The dreamworld can be a dangerous place. Trapped in a mysterious labyrinth, nightmares haunt you as you walk the hallways. Will you face your fears, pull your wits about you, and navigate the maze to escape the dream world? Or will you succumb to the darkness, terrorized by nightmares, remaining trapped forever?
How It Plays
Onirim is a solo or cooperative card game about finding your way out of the dreamworld by unlocking 8 doors. In practice, you must play sequences 3 cards matching in color to unlock a door of that color, and when 8 doors are unlocked you have escaped.
Each turn you can play or discard a card. When you play a card, the only requirement is that the symbol on the card can’t match the symbol on the previously played card. If you play the 3rd card in a row of a single color, you can search through the deck for a matching door and put it into play.
When you discard a card, nothing happens – unless you discard a Key symbol, which triggers a Prophecy. This lets you look at the top 5 cards of the deck, discard 1, and rearrange the rest as you please.
After you play or discard, you draw up to 5 cards in hand; however, at this point, you might end up drawing Dream cards or Doors.
If you draw a Door, you can discard a matching colored Key to immediately unlock that door. If you don’t, the door goes into Limbo, which is a fancy way of saying you’ll re-shuffle it into the deck at the end of the turn.
If you draw a Dream card, crazy things can happen. In the base game, the only Dream cards are Nightmares. If you draw a Nightmare, you must choose to either discard a Door in play, discard a Key card, discard the next 5 cards of the deck, or discard your hand. If you discard your hand when you draw a Nightmare, you can refresh your hand to 5 cards, setting any Nightmare or Door cards aside in Limbo.
After all this, you shuffle Limbo back into the deck, and take another turn. As soon as you unlock the 8th door, you win the game! If the deck runs out and you need to draw a card, you lose.
While the game is primarily a solo game, you can play cooperatively with one other player. There are two changes – each player has a personal hand of 3 cards, and there are 2 “shared” cards in the middle. The shared cards are visible to both players and count as part of the hand of the current player.
The second change is related to this – whenever a player chooses to discard a card from their hand, they can also swap a card from their personal hand to the public hand. Each player creates their own labyrinth, and each must unlock one of each color door.
The game includes 7 mini expansions in the box, and an 8th “appendix” expansion. I’ll get into more detail on those below.
Dream or Nightmare?
I’ve never played the original edition of Onirim, but one thing is for certain: the game is beautiful. From the well-packed box, velvet-coated insert, and weird dreamy depictions on all the cards, Onirim packs a visual punch you can show off to your friends and family. You just, you know, won’t really be able to play it with them, since it’s a solo game.
The art of this game is the kind you can get lost in; each card is filled with unique details you can explore. The Picasso-like dreamy landscape evokes a surreal feeling, unlike any other game you’ve played. The Nightmare cards look nightmarish. The doors look “found” and mysterious. It’s fairly wonderful.
It’s only too bad that immersing yourself in the art and immersing yourself in the game are two totally different things; in fact, the art is best looked at up close, in detail, but when you’re playing the game your mind is in the game. You lose the art because from a distance it all blends together and the cards simply become colors and symbols. The theme of wandering through a dreamy labyrinth exists only in the art, and you lose that theme when actually playing the game.
Which is too bad – I find the biggest draw of a solo game has to either be an immersive theme that draws you in, or engaging mechanisms that keep you on your toes. Unfortunately, Onirim does neither, at least not with the basic game.
I found the actual gameplay of Onirim rather easy. The game is streamlined, but too simple. Early on in the game you may feel like you need to make hard choices about which cards to keep and which to discard, but by the end you realize there are plenty of cards in the deck and unless you play with a full extent of carelessness, you shouldn’t have much trouble winning. Luck can sway things one way or another, but it has to be pretty rotten luck to stop you from winning the game.
