A Review of Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (Solo and Cooperative Modes Only)

I didn’t expect to be writing this post so early. I was a Kickstarter backer of the Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition back in March 2021. I picked up this game originally because it promised a solo mode and a cooperative mode! And that’s all we’re looking at here (since this is a cooperative games blog after all). So, Stronghold games promised delivery from the Kickstarter in September 2021. But I got one early. But not like you’d expect.

Controversy

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As of yesterday, June 20th 2021, Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition was available at Target (see above). When I picked it up, it was $39.99. A lot of people from the Kickstarter were VERY upset that the game was available from Target BEFORE it was delivered to Kickstarter backers. The rationale is something like: “We helped back the game with our hard-earned dollars, shouldn’t we be put first?” There is also some grumpiness because Stronghold only told the Kickstarter backers A DAY BEFORE the Target release. A lot of Kickstarter backers have stated that they would have been a LOT more forgiving if Stronghold had been more up front about this.

If you look at the current ratings of Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition on BoardGameGeek, you will see a LOT of ratings of 1.0/10.0. This is a “civil unrest” way for Kickstarter backers to show their displeasure. At the time of this writing, the rating is all the way down to 5.1/10.0. (There are also some people who give it a 10.0/10.0 just to balance the 1s). We’ll take a look at the game and see what we think, orthogonally to the controversy.

There are differences between the Kickstarter version of the game and the Target version. See the graphic below (directly from the Kickstarter) for differences. I can’t comment on these differences until September (when I receive my Kickstarter version), but I can say the Target list seems accurate.

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Unboxing

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Let’s see what’s in the box!

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The rulebook is of SUPER high quality paper (linen paper) just like the Canvas rulebook. The paper quality is really nice! (If you look closely above, you’ll see some of the texture).

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There’s a nice quickstart guide (see above). Perhaps more importantly, it discusses the difference between Terraforming Mars (the big board game) and Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition. A lot of people will probably be coming to the table with experience with Terraforming Mars, so this really helps!

The Player Boards (see above) are just cardboard sheets: this is one of the bigger differences between the Target version and the Kickstarter version! The Kickstarter version will have dual-layer boards, with indentations so the cubes don’t move around.

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The cardboard tokens and nice and readable (see above).

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And the rest of the game (the majority of the game) is cards and cubes (see above). They all fit nicely in the box.

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The cubes are nice, if nothing super special. The resource cubes are nice in that the copper cubes (representing 1 resource) are smaller than the silver cubes (representing 5 resources) which are smaller than the gold cubes (representing 10 resources). That’s a nice touch that’s make it easier to “make change” in resources as you play.

But, of course, the focus of the game, the major component, are the cards. There are really nice linen-coated cards (see above and below).

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If you look closely above, you can see the linen-coated cards. And look at how nice the cards are! Easy to read! Very colorful! Consistent art and consistent layout! One major complaint of the original Terraforming Mars was that the art was very inconsistent and something not great. Ares Expendition does NOT have this problems. These cards look great!

Weirdly, the dividers and the player summary card are NOT included in the rulebook summary of components? But they are very nice!

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Overall, the components are absolutely fantastic. The art on the box is really nice! The art on the cards is amazing and consistent with the rest of the game! Perhaps the only complaint someone might have is that the player boards are too easy to bump and cubes go flying … oh wait, that’s why the Kickstarter version has dual-layer player boards…

Rulebook

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I don’t want to focus too much on the rulebook, except to say it’s fantastic! It’s a very high quality paper! It’s very nice to the touch.

The font is big and readable. The components page lists the components AND shows their pictures. Very easy to read! See above!

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Right away, the game discusses the card layout: see above. (Recall, a minor complaint about The Phantom: The Card game was that the card layout was near the end of the rulebook where it was less useful). Right after we see the components, and they are fresh in our minds, we can correlate what’s on the card with what was JUST in our head/hands!

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This is always a tricky line: Do you discuss the game components first or the game set-up first? If you show the game set-up first, you know how the components fit together in context of gameplay. If you show the components first, you get an idea of what the components are before you get too far. Both ways can work: I personally tend to prefer Set-Up immediately after the Components list, but the way Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (discussing components before Set-Up) works very well in this rulebook. I also remember this way working really well in the rulebook for Code 3.

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Again, everything is easy to read, the font is big, and the Set-Up is very clear!

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So, halfway through the rulebook (where the staples are), we finally start discussing Gameplay. You know? This technique of Components picture, Components exposition, Set-Up, then Gameplay worked really well.

This was a great rulebook! It was easy to read and easy to set-up. Ironically, I don’t think the game needs the “Quick Start Guide” set-up pamphlet because the rulebook is great for your first time! But, I can see the “Quick Start Guide” pamphlet being good for later plays when you already know most of the rules.

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Overall, fantastic rulebook.

Gameplay

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I want to touch on the gameplay elements a little before we discuss the solo modes and the cooperative modes.

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is a cross between the original Terraforming Mars (the big board game) and Race For The Galaxy.

The original Terraforming Mars is essentially an engine-builder game where you are buying cards and resources to help terraform Mars. This game, Ares Expedition, keeps that feel!

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See above for a set-up! You start with some cards you can buy, and these cards help you get plants, MegaCredits (MC or money), heat and more cards. Just like the big brother, to win you have to:

  1. Raise the heat of Mars to an acceptable level
  2. Add enough oxygen to Mars (planting Trees and other methods).
  3. Add water to Mars (via lakes)

You need to do ALL THREE in order to win.  The cards you buy give you an engine to “add heat”, “grow plants”, “get bucks” and all sorts of other tools which you use to terraform Mars.  By the end of the game, you have will a huge tableau of cards representing your engine!  See below!

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Notice (see above) the engine of the solo player with so many cards helping out.

Now, this may sound a lot like the original Terraforming Mars, and it is.  Here are the “official” differences:

The biggest difference is that each player only gets to execute one “phase” of the game per turn. There are 5 phases:

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On your turn, you “choose” one of the phases to do (Development, Construction, Action, Production, or Research).

When you choose a phase to execute, ALL PLAYERS get to execute that phase, but YOU get an extra bonus during that phase! For example, if you select Development, every player can buy and play a green card, but YOU get a discount on how much that card costs!

If this sounds familiar, it should! It’s essentially what Race For The Galaxy does! (And to a lesser extent, Puerto Rico). In the original Terraforming Mars game, you played all phases. But, by making this “phase” breakdown, PLAYERS CAN PLAY SIMULTANEOUSLY. This can really help speed up the game! The original Terraforming Mars can take 3-4 hours to play a full game! Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition drops to an hour (in real life, it took us 1.5 hours in a 2-Player game) because of this simultaneous play.

In general, this is an engine-building game with some simultaneous selection. It moves fairly quickly, even with players who tend to be analysis paralysis players.

Solo Mode

So, one of the many reasons I backed the Kickstarter was that this includes a solo mode. To win, you have to terraform Mars in a timely matter (you only have a certain number of turns to finish the terraforming). See rules below: it’s just one page in the very back of the rulebook.

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The main difference between normal play and solo play is that there is a “dummy” hand of phases. This means the solo player usually gets to execute 2 phases per turn: the phase the player selected and the phase the dummy hand selected.

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In the picture above, the “dummy” hand has selected the Production round and the solo player has selected Development.  Thus, on the solo player’s turn, he gets to do Development (with the bonus, because the solo player selected it) and then Production (without the bonus, because the dummy hand selected it).  The only real maintenance for the solo player is to shuffle the dummy action phase hand every 5 cards! In general, there’s not a lot of maintenance!  This makes the solo game flow pretty quickly, or as fast as the solo player wants.

I found the solo mode easy to understand, easy to play, fun to play, and a great way to learn more about the game.  There are even different difficulty levels as you get to know the game better!  

This was a very good solo mode.

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Cooperative Mode

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Really, the main reason I backed this: It has a cooperative mode! Unfortunately, the cooperative mode is a little lame for two reasons. First of all, the cooperative mode ONLY plays two players! Second of all, it is a “reach a victory point” level to win. You still have to terraform Mars completely to win in the cooperative game, but you also have to have a shared score of 80 victory points. See rules below.

Like the solo game, you only have a certain amount of time (15 rounds in this case) to terraform Mars! The mechanism for countdown is a little wonky: you have 27 “copper cubes” and 3 “unused player color cubes”. At the end of the turns, both players take a cube: if a player takes a copper cube, it goes straight to the MC (money), if a player chooses an “unused player cube”, the two players can trade a development card instead. When all cubes are gone (15 rounds), it’s the end of the game. If you have terraformed Mars AND gotten 80 shared victory points, the 2 players win! Otherwise, they lose!

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Even with the wonky countdown mechanism, the cooperative mode worked pretty well. In the game above, you’ll see that Mars was terraformed, but with only 64 Victory Points, so it was a losing game. I really think there should have been a gradation in winning:

  1. A “major win!” You terraform Mars AND got 80 shared victory Points!  Your team terraformed Mars in style!
  2. A “minor win!” You terraform Mars, but not enough shared victory points.  Your team succeeded, but Mars still needs a little more work
  3. A Loss: You didn’t Terraform Mars!  Um, sorry.

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In general, the cooperative mode worked well enough. We lost, but we think we knew some of the things we needed to do to play a better game: Mainly, make sure EVERY PHASE, both players need to be doing something useful! A few times during the game, one of us chose a phase that wasn’t mutually advantageous to BOTH players.

It was still a little lame that the cooperative mode only worked for 2 players.

Replayability

The core of Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition was the deck of development cards. See the huge deck above! To win, you tend to need to get a very large tableau going:

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You can see how BIG the deck of development cards is in the picture above!

Between 10 different corporations you can play and the HUGE deck of development 180+ cards, there is a ton of replayability here. After I finished playing both the solo and cooperative modes, I and my friend were still thinking about ways to have done better. I lost my first few solo and cooperative game, but I still wanted to play more!

I will also bet you $10 that Stronghold is planning expansions for this.

