Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilding Games

The prototypical deckbuilder game, Dominion, started a revolution! It started a new type of game: the deckbuilder.  The deckbuilding mechanism, where you buy, cull, and build your deck has become a gaming staple.   In cooperative gaming circles, there used to be a dearth of games with this mechanism.  Now, there are a myriad of cooperative deckbuilding games!  Here’s our top 10 favorite cooperative deckbuilding games (or cooperative games where the deckbuilding mechanic is central to the game).

Notes

A surprising number of cooperative deckbuilders have a very similar theme: “Protect something that has XX hit points”.  As we go through our favorite games, we will point out when we have this theme.  We will also point out if the game have a viable solo mode (Saunders’ Law) and what makes the game unique and interesting.

10. Rebirth or DC Deckbuilding Game (with Crisis expansion)

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, built-in: you control your main Superhero and an Ally.
  • Protect Something?  Yes.  Each Location in the city has 5 hit points, but each game has a very different winning/losing condition (as it is a campaign).
  • What makes it unique?  The DC art and the movement mechanism.
  • Expansions?  Tons for the original game (Teen Titans, Multiverse, etc) , and I they are all compatible with the new Rebirth game.

This entry is shared by Rebirth (a brand new implementation of the DC Deckbuilding game) with the original DC Deckbuilding game (with the the Crisis expansion).   The original DC game was a very simple deckbuilder that was very easy (some say too easy) to play.  The Crisis expansion (see below) added some rules to make the game cooperative, but it was a little clunky.  (You built some crisis decks and had to get through them).

The Rebirth reboot (what? Comic books rebooting?  That never happens!) kept the same simple mechanics of the DC Deckbuilding game and added some movement and some interesting choices about attacking and buying and moving.

Players work together and move around the city (see the circular city above) and you can only buy cards for your deck from your current location.  It added some new ideas and rejuvenated the DC Deckbuilding game.

9. Xenoshyft

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, built-in.  This game probably works better with more players
  • Protect Something?  Yes, all players are protecting the home base (which has a number of hit points based on the number of players)
  • What makes it unique?  Each player has a battlefield where their marines fight the bugs (aliens), and the marines stay active on the battlefield even after the turn is over.
  • Expansions?  Yes, quite a few expansions that add extra cards, plus a full standalone game called Xenoshyft:Dreadmore (which adds a weather mechanic).

This game would probably be higher if it wasn’t so hard.  It’s a bit lucky, and you absolutely have to cull your deck hard to make any progress.  Even if you play just perfectly, there is a very good chance you will lose.

  I didn’t like this game at first, but then I realized I was playing wrong!  Each player has a battlefield (see above: the red area is where the bugs come in and the blue area is where the marines comes) and the main rule I missed was that marines STAY ON the battlefield, even after your turn is over.  So, there is some troops that stay between turns.   Probably the best part of the game is that you can play play cards to your compatriots area!!  Is your buddy getting overrun with bugs?   Help him out!  This game really encourage communication and fosters cooperation.

8. Legendary

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, but surprisingly not built in.  You can try linearly scaling the set-up (for one player) or just play two characters.
  • Protect Something?  Depends on the Scheme.
  • What makes it unique?  Villains move across the city, and the Schemes really change up how the game plays out (and there are SOOO many expansions that add new schemes).
  • Expansions?  There are so many expansions, you almost can’t name them all.  There is a LOT of content for this game if you like it.

We must be careful here because STRICTLY SPEAKING, this is not a cooperative game: it’s a semi-coop (as all players can lose if they don’t work together a little) and whosoever has the most points at the end of the game, wins.  I know of no one who plays like this.  Every time I have played this game, we simply ignore the points.

 

This gaming system has a lot of versions to it: Aliens, Predator, Firefly, 007, X-files, to name a few.  If the Superhero theme doesn’t speak to you, probably one of those themes will.  For me, I do love the Superhero theme, which is why this is on my list.

I will say that this isn’t higher because the theme is a little lost in the deck building mechanism.  I want to BE a superhero, but in this game, I am really just “buying a team of superheroes” as a I build a deck of Superheroes.  Super fun, but not super thematic.

7. Venom Assault

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, but unclear.  The rulebook says the game plays 1-5, but the set-up doesn’t describe a solo game anywhere (only 2-5).   Just play a single player “as-if” it’s a 2 player game. See here for more discussion of the solo game.
  • Protect Something?  No.
  • What makes it unique?  This game feels a lot like  Legendary (see above) with a GI Joe theme, but it adds some dice mechanics
  • Expansions?  There is one expansion called Villains and Valor which should be available in Q1 2020.

This game feels a lot like Legendary, but it seems to embrace the GI Joe theme pretty well and seems to integrate the theme into the game pretty well.

I picked this game up because I loved the art (by Phil Cho) but I was surprised how good the game actually was!  I feel this is an overlooked gem.  Luckily, an expansion is coming soon to give us more content.

6. Hero Realms: Ruin of Thandar

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, built-in and very clear.
  • Protect Something? No (well, yourself)
  • What makes it unique?  This has the very simple deckbuilding mechanics of Hero Realms with a cooperative adventure on top!
  • Expansions?  There is one expansion called Village of Thandar coming out in Q1 2020.

This one surprised me!  I play the Star Realms app on my iPad all the time and really fell in love with the simplicity of the Star Realms deckbuilding.   Hero Realms is just Star Realms rethemed into a fantasy universe, but it also adds character specific abilities!

To be clear: this is an expansion for Hero Realms.  You need (a) the original Hero Realms box and (b) some character packs (there are 5 total: Cleric, Ranger, Wizard, Fighter, and Thief).  Once you have these, this expansion adds cooperative rules and a campaign!

This is fun, moves quickly (especially of you know Hero Realms or Star Realms already), and tells a nice story.  I was surprised how much this expansion captivated me.  The only real problems were (a) how small the text in the rulebook/adventure books are (b) the lack of replayability.  Once you have played through the scenario, you can replay it a different path (there is some branching in the game), but there’s not too much branching total.  I like it, I’ll play it all through again, and I look forward to the next expansion: the Village of Thandar.

5. The Big Book of Madness

  • Viable Solo Mode?  Yes, but not in the rulebook.  Just play 2 characters.
  • Protect Something?  No, just survive to the end of the book!
  • What makes it unique?  Lots of little touches: a book that you must close, previews of the badness coming, a particularly great rule for allowing someone else to go
  • Expansions?  There is one expansion coming out in 2020 called The Vth Element.

This game surprised me on how popular it was in my gaming circles.  Many of my friends have bought the game after playing my copy!  The game, in the wake of so many games, still comes out fairly regularly with my friends.  I think the Harry Potter theme (I know, not REALLY Harry Potter, but, c’mon) and the little touches really sell the game.

It’s been quite some time, but this is getting an expansion (The Vth Element) in 2020.

