A Curious Review of Automated Alice (the Cooperative Dice Game)

Automated Alice is a cooperative dice-placement game that was on Kickstarter back in October 2020. It just delivered to me a few days ago at the time of this writing (January 16th, 2022), so I guess it has to count as a 2022 game.

IMG_9399

Automated Alice is based on a novel by Jeff Noon … of which I know absolutely nothing, except that this has “something” to do with the Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland books.

I kind of blind-backed this cooperative game because I always like to try smaller games from smaller publishers. It turns out I really do like cooperative dice-placement as a mechanism (which is what Automated Alice is), as three of our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021 were cooperative dice-placement games! So, I was excited to get this little game to the table!

Unboxing

IMG_9398

As a kickstarter backer, I got a little extra mini of Alice wrapped in bubble-wrap: see above and below.

IMG_9405

The first thing you notice upon unboxing is the really nice dice bag!

Next in the box is a letter from the author (Jeff Noon) of the book Automated Alice. It’s a nice little emotional journey through what Automated Alice means to him. To be clear, the designer of the Automated Alice dice game is another fellow: Robb De Nicola.

The rulebook is next: you can see (above) that it’s quite readable.

The punchouts come next: Alice represents where the players are on the board and the “snake lady” is the bad guy (Civil Serpent) chasing Alice around the board. The clock is used for multiple things: timer (not real-time timer, but “number of rounds until game is over” timer), “good dice” pool, and “bad dice” pool.

IMG_9419

The majority of the action is around the 6 Case Files (I would have just called them boards)? These are the 6 boards that Alice will be exploring.

This is a cooperative dice-placement game, so there are a ton of pretty colored dice: these are the dice that go in the dice bag. There is also a single die (the MRS Minus die) that determines where the “bad snake lady” will go (you roll: she goes and blocks one of the 6 Case Files).

IMG_9428

Last by not least are some really pretty linen-coated cards: there are the missions that Alice will go on! See above. The players (as Alice) will have to place dice on these cards matching the color, order, sum, even/odd, and/or other conditions. It’s a dice-placement game!

Overall, the game looks pretty decent: I really liked the linen-finished cards! I think one of the reasons I picked up this game is that I liked the comic-booky art. There’s not tons of art, but the art on the cards was a lot of the reason I backed this game.

IMG_9425

Overall, pretty decent components.  I still like the art.

Rulebook

IMG_9409

The first page set-up and components are okay: they don’t actually show a picture of set-up unless you look on the box. Sigh. I had this problem with Backwoods: the rulebook should ALWAYS show a picture of the game set-up! But, the back of the box shows the set-up: see below.

IMG_9401

IMG_9410

The rulebook is a little light on content: it doesn’t handle a lot of edge conditions.  I think there’s some things that need to be spelled out in the rulebook.   For instance:

There should a page describing, in more detail, all the special powers of the each of the case files.  What does the above mean?  “Blind swap a dice”?  Any die?  Green die?  From the bag?  From other locations?  It probably means from the bag, but I don’t know if green dice (which are “place blockers”) are in the category.  Help?

This wasn’t a particularly good rulebook.  It was just barely enough to get me going and playing.  I guess that’s good enough?  We need to talk more about the rulebook, but first let’s take a look at the solo game.

Solo Play

IMG_9403

The rules seem to get this right: the box says 1-4 players and there are set-up rules for each player count: the game just really changes in (1) how many clue cards are out and (2) how long you have until the game is over (what the timer is set to).

IMG_9414

A solo player has 12 rounds with exactly 1 clue card on each case file: see below.

IMG_9436

To win, you have to “solve” all cards, which means putting the proper dice on it: this is a dice-placement game after all.

IMG_9439

On your turn, you draw 4 dice from the bag: if you can match the color and conditions, you can complete a card!  See above for a completed card!  If you complete all 6 before time runs out, you win!

IMG_9448

Part of the problem are green dice: they just are “blockers”! If you pull a green dice from the bag, you MUST block one of the spots on the card you are on! The only way (besides special cards) to get rid of these is to sacrifice a die of the needed color (and same or bigger number) to cancel it out.  

IMG_9443

Worse, as you go, the dice bag gets leaner and leaner as dice YOU COULDN’T USE go the Dice Hold (middle of the clock)!!! Above, you see a “mid-game” dice hold with lots of dice I couldn’t use!  Green dice are a little different: If you can’t place them (the evil awful bad green dice) because spaces are filled, they go to the Civil Servant Threat track.  At 6 spaces, you lose the game.

IMG_9454

Every turn, the Civil Servant (evil snake lady) moves to some location (rolls the white dice) : she is a blocker!! The player(s) can’t travel to the Case where she is.  So, Alice must choose an unblocked location and moves there.  She draws 4 dice.  She MUST place the green dice first, then she can try to place the rest. Anything she can’t place goes on the clock.  If she “solves” a card, she gets to keep it: each card has a special power!

IMG_9441

In the picture above, Alice has solved the card so she can keep it! (Yes, purple dice are wild). Later in the game, she can discard the card to (in this case) turn any die to odd.

IMG_9453

The game continues until time runs out, the dice bag runs out, or all 6 spaces of the Threat Track are filled.

Cooperative Game

IMG_9537

The cooperative game is very similar to the solo game: you start with more clue cards (see above) and have less time on the clock.  The other difference is that the Civil Serpent only moves after everyone had had a turn.

IMG_9539

I’ll be honest here, without the cooperative game, I would have hated this game.  My friends and I re-read the rules and had an interpretation that “seems” inline with how we were supposed to play.  I liked the way we chatted, talked about where to move, and what to do with dice as a group.  We had fun with this game, but only AFTER we, as a group, figured out some poorly specified things. See “The Curious Case of the Comma” below.  Seriously, we had to cooperate to figure out the game!

The Curious Case of the Comma

IMG_9545

This rulebook isn’t very good: the basic game play is summarized on one of the last pages of the rulebook.  My first solo game went so badly, I almost threw this in a bin.  These rules are really poorly-written.  There are three main things that aren’t clear, and come from these 2 lines in the rulebook:

IMG_9544

Issues here:

  1. The comma on instruction 5 seems to imply you have to roll the dice you have moved or stayed.  Without the comma, it sounds like you can only re-roll if you move? 
  2. How many times are you allowed to move?  We think you can only move once, even though line 6 makes me think we can move up to 2 times and re-roll 2 or 3 times?
  3. But the total number of rolls is 3.  I wish they should have used the word “re-roll” instead, because line 6 almost implies you get 3 re-rolls “after” the initial roll?  We think they mean, like Yahtzee, you get 1 initial roll and 2 follow-up re-rolls.

Without further clarification, we misinterpreted these rules many times.  In my first solo game, I didn’t even think I could move after I rolled or re-rolled!  So I was completely slammed.  After me and my friends played cooperatively, we tried a few things and below “seems” like the right interpretation of these rules:

  1. You get your first roll.  Place dice (green must be placed first) as appropriate.
  2. You can (stay and re-roll) OR (move and re-roll).  This is second roll (1st re-roll).
  3. You can’t move again, but you can do a third roll (2nd re-roll).

With this interpretation, the game seemed playable and fun.

IMG_9541

I think Lewis Carrol and Jeff Noon might find it funny that a comma can make the difference between the game being fun or not! Lewis Carroll liked to play with language and meaning like that…

Where Are The Choices?

IMG_9439

The main choices in the game are the following:

  1. Use the Special Power on the Case Board you are on.  Above, Zenith o’Clock can add 1 to a die.
  2. Roll the dice up to 3 times.  Once you have pulled the dice from the game, you can re-roll them (like Yahtzee) up to two times
  3. Move.  You can go to any Case Board (except were Mrs. Minus is)
  4. Decide when to use special powers.  When you solve a case, you keep the card.  In the card above, you can discard the card to change a die to odd.
  5. Take a card from the Dice Hold, but advance time.  

In general, these are the main decisions.

First Impressions

IMG_9450

This game AT FIRST was just too random.  Notice above: I drew 4 dice and 3 of them were green!!! I have to place them on the card and block 3 spaces now!  Which will cost me at least 1 or 2 more turns to clear!  The solo game only gives you 12 turns to play, and if you have even 1 bad draw like above, you are almost certainly done!! You just won’t have time to clear the card and still satisfy the card conditions! Remember, you have to sacrifice a die AND it has to be greater AND it has to be the right color!  So, it may take 2 turns to just clear the space!

The “green snake lady” mechanic also adds more randomness: you roll a six-sided dice to see where she goes every turn!  She may stay out of your way completely, or she may block your progress at the worst possible time!

IMG_9441

I like the art, but this game AT FIRST was just way too random.  I never felt like I had any way to mitigate if I drew the wrong color!! 

IMG_9533

It turns out, moving AFTER your first roll of the dice allows you to mitigate what dice you pulled!  You pulled all yellow?  You can move to a Case File with some yellow dice!  AND THAT ONE CHANGE (which I had missed in the rules) MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.  I went from hating the game to having a nice time with my friends! 

IMG_9535

This became a light-hearted romp with dice as we moved around the board.  Granted, the randomness still hangs in the air a little (it’s a dice game after all), but the game opened up after that.  Should we leave a green dice to lower the green dice count in the bag?  What dice should we leave up? When do we use our special powers?  Where should we move so we don’t have to throw away a dice?  The game became a much lighter fare after that one rule: you can move after your first dice draw and placement! 

Conclusion

IMG_9454

This is a complete rewrite of my original conclusion: I originally thought this game was too random and couldn’t recommend it. After deciphering the rules with my friends, we came to the realization that this is a fun, light-hearted, dice-placement romp. There are some good decisions to make during the game, even if there is a bit of randomness. In fact, even though I liked the cooperative dice-placement games Intrepid, Roll Camera!, and Roll Player Adventures better than Automated Alice, that was not the case with my friends! They liked the simple (once you know the rules), quick (30 minutes), cooperative dice-placement of Automated Alice better! (To be fair, they still liked Roll Camera! and Roll Player Adventures better for in-depth cooperative dice placement games)

I do think this game needs a lot of clarifications, either in a rulebook rewrite, a player’s aid, or a FAQ: we had too many problems to gloss over this issue. Make sure you double-check our interpretations of the rules before you buy this! I’d hate to think recommend this game when I’m still not 100% sure we played it right.

If you like the Automated Alice world and just want to roll some dice in that world, this might be for you. Or if you want a light-hearted, quick, cooperative dice-placement game, Automated Alice might be for you. I liked the art. We had fun … after we figured out the rules.

If you are looking for some alternatives for cooperative dice-placement games, I urge you check out our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2022! See our reviews here: Roll Camera! is a sillier cooperative dice-placement game about making a movie, Intrepid is a heavier cooperative dice-placement game about running a space station, and Roll Player Adventures is an adventure using dice-placement as its main mechanism.

A Review of Valeria: Card Kingdoms and the Cooperative Expansion: Darksworn

IMG_9330 (1)

Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a competitive victory point card game that’s been out for some time (it original came out 2016). Back in 2021, Daily Magic (the publisher) put together an expansion called Darksworn that adds a cooperative mode to the game: they also made a 2nd Edition of the original game. So, Daily Magic put Valeria: Card Kingdoms (2nd Edition) and this new expansion Valeria: Card King Kingdoms, Darksworn (seriously, that’s it’s full name) on Kickstarter back in March 2021. They fulfilled fairly quickly and it arrived at my door in early December 2021, but it’s taken me a while to get the solo mode, the group mode, and the cooperative mode played to get a sense of this game!

This will be a fairly longish review: we need to get a sense of the base game Valeria: Card Kingdoms before we jump into the cooperative expansion! After playing all the many ways (base solo, cooperative solo, group competitive, group cooperative), it was pretty clear we needed a sense of the base game before jumping into the cooperative mode.  Luckily, it was pretty easy to do that.

Unboxing and Discussion of Valeria: Card Kingdoms

IMG_9044

So, when I kickstarted this, apparently I got the 2nd Edition of Valeria: Card Kingdoms. I have never played the original, so I have no sense of what’s changed (apologies). I can only offer a look at the current edition. At its core, Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a card game.

IMG_9069

The cards are all linen-finished and have the same art style: that consistency works in the games advantage as it looks really good on the table when it’s all set-up (see below).

There’s some nice dividers to help “sort” the cards. Incidentally, there are a lot of cards in this game! Setting up and tearing down the game reminded me of many deck-builder games … so many cards to choose from and set-up!