Conclusion

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Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is a card game in the Terraforming Mars universe that is significantly shorter than the original Terraforming Mars game! It’s quicker to play and it also looks better than it’s original big brother. The solo mode is very good, but the cooperative mode needs some work: there really should be cooperative rules for all player counts of the game. If you were thinking of getting this game JUST for the cooperative mode, I’d say there are better cooperative games to get. If you where thinking of getting it for solo and cooperative modes, then I’d say that’s the tipping point! The solo and cooperative modes combined make this worthwhile to get. Now, if you factor in the competitive mode, then I’d say this is a no-brainer to get! Overall, Terraforming Mars:Ares Expedition is a fantastic game with fantastic components and a fantastic rulebook.

Some people love the 3-4 hours games of Terraforming Mars. Some peop;e don’t. If you love the gameplay of Terraforming Mars, but not the time commitment, Terraformform Mars: Ares Expedition might be a good compromise for you.

It will be curious to see if the controversy of the Kickstarter game and the Target deal adversely affects the game’s reception. It’s too bad that controversy had to exist: this is a good game.

A Review of The Phantom Card Game, Part I: Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

The Phantom: The Card Game was a cooperative game on Kickstarter May 2020, and it promised delivery in December 2020. It’s now June 2021, and I just got my copy a week or so ago. Apparently, there was some hold up on shipping for the US, but the EU backers got there’s a while ago. Regardless, 6-7 months late for a Kickstarter doesn’t even raise an eyebrow these days, most people are just glad it’s not a year late!

The Phantom: The Card Game is based on the IP of The Phantom, a masked hero with no powers who fights crime! It’s set in the jungles of Africa in the made-up country on Bangalia, with the Phantom typically befriending natives and protecting the jungles. The Phantom is a legacy hero, with the mantle being passed from generation to generation. See the Wikipedia page here for more info!

The Phantom has been around for a loooong time (since the 1940s) and is a golden age super hero!

Unboxing

The Phantom: The Card Game is essentially a card game with a bunch of tokens and player boards (and a rulebook, see above and below).

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The tokens (above) are “resources” that are needed to get stuff done in the game: cards can only be bought with resources, but cards can be traded in for resources as well. The game is all about the balance of buying cards and resources as necessary.

The box is mostly full of cards (see above) and an insert. Honestly, the insert was pretty terrible. It was all beaten up (see above) and the game was brand new!

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In general, the game is a card game with tons of cards! See above. Note that the cards are NOT linen-finished (unfortunately). Most of the cards in the game look like the above: a comic strip panel at the top, and game text at the bottom. It looks like the Phantom comic scenes are probably drawn from some archives of the original strips? The comic style is “reminiscent” of comic books and strips from the 40s and 50s.

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Overall, the game has “good enough” components: the cards could be linen finished, and the insert could be a lot better, but the cards and tokens are thematic and easy to read.

Rulebook

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The rulebook is … okay. It has a weird cover (see above), but at least it puts important information on the back cover (see below).

The first few pages do what we expect: show components:

The Set-up description and set-up picture are there, but they are separated on two different pages. Not a dealbreaker, but I really like having the set-up picture (see below) available while I am reading the set-up description!

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Honestly, they could have gotten rid of the weird leather cover, started the rules on the first page, and then the set-up description and set-up picture would have been on opposite pages of the rulebook for ease! Well, at least the set-up is fairly easy and the picture is pretty good.

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The rules are in a good, big font and easy to read (see above).

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Continuing the theme of “I wish this rulebook were rearranged”, I wish the card anatomy descriptions were more up front. It’s more near the back after all the rules have been described. I had some trouble learning the rules the first time, and I think moving this up front would have helped a lot. To be clear: the card anatomy is very helpful!

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The rules (see above) are fairly complete but pretty text heavy. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to read (with just a few omissions which we will discuss).

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The rules were good enough for me to learn the game. The font and layout was easy to read. Overall, I think the rulebook needs a reorganization, a few more pictures, and some more rule elaborations. The rulebook was … ok. I learned the game without getting grumpy.

Solo Rules

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So, this is 1 or 2 Player game. It feels more like a solo game overall. You can play either as the Phantom or Diana from the Jungle Patrol (see cover):

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Both Diana and The Phantom has separate and distinct decks that make up their character. The cooperative game is just alternating between the two characters. The game “feels” more like a solo game.

The Phantom deck has a little mask in the lower right corner to distinguish it from Diana’s deck. In general, all the are numbered and have symbols to differentiate them.

Adventure Decks

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This game is a campaign/light legacy game! You have three adventures included in the game (see above), and you have have sub adventures as you try complete one! At the end of an adventure, you will upgrade your deck and make it better for the next game. Upgrades come in the form of new cards from LOOT:

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Or ACHIEVEMENTS:

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Gameplay

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On your turn, you draw up to three cards (see above). You can either play a card from your hand to your Play Area (tableau) or you can discard a card to get a resource. (You can also initiate combat).

The upper left corner is the resource cost of the card, the upper right corner is the reward if you just discard this card. If this reminds you a little of Marvel Champions, you are not wrong. (Recall we reviewed Rise of Red Skull expansion here and Ant-Man expansion here). The difference is that you get an actual token that you can keep between turns! (In Marvel Champions, you can ONLY use cards you currently have to play).

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As you play, you build up your character: you get some tokens out (see 4 tokens above on the Player Board) and get some allies and items into the Play Area (see cards to the right of the player board). Again, like Marvel Champions, you can tap items and allies to get things (initiate combat, get more resources, get rid of bad cards, etc). The more cards in your Play Area, the more you can do on your turn, so it behooves you to get stuff out quickly.

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This wouldn’t be a coopearative card game without a “bad news” deck of some sort. In The Phantom, it’s called “The Destiny deck” (see above). You draw one card from the Destiny Deck per turn: this both advances the story and makes bad news for you!

While you are playing, there is always a goal or some part of the story to participate in. To help balance difficulty, there are 4 levels of difficulty: EASY, NORMAL, HEROIC, or MYTHIC: When you reveal story cards (Iike below and above), you will choose the appropriate level, based on your difficulty.

In general, the gameplay is pretty well described in the rulebook:

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The game is all about the delicate balance of when to fight, when to put out allies, when to get rid of imjuries, when to discard cards for resources, and when to fight!

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Fighting is initiated with a SKULL TOKEN (you can discard the above card to get a SKULL TOKEN).  After you discard a SKULL token, you can tap some of your allies to help you and get plusses on damage, and then do a card check.  Draw a card and if you get a SKULL or DIAMOND (from left of card … the one above does) you get a +1 damage for each one!   You are allowed to distribute damage as you like:

So, the above only has 1 hit point, so you can just do all 2 damage (Base +1 plus the +1 for the card check) and take out the wolf.

If you don’t take out the enemies, they will do an injury to you! For each enemy active at the end of your turn, you take one injury!

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Can you survive to the end of the story?

Problems

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Besides a rulebook reorganization, I think there are some things that really need to be addressed.   In my plays of the game, I make some assumptions to move forward in the game, but there are some issues.

  1. How much damage do enemies do?  If you haven’t killed some of the enemies in the destiny row, how much damage do they each do?  It’s not clear at first, but EACH ENEMY DOES EXACTLY ONE INJURY.  Each player has 10 injury cards at the start of the game.  Flip EXACTLY one over (this wasn’t clear) and add it to your character.  (You can get rid of the injury at the start of your turn, but you can’t “refresh” any allies or items …)
  2. Destiny Cards: What does “Shuffle Into Deck” mean? At story points,  some of the destiny points are unclear if you keep old enemies or wipe them fresh or keep old destiny cards.  The very first Destiny cards make it clear what happens when new story points come up, but later ones are very unclear.  Do I keep the destiny line?  Do I keep all the old cards in the Destiny deck?  Some better descriptions on the story cards would make this a lot clearer.  Something like “keep all old destiny cards”.
  3.  How do Card Checks work?: The card check description makes it always sound a card initiates a card check, but a discarded combat token can initiate it as well.  This needs to be clarified.
  4. What is a COMMON ENEMY?  Some of the enemies that come up in Destiny are labelled.  It was unclear what a COMMON ENEMY was?  
  5. What are The Loot and Achievements?  If you are playing the cards in order (and you are the first time you play), you don’t realize that (a) you are supposed to get LOOT for every enemy you kill (b) there are ACHIEVEMENTS throughout the game that give you better cards.  You ONLY see these cards AT THE VERY END!   They should be some of the first cards in the deck!!!  After my first play (and even my second play), I had completely forgotten about them.  THESE NEED TO BE SOME OF THE FIRST CARDS REVEALED FROM AN ADVENTURE.

There’s a lot of comparisons here and in other reviews to  Marvel Champions.  One of the things Marvel Champions does right is having a first play (with lots of pictures) and a separate “text only” rulebook which describes and clarifies points.  I don’t necessarily think we need that here, but the rulebook needs another pass with more examples and clarifications.

Conclusion

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The Phantom: The Card Game is a cooperative or solo super-hero card game set in the world of The Phantom. I liked this world and this game! It reminded me a lot of Marvel Champions, but with a little more story. I also liked the idea of being able to get tokens for resources so you could save resources between turns (unlike Marvel Champions). The art was a little old-school comic-book style, which is a bit distracting in the modern era, but it was very thematic for game play. What was best about The Phantom: The Card Game was also it’s Achilles’ Heal: the stories are interesting and thematic and fun, but they are limited! This game is strongly in need of more content! The rulebook also needs some more love. Besides these complaints, this is a good game.

If you liked Marvel Champions but wanted more story, The Phantom: The Card Game might be something you really like. Although it’s not quite as polished as Marvel Champions, the story in The Phantom: The Card Game really shines through. What I wanted from Marvel Champions: Rise of Red Skull (see review here) was more a more interactive story: it was The Phantom: The Card Game that finally gave it to me!

A Review of Cantaloop

Cantaloop is a weird game. It’s labelled (see above) as an Interactive Adventure, but what does that mean? It reminds me of a LucasArts “point-and-click” adventure (like Monkey Island) more than any other board/card game I have played. It’s essentially a solo game, but you can play it cooperatively by having your friends play with you offering suggestions to solve puzzles … much like an Escape Room game (like Unlock or Escape Tales which we reviewed here and here).

