A Review of Tales of Evil, Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

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Tales of Evil is cooperative adventure game for 1-6 players. It was originally on Kickstarter back in December 2018. It’s been out for some time for the Kickstarter backers, but it just came out into retail: I picked it up from Miniatures Market and I know it was just released (mid November 2020) because the order was in hold until that came out.

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The theme of this cooperative adventure game is a bunch of kids (pre-teens-teens) running around and exploring supernatural phenomena (reminiscent of Stranger Things). The kids are in a club together called The Pizza and Investigation Club (which reminded me of somewhat of The Three Investigators, if anyone remembers that series of pre-teen books).

The Kickstarter bills the game as “The 80’s Horror Board Game Experience”. I’d say it’s more of an adventure/exploration game than a Horror game, but there are definitely more horror moments in what I’ve seen. If I were to try to summarize this game, I’d say Tales of Evil is a cross of the Arkham Horror, 2nd. edition Board Game (for mechanisms and gameplay) with the Stranger Things TV Show (for theme and setting) and the Tales of Arabian Nights Board Game (for the storybook elements). (If you don’t know what a storybook game is, see my Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games for some really cool ones!).

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Unboxing

The game is chock-fun of content!IMG_7099

There are a number of books: An Event Book, a Rulebook, a Storybook for the main game (The Mystery of the Demon Puppet Mistress) and an expansion (see below).

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There’s a bunch of cardboard (tokens see above) and boards (see below).

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There are little miniatures plus some redundant standees (I am guessing the miniatures were a Stretch Goal in the Kickstarter). They are nice enough.

There are bunch of cards (over 200) in many different categories. (Grumble, see Rulebook discussion below).

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There is also a 90 second sand-timer for a few activities in the game. This isn’t a real-time game per se, but there are a few places where it is real-time.

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For a really good look at most of the components, take a look at the main Kickstarter page here.

Like Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition, there are a lot of skill tests where you use the specialized dice above to roll. These dice may be my favorite component in the game! The glow in the dark!

Oh, and the game really leans into the Horror theme: you get a “Horror Movie Poster” for the game! See below!

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The Rulebook

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So, the rulebook looks like it’s pretty good. But you’ll notice the “Content” section only LISTS the components without any pictures or marking!!! Arggh!! This was VERY FRUSTRATING as none of the backs of the cards in the game are marked and a lot of the icons are unclear at first. So, let me help you out: the cards are presented … near the back of the book!!!

My advice to you is look at the contents list while correlating the cards with the list later in the book (see above two pages). I feel like this section should have been further up front!!! I was very frustrated until I found this.

So, I will give this game some props: it tries something different with the rules. Since the game is Storybook based, Tales of Evil tries very hard to make the rules come out when they are needed IN THE STORYBOOK. The designer makes this note (see above) in the very first pages of the rulebook. The rest of the rulebook is more of a reference guide which you can reference later in the game.

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And it almost works. I still had to read about the dice and how the dice checks work (see above from the Rulebook). I still had to read how combat works. I think it’s really hard to put the rules in JUST the storybook, but this deferring of rules almost worked. It worked well enough.

This definitely feels like a Kickstarter rulebook. It just needed a little more love. But it was enough and I was able to get into my first game.

Gameplay

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In Tales of Evil, each player takes the role of  one of the kids above.  Each kid has different powers and starting equipment and a different backstory. 

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The main mechanism in the game is rolling dice and trying to get a number of “successes” on the dice.   The Bullseye on the dice represent successes.

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Like Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition, there are two successes per die.  (There are some extra rules, see above, but that’s the essential mechanism)  There are mechanisms for mitigating dice roles, based on your character and equipment (like AH).  Each character gets a number of dice for different kind of skill checks: combat, defense, etc. again based on character and equipment.   There’s a lot in the main skill checks, character abilities, and equipment that will remind you of Arkham Horror.

IMG_7146Like Arkham Horror, you explore some boards (actually, that’s probably more like Mansions of Madness, but the exploration elements are in both): see above.  As you explore, you read entries out of the Storybook and make decisions (like most Storybook games), reminiscent of Choose Your own Adventure games.

You and your fellow players explore!  Each game, the ‘goal’ of the game is different, depending on where you are in the story.  Players explore, read storybook entries, perform skill checks/combat, and generally try to solve some mystery in the game!

First Game and Solo Rules

That first game took a while to set-up.  I suggest you set aside some time to punch everything out and try to absorb the rulebook (like I said, it’s a Kickstarter rulebook so it needs some love).  I needed one night to get everything unpunched and set-up before I started my first the next day. 

Does this game follow Saunders’ Law?  Yes! I played my first game as Peter Spencer (the founder of the Pizza and Investigation Club).  Although the game prefers multiple people, the storybook seems to always keep in mind solo play.  For example, at one point, I was being attacked by something and “all other players” were supposed to help me, but since I was the only character, there was a special rule for the solo player.

I played through my first game in about an hour.  I saw a lot of the mechanics, and I believe I can teach this game now.

Fusion

So, remember earlier when I said this game was weird? There’s this thing called Fusion in the game that’s … weird. It will probably either entice or disenchant you immediately. When the word Fusion comes up in the Storybook, you immediately start the timer and have to do something IN THE REAL WORLD IN REAL TIME. For example, to get a box out of a fountain, I had to take off my shoes and socks IN THE REAL WORLD AT MY GAME TABLE. If I failed this activity, I would lose some health or something like that.

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Why is there a spoon in the picture above? Because the Fusion system demanded I go get one (corresponding to a challenge in the game).

Thematically, the Fusion system is described as “Your current life affecting your teen life in the 80s! It’s a feedback loop!” This game is definitely marketed towards people who grew up in the 80s, so it’s definitely hitting that market. Mechanically, this Fusion system is both engaging and disengaging at the same time: You are literally engaged doing something weird at Fusion events (like getting a spoon or taking off your shoes), but it also “takes you out of the game” as you were concentrating on these 80s kids, and all of a sudden you are doing something weird!


When I was explaining this game to my friend, he was very excited!

  • It’s like Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition?  Check!
  • It like Stranger Things?  Check!
  • It’s a Storybook game?  Check!
  • It has weird skill checks like Qelf or the Mad Magazine Game?  Wait … what?

As soon as I explained the Fusion system, my friend CC got a funny look on his face, “Wait, what?” This Fusion thing may completely disenchant a lot of people. I am keeping an open mind for further plays, as I think it may have the potential to do some really neat things in the game! The rulebook alludes to taking you to some cool web sites, or exploring some history on the web (ala Detective by Portal Games), but it’s really unclear how this will play out. So far, it’s been … underwhelming. But I am keeping an open mind.

Interesting Ideas In Cooperative Games

There several other things that Tales of Evil did to try to make the game explore different cooperative mechanics.  I am not sure what I think of these, but they are original ideas.

  1. Matches:  If someone has to be picked to do something, the game forces you to use “Who Drew the shortest Match?” game from when you were a kid. IMG_7147
    You literally put all the matches in someone’s hand (so they look like they are the same height) and everyone draws a match.  Whoever draws the shortest match has to “do the yucky thing”. 
  2. Group Decisions: Rather than doing “big long discussions” when there are options in the game, the game requires that the players all say their choice at the same time and you simply immediately use the majority (with the current player breaking ties).  I think the reason for this is to keep game play moving and avoid “analysis paralysis” when players disagree.

I don’t know if I like these mechanisms, but they definitely feel like the kind of things kids would do. 

Conclusion

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So, this game is a wild ride. I think you might know right away if you’ll hate it or love it. The components are great and the theme is very well-executed. The Fusion system (with real-time real-world events) is weird. The choosing matches idea is interesting and thematic, but I worry it will take away from cooperation in the game. The quick choice mechanism promises quicker game play, but it may trivialize some choices.

I don’t know what my pronouncement of this game is yet. I am keeping an open mind, but I really need to play it with more people. Like most storybook games, I think this game will be MUCH better with more people participating.

There’s some really interesting ideas in here! I am hopeful this go over well with my group. Be on the lookout for Part II of this review …

A Review of Master Word: A Cooperative Party Word Game

Master Word is a cooperative party word game that just got released here in the USA about Mid-November 2020 (I know this because this game was holding up my order).

This is guessing game in the vein of Master Mind (an abstract deduction game) but using words instead. I described it to my friends as Master Mind meets Just One meets Codenames. It has the cooperative nature of Just One, with deduction elements of Master Mind, and word connotations like Codenames. To be clear, this is a cooperative party game: you need 3-6 people to play.

Unboxing

Master Word doesn’t have too many components. It has a rulebook, a bunch of “thumbs up” token, some cards YOU CAN WRITE ON, some dry-erase pens and 300 Play cards.

