A Review of Tales of Evil, Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

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Tales of Evil is cooperative adventure game for 1-6 players. It was originally on Kickstarter back in December 2018. It’s been out for some time for the Kickstarter backers, but it just came out into retail: I picked it up from Miniatures Market and I know it was just released (mid November 2020) because the order was in hold until that came out.

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The theme of this cooperative adventure game is a bunch of kids (pre-teens-teens) running around and exploring supernatural phenomena (reminiscent of Stranger Things). The kids are in a club together called The Pizza and Investigation Club (which reminded me of somewhat of The Three Investigators, if anyone remembers that series of pre-teen books).

The Kickstarter bills the game as “The 80’s Horror Board Game Experience”. I’d say it’s more of an adventure/exploration game than a Horror game, but there are definitely more horror moments in what I’ve seen. If I were to try to summarize this game, I’d say Tales of Evil is a cross of the Arkham Horror, 2nd. edition Board Game (for mechanisms and gameplay) with the Stranger Things TV Show (for theme and setting) and the Tales of Arabian Nights Board Game (for the storybook elements). (If you don’t know what a storybook game is, see my Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games for some really cool ones!).

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Unboxing

The game is chock-fun of content!IMG_7099

There are a number of books: An Event Book, a Rulebook, a Storybook for the main game (The Mystery of the Demon Puppet Mistress) and an expansion (see below).

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There’s a bunch of cardboard (tokens see above) and boards (see below).

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There are little miniatures plus some redundant standees (I am guessing the miniatures were a Stretch Goal in the Kickstarter). They are nice enough.

There are bunch of cards (over 200) in many different categories. (Grumble, see Rulebook discussion below).

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There is also a 90 second sand-timer for a few activities in the game. This isn’t a real-time game per se, but there are a few places where it is real-time.

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For a really good look at most of the components, take a look at the main Kickstarter page here.

Like Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition, there are a lot of skill tests where you use the specialized dice above to roll. These dice may be my favorite component in the game! The glow in the dark!

Oh, and the game really leans into the Horror theme: you get a “Horror Movie Poster” for the game! See below!

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The Rulebook

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So, the rulebook looks like it’s pretty good. But you’ll notice the “Content” section only LISTS the components without any pictures or marking!!! Arggh!! This was VERY FRUSTRATING as none of the backs of the cards in the game are marked and a lot of the icons are unclear at first. So, let me help you out: the cards are presented … near the back of the book!!!

My advice to you is look at the contents list while correlating the cards with the list later in the book (see above two pages). I feel like this section should have been further up front!!! I was very frustrated until I found this.

So, I will give this game some props: it tries something different with the rules. Since the game is Storybook based, Tales of Evil tries very hard to make the rules come out when they are needed IN THE STORYBOOK. The designer makes this note (see above) in the very first pages of the rulebook. The rest of the rulebook is more of a reference guide which you can reference later in the game.

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And it almost works. I still had to read about the dice and how the dice checks work (see above from the Rulebook). I still had to read how combat works. I think it’s really hard to put the rules in JUST the storybook, but this deferring of rules almost worked. It worked well enough.

This definitely feels like a Kickstarter rulebook. It just needed a little more love. But it was enough and I was able to get into my first game.

Gameplay

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In Tales of Evil, each player takes the role of  one of the kids above.  Each kid has different powers and starting equipment and a different backstory. 

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The main mechanism in the game is rolling dice and trying to get a number of “successes” on the dice.   The Bullseye on the dice represent successes.

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Like Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition, there are two successes per die.  (There are some extra rules, see above, but that’s the essential mechanism)  There are mechanisms for mitigating dice roles, based on your character and equipment (like AH).  Each character gets a number of dice for different kind of skill checks: combat, defense, etc. again based on character and equipment.   There’s a lot in the main skill checks, character abilities, and equipment that will remind you of Arkham Horror.

IMG_7146Like Arkham Horror, you explore some boards (actually, that’s probably more like Mansions of Madness, but the exploration elements are in both): see above.  As you explore, you read entries out of the Storybook and make decisions (like most Storybook games), reminiscent of Choose Your own Adventure games.

You and your fellow players explore!  Each game, the ‘goal’ of the game is different, depending on where you are in the story.  Players explore, read storybook entries, perform skill checks/combat, and generally try to solve some mystery in the game!

First Game and Solo Rules

That first game took a while to set-up.  I suggest you set aside some time to punch everything out and try to absorb the rulebook (like I said, it’s a Kickstarter rulebook so it needs some love).  I needed one night to get everything unpunched and set-up before I started my first the next day. 

Does this game follow Saunders’ Law?  Yes! I played my first game as Peter Spencer (the founder of the Pizza and Investigation Club).  Although the game prefers multiple people, the storybook seems to always keep in mind solo play.  For example, at one point, I was being attacked by something and “all other players” were supposed to help me, but since I was the only character, there was a special rule for the solo player.