4. The Red Dragon Inn: Battle for Grayport

  • Viable Solo Mode?  No.  You can play two characters, but it’s kind of kludgy.
  • Protect Something?  Yes!  Some Location in town has Hit Points, and you have to protect that Location in the City!
  • What makes it unique?  The idea that only one character in your hand can act, but it can also be “your main character” is interesting.
  • Expansions?  There is one expansion called Pirates that’s already out

This game might seem like “it’s like everything else” now, but it was the first game I knew of where you had to protect the city (well, sorta … see later)!  I love the art, there is a ton of content and scenarios, and it has some really original ideas: For example: you can only play items (cards in your deck) on a character, but you can ALWAYS use your character (as well as other characters in your deck)!

This is one that has fallen under the radar, but I love this game!  I just wish it had a better solo mode.

3. Thunderstone Quest (with Barricades Expansion)

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  • Viable Solo Mode? Yes. Built-in with Barricades Expansion
  • Protect Something?  Yes!   Each Location in the town has essentially 4 hit points. But it can be protected by a barricade! If all city Locations are destroyed, you lose!
  • What makes it unique? The mix of dungeon mode and town mode
  • Expansions?  There are lots of expansions for Thunderstone Quest! What Lies Beneath, Ripples in Time, At The Foundations of the World, Vengeful Sands, Clockwork Destiny

To be clear, the base game is Thunderstone Quest AND YOU NEED THE Barricades Expansion to make it cooperative (and solo).  This is a big game with lots of rules (especially for the cooperative mode).  Take a look at my review here, here, and here.

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This is definitely a deckbuilder, it’s definitely complicated, it’s definitely beautiful (and has amazing production values), but it’s definitely fun.   Players go back and forth to the town (to refresh) and the dungeon (to level-up and fight monsters).   At the end of the day, this is a race against time: every turn, monsters are swarming the city and ruining parts of it.  At some point they will overwhelm the town unless you take out the Big Bad at the bottom of the dungeon.

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My first solo game: I’m just about to lose!

Even though it’s main mechanism is deck-building, there’s a lot to it: the game feels very thematic.

2. Shadow Rift

  • Viable Solo Mode? Sort of?  The game contains one Shadow Rift per player, so it scales.  (But the cover says it only works 2-6: I’ve played solo and it seems ok).
  • Protect Something?  Sort of?  You are protecting a city, but you are trying to prevent bad cards from coming into the city (as opposed to hit points of most deckbuilder games).
  • What makes it unique? The town is handled differently than other “protect the town” deckbuilder.
  • Expansions?  There are expansions, but it depends on whether you have the First Edition (cover above) or the Second Edition.   The Second Edition has more content.

This game has had surprising legs in my game groups.  It still comes out pretty frequently, even though it is probably the oldest game on this list.  It is the first cooperative deckbuilder that I know of!    It’s kind of a unique game:  it doesn’t really feel like any of the other deckbuilders on this list.

1. Aeon’s End (any of them)

  • Viable Solo Mode? Yes.  Built-in and works great.
  • Protect Something?  Yes.  You are protecting Gravehold from destruction (it has hit points).
  • What makes it unique? Cards ARE NOT SHUFFLED!  You have control over the order they come out in your deck!
  • Expansions?  There is a lot of content and expansions for this game.  There are straight-up expansions,
    Aeon’s End: The Depths [2nd Edition]
    Aeon’s End: The Nameless [2nd Edition]
    Aeon’s End: The Void [2nd Edition]
    Aeon’s End: The Outer Dark [2nd Edition]and
    and 4 standalone games.

One of my LEAST favorite elements of Dominion was the shuffling. Oy!  You’d watch and wait as the people next to you shuffled to get through the deck, then you’d have to shuffle your deck. …. Wouldn’t it be great if a game didn’t make you shuffle?  And that’s where Aeon’s End shines:  you do not shuffle your deck!

Depending on the mood you are in, there are really 4 different flavors of Aeon’s End.   They are all just variants on the base idea:  This is a cooperative deckbuilder where each player takes the role of a Mage who can cast spells out of breaches.   All players work together to take out the Bad Guy. There is no shuffling of cards, so you can exert control on the order that cards.

Aeon’s End: the original

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This is the original game and the simplest.  It’s a standalone game with a few scenarios and Bad Guys, but each game is standalone and doesn’t relate to previous games.

Aeon’s End: War Eternal

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This is standalone expansion (i.e., you can play the game with just this box). It really just adds more content, but it has a different feel with different characters.

Aeon’s End: Legacy

This is a legacy game where you add stickers, add new rules, and uncover a story.  If you and a group of friends are in the mood for an ongoing adventure where things really change, give this a try!   The game can be replayed, but only if you buy the recharge pack.

Aeon’s End: The New Age

This is a campaign game: new content is revealed as you play, but unlike the legacy game, you don’t add stickers or change the game.  You can always reset.  It includes a story, but it can always be reset.


 

At the end of the day, Aeon’s End is just a great deck-builder that has so much content and replayability you can play as much as you want!   There’s also a lot of new ideas that I haven’t seen elsewhere (even though it’s still a deckbuilder):

  1. Each player has a special ability that can be “charged”
  2. The decks don’t get shuffled
  3. Each mage has a bunch “breaches” where spells get cast from
  4. Players can go out of order if you have the spells

The game flows smooothly at the beginning as people are moving quickly, but at the end of the game, play slows down as players work together to make agonizing decisions.  The game really brings out the cooperation.  It’s a great time with lots (maybe too much) content!

 

Review of Victoriana—Part I: The Unboxing and First Impressions

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Victoriana: A cooperative game of Intrigue and Investigation

More than 3 years ago (in Oct. 2016), I Kickstarted Victoriana: A Cooperative Game of Intrigue and Investigation.   It was originally slated to deliver in August 2017.  It is now November 2019 and it just delivered to all the backers.  It took three years to deliver and was over two years late.  Was it worth the wait?

Unboxing

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Kickstarter stretch goals (and comes fro QML)

Upon opening the box, you see some extra content I paid for and some stretch goals.  The Ripper deck was part of the upper echelon tier, as the Time Traveller deck. Plus, I think Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde was a Kickstarter stretch goal?

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Rulebook

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First thing!

The first thing you see upon opening is the rulebook.  I spent a lot of time with my nose in this rulebook over the course of unboxing, unpunching, and first play.  It’s a good rulebook: it describes everything well, it has lots of visuals and explanations for rules, it has a good components page, a good set-up (well, ok set-up page) and in general was quite readable and intuitive.

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Components list: very pleased to see this on the first pages

The components page was great, describing the components.  And it was necessary: there are a LOT of components!

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The Set -UP

The Set-Up page was pretty good.  In the first few steps, there was some major confusion with one of the decks.  I’m still not convinced I got it right.  Crazily, everything after that was fine, but that very first deck as very confusing and sort of put me off a little bit.

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Sample few pages from rulebook

Like I said, the rulebook does a good job of explaining and showing pictures  of various parts of the game.  For example, the “Investigating Leads” section (see above) has a little sidebar explaining that rule with an example.

My only other (very minor) nitpick was that I didn’t know how to win the game until I got pretty deep into the rulebook.  How do I win?  What I am I supposed to do?  I feel like this should be explained RIGHT UP FRONT to help motivate/guide you through the rulebook.

In general, though, the rulebook was good.

