A Review of Platypus: A Cooperative Party Game

Platypus is a cooperative word game meant for larger groups of 3-8 people: it’s a party game!

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I picked this up from GameNerdz during one of my online orders.  It came out probably about mid 2022.

Unboxing

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Um, this is a party word game. There’s not much to unbox here: there is a little board to put word cards on, and a bunch of word cards.

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There are some numbered cards which describe the 8 positions on the board.

Mostly, there are word cards. There are two types of word cards: adjective cards (see above) and noun cards (see below).

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If you are starting to get a Apples to Apples vibe from the game, don’t ignore that vibe! I really think this is striving to be the cooperative Apples to Apples in many ways.

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Overall, the game has a cute cartoony platypus vibe. The cards are easy to read and the orange blue color palette is very distinctive without being too annoying.

Solo Play

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Solo play? What are you talking about? This is a party game!”

Oh yes, Platypus definitely needs at least 3 people to play! But, I always try to play every game solo at first, so I can teach my friends how to play. This game does not follow Saunders’ Law: it doesn’t have any solo mode, and it really can’t have such a mode. Even with something like the Changing Perspectives idea, you can’t really play this solo! Too much of the hidden information can only be gleaned from contextual implications: you can’t really just look at the board to make pure logical deductions.

Without a lot of work, you really can’t play this solo. But that doesn’t mean you can’t set it up to teach it to yourself! That’s what I did!

Gameplay

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The players divide into two groups: Guides and Explorers: basically, the Explorers (1 or 2 people, depending on the number of players) are trying to guess which of the eight noun cards is “the Platypus” (the hidden word) and the Guides (which are everybody else) are trying to help the Explorers find “the Platypus” using only the adjective cards they have.

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For example, one Guide might have the 7 adjective cards above as clues. After the Guide shows an adjective, the Explorers will need to eliminate one or two Nouns on the board: you can see the board below where the Explorers have been able to whittle down the board to only 3 Nouns!! Which is the final answer? What noun is “the Platypus”?

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There is a little strategy in being a Guide because you are always discarding cards, and you only draw back up when you get below 4 cards. So, you may want to reserve some better adjectives to when the noun is almost chosen.

Again, it feels a little like cooperative Apples to Apples: Guides play adjective cards to help Explorers guess noun cards.

Discussion

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Apples to Apples is a very apt comparison to Platypus. In Apples to Apples, a single Judge (like the Explorer) tries to choose the best match for the noun from the adjectives he gets (from many Guides): it’s a very subjective silly assessment! But, in Apples to Apples, if you have crappy words, you can just say “these suck” and just throw out a crappy card to the judge: sometimes complaining about how bad your cards are was the funnest part of the game! Or you can go for the funniest implications with the crappy cards you have! In Apples to Apples, you can still have fun with crappy cards!

And that’s the problem with Platypus: you can’t have fun with crappy cards! You are too constrained! Platypus is fun as long as The Guides have relevant adjectives to use. I remember being shocked that Guides started with eight adjective cards (“Wow, that’s a lot!”), but then I saw why: frequently, Guides get adjectives that are not really apropos! And Guides don’t get to draw back up to eight adjectives: they have to shrink down to three adjectives before they can draw more! Basically, if you get crappy cards, you are stuck with crappy cards! And then Platypus is NOT fun! It’s frustrating!

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Compare this to Codenames or So Clover or Just One where the players gets to choose words as clues! Any word they want!! Even when players get to choose any word in the English language, sometimes those games are still hard! But at least you feel like you have agency and choice. Now imagine you only have 4-8 words and they all suck! No fun. In a word, it was … Frustrating.

 

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House Rules

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I think some House Rules could help fix this game up a little.

A very simple rule to help: allow the Guides to always draw back up to 8 adjectives after they play an adjective card!! That way, the Guides always have 8 adjective cards! I feel like the game was the least fun when I had fewer adjective cards.

An addition of a some reset tokens would be useful: a Guide could discard one of the reset tokens to draw a brand new hand of adjectives!! You could make an “egg” be the one-time reset token, and turning it over would be a cracked egg! It would fit with the theme of the game! I guess each player would have one “egg” token which would allow them a one-time “redraw all my adjectives”. Heck, even Mysterium allows up to 3 clue redraws for the ghost … why can’t Platypus?

Conclusion

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Platypus is an okay cooperative party game: it’s not bad, but it’s not good. I’d recommend any of the Top 10 Cooperative Party Games on this list before Platypus. It just doesn’t feel like players have enough choice or agency for this to be fun.

I can’t recommend Platypus as it stands, because there’s so many other great cooperative party games which are better! BUT, having said that, I think with just a few tweaks (using some House Rules like we described previously), Platypus can be a lot more fun! Give the game a try with our House Rules: you may love Platypus with those changes applied!

A Review of Flamecraft: A game that’s not cooperative but it does have a solo mode, so you can play it cooperatively

Flamecraft is a competitive, worker placement game where players compete to get the most victory points. Players each play as a dragon helping out a local village.

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You might be wondering “Why are you reviewing a competitive game on your cooperative games blog?” For two reasons:

  1. Solo Mode: Flamecraft does have a solo mode, and we take a look at a lot of solo games here at Co-op Gestalt: we have looked at Batman: The Dark Knight Returns here and Nemo’s War here, just to name a few.
  2. Implied Cooperative Mode: If a game does have a solo mode, we can frequently derive a cooperative mode for it.  We did this for Canvas (the Converse of Saunders’ Law, see here) and something similar happened for Elia and Something Shiny (see here).  We’ll talk about this more in the Cooperative Mode section below.

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Flamecraft is an incredibly cute game: the version (above) is the deluxe Kickstarter version, with a pin, bookmarks, and extra cards.

Unboxing and Components

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The deluxe version of Flamecraft is chock-full of gorgeous components.

The cards are linen finished, and the art is top notch.  If you only get the regular version of Flamecraft, you will still get the same super cute art, if not all the deluxe wooden bits and mats.

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Rulebook

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This was one of the better rulebooks I have read in a while. The rules were well-written, easy to understand, and had a lot of pictures annotating the examples.

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The game is just so cute. The components pages might have been overkill!

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There’s not THAT many components, and they take up two pages! But it’s nice to see everything well annotated.

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The set-up pages were fantastic: see above.

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You can see from the example above, there were lots of pictures, lots of annotations, and large, easy-to-read text.

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One of my favorite parts of the rulebook is that they use the special “!!” section to note a rule that is an “expert clarifications” (see above).  This is a rule you won’t read or understand the first time through the rulebook, but after you understand the game better and are looking for exceptions/clarifications, it’s easy to find them.  (We saw something like this in Tokyo Sidekick, except they used red text to show these “expert clarifications”: see our review of Tokyo Sidekick here).

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You will have no trouble getting through this rulebook. It was fantastic.

Gameplay

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This is a pretty simple worker placement game: the box tells us we can play 1-5 Players at ages 10+.

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Each player gets their own summary code: see above.  The game is actually quite simple!  On your turn, you move your dragon to a new shop in the village:

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If there are other dragons there, you have to give them each one resource: this is the penalty for going to a popular shop!

Once on a village space, you choose one of two paths: Gather or Enchant.

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In Gather mode, you collect as many resources are in the location!  For example, for the Draco Bell above you would get 6 meats (3 for enchantments, 1 for base location, 2 for artisan dragons already there), and 1 diamond (from the diamond artisan dragon).   If you have some artisan dragons and the shop has space (Draco Bell doesn’t have any openings), you can place it and get a reward.  Finally, then you can activate one artisan dragon:

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Pan (above) allows you to draw one more artisan dragon into your hand.

If you choose the Enchant mode, you will be enchanting the location, which adds resources to a location and (typically and more importantly) gives you victory points!  See three different enchantments below.

For example, if you pay 2 leaves and 3 meat for the Fairy’s Jubilee Enchantment, you  get 4 victory points and new artisanal dragon!  (And you place the enchantment on a Bread shop to make it more productive!)  One of the best parts of casting an enchantment is that you then activate ALL artisanal dragons on that location!!!