IMG_9070

IMG_9053

But the cards organize pretty well into the box above. When it’s all put away, it looks like the below.

IMG_9088

Here’s a bunch of the cards, starting with the Dukes! Each player takes on the role of a Duke in the game!

IMG_9082

IMG_9064

In the game, each player gets to choose between two dukes to play: I chose Isabella the Righteous. This card is hidden until the very end: basically, it may shape your play as you get “extra” victory points at the end of the game depending on your duke.

IMG_9083

Throughout the game, the main goal is to fight Monsters: see some sample monsters above! You have to have enough strength and or magic to defeat a monster; For example: the goblin only requires 1 strength to defeat, but the dragon requires 6 magic AND 12 strength!). If you defeat the monster, you get the card and it will count as victory points (the purple badge: 1 victory point for the goblin and 7 for the dragon) at the end of the game. Whoever has the most victory points at the end wins!

IMG_9071

To help you gain strength and magic and gold, you must recruit citizens along the way! Each citizen costs gold (very much like a deck-builder) as you hire them. See a bunch of different citizens above,

IMG_9078

For example, the Miner citizen above costs 1 gold, but when he does an activate (on an 11 or 12: the activation number at the top left), he gets you one of two benefits, depending on whether you are primary player on not. Usually, being primary player gets you the better benefit (on the bottom left) or the alternate benefit (on the bottom right). In the citizen above, activating the Miner gives you all sorts of gold!

IMG_9072

Another way to get victory points is to buy domains: see above. They tend to cost a lot of gold.

IMG_9060

As the citizens get you more gold, magic, and strength, you have to keep track of your resources using the boards above (each player gets one). Note the +10 token which you drape along the right of the card to keep track of amounts above 10.

IMG_9092

When everything is all set-up, there are 5 monsters at the top row, 10 citizens in the next 2 rows, and 5 domains in the last row. You recruit citizens to get resources (strength, gold, magic), you kill monsters for victory points, and you buy lands (domains) for victory points. See above.

IMG_9080

The markers for the boards are nice wood components (see above). The two dice are quite nice and chunky! They are also the main thing that dictates how resources flow in the game! When you roll the two dice, you activate every citizen that matches the exact number on the dice OR the sum!

IMG_9096

You always start with 3 citizens (Hearld, Peasant, Knight: see above). In my first turn, I rolled a 5 and 6, so the Peasant (5) activates and the Knight (6) activates. If I had already recruited the Miner (11/12 from above) he would also activate! The Peasant activates to give you 1 gold and the Knight activates gives 1 strength (bottom of card for benefits!). See below for a more focused look at the starter cards.

IMG_9105

One of the more interesting mechanisms of the game is that EVERYONE who has a citizen that matches the die roll activates! The primary player gets the benefit on the LEFT, everyone else gets the benefit on the RIGHT. For the starting citizens (Herald, Peasant, Knight), there’s no difference, but notice the Cleric! The primary player gets 3 magic while everyone else only gets 1 magic!

IMG_9093

The game flows pretty well: everyone stay involved as you play, but the primary character gets the better benefit.  Usually, people spend the first part of the game recruiting citizens and building their army so they can fight monsters and/or buy land in the later game.  Once a certain number of stacks are exhausted, the game is over and you count victory points!

IMG_9107

The game has real nice components (see below) and looks really fantastic all set-up (see above).

IMG_9086

Rulebook for Valeria: Card Kingdoms, 2nd Edition

IMG_9045

I spend at least a little time every review talking about the rulebook. This rulebook was pretty good.

There were lots of pictures for set-up, lots of annotations of the different cards, and the rules seemed fairly complete. There was even a elaboration section at the end.

IMG_9102

For some reason, I didn’t love this font: the font seemed to make this harder to read for me? I didn’t love the font, but it was readable: it just seemed to demand “more” from me as a reader. Maybe I’m crazy on this one. The rulebook was good enough for me, a complete newbie to this game, to learn it from scratch. It also seemed complete and handled a lot of edge cases (either as a quick sentence or sidebar). Except for the font, I was happy with it.

Solo Game from the Base Game

So, interestingly, there are two ways to play Valeria: Card Kingdoms solo! Thank you for following Saunders’ Law! The base game comes with one way to play solo, and with the Darksworn expansion, there’s another way to play solo! Since we knew nothing of the game before getting everything, we decided to start simple and play the solo game from the base game.

IMG_9054

The solo mode takes about 1.5 pages at the end of the book.  The game flow does change up a little: you still roll dice, recruit citizens and kills monsters, but there’s this new notion of a monster phase, and you also activate the secondary benefit on your citizens (after everything else happens that turn).  The premise is that you are fighting against a “bad” duke (The Dark Lord) who controls the monsters! You either have to kill all the monsters or have to get more victory points than he does to win.  When you roll, you still activate your characters like normal … but in the monster phase YOU USE THE SAME ROLL to activate some column(s) of monsters on the board!  If there’s a monster in a column, the monster either kills a citizen in that column or a domain if both citizens are dead!

IMG_9336 (1)

If the Dark Lord has completely decimated a column so there’s nothing left to take out, the Dark Lord wins unequivocably! If you, on the other hand, kill ALL Monsters before he can exhaust any cards, then you win! Otherwise, it becomes a victory point counting game: when 5 card stacks are exhausted, you compare victory points. The Dark Lord adds victory points from monsters in the monster stacks and captured lands, and you compute victory points as normal. If you beat the score, you have a minor win.

I really liked that (in my words) there is a major win (kill all monsters), minor win (more victory points), minor loss (fewer victory points), and major loss (column decimated) in the solo mode!!! Multiple win/loss modes really adds a lot more “flavor” to the game! See the text below:

The minor/major win/loss conditions were also an impetus to come back and do better! I had minor wins in my first few games, but I still kind of want to try for a major win!

IMG_9099

To be clear: the solo game is more complex than the base competitive game: the solo game has you keeping track of columns, capturing citizens, and adding some new rules. But, I don’t think the new rules were too much: they were pretty straight forward and made sense. There were always interesting decisions, much like the base competitive game (When do I recruit? When do I kill monsters? When do I buy lands?), but the added element of citizens dying was really interesting!!! I liked the included solo mode, and I look forward to playing it again. It’s “simple” enough that I feel like I could play this as a relaxing solo game, but just challenging enough to be interesting.

Unboxing and Discussion of Darksworn Expansion

IMG_9110

The second way to play Valeria: Card Kingdoms solo is to play using the Darksworn expansion. I chose to jump straight into Darksworn expansion without playing Valeria: Card Kingdoms competitive. When I would finally teach my friends the cooperative Darksworn expansion, I would teach them the base competitive mode THEN jump into the cooperative mode. But, for now, I am jumping straight in a solo player into the Darksworn world!

IMG_9347 (2)

That tiny little box hold a lot of content! See above!

IMG_9114

The rulebook uses the same font as the base game (so at least it’s consistent) and lists all the content: see above.

IMG_9110

There are new Monster Events, Domains, and Citizens that WEREN’T listed in the components list: see above. I think these are just new content you can add to the base or expansion if you like.

IMG_9115

The tuck box, above tells us one thing: this will be a game that requires “saving the game” after a session. (Note, if you build the tuck box, it doesn’t seem to fit back in the base game?)

IMG_9116

The tokens are for a few new mechanisms. First, the numbers are used to notate columns because monsters will be attacking columns in the game (sounds familiar?) In other words, just like the solo game, but now we notate the columns explicitly. Because monsters attack columns, there are the walls to hold off the Monster attacks for a few rounds! The first time a monster attacks a column, it flips it over, then is only destroyed next time. The walls defer the monsters destroying citizens right away.

IMG_9117

The tokens are for balance: depending on the number of players, you will need more or less of these!

But what’s the solo game all about? It’s a campaign! (It looks resettable, so it’s not legacy). There are 6 books (decks) to the campaign and one “side quest” for the heroes. Each book of the campaign is one leg of a “saga” the in which the player(s) collaborte! (And that’s why there was a tuck box, because you will have to “save status” at the end of each book: new cards, new tokens, etc.)

IMG_9350 (1)

Somehow, the expansion includes two boards! (Seriously, this barely fits in the box) You’ll notice that the boards have a hard time keeping flat. The bottom board is “where the book unfurls”: as the adventure described in your current book happens, you will keep the book on that board (along with citizens that will be captured). And like the base solo game, citizens will be captured. In Darksworn, however, you can bring some of the citizens back!

IMG_9360

The other board is to hold the current “blessings” you can use! Since this game is now cooperative, victory points have no meaning as a winning means, so they are instead used to power the “blessings”! For example, for the last blessing, you can spend two victory points to rescue a citizen that was captured by a monster. So, you still accumulate victory points (immediately when you defeat a monster) but you use them to power blessings in the game!

IMG_9359

Darksworn also comes with new monsters that “activate” when they replace monsters. These slowly come out over the campaign until all of them are out … they are more powerful monsters because they activate and do stuff to the players!

IMG_9355

There are now 2 new actions (and buying Domains is GONE): You can “pray” (which allows you spend victory points on a blessing) or “share resources” (which allows you give resources to another player in a 2 to 1 ratio).

IMG_9356

There’s also a new starter citizen (Explorer) which replaces the Herald citizen.

Putting this all together, the cooperative solo game looks pretty cool set-up with the boards! Just like before, we have 5 monsters on top, but these monsters are randomized (and replaced every turn from the monster deck to the side). The citizens are the same, but notice that there are no lands. Now, we have the “book board” at the top, keeping track of where we are in the book and the Aquila board at the bottom (where we keep track of blessings).

Gameplay of Cooperative Solo Mode

IMG_9368

So, playing the cooperative mode as a solo mode was a lot of work! We had to keep both rulebooks open as we played (see above) and try to keep the components fairly separate so we didn’t mix them up … see below.

IMG_9383

BUT, we did this right by playing the solo game of the base game first! The whole “basic framework” of the cooperative game in Darksworn is very much like the base solo game! Monsters attack columns (based on the die rolls) and you lose if too many citizens are killed! Unfortunately, there are no special powers in the game! This seems like a lost opportunity: shouldn’t each player take on the role of a Duke with a special power? The solo cooperative mode just has you play one player with one resource board (you DO NOT take on the persona of a Duke or anything special). The multiplayer mode has each player have a resource board. (The Darksworn solo mode has an extra rule, like the base solo, that you get secondary activations at the end of your turn).

IMG_9377

Even though the Darksworn expansion has the “basic framework” of the base solo game, there are still a lot of other new interesting things the expansion adds: “blessings”, the walls, the current book (and challenges it offers) and some other things we don’t want to spoil.

IMG_9364

So, I liked the cooperative Darksworn solo game … mostly. It was so much work to set-up and keep track of the campaign and the campaign rules, it sometimes felt like too much. It was, however, very important for me to play the Darksworn expansion solo first! I had to teach my friends Darksworn, and that teach was a lot easier once I had stumbled through the Darksworn expansion as a solo mode first: that was critical. I think I like the base solo game better, though! If I really want a campaign to play alone, I think that Darksworn can work, but I think having multiple players is better if no reason other than your friends can help with the shared maintenance of the new Darksworn rules!

Competitive ModeIMG_9386

I taught my friends the competitive game FIRST, then the cooperative expansion. Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a pretty simple game to teach: roll dice, gather citizens, kill monsters, add victory points. Even though this is a cooperative game blog, I have to give the base competitive game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms props! It’s easy to learn, quick to play (30 minutes?), and pretty fun. It doesn’t have huge depth, but we had a good time playing the competitive game, even though it was just a goalpost on the way to the cooperative game. (I think my friends would play the competitive game again if they wanted a light game).

Cooperative Game: Darksworn

IMG_9393

Like I said in the solo section, Darksworn adds a lot of rules to the base game, using the base solo game as a “basic framework” for the cooperative game.  Here’s the thing: we really enjoyed the game a cooperative game!

