A Review of Deep Rock Galactic (The Cooperative Board Game)

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Deep Rock Galactic is a cooperative board game (based on the video game of the same name) that was on Kickstarter back in March 2022 and promised delivery in December 2022. I just received my copy last week (January 28th or so, 2023), so it’s only about a month late! Maybe this a new trend: last week, we saw Sentinels of the Multiverse: Rook City Renegades deliver on time, and this week we are seeing delivery within a month. That”s really great!

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This is a cooperative board game for 1-4 players, ages 12+, playtime 60-150 minutes. Players become dwarves mining the galactic caves! I have never played the video game that this is based on, so I have no bias for/against the game going in. I just thought it would be fun to play dwarves mining in outer space! Let’s take a look!

Components

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This box is HUGE.

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It’s even bigger than our Thunderstone Quest box!

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Even with the Coke Can above, it’s still not clear how big it is until you put the can right next to the box!

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This is a big box!  It’s a little intimidating to be honest!

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The game box opens with two books:  a rulebook and a Mission Book: See above and below.

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Next comes SO MUCH CARDBOARD to punch out. See above and below.

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Also in that bundle of cardboard is the board.

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Most of the cardboard forms the terrain that you will be putting on the board.

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In that cardboard punchout pack is the Hostile Creatures sheet: this is critical because it’s the only place that describes the monsters! (Even the rulebook doesn’t describe the monsters).  You’ll be referring to this a lot.

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Underneath the cardboard are the dwarf boards: there are exactly 4 dwarves in the game.  These are really nice dual-layer boards, and they show a lot of the rules ON the board:

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Finally, underneath all that cardboard we get three trays.

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The top tray holds the cards, dice, and minerals (I mean, you are dwarves mining for minerals).

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The tray under that holds a bunch of miniatures.

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The third and final tray holds some of the bigger miniatures!  Pretty cool.

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When you see everything on the table, you see why this box is so big!  It’s chock full of pretty cool components.

Miniatures

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This is not a miniatures game per se, it’s just a mining game with dwarves that happens to have lot of miniatures! But the minis are really nice:

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Most of the miniatures are bad guys aliens the dwarves will be fighting in the caves.

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The dwarves themselves have pretty nice miniatures!  See below.

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Overall, the miniatures really enhanced the theme.  They look really cool: and they even match the pictures pretty well!

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See the Scout above with his miniature: his picture matches his mini.

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My only complaint was that the labelling of minis (which mini is which) and where they go (into the trays) was subpar. I made very sure to take a picture of all my miniature trays before I took anything out.  

The minis are pretty distinct, but I thought they could have benefitted from some colored bases or rings at the bottom to help distinguish them (like we saw for Hour of Need in our Comparison of bases for Hour of Need).

Rulebook

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So, the rulebook wasn’t great.  And it seemed to get worse the more we played (as we had to look stuff up).  But it seemed to have a lot of good intentions, and it did do a number of things right.

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It starts with an introduction that has a little bit of a sense of humor: that goes a long way.  But, the Index seems more like a Table of Contents (?): A Table of Contents outlines major sections and where they are, whereas an Index is typically more comprehensive and allows reference to minor points.  So, it’s weird that this first page is labelled as an Index when it should be a Table of Contents.  But, again, at least their heart is the right place: they are trying to organize!

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Great!  The next two pages describe the components!  I wish they had labelled a few more things (there are a lot of tokens and bad guys), but this was pretty good.  At least they showed a picture of most components with a label!

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The gameflow/overview description was great!  The set-up could have been better, but again, at least it was “mostly” labelled and its heart was absolutely in the right place. 

This rulebook has its heart in the right place: it’s showing lots of tables, it’s showing pictures of things.  I can appreciate it is really trying to do the right thing.

The rulebook just felt like it really needed another pass or another rethink.  Even though Combat initiating from the Dwarves well-documented, the combat initiating FROM the Hostile Creatures was really not specified very well (“Hey, roll the Chompy dice … where was that in the rules?“). The Hostile Creature sheet is absolutely critical to playing the monsters, but I also never got a breakdown of that chart.  See below.

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This chart above, THIS CHART is critical to the game, and there was never a  breakdown of it.  You kind of have to infer that the diamond is the hit points.  R is range, M is movement. And how do you notate that per creature?  We have a similar problem we in Batman: The Animated Series Game notating hit points for the bad guys (see our review here). When you have a bunch of bad guys, how do you individually notate their health?  The game says something like”put health tokens next to the creature“, but what do you do when you have  lots of them?  And the creatures move?  

This was a 1-or-2 GRRR rulebook, but the humor and a lot of other things done right helped quell too much anger.

I didn’t love this rulebook, but I forgave it a number of problems, at least in the beginning.  It’s kind of, mostly, all there, and there is lot of good stuff (good charts, good examples), but it really needs another pass: some rules seem either left off or very poorly specified.  It got more frustrating to look stuff up the longer we played.

Gameplay

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Once you get past the daunting nature of the box, the minis, and the “not-great” rules, the game actually moves pretty quickly.  It’s not a super complex game from a gameflow perspective.

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The back of the rulebook gives a nice summary of play: action/event/action/event/…. until players win or lose!  Once you get going, the game does flow well.

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The End of The Game can come about in many ways: see the rulebook page above. The Dwarves generally win if they complete their mission (usually mining and getting back to the start position).  If all dwarves fall unconscious, then they lose.  If the little swarm track reaches the end, dwarves lose. See the Swarm Track below.

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Each player takes the role of dwarf:

The dwarves all very very different powers and different weapons for fighting in the mines!

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Each dwarf also gets to choose a secondary weapon from the group above.

You can see some of the sense of humor in this game: the secondary weapon can be upgraded to “overclocked” when you turn it over (obviously a nod to the video game).

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Each dwarf also gets two one-shot cards: a Throwable (usually a grenade):

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… and a Rock and Stone (a fun one-shot card).

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These cards form the tools and weaponry of the Dwarf.

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The Set-up from the mission Book (above) shows you how to set-up the mission, and what the objectives are.

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Dwarves generally get three action points to do what they want: in three words, they can Move, Mine, or Fight.  IMG_5551

MINE: When the dwarves mine, they get shared resources to the MULE (middle space above) or carve spaces out or grab stuff.

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MOVE: When the dwarves move, they move around the board trying to get to minerals scattered about.  Stalagmites and pits block the way, but they can be mined through.

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FIGHT: Finally, the dwarves can fight!  Each of their weapons has a range and a set of dice they roll.

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For example, the Bulldog Heavy Revolver above has range 5, and you roll the blue die to see the effects.  Empty rolls usually mean miss, other symbols typically denote hits with other effects.

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Damage persists, so it may take a few tries to take out some of the bigger hostiles.

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After a dwarf goes, they flip an event card (The Event deck is the “Bad News” deck): typically the swarm track advances and other stuff happens. See above for an example Event card.

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When the Swarm track lands on a creature (see the lit bug above), you must draw a Swarm card!

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Typically, the Swarm card (above) adds creatures to the board.

Then the next dwarf goes!  That’s basically it! Dwarf activates, Event Card, next Dwarf activates, Event Card, … until the game ends!  

The game looks very daunting (size of the box, size of miniatures, rulebook length and grumpiness, amount of components, mission set-up), until you get to the core of the game.  At its core, it’s a very straight-forward game.

Solo Play

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Luckily, Deep Rock Galactic follows Saunders’ Law and includes several variants for solo play.  The obvious variant is to take two dwarves and alternate  playing between them.  The second variant involves choosing just one dwarf, but also playing a simplified robot known as BOSCO.

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BOSCO is a robot who helps you!  See above, left.  Frankly, BOSCO is almost like another dwarf, but can’t be killed (unless he revives you) and can’t run out of ammo. Basically, BOSCO is a simplified dwarf.  The rules for solo play and BOSCO were about a page a half in the rulebook.  Usually, I choose to alternate between two characters, but each dwarf is fairly complicated to operate, so I chose to use the “simplified” rules for BOSCO. 

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Look at the rules for a dwarf: the Scout (above) has extra rules for Light-Footed, Grappling Hook, Flare Shot, primary weapon and secondary weapon.  Honestly, I forgot to use a lot of my special abilities until the very end, and I only had one dwarf to operate!  The simplified rules for BOSCO worked pretty well, especially for a first play.   I could have easily gotten by with alternating between two dwarves for solo rules, but I am really glad the publisher included the BOSCO rules.

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My first solo play went pretty well.  It felt like it was a little story.

“Me and BOSCO beamed down to the planet.”

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“Our first priority was taking out the Grunt spiders at the front.”

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A well-launched throwable (SOIL SMASHER) did what we needed and took them (and some Stalagtites) out!”

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“Our next priority was to start finding the things we needed to accomplish our mission!”

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“BOSCO can’t pick up stuff, he can only mine it for me so I can take care of other things.  So he went out ahead to start doing some mining while I searched for the Apoca Blooms we needed.”

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“That worked well, until some really snarky creatures appeared!”

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After we had a few more firefights, we raced to the exit: we choose NOT to fight the Spitfall Infector and just ran to the exit!”

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“Me and BOSCO made it out of there alive … I wonder how we would have fared if we fought the Spitball…”

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The solo game was quite fun: BOSCO was easy to control, my turns were fun, and the Bad News deck was well-specified with minimal maintenance. Everything moved quickly, mostly.  The rules are terrible on a few axes, so they game did have to come to a grinding halt a few times as I tried to look up some rules.  This delay will go away (I hope) with further plays, but I also just had to make some calls a few times (“I think this means that: let’s just move forward“).  I really really wish the rulebook were better.  

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It was fun playing a Galactic Dwarf.  I think I’d play again solo.  

Cooperative Game

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Unfortunately, the rulebook issues became even more glaring as we played cooperatively.  Every time we did something, it would seem like clarifications were needed!  Something I had perhaps glossed over in my solo play became glaring when exposed to the light of the group!  We’d frequently say: “Pass me the rulebook while you take your turn, and I’ll try to find that rule!

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We enjoyed how each Dwarf was very different and had lots of different powers: Teresa chose the Engineer.

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With three players, we fit pretty well on the table.  See above and below.  I think a fourth player might have caused us to rearrange significantly.  It may not have even fit?

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See Sam above finding out “There’s no player reference cards!!!”  So, without any player reference cards, the rulebook got passed around A LOT.  I remember thinking “I wish I could sleeve the rulebook: it gets touched more than any card does!!!

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But Deep Rock Galactic looks pretty cool when set-up for a 3-player game.

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See Sam again consulting the rulebook while Teresa waits for a rule clarification.

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And that was kind of the summary of our experience with the game: play should have moved quickly, but we kept burying our noses in the rulebook looking up clarifications.

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In the end, we had some fun, but it took us three hours to play Scenario 2 with three people!  Granted, it was a learning game, but I had played it before and was able to teach most of the core flow, and my friends are smart/experienced gamers.  

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I asked my friends straight-up: “Would you play this again?” The answer from both was “sure, but I wouldn’t suggest it”.  Most of that hesitation was from the frustration with the rulebook.

Dwarves, Dwarves, Dwarves

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So, Deep Rock Galactic is a thematic game: it’s not a complex miniatures game, although the miniatures in the game enhance the theme quite  bit.  This is a dice-chucking, thematic, “pick-up-and-deliver” game with lots of combat. The combat is based on dice: with so many dice, there are bound to be bouts of randomness that will make the game not fun.