And that’s pretty much the main idea of the game!   Move, Gather or Enchant, repeat!!! There are also other rules about new locations, Fancy Dragons, and a few other mechanisms (coins are special), but that’s the main idea!

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Players play until they run out of Artisanal Dragons OR Enchantments!  Whoever has the most victory points wins!

Solo Mode

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The solo mode is covered in two pages at the very back of the rulebook.  I admit, the rules for solo look daunting at first, but it really doesn’t change the game that much.  The solo player will play a single dragon trying to get 75 victory points using the normal mechanisms in the game. To simulate other players on the board, there will be a very simple AI moving the other dragons around the board: so you may still have to pay resource to go to a space you really want!  The AI also casts enchantments as well, so it’s as if another bunch of players are playing.

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The goal of the solo game is to get as many victory points as you can: it’s not considered a win unless you get at least 75 victory points! See the victory point track above, early in the game I am at 24 victory points.

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Flamecraft works fine, if not great, as a solo mode. It is a really good way to learn the game. The AI operating the other dragons is simple enough, so you aren’t overwhelmed by lots of upkeep. The game also moves quickly and is fun. The only reason I say this is “fine, if not great” is that the game is a little light: however, I think that’s the point of this game (see our Conclusion). This is meant to be a lighter worker placement game.

There is a fair amount of set-up and tear-down to the game, but once you get into the solo game, it moves quickly and is fun. It is also great way to learn the game so you can teach your friends.

Competitive Mode

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In the base game, the game is competitive: each player plays a dragon, moves around the village collecting resources to help generate victory points. Whomever has the most points at game end wins.

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The competitive mode works very well. It’s simple to explain, play moves quickly, and there’s not a lot of take-that: the only take that is really that you have to give all other players resources if you go to their village location (and that’s pretty mild).

Cooperative Mode

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Elia and Something Shiny is a multiplayer game we reviewed a little while ago (see here). It’s a cooperative game where the players are all working together to play “one creature” (Elia). The players all have to come to consensus as to what Elia will do on her turn. As a group, they operate one character.

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For Flamecraft, we can do the same kind of thing to get a cooperative mode! Players collectively operate one dragon in solo mode, much like all players operating Elia in Elia and Something Shiny. A cooperative group will simply play one dragon in solo mode, trying to amass the needed 75 victory points for a win!

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You might remember that we also suggested a similar cooperative mode for Canvas: in that review, we called this inferred cooperative mode Saunders’ Law Converse:

The converse of Saunders’ Law would say “If a game has a solo mode, designers should really put in a viable cooperative mode“.

In the case of Canvas, Elia and Something Shiny, and Flamecraft, this inferred cooperative mode is dirt simple to try out: just play the solo mode with multiple people.  

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One of the reasons I think this implied cooperative mode works is that these are ALL LIGHTWEIGHT FAMILY GAMES: I can very easily see playing all of these games with a younger child operating the main character (dragon, Elia, etc), with Mom and Dad “helping” like a cooperative game. If you wanted to get Flamecraft, but were wary you couldn’t play it cooperatively, worry no more! You can!! I will say that this implied cooperative mode probably isn’t the best way to play: Flamecraft was meant to be a game with multiple players and it works best as a competitive game … but honestly, there’s not that much “take-that” in the game if you were worried about a super competitive game.

Sense of Humor

So this game has a little bit of a sense of humor. The Enchantments all have silly names (I think Hobbichino, above, is my favorite).

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The names of the locations in the village are silly. Draco Bell? Like Taco Bell?

Honestly, this sense of humor didn’t detract from the game for us: it lightened the mood and made the game that much more fun.

Conclusion

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Flamecraft is a beautiful game with gorgeous art. The gameplay is really straight-forward, it’s easy to teach, and players will always feel like they are doing something on their turn. There’s not really a lot of getting in each other’s way other way, so if you don’t like super-competitive games, Flamecraft will be up your alley.

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The art style is a very much an indicator of what the game is like: if you don’t like the art, you may not like the game. This is a simpler worker placement game: it may not be the first game you want to teach a new gamer, but Flamecraft would be very good as a next-step game. It’s a little more complicated than some intro games (like Forbidden Island, Splendor, Century Spice), but not too much more complicated.

The solo mode is great for learning the game, and pretty good for ongoing play. The implied cooperative mode also gives players another play option if they want to play Flamecraft cooperatively: this cooperative mode might be best for a family playing together … but it’s probably not the best way to play! Honestly, the competitive mode with multiple players is probably the best way to play, but the extra modes give the game more variety.

Flamecraft is a great “lighter “worker placement game: it’s super cute aesthetics, gorgeous components, and sense of humor will attract a lot of players. And it’s pretty fun. One of my friends wanted to order this immediately after playing it.

A Review of Switch and Signal: A Cooperative Train Game

I have many friends who love trains: talking trains, taking trains, training trains … Don and Patrick in particular. When I go to lunch with Don and Patrick, I’ll say: “I’m going get to a drink refill, you guys talk about trains while I’m gone”. It’s not that I don’t like trains, I just don’t have the same passion that they do. So, I was excited when I discovered Switch and Signal: a cooperative train game from Kosmos! This ticks the boxes for all of us: trains, cooperative, game!

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Unboxing and Gameplay

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Switch and Signal comes in a standard sized box. It’s about the same size as what we call the Ticket To Ride sized box: I suspect this is not a coincidence.

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The rulebook is colorful and easy to read. 

This is a train game, so it has to come with a map! In fact, the game board is a two-sided map! The Europe side (above left) is the introductory map.   The North America side (the flip side, above right) is the more advanced map.

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This is a train game, so there have to awesome little plastic trains! Note that each train has space for a goods cube!

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In fact, there is a die for each type of train!  Players will roll those dice to move trains of that color. 

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Also, because this is a train game, there have to be goods cubes to deliver!!  See the colored cubes (yellow, red, white, blue) above. This game is all about delivering goods cubes to the harbor before time runs out!!  And because this game is called Switch and Signal, there are switches (the little black circles above) and signals (the green discs).  The signals open train lines, and the switches redirect trains along different lines.

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For example: the black train above can’t move across the Salzburg switch because the switching is the blocking the way.

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The grey train (above) can move into Marseille (with the white goods cube) because the (green) signal on his track is open.  Notice the (red) signal on the leftmost (east) entry into  Marseille is NOT open!

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How do players operate the switches and signals?  Through card play!  Each turn, each player plays his 5 (or more) cards to cause stuff to happen on the train tracks. The cards are dirt simple: you can move a signal (left green card), update a switch (middle black card) or move a train (rightmost train card).  And that’s it!   Note that we say “move a signal” because you can only move a signal from some other part of the board to an empty signal slot … you can’t introduce more signals!  Similarly, on a switch space you can only reconfigure a switch (no moving them off the switch).  And finally, you can move a train via dice. Remember those dice you saw earlier?

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When you play a train card, you can move a single train, using and rolling the appropriate die.  Notice that the trains all move different speeds! The grey trains tend to moves slowly, brown trains  tend move normally, and the black trains tend to move very fast!

How do trains get on the map?  The departure cards (see above) specify what color trains come out (and also move them). Usually, one comes out every turn.  If you run out of departure cards, you have run out of time and players lose the game!

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The time tokens (above) help count down time as well.  Every time one of your train gets “stuck” (can’t move because it’s behind another train, or at a closed switch, or at a closed signal), players lose some time tokens.  If players lose too many time tokens, they discard an extra departure card! The normal flow of time causes the departure cards to count down slowly, but blocked trains lose extra time. It’s important in the game to keep all your trains moving!

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You’ll notice the two brown numbered dice above: the sum of those two dice tell you where a train will come out! There are 10 locations, labelled 2-12. This mechanism adds a a bit of randomness in the game, but the locations 6,7,8 tend to be the busiest locations.  See below and below.

Putting all together, players need to try (cooperatively) to deliver all the good to the harbor before time runs out!