  1. The extra load/maintenance of new rules wasn’t so bad!  Because we had multiple players to “share the load” of extra rules and  maintenance, the extra load didn’t seem so bad.  In the solo game, that extra load bogged the game down a little as only one player has to deal with everything.  Now, you may enjoy that, and frankly I would too.  But I think it was better in the cooperative game.
  2. There’s no “Take That” in Darksworn: Even though we like the competitive version of Valeria: Card Kingdoms, later in the game, we got annoyed at some of the “take that” Domains you can buy. That wasn’t a problem at all in the cooperative game
  3.  The game encouraged cooperation: The “Shares Resources” action, which is new in Darksworn, can be very useful.  It allows players who are doing better in certain resources to help out their brethren when they really need it!  
  4. Using Victory Points for blessings: we really liked how Darksworn kept the victory points, but could still use them for blessings
  5. Follow Action: the fact that when another player rolls the dice, he still activates everyone else’s secondary action was great!  This action, still in the cooperative game, keeps everyone involved

IMG_9390

So the only reason not to love the Darksworn cooperative game is that you are tired on campaigns! There is no way to play this game cooperatively without the books, so you have to play the campaign. But, we really got into the story! See Teresa above really getting into the tales from the first book!

We liked it enough to want to continue playing through the campaign.

Conclusion

IMG_9389

Should you get both Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Darksworn if you just want cooperative play? I think you should try out the base game to see if you like it first. The solo game in the base game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms is actually quite good and almost worth it as a game by itself! Although the competitive game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms is fairly light, fun, and easy to play, some of the “take that” in the base game can be annoying. But, if you like the base game, especially the solo game, and you want a campaign, the Darksworn expansion is a good choice! Darksworn is good as a cooperative campaign game, but there might be too many rules to play it solo: Caveat Emptor.

We liked Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Darksworn enough that it probably could have made our
Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively, and Darksworn will definitely will make the Top 10 Cooperative Expansions of 2021!

A Review of Townsfolk Tussle (a cooperative game)

Townsfolk Tussle is a cooperative boss battle game that appeared on Kickstarter in November 2020 and promised delivery in September 2021. It appeared at my door “sometime” in the last week or so? (Today is January 4th, 2022) Strictly speaking, I think it made it to my door before 2021 was over! So, just a few months late? That’s fantastic!

IMG_9194

For the purposes of our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2021, we’ll count that Townsfolk Tussle made it in 2021 … barely! But, for the purposes of “good games of 2022”, we’ll probably count Townsfolk Tussle as a 2022 game. Oops! Did we spoil what we think of the game? Well, this is a good game, but there’s some nuances and issues you need to be aware of. Let’s dive in!

Unboxing

IMG_9188

What is Townfolk Tussle?  You’ll notice the art is very retro, kind of reminding us of 1920s Mickey Mouse Steamboat Willy, with a dash of Ren and Stimpy or Rick and Morty.  You’ll also notice how huge this game is!  See Coke can and #2 pencil for scale above.  

Townsfolk Tussle is a game for 2-5 players (but there is a notion of solo play, which we’ll see later).

Players work together to take down 4 bosses (called Ruffians).  See the 12 Ruffians boards below.

Some 4 Ruffians are chosen randomly at the start of the game, and you reveal them one after another as you play.

IMG_9314

Each Ruffian has their own card describing them.  Each Ruffian also has their own deck!  The decks are very different and make each boss battle very different.

The set-up for each Ruffian is on the back of the card: notice that each Ruffian has a very different board set-up for Terrain.

IMG_9318

Each piece of terrain (there are always 7 pieces of Terrain) has a card that describes the rules for the terrain: see below.

IMG_9301

In general, each boss battle plays very differently and looks very differently.  Those two things right there give this game an immense about of variety!

As the game goes on, players are allowed to shop to get upgrades and heal themselves:

IMG_9292

Note the little touches that the rules are described ON THE PLAY BOARD!

Each player takes the role of a Townsfolk with VERY different powers and abilities!

There’s a little story on the back:

IMG_9252

But that’s just flavor.  The front is dual-layered (!) and describes all your special abilities:

IMG_9254

Players set-up the board, each taking a Townfolk character to play! Then they work together to take down 4 Ruffians!

IMG_9323 (1)

Components

IMG_9320

The components are pretty fantastic.

Rulebook

IMG_9211

The rulebook was good and one of the better ones I’ve read in a while.

IMG_9212

The rulebook was a bit long, but don’t let that scare you! Part of the reason for the length was that 8 or so pages have some “story” you read out when you win or lose your epic final battle.  Also, the rulebook is “longer” because it uses lot of pictures and big fonts so it’s easy to read.  Really! I liked this rulebook!

The Tables of COntents was good, the components list was ok (there was a lot of stuff it punted on and didn’t show a picture), and the pages describing set-up were great!  See above.

Easy rulebook to read, easy to get to the table, easy to lookup stuff during gameplay.  Solid rulebook.

Miniatures

IMG_9197

Normally, I don’t take a whole section to discuss the miniatures, but holy cow!  I really liked these miniatures!  They are so … different from other miniatures!  And they look great!  They really contribute to the theming of the game as they are all done in that odd 1920s meets Ren and Stimpy look.

IMG_9199

The bosses are all the bigger miniatures on the outer sides (12 in total).  The good guys (7 of them) are in the middle of the box (see above).

These minis are just SO interesting and well done.  See above for some of the bosses (the bad guys) in isolation.

IMG_9203

The minis overall look great and have a lot of detail: they just don’t look like any other game, and I think that really contributes to how much more theme they give the game.  Really great minis.

IMG_9245 (1)

Interestingly, there is still a sheet of standees “just in case”?  I suspect a later retail version of the game WILL NOT have the miniature, and players will use the standees above.  As an aside, my friend Andrew said “Oh, let’s just play with the standees these are great!”  … until he saw the miniatures … “Wow, those are great miniatures.  Ok, let’s play with the minis”.

Solo Play

IMG_9191

So, according to the box, there is no solo play! See above. So, the game doesn’t follow Saunders’ Law?

IMG_9240

But according to the rulebook (see above), there is a solo mode!  Note that it wants you to play 3 characters! And … I played 2 characters instead: see below.

IMG_9287

The good news is that the only real difference between solo and cooperative mode is getting rid of the “Secret” Town Events cards, see below.

IMG_9282

I’ll be honest, I am kind of glad I didn’t have to deal with the Secret Town Events cards because they add yet an other element of randomness and upkeep to a game that teeters on the edge of too much randomness (see “Randomness” section below).

My only complaint about the solo game is that I do think 2 characters is the right choice for the solo game, not 3.  Why?  We’ve talked about this subject quite a bit in many blog posts: How To Play a Cooperative Game Solo? and my review of Marvel United and Solar Storm.  The basic idea: play with the simplest mode that has the least mental overhead.  Context switching between 3 characters is a lot harder than context switching between 2 characters.

If nothing else, we recommend 2 characters for your first solo game: I started my first play at 8am in the morning and ended at noon!  It took 4 hours to get through 4 boss battles!  I can’t imagine how long it would have taken had I had 3 characters to go between! There is a cost to context switching between characters in a solo game: that would have elongated the game.  Maybe once you know the game better, 3 characters  is better for solo. I just suggest you use 2 character solo mode to learn your first game.

IMG_9316

For the record, the solo game was fun!  I approached it as a puzzle and had a great time learning the game and interacting with the terrain.  If I only had to play it solo, I would probably give it a 7.5/10.0, because it felt like a neat (albeit long) puzzle.

Cooperative Play

IMG_9327 (1)

So cooperative play was good: my team and I worked together well and were able to beat the bosses/Ruffians.  But, there were a few things we didn’t like:

  1. You couldn’t share stuff!  There is an official variant in the rulebook that allows you to share gold and items, but it seemed like it was “frowned” upon AS IT’S NOT the default mode!  We played our first round without sharing, and it seemed less engaging to NOT share!  After the first rounds, we went ahead and shared, strategizing about what we needed.  The *absence* of sharing made the game seem less cooperative.  We strongly recommend you play with the sharing rules!
  2. Turns where nothing happens seems worse in cooperative mode! When I played solo, I had a number of turns where all I could do was move one character a few spaces and nothing else.  It didn’t matter as much, because I was controlling the 2 characters as a solo player, and usually one of the characters always did something (or at least set-up the other character). But I watched my friend Teresa do NOTHING but move the entire first battle … and then she died immediately on her first engagement.  Her first game would make most people walk away: “I couldn’t do anything: I hate this game”.  But Teresa persevered and we made sure she got gear that helped her movement next battle (with a little help, see above about sharing)!

So, there are definitely turns when all one character does is move: they can’t reach the Ruffian boss, they can’t fire, and if that happens too much, it can be frustrating.  Once you realize you can mitigate some of that by buying better equipment (with movement in Teresa’s case), it’s not as bad.  But I think the cooperative game is much more likely to have some characters have boring turns.

IMG_9328 (1)

But, with the sharing mode on, we had a great time playing cooperatively  We strategized about what all our characters could do, how to beat the bad guy, what to do.  Overall, it was a fun cooperative game.

What I liked

IMG_9308

There is a lot to like here.  The components, by themselves, contribute a lot to my liking of the game:

  • The cards: easy to read, nice little thematic pictures, linen-coated
  • Player Boards: dual layer, easy to read, cool thematic pictures
  • Game Board: Big and easy to read and set-up
  • The miniatures: so cool and thematic
  • The Rulebook: one of the better ones I’ve read lately

There’s a lot of variety in this game:

  • 12 bosses to fight, and each fight is very different!  Each boss has it’s own deck!  And it’s own terrain!
  • 7 characters to inhabit, again, each very different!
  • Terrain: Each boss fight really mixes up the terrain and each piece of terrain has its own rules

IMG_9281

 I think this was when I knew I’d like the game: when a boss comes out, 7 pieces of terrain come out and completely change the way the characters interact with the world!

IMG_9316

In the boss fight above, there’s 6 (supposed to be 7) pieces of terrain and each piece of terrain really changes how you think about the map.  This kind of reminded me of one of my favorite mechanisms in Agricola, where each player has 7 occupations to choose from.  The fact that each scenario has very different terrain which affects the game just gave the game a feeling of “wow, there’s a lot of variety here”.

IMG_9317

The game had a nice presence on the board: it looked creepy and kitschy at the same time: see above.

IMG_9297

The way the bad guys (Ruffians/bosses) were handled was very clean: each boss has its own deck, and you just draw 1 card and do what it says.  The boss turns were clear and clean and moved very quickly: see a sample boss card below.

IMG_9305

IMG_9296

Set-up also worked really well as the components were well-labelled with how to set-up the board!  See above for setting up terrain for Will Barlow!

In general, all components seemed to be well-labeled and easy to read.  

The rulebook taught the game well, and the components were well-labeled to help move through the game: a lot of documentation was on the components themselves.  Take a look at the player board below (dual-sided):

At the top of the player boards is a description of what you need to do in the appropriate phases.

Overall, the variety, the component quality, and the easy-flowing gameplay made this a game I really liked.

Game Length

IMG_9191

The game length on the box is really completely wrong! This is a VERY long game. There are 4 boss battles in the game, and I wanted to say each boss battle lasted 20-30 minutes per player. This is probably the furthest off I’ve ever seen an approximation of time! It’s probably off by 2x! For example: a two-player game took 3 – 4 hours (180 – 240minutes); that’s 90 minutes per player at best!

IMG_9289

There are 4 bosses per “full game”: See the 4 bosses ready to go above. It feels like the right way to play is to play 1 or 2 bosses in one sitting, and leave the game set-up for your next session, then continue the next boss(es) in the next sitting! This game is really long! BUT, even though the game is stupidly long, the game moves very quickly as you play: the boss moves are very quick with one card, and the player turns are quick. It’s just that the game just has a lot of moving parts you have to keep track of.

This is probably the biggest negative of the game: it’s just way too long. Some of that length goes away as you become familiar with the game, and the game turns move pretty quickly on your turns so it doesn’t necessarily drag or feel long. But the full 4 bosses battles seems too long.

We suggest a house rule to maybe mitigate the length: skip the 1st battle entirely, and just upgrade as if you had beaten the first Ruffian. This brings the game from 4 Ruffian boss battles down to 3.

Randomness

Another potential knock against the game is the randomness: the dice decide everything in the game.  If you roll poorly, you will die.  As you play more and more, you get bonuses to dice rolls via equipment, but you are still at the mercy of the dice at some level, even after upgrading.

IMG_9287

In my very first game, the bad guy took away a lot of movement and moxie quickly, so my characters had a number of turns where they couldn’t do much.  In my first cooperative game, the dice conspired against my compatriots in the first battle until I was the only one left!  We beat the boss and were able to get some supplies, but again, we were at the mercy of the dice for the whole first boss.   Advancement in this game seems to happen “pretty quickly”, so you can choose all sorts of supples to mitigate your dice rolls: either from the Peddlar (below: you get 10 cards, quite a variety when you are ready to buy!):

IMG_9292

… or from beating the Ruffian boss him/herself! (Each Ruffian has 3 random gear … see below).

