A Review of Incoming Transmission

Incoming Transmission was a smallish cooperative board game on Kickstarter back in Februrary 2019. It promised delivery in February 2019 but it only delivered last week (March 2021). It’s about 2 years late! These days, a year late isn’t that bad, but two years late is pushing it a little.

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I am still very excited to get Incoming Transmission! It made our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2021! Incoming Transmission is a smallish game for 2-5 people lasting 10-30 minutes. This qualifies it for our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games! Would we have put it in that list? Let’s check out the game below!

Unboxing

The box is a fairly small box (about the size of Solar Storm, another smallish game we looked at).

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The game comes with plenty of plastic bags (too many? I suspect I will steal some of these for other games) and some really nice little wooden meeples. The orange meeple is the “cadet” one team will move around the space station. The green meeple is for an expansion that comes with the game.

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The rest of the game contains two types of components: tiles or cards (see above).

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The tiles are thick cardboard and very readable.  You can see that the game has really embraced the 8-bit computer art aesthetic!

 

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The cards aren’t linen finished, but they are easy to read and decent (see above).. Again, the game really embraces the 8-bit theme.

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Overall, the game is very consistent in the 8-bit theme. Assuming you like that look (I do), the game looks pretty.

Rulebook

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The rulebook is pretty good. It was readable and I was able to learn the game pretty well. It is a fairly simple game.

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The font is legible and the pages are very readable.  

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We see the  components list on one page (pretty good: it shows all the components with pictures so that always help) plus some gameplay overview.

The next page (not shown) has the set-up and into the rules.

It’s a simple game and the rulebook was good enough.  I am actually fairly happy that I didn’t have any big issues with the rulebook: in the last few months, a few rulebooks have been less than stellar. 

Set-Up

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The game sets-up quickly to a 5×5 grid with the cadet starting in the middle. (Strictly speaking, the green “hat” is for the expansion that comes with the game, but we thought it was so cool we put it on the cadet for our game).

Some locations are in red (which means they are broken and need to be fixed), some locations are in green (which mean they work), and some locations are just empty.

Solo Play

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There is no solo play! (Boo for not following Saunders’ Law). This game is a hidden information game with two types of players: the clue-giver and the rest of the players trying to interpret the clues! The premise is that the Space Station is malfunctioning and the lone cadet on the station (being controlled by most of the characters) has to fix things on the station. The communications are ALSO malfunctioning, so Mission Control (the clue-giver) can only send bits of information on what needs to be fixed and sometimes that information is garbled! It’s up the cadet (and the players playing the cadet) to figure out what the Mission Control (the clue-giver) needs!

It’s hard to offer a solo mode in the “clue-giver/clue-receiver” situation. For games like Shipwreck Arcana, where all information needed in available on the board (and there’s no “connotations”), a technique like Changing Perspectives can work. That idea won’t work here because there’s too much implicit information. So, you pretty much always have to have at least 2 players to play: one clue-giver and (one or more) clue-receivers. So, Incoming Transmission has no solo mode.

Gameplay

The object of the game is for the cadet to complete 3 missions before the transmission deck (7 cards) runs out. (The 3 mission objectives are hidden from the cadet players). Each mission needs the cadet to fix “something” on the ship. Fixing something means two things: (1) Turn item(s) to the green side (so they are operational) and (2) moving the fixed items/locations next to each other. In the example above, you need to move the Android item next to the Comlink module to complete the mission.

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The missions have a lot of “flavor text” but the idea is to get card A next to card C in the 5×5 grid.

The clue-giver character gives 5 cards to the cadet characters every transmission. These 5 cards tell the cadet how to move arround the station and what things to pick up and fix. The only problem IS THAT THEY AREN’T IN ORDER! The clue-giver has to give directions (move n, fix, pick-up, drop) in such a way that he gives enough information to fix what’s broken but still “imply” what needs to be done! This is a logic puzzle where the clue-giver tries to “imply” things or make it clear what needs to be done! The 5 cards (in some random order) are the ONLY informations bits given to the players!!

The players have 7 turns to complete 3 missions. The missions don’t have to be completed in order, and in fact, you NEED to be completing multiple missions at the same time to win! There are ONLY 7 turns (“transmissions”). If you haven’t completed all 3 missions at the end of the 7th turn, the space station blows up and everybody loses.

Thoughts

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This is a puzzle game. It’s pretty straight-forward. The clue-giver has to figure out the best way to give info to the players, and the players have to decipher what the clue-giver meant. It’s fun. It’s not super-deep, but it’s also not a light filler game. There’s just enough depth to make this a challenging little puzzle without frying anyone’s brain too much.

Our first play was 3 people and we think that either 2 or 3 people is the right number of people: the game says you can play up to 6, but it probably be boring for a lot of players who aren’t right next to the cards (the 5 clue cards). If you have some younger kids, they could probably “help”, but at the end of the day, 1 clue-giver and 1 or 2 clue-receivers seems to be the right amount. It’s nice to have a second clue-receiver “verify” and “bounce ideas”, but too many more would muddy the waters too much.

Conclusion

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We waited 2 years for Incoming Transmission … was it worth the wait? Yes. This is a fun little game that probably would have made our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games had we gotten it earlier. It’s not a super deep game, and it probably won’t come out all the time, but it’s a light cooperative puzzle for 2-3 people (too many more is probably not recommended) that’s a fun 10-30 minutes of gameplay.

A Review of Burgle Bros 2: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

We will avoid the major controversy of this game and just call it Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers rather than Burgle Brothers 2 (with “brothers” spelled out). I am sure the designer had a good reason to call it that!

Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers was a game that was up on Kickstarter and promised delivery in May 2020. It delivered about a week ago as March 28th, 2021, so it’s about a year late. We have been looking forward to this game, as it made our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games last month! The original Burgle Bros was quite a hit at RichieCon’s 2018 and we have been playing tjhe original online via TableTop Simulator (see our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games You Can Play Online). You can see below that the new Burgle Bros 2 is substantially bigger than its predecesssor!

Honestly, Burgle Bros (the original) probably should have made our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games from a few weeks ago.  As you can see above, Burgle Bros 2 does not really fit into the “small” category anymore.

Unboxing

Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers comes in a very different box.  It is supposed to look like a Las Vegas Hotel!  See below:

The box is also weird in that it’s “held together” by the cardboard insert at the bottom.

When you open it up, you see a lot of stuff!

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Above, you can see 4 plastic tubes: these tubes will be used to make a 3-D hotel!  There are also two mats in the game (rolled and held by rubber bands).  A few cardboard punchouts also adorn the top (see above).  Below all that mess is a Gamez-Tray with the majority of tokens and cards:

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You can see above that the pieces kind wandered around during shipping.

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You see a lot of plastic cubes (red used for markers, orange used for “heat”), some wood sticks (used for walls in the casino), and a bunch of wood tokens (mostly for user tokens).  All the cards are also intruded in the tray (above right) and a bunch of space for the cardboard tokens.

There’s still more stuff below the red Game-Trayz!

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Although this isn’t a legacy game, it includes some stickers and special envelopes for a campaign mode.  There’s also a Heist Log (for the campaign game) and a discussion of differences between the two games.

Last and not least are the tiles. These form the two floors of the hotel and will be flipped as the players explore.

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Altogether, the components look super good and thematic. They have the same ‘feel’ as the original Burgle Bros!

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Mini-Game 1: The Legacy, Dexterity Game

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So, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers comes with not just one, but two mini-games! The first mini-game is a legacy, dexterity game where you try to put the stickers on the on the wooden markers! I am being silly here because it was very daunting to put the stickers on!! I call it a legacy game because if you screw-up putting the stickers on, they are like that forever! And putting the stickers on is very precise and “handsy”, so that’s why it’s a dexterity game!

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It was actually kind of hard to match the stickers to some of the wooden blocks! For example (below), the two “purplish” characters below both “kinda” fit!

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Also, make sure you DO NOT put the stickers on some of the wooden tokens. They look like they should, but the treasure stickers are for the heist log!

Here’s before:

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And here’s after:

I didn’t do that great at some of the stickers. Once they go on, they are on that way for life! (If you try to take them off, there’s a chance you may rip them). I think a second sticker sheet with “replicas” of some of the stickers would have helped this legacy, dexterity game!!

Setting Up The Table

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So, this game has a bit of cool gimmick. The box becomes the “second floor” of the hotel!

The yellow plastic is a little weak, so you have to be careful not to “shove” the little plastic tubes in too hard, but you still have to apply some force: see above.

Once you flip over the table, you put a mat on the first floor and a mat on the second floor. It’s a little bit shaky, but (after playing through a full game), it seemed to worked pretty well. It just doesn’t necessarily “look” particularly stable (see above).

But it does look cool! The table has a lot of table presence!

Rulebook

The rulebook … is ok. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. There were a lot of questions I had during game play that the rulebook did not answer. There were rules questions about some of the gear, some of the rules on the tiles, some of the final game rules. I was able to make educated guesses on most of them. It didn’t interfere too much with the enjoyment of the game, but I strongly suspect an online FAQ would go a long ways.

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The first page (see above) is a components page: that’s good! They just LIST the components without having a corresponding picture: that’s bad. Most of the components are labelled or “obvious”, so it wasn’t too hard to figure out what was what: that’s good.

The set-up page (above) is very good. I didn’t have too many problems getting set-up.

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The font is nice, the game is fairly well described, and it’s pretty easy to read (see above).

Overall, I learned the game from the rulebook and it was okay.  My real problem was there just seemed to be a lot of edge conditions that weren’t described too well.  I strongly suspect you will want to look at a FAQ online once you get going. 

Solo Play

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So, the box says the game plays 1-4 players. (Ya for following Saunders’ Law) Unfortunately, the rulebook has NO DESCRIPTION OF A SOLO MODE! Many cooperative games just have you assume two positions, so that’s what I did: I chose two characters and just played them both.

At the end of the first campaign, there’s some “rules” to follow to win the endgame (see above). You’ll notice they have descriptions for what to change in a 2 and 3 player game. If we assume the 4-player game is the default rule set, then the lack of “In a one-player game” implies that the solo player either takes control of 2, 3, or 4 characters. For ease, I just chose two characters (see below: The Acrobat and Peterman) and alternated between them.

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Set-Up

When setting up the game, you put the Manager’s office on the first floor and the safe on the second floor. There’s also a monorail and escalator on both floors to allow you to move between floors.

There are nine characters (see above) you could play (Ocean’s 9?). Each player chooses one character (except the solo player has to operate two) to play. Each character has a very specific set of gear (see below) that gives that character “extra abilities”. At the moment, you can’t pass gear around (but I suspect a later campaign rule game will allow passing gear to other characters).

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Once the game is set-up, it looks very cool on the table! The 3-D second story is a gimmick, but it looks cool.

Gameplay

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Each character gets 4 action points. Using those action points, each character explores the casino, looking for the way up to the second floor (via Escalator or Monorail) or the Manager’s Office (on the first floor) or the Safe (on the second floor). As you explore, you flip over tiles and try to avoid the bouncer. If you are on the same tile as a bouncer (see above), you get 2 points of “heat” (see below).