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If you deliver all the cubes, you win!  If you run out of time (no more delivery cards), you lose!

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Overall, this game looks good.  All the cards and locations are easy to read and see.

Rulebook

This is a very good rulebook.  It’s short and succinct: only 8 pages.  The pictures are very helpful and useful, especially the set-up which spans two pages!   It is so easy to set-up!! The base rules are explained well. More importantly: all the edge cases seem to be discussed one way or the other.   This rulebook is easy to read, easy to peruse, and easy to search.  

Solo Play

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Somewhat surprisingly, this game doesn’t adhere to Saunders’ Law: Switch and Signal doesn’t have a solo mode!  In the modern gaming landscape, many cooperative games add a solo mode just to appeal to more gamers.  Nope!  Not Switch and Signal!

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Weirdly, I don’t think it would be that hard to add a solo play.  I went ahead and played two-handed as if I were two players and it worked fine (see above): in fact, it was a great way to learn the game. After getting through the game, I could see how easy it would be to play this one-handed for a solo game!

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This is nominally a hidden information game, as players are allowed to talk about the cards in their hands, but they can’t show the other players.  (It’s not 100% clear: the rules explicitly say you can “talk about the cards in your hand” but the rules only imply you can’t show your cards to other players).  So, a two-handed solo game has everything laid bare like the picture above: there’s no hidden information!  So, is the game too easy with all information laid bare?  Perhaps that’s why there’s no solo mode?

Honestly, I had a great time playing a two-handed solo game!  Even though I lost my first solo game (see above), I could easily see playing this as a solo game again.  It was fun!  So, my recommendation?  Play it two-handed  solo to learn the game: that was a great way to learn it.  If you like that mode, there’s nothing to stop you from playing solo that way!  I don’t think the board game police will come and get you for playing this solo.  I think.

Cooperative Play

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I was able to get this played with 2, 3, and 4 players and we all had a blast!  It was quite a hit at RichieCon 2022!  As we look at the board, we decide as a group which things we need to deal with: we set direction for the current player and a little bit of direction for the next player.  We have fun just having these discussions! I mean, the train people love just having the discussions about trains!

I could see there might be an element of Alpha Player Syndrome in Switch and Signal, as you really do need to discuss things and come to consensus as you play: Alpha Players aren’t as good at coming to consensus.   This is especially true (when sometimes your hand isn’t very good) when all you can do is set-up the next player!   So, I am pretty sure that’s why you can only discuss what’s in your hand and not show it.  I think if an Alpha Player shows up in your game, you have to lean hard into “I can’t show you what I have” rule and simply engage discussion at a higher level.  If your group luckily avoids the Alpha Player, I don’t think there would be a problem showing your cards.

Conclusion

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If Switch and Signal were trying to be the cooperative replacement for Ticket To Ride, I’d say they succeeded!   Switch and Signal is a light game that plays quickly (in 45 minutes), it’s easy to teach, it’s easy to play, but it has lots of interesting decisions!  There’s not quite as much cooperation in Switch and Signal as other cooperative games (like, say The Reckoners, which we’ve reviewed here, where every dice face and order matters), but that’s probably a good thing: my train friends tend to be fiercely independent creatures!  There’s just enough cooperation to make us feel like we are working together, but there are enough independent decisions to keep each player focused on their hand.

Switch and Signal is a rare thing: a cooperative, simple, light, but deep game that plays quickly. I suspect me and my train friends will be playing this quite a bit in the future.  If you aren’t a train person, I suspect this game will still appeal to you.

 

Top 10 Cooperative Light Deduction Board and Card Games

Recall that we did the Top 10 Cooperative Detective Board and Card Games here: we could have also called that list Top 10 Cooperative Heavy Deduction Games because many games on that list are heavier deduction games. This list here concentrates more on the lighter cooperative deduction games that are easy to bring out in a group. When you want something quick and simple, try one of these!

10. Crack The Code

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Crack The Code has interesting ideas with hidden elements moving around the board.   Player have to get the proper colored balls to each player.  The components are little rubber balls that go from player to player and can generally only move left and right.  There are a few component issues (sometimes the little balls get stuck), which is why this is number 10, but there are enough interesting ideas in this light deduction game to make it worth a look.

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9. Mysterium

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NOT the USA release of Mysterium!

The only reason that Mysterium is number 9 on our list is because the deduction is more inference and guessing than other games on this list.   But Mysterium is so fun, it has to be on this list!  One player plays the ghost, giving clues to all the other players.  These clues (clue cards) are meant to help the players guess aspects of the ghost’s murder!   Using these clue cards, which are crazy and wild pictures, (see some below) players try to “deduce” what the ghost is trying to communicate!  It’s so hard to be the ghost, but ultimately very rewarding.  Some players may like Mysterium Park better: it’s essentially the same game but a little more streamlined.

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8. Mysterium Park

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Speaking of Mysterium Park: This game offers a very similar experience to Mysterium, but in a streamlined fashion.  The game center on a carnival setting, with creepy/spooky cards in that world.

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A game of Mysterium Park only plays in 28 minutes, but has the same creepy and weird cards that Mysterium does.  It’s also a much smaller box!

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7. Outfoxed

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Outfoxed is a very lightweight games, mostly for kids but still a fun deduction romp you want something very simple.  The ages of the game are labelled 5+: I could easily playing with my young nieces. But, I could also see this being an end-of-the-night game when you want something light and fun.  

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The components are nice, and it even has a little toy factor with the orange clue looker-upper!

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Overall, we had a nice time playing Outfoxed, even if it is a little lighter.

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6. 5-Minute Mystery

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We reviewed 5-Minute Mystery here some time ago: this game is only 5 to 8 minutes per session, but has a major toy factor with the codex the players use.  This game is a combination of “find the hidden symbols” and “deduction”.   I didn’t think I’d like the hidden symbols portion, but it was fun and worked great in a cooperative group setting.  This is a fun, light deduction game with a cool plastic codex!

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5. Stop Thief!

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Stop Thief!  is a cooperative deduction game by Restoration Games.  The original 1986 game was one-vs-all, as one player played “the thief” moving around the board, and others had to try to catch him.  When Restoration Games “restored” this game, they added an app which can play as “the thief”, thus allowing the game to be played fully cooperatively.  Players work together to deduce where the thief has been so they can try and catch him.  This is a fun little puzzle with the thief controlled by the app!  Stop Thief! also made our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games with an App!

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4. Rising 5: Runes of Asteros

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Rising 5: Runes of Asteros is an older game which we reviewed here.  It’s essentially a cooperative version of Mastermind, where players have to work together to deduce some symbols.  This game is set in a fantastical space setting with Vincent Dutraite art and  it simply looks fantastic.  The game is run by an App giving out clues to the players as they try to guess the symbols.  A player can sit out and you can play without the app if you like, but the App is great! You can can scan your board with your camera and it will give you the hints you need to deduce!  This is a light game that can be played in about 20 minutes.  It also made our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games with an App!

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3. Paint The Roses

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Paint The Roses is a deduction game by Ben Goldman where players have to guess the symbols on each others cards.  If you don’t do it quickly enough, the Queen of Hearts comes around and chops of your head!   We originally reviewed Paint the Roses here!

This is a silly deduction game for 2-4 players with beautiful art by Jacqui Davis.  The deluxe version has beautiful plastic components.  This game is interesting because you can go as shallow or deep as you want in your deduction: do you use just positive information or negative information as well?  See our review here for more discussion!

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2. Shipwreck Arcana

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We reviewed Shipwreck Arcana here some time ago, but it has become a favorite game here at Co-op Gestalt! Shipwreck Arcana inspired us to develop the Changing Perspectives idea and also made the top spot on our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative GamesShipwreck Arcana is a very pure deduction game where players can only use the information on the board to guess what number is hidden for each player.  It’s a fun and light deduction game, but it can be very thinky.   Some might have trouble with calling this a “light” game, but at the end of the day, there’s not too much too it!  Just some cards and a few things you can do on your turn: it’s just that this is probably the thinkiest game on this list!