The detriment of this lies, perhaps, in the fiddliness of such a simple game. Cards are filled with art and void of description, which means your first few games you’ll need the rulebook at hand to remind you – what are my options when I draw a Nightmare? What do I do when I discard a Key again? Not to mention the constant shuffling you need to do – whenever you find a door, you have to dig through the deck to find the right color, then re-shuffle. If these game-halting elements weren’t there, the simpleness of the game would be less apparent. Instead, you’ll spend most of your game shuffling and performing automated tasks, not making decisions.
The overt simpleness of the game is useful in perhaps one scenario; introducing kids to a more challenging game than they’re used to. The patterns of symbols you’ll need to pay attention to – and the simple choices you must make regarding discarding or playing cards – could be a great next step for kids evolving out of Candyland and Guess Who? The cooperative game, at least, was a bit more interesting since you each have to get one of each color door, which means you have to make a few strategic choices to get the necessary colors into the other player’s hand. It’s best to play without talking, at least about the game – that adds a slight challenge as you have to pay attention to what the other player has used and discarded, and what they need, so you both don’t end up discarding too many of one color.
Fortunately, things don’t start and end with the basic game. The box includes seven and a half expansions, and I played them all. Some add a lot to the game, some add a little, some are not so good. Allow me to detail them out for you, because the expansions can swing your vote one way or another.
Expansion 1: The Book of Steps Lost And Found
The first expansion is a great way to add more challenge to the game. You now have to unlock your doors in the correct order – an additional set of door cards (with different backs) is provided so that at the start of the game you shuffle it and deal the cards out face-up. This is the order you must unlock all of the doors. Now, given the limited control of the base game, this would seem to make victory almost impossible and incredibly luck-oriented. Fortunately, it also adds a new set of abilities with a whole slew of choices to be made as a result. You now have access to 3 “spells” which are activated by removing cards from the discard pile – no detriment to you, but it limits how often the spells can be used. It also forces you to decide if you should wait to unlock a more powerful spell, or just use what you can right away.
The first spell, called Paradoxical Prophecy, costs 5 cards from the discard and lets you look at the bottom 5 cards of the deck. You can move 1 of those cards to the top of the deck – ensuring that Card You Need won’t randomly get stuck at the bottom. Nice.
Spell number 2, “Parallel Planning” costing 7, lets you switch the order of any 2 door cards. Got red and brown cards but Blue is next in order? Move it on down the line so you don’t have to waste too many cards by cycling through the deck for blue.
The final spell, Powerful Punishment, lets you discard 10 cards – a hefty price considering that’s two uses of spell #1 – to protect yourself from a Nightmare.
Many games increase difficulty by taking away abilities, restricting your choices even further. This expansion does just the opposite – having to play your doors in order not only adds to the challenge, but it feels thematic (after all it is a labyrinth, you must find the right path). The spells add options – do you go on the “offensive” and frequently search the bottom of the deck, or do you hold back and protect yourself? Do you really want to use those 7 cards to switch the door order, or do you hold on just a few more draws so you won’t lose 5 cards to the discard on your next Nightmare draw?
The only real drawback to this expansion is that the spell card helper – the only player aid provided in the box – is a little obtuse, and you’ll probably need to keep the rulebook handy to remind yourself what each spell accomplishes. Especially with another expansion or two mixed in, but we’ll get to that.
This is definitely the first expansion to add for higher levels of challenge, but as you get further into your expansion choices, you may find this does not mix as well with others.
Expansion 2: The Glyphs
Another way to add challenge? Add more doors! This expansion adds 4 additional doors – 1 of each color. It also adds a few new Location cards of each color with a unique symbol – Glyphs. These Glyphs not only count as another unique symbol to use in sequence (remember, you can’t play identical symbols in a row), they also add a unique ability. When you discard a Glyph, you trigger an Incantation – reveal the next 5 cards of the deck and, if at least one door is revealed, you can put one immediately into play. It does not have to match in color with the Glyph card.
Like the first expansion, this one adds to the challenge and the choices you have. The glyphs are a great risk/reward mechanism – do you play them on your sequence, or do you use their mighty power which could unlock a door very cheaply? At the very least, it will let you see what’s coming to help you know what’s better to discard.
