31 October 2018
The ancient Egyptians sure knew how to give someone a good send-off. As long as they were a pharaoh with no offspring to inherit the kingdom, that is.
Sailing Toward Osiris is (mostly) a worker-placement game in which the players take the role of governors, each vying to pay the most impressive tribute to the recently expired ruler by erecting obelisks, sphinxes and pylons in his honour, with the top builder earning the right to become the next Egyptian big-boss-person. All this happens while the ex-sovereign’s funeral barge scuds along the twisting Nile over four frantic seasons. So you receive a bonus glory point for each monument raised while in the boat’s still passing by, with extra points awarded for arranging them adjacently or in suitably clustered patterns.
Of course, in order to build these show-offy edifices you need to gather resources (stone, brick, grain). And in order to get those you need labourers – of three different kinds, matching each resource – to plonk around the attractive, vibrantly illustrated Nile-map board. However, unlike in most worker-placement games, you have to draw your labourers from a bag, not knowing which kind you might get or whether they’ll be regular workers (who can only be placed in areas of the board where the barge is either present or has passed through) or master labourers (who can go anywhere). Long-term planning, then, isn’t such a viable strategy in Sailing Toward Osiris – short-term goals are the way to go, with a willingness to change up your strategy as needed.
Another neat twist applied by designer W. David MacKenzie is the fact that monuments have to be built on the very same terrain spaces that yield resources (or, in the case of city spaces, yield super-handy bonus-granting ‘city’ cards) so, as the game progresses, those resources become harder to gather; not least because the main supply is also limited. Not enough stone to complete your precious sphinx this turn? Tough.
This, along with the fact that trading and haggling is encouraged throughout, means MacKenzie’s take on a core Euro-style genre is potentially more fiercely competitive and backstabby than you’d usually expect – how much that impacts on your enjoyment is of course a matter of gaming taste.
It also means Sailing Toward Osiris is calibrated for higher player counts, and indeed works best with four or five players. If your group is typically smaller, be warned: not only will the setup require you to cover a lot of the board with unused player-coloured monuments, making it look unappealingly cluttered before you even start, you’ll also miss out on the haggling dynamic, which certainly adds some spice.
There’s another caveat, too. Played with the base set, there’s not much in the way of end-game surprise. It’ll be pretty clear from the glory point track who’s going to snatch the win, robbing this monumental scramble of a sense of climax. To compensate, you’ll need the Governors & Envoys expansion pack which, among other things, adds secret ‘objective’ cards; these award extra points at tot-up time, depending on how you’ve arranged your monuments. Along with its handy ‘envoy’ tokens, which enable players to reserve spaces, and ‘governor’ cards, which give each player a unique ability, it really should have been made part of the core ruleset. The fact that it wasn’t only lessens your appreciation of a title that, otherwise, has plenty to recommend it.
A solid Euro-styler that offers an interesting twist on worker placement, but which sadly feels incomplete without its simultaneously-released expansion pack.
Designer: W. David MacKenzie
Artist: Denis Martynets
Time: 60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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