IMG_9272

As you play, you get more and more things (equipment) to help your odds, and you get to choose what things you get (when you buy from the Peddler).  So, despite the randomness of everything being a dice roll, I think that the abundance of equipment and choices mitigated the randomness just enough so that the randomness didn’t feel overwhelming.   

IMG_9282

Another place where the randomness can be overwhelming is the Town Events cards: each player gets an event: some are good, some are bad, some just stink.  Like I said, I was happy in the solo game to get rid of the “Secrets” that come up in the Town Events, because it got rid another source of randomness/upkeep.

Your mileage may vary of course, but I usually don’t like too much randomness in games! And I think there was juuuuuust enough mitigation of randomness to make the game fun.  It’s something to be aware of: you may still find the game too random, but I think this is a case where the randomness makes the game interesting and not overwhelming.   Be aware.

Conclusion

IMG_9320

So, I liked Townsfolk Tussle quite a bit! It was very fun! I didn’t quite love it, but I almost did. I think the main problems were that the games were just a little too long and that there was just a touch too much randomness (from the die rolls). But overall, the quick moving gameplay, the constant feeling of upgrading, and the variety in settings/equipment made this a fun game to play! Weirdly, I enjoyed it solo slightly more than cooperatively! I would probably give it a 7.5/10.0 as a solo game and 7.0/10.0 as a cooperative game. The quality of the components (linen-finished cards, nice boards, nice dice, amazing miniatures) probably contributed to a lot of that score. Don’t discount the rulebook: the rulebook was pretty darn good and taught the game: I liked it.

My friends had similar ratings:

  • Andrew: 6.5/10
  • Sara: 6.5-7.0/10
  • Teresa: 7/10
  • Rich: 7.5/10 for solo, 7/10 for co-op

In general, we liked the game and had a fun time!

Why Are We Here?

“Because we’re here. Roll the Bones” – Rush

Co-op Gestalt was a blog we started back in April 10th, 2016. We say “we” because there’s a few of us who post here: myself, Junkerman, and CC (but mostly me). See here for our first post! The real purpose of Co-op Gestalt hasn’t changed over the years: we still like to talk about cooperative board and card games! Sometimes we do reviews (like Intrepid: a cooperative dice placement game), sometime we talk about changes to rules for cooperative games (like mods for solo rules for Incoming Transmission), sometimes we have Top 10 Lists (like our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021 or our Top 10 Cooperative Games with Apps). We even do weird things sometimes such as Top 5 Components for the Gameroom or Top 6 Cooperative Games from IDW (before they disappear!). Occasionally, we even offer a cooperative mode for competitive games! Here’s a post on how to make Lost Ruins of Arnak cooperative!

In general, if there’s something interesting about cooperative games, we hope to explore it here. Why? Because we still feel like cooperative games need more exposure! Recently, I visited my friend Paul and he confessed to me he didn’t like cooperative games very much! I think it’s because his only real exposure is Pandemic: I don’t know if he knows about the giant world of cooperative games! (Luckily, his son and wife seem to really like cooperative games: we were able to get a fun play of Sidekick Saga in while I was visiting).

Our plan is to keep doing this for a while! We love our cooperative games! We do this all for free! We have never accepted any donations or money or even free copies of games! We pay for all the games we buy ourselves, so our reviews are pretty honest (We didn’t really like Disney Sidekicks or the G.I. Joe Deck-building Games). Honestly, we enjoy playing cooperative games and just talking about them even if we didn’t like them! One of my favorite quotes from my friends this year was “We enjoyed complaining about Tainted Grail more than we did playing it!”

Happy New Year! Keep cooperating and having fun with your friends!

Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2021!

2021 has been a great year for cooperative board and card games! We have so many games we want to share with you, we suspect there will be another list of Another Top 10 Great Cooperative Games of 2021! (Be on the lookout: we will update this link!) This current list gives our favorite games that came out in 2021 (at least from the USA perspective). You might also be surprised that some games don’t make this list … they might just be on our Top 10 Cooperative Expansions of 2021 (link to list will be updated when that list goes live: be on the lookout!)

Let’s take a look at some great games released in 2021! We will also note how well the game supports Saunders’ Law and gives a solo mode! Interestingly, three cooperative dice-placement games made our list this year! Is this the new trend in cooperative games? Let’s take a look at the list!

Honorable Mention: MicroMacro Crime City

IMG_7514

Supports Solo Play?  Yes. Works well.

MicroMacro Crime City is an Honorable Mention ONLY because of the official release date.  Strictly speaking, it was released in 2020, but it won the German game of the year (Spiel Des Jahres for 2021). I never saw it released in the USA until mid-July 2021!  So, we’ll give it a mention because the game was so good!  We reviewed it here and loved it!

IMG_7557

Basically, this is Where’s Waldo meets a Detective game!  Players look over the huge map above and look for clues in an ocean of pictures!

IMG_7578

Players work together to solve little mysteries that take no more than 15-20 minutes usually.  It’s fun, light, and still exciting when you find stuff.  This game really took my game group by storm!  If it weren’t for the “official” release date, this would be very high on our top 10!

10. The Loop

pic6034093

Supports Solo Play?  Yes

The LOOP has been available for some time for many reviewers, but poor schlubs like us have to wait for it to be released generally so we could buy it: this just came in the mail a month or so ago.  This is a hard but fun game for 1-4 players about stopping Dr Faux (pronounced “foe”: Dr. Foe, get it?  He’s your foe!) from dealing damage to past eras.   Players take the role of variable powered players and traverse through time trying to undo the damage Dr. Faux has done!  Clones of Dr. Faux clog up the timeline and accelerate his dastardly plan, but you can take out the clones by creating “paradoxes” that destroy them!

pic6167508

The art is quite “comic-booky” but very thematic.  If you stop to pay attention, you’ll notice a lot of funny items come in the game: this game has a sense of humor! This game might make our next Top 10 Cooperative Games With A Sense of Humor! 

9. The Phantom: The Card Game

Supports Solo Play?  Yes

The Phantom: The Card Game is an interesting card game for  only 1 to 2 players.  It probably could have been higher on my list if I could bring it out more with my friends, but the 1 to 2 player count kept it from coming out as much as I wanted. The Phantom: The Card Game feels like Marvel Champions could have been!  It’s a card game where you buy resources with cards and notate with tokens: it “feels” a lot like Marvel Champions. That’s a good thing!

IMG_9318

One of my favorite things about The Phantom was the way it brought out a story: you flipped through a story all the while trying to build up your character, spending resources as needed.  The story part was the thing I thought The Phantom did better than Marvel Champions: Wrath of the Red Skull (which we reviewed here).

IMG_9281

Overall, the game has an older comic-book feel (from an older generation of comics), but I found it very thematic.  Check out our review here to see if you’d like The Phantom: The Card Game!

8. Kim Joy’s Magic Bakery!

IMG_8269

Supports Solo Play? No, but you can fake it by playing two hands and having one less action

So, this probably shouldn’t have made the list, but this game just keeps coming out at my gaming tables!  It’s a fun “end-of-the-night” game or light and quick “waiting for Andrew” game.  Kim Joy’s Magic Bakery is listed as a Cooperative Baking Card Game: it’s a light game about building confections for customers that come into your shop.  It’s very light and fluffy!  In many ways!

IMG_8309

It looks really cute on the table and the art and components for baking (on the cards) are very cute.  This game is very charming and a surprisingly fun light-weight cooperative game in 15-30 minutes.

IMG_8303

See our review here to see if Kim Joy’s Magic Bakery! is for you!

7. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

IMG_8845

Supports Solo Play?  Yes, pretty well!

This is yet another in a long line of “games in the Pandemic system“.  This particular version had a lot of great things going for it.  For one, the components are first rate: cards are linen-finished, minis are pretty nice for a fairly mass market game, every card has a unique piece of art, the board is gorgeous, etc etc…  When set-up on the table, it’s quite attractive! See below!

IMG_8929

In further refinement of the Pandemic games, it adds some dice, but dice that are not too lucky.  The “good” cards it gives you also allow you to choose to augment your actions when YOU want to: you always feel like you can do a little more when you really need to!

IMG_8898

This game works great cooperatively: this might have been rated a touch higher if the quests in the game were just a little less “abstract”, but otherwise this was a fun refinement on the Pandemic system.  I don’t know anything about World of Warcraft and I liked it: I assume World of Warcraft fans would love this! See our review here!

6. Intrepid

IMG_7774

Supports Solo Play?  Yes, but the rules need a lot of clarifications: Intrepid is much better with multiple players!

This is the first of many cooperative dice-placement games in this years top 10!  Intrepid is a cooperative dice-placement game for 1-4 Players about building and balancing resources on a space station!  See our review here!

IMG_7786

Intrepid is a huge game that takes up most of a game table, but once you figure out most of the mechanics, the game flows pretty easily.  This Kickstarter game came with a ton of content, and the components was all fantastic (except for some warped boards). 

IMG_7711

5. Roll Camera!

Supports Solo Play? Yes, pretty well!

Roll Camera! is a cooperative dice-placement game about making movies! (It’s our second cooperative dice placement game on this year’s list!)  It’s a silly game with lots of touches of humor, but it still a serious game with some serious mechanics.  We reviewed it here and played it with lots of groups of friends, and it just went over great!  

If your group of friends has a sense of humor (and won’t roll their eyes at the silly humor in the game) and enjoys a cooperative game with dice-placement mechanics, Roll Camera! is a hoot.  It probably should have made our Top 10 Cooperative Games with a Sense of Humor!

IMG_7932

One of the best mechanics of the game that encourages cooperation is the IDEA cards (see above)!  One player can call for a meeting and ask for everyone else to pitch an idea! Even though it’s not your turn, all players are still involved in pitching ideas outside of their turn!  This was one of my favorite cooperative mechanics I’ve played in a game this year!

4. Gascony’s Legacy

IMG_8895

Supports Solo Play? Yes, very well (with several modes)

Gascony’s Legacy is a cooperative adventure/fighting game taken from the pages of the Three Musketeers! It’s a game all about sword-fighting and working with your compatriots to rescue/save things! There is nominally an adventure that unfolds in the game, but the game is really about sword-fighting and getting through a scenario.

IMG_8991

Gascony’s Legacy was a bit of a surprise for me this year! This game was so great it made our Top 10 Cooperative Swashbuckling Games! The gameplay was fun, but what made Gascony’s Legacy really stand-out were all the little touches to make it feel like a real swashbuckling game: how to could fight two-handed and off-handed! The were special rules for barrels, chandeliers, braziers and other special “swashbuckling” elements that really made this shine as a game.

IMG_8913

3.Roll Player Adventures

IMG_8503

Support Solo Play?  Yes, but it plays so much better with multiple players

Roll Player Adventures is a dice-placement game in the middle of a giant sprawling adventure!  (And it’s our third cooperative dice-placement game in this year’s list!)  The game is all about doing skill checks and combat, using your skills, weapons, armor, and cards to help you mitigate the dice rolls.  Even though the dice placement mechanic is central to solving puzzles and advancing the game, the game is really about the adventure the players go on!  The storybooks unfold a fascinating adventure, but with lots of choices and branching! 

IMG_8538

This game got a bad rap in our first impression review: See Review here.  The game just doesn’t work great in solo mode, as there aren’t enough powers to mitigate the dice.  But, this game sings in multiplayer mode!  With multiple players, there are more powers/cards to help mitigate dice rolls. My group has been playing through the 12+ stories and there’s no question what we play when we get together.  We are still enjoying this immensely!  And the components are amazing.

IMG_8594

2. The Initiative

Supports Solo Play? Yes, but I can’t imagine playing this with one

We loved this cooperative game of codebreaking! My group and I couldn’t stop playing this story-driven game until we got to the finale! See our review here. This game was an absolute joy, reminding me of being a kid adventuring outside and breaking codes like in Alvin’s Secret Code.

IMG_8321

Some gamers think the base game is too simple, but I think they are missing the point! The point of the game is to solve codes: the simple base game is just a way to explore the state space of the code (while you physically explore a facility). This game is all about noticing things, exploring what’s important for solving codes, playing the odds, and making intelligent choices. We loved this game so much it almost made my top spot!

IMG_9344

1. Cantaloop

img_9161-e1623455483876

Supports Solo Play?  Yes and maybe the best way to play! But co-op play works well too

Cantaloop was our favorite game of the year! See our review here! It might be cheating to put this so high because it probably plays better as a solo game than a cooperative game, but it still works as a cooperative game too! As longtime blog readers know, we love the Monkey Island adventure games (it made our Top 10 Cooperative Swashbuckling Games even though Monkey Island is a computer game), and this game feels more like a point-and-click computer adventure game more than any other game we have played. Players read hidden text (using the read acetate) and explore a world on cards and in the main book:

IMG_9240

A great adventure unfolds as the players break into prison: this sounds like it might be a dark and depressing game, but it’s not! It’s one of the funniest games I have ever played, and it took the top spot on our Top 10 Cooperative Games With a Sense of Humor! This game just soared for me! I am very much looking forward to Part II of the adventure which picks up where this leaves off!

IMG_9195

A Review of World of Warcraft:Wrath of the Lich King (A Pandemic System Game)

The World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is a cooperative game in the Pandemic system.

IMG_8846

What that means is that “it feels like Pandemic, but they’ve put it in a World of Warcraft setting“! I had preordered it and it just arrived a few days ago (Friday, Dec 3rd, 2021). By ordering online at FunAgain, I was able to get the extra promo hero in the game: see below.

However, I saw that it was at Target a few days before I got my my copy! I almost picked it up because I was so excited to see it!

IMG_8848

In fact, it was even on sale the other day too! But, I waited a day or so and was able to get mine in the mail.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is a cooperative game for 1-5 players in the setting of World of Warcraft. Players work together to take down the Lich King (who we nick-named “Mitch”) by staying alive, making it through 4 “quests”, and keeping the lands free of Ghouls and Abominations. I know, with that description, it doesn’t really sound like Pandemic, does it? Let’s take a closer look!

Unboxing

IMG_8857

Let’s take a look inside the box!  The rulebook comes on top with some punchouts:

IMG_8871

Underneath the punchouts is the board (in plastic) and some cards and minis!

IMG_8874

The board is really gorgeous!  See above.

The cards are nice and linen-finished!  YOu can see the game summary cards, the Hero Cards, and the infection cards all above!

IMG_8912

The minis are pretty fantastic!  See the Players up front, the ghouls behind them, the Abominations, and finally the Lich King!  The Coke can is for scale (next to the board).

IMG_8909

The player minis are really nice… I wish they would have included a “colored” bottom to distinguish them.

IMG_8908

… and one had a broken axe.  Sad face.

IMG_8907

The ghouls are basically the “disease cubes” from the original Pandemic.

IMG_8905

The Abominations come out when an overrun happens and begin tracking the players!

IMG_8911

The Lich King is the final Bad Bass to fight!

IMG_8938

He comes in a little cardboard square (to keep him from breaking?).

IMG_8948
The dice: no bad outcomes! All good stuff!

The dice are used in combats to fight the Abominations, Ghouls, and the Lich King.

IMG_8917

This is a variable player powers game, so each player can take a specific character: See above.

IMG_8916
Quests from World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King: more “abstract”

Nominally, players go on “quests”: See the quest cards above.

IMG_8915

The cards and components all look pretty amazing!  Below are some more pictures:

Rulebook

Oh, thank goodness this is a good rulebook!  After last week’s fiasco of a rulebook, I was glad to read one that was very well organized and easy to read.  (I don’t love the black background, but whatever).  It starts with  nice introduction and list of components (see above).

The set-up spans two pages, but notice they have a picture of the board set-up on the bottom of the righmost page.  There’s lots of pictures during set-up, and even a “FOR YOUR FIRST GAME” section, which I really appreciated.  I think they might have done better to label a picture for set-up, because the picture they have is small, but you know what?  This set-up worked okay.

I think one of the reasons I think highly of this rulebook was that I was able to read through it in real-time with my friends for our first play!  (That’s right, the first play was with a big group).  We were able to get through the rulebook and concepts pretty quickly.  

In general, when we had questions during our first play, it was pretty easy to go looking through the rulebook to find answers to questions.  They even have a finer points section which was very useful:

IMG_8867

Overall, we had no real problems with this rulebook and were able to jump quickly into the game.  The text was straight-forward, without being too wordy, and the rules seem to answer most questions we had (especially the Fine Points section).

This was a good rulebook.

Gameplay

IMG_8928

Each player takes the role of character from World of Warcraft (see two characters above).  Players work together to complete 4 quests, where the last quest is to take down the Lich King (“Mitch”) in his Icecrown citadel (see below).

IMG_8932

Although this game has lots of nice minis, it is NOT a minis game per se!  Questing is the main mechanic (you have to get all 4 quests done to win) (you still have to fight to keep ghouls and Abominations under control):

IMG_8916
Quests from World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King: more “abstract”

Each quest involves revealing Hero Cards from your hand.  Heroes collect 2 new hero cards at the end of their turn.

IMG_8892

On a players turn, they have 4 actions they can do (Move, Fight, Quest, Rest, Flight Path).  The fighting and moving is necessary to keep the Ghouls and Abominations under control :

IMG_8906

If too many come out, the Despair Marker moves to the end of the track and the players lose.  So, part of the game is keeping those baddies under control!

IMG_8930

Ghouls come out at the end of every turn (see above left) and start “polluting” the board!  How many come out per turn?  See the Scourge Track at the top of the Board!

Occasionally, when you draw a Hero Card, you will get  Scourge car (there are a number of the scattered fairly evenly through the Hero deck) which causes a “surge” of Ghouls and summons an Abomination:

IMG_8931

Basically, move around, beat-up the baddies, and complete all 4 quests before time runs out (when the Despair Marker makes it to the end)!

This is a cooperative game, where each player has 4 actions on their turn, and play rotates.

Differences from Pandemic

IMG_8846

We’ve said this is a “Pandemic System” game, but what are the differences between Pandemic and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King?

The rulebooks has a nice section documenting one of the main differences:

IMG_8936

In the original Pandemic, the game would be over is you ever ran out of any of the components (disease cubes usually).  Interestingly, in WOWWOTLK, you simply move the Despair marker up.  Of course, the players lose if the Despair Marker gets all the way to the end, so running out of components will usually end the game quickly anyways!

Another major difference is the Hero Cards:

Instead of “the good cards” being plain Locations, the Hero Cards have very direct actions!  Fight, Travel, Heal, or Defend.  This allows the heroes to do “extra” stuff on their turns and CHOOSE when they need a little extra oomph in the game.  I really enjoyed this mechanism, because I thought it gave each player some extra stuff they could do on their turn IF THEY WANTED TO: it gave them more choice!  (In the original game, they just matched locations on the map and were used for collecting sets of colors).

IMG_8921

These Hero Cards serve double duty: they are also used for questing!  This leads nicely to discussing questing: So, instead of eradicating/curing 4 diseases like Pandemic, the players have to complete 4 quests.  Instead of simply collecting a hard of 5 or 6 colored cards, the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King quests involves revealing certain colors of cards to advance the quest marker!  See picture above! This is similar to curing because (a) you have to do it (quest) four times to win (just like Pandemic) and (b) you have to have “the right cards” in hand to make the questing worthwhile (they have to be the same color in Pandemic, here in WOW, you need a variety: again see picture above).  The questing mechanic “abstracts” the quest idea using a variant of the “cure diseases” idea.

Instead of different colored diseases coming out, now the ghouls are coming out.  Ghouls are easy to kill: you only need to do one damage.

IMG_8907

Another major difference: Instead of an overrun (adding a 4th ghoul to a location) causing all adjacent cities to infect (like Pandemic), an abomination comes out on that location instead!

IMG_8905

Abominations are much harder to defeat! It takes 3 fight to defeat (in one combat)!  They also “hunt” the players, always moving towards the closest player (doing 1 damage to a player character upon reaching).

IMG_8924

The fact that each player has damage is another big change: questing and ghouls and abominations can all harm you!  If you ever drop to zero, the game isn’t over, but it’s still pretty bad.  

IMG_8876

Since there’s no Locations on your cards, the notions of Direct Flights and Research Stations have no analogue in WOWWOTLK.  Instead, there are 3 Strongholds that just “come out” occasionally from the Hero Deck.  They serve a similar goal as the Research Stations.

In summary:

  1. Running out of components moves despair marker up (instead of losing immediately)
  2. Hero Cards have actions you can perform on your turn if you wish (instead of boring Location cards)
  3. Quests need cards revealed when questing (instead of discarding 5 cards of the same color)
  4. Ghouls are generic baddies (instead of colored diseases)
  5. Overruns cause an Abomination to appear (instead of infecting adjacent cites)
  6. There are Strongholds that just come out from the Hero Deck (instead of Research Stations and Direct Flights and stuff like that)
  7. Damage is a notion (players can’t “die” in original pandemic)

There are other differences, but those are some of the bigger differences.  And yet, even with those differences, this still “feels” like Pandemic!

Cooperative Play

IMG_8894

Although I usually prefer to play solo to learn the rules, then teach my friends, that’s not what happened this time!  We had to learn the rules out of the rulebook in real-time as a group: luckily the rules were good enough to do this!  Whew!

I think because we had all played Pandemic before, we didn’t struggle getting going.  This may be a false sense of how hard the game is: I don’t know how hard it would be to get into the game if you have never played Pandemic before!

IMG_8898

This as a fun cooperative experience, as everyone had different powers.  My fellow was good at Questing, Sara could teleport, other Andrew and Teresa could fight!  Everyone’s special ability gave them a leg-up in some part of the game, and we had to “talk it through” to figure out how to best deploy everyone!

Solo Play

Luckily, this game has solo mode (see rulebook page below and thank you for following Saunders’ Law). This time, I played a solo game AFTER playing in a group game.  I liked it, but I didn’t play the way they suggested:

IMG_8922 (1)

This game has the same problem as the Marvel United, Solar Storm, and bunch of other cooperative games:  the solo rules take add too much additional intellectual overhead to play!  There’s an entire half of page of rules describing exceptions and changes to the rules to play solo: See above.  We discussed this very issue in depth here: How To Play A Cooperative Game Solo.   Like Marvel United and Marvel United: X-Men, it’s significantly easier to play a solo game by simply controlling two characters and alternating between them: that’s what we did.  See Below:

IMG_8923

I had a very good time playing solo.  I was a little nervous in the endgame, as two Abominations were approaching me, but I was able to solve the final quest and win before they arrived!

IMG_8933

This mode of alternating characters for a solo game worked great: I don’t know why you would want to learn half a page of exceptions (and new rules) to play a game that’s fine with two players!  There’s no real hidden information (all hands are open information), so there’s no balance adjustments needed for  because the players have perfect information. 

Alternate between two characters for solo play and avoid the built-in solo mode.

Impressions

IMG_8934

This is a really nice reimplementation of Pandemic in a new setting.  If you “squint”, you can see the Pandemic underneath, but in general the game has made a lot of advancements in making the game more thematic and “feel different”.  The questing idea is interesting, but it does feel “abstract”: it’s not quite as thematic as I would hoped.  Moving around the map to fight ghouls and Abominations is much more thematic than “battling” disease cubes: it works really well!  

IMG_8892

The best new addition is the Hero Cards: in the old Pandemic, the “good” cards you collected were a bit more generic and you were “mostly” looking for colors on cards.  Here, the Hero Cards do something  and you get to CHOOSE when to use them!  All of the sudden, the decision space opens up for the player!  Not only do they get 4 actions on their turn, they can play the Hero cards to augment or even add actions!

The components are fantastic, the rulebook is good, the changes to the base game seem appropriate (for a World of Warcraft universe) and well done.  My only real “complaint” is that the questing mechanic felt a bit abstract.

A Comparison to Defenders of the Realm

IMG_8939

A game that’s very similar in a lot of ways to Wrath of the Lich King is Defenders of the Realm.  Defenders of the Realm is an older game which basically takes Pandemic and throws it into a Fantasy setting with dice and questing (sound familiar?)

IMG_8941

The components aren’t quite as nice as Wrath of the Lich King, but they are still quite nice with lots of minis, linen-coated cards, and dice.  The boards are both pretty darn big:

IMG_8946

But I actually prefer the Defenders of the Realm board.  Why?