Punchouts

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There are a LOT of cardboard pieces.  They all punched out pretty easily.  I wish the graphic design were slightly better.  Some of the tokens felt very generic, and some very easily evoked the Victorian theme of the game.  To be fair, the components were very clear and readable.

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Lots of components

Board

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Main Board

This is probably  (besides the rulebook) my favorite component in the game.  The board screams Victorian flavor: the color choices, the pictures, the Big Ben on the side.  This board really helped immerse me into the game.

My only complaint: I wish it were bigger.  Partly because it’s so cool looking, and partly because the board got cluttered as the game progressed.  The status tokens take up a lot of room, as do leads and other tokens.   At one point, I thought the game had a typo/misprint: “Where’s GREEN 10?? The board is messed up?  Is this a misprint??” After furtively looking for almost 3 minutes,  it turned out the green 10 was hidden under a lead token.  My fault  of course, but the board could be bigger.

Character Tokens

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The game has character tokens with Standees.  They work fine.  They are visually distinct enough to see the different ones.  Some people might complain that there aren’t minis.  Nah, I don’t care about that.

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Lots of components

What I DO care about is that there aren’t extra standees.  There’s just enough for the characters and then some Agents.  Every time you play the game anew, you have to (potentially) take the plastic standee bases off and put them on other cardboard standees.  My experience with Gloomhaven has me occasionally TEARING/BENDING the cardboard as I moved the plastic bases around.  This hasn’t happened YET to me (I’ve only played once), but I am quite worried the cardboard standees won’t do well in the future.  Caveat Emptor and be careful with your cardboard characters/standees.

The good news is that there is a lot of variety for characters (12 with extra).

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Cards

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There are a lot of cardboard punchouts and a lot of cards.   The cards, in general, look good and are very functional and readable.  The Henchmen, Masterminds, and Advantage cards are very evocative of the theme and easy to read.

 

The Plot cards are pretty awesome: I love how they look like headlines!  Also very evocative of the theme!

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The Lead cards are very easy to read/understand, if not super evocative of the theme.  But, the text is very evocative of the theme, and the cards are easy to read.

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Lead cards tell you what you need to do for either evidence or investigation!

Dice

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Dice!

The Dice are used to put things on the board (agents, leads, etc).  The Clock die is for “what time” a Lead comes into play.  The dice are nice and easy to read.  The only weird thing is that the occult sign, which is purple EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE GAME, looks black on the colored die.  It’s not a big deal, but inconsistent.

First Play/Solo Play

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The first play! A solo game ( with two players )

Above is a set-up of a solo game.  Luckily, the rulebook has a solo mode (adhering to Saunders’ Law): the solo player plays two characters in the game.  I am normally worried that having two characters will be too much for a first play, but it seemed to go fine for me.      I had the rulebook open a lot.

The game has an interesting way to achieve balance: only two players play per round, then the “bad News Advances”.  I don’t think I’ve seen this way to balance a co-op before.

How To Win and Lose

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A Winning Game!

To win, you have to foil the conspiracy!   To do this, you need these things revealed:

  1. Find the point of conspiracy (one of 30 Locations on the board).  Basically, you explore the board and everytime you end on a Location, you can flip it to see if it is the conspiracy point  (place where the conspiracy happens )
  2. Find the evil plot (race through a deck of plots to find the one in use).  This involves culling a plot deck to get to the bottom.
  3. Reveal the Mastermind after defeating his Henchmen

Once you have all those revealed, you must discard the proper resources:

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Mastermind and Plot to be defeated by discarding resources!

These must be discarded at the point of conspiracy:

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The Carlton Club was the place of Conspiracy!

Once you do that, you win!

But of course, there are many ways to lose:

  1. All characters reduced to 0  Life
  2. Time runs out (21 rounds have passed)

Gameplay

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Player summary cards! Ya! Two for each player!

Gameplay is pretty straight forward: you explore London looking for (a) Leads or (b) Special Locations.  The Special Locations, in general, get you resources (occult, Science, Politics or Underground) which you need to follow leads.   If you try to follow a lead, and you don’t have the appropriate resources, the Lead goes cold.

After two players move/explore/follow leads, the timer counts down (the timer is Big Ben of course).    Then the next two players play.  The game continues until players win or lose!

Leads

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Leads are placed on the board and slowly expire by rotating 90 degrees at the end of the turn.  If a lead rotates all the way around, the lead goes cold (you waited too long to follow it) and then players suffer a penalty (1 hit point).

If you DO get to a Location with a Lead before it goes cold, you have to spend some resources (see picture above for sample Lead cards).

Overall

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Overall, I like this game.  The art is thematic and evocative.  All the cards, and tokens and easy to read (although I do wish the board were bigger).  I enjoyed exploring London and following Leads and trying to foil the conspiracy.  It worked as a solo game and I want to play it again.

There were a lot of rules I didn’t cover: this is NOT an easy game.  I am sure I got some rules wrong in playing, but the rulebook was not problematic.  You probably want to play a solo game first before you try to teach others.

My main complaint is just a lot of little inconsistencies.  For a game that took 3 years to get to me, I expected slightly more polish.  The resource tokens seem like they should be more Victorian, the Occult symbol on the die should be purple, the game doesn’t fit together very well after you unbox it (see below), the board should be bigger, and a few things like that seemed out of place in this good game.

This is a good game.  Currently, I am going to give it a 7/10.  We’ll see how it works with my game group.

Appendix: Game Doesn’t Rebox Well?

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I had to work hard to make everything fit!

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The Ripper expansion won’t fit at all

 

A Review of Direwild (A Cooperative Deckbuilder)

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Box Art!

Direwild was a Kickstarter from November, 2017.  It’s a cooperative deckbuilding game for 1-4 players.  I didn’t pick up the Kickstarter, but rather my FLGS .. and I still got the Kickstarter version (with miniatures).  I’ll be honest, I loved the art on the cover and what I saw!!  Between that, Kickstarter minis, AND it’s cooperative?  I picked it up!

Components

The components are pretty great.  The Kickstarter minis are real nice and add a lot of flavor.

The boards and character sheets are very colorful and full of the same art that drew me in.  Oh look!  Character sheets with variable player powers!  One of my favorite mechanisms!

The board sets the stage for how good this looks on the table.  I just love the art and the way things are organized.

The little boxes comes with separate components/cards FOR EACH CHARACTER!  Each character has it’s own unique stuff!  So very cool!

The components, for me, are just really amazing.

The Rulebooks

The rulebook is kind of divided into two books: Intro and Set-up, then Gameplay.

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Book 1: Intro and Set-up
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Book 2: Gameplay

For the most part this worked, as the set-up and intro aren’t something you need a lot.  I found that we referenced the Intro book a lot more than we expected (to look up certain effects and Icons like poison and pushback, see below).   It feels like those effects should have been described in the Gameplay book, but it’s a minor point (see below).

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Discussions of effects and Icons like Poison and Pushback are in the Intro, when they probably should have been in the Gameplay book.

Set-Up

The rulebook has a VERY good section on setting up, with a list of all components …

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List of all Components!  And pictures!

And pictures on how to set-up!

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Picture of how to set-up!