I played through my first game in about an hour.  I saw a lot of the mechanics, and I believe I can teach this game now.

Fusion

So, remember earlier when I said this game was weird? There’s this thing called Fusion in the game that’s … weird. It will probably either entice or disenchant you immediately. When the word Fusion comes up in the Storybook, you immediately start the timer and have to do something IN THE REAL WORLD IN REAL TIME. For example, to get a box out of a fountain, I had to take off my shoes and socks IN THE REAL WORLD AT MY GAME TABLE. If I failed this activity, I would lose some health or something like that.

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Why is there a spoon in the picture above? Because the Fusion system demanded I go get one (corresponding to a challenge in the game).

Thematically, the Fusion system is described as “Your current life affecting your teen life in the 80s! It’s a feedback loop!” This game is definitely marketed towards people who grew up in the 80s, so it’s definitely hitting that market. Mechanically, this Fusion system is both engaging and disengaging at the same time: You are literally engaged doing something weird at Fusion events (like getting a spoon or taking off your shoes), but it also “takes you out of the game” as you were concentrating on these 80s kids, and all of a sudden you are doing something weird!


When I was explaining this game to my friend, he was very excited!

  • It’s like Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition?  Check!
  • It like Stranger Things?  Check!
  • It’s a Storybook game?  Check!
  • It has weird skill checks like Qelf or the Mad Magazine Game?  Wait … what?

As soon as I explained the Fusion system, my friend CC got a funny look on his face, “Wait, what?” This Fusion thing may completely disenchant a lot of people. I am keeping an open mind for further plays, as I think it may have the potential to do some really neat things in the game! The rulebook alludes to taking you to some cool web sites, or exploring some history on the web (ala Detective by Portal Games), but it’s really unclear how this will play out. So far, it’s been … underwhelming. But I am keeping an open mind.

Interesting Ideas In Cooperative Games

There several other things that Tales of Evil did to try to make the game explore different cooperative mechanics.  I am not sure what I think of these, but they are original ideas.

  1. Matches:  If someone has to be picked to do something, the game forces you to use “Who Drew the shortest Match?” game from when you were a kid. IMG_7147
    You literally put all the matches in someone’s hand (so they look like they are the same height) and everyone draws a match.  Whoever draws the shortest match has to “do the yucky thing”. 
  2. Group Decisions: Rather than doing “big long discussions” when there are options in the game, the game requires that the players all say their choice at the same time and you simply immediately use the majority (with the current player breaking ties).  I think the reason for this is to keep game play moving and avoid “analysis paralysis” when players disagree.

I don’t know if I like these mechanisms, but they definitely feel like the kind of things kids would do. 

Conclusion

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So, this game is a wild ride. I think you might know right away if you’ll hate it or love it. The components are great and the theme is very well-executed. The Fusion system (with real-time real-world events) is weird. The choosing matches idea is interesting and thematic, but I worry it will take away from cooperation in the game. The quick choice mechanism promises quicker game play, but it may trivialize some choices.

I don’t know what my pronouncement of this game is yet. I am keeping an open mind, but I really need to play it with more people. Like most storybook games, I think this game will be MUCH better with more people participating.

There’s some really interesting ideas in here! I am hopeful this go over well with my group. Be on the lookout for Part II of this review …

A Review of Master Word: A Cooperative Party Word Game

Master Word is a cooperative party word game that just got released here in the USA about Mid-November 2020 (I know this because this game was holding up my order).

This is guessing game in the vein of Master Mind (an abstract deduction game) but using words instead. I described it to my friends as Master Mind meets Just One meets Codenames. It has the cooperative nature of Just One, with deduction elements of Master Mind, and word connotations like Codenames. To be clear, this is a cooperative party game: you need 3-6 people to play.

Unboxing

Master Word doesn’t have too many components. It has a rulebook, a bunch of “thumbs up” token, some cards YOU CAN WRITE ON, some dry-erase pens and 300 Play cards.

This is a word game: during a turn, each player (except the Guide) will write a word/idea on one of the cards. Master Word even includes a weird felt eraser so can erase your cards without needing Kleenex! But seriously, you need Kleenex to clean the cards. The felt works fine, but I worry about it getting “full”.

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You can see most of the components above. But the main action happens on the little clue cards (far right box).

Rulebook

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The rulebook is more like a three-folded pamphlet. To be fair, there aren’t a lot of rules to the game.

Not much to say: the rulebook is readable, has some good examples, and presents the game pretty well. It’s pretty good if not great.

