Mini-Reviews: A Feast for Odin, Manhattan Project: Energy Empire.

Ahoy. Here are some thoughts on recent workers I’ve been placing.

A Feast for Odin (played a handful of times): It’s Uwe Rosenberg’s latest medium-heavy worker-placement game. You already know if you want to try it. First of all, one can (and I will) distinguish between Rosenberg’s such games that are “loose” (lots of ways to get resources to do what you need, you never really need to scramble to feed people, you rarely feel other players or the game have a knife to your throat) and games that are “tight” (the opposite). It’s the difference between Agricola (“Crap, I’d better do this sub-optimal thing so I don’t starve!”) and Caverna (“Rubies for everyone! Wheee!”). Feast for Odin is squarely in the “loose” category. This isn’t my preference, in part because I find it enhances the sense of multiplayer solitaire. It lessens the screwage of wonky turn order issues, though, and I respect those that care about that deeply.
The board-filling of Odin is made yet more interesting by the ability to get more boards, many of which initially put you deep in the red but allow you to potentially generate more income and net a lot of points. Odin thus feels a lot like an investment game; you take out these “loans” (boards with negative points) and try to pay them off (by covering them). It’s hard to initially grok how much that income can help you, so new players are at a pretty deep disadvantage; but that’s to be expected.
I was worried that my aversion to spatial puzzles would turn me off, but my concern was ill-founded. I’ve been having a great time with the game. I still prefer Agricola (my favourite Rosenberg, and probably my second-favourite worker-placement game), but it’s close.
But as I said, it’s Rosenberg’s newest. You already know if you want to try it.

Energy Empire (played twice): I received this game as a review copy from the publisher. Taking the opposite tack from Odin, Energy Empire gives you a board giving you lots of points from the outset, and you lose them as you cover your landscape with pollution (you only score at the end, but the effect is the same). There’s a bit of player interaction here, in that to place your workers you need to pay one more than the previous occupant did–but in practice that doesn’t lead to much. The neatest thing about Energy Empire is its round structure, in that it doesn’t have one. On your turn, you either place a worker and activate buildings you’ve built; or you take all your workers back, roll some dice to generate resources, and possibly pollute. You just keep going around the table until you’re done, no end-of-round cleanup phase or anything. It makes the game fluid, which is nice. A note that some people compared this to the play of the original Manhattan Project, which I haven’t played.
I didn’t find anything special about the game, though. You’ve probably played games like it before–perfectly pleasant, functional Euro. The fact that it’s a worker-placement game adds to that sense. The theme is also a bit of a hash (some energy policy, some domestic commercial production, some geopolitics[?!]). I will say that the components are very nice, though–tokens that are far thicker than they need to be, resource pieces that are very evocative and attractive (those oil barrels are super heavy!)… It’s a nice package.

Comparing the two, it’s interesting that Rosenberg’s intuition–even in his less harsh games–is always to penalize, to put his players in a bit of a hole. Most Euros, Energy Empire included, hand out bonuses for which you might not qualify instead. These two approaches often result in the same net score, but the experience of play differs considerably. For example, in Energy Empire, you get a 3 point bonus if your last-to-be-polluted column is unpolluted at the end of the game. Rosenberg, I’m certain, would instead give you a 3 point penalty if it had been polluted. In this case, given that it’s the easiest to keep unpolluted, I’m definitely with Rosenberg on this one–but Energy Empire has taken the conscious choice, it seems to me, of being friendly, even when it results in things that come off as a bit odd. Similarly, Odin asks you to acquire things that put you considerably in the red, rather than merely lowering the possible payoff you might get later. Which approach you prefer is a matter of taste.

But in lowish interaction games, I’d rather the sense that something is in my way.

3 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: A Feast for Odin, Manhattan Project: Energy Empire.”

  1. I honestly don’t understand why some people prefer Caverna over Agricola.

    Full access to upgrades from the getgo turns Caverna into Analysis-paralysis nightmare and at the same time very little prevents you from going for the same strategy almost every time.
    And it would be so easy to fix – the new room appearance might have been tied to the action cards or whatnot.

    And what’s with all those wildcards (both rubies and quests)? They sort of contradict the core of worker placement. Why even bother with workers? It might as well have been just “take X actions on your turn”.
    With the exception of tile timings, it’s a complete information game. It’s basically chess, except a more convoluted one.

    I hate hate hate Caverna. I do like Agricola alot though. So I guess I`m not trying a Feast for Odin any time soon.

    1. As I said, I vastly prefer Agricola over Caverna, but I am really enjoying A Feast for Odin. It doesn’t have the problems either with buildings or with rubies, even though you never feel quite the tightness of resources or worker spaces as Agricola. If you have a chance, give it a shot.

  2. “I still prefer Agricola (my favourite Rosenberg, and probably my second-favourite worker-placement game), but it’s close.”

    This begs the question as to what your favorite worker-placement game is?

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