The premise of the Cantaloop is that you are trying to recruit a “gang” to help you pull off a revenge heist. One gang member you have coerce from a Jazz club and the other gang member you have to liberate from Prison. If that sounds like this is a dark and brooding game … IT ISN’T!!! This is one of the silliest games I have played in a while (in a good way), but Cantaloop is a thoughtful game in that it presents challenging and interesting puzzles to solve.

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Unboxing … or “Book Opening”

So, this isn’t a board game in a conventional box. It’s a book (in shrink wrap) that you have to open! Once you open it up, you see what you get: essentially a book with a few extra components in the front cover: see below.

The components are in some boxes and a flap attached to the front cover.

There are 60 cards over 3 pouches (all labelled cleverly 1-60, see above). The rest of the components are in a pouch under the cards: a map, a postcard, an “trigger matrix” and .. a decoder. The pouch is “labelled” (see above) so you can see what’s in there.

The pouch (see above) is a little cumbersome to get to: you have to force it a little.

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Most of the content of the game is in the book itself: the pictures, the text, the story. IMG_9168

You’ll see that pages (on the right) are physically tabbed so that you can turn to the appropriate section with just a quick motion. Need to get to “07”? It’s easy to just pull the tab and turn the book to that page.

Arguably, the most important piece of the game is the little red “decoder”. Don’t lose this! (We’ll see why later)

Overall, the component are decent: they are kind of cartoony, but that fits the vibe of the game.

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The Rulebook … or just the Book!

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The book itself is the rulebook: the rules are in the first few pages.

The rulebook starts off with a description of the game and a list of components.  It also very clearly delineates when you need to STOP READING as you peruse the rulebook: see below.

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Incidentally, I loved the veiled reference to Monkey Island as ape archipelagos (see above): Longtime readers of this blog know that we love Monkey Island (and even put it in our Top 10 Swashbuckling Cooperative games), so this immediately put us in a good mood that this will be a game we like! The component list is lame, but since there are so few components, it’s not a big deal.

The first few pages of the rulebook are a tutorial that takes you through the main mechanisms in the game. It’s a nice tutorial! One of the main ideas of the game is that you will be leafing through the book going from Location to Location (like a point-and-click adventure game): on the left will be some “hidden text” and on the right will be a giant graphic depicting the Location. The Location will be annotated with numbers and letters that will be used to “look” and “investigate” the location (using the text on the right). See the Location 1 below: text on the left, graphic on the right.

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To keep the text “hidden” so you don’t accidentally see anything you are supposed to, all the text of the game is “hidden” in garbled red letters that can be decoded using the red decoder: See the hidden text below …

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… and then how easy it to read once you use the decoder!

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Note: you can read the text ONLY that you want to. If you squint, you CAN read the garbled text above it, but if you are playing honestly, you only read what you are supposed to.

And the game is all about exploring this world! Looking at pictures, correlating items and pictures to figure out what text to read!

Probably the hardest mechanic to get use to is how “items interact with the world”. Each item has a left and right side which numbers/letters on it. You “line up” the items to see if you can use them together.

In the example above, you are using the magnifying glass to look at the cigarette lighter (“look cigarette lighter”).  If this is a legal activity, there  will be a text blob with that label (in this case r5p5:  r5 from the cigarette lighter, p5 from the magnifying glass) you can decode.  IF IT IS NOT SOMETHING YOU CAN DO, there will be NO corresponding entry.   

What makes this feel like ad Adventure game? Even if combining two items doesn’t make sense, there is typically still a text entry. The game might yell at you (seriously) or make a joke or some oblique reference. Like the old LucasArt adventure games, “clicking” on everything usually reveals something!

Normally, you are combining items with your Location, but sometimes you need to “connect” two items together. If you try to combine two items in your inventory, you have to consult the pamphlet that comes with the game (rather than the Location in the book):

Overall, the introduction to the game serves as a tutorial and does a great job explaining and showing the rules in operation. The mechanism to combine items/Locations is a little wonky, but walking through the tutorial made this very clear how the game mechanisms work.

I have raved about how good the Tainted Grail tutorial is to getting you going right away: the one included here in Cantaloop might be better. It showed you what you CAN do as well as what you CAN’T DO (by giving you funny text if you do something wrong). I was up and going right away in the game. This was a great rulebook/introduction.

Trigger Sheet (Matrix)

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One of the more fiddly mechanics in the game is the Trigger Sheet or Trigger Matrix (see above). This isn’t a legacy game, but if you don’t make a copy of the sheet, you will ruin the only copy of the Trigger Sheet so people can’t play the game later. I just got a piece of paper and wrote down “triggers” that I hit as the game went.

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What are triggers? They represent you making “progress” in the game! For example, if you combine the batteries and the flashlight, that turns on the flashlight and trigger event H3: you then mark off that H3 on your trigger sheet. (There isn’t actually a flashlight in the game: this is just an example). Later in the game, your text might say:

B3EF: If H3, then read F2D2. Otherwise: “It’s too dark, you can’t see”

F2D2: You can see a light switch on the wall.  Lame.  I didn’t need the flashlight.

In other words, when you do stuff, the Trigger Sheet notes progress in the game. By the end of the game, most of your Triggers should be marked.

By the way: LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE: you probably should make a copy of the Trigger Sheet and use that … my little piece of paper made it hard to see what Triggers I hit.

Cut Scenes

One my favorite parts of point-and click-adventure games are the cut scenes, when you interact with people you find in the game.  For example, in Monkey island, the interactions with Mancomb Seepgood are hilarious as well as informative!  (See below).

Let's Play Secret of Monkey Island - Part 1 [Guybrush meets Mancomb] -  YouTube

In Cantaloop, the game simulates these cut scenes by going to a particular section of the book (all tabbed out with letters) and following a dialog between two characters.  

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Of course, depending on Triggers, your interactions will change … you can only see the interaction above if you have hit Trigger C7.

This little touch, the cut scenes, just adds a whole new level to the game for me: it really gives the game personality and story.  

NOTE: Locations Tabs are numbers in the game, and Cut Scene Tabs are Letters.

Gameplay

We have to careful here: I don’t want to give away too much. The picture above shows “what are you dealing with” as you play: you’ll have your items (on cards) in front of you, your Inventory chart, and the Location you are currently at. You’ll typically have a bunch of text to read when you visit any new Location, and then you start trying to figure out the puzzles as you go. (“What happens when I combine the bread with the batteries? Anything?”) As you do stuff, you will mark off triggers, read new text, and discover new locations. And lots of jokes Many, many, many jokes.

It took me about 8 hours to get through the whole game. It felt very much like a point-and-click adventure game! Some of the puzzles I got right away, some of the puzzles were a result of “what happens if I combine these items”, some puzzles came to me later as I was exploring, and some puzzles I had to get help on (see later below). I would make manic progress for a while, then get stuck for a while … JUST LIKE AN ADVENTURE GAME. I have played a number of the adventure games in my life, and that’s just the ebb and flow of an adventure game. This captures that ebb and flow perfectly.

This game is all about searching the world of Cantaloop and exploring and combining and solving.

Help System

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In the olden days of the original Secret of Monkey Island, (see above) if you needed help in the game, you had a 1-900 telephone number (1-900-740-JEDI) you could call to get help.  I am not kidding here: see below!  It even cost 75 cents a minute!  (This comes from the rulebook of the my Amiga Secret of Monkey Island game!)

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The original Monkey Island was released October 15th, 1990, well before the internet had blossomed.  There were newsgroups and other things that were uncommon to many people, but nothing like the internet today.  (In Monkey Island 2, they even made fun of the 1-900 help line by having Guybrush call it).

Luckily, you don’t have to deal with a 1-900 help line in Cantaloop!  There is a help section in the back of the book based on Triggers in the game: 

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It’s a little messy to get help: you have to look at the Triggers (above) in order until you find one that you HAVE NOT Triggered!  The game assumes THAT TRIGGER is where you are stuck (since you haven’t marked it yet).  From there, it tells you which number hint to read (using your decoder): see below.

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The help system worked for me: it was a little clumsy looking through the Triggers for “the first Trigger you haven’t crossed off”, but most of the time it helped me move forward.  They even have Tip #1, Tip #2, and Solution so you don’t have to read the solution straight out if you just want a nudge.

Most of the time, the Help System worked fine, but once or twice it pointed me to a hint that didn’t make sense at first.  It’s not the best help system I have found (I think the Unlock or Exit games probably have the better help systems), but this one worked well enough.   I didn’t have to call 1-900-740-JEDI to get hints.

Sense of Humor

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Cantaloop has  a sense of humor!  There are SO MANY JOKES littered throughout the game!  Sometimes it’s just a straight up joke when you look at something, sometimes it’s a joke when you combine things you can’t REALLY combine, sometimes it’s a very oblique reference!  Be warned, the game has some slightly adult content and some jokes and language  were more adult than I expected!  But, any 13 year old on the playground has heard the language and would probably laugh/get most of the jokes. 

This sense of humor was a refreshing change.

Critical Thoughts

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I brought Cantaloop with me to the mountains on vacation and played it there. More than I few times, I heard “That looks like a lot of work” from people as I played: I paged through the book, I tried to combine cards, I read text, and I made notes. And you know what? They aren’t wrong! Playing this is a lot more work than other Escape Room games. Unlock and Exit typically have smaller worlds, as they tend to be just 1 hour typically. Cantaloop, which was an 8 hour game for me, there was a lot more stuff to remember and track of! But I say that’s a GOOD THING! The game is interesting enough and long enough to last 8 hours! I was engaged the whole time. Again, I experienced the same ebb and flow as an adventure game! I occasionally had to “walk away” so I clear my head and come back later to the puzzles with a different perspective. I honestly can’t imagine playing this game over one session: It probably took me about 6 sessions to finish the game.

