Onirim designer, Shadi Torbey, is a Belgian Opera singer who played a lot of solitaire in his downtime. He began gradually devising his own solitaire games, and when he combined them with the surreal, almost childlike crayon artwork of French artist Élise Plessis, the Oniverse was born.
The Oniverse has so far spawned a number of games, each with a bizarre theme; Onirim explores a dream labyrinth, Sylvion has you defending a forest, in Castellion you build a shape-shifting sand castle and Nautilion involves a submarine journey beneath the ocean.
In the “lost” game of the Oniverse, Urbion, you have to restore balance and harmony to a city. The two things that link the games together is Plesis’ artwork and the fact that despite having two-player variants, all Oniverse games are designed primarily for a solitary player.
Solo gaming is a polarising topic for some – a lot of people play board games for the social benefits of sitting around a table with other people and getting immersed in a game together. I love gaming with others, but I also need my gaming fix so much that when there isn't anybody around to play with, or after a long day at work, I am more than prepared to play a game on my own, against the game itself. I wrote a whole article about the rise of solo board gaming on my Board Game Beacon blog.
Funnily enough it was seeing the box of Onirim, with its scribbly nightmarish cat on the cover that first alerted me to solo gaming and this was one game I was intrigued to discover. In fact, I ranked the box art at number two on my all-time list.
Entering the Dream Labyrinth
In Onirim you’re looking to find the eight oneiric doors from a deck that also includes locations, keys and the dreaded nightmares! If the deck is depleted before you find all of the doors, you lose.
You start with a hand of five cards in front of you and essentially you must place combinations of three same-coloured cards onto the labyrinth row to gain a door of that colour, but the cards have sun, moon and key symbols on them and no two same symbols are allowed to be adjacent. When you play a card from your hand it is replaced by one from the deck, but if that card is a nightmare you’ll need to resolve it by either discarding a key card from your hand (if you have one), give up one of your previously gained door cards, discard the top five location cards from the deck, or discard your whole hand and draw a new hand of five cards – all quite unpleasant!
It’s not all nastiness in the labyrinth because you can choose to discard a key card from your hand to trigger a Prophecy, where you look at the top five cards of the deck, discard one of them (hopefully a nightmare if there’s one there), and put the four remaining cards back on top of the deck in the order of your choice. Also, if you have a key in your hand and you draw a same-coloured door from the deck, you can immediately discard that key to gain the door.
There are a lot of ways to approach this game – I am a fan of Prophecies because they let you manipulate the deck to your advantage (and hopefully get rid of a nightmare in the process), but some may want to hang onto those keys in the hope that you’ll draw a door of the same colour and gain the key without having to add the coloured location cards to the labyrinth.
Another thing to remember, that will effect how you approach things, is that the location cards are not equally distributed – there are 16 red Observatory cards, 15 blue Aquarium cards, 14 green Garden cards, and 13 tan Library cards. This may not seem like much but if you’re resolving a nightmare and you have two Library cards in hand, as there are fewer in the deck, would you really want to discard your hand? It all depends on the situation but it is something you will need to consider.
Onirim comes with seven expansions inside the box – so many that it has a separate booklet to explain them all! They can all be mixed and matched, although I like to play them one at a time because it’s all my brain can handle.
Of the expansions, one of my favourites is “The Book of Steps Lost and Found” which requires you find the doors in a set order, but also allows you to cast spells to make what would be an almost impossible task return to the realms of possible. “Crossroads and Dead Ends” is another favourite of mine, where you have a few helpful Crossroad location cards, which act as wild cards, but there are a number of Dead End cards that can clog-up your hand. The other expansions are all very unique and change the game in fun, interesting ways.
Five of the expansions have harder variants (if you’re an Onirim expert), plus separate from the expansions is the so-called “Appendix”, which brings in the cat-like “Little Incubus” pawn who can be used in three further game variants. So, even without mixing the expansions together there are 16 different ways to play this game!
I admittedly haven’t even tried the two-player variant so far but it looks good – you work co-operatively to get four doors each using shared and personal resources to build separate labyrinths. You stand or fall together.
Final Thoughts on Onirim
Onirim has so much going for it and the expansions bring numerous game permutations so you should never tire of it. At the heart of it, it’s a great solitaire card game with a lovely theme and artwork (that may not be to everyone’s taste).
A gripe that many have is the sheer amount of shuffling required during the game, but I see it as part of the game – I treat it as a meditative experience and I use my time shuffling to think of my next move. There is an app version of Onirim, which obviously does all the shuffling for you, but as I've said in the past there is nothing quite like sitting at a table an feeling a game in your hands (and not spending your time staring and swiping at a screen).
It seems that the game’s producers can’t keep up with demand as new print runs of this game sell out in days – indeed, I pre-ordered mine to avoid disappointment. My advice is if you see it in stock, get it. In the meantime, happy dreaming!...