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We did review a different dwarf game a few months ago: The Siege of Runedar by Reiner Knizia.  See that review here.  One of my main complaints of the game was that there might be too much randomness from the dice there.  I think after seeing Deep Rock Galactic, I have a little more appreciation for the more controlled randomness in Siege of Runedar verus the more chaotic randomness in Deep Rock Galactic.  I still think Runedar should allow players to keep cards between rounds (to help mitigate the randomness), but Runedar seems much less random by comparison now.

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Deep Rock Galactic is a thematic dice-chucker.  It’s light, fun, moves quick, and just a fun little romp. It’s supposed to be a little random!

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If I want a lightweight, dice-chucking romp with dwarves, I choose Deep Rock Galactic.  If I want a more strategic game with dwarves, The Siege of Runedar is the better choice (with our one house rule of keeping cards).

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What I really want is a way to use some of the very thematic miniatures and mining elements from Deep Rock Galactic in the Siege of Runedar!  I would love to see some crossover mode where you could get the best of both games!

Conclusion

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I am kind of all over the place for Deep Rock Galactic: it really depends on what mood I am in.  If I want a lightweight, dice-chucking, mining, and fighting experience, Deep Rock Galactic is good game to play!  The game has such cool miniatures and components: it’s very thematic. It will be a 7/10 when I am in that mood! The game has a real nice flow once the rules are absorbed.

But when I want something more strategic with better rules, Deep Rock Galactic drops to a 6/10 … “It’s just too random and the rulebook should have been much better“. Then I’ll go play The Siege of Runedar and lament its lack of thematic elements:  “I wish Siege of Runedar had some awesomeness from Deep Rock Galactic“.

Decide for yourself: what are you in the mood for?

I’ll end my conclusion with a direct quote from Sam: he texted me after he digested his play!

Thoughts:

I’ll rate deep rock galactic a 6 – I had fun as the gunner and spraying bullets at the enemies but wish the rules were better organized and clarified. I like that everyone was unique and specialized even if we didn’t use our abilities to the fullest.

Would bump up to 7 if there was a good faq/errata/reference. Would play again if others were inclined (and might suggest it if we found a good faq/errata/reference)

(Incidentally, Teresa independently told me the same thing: “6, maybe would upgrade to 7 if rules were better”)

Appendix A: Game Mat Discussion

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For this Kickstarter, I got the game mat.  

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It looks great on the table: see above.  You can tell it’s a mat by the rounded corners.

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But the game also comes with a board.

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You can tell the board by the square corners.

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The board and the Game Mat are virtually identical!  See above:  the board is on top of the mat with the Mat peeking out at the top.

I like it when Game Mats do “something different”, but this Mat is just a replica of the main board. The only real difference is that you can have the board off-the-table slightly, whereas the Game Mat must fit completely on the table.

See above as the game board can “slightly” be off the table to give the players more room.  I like the Game Mat, it’s good quality, and it looks cool, but I don’t think it added a whole lot to my experience: in fact, I think forcing me to use the Mat gave me less table space.  I like Game Mats that give me something “extra”.  For example, I love the Game Mat for Aeon’s End because it really helps me organize all the cards! See Below.

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I don’t think you need the Game Mat for Deep Rock Galactic. Sure, it’s cool and spongey, but it doesn’t really give you anything extra.   The board that comes with it looks exactly the same, and it can enable more table space!  This is a big game!  That little extra space you get from putting the board over the edge can make a big difference!!  I dunno.  If you like Game Mats better, it’s still nice.

Appendix B: Repacking

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How do you fit everything back in?  I had a little trouble fitting everything back in, until I decided to reuse the Punchout Skeletons to hold the bigger terrain pieces! Not the small ones: just the ones with about 8 hexes or more. See above and below.  

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By placing the terrain pieces BACK IN the Punchout Skeletons, all the original pieces fit back in the box in a controlled and snug manner.  

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Without the Punchout Skeletons, the extra terrain pieces just flop around and do not fit in well.

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In the end, I found that it was just a little bit of extra work to use the Punchout Skeletons for the terrain pieces. This also allowed me to keep the rulebook and mission book flat in the box.

Caveat Emptor. I am a proponent of keeping Punchout Skeletons: see our blog entry here. This is just another reason to keep all your Punchout Skeletons: controlled storage of larger terrain pieces.

A Review of the Sentinels of the Multiverse: Rook City Renegades (An Expansion for the Definitive Edition of Sentinels of the Multiverse)

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Sentinels of the Multiverse (Definitive Edition): Rook City Renegades was on Kickstarter back in March 2022. It delivered to me in the USA about 4 days ago, January 19th 2023. It promised delivery in January 2023. It was on time!! Holy cow, that’s an event unto itself: if you follow our blog, we’re usually “happy” if a Kickstarter is only a few months late. Kudos to Greater Than Games for getting their games out on schedule!

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This expansion only expands the Definitive Version of the Sentinels of The Multiverse: see our review here to make sure you understand the differences between the 1st, 2nd, and Definitive Editions before you get this. Essentially, if you have the yellow box (below left), you have the proper edition.

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Let’s take a look below!

Components

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This is the Kickstarter version we will be looking at: it includes the expansion itself, foil card replacements for many of the bigger cards, and sleeves: see below.

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This is an expansion in the simplest sense: it just adds new cards with minimal new rules. The only “real” new rule is the Suddenly! keyword (see below): it forces cards to be played immediately when they are drawn.

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The box itself is the same size as the Definitive Edition (so that’s good for consistency and storage): see the box below with a can of Coke for perspective.

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There are a few tokens that will be specific to a hero/villain/environment, a few more one damage tokens (we were always running out of those, so that’s good), and a new damage tracker. Why a new damage tracker? Because The Chairman has a second supporting Villain (The Operative) that has enough hit points to merit a new damage tracker.

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They also included another wheel. Not sure why? It doesn’t seem to go to anything. It seems to just be a backup piece of cardboard.

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The rest of the game is just cards: see above and below.

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I spent the first night just sleeving those cards. Sigh. No fun.

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Everything in Rook City Renegades is nice quality and consistent with the Sentinels of the Multiverse Definitive Edition.

Foil Cards

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The first thing I opened and sleeved were the foil cards!  These are just “embossed foil” versions of all the larger cards in the expansion.  (So, you will have two copies of each of these cards: the original and the foil version).  I’ve said this many times: I love the foil Cards! Why don’t more games have foil cards? I think they are so thematic: Comics in the late 80s ad 90s used the use foil covers as a marketing gimmick to get noticed! And it worked in many cases!  (You don’t see foil covers as much anymore in comics).

I have heard some people say they are too shiny to read, but I haven’t had that problem.

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The first set of foil cards are all the Heroes of Rook City Renegades! There’s at least 3 different versions of each Hero!

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There’s also a few alternate version for some of the base game Heroes included: I think the Haunted Fanatic (above) may be my favorite.

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Sentinels also really embraces the “first appearance” and “last appearance” ideas: there are alternate versions of the Heroes and their powers, depending on their “first appearance”! These are kind of cool because it really feels like you are embracing the Sentinels of the Multiverse universe: it feels like it adds some depth and backstory (even though there was never really a Sentinels Comics).

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Each Villain also has an equivalent foil card (see the right hand side above).

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I didn’t even sleeve the “original” non-foil versions of any of the cards. I will always pay with the foil versions! I love them so much!

New Heroes and Villains and Environments

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Like I said, this is an expansion that just really gives you more cards!

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There are six new Heroes. Interestingly, most of the other Heroes (Setback, Expatriate, Mr. Fixer, Nightmist, and Harpy) appeared in the 2nd Edition or in an expansion, but Alpha is brand new!

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There are five new Environments: Rook City, Pike Industrial Complex, The Realm of Discord, and The Temple o Zhu Long, and Diamond Manor. All but one appeared somewhere in the 2nd Edition, but Diamond Manor is new!

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There are ten new Villains: Ambuscade, Apex, The Chairman, TheOperative, The Fey Court, Gloomweaver, Kismet, Plague Rat, Spite, and Terrorform. Of those, The Chairman and The Operative operate as one unit, so they are one villain. All of those Villains have appeared somewhere in 2nd edition except for Apex, The Fey Court, and Terrorform.

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Luckily, everything fits pretty well in the box: see above.

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One problem I had with the base box was the at names of the heroes/villains/environments were hidden by the sleeves!

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Luckily, they have fixed that and you can read the dividers (even when the cards are sleeved) in the Rook City Renegades expansion.

Rulebook

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As an expansion, the rulebook is less important. Or is it?

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I still like seeing the components with correlating pictures: we have that here. See above.

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The rulebook passes The Chair Test with an A-:  it fits well on the chair next to me, but I had to break its spine and fold it back a few times to get the pages to stay open. 

What this rulebook does well is that it has a FAQ, and explanations for each Hero/Villain/Environment in great detail: this inlcudes both thematic explanations as well as rules clarifications. I think this was pretty great: I had to go looking for a few clarifications, and they were either there in the FAQ or by the Hero/Villain/Environment section of interest.

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Interestingly, Greater Than Games chose to use the back cover as an ad for the next expansion. I wish they had used the back cover to replicate the Turn Sequence and Useful Terms that are on the back of the main rulebook: see below.

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Since this was an expansion, I didn’t expect too much from the rulebook: but Rook City Renegades delivered! This is what I want in an expansion rulebook! FAQs and lots of discussions of new content!

Gameplay

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In all version of Sentinels of the Multiverse, most of the rules for the game are on the cards, with the Turn Sequence simply providing the main flow. The first few times through play, it will be slow as we will have to read everything closely to get a sense of the decks. But this is just how Sentinels flows. You need to play a Hero a number of times to get familiar with the deck, and then it begins to flow much quicker.

The basic gameplay with the expansion is still the game as the original game: the game does’t really really change with this expansion. If you were looking for Rook City Renegades to change up Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition significantly, then you will be disappointed. The Suddenly cards are the only real “new” rule … they add some chaos, as those cards that have to be played as soon as they are drawn.

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Solo Play

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My first Villain, randomly chosen, was Gloomweaver (Gloomweaver originally comes from the Infernal Relics Expansion in 2nd Edition). As I looked through the Heroes, it made sense to have some mystic Heroes fight!

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Nightmist seemed the obvious first choice, as she is the spellcaster and mystical foil to Gloomweaver (and she also comes from the same  Infernal Relics Expansion from the 2nd Edition)  Which version of Nightmist should I take?  There are a bunch of versions to choose from: Base, Dark Watch, Magical Mentor (see above).  I liked that I had a choice: in the end, I went with the Dark Watch version … somehow that seemed apropos. 

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And Harpy seemed a good joiner, as her abilities are sorta weird and mystical. And Expatriette, with her hardcore gun knowledge seemed a good backup for the vaguely mystical other two.

What’s a weird place for Gloomweaver to appear?  The Diamond Manner!

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To me, this was all about building a story: Nightmist finds out about Gloomweaver’s incursion into our world. She recruits her friend Harpy to help her, and Harpy suggests some real world firepower in the form of Expatriette! “Just In Case“. The three form the Dark Watch and track Gloomweaver to the Diamond Mansion … and an epic battle begins!

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Nightmist leads the group!

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The Harpy will follow Nightmist to hell and back!

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And Expatriette covers their back!

