A Review of Code 3: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Code 3 (see above) is a cooperative game for 2-4 Players (but see below for solo rules) that was on Kickstarter back in October 2019. It promised delivery in May 2020, but only delivered here a few days ago (late December at the very end of 2020). In the crazy world of 2020, I am just glad I still got it. I got some expansion with the game (see below) give you more cases to solve and a few more cards.

Looking at the back of the box (see below), you can see what this game is: a cop-romp through the 80s!


Code 3 has some pretty decent components: a couple of grab bags (the red and blue bags) which will be used to serve for evidence and witnesses. They are nice and big and easy to grab from.

The rule book is very obvious!

There’s about 3 pages of cardboard components: these include overtime chits, donuts and coffee (seriously), and evidence and witnesses.

This insert is really nice and holds a lot of cards and tiles and other pieces!

The little cards are readable and decent. They are NOT linen-finished. Most of the little cards are either (a) case-dependent (the red cards) or “incidents” that comes on every player’s turn (crime never stops!)

The giant tarot sized cards are mostly two things: Chief cards or Case cards. Each chief grants his precinct special abilities (see the abilities above right ) based on a special “Chief” die that gets rolled every turn. The case cards control how the game unfolds (above left).

Perhaps the most important cards in the game are the Summary Cards. You think I am kidding, but I am not sure how I would have gotten through the game without those player Summary cards!!

In Code 3, every player gets to play a cop-team of 2 cops. Each Cop has 5 distinct cards, and there are quite a few different cops in the game (see above). You can see a few of the cards above.

There’s also a number of cards that either augment or pollute your deck as you play: Internal Affairs cards pollute your deck and Attaboys augment it. Commendations will stay out and give you one time special abilities.

There’s some dice (this is primarily a dice game), some blue cubes used for time and motivation, and some cars which you use to help you move around the city (the colorful cars are the player cars, and the black cars are support patrol cars).

The dice in this game are probably my favorite component: they are just so nice! They are easy to read and seem very thematic, especially the chief (black) die.


The cops patrol a 4×4 city of tiles (see above) looking for clues, evidence, witnesses, and crime!


In general, the components for this game were good.  None of the cards were linen-finished, but they were still decent.  I liked the art in this game in general, but I didn’t love the cover.


So, this rulebook is kind of a mess: it’s a Kickstarter rulebook. It doesn’t start with a list of components or set-up right away, it just starts talking about the rules.

It takes a different tact that almost works: it starts listing the component (see officer card rules above) and going through them one by one.


And above you see the next discussion of Police Chief cards and other cards: It’s a different way to approach the rules, but I feel like it’s throwing you into the mix without some of a high-level view of all the cards. I think the reason so many game do that is that the high-level view of all cards(before anything else) is that it gives you perspective: jumping into the cards pull you into the minutae too quickly.

The rulebook just seems … off. For example, when discussing the Chief cards (which are Tarot sized) and the Radio Call cards (the bad news cards, which are tiny), the rulebook shows the perspective wrong! See above.

Look, this works okay. This isn’t a bad rulebook, but it’s a not a good one. I never saw a picture showing how to set the game up! See below as a public service: here is a sample set-up!

This rulebook needed a lot more pictures like the above. There were also a couple of rules that were on CARDS and I had trouble finding them in the rulebook. For example, when you succeed or fail on a Radio Call (the crimes of the city), you get a reward or punishment, represented as a little icon.

The lower left is the success Icon and the lower right is the “recurring” punishment. I never found the icons in the rulebook! I was “expecting” a list of Icons on the back of the rulebook (which is very typical), but it wasn’t until I was packing up my game that I found this two-sided card:

I really expected this to be in the Rulebook!

After all was said and done, I was able to find everything I needed to play the game. I really wanted more high-level overviews and pictures. The rulebook needs a pretty major overhaul and redo BUT ALL THE RULES WERE THERE. I was able to get through the rulebook to get a game going.