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Basic Set-up (for a solo game): After a few turns where the DOOM token has moved up to 3, and the Guesses token is only at 0! I haven’t guessed anything right yet!

1. Hanabi

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Hanabi is an older cooperative card game, but it is such a tight and clever deduction game!  It’s probably the lightest physical game on this list, as it is just a small deck of cards (see below), but it may be the heaviest in pure deduction.  Hanabi is the definition of a hidden information game, as each player can see all hands of cards except their own!  Players can only communicate in very strict terms: “You have a/some [color or number]” and that’s it!  It’s pure deduction and won the Spiel Des Jahres game of the year in 2013.  This game took my game groups by storm in 2013 but it still gets played to this day.

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A Review of KÖ-OP:  A Cooperative 2-Player Game

KÖ-OP is a cooperative card game for only two players.  It was originally on Kickstarter back in December 2021.  It promised delivery in September 2022 and it delivered to me just last week (August 15th, 2022 or so). You read that right: this Kickstarter actually delivered early to its backers!  Kudos to the developers for this!

KÖ-OP is a 2-player only game: it’s the journey of cooperatively assembling furniture from “someplace like Ikea” (but legally distinct so they don’t get sued).  The elevator pitch of this game is that it’s Hanabi meets Fog of Love: it’s got hidden information that needs to be communicated, but within the bounds of the relationship.  Basically, players play two emotionally stunted people in a relationship who can barely communicate!  And they need to try to build furniture at the same time they are trying to repair their relationship.  

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Let’s take a look.

Unböxing

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This is a pretty small game game with some cards: you can see the scale of it (and its expansion: This Way Up) next to a Coke can above.

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The game unfolds like a strange Ikea package with hex cards and little teeny cards. See above and below.

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In case you are wondering what those little “bowling balsl” are on the inside packaging: those are Swedish meatballs. Oh yes, victory points in this game are meatballs: this is a very serious game.

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There’s not much to this. It’s a small game in a small box with some hex cards and tiny cards.

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Ruleböök

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I struggled with this rulebook.  It’s not bad, it just seems to skimp on examples and elaborations.  And it’s missing a few rules.  There were also some things I had questions about that weren’t addressed (see fixes section below).   This needs a FAQ, and a discussion of a few more things (“What do the dotted lines mean on manual cards?”  “When do I reuse cards from the discard?”, etc).  I was able to learn the game from the rulebook, the font was decent and big enough to read, so I guess that’s a win.  It was … okay.

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Sense of Humör

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I like that this game has a sense of humor: it makes fun of a lot of the Ikea stereotypes: weird tools and random bags of parts (see above), Swedish meatballs for victory points, and silly names of furniture like the Vulnerlib (see below).  In fact, every piece of furniture has a fun name made by squishing two cards together.

This game does a really good job of embracing that sense of humor and the silly Ikea stereotypes (such as barren black/white design of most cards, the meatballs, the Ikea icons, etc).

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Solo Play

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I tried a two-handed solo game to get a feel of the mechanics: it doesn’t really make sense to play this solo.  (EDIT: or maybe it does make sense to play solo as a learning tool?  Maybe this can be a tool for a person who has trouble with relationships: if the solo player plays both sides, maybe it can give the solo player perspective into why they have trouble with relationships!  It can also give insight on why lack of communication sucks so much!)

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I got kind of frustrated with the rulebook, but I was able to get through a round or two.  The game didn’t really work that great: I was hopeful that a real 2-Player game would make this sing!

2-Player Game

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I watched a 2-Player game and was the shepherd for the game.  It think it was more fun to watch the game being played than actually play it!

It didn’t go over well.  One quote was “The Swedish Meatballs were the only thing I liked.”  

Discussiön

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I think this game is too random.  I had perfect information playing solo 2-handed, and I still couldn’t build some of the furniture because the cards were against me: there’s no way I couldn’t gotten anything built if that were a 2-Player with imperfect information.  I got the wrong emotional cards, I got the wrong connectors, I got just everything wrong at the wrong time.  There are some ways to fix that, but in general, it was just frustrating.

I felt like a lot of times I had choices, but not information to make a real good choice.  Which needs card do I pick?  Which furniture do I build? (EDIT: I guess you can see the top Communication card, so that gives you some information).  

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Mostly, the emotional needs never mattered as you built furniture:  It seemed like the best way to score meatballs was to just build the furniture, and ignore the emotional needs. It was too hard to get the pieces you need with the right connections, so most of the time (all the time? I don’t think it mattered once) the limited communication trying to communicate needs never mattered. 

Build the furniture: that’s all that mattered.  And just hope you randomly get the furniture connections you need for the furniture you chose somewhat randomly.

“Oh, Not THAT Couple!!!”

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Have you ever been around that couple that can’t communicate and can’t work together?  They yell at each other and don’t help each other because they don’t know how to communicate.  I hate being around couples like that: it’s not fun, it’s uncomfortable, and I just want to leave.  We’ve all been around couples like that.  So, what does this game do?  It puts you in the place of the couple!! Players play two emotionally student individuals who can barely communicate!! I can’t think of anything less fun than roleplaying a bickering couple.  And that’s what this game is.  

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Players can barely communicate: they can really only communicate a tiny amount of info on their turn.

But this game has a sense of humor! There are meatballs for victory points!  Silly names for furniture!”  And you are right: that helps alleviate a little of that tension.  But once you realize that the game is too random, it sort of puts a dreary spin on the game: “Oh, we’re playing a doomed couple”.  The couple might get lucky, they might not.  More than likely, this couple’s relationship will probably not survive (even if their furniture does).  It’s sort of depressing to think: “This couple will not survive even though they are trying to make it work: they won’t be able to fulfill each other’s needs because they are so emotionally stunted!”

There might be some ways to fix this.

Pössible Fixes

One problem with the game is that there are some edge conditions or natural questions that the rulebook doesn’t answer. Perhaps a slightly more comprehensive rulebook would help. Here’s some thoughts that came up:

  1. Can I move or take apart already built furniture?  Thematically, it makes sense! If you’ve ever built furniture, you know you make mistakes and may have to redo something you’ve already done.  It’s just part of life.  There is NO DISCUSSION of this in the rulebook.  This one rule might actually the savior of the game, because it can allow you to fix up some stuff after it’s been placed.   The rules are completely silent on this, implying that once something is placed/built, it can’t be changed.
  2. Can I destroy 2 communication cards for one from some discard?   Sometimes you don’t get the connections you need, but there might be some you need in the discard.  It would be nice to have a mechanism where you could take two cards you have and trade them.  It’s also thematic: how many times do you have random crap laying around when building: “Oh, that’s what that’s for!”
  3. Can I have a few more options of communication?  Right now, you can only do one of three very limited things to communicate with your partner.  It would be nice if there were more you could communicate: 
    I. “None of these Communication cards is in my love languages” would be nice: it happened to me many times.  But I wasn’t allowed to communicate that.
    II. “Our relationship is more important than this furniture: these are my needs!”  Rather than build on your turn, just communicate your needs (or 2 of them or some subset of them) in place of building this turn.  It’s thematic and represents more emotional depth, sacrificing the dumb furniture to learn about your partner.
    iii. “I’m happy in this aspect, are you happy?”  There is no overlap of symbols: if you both need (say) 2 “time” love language to be happy, you actually need 2+2=4 total to satisfy that!  There’s no way to discover this until the end of the game.  Again, it would be nice if this couple talked more.
  4. Needs don’t seem to matter.  It was clear that the most important part of the game was the building of furniture.  It seems like there should have been some points scored if you built “parts” of furniture (points for working together) and got the love language points.  There was no way to switch gears: “Lets work on our relationship more than the furniture”.  Nope: this game was all about the building.  Maybe the Needs cards should be worth more?  The needs are ONLY worth two meatballs!!  Should they be 5 meatballs? 10?  “I mean, aren’t my needs worth anything?”