I want to talk about what they got right in the physical components:

  1. The binding of the book.  They got this right.  Since the game is all about paging through a book, a lesser or more constricting binding would have soured the game.  I never ONCE thought about the binding, which is a sign they got it right.  It was easy to page through the book and get to the section I needed.
  2. The tabs of the book.  They got this mostly right. To make a section of the book easy to get to, the book had physical tabs so you could immediately open the book to the section you wanted.  I say “mostly” only because they would have slightly better with either a “color coding” (for emphasis) or more “reinforced” tabs (I felt like I might tear the page once or twice).  This is a very minor complaint: the tabs worked great.
  3. The decoder strip.  They got this mostly right.  It worked, but as I played the little plastic got more and more scratched up.  It still worked the whole game but it got slightly harder to read as I played.  I think it might have been better to have 2 decoder strips: an extra in case the other gets lost or scratched up.

My only major negative is that you get “tired” of reading the hidden text with the “red decoder”. You have to have a very well lit environment to read the red text well, and sometimes your eyes just get tired of the red.  I don’t know how to fix fix that, after all it is the main mechanism of the game, but the red text got to me a few times and I just had to quit for a while. 

To be clear: the game is hard.  That can be a negative or a positive, depending on your  point of view.  But, if you are signing up for an 8 hour puzzle-laden experience, expect there to be some difficulty.

Conclusion

Cantaloop is a candidate for Game of the Year for me! I loved this game! The puzzles were interesting and innovative, the plot was engaging, and the sense of humor was ridiculous! The physicality of the game never got in the way of playing: all the physical components were thoughtfully produced to make the adventure flow smoothly. When I was playing Cantaloop, I was engaged and having a good time. When I finished a session, I found myself still thinking about the puzzles and jokes! I would even retell the jokes to my friends! There were, of course, some frustrations (as any adventure game has), but the help system (for all it’s wonkiness) was good enough to keep me from getting stuck.

To this day, I still play The Secret of Monkey Island all over again every few years because I like living in that world! (Even though I have seen all the puzzles) Monkey Island is silly and fun but with interesting puzzles. I think Cantaloop falls into that category of games. The sense of humor and the interesting puzzles make me envy my past self: my past self gets to play this for the first time all over again! Hopefully, I will forget a lot of these puzzles so I can play it again fresh in a few years. Even if I remember a lot of the puzzles, I still look forward to playing again because I enjoyed living in the world so much!

Luckily, there is a sequel planned! Cantaloop is Part I of an ongoing adventure …

A Review of Tainted Grail, Part II. Final Thoughts.

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You’ll notice here at Co-op Gestalt, we sometimes split a review into two parts:

  1. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and Unboxing.
  2. Part II: Final Thoughts

We frequently don’t do a “Part II” for several reasons:

  1. We can’t get it to the table with more people.  The “Part I” represents me getting and playing the game solo for get initial impressions.  Sometimes, I can’t get my game groups interested in a game, so there’s no new info for a “Part II”.  This isn’t a bad thing, just a fact!  There are so many tastes and people that sometimes a game just doesn’t get to the table after my initial run through.
  2. There’s no need for further impressions.  I may get it to the table, but my impressions don’t change.  There’s no substantial changes, so I let the initial “Part I” review stand.

When we get a review “Part II”, it’s usually because we want to add to our initial review.  For example, we still loved Marvel United after the initial review, but we wanted to talk more about the cards and components (and give out trophies) in Part II.  

So, with that in mind, we head into Part II (below) of our thoughts on Tainted Grail.  See initial Part I review here!

Four Adventurers

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So, myself and three friends started playing Tainted Grail over the past 3 or so months. We’ve probably put about 40 hours of investment into the game, playing the first 3 scenarios. We had a rough start in Scenario 2 where we explored poorly that cost us a bunch of time.

The game flowed pretty quickly when we were playing. There was a lot of concurrency going on:

  1. Sara and Andrew would go hunting to get us food.  They would be fighting “green” monsters to get food for the party.
  2. At the same time, Rich and Teresa would go exploring and try to advance the story.

This worked okay, as the game moved a little faster with this paralleism, but Andrew and Sara got tired of hunting and they wanted to hear more of the story! And that’s fair! The story has been really good and the writing has been great!

Here’s the problem: I could tell my group was getting burned out.

Too Grindy

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In the words of the great Andrew: “The game became too grindy”. After scenario 2 seemed to just go on and on and on, we decided to try some rules to make it less grindy.

  1. Let the Menhirs stay lit longer.  The Menhirs are a sort of timer that keep certain parts of the world open.  If the Menhir “burns down”, that part of the world is unexplorable until you relight it.  We spent WAAAAAY too much time keeping the Menhirs lit as we explored.  By default, the number of turns a Menhir is lit is something like 9 minus the number of players.  We just maxxed it out at 9.
  2. Move the Hunt along.  In order to stay alive, you need to hunt and get food.  This because a major grind because you usually fight a ton of “green” monsters to keep alive.  We decided, rather than fighting to get food, we just get 2-3 food and completely ignore the combat.  
  3. (Spoiler).  Somebody comes after you.  We ignored this after game 2 because it was SO MUCH maintenance.

Now, with these changes, Andrew and Sara were more engaged as the story (the best part of the game) was being enjoyed by everyone: Sara and Andrew were no longer “stuck” grinding for food.

Silence

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My friends came over after we were (mostly) done with Scenario 3. “You want to move on?” Silence. Even with the changes we proposed, nobody wanted to play. “Even with our changes, it was STILL too grindy! I want to d of the combat and stuff, but the exploration/story is the best part. I want to do more of that!”

We proposed this change:

  1. The Menhirs simply don’t expire, but you can’t have more than 3 on the table at once.

Even with that change proposed, I couldn’t get my group interested in playing again.  My group was done with Tainted Grail after 3 Scenarios.

Reflections

The best part of Tainted Grail is the story and the want/need to explore the land!  We all agreed that the writing and tendriled subplots were interesting and fun to explore.  In the end, getting there wasn’t fun. In Part I of my review, I wasn’t sure abut the Combat/Diplomacy system.  It was definitely new and interesting setting up a combat .. almost like a story panel!  In the end, it wasn’t that great.  You only get three cards at the start of combat to use, and then get one when you are done.  Andrew pointed out “There didn’t seem to be enough choice”.  Granted, your deck of cards gets better as you advance, so you can make choices, but it felt tedious after a while.  Combat and Diplomacy were necessary evils to move forward, but they weren’t “fun”?

I reflect back to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) games I have played where I loved combat!  In D&D, you have so many choices, ways to work with your party, imaginative ways to help each other, imaginative ways to fight!  So, I definitely like the idea of combat, like in D&D, but I think we felt like our choices in Tainted Grail were too limited.

Your group may love the Combat and Diplomacy mechanics in this game!  If you do, this is the game for you.  My group grew tired of all the Combat and Diplomacy mechanisms needed to advance the story.  If there had been one fifth of that, I think we’d still be playing.  We really did like the story.

Video Game

Screen Shot 2021-06-04 at 7.46.26 AM

There is a digital version of Tainted Grail available on Steam!  I am wary and optimistic at the same time!

  1. WARY: If digital version of Tainted Grail is too hard, you can’t scale it back like we did the board game!  One of the great things about board games is that you can control/modify the rules and play as you find fun.  The digital versions tend to just have a few levels and you are stuck with those rules, even if you don’t like them.  
  2. OPTIMISTIC: Video game combat is well understood and much less plodding.  If the Combat and Diplomacy has been streamlined in the video game, or simply just made cool with a joystick, maybe combat and levelling up will be a lot more fun!

I haven’t played it yet, but backers of the original Kickstarter can get the free Steam code in Update 50 to try it out.

Conclusion

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So, I got 40 hours  of gameplay out of Tainted Grail.  That’s actually pretty good!  I payed about 99$ (US) to get a lot of gameplay.   That’s a lot more than some games!  I feel like I got my money’s worth, even if my game group stopped early.  What did I get?

  1. One of the best “First Play” tutorials I have ever seen!
  2. A ton of cards (see above) and content!
  3. Beautiful miniatures!
  4. An amazing story!

What do I think you should do?  Learn from my group’s mistakes!  Play this game, but play with an eye towards simplifying gameplay (using our suggestions previously in the review) and reducing grind.  Concentrate on the story and enjoy the writing and subplots as much as possible.  Don’t burn out your group with grind!

Am I going to keep this game?  I think it was an 8 or 9 out of 10 when I first started, but it sure has fallen: how apropos for a game called “The Fall of Avalon“.   It’s probably a 6 or 7 right now, but  I will keep it and try to finish the game solo.  Who knows, that solo play might elevate the game back up.  I might just keep Tainted Grail just to read the adventure book without all the Combat and Diplomacy … the writing and story were that good.

 

 

A Review of Magda: The Solo Card Game

Madga is solitaire only card game that was Kickstarter back in October 2020. It delivered to Kickstarter backers just (well, to me at least) yesterday: March 24, 2021. It promised delivery in July 2021 … yes, it was 1.5 months early! Huzzah to the makers!

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As a Kickstarter backer, I also got a little cloth patch (see above). Neato!

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The back of the Box

The reason I picked up Magda was because of the art and the theme.  I do like the art and the theme! See above.  It also happens to be a pretty quick game: only 15 minutes (although I have had much shorter games, see later below).

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I was a little surprised how small the box was (see above for scale)!  Luckily, the cards are the same size as the box, so the cards are bigger than you expect.

  

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Let’s take a look at this weird little solo card game …

Components

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The game is all cards! See above. The cards look really nice and I do like the art. The cards are all easy to read (see below). Unfortunately, they are not linen-finished: this is unfortunate because you handle the cards quite a bit (especially the player cards).

You can see from the cards that the game looks kind of creepy … and it is! You are travelling in space, trying to get home, and the jealous computer Magda is trying to stop you! Overall, the components look really nice: this is why I got the game.

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Rulebook

The rulebook is a quad-fold pamphlet. I usually hate pamphlets, but I gave Agroplis a pass on this because it was a nice little rulebook. Unfortunately, the Madga one isn’t nearly as good and it suffers from being a pamphlet.

