Front Page

Content

Authors

Game Index

Forums

Site Tools

Submissions

About

You May Also Like...

O
oliverkinne
April 16, 2021

Fort Board Game Review

Board Game Reviews
M
Msample
April 15, 2021

Review of Bayonets & Tomahawks

Board Game Reviews
S
Shellhead
April 13, 2021
A
adamr
April 13, 2021

Venice - Punchboard Reviews

Board Game Reviews
O
oliverkinne
April 09, 2021

One Card Wonder Review

Board Game Reviews
MT
Matt Thrower
April 05, 2021
O
oliverkinne
April 02, 2021

Sleeping Gods Review

Board Game Reviews
A
adamr
March 30, 2021

Hallertau - Punchboard Reviews

Board Game Reviews
O
oliverkinne
March 26, 2021

The Cost Review (Digital Eyes)

Board Game Reviews
MB
Michael Barnes
March 25, 2021
AL
Andi Lennon
March 24, 2021
MT
Matt Thrower
March 22, 2021

Play Matt: The Cost Review

Board Game Reviews
O
oliverkinne
March 19, 2021
MB
Michael Barnes
March 18, 2021
J
Jackwraith
March 17, 2021
MT
Matt Thrower
March 15, 2021

Play Matt: Welcome To... Review

Board Game Reviews
  • Board Game Reviews
  • Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile Review- Heavy is the head that bears the Crown

Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile Review- Heavy is the head that bears the Crown

AL Updated April 09, 2021
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
1214 0
Oath- Chronicles of Empire and Exile : Heavy is the head that bears the Crown.

Game Information

Publisher
Designer
Players
1 - 6
There Will Be Games

Apparently Peter the Great sought great amusement in the sight of naked dwarves jumping out of a pie. How will history recall your empire?

It is a well-worn adage that ‘history is written by the winners.’ Far less credence is given however to the truth that in order for that history to take root, unfettered by the hand of revisionists – the winners need to keep winning. The history of all dynastic legacies is rife with tales of bloody squabbles for succession, courtly intrigues and the rehabilitation or damnation of those previously shunned or canonised. Fail to seed a trustworthy successor and the annals of history can very easily transform the chronicles of ‘Leopold the Just’ to that of ‘Leopold the Dim with the Club Foot’ within the space of a single fickle generation.

The issue is one of legacy, and with Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile, ludic wunderkind Cole Wehrle seeks to tackle this issue in a unique and ambitious fashion - offering a new take on the legacy format, and all without a sticker in sight.

Sitting astride the kingdom, replete with orb and sceptre – the Chancellor eyes his lands with a benevolent gaze. Swept into power by the favour of the people, he rises each morning to consolidate his vision. Conceiving new technologies that will advance the cause of his people, putting bandits to the sword to stabilise the common good, and straddling the unpredictable tide of secrets, gossip and slander that swell throughout court with a deft diplomatic hand. He ferries the kingdom into a new age of enlightenment and stability. He is just, he is wise, he is a visionary.

Corpulent and arrogant upon his throne of bones, the Chancellor grows fat off the labour of the people, erecting towering edifices in tribute to his vanity, supressing the will of the people and whispered of in poisonous asides throughout both court and common square. He idles his way through days of sloth and indulgence, lording over a brittle network of nepotism and sycophancy. He is buffoonish, he is demoniac, he is a tyrant.

The same institution, as viewed conversely through the lenses of officialdom or exile can take on a vastly different aspect. And so the stage is set for a chronicling of the ages, played out across a series of struggles in which history is formed, spindled, revised and wrinkled, all across the sweep of your living-room table.

Oath Could Be 2021's First Big Board Game

One to six players will partake in this struggle, one to six competing tribes or families – up to five of whom are striving to upend the order and claim their sainted space upon the throne, and one of whom shoulders the lonely burden of empire – seeking desperately to stem the tides of change as they foster their fledgling dynasty. It’s cut-throat, it’s unpredictable, it’s a tale written in longform and – at least initially – it’s daunting as hell.

We backward folks lurking in the antipodes were amongst the first to receive the finished physical copies of Oath, a quirk of logistics offering us primacy to explore the tactile rewards of an experience that has lingered and evolved for quite some time in the digital space. I had studiously avoided the nascent versions of this offering – partly because I think I’m allergic to Tabletop Simulator and partly because I wanted to experience it in its final form (at least until the inevitable second edition). Opening the box I am immediately rewarded for my patience with an offering fit for the most perfumed resident of Versailles or dwarf-entouraged Romanov.

