Oltree is a cooperative game set in a medieval fantasy world. You are knights (called rangers) assigned to a damaged fort to repair it and to help the villages in the surrounding area. The game comes with six chronicles, and when you play you always pick one chronicle. A story unfolds as you work through the chronicle. You also pick one assignment card. Assignment cards and chronicles are independent and you can mix and match them. Technically you goal is not to complete your assignments, but you probably need to complete at least some of them because they help greatly towards your chronicle having a successful ending.
This is one of the chronicles. A chronicle is a set of cards, organised like a book. You will flip through the cards like reading a book.
This is an assignment card. There are three assignments you can complete. The assignment cards come with different difficulty levels. They determine the type of incident cards you will use in your game. There are five types of incident cards and every game you will only use two types.
This is the main game board. The derelict fort is at the centre. There are eight villages surrounding the fort. You will move between the fort and the villages and perform various actions related to these locations.
This is the progress chart with four stages which correspond to advancing the story, adding an incident to a village, adding a problem to a village and drawing an event card. At the start of your turn you always roll a die to determine how the progress marker moves. Most of the time it moves one step. Sometimes it moves two steps, and sometimes it doesn’t move at all.
On your turn you perform two actions, and they must be different. When you are at the fort, you may construct a building or repair a tower. Most buildings give all rangers additional skills, which increases the number of dice you roll when you apply the skills. Towers protect the two villages closest to them. A village becomes secured if it is protected by a tower and all its incident cards have been solved. All assignments require securing villages.
Along one fort wall is a track for defenses and along another is a track for prestige. These are two aspects you have to maintain and improve. If either falls to zero, you immediately lose. If you exceed the max, you gain some benefit. Some incidents in the game check these tracks and the outcome depends on how high you are on them.
Every village helps you in some way. When you spend an action to interact with the villagers, they give you some resource (willingly, mind you), they heal your wounds, they improve the fort defenses, and so on. However if a problem occurs at a village, you lose access to the village ability. You’ll need to solve the problem to regain the ability. Solving problems is another action you get to perform in the game.
Another thing you get to do at the villages is to encounter incidents. You get another player to draw and read aloud the topmost incident card at the village. Sometimes you need to make a decision and your fellow player will tell you the result of your choice. Sometimes you need to roll dice to determine what happens. The result can be good, bad, or nothing at all. Regardless of the result, that incident card is discarded, which is a good thing. You need to remove all incident cards from a village in order to be able to secure it permanently. If a village has four incident cards, it becomes perilous (see photo above), which means it can cause you to lose prestige. You can’t allow too many perilous villages.
This is an incident card. This particular one asks you to roll dice based on the knowledge skill. You count how many such skill icons you have on your character card and at the fort, then roll that many dice. The incident card tells you what happens when you succeed or fail.
This is a problem card. Problem cards are different from incident cards. They are face-up and open information. They tell you exactly what you need to do to solve the problem. This one needs you to pay a treasure. Some problems require you to roll dice.
Every player gets one character card. A character has a skill icon (top left) and a unique ability. Your character doesn’t die when the health level drops to zero. You only lose the option of using one of the die faces. One die face is a conditional success, i.e. you may spend a health point to get a success. When you are out of health points, naturally you won’t have this option. On the health bar there is a fatigue icon which looks like a no-entry sign. When your health level is at or below that, you can’t use your special ability.
The loaf of bread at the top left is a provision token. You may spend one provision to reroll dice. You may spend two to take an extra action. These can be extremely important at crunch time.
Every ranger character gets their own unique player piece. What generous production!
Three of the die faces are blank, meaning failure. Two of them show a tree icon, meaning success. The last face is a success icon with a heart, which means you have the option of spending one health point in exchange for success.
Your objective in the game is to be successful when you reach the climactic moment in the story. When the time comes, you will be required to roll dice based on a specific skill. You need to roll a specific number of successes in order to win. Depending on the game situation then, e.g. the number of assignments you have completed, you may automatically earn some successes. It will all come down to this final die roll, and you need to make sure you have prepared well for it. Throughout the game you will mostly be concerned about completing assignments, because you know it will certainly help you to win during the finale. In fact it is a necessity. The chronicle is more a countdown mechanism. The assignments are what you’ll be busy with.
