Otherworld: Orcs Versus Humans

The Basics:

  • For ages 12 and up
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • Approximately 120 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Cooperative & Team Play
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adults – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • The portal has opened to a new world. Explore it and make it your own!


  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!


German Romantic writer, Jean Paul, wrote, “Courage consists not in blindly overlooking danger, but in seeing it, and conquering it.” In this game, players explore a new world opened to them through magic and mystery. What lies beyond the portal is unknown, but two groups bravely go through to explore and conquer the new land. They will have to compete for the resources while expanding their influence and knowledge of the new kingdom. What new wonders and dangers will this other world, full of promise and peril, bring?

Otherworld: Orcs Versus Humans, designed by John Webb and published by Unsung Design via the Game Crafter, is comprised of 37 Exploration chits, two double-sided game maps, six Battalion cards, 107 Army Unit chits, six Hero cards, two Reference cards, 30 Magic Item cards, two Faction cards, six Quest hexes, 12 Resource tokens, 16 Flags, 12 Pawn stickers, six Pawns, 16 Workers, 12 standard six-sided dice, two standards 20-sided dice, and two Stockpile hexes.

Opening the Portal

To set up the game, complete the following steps:

First, have each player select a Faction card. Each Faction card details the Army Units, the Structures, any Abilities, and a unique victory condition specifically available to that faction. Place the Faction card in front of their owning players. There are only two factions: Humans and Orcs. Humans focus on building and reinforcing, while the Orcs are about combat. Both factions are powerful and balanced, however, despite playing differently.

Second, place Army Unit and Structure chits to the Faction card. There are a limited number of chits in the game, representing the sum total of what can be created during the gaming session. Each Faction card has a space for the chits for Army and Structures to be stacked. Now is an excellent time to evaluate the cost of resources to train an army and build structures to house them. Some Army chits only require resources to bring into play, while others are only available via upgrade that requires resources and certain Structure chits to be built for the player’s use.

Army chits represent a “unit” of that specific type. Each Army chit has four essential values.

  • Hit Points (green)
  • Attack Dice (red)
  • Defense Dice (blue)
  • Unit Ability

The Unit abilities fall into four different types:

  • Survival: Allows the player to re-roll Defense dice
  • Spellcaster: Improves a player’s Hero’s INT (which is used when the Hero is leading a Batallion), as well as allowing a re-roll of Attack dice for Army units with the Spellcasting ability
  • Ranged: Improves a Battalion’s Combat Priority (which determines the order of actions)
  • Flying: Allows the player to ignore movement penalties and, like Ranged, improves a Battalion’s Combat Priority

Similarly, each Structure chit uses the same values but, unlike Army units, cannot be moved around the game map once they are placed.

Third, have each player select a Hero, matching Hero pawn, and Battalion card. Heroes have a Hero card that details their statistics and abilities. Heroes are unique units and can improve by leveling throughout the game. A hero’s statistics are first based on their primary attributes (Strenght, Dexterity, and Wisdom), some of which are not relevant to the Hero (in which case they are not displayed). In battle, Heroes will provide additional offensive and defensive abilities. By obtaining Experience Points through battles and completing personal quests, the Hero improves and becomes a force to be reckoned with.

Fourth, determine which of the two-game maps to use. Each game map follows the same rules but provides the players with different obstacles and paths. Each game map will have squares and hexes. Squares represent areas that can be used to build structures, gather resources (gold, wood, food, and ore), and the starting position of the player’s army (which also provides gold). The hexes are used to place a hero’s Quest hexes. There is also a Market hex that can be used to exchange unwanted items for gold or purchase them. Determine at this time the victory condition, as well.

Example of just one piece of the map to be explored!

Fifth, place the map elements on the selected game map. The players will be shifting army units and heroes on the map, changing it as they march towards conquering their foe. However, all game maps start with a few elements to help things kickoff. Specifically, a Structure for each player’s starting claimed area, a flag that shows the claimed starting area, the Hero pawn, Exploration tiles on unclaimed Occupation squares, and Hero’s Quest hex.

Sixth, set the Magic Item deck. Take the deck and remove any Magic Item cards used as Quest rewards. Shuffle the remaining cards together and place the deck face-down. Magic Item cards list the item’s name, its effect in the game, and its gold value. Magic Items come into the game as “potential” possibilities and must be actively used to obtain their benefit. Sometimes using a Magic Item will remove it from the game. Of course, if the player doesn’t want or need the Magic Item, they may sell it for its listed gold value if they have access to a Market hex, which is also the cost to purchase it. Or, if the player doesn’t want or need it, they can “drop it” once they acquire it, removing it from the game. Finally, a Magic Item card can provide Experience Points, too, which are very important to the player’s Hero.

