So, last night I got home (Friday, October 5th, 2018), and “some big package” was in the living room. The Reckoners? I think? I checked my Kickstarter page: they promised to deliver in October 2018. “That can’t be right. A kickstarter delivering on time?”
Ah well, I know what I am doing tonight!
A Month of SuperHeroes!
So, adding in The Reckoners, this month I have been playing almost exlusively cooperative SuperHero games! What a great age we live in! Legendary, Sidekick Saga, Oblivaeon, The Reckoners! All cooperative SuperHero games. They are all very different. I remember 10 (?) years ago, I was clamoring for ANY SuperHero game, let alone a cooperative one. (And Batman: The Animated Series cooperative game is coming out any day too! Watch this space for a review!). Let’s take a look at The Reckoners.
The Reckoners by Brandon Sanderson
Apparently, this game is based on a novel/series of novels by Brandon Sanderson (see novel names above). The theme of these novels is that some humans seem to get Super Powers, but everyone who gets Super Powers becomes evil! These bad guys have taken over cities! And SteelHeart is the worst of the lot! The humans have banded together to “defeat” (cough, cough) all the evil, powered, bad guys. They have technology, smarts, and are working together to take out the bad guys.
I consider myself a comic-book collector (having collected for roughly 40 years), and I knew nothing of this IP before I got the game. I knew this was a cooperative SuperHero game with the backstory described above. That’s it! So, I had no emotional baggage going in! Let”s see what it looks like!
I ordered the “Epic Version” (see green sticker), which has metal (!) bit replacing a lot of plastic bits. This is a pretty big box!
The game comes with both a rulebook (on the right) and a “What’s their weakness” book (on the left). One of the key elements of the game is doing “research” on a bad guy (called Epics) to find his/her weakness. I believe Brandon Sanderson wrote the text for the “Untold Epics” book (i.e., find-their-weakness book).
At once, I was struck by how amazing the components are. Wow! Look at those trays! The tray on the left will end up holding the equipment market, noting some stats (population and money and hideouts) for the Reckoners. The tray on the right: that’s SteelHeart’s tracker. The big bad. Ooh! And I got some miniatures!
Prepainted miniatures. Really nice. There’s 6 Reckoners (heroes) total in the game. Usually, each player will play one of them.
At the end of the day, this is a dice game. Each Reckoner will get 3 normal dice (the lemonade colored dice), and 3 of this own special dice. The special dice seem to have one side that gives an “extra boost” on some resource/stat if you roll it.
If I were to boil the game down to its very very core, it is Yahtzee with special abilities. You roll your dice, select up to three, reroll the rest, select up to another three, then roll one last time. BUT: that makes it sound boring. It’s not! There’s so much more to it! We’ll talk more below.
But the dice are AMAZING. I don’t typically like dice games and the dice were so cool I wanted to roll them! They are big, colorful, easy to read, fun to roll! These dice are just amazing!
The cards in here are very nice. There are three types: Epics (the bad guys OTHER than SteelHeart, on the right) and Equipment (stuff the Reckoners can buy) and Player Summary Cards (see further below).
One of the stretch goals of the Kickstarter was that we get sleeves for the cards! Hurray! The good news is that you get more than enough sleeves and that the card fit back in their little holders even when sleeved! See picture below.
I love it when games include a Player Reference Card! We get one here! (It’s the same size as the Epics).
A bunch of extra cards were included as “Kickstarter Exclusives”. Here they are below for completeness.
The tokens in this game are pretty amazing. The metal resources markers are limited to the Epic edition(left and middle) , but the metal brackets (far right) were a stretch goal, so I think everyone gets those?
I know I splurged on the Epic version of the game, but WOW. I love these metal tokens! The metal plan token (far left) are AMAZING. I feel completely spoiled ordering those.
The rulebook is quite good. I got up and going “fairly quickly”. Caveat Emptor: there’s a lot of stuff in the box, so I really feel good that they have a components page. Some people don’t even look at a component page, but I always do, just so I can learn the names.
The Set-up was fairly involved, but the Rulebook did a great job showing a picture:
And the rest of the rulebook is quite good: it shows example of how to play, big text, lots of pictures, and a lot of explanations of Icons.
Ya, there’s a lot of Iconography in this game.
When a game centers on Dice Rolling as its main mechanic, I guess there has to be lot of Icons. Having said that, the rulebook does seem to explain just about everything (but NOT the Kickstarter exclusive cards .. grumble ..)
So, after following the Set-up from the rulebook, I got set-up. For the record, this game takes a lot of space. The city Locations are at the top, the Reckoners board is at the left, SteelHeart is at the right, and the characters are at the bottom. A LOT of trays!
I played a 1 player game, which means playing 2 characters (pretty typical). I was happy that they just had 1 little sentence telling us the simple way to play solo: take two characters (yay, they followed Saunders’ Law). So, there is an approved solo mode built in.