I will admit the rulebook does a decent job with set-up: I got going right away on that! It was pretty clear how to set-up the game.

The object of the game is explained fairly well, as is the basic gameplay. But this is where a lot of questions start: how can I lay out the travel cards? Do I need one travel card per planet? Can travel cards cascade? Do I have to put them out a certain way? There is some more discussion in the “gameplay tips and notes”, but I feel like that should be covered HERE IN THE RULES (not tips).

Above, you can see the discussion of how Magda plays.

I should give props to this pamphlet: the text is big enough to read, it uses colors well to emphasize points, and it shows necessary pictures. And you can get going with it. Like I said, I was up and playing the game pretty quickly.

So, the graphic design is good and its fairly readable, BUT the rulebook just doesn’t cover any edge conditions or anything beyond the most basic questions of ruleplay! I had some questions about gameplay:

  • Do you have to fulfill a mission ONLY off the arrows from that part of the manifest card?
  • What does the topology of the travel? 
  • Why are there so many travel cards?
  • Does the planet matter?

I made it through and was able to play a few games, but I had to guess on a few of these things.

The rulebook was okay: the design and readability were good, but it didn’t discuss some basic questions I had: some rules seemed to be missing.

Set-Up

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Initial set-up is real easy! You set up three queues of cards (for good or “pilot” cards), a deck of Magda cards (or “Bad News” cards), your ship (with a stern and bow), and your initial Manifest which describes the three missions you must complete to win.   It looks pretty nice: see above.

 

The manifest (see above) is the most important card in the game: it tells you what your 3 missions are! In order to win, you must complete all 3 missions and then go home (playing the HOME card to the middle). Each mission is made up of a planet, mission, and asset. If you can place all three together (as described on the manifest), you have completed a missions! The planets, missions, and assets all come from the Pilot deck or one of your three queues.

Whenever you play a planet, mission, or asset down, you have to play a Magda card and see what her reaction is. She’s the bad guy: her cards are the “Bad News” cards: see below.

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Gameplay

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To play, you cycle through your Pilot deck, either placing a card on the board or in one of your three queues (see above). You can always choose to play the top card of a queue instead of the top card of your Pilot deck. Usually when you play to the board, a Magda card comes out, so you don’t want to do that unless you have to! You get cards into your queues hope for the cards you want.

The game moves quickly and is usually over within 15 minutes.

Thoughts

First off, I love the art style. The Mission, Planet, and Asset cards (see above) remind me of the covers of old-style Sci-Fi paperback novels. And the art is very evocative! The art of the Magda cards (or “Bad News”) is just creepy!

The rulebook could be better, but it at least does a good job explaining basic gameplay. You can muddle through the edge conditions and play.

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Unfortunately, the game is pretty random. Take a look at the card above: if you just happen to play this as your last card, you lose!!!! It doesn’t matter what you did the rest of the game. And, unfortunately, a lot of the Magda bad news cards are just as unforgiving:

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In my first game, I lost because I had the therapist out and the “She Messed With My Head” came out. I just lost! It was very unsatisfying.

The amount of randomness in this game might drive you a little crazy. Sometimes it’s just no fun, as all you can is play cards, and there aren’t a lot of ways to mitigate the Magda cards: You can get one of the 4 good cards in play, and you can “cap” mission-triads to make sure Madga can’t affect them. But that’s kind of it: you don’t “really” have a lot of choices in the game.

After my first few plays, I was almost done with the game! It was too random! Not enough choice, and not enough ways to mitigate the Magda cards. I was almost ready to be done and give this game a 3.

However, read on.

Strategy … of a Kind

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See above for a winning game. Was this all luck? No, but there are two things working in your favor:

  1. There is no penalty for going through all your Pilot cards!  Once you do that, you simply take all three queues back up, shuffle them, and start another 3 queues!  WHAT THIS MEANS: if you want a card, simply keep cycling through the deck until you find it.  In other words, there’s almost no reason for the three queues, you can find the 3 cards you want (Mission, Planet, Asset) by just cycling through the deck.   
  2. You can figure out what card is on the bottom of the deck when you cycle!  As you cycle through your deck, you can figure out (by process of elimination) what the very last card is.  WHAT THIS MEANS:  When you need to cap a deck to keep Magda from ruining a Mission/Planet/Asset triad, you can predict what the card is!  When you uncap to try to win the game, you WANT to play the cap card, otherwise you have to play 2 Magda cards!  To avoid that, you can simply force the cap card to be what you want (by cycling through the deck a few times)!

With those two realizations, you can play a winning game and at least mitigate a lot of randomness.  In fact, the very first thing you should do is cycle through the deck and get all 4 “good” cards out:

Basically, you can either spend your first turn “cycling though the deck” to find the 4 cards … or just put them out at the start of the game. Remember, this works because Magda doesn’t play any bad news cards until you play something (Planet/Mission/Asset) to the middle .. . you can cycle your deck infinite times looking for the cards you want without repercussions.

Once you put all this together, the game is a little more playable, but it’s more work as you “cycle” cards. By getting the 4 Good cards out, you can decide when to use them, you can decide when to cap and what to cap with, you can decide which missions to go after. When Magda deals you some randomness, at least you have some choice.

It sort of reminds me of variants of Solitare when you cycle through your draw pile … “I know there was a Queen in there…”

Conclusion

This game is just okay at best. Using the observations from the section above, you can do some things to mitigate the randomness of the game. Unfortunately, there’s still quite a bit of randomness, and it can be infuriating. I will say that I do like the art, and Magda has the advantage that the game is simple and short. A lot of people don’t care if a game is too random as long as it is short: I am not one of those people, but you may be! Is that’s the case, maybe Magda will be for you.

I could see playing Magda to pass some time.

To be clear, Magda is a game and it is playable and I would play it again. Compare this The Umbrella Academy which is unplayable and I never want to see it again. But, if you are looking for a fun, thematic, small solo card game, either take a look at our review of The Dead Eye or one of our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Games for better recommendations.

Cooperative Exploration: A New Way To Learn Games?

Beyond the Sun, Rio Grande Games, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)
My friend and I wanted to learn a new board game the other night. Spoiler Alert (see above): It was Beyond The Sun. The guys at Shut-Up & Sit Down recommended this in one of their silly videos, so I wanted to check it out.

There seem to be three standard ways to learn a game:

  1. Read the Rulebook.  For me, this is the method I use 99%  of the time
  2. Watch a Video: You-Tube has tons of people showing “how to play a game”.  It’s not usually my preferred way, but a lot of people like to watch videos about how to play. 
  3. Have Someone Teach You The Game.  This is probably the easiest way, as someone learns the game and teaches everybody else.  (Historically, this has been in person, but I’ve recently been taught some games over Discord/Zoom)

My friend Junkerman and I had … other ideas.

Board Game Arena

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I called my friend Junkerman last Tuesday.

“Hey, you wanna play Beyond The Sun?  It’s now online at Board Game Arena.”  (See Screen shot above)
“Sure.  Meet you there in a few.”

After floundering around and logging into Board Game Arena, we also got on Discord so we could chat while we played.

“So, do you know how to play?”
“Nope, do you?”
“Nope.”
… silence …
“Let’s try it anyways!”

So, we read some really crappy minimal rules on  the site (there were videos and PDFs of the game, but we chose to eschew them) to get an idea of the game.  We still had no idea what we were doing.

“Let just start clicking and see what happens!”

Let’s Just Click On Things!

D E N N I S K . C H A N

Here’s the thing, Board Game Arena enforces the rules of the game strictly. So, it’s not a “free-form” scenario like TableTop Simulator can be. If you can “click” on something on Board Game Arena, this means it’s a LEGAL click, so you can do it! With Board Game Arena only letting us click on things “legally”, we just starting clicking.

Hilariously, it took us 10 minutes (I am not exaggerating) to start our first turn! (Hint, the basic actions are in the middle of the screen and really tiny. Ya, that’s our excuse). We just started clicking and hovering over things … Board Game Arena does a “really nice” job with showing rules when you hover over game pieces.

So, over the course of two hours, we tried to click on things, we hovered over things, we just explored! Our goal was NOT to win, but to figure out the game together!!

“Hey Joe, why don’t you attack me and see what happens!”
“Oh ya, I should attack you. I wonder what happens to my ships if I fail?”
“I dunno? Let’s find out!”

“COOL! The leftover pieces go the the black hole! Cool!

I think the funniest moment was when we realized “the grey blobs” on the cards (that we turned over) were UPGRADED spaces!

Post Lockdown Playing Priorities! | Board Games | Zatu Games UK

“See the grey blob next to PSIONICS RESEARCH (see above)?”
“Ya.”
“I think we can go there!”
“Really? Those grey blobs weren’t decoration?”
“I think they are new actions we can do!!!”
“Boy, are we dumb.  We could have been doing those new actions for the past hour!”

After about 2 hours of screwing around, we had an idea of the game! We had to be patient with each other: “What do you think this does?” “I dunno.” We had to click on things and just randomly try stuff. Board Game Arena was our teacher and our enforcer: we could only do things it would let us!

Cooperative Exploration

COOP COVER FINAL ART sized all

So, I came up with the phrase Cooperative Exploration to try to describe how Junkerman and I learned the game. Basically, because it sounds a whole lot better than “we just clicked around and saw what we could do”. Honestly, this as the funnest I’ve had learning a game in a LONG time! It was fun to laugh at each other: “What are you doing? I dunno?” “What’s that leaf thing? I dunno? Oh! I see it!” It was fun to just explore the screen and hover. It felt like Junkerman and myself embarked on an expedition to explore and fool around in this online world of Beyond The Sun. What works? What doesn’t? What does this do? It was a blast: a cooperative adventure exploring the world of Beyond The Sun.

We joked that we should have live-streamed our adventure: we were pretty stupid at times, and we thought other people might enjoy laughing at us because we were laughing at ourselves! I’ll be honest: I felt a little like a little kid again. I didn’t care if I won, I just wanted to figure out “this world” we were in! It was a freeing experience NOT being shackled to a rulebook! We just let Board Game Arena be out teacher and enforcer.