IMG_8947

One of the things Defenders of the Realm did right was put a unique piece of art at every location in the kingdom: See above.  When “infection” cards come out, they have that piece of art that makes it feel unique and special and very fantastical. 

IMG_8882

The Wrath of the Lich King cards show “where” a Location is, but even after playing a number of times, the locations don’t feel “thematic”.  I think the Defenders of the Realm unique art is more evocative and immersive.

The quests are also a little more interesting in Defenders of the Realm: you roam the board looking for stuff … you actually quest!  (See sample quest above).  The quests on Wrath of the Lich King are  little more “abstract” as you show cards or roll successes on quest locations:

I think that World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is significantly better than Defenders of the Realm in one place: the dice!  Both in how they look and how they are used.  In DOTR, you can only get successes if you roll the appropriate thresholds on dice (usually 4-6), so it’s possible to get failures.  In WOWWOTLK, there’s only two dice BUT each side shows some kind of success in attack or defense, it’s just a matter of which you do better at!

You can see all 6 outcomes: 3 single hits, 1 double hit, 1 defend, and 1 defend/hit.  Every time you roll, SOMETHING good comes out in Wrath of the Lich King!!  Unfortunately,  in Defenders of the Realm, it’s possible to completely and miserably fail on your dice rolls (which is honestly one of the problems we had with G.I. Joe: Deckbuilding game from last week).  Wrath of the Lich King wins here!

Wrath of the Lich King also is significantly more streamlined: it plays in 45-0 minutes, whereas Defenders of the Realm plays in 60-90 minutes: See above.

I really like Defenders of the Realm, as it seems to feel like an epic adventure where you truly feel like you are questing to build enough resources to take on the baddies: it’s very thematic and gorgeous. But, it can be a little more random which can sometimes be more frustrating.  I think World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is a more streamlined version of Defenders of the Realm: WOWWOTLK loses a little bit of the questing feel and some theme, but it’s little less random and about half the length.  Both are good games: it just depends on what you want!

Conclusion

IMG_8902

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (WOWWOTLK) is a worthy successor to the original Pandemic!  The original  Pandemic is one of my Top 5 Cooperative Games of All Time, and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (or “Mitch” as his friends call him) is great as well!  WOWWOTLK is different enough  from the original Pandemic (with dice rolling, action cards, quest mechanics) to warrant inclusion in your collection even if you have the original game!  It’s similar enough, however, that’s it’s easy to jump right in and start playing!

IMG_8871

A lot of people probably won’t like the idea of a Pandemic theme (especially in a post and continuing COVID-19 world), so WOWWOTLK solves that problem by completely retheming the game to a World of Warcraft setting!  And you don’t have to “know” much about World of Warcraft: I don’t know that much about WOW, and I still have a great time playing.  The components, rulebook, minis, and art are all fantastic, especially for a more mass market game (I mean, it’s at Target)!  WOWWOTLK also solves one of the problems I have with Defenders of the Realm with too much randomness from the dice.

Overall, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King  is a great cooperative experience and will probably be in my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021.

A Review of Roll Player Adventures: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

IMG_8503

Roll Player Adventures is a cooperative adventure game that was on Kickstarter back in July 2020 and promised delivery in June 2021. I have just received my Kickstarter copy about two weeks ago (mid November). These days, 6 months late is no big deal (especially given how awful shipping has become), so I was just happy to get it. This didn’t make my Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2021, but it probably should have! I was really excited to get this to the table and play!

This is a big box full of stuff! Notice the Coke can for scale (and the expansion, which we won’t discuss here further)!

IMG_8497 (2)

The back of the box shows all the components you have! This is FULL of stuff!

Let’s take a look!

Unboxing

Oh boy, this a big box full of lot of cool stuff!  Or at least below the white thing?

IMG_8505

Upon opening the box, I was just taken aback by how cool this stuff was: look at the dual-layer boards! Looks at the adventure books!  Look at the cool color pads!

There are so many adventure books in this game!

IMG_8508

IMG_8538

These adventure books (which are the storybooks, the campaign) look like old TSR Dungeons and Dragons modules!

IMG_8509

IMG_8510

The pads are nice and colorful: we’ll be using those for our adventurer boards!  (They insert INTO the adventurer boards!!!)

IMG_8512

These adventurer boards are dual-layered and fantastic looking!

Next is a dice bag (this is a dice-placement game, and there will be a LOT of dice!).  It’s really nice quality.  You can also see the Tome of Encounters next!  A spiral bound book ..

IMG_8518

Inside, you get a sense that this is storybook game, like Tainted Grail.

Next is the Skill Checks book (when you need to make a particular skill check in the game, you will open this book up):

IMG_8515

IMG_8524

The Tokens are nice and readable and pretty thick cardboard.

This is a campaign game: see above for the campaign log.

IMG_8526

… and we’re still going!  Below ALL THAT, are Game Trayz!

This game is stored very well in the Game Trayz. 

There are SO many cards and dice!  All the cards are linen-finished!  All the cards and components are easy to read!  The maps are linen-finished!

IMG_8586

Overall, the components of this game are fantastic!

Roll Player

So, Roll Player Adventures is a cooperative game in the Roll Player universe, where Roll Player is a competitive game about building a character up (and its attributes) for an adventure.  You do not need to know how Roll Player works to play this game, and indeed, I have never even played the original Roll Player before.  That doesn’t stop you from playing the game in any way whatsoever.

IMG_8548

If have played Roll Player and want to import a player from that game, page 6 (see above) the rulebook shows you how to do that.  You don’t need it and it didn’t hold me back from playing Roll Player Adventures.

Rulebook

The rulebook is pretty long.  It’s 24 pages:

IMG_8587

The rulebook is decent.  It does a lot of things right: it starts off with some flavor text and an immediate discussion of what the game is:

IMG_8543

It then immediately heads into a list of components with pictures of said components:

IMG_8544

it even has a breakdown of all the major components next (I really liked this):

It then proceeds to “campaign set-up”, which is a little confusing at first.

IMG_8547

Page 6 we’ve already seen (it shows how to import Roll Player characters into the adventure).

Finally, page 7 we see a picture of set-up.

IMG_8549

So far, this rulebook is pretty good.  The pictures are nice and well-labelled and the font is a decent size so it was easy to read.  There’s two decisions I question in the rulebook a little.

The first is that Skill Checks and Combat are almost identical: assign dice to locations until you have dice everywhere needed.   The rulebook spends two pages on skill checks, which is very thorough and appreciated: pages 12 and 13.

IMG_8551

Then, the rulebook spends another two pages on combat (pages 14 and 15).  That’s very daunting, especially after you realize combat and skill checks are virtually identical!!  My first thought was that I had to learn something very new and different for combat.  I don’t know, I guess it’s good to have the combat well well-spelled out, but I would have appreciated something like “Combat is very similar to Skill Checks except for the following things…”   I would have jumped sooner into the game and had a better understanding sooner?  (Most people learn by relating to things they understand: don’t present combat as something entirely new!!! Present in terms of something you already taught us!)

The other thing that made me grumpy was the lack of discussion on “what the cards do”.  There are a TON of symbols and icons on the cards and in this game, and the ONLY place they are discussed on pages 20 and 21 of the rulebook!

IMG_8705

These two pages are by far THE MOST IMPORTANT PARTS OF THE GAME!  You can’t mitigate dice without your cards and you can’t understand the icons without these two pages!  I wanted more discussion of these  The write-ups are just BARELY enough to understand what all the icons are.  Granted, the pictures are good enough and they make sense after a while, but wow: these are the most important part of the rules!!! Could we please have a little more elaboration?? 

Having said all that, the rulebook did its job and taught the game.  I just think it wasted too much space on combat and not enough on the Icons Glossary.  An Icon Summary card would have gone a long way towards making this easier to understand.

The rulebook was decent.  I learned the game from it.

How To Play

IMG_8573

Roll Player Adventures, at its core, is a dice-rolling and dice-placement game. Each player has special abilities to mitigate dice rolls.  Dice are used to defeat monsters and perform skill checks using the same mechanism: dice are rolled and placed (dice-placement) on monsters boxes and skill boxes.  Players can help each other in many ways (unless you are playing solo). 

IMG_8627

Consider the skill check above: in order to “interpret” (Level I check) something in the game, I need to roll certain numbers on the dice and place certain colors.  For the above skill check, I have already rolled the proper number and color for two of the places, but I still to roll a blue 4 to finish the skill check.  I have a white 4 and blue 6: if I have some ability where I can change a white to blue, I can finish.  Or maybe adjust the 6 down by 2.  Or maybe just re-roll and hope I roll correctly.

Most characters start the game with 5 cards that allow them to manipulate the dice.  For example, the skill Diplomacy above allow you to flip a blue or red die to the pip on the other side.  

IMG_8588

Roll Player Adventures is all about taking each player assuming the mantle of a character and taking that character through an adventure (with other players unless you play solo).  In my game, I played Rune Makutu, a grumpy minotaur (see above).  This character is “prebuilt” and has all the skills and characteristics predefined (all listed on the reverse of the picture).

If you flip Rune Makutu’s card (above), you’ll see he has a preset attributes which I have filled in the in the middle of the card.  Each character will have to fill in a set of attributes and place them in their (really nice) dual-layered board:

Each backside also tells you what Armor, Weapons, Skills, Traits, etc you start with. See below.

IMG_8592

Each player will get about 5 or 6 cards (Armor, Skills, etc) which allow him to manipulate dice. For example (see above), Rune Makutu can Haggle (change any 2 to a 4 or 6) or be Cruel (change any black die to any other color). Using that ability will force the card to the discard or spent column.  (Discarded cards are regained after the check, spent cards are only gained after resting).

If the dice are rolled for skill checks, how do you acquire the dice?  By spending some of your attributes!  For example, for every blue die you need (for example), you can spend 1 INT attribute: you place the little clear cubes from your attributes (in the middle above) to the FATIQUE box (right).  You’ll notice my character is already fatigued, having 5 cubes in there (and no strength).  If you don’t have any attributes in the needed die, you can always spend 3 cubes to get any color die.

By resting, you can heal fatigue and get some of our attributes back (as well as spent cards).

IMG_8629

These characters are run through an adventure, spending attributes to buy dice, rolling dice for combat and skill checks, and using special cards to mitigate those dice rolls.  

IMG_8624

This is a campaign game play over 12 storybooks and maps!

IMG_8600

As player advance through the story, they are making choices from their storybook (or the “Tome of Enounters”) to advance the story, kind of like “Choose Your Own Adventure” games.

IMG_8596

This is a fairly sprawling game, taking up tons of space for the map, storybook, cards, characters, dice, dice bag, and all sorts of tokens.

IMG_8630

At the end of a session, there’s even some deck-building as the characters can buy some new cards with the gold they have acquired, as well as new attributes to power up their character.

Storybook Campaign Game

So, we need to make this clear it hasn’t been: this is also a storybook game!  Players will be reading out of storybooks (one for each campaign) as well as overall “Tome of Encounters”.  Like Tainted Grail (see our Part I and Part II here) or any of our Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Storytelling Games, Roll Player Adventures has a very cool ongoing story with storybooks and maps!  This is a storybook campaign game like Tainted Grail.

Solo Play

IMG_8595

First of all, congratulations to Roll Player Adventures for following Saunders’ Law and having a solo mode!  Not only does it have a solo mode, but it requires no exceptional rules!  You simply grab a character and play it!

IMG_8620

Balance among 1 to 4 players is achieved via a simple mechanism: every time you need to buy a die for a skill check or combat, you must spend 1 attribute (clear cubes, see above) for each player!  In other words, a solo player must spend 1 BLUE attribute cube to pay for a single BLUE die, 2 players would have to (collectively) spend 2 BLUE attribute cubes to pay for a single BLUE die, etc. In a multi-player game, the players can decide who spends what: one player can pay for the die completely, or players can share the cost piecemeal.  

Other than that, the solo game plays normally.

First Impressions

IMG_8631

Here’s the thing: the solo mode works great for teaching the game.  I was able to go through the first adventure one night and then teach my friends the game very quickly the next night. 

IMG_8599

The storybook for adventure 1 was well-written and easy.  The story was interesting and had some engaging ideas.  However, the game itself was NOT fun.  

IMG_8612

During my solo play of the first adventure storybook, I got to do maybe 4 or 5 rolls of my dice (combats or skill checks).  I was a slave to the dice almost everytime!  I tried to use my special abilities to mitigate the dice, to no avail.  I lost 4 out of 5 of my dice combats/skill checks!  I would buy the dice I needed,  roll the dice, realize I couldn’t mitigate the roll,  and then fail.  I’d read the “fail” text out of the storybook almost every time.  It wasn’t fun to fail almost every time.