If you get 6 heat (like Peterman above), you lose the game. Avoiding the bouncers is a big part of the game: they move around using little destination tokens that move as the game progresses. By the end of the game, they are hunting the players directly, so you want to get as much done ASAP!

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As you explore the floors, you encounter chip tokens (see the Mole and the Crowd above). Some of the chips do bad things, and some do good things. In the case of the mole, he gives you a die! Why do you need a die? Because to crack the safe, you have to get dice to the Manager’s Office so that the safe cracker can roll them!

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Above, the Acrobat has 4 dice on the safe space! To crack the safe, he has to roll ALL the numbers on the tiles of the columns and rows of the safe! You can see some “cracked safe” tokens above from a previous attempt!

(The Acrobat is wearing a fake mustache so the bouncer doesn’t bust him!)

Once the players crack the safe, it’s a race to get out! Draw the appropriate Heist Finale card (get that card from the envelope below), and it will tell you what you need to do to get out!

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As you play, you will roll dice (when directed by locations or cards), move, avoid bouncers, explore, peek into locations (so you don’t activate it: some locations are bad to activate).

First Impressions

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The game reminds me a lot of Burgle Bros. But I think it fixes two major problems I had with Burgle Bros:

  1. Outstays its welcome.  By having three floors in the original Burgle Bros, the original game always seemed a little too long.  By the end of the second floor, it always felt like the game should be over.   Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers seems to fix that problem by only having two floors!
  2. A little more variety.  By having the chips on the Locations, there is a little more variety as the chips cause a fgew more interesting things to happen.  Even with the exact same set-up of the Casino, the chips would make the game different.

The game is good.  There’s a lot of “discussion” (in a solo game, you plan with yourself) about how to avoid the bouncers and how to explore.  And the game is very tense in the end game as it seems the bouncers will get you!

One problem I had with the original game is still in Burgle Bros 2: a bit too much randomness. Between cracking the safe (rolling the dice, what if I don’t get what I need?), the bouncer’s track (if the bouncer goes there, we lose, but the card we draw determines that), the location of the moles in the chips.  There are ways to mitigate the randomness (get a lot of dice, try to stay away from the bouncer, use “peeking” to explore locations to avoid bad places), but there is still a lot of randomness in the game.  BUT, IT SEEMS MORE THEMATIC IN A CASINO?  

An example of how thematic this seems:I was getting frustrated when I almost lost: the bouncer was about to find Peterman, and his heat was too high: If the bouncer got in the same Location, game over!  Ah! I’m screwed!

It was the Acrobat’s turn, and I thought we had lost. So, in a panic, the Acrobat went to the Lounge and caused some trouble to “divert” the bouncer!

By having the Acrobat “share a drink”, he was able to get the Peterman out of the way! At this point, I was sold! This felt like a movie moment! I was scared! I did the only thing I could and was able to save the Peterman! That was sooooo cooooool and thematic! I can totally see that moment happening in Heist movie!

One more thing to note: the game has a series of 9 campaigns. It’s kind of cool, but you can completely ignore the campaign and just “randomly” choose one of the 9 chapters to play. I suspect my friends and I will try to play the first few chapters of the campaign. From what I saw, though, the campaign wasn’t “compelling” enough to encourage 9 plays! We’ll see in Part II of this review how much the campaign improves the game.

Conclusion

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You know what? I like Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers better than the original Burgle Bros game. BB2 is very thematic, it’s a good length, and even though there’s a lot of randomness, that’s very thematic! Luckily (no pun intended), there are ways to mitigate the randomness. The game feels like a heist! If you wanted Ocean’s Eleven in a board game, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers is probably your best best.

Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers is a good cooperative game. I strongly suggest you find a FAQ online because the rules skimp on a lot of edge cases. This looks wonderful on the table, doesn’t last too long, and has enough challenge to make an interesting game.

Appendix: Mini-Game 2: The Dexterity Game

This game is very hard to put back together. If putting the stickers on was the first mini-game, closing the box is a the second mini-game. For me, the tubes kept falling out when I tried to close the box, so I ended up having to use the punchout skeletons to hold the tubes in! See pictures below.

This is yet another reason (from a list of many: see here) to keep the punchout skeletons!

A Review of Flourish

Flourish was a game that was on Kickstarter back in September 2020. It promised delivery in March 2021, and you know what? I got mine in March 2021 (just a few weeks ago)!! It is really rare to have a game deliver on-time!

I picked up this game because it had a cooperative mode and a solo mode: this is a cooperative games blog after all.

Unboxing

This game is pretty.

There’s a lot of cardboard (that you don’t really need … see below)

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At it’s heart, this is a card game. The cards are gorgeous and linen finished.

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This is the signature edition, so it has some extra stuff in.

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The boards above are for making the box!

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You can see how the boards go in above (in English, French, and German).

Overall, this game looks really nice.

All packed up, it looks pretty cool (see above). You can see the counters (upper left) and a lot of extra cardboard …

Rulebook

The rulebook is ok. It’s more like a pamphlet of three pages (see above). It describes the base game (competitive), solo mode, cooperative, two player game and some challenges. It’s very terse.

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Like a good rulebook, it shows the set-up right away (see above middle). The overview and details come next (above right).

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You can also see a lot of the rules described above. Here’s the thing: the rules are a little too terse. The description of how to score is very weak. Only after studying the two examples above did I have a sense of how the game worked. This was an operational definition of the game with a very weak abstract definition of the game. Without that example on the right (above), I am not convinced I would have played the game right! Recall, I had a similar problem with some of the rules in Sleeping Gods (see combat rules in that review). Again, I am happy for the examples to clarify the rules, but I feel the rules as presented are incomplete without the example.

The rules, as they are, are readable. You can learn the game (barely). But the rules are too terse! And I believe they are incomplete without the examples. Make sure you look carefully at the examples to learn the game!

The Game

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If I were to describe this game in one phrase, I’d say “Seven Wonders with Flowers”.  This is a drafting game (for some definition of drafting)  where players pass cards to their neighbors and choose one card to play.  Players choose three cards per turn:  one to pass to the left, one to pass to the right, and one to play in your “garden”.  After three turns (called a round), you do some scoring.  After four rounds, you do some special final scoring add up the points.

Ultimately. this is a victory point game. You are playing cards into your garden and scoring at the end of every 3 turns, and then a special scoring round at the very end (after 4 rounds, where each round is three turns).

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The victory point markers are really nice and make it easy to keep track as you score throughout the game.

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The most important picture in the rulebook (above) shows an example card and indicates when you score parts of the game.

The game is very easy to play and get into.  My friends and I were up and playing very quickly after I gave them a rundown.  The phrase “Seven Wonders with Flowers” goes a long ways towards helping people into the game.

The scoring is basically encapsulated on some summary cards.

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Solo Rules

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Hurrah! The game has solo rules!  (Thank you for following Saunders’ Law).  You basically play normally, trying to build your garden and pass cards to your “neighbors”, but in this case you only have one neighbor who is just “randomly” building a garden (to my left, below).

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After you play through, you do some math and subtract your fake neighbor’s score from your score and compare it to a chart at the end of the rulebook (see below).

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As a solo mode to learn the game, it was pretty good. I didn’t think it was a great solo mode: I don’t have a burning desire to play this solo and try to “get a better score”, but I could see maybe playing it again solo. It is a fairly relaxing solo mode, which might be the main reason to play it solo.

Competitive Mode

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Out of the box, this is competitive game.   Again, think “Seven Wonders with Flowers”.  You try to build the best garden you can, all the while passing “junk” cards to your neighbors.  The strategy in the game is trying to figure out what’s best for you, and worst for your neighbors.

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We have played Flourish a number of times competitively and liked it.

Cooperative Mode

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The cooperative mode is similar to the solo mode: all players work together to get the best score (looking it up in the rulebook after you are done). You simply add your scores to find the “group score”. There is NO SHARING information when playing cooperatively, all you can do is look at your neighbor’s gardens to figure out what works best for them.

Here’s the thing: I think this game works best cooperatively! I know I am biased (as this is a cooperative games blog), but rather than the “hate-drafting” you do in games like Seven Wonders or the competitive mode of Flourish, in the cooperative mode, you look at your neighbor’s garden and get EXCITED! “Oh, I can’t play anything great, but I got something good for you!” There’s more excitement in the air as you are sharing cards! Sometimes, you don’t have anything great for your garden, but there’s a thrill you get helping out your neighbor!

We thought Flourish was pretty good as a competitive game, but was significantly more fun as a cooperative game!

Some Caveats

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This game, at it’s core, is a simple drafting game.  You pass 1 card to the left, 1 card to the right, and play 1 card in front of you.  Grab a new card, lather, rinse repeat.   This game, at least the signature edition is waaaaay over produced.  I spent an hour punching out the cardboard (see above).  I found out you don’t need them EXCEPT FOR THE EXPANSION. 

 

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I am not convinced it was worth all that for the expansion.  I mean, the game is huge now! 

But, it’s just a card game. And then they give you these little cardboard trellis between players to help you keep track of when you have passed cards to your neighbors:

I’ll admit, it did help a little, and it looks real nice, but I could have easily done without it. Here’s the thing: I don’t think you need the signature edition of the game (which I have been describing here) which is more expensive, more complex, bigger, and doesn’t add that much.

At it’s core, Flourish is a simple drafting card game. I am not sure all the extras are worth it.

One Suggestion

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Although we like the cooperative mode best, trying to get the “best score” is not really the funnest objective. We were discussing it after we played a few games, and we think there should be a series of “mean neighbors” you have to try to “defeat” by having a better garden than them!

For example: Mean Mr. Green Jeans is extra proud of his roses, so he can grow them faster! He can redraw a card every turn if he has no roses! If you can grow more roses than Mean Mr. Green Jeans, you get extra points! If you get over 300 points, you can beat Mr. Green Jeans!

I think the idea of a “mean neighbor” would give the game more focus and make the cooperative game more fun! If players have a much more tangible and identifiable and personal goal than “beat 300 points”, I think it would made the game even better.

Conclusion

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This is a good game. The solo game is decent (if not great), but fairly relaxing. The standard competitive mode is good, but the game really opens up the cooperative mode! In the cooperative mode, you always feel like you can do something on your turn .. even if your garden stinks, you can still help your neighbors!

The rulebook isn’t great: Make sure you read the examples thoroughly as a I am not convinced you can play with the rules as given.

The production is beautiful, but I don’t really think you need the Signature Edition. At it’s core, it’s really just a card game. All the extra cardboard seemed to distract from the game more than help it.,

At the end of the day, Flourish will probably be played cooperatively by all my groups. If you’ve always wanted a drafting game like Seven Wonders but with a cooperative mode, Flourish might be what you’ve been looking for. The only other cooperative drafting game I know of is Sidekick Saga, but Sidekick Saga is much more complicated. Flourish is a simple cooperative drafting game that I think will appeal to a lot of people.

Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games

What do we mean when say a board or card game is small? We mean one of of many things:

  • How much does it weigh? (weight)
  • How difficult is is? (complexity)  This is taken from the “complexity” metric on BoardGameGeek
  • How long does the game last? (length)
  • How big is the box? (dimensions)

Of course, some of these metrics are closely related (weight and dimension), but they are all different ways to measure “how small” is a game.  The 10 Games below are our favorite small cooperative board and card games. 

10. Pandemic: Hot Zone

Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America, Z-Man Games, 2020 — front cover

Weight: 1.05 pounds
Complexity: 1.92/5
Dimensions: 9 x 5.88 x 2 inches
Game Length: 30 Minutes

Victory!
Pandemic: Hot Zone is a game that was developed by the designer (Matt Leacock) as a way to demo Pandemic (the bigger and more complicated parent) in game stores: it was a way to give a Pandemic-esque experience in a shorter time frame.  For those of you who don’t know, Pandemic (and so many spin-offs) is a fantastic cooperative game that’s taken the world by storm since it’s release in 2008.   Pandemic: Hot Zone is a simpler, smaller version of the game with fewer rules.  There are fewer roles, only 1 research station, only 3 diseases (which you can’t eradicate), and a few other differences.  The game is fun and only lasts 30 minutes.  The thing is, it isn’t THAT much shorter that Pandemic (officially 45 minutes) and it’s just different enough that anyone who knows the original Pandemic might get tripped by a few differences.  The Pandemic: Hot Zone box is smaller and it is still all the goodness of Pandemic in a smaller package, but if I had a choice, I would probably always play Pandemic instead.  This is best used as a welcoming game that’s good to introduce someone to the wonderful world of Pandemic without overwhelming them.

Print n Play version. Lost one card from victory!

9. The Grizzled
box cover

Weight: 10.6 ounces
Complexity: 1.94/5
Dimensions: 5.51 x 5.51 x 1.97 inches
Game Length: 30 Minutes

Game setup

The Grizzled is a “mostly cards” game in small-ish box.  It’s played in silence as players cooperatively try to survive a war in the trenches.   It’s very thematic and tense as players will take “bad stuff” or other effects for each other so they can survive the war.  The goal is to survive and try to get peace to win.  The game is mostly about matching patterns on cards (or rather, not matching too much) and trying to deduce your comrades cards/patterns (based on what they play).  There are special abilities and negative personality traits and threats that add to the theme.  This feel very much like war: “We are stuck in a trench: we have to be quiet to survive but we still have to do something!  Comrades in arms work together!”  The game has an even further thematic twist, as the artist of the game (Tignus, a French cartoonist from Charlie Hedbo) was killed in a terrorists attack not long after this game came out.

The Grizzled

8. Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game

high quality image of front cover

Weight: 11.9 ounces
Complexity: 2.42/5
Dimensions: 8 x 4.5 x 7.5 inches
Game Length: 30-60 Minutes

Setup for solo play

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game is a small card only (and 1 die) game that really nails the Space Marine motif.  For a small little card game, there is a lot of complexity and choice here!  It even made our Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games!   It’s unfortunately hard to find this game these days, but offers interesting tactical and strategic choices as Marines kill bugs.  This would probably be higher on the list if it wasn’t so hard to get a hold of these days.

Action cards for Brother Claudio & Brother Goriel

7. Mint Cooperative

Cityscape Tin

Weight: 0.007 ounces 
Complexity: 1.43/5
Dimensions: 3.94 x 1.18 x 2.36 inches 
Game Length: 15-30 Minutes

Mint Cooperative Kickstarter... Early Christmas Present!

Mint Cooperative is a tiny little game that fits in a mint tin!  We reviewed it here.  It’s probably the second smallest game (yes, there is one smaller)!  It’s got a little die and lots of little cards.  Given how small this game is, it’s surprisingly easy to read and see!  It’s a decent game you can just plop into you pocket and bring out any time.

Components

6. Unlock!

Amazon.com: UNLOCK! Squeek & Sausage, The Formula, and The Island of Doctor  Goorse Card Game Set: Toys & Games

Weight: 6.4 ounces 
Complexity: 1/5  to 3/5 (varies on the game)
Dimensions: 3.6 x 1.2 x 7.1 inches
Game Length: 60 Minutes

The Unlock! games are a bit of cheat to put on here.  The newest Unlock! games are only available 3 adventures per box: see our review of Unlock!  Epic Adventures here for more discussion of the game and this issue.   However, you can still find the “little mini Unlocks” for the first 15 or so adventures.  They are board games answer to an Escape Room game, where the box contains a full escape room adventure!  Your smart phone and the cards in the game help guide you through many puzzles and mysteries.  If you can still find the “one adventure per box”, they are a nice form factor (a small game) that’s easily portable to your friend’s house.  And very fun! Although we won’t rank all of them, we can give you our top 5 Unlock! mini boxes:

  1. The Tonipal’s Treasure
  2. The Adventures of Oz
  3. Expedition: Challenger
  4. Squeak and Sausage
  5. A Noside Story

5. Solar Storm

Solar Storm box cover

Weight: 6.2 ounces
Complexity: 2.12/5
Dimensions: 4.96 x 3.78 x 0.98 inches
Game Length: 30-60 Minutes

A few turns from defeat in my first solo game.

Solar Storm is a (mostly) card game that we reviewed here.  It reminds us a lot of Pandemic with a lot of it’s mechanics, but it still feels different.  I’d honestly rather play this than Hot Zone (#10) if I wanted a smaller Pandemic experience.

Solo action!

4. Sprawlopolis
The cover image

Weight: 0.089 kg
Complexity: 1.83/5
Dimensions: 4.50 x 3.00 x 0.25 inches
Game Length: 15-20 Minutes

First game with all expansions: Beaches, Construction Zones, Interstate, Points of Interest, and Wrecktar. Final score after all that: –1.

Sprawlopolis is, without a doubt, the smallest game on here by almost any metric!  It’s just 18 poker-sized cards that fit in a tiny plastic wallet and some some, foldy rules.  And that’s it!   The cards are two-sided: One side has “scoring conditions” and the other side has 4 blocks in a city.  Choose 3 cards using the scoring side, then build a city with the rest of the 15 cards to build a city (trying to “maximize” the points)!  And that’s about it!  There’s a lot of variety, it’s easy to take with you, the game doesn’t take up much space on the board, and the game play is quick and fast!  

Supposedly, a newer version is coming out that’s more the size of, say, The Grizzled (see above) since this game has done so well.

Wallet edition

3. Decktective

Decktective - Bloody-red roses Second Edition
Weight: 6.2 ounces
Complexity: 1.17/5
Dimensions: 4.96 x 3.78 x 0.98 inches
Game Length: 60 Minutes

3D Crime Scene

There are currently two Decktective games out:  Bloody-Red Roses and The Gaze of The Ghost.  Both of these games made our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games!  There are small little card games, but with interesting little mysteries and mechanics for solving some crimes.  Part of the thrill of these games is setting up the scene of the crime (see above) using the box and cards are elements!   These games are fun and light and easy to take with you, but they are a little longer (60 minutes) than most games on this list. 

Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost, dV Giochi, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

2. Deckscape

Deckscape - 7 Games To Choose From

Weight: 7.9 ounces
Complexity: 1.61/5
Dimensions: 1.1 x 3.6 x 5 inches
Game Length: 30-90 Minutes
Deckscape: Der Test, ABACUSSPIELE, 2017 — box and sample cards (image provided by the publisher)

The Deckscape games are small card games that offer the Escape Room experience in a tiny little box!  There are currently 6 of them (with a 7th coming soon).  You can easily fit them in your pocket and take them with you.  The time and complexity varies quite a bit between different Deckscape games.  Here’s our current favorites, ranked:

  1. Behind the Curtain (so good it made our Top 10 Cooperative games of 2019)
  2. The Mystery of El Dorado
  3. Time Test
  4. Heist in Venice
  5. The Fate of London
  6. The Curse of The Sphinx (by far my least favorite)

Deckscape Mega Review - Small Box, Big Experience | Meeple Mountain

1. The Shipwreck Arcana

The Shipwreck Arcana boxart

Weight: 7.9 ounces
Complexity: 2.15/5
Dimensions:
Game Length: 10-30 Minutes

shipwreckarcana Instagram posts - Gramho.com

The Shipwreck Arcana is an odd little cooperative game that has generated much interest here at Co-op Gestalt! We first reviewed it here, and it’s really grown on us! We have used it as the model game for playing cooperative games (with hidden information) as solo games: see our discussion of Changing Perspective here. The Shipwreck Arcana is a quirky game where each player has a hidden number, and players are trying to give clues to each other using only the cards on the board to guess those numbers. It’s very logical and almost feels like a logic puzzle. If that doesn’t scare you away, then I think you’d love this game. It’s quirky, different, logical, mathematical but it’s a small game (on every axis except complexity) you can take with you everywhere. It is one of the most complex games on our list!

Game components

A Review of Escape Tales: Children of Wyrmwoods

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We have discussed many of the different cooperative Escape Room games here at Co-op Gestalt:

  1. Unlock! games (see my review of Unlock: Adventures here)
  2. Exit games (Dead Man on the Orient Express is one example from my Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games)
  3. The Deckscape series (Deckscape: Behind the Curtain from my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019 came very close to the number one spot)
  4. the Escape the Room series (see my review of The Cursed Dollhouse here)

The current trend seems to show people really like the Escape Room type games! One series we have missed so far is the Escape Tales series! So, to rectify this, we have been playing the Children of Wyrmwoods (see picture above) escape room game.

Why So Long?

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Why have we taken so long to look at the Escape Tales games?  The Children of Wyrmwood is the third in this line, the first two being The Awakening and Low Memory.

New box cover Escape Tales: The Awakening

Box Cover, English

Why so long?

  1. They are all rather expensive.  Each  Escape Tales game is about $35,  which is a little expensive given that the Unlock, Exit, and Deckscape are so cheap ($10-$15) (but see below for content).
  2. They are daunting.  Each game says 450+ minutes!  That’s quite an investment of time!
  3. They are creepy.  Creepy is good (take a look at our Top 10 Creepy/Spooky Cooperative games), but sometimes that can be a bit of a turn off.  The first Escape Tales was about a hospital (not a fun subject), the second one was about hacking (not real fun necessarily).

We finally got The Children of Wyrmwood to the table because we nominally liked the theme (explore a forest in a vaguely fantasy setting: see below).

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What Is Escape Tales: Children of Wyrmwood?

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Children of Wyrmwoods is an escape room puzzle game meets a storybook game. It’s quite long, taking 450+ minutes to play. It unfolds the story of travelling and exploring the Wyrmwoods. The game’s components are:

  1. Normal cards:  There are a lot of numbered cards that you reveal when you explore or solve a puzzle (see below)
  2. Location cards: You spent “effort” (the little green tokens) to explore Locations (the game give you a certain number of green tokens at certain poiints) where you can explore some things (see Location below right, and corresponding explore card to the left of it):
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  3. Storybooks:  When you explore a location, you read the correspond entry in one of three storybooks.
  4. A Website: For solving puzzles, you have to go to website and enter the proper code to unlock content in the game:
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So, the game does require an internet connection to run: it’s not even a standalone application you can download.  (See us entering a code on my phone above).