It was very easy to get the game set-up.  I was very pleased with how well the set-up book looked.  This was one of the better rulebooks for that I’ve seen in a while.

So, I got a game set-up pretty quickly!

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Direwild all set-up and ready to play!

 

Solo Play

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Grrr … no solo play …

So does this game adhere to Saunders’ Law: A cooperative game should have a viable solo mode?  Nope!  The box CLEARLY says  only 2-4 players.  Well, sometimes a game will say it doesn’t have a solo mode, but has an “ad-hoc” variant listed in the rules.  Nope!  Not Direwild!

A standard trick is to simply have the solo player play two positions.  This game could have easily said that, but I didn’t see that anywhere.  So, STRICTLY SPEAKING, this game doesn’t have solo rules!  (And this game has a lot of rules—I can see why it would very intimidating to use 2 characters in your first solo game).

Many of you who read my blog know that I tend to come up with solo rules for cooperative games that don’t have any.  So I do below.    And why do I do this?  So I can play the game, get a sense of the mechanics so I can teach my friends!  AND if the game is great, I can play it by myself as well!

I don’t get why this game doesn’t have solo rules.  Either use my solo rules below or have a solo player take control of two characters!

A Preliminary Set of Solo Rules

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Direwild all set-up and ready to play!

The picture above depicts a solo game set-up.  I have some simple tweaks to make the game solo: I am not 100% happy with them, but they are good enough to get you into the game so you can learn most of the rules.

Honestly, these tweaks are mostly just linear extrapolations of the rules that are already there.
In a solo game:

First, during set-up: anything that says set-up XXX per player , just follow those rules!  For example, the locks are two per player (so use 2) and the Karn regenerates Cards are one per player (so just use 1).

  1. (Step 4 of set-up) Populate the wilds with 7 cards.  This causes one card to be off the board.

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    Linearly extrapolate: 1 Player has 7 Wilds slots!
  2. There is only 1 Minion per board (as there is one Minion per player).  When you set up for Step 11, You’ll use a 1 Level 1 Minion, 1 Level 2 Minion, and 1 Level 3 Minion.

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    A 1 Player game only has 3 Minion cards! A level 1 Minion, A level 2 Minion and a Level 3 Minion! That’s it!
  3. I would also give the solo player 3-5 treasures to start the game.

And that’s pretty much the extent of the changes, and those are only to set-up! You play normally from there.

The reason these rules are “preliminary” is because I feel they need more testing, but they do get you into a solo game quickly, only operating 1 character.  Honestly, I died pretty quickly in the second round of the campaign, which is probably why you need two characters (who can watch each others back).  BUT this can get you far enough to learn the game.

Deckbuilding

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basic intro cards

So, this is a deck-builder game.  Every character starts with some very simply cards (puppies and kittens) and has to use “charm” (the yellow hexagon) to buy more cards.  It’s a deckbuilder!  You buy cards from a tableau (called the Wilds).

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Basic cards PLUS character specific starting cards

Each character starts with two special “character specific” cards that only they have.

Kittens have charm and can help buy more cards.  Puppies have attack which you can use to fight the Minions.  You buy better and better cards with more attack and more charm.  It’s a deck-builder!

Attack

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Lead animal

When you are ready to Attack a Minion (you have to kill Minions on the board to advance to the next level), you choose a lead animal and then FLIP all your other animals to be support!  The BAT (above) becomes the lead card and ALL OTHER animals help support for more attack, move, or other effects.  Plus, now you can say you have a “Feisty, Furry, Wild, Scythed Bat!”  (The BAT above gets his normal 3 Attack, and another 3 from his supporting animals, plus an extra move).

This mechanic was really innovative and fun.  We enjoyed this idea quite a bit in the beginning.

High-Level Overview

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Mid game

You move around the board, hiding behind walls, trying to avoid or engage the minion, and look for treasure.  Every turn, you can get better cards for a better deck, but Karn (the big bad) gets closer and closer to coming out … you can advance to the next scenario (there are 3) if you kill all the Minions.  If kill Karn at any point, you just win!

So, along with the deck-building, there is some movement and attempts at strategy on the board.

Solo Play Experience

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A losing 1-player game

So, I played the game solo a few times and was happy to get around.  I liked that you could save the game between sessions.  But I got stuck in Scenario 2: I couldn’t damage the Minion (because of his special ability) and I couldn’t get around it.  So I just died.  It was very frustrating to not be able to do anything.  I  chalked it up to “I was using my solo rules, so they obviously weren’t balanced”.

I had an okay time playing solo, but I was frustrated.

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I couldn’t get Lohri to have negative Stamina, so I just lost!

Multiplayer Game

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Oof.  This is hard to talk about.  At first, my friends LOVED the game!  Puppies and Kittens!  The art and graphic design were amazing!  But we played some games, and the word of the day was “frustrating“.   Teresa was frustrated because she felt she could never fight (she couldn’t seem to get a good deck doing).  Sara was frustrated because she could never disengage after getting ganged-up on by the Minions.  Andrew was frustrated because he never felt he had a choice.  We were all frustrated because we never really could cull our decks.  (We finally, after 4 games, found the Monkey, but is that the ONLY way to cull your deck????)

Teresa was having fun reading the little quotes on the cards and loving the art, but she stopped having fun when Sara just so frustrated it was papable.  Part of her frustation was her power was very random and it never worked for her.  (In fact, the only one who seemed to have a good power was the “Tank”).   The powers, which are supposed to differentiate the players, seemed unbalanced and not fun.

The game was frustrating.  My play group DID NOT have fun.  In fact, two of the players gave the game a 3/10 (and it only gets a 3 because the art is so good).

Balance and House Rules

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The game simply feels a little too lucky and a little unbalanced.  The main frustration was that people felt like they couldn’t do anything.  So, here’s some house  rules we came up that MIGHT help the game!

  1. Players should win ties.  Monsters win ties, and we got screwed over and over again because of that.
  2. Allow a single card cull per turn.  A player uses charm to “unbuy” a card for it’s charm amount (+1).   This would allow this to feel much more like a deck-builder.  Maybe Wounds would 3 or 4 Charm to “unbuy”?
  3. Use the 1-4 tokens for targetting, but just let the characters go and buy/attack in any order they want!    We felt this would increase the feel of cooperation as all characters would be looking at the Wilds at the same time and making decisions TOGETHER as to what to buy!  The “choose 1-4” order just seemed to serialize it too much (“Oh, it’s my turn.”)
  4. A few clarifications.  Monsters can only attack 1 person?  As we read the rules, it feels like the monsters can attack everyone that attacks it in the same round!  This seemed unbalancing and also not realistic.    We were thinking, maybe, it can only attack the first person?  Unless it has a special ability?  It seemed very unbalancing.
  5. Easier to disengage? You had to take a fatal wound to disengage.  This seemed too hard?
  6. Rebalance the Powers: Sara hated the random power she had. (Pick a type of card: if you draw it, you get +1! If not, take a wound!)

House Rules 4-6 would probably need a lot of playtest to validate/invalidate them, but Rules 1-3 seem important and doable.  The lack of culling (except for the Monkey?) seemed especially out of place in the game.