For a game that even in its backer-baiting Kickstarter finery initially looked somewhat bland, something miraculous has seemingly occurred during its gestation, emerging from its carboard chrysalis now to crowd your table with a presence and confidence that is equal parts utility, beauty and lots of lovely bits. The idiosyncratic artwork of Kyle Ferrin outstripping even his efforts in Root and Vast to create a sense of wonder as it is splashed across hundreds of unique individual cards.

Oath

It daunts as it sprawls however, and it holds fast to its secrets. This is a game that immediately demands your fealty and commitment if you are to unlock its bounty. Atop the relatively straightforward bones of area control fuelled by hand and resource management, Wehrle has layered a myriad of interconnecting systems upon an ever-changing board state – one where options, threats, opportunities and victory conditions are in constant flux. Even after mastering the basics, there is still an ocean of nuance that reveals itself slowly, as players come to grips with the canny pragmatism required to thrive in this strange quantum play-space.

Your first game will most likely be aided by the set-up and walkthrough provided by the included cards and play guide. This method takes the reins from you in a show-and-tell affair that forces your hand through a series of pre-scripted turns, highlighting various strategies and opening gambits whilst offering a smattering of insights into how to manipulate this beast via its various levers of agency.  We dutifully did as we were bid before stumbling blinking into this brave new world as we sought to parse our way through the tangled thickets of opportunity offered upon the map, within our court of advisors, and upon the backs of the denizens of the realm.

It was seconds before our noses were thrust back into the rulebook though, our first strike transforming into a stuttering and belaboured affair- as rules and exceptions were checked and re-checked, icons were scrutinised for meaning and an uncomfortable rhythm finally, stubbornly, began to develop.

It was then that the possibilities – and limitations – began to unfurl.

Oath

Essentially, Oath is a game of compromise and conflicting ambitions, one where players need to keep one eye on their own path to victory, and one eye on preventing their opponents from achieving their own, wholly different ambitions. Ambitions that may mutate from turn to turn as the state of the kingdom demands.  You have six eyes, right?

As the Chancellor and lord of the realm, one player will be focussed on retaining the title of Oathkeeper for a requisite number of turns. The other players, as either Exiles or Citizens will be seeking to either usurp the mantle of Oathkeeper, fulfil one of four disparate ‘Visions’ or finagle their way into the role of ‘Successor’, all whilst ensuring their opponents do not enact their competing ambitions in a world where fortunes can rise and fall alarmingly swiftly.

To realise these ambitions, players will primarily be seeking either military dominance of the realm, the favour of the people, or mastery of the kingdom’s many secrets. In a brilliant act of thematic binding – the currencies with which you’ll pave your legacy are ‘favour’ and ‘secrets’ – the twin backbones of courtly life – which will be used to supplement the ‘support’ required to take actions turn-by-turn.

Perfecting a fragile balancing act between these competing priorities is paramount, as geography bleeds into favour, which dances with secrets and rallies with support. No one of the game’s systems exists in a vacuum – as each card, each location, each action, forms the cogwheel teeth of but one sphere in a dizzyingly interconnected Rube Goldberg apparatus. To tinker with one is to set the entire contraption in motion, where unintended consequences sit shoulder-to-shoulder with your desired outcome on every precarious tilt and tumble.

Fix your eyes too keenly on one path to victory and you’re almost certainly doomed to become a footnote. The aforementioned pragmatic elasticity required to succeed keeps every game intriguing until the very last turn however, as dominance and opportunity swing wildly on the coat-tails of Dame Fortune, and even the unlikeliest of successors can emerge out of the rabble to forge their own empire. An empire which they in turn will have to maintain and defend, an unceasing parade of barbarians ever crowding their gates.

Oath

Should they succeed in keeping the tides of history at bay, the Chancellor will begin to see their influence seeded for future generations. Their will becomes manifest in both a physical transformation of the land, and the ascendancy of their favoured factions. In practice, this is a somewhat glacial process. Each successive victory will see a handful of cards added to/removed from the deck, and a single game-changing monument or edifice erected in a state of semi-permanence upon the board. Armies will again clash upon this space, intrigues will be played out and maybe, just maybe – one faction’s ascendancy will sway the state of play decisively as the kingdom evolves.

In a game where individual cards can often mean the difference between swift victory and winnowing defeat, this is no small alteration- even if it may take many, many games for players to wrap their heads around just how their options are mutating, what each faction offers, and how best to spin it to their advantage.  

And that’s the rub with Oath.