Putting all these pieces together, you get an immersive story with 3 storybooks, some Locations to visualize and explore, a bunch of puzzles on cards, and a website to enter puzzle answers.

Gameplay: Storybook meets Puzzles
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The game feels like a storybook game (see Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Storytelling Games here) meets an escape room game.  There is definitely much more of a story here than most Escape Room games!  It has to: the game takes 450+ minutes, so there has to be something to hold your attention!  It took us 4 very long sessions to get through the game.  The first session (the tutorial) was about 1.5 -2 hours, and the last three sessions were about 2.5 – 3 hours each.  Overall, we probably spent 10+ hours in this world exploring the Wyrmwoods!

The storybook part was good: the story felt very unique and fairly unified.  My only major complaint was that I hated the font and size of the font and had to use my glasses.  I feel like a better font choice would have made this easier to read.  It was fine. (See my glasses below?)

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The puzzles were in general pretty good.  There were a few we got stuck on, but the website has a nice interface for hints.  We never got stuck for too long and in general the puzzles were fun and challenging.

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Little Paper Pieces

To solve a lot of the puzzles in this game, we had to make our own representations of the puzzles on scraps of paper (see the scraps above).  If this had been an EXIT style Escape Room game, we would have simply torn/cut the card up.   But, this is an Escape Room you can play again and again: the cost of that is making that work is you have to do your own cutouts.  For example: see the puzzle below?  Obviously, you have to rotate the wheels, but how do you do that?

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Answer: make you own wheel!

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The little “arts and crafts” we had to do through out the game was a fun little surprise.  We actually quite enjoyed it.

Overall

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Overall, we enjoyed the heck out of this game. We spent 4 weeks, with 2.5-3 hours immersed in the game! We liked living in the world and had fun reading the storybook and solving the puzzles. But, we did not enjoy the ending! We apparently got one of the “bad” endings (we got torn to shreds by wolves) which was very frustrating after having spent 4 weeks of our life in this world!! “We did all that work just to die like that?” It felt a little random to be honest. We were trying to figure out what we could have done differently and maybe we think we should have explored a little bit more? But we’re still not sure that would have helped: the ending felt a little random. How could we have done better? The first 99% of the game was great. The ending was … not so great and a little random.

Conclusion

This game feels a lot like Unlock games (because you use the website to help you enter puzzles), the Exit games (because of the arts and crafts you have to do to solve some puzzles), and a Storybook game (because of the three storybooks that direct the game). We figured out that there are at least 3 major different endings, so we think it might be feasible to replay this game! Most escape room games don’t really have a lot of replayability so that’s a nice feature of this.

We liked the puzzles (and there were a lot of them). We liked the story that unfolded and the vaguely fantasy world we lived in. We liked exploring the world, reading the book, and solving the puzzles. We liked that it felt like a story unfolded, we liked how the puzzles challenged us so that when we made progress, we felt like we EARNED our progress in this storybook. The ending was a little disappointing just because we had spent so much time in this world: it almost felt like an ending to a Choose Your Own Adventure book: we simply made the wrong choice(s).

Overall, we’d give this a 7.5 or 8. It would probably be a solid 8 if the ending weren’t so disappointing because it felt more random than it should. We probably just should have explored a little more: and that’s our fault.

Children of Wyrmwood is a great blend of a Storytelling game and an Escape Room game. I would definitely recommend it! I would also recommend passing it on to your friends when you are done so they can play it …

A Review of Raid Boss: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

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Raid Boss is a cooperative board game from Kickstarter that I backed in May 2019. It promised delivery in February 2020, but it didn’t deliver until just now (February 2021). Again, COVID-19 and the “Kickstarter effect” are probably to blame for a lot of the delay.

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Raid Boss is a cooperative dice and battle game for 1-4 players. Recall that it did make the #10 position on our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2021!   There are three main reasons I backed this game:

  1. It’s from a small publisher!  Skeleton Hand is a small group of passionate guys trying to make a game. I always like to support the little guy if I can … isn’t that the original dream of Kickstarter?
  2. I adored the art!  You can see from the front and back of the box that the art is very comic-booky, and I love that style of art!  If you know who Art Adams is, the art style kind of reminded me of him.
  3. It’s a cooperative game!  It looks like a decent cooperative game

Let’s take a look at Raid Boss and see what we think!

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Unboxing

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Raid Boss didn’t really come with a lot of Kickstarter extras: All that really came in my delivery was the box itself (see above).  Note the picture on the side of the lid (above) REALLY reminds of Art Adams: compare this to a picture of Spiral and Longshot:

Spiral and Longshot by Arthur Adams #ArthurAdams #Spiral #Longshot #XMen  #Exiles #RitaWayword #Mojoverse #XForce #SisterhoodofMut… | Art, Comic  books art, Comic art

I think that’s why the game may have spoke to me so much. Let’s take a look at what’s inside the box:

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The inside of the lid is an homage to some of the bigger Kickstarter backers (I was not in that tier).

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The rulebook is the first thing you see and full of more of the art!

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The main enemy board comes next (see above) along with some Hero cards (see below).

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The main cardboard bits are all above. They all look very nice.

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The main boards of the game are the HERO boards (see above).  There are 12 of these, giving the players a lot of choice (see below).

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The boss boards are in the same pack (see below): these are the big bad bosses the players are fighting cooperatively!

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It’s a little hard to see, but these cards are all laminated! I’ll be honest, I can’t remember the last time I saw a game with laminated cards. It seemed to work okay, but I’ve already found two cards that are sort of coming apart, so I am nervous this will be an issue in the future.

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Some of the lamination (above) is already coming apart .. a little worrisome …

Inside the box are some dice (above right) and some cards and other plastic tokens (above left). There are a lot of dice because, at the end of the day, this is a dice-chucking game.

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There is one Boss deck for each Boss in the game and a few reference cards.  That’s it for the cards: the bad guys each get a deck but the Heroes do not.

The art is nice and the cards are very readable (see above). Each deck has a little bit of unique art, but a lot of the pictures are repeated (see below).

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Stats in the game are notated with little plastic sliders (see above): Skills and Hit points.

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Like I said, this is a dice game: there’s a lot of dice (see above) but they are kind of smallish dice.  

Like I said, one of the reasons I backed this game was the art: The artist’s (Dane Miner) style is all through out this game and I really think it is very evocative of a comic book ethos.

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In general, I like the components.  The only real concern is the laminated cards: will they be an issue in the future?  I don’t know. 

Rulebook

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In general, the rulebook is a little long and has a lot of rules, but it’s fairly readable.

IMG_8327The game starts with a nice graphical list of all components: Thank you!  I was able to correlate names and all the tokens on the first few pages.   I don’t think I can underestimate how important a list like this is: if I can see all the components listed and physically correlated, it gives me confidence that the rulebook will be good enough.  This first few pages gave me confidence!

IMG_8328(Some flavor test to start the game …)

IMG_8329The next thing I expect is a Set-up … and that’s what I get.  See the picture above.  It does a pretty good job of getting you set-up for your first game.

IMG_8330  The game starts to get a little text-heavy after this (see above), but it’s still setting up a few more things in the game.  This wasn’t great, but we started on a good note, so I’d forgive this (it needs perhaps some more pictures above).

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There’s little summaries of all the cards (above and below) to help you get a sense of everything that’s there.

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I felt like I was able to read the rulebook and get going. It worked pretty well. The rulebook is long and sometimes it’s hard to find the rule you needed, but the rulebook looked good and the first few sections gave me enough confidence to jump into the game.

Solo Play

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So, the game has solo rules (congratulations on following Saunders’ Law)! The basic premise is that you ALWAYS play with 4 heroes (see above) regardless of the player count. In a 2-Player game, each player would get 2 Heroes each! In a 4-Player games, each players gets 1 Hero each! So, in a solo game, you have to play ALL FOUR HEROES! Whew! Each player has a lot of unique powers and triggers, so keeping track of all this can become quite daunting.

My first game spanned a number of nights and probably took 3-4 hours total. Some of that was because this was a learning game, but I was halfway through killing the bad guy when I died! Had I survived, I think I would have taken another 1-2 hours to play.

What Is This Game?

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If I had to describe this game to someone, I’d say it’s cooperative Dice Throne (see review here) meets Batman: The Animated Series – Gotham Under Siege (it’s made several lists here on Co-op Gestalt: see the Top 10 Cooperative Dice Games). It has the same “beat up something” that permeates Dice Throne, but the activation of abilities (with 6-sided dice) and overall environment feels like Gotham Under Siege.

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Players battle the Big Boss and slowly get more dice: about every “10 hit points” you do, another dice is released to any Hero player you like (players start with 2 dice each and should have 4 by game end).

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Each player has some special abilities activated by certain sums of dice (Tectonic plating, Cataclysm and Bulldoze above), some Talents that are always active (Juggernaut) and a once-per-turn power (Challenge). Each player is VERY different: some have healing powers, some have shielding powers, some have damage powers, but each Hero in the game is very different.

At the end of the day, this is a “beat-up the boss and don’t die” game. Each player has a certain number of hit points AND EVEN IF YOU GO TO ZERO, it’s very easy to bring back your character! Someone just has to spend their “instant” power!!! BUT: If this happens too many times (3 KOs, see below), the Heroes lose.

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You win if you can bring the Big Bad to 0 Hit points. There’s some cool little things that happen near the end game: once you are just about to defeat the big bad, you get his “Last Stand” card.

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At the end of the day, this is cooperative dice-chucking game with variable powers. It’s important to work together, and there is some strategy, but … it’s a dice-chucker.

Some Strategy

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Even though Raid Boss is a dice-chucker, there is some strategy. For example: the Positions of your Heroes (see above) can make a differemce. Your Heroes move around in Positions 1 – 4 as you play, and you control where they go! A lot of powers are actually related to the position you are in, and a lot of the bad guys deal damage related to your position. So, as you play, you may want to put the healer up front so he can heal everybody before they fight, or you may put the damage dealer at the end because he gets damage based on his position …

Other choices you make are: which powers to activate? (Do I help myself or my comrades?) Which Heroes do I choose for my team? When do I use my instant power? (You only get it once per turn) There’s enough choices in the game that there is some strategy, but … it it still just a dice-chucker.

Some Thoughts

So, I enjoyed my first play (even though I lost), but I felt like the game outstayed it’s welcome just a little. I think some of that is just unfamiliarity with the game, and I hope to get it to my game group this week to try it again. I will also say the solo play of operating 4 Heroes was rough. It worked “okay” in Set A Watch (see review here), but it still felt like too much work and Set A Watch is a much simpler dice game. It could be that the long game time was because there was so much context switch back and forth between heroes? I think it would have really behooved the game to have a solo mode with ONLY 2 Heroes. Right now, I am not sure I want to play the solo again .. it was so much work! Of course, Sentinels of the Multiverse had this problem as well (you have to play 3-4 Heroes to play solo) and once you learned the game, the Sentinels of the Multiverse solo mode was okay. Let’s see how I feel after a few more plays.