Gameplay

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This game is all about getting everybody to work together to guess a word: it’s a fully cooperative game!!! One player is trying to help everybody else guess the word. The game starts with the group choosing one player to be the “Guide” (or Clue-giver): The Guide takes a word card (from the box of 300) and shows everyone THE CLUE only: In the example above, the CLUE is Animal, and the Word is COW: he keeps COW hidden.

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The rest of the players (called Seekers) talk and cooperate trying to come up with words to help “narrow” the clue. Each Seeker then each write a word (or an idea, like “greater than 100”) on a card across a row. In the first round above, you see a 4-Player game (1 Guide, 3 seekers), so you see three guesses.

Once the Seekers have written their words, the Guide is allowed to give a thumbs-up for every seeker. If the written word “implies” or “narrows” to the final word, they get a thumbs-up! In the example, the players get one thumb-up, because a Cow is “obviously” found on a Farm! Note some of the imprecision here: A lot of Zoos have cows, but some people think of cows only being on a Farm. It’s up to the Guide to make the call to help his fellow players: The Guide’s job is to do the best he can to help his fellow players! Even if Zoo might get a thumb-up, the Guide thinks this will confuse his group in this instance! (Note that The Guide can hear all the deliberations of the group, so he has a sense of what they are thinking)

Note that the players DO NOT KNOW which card the thumbs-up applies to!!! (I made this mistake the first time I played). That’s why the thumbs are placed to the right of the row instead of on any of the cards. You just know one card got a thumbs-up, not which card.

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In the second round, players get two thumbs-Up, because a Cow is in a Barn and is typically outside. Again, the players still don’t know exactly which cards the thumbs-up refer to.

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Above is a final game. The Seekers have successfully guessed COW and gotten the BIG THUMBS-UP!!! There’s two other things to note here:

(1) First, you’ll notice that a thumbs-up in ON the MOOS card. The Guide has a special power: exactly one time during the game, the Guide can move one of the thumbs-up to a specific card to emphasize a clue. In this case, the Seeker emphasizes MOOS to try to give the Seekers a big hint.
(2) Secondly, once Seekers are ready to guess the final word, the guess HAS to go on a RED CARD. If the Seekers had written COW on a white card THEY IMMEDIATELY LOSE!!!! This forces the be orderly in their search.

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Um, there are no solo rules. Even trying to apply the Changing Perspectives idea, you can’t really play this game alone. For 4-6 players, the game is simple: one player is the Guide and the rest are Seekers (each Seeker getting one card per round). Officially, for a 3-Player game, the Seekers get two cards per round (so 4 guesses per round). There’s no official 2-Player rules, but this same idea could work: One player plays the Guide and the other player plays a Seeker with three guesses per round.

The official player count is 3-6. I think this is accurate. We played a 7-Player game and it almost worked. The problem with too many Seekers is that there are too many people talking at the same time trying to discuss words, and they start stepping on each other. You could get away with a 2-Player or a 7-Player game, but the game works best with 3 to 6 players.

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So, this game works great. I have probably played 10 games of this over the last week since I got it! There’s only one thing we “changed” to make the game more fun. By default, the Seekers only have 90 seconds to make theirs guesses!!! We hated this, so we just got rid of this rule. We just took all the time we wanted. Getting rid of the time limit made the game longer (it’s supposed to be 15 minutes, but our games tended to be 25 minutes), but who cares? It made the game more fun!

And here’s the thing: Master Word works great in person (see above for a 4-Player game) or online over the Internet!!! In fact, 8 of the 10 games I played were over the Internet over Discord. This game would easily make our Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online! How do you play online?

  1. Get Online using something with Audio, a Camera and a Chat l(ike Discord or Zoom)
  2. The owner of the game takes a CLUE/FINAL WORD out of the box and (without looking) shows it on the screen.  While everyone else closes their eyes, the Guide looks at the CLUE and FINAL WORD.  The Guide then says the CLUE out loud.
  3. Players discuss online over Audio. They come up with their guesses (like normal)
  4. In the chat, one Seeker writes all the guesses: (Farm, Jungle, Zoo)
  5. In the chat, the Guide puts out the thumbs-up (either the Icon or a number indicating how many thumbs-up): (1)
  6. Play continues for 7 rounds!  If the Seeker players need to emphasize a word is a guess, they can put a * next to it: *COW
  7. At any point, the Guide can write in the chat to use his one time power to emphasize a guess. (“Hey Guys, MOO”)

Online, this has been a hit!  It’s become our go-to online game after Just One!

Issues

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Although we really like this game, you sometimes have to go through contortions to make sure the thumbs-up clues make sense.  For example, we ended up in 3-Seeker game always giving exactly three words with one always repeated!  For example, if we give (FARM, FARM, JUNGLE) then the number of thumbs-up is telling.