Conclusion

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The quote of the night:

The only thing fun about this game is complaining how unfun it was!

My playgroup DID NOT like this game at all.  I thought it was “ok” for solo, but it still feels unbalanced.  We all loved the components and artwork!! BUT the game feels very unbalanced and too lucky,  We think that MAYBE, MAYBE, with house rules (described previously), this might be a significantly better game. As it is, none of my game group really ever wants to play this again.  I wouldn’t mind playing it solo.

The components are amazing. I wish the game were better.  There’s a great game hiding in here!  There are some unique mechanics and ideas, but the balance seems off.

 

 

A Defense of Keeping Punchout Skeletons

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Punchout Skeletons from the game Sidekick Saga

What do you do with the punchout skeletons from your board games?  A punchout skeleton is the leftover cardboard outline (see above) not used in the game.

“I throw them away.  Why are we still talking about this?”

Most people throw them away.  I don’t.

You Keep The Punchout Skeletons?

This particular post is motivated by a few things.   The first motive is a story by my friend’s father.

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Punchout skeletons for Nemo Rising

According to my friends Alison and Charlie: every time their Dad opens a new game, he punches it out.  He then looks at the punchout skeletons, laughs to himself and says “Oh Richie”. Then he just throws the punchout skeletons away!!!

I am Richie:  Yes, to be clear, Alison and Charlie’s Dad is laughing at me.  Because I keep the Skeleton Punchouts.

So I offer a four pronged defense of why I keep the skeletons.

Reason 1: You might need something you didn’t punch out!

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Plastic Insert for Sidekick Saga

This reason was motivated by a conversation I recently had with my manufacturer.  My manufacturer was trying to fit all the pieces of Sidekick Saga into a plastic insert/tray.   (see above) They asked:

“Do you need the blank tokens to fit in the tray as well?”

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YES!  Absolutely!  Sidekick Saga has a “Build-Your-Own-SuperHero” mechanic where you need some SOI tokens (blank square tokens on right) and Character Standees (bottom-most blank tokens).  Players can draw, print, glue or whatever works on these blank tokens.

THE MANUFACTURER THOUGHT SIDEKICK SAGA DID NOT NEED THE BLANK TOKENS!!  YOU ABSOLUTELY DO!

I have been chatting with the manufacturer for months, and they know the game really well.   But it didn’t register until they asked about them.

If you threw away the skeletons, you might have also thrown away the blank tokens …

Keeping the skeletons keeps you in the mindset of keeping all components (and not accidentally throwing anything away).

Reason 2: Double-Check for Components

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Nemo Rising: A newish cooperative game

I was recently unboxing and setting up a relatively new cooperative game called Nemo Rising. (This is a cooperative games blog after all).  During set-up, a question came up about the components.

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Components List from Nemo

I felt like I was missing something!! (This Rulebook could have used a picture of components …)

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Punchout skeletons for Nemo Rising

So, I went back and double-checked what I punched-out versus what was in the Components List.  It turns out a few  tokens were “hidden” somewhere on the table, but matching the punchouts skeletons to the components allowed me to “double-check” the component list with the actual components.

A side-effect of the “Double-Check” rationale is you can ALWAYS see if you have all the components of your game!!  Have you lost any components?  Did you buy a used game and want to verify the components?  If the punchout skeletons are included with the game, you can double-check the components!

Reason 3: Keep Rulebooks Flat

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Box for Battle for Greyport

I reviewed Battle for Greyport some time ago.   It’s a smallish box with a lot of components.  But the Rulebook lays awkwardly in the box.

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Rulebook hangs weirdly in the box!

If you look closely, you’ll see the rulebook is “kinda” supported by a few deck dividers.  And there’s a lot of empty space on the bottom left of the box, so the rulebook “droops” in that part of the box.  If only there was a way to keep the Rulebook flat!!!!!

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Punchout skeletons to the rescue!

The punchout skeletons can support the Rulebook (like a rulebook bra?) so that the Rulebook stays flat (in the box) and doesn’t bend weirdly.

This, to me, is the best reason to keep punchout skeletons: I like to keep my games in good shape, and keeping the Rulebook flat keeps it in good shape!!  (One of my pet peeves are Rulebooks that don’t lay flat!!   It’s hard to learn a game if you can’t put the Rulebook down FLAT on the table!! )

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A related benefit (if you have multiple punchout skeletons)  is that you can separate content.  For example, the Kickstarter version of Battle for Greyport came with content for The Red Dragon Inn (see above).    I can keep that content sandwiched between the skeletons to keep it separate from the main game.

Reason 4: Completionist

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Punchout Board for Detective: City of Angels

At the end of the day, I like to have everything that came with the board game.  I am a completionist.

If I need to ever sell a game, I can honestly say I am giving a buyer everything that came with the game!  I can show a buyer that I have all the pieces (because I can double-check components).  I can show a buyer that I care enough about my games to keep everything in good shape!  This gives a buyer confidence that my games are in good shape.

In Detective: City of Angels, it makes sense to keep the punchout skeleton because the game actually encourages you to put the people tokens BACK IN THE PUNCHOUT!! It shows  that you have a complete set of people!!!  Detective: City of Angels is a game that I could easily see selling because it has a limited number of cases: you can only play it so many times.   Keeping the punchout skeletons keeps the game together and complete so I could sell it more easily.

Conclusion

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Using punchout skeletons to separate content

At the end of the day, I realize it does seem a little crazy to keep the punchboard skeletons.   I think Alison and Charlie’s Dad thinks I am especially crazy.  I hope I have convinced you that there are good reasons to keep your punchout skeletons. No?

Well, If you don’t want your punchout skeletons, can I have them?

 

Review of Detective: City of Angels (Cooperative Mode)

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Detective: City of Angels Box Lid

To be clear: this is a review of Detective: City of Angels by Van Ryder Games (see picture above) and NOT Detective by Portal Games.

I was one of the Kickstarter backers for Detective: City of Angels.  And this games was very late: so late that it made Zee Garcia’s “Most Anticipated Games” twice: once in 2018 and once in 2019.  It was supposed to deliver in Sept. 2018, and it delivered in August 2019.

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This game sat on my shelf for almost a month after I got it.  Every time I went to play it, I noticed “Oh, it’s a one vs. many or one vs. competitive.  Why did I get this?”   Until one day I opened the rules and reminded myself why I got it:

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The Three ways to play Detective: City of Angels.

Oh ya! There is a cooperative mode.  Most others reviews will focus on the Classic Mode or Head-to-Head Mode.  Nope.  We will only focus on this as a cooperative game.  (This is a cooperative games blog after all).

Unboxing

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Wow! What great art when you open the box!

When I first opened the box, I was blown away by the art on all the little character standees!  So colorful!  And the case boxes on the side were really cool!

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More Tokens

There are a lot of tokens: it turns out, you don’t use nearly as many for the cooperative game (you don’t use Snitch or money or A-L).  The Stress markers (upper right) and Final Guess are ONLY used in the cooperative game.

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Case Sheets (notes for solving)

This is definitely a deduction game with mystery aspects! Players will be filing out a case sheet … well, only one shared case sheet for the entire cooperative team (although we still each took our own notes separately when we played).  The Case Sheet is how you keep track of information you have uncovered.