Precedence In Deep Learning 

Doom

As crazy as it sounds, there is some precedence for Machine Learning techniques using exactly this same idea: “Just try clicking stuff”.  This paper out of Carnegie Melon shows how an AI learned how to play DOOM using only the raw pixels on the screen.  The AI was trained by letting it “try stuff” and using the pixels on the screen as results to guide further exploration.  The AI plays thousands of games, keeping track of results of “try stuff and see what happens” in the pixels of the output.

It’s the same idea as our Cooperative Exploration, except that the AI tries stuff over many many many games to train itself. I suspect if Junkerman and I tried stuff over a million games, we’d be as good as the AI too …

Conclusion

Beyond the Sun set up for 2

I realize that Cooperative Exploration is probably a bit snobby of a term, but it captures (for us anyways) a new way to try to learn board and card games.  If someone put the physical board game Beyond the Sun in front of me, I think I know enough to play it from my Cooperative Exploration with Junkerman. 

I seriously recommend trying the Cooperative Exploration idea out with a close friend: it’s a hilarious, fun, and freeing way to learn a new board game.  I wouldn’t recommend this idea too many people, though.  You want someone you can laugh with and at!  You need to be patient with each other!  You will be making mistakes and you have to be with someone you feel comfortable making DUMB mistakes with! (Seriously, it took 10 minutes for us to find something in we could click on at the start of the game.  Boy, did we feel DUMB!).  You will also be laughing at yourself, so have a sense of humor!  

This was one of the funnest adventures I’ve been on a while.  

A Review of Agropolis

Agropolis was a cooperative game on Kickstarter back in October 2020. It delivered to me about 2 weeks ago (early May 2021). It had promised delivery Feb. 2021 and delivered in May 2021. That’s still pretty good for a Kickstarter.

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Agropolis is a little 18-card game about building a rural town. It’s considered a micro game and both the expansions (Combopolis and Invasion) add another 8 or so cards altogether. The entire game and both expansions fit in a little plastic wallet (see above). Notice the soda can above (used for scale) to compare sizes! (You can also see how small the little envelope was that delivered the game!)

I picked up Agropolis because I really liked Sprawlopolis! Sprawlopolis is another tiny 18-card cooperative game about building a city (instead of the rural area of Agropolis). Sprawlopolis made both our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games and our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2019. Will Agropolis live up to the promise of its brethren?

Components and Rulebook

The game’s components are … a plastic wallet and 18 cards (and the 2 expansions which add another 10 or cards) and a rulebook.

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And … that’s it for components. You’ll notice the 18 cards have 2 very different sides: one side has a scoring condition (see 3 of them below):

And the other side has a 2×2 town grid (a “block”, see instructions) which consists of a cornfield (yellow), orchard (red), vineyard (purple) and livestock (brown).

You start the game with 3 scoring conditions/cards. Your jobs is then to build a rural town using the remaining 15 of the “block” cards. See below for a completed town. Note that the cards can only be placed horizontally (“long” ways): either of two long orientations is fine, you just can’t turn them vertical.

There are a couple of other placement rules (see below), but they are pretty simple. The rulebook pamphlet does a very nice job of describing the placement rules and then showing a good example on a teeny tiny page. Other rulebooks could learn a thing or two from this rulebook. It’s tiny, and yet it manages to convey gameplay and edge conditions very well!

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Most of the rules for scoring are on the cards themselves, but there are a few other scoring conditions: See the relevant section from the rulebook below:

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  1. You lose 1 point for every “road” in your town: connected roads across cards only count as one road.  In the back of your mind, you are always trying to keep the number of roads down, but it’s not an overwhelming concern
  2. You get 1 point per block in your largest group of each zone type.

Usually when you are playing, the 3 main scoring cards tend to exert the most influence on your thinking, but the roads and largest group scoring rules are always in the back of your head.

For such a small game and even smaller rulebook, these components are great and easy to read. The rulebook is amazingly good considering how small it is! Other bigger rulebooks could learn a lot from this tiny pamphlet! I usually hate pamphlets as rulebooks, but this one does such a good job, I didn’t mind.

Set-Up

Set-up is easy: see the rulebook above and a sample solo set-up below.

How To Win

The win condition in Agropolis is a little wonky: it’s a “beat a score” condition.   From the three scoring cards you choose at the start of the game (see above), you add up the values in the upper left corner of scoring cards.  In the example above, you have 14 + 11 + 9 = 34.  In order to win, your  score at the end of the game MUST EQUAL OR EXCEED THAT VALUE.

Solo Mode

The solo mode is well described in the rulebook.

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Like we’ve said so many times before, it’s so much easier to teach your friends a game if there’s a solo mode to learn first (Saunders’ Law). In this case, the solo player takes three block cards (see below) at the start of the game (seeing the next block card coming out).

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The solo player chooses a card to play, puts it in the grid (using placement rules we discussed earlier), then gets the next card on top of the deck. The game continues until all 15 cards are played (see below)! Then scoring happens: if you “beat the score” (which we described above), you win! Otherwise, you lose!

In the base game for multiple players, these three cards are “passed around” to the next player: the current player always should have three cards and other players should always have one card.

To be honest, the solo mode is easier to describe and play than the cooperative mode! I’d almost be willing to say this is better as solo game. It almost feels like the game started as a solo game and they “added” a cooperative mode which is just a minor extension of the solo game (like we did for a cooperative mode with Canvas).

Combopolis

One of the expansions that came with my Agropolis Kickstarter was Combopolis: With just a few cards (6?), it’s a way to combine the original game Sprawlopolis and Agropolis ! If you have both games, you get kind of a weird game that combines the two!

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The rules are pretty simple:

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You take 1 Agropolis Scoring Condition, 1 Sprawlopolis Scoring Card, and 1 Combopolis (from the 6 card expansion) Scoring Condition and then the rest of the cards from the two decks.

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Note that the starting card is from Combopolis has both Sprawlopolis and Agropolis areas on it!!! (Card in the middle).

As you play, you get to choose a card from EITHER deck to play! So, you get to choose which deck you are playing from. The game continues until BOTH decks run out.

And then you score! You can only score 4 “biggest block” types (as there are 8 now between Sprawlopolis and Agropolis), but otherwise scoring and winning is just the same!

I enjoyed this mode: it makes the game twice as long, but I enjoyed combining the two games. I almost think I enjoyed it more that the base games! It really does add new life to your Agropolis and Sprawlopolis!

Differences

Are there any real differences between Sprawlopolis and Agropolis?  Not really?  They are essentially the same game except one set of rules: the livestock spaces! 

  1. The livestock spaces can either have ONE pen or TWO pens: See belowIMG_7029
  2. The livestock can be pigs, chicken or cows (and that can make a difference in scoring): see below.IMG_7034
  3. There’s a built-in “expansion” that builds on the livestock rules called “Feed Fees” (see below)

Overall, Agropolis gameplay felt like Sprawlopolis gameplay, with the livestock spaces and scoring being a “nice” variant.  

Conclusion

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If you like Sprawlopolis, you will like Agropolis! It’s basically the same game (modulo the livestock changes)! You get to build a little rural town and make lots of interesting decisions as you play. Every game is very different because of the scoring conditions: you get 3 very different combinations of scoring every time you play, and that really changes how the game flows. Agropolis is a fun little cooperative game with lots of gameplay, but I think it works better as a solo game than as a proper cooperative game. But, it’s still good as a cooperative game.

Do you need both Sprawlopolis and Agropolis? Probably not. The games are so similar, it’s not really a necessity. If you have one, you probably don’t need the other unless you really loooove the game! I will say that the Combopolis expansion which combines the two might be my favorite way of playing the games together.

If you don’t have either Sprawlopolis or Agropolis, and a little building game sounds like fun, you should pick one of them up! They are both super cheap ($10?), super easy to carry around, and super easy to teach. I would say, choose the theme that appeals to you! “Build a city? Choose Sprawlopolis! Build a rural town? Choose Agropolis!” Honestly, the theme isn’t that deep and you won’t go wrong choosing either one.

Top 10 Swashbuckling Cooperative Board and Card Games!

In our last blog entry, we lamented the lack of cooperative Three Musketeers board and card games. After thinking about it for a while, we DID realize that there are a number of cooperative games in the Swashbuckling genre!! Swordplay! Adventure! Treasure! Pirates! Musketeers! Here’s a list of 10 really fun cooperative board and cards that are of a “swashbuckling” nature!

Honorable Mention

19: The Secret of Monkey Island – Death By Troggles

So ….. The Secret of Monkey Island is not even a board or card game, it’s a point-and-click adventure game for many platforms. We talk about it on this blog a bit, because it was one of the greatest adventure games of all time! Swordplay! Pirate ships! Treasure! Puzzles! You could play it cooperatively with your friends (as a shared adventure). Even though it had a short-lived resurgence when it was reissued a number of years ago, it’s a little harder to get a hold of. Right now, I think GOG (Good Old Games) is the best way to get it, but I have the PS3 disk, the Amiga Disk, the iPad and iPhone downloads (can’t be updated anymore, see here). It’s a great game that is just ridiculous fun and swashbuckly. I know, it’s not a board or card game, but it’s so great we have to give it a shout-out.

10.  The Pirate Republic

 

The Pirate Republic is a game from Kickstarter some time ago.  I picked it up a recently from FunAgain games.  It’s one of those games that has  both cooperative and competitive modes.  By default, the cooperative mode has the ability for players to  become traitors (which is very thematic and back-stabby like a pirate game should be), but you can get rid of all the mission cards that turn someone a traitor, so you can  play it as a fully cooperative game. 

3d Game Layout

Some of the ships had broken in our copy, and it was very hard to organize the game.  But, the piratey theme does shine through in the exploration of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.  It feels more like an “older” map game, with resource management (which is why it’s lower on this list), but it’s still very piratey and fun!