  • 0 Thumbs-up: it’s not FARM or JUNGLE
  • 1 Thumbs-up: It has to be JUNGLE
  • 2 Thumbs-up: It has to be FARM
  • 3 Thumbs-up: It’s both FARM and JUNGLE

So, we had to “be clever” when we came up with our guesses, sometimes giving mutually exclusive guesses on different axes (MALE, MALE, FARM):

  • 0 Thumbs-up: Female, not a farm
  • 1 Thumbs-up: Female, a farm
  • 2 Thumbs-up: Male, not a farm
  • 3 Thumbs-up: Male, a farm

So, we end up with some interesting conversations trying to come up with the right way to form our clues to get the most information.  This was clever, but sometimes excluded other people from the conversation.

The game sometimes feels a little convoluted, when maybe something simpler could have worked: 

  • Like a FAMILY MODE: Perhaps you always get 3 guesses (regardless of player count) and you put thumbs-up ON the proper card instead of not knowing which card.  This method would eliminate the need to worry about set-theory and mutual exclusion.

Normal mode allows you opportunities to be clever, which we loved. Something like FAMILY MODE would make this game more accessible to everyone.


Conclusion

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Overall, this is a good cooperative party game: gameplay fosters interactive discussions and working together. The Seekers do most of the work, and sometimes you feel like you don’t get to do much as the Guide. But, sometimes it’s nice to be in the mellow position of being the Guide (compared to Codenames where the Clue-Giver position can be very frustrating).

The fact that this game works so well online is a major point in its favor!! Although my online groups prefer the simplicity of Just One online, Master Word has become a new online favorite to play on Discord.

This is a good cooperative party word game in person, but exceptional in that you can play online very easily.

A Review of Mint Cooperative: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

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Mint Cooperative is a tiny little cooperative game that was on Kickstarter in about Sept. 2019 (about a year ago at the time of this posting). My friend Sam had backed both Mint Works (a tiny worker placement game) and Mint Delivery (a tiny pickup and deliver game) and both had been decent. Mint Cooperative is in the same line of little mint boxes containing little games. The cooperative superhero theme also appealed to me (as long time readers of my blog know, per my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card Games). So, I went ahead and backed it. $10! Plus 5$ shipping!

The back of the tin shows what this game is: a light (15-30 minutes) cooperative game for 1-4 players with a superhero/cavity fighting theme.

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Mint Cooperative is the size of a larger mint tin: it arrived in a little plastic wrapper with a little Kickstarter extra (2 cards: additional Villain and Stunt).

Unboxing

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This game packs quite a lot of stuff into this little tin. Some dice, a bunch of small cards, a bunch of bigger cards, a bunch of tokens, and SOMEHOW they put a rulebook in.

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The cards are of decent quality (they appear linen-finished) and you can read them pretty well. I have to admit, I was surprised by this: I thought I’d have to get my glasses, but in general, I didn’t need them. Above are all the little cards:

  • The Hero Cards: Each player takes the role of a Superhero and gets a special ability (variable player powers)
  • The Trouble Cards: These are the “Bad News” or “Event” cards you see in a lot of cooperative games that cause bad stuff to happen to the heroes.
  • The Stunt Cards: Each player gets a one-shot stunt that can do something good for the players

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The rest of the cards are larger (about the size of two smaller cards) and are:

  • City Locations: The colored cards (red, blue, purple, brown, orange, grey, green) that correspond to city locations to protect. 
  • Villain Cards: The brownish cards are the Super Villain the Heroes fight
  • Extra:  A “terror” track (called the Regional Panic card, see below), reminder card (see below), “we won/we lost” card (for posting on Social Media)

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We also get 4 tiny dice which are surprisingly readable (see above next to the reminder card).

And of course, Mints! Well, wooden disks that looks a loooooot like Red and White Mints. But don’t eat them!

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But the coolest pieces in the game: the little hero meeples. These are LITTLE meeples! I put a #2 pencil next to them to try to show scale, but considering how small these little meeples are, there is a surprising amount of detail on them! They are probably my favorite component in the game. If nothing else in the game says “This is a Superhero game”, these little meeples do!

Rulebook

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The rulebook …. fits in the tin. Barely. So that it fits, it’s a pamphlet that’s been folded many times. See above how it comes out of the tin!

It doesn’t quite flatten out very well, but it is pretty readable. The text doesn’t seem too small.

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There’s a components section: this REALLY needs some icons or pictures here! It would just help a little.

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The set-up chart is good and readable, but they really needed a numbered legend for each step: the actual set-up rules are numbered, but what do they correspond to on the picture?

In general, the rulebook is … ok. I read it and was able to learn the game. I was pleasantly surprised that I could read the text! I was expecting tiny, tiny, text, but it was readable without glasses or magnifying glasses. So kudos to that!