Conclusion

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I like Raid Boss: it seems like a decent cooperative dice game. The art is fantastic (if you like the comic-booky art of the this world: you know if you do or not) and this art permeates the game. The components are nice, but I do worry about the longtime viability of the laminated cards. The game is good and has some good cooperative strategy underneath it’s dicey veneer. Unfortunately,the game length seems just a little bit longer than it should be, and I wish it had a better solo mode.

If you want something like cooperative Dice Throne where you chuck dice with your friends to beat-up bad guys, Raid Boss might just hit the spot for you. Raid Boss is a probably a simpler cooperative game than Dice Throne Adventures ( reviewed here: Dice Throne Adventures is a big cooperative game with more adventure but more complexity). Give this a try and see if you like it … and help out a small publisher!

A Review of Sleeping Gods

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Sleeping Gods is a cooperative exploration and campaign game with an adventure/story book! We were just talking about Sleeping Gods last week in our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games and it made the #5 spot! Well, it did arrive this week and we have been playing the heck out of it! It also arrived with an expansion: the Tides of Ruin (see below).

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Even though the box says 2-4 Players (see below), the game does have a solo mode.

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The art is very “Ryan Laukat” and this is obviously another beautiful game from Red Raven games.

Unboxing

This game is CHOCK FULL of beautiful components.  But, at the end of the day, it’s really a storybook game.  See the massive storybook below.

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The Storybook is thick and full of text and story.

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You explore map that comes out:

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This is also an exploration game: you go to locations on the map and slowly explore this world.

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There are SO MANY cards, boxes, tokens, containers.  It’s actually a bit daunting.

First Play

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Luckily, there’s a quick start guide in this book.  You can play through a walkthrough, then a few parts of the introductory scenario without having to “really” get into the rulebook. 

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Basically, you play as the crew of the ship Manticore, exploring this world.  Now, you are always playing a FULL CREW of 8! No matter how many people you have, there are always 8 characters of the crew (see above) in play.

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Take a look above at my first set-up.  You can see the map, the exploration book, the 8 members of the crew, the rulebook, the quickstart, some tokens and cards, the ship board, and a bunch of other cards in the box to the left. THERE ARE A LOT OF COMPONENTS!

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The intro scenario did a pretty good job of walking you through one game.  It wasn’t perfect: I had a few questions as I played and some of the phrasing was confusing.  I’ve said this before: after the Tainted Grail first play, I think I am little spoiled!  The Tainted Grail walk through was so good!  Don’t get me wrong, I am very glad for the Sleeping Gods walk through.  I was up and playing my first few rounds pretty quickly.   It gave me a “sense” of the game.  Unlike Tainted Grail, where I felt more confident to dive into the game, I actually felt a bit intimidated after the walk through … (foreshadowing) … there seem to be an awful lot of rules to keep track of!

Rulebook

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The rulebook is  … good enough. It’s fairly well laid-out.  It does the components on the first few pages:

It felt like the components pages could have been a little better.  There are SO MANY components to this game, and a lot of times the components page didn’t seem to describe everything.  It was fine, I got through it and the unboxing and putting it together.  It just seemed a little … incomplete. 

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I hate to say it, but the rules felt a little incomplete over all.  I think the Index (see above) is an indicator.  I went looking for all sorts of things in the index, and they were never there.  So, I ended up SO MANY TIMES just searching the rulebook for what I wanted.

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Don’t get me wrong, I learned the game from the rulebook.  It’s fairly easy to read.  I just think the rulebook skimps on a lot of edge conditions.  For example: when it describes the combat (later on), it seems like it just describes “the basics” of the rules and puts all the elaborations of the rules in the examples.  I’m all for great examples (which the game has), but instead of actually explaining a few rules it simply deferred to the examples … “Here: this will show you how it works: I am not going to try to describe it”.  For instance, I felt like the “slashing” element of combat was poorly described.  I had soooo many questions about how it worked, but the rules were minimal.  I sorta gleaned how “slashing” worked in the examples.  You might say, “Why are you complaining!! You understand it now, right?”  Yes and No. Because I got an operational definition of the rules, but that doesn’t help me internalize what the ACTUAL rules are: it’s just how they are applied in the few examples.  An operational definition takes up more intellectual capacity than a simple abstract explanation.

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In the end, what killed this game for me was how many times I said to myself: “Argh, where is that rule?”

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I learned the rules.  The rulebook looked good.  I could play the game. 

Solo Game

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Not sure why the box says 2-4: The game very easily sets-up as a solo player.  The solo player takes control of all 8 crew members.  The main scaling difference is that the ship board has two sides: one side for 1-2 players, and the other for 3-4 players.  This just controls how many resources (usually command tokens) you get per turn. See below.

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What is this game?

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At its core, Sleeping Gods has four main elements:

  1. It’s a campaign game: the game keeps going.  You can’t really just sit-down and play a one-off session easily.  You have to continue the story where you last left off.
  2. It’s a Storybook game, where you explore the world (on your ship, using the map) and read from a Storybook, either overcoming challenges or engaging in combat.
  3. The crew overcomes challenge
  4. The crew engages in deadly combat

As the game unfolds, the players move around on the map, take encounters from the storybook, and either engage in a challenge or combat.

Challenges

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The challenges are fairly straight-forward: you get a difficulty and type: say you need SAVVY 5 to overcome a puzzle.  You commit some of you characters: each one you commit gives you +1, but it costs FATIGUE (too much FATIGUE and you are useless).  Draw a card: if the cards + your SAVVY extra is over, you overcome! Otherwise something bad happens.   The card above shows a 6, so we didn’t actually have to commit any crew members to help! 

At the end of the day, the cards you choose are numbered from 1-6, so it’s essentially like rolling a 6-sided die.

If you spend too much FATIGUE, your crew becomes useless and you have to head back to port wasting time.  If you spend too little FATIGUE, the challenges will overwhelm you and the FAILURE EFFECTS will start to catch up with you. 

It can be a bit daunting to figure out when you should spend FATIGUE and when you shouldn’t. 

And it’s soooooo slow to heal fatigue unless you have gold ….

Combat

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Combat is this game is very interesting.  When you fight, you “slash” and do damage across the grid at the bottom of the card: it’s an “abstract” representation of the body! So, if you do, say 4 damage, you have to put all damage in adjacent squares.  It represents the “continuous motion” of an attack, which is real interesting!

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You can see the results after a few attacks.   You can “also” hit the neighbor too!!  If you want, you can do damage to an adjacent monster on an adjacent square! It’s as if your “slash” started at one monster and ended on the other.  

I have to admit, I’ve never seen this before!  I thought this was a real original idea!!  I kind of liked it!

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As combat happens, you “pass off” the combat to one of your comrades: once you have spent all 4 of your combat tokens, the monster (if still alive) may attack.  There’s even an interesting idea that you can “spur on” your comrades and give them plusses as well!  See the token below?  If she hits the monster and “damages” a diamond square on the monster, she can pass her token (which gives +2 to hit) to her next comrade!

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Combat works like challenges: you have to overcome their difficulty to hit and do damage: again, think of rolling a 6-sided die.

Although I like the “slash” idea, it wasn’t very clearly explained in the rules.  And after doing combat a few times, I felt a little drained.  Combat is a lot of work.

Quests

The core of the game is the quests and the exploration.  As you explore the world, you’ll get quest cards that help direct where you go next.  This is BIG WORLD with a lot of quests and a lot of things to explore.

Why I Don’t Like This Game

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I have been playing Sleeping Gods many times over the past week.  I have left it set-up on my table so that I could go play every few hours.  Every time I played, I would grumble to myself and say “I hate this game.” Why?

  1. Randomness.  There is too much randomness.  There’s randomness in the Fate flips (it’s equivalent to rolling a 6-sided die), there’s randomness in the event deck (What evil thing do I have to deal with?), there’s randomness in the storybook.  Every turn, randomness just pours down on you.  There are ways to mitigate some of that randomness, but the cost is often too high (see Scarce Resources below)!  I can’t tell you how many times I just “took” the event without even trying because the costs just seem so high. 
  2. Not enough Choice.  When you go to do your 2 actions on the ship board, you have four choices.  But do you?  I did market choice maybe once (because I never had enough gold, see Scarce Resources below) and Port just a couple of times: but you can ONLY do those two actions if you are on a space with a market or port!!! So, 99% of the time,  you just travel or explore.  It costs fatigue if you want to go more than 1 space at a time, and many times spending the fatigue wouldn’t matter if you rolled low!  And then, exploration brings up a random event which usually beats you up literally or figuratively (see Randomness above).  I wanted/needed a “rest” action, or “hunt” action or anything that would have help me plan more.  (You can sorta get the first action, but you can’t do it again).
  3. Scarce Resources. In the hours and hours I played, I never once felt like I had any surplus of resources.  I was ALWAYS just barely scraping by!  My most sensational moment was when I beat a demon and got 5 gold … which I think HAD to spend ALL OF IT back at port to heal the five party members who were dead/close to death.  There’s other ways to heal, but they are all so slow!!!   The command tokens allow you to do things, but they were always so scarce!  A random encounter would beat you up (“Hey, you get bit by a snake. Take a venom.”), and then you’d spend your command tokens just to deal with the repercussions of that event.  I would have an encounter and get beat up, and go back to port, spending almost ALL of my resources to get my crew back up to snuff.  I never felt like I was doing even thing but barely keeping my up.
  4. Work.  This game felt like work.  I felt like I was doing my taxes.  I was hoping that feeling would go away after a few hours of playing and familiarity, but no, it didn’t.  There were always so many tokens to keep track of (command, fatigue) and 8 characters (!) to manage and ability cards and the ship board and the event deck and the adventure book and the so many little rules.  The game has so many little fiddly rules to keep track of: this is why it feels like doing taxes: “I need a command token which I get next turn, but the doctor had command tokens already on his board so I have to clean his board so I can heal the snake byte, but only if I have enough command tokens.”  Every action seemed to have so many preconditions and governing rules, it just felt like work keeping track of all it (consulting the rulebook and just following up and managing the tokens).
  5. No Stand Up Moments.  I played all the way through the first  event deck.  There were no stand-up moments where I cried “Hurray!”  Even after beating the demon, I just sighed inwardly because I knew I had to heal my crew, and it was going to cost everything I had.  I just always felt like I was barely keeping afloat: I did not have fun.
  6. No Sense of Humor.  This game is very serious.  That’s fine and dandy, but the lack of a sense of humor just reinforces how much this game feels like work. 

This game is not for me.  I don’t like living in this world.  I like games where I can do some planning and try to do my best to mitigate the randomness. Sleeping Gods is just too random for me. All I did was keep the randomness under control to keep a steady state, but there was very little growth.  I realized I was done with this game for good when it completely discarded all the ability cards I had installed onto my characters at the end of the first “round” (first time through the event deck)!  I had scraped and struggled to install even a few abilities, and it just took it ALL away without warning.  And this kind of thing happened ALL THE TIME.   I felt like I made no progress and I was frustrated. I had no fun.

