A Review of The Stygian Society: Part II. Conclusion

In Part I of my review, I took a look at The Stygian Society, a cooperative board and cube game for 1-4 players as they dungeon delve (but in a tower, so it’s a tower delve). Players play unique characters with unique powers, which are typical fantasy tropes (Doctor aka Cleric, Knight aka Fighter). To win, characters must make it to level 6 of the tower and take out the Big Bad Wizard at the top. If they die along the way, they lose.

Don’t Bury The Lede!

So, I won’t bury the lede: we liked the game … it was a good cooperative game! I liked the game … it was a good solo game. It was fun playing! The Stygian Society has a good chance of making my Top 10 cooperative games of 2020! But, there were some issues. I wanted to make it clear right up front that this is a good co-op! I will, however, be discussing some of the issues me and my group had, but I didn’t want you to think I didn’t like the game.

Game Length

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Probably the biggest problem we had with the game was the game length. My solo game took about 5 hours (I’ll call it 4 because of first time set-up/play). The cooperative 4-Player game took 2.5 hours, but we lost halfway through. If we had played all the way through, it would have taken probably 4-5 hours. It takes about 45-60 minutes PER FLOOR and there are 6 floors in the game! A bunch of my friends said “If I am going to play a 6-hour game, I’d rather play Arkham Horror (2nd Edition)“. This is kind of ironic since Kevin Wilson, the designer of this game, was a designer listed on Arkham Horror!

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Luckily, there’s a very simple fix to shorten the game! At the “midpoint” of the game, you are fighting the Mid-Level Boss. You could very easily call the game at the mid-level, playing about a 2 hour game. In other words:

  • Short Game: 2-3 hours, go from level 1, to level 2, to level 3. If you beat the mid-level boss on level 3, you win!
  • Long Game: 5-6 hours, normal game.  You have to through all 6 levels and beat the Wizard at the end to win!

When I played my solo game, I played all the way to level 3 and stopped.  I left the game set-up over night and played levels 4-6 the next day.  I had fun doing it this way.

It seems like this is the best way to play: play about 2.5 hours to level 3 (and then come back to finish it if you want, and can leave it set-up).  Although there are a lot of decisions in the game that keep it fun, it does get a bit samey, so a 2.5 hour game is probably ideal.

 

House Rules

One issue we had was that one of the characters seemed “less useful” in the game. Andrew had gotten the Burglar (see above), and both his initial power and next power were ONLY useful for treasure chests. Andrew was frustrated through most of the game because all he could do was a “Help” action (we’ll talk about that more below); he couldn’t take advantage of his special powers very much.

So, at the start of the game, the core rules direct each player to get a random 1st level power. When the player goes up a level, the core rules direct that a player can choose either (a) a random new power at the next level or (b) choose any new power from the current level. Arguably, Andrew was just the victim of bad luck as he got a less-useful 1st level power and 2nd level power. He wanted choice. So, here’s our House Rules to make the game more fun!

  • Whenever you would choose a “random” power, you take 2 powers, and you get to choose one of them instead (and put the other back)
  • At the start of the game, you can choose any power you want to start the game (optional?)

The first House Rule just gives some choice in the game, and engages you more, as you get invested in your character more. Similarly, the second House Rule invests your group, as you and your group can decide what powers you want as a group AND MAKES THE GAME MORE COOPERATIVE as you decide your strategy.

These House Rules are easy to implement and make the game more engaging.

Player Aid Cards

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So, the game could use a character aid. After playing through a few times (and I felt like I was an experienced player), I found there was a rule about peril “buried” in the rules. By “buried”, I mean it’s only referenced in one place in the rules, in the text-heavy description of the game flow. I read over the rules multiple times, played for hours, and it just got lost in the shuffle. Basically, the peril is supposed to go up whenever any enemy activates. Since most of the descriptions of effects are ON THE CARDS, I expected that to be on the cards too? I know, it’s my own fault. But I would claim it was harder to find.

I think there’s a bunch of stuff I missed that could have easily been on a character aid card. Side 1 of the player aid would describe what happens at the start and end of a level:

 

  • What happens at the START of a floor?  (Clear the crypt, field, and reset peril)
  • What happens at the END of combat (A “getting treasure” section)
  • What happens at the END of a floor?

Side 2 would describe what would happen in combat:

  • Choose Support action (if not tapped)
  •  Choose Action (which usually needs a target).  Actions can also come from status board: Help, Regroup, Attack!!! Describe these actions on each card too!  (The ONLY place these are described is on the status board)
  • Add cubes (Good and Bad)
  • Check Red enemies: if activate, activate  AND ADD PERIL
  • Check Red room triggers
  • Repeat for yellow, repeat for black

Something like that would have gone a long way towards making the game more accessible.

Set-Up and Shared Actions

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The status board needs to go in the center of all players. Why? Because when you choose your actions, you can also choose of the three on the status board!!! The ONLY PLACE these are documented is on the board itself!!! We thought it would have been nice if those actions where at least summarized on a player aid card (see above), in another 3 cards for each player (probably too expensive), or summarized on each of our player board.

Artifacts Wanted

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The game flowed very well, the cube tower was fun to throw cubes into, and it was easy to play a turn. However, after playing our game, we wanted something more: we think we wanted some “shared action” we could work towards during the game. What if we added Artifacts? For example, what if we were collecting cubes to power the Artifact sword Excalibur? If, as a group, we put enough cubes on it, we could do 10 damage when we activate it? Or clear the field? On turns where we couldn’t do much, it may have been nice to feel like we were contributing to some global thing? Obviously, this is just us brainstorming, but I think we wanted “something” like the Vanir section of Yggdrasil:

I think something like this (Artifacts) would very easy to add as an expansion.

Conclusion

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So, I asked for ratings (out of 10) for the game after we played. Here’s the results:

  • 5-6, too samey but I had fun.
  • 6-7, I had fun
  • 7-8 I had a real good time
  • 7.5 I liked it, but solo was a little better (8)

What were our thoughts overall?

  • Every one had fun playing!
  • We think the House Rules really fix some of the issues, and they are easy fixes (more choices on powers)
  • A player aid would have gone a long way towards making the game more playable
  • Some repetition of rules (shared actions, some peril rules, luck rules) would have been helpful
  • Make sure the status board is set-up in the middle so players can see the shared actions

I think this game seems to get a 7 overall from my group.  Our House Rules probably boost it up to a 7.5.  An expansion with character playing aids and some Artifacts to activate, and rules mods (i.e., our House Rules and short game/long game rules)  might even put it at an 8.

 

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