Or Hog

Pictured: A Viking beard-tip.

Video game board game board games are an odd duck. I don’t mean board game adaptations of video games; I mean board game adaptations of video game board games. It hasn’t been that long since The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt included a ditty called Gwent. It was an absurd thing, impossible within the fiction of the game. Who exactly served as the Continent’s version of Wizards of the Coast? Were tournaments sponsored by Radovid the Stern? Were inks and cardstock imported from Nilfgaard? Did the Lodge of Sorceresses settle issues of power creep? To everybody’s surprise, Gwent had solid bones, perhaps because it drew from superior titles like Condottiere. Now you can play Gwent on its own. It even has two standalone story games.

Orlog goes the other direction. As a dice game, if feels right at home in the world of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. What’s more natural than Vikings rolling some tombstones? Apart from sticking axes into Northumbrian levies or braiding each other’s beards, that is.

Too bad this adaptation is as cynical as they come.

Gwent shower thought: Who exactly is making these cards? Why is Geralt more powerful than, say, the Bloody Baron? Wouldn't the Bloody Baron disagree? Did the Northern infantry ever resent being portrayed as "Poor Fucking Infantry," or did they wear it like a badge of honor?


Here’s the rundown. Orlog is a duel. Both players begin with fifteen health points, represented (rather nicely) as polished green stones. Your goal is to reduce your opponent’s life to zero. Violence, the classic Viking love language. To accomplish this, you roll six (rather plasticky) acrylic dice into a (rather chintzy) plastic cup and/or bowl thing. The faces of these dice are divided between axes and arrows for dealing damage, helms and shields for blocking the aforementioned damage, and grasping hands that steal “god power” from your opponent.

What’s god power? Glad you asked. Certain die faces are adorned with golden bands. These generate god power. Once per turn, you choose one of three gods. If you have enough god power, the god will trigger some ability. Simple. These deal damage, heal damage, and… well, okay, Norse deities apparently exist mainly to deal and heal.

The problems accrue before a match even starts. First there’s the microscopic text. Both players have twenty gods to choose from. Hope you like picking gods. On the back of each god tile there’s an explanation for how it functions. Except the text is so small that it strains even the healthiest of eyes, diminutive letters and pale icons blending into printed-on woodgrains. Okay, so perhaps the reference sheet will help. Except, oops, somebody laid it out like they were arranging fine print at the bottom of a cartoon contract. The game seems to be asking whether you really wanted to read through all twenty of these god powers anyway.

The match begins. Before long, nobody’s sure whose turn it is. Unlike other games from antiquity, which arrange their order of play simply enough that anybody can follow them, Orlog can’t help but jumble its phases together. Both players interleave three rolls. In between those rolls, you choose which dice to hold and which to reroll. In theory, this leaks information to your opponent. In practice, it’s leaky all around. Do you hold dice before your opponent rolls or after? Can you reroll held dice? Wait, whose roll is it anyway? Never mind, we’re already moving on. Both players now pick a god power. These are resolved in initiative order rather than turn order. Apart from ties, that is. Or god powers that resolve after the next phase. Do those have a resolution order? Probably. Like the rest of its omissions, Orlog’s rulebook isn’t willing to fill in the gaps. Then both sides deal damage, gather god power, and steal from each other. By this point, it’s a relief to return to straightforward “first player resolves first” turn order. But wait! Surprise surprise, Orlog still isn’t interested in explaining its turn sequence. Does the first player use all of their attacks? Or do they attack with axes, then the next player with axes, then the first player’s arrows, then the second player’s, and so on? What about grabby-hands? Are steals simultaneous or is there an implied second-player advantage there? It seems to me like the latter, but at this point I’m throwing up my hands in defeat.

Here’s the problem: in the video game, the computer handled all this junk. The phases and order of operations were obscure there too, but given how mindless a game Orlog was, there was no real reason to think too hard about the proceedings. It was a reprieve from raiding; a five-minute minigame that asked nothing and rewarded the player with the same Skinner Box breadcrumbs that reduce open-world games into treadmills of obligation. As an adaptation, it lacks both the reprieve and the breadcrumbs. Placed on the table without any care for how it might be adapted for actual human beings who do unexpected things like play their physical board games according to rules, Orlog doesn’t survive the transition. There’s no ease of entry here. It’s Orlog: The Video Game Subgame: The Dice Game. Had it worked, its sheer laziness would still render it unplayable. Not worth the effort of removing from the box, let alone the trouble of picking gods. Without the advantage of a computer to resolve its scattershot approach to turn order — and certainly without the advantage of playing as a sexy Viking who chops everybody with an axe — it’s something even worse: a ten-minute Q&A session.

going a'orloggin

Actually, playing orlog was originally called “on the orlog.”

If I sound upset, that’s because I am. Orlog was an opportunity. To adapt a digital minigame for the physical table. To introduce fans of Assassin’s Creed to the possibilities of modern board game design. To get us thinking about how dice games were played historically. Anything.

Instead, it’s the crassest of adaptations. It’s a trinket, kitsch, junk peddled to fans with no intention of being playable. It’s a deliberate regret purchase, pretty enough to draw unsuspecting eyes but totally uninterested in captivating anybody after they’d been parted from their cash. It’s the board game equivalent of a novelty fridge magnet manufactured to break in your suitcase on the flight home.

I despise it.


(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

A complimentary copy was provided.

Posted on September 26, 2022, in Board Game and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I always appreciate your total honesty – thanks!

  2. I almost had to use a fire extinguisher on my laptop because of the amount of BURN in this post. Those stones are indeed pretty, but the rest looks boring and cheap. I think this a purchase that has been regretted by everyone who has bought it.

  3. Sorry to hear you didn’t like the game. My family (all of us big assassin’s creed fans) love this game and get it out quiet often as a little bit of fun. we play by the same rules we played on the video game and find that it works quiet well and is a nice little distraction. I guess that is one of the reasons there are so many different games out there- something for everyone.

  4. And I thought your review of Catacombs Cubes was negative. Wow.

  5. Ragnarök for a Norse game.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: