A Review of The Stygian Society. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions


The Stygian Society is a Kickstarter game that arrived Friday, September 25th, 2020. This is a cooperative, exploration game where the cube tower is center stage.


This is a game by Kevin Wilson, one of the developers/designers of Arkham Horror, Second Edition (along with Richard Lanius). Arkham Horror, Second Edition is a favorite game around my gaming table (it comes out every Halloween), so Kevin Wilson’s name evokes a good feeling! That’s why I Kickstarted this!

The Game


So, the game delivered from Ookoodook (which longtime readers of the Order of the Stick may recognize as OOTS’ delivery company). This actually seems very apropos: The Stygian Society game is “essentially” a dungeon delver, where players explore dungeons, fight monsters, get treasures … just like Order of the Stick.


You’ll notice the Kickstarter version comes with a slipcover (notice the black cover above). Do they really protect games? I don’t know. It’s seem cool because it’s premium, but are slipcovers really useful?


This is a BIG game. The game has lots of components. The game comes with a fairly extensive backstory (see above) that you don’t need to play the game, but it adds to the theme.

The board is where most of the action will take place: it’s where cubes will be and most importantly, the cube tower.

The most important thing in the game is the cube tower: you can see the directions for building it, and they are a little daunting.

The parts for the cube tower are just underneath and are heavy cardboard punchouts.

The status board (see above) allows the players to track experience, party health, default actions, luck, peril, and treasure. It seems fairly confusing at first, but it quickly becomes easy to figure out.


Every player takes the role of a character, and each character has a unique deck of “abilities” that’s just theirs. Each player starts with a level 1 power and can add a new ability as you level up (see experience tracker from the status board above).


Like many dungeon delving (tower climbing) games, there is a Big Bad Boss (the Wizard: dark purple boards) you fight at the end of the game: to win, you must make it to the top level and fight the Big Bad Boss.  Interestingly, there is is a “mid level” baddie you fight halfway through the game (the light purpose boards). 

In between the Wizard at the end, and the mid-level Boss, you will be fighting lesser bad guys on the lower levels of the tower. The little plastic miniatures represent the bad guys you fight.

The tower is divided into 6 levels:2 lower levels, the mid-level big bad, 2 upper levels, and the Wizard (big bad boss). The lower levels are represented the by the light purple cards (see above) and the upper levels are represented by the dark purple cards (see above).

There’s a lot of cards: treasure cards (above left), status cards (above), and chest traps cards (above right). The cards are nice and readable, but there’s not a lot of art: the only cards that really have unique art are the treasure cards. The cards aren’t linen finished, but they are nice enough.


In general, the components are nice. The cards could be nicer, but there is a lot of heavy cardboard. If I were to make one change, I would have made the cards linen-finished.

The Elephant in the Room: The Cube Tower


Normally, the first thing I do it start looking at the rulebook. Nope! The first thing I expect EVERYONE to do first is start building the cube tower. The directions are … okay. I had to really look to see “exactly” what pieces go where.

There were a lot of pieces, a lot of plastic, and a lot of cardboard.


But, in the end, it went together. It was generally “fun” to build the tower, but I wish it had “another pass” to the directions. Eh, they were good enough.


The final result: The tower! Where Cubes Go! The crypt! Where some cubes will fall! The field! Where most of the rest of the cubes will fall! I gotta admit, it looks pretty cool. It fit together pretty well and it seems pretty sturdy. (It even goes back into the box all made!!)

Oh, in case you’ve never played with a cube tower, one of the reasons they are kind of cool: YOU THROW CUBES IN THE TOWER! It’s a cool kinesthetic experience!! Cubes fall through the tower, making noise!!! And even cooler: SOMETIMES CUBES GET STUCK IN THE TOWER AND DO NOT COME OUT UNTIL LATER! There is some “history” left in the tower! You throw cubes in a tower (fun) and occasionally, you get some leftover cubes from the previous turn (funner)! It’s a gimmick. But it’s a FUN gimmick!

The Rulebook


So, after building the cube tower … boy, that cube tower looks cool … oh, sorry … The rulebook!