Mixing expansions #1 and #2 works fine, but having to play doors in order makes Glyphs much less enticing to discard – not only do you need to draw a door, but the RIGHT door, which makes the risk seem much higher. However, this expansion plays well with the remaining expansions, and while I would remove the first expansion eventually as later expansions are added, this one can stay in as long as it likes.
The glyphs do add one more ability to remember, and unlike spells there is no player aid or useful icon on the card to remind you what it does. It’s not that the ability is complicated, it’s just that the abilities are so similiar. Glyphs, Keys, and Spells all have something to do with drawing 5 cards, but it’s easy to mix up where those cards come from and what specifically you do with them. A player aid would have been helpful. Actually, a little description text or at least a more symbolic icon printed on the cards themselves is highly desired, but at the very least it would have been nice for the back page of one of the rulebooks to list out the special abilities. As it is, you’ll be digging through the pages of the different rulebooks to remind yourself what these do, at least until you’ve played a few times.
Expansion #3: The Dreamcatchers
This is the first expansion that really adds something new to gameplay. 4 new Dream cards get added to the deck – Lost Dreams – while a new type of card, a set of 4 Dreamcatchers, gets placed off to the side.
At the end of a turn all cards in Limbo get ‘caught’ by an empty Dreamcatcher card instead of getting shuffled into the deck. This is important, because those new Lost Dream cards in the deck need to be in a Dreamcatcher’s net in order to win the game, in addition to finding all the doors. Doors and Lost Dreams will get caught, which doesn’t sound so bad since you can nab a door from a Dreamcatcher when you play 3 cards in a row, but it has a few side effects. First of all, if all the Dreamcatcher cards are full when you have a Limbo pile, you lose 1 Dreamcatcher – if you lose all 4, you lose the game. In addition, if a Door is caught by a Dreamcatcher, it’s not in the deck for you to have a chance of drawing and unlocking with a single Key card. However, this also means a lot less shuffling is required since Limbo doesn’t have to get shuffled every time you draw a door.
You can only free caught dreams in 2 ways – by causing the deck to be reshuffled (generally, by unlocking a door and searching for it in the deck) – or by using 1 of 2 Last Resort cards.
While the decreased amount of shuffling is nice and there are a few extra decisions to be made – primarily, whether you’ll take a door from a Dreamcatcher or search from the deck to free up one of the Dreamcatchers – actually scoring the Lost Dream cards felt pretty random and out of my control. There are no added abilities to dig through your deck and find them, so you pretty much just had to hope they came up in time. Abilities from other expansions – such as the spells – could help with this, but not by much, and only if you include those expansions. I have kept using this expansion because it’s not complex and the whole Dreamcatcher aspect gets more interesting as more cards get added (and a wider variety of things can end up in the Limbo pile) but alone it just doesn’t add much to the game.
Expansion #4: The Towers
This adds a new type of Location card – the Towers. These Towers are played in their own row, separate from the Labyrinth row. In order to win, you must have the 4 colors adjacent to each other. Towers can be added to either side of the row, but two adjacent sides can’t have matching symbols.
Each Tower also has a number on it, ranging from 3 to 5. You can discard a Tower to reveal that many cards from the deck and rearrange them as you please. The catch is, of course, that the “5” towers are much easier to place in a row than the “3” towers because of the arrangement of symbols.
When a Nightmare card is drawn, if a Tower row is not completed you are required to discard one of your towers in play, in addition to the other consequences, unless you already have the set of 4 towers in play. You also have the option of a “false destruction” to protect your towers – if you choose not to lose a tower, you have to shuffle the Nightmare card back in the deck after resolving it, instead of discarding it.
This expansion is not complex, but it doesn’t feel particularly deep, either. The towers don’t affect your decision-space all that much, since they don’t interweave with your actual labyrinth row. There are decisions to make here and there – whether to play a Tower or discard it, whether to use False Destruction to protect your towers or just lose a tower. But if you simply remember how many towers you’ve used already, the decisions are pretty easy to make. This is another expansion that, like the lost dreams, I keep in because it does at least add a little bit to the game without much complexity. It is nice, with other expansions mixed in, to have the ability to look ahead, but again this is more enhanced by the additional expansions, at least in my opinion.
