The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Sellswords Olympus
Sellswords: Olympus is a highly tactical two-player card game, where players are vying for control of a five-by five grid of cards by playing mythological hero cards they’ve drafted. Sellswords: Olympus is a standalone sequel to the 2014 title Sellswords, and can be played alone or mixed with the original Sellswords. Both were designed by Cliff Kamarga and published by Level 99 Games.
The mythological heroes have wildly different combat numbers and abilities, many of which are quite thematic to the Greek character on the card. The combat numbers determine if opponent hero cards are flipped over to your color side when you play adjacent to them. The abilities range from combat bonuses, to the ability to manipulate other cards on the grid, to end-game scoring bonuses.
Each Hero card is double-sided, with both sides having identical information -- name, combat numbers, ability -- except for the background, with one side being red suns and the other blue moons. Each player will play using a different side. During play, Hero cards will often flip over and change sides, and hence allegiances, as cards around them beat them in battle or as they are manipulated by special abilities. This gives the game a bit of an Othello feel, as ownership of the board is transient, and ever changing.
If you are familiar with Level 99, you know they love their text-on-card games, and this is no exception. Most of the meat of the game lies in manipulating the abilities on your cards to control the grid, and be able to counter your opponent’s cards -- and remember, due to the nature of the draft, there is no hidden information, and both players will know all the cards in play on both sides that round.
At the beginning of the game, a terrain card is selected from the four available -- each having a different unique ability -- and this will be the card that players’ cards will play off to form the five-by-five grid. The game takes place over two rounds, with each round having a drafting phase and a placement phase. The draft is an open draft, and players alternate taking hero cards.
Once the drafting phase is complete and each player has their hand of six Hero cards, the placement phase commences. Play -- in this phase, a highly tactical battle -- will alternate between players. Each time a player places a card, the combat numbers on the newly placed card are compared with each of their opponent’s adjacent cards. If the combat number on the newly placed card is higher than the opponent’s, the card is flipped over, changing that card’s allegiance. Optional and mandatory abilities are also set off when each card is played. After all twelve cards have been played, an end-of-round scoring phase happens.
At the end of the second round -- with the entire five-by-five grid completed by having each player add twelve cards to it -- there is a final scoring phase, with points given out for controlling rows and columns on the board, as well as for some card abilities, and the winner is the player with the highest score.
Pros: The game has exciting game play that mixes drafting, tactical card play, board control, spatial reasoning, and special player powers. I love the use of the Greek mythology theme -- and it makes sense as the gods and heroes were all fickle characters that backstabbed one another often. I’m also a fan of the bright, cartoonish artwork style used to portray the mythological characters on the cards. The fifty Hero cards and four terrain cards are all unique, making for a lot of variety and ensuring no two games are ever the same. The game packs quite a lot into a small box.
Cons: The game takes up a lot of table space for a small-box game, even warning in the rule book that “you will need a two-foot square area in order to play.” Speaking of the rule book, it is not actually a booklet, but a piece of paper that unfolds like a map, which is not ideal. Scoring is tricky and requires referencing the rule book, which would be aided by a score pad of some kind, which the game lacks. The cards are 89mm x 89mm square, which is a tough size to find sleeves for, if you are the type that likes to sleeve your card games.
The game is highly tactical and extremely cutthroat due to its binary nature -- anything that helps one player, hurts the other -- which can be a positive or a negative, depending on player preferences. Another element that may detract some players -- especially older players or non-native speakers -- is the amount of text on the cards, and the smallish font used to note the character abilities.
All in all, this game is a great two-player game for those that like tactical battles and unique special powers, in spite of the necessity of copious text on the cards. This game has a permanent home in my Quiver case, for any situation when I have thirty minutes free and one person to play a game against -- against being the keyword there.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Sellswords: Olympus from the publisher.