The rulebook is about what you expect these days: the first few pages show the main components (above for cube tower and below for cards and boards).


The game shows set-up mid book:


The set-up works pretty good. Once you leave this section, the game is pretty text-heavy: there’s not a lot of pictures afterwards. It works … fine. I had several rules questions as I played, and I missed a bunch of things as I played the first few times. There’s no index, but you can “usually” find what you need. The rules are “just enough” to play, but not much more. There are some issues:

  • How is Luck used? Answer: it’s hard to find: it’s buried in a picture in the first few pages when it talks about the status board. That was the only place I found that talked about luck!
  • What do you reset? Answer: it’s kind of split into two pieces “entering a floor” and “exiting a floor”. Answer: you reset peril, and clean the field and crypt but NOT party health and NOT the cube tower!! It wasn’t clear: the game could have really used a reference card.
  • Status questions: Answer: take your best guess.

The game rulebook is … complete, but an index OR a game summary cards would gone a long way. Look, I have seen a lot of terrible rulebooks, and this is not one of them. The answers are all in there, it just needed another “push”. I got through it, I never even really raised my voice, but I was slightly frustrated at a few points.

The rulebook is fine.

Solo Game


So, the game works great solo: you can see they absolutely have solo rules (thank you for adhering to Saunders’ Law)!  In this case, the solo player plays 3 characters from the game. 


I played the Knight, the Burglar, and the Doctor for my first solo game. Although I am nervous about playing three distinct characters as a solo player (“Yikes! is there too much to manage?”), it worked fine. Each character describes its rules succinctly, and was easy to manage. The solo rules worked well. There is a way to play just two characters (outlined on the very back on the rulebook), but it involved changing enough rules that I prefer to play the main rules so I don’t have to apply too many exceptions.

It looks like main balancing for the game is that there should always be 3 or 4 characters in play: the rulebook alludes to the players needing the balance and cooperation of numerous players to win. And you know what? I needed all three of my characters to win! I needed the knight to do most of the damage, I neede the Burglar to help keep bad cubes under control, and the doctor to heal us … at one point, our party wounds were so bad, we almost lost before the end! As any veteran of D&D knows, the cleric (the doctor here) is critical to party success!

Set-Up and Gameplay

So, set-up wasn’t trivial. I had to do it in two stages: get most of the components OUT (see above) and then actually put them in the right place (see below)!

The gameplay is actually pretty simple. Each character plays a turn and that’s it! There’s no notion of Bad News (typically in a cooperative game) or the “Bad Guy turn”, as the Bad Guys are activated by the BAD cubes that come out of the tower! A character turn looks like:

  1. Pick a support ability
  2. Choose an active action (usually puts GOOD cubes in the tower)
  3. Throw GOOD cubes  and BAD cubes into the tower (your current location in the tower tells you how many BAD cubes to put in)
  4. Activate the Bad Guys  based on how many BAD cubes are out (activate rooms if cubes left over)
  5. Activate character abilities using GOOD cubes


Basically, BLUE, WHITE, and GREEN cubes are good cubes used by the characters. The RED, YELLOW, and BLACK cubes trigger Bad Guys abilities. Cubes that land in the crypt (the white cube above) are worth 2, everything in the field is worth 1 (the blue, red, yellow cubes above, just behind the crypt).


An example mid-level Bad Guy (see above, blurred so can’t see too much). Note that there are bad guys in the front row (2 yellows and 1 red) and the back row (2 yellows). When enough cubes are one the board (note the 5 red cubes), then you spend those red cubes from the board and activate that power! The game is all about bad cubes accumulating and just trouncing you now and then!!

See above for another example (from a low-level floor).



See above for my winning game!

In general, I really liked this game. I got to make decisions every turn that mattered: What support cards do I use? Do I need to mitigate the BAD cubes? Do I need to put in cubes to help my next character? Which action do I activate? Do I use one of my treasures? Then, I got to throw cubes in a tower! Whee! Arguably, the only “not fun” part was following the script to make the BAD cubes activate the bad guys: it’s necessary of course, but it’s ever so slightly tedious.


