“Whilst I count my schnookels”
Onirim is a card game published by Z-Man games for 1 to 2 players that can be played in 15 minutes. I believe Onirim is primarily a solitaire game with rules for two players. This is opposite of normal. Where most games were designed for multiplayer with added rules for solitaire, Onirim feels like it was designed for solitaire with added rules for multiplayer. But that's not a bad thing. I played Onirim 19 times before writing this review. I feel that I have a very good grasp on the game, but there is still much for me to discover.
I always thought this game was about a cat, but that's a nightmare on the cover.
First things first, the basic game. Onirim is a card game where the player (or players) work through a deck to find and play 8 specific cards. That's it, sounds simple doesn't it.
The deck is made of three types of cards: labyrinth cards, which are the main playable cards in the game; doors - finding these is the goal of the game; and nightmares which really mess you up. Each of the labyrinth cards is one of four colors, red, blue, green, and brown, and has a symbol, either a sun, moon, or a key.
The player has a hand of five cards. Each turn he plays a card in front of him (and subsequent cards in a row) or he discards a card. The only rule is that the card he played cannot have a symbol that matches the last card in the row. If he plays three cards of one color, he can pull a door of that color from the deck and place it on the table. Once all eight doors have been found, he wins. Cards with the key symbol are special, they can be played like normal or the player can discard a key card to look at the top five cards of the deck. The he discards one and puts the remaining four back on top of the deck in any order. Also, if he has a key in his hand when draws a door card, he discards the key card and immediately puts the door out on the table.
However, whenever a nightmare card is drawn, a choice must be made: discard your hand, discard five cards from the top of the deck, discard a key, or put a found door back in the deck. None of these options are ideal, but the game forces you to make tough choices. If the player can put out all 8 doors before the deck runs out, he wins.
Onirim also comes with three modular expansions which can be added into the basic game by themselves or in any combination of the three.
The Book of Steps Lost and Found is a set of 8 door placement cards and one spell card. This expansion forces the player to find and place the doors in order. This makes for a very tricky scenario where the player often has cards for a door that he doesn't need. The game gives the player some special abilities that make this expansion easier.
The Towers adds 12 tower cards into the deck. Not only does the player need to find the doors like in the basic game, but he needs to play one tower card of each color to win. To make things harder, the nightmare cards force the player to also discard his tower cards.
The third expansion is called Dark Premonitions and Happy Dreams which awards the player with negative achievements. Bad things happen after certain events take place. For instance, placing three doors forces the player to discard his hand, placing two red doors forces the player to discard all remaining red cards in the deck, and finding two green doors causes a discarded nightmare to be shuffled back into the deck. However, this expansion inserts four extremely powerful happy dream cards to counteract the negative achievements.
I think the theme is very strong in Onirim. The art style is evocative of a bad dream. The pictures are, at first glance, simplistic but have a twisty, wrong feeling to them. It's as if the subjects in the art are trying keep from getting lost. This works perfect for the theme. The player is wandering the halls of a labyrinth trying to find a way out. If he can find all eight doors, he'll be free from the dream. Each color card has the same picture. I appreciate this design decision, because every time I turn over a red card, I see the same room. It makes me feel like I am running in circles. I can imagine the dream very well.
I open a door, and I'm in the red room.
I turn a corner, and I'm in the red room.
I leave the red room and I find myself in the red room, again!
There are times when you draw nightmare after nightmare. In these moments, I imagine I tried to find the way out only to be confronted by a nightmare. I turned to run away, and I there's another nightmare waiting for me. If the player needs to draw a new card and the deck is empty, he loses. This creates the feeling that I am stuck in the dream forever. I am lost among the labyrinths and I will never find my way out.
Onirim comes with a sturdy box which holds the cards in two stacks; two folded pages of rules, one for the basic game and one for the expansions; and 99 cards, 76 for the basic game and 33 for the three expansions.