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And so we set-up for our first solo game of the “Into the Dark” with the Dark Watch!

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So, this game was very intense: there were a lot of rules to follow! Even though I have played all three Heroes in the 2nd Edition, you might think it would easier to play, but they weren’t! The Heroes are similar but not similar enough, so I had to read each Hero’s abilities very closely so I didn’t “accidentally” assume some rules from the 2nd Edition! …which I still ended up doing for Gloomweaver.

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In fact, I had won the game earlier than I realized, as I had taken out three Chosen earlier in the game! I was remembering the rules in the 2nd Edition, where you have to take out 3 Relics (instead of 3 Chosen).

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I did win my Dark Watch game, beating Gloomweaver back, but I made a few mistakes … even though I tried really hard to follow all the rules. Simply speaking, there are a lot of rules to keep track of. Those mistakes and missteps are simply part of the learning process for Sentinels of the Multiverse: it’s always been that way. It always takes a little bit to learn the decks.

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These Heroes in Rook City Renegades in general seem more complicated than the Heroes from the base game: caveat emptor.

But, I had fun as a solo player: I wrote my own story in my mind, I formed my own team, I played out the battle, and I had a ball discovering how all the Heroes and Villains and Environments work! That’s part of the fun of Sentinels of the Multiverse: discovering how the decks work. If you don’t enjoy that, you will probably never enjoy this game.

Cooperative Play

Our only real constraint for cooperative play was that we must play with as much new content as possible! Everything came from the new set.

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Like the solo game, we tried to tell a story as we set-up the cooperative game.

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Terrorform (with his cool foil card) had appeared and taken over the Diamond Manor!  (I know, it seems like a popular place for the Bad Guys to go).

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Setback, the young kid, found out about Terrorform coming while monitoring the coms!  He knew that Diamond Manor was all “magical and weird” (his words), so he went to find the mystic Nightmist!

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Turns out Nightmist was having wine party for her two friends Alpha and Harpy, so they were all happy to help!

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In the end, it was Setback, the young pun kid, helping out the 3 experienced heroes!

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The little story we told kind of “got us into” the game a little, as we felt a little more closer to our characters and each other.  Again, like the original game, there was some downtime as we read cards and tried to figure out how all the characters worked.

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In the end, we defeated Terrorform: it took a little longer than we expected (2.5 hours?), but we also had all new content for all us, so there was definitely a learning curve. We all had fun.  The characters seemed just a little more complex than the original game.

Trust Enhances Cooperation

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I’ve had a good friend (none of the people here, but he’ll be reading this blog entry soon) tell me he doesn’t like Sentinels because “I don’t know what other people are doing!”  I actually kind of like that: I don’t have to know what everyone’s doing because I trust them!  This is a cooperative game!  We are all doing the best we can, and if you take your turn and feel like you did it right, I am happy!  We are working together, we are not micromanaging each other!  

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Sentinels definitely needs that trust factor to move forward: each character (especially in the new set) has a lot of rules to learn.  I actually think that enhances the cooperation a little: it forces us to trust each other and have faith that we all played our turns the best we could: I trust my fellow heroes.

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Standalone Expansion?

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I was always annoyed that the Token box from the base game didn’t really fit into the box (yes, yes, I know there are ways to make it fit, but I didn’t like how tight it was: we discussed it on our review here).  However, it ended up being an unexpected benefit: if you have the Token box, you don’t need the base game!  All the counters and condition counters that you need are all in the Token box!  So, if you really want to, you could play with JUST Rook City Renegades and the Token box! You would get all new content with the expansion!  The only thing you need from the base game is the Token box!

I mean, that’s what we did for our first solo game: 3 new Heroes, 1 new Villain, and 1 new Environment with just the Token box from the original game.

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In fact, I would argue you don’t even need the Token box! You could play Rook City Renegades without the Token box! Back in the 1st Edition, there were no tokens: you had to either supply your own tokens, or use pencil and paper. I played many a 1st Edition game with just pencil and paper … I didn’t need no stinkin’ tokens.

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… but you still have to know the rules of the game. The base box has the rulebook, which might be the one thing you have to have from the base game.

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If you were very enterprising, this could be a standalone expansion: You could lookup the rules online, and use your own tokens/pencil-and-paper to form Rook City Renegades into a standalone expansion.  

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But why would you? The tokens and damage trackers from the base game (in the Token box) really are a step forward in making the game easier to play: don’t step back to 2011 and opt for pencil and paper like I had to! Use all the modern tools to make your game more fun!

Conclusion

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Rook City Renegades is a great expansion, adding 6 new Heroes, 10 new Villains, and 5 new Environments! It expands the game in whatever direction you want: do you want new Heroes to play? New Villains to fight? New places to fight? Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition Rook City Renegades makes it easy to add new content, whatever you want that to be.

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I don’t think you need this expansion right away, as the new expansion does add more complexity: each new Hero seems just a little more complicated: For Example: Nightmist, with her spell-casting, adds more rules and complexity to the game. This is a great expansion, I just don’t think you need it until you feel like you’ve exhausted the base game.

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Back in 2nd Edition, Rook City was my favorite expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse: I loved the new Environments and new Villains … fun fact, I didn’t love the new Heroes as much, but I loved that I could expand my favorite game. The Definitive Edition of Rook City Renegades does the 2nd edition justice: it adds fantastic new Villains, Heroes, and Environments.

Rook City Renegades is a great expansion: When you are ready for it, it will be fantastic.

A Review of X-Men United: First Class

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X-Men: Marvel United First Class is part of the giant box of expansions that arrived in the mail a few months ago (see here: X-Men Marvel: United and the Expansion Absorption).

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This expansion requires one of the two base games to play: Marvel United (which we reviewed here and here) or X-Men: Marvel United (which we reviewed here and here); preferably the latter since it’s more X-Men themed.

Depending on how you look at it, this expansion represents either the X-Men comic book (from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) X-Men #1 from 1963 or from the 2011 Movie X-Men: First Class. Either way, this captures that moment in time when Professor X founded the X-Men when they were all “young and hopeful” mutants. They were the “first class” of Professor Xavier’s school! They are still learning to use their powers. Their costumes were even similar to show they were part of the same school (and hadn’t embraced their individuality yet).

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Unboxing

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First Class comes in the standard Marvel United sized box.

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This is a fairly traditional expansion, in that it offers 5 new heroes and 2 new Villains (but who operate as a single unit, see below). There are some new rules, but they aren’t really any game changers (like there were with X-Men Marvel United: Days of Future Past, see here). We’ll discuss those change below. The rulebook is pretty minimal: it’s a one-sided page.

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There’s some new tokens for Ice Man, 3 new Locations, and the Danger Room!

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There’s 5 new Heroes and 2 New Villains (taken as a pair when playing). Even though Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are heroes later on in the comic book world, they are JUST villains in this expansion: there’s no good guy cards for them here! This seems like a missed opportunity, because I don’t see them as heroes in any of the other expansions. EDIT: See correction after the Conclusion!

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The minis are, just like all Marvel United minis, really nice.

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Overall, the game looks just like I’d expect: good. It’s also consistent with other expansions so this fits right in the Marvel United universe.

Training Cards

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Since this expansion represents a young, naive group of X-Men, one of the new rules to make the game a little easier is the Danger Room attachment (see above). On your starting Location, players can use the Danger Room (one they’ve dealt with the threat there) to get an ALTERNATE END OF TURN effect (see above) which gives a training card.

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Instead of the normal “good thing” you get at the end of the turn, you can choose to get a training card instead. See Beast’s training card above. These training cards don’t count towards other cards limits, so you can have as many of them as you want! Some (like the permanent above) are permanent attachments to give your young X-Men some extra abilities to help them out. Others are one-shots you can use later.

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By my second game of First Class, I was embracing the training cards pretty heavily (see above: each mutant has at least one).

If I am playing with a new player who loves the X-Men but is a little intimidated by Marvel United, I would probably add the Danger Room/Training cards: They make the game a little easier.

Chaos

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Although incredibly thematic to Scarlet Witch’s Chaos Magic, the Chaos Magic threats (above) are something to be leery of in a beginner’s game. If you end your turn on a Location with Chaos Magic, you will simply play a random card at the start of the next turn. While you can work with this/around this, be very careful to steer naive/new players away from these Locations. It is NOT FUN to just randomly play cards!

If you want to turn off new players to Marvel United, by all means, start them on a Chaos Magic space. My first game started like that and it was not fun.

A Panorama of Solo Games

I have been able to play both two hero and three hero solo games, and they worked great.

Cooperative Play

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This was a pretty typical cooperative Marvel United game: it was fun using Ice-Man’s token to have an “Ice Slide” to allow us to move quickly between Locations.  We had a good time.

Conclusion

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X-Men: Marvel United First Class is a fine expansion. The lack of Hero cards for Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver was a little bit of a disappointment, but the 5 New Heroes made up for that. I think, in general, this expansion (with the base game) might be a place I’d start new players! The Danger Room/Training Room attachments can give the new players a little extra oomph to enjoy the game. I would just be very careful to avoid the Chaos Magic threats on the first set-up: those can be incredibly frustrating for new players.

EDIT: Update! Careful reader John Q.T. Nguyen . pointed out that Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were part of the Stretch Goals for the first Marvel United Avengers Kickstarter! See below!

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It turns out I had Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver all along! This does reinforce my point about the Expansion Absorption being very difficult with so much Marvel United stuff! Anyways, special thanks to John Q.T. Nguyen!!

A Review of Sub Terra II: Inferno’s Edge

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Sub Terra II: Inferno’s Edge is a cooperative tile-laying game (with push-your-luck elements) for 1-6 players. It’s a stand-alone game in the Sub Terra universe. The II might imply you need the original to play, but you don’t: this is a stand-alone sequel. This game was on Kickstarter back in November 2019. But I didn’t back it.

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Part of the reason I didn’t back Sub Terra II was because I already have Sub Terra (the original): See above. I like the original, and it came out quite a bit in my game groups for a while, but it had fallen off the radar: the original Sub Terra was a just a teensy too random for some of my groups. I think I was worried Sub Terra II would simply be more of the same. Would it be worth buying it for “almost” the same game? In the end, I needed $40 or so to make a GameNerdz order get free shipping, so I added Sub Terra II in to my order. I am interested in the base game, I am just not interested in the $100s in expansions for the game. (The Kickstarter all-in was more than I wanted for a tile-laying game).

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This just arrived a few weeks ago! (Late Dec. 2022,/Jan 2023) Let’s take a look!

Components and Gameplay

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See the box with a Coke Can for scale. It’s a deepish box, but not too tall or wide: it’s about the size of a piece of paper.

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In the game, each player takes on the role of one or more explorers: ideally, each player gets their own explorer, but there must always be at least 3 explorers in play, so a solo game will get 3 explorers, and a 2-player game will probably have 4 explorers (2 per player).

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Each explorer has their own corresponding meeple to mark where they are on the board.

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Each explorer also has their own unique powers: see some examples above.

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Each player has two action points: on their turn, they can typically do 2 actions (some actions cost 2 action points). They can do any of the things above, which are pretty much what you expect (move, reveal a hidden tile, run, etc). Interestingly, players can also choose to exert themselves for one damage to get an extra action.

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At the end of each player’s turn, some “bad news” happens! The player, after using two action points, gets some Bad News from one of the bad news dice! See the orange dice above.