That’s it for game setup. Time to conquer this new world.

Strangers in a Strange Land

Otherworld: Orcs Versus Humans is played in turns and phases. The player controlling the Human faction goes first and completes all their phases in their turn. The player controlling the Orc faction then takes their turn, completing the phases. This repeats until the game comes to an end. A player’s turn and its phases are summarized here.

Phase One: Harvest

During the first phase, players will collect resources (wood, food, ore, and gold) from any Exploration, Gold, or Structure squares they currently control.

Phase Two: Buy

Players may now spend the resources they collected and any they still had since their last turn. Players can purchase Army Units, Workers, and Structures for their listed price on the player’s Faction card. Workers and Structures purchased are placed immediately on the game map. Purchased Army Units are placed on the player’s Battalion card. There is no limit to how much or how many a player can buy on their turn as long as they have the resources to spend.

Phase Three: Move

Players may now elect to move their Battalion pawns on the map. Each Battalion pawn has a total of two movement points. Additional movement points are earned if the player has their Hero tagging along. Moving from one empty square to another only cost one movement point. However, if moving into a wood square or an ore square, movement will have an increased cost of one or two movement points. If a player doesn’t have the movement points to pay the cost, they may not move their Battalion pawn into the square.

Phase Four: Combat

If the player moves their Battalion pawn into the same space as their opponent’s Battalion, Structure, or a Monster Encampment, combat begins. Combat takes place over three rounds with the initiative of combat based on a priority structure. The priority value is awarded as follows:

  1. Defender – Flying
  2. Attacker – Flying
  3. Defender – Ranged
  4. Attacker – Ranged
  5. Defender – Melee
  6. Attacker – Melee

The Army Units that have the lower priority (in this case, the lowest is a ‘1’) go first, followed by the next lowest, and so on until Priority values ‘1’ through ‘6’ are resolved.

To resolve combat, the attacking force (based on the Priority value) first determines how many Attack dice they need to roll. This is determined by adding the Attack Dice value on the Army Unit and adding any attack bonuses provided by Heroes and Structures. The player takes that number of dice and rolls them, counting the number of dice with a value of ‘4’ or higher (which counts as a “Hit”).

The defender now does the same but adds up the number of Defense Dice, as well as adding any defense bonuses provided by Heroes and Structures. The player takes that number of dice and rolls them, counting the number of dice with a value of ‘4’ or higher (which counts as a “Block”).

The two players subtract the number of Blocks from the number of Hits. If any Hits remain unblocked, the player must assign one Hit per unblocked attack. Damage is first given to an Army Unit or Structures with the fewest Hit Points. If the damage dealt is equal to or higher than the current number of Hit Points, the Army Unit is removed from the Battalion card and returned to the Faction card.

Combat continues for three rounds, with damage not carrying over into subsequent turns of combat. Other than now occupying the territory, the player may also be awarded an Item card if they took out a Monster Encampment. Item cards are given to the player’s Hero.

But sometimes combat goes poorly, and a hasty retreat promises an opportunity to fight another day. A player may decide to retreat when it’s their turn to attack. If they do so, the opposing force may take an “Attack of Opportunity” using half of their total Attack Dice (rounded down). Damage is automatic with no blocks possible. The retreating units must move up to their maximum Movement points in the direction of the closest friendly occupied location.

This completes the player’s turn. The next player now takes their turn, starting with Phase One noted above.


There are two ways to win the game, based on two different victory conditions. One of which was selected during the game setup.

The “Short Victory” gives the win to the first player who has a Hero that reaches level four and completed their personal quest.

The “Long Victory” gives the win to the first player who has a Hero that reaches level four, completed their personal quest, and completed the Faction Goal.

Each faction has a specific goal.

  • Humans: control three Settlements connected by roads and have collected 10 Gold in the Stockpile at the beginning of the player’s Harvest phase.
  • Orcs: control a Wolf Den, Black Lodge, Darke Summit, Wolfrider, Black Shaman, and Sky Crasher at the beginning of the player’s Harvest phase.

Game Variants

Sometimes combat is easier resolved when engaging a Monster Encampment by determining the total number of Attack Dice used and compared against the total number of Defense Dice. If the total number of Attack Dice is triple or more than the Defense Dice, then combat automatically goes to the player. Priority is still used, however, meaning the Monster Encampent might have a chance to attack before the player’s forces decimate it.

Otherworld can be played with two players or up to four, with two players working together as a team. Players cooperatively engage in the game using the same pieces, discussion strategy, and tactics. This is a great way to teach the game.

