Game, Video Reviews

Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile


In Oath, one to six players guide the course of history in an ancient land. Players might take the role of agents bolstering the old order or scheme to bring the kingdom to ruin.

45 to 120 minutes

Designer(s): Cole Wehrle

Artist(s): Kyle Ferrin

Publisher: Leder Games

Oath is an epic game about history and the rise and fall of peoples and empires. This game deal with resource management, card management, area control, and even a bit of negotiation. All in all, this a game with a lot of mechanics and easily falls in the category of a heavy weight game.

Oath perfectly fits in the range of games that I enjoy. Not only does it have complexity, but it also introduces the concept of the Chronicle system. The results of every game affect the next game. The winner of each game goes on to be the ruler of the Empire in the next game. The map and world deck also change from game to game making Oath feel like a living board game.

I would like to give a special thanks to Leder Games for sending me a review copy of the game!



Gameplay Overview

This is a general overview to provide context for the review, not an in-depth how to play. Some rules may be glossed over or missing.

I have played through about 14 games in a continuous Chronicle. I have played at the player count of 3 – 5 but mostly at 4 players. I was both a backer for the Kickstarter and a playtester for Leder games.

Oath is a one to six player political game, that chronicles the annals of an ancient land and the turmoil that ensues in each dynasty. One player will end up being the Chancellor who is the rulers of the empire. All other players will end of being either exiles or citizens. Exiles are individuals looking for favor, secrets, and a way to take over the Empire. Citizens are a part of the Empire but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be in charge!

Game Flow

Oath is played over 8 rounds but there is potential for the games to be ended prematurely if certain conditions are met. During each round, ever player gets a turn to spend their supply for the actions: Search, Muster, Trade, Recover, Campaign, and Travel. The goal of each player varies depending on their character. The Chancellor needs to keep the Oathkeeper goal in order to win. Exiles need to either take the Oathkeeper goal or fulfill a revelation, and Citizen must fulfill the successor goal while ensuring that the Chancellor remains the Oathkeeper.

Setup

The set up for this game is fairly straight forward for the first game. Each player will get their pieces and the box walks you through how to set up the board, showing which cards go where and what sites to use.

For games beyond the first, set up will include randomly distributing three cards to every player in which they will choose one and discard the remaining. The known sites that are put into play will be decided from the previous game. The player who is the Chancellor will also be determined by who won the previous game.

Games Rounds

During a players turn they can spend supply to take the following actions:

  • Search – draw and play cards from either the world deck or the discard deck in your region.
  • Muster – gain two warbands to your player board from your supply
  • Trade – trade secrets for favor or favor for secrets
  • Recover – gain a relic by paying its cost
  • Campaign – declare goals (sites, relics or banishment) for one opponent and use the battle dice to try and gain those goals. (This actions is an all or nothing result)
  • Travel – Move your pawn to move from site to site and region to region

Concept: Warbands

Warbands are the warriors for the each player. They live on the player board as a part of your characters party. Like a band of merry men. Or women 🙂 Or people. Anyway, warbands will only be placed on sites if that character controls the site. A site will only contain one type of warband at a time.

Concept: Site vs Region

There are three regions within the world of Oath: The Cradle, the Provinces and the Hinterlands. Each region contains sites. The Cradle has two while the Provinces and the Hinterlands has 3. The site cards will either be determined by the previous game or randomly dealt. Those that are random will generally be placed face down and are unknown to the players.

Concept: Discarding

Oath has a very interesting approach to using cards. The normal action when a player draws cards is they draw three cards, choose one, and discard the rest. However, in this game, when you discard you discard to one of three piles associated with the three regions. Players discard cards in the discard pile to the right of where they pawn is located.

Concept: Favor Banks

The favor economy in Oath is closed. Rarely will new favor be introduced into the system. Favor not claimed by players will reside in favor banks that correspond to the 6 card suites. When gaining favor through trading or placing cards on sites, the used card will dictate where the favor is coming from. If that bank has no favor – no favor can be taken.

Game End

The game ends in one of fours ways. The easiest way is all eight rounds have gone to completion and objective are then checked. The second way for the game to end is by the roll a of a die. Starting on turn 5, a die is rolled if the Chancellor remains Oathkeeper. If the dice is equal to or above the specified threshold, then the game ends immediately with the Chancellors victory.