Expansion #5: Happy Dreams and Dark Premonitions
Dark Premonitions adds a whole lot of new to the game. You’ve got a new type of Dream card – Happy Dreams, which are dream cards that also happen to be powerful indeed. When you draw a Happy Dream you can either A. Remove a Dark Premonition card, B. Reveal 7 cards from the top of the deck, discard any number of them, and put the rest back on the deck in any order, or C. Find any card you want from the deck and put it on top of the deck. Why so much power? You’ve also got Dark Premonitions. These cards don’t get put in the deck – you deal 4 random Dark Premonitions face up at the start of the game, off to the side. Each one has a trigger and a nasty effect when that trigger condition is met.
Every trigger is some combination of unlocked doors, such as 2 blue doors, or one of each color, or 5 total doors unlocked. The negative effects usually force you to remove cards from the deck – 2 key cards, all the red cards, all the Good Dream cards. Some force you to discard one of your unlocked doors. Two of them require you to draw additional Dark Premonitions and put them in play.
This is my least favorite expansion. First of all, it does not mix well with other expansions – for example, if you use the Glyphs, which makes for 3 doors of each color, a certain premonition card – triggered by 2 red doors – kind of ruins the game. It forces you to discard all remaining red cards, which pretty much makes opening a third red door impossible. It also makes for a lot of frustration with Expansion #1, the Book of Steps, because one of the best ways to try and handle Dark Premonitions is by timing when you trigger them. This is impossible when the order of doors is dictated.
But okay, fine, not every expansion has to mix perfectly with every other expansion. The real problem here is that the penalties imposed by Dark Premonitions are completely unimaginative and uninteresting. A few of the penalties – discarding all red cards after you’ve unlocked red doors (assuming you’re not playing with 3 red doors) hastens the end of the deck, losing 2 keys is tough but managable, and re-introducing a Nightmare card is fearsome but not apocalyptic. But then you have the one that makes you remove ALL Happy Dreams from the deck, and while removing Happy Dreams seems threatening, removing ALL of them is overkill. When you get that Dark Premonition, there’s basically no point other than you have to cancel it out with a Happy Dream. There’s no push/pull there, no interesting choice to be made. You either get rid of that or you’re in big trouble.
Even worse are the Dark Premonitions that simply force you to reveal more Dark Premonitions. There are only 8 Dark Premonition cards total! This is ridiculously lazy design. It’s not actually an “effect” in and of itself, and for some reason it compounds the damage – not only do you not get to see what new Dark Premonition will get revealed ahead of time so you can try to prepare for it, you get hit with double damage – one of the Premonitions forces you to discard your hand and THEN reveal a new Premonition, and the other just makes you draw 2 new Dark Premonitions to replace it. So you can’t do anything to “prepare” for these, there’s no interesting dichotomy between “do I just absorb the damage” or “do I try cancel it out.” It’s just not fun. The challenge is artificial.
Which is too bad, because I’m fine with the idea in theory. Adding a powerful good card and a powerful penalty card CAN be an interesting way to add challenge, but only if the penalties are balanced. I like using the Happy Dreams, but when I play with this expansion I cull the Dark Premonitions down to the cards that don’t seem pointless or poorly designed.
Expansion #6: Crossroads and Dead Ends
The 6th expansion adds 6 wild “Crossroads” cards and 10 “Dead End” cards. The wild cards have symbols on them – 3 suns, 2 moons, and 1 key – but count as any color you wish. This includes playing them in a set of 3 in the labyrinth row, or using the wild Key card to unlock any door you just drew.
The Dead Ends are location cards as well, but they have no symbols on them. In fact, they can’t be discarded from your hand, unless your entire hand gets discarded – such as when drawing a Nightmare. The expansion also adds one more option on your turn – you can discard your entire hand at once (you don’t get the benefit of Keys or Glyphs discarded this way).