One of the best parts of the game was that we leveled up quickly!! It seems like we leveled up just about every floor of the tower!! Leveling up allows you to reset your support cards (cards gets tapped and can only be reset when you go up a level), and you get to add a new “more powerful” ability!!! It gives you new and better decisions to make!!! And the treasure was useful too!!!


The only thing that mighty give me pause to recommending it to others was the length of the game. It took me an hour to set-up (first time, also had to build the cube tower), about about 2 hours to reach and defeat the Mid Level Boss, and another 2 hours to reach and defeat the final boss!! I am sure this will probably become much quicker when we play again, but I am not sure. I like taking my time and making good decisions (I did win my first game), but the game length might be a bit much for other people.


The game flowed quickly when I played.   There were some moments when I really thought I might lose, but I had enough choices so I could make meaningful decisions to “not die”!   I was able to upgrade myself multiple times during play, so I felt like I was always making progress!!   There are a few fiddly moments in the game (status updating, updating the bad Guys), but there were overwhelmingly more fun moments of throwing cubes and making fun choices! 

As a solo experience, this was great.  I look forward to playing solo again!  I’m also hoping to get Part II of this review out soon: I really want to see how this will work with multiple players cooperating!  Expect Part II soon!  I was so very happy this game, I will “encourage” my game groups to play this with me!

There’s even some expansion content to keep the game fresh! (See The Tower Laboratory expansion above).

Seven House Rules for Cooperative Board and Card Games

Once you start playing a lot of cooperative board and card games, you find there are certain rules and/or situations where you wish things were different! Sometimes a small tweak in the rules can make all the difference between an uproarious fun time and a mind-numbingly boring one. Other tweaks just make the game more thematic and that much more enjoyable. I’ve paid good money for these games: why can’t I make them more fun for myself?

Some of you might argue “Well, that’s not how the designer wanted it to be played! He may have done it for balance!” Maybe, but after living in this hobby for nominally 40 years (yes, I played Starfleet Battles back in the early 1980s when it first came out), I can tell you that many games sometimes just don’t work, even if play tested extensively by a well intentioned publisher. A recent example is Tapestry from Stonemaier Games: it was a pretty big hit for this publisher, but just 6 months after it was released, they had released “balancing adjustments/rules” for the different factions in the game. If Stonemaier games (a high-quality publisher with fairly deep pockets and excellent reputation for quality) could have these problems, why not other games? Besides, at the end of the day, would you rather a game sat on your shelf unplayed because “we have to play it the way the publisher intended” or would you rather the game came out to the table with just a few tweaks?

I had originally written this list as the Top 10 Cooperative Games with House Rules“, but after getting into it, I realized a lot of those rule changes applied to more than just one game. So, I rewrote the list to concentrate on the type of rule changes itself!

7.  Adding Player Selected Turn Order to a Cooperative Game

Example Games: Marvel Champions, Sentinels of the Multiverse

Longtime readers of my blog know I adore Sentinels of the Multiverse (it made the top spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games), but one thing that always bugged me was that I could never set-up situations where the players could set-up a group combo (like Wolverine and Colossus “Fastball Special” from the X-men comics). What I want, in a cooperative game, is Player Selected Turn Order (PTSO) (see blog entry here), where the players get to choose their player order per turn. Unfortunately, in both Sentinels of the Multiverse and Marvel Champions (two games where I really want to be able to set-up group combos), you can’t do that according to the rules: you must play in player order (usually clockwise around the table). As a house rule, we allow players to play in any order they want per turn—I feel this gives us more choices and encourages more cooperation!! I want a game to feel like I have choices to do the best things I can!! I don’t want to be constrained by some arbitrary “clockwise around the table”. The only downside of PSTO is that sometimes it can hard to keep track of who has played so far.

