Do you have a secret (or not so secret) god complex? Do you often wish that people worshipped you? Are you certain you could do a better job of designing the universe than anyone else? If so, Orbis is the game for you. Build ever more fruitful lands and attract worshippers who will help because they love you. (After all, no god does all the work alone.) If you create the best universe (which is worth the most points), you win the game. Be sure to make your defeated opponents refer to you as a god for days.
How It Plays
Orbis is a tile-laying engine builder in which you are placing tiles in order to build your universe and generate worshippers, points, and bonuses that can help you expand that universe to new point-gathering heights.
Never has building a universe been so simple. The game consists of 15 rounds (or turns). On your turn, you either take a region tile or a god tile from the relevant display. You can only take a god tile once per game, but you can do so at any point during the game.
Region tiles offer end game points, as well as effects and bonuses that can alter the rules of the game, or give you extra points at game’s end. Some effects are optional and you can choose not to invoke them by placing a cancellation token over the effect’s icon. God tiles offer abilities/bonuses, as well. Many of them offer extra points at game’s end for having the most/least of certain region tiles. Others offer end game points, worshippers, or the ability to trade worshippers for points. Remember, you only get one god tile per game, so choose wisely.
When you take a tile from the display, it will generate worshippers (cubes) of the same color as the chosen tile. These worshippers are placed on each tile adjacent to the one you’re taking. If you choose a tile that has worshippers already on it, those become your worshippers. (They’re fickle and will go with just anybody.) You can’t have more than 10 worshippers in your supply at a time, however. You can either discard the overage, or trade in three worshippers of the same color for one worshipper of another color during your turn.
You must also pay the cost of the tile in order to take it. Payment is in worshippers of the indicated colors. If you don’t want to (or can’t) pay the cost, you can flip the tile over to the “wilderness” side. If you play a tile as its wilderness side, it can be placed in your universe adjacent to any other color, allowing you to break one of the placement rules described below. However, if you do so, it is worth -1 point at the end of the game.
When you take a region tile, you must place it into your growing universe. Your universe is pyramid shaped, with five tiles on the bottom row and narrowing up from there. Tiles on the bottom row can be any color/region and it does not matter which colors go next to each other.
Once you build past that first row, tiles must be placed so that they touch two tiles on the row below. A new tile must also match the color of at least one of the tiles it touches. As long as you comply with the placement rules, you can begin upper rows before fully completing the lower rows.
If your chosen tile produces an effect, resolve the effect when you place the tile. Once you’ve finished your turn, the tile you took is replaced from the appropriate pile. (There are 3 tile piles. Levels 1, 2, and 3. You refill from Level 1 until it is depleted, then use Level 2, and so on.)
The game ends when all players have created their universes consisting of 14 region tiles and one god tile. Points are tallied and the player with the most wins.
A Game of Making Cubes Worship You
Orbis has been frequently compared to games like Splendor and Century Spice Road, and not without reason. They are all fairly simple, pretty (if abstract) games of gaining resources, converting them into other resources, and building up an engine that allows that conversion to happen faster and faster, generating big points for you. Ever since Splendor (also from Space Cowboys) hit it big, this little corner of the gaming universe has gotten more crowded.
This is a bit of good news for Orbis because it means that lovers of some of these other games will probably enjoy Orbis. It does many of the same things, in the same easy-to-learn format. You take tiles which often give you worshippers, and they spread worshippers out around the board. Worshippers are used to buy more/better tiles which generate points and bonuses. The goal is to acquire tiles that work together to increase your points and bonuses and to keep building that engine until the game ends.
Like most of the games in the genre, it’s an abstract puzzle. In Orbis’ case, the puzzle also takes on a spatial dimension because you have to place your tiles in certain ways. It’s not as simple as acquiring cards. Here, you’re actually building a pyramid and how you place your tiles matters because certain tiles only generate points and bonuses when next to certain other tiles. It’s this mechanism that takes Orbis one step further than Splendor or Century: Spice Road.
Because of the tile placement restrictions, your choices become more restricted as the game goes on. The first turns are wide open, but as the path to the top narrows, you have fewer placement options, and fewer tiles available that will help you. Still, it never feels frustrating. The game builds in mechanisms (flipping over a tile to the wilderness side, trading in worshippers of one color for another) that keep you from getting too boxed in.
And this can also be considered a potential negative to the game. Because you can always bail yourself out, there’s no real punishment for bad decisions (or the bad luck of the tile draw). Yeah, you lose a point at game’s end for using that wilderness tile, but it’s not crippling. For a family weight game that’s as short as Orbis is, I don’t find it to be a problem. It’s nice that people can stay in until the end. But I know some players who wanted things to be more unforgiving. They wanted poor choices punished. (Maybe I just play with some sick people, or they felt that severe punishment would be more “god-like.”)
