This is part II of the Thunderstone Quest: the Barricades Expansion review: See Part I here. Part I focuses much more on components and overall initial experience.
Dungeon Crawling and Cooperative Deck-Building
The other night, we played two dungeon-crawling cooperative deckbuilder games back-to-back: Heroes of Tenefyr ….
… and Thunderstone Quest: The Barricades Expansion.
Never have two games that were so similar been polar opposites!
Heroes of Tenefyr (HOT) took a few minutes to set-up. Thunderstone Quest: The Barricades expansion (TQBE) took almost a half an hour. And this is pretty typical. I’ve played TQBE a number of times now and it takes a while to set it up. You could argue that I am not familiar enough with the game to move it quicker, and you’d be right.
But, for a game that’s almost as big as Gloomhaven, it just takes a while to set-up. You just have to accept it!
I was able to explain the rules to HOT pretty quickly and we got underway.
TQBE took a while to ease into the rules: I had to have the cooperative rulebook AND the main rulebook (remember: this is an EXPANSION so it has its own set of rules) out at the same time to push through the game.
It’s been like this for every playthrough TQBE! Really, a player summary card would have gone a loooooong way towards making this easier ….
HOT doesn’t have too many rules. You just start playing right away.
In TQBE, you keep forgetting rules and have to look stuff up:
“Oh ya, bread can be used for skill too?”
“Why do we want to use the Marketplace? Draw a card from the marketplace or deck?” (We never did figure it from the rules, but it seemed too powerful to just take a card from the marketplace, so we assume it meant draw an extra card on your turn)
“Wait, when do we get the frozen wounds? What’s a festering wound?”
We had to look up many rules for TQBE expansion, and we realized (even after a number of plays) that we are still learning things!
Here’s the thing: Heroes of Tenefyr wasn’t for us. I played HOT solo to learn the game, and I never felt like I had any real choices. Sure, I could cull a card from time to time, but you always cull your zeroes! Not really a choice. It felt like you just turned over cards and saw what happened. I was hoping the group play would be better (and it was) but my gaming group hated this game. They said the same thing I did, “It felt like I had no choices, I just turned cards over.” I liked it better than that with more people, but it felt almost like cooperative war (the card game) … which could be fun with the right group. Fun and brainless, nice art, but not really a lot of choices. I liked it okay in the end, but my gaming group rated it very low: 5ish–one person gave it a 2!
I wanted to talk about Heroes of Tenefyr first so I could talk about Thunderstone Quest: The Barricades Expansion. They really are polar opposites.
HOT is easy to set-up and explain, but has few choices when playing. But it’s short, maybe under an hour.
TQBE is hard to set-up and explain, but you have SO MANY choices when playing! And it’s long: maybe 2 hours?
In the end, my group loved TQBE because it has a lot of choices! It’s just the nature of my game group: your mileage may vary. We ended up giving TQBE probably a 7 or 8 overall, but we realized we had to “suffer” for our choices. Set-up and tear-down were long, the rulebooks were a bit daunting (they were well written, but the cooperative mode was separate so it made it messy to go back and forth). At times, the game felt like “work” trying to juggle everything going on. But it was fun!
In the end, the solo mode was good but 2-3 players was probably the sweet spot. 4 players works. 5 players may be a bit too much for this game… I mean it works, but there is so much going on, it becomes a little overwhelming.
Be aware: it’ll probably take 3 hours from start to finish to get through as game (because set-up and tear-down adds another hour over the 2 hour gameplay), but it was a fun game with a lot of choices.
Maybe Heroes of Tenefyr is for you and your game group or maybe Thunderstone Quest: The Barricades Expansion is for you and your game group. Based on my experience, you are going to like one and dislike the the other.
I’ve been reading Comic Books since I was very young (7? 10? years old?) and SuperHero comics were always my favorite. I wanted to be Batman (with cool gadgets) or Superman (with his flying and heat vision) or Spiderman (flinging webs) or Quasar (who? Read The Pegasus Project) or pretty much ANY SuperHero. When I first discovered cooperative board games (like Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition) in the early 2000s, I was excited but disappointed! Why weren’t there any cooperative SuperHero games? There just weren’t any …
Fast-forward to 2019! The Avengers: Endgame movie just came out and is one of the biggest movies of the year! If not the decade! SuperHeroes are definitely in vogue, and there are a bunch of SuperHero games now! And a good number of them are cooperative games. Let’s take a look at the Top 10 Cooperative SuperHero games!
Before we get into the list, let’s talk about a few that didn’t quite make it for one reason or another.