This is a word game: during a turn, each player (except the Guide) will write a word/idea on one of the cards. Master Word even includes a weird felt eraser so can erase your cards without needing Kleenex! But seriously, you need Kleenex to clean the cards. The felt works fine, but I worry about it getting “full”.

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You can see most of the components above. But the main action happens on the little clue cards (far right box).

Rulebook

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The rulebook is more like a three-folded pamphlet. To be fair, there aren’t a lot of rules to the game.

Not much to say: the rulebook is readable, has some good examples, and presents the game pretty well. It’s pretty good if not great.

Gameplay

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This game is all about getting everybody to work together to guess a word: it’s a fully cooperative game!!! One player is trying to help everybody else guess the word. The game starts with the group choosing one player to be the “Guide” (or Clue-giver): The Guide takes a word card (from the box of 300) and shows everyone THE CLUE only: In the example above, the CLUE is Animal, and the Word is COW: he keeps COW hidden.

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The rest of the players (called Seekers) talk and cooperate trying to come up with words to help “narrow” the clue. Each Seeker then each write a word (or an idea, like “greater than 100”) on a card across a row. In the first round above, you see a 4-Player game (1 Guide, 3 seekers), so you see three guesses.

Once the Seekers have written their words, the Guide is allowed to give a thumbs-up for every seeker. If the written word “implies” or “narrows” to the final word, they get a thumbs-up! In the example, the players get one thumb-up, because a Cow is “obviously” found on a Farm! Note some of the imprecision here: A lot of Zoos have cows, but some people think of cows only being on a Farm. It’s up to the Guide to make the call to help his fellow players: The Guide’s job is to do the best he can to help his fellow players! Even if Zoo might get a thumb-up, the Guide thinks this will confuse his group in this instance! (Note that The Guide can hear all the deliberations of the group, so he has a sense of what they are thinking)

Note that the players DO NOT KNOW which card the thumbs-up applies to!!! (I made this mistake the first time I played). That’s why the thumbs are placed to the right of the row instead of on any of the cards. You just know one card got a thumbs-up, not which card.

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In the second round, players get two thumbs-Up, because a Cow is in a Barn and is typically outside. Again, the players still don’t know exactly which cards the thumbs-up refer to.

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Above is a final game. The Seekers have successfully guessed COW and gotten the BIG THUMBS-UP!!! There’s two other things to note here:

(1) First, you’ll notice that a thumbs-up in ON the MOOS card. The Guide has a special power: exactly one time during the game, the Guide can move one of the thumbs-up to a specific card to emphasize a clue. In this case, the Seeker emphasizes MOOS to try to give the Seekers a big hint.
(2) Secondly, once Seekers are ready to guess the final word, the guess HAS to go on a RED CARD. If the Seekers had written COW on a white card THEY IMMEDIATELY LOSE!!!! This forces the be orderly in their search.

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Um, there are no solo rules. Even trying to apply the Changing Perspectives idea, you can’t really play this game alone. For 4-6 players, the game is simple: one player is the Guide and the rest are Seekers (each Seeker getting one card per round). Officially, for a 3-Player game, the Seekers get two cards per round (so 4 guesses per round). There’s no official 2-Player rules, but this same idea could work: One player plays the Guide and the other player plays a Seeker with three guesses per round.

The official player count is 3-6. I think this is accurate. We played a 7-Player game and it almost worked. The problem with too many Seekers is that there are too many people talking at the same time trying to discuss words, and they start stepping on each other. You could get away with a 2-Player or a 7-Player game, but the game works best with 3 to 6 players.

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So, this game works great. I have probably played 10 games of this over the last week since I got it! There’s only one thing we “changed” to make the game more fun. By default, the Seekers only have 90 seconds to make theirs guesses!!! We hated this, so we just got rid of this rule. We just took all the time we wanted. Getting rid of the time limit made the game longer (it’s supposed to be 15 minutes, but our games tended to be 25 minutes), but who cares? It made the game more fun!

And here’s the thing: Master Word works great in person (see above for a 4-Player game) or online over the Internet!!! In fact, 8 of the 10 games I played were over the Internet over Discord. This game would easily make our Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online! How do you play online?

  1. Get Online using something with Audio, a Camera and a Chat l(ike Discord or Zoom)
  2. The owner of the game takes a CLUE/FINAL WORD out of the box and (without looking) shows it on the screen.  While everyone else closes their eyes, the Guide looks at the CLUE and FINAL WORD.  The Guide then says the CLUE out loud.
  3. Players discuss online over Audio. They come up with their guesses (like normal)
  4. In the chat, one Seeker writes all the guesses: (Farm, Jungle, Zoo)
  5. In the chat, the Guide puts out the thumbs-up (either the Icon or a number indicating how many thumbs-up): (1)
  6. Play continues for 7 rounds!  If the Seeker players need to emphasize a word is a guess, they can put a * next to it: *COW
  7. At any point, the Guide can write in the chat to use his one time power to emphasize a guess. (“Hey Guys, MOO”)

Online, this has been a hit!  It’s become our go-to online game after Just One!

Issues

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Although we really like this game, you sometimes have to go through contortions to make sure the thumbs-up clues make sense.  For example, we ended up in 3-Seeker game always giving exactly three words with one always repeated!  For example, if we give (FARM, FARM, JUNGLE) then the number of thumbs-up is telling.

  • 0 Thumbs-up: it’s not FARM or JUNGLE
  • 1 Thumbs-up: It has to be JUNGLE
  • 2 Thumbs-up: It has to be FARM
  • 3 Thumbs-up: It’s both FARM and JUNGLE

So, we had to “be clever” when we came up with our guesses, sometimes giving mutually exclusive guesses on different axes (MALE, MALE, FARM):

  • 0 Thumbs-up: Female, not a farm
  • 1 Thumbs-up: Female, a farm
  • 2 Thumbs-up: Male, not a farm
  • 3 Thumbs-up: Male, a farm

So, we end up with some interesting conversations trying to come up with the right way to form our clues to get the most information.  This was clever, but sometimes excluded other people from the conversation.

The game sometimes feels a little convoluted, when maybe something simpler could have worked: 

  • Like a FAMILY MODE: Perhaps you always get 3 guesses (regardless of player count) and you put thumbs-up ON the proper card instead of not knowing which card.  This method would eliminate the need to worry about set-theory and mutual exclusion.

Normal mode allows you opportunities to be clever, which we loved. Something like FAMILY MODE would make this game more accessible to everyone.


Conclusion

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Overall, this is a good cooperative party game: gameplay fosters interactive discussions and working together. The Seekers do most of the work, and sometimes you feel like you don’t get to do much as the Guide. But, sometimes it’s nice to be in the mellow position of being the Guide (compared to Codenames where the Clue-Giver position can be very frustrating).

The fact that this game works so well online is a major point in its favor!! Although my online groups prefer the simplicity of Just One online, Master Word has become a new online favorite to play on Discord.

This is a good cooperative party word game in person, but exceptional in that you can play online very easily.

A Review of Mint Cooperative: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

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Mint Cooperative is a tiny little cooperative game that was on Kickstarter in about Sept. 2019 (about a year ago at the time of this posting). My friend Sam had backed both Mint Works (a tiny worker placement game) and Mint Delivery (a tiny pickup and deliver game) and both had been decent. Mint Cooperative is in the same line of little mint boxes containing little games. The cooperative superhero theme also appealed to me (as long time readers of my blog know, per my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card Games). So, I went ahead and backed it. $10! Plus 5$ shipping!

The back of the tin shows what this game is: a light (15-30 minutes) cooperative game for 1-4 players with a superhero/cavity fighting theme.

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Mint Cooperative is the size of a larger mint tin: it arrived in a little plastic wrapper with a little Kickstarter extra (2 cards: additional Villain and Stunt).

Unboxing

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This game packs quite a lot of stuff into this little tin. Some dice, a bunch of small cards, a bunch of bigger cards, a bunch of tokens, and SOMEHOW they put a rulebook in.

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The cards are of decent quality (they appear linen-finished) and you can read them pretty well. I have to admit, I was surprised by this: I thought I’d have to get my glasses, but in general, I didn’t need them. Above are all the little cards:

  • The Hero Cards: Each player takes the role of a Superhero and gets a special ability (variable player powers)
  • The Trouble Cards: These are the “Bad News” or “Event” cards you see in a lot of cooperative games that cause bad stuff to happen to the heroes.
  • The Stunt Cards: Each player gets a one-shot stunt that can do something good for the players

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The rest of the cards are larger (about the size of two smaller cards) and are:

  • City Locations: The colored cards (red, blue, purple, brown, orange, grey, green) that correspond to city locations to protect. 
  • Villain Cards: The brownish cards are the Super Villain the Heroes fight
  • Extra:  A “terror” track (called the Regional Panic card, see below), reminder card (see below), “we won/we lost” card (for posting on Social Media)

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We also get 4 tiny dice which are surprisingly readable (see above next to the reminder card).

