Review of the The Dresden Files: Cooperative Card Game — Part II. Conclusions or “What Does it Look Like When You Accidentally Sit On The Box?”

I know the real reason you are reading this: you want to see what the box top looks like when you sit on it.  Well, without further ado, here it is!

You might be wondering how that happened … Basically, before RICHIE CON 2017 really got going, I brought out Dresden Files: Cooperative Card game to teach my friends.  Um, while placing the game out, I put the box top on my chair.  And then I sat on it.  *Cough*

And that’s the hair-raising story of how I sat on the box.  The good news is that the great people at Evil Hat games replaced it!  I had backed the Kickstarter at a high level, and they were nice enough to send me a new box.  They were really friendly about it.  And YES I TOLD THEM THE TRUTH—The Red Court showed up and squished it.  No seriously!

I confessed how dumb I felt that I sat on my box.  The game was perfectly fine when they shipped it to me, it arrived in perfect shape. They didn’t do anything wrong, and it was all my fault.   And they were kind enough to replace it.  Thank you!

Cold Days

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Recently, I “relistened” to Cold Days.  Wow.  This is really a great book.  I came home from a looong car trip, and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time!  When I got home, I really wanted to play this book, so I pulled out the Dresden Files: Cooperative Card Game.  Unfortunately, the expansions only go up to Turn Coat.  D’oh!  Anyways, I pulled out Storm Front and played it as a solo game.

I do hope they do the rest of the books.  The good news is that the box (the unsquished version) has plenty of room for the expansions if/when they come out.

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Solo Experience

This is a good solo game.   If I want a quick, solo game, this game seems to fit in nicely.  The box says it takes 30 minutes to play, and  it really does take about 30 minutes to play solo! And it has quick set-up and tear-down.   With all the different books, (the first 10 books form the 10 scenarios, plus some random scenarios), there is quite a bit of content here.

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So, I like the game as a solo game quite a bit. After playing a number of times, I did make a few changes:

  • Solo Player uses 7 cards per character instead of 6
  • I always use 20 FATE tokens (the max)

The game is actually pretty hard.  I found that the game has too random an ending (with the Showdown: see Part I of this review)  unless you give yourself an extra card.  I still lose about half the time, but the extra card makes the game feel like I have a chance.   Similarly for the 20 FATE tokens.  With the extra card, I feel like the game is more fun–I feel like I have a chance to win.  Without that extra card, it wasn’t as fun because I felt like I would always lose.

Group Play

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So, during group play, one of the rules is that players are NOT allowed to say “exactly” what’s on a card in their hard.  The  hands are closed, so no info is shared.  Info can only be shared by saying something vague like “I have some GREAT Clues, but they cost a lot!”, but you can’t say “I have 5 CLUE card that costs 5 FATE”! Basically, this is the same rule as from Shadows Over Camelot … no table talk.  And my friends HATED that!

We immediately turned the hands over so all information was shared.   We could prod each other and look at each others hands: we had a LOT more fun when we made all the information shared and available.   This was immediately a house rule for us.  (We had all played Shadows Over Camelot and HATED that rule there too).

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So, my friends liked it … ish.  None of them had read the Dresden Files, so they didn’t have any of the history or the backstory of the characters.  They were just playing what they were given.   So they didn’t bring any expectation to the table.

Sigh, well, they gave it about a 5 (6 if they were being generous) after we played.  Their main complaint was that it didn’t feel like there was a lot to do.   There needed to be more randomness: they liked it when they had to roll for FATE points, but it was a little too cut and dried.  (I am paraphrasing here).    Of course, the hated the randomness of the Showdown (where you just roll some dice at the end to see if you win).  Of course, you see the contradiction there: there want more randomness, but they were complaining that the endgame is too random.   Sigh.

Conclusion

I personally like this game: I give it about a 7 out of 10 (using the BoardGameGeek rating system).   When I want a lightweight solo game, I think this is a good choice … if you like puzzly games.  It’s only 30 minutes for a game!  I think the theme does a lot for me: I really like the characters.  I wish the game were a little more of an adventure.  My friend Josh and I were talking about “What would Cold Days look like an expansion?”  It’s such a HUUUGE book, it feels like it should be split into two or three scenarios which build on each other.  That could really engage some people more: if you felt like your choices mattered for the next adventure, as long as there was more than one way to win!

