Review of Detective: City of Angels (Cooperative Mode)

Detective: City of Angels Box Lid

To be clear: this is a review of Detective: City of Angels by Van Ryder Games (see picture above) and NOT Detective by Portal Games.

I was one of the Kickstarter backers for Detective: City of Angels.  And this games was very late: so late that it made Zee Garcia’s “Most Anticipated Games” twice: once in 2018 and once in 2019.  It was supposed to deliver in Sept. 2018, and it delivered in August 2019.


This game sat on my shelf for almost a month after I got it.  Every time I went to play it, I noticed “Oh, it’s a one vs. many or one vs. competitive.  Why did I get this?”   Until one day I opened the rules and reminded myself why I got it:

The Three ways to play Detective: City of Angels.

Oh ya! There is a cooperative mode.  Most others reviews will focus on the Classic Mode or Head-to-Head Mode.  Nope.  We will only focus on this as a cooperative game.  (This is a cooperative games blog after all).


Wow! What great art when you open the box!

When I first opened the box, I was blown away by the art on all the little character standees!  So colorful!  And the case boxes on the side were really cool!

More Tokens

There are a lot of tokens: it turns out, you don’t use nearly as many for the cooperative game (you don’t use Snitch or money or A-L).  The Stress markers (upper right) and Final Guess are ONLY used in the cooperative game.

Case Sheets (notes for solving)

This is definitely a deduction game with mystery aspects! Players will be filing out a case sheet … well, only one shared case sheet for the entire cooperative team (although we still each took our own notes separately when we played).  The Case Sheet is how you keep track of information you have uncovered.

What a BIG Board!

The Board is HUGE and barely fits on my table.  In fact, when we played, all 4 players came to the front side or the edges of the table, while the board draped over the edge!  This board is huge!  And really cool …

Case book: briefing

Each player gets a briefing book  …although technically, you could all probably share one in the cooperative game.  It makes it nice to follow along.


This is the most important book in the cooperative game: players read sections of very thematic text out of this to gather information.

Sections of the sleuth book to read!

The cards (and these are ONLY USED IN THE COOPERATIVE GAME) give the number of the section to read from the casebook when you are ready to investigate “something”.

The Chisel and Classic Mode Components


There are a LOT of components (see below) related to the Chisel and the competitive mode.  You don’t need those components for cooperative play (although you WILL use the chisel book above to look at the final answer).  In competitive mode, the Chisel is sort of like a Dungeon Master (DM), running the adventure and reading thematic text and passages.  In the cooperative game, the reading is shared among the players, and rotates every turn  … there is no DM: the players are playing against the game.

There are a lot of tokens not used in competitive mode:



Cooperative mode uses the hats, cubes, and miniatures, but not the other tokens.

The Rulebook


The rulebook is very colorful and very good.  The only problem is that the rulebook is geared towards Classic Mode (competitive mode) and the cooperative mode is discussed only after all the Classic Mode  are discussed (and a lot of those rules aren’t even relevant).

So, I struggled A LITTLE with the rules.  But, the Sleuth Mode did have its own section (and a pretty big section) for the cooperative play.  It even showed a set-up picture for JUST the cooperative play!


I wish the game had been geared towards cooperative play (Sleuth Mode) rather than competitive play (Classic Mode), but I was able to get to the cooperative mode fairly quickly.


Cooperative Mode Components
A Solo Player game

The game plays by each character having 4 actions (represented by the 4 cubes).   Each player gets a chance to perform his 4 actions and play rotates around the board. After you perform your actions (move, search suspect or location, question), the day counter (on far right of board) moves down.  If it makes it to Day 1 (or the Final guess token, which moves up when you get too much stress), then you need to solve the WHO DUNNIT, HOW DO IT, and WHY DO IT  (suspect, weapon, motive).   If you fail, then you can go into overtime and take a few more turns.  And you solve the case or you don’t!

The active player performs his actions, while the player to his left consults the Sleuth Cards (for what happens when he searches, or questions), and the player to his right reads from the Sleuth book, describing “What happened.”

The game plays a LOT like Agents of SMERSH or Tales of the Arabian Nights: The game is story driven with a lot of reading.  However, there is also a lot of thematic air as well! You don’t just read: players get to make a choice!  After the text is is read, you may challenge it!  You may think the suspect is lying and shake them up!  Sometimes, you get new info (“I knew they were lying!”) … and sometimes you cause STRESS (“I told you I wasn’t lying!!!  I’m calling the cops!”)  If you cause TOO MUCH STRESS, then you shorten the game (make the final guess marker move up).

I thought it was very thematic to be able to “rough up” your suspects.

Solo Play

Solo Game set up with the first Scenario

So this games works great as a solo mode.  The solo mode is essentially the cooperative mode, but with only 1 detective.  So congratulations to Detective: City of Angels  on following Saunders’ Law: All cooperative games need a viable solo mode.

I played solo, I learned the game, I had fun … even though I did lose.  I worried about story-telling part: usually reading lots of text for a solo player doesn’t work well for me (like in Robit Riddle or Crusoe Crew), but because I had a choice to “challenge” the response after reading, I felt like I had more choice!  It kept me engaged.

