If you thought all board gamers were overweight, lazy and weak, then think again after you look at this box! Granted I've not hit the gym much this month (new gym opening in Nov at work so I'm biding my time), but I can always just do 20 reps with this game and that's my biceps trained for the day! A Feast for Odin is a recent monstrosity from the biggest lover of resource management "feed your people" games, Uwe Rosenberg.
He's also known for having a particular obsession with "Tetris" tile laying games such as Patchwork and Cottage Garden. So the next bright idea is to combine the two into one giant beast of a game, where not only do you have to contend with resource management and feeding your people, but you also more grids than you can handle for laying tiles down in the most efficient way possible.
The result is a giant box full of tiles, boards and tokens that weighs a ton and has a price tag to match. At first glance it looks like it's going to be a heavy, involved beast of a game to learn, play and teach. After several games, does it indeed match expectations? Let's gloss over the fact that Vikings is a theme that is horrendously overused, overrated and frankly needs to be put down for a while in favour of something more original and continue on.
From Z-Man Games
In this epic game, command a band of Vikings to trade, hunt, raid, pillage and plunder in search of wealth and glory for your tribe. A Feast for Odin is a saga in the form of a board game, from acclaimed designer Uwe Rosenberg. In this strategic worker placement game for one to four players, you will experience the Viking way of life. Each player explores new territories—and raids the villages they find there—to increase their wealth and glory, while also taking part in day-to-day activities such as gathering food to feed their band of hungry Vikings. In the end, the player whose possessions carry the greatest value is the winner.
Delve into the land of Vikings as you determine which tasks your band will perform. Send some of your Vikings to produce goods such as wool, spices and silver, then send others to trade these goods for more valuable resources. Or send a ship to explore new lands, adding more boards—and even more options—to your home board. Your goal is to fill your home board with a horde of goods collected from the activities chosen. The goods tiles come in different sizes, however, so make sure you can find room for them on your board. By placing tiles strategically, you can cover spaces that reduce your final score and raise your income to increase your wealth.
With an entire action board’s worth of possibilities each round, every new game presents unique challenges, opportunities, and paths to victory. Take command of your Vikings, sail into the unknown, and write your own saga in A Feast for Odin!
Enough Plunder for a Whole Viking Tribe
Opening the massive, heavy box confirms what you already suspected, that A Feast For Odin is packed full of stuff to the point where you'll need a stiff drink after punching everything out from the 16 (YES 16) punch boards and four decks of cards. You get given two token trays to store a lot of the resources, but they're very thin from a height perspective and everything only just seems to fit.
There's no insert at all in the box which is going to make set-up and tear down fun, but eventually I made the investment and bought a custom wooden insert for my copy. It's such a huge improvement and well worth the expense - after all you've already sacrificed Xmas presents this year to afford this game right?
Once you've conquered the wall of cardboard from a physical perspective, you can then test your mind by delving into the three rule books.........THREE?!?! Yes, you've got a basic rule book, then a more detail rules reference booklet and finally an Almanac which explains why various things are in the game and their places in Viking history. This is all well and good and works from a theme perspective, but how many of you owners of the game have actually bothered to read this book in full? Or let new players read it in advance of teaching the game? You'll do exactly what I and many others did and that's gun for the main rules.
And by Odin's Beard when you do, you'll be afraid. . . . very afraid. There are a ton of rules here with a book that is not bad, but not the most intuitive either - hope you like text! You need to be able to process all the different options in the game, how the boards work, what all the icons are, how to feed your people, how income works and THEN you have to know what all the 60+ action spaces on the board do.
Even if you're able to conquer all that, I don't envy you if you then have to teach this game to new players, it is a nightmare and casual gamers need not apply without warning. Accept for your first few games that the setup and rules teaching is going to take you a long time on top of the three hour expected play time.
My best recommendation? Play the solo mode a couple of times first to really integrate the rules into your brain. It's not exactly like how a normal game plays out as you have neutral workers, but for the most part you'll learn everything you need to know. And of course it's a very enjoyable experience as this is a fairly multiplayer solitaire affair at the end of the day. Failing that, go watch a video on the subject, though sorry everyone, Rodney Smith hasn't got one for this game.
There is a Good Side to all this Pillaging
A Feast For Odin takes the central concept of Patchwork and ramps it up to Level 20, as players begin with negative points, which they then have to cover up in order to bring themselves back into the black. Players begin the game with one of these boards, but more of various types can be acquired as the game goes on, and the squares are covered with various types of goods which are gained via the 60+ actions on that really long, scary board you've tried not to look at so far.