I felt like the game was playing me!  This is supposed to be a dice-placement game with dice mitigation powers, right?  When you fail almost all of your dice checks in the intro game, something is wrong! Granted, the storybook did a good job keeping the story going even if you failed, but it just wasn’t fun to fail all the time.  Seriously, it was debilitating.  I realize the nature of dice games is that you can roll bad. Sure, I get it, but I felt like the game needed just “one more” dice mitigation mechanic.  Maybe I chose the wrong character, maybe I rolled poorly, maybe I misused my powers, maybe luck was against me.  But it wasn’t fun.

IMG_8628

I still think the game could work for multiplayer: why?  Because a solo player has “only” 5-6 dice mitigation cards (armor, skills, etc): there’s not enough to choose from for mitigation unless you get very lucky in what you need to do in the adventure.  BUT, with 4 players and 4 characters, that’s 6*4=24 cards to choose from for dice mitigation!  Much more chance for the right cards to mitigate your dice!   So, I will be playing this game with my game group over the next few weeks to see how I feel about it then.  I am hopeful it will work much better multiplayer.

Conclusion

Roll Player Adventures is a fantastic production with amazing components. The game looks great on the table, and there is quite a bit of storybook campaign content here. Unfortunately, the solo play doesn’t work for me. The solo mode is fine for learning the game, but I really have no desire to go back and play this as a solo game ever again. It looks like the more people that play, the more options you have. But, in solo play, I felt I was at the whim of the dice!! I rolled poorly in my solo adventures and simply didn’t have enough ways to mitigate my dice. It was quite debilitating actually: I felt as if I had no agency! It felt as if the game were playing me. The adventures also have some decisions, but they (at least in the beginning) feel a bit arbitrary. This is fine for a simple “Choose Your Own Adventure” style-game, but this game is a lot more than that! The lack of agency for the solo player coupled with the arbitrary decisions of the adventure made this absolutely no fun for solo play.

Having said that, I am hopeful that the group play with go a lot better! (Spoiler Alert: it’s going MUCH better in multiplayer mode!!) There are lot more options for dice mitigation with multiple players, so that will hopefully turn this around. I am really looking forward to getting this played with my group. I will be giving a further report, but if you are looking at this as a solo game, I’d pass. Look for Part II when we talk about cooperative group play!

EDIT: After further play, we enjoyed this game immensely as a group! It made the Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021! So, ya, it got better in group play!

A Review of G.I. Joe: Deck-building Game

IMG_8706

I was very excited when I found out Renegade was doing a cooperative deck-building game in the G.I. Joe universe!  As soon as I found out, I pre-ordered from the Renegade website and waited.  It just arrived yesterday November 27th, and I have been ecstatic to get this to the table! 

IMG_8707

(NOTE: I think you only get the BONUS box if you order directly from the Renegade Website). G.I. Joe: The Deck-building game is a cooperative deck-building game in the universe of G.I. Joe and plays 1-4 players for a game of 30-70 minutes.  After playing a few time, it’s pretty clear that the 30-minute gameplay is if you die horribly quickly! 

Unboxing

IMG_8711

Opening the box, we see an ad for … G.I. Joe the RPG: (In case you need more GI Joe!)

IMG_8713

The rulebook is under that:

And then some nice cardboard tokens:

IMG_8727

But, since this is a deck-building game, most of the rest of the components are cards.  Note they are NOT linen-finished. (But, since this is a deck-building game, maybe that’s okay because we expect to sleeve most deck-building games?).

IMG_8740

There are many flavors of cards.  Leaders are above: Note the keyword “leader”.

Mission Cards: these are the current “obstacle” to overcome.

Starter cards: the 10 cards that form your starting hand.

IMG_8750

Cobra cards: Bad Things that come out during play (Cobra troops, Cobra Commanders, Cobra Battalions)

IMG_8763

Complications: These are Bad News cards that attach to mission cards and make this mission harder.

IMG_8735

IMG_8756

… and because this is a deck-builder, everything else is cards you can buy! (Note the the cost in the upper left).  Blue cards are Joes (soldiers), Green cards are Transport, Grey Cards are Gear, and Yellow Cards are Utility.

This game also has dice, because you only get success when you roll the stars!  The strength of card(s) is how many dice it buys: there’s no guaranteed success!

This game looks pretty good.  Some of the art on the cards was a little inconsistent, but in general, it looked pretty good.

Rulebook

IMG_8714

This is a terrible rulebook.  It looks like it might be okay, but it’s really not.  I can’t tell you how many times I “GRRRed” as I read this rulebook: so many things are under-specified or poorly specified (see Problem section down below).

The game starts ok: there are (only) two missions that come with the game.  I think a  specialized training mission would have been useful.  There is “sorta” is a training scenario: you just play one of the missions with fewer Mission cards.

IMG_8716

The components page is fine.  

IMG_8717

The set-up is a wall of text that’s poorly written.  This set-up don’t specify really what “any” of the cards are: you kind of have to guess what’s what.  They also don’t specify what to do with the Service Rifle cards (see Problems).  The next page is more text:

IMG_8718

The Story Mission set-up is hard to get through.  And can I have an intro scenario?  Well, you can, but only after going to the next page:

IMG_8719

The sample set-up should have been up front, opposite the actual set-up steps so you can correlate what’s in the picture with what’s on the opposite page.  A clear misstep!  And the practice game! THAT SHOULD BE THE FIRST THING THE SET-UP REFERS TO.   My first time playing is when I really want the clear set-up and practice game.

IMG_8720

And the rulebook continues … a lot more text …

I can’t tell you how unhappy this rulebook made me.  I was able to learn the game … maybe.  I think I got the rules down, but I can’t be sure.  This was not a good rulebook.

Solo Play

IMG_8793

So, Congratulations to G.I. Joe: The Deck-Building Game for following Saunders’ Law!  There is a very viable solo mode built in!  It’s not described up front, but near the end of the rulebook.

IMG_8725

It’s a little messy, but not too bad.  I really like the idea that you can save a card in the solo game between rounds.   The solo mode is essentially the normal game, but the solo player gets to cycle through his deck twice as fast, taking two turns before the “bad news” hits.

IMG_8772

This solo mode is a decent way to learn the game.  The extra rules don’t  seem to get in the way of the main game flow.  However, I lost my solo game(s) pretty badly.  I am not sure if it’s well-balanced.

Gameplay

IMG_8787

This is a standard deck-building game, where each player has a deck they wish to improve by buying better cards and culling lesser cards (there’s even a nice mechanism built-in to get rid of the Joes (see above)).   

IMG_8782

Like most deck-builders, it has an offering of 6 cards you can buy (see above).  But what makes this game unique?

  1. Your skills only buy DICE: you can only succeed on a mission if you roll enough “hits” (successes) on your dice  There’s no guaranteed success: you must roll (about 50% chance of success per die, with one side being 2 successes, so it’s better than 50-50).
  2. There’s a story unfolding: There’s some missions cards which you must defeat to move on
  3. There’s a lot of over stuff going on: complications will worsen a mission, Cobra Battalions may block cards in the offer, Cobra Commanders may come out and make things difficult, Cobra Troopers may clog your deck.  And many, many, other things!

IMG_8804

To win, you must make it through to the final Mission and succeed!  See a sample Mission card above.

There are three ways to lose the game: 

  1. Threat Marker reaches last space (this is a timer of sorts: every round, the Threat Marker gets closer)
  2. Main Deck runs out
  3. Cobra Battalions cover all 5 cards in the offering

IMG_8807

Usually, if you will lose, it will be because you ran out of time and the Threat Marker (see above) went all the way to the top.

There’s a lot of rules and a lot of complicated interactions, but in general, G.I. Joe Deck-Building Game has the same flow as many games on our Top 10 Cooperative Deck-Building Games.

Some Interesting Ideas

IMG_8847

You can play out-of-turn with certain cards to help your compatriots.  These are only cards that have a certain symbol though (a little target: see above).  Unfortunately, it not always: You can only play those cards if you committed a Joe to the Mission (yours or your compatriots).

IMG_8817
RAM is cool .. until you realize you can only have 1 Joe on it …

You have to have a Transport to play cards: it’s an interesting idea that Joes must “travel” and get to a Mission using a Transport: But, Transports can only transport a limited number of Joes.

Cooperative Play

Cooperative play was much more interesting than solo play.  Some of the cards don’t make sense in solo play (the Comms cards is much less useful in the solo game unless you consider yourself a teammate), but the best thing about cooperative play is that anyone can help with your missions! 

IMG_8813

If your compatriots have a Joe (and you have room in your Transport), they can send their Joes on your mission (when it’s not your turn).  That seemed to be make the game more fun, as players talked and cooperated to try to defeat missions.

Impressions

IMG_8788

I didn’t like this game.  At all.  I said that this is deck-building game, but there seem to be too many rules and interactions on top of that:  Transports have special (but special rules for the jeep, different rules for other vehicles), Complications (but two different types, but how do Precision Strikes work?), So many Cobra Leaders, when do things happen, etc, etc, etc.

IMG_8774

Maybe because the rulebook is so bad that I don’t feel like I can understand how to play! Maybe the game was too hard: but I played all my games on Practice mode which should have been simpler!  I lost every time on Practice mode because it was so hard!

IMG_8787

A major part of my problem with this game was that it was too random.  It was too hard to get enough resources to overcome some threats.  The randomness of the dice coupled with the randomness of the cards that come out was too much.

I initially thought the Transport idea was cool (you need a Jeep or some Transport mechanism to get to a mission),  but all it did was limit what I could do on my turn (“Oh, I can maybe defeat a mission if I play all 5 of my Joes … oh, no I can’t, the Jeep only has room for 4 … so there’s no way I can win…”).  And then the Transport (unless it was the Jeep) would clog your deck until next turn.  Usually the extra oomph you might get from the Transport was mitigated by the fact that you usually could only send fewer Joes AND they clog up your deck (because when you draw them, they go to the hangar and you lose a card that turn):  We decided Transports are almost never worth it.

IMG_8788

Other issues: I rolled very poorly in my first few games, and I just never had a chance once I started rolling badly.  (See a failed mission above … just barely failed).  The bad rolls just caught up with me too fast.  If you roll well, great!  This might be a great game!  But, the lack of dice mitigation really detracted from the gameplay.

I also had many turns where  I could “do nothing”: See above.  The cards just came out and all I could do was  watch the Threat Marker go up.  You HAVE to have Joes to play a Mission: we kind of came to realize that you should almost always buy Joes and ALMOST NOTHING ELSE because you can ONLY play other cards if you have Joes.

Another problem! There was very little choice in the game, as the Missions were linear:  You could ONLY do the Main Missions in order (see Main Missions above)  There was no branching, no choice, just take the next mission in the stack until you get to the end.  You could argue that Side Missions gave you some choice, but not really: it seemed like you ALWAYS would have to handle a side mission if you had one, and only the Main Mission if you had the resources.   The game was a little on rails.

IMG_8818

When you can’t do anything, when you don’t have a lot of choices, when you roll badly, when you can’t mitigate your dice, when you can’t figure out the rules, that’s not fun.  Honestly, I hated this game and I would be happy to never play it again.

Problems

This game has a significant number of problems, mostly in poor and under-documentation.

  1. IMG_8766Where do the basic Service Rifles go?  NOWHERE does the set-up mention what to do with these white cards (white cards seem to denote starter cards, but that’s not clear)!  If you look closely on the very left edge of the set-up picture, you can see you put them next to the offering.  If you have played any deck-building game, you know that “typically” there’s a resource you can always buy to make your deck better even if the offering doesn’t have anything.  This wasn’t documented, but it just seems to “assume” you know what those are (from playing other deck-building games)
  2. “Hits”: In many of the dice skill checks (“Tech”, “Stealth”, etc), the word “hit” doesn’t make any sense. Do things that refer to “hits” only apply to fighting-type skills (“Marksman”, “Martial Arts”)?  Almost certainly not!  It seems like “success” would have been a better word.  I got a “hit” … in RECON?  No!  Terrible nomenclature!
  3. Complications  are an interesting way to make some of the Missions more interesting, but too many things are underspecified or don’t work:
    a.  Complications are revealed AFTER committing resources (Joes, Leaders, etc).  Can I use the already assigned resources to defeat some of the Precision Strikes?  I think the answer is no, but it’s not clear and it was not specified
    b. Are there ways to reveal Complications?  By having “random” Complications come up when fighting a missing, it’s hard to plan.   I haven’t seen any ways to reveal Complications ahead of time for better planning.  (On some turns, during the game, I couldn’t do anything: maybe you can discard some cards to reveal a complication with useless cards on a turn)
    c. The rules say “Resolve all Complications” which implies I need to handle  Precision Strikes before continuing.  I don’t know.