Gameplay is pretty quick. You roll your dice IN ANY ORDER THE PLAYERS CHOOSE and select what you want. Your dice will “typically” only affect the things in your city Location (above, you can see everyone is on the Museum Campus). So, this is crucial: you are working together to get the best dice you can to handle the problems!
As we said earlier, this is a very Yahtzee type mechanic: you roll all your dice, keep up to three (see “Roll #1” slot below). Reroll what you have left, keep up to three (in slot “Roll #2”) then finally keep the rest of your dice. Yahtzee!
But, NOW IT GETS MORE INTERESTING! You get to play (activate) one die at a time, and the players can activate these dice in player-selected turn order! Yep, The Prof can activate a dice (by putting it in one of the 6 slots on the top of the card) , then Abraham can activate two dice, more, or zero! Back and forth in any order! This is very cool! (As some of you might know, I adore player-selected turn order in my cooperative games. I feel like this gives us the best chance to win!)
Throughout the game, you use dice to:
- Eliminate the Enforcement guys (these are “the police” that are more annoying than painful, but they make Epics more powerful): little red stars is the symbol.
- Do research on an Epic or Steelheart (you have to do research on SteelHeart or you can’t even fight him): a little clue
- Contain: move the little metal markers above to the left. The further to the right, the more “powers”/”bad stuff” happens when you activate an Epic or SteelHeart
- Damage an Epic: a little skull
- Money: gain money to buy some equipment ($)
- Plan: take an action now to have more in the future
And those are the 6 main things you can do (6: 6-sided dice) with each die. Some of Reckoner specific dice have multiple symbols, which means that action can be taken multiple times.
This Game is Hard!
So, I “sorta” won my first game. How do you win? Do enough damage to SteelHeart to bring him to zero Hit Points! Only after you do enough research (little clue tokens) on SteelHeart specifically, can you damage him! It’s really hard!
You lose if the population is reduced to zero! (When the Epics activate, they typically kill some of the general population). Your job is to mitigate this enough so you can take out SteelHeart.
This is a hard game. I started on “easy” mode, and still got trounced! Well, I cheated twice so I could make it to the endgame and see how it goes. On the very last turn, I had to do 18 Damage total in one turn, and I just barely did! (See game above)
You have to use every die to its maximum effect, take advantage of doubles of dice faces, buy gear early, and kill Epics as soon as possible (killing lower level Epics usually gives you rewards and stop them from doing bad stuff)! Seriously, this game is HARD!
Potential Issues and Pet Peeve
So, this game is HARD. You will feel very overwhelmed very quickly. If you don’t like games that trounce you (like Ghost Stories), this may scare you away. Even on Easy mode, it was overwhelming! A simple way (not found in the Rulebook) to mitigate some of the difficulty is to simply give yourself some more money at the start of the game so you can buy tons of equipment. Seriously, you can’t win the game without equipment that augment your dice rolls.
I love Player-Selected Turn Order, but it can quickly lead to Analysis Paralysis. Even with just two Reckoners, the order their dice should be played can be a bit much. The thing is, the game is so overwhelmingly hard, that you feel like you want to do the absolute best you can! So you will over-analyze and take forever. Depending on the context, I don’t mind it too much, because I like solving puzzles, but it can be very distracting for some players. Caveat Emptor.
Finally, I have a beef against art in Comic Book games: I feel like “no game really gets it right”. Don’t get me wrong, I LIKE the art in this game! It’s great! But it feels more like BOOK COVER ART than COMIC BOOK ART. For instance:
The art of the book covers looks a LOT like the art in the game! Kind of like a painting … I guess for fans of The Reckoners books, that’s what you want! But, I don’t feel like that is comic-booky! What I want is something more like this!
I like the bright colors! The sharp lines! The action! The Heroic poses! Seriously, I love the clean, striking art (especially of George Perez and John Byrne), and I feel like most comic book games don’t strive for this aesthetic. This is a Pet Peeve of mine. What I think it really means: “I really wish somebody would hire John Byrne or George Perez (or someone like them) to do the art of as Comic Book board game”. This is just me.
I have no prior knowledge of the IP. And I typically don’t like dice games. But I like this game! It’s a cooperative SuperHero game with AMAZING components! The gameplay is fast and quick (although you can get caught in a bit of analysis paralysis), but still quite deep! I am surprised how deep my analyses had to be to do well. It’s hard, and potentially overwhelming, but I think it’s easy to teach and easy to play. The solo mode works great.
If you don’t know the IP, this game is still very accessible! I suspect if you like those books, this game will hit a lot better for you. But I liked it a lot not knowing anything about the books. (And, I don’t even like Dice games usually!)
Right now, this is hovering between a 7-8/10 for me (on the BoardGameGeek chart). I will get it to the table a few more times. I am guessing it will fall at 7.7 or something like that.