Don’t argue “Well, Hanabi only has minimal communication and it works!” with me: Hanabi is maximally streamlined and there’s only one source of randomness in the game, so they can get away with very minimal communication.  The KO-OP game has multiple sources of randomness (connectors, love languages, choice of furniture without any information), and there’s just too much randomness to overcome with such minimal communication.

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I really don’t want to play a part in an emotionally stunted couple, especially in a game with lots of randomness: it was just too depressing and frustrating for me and my group. Maybe that’s just us: you may not have that problem! You may think: “Lighten up! This is a game with good sense of humor and it’s only 25 minutes, so who cares if it’s too random”. And you wouldn’t be wrong.

Decide for yourself. If you think there might a fun time here for a short game: give it a shot! I also think with some extra rules/elaborations, this game might be a lot more fun: see our Possible Fixes section. Caveat Emptor.

A Review of Sync or Swim

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Sync or Swim is a lightweight, cooperative, realtime, card game from Bezier Games. I ordered this on Kickstarter back in February 2022 and it just arrived at my door this last week (July 23rd, 2022 or so): that’s a pretty quick turn around for a Kickstarter!

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You might be wondering why I have two copies of this game! The theme: Synchronized Swimming. Yes, that’s what I said … Synchronized Swimming!! It turns out Synchronized Swimming is a very popular high school sport in Minnesota (seriously, I am not making this up). Surprisingly popular! Both of my nieces have both done quite well in the sport. To celebrate them, I picked up one copy for myself and one copy for the girls!

Unboxing

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This is a fairly small box, larger than (say) UNO but smaller than (say) Codenames. I used those games on purpose as comparison … we’ll see why later …

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Each player (3-6 players) will get a cardboard platform (see above) to “swim” on: see above. The theme here is that each player is a swimmer on the Synchronized Swimming team.

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At its core, this is a card game. There are quite a number of cards in the box.

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The analogy to UNO is even more apt, as there are a bunch of colored cards numbered from 1-10. You’ll also notice that the cards have hands and feet on them .. these will come into play later … (see above and below). These cards are called SYNC cards: players play them from their hand to their platform.

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Finally, there are some ELEMENT cards: these set the challenging moves the swimmers will be performing:

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That’s kind of it! 

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The game is professional produced and looks good enough. It’s not especially thematic or pretty, but it’s very usable.

Rulebook

The rulebook has big text and is fairly easy to read and inviting.

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… but the first few pages say it all: GET THE FREE APP. This is a game controlled by the APP, so you absolutely have to have the APP to play.

The APP does a really good job of shepherding you through the rules and scenarios.

Solo Game

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In no way does this game support a solo mode! This is a big group game like Codenames! It’s for a Synchronized Swimming team trying to perform together!! I don’t really blame Sync or Swim for not having a solo mode. It doesn’t make sense thematically or from a gameplay perspective.

Nevertheless, I tried to play the game solo to learn the rules: See above and below.

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I played as if it were a 3-Player game: see above. Each player gets a platform and 2 SYNC cards to start (more cards come out as the routines get harder). Swimmers can only look at their cards at the start of the timer. That’s right: this is a timed game!

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During the timed phase, players can look at their cards, talk openly about what they have, and pass cards back-and-forth face down. The game is also a hidden info game: you aren’t allowed to show your cards, but you can talk openly about everything you have. This might seem a silly distinction, but in the heat of the moment of a real-time game, this is a big deal! You may not have time to tell everyone everything you have!

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Each “level” will have a Swim Objective. The example above requires all swimmers to put the same number of their platform, but different colors. And this is the flavor of most trials in the game: all players must place cards face-up on their platform matching some performance criteria. (Matching colors, matching hands, feet, numbers, mismatching, etc).

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You can see my solo game above with the first two platforms filled!

The game gets harder and harder as you have to fill the first platform, then 2, then 3, then 4, then finally all 5! It’s chaotic as player pass cards back and forth trying to meet all the criteria!

Ya. This doesn’t work at all as a solo game. But that’s okay. I learned it that way!

Cooperative Play

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But of course, the real way to play this is cooperative.  My niece (above) won state last year at Synchronized Swimming, so the game has to pass muster with her!

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This is a silly, chaotic, cooperative game.  When players “finish” their goals, they put their hands over their heads like they are diving.  Very serious game…

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The cooperative game gets harder and harder until you perform 5 of the ELEMENTS: see use with a winning game above!

Cooperatively, this was pretty fun.  And silly.  We passed cards, yelled, and had a good time.

Was it like Synchronized Swimming?  Surprisingly yes! According to the expert in our group, the coach talks about the routines before they even get in the water, the routines are learned piecemeal (a little bit at a time), and when we messed up playing (because you will), it’s just like practice in real life!  “Oh, I didn’t get that the first time.  Okay, let’s do it again!”

You end up doing the synchronized swimming routines at least a few times until you get it.  It was a light silly game, about 20-25 minutes long.  We had fun.

The APP

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So, this game requires an APP.  That may be a turn off for some of you, but I found that it did a very good job of walking us through the game.  You could easily click on things in the APP for further elaboration. And it was colorful!   And it applauded for us after our routines!  It really did enhance the game!

I asked my niece: “Could you teach this game your friends?”  And she said yes: I think partly because the APP made is pretty easy.  

Conclusion

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Sync or Swim  is a lightweight cooperative party card game. It’s somewhere around UNO and Escape: Curse of the Hidden Temple  in complexity, but it’s still fairly straightforward.  The lightweight card play reminds me of UNO (especially with the colored, numbered cards), but the sharing and chaos reminds me a little of Escape: Curse of the Hidden Temple (from our Top 10 Cooperative Dice Games).

The game requires an APP on your phone, which may be a turn-off for some people, but the APP does a great job shepherding players through the game.  It’s also a realtime game, which may also turn some people off.  Sync or Swim doesn’t evoke that much theme at first: it’s a colored card game, but it does get some points for embracing the theme (mostly because of the APP) as much as it can for a colored/numbered cards game.

It doesn’t sound like I love this game, and I don’t.  But I like it: I’d much rather play the cooperative game of Sync or Swim than UNO.  The next time someone pulls out UNO, maybe Ill pull this out in instead and see if it works better.  It was silly fun for me and my groups.

A Review of The Spill: A Cooperative Board Game

The Spill is a cooperative game for 1-4 Players from Smirk and Dagger. This game was on Kickstarter in September 2021. It promised delivery in April 2022 and just delivered to me a few days ago (Aug 7th, 2022 or so). You know, 4 months late for a Kickstarter is pretty good! No grumpiness here!

This is a game about cleaning up an oil spill and saving animals in the ocean/gulf. The main feature of the game is the giant orange dice tower: this is the toy inside that will sell the game! See below.

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Let’s take a look and see if it’s any good!

Unboxing and Gameplay

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The Spill is all about throwing black dice (“the oil”) into the big orange dice tower (“the Oil Rig”): thematically, the oil is spewing out of the oil rig into water.  See above.

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You can see the tons of black dice on the right (above) and the Oil Rig in its deconstructed state. Spoiler Alert! You will have to assemble the Oil Rig at the start of every game and disassemble it to put it back in the box. I worry a little about this because the little plastic posts that hold up the tower seem “slightly” fragile.

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The Spill is a cooperative game with asymmetric player powers: each player takes the role of a Specialist with different powers. There are 8 total roles to choose from (see above). Each role has a different ability to help make the game a little easier.

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Before the start of the game, players choose (randomly) one of the WIN Condition cards (see above). The more little gold dots at the top left, the harder the game. But, you just choose one of these WIN Condition cards, and that sets the three things you need to do to win. Usually, you have to save so many sea creatures, clean up so much oil, and clean up contaminated wildlife. Each card is a little different, so the game can change between plays!

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The Situation Board (above) shows a bunch of information (animals saved, Oil removed, icon reminders, borrowed actions), but most important: the oil drop at the top shows you how many dice you will drop in the oil rig next turn!! Every time there is a spill, that little oil drop advances, and later in the game you will be getting more and more dice per turn!