These let you exchange and upgrade goods and livestock, visit the market, go raiding, hunting, build warehouses, sheds and houses, explore the nearby mountains, the list just goes on and on. Each action requires the placement of some of your Vikings, with more of them needed for the most powerful choices.
A Feast Of Odin is a worker placement game, but it does not feel like it at times. The choices available are overwhelming, so many that blocking between players is rare even at the highest player count. It's definitely got the feeling of a sandbox game where you can pretty much do what you want, though whether this means you're playing well remains to be seen.
It's going to take a few games for you to grasp A Feast for Odin fully, a hallmark of a good strategy title. However it's not all good though as there are many times, especially if you're new to the game, where you'll feel like you're just wandering aimlessly with no clear goal. I'll admit I tend not to explore new lands as I never seem to end up with enough tiles to make it worth my while.
I'm a sucker for variety as well and there is definitely a ton here. There's plentiful paths to victory and certain aspects of the game, such as the occupation cards, you'll barely tap into in one game. You've got multiple decks of them and yet you might see, what 5-10 of them in a game if you're lucky? Whether they are fully balanced is almost irrelevant as you'll never play through them all in your lifetime.
It can't be denied that even though this is a long game and it has a sheer cliff as a learning and teaching curve, A Feast for Odin offers plenty to satisfy the heavy Euro gamer within me (and yes he does exist even though I think shorter games tend to be better).
Tetris is not Thematic
Theme can be said to be in the eye of the beholder, but the fact I'm seeing so many reviewers overlook this aspect and call this game wonderfully thematic strikes me as crazy. Let's be honest, the theme is a little thin when you think about it. Oh you get a big shiny Almanac with historical data about each of the various elements of the game, but are you going to read this to all the players before you start? Have you even sat down and read it all yourself yet?
There is no doubt that Uwe Rosenberg has a deep passion for the subject matter and it's reflected in that book, but you forget all of that when playing the game. I played Lisboa recently and that had the same problem. You can tell everything on the table has a historical reason for being there, kudos to such dedication by the designer, but it does nothing to portray a fun theme during gameplay and requires you to undergo a giant history lesson to understand it all.
Remember you're laying out tiles in Tetris style at the end of the day. That in itself is not thematic no matter what spin you put on it. Patchwork, Cottage Garden, Barenpark - do ANY of those games feel thematic when you play them? At no point do I feel I'm a Viking going out and pillaging or hunting for my tribe or exploring new lands - there is too much disconnect from knowing that I'm grabbing that sword relic instead of the giant crown purely because it slots into that T-shaped gap on my board nicely.
I didn't know Vikings were so keen on interior design! Even feeding your people doesn't make thematic sense here as you're trying to have the most horizontal food items possible to fill your table. It works fine from a bizarre puzzle aspect, but from a theme aspect, it seems like a glossy veil at best.
Verdict on A Feast for Odin
There is a lot in this box that's positive; from the amount of options and paths to victory you can take, to the sheer volume of components and boards. Certainly few Heavy Euro fans are going to walk away from this one feeling disappointed providing they aren't looking for a warfare style Viking experience.
The whole game feels like one giant puzzle and even though the other players might as well not be there, you'll be engaged for the most part in covering your boards with all those tiles, at the expense however of some serious downtime on occasion - hence I'm not touching this game with four players ever again. It is however an incredibly fulfilling solo experience.
A Feast for Odin is a pain to learn and teach though, with a giant rule book and system that isn't that intuitive. All those icons, boards, concepts and 60+ action spaces lead to a nightmare experience teaching this game. You'll be looking at your watch wondering when you are ready to even start the game and then you'll be there for a good 2-3 hours or sometimes more. If you're lucky in that you only play games with the same 3-4 people every day then you'll get used to it.
The theme, even though based on accurate historical data, is still fairly thin when you consider you're laying tiles in a Tetris formation and feeding your people based on the orientation of food. I never feel I'm playing more than a semi-dry Euro, but for many out there, this isn't a problem anyway. It is a bit of a downgrade in that department from some of Uwe's earlier large games.
Despite the negatives though, A Feast for Odin is still an enjoyable, heavy game and it's proving very popular with Uwe fans or those who couldn't care less about theme and just want an engaging puzzle with a ton of options. And when I play it I do enjoy it a lot as I now just ignore the theme being there.
It hit my Top 100 in the lower parts for 2017, but the more it becomes a bugbear to remember all those rules and teach it, the more it's likely to not be there next year. For me, Caverna and Fields of Arle and Le Havre will always be my three picks for showcasing Uwe Rosenberg and then maybe this one. Consider what's been said and make your own decision.