Orbis offers players the chance to be the god of their own universe. You will be immediately enchanted by the gorgeously illustrated components, but how does the gameplay compare?
Tools of Creation
The universes players will be creating in Orbis are made up of hexagonal region tiles. Each of these tiles are either blue, green, red, or yellow and all tiles have a barren wasteland on the reverse. Most tiles also have costs and effects which will play into scoring at the end of the game. Region tiles also have a level between 1 and 3, higher levels mean greater costs and greater rewards.
Beyond just building up their universe, players will also choose to incarnate a god - each of which has an effect. Most of these effects grant points for meeting specific conditions with your universe, but a couple offer immediate boosts when they are incarnated.
Every one of these tiles looks fantastic. The iconography is clear, the colours are vibrant, and each level has a more developed and intricate design than the last. Seriously. I cannot stress enough how gorgeous this game looks while playing!
In the Beginning…
Players start the game with nothing. Each turn, they will have the option of either taking a region tile and adding it to their universe or taking a god tile. Taking a god tile is a key decision since each player can only claim one each game – you have to make it count!
When claiming a region tile, you will select a single tile from the 3 by 3 grid in the middle of the table. Once a tile is taken, every adjacent region gets a worshipper added to it matching the colour of the removed tile. Any worshippers on a tile are claimed by the player who takes it and are added to their realm.
Worshippers are the cubes which are Orbis’ currency. Most region tiles have a cost which must be paid when taking them. Costs are always a set number of cubes of specified colours and can be paid using the worshippers already on the tile, or the worshippers in a player’s realm.
At the beginning of the game, most regions do not cost anything and will grant players cubes upon being picked up. Since, when these are taken, more cubes are added to the board, there are quickly more than enough worshippers to pay for the more expensive tiles.
Deity of Points
These more expensive tiles are where points will be earned in Orbis. To earn points on most tiles, players must fulfil an objective. These objectives are varied, but each is tied to a colour of tile. Red tiles, for example, are volcanoes which require worshippers to be removed from the centre grid to score. Blue tiles, on the other hand, are irrigation tiles and must be placed on top of a specified colour to score. Any time the scoring condition cannot be met for a tile it may still be taken, but the points are nullified.
The twist in placing tiles is that every region must be placed on top of a matching colour. This means that the order in which tiles are placed is important from turn one. The bottom row of a universe must be varied enough that the following rows can be flexible, but also placed in such a way that scoring is possible. For example, the irrigation tiles mentioned above have to be planned for ahead of time.
If at any point a player cannot or does not want to place a region in their universe, they may take any tile in the grid for free and place it face down in their universe as a wilderness tile. These deduct a point at the end of the game, but they can be placed anywhere and count as any colour for all placement rules. This means that taking a wilderness tile is sometimes a good choice even while you have valid options, so long as it will help you gain points in the coming turns!
My thoughts on Orbis
I was engaged with Orbis from turn one of my first game. The art style drew me in and the gameplay ensured I kept thinking about it after we’d packed it back onto a shelf.
Each decision has to be carefully calculated as taking any tile is granting your opponents more resources to play with. On top of this, you have to try and anticipate which tiles will be coming up and ensure you have space for them in your universe. Even more, you must have a constant awareness of which gods are available and know which one you are working towards!
A key component of the fun in Orbis is the central grid. The fact that the region tiles are separated by level ensures that the game ramps up gradually. The grid also gives a bit more engagement when selecting a region since not only the tile matters, but also its position relative to other desirable tiles. In fact, tiles from the early game often end up left by the wayside as more desirable options come up. However, these tiles will eventually become so stacked with worshippers that they are almost too tempting to avoid and can set up the player who claims them with enough resources for the rest of the game.
It is this combination of factors which makes the gameplay in Orbis so engaging. At first glance, the game could be comparable to the ever-popular Splendor. Players are building a tableau from a central replenishing grid which will eventually score them points. There are even overarching goals to score points like the nobles in Splendor! Unlike in Splendor, however, no turns are taken simply accruing resources. The worshippers must be planned around as much as the region tiles themselves. This encourages a greater awareness of what your opponents are doing. Will they take the tile you have your eye on? Can you afford to take an adjacent region to add worshipers to it? Does that adjacent tile also add worshipers to different coveted region?
These are questions you will be asking yourself constantly in Orbis, and it is all the more engaging for it. Unfortunately, as with any game with some randomisation, your best laid plans can come apart at the seams when a new tile appears which would have been perfect for you, only to see it robbed by an opponent before you get an opportunity to react. Granted though, this comes with the territory of having randomised decks. Without the randomisation the game would be significantly less re-playable and engaging, so this is certainly a forgivable criticism.
The one thing I keep coming back to with Orbis is how gorgeous it looks. The gameplay is engaging but isn’t necessarily innovative or mind blowing enough to carry the whole package. What the gameplay does do is amplify the artwork. Only being able to place matching tiles atop each other means that at game end, players will have gorgeous pyramids striped with lines of lush greens and deep blues. This in itself feeds back into the gameplay – you will never want to take a barren wilderness tile and disrupt the lines of colour, even if that is potentially your best option!
Orbis is a good game. The aesthetics make it shine far above its station.