9. Dead Men Tell No Tales

Dead Men Tell No Tales was a cooperative game I got on Kickstarter some time ago.  It’s all about cooperatively raiding a burning pirate ship, trying to loot treasure off the ship before it (and the gunpowder) explodes!  It’s not a real-time game, but it does have a certain urgency to the game as you explore and try to keep the fires down.

High quality hand made prototype to show what the game will look like. Doesn't have the dice or wood cubes and the spinner is a crappy plastic one (the real one will be a cardboard one). But you get the idea.

The components and ship are all very thematic, with a “piratey” look and feel.  There’s even a Kraken expansion which ratchet up the adventure!  It’s more of a pick–up-and-deliver game, as you find and move treasure chests off the boat (which is why it’s so low on the list), but it’s a fun and thematic piratey game with “swashbuckly” components and feel (see above).

8. A Tale of Pirates

A Tale of Pirates is a cooperative, real-time adventure where players work together to operate a pirate ship.  It’s very different than most games on this list, as you physically move around timers (see below) to perform activities on the ship.  But, as you can see below, the game has great table presence!

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There’s a required app that really makes it easy to jump into and play: it’s very good and taking you through set-up and allowing you to explore the pieces (see below).

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This was probably the easiest Swashbuckling game to play and get into.   It’s a real-time game! The app plays music in the background (as it counts down a timer).  You move around your pirate ship, steering, raising sails, loading cannon balls, firing cannons, and fixing broken parts of the ship.  At first, It seems like it’s a little bit more about operating a ship that a swashbuckling adventure, but the music and the app really are quite immersive! And the longer you play, the more items you unlock!  This game starts evolving into a swashbuckling adventure as you discover the story underneath …

7. TIME Stories + Brotherhood of the Coast Expansion

TIME Stories is an adventure game meets escape room game.  In the game, you essentially play “Quantum Leap” where you jump into characters in a storyline and play an adventure.   The TIME Stories games are a framework for many styles of games (including an Asylum, Dragon Tales, Egyption to name a few), and, relevant to us: a Pirate adventure!  

Brotherhood of the Coast is a pirate-themed expansion for TIME Stories. See set-up above!  You cruise around the Caribbean, fighting ships, exploring towns, looking for treasure and pirates!  It’s a fun swashbuckling romp!  Like all TIME Stories games, once you have played through everything, you have seen everything that world has to offer.  We ended up playing about 3 to 3.5 hours to get through everything:  my group concluded that was just about the right length: we had a real nice time exploring this world.

6. Mousquetaires du Roy

We’ve talked about Mousquetaires du Roy quite a bit on our blog.  It’s a cooperative Three Musketeers game from 2010 from Ystari which doesn’t get much love.  It made our More Cooperative Games Off The Beaten Path here.

Presentation at Spiel'10 (Essen)

By default, the game isn’t cooperative, but it does come with cooperative rules (see here: Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively).  It’s all about the cardplay and rolling dice to get through some adventures.  The adventure is a little on rails, but it’s a very fun playing the Musketeers trying to take out Milady (the bad gal).  It’s very swashbuckly and was one of the first games I thought of when I made this list!

5. The Princess Bride Storybook Game

This is a very light cooperative adventure game we reviewed here.   Most importantly for a Swashbuckling list, one of chapters of the storybook is the iconic swordfight between The Man in Black and Enigo Montoya!

Finally, playing En Garde the way it was meant to be played—with figures from The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game.

This is a very light game that traces the plot of the movie.  If you like the movie, you’ll find yourself quoting the movie as you play (“I’m not left-handed either!“) which really helps immerse you into the game.  The game more swashbuckling than you might expect!

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4. Battle for Greyport + The Pirates Expansion

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This is a bit of a cheat, as the Pirates! is just an expansion for Battle for Greyport.  But we love the cooperative deckbuilder game Battle for Greyport!  We reviewed it way back here, and it’s made our Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilding Games!

To play this, you really need both the expansion and the base game.  Here’s the thing: you can ALMOST just play with only the expansion to get a true swashbuckling experience!  You need at least one more monster deck from the base game and a few more cards to expand your deck … but that’s about it!! I played my first game with JUST the Pirates! game, and I realized I needed just a few more pieces.  But this is really thematic!  There are new rules for ships!  New locations by the docks!  New rules for fighting Kraken!

I’m very surprised this ended up as high as it did.  The base game plus the Pirates! expansion gave a very thematic Swashbuckling experience!

3. Unlock: The Tonipal’s Treasure

This is a little Unlock game … and it’s my favorite Unlock game of all time!  It’s very thematic and “reeks” of pirate theme, with frequent oblique allusions to the Secret of Monkey Island!   I don’t want to say too much, in fear of giving away too many puzzles, but the very last puzzle of the game is one of my favorite experiences in a Escape Room game … and is very thematic for a Pirate game.

Final progress on a zero star score. But it was fun getting there

… just a reminder, you need an App on your phone/pad to play Tonipal’s Treasure!

2. Forgotten Waters

Forgotten Waters is a game we reviewed (and really liked) here! It also made both of our Top Cooperative Games of 2020 and our Top 10 Storybook/Storytelling Games Forgotten Waters is a simple worker placement game in the guise of a storybook game!  The app that comes with the game has voice acting and music that really makes the game thematic!  

Game Layout

The game has top quality components and tells a thematic, immersive story in a piratey, swashbuckling universe.

1. Gascony’s Legacy

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There really wasn’t a question what was going to be the number 1 on this list: We loved Gascony’s Legacy! See our review here! It was a fun cooperative game that tells a story, but has rules for rolling barrels on your enemies! Switching hands during swordplay! Swinging from chandeliers! Dropping chandeliers on your enemies! The game really captures the swashbuckling nature of the The Three Musketeers!

A Review of Gascony’s Legacy, Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Gascony’s Legacy was on Kickstarter back in April 2017. (Wait, is that right? Check around update 8 here: yup). I missed this Kickstarter somehow, but I was able to pick it up from Miniatures Market fairly recently (April 2021). I am pretty sure this JUST came out, because I was waiting for this particular game from my Miniatures Market order. I don’t have any idea if the backers are grumpy (4 years between Kickstarter and delivery?), and I don’t want to know. I just wanted to try this cooperative game!

Gascony’s Legacy is a cooperative game for 1-4 players set in the world of Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers! For the record, the title is a bit of a misnomer: this is not a legacy game (in the sense that you tear up cards and put stickers on the board), but it does have an ongoing campaign with minimal saving of state between games. I have to admit, I am a sucker for the swash-buckling theme of the The Three Muskeeters! I was even thinking of doing a Top 10 Cooperative Three Musketeers Board and Card Games! Here’s the problem, I know of only two that I really like, so this would be a very boring and short Top 10!

  • Gascony’s Legacy: by Lynnavander Studios (2021). See more discussion below.
  • Mousquetaires Du Rey: An old Ystari game (2010).  

We have actually mentioned Mousquetaires Du Rey a few times here in the Coop Gestalt blog: Recently, in the Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively and a while ago in  More Cooperative Games Off The Beaten Path.  We really like Mousquetaires Du Rey ! The only question is, do we like it more or less than Gascony’s Legacy?

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Unboxing

The game starts with the rulebook (see above). It’s a fairly lengthy rulebook of about 28 pages. Under the rulebook, you find a ton of cardboard: see below.

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There’s a bunch of cardboard for the tokens, rooms, and character cards. Even some barrels and braziers? What kind of wacky game is this? It looks like we will be setting up rooms and encounters with the punchouts …

This is definitely a dice game of some sort: there’s a lots of decent six-dice dice with some specialized (!) dice as well (see below)! Most of the challenges in the game will involve rolling dice, but luckily there are tons of ways to mitigate this.

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There’s some really nice little metal coins in here. These represent the gold in the game!! They are super nice, but there’s only 6 of them and they pretty small. Still, they are nice …

There is a quite a bit of game in the cards (see above): all the stories and campaigns are on cards, all the weapons/equipment is one cards, the bad news deck, the bad guys: most of the content of the game is here in the cards.

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The cards are, unfortunately, not linen-finished. But they are pretty good and easy to read (see above).

Overall, the components are good but not great. I like the way the game looks, although I have to admit I don’t love the cover: I think the cover needs a chaotic, swashbuckling 3D scene to really show off it’s Three Musketeer’s theme!

Rulebook

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Unboxing! You see The Rulebook first thing!

This rulebook starts off similar to most rulebooks, then takes a different tact when approaching the game. It starts with an overview (pretty standard):

I’ll be honest, that Table of Contents gives me some confidence that this will be a good rulebook. The next page is the standard list of components (it works fine):

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Then the rulebook deviates a little. Instead of jumping into a set-up, it goes over all the components in the game.

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You know what? I think this works. It helps me get a sense of what all the components are: this is helping immerse me in the game.

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More descriptions of components

And finally we do get to a set-up!

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I think this rulebook worked really getting me into the game and familiar with the components. The font was readable, the choice of layout and a few fonts was still suggestive of theme but not so much that it robbed me of readability.

Overall, this was one of the best rulebooks I’ve read in a while. The rules were presented logically, the text was terse but not unclear. There could have been a few more pictures, and the rulebook was a little long, but overall I was very happy with rulebook. I learned the game and had no problem looking up rules when I needed to. The rulebook did not get in the way of me learning the game.

One of the things that gave me the most confidence in this rulebook was that the glossary/index seemed very complete:

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Solo Rules

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The Solo Play is very clearly defined: see above.   It even leaves the door open to play multiple characters for some variety!  I dream and wish rulebooks will do this!!  Recall, I was a little perplexed that Burgle Bros 2 had NO MENTION of Solo rules even though the game clearly states 1-4 players on the box … so I was glad to see Gascony’s Legacy very clearly puts forth the solo rules. 

Having said that, there was something mystifying during set-up: if you NEVER play fewer than 2 characters, why does the set-up seem to allow for 1 character?   (See set-up card below).  If you are playing two characters for the solo game, it seems (for balancing reasons) that you should play with just as many bad guys as 2 players!  So, I played the solo game as a 2-player game.  This oversight seemed like a rare misstep in the rules.  