.. but, there were a number of things missing from the rulebook that I think should have been there. For example: Where is Weakness on the Villain Card? (Turns out the Villain cards are double-sided, and I think it’s on the back bottom). I do prefer the text based systems (like Mint Cooperative uses) instead of Icons most of the time, but there were a bunch of cards that weren’t labelled: What is Regional Panic? (It was labelled in the set-up, but it really should have been ON THE CARD) What are the Heroic Actions? After playing the game, you figure it out, but it kinda makes you grumpy. An Icon or a Label would have gone a looong way. Again, if the set-up picture had been NUMBERED, I could have correlated the pieces in the set-up a little easier.

The rulebook was good enough, but I feel like it reallllly needed another pass to help correlate pieces in the game. Eh, I learned it.

Gameplay

So, this is actually kind of a cooperative dice placement game. The players roll the 4 six sided dice and choose which three they will want to play. You either play a dice on a Stunt (one-time, see below) or the activity listed on the reminder card.

The little reminder sheet next to the sheet reminds players what the dice can do. You can use the dice for what’s listed, or potential use a stunt:

So, the players talk and decide who wants to use which dice. When the third die is used (the fourth goes unused), the dice get rolled again, unused stunts are discarded (stunts reset every turn), and play continues.

Basically the actions are:

  • Mint: place a mint on a city (to “freshen it up”)
  • Fly: Move to any city Location
  • Move: Move to an adjacent city
  • Heroic Action: use the player’s special action
  • Reduce Panic: Reduce the panic on the Regional Panic chart
  • Invoke Villain’s Weakness: Invoke weakness (I think on the back of the villain card).

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To win the game, you need to survive until the three Mayhem cards (see above) have been revealed (from the Trouble deck) and you have survived.   You lose if Regional Panic makes it all the way to the top!! So, on your turn, you fly around the city and keep the city “fresh” (by putting mints on City Locations) to keep the city’s “terror?” “cavity?” markers covered. See below:

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The Regional Panic will go up based on the number of yield signs showing.

The Trouble cards are what cause the city to become less “fresh”:

The Trouble card above tells you to take 2 mints off of each city Location listed to the left. (If there are no mints, take as many as you can). For each city, if doing this reveals any yield signs (“terror?” “cavity?”), then the Regional Panic goes up by that amount. (For the record, I hate the term Regional Panic: it sounds each region or city Location has its own panic level!!! That chart should have just been called “Panic Level” or “Terror Level” or more thematically, “Halitosis Level” or “Bad Breath Level”!)

Trouble

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The mechanism for placing Trouble cards is different and interesting. At the start of the turn, when you roll the dice, the number of doubles/triples rolled determines how many Trouble cards you draw! This is mitigated by some rules, but in general, you can draw 0, 1 or 2 Trouble cards. In my games, I saw almost 2 cards every time. This is a Catch-22: you DO NOT want Trouble, as it causes Regional Panic to go up … BUT the Mayhem cards are sprinkled in the Trouble deck (a la Pandemic) so you want the Trouble cards to come out to get to the Mayhem cards! You can only win if you get through all three Mayhem cards!

This mechanism is interesting because it’s self-balancing. You always roll 4 dice, do Trouble, take 3 actions (no matter the number of players), then start over. It’s simple, balancing, and easy to explain (although some of the double rules are weird).

Solo Play

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See above for a solo set-up!

The game works fine solo. There are special (but simple) rules for playing Solo: basically, you play as three characters in the game.

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The game flows decently well solo, but you do have to keep track of 3 different powers for three different characters. It took about 40 minutes for my first play: I could see it taking 15-30 minutes on subsequent plays.

This solo mode is a good way to learn the game, so thank you Mint Cooperative for adhering to Saunders’ Law and having a viable solo mode!

Value

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So, this game reminded meet (in terms of scale) to Solar Storm.  We reviewed Solar Storm back here, and we liked Solar Storm as a light cooperative game.  These two games are kind of the same ilk: small, quick cooperative games. 

  • Solar Storm: $18.99 at Miniature Market
  • Mint Cooperative: $10 (Kickstarter, +$5 shipping)

From a price perspective, they are similar. Solar Storm is about 3x bigger and maybe 1.5x more expensive.  Mint Cooperative is small and can fit in your pocket: Solar Storm can’t.   Unfortunately, in order to fit in my pocket, I needed a rubber band: the mint package was falling open.

Conclusion

Like Mint Works and Mint Delivery, Mint Cooperative was decent. I liked it okay, but I didn’t love it. I didn’t think the theme really came out (so I very much doubt it would make my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card Games), so that was a little bit of a disappointment. Honestly, the most thematic part of the games was the little superhero meeples: I Loved those!

