Final Thoughts on Ortus Regni
What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a game is great but no one is willing to play it with you, does it even matter?
This is a follow up article to a game covered earlier. As such, it assumes that you are familiar with the game and how it works. If this game is new to you, check out the Initial Thoughts video to see if it's a game you would be interested in.
My first few games of Ortus Regni were about grappling with the system. I was initially concerned that the full bleed artwork would be an impediment to my understanding. On the one hand, it's a visual delight and really stands out amongst the crowd of card games. On the other hand, there are no symbols or text to remind you what each card does. It's a case of style over substance, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's indicative of the commitment required to get the greatest enjoyment from it.
The fact that you have to internalize the what each card does based just on their illustrations is a message to the player, "I'm not looking for a fling, I'm looking for a committed relationship." And hey, Ortus Regni is pretty enough what with its period appropriate artwork, wooden card tray, and leather pouch. I could see us settling down together if we get to know each other a little better. And so that's what I set out to do.
After a few games, I noticed I wasn't referencing the rulebook or cheat sheet (actually some sort of cloth) any longer. I knew what the difference between a prince and a champion was, a marketplace stood apart from the cathedral. After only a few games, I'd internalized the actions of each of the cards and was able to divert my full attention to exploring what the game had to offer. And it seemed to offer quite a bit.
Initially I gravitated towards a viking strategy. I thought I was being clever by loading up my deck with monks who would make inroads with the vikings. I'd let them do the dirty work of taking out my opponent. Bloodshed and mayhem were beneath me. Instead, I'd focus on bolstering my defenses and making sure I could keep my lineage going until my enemy was dispatched. It sort of worked. My opponent was certainly in the viking's sights, but it didn't come fast enough. Before they could do any meaningful damage my fledgling kingdom was dispatched.
Fret not! Just a few tweaks to my deck and I'm sure I could get my strategy to work. I didn't need as many princes as I thought. I'll replace some with champions so that I can hold off the attacks. Better still, I thought, I'll add some of these intrigue cards which which will pilfer their army reserves. Not only will it keep me safe, it will make them more susceptible to the viking horde. Surely, these changes would buy me enough time to see my opponent's palace get crushed by a viking raid.
And what did my opponent do? Nothing. No tweaking. No adjusting. I asked them, "Aren't you going to change your deck?" Solemnly they answered, "No, I just want to play the game."
But this is the game! Can't you see? It lives beyond the time the we draw cards and clash against one another. It carries on in our minds as we weigh the various options at our disposal. Every false move and loss is an opportunity to learn our opponent's strategies and tendencies. It's an opportunity to gauge the deficiencies in our own plan and fix them through the composition of our deck of cards.
"But this is the game!"
It was no use. My opponent wasn't interested in the game beyond the game. They wanted a self contained experience, not a game the lived beyond the norm. They left their deck alone. They lost. And lost again. And lost again. And then they were done. And so was I.
I'm disappointed that I didn't get to experience full breadth of what Ortus Regni had to offer. It was through no fault of the game or even my opponent. The reality is that Ortus Regni requires a dedication that my opponent wasn't willing to commit to and that's totally fine. Not every game is for every person. But I wanted it to be a game for me. Unfortunately, I didn't have a backup opponent, someone else that could make such a commitment.
Ortus Regni reminded me that more important than the design itself are the players participating. A game requires its players to buy in. If everyone is committed to the game experience, magical things can transpire and memories are forged. If not, then what you're left with is a deck of pretty cards.
And it's a shame really. Because I could see the potential fun the comes with the mind games that occur between matches. Will my opponent make subtle tweaks to their decks or scrap it and try something completely new. How will I respond? Will I feint or will I parry? I don't think I'll every find out. It's a shame really.