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Ravens of Thri Sahashri is an asymmetrical 2-player cooperative game that comes together quite unlike anything else I’ve seen.
One player takes the role of Ren, a young girl in a comma with her mind and soul being consumed by darkness, and the other plays Feth, searching through Ren’s dreams for the fragments of her fading memories that will restore her heart. The fantasy theme is a imaginative, solid framework for the game.
The two character’s mechanics are VASTLY different. Feth draws (face up) hands and builds a central repository of cards (called the Atman), from which Ren draws one card each turn to either discard or add to rows of a “poem” in front of her that starts with four hidden cards representing Ren’s heart. If the players can complete the poem and have all visible cards in the Atman matching the colors of Ren’s heart, the “dream” (round) is completed. Players must complete three dreams to win the game.
On each turn, Feth draws an many cards as he wants into a face up row in front of him. Once he’s done any ravens (which I’ll explain later) drawn are moved to a second row, leaving only memory cards in the top row. Feth then plays as many cards from the top row as he wants into the Atman. At the end of his turn any memory cards not played are discarded.
The faded sections of each memory card determine how it can be added to the Atman. When placing a card at least one faded section must overlap with an existing card in the Atman, and any overlapping sections must be of like type (faded or clear). Cards in the Atman can be completely covered in certain circumstances, and no longer count as part of the Atman until / unless they are uncovered later.
Feth can also “restore a memory” for Ren by forming an uninterrupted block of the same color of cards that totals a value of 7. When this happens the raven of the same color is chased away (removed from the game for the current round) if present in Feth’s bottom row and any cards under it are discarded, and Ren can reveal one of her “heart” cards that matches the color of the restored memory. At the end of the dream revealed heart cards are kept by Ren in a special score pile to be used during the final dream.
The five ravens in the deck, one for each color, represent the dark forces trying to destroy Ren’s memories and cause her to drift away forever. If at any point all five ravens are in Feth’s playing area, the game is lost. The ravens can also “eat” Ren’s memories. When a raven is in Feth’s playing area, any cards of the matching color that would be discarded are placed under the raven instead. Any cards underneath ravens at the end of a dream are “eaten” (removed from the game) and will not be available in the following rounds.
Mechanics-wise Ren’s turns are much simpler: she removes one visible card from the Atman and either discards it or adds it to her poem. Ren’s poem starts with one card for each of the lines face down (hidden from Feth). These cards represent her heart, and only the colors of these four cards may be visible in the Atman at the end of a dream. Ren is trying to complete a Japanese poem form called Doidotsu, which has a 7-7-7-5 rhythm. So she must place cards in the first three lines such that each line (including her heart card in that line) adds to a total of 7, and place cards in the final line to reach a total of 5. The lines must be played in / completed in order, and once the last line is completed the poem is finished.
The only communication between players is meant to be through card choice, which is where the challenge for Ren comes in. She does much less on each turn than the Feth player, but her choices on which cards to take from the Atman, and whether to use or discard them, is crucial to providing Feth with information about what she needs and what colors are in her hidden heart cards and must be the only ones in the Atman at the end of the dream.
It is possible for the Atman to be “split” (have sections that are not visibly connected) during the game, and Ren’s other big ability is choosing which part of the Atman remains and which is discarded when this happens. This is another key way to pass information to the Feth player and work towards their mutual goals.
There are other details to the mechanics that add to gameplay, such as special powers on the memory cards that Feth has access to for any face up cards in Ren’s poem, and added restrictions and abilities during the third and final dream of the game.
As I mentioned above Ravens of Thri Sahashri is quite original, and it takes a bit of start up time to wrap your head around. There are a lot of details to learn before beginning to play, but it all fits well once things get going and everything adds to the game in an important way.
There’s a nice “press your luck” element to drawing Feth’s hands: draw too few cards and Feth will lack options and limit Ren’s ability to play, but draw too many and Feth risks losing the game by revealing all the ravens or draining the deck.
Ren’s turns are much shorter than Feth’s and she seems to to have less to do, but I played her and really enjoyed it. What Feth chooses to do on his turns provides extremely vital clues towards what colors he thinks are important, etc and so I was as engaged in the game during his turns as I was during my own. I found trying to figure out how to pass useful hints by only removing a single card from the Atman challenging and rewarding.
The game increases in difficulty from round to round, due to both unavailable cards that have been either eaten or set aside in Ren’s score pile and to extra limitations placed on the players during the final dream. It’s somewhat difficult to judge how the game is going during the middle and there is a large luck component related to card draws, but co-op games should be a challenge and I feel Ravens dances the line just right.
We were slightly lax on the silence in the one game I’ve played, allowing some rule discussion (which I highly recommend when learning the game) as well as the Feth player thinking out loud a bit here and there without me responding. I’d probably try forbidding that last part in future games to see how it plays, as in retrospect him ruminating about what colors he thought my be in my heart cards did affect some of my choices.
I LOVE the visual design here. I’ve looked at pictures of the original version and it’s even more polished here, using faded gray coloring instead of bars for the faded memory sections to make the cards less busy and let the marvelous artwork shine more. Each card’s art is beautiful while keeping all gameplay related elements and information clear. The production quality is excellent in general, with a sturdy, striking outer box, appropriately large and thick cards, and vivd colors and printing.
Adding a final touch of mystery are three sealed envelopes, to be opened only when players win a complete game, which provide additional story context and legacy gameplay elements.
The lack of table talk and a fairly sizable learning curve for a card game definitely puts Ravens of Thri Sahashri in the “not for everyone” camp, but I found it to be a wonderfully original game that forces players to approach cooperation in a unique way. The asymmetric roles and legacy rule changes add even more longevity, and I can see myself coming back to this again and again for a long time.
DARK IN HERE, ISN'T IT?
Nice review, I agree with just about all of it. We are pretty relaxed about comms - chatting is ok with me as long as we respect the general idea not to tip off the other player. And Ren definitely gets more interesting to play, the more you play. A great game. Would like to see it on vassal or tts just to get it played more.