The Pharaoh has died without an heir, so the governors are constructing monuments in his honor, in the hopes to gain the most glory and become the next Pharaoh themselves. Collect resources and plan your monuments, all while the funeral barge is Sailing Toward Osiris.
At a glance: Sailing Toward Osiris is a game for 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, and takes 60–90 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge of $49 for a copy of the game (or $59 for the deluxe version, which includes a mini-expansion). The rules themselves are not generally too complex, but there is a good deal of negotiation and planning, so I recommend it only for kids who have the patience for longer games.
Note: since my review is based on a pre-production prototype, the components shown are not final and are subject to change. One thing I do know for certain is that red will not be a player color, because it was too close to the color of the brickworkers and brick resources. Daily Magic Games was also playtesting special governor abilities, which are available in the deluxe version along with objective cards and a wooden regent token.
- Game board
- 5 player screens
- 5 scoring tokens
- 25 Boon cards (5 per player)
- 5 Camel tokens (1 per player)
- 20 Sphinx tokens (4 per player)
- 15 Obelisk tokens (3 per player)
- 10 Pylon tokens (2 per player)
- 5 Withdraw tokens (1 per player)
- 20 City cards
- 30 Grain tokens
- 30 Brick tokens
- 30 Stone tokens
- 1 Barge token
- 3 Regent tokens
- 12 Laborer meeples (4 each Farmer, Brickworker, Stoneworker)
- 3 Master Laborer meeples (Farmer, Brickworker, Stoneworker)
- 1 draw bag
All of the meeples and wooden tokens are nicely done, too, and once you have a bunch of monuments built up around the board, it really looks impressive.
The illustrations by Denis Martynets are quite nice, and I like the overall look of the game. The various construction costs and trading spaces use icons that are pretty easy to interpret, and there are a lot of nice little details on the board areas if you look closely. We did make some suggestions during playtesting at GameStorm, so some of those may come into effect.
I did have one player complain that the player screen was much too big—he kept knocking it over, and didn’t feel that he needed such a big screen to hide the (fairly small) resource tokens. However, I also do like being able to arrange the building resources behind the screen, grouping them in the ways I hope to spend them, so having a little more room isn’t terrible.
How to Play
The goal of the game is to earn the most glory by the end of the game by building your monuments—there are bonuses for building particular types of monuments, or for certain configurations at the end of the game.
The setup changes slightly depending on the number of players: for fewer than 5 players, you’ll use fewer resource tokens in the supply. For 2 or 3 players, you’ll also block some of the various regions (using monuments from an unused player color), and in a 2-player game you’ll also remove some of the regular laborer meeples. The Pharaoh’s barge starts in the river section on the right side of the board—there are four sections of river, marking the four seasons (rounds) of the game. The laborer meeples (regular and master) go into the draw bag.
Each player starts with a set of pieces in their chosen color: 1 withdraw token, 1 camel, 4 sphinxes, 3 obelisks, 2 pylons, and 5 boon cards. They also get a player screen, 2 of each resource, and a city card from the deck. Randomly choose a starting player, who becomes Regent for the first round.
One note: during the game, you are allowed to haggle and make deals: trading resources, cards, unused laborer meeples, and so on. You can also trade promises of future actions, but these deals are not binding, so it’s up to you whether to trust your opponents.
At the beginning of the season, everyone will draw 2 or 3 laborers (depending on player count) out of the bag in turn order. Then the Regent will draw laborers for the labor pool on the board, leaving 2 laborers in the bag, which the Regent is allowed to look at.
Then, starting with the Regent, players take turns taking actions until everyone has withdrawn. Here are the available actions:
- Harvest resources
- Visit a city
- Hire a laborer
- Plan a monument
- Build a monument
- Trade at the market
- Play a city card
- Play a boon card
Harvest Resources: Place a laborer in a matching terrain space and collect the resources shown—each terrain space has two sections, but the laborer occupies the entire space if available, collecting the total shown. If a monument has been built on one section, the laborer only collects from the other section. Regular laborers (solid colored) may not be placed along a river segment ahead of the barge, but master laborers (with the white clothing) may be placed anywhere available.
Visit a city: Place a laborer of any type into any city that currently doesn’t have a laborer in it (including ahead of the barge) and draw two city cards. Keep one for yourself, and give one to another player. If you visit a city that has another player’s monument built in it, you must give the extra card to the owner of the monument.
Caravan: There are two caravan locations on the board, each with two sections. You put a laborer of any type in an unoccupied section of a caravan, and collect the resources shown there. If you’re the first at that caravan, you also place your camel there to indicate that you are leading the caravan—if a different player joins the caravan later, they must give you one of the resources they collect there.
Hire a laborer: Pay any two resources to the labor pool and take an available worker from the pool. (Note that these resources do not go back into the general supply.)
Plan a monument: Each of the monuments has a couple of options for building costs, as shown by the cartouches on the board. Pick an unoccupied building cartouche, pay those resources to the supply, and then place the corresponding monument on the cartouche. Nobody (including you) can plan using those costs until your monument has been removed. You may have multiple monuments planned (with different costs) at the same time.
