Welcome back, weary travellers! Come, pull up a seat as we talk a tale of another of our publisher highlights! When we think of board game publishers, we don’t often think about their history as a publisher, except to think about what other games they might have in their back catalogue. This time, as we look at our publisher, we will be looking into the annals of history. Osprey Games is a part of Osprey Publishing, an Oxford-based publishing company specialising in military history. That knowledge sculpts a lot of the games that they publish, with a few skirmishes and war games like the Undaunted series, the Imperium Legends and Classics games, but there are a few more surprises from this publisher. Strategy is key, so put General Melchett to one side and let’s dive into history.
Once upon a time, was the most thriving metropolis in the world. Now it sits in ruins, unable to recover after a Mongol invasion. But in Merv: The Heart of the Silk Road, 1–4 players compete during the 12th century, in the city’s heyday. You’re vying for wealth and power in this trading post where the east met west.
The construction behind Merv: The Heart of the Silk Road is a triumvirate between publisher Osprey Games, designer Fabio Lopiano, and artist Ian O’Toole. Merv is a medium-weight Euro-style strategy game. O’Toole’s artwork oozes class, as we’ve come to expect. (He’s the maestro behind heavy hitters such as Pipeline, On Mars, and Rokoko Deluxe edition.)
In Merv, your turn consists of worker placement/action selection. You move around the edge of the city’s 5x5 grid, picking to activate an action tile within that row/column. You construct a building in this location, which acts as a game-long investment. Later on, if you (or an opponent) trigger that row/column with your building in it, this tile pays out again! It’s not the end of the world if your opponents visit you. Hey, at least you get a tasty payout from it! There’s no negative player interaction in Merv. Sometimes you end up, inadvertently, helping each other.
There are lots of ways to chase points. Deploying Soldiers helps you gain influence in the city, fulfil contracts, and collect spices. Gaining Caravansary cards aids towards set collection. Claiming scrolls in the library provide unique boons. Donating goods to the Mosque provides chain-reaction boons. Placing servants in the Palace returns points based on some of the above, too! But, instead, you might want to build a wall around the city…
At the end of the second and third rounds of the game, the Mongols invade Merv! And that’s bad news if there are no walls to prevent them from entering. You don’t want them to tear down any of your precious buildings now, do you?
Given that this publisher is named after a bird, it may not come as any big surprise that I have chosen a game that it has published which is all about birds. Not ospreys, mind you. This is a fast-paced, duelling race game centred around Odin’s right-hand raven bird spirits, Huginn and Muninn.
The story goes that Odin’s bird besties would perch on his shoulders like gruesome parrots. Their forte was to deliver back little snippets of news from the world back to their master in exchange for some battlefield bounty. After all, as far as Odin was concerned, war was where it was it! Odin’s Ravens doesn’t shy away from the battle. But here you’re bird v bird. And rather than just picking holes in each other’s sets or strategies, you’re in a race to end the world. Fight and Flight are what gets the glory in this game.
Using a track of slim, shiny domino-style terrain cards, you want to fly around the track as fast as you can. But you can only progress down your own racing line if you have cards in your hand that match the regions over which you’re flying! All would be fairly fair-weather flying if Odin’s mischievous son, Loki, wasn’t also in the mythological mix. Bestowing a limited number of one-time opportunities, Loki can boost your moves or hinder your opponent’s progress. And it is down to you as to when you unleash his naughty-ness!
Odin’s Ravens is a light filler card game for two players. There is a little bit of luck of the draw, and a little bit of tactical decision making. But the racing pace makes it a great choice for a 10-minute session of feathered fury!
Osprey is known for their strategy games, so it makes sense that Wildlands is part of their stable. But it is a somewhat strange beast which I think has been rather underrated. At its heart, it’s a skirmish game. It plays on a board with numbered spaces. It’s designed by that board gaming great, Martin Wallace who I associate more with crunchy Euros like Brass. Curiouser and curiouser.
Your fantasy crew of typically 5 minis is asymmetric and powered by action cards. None of them starts on the board. Instead, they are introduced over a number of turns into the pre-determined spaces where they are lurking from the start. Everyone gets 10 location cards, and you choose 5 to put your pieces. They lie in wait, ready to ambush passing enemies using an interrupt mechanic which sees the turns broken and actions potentially pinballing from one player to another.
The win conditions are usually first to 5 points which can be gained by killing opponents or picking up crystals. The latter are placed by your adjacent opponent at the beginning of the game from the 5 locations that their hidden minis are not. So, turns play out as a decision on whether you are going to make a push and grab for a gem or maybe wail on a revealed enemy to get a point for the kill. The action is intense, and the pace is high. It could be seen as a gateway to skirmish minis games, but I think that is selling it short, as I have enjoyed it with a range of audiences.
Wallace has married a slick design with some smashing art and production. He has created something accessible but lean and means, thinks but full of punch and pace. It comes with a range of expansions, giving you the prospect of different crews, different board/maps and even a solo mode in the big box ancients expansion. All in all, it is a real treat. There was a cracking presence on the table, with enough crunch to keep in interesting and enough pace to play a few back-to-backs. For my money, it’s sufficiently different, fun, and versatile to be a real keeper.
Lost for words? Not sure what to say? Speaking gibberish and in need of a superb word game to help you out? Osprey Games have you covered with Inkling! It’s a card manipulation, a word game that can play with lots of players and utilised a unique scoring system to ensure you can’t fluff you turn on purpose!
Inkling relies on players twisting, turning, and manipulating letters to make words... but it’s not as abstract as it sounds! You receive a card containing some different length words and a bunch of letter cards. From there, you can use your letter cards however you want to portray the words you
need. The more words your neighbours guess, the better both yours and their scores! What’s more is that each turn you’ll be able to bin off some and gain, even more, enabling you to convey your eloquence and literacy control of the English language… though sometimes it’s more gobbledygook than jibber-jabber!
We love the simultaneous play of Inkling and the way it enables players to take their direction with their challenges. You only need to translate your words to two people, and both you and they rely on correct guesses to score points. It seems common sense, but it’s rare to play a word game where you can’t intentionally cause an error to reduce points. What else helps Inkling take the lexicon throne of word games is it’s aesthetic. Having cards manipulated to cover, merge, and remove elements is eye-catching in itself, but the stylings on the cards flow like ink from a pen to produce these words. Once you know how to score, you’re good to go and play, resulting in a superbly enjoyable and addictive word game that you can easily pick up and play in 10 minutes!
In conclusion, there is such an amazing range of games from Osprey and is worth checking out here at our website.