Justice League Hero Dice (Flash or Batman or Superman or Green Lantern set): This game is really hard to get a hold of. I “happened” to just find the Flash version at my local game store! But, this game is out of print and so very hard to find in the US for any reasonable price. I did get a German version of the Batman version though (for too much money). The dice are pretty awesome, and there are some great ideas in here, but it’s too hard to get, and the gameplay is perhaps a little too simple. I think if this game had been better supported, it might have inspired some expansions which would have made the game better. The components were just dice and cards, but they were pretty awesome quality. I just wish the game were better.
Heroes Wanted: (with Champions and Masterminds I or II): The base game of Heroes Wanted is NOT a cooperative game. It’s a quirky and silly game of building silly SuperHeroes with different parts (almost like paper dolls) and getting victory points. They came out with two cooperative expansions (Champions and Masterminds) … and they were just okay. They replaced all the funny, quirky SuperHeroes with just 4 Heroes that you HAD to play with. Part of the fun was just the silliness, and it felt like the game was stripped of a lot of its core mechanisms to make it cooperative. I really wanted to like the cooperative versions a lot more, but it’s just okay. The competitive version is better.
Okay! Let’s get to the Top 10! As usual, we will quickly discuss whether the game plays solo (Does it follow Saunders’ Law?)
10. DC Deckbuilding game with the Crisis expansion(s)!
Plays Solo? If you play two decks.
By default, the original DC Deckbuilding game is a competitive deck-building game. As of now, there are 4 Crisis packs (see picture above) that turn the game into a cooperative game. It’s still, at its core, a deck-building game. It adds cooperative mechanics as each player takes the role of a SuperHero from the DC Universe (with fairly simple powers) and players try, as a group, to work their way through a set number of crises. If the players make it through the last one before the deck runs out, they win! The mechanics are a little clumsy and the “crises” feel a little pasted on into the deck-building game, but in the end, it was pretty fun.
As of this writing, they are “rebooting” the game. The deck-building engine of the DC Deckbuilding game is called the Cerberus engine, and apparently has evolved through quite a number of products, including Attack on Titan. The new Rebirth is supposed to add some legacy elements, add movement around the city, and is the “best” version of the Cerberus engine! Time will tell if it’s significantly better! You KNOW we’ll review it here on CO-OP Gestalt!
9: Batman: The Animated Series – Gotham City Under Siege
Plays Solo? If you play multiple characters.
This is a real fun dice-chucker by Richard Lanius (designer of Arkham Horror 2nd Edition!) and Michael Guigliano. Each player takes the role of a Hero from the Batman (the Animated Series) universe: Batman, Robin, Commissioner Gordon, etc. You are trying to stop the Villains from blowing up the buildings! Working together, you role dice, mitigate dice rolls, and move/position your Hero around the city to stop exploding buildings!
The game has a real high “toy factor” with the little minis and the buildings you can move to. It’s a fun, it a little lucky (with so much dice-chucking)!
8: Thanos Rising: Avengers Infinity War
Plays Solo? No, unless you play multiple leaders (but then it’s clumsy).
So, this is another dice-chucker (like the Batman game at number 8). Each player takes he role of a hero who is a team leader (become Captain America for the Avengers team or Gamora for the Guardians of the Galaxy team or …). The players role dice to try to recruit characters for your team, with the ultimate goal of collaborating and defeating Thanos (using the same dice you are using to recruit)!
Like Batman, this one also had a nice “toy factor”, with a Thanos figure who rotates and “attacks” 1 of 3 sectors per turn. As the game proceeds, Thanos progresses and finds more and more Infinity Stones (gaining more powers for each gem he acquires), until he finds them all and wins! You have to stop him!
This game is a dice-chucker and arguably more lucky than the Batman game, but I still had fun! Even when I was rolling bad, I was rooting for my friends who were rolling MUCH better than me! Fun cooperative game.
7. 5-Minute Marvel
Plays Solo? No. This game is really about the interaction with multiple players. You could probably technically play two different characters.
This game is by far the lightest game on this list, but it was so easy to play and so easy to get into! Each player takes the role of some Hero (each with a different, simple power to manipulate cards).
You all work together to draw cards and try to get all the cards you need to defeat the all the bad guys. It’s all real-time! You play cards, take out villains until you finally get to the big bad! But you only have 5 minutes! If you run out of time, you lose!
The game is slightly misnamed, as you have 5 minutes PER VILLAIN! You start off with a simple villain, try to beat him in 5 minutes! Then repeat, with harder and harder Villains until you get to Thanos! If you take out Thanos, you win!
This is a very light game, but really fun! And the cooperation REALLY comes through in this one, as you have to share cards in real-time.