When to take a god tile (and which to take) is perhaps the most interesting decision Orbis offers. you can take a god tile at any time during the game, but only once. You can take one on your first turn, ensuring the god of your choice. However, that may not be wise. Each god offers a special scoring bonus and most are for having the most/least of certain tiles. If you take such a tile early, it’s going to dictate your strategy for the entire game. Unfortunately, due to the luck of the tile draw, you may find yourself unable to take advantage of your god.
On the other hand, you can wait until you feel certain that you’ll be able to take advantage of a certain god tile because your pyramid is beginning to take shape. Wait too long, though, and someone else may snatch that god away before you get it.
Making matters more difficult, there are some gods that just give guaranteed points at the end of the game, or make it so you don’t lose points from wilderness tiles during the game. Some also allow you to gain/trade worshippers. These aren’t worth big points at the end of the game, but they provide “sure things” that you know you can take advantage of and which may make your strategy easier to carry out (or swap on the fly, if need be). Do you go for a bigger end game bonus, or play it safe with a tile that may help you in other ways? While Orbis is simple, it’s not brainless and there are a couple of things you’ll need to think about.
As much as Orbis has going for it, it does carry some negatives. Many are matters of personal preference and may not bother you. I’ll just put them out here for your consideration. First, there’s no storage solution in the box. Tiles go everywhere. Since you have to sort them into their “level” piles before the game begins, this is sort of annoying. Prepare to either make your own solution, or sort tiles before every game.
Next, the art is lovely to look at, but the style of the gods is disconnected from the regions. The gods look like something out of a cellphone game for kids, or some kind of anime, while the regions are a bit more realistic. It’s not a deal breaker, but if consistent art is important, it’s something to be aware of.
And then there’s the theme. The theme of being a god doesn’t really carry through. Orbis is pretty abstract in reality. You could be building anything in the game and it would play much the same. And yet… It still manages to offend some people. Some people I played with took offense at the notion of playing god, and didn’t like the idea of gaining/trading in/destroying worshippers. I think it seemed sacrilegious to them. This isn’t a flaw in the game, but if you play with very devout people, it may be an issue.
As far as the gameplay goes, the biggest negative is that Orbis doesn’t do anything revolutionary. In a space filled of late with resource conversion games, it may come across as “just another one.” If you already have a few games like Splendor, Century Spice Road, Deus, etc.. there just may not be much room in your collection for another. On the other hand, if you love this type of game beyond all reason, or you’re looking for your first game in the genre, then Orbis may be well worth a look.
Which leads into the larger problem with the game and that is finding the group of people to play it. As much as I enjoyed Orbis and respect it for what it is, I feel like ultimately it occupies a strange space in the gaming landscape. It’s too light and limited in replayability for hardcore gamers to derive much pleasure from it over the long term. For them it’s likely to be a filler that’s pretty hot for a month or so, but which quickly burns out and gives way to another new hotness. And while it is non-gamer friendly (i.e., not complex to learn), I don’t think it’s as accessible as Splendor or Century: Spice Road. The iconography and understanding how the tiles “validate” and carry out their effects may be more confusing than in some simpler engine builders. It may not be the game that you pull out with complete newbies to the hobby.
As a result, it sort of sits in that “gateway-plus category,” but barely. I wouldn’t say it’s as “plus” as a game like San Juan, Viceroy, or Deus. It definitely lacks the replayability and depth of titles like those. Those and similar titles like Race for the Galaxy would be the type of things I’d usually recommend to someone who loved Splendor and is ready to move up to the next level. But neither is Orbis sitting completely in the gateway category. It’s not as simple as Splendor or Century: Spice Road, so it’s not something I’d say, “Oh, you liked Splendor and want something just as simple, try Orbis.”
Perhaps the best comparison is the difference I felt between Kingdomino and Queendomino. Queendomino gave me the same feeling of sitting in that odd space of the gaming universe. Kingdomino was so elegantly simple that Queendomino felt bloated and weird. Almost like it was trying too hard to be “different” and “difficult.” That’s what Orbis feels like to me when comparing it to Splendor or Century. It feels like it’s tossing “difficulty” in there just for the sake of trying to be too different from the others. As with Queendomino, I don’t feel it really works. I generally either wish I were playing something simpler and more elegant, or more difficult and meaty.
That’s not so say that Orbis is a bad game. It’s not and I enjoyed my time with it. However, it’s not something I’ll keep long term. I feel like I’ve seen everything it has to offer in a few plays and beyond just playing for funsies, it’s exhausted itself. And because it sits in that odd space, it’s hard for me to find players. The non-gamers prefer the simplicity of Splendor, Century, and Kingdomino, while my gamer friends choose games like Seasons, Deus, Imperial Settlers, and the like. Orbis just isn’t likely to see much table time in my crowded collection.
If you’re looking for a fast playing engine builder that’s a bit above Splendor and Century but not as involved as Deus or others, Orbis might be for you. Gamers looking for a first foray into the genre will likely also enjoy it. It’s certainly fun to play and lovely to look at. If you have a group that will appreciate it, it’s certainly worth a look. For most, though, I’d recommend trying before buying to make certain it will meet your needs.