What Is Overlord?
Overlord is a tile-placement game for 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, and takes about 20 to 30 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $40 for a copy of the game, or $55 for the deluxe edition that includes a wooden tile tower from Broken Token. The rules are easy enough that younger kids could play as well, though they may need some help with the math for scoring. The game shares a family-friendly theme and setting with Boss Monster, also published by Brotherwise Games, but is a stand-alone game with completely different gameplay.
Overlord was designed by Aaron Mesburne (a first-time designer) and Kevin Russ (designer of Calico), with illustrations by Darren Calvert (artist of Boss Monster).
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. For instance, my prototype copy did not include crystal tokens, and the minibosses all had the same artwork (instead of unique artwork). Additional terrain types and boss powers may be added if stretch goals are reached.
Here’s what comes in the box:
- 4 Player boards
- 68 Terrain tiles
- 68 Tokens
- Token bag
- Score pad
The player boards are double-sided, with a 3×4 grid on one side and a 4×4 grid on the other, allowing for a shorter game and a longer game. The board itself isn’t that exciting, but it does have some fun details in it: it looks like a large plot of dirt, with a few scattered plants and some bones, all done in a pixel art style. The edges include some water and mountain areas. The 3×4 side does have a little more decoration at the bottom, including a lair that looks like some stone ruins and a dungeon entrance.
The tiles represent various types of terrain: forests, swamps, caves, and so on. There are several versions of each terrain type so you get a bit of variety, and there are some fun little details hidden throughout. (My favorite is the orc camp whose flag is a campfire with marshmallows on sticks; the campfire in the camp itself also includes some roasting marshmallows.) Each token also has a little icon indicating its terrain type, and a small stripe with scoring information.
The tokens are monsters and a few other items, again done in the pixel art style. Each monster type matches up with a particular terrain, which you can tell by the background color, but they’re also marked with the corresponding terrain icons.
It’s a fairly simple set of components overall but perfectly functional. If you like pixel art, you’ll enjoy the little details; if you despise pixel art, unfortunately there’s not anything else to look at in this game.
How to Play Overlord
The goal of the game is to score the most points by arranging terrain tiles and monster tokens on your map.
Give each player a player board. (Everyone should use the same side, depending on whether you’re playing a short game or a longer game.)
Shuffle the terrain tiles face-down to make a supply, and turn 4 tiles face-up to form the market. Place the tokens in the bag, mix them up, and draw 4 tokens, placing one next to each terrain tile. The player who most recently raised a full legion of the undead is the first player.
On your turn, you choose a tile from the market and take the token paired with it. The terrain tile must be placed on your map—once placed, it may not be moved. Then, you place the token: monsters and minibosses must be placed on an empty terrain tile (any terrain except dungeons, which cannot hold any tokens). Crystals and portals are placed in your lair (or next to your player board if you’re using the 4×4 side). If you have a previously collected monster or miniboss in your lair, you may place it on your turn instead of the token you just collected, which then goes into your lair.
Portals are special tokens: on any turn after you collect one, you may flip it over to the “used” side to swap the location of two tokens on your map. (Or move one token from one space to another.) Note that the terrain tiles do not move, just the tokens.
At the end of your turn, draw a new terrain tile and token to refill the market.
The game ends when everyone has filled their maps. Then you score for terrains and tokens.
Each terrain type scores in a different way:
- Forests: The more you have, the more points they’re worth
- Graveyards: Each graveyard has a base score; the player(s) with the most and second most score bonus points
- Orc Camps: Score points based on having different tribal flags (up to 4 flags)
- Caves: 1 point, plus 2 points if it’s next to a mountain edge
- Swamps: 1 point, plus 1 point if it’s next to water, plus 1 point if it’s next to any swamps
- Dungeons: 1 point, plus 1 point for each unique terrain type bordering it
Then you score for the tokens:
- Each monster that is on its matching terrain type scores 1 point.
- You also score for having multiples of the same monster in a row or column: 2 points for 2 monsters, 5 points for 3 monsters, and 7 points for 4 monsters.
- Each miniboss on the map scores 2 points. (Minibosses do not score bonuses for multiples.)
- Crystals (stored in your lair) award points for each terrain tile that matches the crystal.
The player with the highest total score wins! In case of a tie, the player with the highest terrain tile score wins.
Why You Should Play Overlord
Overlord is a tile-placement game that has multiple dimensions to it. Each time you take a terrain and a token from the market, you have to consider the arrangement of your terrain and your pattern of tokens, not to mention the interactions between the two. Although the ruleset is very simple (take the tile and token and place them on your board), puzzling out the optimal spot can be a head-scratcher, and that’s what I like best about the game.
Let’s break it down a little. If the game only used terrain tiles, then you could look at the tiles available in the market and just pick the one that you had a good spot for. Maybe you’d gamble that you could get a set of different orc camps to score big, or you take the guaranteed 3 points for putting a cave in the right spot. There would even be a little bit of hate-drafting possible, as you snatch up the graveyard to prevent another player from taking the lead.
On the other hand, if you only had to worry about the tokens, then you’re just taking monsters and arranging them into rows and columns as much as possible. Easy peasy. Minibosses are worth 2 points? Better grab those when they’re available, because a miniboss by itself is worth more points than a monster.
But once you combine the two, it’s a very different picture. First, because you must place a token if you can, you’re typically placing tokens on the terrain that they’re randomly matched with in the market. That only changes when you take a dungeon (and have a leftover token) or if you take a token that doesn’t go onto the map (the portals and crystals). In those cases, you may have extra tokens that can be placed later, or you might have extra terrain tiles. Usually, though, you’re stuck with the pairings as they are in the market, so you have to make the most of them. You’re looking for a spot that will maximize the terrain score that also puts a particular monster in a band with its matching monsters. Oh, and of course, you can also gamble that you’ll be able to get a portal later to rearrange some tokens. In that case, do you place things so the monsters are lined up now to guarantee a band? Or do you place things so that if you get a portal, the monsters will be lined up at that point?
I like that the overall ruleset is easy enough that I was able to play with my 7-year-old, who really enjoyed it. Each of the terrain types is pretty easy to learn, and I was just able to tell her that monsters like being in their own terrain, but they also like being in rows and columns together. More experienced players will be able to plan a little more strategically by weighing the potential scores of different options, of course.
Now, I will mention that my teenage daughter didn’t enjoy it, because she doesn’t like building-style games in which you can’t make things perfect. Overlord is often about making the most of suboptimal choices. On some occasions, you may get exactly the terrain you were hoping for in the market, paired with the monster that matches it. But usually that’s not the case: you’ll get a great terrain but the token is all wrong, or you can pick up that portal you’ve been waiting for but you’ll get stuck with a swamp that’s almost worthless to you. If you’re hoping that your map will be exactly optimized in every direction, then you may find yourself disappointed.
Overlord uses the same theme as Boss Monster, the title that started Brotherwise Games: you are a boss monster from a video game, setting up a world that will attract (and ultimately defeat) heroes. Boss Monster was about setting up a series of rooms in a dungeon; Overworld creates a map of the surface. The artwork in this game will definitely give you some nostalgia if you grew up playing The Legend of Zelda, and it’s enough to add some thematic flavor to what would otherwise be an abstracted puzzle game.
Overlord is quick to learn, and I think it may be a pretty good fit for many GeekDad readers: it’s family-friendly, has a retro video game theme, and provides a bit of a brain-burning puzzle in a short amount of time. (Of course, that’s as long as you’re not expecting a perfect map, like my daughter.)
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Overlord Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.