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What a BIG Board!

The Board is HUGE and barely fits on my table.  In fact, when we played, all 4 players came to the front side or the edges of the table, while the board draped over the edge!  This board is huge!  And really cool …

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Case book: briefing

Each player gets a briefing book  …although technically, you could all probably share one in the cooperative game.  It makes it nice to follow along.

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This is the most important book in the cooperative game: players read sections of very thematic text out of this to gather information.

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Sections of the sleuth book to read!

The cards (and these are ONLY USED IN THE COOPERATIVE GAME) give the number of the section to read from the casebook when you are ready to investigate “something”.

The Chisel and Classic Mode Components

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There are a LOT of components (see below) related to the Chisel and the competitive mode.  You don’t need those components for cooperative play (although you WILL use the chisel book above to look at the final answer).  In competitive mode, the Chisel is sort of like a Dungeon Master (DM), running the adventure and reading thematic text and passages.  In the cooperative game, the reading is shared among the players, and rotates every turn  … there is no DM: the players are playing against the game.

There are a lot of tokens not used in competitive mode:

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Cooperative mode uses the hats, cubes, and miniatures, but not the other tokens.

The Rulebook

 

The rulebook is very colorful and very good.  The only problem is that the rulebook is geared towards Classic Mode (competitive mode) and the cooperative mode is discussed only after all the Classic Mode  are discussed (and a lot of those rules aren’t even relevant).

So, I struggled A LITTLE with the rules.  But, the Sleuth Mode did have its own section (and a pretty big section) for the cooperative play.  It even showed a set-up picture for JUST the cooperative play!

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I wish the game had been geared towards cooperative play (Sleuth Mode) rather than competitive play (Classic Mode), but I was able to get to the cooperative mode fairly quickly.

Gameplay

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Cooperative Mode Components
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A Solo Player game

The game plays by each character having 4 actions (represented by the 4 cubes).   Each player gets a chance to perform his 4 actions and play rotates around the board. After you perform your actions (move, search suspect or location, question), the day counter (on far right of board) moves down.  If it makes it to Day 1 (or the Final guess token, which moves up when you get too much stress), then you need to solve the WHO DUNNIT, HOW DO IT, and WHY DO IT  (suspect, weapon, motive).   If you fail, then you can go into overtime and take a few more turns.  And you solve the case or you don’t!

The active player performs his actions, while the player to his left consults the Sleuth Cards (for what happens when he searches, or questions), and the player to his right reads from the Sleuth book, describing “What happened.”

The game plays a LOT like Agents of SMERSH or Tales of the Arabian Nights: The game is story driven with a lot of reading.  However, there is also a lot of thematic air as well! You don’t just read: players get to make a choice!  After the text is is read, you may challenge it!  You may think the suspect is lying and shake them up!  Sometimes, you get new info (“I knew they were lying!”) … and sometimes you cause STRESS (“I told you I wasn’t lying!!!  I’m calling the cops!”)  If you cause TOO MUCH STRESS, then you shorten the game (make the final guess marker move up).

I thought it was very thematic to be able to “rough up” your suspects.

Solo Play

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Solo Game set up with the first Scenario

So this games works great as a solo mode.  The solo mode is essentially the cooperative mode, but with only 1 detective.  So congratulations to Detective: City of Angels  on following Saunders’ Law: All cooperative games need a viable solo mode.

I played solo, I learned the game, I had fun … even though I did lose.  I worried about story-telling part: usually reading lots of text for a solo player doesn’t work well for me (like in Robit Riddle or Crusoe Crew), but because I had a choice to “challenge” the response after reading, I felt like I had more choice!  It kept me engaged.

This game worked well as a solo game.

Multiple Players

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The game worked very well with multiple players!  Even though there’s only one active player, someone is always doing something!  One player is active taking their turn, one player is consulting the Sleuth card (to figure where to read in the Sleuth book), and one player is reading the Sleuth book!   Even in a 4 player game, the 4th player can be taking notes on the case cards!

 

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Everyone is active!  And then the mystery itself was interesting!

The Cases

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To be clear, this is a game of deduction and solving a mystery (I’ve only seen murder so far).  This isn’t Clue or Awkward Guests where you eliminate things with precision (“Oh here’s a card: cross off the jealousy icon”).  You have to listen to the WAY certain suspects answer the questions, you have to look at the evidence carefully, and you have to understand something of human nature.   If you want a mystery that solved precisely and methodically like Clue, this may not be for you.    You really have to put the pieces together by understanding human nature as well as the evidence!

There are certainly elements of deduction that are very important, but I felt like really finding the final solution required looking below the surface.

Conclusion

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At the end of the day, this is a fantastic game.  I liked it as a solo game and my friends and I all enjoyed this as a cooperative mystery.  (It came up several times: we like this MUCH MORE than the Portal Games Detective! My group did not like the Portal game, as it felt too much like work).   We all had FUN!

Detective: City of Angels plays a lot like Agents of SMERSH and Tales of Arabian Nights. There’s a lot of story, and players read from the storybook.  But there’s a mystery to unlock!  That’s both boon and bane!  That same mystery that makes Detective: City of Angels so much more thematic and engaging than Agents of SMERSH and Tales of Arabian Nights also limits Detective: City of Angels’ replayability.  There’s only 9 Cases that come in the core box!  And once you have played them, you are really done with them (unless you come back years later).  Luckily, there is one expansion already done and another expansion on Kickstarter as we speak!

At the end of the day, I would probably give this an 8 on the BoardGameGeek scale.  Fun game.

 

 

Review of The Forests of Adrimon (Hexplore It!)

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HexPlore It! The Cover for The Forests of Adrimon

The Forests of Adrimon is the second in a series of three HexPlore It games.  The third just recently funded on Kickstarter, and I think the second one (The Forests) just came into retail distribution.  I knew it was a Kickstarter, but I picked it up from a retail store.

Fantasy Cooperative Game

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Basic Set-Up

So, TFOA (The Forests of Adrimon) is a cooperative game for 1-6 players.  It’s an exploration game (within a forest) in a fantasy universe.   It’s probably called HexPlore It because the world is made of … wait for it … hexes.

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The Floromancer Character Role

Each player in the game takes on the role a single hero in the game: you choose both a Race (see below) and a Role Mat/Profession (see above).

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Races

The Heroes all work and move together around the hex map, trying to level up to beat … the big Bad Boss … Adrimon!

First Play: Solo Experience

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So, my first play was a solo adventure.  They adhere to Saunders’ Law and have a very viable solo experience.   Set-up took a while: there are A LOT of components.

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Here’s the thing: I HATED my first play.  I lost within a few rounds, even after I “cheated” a few times to stay in the game.  I HAD to be doing something wrong!  I felt like I had no chance to level up, and the Dice just work against me!

And I was doing something wrong:  so here’s a public service message if you play the game:

You can use gold to update your Abilities and Skills and Health and Hit Points. 

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Skills! The first update costs 3, then 4, then 5 … around the rim of the skills!