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This is a tile-laying game: the explorers need to explore the temple (laying tiles to “explore”), find 3 keys, retrieve the artifact, then finally escape with their lives! This is cooperative, and it’s best if all players survive, but if some players don’t make it out alive, everyone else still wins … to be clear: there is no incentive to subvert other players! The game is fully cooperative!!! It’s just that, sometimes, circumstances dictate that not everyone can survive, even if players try really hard, so the game recognizes this reality and allows for most people to survive. It’s really not a semi-co-op. (Except Joe might play it that way. Joe.)

The tiles (after being punched out), end up in the bag above. This bag was “okay”: I think it might have been a little small. When players “explore”, they draw a tile and put it on the board:

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As the game unfolds, the template starts to take shape … (my example above is off because I took the left boundary too far .. mea culpa!).

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This game has push-your-luck elements because you have to choose between revealing and/or moving as you play. If you just reveal a title, you won’t suffer the ill effects of the revealed tiles (the white Guide just REVEALED the trap tile above, so he doesn’t suffer the effects), but now he has to spend an extra action to MOVE to it. The push-your-luck comes in if you decide to MOVE and REVEAL in one move (called EXPLORE)! You get more done, but you may move to a room that hurts you! If you play too conservatively, you may never get the temple explored in time! If you play too aggressively, you may die quickly from ill effects! It’s a push-your-luck game.

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The volcano tile (above) is your timer: at the end of every round, the volcano tracker moves up one (for a beginner game, you can see the tracker start on place 27). If the volcano erupts before the players have found the Artifact, they lose!

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Once the volcano erupt and you have the Artifact, you can still escape … you are just racing for your life against the lava flow! Tiles starts turning to lava and follow you Get out! Get out! See above!

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Luckily, the Veteran above was able to get the Artifact!

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And they all made it back to the entrance! Note, that the game gets significantly harder after Artifact is obtained: you’ll be rolling two bad news dice per turn!

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The components look really nice, are very readable, and fairly thematic. I suppose I would have preferred some cooler tokens other wooden meeples, but they were fine. (I suspect the Kickstarter had some really great component upgrades).

Rulebook

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The rulebook was good.

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The first few pages contained nice annotated Components list and Introduction: they worked fine.

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The Set-up was easy to use and well annotated. See above.

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The main game ideas are discussed quickly and easily after your set-up. See above.

The rulebook had great pictures and a nice easy-to-read font. Overall, a very good rulebook.

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The rulebook passed the Chair Test with flying colors: an A+! It fits perfectly on the chair next to me, so I can keep it open and easily available.

This was a good rulebook, but I do have a few very minor complaints.

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First, they didn’t use the back cover to convey any game info. This is a wasted opportunity in my eyes, but it’s definitely personal opinion: it’s not a flaw.

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Second, the rulebook was 32 pages. I love the big font, but maybe it was a touch TOO big? I felt like there could have been a slight adjustment of whitespace, margins, and font size to make the rulebook just a smidge smaller. But I shouldn’t complain, because I’d MUCH rather rulebooks err on the size of “font too big” than the other way around! It’s just that a 32-page rulebook looks a little daunting, but it’s quite good: It’s easy to read and has lots of pictures.

Solo Play

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The back of the box proclaims 1-6 explorers (see above), but the solo rules are a little hard to find.

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The solo rules are in a parenthetical expression on page 4 of the set-up: I actually missed them the first few times through the rulebook. It’s just one sentence: If playing solo, you can choose three to six explorers to control.

The difficulty chart chart shows a minimum of three Explorers (and a max of six), so if you miss that single solo sentence, you might deduce “OHHHH!!! A Solo game has the solo player taking the role of three explorers!” It’s not real emphatic: part of the reason I knew this was because the original Sub Terra worked the same way!! So, you must always have at least 3 explorers for any game, and a max of 6 explorers. This game does follow Saunders’ Law.

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So, the solo player must rotate through three players as he plays. The variable powers are fairly straight-forward, so there’s not too much context-switching as the solo player rotates through explorers. That’s always the question when you play multiple positions, right? “How much context-switching is there?” There’s not too much context-switching here: It’s very manageable.

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In general, I liked the solo game. I would play it again. Most importantly, it gave me the chance to learn it so I could teach my friends.

Cooperative Play

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My group had a good time playing this!  We liked that the powers were very different and felt “powerful!”  When we used our powers, a lot happened!  My rogue was fantastic at avoiding the traps (I enjoyed pointing out this was a Mark IV trap: don’t step here), the Marksmen kept the guardians under control, the Aristocrat kept the ruins under control (by placing her Journal tiles exactly where we needed to avoid Ruins problems), and the Veteran kept us going!  They were all arguably critical to getting the game done, and we really enjoyed that!

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The game also seemed to elicit a fair amount of talk: we cooperated, but we still had our own turns and a lot of agency.  There were a few turns (especially for the Veteran) that weren’t fun because she got stuck (see Randomness and PTSO  sections down below), but in general we had a good time.

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We had a winning game, and it was dramatic and fun.

Rating: In general, the group seemed to think 7s to 7.5s all around. Everyone had a good time (modulo a few issues we’ll discuss).

It’s always a good sign when the group says “I’d love to see how this game played out if we used very different characters”.  They want to play again!

Things I Liked

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I liked that there was a decent amount of agency in the game: For example, I can choose to “exert” myself to get an extra action point. That allows the players some latitude to “try real hard” when its really needed! That’s very thematic that every so often I can “exert” and get myself out of an obvious bind! I am not always stuck at just 2 actions points: extra agency.

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The components are pretty darn fantastic.

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I like that the tiles are very easy to read, have some cool spot art on them, and the iconography is pretty easy to read.

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I like that the game is simple, easy to teach, quick to set-up, quick to tear-down. The 60-minute gameplay is pretty accurate (unless you are prone to analysis paralysis). Sub Terra II has a nice “simplicity” permeating it.

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I want to give a major shoutout for the new idea of “running out of the temple while the lava follows you!” That is so cool of a mechanism (lava following you), and it is just flipping over the tiles as you run out. It looks great and is very thematic. It’s so simple to do, but it’s such a nice touch.

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The explorers powers were cool and very interesting: those powers seemed more useful/powerful than the original Sub Terra.

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It’s a pretty nifty game.

Minor Complaints

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I wish the bag to hold the tiles was just a little bigger. It felt cramped and a little small.

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I wish a few more rules having to do with “knockdown” had been specified. Is the explorer above allowed to move away? He’s at 0 health, so all he can do is move, but the guardians do damage when you move away? How do you rectify that? Also, do the powers of the guide still work when he’s knocked-down? Probably? These are minor questions, but I can’t be the only one who had these questions. A FAQ might have been helpful.

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You’ll notice that I messed up and went “too far to the left” with my temple: you are supposed to only go as far left and right as the leftmost and right most edges of the bottom piece. Whoops! It’s in the rulebook, but I think a simple component (a piece of paper? A cardboard edge?) would have helped me to not make this mistake. It’s really minor, but it could have been fixed.

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Actually, though, I do have a solution that comes with the game!! In the future, I will use the punchout skeletons to enforce the edges! See below. (Hey, this is another reason to keep Punchout Skeletons!)

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Major Complaint: Lack of PSTO

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But my biggest complaint, without a doubt, is the lack of Player Selected Turn Order (PSTO). I can’t tell you how many times I had one of the explorers “do nothing” on their turn because they had to wait for someone else to do something out of sequence! Consider the case above: I’d really like the Guide to venture into the room above and do two looks around him (his special ability). But he can’t, because the room has a pit trap and he’ll likely die! Luckily, the Rogue is with us! As long as he Rogue is with us, we can avoid traps! Huzzah!

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But …. because the Guide goes before the Rogue in turn order (and turn order is very specific: see above), the Guide would have to wait for an entire round to go up! So, the Guide does nothing for a turn. Not fun.

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It seems very thematic to say “Rogue! Why don’t you go in that room first and I’ll follow!” It’s very thematic, and probably what we’d do in real life!! I feel like this game would be a lot more fun with Player Selected Turn Order: allow the players (per round) to choose the order of their turns! More importantly, it allows players to avoids turns where you don’t do anything.

I understand that Player Selected Turn Order (PSTO) makes a game harder to learn/deal with (see a long discussion of PSTO here), but I think it would easy to notate each taken turn with a simple token (just flip it when your turn is over).

For some reason, the lack of Player Selected Turn Order dates this game for me: it feels like more and more modern cooperative games are embracing this mechanism (The Reckoners, Marvel Zombies: Heroes Resistance (which we’ll see soon), CO-OP: the co-op game, to name a few) because PSTO makes the game feel more cooperative! We all decide, as a group, the best way to proceed through the temple, and can change as circumstances change! It gives us choice! Agency!

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I can see it being harder to teach newer gamers PSTO: it’s not what most newer gamers are used to! So, maybe some chart like this in the book would help:

  • Newer Players: Use the tradition round structure: clockwise order
  • Advanced Players: use coarse-grained Player Selected Turn Order! Players choose per round the order that each explorer acts: For example:  Player 1, then Player 3, Then Player 2. 
    If you use use coarse-grained PTSO: increase the volcano tracker by 5
  • Very Advanced Players: use fine-grained Player Selected Turn Order! Players choose the order of actions and may intersperse actions: For example: player 1 takes action 1, player 2 takes action 1, player 2 takes action 2, then player 1 takes action 2. 
    If you use use fine-grained PTSO: increase the volcano tracker by 10

Of course, PSTO makes the game “easier to win”, so you probably want some adjustment of the difficulty: luckily, Sub Terra II makes that easy by just adjusting the timer on the volcano.

Is It Still Too Random?

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In a word, yes, but I like some of the new stuff the game does. I think the randomness of Sub Terra II is consistent with the amount of randomness in the original Sub Terra, if maybe a touch less random.

I understand that randomness can breath life into a by-the-numbers game, and I do think the amount of randomness of Sub Terra II is apropos to the game. That cave-in at “just the wrong time” is both infuriating and exciting! It’s such a thin line: too much randomness can feel crippling, too little randomness can feel predictable. This game can feel too random at times, but it generally straddles the line between too much randomness and too little randomness fairly well. Again, some of my gaming groups thought it was a shade too random.

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For example: in one cooperative game, all the collapsing caverns came out right next to each other (see above). It was very scary trying to figure out how to deal with that: it was exciting and fun, but at the same time, had the randomness gone slightly awry, we would have had no chance whatsoever.

That swingy randomness is a double-edged blade: it cuts both ways! Exciting and tense but possibly unwinnable. And Sarah echoed the thoughts of my game groups from years ago, “It was fun but it feels like it could be too random“.

Needs a FAQ

Every time we play, I feel like a question comes up that we can’t answer.  For example: In one play, the final Sanctum tile could only go two places, but there two were competing concerns: put it as far as possible but keep within the boundaries.  As a two-tile final tile, you could argue it couldn’t go to the furthest away (upper right) because the artifact would actually extend over the boundaries!  We argued “maybe that was thematic” because that’s why the artifact is so hard to get to! But, if we have to keep within the boundaries, it must go in the other spot.  But what if the other spot had the same problem?  It was very close to being right on the edge too … what would we done had that happened?  (Probably just chose the furthest and moved forward, but it felt like it was underspecified).