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The dice drop into one of 4 quadrants: each quadrant has spaces for the dice 1-6: see above.  You can see as the dice come out, they start to fill up a sector!  In a kind of pandemic like way, if there are ever three dice on one sector, you have a SPILL OUT!

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In our game above, we have 4 SPILL OUTS! (See the orange banners marking the sectors were there are three dice in one sector). If there are ever 6 SPILL OUTS on the board at the end of a turn, players lose!

You clean dice as you go and remove SPILL OUTS, but a SPILL OUT can always come back!

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The other ways to lose are: (1) if you get 3 or more of the same contaminated creatures in the Sick Bay (see above where any dolphin, octopus, or manta ray will cause us to lose!). Or (2) if one creature of each type comes to the sick bay. Creatures come to the Sick Bay if they are still contaminated at the end of the turn.

To summarize: you lose if there are too many SPILL OUTS, or if there are too many contaminated creatures in the Sickbay!!

You win (typically) if you if you clean up enough oil and save enough creatures. See a winning board below (with 10 oil removed, 3 sets of marine life saved, and 4 contaminated marine life saved).

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How do you save creatures and remove oil? With Action Points of course! Each player gets 4 Action Points (abbreviated AP throughout the game). Each Specialist card has a summary at the bottom:

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It’s pretty expensive to remove Oil (3AP), but pushing a plain oil cube is only 1 AP: movement is 1 AP, and rescuing a healthy marine animal is 1 AP, but rescuing a contaminated one is 2 AP.

Every player must drop oil into the oil rig, then use their 4AP to do what they need to. There is a cool mechanism for borrowing AP which we’ll discuss below.

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Overall, the game looks really nice and has nice quality components.

Rulebook

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The rulebook is quite good.  It was easy to read,  it gave great directions and pictures for set-up, and it was easy to reference for questions.  I think there’s only one question we had (“What if the spill out marker goes past the end?”) that we couldn’t answer.  

Seriously, this was a very good rulebook.  The components were well-labelled and marked in the first pages, and it had easy directions for assembling the dice tower.

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Set-up was easy:

The rulebook had a nice big set-up section with pictures and easy-to-read fonts.

The rest of the rulebook was easy to read. The rulebook ends with a bang with a nice summary on the back.

Seriously, this was a really good rulebook.

Solo Play

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Congratulations to the Spill for following Saunders’ Law: this cooperative game has a solo mode! It’s easy and well-specified. It’s easy to follow because basically all games (no matter how many players) always must have 4 specialists! The solo player simply plays all 4 Specialists like a 4-Player game. See my solo game with 4 Specialists above. At first, I was concerned that this would be too much (we’ve complained at Legends of Sleepy Hollow for this sin) because 4 Specialists will have a lot of context switching between characters! See How To Play A Cooperative Game Solo here for more discussion of this.

It turns out, it’s not that big a deal to play 4 characters in the Spill because they each have very simple powers. This is both boon and bane because the powers are simple enough to context switch between, but it also means the Specialists aren’t “that different” from each other. (One thing you can say about the characters in Legends of Sleepy Hollow: the characters are all very different and interesting but context switching between them is difficult). For The Spill, I think this simplicity was okay: this game feels like entry game (more discussion below).

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I was able to win my first game of The Spill, but it was challenging. I got a few rules wrong (which we discovered after we played it cooperatively), but that’s my own fault. I’d say the only “slightly confusing” thing in this game were the weather dice.

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Occasionally, you will draw one of 4 blue weather dice from the bag, and it will cause something in in the game to be harder: see above as saving marine life now costs one AP more. The weather die affects everyone, but you can reset the effect ON JUST YOUR SPECIALIST at the end of your turn.

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Playing solo was straightforward and I had fun. I was “concerned” that the game might have too much randomness. We’ll revisit that below.

Cooperative Play

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Our first cooperative play was 4-Players, which was the perfect size (because you must always play 4 Specialists anyways).

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I taught my friends the game very quickly and they picked it up quickly. We made choices on out turn and.

One interesting thing that happened (which I didn’t reflect upon until later) was that this game tends to prevent Alpha Players! (See our discussion of Alpha Player Syndrome here). I think the reason was that each player “typically” only can operate in their own quadrant of the board because movement is expensive. Players have to be spread out over the quadrants to “cover” each quadrant, or they will lose! So, even if there’s a cube you want to get on your turn, it’s too expensive to move across the board. And the Oil Rig dice tower kind of “blocks” other sides of board: you can only see your quadrant and your neighbors. So, you can’t ALpha Play because (a) you can’t see everyone’s state without serious looking around (b) movement is too expensive to be traipsing around the board. This means that each player tends to concentrate on their own quadrant and shut-out/down the Alpha Player.

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That doesn’t mean we didn’t communicate: we’d discuss ways to use the Resource Cards, what we needed to get, things to concentrate on. We had the high-level discussions and each player would tend to concentrate on the low-level activities of their own sector.

This game went over like gang-busters! Everyone seemed to really like it!

The Oil Rig

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It feels stupid to say this, but dropping dice into the Oil Rig was really fun! It’s silly, but the kinesthetic experience of dropping the dice and watching them disperse was quite enjoyable. Even if you don’t like co-ops, this dexterity element was fun. And everyone got to drop dice on their turn, so it was a shared experience: everyone got a turn!

Seriously, the Oil Rig made the game more fun.

EDIT: We just finished watching the Dice Tower do a playthrough of The Spill, and they had trouble with dice spilling out (no pun intended) outside the little container. It looked very frustrating! We didn’t have this problem when we played. We tended to throw the dice in all at once, and it didn’t seem to be a problem for us. Not sure what the difference is between our set-up and the Dice Tower set-up, but it was definitely an issue for them. It wasn’t for us. Caveat Emptor.

Resource Cards 

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This would be a pretty “by-the-numbers” co-op if the game were just what we described. But two things really elevated the experience: first was the Resource Cards. See above.

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At the start of the game, each Specialist chooses 1 of 2 Resource Cards to go out (4 will be out at the start of the game). Whenever you get 3 oil removed or gain a set of three animals, you get an orange marker to put on one of the Resource cards! These resource cards are GOOD THINGS to can choose to do (they reminded me of the resource cards in Pandemic that you can play at any time) during your turn, if you have enough orange markers on it.

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If you look at the Situation board, you can see the little orange cubes on the board, clearly demarking when you get on! It was great to have these Resource Cards, as you could choose to do some out-of-the-box turns to get something done! Resource Cards promoted some more strategic thinking, as we had some “helpful” mechanism near the endgame.

You could argue these are just like the Pandemic “anytime” cards, and you’d be right. But it was cool that you got to select them at the start of the game and that anyone could activate them: they took the Pandemic idea and gave it an upgraded twist!

Extra Actions

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I think what really made the game special was the “Extra Actions”: see the “Extra Action Pool” on the right side of the board.

Basically, it allows you (if you want) to add 1 or 2 more Action Points to your turn, at the cost of adding an extra oil dice for the next turn!! I can’t tell you how many co-ops I have played where I said “OH!! I wish I had just one more action to get something done!” With this mechanism, you can!

Basically, you can choose when you need a few more APs, but you know the cost. This mechanism feels like you have more agency on your turn.

I loved this mechanism and the it really elevated the gameplay for me!

Discussion 

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My major worries with this game was that “it was too random” and “it was too much like Pandemic“. Let’s look at both of these in turn.

After playing a few times, I think the randomness can still be an issue, but there are several reasons why this wasn’t an ongoing concern. Firstly, The Spill is a fast game! It’s about 45 minutes, so it’s easy to get back and play again. I can think of games of Pandemic where the randomness wrecked us: it’s just the nature of the beast for some co-ops. Sometime you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you. Secondly, there are enough mechanisms (between Resource Cards and Extra Action Points and Special Powers) to mitigate a lot of this randomness. Randomness is debilitating when players feel they don’t have any agency to counteract it, but I think The Spill contains enough mechanisms to give players that agency. Said another way, the randomness didn’t seem to get to us.

