A Review of Direwild (A Cooperative Deckbuilder)

Box Art!

Direwild was a Kickstarter from November, 2017.  It’s a cooperative deckbuilding game for 1-4 players.  I didn’t pick up the Kickstarter, but rather my FLGS .. and I still got the Kickstarter version (with miniatures).  I’ll be honest, I loved the art on the cover and what I saw!!  Between that, Kickstarter minis, AND it’s cooperative?  I picked it up!


The components are pretty great.  The Kickstarter minis are real nice and add a lot of flavor.

The boards and character sheets are very colorful and full of the same art that drew me in.  Oh look!  Character sheets with variable player powers!  One of my favorite mechanisms!

The board sets the stage for how good this looks on the table.  I just love the art and the way things are organized.

The little boxes comes with separate components/cards FOR EACH CHARACTER!  Each character has it’s own unique stuff!  So very cool!

The components, for me, are just really amazing.

The Rulebooks

The rulebook is kind of divided into two books: Intro and Set-up, then Gameplay.

Book 1: Intro and Set-up
Book 2: Gameplay

For the most part this worked, as the set-up and intro aren’t something you need a lot.  I found that we referenced the Intro book a lot more than we expected (to look up certain effects and Icons like poison and pushback, see below).   It feels like those effects should have been described in the Gameplay book, but it’s a minor point (see below).

Discussions of effects and Icons like Poison and Pushback are in the Intro, when they probably should have been in the Gameplay book.


The rulebook has a VERY good section on setting up, with a list of all components …

List of all Components!  And pictures!

And pictures on how to set-up!

Picture of how to set-up!

It was very easy to get the game set-up.  I was very pleased with how well the set-up book looked.  This was one of the better rulebooks for that I’ve seen in a while.

So, I got a game set-up pretty quickly!

Direwild all set-up and ready to play!


Solo Play

Grrr … no solo play …

So does this game adhere to Saunders’ Law: A cooperative game should have a viable solo mode?  Nope!  The box CLEARLY says  only 2-4 players.  Well, sometimes a game will say it doesn’t have a solo mode, but has an “ad-hoc” variant listed in the rules.  Nope!  Not Direwild!

A standard trick is to simply have the solo player play two positions.  This game could have easily said that, but I didn’t see that anywhere.  So, STRICTLY SPEAKING, this game doesn’t have solo rules!  (And this game has a lot of rules—I can see why it would very intimidating to use 2 characters in your first solo game).

Many of you who read my blog know that I tend to come up with solo rules for cooperative games that don’t have any.  So I do below.    And why do I do this?  So I can play the game, get a sense of the mechanics so I can teach my friends!  AND if the game is great, I can play it by myself as well!

I don’t get why this game doesn’t have solo rules.  Either use my solo rules below or have a solo player take control of two characters!

A Preliminary Set of Solo Rules

Direwild all set-up and ready to play!

The picture above depicts a solo game set-up.  I have some simple tweaks to make the game solo: I am not 100% happy with them, but they are good enough to get you into the game so you can learn most of the rules.

Honestly, these tweaks are mostly just linear extrapolations of the rules that are already there.
In a solo game:

First, during set-up: anything that says set-up XXX per player , just follow those rules!  For example, the locks are two per player (so use 2) and the Karn regenerates Cards are one per player (so just use 1).

  1. (Step 4 of set-up) Populate the wilds with 7 cards.  This causes one card to be off the board.

    Linearly extrapolate: 1 Player has 7 Wilds slots!
  2. There is only 1 Minion per board (as there is one Minion per player).  When you set up for Step 11, You’ll use a 1 Level 1 Minion, 1 Level 2 Minion, and 1 Level 3 Minion.

    A 1 Player game only has 3 Minion cards! A level 1 Minion, A level 2 Minion and a Level 3 Minion! That’s it!
  3. I would also give the solo player 3-5 treasures to start the game.

And that’s pretty much the extent of the changes, and those are only to set-up! You play normally from there.

The reason these rules are “preliminary” is because I feel they need more testing, but they do get you into a solo game quickly, only operating 1 character.  Honestly, I died pretty quickly in the second round of the campaign, which is probably why you need two characters (who can watch each others back).  BUT this can get you far enough to learn the game.


basic intro cards

So, this is a deck-builder game.  Every character starts with some very simply cards (puppies and kittens) and has to use “charm” (the yellow hexagon) to buy more cards.  It’s a deckbuilder!  You buy cards from a tableau (called the Wilds).

Basic cards PLUS character specific starting cards

Each character starts with two special “character specific” cards that only they have.

Kittens have charm and can help buy more cards.  Puppies have attack which you can use to fight the Minions.  You buy better and better cards with more attack and more charm.  It’s a deck-builder!


Lead animal

When you are ready to Attack a Minion (you have to kill Minions on the board to advance to the next level), you choose a lead animal and then FLIP all your other animals to be support!  The BAT (above) becomes the lead card and ALL OTHER animals help support for more attack, move, or other effects.  Plus, now you can say you have a “Feisty, Furry, Wild, Scythed Bat!”  (The BAT above gets his normal 3 Attack, and another 3 from his supporting animals, plus an extra move).