This expansion is one of my favorites. It’s so simple – the Dead Ends are easy to remember and the concept of a Wild Card is not difficult. The Dead Ends serve to take up space in your hand, which adds tension to the amount of resources you have access to. You’re not just going to discard your hand as soon as you have a single dead end, but having fewer viable locations in your hand means you’re less able to react and more likely to need to toss something away that you’d really rather keep. You can hope to hold on to the Dead Ends until you draw a Nightmare, thus absorbing the damage from a Nightmare for the most part, but you also want to get rid of Dead Ends as soon as possible. It’s the sort of thing that just adds a few choices and makes the luck-of-the-draw feel like a risk/reward scenario and not just a coin toss for victory. The Crossroads cards serve as a nice counterbalance that again doesn’t add much complexity, but gives you a few choices. Do you use that wild right now, or save it for later? Maybe just one… more… draw…
There are a couple small points of confusion regarding the Crossroads cards. The rules state that they count as all 4 colors at once and can be used in a sequence. However, it also says that they can be played at any point in a sequence of 3 and the other two cards determine which color the sequence matches. The wording seems to imply that only 1 crossroads cards can be used in a single sequence, but it is not explicit either way as to whether you could use 2 or even 3 crossroad cards in a sequence. For what it’s worth, I prefer to play that any number of Crossroads cards can be used (after all, do you really WANT to drop 2 wild cards at once?), but I may be in error.
The other confusion is regarding the “Escape” action where you voluntarily discard your whole hand. The rules state that you draw a new hand, but it’s unclear if you should resolve Dream cards or not. At game setup and when you resolve the Nightmare option to discard your hand, you set aside Dream cards without resolving them. Since it doesn’t say that you do this, I assume you draw your hand one card at a time and resolve Dreams as they come, which could mean getting hit with multiple nightmares since you’re drawing 5 cards.
Expansion #7: The Door to the Oniverse
The final “full” mini-expansion adds one more door – the Door to the Oniverse – and 16 Denizens of the Oniverse cards. Yes, “Oniverse” not “Omniverse” even though my brain keeps trying to tell me otherwise.
The new door is yet another door you must open in order to win, but it can be opened by any color sequence or key.
The Denizens are dream cards that are powerful beings who grant you bonus abilities. When you draw one from the deck, you can choose to discard a location card (NOT a Dead End from Expansion 6, you sneaker!) in order to claim the Denizen. Once claimed, it stays in front of you – not a part of your hand – until you use it. If you don’t claim it right away, it goes straight to the discard pile.
Sometimes the choice is easy – some of the powers are very very useful and worth discarding a location card, or you might just have a lot of expendable cards in your hand anyways. Other times, you want to keep all the cards in your hand or the power might not seem as useful in the moment, so the choice is more difficult.
Their abilities are generally pretty useful. One allows you to look at the next few cards and discard Nightmares. One lets you grab a location card from the discard pile. One lets you temporarily change a door’s color, so you could potentially unlock it with a different sequence. Some of the cards are clearly more powerful than others – for example, Squirrel Spies lets you reveal and rearrange the top 5 cards of your deck, while the Harpoon Hunter lets you reveal the top 5 cards, discard ALL nightmare cards you revealed, and then put the rest back. I’ll let you figure out which is more useful. Still, they all have at least SOME benefit, and most of them are more unique to each other than that and their benefits are more difficult to compare.
I enjoy this expansion very much. The extra door adds a small boost to the challenge (you get no additional Location cards to work with), and the Denizens are another interesting element that forces you to make tough choices. It’s always nice to have those Denizens handy, but it can be pretty tough to discard a card to get them. At least you have the choice.
There is one caveat. Like every other card from every other expansion, the Denizens have no helpful iconography or card text printed on them. While in the other cases – Glyphs, Keys, Spells – you can get used to the abilities and learn them, there are 8 unique Denizens with slightly more complex powers. It’s going to be almost impossible to remember all their abilities, which means you’ll need the rulebook handy at all times. And every time you have to check the rulebook, it slows down the game and ruins any immersion in the puzzle you’re trying to solve.
