The Oniverse is worth exploring...

It's something that plagues every hardcore gamer. It's either caused by not having enough players for your favourite game(s), not enough time, or - if you're like me - you simply aren't surrounded by others who want to play enough of the time - there's a lack of interest.

So what do you do when you have to play with yourself? (Minds out of the gutter, people!)

Shadi Torbey's Oniverse series of games could be the answer you're looking for. Ranging from a simple card game, to deck builders with tower defence elements, dice rollers and even a tile-like 'Carcassonne' variant, these games are best played by a group numbering one.

While this may sound as though it's a version of solitaire, trust me when I say that they are anything but. Simple in terms of components, but incredibly punishing when the game goes south, you'll find that you'll be coming back to the games for many sittings.

There are four in the current 'Second-Edition' style square boxes (five if you include Urbion), and they are steeped in theme and style. While each game carries it's own style, they all fit together thematically to create the 'Oniverse', a place of Dreams, Mythical Rainforests, Castles and deep, mysterious Oceans.

My first experience delving into the Oniverse was with Onirim - a card game in which the player has to navigate their way through an ever changing labyrinth to unlock all of the doors, allowing them to escape the realm of dreams. Upon opening the box for the first time, I was impressed with the design, greeted by the omnipotent and imposing facade of the Nightmare, with it's yellow eyes and unique black shape. I'm happy to say that this style carries through to the other games in the series, as well. Lifting the Nightmare 'arms' (folded cardboard crossing over the components of the game in the box - see picture below) reveals a base rulebook, along with a second rulebook for not one, not two, not three but SEVEN expansions for the base game - all included in the one box! This alone allows for unprecedented replay value, and I'm still yet to play through all of the different expansions - which can even be combined together for an even greater challenge - allowing for even more variations on the game.

The Nightmare lurking right inside the box... 
Image Credit: Altema Games

The art for the game is also something that's worth mentioning, as the resident Oniverse artist - Elise Plessis - has created something with her palette and overall tone and design that is both beautiful and ominous at the same time. I hope to see more of her work in future games outside of this series.

Also included in the box is a small 'Nightmare' pawn, known as "The Little Incubus", which also has a role to play within one of the expansions - but you'll probably end up placing it across the playing area opposite from you, acting as a mocking adversary while you wind your way through the labyrinth.

The Little Incubus is watching you...Image Credit: Richard Pickman

The base game plays like a match-three mobile game, but rather than swapping gems or fruit, you use a hand of five cards to make up sets of three colours, without repeating symbols. Creating a 'run' of three unlocks a door of that colour, and there are two doors of each of the four colours, making a required eight doors that need to be discovered and unlocked. This all sounds simple, except that the deck of cards isn't allowed to be reshuffled with discards, and there's only 72 cards in the deck. Once you get through the cards, if you have yet to unlock that eighth door - tough, you're trapped forever!

One of the best mechanics that Onirim has is the 'Nightmares'. There are ten of these little blighters in the deck, and you'll find yourself cursing and using a wealth of profanity each time one of these is revealed. They cause trouble by forcing you to discard your hand, or five cards from the deck (unseen) or you can dismiss the Nightmare by giving up a key or a door card that you spent half the deck trying to unlock! Get two or three of these in quick succession, and you'll find yourself in serious trouble. These Nightmares force you to assess where you're at, and you'll quickly discover that the decision of which cards to sacrifice can and will make or break your bid to escape the labyrinth.

Another aspect of Onirim that I really like is that once you understand how it works, you can break out the box and set it up in quite literally 30 seconds, and one play through can last anywhere from 6-10 minutes. While this may sound quick, if you fail to escape  on that first run, you'll easily go back for a second, third, forth or more rounds and find you've spent an hour in the Realm of Dreams without even realising it. It's just that addictive.

The second game in the series that I've experienced is Sylvion, and is much more involved than Onirim. More cards, different style of play, and more of a war of cards than a game of solitaire.

The theme of the game is just as rich, with the Forest of Sylvion under attack by the sinister creature of flame known as The Ravage. While the armies of The Ravage are relentless, all is not lost! You have an army of mythical forest creatures at your disposal, provided you build your deck sensibly and effectively.

With elements of deck building, card drafting, health point management and tower defence, the forest of Sylvion can be a treacherous place. Especially since there are many ways to lose, and only one way to truly achieve victory. You need to deplete the four (yes, FOUR) decks of Fire Elementals, keep them from burning the forest to the ground, and ensure that you have planted enough Trees of Life to replenish the forest back to a full twelve life points. Eleven life points won't count, it's all or nothing here.

The Ravage - Fire Menace
The Ravage

As with Onirim, there is a smaller, beginner version of the game to ease players into the mechanics that the game uses, along with explaining the battle grid that players use to fight The Ravage's relentless fire elementals. I actually found this 'beginner' mode to be very, very confusing. The rule book is not clear and the cards that actually really help you in the full game are absent in this mode. I found myself scouring the internet and watching a plethora of YouTube play throughs to work out what the heck I was meant to be doing, and how the game works. I recommend doing the same. The full game is much better, plays with more urgency and offers a more stressful 'am-I-going-to-survive' scenario.

Sylvion is played out over two phases, the Recruitment Phase and the Battle Phase. In 'Recruitment', players use a drafting mechanic to build a deck of cards that you will take into battle against The Ravage and it's minions. The Battle Phase sees players dealing out the recruited cards and using them to fight off the fire elementals as they march their way from right to left across the Battle Area, burning everything in their path.

The Battle Grid in play

The Battle Grid. Image Credit: Z-Man Games

This is where Sylvion (and designer Shadi Torbey) gets clever. Keeping the number of cards and components to a minimum by allowing the cards to contain information that is relevant for the different phases means that players use twelve life cards for the Battle Phase (Green and lush on one side, Red and burnt to a crisp on the other) as well as for the draft/build phase, with a number code on the Red side that tells you which cards decide to run and hide, rather than fight alongside you. Yes, not every mythical creature is willing to come to your aid. Likewise, cards for the expansions and the main game are used in multiple ways, keeping hand management low and allowing the player to focus on the impending doom approaching.

Where a lot of players familiar with the Oniverse rate Sylvion quite low, I actually find it sees the table more frequently than Onirim. The theme is more tense, and the outcome is usually a 'last-card-standing' situation, and it is very rare that I win the game easily. The challenge provided is sufficient to keep me coming back, and while the longer playtime means maybe one or two playthroughs in one session at most, it's not uncommon for me to open the box once or twice a day, meaning my BoardGameGeek play log can sometimes show four to eight plays in one day!

To sum up, I'm yet to tackle Castellion, Nautilion and Urbion, but when I can find copies of them (they are rare to find) I'll snap them up. If they are anything like these two games, they will be regulars when I need to take a quick game break and no one else is at home!

Onirim:  Gameplay 4/5,  Art - 5/5,  Replay Value - 5/5,  Overall - 4.5/5

Sylvion: Gameplay 5/5,  Art - 5/5,  Replay Value - 4.5/5,  Overall - 5/5

Published by Z-Man Games, Designed by Shadi Torbey, Art by Elise Plessis.

RRP $39.95 each.

Matt Hillman is an avid gamer of any variety, and is fast becoming a major backer on Kickstarter. He in an experienced writer, theatre director, and producer, and runs a respectable Photography business along with his Gaming company - HP GAMING.

BoardGameGeek: Lazarus82

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