Conclusion

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Sleeping Gods is a beautiful game with beautiful graphic design and beautiful components. The First Play book is good (although not quite as good as Tainted Grail), allowing you to get into the game quickly. The rulebook is decent/”good enough”. The world created by Ryan Laukat shows a lot of care and imagination!! The storybook, which explores this world, is chock full of neat little vignettes that are fun to read. A lot of people on BoardGameGeek really like this game: if you go here and see, it (at the time of this writing) Sleeping Gods has an overall rating of 8.8/10. A lot of people (in their comments) even say this is Ryan Laukat’s best game!

I personally do not like this game and plan to sell it as soon as possible. It’s too random, there’s too little choice, the resources are too scarce, the game feels like work, and there’s no stand-up moments that make me emote. BUT: I am in the minority here! Please temper my reaction with other reviews you might find on BoardGameGeek.

If you are looking for a Storybook game, look instead to the Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games for alternatives! You’ll notice that I do recommend another Ryan Laukat game in there: Near and Far! If you want a completely silly game with a sense of humor where you don’t care if it’s too random (because you just like living in that world), I would recommend The House of Danger.

Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2021

The dumpster fire that was 2020 delayed publication of a lot of games! I have about 20 games in the queue that I am really looking forward to being delivered in 2021. Here’s my Top 10 cooperative games that should be delivering in 2021! All of them are Kickstarters and most of them are pretty late … but arguably that’s just the 2020 effect (or is that just the Kickstarter effect?). Each game includes a Kickstarter link, the original promised delivery date, and a summary of the game (from the Description section of BoardGameGeek).

(Dis)Honorable Mention: Onimaru
Late pledges are open. Continue to follow P&P's Facebook page and the updates here for notifications! https://www.facebook.com/PenguinandPandaProd/?ref=oniks

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/penguinandpanda/onimaru-0
Promised Delivery: Sept. 2019
Summary: Onimaru (Japanese for “demon circle”) is a fully cooperative game where you and your allies take up arms to defend a village against otherworldly invaders. You will win the game if you are able to destroy the three villainous Oni. However, if you fail to do so within the predetermined number of days (rounds), the Gate will remain open forever, and all of Japan will succumb to the shadow!

This might be the first Kickstarter I have backed where I might not get anything.  The game originally promised delivery in Sept. 2019, and at the time of this writing (February 2021), there is still nothing and it doesn’t look promising.  We’ll see: I hope this game still delivers in 2021, but I really doubt it.  The art looked so cool, and the theme was interesting for a cooperative game.

Game Layout

10. Raid Boss

A Tabletop Cooperative RPG Battle for 1-4 Heroes in the fantasy-punk world of Incarnate.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/skeletonhand/raid-boss-a-dangerous-cooperative-battle-for-1-4-h-0
Promised Delivery: Feb. 2020
Summary: Raid Boss: Incarnate is a 4-player cooperative boss battle designed to feel like an MMORPG dungeon encounter with all of the teamwork, strategy, and collaboration, but none of the endless grinding! You control a Hero with a mechanically distinct and heavily themed set of abilities. Each Hero has an Assist that can be used at ANY time — including other players’ turns! Gather your team to face off against stalwart, quirky, and skill-testing Bosses that come equipped with their own special deck of cards.

Raid Boss is a cooperative game that comes from a very small publisher. I love the art and these guys seem to have a lot of passion for their game. So, even though this is about a year late (they promised delivery in Feb. 2020), it looks like the arrival of my game is imminent! Once we get this, you can be pretty sure we’ll do a review of it!

Top: Hero Tokens, Bottom: Various Game Tokens

9. Burgle Brothers 2

The crew is back for even crazier co-op heists! New challenges trying to take down a string of casinos in broad daylight!

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fowers/burgle-bros-2-the-casino-capers
Promised Delivery: May 2020
Summary: Welcome back to the escapades of the Burgle Bros. This time the team is trying to take down a string of casinos – during the day! They will have to dress-up (or dress-down) to go unnoticed in the crowds at the Casinos. Security here is even tighter – Bouncers chase down any suspicious commotions.

The original Burgle Brothers was quite a hit in my game groups. The newest one promises more of the same but in a Casino heist (a la Oceans 11). The game originally was supposed to deliver in May 2020, but it should be shipping any day now. Look for a review soon!

A game of Burgle Bros. 2: The Casino Capers in progress!

8. Deck of Wonders

A solo (and co-op) legacy card game where Fate herself has stacked the deck against you.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dennisfuria/deck-of-wonders
Promised Delivery: Nov. 2021
Summary: Deck of Wonders is a solo-first expandable card game with legacy elements. It captures the feel of games like Hearthstone and MTG, but in a solo/co-op format. The object of the game is to defeat the various Villains that challenge you for the Deck of Wonders by turning their own spells and minions against them, while enlisting the support of magical creatures and powers of your own.

This is strictly speaking a solo game, but I just loved the art and the idea of a solo legacy game was very intriguing! This plans to deliver in Nov. 2021 … let’s hope it does!

Deck of Wonders on the table

7. The Shivers

Work together in this mystery pop-up Role-Playing Game for 2-5 players, exploring a spooky mansion filled with hidden secrets!

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1666522852/the-shivers
Promised Delivery: July 2021
Summary: The Shivers is a truly one-of-a-kind tabletop experience that features the magic of hand-crafted pop-ups, combined with just the right amount of spooky puzzle-solving mystery and role playing.

How can you go wrong with a game with the tagline: “Solve escape room adventures in a spooky house built with pop-up sets!”  The idea of an escape room with pop-up components sounds so neat! And a mystery to boot!   This plans to deliver in July 2021 and I am really looking forward to this one!

The new full-color prototype model of the Private Library!

6. Incoming Transmission

Flat-facing box cover for Incoming Transmission! On Kickstarter now!

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/magicmeeplegames/incoming-transmission-16-bit-deduction-family-boar
Promised Delivery: May 2019
Summary: In this co-operative futuristic board game for two or more, one player takes the role of Mission Control, and the others take control of a Cadet stranded on a heavily-damaged space station set to self-destruct. You will need to use wits and cunning to interpret the instructions as they will not be delivered in order! Figure your way through the objectives before time runs out!

I have been waiting for this game for quite some time: it promised delivery in May 2019. They have been staying in touch with the backers, so I think this game will still deliver pretty soon. It sounds like an interesting co-op, moving your little cadet around the 5×5 modular board.

New updated tiles!

5. Sleeping Gods

Sleeping Gods Final Cover

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/953146955/sleeping-gods
Promised Delivery: May 2020
Summary: In Sleeping Gods, you and up to 3 friends become Captain Sofi Odessa and her crew, lost in a strange world in 1929 on your steamship, the Manticore. You must work together to survive, exploring exotic islands, meeting new characters, and seeking out the totems of the gods so that you can return home.

By the time you read this, Sleeping Gods will likely be at my house! It’s a beautiful game by Ryan Laukat (who did Near and Far and Above and Below). This cooperative game is billed as “Voyages of the steamship “Manticore” and her crew on the Wandering Sea“. It’s a storybook and exploration game with the wonderful art of Ryan Laukat.

Game Setup (from Sleeping Gods Kickstarter Page)

4. The Isofarian Guard

A 1-2 player narrative driven boardgame featuring a fully voice acted storyline and musical score powered by Forteller!

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/skykingdomgames/the-isofarian-guard
Promised Delivery: Dec. 2020
Summary: In The Isofarian Guard, you will travel throughout the cities and wildernesses of Isofar on a beautifully illustrated world map, fight off enemies using a unique and highly customizable battle system, and use your wits to talk your way out of sticky situations. As you forge important alliances, opportunities will arise for you to craft stronger gear, gain new powers, and step into the destiny you were called to.

This game is running a little late: it promised delivery in Dec. 2020. I’ll be honest that the art really enticed me into backing it, but the promise of voice-acting and an exploration game and the gorgeous art drew me in. The game is billed as: The Isofarian Guard is a Solo/Co-Op narrative driven adventure board game for 1-2 players. I am really looking forward to seeing how this one works and looks!

A battle with a Falmund Scout

3. Townsfolk Tussle

Townsfolk Tussle Box Art - Sneak Peek edition

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/townsfolktussle/townsfolk-tussle
Promised Delivery: Sept. 2021
Summary: Townsfolk Tussle is a co-op boss battler for 2-5 players. In each game, your goal is to take down four unique Ruffians, each one tougher than the last! You’ll build up your townsfolk with gear, explore Eureka Springs, and concoct unique strategies to take down even more unique hoodlums.

This cooperative game just looks so quirky, I had to back it! The art is very unique among most board games and kind of looks like the animation style of Steamboat Willy (the cartoon from the 1920s that introduced Mickey Mouse). The game promised delivery in Sept. 2021, so let’s hope we can see this before the end of the year!

Mid Fight Phase Layout - Will Barlow

2. Freedom Five: A Sentinels Comic Board Game

A cooperative comic book adventure game created by the award-winning designers Richard Launius & the Sadler Brothers.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/arcanewonders/freedom-five-a-sentinels-comics-board-game
Promised Delivery: Nov. 2021
Summary: Freedom Five: A Sentinel Comics Board Game is a co-operative strategy game in which 1- 5 heroes race to protect their home city and its inhabitants from an onslaught of villainy from Baron Blade and his criminal cohorts. Each player must master their character’s unique abilities to manage multiple crises throughout the city of Megalopolis. Assemble your friends to face standalone challenges, or mix it up and adventure through a series of campaign comics in which you will gain rewards ⁠— and new threats ⁠— each session.

This is a re-implementation of Defenders of the Realm, which is in itself a re-implementation of Pandemic! The Superhero theme and component quality have me very excited! I’ve always really liked Defenders of the Realm and Pandemic, so I hope this new version is the next evolution of those mechanics. There’s not too many pictures of the game yet, but I am very excited for this!

Legacy Resin Print

1. Hour of Need

Hour of Need - Cover Art

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/blacklistgames/hour-of-need
Promised Delivery: Nov. 2020
Summary: Hour of Need is a cooperative game of comic book action for 1–4 players (or up to 6 players with available expansions). Designed by Adam and Brady Sadler, Hour of Need is the latest installment in their line of Modular Deck System (MDS) games. Set in an original world inspired by modern comic books, Hour of Need puts players in the roles of diverse heroes attempting to thwart dangerous villains from carrying out nefarious deeds!

I really enjoyed the Sadler Brothers design of Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game, and I am excited to see this Super Hero game. It shows promise and may well enter my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card Games the next time I update the list!

Gameplay mockup

A Review of Canvas

Canvas was a Kickstarter that funded in May 2020. It’s a very light competitive game for 1-5 players about creating some paintings with cards. It’s a victory point game where the player with the highest number of victory points wins! I actually received this game sometime ago, but I haven’t had a chance to get it to the table until just this week! I also discovered that the game has a solo mode when I opened it up (so I really should have gotten to it sooner).

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So, why are we discussing a competitive game in a cooperative game blog? A number of reasons:

  1. Canvas has several(!) solo modes
  2. There’s an implied cooperative mode (we’ll discuss the Saunders’ Law Converse)
  3. (Spoiler) It’s a really great game!

Let’s take a look at this wonderful game!