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If you asked me to play this game with you, I’d happily play it with you. It was fun enough. If you asked me to recommend a light cooperative game, I’d probably recommend Solar Storm first: I think Solar Storm is a more thematic and fun light cooperative game.

Having said that, if this looks even a little interesting to you, pick it up! It’s only $10! The game was good enough and you’ll have some fun playing it. For $10, I can plop it into my pocket and play it with you. And we’ll have a good time, if not amazing.

P.S. It is a small game, but it does take up some space on the table! I wouldn’t recommend it in too small of a space … a airplane tray table is probably too small …

Review of the Detective: Smoke and Mirrors (Cooperative Mode Only)

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Detective: City of Angels is a cooperative crime-solving game in a Noir setting. We have previously reviewed it here and it made the top spot on both of our Top 10 Storybook/Storytelling Games and Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019! It’s safe to say that me and my group have really enjoyed the Detective: City of Angels universe!

We need to be clear on the game we are discussing here: Detective: City of Angels is a very different game from Detective and Detective: Season One. Those games are from Portal games and involve extensive use of the internet. THESE ARE NOT THE GAMES WE ARE REFERRING TO. Detective: City of Angels, and its expansions Bullets over Hollywood and Smoke and Mirrors (which we are discussing here) are self-contained games from Van Ryder. (The other Detective series is from Portal).

My group played the Portal games Detective and thought it was interesting, but it felt too much like work (as we were constantly going to the internet). The Van Ryder Detective: City of Angels game, on the other hand, was fun and self-contained noir detective stories that we had a blast playing. So, how is this new expansion?

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To be clear, in order to play the expansion Detective: Smoke and Mirrors, you need the base game (see picture above).  My copy arrived a few weeks ago (November 2020). I had Kickstarted the original game and loved it, so it was a no-brainer to Kickstart the expansion Detective: Smoke and Mirrors.  Note that I also get a new set of notepads with the expansion (they are dedicated notepads to writing down clues in the game).

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The expansion includes 4 new cases for you and your friends to solve. So, the expansion replaces the casebooks and Chisel book from the original game with new books!

The gamebox also contains the 4 boxes with the new cases.

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There’s a ton of space on the left hand side of the box to put other expansions that may come out in the future. The way the other cards were packaged in the box was a little weird. They didn’t quite fit (see picture above) as they protruded a little. I think the idea is that you will fold them into the base box, but considering how much space is wasted for the expansion, this seemed like this could have gone wrong and folded the cards. Luckily there were ok, but I wonder if other people will have problems with the way some of the cards are packed.

Another weird decision: they added a purple character. This is NOT a 5-player expansion, this is just in case you want a different color! Even then, the purple components didn’t quite match each other (see picture above) . It was a very unnecessary cosmetic piece to the expansion, BUT Sara really wanted the purple player so I guess it worked.

The Vincent Dutraite art is fantastic (see above) and consistent with the original game. Both the art and graphic design continues the tradition of the original game: It looks great.

Rulebook

There’s not really a new rulebook, just a pamphlet to expand on the ideas in the game. Really, the only change in the game is that some of the mysteries have different solve condition. In the original game, you always had to find weapon, motive, and suspect. In the new game, there are other twists (multiple murders, etc)!! Honestly, this is an expansion in the truest sense: Smoke and Mirrors really just adds NEW CONTENT: 4 New Cases to expand the original game.

Set-Up

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Set-up isn’t too bad.  You need just a few things from the original game: the board, the detectives, the notepads, and that’s about it.  Almost everything else comes from the expansion, so it’s pretty easy to set-up and play this expansion.  Although I loved the expansion Hero Realms: The Lost Village (the cooperative expansion for Hero Realms which I reviewed here), The Lost Village was very painful to set-up and get going.  Luckily, Detective: Smoke and Mirrors, did not have this problem.  Were were up and going pretty quickly, and it was easy to keep the base game and expansion content separate.

Cooperative Play

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To be clear: we are ONLY reviewing the cooperative play mode of the expansion. Recall that the default way to play Detective: City of Angels is one vs. many, which my playgroup typically does NOT enjoy: Cooperative mode is simply another (included) way to play. We prefer the idea of working together to solve the mystery rather than having one of our friends be an adversary. BUT, if you enjoy that adversarial mode, this expansion still has the Chisel book for that play style.

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Recall that you still want to Chisel book at the end of the cooperative mystery, as it gives a nice narrative of how the crime happened.

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So, how does the game play? It’s really more of the same IN A GOOD WAY. It’s like a new season of your favorite detective show: just more cases. There are some new wrinkles to keep it fresh: we ended up have new expanded locations we could explore in a more interesting way: No spoilers, but one new location was a 2×2 grid you could move around and search. There was also new “crimes” and new things you had to figure out. take a look at the picture above! These are new crime note sheets that augment the original note sheets. Each mystery has a “different” set of things you have to figure out.