  4. When you destroy a starter Joe, when do you do it?  Immediately, or can you still use its value to Recruit before it goes away?
  5. On the Low Light Joe card, there’s a red +1 symbol.  It is not documented ANYWHERE in the rulebook.  I think it means you may play a red card? No idea.  (UPDATE: After playing through a few games, we think it means when your Threat Meter is in the red zone. Maybe).
  6. After defeating a STORY MISSION card, what happens to the card?  It turns out you need to count which ones have failed and succeeded, which I only found out later.
  7. Does a Precision Strike need a vehicle?  Probably, but it’s a slightly different flavor of attack, so it’s not clear.
  8. COMMS (a starter card) are MUCH less useful in a solo game.  A “Target Teammate” should be allowed to be the solo player.  It’s not clear if it is.
  9. Finally, the game just feels too random!  A deck-builder has a certain randomness in how cards come out, but then coupling with dice made it feel even more random!   (Andrew was especially upset when we played: he never was able to roll well the entire game: it was debilitating)

Those are just some of the things that were unclear from the games I/We played.

G.I. Joe vs Venom Assault

IMG_8709

Venom Assault is a cooperative deck-building game that definitely feels like it’s in the G.I. Joe Universe.  The rumor is that Spyglass Games (the makers of Venom Assault) approached the owners of the G.I. Joe Intellectual Property to make a real G.I. Joe game … but were denied, so they made something that kind of looks like G.I Joe, but it distinct for legal purposes: that something is Venom Assault!

Venom Assault is a favorite here at CO-OP Gestalt: it made our Top 10 Cooperative Deck-Building Games as well as our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2017.  Going into the G.I. Joe Deck-building Game, (GIJDBG), I knew I’d be comparing it to Venom Assault.  I figured I’d like GI Joe, and maybe would recommend it over Venom Assault for die-hard G.I. Joe fans.  Nope.  Venom Assault is better on almost every axis except they don’t have the G.I. Joe license!

  1. Consistent Art.  The art in Venom Assault is much more consistent that GIJDBG.  There’s just a few artists on Venom Assault, and the art is very consistent.  GIJDBG has way more artists and some of the art does not look like the other art.
  2. Dynamic Art.  I prefer the art in Venom Assault!  I love the art of Phil Cho and the very dynamic poses/active cards
  3. Rulebook.  Well, GIJDBG is one of the worst rulebooks I’ve read this year, so I definitely prefer Venom Assault rulebook.
  4. Table Presence.  Venom Assault looks clean and consistent on the table with everything well-focused on the game board (or mat if you get it): GIJDBG looks ok.  Having  board/mat makes the game look that much better!
  5. Gameplay.  I’d rather play Venom Assault anyday over GIJDBG
  6. Choice. On your turn, you can choose one of many villains to go after in Venom Assault!  In GIJDBG, your choices were limited: deal with Side Mission if you had one, and only deal with Main Mission otherwise.

I grew up with the old-style G.I. Joe with the kung-fu grip, so I like G.I. Joe in general, but I have no allegiance to the cartoon at all: I think Venom Assault is better on every front unless you absolutely have to have Snake Eyes or your favorite G.I. Joe character.  Even then, I didn’t like GIJDBG.

Conclusion

I hated the G.I. Joe Deck-Building Game.  I thought I’d at least be able to say I enjoyed my plays of it, but after a miserable time getting through the rulebook, terrible set-up description, horrific gameplay description, gameplay that was far too random, and too many questions on gameplay,  I am not sure I ever want to play this again.  The solo game is really too hard, but the cooperative game is a little better: if you find yourself drawn to the game, definitely play it in a cooperative group. If you make me play this again, I will only play in a group with at least 3 people. 

My group and I were pretty united on our rating of G.I. Joe Deck-Building Game: this is a 4/10.  Frankly, the poor rulebook was a major contributor to this rating: we can’t be sure we even played the right game.  This game needs some more refinement.  There is a really good game lurking in here, but the current incarnation isn’t it.

Right now, I’d strongly recommend getting Venom Assault if you want a G.I. Joe game, and skipping the G.I. Joe Deck-building game altogether.   The Venom Assault rules are better, the art is better, the gameplay is better, the choices are better, the table-presence is better: Venom Assault is the all-around better game (especially if you add in the Villains and Valor expansion).

 

A Review of Kim Joy’s Magic Bakery!

Kim Joy’s Magic Bakery is listed as a “cooperative baking card game” from Skybound. This wasn’t a Kickstarter (to my knowledge). It’s listed as 2-5 Players, 15-30 Minutes, 8+ Ages: for the most part, that’s pretty accurate.

This is a simple card game about building some neat bakery creations for a group of customers. I picked it up a few months ago, and it’s been sitting around getting played much more than I expected by all my friends! Let’s take a look at this game!

Unboxing

IMG_8274

I ordered this game directly from the Skybound website, but it appears to be everywhere right now (it is even on sale at Kohl’s for half price at the time of this writing: just Google it). It comes in a smallish game box (about the size of Now Boarding! from last week): see the Coke can below for perspective.

The game is mostly all cards: the components are even listed on the back of the box:

IMG_8271

The rulebook is very pink and very cute, but still very readable.

IMG_8275

But almost everything else is cards!

IMG_8293

IMG_8307

As you can see above, all the cards are VERY readable, very cute, and the art is very distinguishable! This game is just adorable.

The games components are easily legible across the table: all the components have cute, distinguishing art, and all the components are labelled! It seems simple, but the fact that each type of card is well-labelled, color-coded, legible, and distinguishable by art goes a long way towards creating a good vibe on the table! There was never any grumpiness on what-was-what.

And this game is cute as the dickens.

IMG_8302

Rulebook

IMG_8275

This is a good rulebook. The font is perhaps a touch smaller than I liked, but it is still very very readable. Look, right away they show the components AND label them with a picture! (See above) Thank you! (Pay attention: Now Boarding! you should have done that).

One thing that might be daunting when you look at the rulebook is the number of pages: 24! (Not 24 factorial, just 24 with an exclamation mark for emphasis). Don’t worry weary baker, the game is explained and set-up very well in the first seven pages! The rest of the book describes the scenarios (this game has a campaign mode??!?!?), so don’t worry about the length.

IMG_8278

The game jumps right in with the set-up (see above): you can immediately set this up and get going. It’s got pictures, annotated notations, and a well-described set-up.

IMG_8279

IMG_8280

The next four pages describe the gameplay very well: see the two pictures above. There are examples and well-written text.

Most of the rest of the rulebook describes scenarios!!

IMG_8281

The rulebook ends with a bang, having a quick reference on the back.

IMG_8276

This is a good rulebook. Well-written, easy-to-read, and lots of examples. The size can be daunting (24 page rulebook!), but most of it just gives details on different scenarios: the basic game is described well in the first 7 pages. At it’s core, this is a simple cooperative game.

Gameplay

This is a simple cooperative game that can easily be described by the front and back of the Summary cards (above). The object of the game is to bake enough “baking masterpieces” for the customers coming through your shop. Players work together as bakers to build these culinary masterpieces.

IMG_8310

For example, the Turtle above wants a Chocolate Bombe, and the Dragon wants Crumpets. Note that each customer tells you what ingredients are needed to build these culinary masterpieces! Some of the ingredients are simple and be used directly (the butter, eggs, flour for instance): these are obtained from the ingredients row:

IMG_8298

5 random ingredients will be placed out, and replaced and cycled as the players try to bake items. If players can’t find an ingredient, they can use one action on their turn to “reset” all 5 ingredients and hopefully get what they need.

IMG_8307

Some things needed for the culinary creations have to be made: for instance, the biscuit from the Chocolate Bombe requires Biscuits: Biscuits must be made … you can see (above left) that the Biscuits require eggs, flour, and sugar.

IMG_8305

There’s really not much more to the game: players need to bake culinary creations for customers before they leave the store. A customer will hang out until pushed out the of store or gets his “creation” baked!

IMG_8311

Interestingly, this game has 3 levels of winning: For the scenario above (pet the Kitty), getting 3 customers satisfied gives you 1 star (copper), 4 customers gives you 2 stars (silver) and 5 customers gives you a 3 stars! I’ve always liked when cooperative games have a “minor wins” and “major wins” (like Ares Expedition should): that way, you can still feel like you accomplished something, even if you don’t get the best win.

Gameplay is real simple: a customer is introduced, and players each get a number of actions to try to bake creations. Players work together, gathering ingredients from the ingredient line, baking layers (if needed) and sharing ingredients in order to satisfy the customers! You can’t always finish the creations for the customer right away, so another customer may enter the shop. You may decide to concentrate on both, neither or one, depending on the available ingredients!

The game is really simple. Grab the proper ingredients and layers to satisfy customers. That’s it.

Campaign Mode?  Scenarios!

So, this light and fluffy game has a Campaign mode!! “What?” I hear you say!  “Are we playing Tainted Grail with its giant storyline??”  (See our review of Tainted Grail Part I and Part II).  Calm down!  Although you are supposed to do the scenarios in order, the Scenarios are really just there to make game more interesting.  

IMG_8284

At its core, this is a VERY simple game and the scenarios just give each game a little nudge to make it more interesting.

Too Cute?

IMG_8292

Is this game too cute? The art is definitely cute, and my friends Sara and Teresa adored it and wanted to play it right away when I got it. In fact, we’ve played it a number of times! I’ve also played with Sam and Andrew who weren’t quite as taken with the cuteness factor.

IMG_8310

A hardcore gamer might roll his eyes at the art and simple gameplay. And this is a simple game: No doubt about it. It would be very easy to bring this out with any 8-year old and teach him/her the game.

Here’s the thing: ya, it’s simple. But it keeps coming out to our game table. Why? It’s an “end of the night” game when we want a simple game when we are fried. It’s a “we’re waiting got Andrew” game, when we know Andrew will be 30 minutes late. It’s easy to set-up, plays quick, and easy to tear-down. We can play this with anyone. Ya, it’s dirt simple. I didn’t think I’d like it to be honest “this is TOO simple” … but it’s charming and it has relaxing gameplay. You can play this with anyone. I’ll admit it’s no Tainted Grail, but sometimes you want a light game.

Solo vs Cooperative

IMG_8309

This game breaks Saunders’ Law: it has no solo mode. It’s easy enough to play as if it were a 2-Player game, with the solo player playing two hands. Strictly speaking, Kim Joy’s Magic Bakery is a hidden information game! Each player starts with some ingredients and builds as they go (see hand on lower right below)… but other players aren’t allowed to see the cards! So, a solo mode might use the Changing Perspectives idea like we did in Wonder Woman: you’d have to turn your cards over and kind of “forget” what the other hand did. Nah, that’s a lot of work for such a simple game!! That’s really not a good use of that idea.

IMG_8308

A better solo game might be to just have one starting hand and give the solo player 5 actions per turn … (instead of 2 hands with 3 actions per hand). The solo player has 5 actions per turn, losing an action since he has perfect information of all cards in hand. I.e., play just one player with just 5 actions (before the next customer comes).

The loss of an action is the price of perfect information for the solo player.

IMG_8301

The solo game idea is okay for learning the game, but It’s not great for long-term playability. The game is much better as a cooperative game. It’s a relaxing and charming baking session with your friends when you play cooperatively.

Conclusion

IMG_8308

I am surprised how much gameplay Kim Joy’s Magic Bakery! has gotten at my tables. My initial reaction was that “meh, this is okay: it’s a little simple” … and yet, it keeps coming out! Why? The art is charming and unassuming, the game is quick and easy to set-up, play, and tear-down, and it creates a fun little cooperative experience with your friends. I can play this with anyone: kids, adults, gamers (assuming they don’t roll their eyes), non-gamers and have a fun little time.

Not every game has to be Tainted Grail. Kim Joy’s Magic Bakery has surprised me and my friends as a enjoyable light cooperative game.