Solo Play

So, the game doesn’t really address having solo rules (Saunders’ Law). To play my first game, I just played as a 2-Player game. It worked fine.

I might get grumpy that there were no 1-Player rules, but the game has a lot of cards with “Teamwork” abilities. These cards require that there be multiple cop-teams to work correctly. So, for balance reasons, I guess it makes more sense to always require at least 2 cop-teams so those cards trigger. See Officer Martinez’s teamwork ability on his rightmost card.

Seriously, a sentence in the rulebook would go a long way and you could say this game supports 1-4 Players. You could even make it thematic:

The Chief requires that every cop-team have backup!!  There’s no lone wolves in his department! You can play Code 3 solo, but you have to play with 2 cop-teams to back each other up!

Anyways, you can play it solo and it works.


Each game starts with the players choosing a case (Major Crime) to pursue.  We were trying to catch the Cat Burglar!


So, there are limited number of cases, but each one can play very differently because of the chief you choose (black card on the right, above) which gives you special powers, and the cop-team each player chooses.  Even so, there are a number of cases in the box which are all different!

Each player starts the turn drawing cards from their deck until they draw 3 cop cards.  Any IA Heat or Attaboy cards that come out stay out.  If two or more of IA Heat come out,  there are consequences!  If two or more Attaboys come out, you get some extra help.    If you keep petty crime under control throughout the game, you get some Attaboys and other rewards.  If you let crime go, the Internal Affairs cards start polluting your deck and bad things happen (IA audits, losing turns, and so on).  So, you can be a cop who plays by your own rules, but there are consequences …  Or you can be a good cop, but do what’s needed at the end …


During the game, you will be looking for evidence (see the distribution on evidence above, and notice the misprint of two Honest Kids .. the second should be Average Joe).


The main mechanism of the game is driving your little cars (notice that there is space between the tiles representing the roads of the city) to crimes and rolling dice to solve them!  In the above picture, the blue player (with the support of an unnamed black patrol car), is rolling dice to take down the Cat Burglar!!! The cards shows that you need 2 walkie-talkies and 2 guns with a total of 18+ to take down the Cat Burglar … and the dice show that ! Success!

The number of dice you get depends on what cards you draw:


The left-hand side of the card shows hand-cuffs: 2 on each card, so we get 6 dice this turn.  The little pads on the right are how many evidence/witnesses you pull out of bags when you investigate. 

The most important component of the game is the Game Summary cards.  Without these, I am not sure the rulebook has enough information to play the game!! These are ESSENTIAL to gameplay:


Once you get the game set-up, this card controls the gameflow.

I played my first game in about an hour and took out the Cat Burglar.  I had a good time: but I played “good cop”: I kept the petty crime under control so that I wouldn’t feel the Internal Affairs coming down on me …


Theme and Art

I think the game really nails the theme. The Attaboy cards, the Commendation cards, the Internal Affairs cards, the evidence bag, the witness bag, the exploration of the city are all elements that move the theme forward. I love the art of the game: I think it works for this game.


When I see the game set-up and the cards out, I think “ya, this nails the 80s cop theme”. BUT I don’t like the cover! If I were in a game store and I saw this box, I don’t think the cover would call to me.

Oh yes, there is also donuts, coffee, and ovetime tokens. They are all essential to winning the game, as you’d expect in an 80’s cop-romp.



See above for a winning game of Code 3 catching the Cat Burglar!

So, despite all the problems with the rulebook, I liked Code 3. The tension of being a Police Officer really comes through! While trying to solve a Major Crime (The Cat Burglar was our first scenario), the Police still have to keep pretty crime under control! At the end of every player’s turn 2 MORE Radio Calls are always coming out! It feels like crime never sleeps! If you don’t keep the petty crime under control, you start getting Internal Affairs audits (or other bad things) and you can lose the game if too much IA activity hampers you.

There’s a wide variety of cop-teams, giving the game a lot of replayability.

Despite all the rulebook problems and card misprints, this game nails the theme! It’s a decent cooperative game with a number of 80s cop stories to play through. If you find yourself liking the game, there are a number of expansions that can give the game even more life (see below). And they even fit in the box!

