Review: Ominoes

Ominoes.  A game for Pharaohs, for Rulers and Sovereigns all.  A game for dice chuckers, a game for those that love and hate Chance in equal measure.  For those that want a generous sprinkling of strategy over their polyhedrons in the morning. And for those that just want a quick tabletop hit, but don’t have time for the chits that comes with those bigger box games.  

In Play 1

A Confession:

Now, while writing this I’ve spent a truly inordinate amount of time trying to concoct a silly story about how this game was played by ancient Egyptians 4,000 years ago.  I also spent far too long looking for hieroglyphs of people playing a board game, of ancient looking dice and so on.  All this for the simple aim of duping you, dear reader, into believing, even for a moment that Ominoes is really a modern re-skin of an ancient game such as Chess, Go, or the Royal Game of Ur.  But, to do this would have been to cheapen the accomplishment of the designer, Andrew Harman.  It also wouldn’t have been particularly funny.  Why would I want to do this?  Simple: Ominoes is startlingly simply to play that it feels like it belongs alongside those ancient games I mentioned before.  It’s hard to believe that this game didn’t exist before Andrew and YAY Games brought it into the world.  It has an almost ageless quality to it.

A dry description of this game may include words such as abstract, area-control, and pattern-recognition and dice.  My description would only involve three words. Simple. Elegant. Fun.Pyramid of Ominoes

I was reminded of the famous Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

And there is nothing in this game, nothing, that doesn’t need to be there.  It is incredibly lean, and from this stripped back stance the game gains, no, it earns its elegance.  And it does so in spades.

in Play Close Up 2

How to roll dice:

So, the simple rules:  Players need to orthogonally connect four or more Ominoes (dice) that show their respective coloured symbols – this can also include the two different types of wilds – once this is done the Ominoes are scored (1 point each) and removed from the board.  First player to reach the agreed-upon target (depending on players, and/or how long you want to play).

  1. In your turn, you’ll roll an Omino.
  2. Then you’ll move another Omino with a matching face exactly three spaces.
  3. Finally, you’ll add the Omino you just rolled.

Other than the fine print, that is how to play (the YAY-Ra wild allows the roller to move any Omino, and the Omniotep allows the roller to re-roll and replace any other Omino).

SPOILER ALERT (it’s not really a spoiler alert, I was just being melodramatic)

The first time you play this game, it will take you a couple of turns to truly realise how deep the strategy is.  You’ll also quickly come to relise that with pretty much every turn you’ll be interfering, frustrating and in any other way peeing off your opponents.  

On your subsequent games, the gloves will be off and you’ll come out swinging.  There is this moment I look for now when I play this with others for their first time.  Newbies and veterans alike have this “Oooh” moment when they do a surprise double-take.  The best analogy I can think of is eating a very nice cake, and then suddenly finding it has a gooey sweet centre that you had no idea was there.  If you’re not a “cake person” I hope you can still appreciate the metaphor here.

Ominoes Close Up

What I’m getting at, is the surprise that this game packs, is, well surprising.  The game is just a bunch of dice – brilliant, wooden chunky dice with colourful filled engraved icons – and a gridded board.  That’s it.  No cards, tokens, chits.  Certainly no miniatures and not even a whiff of custom meeples.  The game doesn’t need them.  Yet, there is so much game here.  That is why this game feels “classic” like it should have been designed 3,00 years ago, not in 2016.

Two and Three-Player Games

In a two -player game, the rules change every so slightly, each player not only collects sets of their deity/colour, but they will competitively complete sets of the other two that are not in “direct play”, so both players will be trying to finish sets of Ra (Yellow Suns) and Khepri(Blue Scarab Beetle).  In a three-player game, all players can score from the one missing deity/colour.  These changes really help keep the balance, and in fact, make the two-player game far more competitive.  As the board fills up finding just the right spot to not give away point to you opponent becomes harder and harder.

In Play Close Up

Advanced Games

For those players that want a little more of a challenge, Ominoes answers with Indy’s much despised Snake Pit.  At the centre of the board, there is a two-by-two square “Snake-Pit” that cannot be entered at all, which adds a further level of difficulty very simply.  I’ve found that many newcomers to the game assume that the Snake Pit can’t be entered from the get-go, which makes it an important distinction to make when you play for the first time, as it is much more challenging with the advanced ruless in play.  

With each play of this game, you will face a different problem, regardless of the player count, as Ominoes is, at its core a luck based game, therefore what you roll will determine how each game plays.  Regardless of experience as a gamer, or with this specific game.  Ominoes keeps you on your toes.  There will be games where you roll nothing but little Green Hawks (Horus), and the following game you won’t see one.  Making this game very accessible and, quite simply, very good fun.

Accessing your inner Om

Ominoes does a great job getting around the issue of colour blindness and eyesight issues (for the greater part), all the icons are distinct and clear, even if you can’t make out the colours.  The fundamental depth of this game comes from pattern recognition, you can never truly plan ahead too far, or anticipate your opponent since so much of the game is based upon the roll of a die.

Travel Version

 

All of the above combine to make Ominoes a game that can be played by young or old, experienced or new gamers alike.  And I mean really alike.  This game creates a very level playing field to enjoy some fantastic dice chucking over and over again, with such a very short play time, even with the max player count you can play multiple games within an hour.  This is a perfect breakout game, travel game – especially with the far more transportable Travel edition, which includes a neoprene “board” – or even if you just want to play, have fun and don’t have much time – you won’t get much better than Onimoes.

N.B. The travel version of Ominoes is shortly to be released and at present will only be available direct from YAY Games along with the kick-ass pop-up dice tray

Dice Tray

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

 

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