And of course, Mints! Well, wooden disks that looks a loooooot like Red and White Mints. But don’t eat them!

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But the coolest pieces in the game: the little hero meeples. These are LITTLE meeples! I put a #2 pencil next to them to try to show scale, but considering how small these little meeples are, there is a surprising amount of detail on them! They are probably my favorite component in the game. If nothing else in the game says “This is a Superhero game”, these little meeples do!

Rulebook

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The rulebook …. fits in the tin. Barely. So that it fits, it’s a pamphlet that’s been folded many times. See above how it comes out of the tin!

It doesn’t quite flatten out very well, but it is pretty readable. The text doesn’t seem too small.

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There’s a components section: this REALLY needs some icons or pictures here! It would just help a little.

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The set-up chart is good and readable, but they really needed a numbered legend for each step: the actual set-up rules are numbered, but what do they correspond to on the picture?

In general, the rulebook is … ok. I read it and was able to learn the game. I was pleasantly surprised that I could read the text! I was expecting tiny, tiny, text, but it was readable without glasses or magnifying glasses. So kudos to that!

.. but, there were a number of things missing from the rulebook that I think should have been there. For example: Where is Weakness on the Villain Card? (Turns out the Villain cards are double-sided, and I think it’s on the back bottom). I do prefer the text based systems (like Mint Cooperative uses) instead of Icons most of the time, but there were a bunch of cards that weren’t labelled: What is Regional Panic? (It was labelled in the set-up, but it really should have been ON THE CARD) What are the Heroic Actions? After playing the game, you figure it out, but it kinda makes you grumpy. An Icon or a Label would have gone a looong way. Again, if the set-up picture had been NUMBERED, I could have correlated the pieces in the set-up a little easier.

The rulebook was good enough, but I feel like it reallllly needed another pass to help correlate pieces in the game. Eh, I learned it.

Gameplay

So, this is actually kind of a cooperative dice placement game. The players roll the 4 six sided dice and choose which three they will want to play. You either play a dice on a Stunt (one-time, see below) or the activity listed on the reminder card.

The little reminder sheet next to the sheet reminds players what the dice can do. You can use the dice for what’s listed, or potential use a stunt:

So, the players talk and decide who wants to use which dice. When the third die is used (the fourth goes unused), the dice get rolled again, unused stunts are discarded (stunts reset every turn), and play continues.

Basically the actions are:

  • Mint: place a mint on a city (to “freshen it up”)
  • Fly: Move to any city Location
  • Move: Move to an adjacent city
  • Heroic Action: use the player’s special action
  • Reduce Panic: Reduce the panic on the Regional Panic chart
  • Invoke Villain’s Weakness: Invoke weakness (I think on the back of the villain card).

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To win the game, you need to survive until the three Mayhem cards (see above) have been revealed (from the Trouble deck) and you have survived.   You lose if Regional Panic makes it all the way to the top!! So, on your turn, you fly around the city and keep the city “fresh” (by putting mints on City Locations) to keep the city’s “terror?” “cavity?” markers covered. See below:

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The Regional Panic will go up based on the number of yield signs showing.

The Trouble cards are what cause the city to become less “fresh”:

The Trouble card above tells you to take 2 mints off of each city Location listed to the left. (If there are no mints, take as many as you can). For each city, if doing this reveals any yield signs (“terror?” “cavity?”), then the Regional Panic goes up by that amount. (For the record, I hate the term Regional Panic: it sounds each region or city Location has its own panic level!!! That chart should have just been called “Panic Level” or “Terror Level” or more thematically, “Halitosis Level” or “Bad Breath Level”!)

Trouble

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The mechanism for placing Trouble cards is different and interesting. At the start of the turn, when you roll the dice, the number of doubles/triples rolled determines how many Trouble cards you draw! This is mitigated by some rules, but in general, you can draw 0, 1 or 2 Trouble cards. In my games, I saw almost 2 cards every time. This is a Catch-22: you DO NOT want Trouble, as it causes Regional Panic to go up … BUT the Mayhem cards are sprinkled in the Trouble deck (a la Pandemic) so you want the Trouble cards to come out to get to the Mayhem cards! You can only win if you get through all three Mayhem cards!

This mechanism is interesting because it’s self-balancing. You always roll 4 dice, do Trouble, take 3 actions (no matter the number of players), then start over. It’s simple, balancing, and easy to explain (although some of the double rules are weird).

Solo Play

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See above for a solo set-up!

The game works fine solo. There are special (but simple) rules for playing Solo: basically, you play as three characters in the game.

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The game flows decently well solo, but you do have to keep track of 3 different powers for three different characters. It took about 40 minutes for my first play: I could see it taking 15-30 minutes on subsequent plays.

This solo mode is a good way to learn the game, so thank you Mint Cooperative for adhering to Saunders’ Law and having a viable solo mode!

Value

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So, this game reminded meet (in terms of scale) to Solar Storm.  We reviewed Solar Storm back here, and we liked Solar Storm as a light cooperative game.  These two games are kind of the same ilk: small, quick cooperative games. 

  • Solar Storm: $18.99 at Miniature Market
  • Mint Cooperative: $10 (Kickstarter, +$5 shipping)

From a price perspective, they are similar. Solar Storm is about 3x bigger and maybe 1.5x more expensive.  Mint Cooperative is small and can fit in your pocket: Solar Storm can’t.   Unfortunately, in order to fit in my pocket, I needed a rubber band: the mint package was falling open.

Conclusion

Like Mint Works and Mint Delivery, Mint Cooperative was decent. I liked it okay, but I didn’t love it. I didn’t think the theme really came out (so I very much doubt it would make my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card Games), so that was a little bit of a disappointment. Honestly, the most thematic part of the games was the little superhero meeples: I Loved those!

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If you asked me to play this game with you, I’d happily play it with you. It was fun enough. If you asked me to recommend a light cooperative game, I’d probably recommend Solar Storm first: I think Solar Storm is a more thematic and fun light cooperative game.

Having said that, if this looks even a little interesting to you, pick it up! It’s only $10! The game was good enough and you’ll have some fun playing it. For $10, I can plop it into my pocket and play it with you. And we’ll have a good time, if not amazing.

P.S. It is a small game, but it does take up some space on the table! I wouldn’t recommend it in too small of a space … a airplane tray table is probably too small …

Review of the Detective: Smoke and Mirrors (Cooperative Mode Only)

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Detective: City of Angels is a cooperative crime-solving game in a Noir setting. We have previously reviewed it here and it made the top spot on both of our Top 10 Storybook/Storytelling Games and Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019! It’s safe to say that me and my group have really enjoyed the Detective: City of Angels universe!

We need to be clear on the game we are discussing here: Detective: City of Angels is a very different game from Detective and Detective: Season One. Those games are from Portal games and involve extensive use of the internet. THESE ARE NOT THE GAMES WE ARE REFERRING TO. Detective: City of Angels, and its expansions Bullets over Hollywood and Smoke and Mirrors (which we are discussing here) are self-contained games from Van Ryder. (The other Detective series is from Portal).

My group played the Portal games Detective and thought it was interesting, but it felt too much like work (as we were constantly going to the internet). The Van Ryder Detective: City of Angels game, on the other hand, was fun and self-contained noir detective stories that we had a blast playing. So, how is this new expansion?

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To be clear, in order to play the expansion Detective: Smoke and Mirrors, you need the base game (see picture above).  My copy arrived a few weeks ago (November 2020). I had Kickstarted the original game and loved it, so it was a no-brainer to Kickstart the expansion Detective: Smoke and Mirrors.  Note that I also get a new set of notepads with the expansion (they are dedicated notepads to writing down clues in the game).

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The expansion includes 4 new cases for you and your friends to solve. So, the expansion replaces the casebooks and Chisel book from the original game with new books!

The gamebox also contains the 4 boxes with the new cases.

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There’s a ton of space on the left hand side of the box to put other expansions that may come out in the future. The way the other cards were packaged in the box was a little weird. They didn’t quite fit (see picture above) as they protruded a little. I think the idea is that you will fold them into the base box, but considering how much space is wasted for the expansion, this seemed like this could have gone wrong and folded the cards. Luckily there were ok, but I wonder if other people will have problems with the way some of the cards are packed.