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Set-Up

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This is a Three Musketeer’s game, so of course you have to control of some of the characters from the book! I decided to play my solo game with 2 characters: Athos and Porthos (see above). Each character has a talent (upper part of part) that can be activated by the “wreath” face of the die, and they also have a support (lower part of the card) that can be activated by the “crown” face. The starting equipment is listed under the name.

As you get set-up, you get your standee (with stance token: we’ll get to that) and life, equipment, and “destiny” tokens. Notice the player reference cards off to the right: very helpful!

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Let’s talk about the equipment: Gacony’s Legacy has a real interesting idea: when you equip an item, you either (a) equip it on the left (b) or the right. How you equip your sword has a real impact on what spaces you can attack on your turn! The light blue squares (see above) indicate where the Royal Epee can attack, depending on how you equip the sword!! Later in the game, you can get two weapons so you can attack on the left AND right! This is really thematic! And you can only change how your grip by using your action during your turn (which is different from you fight)!

The game set-up is controlled by the story cards: the first one is above. You can play through a full campaign, lasting 40? 50? cards if you like!

The story cards show you what terrain tiles come out. Yes, there are barrels. Yes, they can be rolled over your opponents (but we are getting ahead of ourselves).

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All the different “base” enemies you can fight

The story card will show where to put your enemies: at the start of the game, you are just fighting some of the “base” enemies (see above). Later, as you progress into the campaign, you will see the named villains .. they have their own decks!! (See below)

.. but we don’t get the big bad guys until later.

Following the direction on the story cards, you set-up the game! You put barrels, enemies, your standees, and the terrain tiles out to form your battlefield! En garde!

The set-up on the story cards works ok, but it would have been nice if the terrain cards were labelled and the story cards indicated which terrain tiles we needed. It’s not a big deal, since the game doesn’t have a large number of components, but it’s a little thing that could have made the set-up go just a little faster.

Overall, set-up was fine.

Gameplay

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The game is all about the swashbuckling sword play!  The way you face and the way you equip your sword (left or right-handed) matters!

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In the first game, we see Athos is equipping his rapier on his right and Porthos is equipping his broadsword on his left.  The front of the character is the red and blue “stance” token faces. See below: when you see the characters from the side, you can see the stance token and how they are equipped.  The “blue” side is the primary side where the weapons are equipped!

IMG_8970  If you want to switch hands, you have to use your “action” during your turn.  (On every turn, you have a move, actions, and attack which you can do in any order).  So, you might move to engage an enemy, switch hands, then attack!! 

Now, the enemies have a simple set of rules to follow and attack.  They aren’t quite as complicated as, say, Gloomhaven, but the enemies are no slouch.  When they move to you, they TRY to stay out of your attack zone!  Full rules are well described in the rulebook.

The core of almost everything the players do is a dice role.  4-5 counts as 1 success, 6 counts as TWO successes, and 1-3 fail. The number of dice you roll depends on your character and other factors, but it’s usually about 3 or 4.  There are many things that give the players more dice and re-rolls: Most importantly are the “stones” in the middle of the board which players can use/share when needed:

Even though the dice are pivotal to getting stuff done, (defending, attacking, etc), I never felt I was a slave to the randomness of the dice: there were just so many ways to mitigate them!

Impressions

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I really like Gascony’s Legacy.  There are some similarities to Gloomhaven (the set-up, the movement, the feel, the advancement), but Gascony’s Legacy is a smaller game with smaller feel.  But here’s the thing: I think I’d rather play Gascony’s Legacy than Gloomhaven!  Because it’s so thematic and fun!!  I actually giggled reading the rules when I realized there were rules in the game for:

  1. Jumping on a crate!
  2. Rolling a Barrel towards your enemies!
  3. Throwing a Brazier on your enemies!
  4. Hiding from attacks behind statues!
  5. Gliding from a chandelier!
  6. Dropping a chandelier on your enemies!
  7. Helping your fellow Musketeers (the Support abilities)!
  8. Changing Hands of your sword!  (“I’m not left handed either!”)
  9. Fighting 1 or 2-handed!

There are so many places in Gascony’s Legacy where the theme shines through like a bright light!  It’s fun, it’s silly, but the rules are still very clear and very consistent.   Even though this is a dice game, there are so many ways to mitigating the dice roles! Your equipment helps, you can spend destiny tokens, you can get support from your fellow Mustketeers, you can take a “stone” dice!!  You can still be strategic in your actions, but have the elements of luck give the game “spice!!!”

I realize that part of my enjoyment of this game is the theme: the game captures the theme so well.  The campaign seems ok (I was annoyed that you have to get rid of all your coin between campaigns), but I’ll be curious how far I get!

 

Conclusion

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Gascony’s Legacy is a good game! I like it a lot! I think the theme radiates from the box! It’s fun jumping onto crates, rolling barrels over my enemies and strategizing with my compatriots of how to attack! The campaign itself isn’t totally immersive, but the gameplay is! The rulebook is very good, if a little long, but it presents a game that I really enjoyed.

Is it better than Mousquetaires du Roy? Mousquetaires du Roy is a simpler, card based game that unveils a Three Musketeers story: it’s a different game. I like them both, but Gascony’s Legacy theme shines so brightly I think it elevates it above other Three Musketeers games! Having said that, if you want a simple cooperative Three Musketeers game, Mousquetaires du Roy is the right choice. If you want a fun, thematic, cooperative romp with slightly more complex rules, Gascony’s Legacy is a fantastic choice!

A Review of The Dead Eye: A Solo, 3D Gaming Experience

The Dead Eye was a solo card game on Kickstarter back in July 2020. It promised delivery in November 2020, but it just fulfilled this last week (April 20, 2021). Honestly, I was never worried because the team was very open and transparent about everything going on. A Kickstarter only 6 months late in a COVID year? That’s still excellent! Seriously, these guys ran a nice little Kickstarter.

 

The Dead Eye is a solo card game … for only 1 person (see back of box above).  There is no multiplayer mode.  

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But of course, the main reason I picked it up: it’s got 3D cards and glasses!

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Let’s hope it has a good game behind the 3D gimmick!

Unboxing

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Kickstarter and extra cards (3 only)

As a Kickstarter backer, I got some extra content … 3 extra cards. Not that much, but it was 3 extra cards (see below). Better than a sharp stick to the eye …. (which is kinda funny in a game where things are 3D, really). The cards below really give you a sense of what the art looks like in the game.

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The 3 expansion cards

The game box opens to …

… some plastic baggies. These will be used later in the game to “save your state” (some cards get retired, some cards stay) because it’s a basically a 3 stage game: You have to reach 3 Home Bases (in order) to win the game.

Underneath the plastic bags are the three most important things in the game …

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The red and blue 3D glasses!

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You get not one, not two, but THREE pairs of glasses! And in fact, they go out of they’re way to give you two different styles of glasses! Little clip-ons (if you like put them on your glasses or just look at the table like a monocle) like above or more “glasses” like that fit over your ears (see below).

I have a big head (no comments please) and the glasses fit fine on my head.

Next comes a 3D comic book. It’s not very long at all, but it has a 3D story and gives you a flavor of what the theme and the 3D visuals will be like in the game. We’ll see more of the comic book below when we talk more about the 3D experience in the game!

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Next is the rulebook: we’ll discuss the rulebook a lot more below (foreshadowing).

Next comes your main player board. You can see it folds out.

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Front Side of Player Board

The Front Side of the player board has a bunch of Icons that tell you where cards will be placed.

And finally, the cards (see above). They are NOT linen finished.

The cards look pretty cool and the art style is consistent throughout the game. As is the 3D.

There’s one last thing: the plastic slider which will be used to notate where you are in the game (there are 3 stages to the game).

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I’ll be honest, it’s a pretty cheap little device and it kinda dents the card when used. It’s used on the SATMAP (below) to make which stage you are on.

But overall, the game has a really unique and thematic art style that permeates every component of the game. The game components (besides the little plastic marker) are really neat.

And we haven’t even talked about the 3D experience yet!

The 3D Experience

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Normally, I would go to the rulebook here, but we all know the first thing you will do when you get this game is put on the glasses and look at everything!!! (C’mon, it was the first thing I did). How does everything look in 3D?

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So the title on the cards and some of the Icons kind of “float” (see card above) and the background pictures all have some element of 3D to it.

Here’s the thing, this came out MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED. I expected a lot of “red-blue” cards, and there is SOME of that, but the color scheme works really well with the 3D. EVERY CARD in the game has a neat little 3D effect. In the picture above, the little rocket bursts out of the card when you have the 3D glasses on!

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Once you are into the game (and know the rules and don’t have to look anything up), the 3D really is fairly immersive!! You can play the whole game WITH your 3D glasses on and read the cards: they are quite legible even with the glasses on. I also recommend keeping the box art up too (see picture above for a game in progress) because that cover picture REALLY POPS with the 3D glasses on!

Let’s be honest here, you are either going to LOOOOVE the 3D or HATE it. And you probably know before you even buy the game (some people get headaches from the red-blue 3D glasses). I was hopeful that the 3D experience would be good. And you know what? The 3D effects on the cards and boards REALLY DO WORK. AND You can still read everything! Once you are playing the game, the 3D effect is very immersive and thematic.

The Comic Book!  More 3D!

The Comic Book works pretty well with the 3D. If I had one complaint about the 3D is that it sometimes it doesn’t span the pages of the comic book very well. The first page looks great, and has a haunting 3D galaxy behind it!

But the next page doesn’t seem to pop because it spans two pages and doesn’t fold down very well. I think the 3D kind of breaks down when it crosses a fold.

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But the next page this is probably my favorite scene from the little comic book! 

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Overall, the comic book was fun and add a little flavor to the game.  It wasn’t really needed but I’m glad it was there.  It gave me more 3D!!

The Rules and The Rulebook

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The rulebook has made some nice graphic design and the font choices are good. You can read it just fine and it’s pleasant to look at. See above.

Continue reading “A Review of The Dead Eye: A Solo, 3D Gaming Experience”