Odin’s Ravens is a card-based racing game for two players, which has some elements that remind me of Elfenland. It was designed in 2002 by Thorsten Gimmler, who later designed Geschenkt and Aton. It’s part of Kosmos’ excellent 2-player line of games, published here in the States by Rio Grande. The game’s setting is Norse mythology, with each player taking on the role of one of Odin’s two ravens, Hugin or Mugin. In Norse legends, the ravens sat on either shoulder of Odin; each morning at dawn, Odin would send them out to travel throughout Midgard, gathering information, reporting back to him at dusk. During the game, the ravens (i.e., the players) are racing across Midgard in hopes of being the first to report back to Odin. The first player to reach 12 points wins the game. The average playing time of our games has been about 30 minutes.
Out of the Box
The Odin’s Ravens box is just like the other Kosmos 2-player games; small, square, and with a nice plastic insert to hold the components. Upon opening, you’ll find 40 landscape cards, 50 flight cards (25 for each player), 16 Odin cards (8 for each player), 6 Magic Way cards, 1 wooden Odin marker, 2 wooden ravens (1 gray, 1 brown), and a set of instructions. Each landscape card is divided down the middle, showing 2 types of landscape. Flight cards show just one type of landscape while Odin cards show text allowing special actions. Magic Way cards display 2 pictures: either a picture of Odin and a type of landscape or 2 pictures of different landscape types. The cards are oddly shaped, but of good quality and nicely illustrated, as is the box. The Norse theme provides flavor, but has no real impact on the game play. The rules in my Rio Grande version had one pretty significant error concerning the Magic Way cards. I had read of this before I purchased the game so it was no big deal; I was able to print out the correction that was posted on the Rio Grande web site.
Shuffle the landscape cards together and place 9 cards face up and back-to-back, forming 2 different flight paths. In these initial paths, adjacent landscapes cannot be of the same type (i.e., you can’t have 2 mountain landscapes next to one another). The remaining landscape cards form a face-down draw deck. Each player puts his/her raven playing piece next to one of the paths (one raven per path). The Magic Way cards are shuffled to form another draw deck, with the first card flipped face-up. The Odin marker is set to the side. The two players shuffle their flight cards and Odin cards together, so that they each have their own play deck. Each player draws the first 5 cards from their respective decks as their starting hands. The youngest player goes first.
During your turn, you can play up to 3 cards from your hand and up to 3 cards from your reserve pile. NOTE: At the beginning of the game, your reserve pile is empty. You have several options when playing a card: 1) You can play a card from your hand to the top of your reserve pile, 2) You can play a flight card from your hand or your reserve pile in order to advance a space on the flight path, 3) You can play a flight card or Odin card from your hand or reserve pile to build up the “Magic Way,” or 4) You can play an Odin card from your hand or reserve pile and carry out the associated action. At the end of your turn, you refill your hand to 5 cards and have the option of adding another landscape card to the flight path.
When playing a card to your reserve pile, it must go on top; when retrieving a card from your reserve pile, you must take it from the top (LIFO - last in, first out). When playing a flight card to advance your raven along the path, it must match the adjacent landscape (sort of similar to travel in Elfenland). If you don’t have that particular landscape in your hand, you can use two flight cards of the same type as a joker (reminiscent of caravanning in Elfenland). If your path contains a series of two or more landscapes of the same type, you can travel to the last of them by playing just one flight card of that type. When playing a card on the “Magic Way,” that card must match one of the two types displayed on the current face-up “Magic Way” card; note that any card played there is used solely for that purpose (i.e., you cannot play it there and use it to move your raven as well).
When playing an Odin card for action, you can choose which one of the two actions described to carry out. Some actions allow you to alter the flight path by rotating landscape cards, adding/removing landscape cards, or swapping landscape cards. One action allows you to rearrange your reserve pile. Other actions can affect movement; some allow you to either move your raven forward one space or your opponent back one, while another allows you to place the Odin marker in the path of your opponent (similar to blockading in Elfenland). To bypass the Odin marker, you must either play two flight cards of the same type of the landscape on which the Odin marker sits or play an Odin card that allows you to remove it from your path.
Scoring and Endgame
When one of the ravens reaches the end of its flight path, the race ends and scoring takes place. The winner of the race is awarded points equal to the margin of victory. For example, if a raven reaches the end of its flight path and the opposing raven is still 4 spaces from the end, the winning raven is awarded 4 points. In addition, the player who has played more cards on the “Magic Way” earns 3 points for that round. The scores are recorded and if no one has reached 12 points, another round of racing is in order. A new “Magic Way” card is flipped up and the game is reset as at the beginning, with the player with the fewest points starting the next race. The first player to reach 12 points wins. If both players go over 12, then the higher score wins; if it’s still tied, then the winner of the last race carries the day.
Seeing as there’s several different card decks in play in Odin’s Ravens, there’s no denying that luck can play a prominent factor in the game. However, with an alternate way to score points (Magic Way) and through skillful management of the unique reserve pile, the luck should be balanced between the players, for the most part. IMHO, the player who plans best will win much more often than not. And by planning, I mean how well a player manages his/her reserve pile, as well as balancing play between the races and the “Magic Way.”
While losing a race is never a good thing, it can be somewhat mitigated by winning the 3 points for the “Magic Way.” You should definitely avoid losing the race and the “Magic Way,” as losing both can put you in a hole from which you might not recover. So if you find yourself falling way behind in the race, you can try investing more in the “Magic Way”. Conversely, if you find yourself way behind in the “Magic Way,” you can concentrate on winning the race big, as a large margin will offset what your opponent will gain.
That being said, when you fall behind in the racing portion, remember that there are several ways that might allow you to catch up rather quickly. If you’re missing that one flight card that will allow you to move, look ahead by playing cards into your reserve pile. Then when you get the card you need, you can possibly move up to 6 spaces in one move by alternately playing cards from your hand and reserve pile. The Odin cards can also help you in your race; placing the Odin marker on your opponent may give you the time you need to catch up, while taking advantage of some path altering actions can decrease your deficit as well. Rotating a landscape card can be helpful in both blocking your opponent as well as helping you move further if you can line up similar landscapes adjacently on your path. Removing landscape cards can cut the margin between you and your opponent while adding landscape cards can extend the race. However, be cautious when adding cards to the path; if you’re too far behind, it may just give your opponent a larger margin of victory (and thus more points) and, if you’re ahead, it could possibly allow your opponent to catch up.
As I do with most of the Kosmos 2-player games, I find Odin’s Ravens to be a an entertaining and challenging diversion. While there’s a moderate amount of luck, the planning involved along with some of the more unique elements (i.e., reserve pile, “Magic Way”) more than make up for the randomness. I have observed that when playing with new players, some are slow to fully grasp how to manipulate the reserve pile, but they get the hang of it once they get a game under their belt.
The bottom line, for me at least, is this: Odin’s Ravens is just a fun game to play. It has the added bonus of having similar elements to my favorite game, Elfenland, so that may bias my rating a little bit. So, if you’re looking for a quick and enjoyable little game while waiting for the rest of your gaming group to show up, you might want to check out Odin’s Ravens; just make sure you have the errata concerning the “Magic Way” rules. I currently rate this game a “ravenous” 8.