Another weird decision: they added a purple character. This is NOT a 5-player expansion, this is just in case you want a different color! Even then, the purple components didn’t quite match each other (see picture above) . It was a very unnecessary cosmetic piece to the expansion, BUT Sara really wanted the purple player so I guess it worked.

The Vincent Dutraite art is fantastic (see above) and consistent with the original game. Both the art and graphic design continues the tradition of the original game: It looks great.

Rulebook

There’s not really a new rulebook, just a pamphlet to expand on the ideas in the game. Really, the only change in the game is that some of the mysteries have different solve condition. In the original game, you always had to find weapon, motive, and suspect. In the new game, there are other twists (multiple murders, etc)!! Honestly, this is an expansion in the truest sense: Smoke and Mirrors really just adds NEW CONTENT: 4 New Cases to expand the original game.

Set-Up

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Set-up isn’t too bad.  You need just a few things from the original game: the board, the detectives, the notepads, and that’s about it.  Almost everything else comes from the expansion, so it’s pretty easy to set-up and play this expansion.  Although I loved the expansion Hero Realms: The Lost Village (the cooperative expansion for Hero Realms which I reviewed here), The Lost Village was very painful to set-up and get going.  Luckily, Detective: Smoke and Mirrors, did not have this problem.  Were were up and going pretty quickly, and it was easy to keep the base game and expansion content separate.

Cooperative Play

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To be clear: we are ONLY reviewing the cooperative play mode of the expansion. Recall that the default way to play Detective: City of Angels is one vs. many, which my playgroup typically does NOT enjoy: Cooperative mode is simply another (included) way to play. We prefer the idea of working together to solve the mystery rather than having one of our friends be an adversary. BUT, if you enjoy that adversarial mode, this expansion still has the Chisel book for that play style.

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Recall that you still want to Chisel book at the end of the cooperative mystery, as it gives a nice narrative of how the crime happened.

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So, how does the game play? It’s really more of the same IN A GOOD WAY. It’s like a new season of your favorite detective show: just more cases. There are some new wrinkles to keep it fresh: we ended up have new expanded locations we could explore in a more interesting way: No spoilers, but one new location was a 2×2 grid you could move around and search. There was also new “crimes” and new things you had to figure out. take a look at the picture above! These are new crime note sheets that augment the original note sheets. Each mystery has a “different” set of things you have to figure out.

There were a few missteps that threw us: we added new cards across the top row THAT REPLACED OLD ONES, which meant you had to be aware when they changed so you could do a DIFFERENT lookup.

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See the lookup grid for Myst 8 and Myst 11 for Carnival of Souls? Those Myst. 8 and 11 cards REPLACE other cards in the A-L row, so if you aren’t paying attention you might accidentally go to the wrong space on the grid after those cards come out! The directions said NOTHING about this. If I hadn’t noticed it, I think we would have lost our first game and been very annoyed.

BUT that was the only thing that really got in the way.

Solo Play

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This game follow Saunders’ Law: there is a viable solo mode. To play solo,  you just have one detective on the board.  It works fine (and that’s the way I played some cases of the original game), but I do think it works better with multiple people: ideas get thrown around quicker, and yhhhou have a better chance of solving the case.   It’s also better to explore the board with multiple people, as it’s easier to have one detective concentrate on the city, and other detectives concentrate on some of the new expanded locations.   But, you shouldn’t have any problem playing solo: It still works fine just like the original game.

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In general, we loved Detective: Smoke and Mirrors as much as the original game. It’s a true expansion: it just gives you more content (4 new cases) with some very minor tweaking. It was easy to set-up and play the new cases from the expansion: sometimes expansions require quite a bit of work, juggling to get content from the original game and the expansion to work together, but that was not the case here.

There were some minor weird things (some new cards were packed oddly, some new content was easy to misuse, and added a purple player for little reason), but in general this is a great expansion. If you love Detective: City of Angels and you want more cases, this is right up your alley.

A Review of Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse

Last week (right at Halloween), we came out with our Top 10 Creepy/Spooky Cooperative Games! We put Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse in there as an Honorable Mention because we haven’t gotten through it. Well, today, we’re going to take a full look at this Escape Room game. Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse is a cooperative escape room type game for 1-4 players (more could play, but 4 seemed liked a good limit). It takes 2-3 hours to play all the way through (we took 3 hours). You can stop at about 3 or 4 points in the game (so as to resume later) but we played all the way through in one night.

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So, we should have waited a week before we came out with our Top 10 Creepy/Spooky Cooperative Games list! (I guess we didn’t have a choice: it was Halloween!) This game was AMAZING! I was worried (from some reviews I’ve read) that this game wasn’t going to be very good: Tom Vasel gave it a lukewarm review, and Eric Summerer gave it a slightly better review. Historically, I tend to agree with them, but they weren’t right on this. This game was fun, thematic, cool, interactive, and one of the best Escape Rooms board games I’ve ever played!!! This might have made the #1 spot on last week’s list!

The Dollhouse

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So, let’s start with the Dollhouse! This is one of the coolest components I’ve ever seen in a boardgame. It takes a little bit to get set-up (see above), but once it’s set-up, it just screams theme. Don’t look toooo long at the above dollhouse. Partly because it’ll give away some puzzles, and partly because it’s creepy!!

The set-up is fairly straight-forward (see instruction from above): I want to say it took us about 20 minutes to set-up.

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Opening the box, you can see all sorts of stuff.

The heart of the game is a code wheel, which we have seen in a lot of EXIT Escape room games.

Even more clever, they put a “lock” on the wheel, so you can’t accidentally see too much as you are rotating the dials.

The Rulebook

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The rulebook is good and we got going quickly (after building the dollhouse).

The rulebook also doubles as the storybook: as you are solving “rooms”, you get more of the story. This is NOT just flavor text!!! Well, some of it is, but there are also hints to puzzles buried in the story as well. You HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE STORY, or you might miss some important clues! I loved the story in Aeon’s End: The Outcasts (and was kind of reminded of that here, only in terms of presentation), but that story didn’t have anything Aeon’s End needed to really play the game. Not so here! You absolutely need to pay attention … and that’s why this game sings. In this case, it talks creepily as dolls …

The Story

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The story .. without giving away too much: you are stuck in a dollhouse and have to get out! The story is interesting and creepy. As you read from the storybook, you speak in creepy voices. Or at least we did. I suspect you will too! We went through the entire game in one night: it took 3 hours to play through the entire story! We never wanted to stop … this story was interesting and immersive!

Cooperation

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One of the reasons The Cursed Dollhouse worked so well: it encouraged cooperation on many levels (pun intended).  For one, every “room” of the dollhouse you are in has 3-4 puzzles people can work on concurrently.   People tend to gravitate towards some puzzles, and sometimes two or three people are working on one puzzle while another person worked (independently) on a different puzzle.  During the entire game, we probably formed all 4 combinations of people working together!  Sometimes, you’d run out of ideas and throw it to another group, sometimes you’d stubbornly sit on the puzzle until you solved it, sometimes you’d ask for help. 

My friend Junkerman tends to dislike Escape Room games because “the single puzzle” gets sized by one subgroup and the other subgroups have nothing to do.  That didn’t happen to us in The Cursed Dollhouse! 90% of the time, everyone was working on SOMETHING, either by themselves or with another person(s). Having 3-4 puzzles per room really helped foster the cooperation. 

I am sure this would work fine as a solo game, but my group experience makes me think that this would be SO MUCH MORE enjoyable with a group (as different ideas flow much more easily between people).

Small Dollhouse

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One of Tom’s complaints from his review was that “no more than 2 people could look at the Dollhouse at a time”.  This is fair, to a certain extent. All the action is at the Dollhouse, and everyone wants to crowd around.  I mentioned this to my group before we started our play, but we simply worked around it: it was never a problem for us.  This is probably because we knew it MIGHT be a problem, so we simply worked together (cooperated) to fix it!  In the end, we did two things to mitigate this problem:

  1. We moved around a lot.  We would frequently swap chairs with people, partly so some of us could examine the Dollhouse, partly so we could move around in groups and solve puzzles.
  2. We used our phones to take pictures.  Most people (at least in my group) have a smartphone, and we’d occasionally take a picture of the room we were in, so we could ZOOOM in it with our phones/camera apps.  This allowed us to “look” at the Dollhouse (and ZOOM which was important a few times) without having to crowd.

Forewarned is forearmed: As long as you know that crowding in front of the Dollhouse MIGHT be an issue, you can work together to alleviate said issue.  So, just be aware it might be a problem!