6. Allow Sharing, If It Makes Sense


Example Games: The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game, Sidekick Saga, Shadows Over Camelot

I like the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game (see review here and here) and it made my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2017.  One rule of the game really turned my friends off: you can’t share what cards you have (you must keep all your cards hidden).  And I know why the game does that: to avoid The Alpha Player Syndrome. Some player groups can be taken over by an Alpha Player who tells everyone what to do.  By keeping the cards hidden, the Alpha Player can’t tell everyone what to do: he can’t see their cards.  That fixes the problem, but it unfortunately makes the game less fun.  So, for my groups (where we are pretty good at avoiding the Alpha Player), we tend to play with all cards showing and it makes the game a LOT more fun: we talk, we collaborate, we cooperate!   I put Sidekick Saga on this list because it’s the only game I know that addresses this specifically! In the rulebook, there’s a section called Open Hand vs. Closed Hand:

There are two ways to play Sidekick Saga: Open Hand or Closed Hand … Open Hand means all Sidekick cards are face-up and everyone can see what cards everyone else has in their hands.  Closed Hand means Sidekicks can’t see what other Sidekicks have in their hand…
If you and your group feel more comfortable playing Open Hand, feel free.  It makes the game easier, but it may really slow down the game!  Open Hand can lead to some analysis paralysis.

It’s a house rule because it really depends on the house you are in. 


5. Loot Rule


Example GamesGloomhaven, Frosthaven, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

This rule is very specific to to the Gloomhaven games.  It’s one of my least favorite rules in cooperative games, and one of the reasons for this list.  Rather than rant again, I will simply point you to my Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review.

House Rule: Players are allowed (if it makes sense) to pick up all the gold and treasure after a combat (and split it) without having to use the “Loot Action”.  This only applies if it makes sense for the Scenario.

  1. Are all Goblins dead?  Ya, You get all the loot. 
  2. Are Endless Elves still coming even after the combat is over?  No time to get leftovers! You only get what you loot!

4. Let Me Die If I Want

New FAZA Box Cover

Example Games: FAZA, others

I recently got a copy of FAZA in the mail.  It’s a good cooperative game, but I’ve had to house rule a few things to enjoy the game better.  Basically, you are forced to make Rebels take damage before you can (Rebels are helping you in the game), but you are required to use Rebels to destroy the Big Bad UFOS:  In other words, you must have a Rebel to destroy the Bad Guys!!   My game came down to the last turn, and I simply couldn’t win because I HAD to make a Rebel take damage before me (“Um, I throw myself in front of the Rebel!!  No, I can’t do that?  Even though it saves the world???”).  It didn’t seem thematic, and it wasn’t fun.  Similarly, the entire game is over if one player dies.  Again, this seems athematic:  I will ABSOLUTELY give my life on the last turn to defeat the aliens IF IT SAVES THE REST OF THE PLANET.  
House Rules: You can choose to take damage instead of a Rebel, you can keep playing even if a player dies.

Basically, death can have meaning in a cooperative game that it can’t in a competitive game.  Why take that away?  (See blog entry here)    

3. Don’t Use Some Dumb Rule to Decide First Player

Pandemic, Z-Man Games, 2013 (image provided by the publisher)

Example Games: Pandemic, honestly, just about any cooperative game.

In the current version of Pandemic,what player goes first?  The player with the highest City Population Card goes first.  Um, what?  Um, so I have to know the city populations?  I seem to remember the  original version was: “The first player is the person who had a cold last”.  I have also seen “The first player is the person who saw a King Fu movie last” and some other funny ones.  They are funny the first time you see them, but then they are just annoying.  What we’ve seen that makes sense: Let US CHOOSE who goes first!  

  1. In a teaching game, we let the teacher go first. That way, the other players can see “what a turn looks like” before they have to play.
  2. In a deep game, we look at the board and we decide who should go first to do the best for us: I.e., it’s a strategic decision.

House Rule: Let the Players decide who goes first.

2. Don’t Limit Shopping


Example Games: Arkham Horror (2nd Edition), Thunderstone Quest (with Barricades Expansion)

When you go shopping and have plenty of money, do store owners limit how much you can buy?  “I’m sorry sir, you can only but one thing today.  We have tons of stuff, but because of store policy, you can only buy one thing.  I think the owner is trying to go out of business!”.   In both Arkham Horror (2nd Edition) and Thunderstone Quest (cooperative with Barricades expansion), there are places you can go to buy things: In AH, you can buy magical items at the Magic Shoppe, or plain stuff at the General Store.  You are allowed to look at 3 things, but you can ONLY BUY ONE ITEM, even if you have enough money!!! Similar for TQ: you can only buy 1 lantern, or 1 food, or 1 potion.