Expansion #… uh… Appendix: The Little Incubus
The final half-ish expansion makes use of the fancy wooden token, the Incubus, so prominently displayed in the box. To be honest, I thought this guy would be used a whole lot more; it’s a neat little token, so it was kind of disappointing that its use is minimal.
This “appendix” expansion adds one ability. On your turn, you can choose to put a location card you draw under the Incubus token and immediately resolve a Nightmare. Why would you want to do that? Well, maybe you want to get rid of your whole hand anyways, or you have a good set of keys and feel prepared to defend it, and you’d simply prefer to get it over with.
If you have a card stashed under the Incubus when you draw a Nightmare, you can discard the card to cancel out the Nightmare. The summary result is that, even though you still had to resolve a Nightmare, you do it at a time of your choosing, when you can deal with it more effectively rather than just waiting for it to happen.
This is an “appendix” expansion because it supposedly doesn’t mix well with the other expansions. I don’t really understand this; there doesn’t seem to be anything about this expansion that breaks any of the other expansions. It seems to mix better than, say, Dark Premonitions. There is no expansion that removes Nightmare effects, and you have to put a Location card under the Incubus, so I don’t know where the divide is. In any case, this is the mini-est of the mini expansions, and I know you want to use that little token. This expansion works just fine, it doesn’t ruin the game, and it adds a small but useful tool to your toolbelt. I say use it as you please! Throw caution to the wind! Mix it in with everything else!
A Summary of Everything…
Wow, that’s a lot of expansion in one box. One things for sure; at the very least, you can mix and max the included cards to your choosing in order to make the game the way you want it. I’m sure others will like expansions that I disliked and vice versa.
I would, however, definitely not recommend playing with all the expansions mixed in. I tried it, and it was quite the onslaught of tedious upkeep. Constant re-shuffling, constantly checking the rulebook to remember what THAT guys power was, getting confused by the details, and losing the game without much say in the matter – I just didn’t have a lot of fun, and I did have a LOT of frustration. When I made some tweaks to the expansions I included, I had a lot more fun. The nice thing is I suppose you can get a lot of replay value by trying different combinations of expansions to get slightly different types of challenge.
The biggest continuous downside, even when expansions were sprinkled in to my taste, was the sheer quantity of special abilities that aren’t printed on the cards. From discarding Keys or Glyphs, to using Spells, to Dark Premonitions, to the Denizens, to the Dreamcatcher actions – I was constantly digging through the rulebook, getting sucked out of the game, extending the length of play, because it’s just impossible to remember them all. I think I’ve got keys and glyphs down, now, but I doubt I’d ever be able to memorize each Denizen. A few helpful icons (the spell card has icons but they aren’t extremely clear; at least they serve as a trigger for your memory once you’ve looked it up a dozen times) or even more ideally some card text, especially for the Denizens, would be very appreciated. At the very least, it would have been nice to have one sheet or page in the rulebook – say, the back page – that had all the powers, abilities, and triggers listed in one place. It’s bad enough having to look up the power; it’s much worse having to flip through 2 different rulebooks to find it.
This is one case where the beauty aesthetic – and again, this game is beautiful –needed to be sacrificed a little bit for a design and play aesthetic. This is a game you can get immersed in – not necessarily in the theme, but in the decisions you need to make to solve the puzzle of unlocking all the doors in time – but having to stop and check rules sucks you completely out of the experience.
Overall, I’m not sure Onirim is a mixed bag. The base game is far to easy. As expansions get added in the game inceases in challenge and choice, which makes it far more interesting. However, some of the expansion elements feel fairly luck based, and others just add weakly designed or uninteresting challenges. Overall, the “hooks” of the mechanisms just aren’t that interesting, and the theme – though beautifully represented in the art – melts away once you start playing the game. Perhaps the biggest detriment is the number of abilities you need to keep looking up, which sucks you out of the game when you’re starting to get immersed. Oh, and the shuffling. So much shuffling.