This game worked well as a solo game.

Multiple Players


The game worked very well with multiple players!  Even though there’s only one active player, someone is always doing something!  One player is active taking their turn, one player is consulting the Sleuth card (to figure where to read in the Sleuth book), and one player is reading the Sleuth book!   Even in a 4 player game, the 4th player can be taking notes on the case cards!



Everyone is active!  And then the mystery itself was interesting!

The Cases


To be clear, this is a game of deduction and solving a mystery (I’ve only seen murder so far).  This isn’t Clue or Awkward Guests where you eliminate things with precision (“Oh here’s a card: cross off the jealousy icon”).  You have to listen to the WAY certain suspects answer the questions, you have to look at the evidence carefully, and you have to understand something of human nature.   If you want a mystery that solved precisely and methodically like Clue, this may not be for you.    You really have to put the pieces together by understanding human nature as well as the evidence!

There are certainly elements of deduction that are very important, but I felt like really finding the final solution required looking below the surface.



At the end of the day, this is a fantastic game.  I liked it as a solo game and my friends and I all enjoyed this as a cooperative mystery.  (It came up several times: we like this MUCH MORE than the Portal Games Detective! My group did not like the Portal game, as it felt too much like work).   We all had FUN!

Detective: City of Angels plays a lot like Agents of SMERSH and Tales of Arabian Nights. There’s a lot of story, and players read from the storybook.  But there’s a mystery to unlock!  That’s both boon and bane!  That same mystery that makes Detective: City of Angels so much more thematic and engaging than Agents of SMERSH and Tales of Arabian Nights also limits Detective: City of Angels’ replayability.  There’s only 9 Cases that come in the core box!  And once you have played them, you are really done with them (unless you come back years later).  Luckily, there is one expansion already done and another expansion on Kickstarter as we speak!

At the end of the day, I would probably give this an 8 on the BoardGameGeek scale.  Fun game.



Review of The Forests of Adrimon (Hexplore It!)

HexPlore It! The Cover for The Forests of Adrimon

The Forests of Adrimon is the second in a series of three HexPlore It games.  The third just recently funded on Kickstarter, and I think the second one (The Forests) just came into retail distribution.  I knew it was a Kickstarter, but I picked it up from a retail store.

Fantasy Cooperative Game

Basic Set-Up

So, TFOA (The Forests of Adrimon) is a cooperative game for 1-6 players.  It’s an exploration game (within a forest) in a fantasy universe.   It’s probably called HexPlore It because the world is made of … wait for it … hexes.

The Floromancer Character Role

Each player in the game takes on the role a single hero in the game: you choose both a Race (see below) and a Role Mat/Profession (see above).


The Heroes all work and move together around the hex map, trying to level up to beat … the big Bad Boss … Adrimon!

First Play: Solo Experience


So, my first play was a solo adventure.  They adhere to Saunders’ Law and have a very viable solo experience.   Set-up took a while: there are A LOT of components.


Here’s the thing: I HATED my first play.  I lost within a few rounds, even after I “cheated” a few times to stay in the game.  I HAD to be doing something wrong!  I felt like I had no chance to level up, and the Dice just work against me!

And I was doing something wrong:  so here’s a public service message if you play the game:

You can use gold to update your Abilities and Skills and Health and Hit Points. 

Skills! The first update costs 3, then 4, then 5 … around the rim of the skills!

I missed this rule in the first playthrough (which is clearly on page 13 of the rulebook), and didn’t think I had a chance.  Once you know you can spend gold to update these, you realize how precious and important gold is!!

10-Sided Dice Rolls

10-sided dice for Navigate, Explore, Survive

At the beginning of every turn, each player rolls 3 10-sided dice for Navigate (green), Explore (yellow), Survival (blue).  If you fail (roll over your skill value), there are consequences (get lost, no gold, lose food).  In the beginning of the game, your stats are very low and you are just barely surviving!!!  So, you find yourself barely getting by.

Public Service Announcement: spend your gold to up you Explore ASAP:  this makes it more likely to get 2 gold per turn, which you can use to up your other stats!

Second Playthrough: 2-Player Game


Our second game went MUCH BETTER once we realized that we could use our gold to up our stats.

The game, in broad terms, seemed to play out like this:

  1. In the first half of the game, we explored and found Relics (special items needed to beat the big Bad at the end).   We tended to avoid combat, and in fact our first combat was halfway through the game!
  2. In the second half of the game, we embraced combat and fought a few more things.  We also ended up spending a lot of time in the cities trying to up more of our stats, getting ready for the final combat (and trying to get more Relics).
  3. The final combat was pretty intense: almost a half hour and we should have died, but we won!

We had fun, but there are a lot of things that were … suboptimal.

Dry-Erase Markers and Mats

Each player in the game uses a mat which works with a dry-erase marker.

Dry-erase markers

So, because 8 (?) role mats were dry-erase, almost ALL mats in the game were dry-erase, even though they didn’t need to be!  There were 10 mats for a lot of BIG BAD villains, and they were dry-erase, there were Location mats, Game Turn Mats, Sentinel Mats, .. 18 total!  And frankly, the only ones that “really needed” dry-erase were the character mats (as you constantly updated stats, and erased and drew).