“Look, I really need 2 Lanterns to go into the Dungeon!  The town will be destroyed unless I fight the big Bad NOW!  I see you have 100s of lanterns!!!” 
“I’m sorry sir, I can only sell you one”.

This is the most ridiculous limitation in both games and it is NOT THEMATIC and it is NOT FUN. We house rule you can buy as much stuff as your money permits in one turn (we still only allow 3 cards to be drawn from the shoppes in AH).

(In my last game of Thunderstone Quest: I couldn’t win unless I got 3 lanterns to get to the bottom level, but I couldn’t buy 3 lanterns, even though it would ruin the town!!! Dumb dumb dumb rule.  With the house rule, I was able to get to the main Bad Guy and I still lost, but at least I went out trying … not shackled by some beauracracy).

1. Curtail Excessive Randomness

Example Games: Aeon’s End, Aeon’s End: War Eternal, Aeon’s End: The New Age, Aeon’s End: Outcasts, Tiny Epic Defenders

I have to admit, the main motivation for this list was Aeon’s End and all of its brethren. I still like Aeon’s End: it made the top spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games (and see reviews of Aeon’s End, War Eternal and Aeon’s End: Outcasts). The main problem: the turns are randomly assigned between the players and the Nemesis. In each main round of the game, the Nemesis (the big bad you are cooperatively playing against) will go twice and the players will go four times. The problem: it is possible (and not completely uncommon) for the Nemesis to go 4 turns in a row!!! If the Nemesis goes twice at the end of a round and twice at the beginning of a round, the Nemesis gets off 4 attacks you can’t respond to. You just “watch” as you die because the bad guy gets 4 attacks which you can do NOTHING to respond it: IT’S NOT FUN. I became vaguely aware of this as I played the board game, but the app really pointed it out (as the solo game it’s even MORE likely, as the players only get 3 actions per turn instead of 4).

In the app, players only get 3 turns, the Nemesis gets 2 per round!

At the end of the day, we have a simple House Rule to mitigate this randomness: The nemesis is never allowed more than 2 turns in a row. If that would happen, we simply reshuffle. This one rule may have saved Aeon’s End from the scrap heap for me!! By just mitigating the random turns a little, the game become a lot more fun!

Another cooperative game that has this problem is Tiny Epic Defenders: players simply flip cards from some deck, where Player Turn Cards are interspersed with the Bad News Cards: it’s possible you can lose the game before you ever even get the chance to go. I haven’t come up with a satisfactory solution that I can share yet, but a similar solution might be to only allow the Bad News XXX turns before players can go.

A Review of The Rise of the Red Skull. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

The Cover of Rise Of The Red Skull

Marvel Champions is a cooperative superhero card game based in the Marvel Universe. It’s a “Living Card Game” (or LCG) which means there are expansions, but you always know what you get. (In olden days, a “Collectable Card Game ” (or CCG), expansions were just filled with random cards: you didn’t know what you got)). I have been “secretly” collecting all the Champions expansions: Heroes and Scenarios for quite a while now: there are quite a number (see below).

Champions and all of its expansions, as of September 2020.

I am a huge fan of  cooperative superhero games (see my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games), but Marvel Champions hadn’t been released when I put together that list about a year ago.  In that time, Fantasy Flight has made up that time and released tons of expansions (see picture above).

Back of the box

Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t like Marvel Champions. It’s very similar to the Arkham Horror: The Card Game (another LCG from Fantasy Flight) and that just didn’t work for me (see my review here). What’s different? I think I like the theme better, I like that there’s no randomness from chit pulls, I like that there’s no choose-your-own-adventure moments that kill you. Marvel Champions is all about battling the villains and keeping your deck going. It even made my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019 and my Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games. What makes this particular expansion exciting? Rise of the Red Skull offers campaign play (an ongoing story)! How well does it deliver on that campaign? Continue reading…


The expansion comes with a Rulebook, 5 new Villains (Crossbones, The Absorbing Man, Taskmaster, Zola, and the Red Skull), 2 new Heroes (Spider Woman and Hawkeye), 4 New “add-ons”, some Expert Mode cards, and finally some upgrades you can earn in between campaigns.