At the end of the day, I will pull this game out again to play it, but probably only as a solo game or for group play with people who have read the book.   Unfortunately, my friends who hadn’t read the books didn’t like the game as much as my friends who had read the books.  Ah well.  I like it.

 

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Review of Bethel Woods Board Game

Bethel Woods was a Kickstarter co-operative board game back from September 2016. According to the box, it is a game for 2-4 players, 12+ and takes about 40  minutes. I received mine sometime in the March/February 2017 timeframe.

Bethel Woods is a cooperative game where the players have to build a machine:
the DreamCatcher to win. Each player plays one of 8 characters (see below)
with a different power.

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The game takes place in, shockingly, the Bethel Woods. (see below).

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On a player’s turn, they move around some workers who can “fix” certain parts of the machine. At the end of every players turn, a new malfunction shows up. The malfunctions are colored and numbered and come from a bag.

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Three (possibly four) malfunctions come out every turn and atrophy one of the six machines on the board.

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When the malfunctions run out, the players lose. If too many machines are malfunctioning (four), the players lose. Finally, if too many spies come out the players lose. A spy come out when a machine malfunctions.

The spies are like malfunctions, but harder to get rid of.

Overall Impressions

 
Overall, I like this game. It’s a very puzzly game. The components and art are apropos, and I think the board (in particular) really pops. If you are looking for a medium-weight co-op game of about 40 minutes, this is fun. It’s not too complex, but still presents a good challange.

There are some issues you should be aware of.

The Rulebook

 

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The rulebook is fine. Not great, not bad. I was able to learn the game in about 30 minutes by reading the rules and setting it up. I maybe got one or two rules wrong the first time, but I was up quickly and playing. My only real complaint is that the rules are very dark. The black background was a little hard to read. Arguably, it’s very thematic. But I had a
little trouble with it.

The Characters

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Each player plays one of eight characters, where each character has a special power.

I didn’t realize it until I played the second time, but eveyone (except Fenn) looks really depressed! I remember being bummed after my first play through, and I wonder if just looking at all those gloomy faces really set me back. I don’t know about you, but seeing a *kid* depressed makes me extra sad.

I know these are orphans in a alien-infested world fighting for the world, but man, they really bummed me out. I tend to play with Fenn, just because he’s doesn’t look all depresssed!

Don’t get me wrong, here. I like the art. It fits the game—it reminds  me of illustrations in a kid’s book (which is very thematic for the orphanage kids).

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The characters special power are minor, but they are useful. The powers are important enough that they will probably make a difference between winning and losing. (The text at the bottom was kind of hard to read because they are dark).

The Board

 


The board really pops.

It’s easy to see where things go. My one complaint is that I wasn’t sure what the things in the middle of the board represent.

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What are the the six pairs of of things on the edge? Turns out, they just repeat info on the outer edge of the board.

I thought, for quite a while, that I needed to discard those knowledge cards to enter the orphanage. Nope! They are just repeating information on the edge of the board (the starting conditions). This was probably the most confusing thing in the rules. Honestly, I think they could have gotten rid of those markers in the middle and it would have made the game better. The are distracting and don’t do anything but repeat information.

The Workers

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Start-up: One worker of red and yellow on Machine 4

On your turn, you grab a bunch of worker at one machine and move them around the board (clockwise or counter-clockwise, your choice) dropping off one worker as you go to fix malfunctions. A red worker can only fix a red malfunction, a blue worker can only fix a blue malfunction, and so on. They have different names, (engineer, technician, electrician, mechanic), but I never used those names once I left the rulebook.

I like the idea that the when a worker fixes a malfunction, you gain the malfunction as a knowledge token. That’s pretty cool! “You learn from fixing the machines!”

The workers are fine and easy to grab:

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They are all different looking, but I guess I never really concentrated  on that. I am very glad they are different colors! The color (not the name) is what’s important. It was very easy to know what worker fixed what malfunction: just match the color. It was easy to see across the board and work it out without having to pick up and investigate tokens. I appreciated that! That made turns easy and quick (from that perspective at least).