I missed this rule in the first playthrough (which is clearly on page 13 of the rulebook), and didn’t think I had a chance.  Once you know you can spend gold to update these, you realize how precious and important gold is!!

10-Sided Dice Rolls

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10-sided dice for Navigate, Explore, Survive

At the beginning of every turn, each player rolls 3 10-sided dice for Navigate (green), Explore (yellow), Survival (blue).  If you fail (roll over your skill value), there are consequences (get lost, no gold, lose food).  In the beginning of the game, your stats are very low and you are just barely surviving!!!  So, you find yourself barely getting by.

Public Service Announcement: spend your gold to up you Explore ASAP:  this makes it more likely to get 2 gold per turn, which you can use to up your other stats!

Second Playthrough: 2-Player Game

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Our second game went MUCH BETTER once we realized that we could use our gold to up our stats.

The game, in broad terms, seemed to play out like this:

  1. In the first half of the game, we explored and found Relics (special items needed to beat the big Bad at the end).   We tended to avoid combat, and in fact our first combat was halfway through the game!
  2. In the second half of the game, we embraced combat and fought a few more things.  We also ended up spending a lot of time in the cities trying to up more of our stats, getting ready for the final combat (and trying to get more Relics).
  3. The final combat was pretty intense: almost a half hour and we should have died, but we won!

We had fun, but there are a lot of things that were … suboptimal.

Dry-Erase Markers and Mats

Each player in the game uses a mat which works with a dry-erase marker.

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Dry-erase markers

So, because 8 (?) role mats were dry-erase, almost ALL mats in the game were dry-erase, even though they didn’t need to be!  There were 10 mats for a lot of BIG BAD villains, and they were dry-erase, there were Location mats, Game Turn Mats, Sentinel Mats, .. 18 total!  And frankly, the only ones that “really needed” dry-erase were the character mats (as you constantly updated stats, and erased and drew).

“Why is this a big deal?  The dry-erase of the other mats didn’t get in the way did it?”

No, but here’s the thing, the dry-erase didn’t quite work in the game.  Here’s why:

  1. The dry-erase markers in the game were TOO FAT!  They SHOULD HAVE BEEN ultra-fine dry-erase markers!
  2. The area (for the backpack) for writing equipment was too tiny and didn’t work for keeping track of your stuff!

Take a look at your mat:

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A Character

Now, take a look at the “backpack” area:  it’s a small 2 inch by 2 inch area where you have to write TONS of stuff, with a fat marker!

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Backpack

Can you read that? I can’t and I wrote it!

Suggestions for the Mats

There are 3 suggestions to fix this:

  1. Get rid of the dry-erase mechanism altogether and use pencil and paper
  2. Use ultra-fine markers and make the backpack area a little bigger
  3. Use the back of the unused characters as your backpack instead of trying to fit your backpack in a smaller area.

The back of the character mats is pretty cool: they have pictures:

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The backs of the character mats

These pictures are REALLY COOL!  But I don’t think I EVER looked at the picture in the entire game!!   BUT, if you just had a “blank” tableau on the back, then the characters could use two mats to play: one for the character, and one for the backpack!  You might even be able to keep the fat markers!

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Use two mats! One for the normal character stats (left), and the back of an unused character (right) for a backpack! Here, the back of an unused character is a cool but never seen picture!

It’s weird that SO MANY MATS are in the game, and only the character mats (and Battle mat) need to be dry-erase; it seems a waste that the other 11 are dry-erase.   All we could figure out was that they did that for manufacturing: it was cheaper to make ALL 18 mats dry-erase.

The dry-erase works “ok” for the stats, but it doesn’t really work for the equipment.

Time To Play

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The back of the box says that the gametime 60-180+.  Um, it took us EIGHT HOURS!  After the first FOUR HOURS, we set the game aside (see above) so we could come back to it later.    The second play took ANOTHER FOUR HOURS!!

Granted, it was only the second game, but I feel like I had most of the rules by that point, so maybe an hour of that would be “learning stuff”.

Be aware, if you play the game and get to the end, it may take you 6-8 hours.  We joked that it was only 60-180 minutes if you died early.

The Rulebook

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The rulebook

There were a lot of problems with the rulebook.

  1. Black background, white text.  This is a personal pet peeve of mine: it’s almost always harder to read!! But, people like to do it because it looks more “thematic” (Oh, this is a dark game).
  2. It’s too small.  This is a big game and the rulebook seems “too small”.  A lot of rules which would belong together on a page span multiple pages and make it harder to read.  For example, combat takes almost 28 pages to describe!  It was very frustrating to read about combat as you paged through the book!
  3. The rulebook won’t stay open.  If I wanted to keep the rulebook open, I had to “hold it” open!  I am used to board game rulebooks that just stay open when you put them on the table.  The binding of the rulebook forced you to hold it open to see things!
  4. The text was too close to the binding.  In other words, I had to “force” the book open to see all the text that was close to the binding.
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Black background, white text!  Have to hold rulebook open! Text too close to binding! 

The rulebook itself did describe most of the rules.  But, a lot of rules were also on dry-erase boards.    IMG_4584(1)

For example, a lot of stuff for the Waypost is on this dry-erase board (above).  Similarly, rules for Sentinels, the Battle Sites, the Enthralled Cities, and Elowen’s Grove were on other dry-erase boards.    We got used to it when we played, but it was non-intuitive that the rules were so spread out.

After we played, I was used to having the rules spread over multiple boards and in fact, I think I liked it: we weren’t “so tied” to the rulebook.   But, I think I wanted more in the rulebook.

Summary Overall

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In the end, my friend and I had a good time playing the game, in spite of the everything.   It felt fairly balanced.   We did “game the game” a little by spending way too much time in the Enthralled Cities.   We were surprised that Combat wasn’t more upfront (that could have just been the way we played).

We felt like there were too many rules for what it was.  The rulebook (grumble) was constantly held open as we had to look up stuff.

We played it, we won, but we don’t think we have a desire to play it again! It almost felt like a story/legacy game: once you’ve played it all the way through, you are done because you know what to expect!

Conclusion and Score

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A Winning game!

I’d probably give the components a 5-7/10 (it would be 8 or better but the dry-erase system didn’t work that well).  The pictures were awesome and thematic, and I felt like I was in a forest with the hexes.

The rulebook was a 6/10: it should be less, but because it actually taught the game, I have to give it at least a 6.

The gameplay was fun ONCE WE GOT INTO IT:   7/10 for gameplay.

The game was too long and doesn’t have a lot of replayability.   BUT I plan to give the game to some friends and have them play.  If you look at this game as a legacy game with a 6-8 hour playtime AND YOU KNOW THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE GETTING, then this game would be a lot more fun.

I am really conflicted on what to give this game as an “overall”: When we played it, we had fun, but that was despite the issues.    If you know what you are getting into, I think this could be a good game.

 

 

 

Review of Set A Watch

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The Deluxe Kickstarter slip cover

Set A Watch is a Kickstarter game that was active in late September 2018 and delivered here to the USA in late June/early July.   It’s a cooperative game about keeping watch at a campfire and defeating monsters who would attack your campfire.

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Set A Watch: a cooperative fighting game: protect the campfire!