Puzzles and Solutions

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Like all Escape Rooms (both board games and real Escape Rooms), there are puzzles to solve.  You will need pen and paper (see above).  Now,  we got every problem in the game without any hints!  (I think we brute forced one).  BUT part of this was because the Hint System is on a web site instead of cards/booklets in the game!!! I actually think this separation actually encouraged us to work harder at the puzzles.   The EXIT games have a great hint system in cards, but these hint cards are sitting next to you … so easy to pick up if you are having a problem … “Come, pick up the hint, don’t get stuck …” (said in a creepy doll voice).   So, we worked diligently on all the puzzles, and solved them all!    But, be aware, these puzzles are NOT SIMPLE : This is a fairly hard Escape Room game!    As much as I enjoyed it, I would definitely only recommend playing this after you have played a number of other Escape Room games.

Oh ya, the hint web site only worked on Android and not IOS for us.  It was probably because my IOS phone is so old, but it was weird that the web site was so tricky it only worked on Android.  Caveat Emptor. 

Resetting

Once you have played through the game, you have seen everything.  You are done with it (unless you want to wait a few years and replay it after you have forgotten everything).  So, you may want to pass it on to some friends.  Now, the game CAN be reset, but it is a little bit of a pain.  The web site (the same place where the hint system is) gives you directions how to do put everything back together.  It wasn’t HARD to reset it: it took us about 15-20 minutes to put it back together.  To be fair, once you’ve played the pristine originally version, the “hey-we-reset-the-game” version isn’t quite as nice: we used tape in a lot of places to hold things together, where the original game used some sticky stuff that worked a much better.

You can reset the game, it doesn’t take too long, but it won’t be quite as nice as the very first play.  It’ll be good enough.

Conclusion

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By the time we were done, we loved this Escape Room. The highest praise was echoed by a number of players: “This game feels more like a real Escape Room more than any other Escape Room board game I have played!” High praise Indeed! This was a great experience.

To be clear, the puzzles in the game were hard. I think part of the reason we enjoyed the game so much was we solved every puzzle without hints! There was a sense of satisfaction in knowing our group was able to overcome these harder puzzles. That may be why enjoyed the game so much! A sense of satisfaction! This also means we can only recommend it to seasoned players of Escape Room games.

The Cursed Dollhouse was unfortunately the most expensive Escape Room in a box we’ve played as well: we bought it on Amazon for like $45. So, after resetting it (after playing through), you may consider passing it onto a friend to get more value from it.

For player count, I definitely recommend it with more people! Solo would probably work okay, but the puzzles are hard, so the more brains the better! With a higher player count, it’s a little cramped to see the entire dollhouse with 4 people, but you can use your phone and take a few pictures, thus alleviating some of the cramping.

If you like the idea of The Cursed Dollhouse, and you want a creepy Escape Room game, and you feel like you can handle more complex puzzles, this is the one to get!!! This is one of the best experiences we’ve had with an Escape Room game. We loved the story, we loved the immersion, we loved the dollhouse, we loved the way the puzzles were presented, we loved how we could all work together concurrently on different puzzles, we loved that the puzzles challenged us: 9/10

Top 10 Creepy/Spooky Cooperative Games

Happy Halloween Everybody! In honor of this creepy and spooky holiday, we thought we’d emphasize the Top 10 cooperative games that are creepy and/or spooky. Now, some cooperative games are very thematic and spooky, but but necessarily creepy! And being a creepy game doesn’t necessarily mean a game is thematic! So, our metric for rating the games is an amalgam of “thematic”, “creepy”, “spooky” scores, as well as how much I like it. For instance, the game I like to play the most is not the number 1 game on the list because it’s not quite as creepy as other games on here! The number 1 games was the one I enjoyed the most and probably the creepiest!

Honorable Mention

Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse

Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse, ThinkFun, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

We haven’t gotten through this yet, but it looks so cool!  The game transforms into a 3D dollhouse and looks really cool!  Early reviews are that it’s hard and doesn’t accommodate more than 2 players very well, but it just looks so cool.  We’ll probably be reviewing this on the site soon!

10. Horrified

The front cover of Horrified: Universal Monsters.

A lot of people really like this cooperative, mass-market game (I got my copy at Target). The players work together to defeat the Universal movies “old-style” monsters (The Mummy, Dracula, see the cover above!) as you go on in game quests (with a little pick-up-and-deliver). It’s not particularly creepy or spooky but it is very thematic, and works well with families and younger players.

Game Setup

9. Ghost Stories

Cover Front (Publisher's Press Image)

This is a very hard cooperative “puzzle” game for 1-4 players.   Players cooperatively are defending a small village from being decimated by ghosts (with a big bad that comes out at the end).  The art of the ghosts is quite creepy and really evokes a scary ethic.

Ghost

This is a really hard cooperative game, and maybe very hard to find (I think it’s out of print). It has been been replaced by The Last Bastion (a retheming of the game to fantasy setting). If you can find the original, pick that up instead.

Game components (Publisher's Press Image)

8. Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters

Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters, Mattel, 2016 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

This is a light cooperative game set in a haunted house: it’s mostly aimed at a younger audience, so it’s not too scary.   It’s like a lighter “pandemic” style cooperative game as players race around the board defeating ghosts and picking up loot.  The components are pretty fantastic (the plastic ghosts are fun to play with by themselves) and the game is very thematic and fun ! It has just a hint of creepiness/spookiness…

Playing Geister with my iOS/Android app to draw cards, roll die and set time limit.

7. Mysterium

Mysterium, Libellud, 2015 (image provided by the publisher)

Mysterium is a an odd fully cooperative game where one player plays a ghost, trying to get all the other players to discover how he was killed!  The ghost can only communicate in dreams (little scenes that he give to each player). 

The mediums have identified the proper suspect @ Spiel in Essen 2015

The backdrop for the game is a creepy haunted mansion, and the dream cards (see above) are always creepy and weird.   The game can be a tad frustrating if the players don’t “get” the ghost is trying to say, but the game is definitely evocative, thematic and very creepy!

2 player game in progress

6. Scooby Doo: Escape From The Haunted Mansion

Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion – A Coded Chronicles Game, The OP, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

This is a one-shot escape room game, where the players cooperatively control the Scooby Gang, trying to solve a mystery!  This one makes it very high on the list because it was so much fun to play!   It’s definitely an escape room game that families can play (unlike others we might see later), as it’s fairly light, but it still has an interesting mystery to solve.  If you loved the Scooby Doo cartoon show, and the “creepy” vibe of that, you’ll love Scooby Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion.  (Again, this one makes it so high because the gameplay was so fun, even if isn’t as creepy as other games on the list).

components

5. Mythos Tales

Second Printing Box Cover

This game creates a incredibly rich, creepy story in an Cthulu-esque universe.   There are 8 episodes in the box, and once you’ve played through an episode, you are done (in more ways than one as the horrors and madness overtakes you!)  This game is all text-based, and you explore the city of Salem trying to discover the dark mysteries underneath.  If you have played Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, this is the same kind of game, set in a horror universe.  Very creepy and very evocative.

Stepping into Arkham for the first time...

4. Arkham Horror (Second Edition)

Arkham Horror, Fantasy Flight edition, revised printing (high quality box cover scan)

This is my favorite game to play, but it’s not the creepiest or most thematic of games.  The game is a deep, heavy, cooperative romp around the city of Arkham, as players work together to fight monsters and shut gates to stop the impending arrival of a Cthulu-esque old one.   I think my gaming group liked this so much because it was very akin to a role-playing game (with attributes, spells, items) without all the messy overhead of an RPG.  So, it’s a bit heavy for most people, but the thematic art and text permeates the game and creates a nice, creepy experience.

Arkham Horror with all its expansions

3. Mansion of Madness (Second Edition)

Mansions of Madness: Second Edition, Fantasy Flight Games, 2016 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

To be clear, I hate the First Edition of the game (where one player plays against all the other players): you want the Second Edition which is fully cooperative.  The Second Edition uses an app to “run” the game and it turns the Mansions of Madness against you!  This is a big sprawling game set in a Cthulu-esque universe.  It’s interesting because you don’t actually know what your objective is at the start of the game, you sort of have to discover what you and your teammates have to do as you.  It’s incredibly thematic, very creepy, and very long…. it may take you a half hour to set-up, 2 hours to play, and another half hour to tear-down, but it creates a very satisfying creepy experience.

General look

 

2. Exit: The Haunted Rollercoaster

Exit: The Game – The Haunted Roller Coaster, KOSMOS, 2019 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

This one surprised me a little: it was one of the funnest escape rooms I’ve ever played! It was creepy, and it had (without any spoilers) one of the scariest moments I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s a lighter cooperative escape room (rated Novice), but all of my group liked it! It is an EXIT game, so it can only be played once (as you tear up cards, and rip things), but it really is worthwhile as a creepy, cooperative game. (I don’t want to show too much more of the game! I don’t want to reveal any surprises!