Top 10 Cooperative Expansions for 2020

The year of 2020 is winding down! We saw a lot of great new cooperative games come out in 2020 (see our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card games of 2020 list), but there were some expansions that really ratched-up the experience! These expansions made good games even better!

10. Endangered: The Panda Expansion

Endangered: Giant Panda Scenario | Board Game | BoardGameGeek

We picked up Endangered (a cooperative game for same endangered creatures) at the beginning of the year (see our review of Endangered here).   Although my group didn’t love the game (as we thought it could be too swingy), there’s no denying we had a fun time playing it!  Another problem was that the base game only comes with two critters to save (Tiger and Otter).  Having the Panda expansion extended the life of the game for us!  It got us excited for the game again, and we even ordered the next set of expansions on Kickstarter with Sea Turtles, Jaguars, Taipurs amd Polar Bears!

9.Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective – The Baker Street Irregulars

English cover - close up

Don’t confuse this with Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars (which made the Top spot of our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2020  and our Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online)!  The previous game is a cooperative graphic novel game, whereas Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Baker Street Irregulars (see picture above) is a stand-alone expansion  in the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective storybook universe.  My game groups have been actively playing in the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective universe and having a ball!  There’s a reason that the original Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective made the top spot of our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games

This expansion just more cases in the Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective world, but it can also be bought and played stand-alone.  There’s a few twists, but in general, if you liked Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, you’ll like this expansion.

8. Thunderstone Quest: New Horizons

Mike Elliott's deckbuilding game of heroic adventure returns with two new Quests and 4th Level Heroes!

Recall that Thunderstone Quest is a deck-builder (see review here) that is made cooperative by the Barricades expansion (see reviews part I and part II). The New Horizons Kickstarter added new content to the Universe (see Kickstarter here) via the Clockwork Destiny and Vengeful Sands expansions, plus a some Kickstarter goodness! This Kickstarter got into a little bit of trouble from poor packing and squished components, but mine was basically fine. This set of expansions just adds more cards to a deck-building game! There’s nothing that really stands out (except the 4th Level heroes maybe), as this is just more content for your Thunderstone Quest (both competitive and cooperative). Beautiful art, good quality.

7. Big Book of Madness: The Vth Element

It’s interesting that Big Book of Madness is just getting an expansion in 2020! We’ve been talking about this game forever! We first reviewed it way back here in 2016 and it made our Top 10 Deck-building Games as well! This game has surprising legs in my groups! The expansion essentially adds two modules you can play with or not to make the game a little different. My group like both expansions and it added some life to a great deck-building game!

6. Spirit Island: Jagged Earth

Spirit Island is a great game! I’m just not sure it needs more content! The base game already comes with so much content! And the first expansion, Branch and Claw adds even more! Jagged Earth is the Second expansion and adds even more. The rules tell you that you really need to have Branch and Claw already and using those rules, so this expansion expands the first expansion! Jagged Earth is hard to get to the table because it expands an expansion, but my friend Junkerman likes to point out that every spirit plays so differently, it’s good to have more options (he hated some spirits).

Jagged Earth adds more Spirits and variety to an already deep game! With this new expansion, you can now officially play Spirit Island (one of our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2017) forever! There is so much stuff!

5. Venom Assault: Villains and Valor


Venom Assault is an often overlooked Deck-building game! Although we love it (and put it in our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2017 and Top 10 Cooperative Deck-building games), most people don’t seem to know it. The Villains and Valor expansion adds more content, including revised solo rules and support cards that made the game more collaborative. My only complaint is that they didn’t use Phil Cho’s art (like the original game), but the artist they got meshes well with the art from the original game.

4. Detective: Smoke and Mirrors

The box cover for the Smoke & Mirrors expansion for Detective: City of Angels.