Soooo … this is by far the heaviest game on this list. This is the “final” expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse (a cooperative SuperHero game), but it is a very different game in many ways! It adds so many new mechanics, it is no longer the simple, straight-forward card game but a deep, deep game!
The players work together together to take down Oblivaeon (who looks NOTHING LIKE THANOS) as he and his forces shift between realities, and heroes die (!) forcing the players to on the role of new players (who will also die). Players have to go in knowing that your hero will die, because it might be too much to handle in the heat of the game!
This is real fun, but do not attempt it unless you are ready for a 3-4 hour game which is not unlike Avengers: Endgame!
5. Kick-Ass: The Board Game
Solo Play? Yes. Really good solo!
This one really surprised me. I don’t like this comic series. But the game is really great. It’s probably the second heaviest game on this list.
Each player takes on the role of a character from the Comic Book. Their powers are set by some starting cards, which are VERY DIFFERENT for each character. Players move around the city, keeping crime under control. They are trying to find the “Big Bad” Villain to fight at the end of the game. The players have to keep the events (upper part of the board) in check, otherwise the city just gets overridden with crime.
The game has a 18+ rating, as there is some language and imagery that is mature. That’s consistent with the comic and movie.
But this game is really good! You feel like you “level up” as you play the game, so you feel like your character is getting better and better as you play! You become better at Social Media (seriously), hit the gym, buy better equipment, cheer yourself up. There’s even a smidge of deck-building (your main action cards, but you can only ever have 5 cards)! But you still work with your compatriots to fight crime, keep the city under control, keep the events under control, all while leveling-up so you can fight the Big Bad at the end of the game.
Legendary is a Marvel-themed cooperative deck-builder. In this game, you don’t play a particular hero, but you play more like a “manager” as you recruit Heroes to your deck, all while trying to stop villains from moving across the city and escaping!
The game has TONS of expansions and tons of different scenarios in this simple deck-building system. It feels good to build up your deck and get better and better heroes and take out the Villains as they escape from the Villain Deck.
Strictly speaking, this is NOT a cooperative game, as you are supposed to add up the victory points (of all bad guys you defeated) and the winner is the one with the most victory points. We NEVER play like this: we always play purely cooperative, and everybody I know plays it cooperative. I wish they would just make it official!
3. The Reckoners
Solo play? Yes!
By all measures, this game shouldn’t be this high on the list! At the end of the day, the core mechanic is “really” just a Yahtzee “reroll dice up to 3 times”!
The game has amazing components, and these components really bring out the theme of the game! The city locations are these amazing dice trays!
The game feels complicated the very first time you play, but once you get into it, it flows quickly. Players MUST work together to decide how to help each other. Do we take out a villain at a location? Do we do some damage to Steelheart (the big bad you have to defeat to win)? Do we have to clean up the streets? Do we go shopping for better gear?
The game is real fun and the component quality is just amazing.
2. Sidekick Saga
Plays Solo? Yes. The solo player plays two characters.
Sidekick Saga is Seven Wonders meets Sentinels of the Multiverse meets Pandemic Legacy! Like Pandemic Legacy, Sidekick Saga has an ongoing story that unfolds over many plays. Like Seven Wonders, Sidekick Saga has Simultaneous Action Selection, so everyone can play at once (keeping the game moving quickly). Like Sentinels, each player plays a SuperHero character with very different powers (and these powers can upgrade and change as the game evolves!)
At the end of the day, Sidekick Saga has an ongoing story, city exploration, fast-moving play, great art, and probably my favorite feature: you can make your own Super Heroes!
This is not really a surprise to anyone who knows me. I bought the game sight unseen off the Greater Than Game website in 2011 (I have the original version with the original art above!) I knew nothing about the game. After I played it, I never looked back … I loved it!
Each player takes the role of a Superhero with their own deck! Each SuperHero is VERY different and plays VERY differently! Of all the games on this list, this is the one where you really feel like you are playing that hero and nothing else is like you!
The gameplay is simple: play a card, use a power, draw a card. That’s it! (Well, you have to draw a card for the environment and the Bad Guy too ..) What makes the game interesting is what the cards do!
There are SO MANY expansions to the game and so much content, you could play this game for years! It also has the best App of any game I have played (if only because you can rewind a turn or two!)
Some people think this game is too fiddly (in which case, the app is definitely for you), but it seems to bring out the SuperHero genre better than any game I have played! Even when you lose, it reminds me of old Spiderman comics (“I lost to the the magic guy! Maybe I’ll go recruit Doctor Strange to help me!”) where you rethink how you go after a Villain NEXT TIME!
Sentinels make me feel like I am playing a SuperHero.