This mechanic was really innovative and fun.  We enjoyed this idea quite a bit in the beginning.

High-Level Overview

Mid game

You move around the board, hiding behind walls, trying to avoid or engage the minion, and look for treasure.  Every turn, you can get better cards for a better deck, but Karn (the big bad) gets closer and closer to coming out … you can advance to the next scenario (there are 3) if you kill all the Minions.  If kill Karn at any point, you just win!

So, along with the deck-building, there is some movement and attempts at strategy on the board.

Solo Play Experience

A losing 1-player game

So, I played the game solo a few times and was happy to get around.  I liked that you could save the game between sessions.  But I got stuck in Scenario 2: I couldn’t damage the Minion (because of his special ability) and I couldn’t get around it.  So I just died.  It was very frustrating to not be able to do anything.  I  chalked it up to “I was using my solo rules, so they obviously weren’t balanced”.

I had an okay time playing solo, but I was frustrated.

I couldn’t get Lohri to have negative Stamina, so I just lost!

Multiplayer Game


Oof.  This is hard to talk about.  At first, my friends LOVED the game!  Puppies and Kittens!  The art and graphic design were amazing!  But we played some games, and the word of the day was “frustrating“.   Teresa was frustrated because she felt she could never fight (she couldn’t seem to get a good deck doing).  Sara was frustrated because she could never disengage after getting ganged-up on by the Minions.  Andrew was frustrated because he never felt he had a choice.  We were all frustrated because we never really could cull our decks.  (We finally, after 4 games, found the Monkey, but is that the ONLY way to cull your deck????)

Teresa was having fun reading the little quotes on the cards and loving the art, but she stopped having fun when Sara just so frustrated it was papable.  Part of her frustation was her power was very random and it never worked for her.  (In fact, the only one who seemed to have a good power was the “Tank”).   The powers, which are supposed to differentiate the players, seemed unbalanced and not fun.

The game was frustrating.  My play group DID NOT have fun.  In fact, two of the players gave the game a 3/10 (and it only gets a 3 because the art is so good).

Balance and House Rules


The game simply feels a little too lucky and a little unbalanced.  The main frustration was that people felt like they couldn’t do anything.  So, here’s some house  rules we came up that MIGHT help the game!

  1. Players should win ties.  Monsters win ties, and we got screwed over and over again because of that.
  2. Allow a single card cull per turn.  A player uses charm to “unbuy” a card for it’s charm amount (+1).   This would allow this to feel much more like a deck-builder.  Maybe Wounds would 3 or 4 Charm to “unbuy”?
  3. Use the 1-4 tokens for targetting, but just let the characters go and buy/attack in any order they want!    We felt this would increase the feel of cooperation as all characters would be looking at the Wilds at the same time and making decisions TOGETHER as to what to buy!  The “choose 1-4” order just seemed to serialize it too much (“Oh, it’s my turn.”)
  4. A few clarifications.  Monsters can only attack 1 person?  As we read the rules, it feels like the monsters can attack everyone that attacks it in the same round!  This seemed unbalancing and also not realistic.    We were thinking, maybe, it can only attack the first person?  Unless it has a special ability?  It seemed very unbalancing.
  5. Easier to disengage? You had to take a fatal wound to disengage.  This seemed too hard?
  6. Rebalance the Powers: Sara hated the random power she had. (Pick a type of card: if you draw it, you get +1! If not, take a wound!)

House Rules 4-6 would probably need a lot of playtest to validate/invalidate them, but Rules 1-3 seem important and doable.  The lack of culling (except for the Monkey?) seemed especially out of place in the game.



The quote of the night:

The only thing fun about this game is complaining how unfun it was!

My playgroup DID NOT like this game at all.  I thought it was “ok” for solo, but it still feels unbalanced.  We all loved the components and artwork!! BUT the game feels very unbalanced and too lucky,  We think that MAYBE, MAYBE, with house rules (described previously), this might be a significantly better game. As it is, none of my game group really ever wants to play this again.  I wouldn’t mind playing it solo.

The components are amazing. I wish the game were better.  There’s a great game hiding in here!  There are some unique mechanics and ideas, but the balance seems off.



A Defense of Keeping Punchout Skeletons

Punchout Skeletons from the game Sidekick Saga

What do you do with the punchout skeletons from your board games?  A punchout skeleton is the leftover cardboard outline (see above) not used in the game.

“I throw them away.  Why are we still talking about this?”

Most people throw them away.  I don’t.

You Keep The Punchout Skeletons?

This particular post is motivated by a few things.   The first motive is a story by my friend’s father.

Punchout skeletons for Nemo Rising

According to my friends Alison and Charlie: every time their Dad opens a new game, he punches it out.  He then looks at the punchout skeletons, laughs to himself and says “Oh Richie”. Then he just throws the punchout skeletons away!!!

I am Richie:  Yes, to be clear, Alison and Charlie’s Dad is laughing at me.  Because I keep the Skeleton Punchouts.

So I offer a four pronged defense of why I keep the skeletons.

Reason 1: You might need something you didn’t punch out!