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Every game I have played, some question has come up that the rulebook didn’t quite answer. Most of them were simple, and we could always move forward with a reasonable guess, but I feel like this game needs a FAQ! Little questions seemed to crop up a lot. Minor ones, to be sure, and not enough to hold up the game, but enough that it was annoying.

Conclusion

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Sub Terra II is a minor improvement over Sub Terra: the theme might be more interesting, but some of the new ideas are quite invigorating! The most interesting new idea, both mechanically and thematically, is the lava chasing you out at the end of the game! It really adds to the excitement of the end game!

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Do you need both Sub Terra and Sub Terra II? Probably not: they are similar enough that you could do with just one or the other. I suppose it really just depends on which theme speaks to you more: trying to escape a cave (Sub Terra) or hunting for treasure in a temple (Sub Terra II).

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I think that, for a variety of reasons, Sub Terra II (and Sub Terra) should be embracing Player Selected Turn Order (PSTO). The lack of PTSO is sometimes very glaring in the game: sometimes players can’t do anything because of the constrained player order!! I feel the lack of PSTO makes the game feel a little dated. Without PTSO, I’d probably give this is a 7.0/10. If we add PSTO into the mix, I think that jumps it up to a 7.5/10 or more! This game just feels like it needs a little more agency to counteract some of the randomness and empty turns.

We had fun. We’d play again.

A Review of Artisans of Splendent Vale … a story in progress…

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Artisans of Splendant Vale was on Kickstarter back in October 2021, and just delivered last week Dec 31 2022. It had originally promised delivery in August 2022, so it was about 5 months late.

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I think we’ll still count this is a 2023 release even though it got here Dec 31 2022.

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Artisans of Splendent Vale is a cooperative adventure legacy game for 2-4 players. I was very interested in this game, because it was by designer Nikki Valens who had done The Initiative, one of my favorite games of 2021! The Initiative made the #2 spot on the Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021see review here, so I was very interested in seeing what this game was.

The Elephant in the Room

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Before you get any further, there are a few things you should know. If you have trouble with non-binary characters, non-traditional pronouns, gay, lesbian, or transgender characters, you probably should probably stop reading now. This game embraces those worlds fully: the four main characters are very steeped in their gender/sexuality: one character is gay, one is transgender and so on. The theme is not just pasted on: as the stories in the game progress, events further these characters in those areas.

It’s probably best to stop reading now and avoid Artsians of Splendent Dale if you have issues with any of that. This game embraces the stories and lifestyles of these characters.

Unboxing and Components

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This box is surprisingly large!

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But the art is very nice … it almost reminds me of a kid’s storybook.

To be clear: this is a campaign legacy game! You will put stickers on forms, write forever notes on characters, and generally mark up sheets. My version came with one recharge pack (with new sets of sheets to reset the game): see above.

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The rulebook is very fanciful. We’ll discuss its contents below.

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The game comes with an folded map: this is the land we will explore! See above and below.

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The front of the map is the lands you will explore. On the back side of the map is the ledger of your adventure (this is one of the legacy components that will be marked up: see below).

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As you explore, this map is marked up further and further, on both the front and the back.

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There’s a bunch of punchouts: most of them are status/condition tokens (sick, slowed, etc) and some dials for health.

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Next come the character sheets: these will be written on and change as you play through the campaign.

There are exactly four characters in the game, and they are all very different! They have different level-up/tech trees, different backstories and the like. So, the character sheets are all distinct and very different from each other.

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Up next is the Action Scene Book (called storybook in other games). It’s really nice! See above and below.

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The Action Scene Book is essentially a map of where you fight bad guys (like the storybook from Jaws of the Lion: see our review here). We’ll take a closer look at the map later.

Under all those components are the main character books and tuck boxes.

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These character books are fantastic! I feel like I just went to the book store and got a new collection of books! There look like a series like Chronicles of Narnia or something!

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These books are really nice: see below.

The rest of the tokens are in the box:

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Most of these tokens in the box are the monsters meeples you’ll be fighting: see above.

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The four main characters in the story (see above) have markers that almost feel like erasers … I made the joke that they were erasers because we might lose a limb! I realized that after I said it, because this is a legacy game, I might be right! Oops, I hope that’s not a spoiler.

As the story progresses, a lot of items and stickers (like I said, this is a legacy game) come from the card repository: see above. 

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As a legacy/campaign game, you will have to save state between games, so there are little tuck boxes to store your cards and such.

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In the end, this is a beautiful, colorful production with great components. See above.

Rulebook

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I didn’t love this rulebook. I felt like it should have had a better vector into getting us into our first game (a First Play book like Tainted Grail would have been nice). The rules were all there, but a little scattered throughout.

As we played, I was the one who had to look up the rules, and many times I kind of struggled to find stuff. I generally found everything, but I didn’t love the organization.

It seemed almost like there was too much white space? I’d rather related things be clumped closer?

In the end, we were able to play the game using the rulebook, but it just seemed like the rulebook could have been better: maybe a First Play, less white space/better layout, slightly different organization?

We learned the game from the rulebook. I guess it did its job.

Solo Play

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This game does NOT follow Saunders’ Law: there are no solo rules for this game! This game is strictly 2-4 players.

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After opening everything up, I thought “I can just play two characters and alternate between them.” Nope! Each character has to operate their own book, backstory, relationships with other characters, … and I think it just looked like too much work to try to play multiple characters at once for the solo mode.

Is there a way to play a single character? Maybe you could read through the storybook as a single character, but when you get to combat, that won’t work: the combat part of the game has been balanced for 2-4 characters, so you need at least 2 characters there.

I think if this were my favorite game of all time, or I were on a desert island with the game, I think I could handle playing multiple positions.

In the end, however, this is a social game: the characters tell the story together, they work together, and they read their books together. The lack of a solo mode is disappointing (I couldn’t learn this for my group), but it is understandable. This is a complex game that is quite social and cooperative.

What is This Game?

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This game surprised me because I was expecting a simple storybook game, but I got a pretty complex beast! it seems to be an amalgam of three major games:

  1. Crusoe Crew or Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars 
  2. Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion 
  3. Forgotten Waters

What do we mean by that?

Shared Script Game: Like Crusoe Crew and Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars

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Crusoe Crew was a collaborative storybook or script book game from a few years ago (see our review here and here): players together read from their books at the same time (see above). These books are like scripts from a movie … everyone is following along with their own copy. These books are Choose Your Own Adventure type scripts: players would read along together and occasionally come to a decision point. At the decision point, players decide as a group where to go next! What’s interesting is that occasionally the books will slightly diverge for one character! For example, one character may be very tall, so he’ll read a slightly different entry because he can see something up on the shelf!! But the stories always converge back to the main plot. Players read cooperatively from their books. Both Crusoe Crew and Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars (see review here and here) were fantastic experiences in this shared script game.

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Artisans of Splendent Dale absolutely follows this model! Players read out out of their books together, with occasional diverging text (that always converges back), with special entries for each character.

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You can see what a book looks like above: entries are labelled with numbers so you know where to go.

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These storybooks are mostly text, with a few pictures (as opposed to more cartoons and maps), but it serves a shared script that everyone is reading. I love this format, and this was the main reason I got this game! See above as Andrew and Sara read together from the shared books. I loved both Crusoe Crew and Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars, with the latter making the #1 spot on our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2020! So, I loved the shared scripts (character books) here!

But this game is much more than just a shared script game.

Fighting Game: Like Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

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This game flits between “reading the shared script together” and “fighting stuff”.

When you fight stuff, Artisans of Splendent Dale feels like a simplified Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.  When you are ready to fight, you open up the storybook and fight some bad guys! 

The storybook in Jaws of the Lion was the major advancement in Gloomhaven system: it was so easy to get set-up! Just open the book (instead of hunting for tons of cardboard in the original Gloomhaven).  See our review here.  See the Jaws of the Lion storybook below.

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The storybook is the play area! Set-up is easy! Just turn to that page! Artisans uses this same model, but they call it in the Action Scene Book rather than the storybook.

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The fighting  for Artisans, though, is simplified in many ways: the bad guys are just little wooden meeples (see above)  [instead of tons of punchouts], and the initiative order is already set-up (below) [instead of being determined by lowest card]  …

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In general, the set-up is very quick: just open the book and set-up some meeples!

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This system worked well!

I was surprised how much combat there was in the game: I had expected more of the shared script game. About a half of the game is combat, and the other half is reading and advancing your characters.

Advancement: Like Forgotten Waters

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I expected this to be a game with character advancement … it is a legacy campaign game after all! What surprised me is how much that advancement lifts from Forgotten Waters it was! See our review here.

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In Forgotten Waters, you fill in little dots in a “constellation” as you advance.  When you get to major points on your grid (the ! above), stuff happens. This is the only game I’ve seen this with  this “constellation system”.

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… until I got to Artisans of Splendent Dale! As you get more more experience points, you fill in the dots in your “constellations” and fill in towards certain items/abilities you want … very much like Forgotten Waters. Except every character is very very different. Maybe that’s why they chose the “constellation” system: it works well for disparate characters.

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Dice For Actions

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Artisans of Splendent Dale uses the “roll dice to get actions” mechanism. One your turn, you roll a number of dice, and add them to the pool. On the storybook pages, you get two actions per turn, using the dice for attack, movement, boosting, “wild”, and defending (depending on what’s showing). Once you use a dice for its action, it leaves the pool.

Generally, I don’t like this mechanism: we discussed this heavily in our Batman: Shadow of the Bat review as well as our King of Monster Island review. It always feel like you have do what the dice tell you to do, not what you want to do.

This mechanism didn’t seem too bad when we played Artisans: it seemed like we were generally able to do what we needed. I still don’t love this mechanism: Batman: Shadow of the Bat should have been in my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2022, but it didn’t make the list solely because of this mechanism.

Overall, Artisans of Splendent Dale worked okay with the “roll dice to get actions” mechanism. I still just don’t love that mechanism.

Cooperative Play

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The cooperative play worked well in this game! The game suggests you have “one reader”, but we chose to rotate the reader (from the script books) so that everyone had a chance to read frequently. I would have probably made that the default rule: “rotate the reader every turn”: this promotes more involvement from everyone.

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Also, even though I didn’t love the dice combat (“role for your actions”) with the shared pool, the shared pool did seem to elicit more cooperation: “You need to leave me an attack symbol so I can take out that guy!” Just having the shared pool seemed to encourage a little more togetherness.

Generally, the game did elicit a lot of cooperation: it really worked well on that front.

What I Didn’t Like

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I didn’t like the “roll dice for actions” mechanism, but it wasn’t terrible. It worked.

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One thing that I really didn’t like was the enemy actions weren’t well specified. The rulebook (see page 19 above) literally says “Instead, just go with the most obvious best choices you can see”. We spent an entire blog entry talking about how we didn’t like this in the Resolving Ambiguity in Cooperative Games. We made it work, it wasn’t a big deal to the group, but it did rub me the wrong way. If we compare the enemy actions rule to something like Gloomhaven, where they are incredible well-specified, Artisans looks very poor. However, that specificity in Gloomhaven has a cost: much more complex rules. I know why Artisans of Splendent Vale chose to let the characters run the bad guys in a more free-form way: in a word, simplicity. But it still rubs me the wrong way: it always feel like a cop out.

But the game worked: my group as a whole didn’t have a problem with the free-form enemy rules.

What I Liked

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The components are pretty darn amazing.