Unboxing and Components

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This game is, frankly, just gorgeous. The cover is a piece of art meant to hang on the wall … seriously! The back of the game even has a little place for a hook! (See below) So, if you run out of space for all your games, you can hang this game on the wall. Really.

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Since I was a Kickstarter backer, the game came with some Kickstarter exclusives. This is a victory point game, so one the of the extras was extra scoring cards for the end game.

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Other Kickstarter bonuses consisted of wooden tokens for the ribbons and wooden easels for the mini-paintings the game (shown below). There were also a few more clear painting cards (not shown) which got shuffled into the deck.

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Although the wooden token are really nice, the punch out cardboard tokens are really nice too (see below).  This lead to a funny moment in the unboxing where my friends had zealously punched out ALL the cardboard, and then realized we didn’t need them … so they then proceeded to UNPUNCH the tokens!  (That’s why there a few discontinuities below).  Honestly, you don’t NEED the wooden tokens (because the cardboard tokens are VERY THINK and VERY NICE), but they are nice to have.

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The main component of this game, and the main reason I got the game, was the clear cards (Remember how much I loved the clear cards in Kingdom Rush?). The game comes with a whole pile of clear cards called Art Cards:

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Take a look at just one in isolation: It’s so nice!

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You can see several of these cards (below) laid out on the nice little cloth mat. This cloth mat is really nice and notates clearly where everything goes. The fact that the spaces are WHITE makes it really easy to see what these clear cards look like. The clear cards just beautiful!

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Each player gets some inspiration tokens (the little palettes, see below) these are used to help you select which Art cards you want. You can go as deep as you want into the line of cards (left-to-right), but you have to put an inspiration token on every card you skip. This mechanism might feel very familiar to people who have played Century Spice Road or Century Golem.

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There’s really not too many more components. There’s the background cards (below): Notice that they are sleeved? The sleeves actually come with the game! Each background card must be sleeved!

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Why are the background cards sleeved? Because that’s how you build a painting! You put three clear painting cards (Art Cards) into the background sleeve to form a painting! The painting below uses the far right background above. And then the easels are for “displaying” your painting!

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There’s some cards for the scoring criteria (at the top of the cloth mat below). And the rulebook. And that’s about it for components!

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This game is just beautiful and has some of the nicest little components I have ever seen. It’s gorgeous!

The Rulebook

The rulebook is well done.  This sounds weird to say, but the rulebook feels good!  It has a”texture” to it, so when you start handling it, it feels kind of nice.  I know, that’s weird to say.  Look at the picture above, and you can almost see the texture.

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The rulebook starts with a quick overview of what’s in the game and the art cards. Interestingly, they chose not have a components page up first. I think this still works because the components are covered by the bottom of the box and the back of the box.

The next page shows a nice set-up:

This set-up was super clear and we just jumped right in!  The rest of the rules are pretty straight-forward.

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The scoring is a little confusing the first time you play, but the rulebook goes through some examples of how to score (see above) and does a real nice job explaining the finer details.  We discuss that more below. 

The last page of the rulebook shows off not one but two solo variants!  We’ll discuss those too!

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This was a good rulebook.  It was easy to jump right in. And did I mention that the rulebook feels good too?  Oh, I did? Oh ok. I’ll stop.

How to Play!

My first plays usually involve me doing a solo play and then teaching my friends. Since this was a competitive game, I figured I had to wait until I had a small group together. So, this game languished on my shelves for a few weeks until some friends came over … and then I found out the game had not one but two solo modes! D’oh! I could have been playing all along! Ah well. The game is very simple: on your turn, you do one of tho things: (1) Take a Card or (2) Build a Painting. And that’s it!

If you (1) Take a Card, you take one of the clear painting cards (Art Cards) from the tableau below:

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Once you take an Art Card, all the other cards slide left and you add a new one to the end.

You can take any Art Card you want, but it may cost you. If you take the first card (the leftmost card) , you can just take it for free! If you take ANY OTHER card, you have to put an “inspiration” token (the little palettes) on every card to the left of the card you want! So, you can usually get the card you want, but it costs you more “inspiration”! Note that you only start with 4 “inspiration” tokens! In the picture above, the two leftmost cards have inspiration tokens … if you took one of those cards, you also get the inspiration tokens as well.

You can usually build a painting whenever you want, but when you have 5 Art Cards, you MUST build a painting on your next turn. Having 5 Art Cards “forces” you to build.

Once all players have built 3 paintings, the game is over.

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We mentioned earlier that this is a victory point game: you get victory point by meeting certain “criteria” for your paintings and getting little awards (see the colorful award tokens below each picture above). At the start of the game, you place out 4 scoring criteria at the top of the cloth mat: these are your criteria!

Up close, the scoring criteria tells you two things: (1) What’s the criteria for getting a ribbon (2) At the end of the game, how many victory points do you get for your ribbons.

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For example, the “Proximity” criteria above tells you that you will get a ribbon (green ribbon, because it’s on the green space) if you have the two symbols next to each other on your painting. (There are actual names for the symbols, but none of my players ever cared: they just looked at the symbols themselves). So, how many green ribbons would the picture below get?

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We would get 2 green ribbons for the painting above because we have two pairs of those symbols adjacent!

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At the end of the game, you collect all the “like” ribbons (see above) and add up the corresponding numbers! For example: since I had 3 green ribbons, I would get 8 points for proximity criteria.

Whomever has the most points wins!

First Play

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My gaming group ADORED this game! We had so much fun playing! It was easy to set-up, easy to play, and relatively easy to score. (It took a second to get the scoring down, but the rulebook had examples that explained it really well). We totally hammed it up when played too!

Today I am unveiling a new MASTERPIECE from the mind of genius of Terrrrezzzza.  Behold my brilliance! Today the art world shudders!

Sara said immediately after we played: “I want to get a copy!  This game is awesome!”  This game was an immediate hit for my group!  We all loved the components and  the look-and-feel of the game! We loved the simplicity of play!  We loved unveiling our art!  This is a gateway game almost anyone would enjoy.

Solo Play

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For such a simple game, it’s surprising Canvas has two solo modes! The first solo mode (Painting with Vincent) is a good intro solo mode with more randomness. The second mode (Solo Puzzle) is a little more like a solo puzzle. In both cases, you try to get the best score you can, and compare it to the scoring criteria at the bottom (see picture above).

The first solo mode is a more “random” game, as you play against Vincent (Vincent is just you as a second player). Vincent, however, just eats up random cards on the Art Card tableau between your turns. As a solo player, you throw Vincent’s inspiration tokens and spends them to take cards like a normal player: all face-up inspiration tokens get spent left-to-right to take the one remaining. If Vincent has no inspiration left, he simply takes the leftmost card. Basically, you play Vincent like another player, but he randomly chooses cards.

The second solo more is a little more puzzly, as you play by yourself. The major difference is that any cards that you SKIP when taking an Art Card are REMOVED FROM THE GAME. Thus, your act of choosing cards further to the right will cause all cards to the left to go away, so you must be careful.

All in all, both modes were fine. The first solo mode is probably a good way to learn the game. The second solo mode has more “meat” and will probably be the way to play the game solo once you know it better.

Saunders’ Law Converse

You have heard us mention Saunders’ Law many times in this blog. See here for original post. Essentially, it says “If you have a game with a cooperative mode, designers should really should put a viable solo mode in“. Usually it’s easy to add a solo mode to a cooperative game by just having the solo player play two characters, but in the presence of hidden information, this can be hard (see discussions of Changing Perspective and How to Play a Cooperative Game Solo). But what about the converse?

The converse of Saunders’ Law would say “If a game has a solo mode, designers should really put in a viable cooperative mode“. Does this seem plausible? If we have a game with a solo mode, can we play it cooperatively? It seems like most of the time, you probably can! For example, Nemo’s War (which we reviewed here) essentially adds a cooperative mode by having each player take turns playing the captain and going around the table. It’s a simple idea. Can we apply this to Canvas?

Absolutely!  If we play the solo “Puzzle Mode”, we can simply go around the table with each player taking a turn in the solo game.  The players are all talking together and collaborating, but instead of just one player taking all the turns, the players alternate!  Of course, if there are any disagreements about which cards to play, it’s always up the player whose turn it is.   (Heh, I can imagine the “current painter” token being a little paintbrush)

Thematically, I would liken this to a group art project, where everyone is contributing to creating the art piece together.

EDIT: A more common term for playing a solo game with multiple people is “Solo Multiplayer”.

A Few Minor Problems

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The easels are cool for showing off your painting, but sometimes they have trouble standing up.  My friend Sara said you can probably get much better little easels a Micheal’s or you favorite craft store.  Since they were a Kickstarter extra, you may not get them anyways.   If you just get the retail version, maybe go to Micheal’s: having the little easels was VERY THEMATIC and it was fun having a place to show your paintings!  (Also, the easels don’t fit in the box)

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As cool and awesome and amazing as the clear cards were, they seemed to scratch VERY EASILY. I’ve only played a smallish number of times now, and the clear cards are already starting to get a little scratched (see above). I think what this means is: be careful when you handle the cards. Don’t scrape, and be very careful when shuffling. I worry the cards will look crummy and scratched after too many plays. Just be careful. EDIT: Also be aware that EVERY CLEAR CARD has a little plastic wrap on it to protect it!! You may or may not want to take those off … they offer extras protection, but make the cards less clear.

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One final worry: the criteria cards can be confusing. It would have been nice if the rulebook listed all the criteria cards and had a longer “English” explanation rather than just one sentence. We usually puzzled them out, but some of the criteria are confusing. EDIT: Upon looking at the back of the criteria cards, I found my “English” explanation … worry for this withdrawn!

These are all just minor issues and don’t hold the game back.

Conclusion

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Holy Cow, this game is awesome! Everyone loves it, the components are amazing, and it is fun. The theme is well-executed and the game flows so well. And it looks beautiful on the table. There’s even two solo modes (one to learn the game and the other for a challenging puzzle)! These solo modes can be reimagined to run as a cooperative mode, and I think the presence of a cooperative mode extends Canvas‘ age range! I can imagine young children wanting to play this game, and the cooperative mode (Saunders’ Law Converse), would make it easy for parents could play Canvas cooperatively with their kids.

This is an amazing gateway game that’s beautiful and fun. The gameplay maybe too simple for hardcore gamers, but the game is charming and will entice most people of all ages, even non-gamers!

This game was a huge surprise that’s it’s as good as it is.

A Review of Kingdom Rush (Rift in Time), Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

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Kingdom Rush came onto Kickstarter some time ago. I hemmed and hawed about picking up this cooperative tower defense game, but in the end, I didn’t back it. There were so many goals and expansions it seemed like backing it would just be so expensive for a game I knew nothing about (and it didn’t really grab me). So I ended up passing on the Kickstarter … I didn’t back it all. It just seemed like too much money. Fast forward: Kingdom Rush delivered to its Kickstarter backers in late 2020 (November? December?) and a number of reviewers seemed to give it a good review. Tom Vasel liked it enough (see video here) and the coopboardgames.com made it their number 8 cooperative board game of the year for 2020!