New tray (2)
Plastic Insert for Sidekick Saga

This reason was motivated by a conversation I recently had with my manufacturer.  My manufacturer was trying to fit all the pieces of Sidekick Saga into a plastic insert/tray.   (see above) They asked:

“Do you need the blank tokens to fit in the tray as well?”


YES!  Absolutely!  Sidekick Saga has a “Build-Your-Own-SuperHero” mechanic where you need some SOI tokens (blank square tokens on right) and Character Standees (bottom-most blank tokens).  Players can draw, print, glue or whatever works on these blank tokens.


I have been chatting with the manufacturer for months, and they know the game really well.   But it didn’t register until they asked about them.

If you threw away the skeletons, you might have also thrown away the blank tokens …

Keeping the skeletons keeps you in the mindset of keeping all components (and not accidentally throwing anything away).

Reason 2: Double-Check for Components

Nemo Rising: A newish cooperative game

I was recently unboxing and setting up a relatively new cooperative game called Nemo Rising. (This is a cooperative games blog after all).  During set-up, a question came up about the components.

Components List from Nemo

I felt like I was missing something!! (This Rulebook could have used a picture of components …)

Punchout skeletons for Nemo Rising

So, I went back and double-checked what I punched-out versus what was in the Components List.  It turns out a few  tokens were “hidden” somewhere on the table, but matching the punchouts skeletons to the components allowed me to “double-check” the component list with the actual components.

A side-effect of the “Double-Check” rationale is you can ALWAYS see if you have all the components of your game!!  Have you lost any components?  Did you buy a used game and want to verify the components?  If the punchout skeletons are included with the game, you can double-check the components!

Reason 3: Keep Rulebooks Flat

Box for Battle for Greyport

I reviewed Battle for Greyport some time ago.   It’s a smallish box with a lot of components.  But the Rulebook lays awkwardly in the box.

Rulebook hangs weirdly in the box!

If you look closely, you’ll see the rulebook is “kinda” supported by a few deck dividers.  And there’s a lot of empty space on the bottom left of the box, so the rulebook “droops” in that part of the box.  If only there was a way to keep the Rulebook flat!!!!!

Punchout skeletons to the rescue!

The punchout skeletons can support the Rulebook (like a rulebook bra?) so that the Rulebook stays flat (in the box) and doesn’t bend weirdly.

This, to me, is the best reason to keep punchout skeletons: I like to keep my games in good shape, and keeping the Rulebook flat keeps it in good shape!!  (One of my pet peeves are Rulebooks that don’t lay flat!!   It’s hard to learn a game if you can’t put the Rulebook down FLAT on the table!! )


A related benefit (if you have multiple punchout skeletons)  is that you can separate content.  For example, the Kickstarter version of Battle for Greyport came with content for The Red Dragon Inn (see above).    I can keep that content sandwiched between the skeletons to keep it separate from the main game.

Reason 4: Completionist

Punchout Board for Detective: City of Angels

At the end of the day, I like to have everything that came with the board game.  I am a completionist.

If I need to ever sell a game, I can honestly say I am giving a buyer everything that came with the game!  I can show a buyer that I have all the pieces (because I can double-check components).  I can show a buyer that I care enough about my games to keep everything in good shape!  This gives a buyer confidence that my games are in good shape.

In Detective: City of Angels, it makes sense to keep the punchout skeleton because the game actually encourages you to put the people tokens BACK IN THE PUNCHOUT!! It shows  that you have a complete set of people!!!  Detective: City of Angels is a game that I could easily see selling because it has a limited number of cases: you can only play it so many times.   Keeping the punchout skeletons keeps the game together and complete so I could sell it more easily.

Reason 5: Pack the Game for Transport!

EDIT: This section is new as of April 4th, 2020.  In my organizing Sidekick Saga (from Reason 1), I noticed that keeping the Punchout Skeletons help keep the game together when it gets moved around.  The game was made to “fit” in the box when everything is new, so the game is pretty packed when you first open it: the game is “made” to be packed tightly.  If you get rid of the Punchout Skeletons, then the cards tend to be more free form: if you turn the box at weird angles (shipping, putting in your car, taking the game out of a box, etc), the cards can tend to “flow around” and leave their spaces.

When packling back up, this is how I store the standees: I don't want to keep taking the plastic bases off, so this is way to store them so that the bases stay on (on two empties too!)
Note the air … if we don’t pack the box, the cards will tend to wander!

Not so if you include all the Punchout Skeletons!!   With the Punchout Skeletons, everything fits “snug” in the box, and the cards won’t wander!  The Punchout Skeletons HOLD THE CARDS DOWN!

Packed tight!  Components won’t wander …. The Punchout Skeleton HOLD THE CARDS DOWN!

Of course, this depends on the game itself and how it uses space, but it’s been my experience that if you keep the Punchout Skeletons, you can keep it “packed tight” and avoid wandering cards.


Using punchout skeletons to separate content

At the end of the day, I realize it does seem a little crazy to keep the punchboard skeletons.   I think Alison and Charlie’s Dad thinks I am especially crazy.  I hope I have convinced you that there are good reasons to keep your punchout skeletons. No?

Well, If you don’t want your punchout skeletons, can I have them?