There were a few missteps that threw us: we added new cards across the top row THAT REPLACED OLD ONES, which meant you had to be aware when they changed so you could do a DIFFERENT lookup.

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See the lookup grid for Myst 8 and Myst 11 for Carnival of Souls? Those Myst. 8 and 11 cards REPLACE other cards in the A-L row, so if you aren’t paying attention you might accidentally go to the wrong space on the grid after those cards come out! The directions said NOTHING about this. If I hadn’t noticed it, I think we would have lost our first game and been very annoyed.

BUT that was the only thing that really got in the way.

Solo Play

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This game follow Saunders’ Law: there is a viable solo mode. To play solo,  you just have one detective on the board.  It works fine (and that’s the way I played some cases of the original game), but I do think it works better with multiple people: ideas get thrown around quicker, and yhhhou have a better chance of solving the case.   It’s also better to explore the board with multiple people, as it’s easier to have one detective concentrate on the city, and other detectives concentrate on some of the new expanded locations.   But, you shouldn’t have any problem playing solo: It still works fine just like the original game.

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In general, we loved Detective: Smoke and Mirrors as much as the original game. It’s a true expansion: it just gives you more content (4 new cases) with some very minor tweaking. It was easy to set-up and play the new cases from the expansion: sometimes expansions require quite a bit of work, juggling to get content from the original game and the expansion to work together, but that was not the case here.

There were some minor weird things (some new cards were packed oddly, some new content was easy to misuse, and added a purple player for little reason), but in general this is a great expansion. If you love Detective: City of Angels and you want more cases, this is right up your alley.

A Review of Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse

Last week (right at Halloween), we came out with our Top 10 Creepy/Spooky Cooperative Games! We put Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse in there as an Honorable Mention because we haven’t gotten through it. Well, today, we’re going to take a full look at this Escape Room game. Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse is a cooperative escape room type game for 1-4 players (more could play, but 4 seemed liked a good limit). It takes 2-3 hours to play all the way through (we took 3 hours). You can stop at about 3 or 4 points in the game (so as to resume later) but we played all the way through in one night.

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So, we should have waited a week before we came out with our Top 10 Creepy/Spooky Cooperative Games list! (I guess we didn’t have a choice: it was Halloween!) This game was AMAZING! I was worried (from some reviews I’ve read) that this game wasn’t going to be very good: Tom Vasel gave it a lukewarm review, and Eric Summerer gave it a slightly better review. Historically, I tend to agree with them, but they weren’t right on this. This game was fun, thematic, cool, interactive, and one of the best Escape Rooms board games I’ve ever played!!! This might have made the #1 spot on last week’s list!

The Dollhouse

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So, let’s start with the Dollhouse! This is one of the coolest components I’ve ever seen in a boardgame. It takes a little bit to get set-up (see above), but once it’s set-up, it just screams theme. Don’t look toooo long at the above dollhouse. Partly because it’ll give away some puzzles, and partly because it’s creepy!!

The set-up is fairly straight-forward (see instruction from above): I want to say it took us about 20 minutes to set-up.

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Opening the box, you can see all sorts of stuff.

The heart of the game is a code wheel, which we have seen in a lot of EXIT Escape room games.

Even more clever, they put a “lock” on the wheel, so you can’t accidentally see too much as you are rotating the dials.

The Rulebook

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The rulebook is good and we got going quickly (after building the dollhouse).

The rulebook also doubles as the storybook: as you are solving “rooms”, you get more of the story. This is NOT just flavor text!!! Well, some of it is, but there are also hints to puzzles buried in the story as well. You HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE STORY, or you might miss some important clues! I loved the story in Aeon’s End: The Outcasts (and was kind of reminded of that here, only in terms of presentation), but that story didn’t have anything Aeon’s End needed to really play the game. Not so here! You absolutely need to pay attention … and that’s why this game sings. In this case, it talks creepily as dolls …

The Story

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The story .. without giving away too much: you are stuck in a dollhouse and have to get out! The story is interesting and creepy. As you read from the storybook, you speak in creepy voices. Or at least we did. I suspect you will too! We went through the entire game in one night: it took 3 hours to play through the entire story! We never wanted to stop … this story was interesting and immersive!

Cooperation

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One of the reasons The Cursed Dollhouse worked so well: it encouraged cooperation on many levels (pun intended).  For one, every “room” of the dollhouse you are in has 3-4 puzzles people can work on concurrently.   People tend to gravitate towards some puzzles, and sometimes two or three people are working on one puzzle while another person worked (independently) on a different puzzle.  During the entire game, we probably formed all 4 combinations of people working together!  Sometimes, you’d run out of ideas and throw it to another group, sometimes you’d stubbornly sit on the puzzle until you solved it, sometimes you’d ask for help. 

