Despite its circular-sounding name, Orbis is all about building pyramids. Well, we say pyramids, but what we actually mean are universes. Pyramid-shaped universes.
Confused? Don’t worry about it. While the game’s cosmic theme is a bit loose and tatty around the edges, it thankfully benefits from tight-knit tile-laying mechanisms that make it a pleasure to play.
Each player is tasked with creating their own cosmos, consisting of 14 pyramidically-arranged floating regions, which will ultimately be topped with a 15th tile depicting a deity of their choice. These hex-tile realms come in five different colours, each representing a different kind of territory (blue for water, yellow for farmland, etc.), and, once your five-tile base line is established, can only be placed so they colour-match either of the two tiles directly below. In this sense, Orbis is strongly reminiscent of Reiner Knizia’s small-box treat Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue, although there’s far more to it, drawing in elements that may feel familiar to players of Five Tribes and Century: Spice Road.
Each turn, you simply take a tile. You can choose either a god tile – a once-per-game decision that will give you end-game bonus ‘creation points’ for fulfilling certain conditions – or a region tile, selected from a central three-by-three grid. Each tile may award you points for fulfilling a specific condition on your turn, and will also generate worshippers, represented by Eurocubes of a matching colour, which are placed on the adjacent tiles on the grid.
As these worshippers are the game’s currency, required to ‘buy’ region tiles once you’ve depleted the Level 1 region stack (there are three levels in total, gradually escalating in terms of benefits and cost) you have to be careful. Snatching a region you need to score points and fit your universe-pyramid is all well and good, but in doing so you may give your opponents exactly what they need to pay for their own plans. However, once the Level 1 regions are all out, the only way to gain worshippers is by picking up the tile on which they’re sitting, and that may be one for which there’s no valid placement in your universe. In which case you can always flip it over to its ‘wilderness’ side and put it where you like, at a penalty of one creation point come the final scoring.
Each turn, then, is characterised by a lot of focused thought, attention and tough decision-making – especially as the game progresses into trickier and trickier tile-laying territory. What starts out feeling light and fluffy ends up with a lot of quiet concentration around the table as your options grow more and more limited, through a merciless combo of reduced placement options, increased region-tile cost and the fact that you can never have more than 10 worshippers in your supply.
Honestly, you would have thought that being a god would mean you can do anything – you are supposed to be omnipotent, after all. But if Orbis is anything to go by, it’s a tough gig. Albeit a rewarding one.
The godly universe-creation theme doesn’t sit too comfortably on the abstract, tile-laying gameplay, but it’s so enjoyably constructed it doesn’t really matter.
Designer: Tim Armstrong
Artist: Davide Tosello
Time: 45 minutes
This review originally appeared in the December 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.