As for the “it was too much like Pandemic” argument, my friends really thought this felt different from Pandemic. Granted, there are a lot of similarities, but there’s enough differences for this to be its own game. Between the dice throwing and Extra Actions and Resource Cards, gameplay was different enough to enjoy this outside of Pandemic.

In the end, my friends and I think this is entry cooperative game. It’s slightly more complicated than Forbidden Island (the prototypical entry co-op), but less complicated than Pandemic. But we still liked it and would love to play it again. It’s just not a super heavy game, but that’s not a ding! I could see this on the shelf at Target!

Theme

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Some people might have a problem with the theme, but after playing the game, the theme wasn’t a concern.

Most of my game group did NOT like Endangered (see our review here) because the creatures you were trying to save actually got killed!! I was worried my friends would have the same problems here! Nope, the creature aren’t killed … they go to “SickBay“:

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Our joke was “Is SickBay like the farm my dog Rover went to when he was sick?” The Spill got around the issue by just calling it SickBay (good job guys!).

In general, the theme wasn’t too gross or debilitating. Honestly, the Oil Rig dice tower is so fun it kind of “suppresses” the kinda dismal theme. (I mean, the theme is a broken oil rig polluting the oceans and killing animals!) But, we are working to fix it! So, we are doing a positive thing and the theme didn’t seem to get to anyone. It might for you: Caveat Emptor.

Conclusion

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I liked The Spill a lot more than I expected to! It’s an entry level cooperative game, but it was fun! It was fun to throw dice in the Oil Rig, it was fun to discuss concerns at a high-level, it was fun to try to solve the puzzle here. Although this game has some randomness in it, the mechanisms to mitigate said randomness worked really well: I think the Extra Action Points mechanism was just brilliant and really elevated the game from a “by the numbers co-op” to something more interesting.

I’d recommend this game as a good entry game (assuming the theme doesn’t get to you: it didn’t cause us any consternation) or for players who want a light but fun co-op.

RichieCon 2022: A Success!

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What does it mean if RichieCon weren’t a success? An unsuccessful RichieCon would mean:

  • People would be unhappy (but everyone had a great time)
  • Weather would bad (but it was fairly mild for Tucson, and it rained just enough to keep it cool but not enough to cause problems)
  • Games were not played (but a ton of games were played!)

So, RichieCon 2022 was a success!

Day 0: Preparations

Before RichieCon 2022 could start, games had to be boxed from the RichieCon Collection so they could easily be taken to the Rec Center;  most of this happened the week before!

Day 1: Thursday, July 28th

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A small cadre of people showed up at (what we dubbed) “The Las Cruces house” or “RichieCon After Dark”.  Basically, all the Las Cruces people (and a few others) stayed at one big house for RichieCon.

Some games were played (and a lot of Sentinels of the Multiverse)!  People said Hi, and got ready for the big event!

Day 2: Friday, July 29th

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A food run was critical: RichieCon provides for lunch on Saturday, so a quick trip to CostCo was necessary for foodstuff.

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Preparations were made at the Rec Center!  Most importantly, drinks had to be put in the fridge so they’d be cold for Saturday!

Days 3 & 4: Saturday, July 30th, Sunday July 31st: RichieCon 2022 begins!

Games of the Con

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The game I saw played most at RichieCon 2022 was Canvas! I saw it played SO MANY times!  This is a light, beautiful game that everyone seems to enjoy!  And it’s not even a co-op!

Train games were a surprising hit!  I saw a bunch of people playing the older Railways of the World (well, the older version called Railroad Tycoon) and the newer and hotter cooperative Switch and Signal!

Ark Nova seemed to always be out, but only because it takes 4 hours to play! I saw it played once on Saturday and and once on Sunday! Some people liked it, some people thought it was okay, and some people did not like Ark Nova!

Century Spice Road: Golem Edition and Splendor (original and Marvel) made a splash last year, and again this year: I saw everyone playing both of these!

My Father’s Work was one of the longer games played, and I was able to be in it! Fun but very involved games!  This is a huge worker placement game! 

Ivan brought his Return to Dark Tower (a bog sprawling co-op with a cool tower) and it got played twice as well! Two big, long games!

Heroes of Terrinoth, an older co-op by the Sadler Brothers got played at least twice.  It also got pimped out! See below.

Pimp My Board Game

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We tried something different this year: Junkerman set-up a “Pimp By Board Game” table.  While he worked on my copy of Heroes of Terrinoth to pimp out, he would chat with people about ways to help your board games!

If you wanted a “relaxing” time after playing a longer game (like Ark Nova or My Father’s Work), we had the perfect activity: Pimp My Board Game!  Below, Linda helps Joe.

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Top 6 List: Games of Interest from 2021/2022

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This year’s Top 6 (was a Top 10 last year, changed to a  Top 6 to make it shorter) was all about games we’ve played since we last met!  The idea was that pose questions and try to get people involved!

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#6 What game from the last year surprised you the most?  Good or bad surprise?
Steelslayer: The Reckoners Expansion.  I had to play the original Reckoners game again to remind myself of the rules, and I forgot how good the Reckoners game is!! The surprise was that I forget how great the original game was!  See our review here.
 
 
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#5 What game in the last year did you think Tom Vasel (from the Dice Tower) is wrong on his rating?
Sentinels of The Multiverse.  This year, Tom said he dropped his rating from a 7 to a 6.  He is so wrong on this!!  Sentinels of the Multiverse was also a major game of RichieCon: it was played at least 10 times overs the course of RichieCon! At least 3 or 4 or us have it as it as one of our favorite games: I give it a 10.  Tom is wrong.  See my review here.
 
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#4 What game (that you paid for) did you really dislike?  It’s easy to dislike games other people paid for, but what did you pay for that you disliked?
Tiny Epic Dungeons.  I didn’t like it, my group didn’t like it, it was not a good experience.  See our review here in Three Quick Reviews of Cooperative Games.
 
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#3 What game that came out in the last year that you liked but other’s didn’t?
Hour of Need by the Sadler Brothers.  I really enjoyed this game, but it takes a long time to internalize the rules.  Along the way, I lost Sara.  She didn’t like it, but I really came to enjoy it.  See our review here.
 
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#2 What was your favorite expansion that came out in the last year?
X-Men: Marvel United and Days of Future Past.  I got a whole bunch of content for Marvel United: see our Expansion Absorption entry here.  If it weren’t an expansion, I’d say Days of Future Past would be my game of the year!  See our review here.
 
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#1 What was your favorite game that came out in the last year?
Tokyo Sidekick. Despite needing some house rules for rebalance, I enjoyed this game quite a bit:  This is a cooperative superhero game where each player controls a hero and sidekick team fighting to save Tokyo!  So very thematic with lots of ways to advance your character as you play!  See our review here.

More Pictures

Conclusion

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Another year has come and gone: we saw new friends and old friends! We played, chatted, laughed, and partied. We look forward to seeing you next year!

A Mini-Review of The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance

The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance is a very light cooperative story-telling game. Players each create a character and take them through a very light adventure to find some “relic” or Object D’Interest. All players quest together as a team. See below.

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Characters

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Pads for each template character type

This is a light dungeon-crawler game: each character will create a character using one of the 5 prototypes in the game: Priest, Wizard, Warrior, Bard, or Rogue. See picture above.

The act of creating your character is fairly quick: you answer 3 simple questions about the “nature” of your character and use that to help guide your character through the game. In general, you want to stay “true” to your characters (but if you don’t, there are no real consequences).

Take a closer look at the Wizard sheet (above) for a sense of the questions you’ll be asked to set-up our character. Again, this is a story-telling game, so you are just “goofing” and creating a backstory out of your imagination.

You can see our group took this VERY seriously: we went with an Italian food motif with Lil’ Meatball (the warrior), Noodle (the Wizard), Sauce (the Bard), and Parmesan (The Priest). See below.

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This character-creating process should be an immediate indicator of whether you will love or hate this game: the game does seem to lean towards silliness.

