw.  Take oracles as an example.  Oracles help you in some small way every turn - they give bonuses like drawing a card, gaining a coin, or stealing a coin from your opponent.  Fortunately, there are several different soldiers that can discard oracles.  But, if you don't ever successfully draw these cards (or you are forced to discard them before you can play them), then you won't ever be able to get rid of their oracles, because they won't be forced to discard them by anything that they do, including scoring a city.  So, you may draw the exact same cards two games in a row, but if you draw them when you need them one game and draw them when they aren't relevant the next, then you will have drastically different amounts of success.

example of text in cards for Omen Reign of War game
Omen is very text heavy
The final thing that I will mention is something that you should be aware of, but not necessarily a "con".  This game is very text heavy.  I mentioned this same fact about Smash Up (though, because of additional factors, I believe I called it a con in that review).  However, I would say that Omen is even more text intensive than Smash Up.  Every card has a significant amount of text.  There are also a lot of cards, and not terribly many copies of each.  This means that you will be seeing new cards throughout most of the game.  Ok, that's not so bad.  Now, you have to factor in that several cards allow you to "search through the discard pile" or "search through the draw pile."  Uh oh.  Whereas in other games that do this you are either familiar with your cards (because it is a game where you build your deck before (or while) playing), or the number of cards is somewhat small (each person has a 50-60 card deck for example).  Not so in Omen - if you are searching through the entire draw stack, then you might have around 200 cards to look through, each with a large block of text on it.  And, if this is your first time to play, you have no idea what most of them do - which leaves you the options of either pausing the entire game for about half an hour while you read through all of them, or making a selection that isn't ideal, simply to keep the game going.  This is the balance of having a text intensive game - so it is definitely something that you should be aware of when considering if this is a game for you.

Overall, I give Omen: A Reign of War a 7.0/10.  I really thought that I was going to love this game.  In fact, when I traded for it, I was incredibly excited about getting to try it out.  But, for whatever reason, it fell somewhat flat for me.  Hopefully I've been able to solidify my thoughts well enough to help you understand if this one would be a good choice for you, or if you think it's one that you should pass on.

If you like games like Omen, you should also check out Summoner Wars, Glory to Rome, and Eminent Domain.

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