The 5 New Villains!

Of course, the best part of this expansion is that you get 5 new Villains! Of course, you have to go through all of them in the campaign, but you can also fight “one-shot” scenarios with all of them after the campaign is done.

The Two New Heroes

Similarly, you can play Spider-Woman and Hawkeye in the campaign or standalone.

Expert Cards and Campaign-only cards.

In general, the cards look just like the rest of the game and fit in the Universe just fine. It’s Marvel Champions: you either like style or you don’t! I do.

The 4 Add-Ons used by the Villains.


The Rulebook

The Rulebook introduces some new keywords (Permanent, Piercing, Ranged, and Setup) as well as the new mode of play : Campaign Mode.

The first chapter of the Campaign

The Rulebook doubles as the Campaign book. There are 5 scenarios, where each scenario is introduced by a a few pages of comic art to introduce the story (see above)!

Scenario 1: Text description

Each scenario is then introduced formally, with rules for Set-up and Expert Mode (if you decide to go that route).

In general, the rulebook was easy to read, and it was easy to set-up for each scenario. The rulebook uses nice, big text, and I had no trouble reading it. I was very satisfied with the rulebook/scenario book (as they are the same).

Solo Play


So, Marvel Champions is pretty well balanced for 1-4 players.  Many of the mechanisms in the game are based on the number of players (the number of hit points of the Villain is usually a constant times the number of players, the amount of threat each turns is based in the number of players, etc).  So, the solo game works pretty well.

When trying “new things” out, I prefer to concentrate on “the new stuff”, so I am not overwhelmed with rules.  In this case, I played through the whole campaign with a single hero: Captain America (a hero not found in the base game: you have to buy him separately). 

The campaign game basically played like Marvel Champions, with a few new rules here and there.   It worked pretty well.

Campaign Play

Scenario 2

So, I was more excited about this expansion than all the others! (Well, except for Captain America) I like Marvel Champions a lot, but the lack of story was, well, limiting. The idea that a campaign would help direct a game was amazing!

So, to prepare for the campaign, I played a number of solo games with Captain America over the week before Rise of the Red Suill arrived. When it did arrive, I pretty much played all 5 games over the weekend. I messed up the rules on the first play (I won, but I cheated), so I replayed the first scenario again. I then proceeded to play all 5 scenarios!

I don’t know if I cheated, but Captain America walked through the scenarios. It was really easy! The only scenario that gave me difficulty was Zola: I barely kept his threat under control so that he wouldn’t walk all over me. Winning seemed to be: “Keep the threat under control and occasionally do damage”.

If you lose a game, you simply have to replay it. There were no upgrades or “helpers” for losing a game. If you win a game, typically a card or two gets added to your deck (see cards above on right), or a new permanent upgrade was added (later cards in the Scenario).

The upgrades weren’t great, but they were helpful. They just didn’t really change the gameplay that much. It was cool to get something that was a little helpful, but the core game was still Marvel Champions underneath. It didn’t feel like the campaign mode changed the game THAT much. For example, the first upgrade is something you use ONCE, then remove from the game! It’s really cool when you use it, but that was the ONLY change from scenario 1 to scenario 2.

What the campaign did do: it encourages/forces you to try all all the new Villains! That was the best part! The campaign mode was a framework to try out all the Villains, and a nominal story to motivate/immerse the players.

A Month of Campaigns

Over the last month, I have been playing mostly campaign games!