My friend Junkerman tends to dislike Escape Room games because “the single puzzle” gets sized by one subgroup and the other subgroups have nothing to do.  That didn’t happen to us in The Cursed Dollhouse! 90% of the time, everyone was working on SOMETHING, either by themselves or with another person(s). Having 3-4 puzzles per room really helped foster the cooperation. 

I am sure this would work fine as a solo game, but my group experience makes me think that this would be SO MUCH MORE enjoyable with a group (as different ideas flow much more easily between people).

Small Dollhouse

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One of Tom’s complaints from his review was that “no more than 2 people could look at the Dollhouse at a time”.  This is fair, to a certain extent. All the action is at the Dollhouse, and everyone wants to crowd around.  I mentioned this to my group before we started our play, but we simply worked around it: it was never a problem for us.  This is probably because we knew it MIGHT be a problem, so we simply worked together (cooperated) to fix it!  In the end, we did two things to mitigate this problem:

  1. We moved around a lot.  We would frequently swap chairs with people, partly so some of us could examine the Dollhouse, partly so we could move around in groups and solve puzzles.
  2. We used our phones to take pictures.  Most people (at least in my group) have a smartphone, and we’d occasionally take a picture of the room we were in, so we could ZOOOM in it with our phones/camera apps.  This allowed us to “look” at the Dollhouse (and ZOOM which was important a few times) without having to crowd.

Forewarned is forearmed: As long as you know that crowding in front of the Dollhouse MIGHT be an issue, you can work together to alleviate said issue.  So, just be aware it might be a problem!

Puzzles and Solutions

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Like all Escape Rooms (both board games and real Escape Rooms), there are puzzles to solve.  You will need pen and paper (see above).  Now,  we got every problem in the game without any hints!  (I think we brute forced one).  BUT part of this was because the Hint System is on a web site instead of cards/booklets in the game!!! I actually think this separation actually encouraged us to work harder at the puzzles.   The EXIT games have a great hint system in cards, but these hint cards are sitting next to you … so easy to pick up if you are having a problem … “Come, pick up the hint, don’t get stuck …” (said in a creepy doll voice).   So, we worked diligently on all the puzzles, and solved them all!    But, be aware, these puzzles are NOT SIMPLE : This is a fairly hard Escape Room game!    As much as I enjoyed it, I would definitely only recommend playing this after you have played a number of other Escape Room games.

Oh ya, the hint web site only worked on Android and not IOS for us.  It was probably because my IOS phone is so old, but it was weird that the web site was so tricky it only worked on Android.  Caveat Emptor. 

Resetting

Once you have played through the game, you have seen everything.  You are done with it (unless you want to wait a few years and replay it after you have forgotten everything).  So, you may want to pass it on to some friends.  Now, the game CAN be reset, but it is a little bit of a pain.  The web site (the same place where the hint system is) gives you directions how to do put everything back together.  It wasn’t HARD to reset it: it took us about 15-20 minutes to put it back together.  To be fair, once you’ve played the pristine originally version, the “hey-we-reset-the-game” version isn’t quite as nice: we used tape in a lot of places to hold things together, where the original game used some sticky stuff that worked a much better.

You can reset the game, it doesn’t take too long, but it won’t be quite as nice as the very first play.  It’ll be good enough.

Conclusion

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By the time we were done, we loved this Escape Room. The highest praise was echoed by a number of players: “This game feels more like a real Escape Room more than any other Escape Room board game I have played!” High praise Indeed! This was a great experience.

To be clear, the puzzles in the game were hard. I think part of the reason we enjoyed the game so much was we solved every puzzle without hints! There was a sense of satisfaction in knowing our group was able to overcome these harder puzzles. That may be why enjoyed the game so much! A sense of satisfaction! This also means we can only recommend it to seasoned players of Escape Room games.

The Cursed Dollhouse was unfortunately the most expensive Escape Room in a box we’ve played as well: we bought it on Amazon for like $45. So, after resetting it (after playing through), you may consider passing it onto a friend to get more value from it.

For player count, I definitely recommend it with more people! Solo would probably work okay, but the puzzles are hard, so the more brains the better! With a higher player count, it’s a little cramped to see the entire dollhouse with 4 people, but you can use your phone and take a few pictures, thus alleviating some of the cramping.

If you like the idea of The Cursed Dollhouse, and you want a creepy Escape Room game, and you feel like you can handle more complex puzzles, this is the one to get!!! This is one of the best experiences we’ve had with an Escape Room game. We loved the story, we loved the immersion, we loved the dollhouse, we loved the way the puzzles were presented, we loved how we could all work together concurrently on different puzzles, we loved that the puzzles challenged us: 9/10