The third ending comes if an Exile fulfills the Oathkeeper goal and thus takes it from the Chancellor. On the beginning of their next turn, the Oathkeeper goal then flips to the Usurper side. If the Exile keep this goal fulfilled to the beginning of their next turn the game immediately ends with their victory.

The four end come in the form of revelations. There are 5 revelation cards in the world deck, 4 of which provide alternative win conditions matching the potential Oathkeeper goals. If an exile declares a revelation and fulfills said revelation on the beginning of their turn, the end immediately ends with the exiles victory.

Who Will Like it?

This game is undoubtedly a heavier game with a lot of complexities and intricacies with the mechanical systems as well as with player interactions. The Chronicle system that the game introduces is similar to that of a legacy game except there is no “progress” per say and different groups will have their own different histories written as well as versions of the game. This game is great for anyone who like resource management, complexity, optimization and player interaction.

What I Think

Oath has a lot of complexity and nuances that aren’t fully captured by the rules but provides an engaging and fulfilling narrative as a full history of empires and dynasties are play through game after game. This game flips between an area control game to a resource management game to even a negotiation game through certain cards and sites. This game also includes a fair bit of kingmaking where hasty, or not so hasty, alliances are formed to ensure a single players win why putting another player in a better position for the next game. I’m putting this here because I’m still on the fence if I like this or if I don’t like this.

What did I like?

There are a lot of things I like about Oath, this game is extremely unique to me and doesn’t fit into another category of game in our collection. There are not many games I can liken it to. The Chronicle system that is introduced in Oath is something I have to rave about. It’s brings the game to life as the worlds builds and crumbles around the players. And the players don’t have to be consistent between games allowing for people to join or leave as freely as they want.

One major point for me is the importance of every action. It is very rare for me to come to a turn where I take actions that have no purpose. Playing Oath, I have had the experience of knowing that I am not going to win the game. However, since the Chronicle system was in place, I knew that my actions would still effect the next game and that made my actions all the more meaningful.

What didn’t I like?

Oath is definitely a thinkers game. Which means there’s a lot of thinking. And thinking takes quite some time. As each player is taking varying amount of time thinking, which means that downtime between your turns can feel a bit long. And because so much can happen between turns, it can be difficult to plan ahead. This game does seem to reward more knowledgeable players but it is also meant to be played many times so I guess I can forgive this one.

One big point is not knowing what to do on your first turn as an exile. While the Oathkeeper goal is very defined, it takes a few turns for Exiles to really figure out what their goal is going to be. This can be a little overwhelming for new players but it does give them time to play with the economies and systems within the game.

My Take

Oath has a lot of depth and complexity and even after 16 games, I am still finding something new every time I sit down to play. This ranges from new cards which were added after the last game, and I thoroughly enjoy seeing all the new stuff, to previously missed rules that need to be clarified. I will admit this game can be overwhelming at time but it’s definitely worth the experience.

Breakdown

Rulebook/Learning the Game

The Rulebook for Oath is very thorough and put together, walking the players step by step through the game. It’s an amazing resource for the playing and is organized in such a way that information is easily accessible and searchable. (Ok, so I might be slightly biased because I did a blind read for the rulebook and helped make some of the clarifications :P)

First Impressions

The first play we did of Oath was a slog for many reasons. For one, I had to do a blind teach with no outside help in order to help the game designers see how people transition from the rulebook to the actual game. There was a lot of figuring things out and seeing how we could break the game. It was a six hour expedition. That being said, no game has taken that long since then and I’m pretty sure we were an anomaly. After the game finished, we could not be more excited to play again – but that was not the same day.

Subsequent Plays

The game definitely grows and it behooves players to have played before. The game pace grew a bit faster and none of the games played after were similar to each other. There were games where the exiles conspired against the chancellor and there were games where only one player ended up being an exile. The variance that this game allows for gives in ample amounts of replayability.

Rating

9/10

This is a game I continuously push to play within my group of players (see our Chronicle adventures on YouTube) and I enjoy playing it. I am all the more excited that a physical copy is finally in my hands so we can have the full experience of the game. While I do have some issues with the game, I will still come back to it as it almost always puts a smile on my face.

*See my rating scale Here

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