Set A Watch is light to medium weight game for 1-4 players (although, see below).   Each player takes a very different role (Cleric, Knight, Beastmaster, etc): there are 8 roles in the game (6 or 7 in the retail version I think), with each player taking a different role.  It’s a smallish game in a smallish box (barely fitting in the box, but it does fit).

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Barely fits in box!

Note that the “board” is in the top of the box!  It’s pretty cool, but I had some trouble keeping the edge (leftmost edge in picture) down during play.

Characters

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Beast Master uses 8-sided dice!

Each player chooses a character, with 5 special abilities (only 3 at a time can be used in the empty positions on the card).  Each player also has a special ability back at camp (Set Trap above).

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Cleric uses 6-sided dice!

Each character gets 3 dice which you role at the start of your turn.  Some characters get 6-sided dice and some get 8-sided dice.  It’s pretty obvious: the 6-sideds are red/orange/yellow, and the 8-sideds are green/blue/purple.

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I wish the 8-sided dice used white for the colors so they were easier to see

The dice are the key element to the game!  Whenever you do anything, you assign dice to either abilities or just use the straight-up value to fight monsters with the direct value! Although it seems like the 8-sided heroes have an advantage, as they will tend to roll more potential damage, the 6-sided heroes have abilites that don’t depend as strongly on the value.  We’ll see more below …

Components

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The components are really nice.  The box has a magnetic clasp (ooooh!), the rulebook is pretty good, the cards have nice art, the dice are decent (although the 8-sided are harder to read), and in general the game looks really nice.

You even get some nice wooden bits: there are 3 different fire tokens to represent “how high the fire is”!  The higher the fire, the more of the creatures you can see!  Usually, a higher fire is a good thing!  The other wooden bits are a token to show “how many times you watched the fire”.   Everybody has to watch the fire twice before the big battle at the end ….

Solo Play??

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You must ALWAYS have 4 characters out, no matter the player count!

So, in Set A Watch, you must ALWAYS have 4 characters in play, regardless of the the player count.   This means that in a solo game, the solo character MUST PLAY 4 characters at a time!  Oi!! Although this game, strictly speaking, follows Saunders’ Law (every cooperative game must have a viable solo mode), it’s a bit much for the first play!! Playing 4 characters for a game you DON’T KNOW is really intimidating!!   I really wish this game had a balancing act for fewer players (like changing the number of monsters that come out depending on the number of players), but it is what it is.

Set-Up

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Each player takes a Character and the corresponding dice.  HINT!!!  The back of the character cards is a player summary card!!! Since there are 8 characters and only 4 ever playing, make sure you give everyone a “unplayed character” to use as a reference card!!!   And this makes me very happy: in all the games I played, the player summary card was worth its weight in gold!!  People who hadn’t played got almost everything they needed from either the player summary part of the front part of their card.

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The Warrior!

Once you choose your character, you choose 3 of your 5 powers to populate your character.  The other two remain dormant (although you can swap them in during the campfire phase later).  These 3 power cards represent your “hit points”: if all three of them are ever disabled, you cannot participate in combat.  You can heal from the Cleric, or back at the campfire.

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Set-up!

The Rulebook has a nice picture of set-up, although the “Line” (where all creatures come out) is impractical.  This is what I ended up doing, putting the line below the board …

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Initial Set-Up

Once you get the game set-up, it flows pretty quickly.  It’s a little fiddly to set-up.  There’s spaces for the Horde and Unused Locations in the box …

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Unused Locations and The Hoarde in the box!

But everything else is the sides (the Graveyard and the Unhallowed).  The difficulty of the game is controlled by how many Summon cards in the creature deck.  The more there are, the harder the game is! The Summon cards bring in the Unhallowed, which are nastier monsters!

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Gameplay

To Win, the players have to travel all the way back home (The Fobidden Tower).  There are 8 locations to move from, and when they get home, they have to do a final stand to defend their home (from the Hoard as well!).

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Home!

The gameplay is simple: at the start of the turn, everyone rolls their dice, and a decision is made!  One character watches the campfire for the night and the other 3 go and fight the monsters that would attack the campfire!  If any monsters make it through (aren’t defeated) , the adventurers gets wounded, and the remnants go the Horde.

Everyone must stay back (at the campfire) twice, but in the final combat at the Forbidden Tower, EVERYONE FIGHTS!

Campfire Phase

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The character decides to check the map and use his double to get rid of monster in the Horde!

Everyone looks at their dice to decide who stay back at the Campfire this turn.   Everyone must stay back exactly twice.  Whoever stays back decides what to do with their dice: they can heal, chop firewood, check the map, scout ahead.  If they roll doubles they can “activate Runes!” (do very special stuff )!  If you roll doubles, this might be a reason to have your character stay back this turn!  Again, the character summary sheet lets you know everything you can do!

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In our case, the player uses his doubles to VANQUISH and get rid of one monster from the Horde!  Important safety tip, you MUST FIGHT all monsters in the Horde when you make it back home!  So, it’s important to keep the Horde under control …

So, the guy back at camp just hangs out while his compatriots go fight!

Watch Phase

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Each character, in Player Selected Turn Order (PSTO) (i.e., any order they want) can play any amount of dice they want.  I can play 2, you can play 1, then I can play 1 more, etc.

You can use Dice directly as their value for damage against a monster.  The monster’s health is in the upper right corner.

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For example: if I have a 7 or 8, I can kill the Bandit with 1 die!  Since this is a cooperative game, I can play a 3 and you can play a 4 (or more) and together we can take it out!  Once a die is used, that’s it for that die this turn.

The second thing you can do it to use your die to activate one of your special abilities!

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Use dice to activate special powers!

For example: the Wizard has used two of his abilities this turn (each ability can only be activated once).  This is notated by putting one of the dice on the ability.

Finally, you can “exhaust” one of your abilities to use it again (without needing a die).  Unfortunately, unless you heal yourself, that ability is gone for the rest of the game.  (You can heal yourself back at camp or the Cleric can heal you).

Once all the monsters in the line are taken care of, you go to the next round!  There’s a notion of keeping your firewood high enough to see more monsters, and there’s some other rules, but that’s the basic game.

Thoughts

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A winning game!

So, this game has gone over like gangbusters in all my game groups.  I have played it solo, we have played it in my serious groups, a couple of lighter groups, and my Las Cruces group (which is notorious for very different opinions on games than my other groups).  And everyone has liked it!

The game plays quickly (an hour), everyone feels engaged most of the time, and bad dice rolls can be mitigated by the special powers!  I was worried that when a player “stayed back at camp”, that would cause that player to get annoyed for that turn (they are doing stuff, but not quite as much as the other players).  In the end, everyone “got it”!  Someone has to stay back and take it for the team this round!  And it seemed a very cooperative decision … since everyone has to stay back exactly twice, I don’t think anyone felt slighted.

The solo play works once you know the game, but always playing 4 characters is annoying.  I wish there were a better solo mode, this one is good enough to have fun with.

In the end, this game has been a hit in all my game groups.  It’s smallish, fast, fun, easy to learn, and there’s a ton of variety between the different characters.  This gets an 8 on the BoardGameGeek scale!  Good  game!