The card quality is where the components of Onirim really shine. These are high quality cards. I am a rough shuffler, and this game requires a lot of shuffling. After 19 games and 15 - 20 shuffles a game, I would expect the cards to be pretty worn out. But, no. The cards are in great shape. This really surprised me because the card art for Onirim is just asking for scuffs and scratches. The cards have a black border on the face and full color on the backs. That kind of design usually always shows wear pretty easily. There are a few cards that are starting to show a little bit of wear, but for the most part they look absolutely fine. Well done Z-Man. You should tell every game publisher where you got the Onirim cards printed.
I went through my deck and I only found two cards with marks. You can see in this picture how minor the marks are. I find this really impressive, I've seen cards split during the first game.
WHAT'S BAD ABOUT THE GAME
To be honest, really not much. This game is fantastic.
However, I do have two concerns with Onirim. First, I think it's a big flaw that the expansions are called expansions. This may be a weird gripe, but I think it's a big deal. I think the designers should have called things the basic game and the advanced game. Because I thought there were expansions in the game, I really spent some time with the basic game. I played it nine times before I added in The Book of Steps Lost and Found. I wanted a handle on things before I added an expansion. But really, The Book of Steps Lost and Found really only forces the player to find the doors in a specific order. This module is my favorite to play. The rules aren't difficult and it creates a whole new layer of strategy. I know this is really only an argument of semantics, but the idea that expansions were included gave me a false assumption about the game.
The second concern is the shuffling. Now I enjoy shuffling so this doesn't bother me, but I know it comes up in every conversation about Onirim so I feel like I need to address it. There is a lot of shuffling, and I mean a lot. If the player draws a door but doesn't have a key, he needs to reshuffle. If he searches through the deck to find a door, he needs to reshuffle. If he draws a nightmare or door during his opening draw or after discarding his hand, he needs to reshuffle. This is a big deal for some and because it turns people off from the game, I think it's a flaw.
With that said, I use shuffling as a strategy. Here's how: Let's say I need either a brown moon or brown key to complete a series of three brown labyrinth cards. (Completing the series would let me find and place a door.) I discard a green key to look at the top five cards. I have a blue door, a nightmare, two red suns, and a blue sun. I don't want any of those. I discard the nightmare, and now I can reorder the four cards before putting them back on the deck. I choose the blue door, blue sun, red sun, and red sun, then put them back on the deck. Next, I draw the blue door, but since I don't have a key, the blue door gets set to the side. I then draw the blue sun, which brings my hand back to five. Now, I shuffle the blue door back into the deck. I really didn't need or want the red sun cards, and they are no longer on top because I reshuffled the deck. When I draw my next card, I can hope for the card I need.
Onirim is great. It's fun, fast, and challenging. But more so, there is an elegant simplicity to Onirim. The basic game can seem pretty easy at first, but I think multiple plays reveal the depth it can offer. When the game begins, it's easy to imagine the victory. "I'll find the doors and get out of this dream. No problem," I think. But as the game rolls on, and the deck gets smaller, I start to panic. I find myself running in circles and surrounded by nightmares. Either I'll be swallowed up by the dream, or I'll find that last door, jump through, and land on the floor gasping for breath. "I made it, I made it," I'll pant and wonder how I ended up on the floor. Did I fall off the bed? I take a breath then shuffle up and deal out a new game.
The advanced game is very unforgiving. The modules are quite difficult. Each one offers a different kind of challenge. My favorite is The Book of Steps Lost and Found. It really forces the player to make some tough decisions. The game is quick to play and small enough that it can be carried quite easily in a pocket. This is definitely the kind of game I'll pull out when I have 20 minutes. If you are looking for a quick solitaire card game, I definitely recommend Onirim.
8 out of 10 Yellow Trains.
--- --- ---
Thanks to BGG users goblintrenches, ivyco, tsayirong, sugi, and KSensei for some great pictures of Onirim.