1. Exit: The Catacombs of Horror

Exit: The Game – The Catacombs of Horror, KOSMOS, 2019 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

This one surprised me. I really thought Exit: The Haunted Rollercoaster would make the number 1 position! Even though me and my group enjoyed playing the Haunted Rollercoaster more than The Catacombs of Horror, the overall experience of The Catacombs of Horror was just more creepy and thematic and cool! The Catacombs of Horror (expert level) was a lot harder than the Haunted Rollercoaster, and we got frustrated a number of times. Luckily, the hint system of the Exit games is quite good and we were able to continue in this creepy world.

Box front & back - German Edition

If you look closely at the warnings on the back of the box, it talks being careful with a candle. That’s right, there’s a candle in the box and you can have some downright creepy and thematic playing! Again, this one takes the number 1 spot because it was the creepiest game we’ve played!

A Review of The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game: Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

One of my favorite movie moments of all time is watching The Princess Bride at a midnight showing of the movie. The movie had been out for some time and had achieved “cult” status, so The Princess Bride made the midnight showings at many alternative theaters. My favorite moment? The entire audience (who has been quoting the movie all night) screaming at the top of their lungs, screaming The Cliffs Of Insanity!!!

Cooperative Board Game

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There have been a number of Princess Bride board games over the years, but I haven’t picked any of them up: partly because none of the have been cooperative, but also because none of them have been particularly good.  This newest one just came out fairly recently: today’s date is Oct 26th, 2020! The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game, to the best of my knowledge is only available at Target (I had to order it online after visiting 2 Targets looking for it).  It’ll probably be available at other outlets soon enough.

The game is for 1-4 adventurers, for ages 10+.  Keep an eye on that age, because that will influence how complex this game is (foreshadowing: it’s not particularly complex).

Unboxing

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The cover is gorgeous, with the game gilded with golden highlights.  I love the art: it isn’t cheesy, yet still captures the imagery from the movie without using stills!

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Opening up the box, you are presented with the rulebook and the Adventure Game book.

The Adventure book is a THICK cardboard book, but it’s hard to see from the picture above. See below for a picture from the side!

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Opening it up, you see scenes from The Princess Bride movie.

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The rulebook is fairly small, only 8 pages!

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We’ll take a further look inside the rulebook in a section below. In the meantime, we’ll look at the cards:

The cards are easy to read, and the art is nice, using the same stylized art from the box cover. The only problem is that the cards aren’t linen-finished. I guess that’s pretty standard for a mass-market game that you get at Target.

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The tokens that come are easy to read, and they come prepunched!! (I.e., no sheet to punch out). I wonder if this is a new direction in gaming?

The reference cards are nice (and I am very happy they have these):

But the best component we’ll save for last: The miniatures!

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I’m usually not a miniatures guy, but I liked these! (You know, if I say that many more times, I think maybe I am a miniatures guy. In the meantime, I will live in denial). The miniatures look like the characters, but the different colors really distinguish the characters.

Rulebook

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The rulebook is short and to the point. It’s only 8 pages!! The first page does it right and shows all the components.

The second page shows the (general) set-up: It turns out every scenario will have a slightly different set-up, but they all have the same general. It’s easy to read and easy to get going. I was up and going very quickly.

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The rules are explained pretty well. There is a fine point that the rules don’t explain well, but we’ll discuss that in the playthru.

In general, the rulebook was great. Concise (perhaps too concise) and nice graphic design.

Solo Play

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The game is fully cooperative. Interestingly, there are no exceptions for solo play. You might think that each player plays a character from the game, but you would be wrong! The players collectively play/move all the characters on the board. On a player’s turn, a player simply moves around one (or more) of the Princess Bride characters on the board—they go around the board using their cards to solve challenges.

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The challenges require characters to be on specific spaces and specific cards needed to be discarded. Note the colored symbols on the right of the challenges: they correspond to the cards the players obtain during the game.

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For example, the courage card (orange card at the top, and orange symbol) is one of the three cards needed for “Seek Fortune” challenge.

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The solo play doesn’t need any special rules because the players turns are fairly indistinct as there are no special player powers. We’ll talk more about this below. But, it works well. I had fun playing through the first scene of the movie. And it was about 15-20 minutes.

Set-Up

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Each Chapter in the game corresponds to a major scene from the movie. This is a campaign game (it’s not legacy: no stickers or torn-up cards). The set-up changes depending on which chapter you are on.  I have played a lot of campaign games (especially over the last few months), and this is one of the simpler ones: it was easy to set-up, even though each chapter is different.IMG_6885

Like most cooperative games, there is a “Bad News” deck (called the Plot deck) and the results of the plot deck are interpreted via the text on the left side of the board.  In the first Chapter, 1-15 puts chores on the board, and 16-20 moves Buttercup around.  Each Chapter will have a different effect from the Plot deck.

Issue

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So, one of the issues I had is something you will confront right away. The rules are “unclear” that you can solve multiple challenges per turn. After getting a few turns into the first Chapter, I realized it was absolutely necessary! The game is unsolvable unless you can solve multiple challenges on a turn!!! I wish that was clearer from the rules. A smart gaming group will figure that out quickly, but I am worried that a family group will simply think the game is unwinnable and poorly designed. So, as a public service, I offer this clarification: Players may solve multiple challenges per turn.

Audience

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So, remember the recommended ages we discussed earlier? 10+? This is a simpler co-op game. This is partly demonstrated because there are no special player powers: each player’s turn feels similar to the previous player’s turn: this makes it easy for kids and parents to just jump in. The game’s smaller rulebook (only 8 pages), the simpler set-up, the simple rules, all outline that this game is intended to be a simpler co-op. I think the intended audiences are families.

Having said that, I think older folks who enjoyed The Princess Bride will also enjoy the game: the components and art really evoke the ethos of the game. They just need to realize that this is a simpler co-op.

Conclusion

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I had fun playing this game, but I am one of the people who used to quote dialog of the movie at the midnight movie showing!! I think families are the intended audience: they will really enjoy the game. Each Chapter is only 15-20 minutes long, and the game is easy to set-up, teach, and play! Families could keep playing as long as the kids were interested (1 play at 15 minutes, 2 plays at 30 minutes, “time-for-bed, we’ll play tomorrow night?”).

I think that if you don’t know the movie, and if you aren’t really playing with a family or younger kids, this might be a pass for you. The turns of the players are very simple and very similar, but that means there’s not a lot to distinguish turns. This makes it easy for kids and easy to add a solo mode, but it also means it’s not a hard co-op.

In the end: I liked The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game, but I don’t love it. It’s a nice, simple co-op. I love the art and the ethos it evoked. The Adventure Book was gorgeous and maybe part of the reason I like this so much.

One last note: this is a campaign. Once you’ve played all 7 Chapters, you’ve seen everything. I can see playing all the way through a few times, but then getting sick of it. I would almost consider this to be like an Unlock or Exit Escape Room or any “play-once game”. Buy it (it’s only $30), play it all-the-way-through, then pass it on to your friends.

How to play a Cooperative Game Solo?

I’ve frequently written in this blog about Saunders’ Law: All cooperative board and card games should have a solo mode. It’s really more of a request to the designers and manufacturers! As someone who loves his cooperative games (and tends to present them to his friends), I need solo modes to learn the game. I enumerate a list of reasons why cooperative game need a solo mode in my blog post here, but essentially a solo mode in a cooperative game (at least for me) makes that game more likely to be purchased/played/enjoyed.

Categories

Nominally, we can break down cooperative games with solo rules into 3 separate buckets:

  1. Perfect Information vs. Hidden Information: Is the entire state of the games available to all players, or do some players hide information from each other?
  2. Solo Rules Included vs. None Included: Does the game have any solo rules?
  3. Multiple Positions vs. Single Position: If the game HAS solo rules, do they make you play multiple positions or have special rules for a single position?

Realistically, this breaks down into 5 categories for solo play:

  1. Cooperative games with perfect global information shared among all players. Solo rules NOT included  Examples: Unicornus Knights, Sentinels of the Multiverse.
  2. Cooperative games with perfect global information shared among all players. Solo rules INCLUDED, but require playing solo as if you were multiple positions. Examples: The Captain is Dead, Marvel United, Solar Storm.
  3. Cooperative games with perfect global information shared among all players.  Solo rules INCLUDED, but can play a single player in a single position.  Examples: Aeon’s End (any of them, original or War Eternal, Outcasts, etc.),
  4. Cooperative games with limited communication (thus, not all information is available to all players). Solo rules NOT included.  Examples: Far Away, Shipwreck Arcana, Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons.
  5. Cooperative games with limited communication.  Solo rules INCLUDED.  None? 