“Why is this a big deal?  The dry-erase of the other mats didn’t get in the way did it?”

No, but here’s the thing, the dry-erase didn’t quite work in the game.  Here’s why:

  1. The dry-erase markers in the game were TOO FAT!  They SHOULD HAVE BEEN ultra-fine dry-erase markers!
  2. The area (for the backpack) for writing equipment was too tiny and didn’t work for keeping track of your stuff!

Take a look at your mat:

A Character

Now, take a look at the “backpack” area:  it’s a small 2 inch by 2 inch area where you have to write TONS of stuff, with a fat marker!


Can you read that? I can’t and I wrote it!

Suggestions for the Mats

There are 3 suggestions to fix this:

  1. Get rid of the dry-erase mechanism altogether and use pencil and paper
  2. Use ultra-fine markers and make the backpack area a little bigger
  3. Use the back of the unused characters as your backpack instead of trying to fit your backpack in a smaller area.

The back of the character mats is pretty cool: they have pictures:

The backs of the character mats

These pictures are REALLY COOL!  But I don’t think I EVER looked at the picture in the entire game!!   BUT, if you just had a “blank” tableau on the back, then the characters could use two mats to play: one for the character, and one for the backpack!  You might even be able to keep the fat markers!

Use two mats! One for the normal character stats (left), and the back of an unused character (right) for a backpack! Here, the back of an unused character is a cool but never seen picture!

It’s weird that SO MANY MATS are in the game, and only the character mats (and Battle mat) need to be dry-erase; it seems a waste that the other 11 are dry-erase.   All we could figure out was that they did that for manufacturing: it was cheaper to make ALL 18 mats dry-erase.

The dry-erase works “ok” for the stats, but it doesn’t really work for the equipment.

Time To Play


The back of the box says that the gametime 60-180+.  Um, it took us EIGHT HOURS!  After the first FOUR HOURS, we set the game aside (see above) so we could come back to it later.    The second play took ANOTHER FOUR HOURS!!

Granted, it was only the second game, but I feel like I had most of the rules by that point, so maybe an hour of that would be “learning stuff”.

Be aware, if you play the game and get to the end, it may take you 6-8 hours.  We joked that it was only 60-180 minutes if you died early.

The Rulebook

The rulebook

There were a lot of problems with the rulebook.

  1. Black background, white text.  This is a personal pet peeve of mine: it’s almost always harder to read!! But, people like to do it because it looks more “thematic” (Oh, this is a dark game).
  2. It’s too small.  This is a big game and the rulebook seems “too small”.  A lot of rules which would belong together on a page span multiple pages and make it harder to read.  For example, combat takes almost 28 pages to describe!  It was very frustrating to read about combat as you paged through the book!
  3. The rulebook won’t stay open.  If I wanted to keep the rulebook open, I had to “hold it” open!  I am used to board game rulebooks that just stay open when you put them on the table.  The binding of the rulebook forced you to hold it open to see things!
  4. The text was too close to the binding.  In other words, I had to “force” the book open to see all the text that was close to the binding.
Black background, white text!  Have to hold rulebook open! Text too close to binding! 

The rulebook itself did describe most of the rules.  But, a lot of rules were also on dry-erase boards.    IMG_4584(1)

For example, a lot of stuff for the Waypost is on this dry-erase board (above).  Similarly, rules for Sentinels, the Battle Sites, the Enthralled Cities, and Elowen’s Grove were on other dry-erase boards.    We got used to it when we played, but it was non-intuitive that the rules were so spread out.

After we played, I was used to having the rules spread over multiple boards and in fact, I think I liked it: we weren’t “so tied” to the rulebook.   But, I think I wanted more in the rulebook.

Summary Overall


In the end, my friend and I had a good time playing the game, in spite of the everything.   It felt fairly balanced.   We did “game the game” a little by spending way too much time in the Enthralled Cities.   We were surprised that Combat wasn’t more upfront (that could have just been the way we played).

We felt like there were too many rules for what it was.  The rulebook (grumble) was constantly held open as we had to look up stuff.

We played it, we won, but we don’t think we have a desire to play it again! It almost felt like a story/legacy game: once you’ve played it all the way through, you are done because you know what to expect!

Conclusion and Score

A Winning game!

I’d probably give the components a 5-7/10 (it would be 8 or better but the dry-erase system didn’t work that well).  The pictures were awesome and thematic, and I felt like I was in a forest with the hexes.

The rulebook was a 6/10: it should be less, but because it actually taught the game, I have to give it at least a 6.

The gameplay was fun ONCE WE GOT INTO IT:   7/10 for gameplay.

The game was too long and doesn’t have a lot of replayability.   BUT I plan to give the game to some friends and have them play.  If you look at this game as a legacy game with a 6-8 hour playtime AND YOU KNOW THAT’S WHAT YOU ARE GETTING, then this game would be a lot more fun.

I am really conflicted on what to give this game as an “overall”: When we played it, we had fun, but that was despite the issues.    If you know what you are getting into, I think this could be a good game.