So far all my plays are 2-player games with younger daughter Chen Rui. With 2 players, you get to pick two free buildings at game setup. When I first examined the game components, I thought the game felt a little complex. After reading the rules, I was surprised it was pretty straight-forward. I almost classified this as a light game. The things you get to do in the game are simple, and you only get two actions on your turn. Gameplay is smooth and intuitive.
You will be doing a lot of reading. On the incident cards, the chronicle cards, the problem cards and the event cards. It’s novel when you first play the game, since you haven’t read any of them yet. If you play more you will eventually come to read the same cards, and you’ll start thinking oh that one again. The novelty will wear off. I find that sometimes I just skip the story and flavour text and read what I need to do – which skill to roll dice for, what resource to pay, etc. I just want to know what’s relevant to gameplay. This may be more a problem with the player than the game. Reading stories is supposed to be part of the fun, so if I choose to skip that, it’s my problem. The incident cards, problem cards and event cards are all independent and unrelated. They are random and don’t form any narrative. Only the chronicle cards tell a coherent story.
The game is easy to learn but not necessarily easy to win. So far we have been winning, but barely. We got into many hairy situations.
That at the bottom left is a portal. This is a game component specific for one of the chronicles. Most chronicles have custom game components. Those at the centre of the fort are some of the resources in the game. They are pretty.
The tower at the bottom left is now repaired.
The tower at the bottom left protects the two villages right next to it. Neither of these have incidents cards now, which means they are now secured. Thus the green shield markers.
This is an assignment card, with two assignments now completed. This will help a lot when we reach the climax of the story. Sometimes chronicle cards ask you to add ticks or crosses to the track on the left. These can affect what happens later in the story and even the finale.
In this particular game we constructed many buildings at the fort. There is space for only 12 buildings at the fort. We had built nine by now.
There’s a dragon in one of the chronicles.
Every chronicle card has a unique card back with a beautiful drawing.
This was a game with many problem cards – the smaller face-up cards at the villages. We had a tough time solving the problems because we didn’t have the right skills, or we didn’t have access to the villages which produced the resources we needed. Those villages themselves had their own problems.
Oltree is a family game. It is a light to medium weight game. The production values are excellent – great components and beautiful artwork. This game will work well with non-gamers and casual gamers. It’s easy to pick up, and yet also gives a decent challenge. If you like stories in games, this will probably be your thing. I’m not really a fantasy or medieval guy, nor am I a big story guy, so the setting and the story element don’t do much for me. They are just novel initially.
A game is essentially about completing as many assignments as you can as the timer counts down. The chronicle cards tell you a story along the way. The incident cards, problem cards and event cards sprinkle typical medieval fantasy world tit bits here and there. I have not yet completed all the chronicles. So far I don’t think it is easy to guess what skill the chronicle finale requires as the story develops. Certainly if you guess right and construct many buildings that give you the right skill, your odds of winning will be higher. However there’s no way to guess reliably so you should focus on the assignments.
The assignments are the long term strategy you must pursue. The game system throws tactical challenges to distract you and force you to prioritise. Do you do what’s urgent or do you do what’s important? When there are too many incident cards creating perilous regions, you are forced to react. Sometimes the chronicles themselves throw crises at you. The problem cards may not always be big problems though (ironic!). If they block villages you urgently need to use then it’s a pain in the neck. Sometimes you can safely ignore a problem as long as you don’t need help from the affected villagers. Okay that’s not very knightly of you. I’m just making a technical statement.
In theory the game has high replayability. The six chronicles can be mixed and matched with the dozen or so assignments of different difficulty levels. However the assignments don’t vary that much. All of them require securing villages. They usually involve constructing certain buildings or solving a certain number of problems. Although you can replay a chronicle, the second time around there will no longer be an element of surprise and discovery. You’ll know what skill you need for the boss fight. The game becomes easier. I don’t intend to replay any chronicle. That said, if I get six plays out of a game, that’s well above the number of times I play most games. For casual players, knowing the story may not be a big problem. I think it’s just a jaded gamer problem.