Hero Realms: The Lost Village (see review here)
Aeon’s End: Outcasts (see review here)
Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull (see review… oh, you are reading it)

And, I’ll be honest, none of them really “nailed” the story. They all augmented their respective games, but I never felt like the main game changed that much. The one I enjoyed the most was The Lost Village: the cards and augmentations evolved but I think the story was the most compelling. Overall, I think Aeon’s End: Outcasts had the best story/writing overall: I also liked that I got to “choose” a lot more stuff between scenarios (you can use the new upgrades you get or completely ignore them or use an old one). Marvel Champions was good, and I liked the story, and the comic book art, but I felt like it was the game that changed the least. That’s not a BAD THING!!! I still like Marvel Champions a lot, I just think it was changed the least by the scenario augmentation.

Fiddliness: Sentinels of the Multiverse vs Marvel Champions


A lot of people make comparisons of Marvel Champions to Marvel: Legendary. I think a much more apt comparison is to Sentinels of the Multiverse: In both games, players controls a deck that “is” their superhero and powers!  Both decks came out kind of randomly, and both have the heroes do damage to a big bad to win.   The weird thing to me: people seem very polarized on these games!  People I l know who LOVE Marvel Champions don’t care for Sentinels of the Multiverse. And vice-versa.  I’ll be honest: I don’t get it. They are both great games, especially if you like cooperative Superhero games!!! (I like SOTM better, but I still like Marvel Champions too).   Some players complain about the “fiddliness” of  one over the other … but, let’s be honest!!!  They are both fiddly in different ways!!  I like them both, but I the recognize fiddliness in BOTH games of having to follow effects, counting damage, building decks, interpreting keywords, managing villains, and so many other things.

The reason I bring this up: The Rise of The Red Skull adds more fiddliness to the game! Between new understanding new keywords, interpreting new rules, and sorting new cards, the game becomes even more fiddly. I personally don’t mind, but you should be aware the fiddliness level of Marvel Champions rises a little more in The Rise of the Red Skull. (Should it be The Rise of the Fiddliness of Red Skull ? Nah, that probably wouldn’t sell well)

New Keywords and new Rules


So, Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull is a good expansion: the best part (so far for me) is that 5 new Villains! All 5 Villains played very differently; they added a lot of variety to the Marvel Champions system. If you didn’t like Marvel Champions and you were hoping the Campaign Mode would change your mind, you will be disappointed. Campaign Mode doesn’t change the base game that much: it add a neat story and some variety, but Marvel Champions is still the same core game. Like I said in the Aeon’s End: Outcasts review, the best part of the Campaign Mode (in both games) is that it gives players a framework to play all the content of the box and discover the variety therein.

I like Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull so far. It’s good. I still need to play the new heroes (Spider-Woman and Hawkeye) to see what I think of them. We’ll do that in Part II of this review! We’ll also look at how the campaign plays cooperatively with with multiple people.

Review of Aeon’s End: Outcasts. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Box Cover

My Kickstarter copy of Aeon’s End: Outcasts arrived just yesterday (September 3rd, 2020). For those of you who don’t know, Aeon’s End: Outcasts is a cooperative deck-builder for 1-4 players. It’s set in a fantasy universe with spell casting, gems, and artifacts. This is the fouth (!) big-box stand-alone expansion to the game (putting the grand total to five big box stand-alone boxes). I have kickstarted EVERY VERSION so far!! If you don’t know anything about deckbuilders or the Aeon’s End series, see my review here of Aeon’s End: War Eternal and the original Aeon’s End!!!


I think I have all Aeon’s End big box expansions AND small box expansions!

So, I almost didn’t back this expansion. I have to admit, I was experiencing some ennui with the Aeon’s End series. I mean, I have 4 big box expansions, and 10(?) small box expansions, plus the matte and Legacy recharge kit. Don ‘t get me wrong, I like Aeon’s End a lot (but see below), as it made the number 1 spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilders! BUT, a lot of my Aeon’s End games sit half-played, with a lot of content still in shrink-wrap. So, I almost didn’t back this expansion … in the end, I did because … I am a completionist?

Out of the Box Experience

Intro experience

One of the things that Aeon’s End does better than most games: the unboxing and jumping into your first game is VERY PLEASANT! And Aeon’s End: Outcasts continues this tradition! See the picture above! The starting leaflet tells you what decks to get out, how to organize them, and how to start. I admit to some trepidation/”worries of ennui” before I opened the game, but I forgot how easy it is to get going!