Like an insecure monarch, it demands your loyalty if it is to shower you with the ceremonial sash of state that gains you entrée into its more gilded chambers. It reveals itself slowly, evolving from a card drafting, dice-chucking area control game into something far more nuanced as players wrap their heads around the swathe of possibilities, the eye-for-the-main-chance of odds, and the evolving loyalties of the world for which they duel. Whilst perfectly serviceable as a self-contained experience- with a dedicated group it begins to realise its generational ambitions and embrace of story, as you pen your own chronicles of empire and exile – writing and rewriting history as grudges are formed, alliances sundered, slights tallied and myths scribbled into the margins.

Whether or not this approach will succeed in todays environment of truncated attention spans and ‘the new hotness’ is yet to be seen. Seven games in, however, and the richness of this experience only continues to mount. I dove in with a group of three, and we have returned to this world with relish, seven times within the space of two weeks. In all shameful honesty, most games in my collection are lucky to get seven outings within the space of a year.

Oath

Oath lures us back with its promise that this time, we will be the one to ink history, we will maintain our hold on power, we will usurp the tyrannical chancellor with the will of the people. And inevitably – we will lose it all again, our deeds scrawled in impermanence as the story continues to unfold, punctuated by shocking twists and narrow escapes.

Especially when the Chancellor rolls a six to end the game on turn five – that’s some hot bullshit right there.

Wildly ambitious, dangerously mercurial, and wilfully demanding- Oath embodies the characteristics of Emperor Tsar it seeks to replicate. Accede to its demands and it offers a rare glory, champ against the bridle and it can easily overwhelm you.

Oath


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
5.0
Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile
Wilful, Mercurial, Demanding, Brilliant.
AL
Andi Lennon (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Andi Lennon is Sydney based writer, musician and soap dodger. He graduated from Wizbang University with full honours and no teeth. When he isn't feeling conflicted about Morrissey he likes to play indie games with a dubious 80's aesthetic.

You can read more of his work by visiting Mongol Cult

User reviews

There are no user reviews for this listing.
Already have an account? or Create an account
Log in to comment

mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #321767 07 Apr 2021 20:36
Great write up Andi.

The "rub" is what stopped me from going in on this one; still think I made the right decision but boy would I eat this up in the right circumstances.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #321769 07 Apr 2021 21:06

mc wrote: Great write up Andi.

The "rub" is what stopped me from going in on this one; still think I made the right decision but boy would I eat this up in the right circumstances.


Yeah, without a dedicated group you simply won't see the best of it. It can still be fun in single sessions but it takes awhile for the complexities in strategy to settle - so even then, familiarity is your friend.

For the less committed then you can't go past Cole's other effort Pax Pamir 2e which is not only much quicker to flow but probably the better game overall. The playstate is easier to parse and lets you get on with scheming and plotting with a freer hand. It has a drier though no less engaging theme and enjoys the refinements that a second edition brings to streamline the experience. They're the two games hitting my table most frequently of late.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #321771 07 Apr 2021 22:31
Great review Andi. The buzz for this one keeps growing. Curious to see how it shakes out regarding Cole's other games.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #321773 08 Apr 2021 00:03

charlest wrote: Great review Andi. The buzz for this one keeps growing. Curious to see how it shakes out regarding Cole's other games.


Cheers man. The hype is real. It's just below Pax Pamir in my esteem but both offer the kind of satisfying play that engages the brain without burning it. Oath probably has more frustration baked into it when things aren't going your way but it also has a far grander scope so, swings and roundabouts?

Would you believe I've not played Root yet? I recently acquired a copy and hope to remedy that shortly. I imagine Oath may have less of a breakout mainstream appeal but who knows? I eagerly await John Company 2nd edition for an even weightier beast even if it means I'm doomed to read up on the Dutch East India company in the interim. William Dalrymple should be paying royalties to Wehrlegig at this point.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #321774 08 Apr 2021 03:54
So true re: Dalrymple.

Pamir basically IS Return of a King in boardgame form.

1e was mostly there, but 2e really nails it.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #321775 08 Apr 2021 05:26
Excellent review, I love seeing photos of this game in the real world! It might be the circles I've found myself in but there does seem to be a buzz around this game that might break through the "mainstream" even with the requirement for multiple plays to see the full picture.

On Dalrymple, if you can wait until June you can get the box set :P: www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-company-quartet-9781526633354/
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #321776 08 Apr 2021 06:18

sornars wrote: Excellent review, I love seeing photos of this game in the real world! It might be the circles I've found myself in but there does seem to be a buzz around this game that might break through the "mainstream" even with the requirement for multiple plays to see the full picture.

On Dalrymple, if you can wait until June you can get the box set :P: www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-company-quartet-9781526633354/


Oh man, there's a box set? I just picked up The Anarchy in anticipation of John Company 2e. All good, at least now I can see what the next two Wehrlegig titles will be about!