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The script books are fantastic: easy to read, well-written, and nicely laid-out. They work well.

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The combat story book (Action Scene books) works well.

The Characters

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The game can be played with fewer than 4 characters, but to get the most of out of the story, you should probably play with the full character count: each character seems to have an interesting story that unfolds and helps reveal plot points.  We saw early on that we would have missed certain entries in the character books if we didn’t have all the characters.

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Also, the characters in the story are well-defined: they seem to all have very strong personalities which will influence how you play them!  When you play Javi, you will tend to be more stoic.  When you play Ramani, you will need to be very inquisitive and ask lots of questions, almost to the point of annoying (if you believe Soraya’s POV).  You will have to play that character’s personality to get the most out of the game.  If you were hoping to just lightly engage, the characters don’t really allow that: that that for what you will.

Conclusion: The Story Progresses

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There is a lot here! The script books are pretty huge, and the overall story looks like a fairly long campaign. And the components are phenomenal.

My group really liked this game: they want to keep playing! The general feeling was that Artisans of Splendent Vale feels a lot like a simplified Gloomhaven with a cuter theme, but with a much better story (as guided by the script books like Crusoe Crew).

But be careful: that theme is a little misleading: it is still very cute, but the game still has mature elements. One of the things that came up was “my sex life”: it wasn’t explicit or anything, but apparently we will see discussions of our sex lives in the game? That makes me think some people might have problems with the 14+ age range? I guess it depends on what you think is an appropriate age to discuss your sex life (of your character). Be aware if it might be an issue for you or your group?

Interestingly, none of my game group is transgender, gay, or lesbian, so we weren’t necessarily the target audience (or arguably, we were). We just enjoyed this for the game it was: it was a good game. I suspect the theme will be what entices many people to the game, but luckily the game is good. Just be aware that this game is much more complex than it looks: this isn’t a game for newer players without much experience in the world of modern games. (Seriously, it felt a lot like Gloomhaven is lots of ways).

Overall, my group liked this game better than I did: they have entreated me to keep playing! My problem is mostly I don’t love the “roll dice for actions” mechanism, but I do love the script books, streamlined combat, and the quality components. I think my group would give this a 7.5/10.0 and I’d probably give it a 7/10. I suspect some people will adore this game and give it an 8 or better! Hopefully this review will help you decide if you would like this game.

Appendix

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The joke was that I didn’t like the game as much as the group because I was the one who had to handle the condition tokens! Our second combat had so many conditions to keep track of! Oof! This is another way that Artisans is like Gloomhaven: there are lots of conditions in the game that change up combat. Tip: Maybe consider sharing the responsibility of the conditions when you play so one person doesn’t get stuck with all the tiny condition tokens …

Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2023!

As we close down 2022, we saw some great cooperative games and expansions: see our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2022 and Top 10 Cooperative Expansions of 2023! But what’s coming next year?

From last year’s list (Top 10 Anticipated Board and Cards Games of 2022), many didn’t even arrive for us to examine. Of the 10 (+1 Honorable Mention) we anticipated last year, six of them still haven’t arrived (The Stuff of Legend, Valor and Villainy: Lludwick’s Labyrinth, Earthborne Rangers, Arydia: The Paths We Dare Tread, Rat Queens: To The Slaughter, and Union City Alliance). Here are the ones that did arrive and we have been looking at:

Below are our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2023!  Like years before, we will provide a link the the project (either Kickstarter, Gamefound, or BacketKit), the promised delivery date, and a quick summary from BoardGameGeek!

10. Gathering Gloom: A Killer Co-op Game for 1 to 5 monsters

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Platform: Kickstarter Gathering Gloom: A Killer Co-op Game for 1 to 5 monsters
Promised Delivery: September 2023
Summary: The Charming family is an eclectic family that lives in a manor on top of the hill in the town of Banebridge somewhere in New England circa 1932. They own the local mortuary as well as a mining company. All they want to do is live in peace, take care of their ancestral home, run their businesses, and get along with the townsfolk. The villagers of Banebridge, however, see it differently. Many of them are firm of the opinion that at least some if not all of the “Charming” family are up to nefarious deeds and are, in fact, “monsters” of various sorts. To that end, they are constantly turning up evidence that implicates members of the family in foul play. Some villagers even start stalking individual members. Sometimes (well, a lot of the time really), the family members are forced to take action to deal with especially difficult villagers or incriminating evidence. Actions include Murder, Terrify, Beguile, Deceive, Extort, Bribe, Coerce, and many more. Of course, the family would NEVER take such actions if the villagers weren’t constantly interfering.

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We literally backed this on Kickstarter 3 times: it failed to fund the first two times, but their tenacity paid off and they finally funded!  This game looks really interesting … although the art may be divisive … but I am really looking forward to this “Adams Family” co-op game!

9. Tamashii: Chronicle of Ascend

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Platform: Gamefound https://gamefound.com/projects/awaken-realms-lite/tamashii-chronicle-of-ascend
Promised Delivery: 2023???? 
Summary:  Tamashii is a cyberpunk adventure board game with a post-apocalyptic vibe. Players will struggle to survive and pursue their agendas in two worlds at the same time – the physical one, filled with deadly machines and merciless human survivors, and the virtual one, prowled by tracking software and vicious viruses.

Players will try to achieve their goals on a modular city map. They will find new locations, fight against strong enemies and search for important information and files needed to win the game.

The second part of the game takes action on a virtual map. Here you will try to hack your opponents, unlock special bonuses or get one-time bonuses for completing the sequences.

The game may be played in different scenarios. You might have to cooperate with other players, play against them or even make an alliances with your enemies. But watch every step you take; every conflict, cooperation or alliance might be a double-edged sword.

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Another cyberpunk inspired game on this list!  We know that Awaken Realms make gorgeous and high-quality games, so hopefully this will be a great game as well!  We don’t really know a delivery date, but we hope it delivers in 2023.

8. Kinfire Chronicles: Night’s Fall

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Platform: Kickstarter Kinfire Chronicles: Night’s Fall
Promised Delivery: August 2023
Summary: In Kinfire Chronicles: Night’s Fall, a 1-4 player co-operative, quest-based RPG board game, players take on the role of seekers, adventurers who are fighting to push back the darkness threatening to change and destroy the world of Atios. The game plays as a campaign of 15+ quests, and each quest takes an average of 45-60 minutes to complete. Within each quest, players can expect to make choices related to adventures, battles, NPCs to speak to, and more. These choices create a branching story in the game, allowing the entire campaign to be replayable.

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What makes this very interesting for us is that Kevin Wilson is on the team of designers: we love most everything he does!  The acrylic standees look great, and this looks like a lighter fun dungeon crawl campaign!

7. Daybreak 

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Platform: BackerKit https://www.backerkit.com/c/alex-hague/daybreak
Promised Delivery: May 2023
Summary: Daybreak is a co-operative game about climate action. Each player controls a world power, deploying policies and technologies to both dismantle the engine of global heating and to build resilient societies that protect people from life-threatening crises.  If the global temperature gets too high, or if too many people from any world power are in crisis, everyone loses. But if you work together to draw down global emissions to net-zero, you all win!

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Daybreak is a new cooperative game by Matt Leacock, the designer of Pandemic!  That fact itself is exciting, but the game looks really interesting romp like CO2, but perhaps a little easier!

6. Doomensions: Pop-Up Mystery Manor

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Platform: Kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/curiouscorres/doomensions-pop-up-mystery-manor
Promised Delivery: February 2023
SummaryInvestigators wanted they said… Safety guaranteed they said…

As a newly commissioned paranormal investigator gather your thick scrapbook of evidence and pay a visit to the fully assembled, 8 room, 3D popup Mystery Manor — no assembly required! Secrets lie hidden in every dark corner, behind every closed door. Making repeated exploration of the manor crucial to your investigation.

Packed with clippings, foldouts, and other curious ephemera, your case file will guide you through your time at the Manor. At key investigative milestones, your answer wheel will allow you to confirm your deductions before you return to the manor for more clues.

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When did Pop-Up adventures become a thing?  We saw The Shivers deliver at the end of 2022: it’s an RPG lite adventure with pop-up rooms!  See our review here!  Now, we see a more “serious” mystery in Doomensions with more pop-up pieces!  This kind of reminds of The Cursed Dollhouse game … that’s great! We loved that game  See our review of thre Cursed Dollhouse here!

5. The Dark Quarter

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Platform: Kickstarter The Dark Quarter
Promised Delivery: October 2023
Summary: In The Dark Quarter, a co-operative app-driven adventure game set in a dark, fantastical vision of 1980s New Orleans, players each take control of a Beaumont agent and work alongside one another to solve the worst crimes that New Orleans has to offer. It’s a world full of magic, where hexing curses are sold on every street, where voodoo priestesses and creatures of the night are lurking around every corner, and where even the most mundane crimes have a tinge of the supernatural to them.

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Lucky Duck has done some pretty amazing app-driven games; They’ve also done a great job on mystery games like
Chronicles of Crime!  This looks like a more thematic supernatural Mystery deep in the lore of New Orleans!  We love our Mystery Games here at Co-op Gestalt, and we we are looking forward to this!  See our Top 10 Cooperative Mystery Games!

4. HACKTIVITY – A Highly Interactive Cooperative Board Game

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Platform: Kickstarter link  HACKTIVITY – A Highly Interactive Cooperative Board Game
Promised Delivery: February 2023
Summary: A new virus has been detected in cyberspace. According to your investigation, the virus’ origin is linked to the activation of quantum generators, a new source of infinite energy. You and your team will dive into the depths of cyberspace and attempt to break through the generators’ defenses to short-circuit them once and for all. 
Hacktivity is a cooperative story-driven campaign card game for 1 to 4 players. Immerse yourself as one of the four unique characters.

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There’s a lot of cyberpunk activity on the list this year!   This is another hacking game that looks cool as players play unique characters working together.  The component looks pretty cool too.

3. Set A Watch: Forsaken Isles + Doomed Run

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Platform: Kickstarter (not up yet, here’s a link to the manufacturer’s site).  This should be up on Kickstarter in Feb 2022.
Promised Delivery: ???
SummaryA continuation of the Set A Watch series, Forsaken Isles features a new band of adventurers sailing to islands and other tropical locations to face new monsters and challenges.

Defend your campfire from a horde of creatures and unhallowed bosses using each hero’s unique abilities to survive the night. One hero stays in camp to rest and maintain the fire while the others battle. Each round, you draw a new location to setup camp in. Survive all 8 nights (rounds) to win the game.

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This sounds very interesting, not only because they are adding more content to the Set A Watch system (which we love: we’ve reviewed it here and here, and it’s made our Top 10 Cooperative Dice Games as well as Top 10 Cooperative Expansions of 2021  as well as Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019), but it’s also adding a campaign called Doomed Run! We are really looking forward to this! Hopefully we get it this year!

2. Legends of StormCity

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Platform: Kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/printandfun/legends-of-stormcity
Promised Delivery: January 2023
Summary: Legends of StormCity is a roll & write game, in which each player takes the role of one of the heroes of StormCity who will fight against villainous leaders and their henchmen who intend to carry out their evil plans to conquer the city.

Each player will control a hero sheet in which they will write down the damage they receive and the powers they can use. Villains and minions have their own game sheets.