The intro cards to buy from

The art looks great (see above) , and the newer cards are a little different. Because there are so many predecessors to this Aeon’s End, the newer cards are necessarily more complex and you have you to think a little more how to use them.


Showing first few pages of rulebook

The rulebook is quite good, just like all the other versions.


In general, I had no problems with the rulebook. They showed the components, demonstrated set-up, and discussed rules clearly, just like the other Aeon’s End rulebooks. Aeons’ End: Outcasts DID show new rules by highlighting them in yellow (the most interesting new rule being curses that will clog your deck).

Solo Play and House Rules

First solo set-up!!!

So, to be clear, there are straight-forward solo rules to play Aeon’s End: Outcasts. They are covered very well in the book: you take the role of one mage playing through the game (with a very minor rule clarification: allies include yourself)—This is outlined on the last page of the rulebook. BUT, there is something that differs from the app! Something I HATE in the app, but the main rulebook don’t cover!

Screenshot from iPad version

An easy way to LEARN Aeon’s End is to pick up the Handelabra implementation of Aeon’s End. It has the original game and a some extra content at the time of this writing. It’s a decent implementation, and it works pretty well. There is one rule that the APP enforces that the ruleboook doesn’t cover: In the solo game, how many turns does the solo player have per round? See the little bar at the very top row of the screen above. First off, the Nemesis (the bad guy) will always have TWO turns per round (in both the app and the board game). IN THE APP, the solo player only gets THREE other turns per round! IN THE BOARD GAME, it’s implied/deduced (because it’s not clear) that the solo player gets FOUR turns per round!!!

I kind of hate the app because of this! Often enough (it’s not uncommon), the Nemesis will get FOUR TURNS A ROW (two at the end of the round, then another two at the start of the next round) without the player doing anything!!! This can be completely devastating and random and you just lose, especially in the later game. I hate this as you just watch yourself lose.

In the board game, it’s less likely to happen (as you have FOUR plays to TWO of the Nemesis), but I have a house rule that the Nemesis can never go more than twice in a row. If he were, I just reshuffle the round deck and try again. I can enforce this house rule because I control the round deck. I have actually stopped playing the App because of this … even though I love Aeon’s End.

What’s Different?


To be clear, although this an “expansion”, this is also a stand-alone big box game you can play WITHOUT any of the other content.   Aeon’s End: Outcasts doesn’t change the rules TOO much: it mostly just adds new content (like the new monster above).


It adds new spells, artifacts, and gems (see above for some examples).


It adds new characters (like Taqren above).

Whereas both Aeon’s End and Aeon’s End: War Eternal were just standalone deckbuilders with no story, Aeon’s End: Outcasts adds a campaign (very much Aeon’s End: the New Age) with a story. There’s a little storybook (which is much better than Aeon’s End: The New Age, where the campaign was on hard to read little cards) and a bunch of envelopes to open at the end of chapters. After each chapter, new content gets revealed, and a story emerges (nothing is shown to avoid apoilers)! It’s also completely resettable! (It’s a not a legacy game).


A winning solo game!

So, although I have some Aeon’s End ennui (say that three times fast), I am glad I got this version (Aeon’s End: Outcasts).  The storybook and chapters make me look forward to playing it.  The new characters and cards are interesting, even though they take a little more thought than the base game (because they have to mix it up to create new content).  The art is great, and the game is consistent with all the other Aeon’s Ends in terms of quality: the quality is quite high. See the discussion of high quality in my other review of Aeon’s End: War Eternal.

I think Aeon’s End: Outcasts might be the best Aeon’s End so far?  The campaign gives the game direction (so it’s not just a mish-mash of 100s of cards), and the fact that’s it resettable makes it easy to bring back to the table.  The new storybook also makes it easy to manage the story: the original Aeon’s End campaign game (Aeon’s End: The New Age) had the campaign text on CARDS, and it was too much/too fiddly to keep track of.   If you could buy only one Aeon’s End, I’d say pick this one.  If you love it, there are tons of expansions to make it bigger …