Single Player Rules

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Sigh. When will designers learn Saunders’ Law? There are NO solo player rules in the rulebook at all. Luckily, it’s really easy to play solo: the solo player plays two characters. Done. It’s really obvious that this is the way to play solo, but a single sentence in the rulebook would have gone a long way … something like …

“Bethel Woods plays 2-4 players, where each player chooses and plays one character.  The solo player can play Bethel Woods by simply playing two characters and alternating between them.”

The game plays fine solo (two characters) and this is how I learned it so I could teach my friends. I think they could easily say 1-4 players on the box and not be lying.

GamePlay

Gameplay is fairly straight-forward.

A player figures which workers to pick up, which direction to move, which malfunctions to fix (by dropping which a single color worker on each spot). The last worker is special: that worker can go and try to build the next stage of the DreamCatcher rather than go to next spot.

You can only win if you build the DreamCatcher: you have to keep discarding more and more knowledge to build the next stage. There are 6 stages and it costs X knowledge to build stage X. By stage 6, you have to  collect 6 knowledge and discard it at the orphanage.

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5 of 6 stages of the DreamCatcher built! Almost a win!

But you can only enter the Orphanage at six points: one an entrance has been used, that entrance cannot be used again. It’s even worse than that, you lose a worker when he enters the orphanage! And the knowledge all has to be the same color and the same color as the worker.

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A win!  Note the workers in the middle of the board, one worker at each entrance

What makes this game hard is that you lose workers as you build the machine, which makes it harder to keep the machines from malfunctioning (as there are fewer workers to move around).

 

Paralysis Analysis

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Mid game: a few workers in the middle (building the DreamCatcher) and the rest at the 6 machines on the edges.

Is there paralysis analysis in the game? It wasn’t too bad. There’s not too much to do on our turn, so you don’t have to look too much into the future to figure a good move. It really depends on how much you want to look ahead. BUT since you have no idea what malfunctions will come out at the end of your turn, you can’t plan more than a few moves in advance.

There’s two sides of this. Since you can’t do that much on your turn, it seems like there’s usually an obvious move. “Hey! That group of 4 workers can fix 4 different malfunctions if you move them!” So, unless you are setting someone else to fix the DreamCatcher, usually, your move is fairly obvious.

But, in the end game, there is a lot more thought, and you will find yourself planning moves out to set-up the last worker to go in and fix the last piece of the DreamCatcher.

Overall, this works pretty well. The beginning game is quick, and people get into the game, even if the proper move is obvious.  Once people are invested, the game gets harder and much more thinky as you have to plan the last few moves.

So expect some analysis paralysis in the end game, but otherwise turns will be brisk and fun.

Final Analysis

In the end, this reminds me a little of Pandemic. Keep the malfunctions (infections) under control so players can decide when build the DreamCatcher (cure disease). That’s not a bad comparison because I love Pandemic. I like the theme a little better in Bethel Woods,  although the world still ends if you lose in both games.

My main problem with the game is that it gets a little samey. You do the same things over and over: move workers. Luckily, it’s a short game so that mechanic doesn’t wear out. But, I feel there’s “something” missing! It would have been great if maybe …

  • A one-time use power for each character?
  • Choose how many workers to place when you move?
  • A way to reseed the bag with malfunctions?
  • Knock over a worker to “prevent” malfunctions on machine during
    the malfunction placing?

I’m not sure, I just wanted “one more little choice” I could make on my turn. That would have made it just a little more fun.

Again, I need to say that I like this game. It’s a simpler Pandemic in many ways. I can teach Bethel Woods much more quickly than Pandemic, and it has fewer moving parts. I think younger players will like this better than Pandemic: both the theme and gameplay are a little more appealing.

Conclusion
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I like Bethel Woods and will keep it in my collection. It’s a simpler Pandemic and I think it will be a good gateway game for younger gamers. I also like it as a solo game for when I just want a medium-weight puzzle game without too much set-up and without too much maintenance per turn.

I think in the long-run, an expansion could make a deeper game that might be more appealing to heavier gamers. Some things I’d love to see:

  • Bethel Woods: Golem expansion. Adds a golem the players control who can fix more malfunctions autonomously, but can take malfunctions himself.
  • Bethel Woods: Dark Forest Expansion. Adds one-time powers to each player, but also adds a drone which moves and can kill workers. Also adds rules for placing multiple players as well as keeping workers at one spot and working.

… but this is just me blue-skying.