There may be some games from category 5 that I don’t know of, but there is a way to approach games of both category 4 and 5 using a method we have discussed earlier called Changing Perspectives. That blog post explores the details about the Changing Perspectives idea in great depth, so we won’t dwell on that here. Today, we are going to talk about different ways to play cooperative games that tend to have perfect, global, shared information.

2P or Not 2P?

To paraphrase Shakespeare:

2P, or not 2P, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous solo rules,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.

In other words, how do I play solo? As a solo player playing two positions or something else? (2P or not 2P?) Do I play 1 position, 2 positions, 3 positions, or even more? Do I even like the solo rules that come with the game (outrageous solo rules)? Or do I come up with my own solo rules (and by opposing, end them)?

Two Positions better than Three?

I have found recently that I don’t like the solo rules that come included in many of the cooperative games I have picked up. I am exaggerating by calling them outrageous solo rules, but it’s for effect. In Solar Storm, the solo rules has you playing 3 positions, with some special rules for sharing all the cards. I have played several times this way, but I vastly prefer just playing two positions instead. Similarly, for Marvel United, the solo rules have you playing 3 positions (see below), with some special rules again. And again, I found that I preferred to just play 2 positions instead. Why?

Eschew Exceptions

The problem: I don’t want to deal with “exceptional cases”! I am usually playing a game solo to learn the rules, so I am reading and learning lots of rules! The last thing I want is to have to apply “different” or “exceptional” rules to my play! Take a look at the “exceptional” rules for Marvel United!

And that’s not even all of the exceptions because they wouldn’t all fit on my screen! I would rather just play as 2 characters, so that I don’t even have to apply the exceptional rules. I was reminded of this playing the solo rules for Forgotten Waters! Happily, the game comes with solo rules (even though the box says 3-7 Players on the outside), but there are a lot of exceptions that made it more difficult to play because the exceptions were ONLY documented in the app and NOT the rulebook!

Three Positions Better Than Two?

At the risk of being a hypocrite, there are some games where I enjoy 3 positions.

Unicornus Knights (reviewed here and here) works fantastic with the player playing 3 positions instead of just 2. In this case, it’s because if you played as Two Players, then you’d be playing 4 characters. The minimum number of characters (for balance) is 3, so playing a 3-Player game is the best way to play solo. You don’t have an exceptional rules for solo play: you can just play the 3 positions normally.

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a controversial pick because it doesn’t even have solo rules. I did develop some solo rules to play as if you were playing 2 Characters, but they were a little clunky. See here. When I play on the app or in person, I usually play 3 positions (3 Characters). There’s a lot to keep track of, but I have played it enough to be comfortable with it.

One Position Better Than Two or Three?

Arguably, the best way to play solo is to play one position or one characters: usually there’s much less to keep track of (only 1 position/1 character) and you don’t have to context switch back and forth between different characters. Sometimes, it makes perfect sense.

The Captain Is Dead has solo rules, but it has you playing multiple characters. I developed a set of solo rules for running one character and it simplifies the game tremendously! For a while, The Captain Is Dead was my favorite solo game BECAUSE of these solo rules.

Aeon’s End has a nice system for playing solo with just one character: I was quite pleased with it in my review here. The list of exceptional rules is very small, and it was easy to jump in as a single character and get going.

Intellectual Overhead

Where am I going with all this? I seem to be all over the place, sometimes preferring playing 1 position, 2 positions, or even 3 positions. What’s the common theme? Intellectual Overhead. What’s the cost in terms of complexity, rules lookups, rules exceptions? What can I keep in my head? In other words, what’s the simplest way to pay solo that’s still fun?

If there are too many exceptional rules for solo play (like Marvel United), it drains the game of fun as you lookup rules, override base rules, and just have to remember those exceptions.

If there are too many positions to play, the cost of running multiple characters can be draining as you have to switch and back and forth (like the original solo rules for The Captain Is Dead).

Is the game still representative of the game or do to solo rules feel tacked on? Tacked on rules drain the game of fun (like Solar Storm).

Conclusion

There is no “best way” to play a cooperative game solo. Some games come with solo rules, but even those can be tacked on and not representative of play. Don’t just take solo rules at face value, especially for cooperative games! Some of my favorite solo games have been cooperative games that didn’t even come with solo rules (Sentinels of the Multiverse, The Captain Is Dead, Unicornus Knights). I encourage you to “experiment” with your cooperative games to find the solo rules that work best for you. I have found that the solo rules that require the least Intellectual Overhead (fewest rule exceptions, fewest positions, least work) tend to be the best solo rules for me. Play. Experiment. They are your games: find the solo rules that work best for you!

A Review of 5-Minute Mystery

The game 5-Minute Mystery is a real-time cooperative game from the makers of 5-Minute Dungeon and 5-Minute Marvel. Recall that 5-Minute Marvel made both my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games and my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2018, so I was very excited for this one! I am a huge fan of mysteries (Detective: City of Angels and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective both made my Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games) so this was an insta-back on Kickstarter! It arrived sometime last week (October 1st or so, 2020).

Unboxing and Components

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So, 5-Minute Mystery is a games for 1-6 players (see above on very right) for ages 8+. The art is very cute!

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The Rulebook is pretty (see below for more discussion).

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These are the “clues” you get in the game (with a few Red Herrings, ie., NULL clues). Notice the little colored bar on the bottom of each: these will match or not match the Culprits and describe some aspect of the Culprit.

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The Culprits are in two decks. The deck above is the cards the players keep in their hands: as they eliminate suspects, these hands (above) dwindle until down to the last Culprit … and the solution to the Mystery!

The Other Culprit cards are the ones that actually identify the Culprit in the mystery! At the start of the game, you choose (usually) one of the Culprits and put it in the middle of the board, with the colored edges side (right) showing!

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There are many mysteries in the game, but usually you have to catch one or more culprits. The Mystery card (above) is the intro Mystery!!

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The find the clues, you have to “search” the rooms above. Each room is a little different, but the art is gorgeous!

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The cornerstone “gimmick” in the game is the Codex. Each room has 5 of the those symbols “hidden” in the rooms: you use the Codex to remember what symbols were in the room. It would have been just as easy to use a pencil and paper or any other mechanism, but the Codex is chunky and feels nice to turn. It’s a gimmick, but it works.

The Player Reference Cards (above) show all the symbols that can appear in the rooms, as well as what the “clues” notate. Each Clue is a different color type, and represents a different set of aspects. For example, Red Clues are “Skin-type”: scales, feathers, skin, or fur.

In general, the components are first class and look really nice. If I were to do one thing: I’d make the player Culprit cards Linen-finished. We’ve played a number of times now, and those cards really get “handled” a lot. I might recommend sleeving the player Culprit cards.

Rulebook

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The Rulebook is well done and easy to read.

The Rulebook is more of a pamphlet than a rulebook, but it shows pictures of set-up and all the components like normal game. I was up and going pretty quickly.

Gameplay

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Gameplay is very simple. There are two phases to repeat!

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  1. Look for Symbols: Cooperatively look for Symbols on the Room Cards (use the Codex to note symbols as you find them). After you think you have found all the symbols, turn the room card over!!! If you found all the symbols, it’ll match the back of the room and you get a clue (goto step 2)!!! If not, find a new room and repeat step 1 again!
  1. Get A Clue: Cooperatively decide which of the 4 Clue piles to pick a clue from (recall different Clue Piles are different colors, representing different aspects). Turn a clue over! If that clue’s colors match the Culprit card, you know the Culprit has the aspect! For example, you might find out that the culprit has gloves! If it doesn’t match, that also gives you information. Either way, you thin your suspect deck, getting rid of suspects who match/don’t match the clue you just found!

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Continue until you run out of time (each Mystery has time-limit: we just set a timer on a phone, but you can download an app) or you think you know! At that point, turn the Culprit card over!! Did you get it?? You Win!

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Above is a winning game where I thinned the possibilites down to Tim the mouse!!!  The last card matched the Culprit! A Win!!

Solo Play

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So, there are solo rules for the game. Hurray! They followed Saunders’ Law! These rules appear near the end of the pamplet:

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So, basically the only real change is you have to do everything yourself and you only have find 4 out of 5 symbols on the room cards. Here’s the thing: I did not enjoy this game solo. It wasn’t fun. My least favorite thing about the Unlock games is “looking for hidden symbols”, and that’s what half this game is. I played a few rounds with the Codex looking for symbols and had NO FUN. I ended up just getting clues and matching them. Even then, I didn’t have a lot of choices: I could only choose a clue from a pile?