Return of a King was fantastic, a pity Dick Cheney never read it.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #321777 08 Apr 2021 09:37

Andi Lennon wrote:

charlest wrote: Great review Andi. The buzz for this one keeps growing. Curious to see how it shakes out regarding Cole's other games.


Cheers man. The hype is real. It's just below Pax Pamir in my esteem but both offer the kind of satisfying play that engages the brain without burning it. Oath probably has more frustration baked into it when things aren't going your way but it also has a far grander scope so, swings and roundabouts?

Would you believe I've not played Root yet? I recently acquired a copy and hope to remedy that shortly. I imagine Oath may have less of a breakout mainstream appeal but who knows? I eagerly await John Company 2nd edition for an even weightier beast even if it means I'm doomed to read up on the Dutch East India company in the interim. William Dalrymple should be paying royalties to Wehrlegig at this point.


I am surprised you haven't played Root due to it being so ubiquitous , but John Company was basically out of print immediately.

As someone who hasn't played Oath yet, I'd go:

1. John Company
2. Pax Pamir 2nd
3. Root

I haven't played An Infamous Traffic unfortunately.

I also think he hasn't received enough credit for his excellent development work on Vast: The Mysterious Manor, a game which was a clear improvement on it's predecessor.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #321821 08 Apr 2021 20:33

charlest wrote:

Andi Lennon wrote:

charlest wrote: Great review Andi. The buzz for this one keeps growing. Curious to see how it shakes out regarding Cole's other games.


Cheers man. The hype is real. It's just below Pax Pamir in my esteem but both offer the kind of satisfying play that engages the brain without burning it. Oath probably has more frustration baked into it when things aren't going your way but it also has a far grander scope so, swings and roundabouts?

Would you believe I've not played Root yet? I recently acquired a copy and hope to remedy that shortly. I imagine Oath may have less of a breakout mainstream appeal but who knows? I eagerly await John Company 2nd edition for an even weightier beast even if it means I'm doomed to read up on the Dutch East India company in the interim. William Dalrymple should be paying royalties to Wehrlegig at this point.


I am surprised you haven't played Root due to it being so ubiquitous , but John Company was basically out of print immediately.

As someone who hasn't played Oath yet, I'd go:

1. John Company
2. Pax Pamir 2nd
3. Root

I haven't played An Infamous Traffic unfortunately.

I also think he hasn't received enough credit for his excellent development work on Vast: The Mysterious Manor, a game which was a clear improvement on it's predecessor.


I'd really like to try An Infamous Traffic but it's rare as hen's teeth and well pricey on the resale market. I'm curious but not $200 plus postage curious. Hopefully a reprint is in the works given Cole's flourishing fortunes.
Not Sure's Avatar
Not Sure replied the topic: #321824 08 Apr 2021 22:22
I bought a copy of An Infamous Traffic secondhand a few months ago, just before total Cole-mania hit the world.

I figured it would go well in my collection since I have all the first editions of his other games too.

I'd be super interested in getting it played on TTS sometime.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #321836 09 Apr 2021 02:03

Not Sure wrote: I bought a copy of An Infamous Traffic secondhand a few months ago, just before total Cole-mania hit the world.

I figured it would go well in my collection since I have all the first editions of his other games too.

I'd be super interested in getting it played on TTS sometime.


It certainly has been a bit of a Wehrle-wind of late. Eh? Eh?
I'll... I'll see myself out.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #321837 09 Apr 2021 04:19
The consensus seems to be Werhlegig's next Kickstarter after JC is fulfilled is going to be a 2e of An Infamous Traffic so you have that to look forward to in 2022.
JoelCFC25's Avatar
JoelCFC25 replied the topic: #321856 09 Apr 2021 11:25
Thanks for writing this--it's an absorbing read, rich with detail on how it feels to play. Really well done!

We still need a few more games in our chronicle and hopefully some in-person sessions before I settle on where it stands for me.
Andi Lennon's Avatar
Andi Lennon replied the topic: #321877 09 Apr 2021 17:50

JoelCFC25 wrote: Thanks for writing this--it's an absorbing read, rich with detail on how it feels to play. Really well done!

We still need a few more games in our chronicle and hopefully some in-person sessions before I settle on where it stands for me.


That's fantastic to hear, cheers man. Reviews that are a recitation of rules very rarely give me a sense of what a game feels like so I'm glad I could capture it with a more narrative approach. It's a game that's been living in my head since I first cracked the shrink. I hope you enjoy the physical version, it's really a thing of beauty. And nothing beats the feeling of playing face to face where you can malign the virtue of your opponents mothers in high fidelity.