Build a monument: Move a planned monument from the cartouche onto an available building space. Each monument has specific terrain types where it may be built, and the space may not have another monument or a laborer currently in it. You immediately score points for the building, plus a bonus point if it was built along the river section where the barge currently is. If you’re the first to build all of your sphinxes, obelisks, or pylons, you also score bonus points.
Trade at the market: There are four market cartouches on the board, each showing two resource sets. You may pay one set to receive the other set from the supply. The resources you pay are placed on the cartouche, so they do not return to the supply, and nobody will be able to use that particular cartouche for the rest of the season.
Play a city card: Each card may be used either to collect the two resources shown at the top corner, or for its ability. Discard a card after it is played.
Play a boon card: The boon cards are powerful abilities, and each player starts with the same set of 5. You may only play one boon per season, and each boon only once during the game. In addition, you may only play a boon that has not been used by anyone this season. Boons are played and then left face-up until the end of the season so that everyone can see what has been played.
Withdraw: If you can’t or don’t want to take any more actions, you may withdraw. Put your withdraw token in front of your screen—you are now finished for the season. If you are the first to withdraw, you place your withdraw token on one of the available Regent bonus cartouches on the board, and you will become the Regent for the next season.
Once everyone has withdrawn for the season, then you prepare for the next season: all laborers are returned to the bag (they cannot be held for the next season). The new Regent receives the Regent bonus, and then replaces their withdraw token with one of the Regent tokens. Return any played camels to their owners. Any boons that were played are removed from the game, and any monuments that were planned but not built are also removed from the game. The resources paid to the labor pool and the market are returned to the supply.
At the end of the fourth season, you score bonus points: 2 points for each set of 3 adjacent monuments, and 3 points for each set of 4 monuments on the same river segment. Whoever has the most glory wins the game. In case of a tie, the player with the most remaining resources wins.
Daily Magic Games has built up a solid fan base, notably through their Valeria series of games, but they’ve also had a few other successes like Go Nuts for Donuts and 10-Minute Heist. Sailing Toward Osiris, designed by David MacKenzie, is probably the heaviest game so far in terms of strategy and complexity. I would say generally allow for closer to 2 hours the first time you play it, depending on how many players you have, but it does go more quickly once everyone is familiar with the rules.
It’s a building game—you spend most of the game acquiring the resources you need so that you can build your monuments. It’s also a worker placement game, though you may get different workers each round. And, of course, it’s a negotiation game, which means there can be a lot of wheeling and dealing throughout the game, particularly if that’s how your gaming group likes to play.
One of the key mechanics is that monuments are built on the resource spaces—so every monument that is built reduces the resources available to harvest. As the barge moves onward, more terrain opens up to the regular laborers, but if everyone builds on the same terrain type, pretty soon you’ll find that particular resource in short supply. In one game I played, one of the players was upset that he had trouble acquiring stone during the first season, so he built his monuments on the stone quarries—so the rest of us could feel his pain. Well, pretty soon we were feeling his pain, but it didn’t make things any better for him!
I really like that aspect of the game, though, because it forces you to think about how to manage resources, not just for the current building, but for the long term. On top of that, you’re also trying to figure out how to build monuments so that you get bonus points for them being adjacent, or being along the same river segment—but other players may build on those spaces to block you, or simply harvest resources there so that the space isn’t available for building until the next season.
The city cards can give you a powerful boost, if you get the right card at the right time, so if there’s nothing else to do with your laborers, you can usually send them to a city to collect a card. Of course, it also means you’ll have to give a card to somebody else. Even if your group doesn’t do any other negotiation, there’s usually at least a little bit of a bidding war for the cards, whether it’s an exchange of resources, or a promise of the extra card the next time the player goes to a city. So far in the games I’ve played, everyone has been pretty honest and has kept their promises, but if you’ve got a cutthroat group, I imagine there could be a lot more backstabbing, too.
Sailing Toward Osiris gives you a lot of meaty decisions to make—you’ll often be pulled in a couple different directions, because you really want to place that farmer down before somebody harvests all the wheat, but if you place your farmer this turn then you may not get a chance to build your obelisk before somebody plops a stoneworker in the space you really need. The boons can be very powerful, but there are a lot of restrictions on when you can play them. If you wait too long, you might find that another player used the boon you were planning to use this season, spoiling your carefully laid plans. There were even many times when players foiled their own plans, building something on a terrain and then realizing they were counting on the resources from that terrain for their next plan.
I also have always liked building games because at the end, you get to look at what everyone has built up: in this case, a bunch of big monuments for a dead Pharaoh that, unfortunately, had the side effect of devastating the local economy. But, hey, at least you’re next in line to be Pharaoh! Better work on finding some new fields and brickyards and quarries.
Overall, Sailing Toward Osiris feels a bit like a Euro-style game, with a nice dash of cutthroat competition. The ever-dwindling access to resources is a fantastic mechanic, and I recommend engaging in some friendly (or unfriendly) negotiation for some extra player interaction.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Sailing Toward Osiris Kickstarter page!