To learn more about Otherworld: Orcs Versus Humans, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks discovered a slight learning curve to Otherworld that was reasonably overcome after a few rounds of gameplay. The Child Geeks’ most significant hurdle was determining what to do with the freedom they were automatically granted. Players are dropped into the game with more than enough to start doing whatever they like, which is what caused a number of our Child Geeks to be hesitant to start. It felt like too much for them to grasp. The victory condition helped, but there were many roads to get there. According to one Child Geek, “I didn’t know what to do first. I was all like, what do I do, Dad? And then, after a few turns, I started to think about what I wanted to do and how to go about it. After that, I had a lot of fun.” Another Child Geek said, “I played as both the humans and the orcs, and I think the orcs are more fun because they can do a lot of battles with lots of guys and have lots of different ways to win the game!” Uff! Got to love those run-on sentences from excited Child Geeks! When the last Settlement was made, the Child Geeks all voted that Otherworld was a good time.

The Parent Geeks also found the game entertaining, mainly when they played as teams. According to one Parent Geek, “Games like this are normally impossible to teach my children or take too long. However, this game was easy to understand and teach, and it stayed on the table just long enough for us to finish before we had to pack it up for dinner. Good stuff.” Another Parent Geek said, “Reminds me a great deal of the larger and more complicated games requiring you to explore and expand. This game takes all that and seems to make it easier to understand and execute. I didn’t feel that the game was watered down or any less deep as a result.” When the final battle was fought, the Parent Geeks proclaimed Otherworld the victor.

The Gamer Geeks were hesitant to play this game. Mainly because they saw it was meant to be a streamlined game that generally excels at being very deep, adaptive, and strategic. Their concern was evident: they believed that “streamlined” also meant “dumbed down.” To the Gamer Geeks’ delight, they found just the opposite to be true. One Gamer Geek said, “I’m not a fan of the game component quality or the artwork, but the gameplay is great. You can tell the designer put real-time and energy into it. It’s a shame about the bits not being better, but I don’t think that it will matter simply due to the quality of gameplay.” Another Gamer Geek said, “It is a  streamlined version of the more complicated games it takes its cues from. Streamlined and intuitive. I liked it and would play it again if in the mood for a lighter conquest game.” The Gamer Geeks all agreed that Otherworld was well worth their time, and a pleasant surprise.

Otherworld does a lot that is already expected of a “4X” game (which is shorthand for games that focus on exploring, expanding, exploiting resources, and exterminating opposing forces). I never felt restrained or confused about what I wanted to do or how to do it. The game designer’s goal was to create a “lite” version of an epic game if their website is to be taken at face value. They succeeded. Each faction felt reasonably well equipped to tackle the map with a fun path to victory. The game felt like a stripped-down version of the classic Warcraft real-time strategy video games in many respects. Thematically the game is big, but the gameplay is always focused on minimal rules that empower the player without melting their brain.

As such, Otherworld was straightforward to teach, with the most challenging part of the game keeping track of the pieces and helping the Child Geeks keep their cards in order. This, too, however, was not a big chore, as the cards show you where to place your bits and pieces. The only other area of caution was combat, which is very fast and can feel a bit shallow at times. This, again, however, proved not to be a big deal to the players as combat was just one of the many different elements in the game. Not “the element,” which is to say, combat was significant, but not the act itself, but the resolution certainly was. To which the game managed brilliantly. Not a lot of numbers to crunch or extra tables to look through. To the point and brutal. Excellent.

My biggest gripe about the game is the choices concerning some of the components. The game maps, for example, are thin and not very durable. I would have preferred a thicker board instead of the thick cardstock. But I also recognize that doing so would have increased the cost of production, which would have offset the game’s price tag. Such is the weird game designers must play with their creation, sometimes sacrificing quality to a small degree to realize their ambitious dreams of getting their beloved game to your table.

I should also note that the amount of time to play this game is a bit misleading. You really shouldn’t take any more than two hours (120 minutes) to get the job done. However, we played the game with it only taking 60 minutes and one group reported that it took four hours. Since victory is something you work towards and there is no in-game “Doom Clock” counting down the end of the game, players can – technically – take a long time to get to the resolution. Not a bad thing, but worth mentioning.

Speaking of which, yes, do get this game to your table. It was a real surprise for us, and we enjoyed it. I often shy away from larger games under the “4X” category due to their size and time commitment. Otherworld delivered big fun with half the needed space and a very reasonable amount of time spent setting it up and completing it. Give this game a try when you have an opportunity to explore another world in Otherworld: Orcs Versus Humans.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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