I was happy that there were solo rules to teach me the game, but I did not enjoy this solo. It reminds me of my solo plays of Robit Riddle, Crusoe Crew, and Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars: the game just feels “lonely” playing solo. BUT … would it work cooperatively????

Cooperative Play

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Luckily, the game works well cooperatively. I had a good time in a 4-Player game! The part I feared the worst was the “Looking for Hidden Pictures”, but when 3 other people are all looking, the mechanism seems to work a lot better. And then the “choice” of what type of Clues to get seemed like a fun choice to make as a group.

We played 3 games total over the night. Each game went quickly! We had fun! Ironically, the first game is a 9-Minute game… and then they become 5-Minute games.

Some Minor Issues

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Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the Culprit has Skin, Scales, Fur, or Feathers. That may sound like a dumb thing to say (and it is), but in a timed game, you sometimes can’t tell! “Wait, is the Rhino skin or scales?” “The Penguin has feathers, right? The picture kinda looks like fur …” So, to combat this, they made the backgrounds reflect the skin.

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The thing is: I can’t really tell what the backgrounds are! They are SO DARK, it’s hard to tell which is which! So, they did try to address the problem, but it didn’t work. In the end, if you aren’t sure, you just have to keep the potential culprit !!! Arguably, this made the game more interesting, as you had “not sure” pile of Culprits which is arguably more realistic? Anyway, it was a bigger annoyance than I expected.

Another minor issue: this is not a deep deduction game. You only get a choice of “which clue type” when you get a clue, so there’s a little bit too much randomness for a real deduction game … for a “real” deduction game, I’d want a lot more choice on how to eliminate suspects!! BUT, this is a realtime game which an 8+ age rating, so the “choose a Clue Type” mechanism works well enough. Just be aware: it’s not a deep game.

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This is a good cooperative filler/party game for multiple people, but it’s not a deep deduction game. My group enjoyed it, but I also think it would really work well with families. Be Aware: I don’t think it works solo, but I am glad it has solo rules as a way to learn the game. The art and components are first rate: the only minor art problem was the attempt to note the skin type (as the backgrounds are too dark to read).

We had fun. 5-Minute Mystery will stay in my game collection on the main rotation! When we want an end of the night game, or a “waiting for Andrew” game, this will fit the bill.

A Review of The Stygian Society: Part II. Conclusion

In Part I of my review, I took a look at The Stygian Society, a cooperative board and cube game for 1-4 players as they dungeon delve (but in a tower, so it’s a tower delve). Players play unique characters with unique powers, which are typical fantasy tropes (Doctor aka Cleric, Knight aka Fighter). To win, characters must make it to level 6 of the tower and take out the Big Bad Wizard at the top. If they die along the way, they lose.

Don’t Bury The Lede!

So, I won’t bury the lede: we liked the game … it was a good cooperative game! I liked the game … it was a good solo game. It was fun playing! The Stygian Society has a good chance of making my Top 10 cooperative games of 2020! But, there were some issues. I wanted to make it clear right up front that this is a good co-op! I will, however, be discussing some of the issues me and my group had, but I didn’t want you to think I didn’t like the game.

Game Length

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Probably the biggest problem we had with the game was the game length. My solo game took about 5 hours (I’ll call it 4 because of first time set-up/play). The cooperative 4-Player game took 2.5 hours, but we lost halfway through. If we had played all the way through, it would have taken probably 4-5 hours. It takes about 45-60 minutes PER FLOOR and there are 6 floors in the game! A bunch of my friends said “If I am going to play a 6-hour game, I’d rather play Arkham Horror (2nd Edition)“. This is kind of ironic since Kevin Wilson, the designer of this game, was a designer listed on Arkham Horror!

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Luckily, there’s a very simple fix to shorten the game! At the “midpoint” of the game, you are fighting the Mid-Level Boss. You could very easily call the game at the mid-level, playing about a 2 hour game. In other words:

  • Short Game: 2-3 hours, go from level 1, to level 2, to level 3. If you beat the mid-level boss on level 3, you win!
  • Long Game: 5-6 hours, normal game.  You have to through all 6 levels and beat the Wizard at the end to win!

When I played my solo game, I played all the way to level 3 and stopped.  I left the game set-up over night and played levels 4-6 the next day.  I had fun doing it this way.

It seems like this is the best way to play: play about 2.5 hours to level 3 (and then come back to finish it if you want, and can leave it set-up).  Although there are a lot of decisions in the game that keep it fun, it does get a bit samey, so a 2.5 hour game is probably ideal.

 

House Rules

One issue we had was that one of the characters seemed “less useful” in the game. Andrew had gotten the Burglar (see above), and both his initial power and next power were ONLY useful for treasure chests. Andrew was frustrated through most of the game because all he could do was a “Help” action (we’ll talk about that more below); he couldn’t take advantage of his special powers very much.

So, at the start of the game, the core rules direct each player to get a random 1st level power. When the player goes up a level, the core rules direct that a player can choose either (a) a random new power at the next level or (b) choose any new power from the current level. Arguably, Andrew was just the victim of bad luck as he got a less-useful 1st level power and 2nd level power. He wanted choice. So, here’s our House Rules to make the game more fun!

  • Whenever you would choose a “random” power, you take 2 powers, and you get to choose one of them instead (and put the other back)
  • At the start of the game, you can choose any power you want to start the game (optional?)

The first House Rule just gives some choice in the game, and engages you more, as you get invested in your character more. Similarly, the second House Rule invests your group, as you and your group can decide what powers you want as a group AND MAKES THE GAME MORE COOPERATIVE as you decide your strategy.

These House Rules are easy to implement and make the game more engaging.

Player Aid Cards

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So, the game could use a character aid. After playing through a few times (and I felt like I was an experienced player), I found there was a rule about peril “buried” in the rules. By “buried”, I mean it’s only referenced in one place in the rules, in the text-heavy description of the game flow. I read over the rules multiple times, played for hours, and it just got lost in the shuffle. Basically, the peril is supposed to go up whenever any enemy activates. Since most of the descriptions of effects are ON THE CARDS, I expected that to be on the cards too? I know, it’s my own fault. But I would claim it was harder to find.

I think there’s a bunch of stuff I missed that could have easily been on a character aid card. Side 1 of the player aid would describe what happens at the start and end of a level:

 

  • What happens at the START of a floor?  (Clear the crypt, field, and reset peril)
  • What happens at the END of combat (A “getting treasure” section)
  • What happens at the END of a floor?

Side 2 would describe what would happen in combat:

  • Choose Support action (if not tapped)
  •  Choose Action (which usually needs a target).  Actions can also come from status board: Help, Regroup, Attack!!! Describe these actions on each card too!  (The ONLY place these are described is on the status board)
  • Add cubes (Good and Bad)
  • Check Red enemies: if activate, activate  AND ADD PERIL
  • Check Red room triggers
  • Repeat for yellow, repeat for black

Something like that would have gone a long way towards making the game more accessible.

Set-Up and Shared Actions

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The status board needs to go in the center of all players. Why? Because when you choose your actions, you can also choose of the three on the status board!!! The ONLY PLACE these are documented is on the board itself!!! We thought it would have been nice if those actions where at least summarized on a player aid card (see above), in another 3 cards for each player (probably too expensive), or summarized on each of our player board.

Artifacts Wanted

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The game flowed very well, the cube tower was fun to throw cubes into, and it was easy to play a turn. However, after playing our game, we wanted something more: we think we wanted some “shared action” we could work towards during the game. What if we added Artifacts? For example, what if we were collecting cubes to power the Artifact sword Excalibur? If, as a group, we put enough cubes on it, we could do 10 damage when we activate it? Or clear the field? On turns where we couldn’t do much, it may have been nice to feel like we were contributing to some global thing? Obviously, this is just us brainstorming, but I think we wanted “something” like the Vanir section of Yggdrasil:

I think something like this (Artifacts) would very easy to add as an expansion.

Conclusion

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So, I asked for ratings (out of 10) for the game after we played. Here’s the results:

  • 5-6, too samey but I had fun.
  • 6-7, I had fun
  • 7-8 I had a real good time
  • 7.5 I liked it, but solo was a little better (8)

What were our thoughts overall?

  • Every one had fun playing!
  • We think the House Rules really fix some of the issues, and they are easy fixes (more choices on powers)
  • A player aid would have gone a long way towards making the game more playable
  • Some repetition of rules (shared actions, some peril rules, luck rules) would have been helpful
  • Make sure the status board is set-up in the middle so players can see the shared actions

I think this game seems to get a 7 overall from my group.  Our House Rules probably boost it up to a 7.5.  An expansion with character playing aids and some Artifacts to activate, and rules mods (i.e., our House Rules and short game/long game rules)  might even put it at an 8.