Components

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This is mostly a card game: the cards will specify events and monster to overcome: you will tell stories of how you overcame said events and monsters.

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This is not a “pure” storytelling game: you will be rolling the dice (above) to see if you pass events/defeat monsters.  Generally, with the dice and your “extra plusses”, you will have to roll OVER the amount on the card.  The mechanism is dirt-simple.

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For example, to get through “The Great Gate” above (green card on right), the current player will have to roll-play, tell a story, and get a 6 or above to get through the gate.   Some events will get extra plusses if you incorporate extra story elements.

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As you play, you can turn in completed events/monster for treasure.  See some treasure above.

Rules

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We chose to watch the video by Becca Scott to see how to play.  I would recommend watching this video to learn: it was reasonable and she is very upbeat.

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After we basically got set-up, we’d occasionally look at the video to get clarifications.

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We had to look at the rulebook “a little”, but in general, the video was good enough.

Gameplay

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Gameplay is pretty simple: everyone gets a turn trying to defeat a monster/event on the board. Once you go all around, you get to “reset” you character (each player has a help token they can use once per round).

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One other player can offer to help, but it uses their “help” token. If you defeat the event/monster, you keep the defeated card … with enough of them, you can turn them in for treasure.

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You have no choice on which treasure you get: you just get the top card of the Treasure deck. LIke the Haunted Doll … not sure we would have chosen that as treasure!

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You can lose if the “party health” goes to zero (top of the board). Each failure in the game will cause some damage to the “party health”, depending on the event/monster.

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And that’s it! Players keep going until they get through 2 piles on the board, and they lose f the party health goes to 0! Very simple.

Solo Mode vs Cooperative Mode

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There is no given solo mode: this is a game for 2-5 players. This is a light, cooperative story-telling game. There’s no reason you couldn’t play two characters (you definitely need at least 2 characters so they can help each other) to play solo, but it seems like it would be not fun.

This is a cooperative story-telling game where you feed off of each others stories and silliness. It really should be played as a group.

Thoughts

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This is a very light game: I know, I’ve said that a lot. It’s a little random, as you have no control over what treasures you get, but I guess that’s the nature of treasure, isn’t it? The game presents a framework for storytelling and gives you places to tell little stories. It forces you to roll some dice so you do fail sometimes (sometimes failure is funnier than succeeding) and make the game interesting. There is an interesting notion of cooperation, as each player can use offer help or accept help from a few characters, but at the cost of not being to help others.

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Each player gets a token to help others: see the +2 for the Wizard above. Once it’s spent, it can’t used until the round (each player gets one go) ends.

There was a little bit of strategy in the endgame as we had to make sure we could defeat the final puzzle by spending our help tokens properly. In general, though, this was just a light game where we told stories and had fun.

Conclusion

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You’ll probably know if you’d like the game after getting here: if you want a light, cooperative, story-telling game, this is fun. The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance presents a nice framework for a silly storytelling game. The combat/events mechanisms are dirt simple and keep the prospect of failure in the game so as to make the game at least somewhat interesting (it’s boring to win all the time).

Interestingly, I think my friends like this game a little more than I did: they like RPGs and play them quite a bit, so the notion of creating a story and populating that world was appealing. I didn’t like it quite as much, probably because it felt just a little too random. But, this game was still fun: I got to hang out with my friends one evening and tell silly stories.

Oh yes, this game encourages silliness: For example, see above: Steven The Goldfish is treasure? Take a look at our Top 10 Cooperative Games With a Sense of Humor for other games with a silly view.

Ark Nova: An Experiment in Cooperative Games

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Those of you paying attention might be saying “Wait a Minute! Ark Nova is an engine building game that’s completely competitive! You can’t play it cooperatively!”

Or can you?

Well, this would be a pretty short blog entry if you couldn’t.

An Idea From Solo Mode

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To win the solo mode, you need to get at least zero victory points! Scoring is a little different in Ark Nova: it is a victory point game, but the number of victory points you get is (nominally) the difference between your Appeal value and your Conservation track (modulo some rules for snapping to an edge).

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See the picture above: My victory points for a solo game were 80 – 67 = 13 victory points (the conservation track uses the smallest number in the range on the green track). Don’t expect huge scores in this game: if you can get a positive score, that’s a big deal! (Note, if this were the other around, I would have -13 victory points! A loss!)

Engine Building in a Zoo

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Ark Nova game reminds me a little of Terraforming Mars meets Endangered: it’s an engine builder (with lots of cards: see above) with a zoo/conservation theme where you build your own zoo: see below.

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Building a Zoo!

Ark Nova is also about as long as Terraforming Mars: It’s quite long, and the more people play, the longer it is.

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Take That!

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At first blush, this seem like is that there really isn’t any “take-that” in this game. By “take that”, we mean mechanisms were you intentionally do something bad to another player to help yourself. In our first solo game, we didn’t see any cards that would “screw” other players. That gave us hope that maybe turning this into cooperative would work! Generally, you are just worried about building the best engine you can and doing the best on your turn! There is player interaction in the sense that you might take an animal someone else wants, or start the break early, but these are much more passive interactions. Generally, you aren’t out to get people: you just want to build build build.

Unfortunately, after playing again and looking closer at the rules, there are quite a number of “take-that” mechanisms in the game: stealing cards or money, putting poison, hypnosis, constriction. See images form the Icon sheet below. All the yellow/red tokens are “take-that” to some extent.

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This might be a sign that a cooperative mode is a bad idea. To make this work, we’d have to either (a) completely eliminate these cards or (b) rewrite the text so the effects are different. The deck is MUCH too large (212 cards) to go through it apriori and eliminate the “take-that” cards before game, so we’ll have to eliminate them as they come up.

Cooperative Play

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Once we get rid of the “take-that” cards in the game, it’s very simple to add a cooperative mode. Ready?

In the cooperative mode of Ark Nova, players work together to build their engines with the intent that no player gets negative victory points.  Players win together if all players have zero or more victory points!

And that’s it! Well, that’s the idea at least: we use the idea from the solo mode that negative victory points are bad, so that all players must work together to make sure none of their fellow compatriots are lagging. We like this idea because it keeps the entire flow of the game, but still gives somewhat of a notion of cooperation in the endgame.

DungeonLords

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Those of you with good memories might think “Hey, didn’t you propose something like this for DungeonLords?” Good memory! Recall from this Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively, we added some rules to make DungeonLords cooperative! The idea was very similar:

In the cooperative mode for DungeonLords, players win as a group if they can keep all Dungeons “pristine” and unexplored by the hero parties.

We dubbed this stay-out-each-other’s-way cooperative, and that’s very similar to what we propose here: players will mostly just try to stay out of each other’s way as they play.  

What Really Happened

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We started Ark Nova with the best intentions to play it cooperatively. “How hard can it be? Play normally and get rid of the take-that cards as you play!” Harder than you think.

First of all, there’s a lot of cards with a lot of text in the game that come out (in the display or in your hand). Culling the “take-that” cards dynamically is actually a lot of work because we have to read a lot of cards as they came out: this really ground the game to a halt. In the end, we just let the “take that” cards come out because they weren’t that bad. But, it seemed like an inauspicious start.

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Also, what really happened: we all got too invested in our boards!! We played for 3.5 hours (4-player game). After so much investment in time and momentum (individually) in our zoos, we just kinda “forgot” about playing this cooperatively. After 3.5 hours, we were also tired and kinda just wanted the game to end. My players essentially said that “there was too much thinking: trying to embrace a cooperative mode at the endgame just seemed out of reach”. It was too much.

Conclusion

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Is it a good idea to turn Ark Nova into a cooperative game? I don’t know, but our first experiment/session in this endeavour was a complete flop. Players (individually) got too invested in their own zoos and it was too hard to break out of that mold. It almost feels like we just ran a psychology experiment: “What happens if you try to add cooperation to a world-view that has already embraced competition?” In our case, the cooperation failed.

That doesn’t mean we might not still pursue this cooperative idea, but preliminary results show that this is perhaps a bad idea for Ark Nova.