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Given the ubiquity of Roll and Write games, it’s surprising how few cooperative Roll and Write games there are!  (One was the Escape Roll and Write which we reviewed here).  Legends of Storm City has the distinction of being a cooperative Superhero Roll and Write and a Print and Play from Kickstarter!  This looks really neat and we will probably review this ASAP!

1. Tesseract – A Cooperative Dice Manipulation Game

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Platform: Kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/smirkanddagger/tesseract-a-cooperative-dice-manipulation-game/
Promised Delivery: July 2023
Summary: Tesseract is a compelling, cooperative dice-manipulation game for 1 to 4 players. The focal point of the game is a block of 64 dice, the Tesseract, which sits at the center of the board on a raised platform. Players will remove cubes to place in their individual labs, transfer them as needed to others, adjust the cube’s values and, importantly, isolate the cubes into the containment matrix, neutralizing them

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Although the metal dice gives this Kickstarter some “wow factor”, the game also looks interesting: cooperative play rolling dice from the cube looks really interesting and different.  But, it’s probably #1 because of the metal dice.

Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2022!

What a great year 2022 has been for cooperative board and cards games! We have reviewed about 50 cooperative games and expansions here at Co-op Gestalt over the course of 2022! Wow! And we still missed a bunch of games we want to play! Weirdly, I don’t think we saw many of the games that we like on other people’s top 10 list! Apparently, our taste is unique! So, let’s take a look at our favorite cooperative games of 2022!

Honorable Mention. Sentinels of The Multiverse: Definitive Edition

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Plays Solo:  Yes (but you have to play 3 heroes)
Player Count: 1 to 5 (best at 3)
Ages: 14+
Length: 30-60 mins

We have to give a shout-out to one of our favorite games of all time: Sentinels of the Multiverse. This year, Greater Than Games released the newest version, called the Definitive Version! This new version replaces and obsoletes the Second Edition (which has been around for some time). See the new version below!

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The art and components are better, the gameplay has been smoothed out, and it’s a great evolution of a great game!

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This game gets a 10/10 for us. So why is it an Honorable Mention? The problem: I have already invested pretty heavily in the Second Edition of the game! I know the original cards so well (the heroes, the villains, the environments) that I don’t want to “throw away” that knowledge and start over in the new universe! See my investment below!

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So, if you are starting fresh, I would highly recommend the Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Definitive Edition! But, if you are like me and my friends, who have invested pretty heavily in Second edition and want to stay there (For example:we played tons Sentinels of The Multiverse Second Edition at RichieCon 2022!), we can only give this an Honorable Mention. See our review here for much more discussion of the game and which version you may want. There is a reason this is #1 on our Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games!

10. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns 
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Plays Solo:  Yes 
Player Count: 1 to ?? (it really a solo game, but multiple people can make decisions together as a solo unit)
Ages: 14+
Length: 90 mins per session (there are exactly 4 sessions)

Strictly speaking, this is a solo game, but you can play it multiplayer either as a  1 vs. 1 game, or “solo with many people”.  The solo player (or multiple players) takes the role of the Dark Knight from the Frank Miller masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns and plays out each of the four issues as Batman.  Your goal is simple: to survive all 4 issues!

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This game caused a lot of existential crises for us: The Dark Knight Returns forced us to think about how to Resolve Ambiguity in Cooperative Games!  It also forced us to confront the idea that just surviving is okay for a cooperative game.  

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Strictly speaking, this is a solo game. With some handwaving, you can play this with multiple players, but it is best solo, which is why it is only at number 10 for 2022.  See our review here. 2022 was a very good year for Superhero games … keep reading!

9. Eila and Something Shiny

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Plays Solo:  Yes
Player Count: 1-3 (it’s really multiplayer solo, with everyone making decisions together)
Ages: 8+
Length: 30-45 mins per session (the game is a campaign over many sessions)

If you are surprised about this one, so are we!  Eila and Something Shiny just enchanted us! It also surprised the heck of us with its interesting ideas and straight-forward gameplay.  It is also a campaign game! My game group wanted to bribe me (with doughnuts) to keep playing this because it was so cute and so fun!  The little comics/stories that came with the game were surprisingly emotional, and they even caused us to feel real human emotions. 

IMG_0013 (1)Even though this is obviously aimed at a younger audience, Eila and Something Shiny took our game group by storm.  If you’d like to find out more abut this game, check out our review here.

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Eila and Something Shiny  is a fun game that the whole family can enjoy.

8. Legends of Sleepy Hollow

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Plays Solo:  Yes (but you have to play all 4 characters! It’s very difficult to play solo!)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 14+
Length: 30-120 (depends on the scenario you play)

This game was #2 on our Top 10 Anticipated Games of 2022!  There have been some production problems (which Greater Than Games have addressed) and some rules problems, but this campaign adventure game is so thematic, it’s easy to forgive some of the flaws.

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This game is a campaign, exploring the world of Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman.  The components and art and unique and creepy, the story is really thematic, and the game is just a unique romp.  Each player plays a character in this world and upgrades in unique and different ways as the story progresses.

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Despite some of the production flaws (some boards were hard to read), the theme and story just oozes out out this game. See our review here to see if you would like to enter the world in Legends of Sleepy Hollow!

7. Minecraft: Portal Dash

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Plays Solo:  Yes (no real changes to play single solo: works well)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 10+
Length: 60 mins

Minecraft: Portal Dash is a huge surprise of the this year!  I didn’t expect to like this game as much as I did: It’s a solid cooperative game and plays in about 60 minutes.  Although some of the graphic design won’t win any awards, it does look like Minecraft, which will probably appeal to a lot of people!

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What really sold us on this game was the cube structure: they way the cubes interacted with the rest of the game was so interesting!

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I know, it sounds weird that we liked this game so much, but take a look at our review here to see if you might like it too!

6. Agents of SMERSH: Epic Edition

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Plays Solo:  Yes (as a single character, no multiple characters needed)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 14+
Length: 90 mins

Agents of SMERSH: Epic Edition is the Second Edition, a major reworking and simplification of the original Agents of SMERSH game.   Agents of SMERSH: Epic Edition is a storybook game, where players roam the map doing “secret agent” type things.  It’s got a sense of humor, but if you want a silly storybook game with lots of reading and some fun dice-rolling, this is a great game. 

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The components for this are amazing!  

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The original Agents of SMERSH was in our Top 10  Cooperative Storybook/Story Telling Games, and the new version has replaced it for us!  The new edition is streamlined, has better components, looks better, and concentrates on the funner parts: reading and rolling. See our review here to see if you would be interested in this!

5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (A Pandemic System Game)

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Plays Solo:  Yes (alternate between 2 characters)
Player Count: 1-5
Ages: 14+
Length: 60 mins

Although Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a Pandemic game, it has really evolved the rules so that the game melds with the Star Wars theme quite well!  There are a lot of new innovations to the Pandemic system that make this quite fun and unique!  It’s not just “Yet Another Pandemic Game“, but a unique entry into the Pandemic lexicon!

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Each player takes a character from the Star Wars mythos and operates them, moving around the board, and working together to take down one of the evil bad guys from Star Wars!

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We were worried this would be “nothing new”, but Star Wars: The Clone Wars was an interesting and fun evolution.  If you like Star Wars or Pandemic, this is a great cooperative game.  See out review here!

4. Suspects

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Plays Solo:  Yes
Player Count: 1-6 (probably best at about 3 or 4)
Ages: 10+
Length: The box says 90 minutes per mystery (there are 3 mysteries in the box). This is about right, but it depends on how much your group thinks (it’s not a timed game)

We love cooperative Detective games here at Co-op Gestalt, and Suspects gave us a fresh perspective on the cooperative Detective game. Suspects is mostly a card game, where the mystery is revealed from the cards as more and more if them are revealed. There are exactly three Detective Mysteries in the box, and once you’ve solved them, the game is done!  (You can still reset it and give it someone else)

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Suspects played well solo, and it played well in groups of 3 or 4.  It was such a hoot going through the adventures!  After I finished all three mysteries, I passed it onto Charlie and Allison who proceeded to finish it quickly as well!  We all loved it!

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This game would easily make our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games!  Check out our review here of Suspects to see if this is something you would enjoy!

3. Paperback Adventures

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Plays Solo:  Yes (primarily a solo game actually)
Player Count: 1-2 (the cooperative game works really well at two)
Ages: 14+
Length: The box says 90 minutes, we it seemed more 2+ hours

I must say, any of the next 3 games could have been my top game of 2022.  I really liked Paperback Adventures a lot more than I expected!  This is primarily a word game where you battle monsters using your words!  This is a deck-building game as well, as you buy letters on cards to build better words!

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A solo game set-up!

The components were absolutely outstanding (these were some of the best sleeves I have ever seen), except for the plastic trays didn’t quite work.  Overall, I had fun battling the monsters by making words!

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I was also surprised how well the cooperative game worked for Paperback Adventures!!  Sara and I had an amazing time playing this two player cooperatively.  See our full review here to see why we liked this so much! I think the only reason it didn’t make the number 1 spot for this year is that the cooperative mode is limited to only 2 players: if it played a few more people, it might have made our #1 spot for 2022!

2. Hour of Need

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Plays Solo:  Yes (and plays well with just a single character)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 14+
Length: 30-120 (really depends on the adventure you choose)

So, this could have easily been my #1 game of the year for 2022: I spent so much time playing it! I even some time pimping it out with bases for the miniatures: see here!  I love how this is the next evolution of the Sentinels of The Multiverse system, which is a game I adore! (remember our Honorable Mention)  (Some people know this as the Modular Deck System).

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This game has s lot of depth and fun!  The pieces are outstanding!  The game has theme and story everywhere! There are so many good choices everywhere in the game! I feel like a superhero when I play this game.

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As much as I love this game, I think its complexity can turn off some players, which is why I put it at #2.  But I love this game: see my review here to see if you will too.  Hour of Need could easily be in out Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games! 2022 was a very good year for Superhero games!

1. Tokyo Sidekick

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Plays Solo:  Yes (but you have to play two superhero/sidekick teams: it also needs a house rule)
Player Count: 1-4 
Ages: 12+
Length: 45-60

I love Tokyo Sidekick!  The game is so great for so many reasons! The art and standees are amazing! The rulebook is one of the best rulebooks I have seen! The gameplay has so many cool elements! The cooperation is very pronounced! The game has so many choices!  The amount of upgrading you do as you play makes the game that much more fun! The game just looks so cool on the table!

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I think the Acrylic standees (which were an optional buy) have made me think that miniatures are outdated!

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The game is unfortunately a little flawed at 1 or 2 players: it’s a too hard.  We discuss a very simple house rule to make the solo/two-player game much more fun: see our review of Tokyo Sidekick here!  Despite this minor flaw, I can’t think of any game I’d rather get off the shelf and play: this is the one I keep wanting to play!  That’s what makes it our number 1 of 2022! 

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2022 was a very good year for Superhero games. Tokyo Sidekick would easily would make our Top 10 Cooperative Superhero games!

What a wonderful year 2022 was for games! Thanks for reading our Top 10 list!

A Review of The Shivers

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The Shivers is a cooperative, storytelling/adventure game that was on Kickstarter back in August 2020: it just delivered about a week ago (Dec. 13, 2022). Honestly, it should have made our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2022, because we have been really craving for this to get here! Now, it promised delivery in July 2021, so it’s about a year and a half late … this one you might forgive for being so late because of the unique components: pop-up rooms! Yes, that’s what I said … pop-up rooms!

