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In Oltréé, from Studio H, the 2-4 players are rangers working together to protect a medieval fantasy realm from a series of existential threats. It's an accessible easy-to-play, fully cooperative game where you'll be experiencing an unfolding story that advances the plot but also acts as a game timer.

The game is played on a board divided into eight sections. Players each choose one of the eight ranger characters. These principally differ in the 'profession' in which they specialise (they'll get an extra die when rolling a test in that profession) and in the special ability they have. Note tho' that the special abilities can usually only be called upon when your ranger is at full health. Players get to take two different actions on their turn, including movement, tackling an Incident or Problem at their location, collecting a resource or spending resources to add a building or fortification.

At the start of each player's turn, they roll the custom six-sided 'adversity' die which determines how far along a track the 'adversity marker' is moved (0,1,1,1,1,2). When it lands on the Incident card spot, an Incident card is laid out at the location shown on an eight-sided die. The game starts off with three Incident cards at each location, and when the number of cards at a location reaches four, it is considered 'perilous' and players will lose prestige for every perilous location whenever the adversity marker lands on the Incident card spot. If their prestige drops to zero, the game ends and the rangers lose. That means players will of necessity be firefighting throughout the game: travelling to locations and dealing with the Incidents. Sometimes the Incident cards will offer a binary choice - so the cards need to be read out by another player - and sometimes they will require payment of a specific resource, but more often than not resolution will involve a profession test. You'll always roll at least one die to determine success or failure but if the test matches your own profession, you'll roll a second die. Further dice can be added as players collect resources and use them to generate buildings. The custom six-sided profession dice have a 50% chance of success but one of the sides with a success icon is conditional on the ranger losing one health. Success usually delivers a reward and failure can sometimes impose a penalty but, regardless of the result, the Incident card will be removed once it's been experienced.

In addition to the Incident cards, Problem cards also go out to various spots on the board. These cards block rangers from using those locations; for example, to collect resources or to regenerate health. To remove a Problem card will usually require successful profession tests or the payment of specific resources. Since the cards often block access to resources, their appearance introduce a puzzle optimisation element into the game.

Then there are Event cards which impose either a one-off immediate effect or an effect that persists until the next Event card is drawn...

At the heart of each game, however, is the Chronicle. This is a deck of 10 cards that tell an unfolding story. Without giving away any spoilers, you can expect the story to steadily ramp up the difficulty for the rangers before arriving at the game's conclusion in the final chapter. That's likely to involve a very challenging test that can probably only be passed if you've been successful in dealing with a fair number of Problems. Games can be end in a Minor Victory, Major Victory or Defeat...

The game design by Antoine Bauza and John Grümph incorporates five Oltréé Chronicles in addition to a short introductory Chronicle that players are encouraged to use as a learning game. You can set the difficulty level at easy, medium or hard, which will be reflected in the set up for a game, so you can try replaying a Chronicle at a different level of difficulty. There'll be fewer surprises in a replayed Chronicle, but then the same is true for very many titles where repeated play means players are increasingly familiar with cards and with a game's twists and turns. But if the finite number of Chronicles worries you, then fear not because Studio H already have expansions in the pipeline offering more Chronicles for your rangers to tackle and one or two other tweaks...

Studio H have done a great job with the production of Oltréé. Thanks to the art of Vincent Dutrait, it looks great, with an attractive board and Incident cards with backs that feature silhouette hints at what the card is hiding. There are printed wooden resources and the cards are good quality. The rangers are each represented with a printed meeple showing the ranger mounted on their steed, and it's a mark of the care and attention that's gone into the production of this game that these aren't just the same meeple reproduced in eight different colours; all eight ranger meeples are unique. Oltréé is distributed in the UK by Hachette Board Games.

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