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Oceanic worker-placement puzzler Oros looks fun, except for the appropriative aesthetic

The first title from designer Aesc Games borrows heavily from several disparate cultures.

Who doesn’t want to wield the powers of nature, inspiring followers to literally move mountains in their name and in pursuit of grand knowledge? Upcoming board game Oros, currently on Kickstarter, does just that but also drapes itself in the iconography of real-world indigenous cultures.

Oros is the first game from designer and artist Brandt Brinkerhoff, who publishes under the name Aesc Games, and combines a worker-placement action economy with a constantly shifting board of island tiles that players will vie to control and change throughout play. Players take on the role of demigods imbued with an aspect of creation’s power that they must use to direct their respective adherents on a journey to construct temples, find wisdom and ultimately become the most enlightened culture in the ocean.

Each turn will allow a player to take up to three actions in their goal to amass knowledge. They might direct their power to erupt a volcano, spilling more land tiles into the gridded ocean board. They can then collide those land masses to form towering mountains that make the perfect locations for shrines and temples in their name. They can also direct their followers to travel from island to island, studying at these sites to unlock more powerful abilities or score victory points - the player with the most at the end of the game wins and secures their place in the hearts of the ocean’s peoples.

Land masses can be accessed by anyone, and volcanoes follow the dots of lands as they move across the board, so any action a player takes might set their opponent up for an easy surge forward in knowledge. Planning which moves to take, and whether it’s worth playing aggressive or studying your opponents will define each session of Oros. So, too, will the choice of demigod. Each one - embodiments of The Living Sun, The Great Water, The Raging Fire and The Fertile Land - will have their own player mats with unique powers and specific upgrades that will define how they approach the path to ascension.

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The back of those playmats will come with rules and directions on the back for automating play, allowing solo games or small groups to fill out the board for a more complex and hectic session. At roughly half an hour per session, it’s not unfeasible that a table could work their way through all four of the deities in a single game night.

It must be noted that while the art style that Brinkerhoff uses for Oros is bright, clean and evocative, it throws architecture, art and clothing styles from a number of historical indigenous cultures into a pastiche meant to represent island-dwelling peoples. The demigods each derive their characterization from some ancient society - Olmec for the fire (Brinkerhoff calls them “one of my absolute favorite ancient civilizations”), pre-Roman Celts for water, South American and specifically Rapa Nui for land, and an unfortunate mishmash of Egyptian and the many indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest coast for the sun.

Moai, totem poles, the Aztec pyramids in Teotihuacán and Chichén Itzá, and more are called “references" and affixed to Oros’ four elementally aligned tribes according to Brinkerhoff’s taste. If he wanted to base the game’s island-hopping setting in the real world, the many and diverse cultures of the Polynesian region would have at least avoided the mix-n-match broad strokes currently on display and been somewhat geographically appropriate.

Nowhere on the game’s official website does it say that Brinkerhoff consulted with members of the cultures or regions referenced in the game for sensitivity or accuracy. Dicebreaker has reached out to him for more information but did not hear back before publication.

The Kickstarter campaign for Oros runs through August 11th, and backers can secure a box for $50 (£36). Shipping is currently expected to begin in October 2022.

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