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This is a unique game! Let’s take a look inside!

Unboxing

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The Shivers box that we bought was the 1st Edition Deluxe Game: see above. It’s about the size of a standard Ticket To Ride sized box. See the Coke can and pencil for scale.

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The little advert at the top of the box comes with a quick description of the game: A Pop-Up Mystery Adventure! (With more expansions available).

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The game comes with a Quick-Start Tutorial Guide! See above!

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Next comes a bunch of punch-outs. The little black pieces are for holding open the pop-ups: most everything else is a standee for a character or monster that will come up in the game.

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Under all that are some more standees! You can make your own characters (that’s cool) or you can use the Kickstarter exclusive cat and dogs! See above and below.

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There are three books that come with the game: the History of Fogmoor book (left) will come into play as you get more into the game (there are at least 2 campaigns in the box). The Storyteller’s Companion (middle) offers advice on how to spice up the story in the game. The Full Instructions (right) are for after you have read the Tutorial.

There’s a lot more stuff in the box: mostly new adventures! But there’s also some great magnifying glasses and dry-erase character boards!

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The components looks pretty cool … but we still haven’t seen the pop-ups yet …

Tutorial Set-Up

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The Tutorial for this game is really good. It sets up a vey simple scenario to start the game: it’s only 3 cards (in the tutorial bag) and uses 3 standard rooms in the game (the game comes with a number of pop-up rooms).

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The three cards that come with the Tutorial fit into the rooms:

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What’s going on: the backdrop of each room changes per mystery!

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The empty spaces of the room (see above) are filled in by the card!

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The Peculiar Parlor is typically the starting room of the game: see above. The Spooky Study is another room from the supply (see above and below).

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The final room is the Laboratory: see below for set-up! You basically set-up by “opening the pack”:

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In order to hold the pop-ups open, you need the little black wedges from the punchouts: see below.

When the Tutorial is all set-up, it looks like the following:

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A Coke can is included above for perspective.

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You might notice the flashlight … what’s that for?

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The flashlight does NOT come with the game, but the game recommends having one!

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If you really want to play ambiently, you can turn off the lights and use the flashlight to go through the house. We used it more to help illuminate some of the pop-up rooms. Some of the room have some smaller items that re easier to see with the flashlight.

Tutorial Reading

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Once the pop-ups are set-up, the Tutorial sheet unfolds into a large sheet! See above and below.

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The sheet describes the game, what players are doing, the goals, and the basic structure! There’s a lot there!

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Once you’ve read the top,  you turn the sheet over for a more directed “guide” on how to step players through.IMG_4635

There’s even a little marker to note where you are!

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You are almost ready to play!

What Is This Game?

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What is this game? It’s basically a cross between a Role Playing Game (RPG) and a Storybook Game! It’s an RPG because there is a Storyteller: the Storyteller is very much like a Dungeon Master from Dungeons and Dragons (or Gamemaster from other RPGS)! The Storyteller has to read through the entire adventure to get ready to run it for the other players! Once the Storyteller is ready, he starts shepherding a group of players through the Adventure as defined by the pop-up rooms! That’s where the Storybook comes in! There is definitely a defined start, middle, and end to the story, and the game defines the ways to advance the story.

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Those of you who read Co-op Gestalt frequently know that we love the Monkey Island games! See here and here. The Monkey Island games are the point-and-click adventure video games where players explore the world, interact with objects, and solve some puzzles! And that’s kind of what The Shivers is! Instead of interacting with the video game though, players interact with the pop-up rooms! They explore the rooms, looking for items, and solving the puzzles!

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The main difference between this and other games like our Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Story Games is that The Shivers has a Storyteller! Most of the games on the Top 10 list can be played completely cooperatively … in The Shivers, one player has to sit-out and run the game!

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If I were to describe The Shivers to someone, I might describe it as a point-and-click adventure game meets an RPG in board game form! With cool pop-ups!

Solo Play

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This game does not follow Saunders’ Law: there is no solo mode! The Shivers is a game for 2-5 players, where one person has to run the game! And everyone else plays a character in the game! See some characters below.

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Having said that, one person has to be the Storyteller to run the game, so they kind of have to “mock play” through the adventure by themself so they know the story. In other words, solo play is basically preparation for running the game! To be clear: the Storyteller has to prepare to run the game, or the cooperative play will go very poorly. This is all about prep.

Solo play is prep.

Cooperative Play

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When I ran my game of The Shivers, I felt like I was running an RPG with a very directed script .. like a point-and-click adventure game. For example, before the characters can look in cabinets (in the room), they say “I am going to look in the cabinet” and I tell them “the cabinet is locked, it doesn’t open” or “it opens”. I almost feel like I am quoting standard lines from video games! Many times in video games, players will try something crazy and the game will respond “You can’t do that”. I responded that way a number of times.

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To be clear, the adventures in The Shivers do have a “back story” about what’s happening: in fact, the first adventure in the Tutorial is sorta the first part of a campaign!  So, as the Storyteller, I know the overall direction as well as the specifics to my current adventure. So, if the characters try to do something “weird”, I can redirect that sometimes to reflect the campaign.

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One of the things that helps “remind the Storyteller” is that the back of room shows all the things they can do: all the white text (above) is what the players can see, and the yellow text is hidden until the players “do something right”. So, preparation of the Storyteller can be minimized a little because each room has reminders on the back of the rooms.

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And of course, the adventure has tools (like the current step: see above) to keep the adventure on task.

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Players play through the adventure, alternating turns, as they try to “solve” the mystery/puzzle!

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I’d say the cooperation is good in this game: players talk about what to do, where to explore, what to combine, and the Storyteller is just a shepherd trying to help the players through the story.

Tone

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The tone of The Shivers is fairly light. You are exploring a haunted house and going to haunted rooms, exploring crazy labs, being haunted by ghosts, but it’s all pretty light hearted.

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The standees (above) give the biggest clue about the tone of the game: players are role-playing kids exploring some haunted mansions! It’s light and fun, but still has a serious story … if you consider stories about swapping brains with a chicken serious…

RPG Lite?

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If you generally like RPGS, I think there is a good chance you will like the Shivers. The stories seem interesting, the puzzles have a very definite solution, and there’s still just a little bit of room for improvization. And the exploration is fun!

It really depends on what you want in an RPG: if you like to make up stuff as you go, have the world spin around in unexpected ways, and have crazy narrative … The Shivers is probably not for you. The puzzles in The Shivers are very definite and have a specific solution: the game is a little on rails, as you have a definite script to keep to … not unlike a point-and-click adventure game.

The nice thing about The Shivers is that it’s an RPG-Lite: the story is all set for you. With minimal prep (you still have to prep), you can get an RPG going quickly. Let’s be clear: The Shivers still has a lot of storytelling for the Storyteller! Even though the way through the adventure is prescribed, there’s still a lot of room to be creative in how the players and Storyteller interact … there’s still imagination and story!

Do you want an RPG adventure that’s all prepared for you? Then The Shivers is perfect for you! Do you want an open-ended adventure that’s definitely not on rails? Then The Shivers may not be for you. Honestly, even if you are a hardcore RPGer, you can have The Shivers as a backup for when you want a light adventure … or some cool pop-up rooms ..

Pop-Up Rooms

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In case we haven’t said it: these pop-up rooms are awesome! Amazing! See above! And the fact that they can be reused in many different adventures in the game (by putting in a different card in the back) is so very clever!

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One musing I had: I can see using these rooms for set pieces for an RPG! Even if you don’t like the The Shivers as an RPG-Lite, you can still use the pop-up rooms for an adventure of your own making even if it’s not in The Shivers system! I mean, these pop-up rooms are pretty amazing.

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One of the cooler late discoveries: after we’d been playing a while … we discovered the pop-rooms are magnetic! See above as they click together from some magnets in the bases! Whaaaaaaaaa??

Conclusion

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I think The Shivers is great! The Tutorial is fantastic and brings you into the game quickly! I wish more games had a tutorial like this: you get a sense of the game very quickly and jump right in.

The Shivers includes some amazing components: pop-up rooms, magnifying class, dry-erase character boards, great punchouts! All in all, the game looks amazing on the table. If you want an RPG-Lite game, where the game is a little on rails but still interesting, you will probably love The Shivers! If you are looking for a more open-world, deep-end RPG, The Shivers is probably not for you.

Regardless of whether you might like the game system, the pop-up rooms of The Shivers are phenomenal! You might find the pop-up rooms useful for deeper RPGs as extra components…

Appendix: Make Your Own

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The Shivers does actually come with create your own characters (in the box)! See above

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You can also create your own card back (if you get the Kickstarter) using the StoryCrafter’s Pack.

A Review of Fun Facts (A Cooperative Party Game)

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Fun Facts is a cooperative card game for 4-8 players. It takes 30 minutes … or it can be as long or as short as you want, as it’s a cooperative party game.

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The components are pretty minimal: 8 plastic chevrons, 8 pens, a bunch of cards, a rulebook and a “first player” scoring star. See components below.

Gameplay

Each player takes a plastic colored chevron and the appropriate pen.

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You know who’s who from either the color (I have a pink pen, so I am the pink chevron) or the name on the back of the chevron (see above). Half the time we wrote our name, the other half we didn’t (the pen color was enough to tell who was who).

 

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Gameplay is dirt simple: the first player (with the plastic star) reads one of the cards aloud and everyone writes a number (secretly) on the back of their chevron. All questions have a numeric answer!! See a sample question above.

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See Teresa writing her answer above.

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Once you have your answer, players put their chevron face-down “somewhere” in the line of chevrons. If I am blue and I think my number is highest, I put my chevron (face-down) at the top. Basically, you are trying to figure out “Is my number less than or greater than my compatriots?”

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Play proceeds around in order starting with the first player. When the play gets back to the first player, the first player has a chance to rearrange her chevron one last time: see Allison above (she’s the first player currently because she has the star) trying to decide if she wants to move her blue chevron!

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You flip the tiles over (starting from the bottom), and for every one in order, you get a point! Above, we’d get 3 points since all three were in monotonically increasing order! Something that helped most people is that you think of the chevrons as “greater than” signs!

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If, on the other hand, some were out out order, they get tossed to the side and not counted.  For exampple: above,  the 13 gets tossed, but we still get 2 points for the 21 and 36.

After 8 questions, players correlate their score to the score grid to see how they did! This is a cooperative game, so players are scoring together as a group.

Thoughts

We played this with three very different game groups: family gamers, casual gamers, and some hard-core gamers. We also played with 3 and 4 players mostly: even though the game says “4-8 players”, we had no problem playing with just 3 players.

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The only problem playing with only three players was that the score sheet doesn’t cover that (so we used the 4 player level and just upgraded one level with our score for 3 players).

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In general, the game went over pretty well in all three groups. Nobody loved the game, but everyone had fun playing (well, almost everyone). The game was easy to learn, easy to play, and was simple enough to play as long as desired. The first game tends to be the dictated 8 rounds to get a score, but after a while, you just keep playing and don’t keep score. I think that’s the sign of a good party game: you just keep playing because it’s fun!

One caveat is that one person didn’t like the game: they tend to have social anxiety, and even though this is a party game, it still put them “on the spot” with some questions that could be personal. For example, we found out that one friend had moved recently (“How many years have you lived in your home?”)!! So, some people who are very shy may not like this game.

Conclusion