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Well, CoolStuffInc had just a sale on Kingdom Rush just this last week for like $35 or so. Hm: I thought it was worth $35 to try this out!! So I grabbed some birthday and Christmas presents for my friends (yes, I get a lot of my friends board games as presents, so sue me) to get my order to $100 (for free shipping). It arrived today (Feb. 6th, 2021)! Let’s check out Kingdom Rush (Rift in Time), a cooperative tower defense game for 1-4 people!

Unboxing

This box is actually quite big! For $35, I think I got a really good deal! Opening up, I was a little disappointed to see how much empty space was at the top of the box:

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I assume all that extra space was for all the Kickstarter stuff I didn’t get.

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The game has some stickers for a “legacy aspect” (to denote how far you got in the campaign). You don’t have to use them to denote your progress (pencil and paper work fine if you don’t want to finalize your game).

The rulebook is right there at the top of the pile: it has a lot of art and looks good (but see our Rulebook discussion later)

The Scenario book is next in the box: Kingdom Rush comes with 10 Scenarios in the base game.

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There’s even a little map that shows how the Scenarios unfold (see below). You’ll note that the map describes ALL the scenarios in ALL the expansions and base game. If you end up really liking this game, there appears to be a ton of content. For now, the base game comes with 10 scenarios.

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Underneath the books are a bunch of cardboard sheets: there is a lot to punchout in this game!

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Below, you can see the cardboard sheets divided into (a) landscape (b) spells/powers (c) generic tokens and (d) polyominal tokens. The polyominal tokens are the basis of the game: you’ll be placing those tokens on tiles to do damage!!

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It’ll take you a while to punchout all the tokens.  I want to say it took be a good hour or more.

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Unfortunately, the game didn’t come with too many extra plastic bags, so I ended up having to go find some extra to help me rebox (at the end).

There’s still a bunch of stuff under the cartdboard bits: cards, minis, plastic trays, some clear plastic cards, and player boards: see below.

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The minis are held down by some cardboard inserts to make sure they don’t move much in the box.

The minis do lot pretty good. I’m not a minis guy (so I don’t know minis that well), but I liked them well enough.

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The player boards (5 total) are stored over on the left. Interestingly, they unfold and kind of remind me of the Dice Throne character boards (see review of Dice Throne Adventures here).

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The boards look nice unfolded, but they were kind of stiff and stayed open: i.e., they didn’t stay flay too well.

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The character boards still look very cool. It’s also clear that every character has a “color” associated with them WHICH IS VERY CLEAR! I like this, because it makes it blindingly obvious when some other components belong to that character. I remember being a little frustrated with the color choices in Tainted Grail (see here), but luckily this doesn’t have that problem. The character card (below) is used to help you notate when you’ve “activated” your character on the board.

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There’s some helper cards (1 for each player). I am always a fan of these, but these were just more a reminder of certain icons. There is a very tiny player summary on each character boards, but I really wanted a TRUE summary card, especially since the rulebook kinda sucked (foreshadowing). I’ve found that a good turn summary card can carry a crummy rulebook (it saved Code 3: see here), and I am sad to say there’s not a great turn summary card for Kingdom Rush, just an icon summary.

The big bad Bosses that you fight also have miniatures and some cards describing their behavior.  They are pretty cool looking, especially Lord Blackburn!IMG_8059

I’ve got to give a shout out to the clear cards in the game.  I love clear cards!  These are used in the game to notate where players can place their towers (this is a tower defense game after all). 

I couldn’t figure out what the little wooden soldiers were for until quite a bit in (they are used to help stop the bad guys from moving).

There some more cards we’ll see in the playthroughs, but overall there are a lot of really good components! The game looks really nice: see below!

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The Rulebook and Scenario Book

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I had a lot of problems with this rulebook. Almost all of the games I’ve learned here at Coop Gestalt, I’ve learned myself just by reading the rulebook. This was the first time in a very long time that I had to go find a you tube video to help me learn the game: I ended up with this one from Lucky Duck games.

The rulebook starts out well: it shows all the components on the first few pages (hint: turn the page, there’s more components on the next page):

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This worked well. I always like having a list of components while I am unboxing: it makes it a very visceral experience as I correlate physical pieces with the pictures from the components page. This made me very happy, especially seeing all the cool components in the game. Next, almost all modern rulebooks head into set-up. We don’t. We get redirected to another book, and this is where things starts to go wrong.

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You’ll notice above, I have two book open now, the rulebook and scenario book. And we start talking about general set-up. I had to re-read this page a few times to get what I was trying to do. There WAS NO INTRO SCENARIO. After playing Tainted Grail last week, I think I am spoiled: Tainted Grail has one of the best “get up and start playing right away” books I have ever seen, so coming into this, I was a bit overwhelmed. It seems to just “jump” into things without explaining a lot. I had to go back and forth between the rulebook and the scenario book multiple times to figure out the set-up. It felt very non-linear and frustrating.

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This General set-up is just FILLED with words without any pictures! The best set-ups show a picture with annotations. This “generic” set-up frustrated me. I still didn’t get it, so I had to turn the first Scenario I would play and look at that:

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Finally, some pictures! But really compressed on a page. So now, I am flipping between the main rulebook, the “generic set-up” on the pages before, and the Scenario picture itself! No! I think this was when I started looking for a you tube video.

Why does this rulebook frustrate me so much? I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I played.

  1. I don’t like the font choice. A “comic-book” all-caps font my be thematic, but this font isn’t expressive! I find that reading a lot of text in this font is draining. (Recall, I had the same problem with the rulebook for Obliveon). Fonts on cards should absolutely be this font. Rulebooks should be a soothing fonts, especially if you have to consult it a lot.
  2. There seem to be a lot of walls of text in the game. A first look of the rulebook would seem to indicate a lot of pictures, and sure there were a number of good pictures. But there just seemed to be so many “walls of text” that didn’t help explain anything. The solo rules would be a good example: no pictures! As would the portal rules.
  3. Pictures that WERE there were poorly referenced. For example, the scenario book refers to “difficulty” and “stars”, and there is sort of a chart on the page, but what does it mean? It doesn’t actually seem to refer to the chart, you just kind of have to realize it correlates, sorta.
  4. Some rules, especially for solo weren’t explained well or at all. According to the rulebook, the only way to upgrade your towers is to pass them. It’s very clear in red font:

    Yet, that is IMPOSSIBLE in a solo game (there’s no one to pass cards to)! And it wasn’t discussed in the solo rule section. I went ahead and assumed that you could “pass to yourself” and update any towers I didn’t use.
  5. Frustration with the first play. Too much non-linearity. I have played 100s of board game and read 100s of rulebooks, and I was especially frustrated with the jumping around so much in a game I knew nothing about.

A very simple example: when do I turn up my hoardes to see what’s there? There’s no mention in the rulebook. The video guy just said “ok, let’s turn up the hoard cards and see what’s there”. When am I supposed to do this?

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Kingdom Rush needs a few things and I think the game would be a LOT better.

  1. It need some player summary cards: those would have helped a lot and maybe answered some of the questions I had with game flow.
  2. It needs a “first play” that shows you more step-by-step how to set-up and play the first time, a la Tainted Grail.
  3. It needs another pass at the rulebook with a different font.

I guess you could say this is a Kickstarter rulebook. It really put me in a bad mood and I almost gave up on this game.

Set-Up and Solo Game

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First try at set-up (above).

So, the game does come with a solo game mode (yay, Saunders’ Law),  but the changes to make the solo game aren’t expressed well.  You basically play one character (I am playing Malik, see above) and play the game normally.  There are 3 other changes in the book, but I  didn’t get what they meant until I read the book and watched the video a few times.  Basically, (a) you can use one of the other characters in the game as a “one-shot” when you really need it (b) Your towers can  come out on 2 of the 3 colors, (c) something else.

Admittedly, the solo mode works pretty well once you understand it, but it’s just so hard to get to that point.

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Remember, this is a tower defense game!  The players have a “tableau” of towers (see above) they can buy/upgrade during the game!  I ran out of space, so I had to put this tableau off to the side.  When you start the game, your character sheet describe which towers you start with:

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Note, Malik starts (in a 1-player game) with the 4 towers (bottom right): Mage, Footman, Archer, and Artillery (see above).  The game seems to very good at scaling which towers you get, based on the number of players. 

As you play, you can upgrade your towers (by passing cards to yourself or your teammates) or buy new towers (using crystal).  Defeating the invading hordes gives you more crystal. 

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You place your towers on the little points (see the “clear cards” we discussed earlier?) In a solo game, you can only use 2 of the 3 colors as tower spawns. In the picture above, I chose green and purple (and couldn’t use yellow) for tower spawns. Not that each tower has range and directionality! What are we trying to do? Cover all the enemies of an enemy tray with damage! If we do that, we have defeated the tray of enemies and that tray goes away! How do we do damage? With the polyominal pieces!

In the picture above, the 3 enemy trays in the column have all enemy spaces covered! So, they will be defeated at the end of the turn. The enemy tray on the upper right still has 3 goblins uncovered, so it will stay in play!

How do you win? It varies per scenario, but in Scenario 1 you simply must defeat both Portals (see more discussion of the portals below). You lose if your “hit points” goes to 0 or the Portals cross the exit (the exit is right next to the hearts above).

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You can see the “enemy” spaces better (above). Note you can also see Malik getting his hands dirty! You characters actually come out on the map and fight WITH the towers! So, to win you will need to place the right towers, use your characters to do special damage, and make sure you keep the enemies in check. You have to destroy the Portals to win, but you also have to make sure you aren’t overrrun with other enemies.

An “A-Ha” Moment

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In my first game, I had a Portal about to leave an exit. If it escaped, I lost. I was trying to figure out how to place my towers so they could do damage: I had to cover 6 enemy spots in the Portal (see above), but my polyominal tiles couldn’t be placed in such a way as to cover ALL enemies! Nooooo!!! “I’m going to lose!”

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… until I realized I could use my “one-shot” extra hero to help me! Remember; this is one of the modifications for the solo game: you can use a hero as a one shot to come in and do damage! With that realization, I had to use my extra (purple) hero! And I was able to stop the Portal!

This was my “A-ha!” moment. Up until now, I was pretty grumpy with the game (as you may have figured out), but at this point, now that I had been playing a few rounds, understanding the game and putting everything together, I saw how the game played out. And all of a sudden, I was having fun! This little “A-ha!” moment turned the game around for me.

Conclusion

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This game is probably too complicated for what it is. The rules aren’t explained well, and there are a lot of rules. I am glad I didn’t go full in on this. I think $35 (or a little more) might be just about the right price point for me for this game. As grumpy as I was with the rulebook, the whole game turned around for me at my “A-ha!” moment. I had fun and I’d like to play this again.

If you think this cooperative defense game sounds fun, check it out, but I would strongly recommend watching the Lucky Duck video to learn the game. Be aware that the rulebook isn’t great and your first play through will be very frustrating. (I had to actually leave the room and come back I was so frustrated)

I’d recommend checking this game out if you can find it for under $40. Maybe you’ll love it and want to seek out all the extra content. Or maybe you’ll find the base game to be enough as a satisfying cooperative tower defense game … if you can get through the rules.