We reviewed Smoke and Mirrors here just a few weeks ago! Detective is a fantastic detective game (making our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games) and Storytelling game (making our Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/StoryBook games)! This expansion takes a game we love and adds more cases: it is NOT standalone! You need the original Detective: City of Angels (which made our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019). Great expansion!

3. Aeon’s End: The Outcasts

Box Cover

We reviewed Aeon’s End: The Outcasts here a few months ago.  We were shocked at how much we enjoyed the campaign that this expansion to Aeon’s End put into the game!  This expansion (which can also be enjoyed stand-alone or adding new content to any of the Aeon’s End series) adds a nice story which gives you a framework to explore all the cards in the game.  I’ll be honest: I only backed the Kickstarter because I tend to be a completionist, but this is probably my favorite entry in the Aeon’s End universe.  If you can only pick up one game from Aeon’s End, pick up the Outcasts!

2. Champions: The Rise of Red Skull

Box front (flat)

We reviewed this expansion: Champions: The Rise of Red Skull here. I think strictly speaking, you need the base game Champions before you can play this, but this almost a stand-alone expansion, adding new heroes and villains to the mix.   Rise of Red Skull adds a campaign to Champions, but it really just adds a framework to explore the content of the game.  While I didn’t find the campaign compelling, and the upgrades seemed minimal for a campaign game, I did enjoy playing Champions in this little universe for a time. Obviously, I enjoyed it quite a bit if it made the number 2 spot!

1. Hero Realms: The Lost Village


This entry surprised me.  First of all, this was a bear (no pun intended: see the bear up there) to get to the table!  You had to first get the base game Hero Realms, then the character packs, then the first campaign expansion Ruin of Thandar! (This game is only cooperative with the Ruin of Thandar expansion: see our Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively) Then you had to keep the cards very well sorted so you knew what cards to keep from the Ruin of Thandar campaign!  Once you had ALL THAT SORTED, then and only then could you play!  Here’s the thing … it flowed so nicely once it was set-up!  Hero Realms is a neat, simple little deck-builder that moves so quickly.  There was actually enough decisions that you really felt like you were upgrading your character!  I had so much fun playing this all the way through, I want to do it again!

A Review of Adventure Tactics: Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Adventure Tactics: Domianne’s Tower is a cooperative dungeon-crawl/adventuring game for 1-5 Players.

Adventure Tactics was on Kickstarter August 2019 or so and just delivered a few days ago (Dec. 20 2020).  I would have played it earlier, but Adventure Tactics is a big heavy box that looks like it demands some time.  As a Kickstarter backer, I also got an extra adventure book and the first expansion (with a few more characters, see below).


This is a big box full of stuff! A lot of the cardboard is either shrink wrapped or in little plastic bags (see picture above).

One of the first things you find when open the box is the Class Guide: this really gives you a sense of what to expect in the game: the art style and what to expect inside the box. As expected: everyone will take the role of a one class and do some adventuring!

Each player will get their own player board (notice the class is hard-coded into the lower right corner).

Note that the hit point counters are recessed so it’s easier to keep the hit point markers stable. Nice touch!

There’s quite a bit of content here!

Right away, you see the campaign guide: this is a fairly thick campaign guide. It’s very clear this is a campaign adventuring game that will take place over multiple plays!

There’s TONS of little cardboard components (for hit point markers, monsters, and some other tokens). See above!


There’s also a few cardboard tiles (see above) that are used as a play area.


Wow!  Still more stuff!  We can see TONS and TONS of cards in shrink wrap, some miniatures for the characters, some initiative tokens, and a bunch of plastic bases, dice, and cubes!  So much stuff!


The miniatures are quite nice (if unpainted) and it’s pretty easily correlate the miniature to their particular character.

The initiative tokens (used to indicate the order of players and monsters during the game) are really nice, heavy poker chips. They kind of remind me of the poker chips from Splendor! They are really nice!

There are a lot of cards. But, they are all very nice, linen-finished, and easily readable.


In general, there are a lot of very good quality components!




We are doing the unboxing as a separate section for one reason: it was a lot of work. There’s the general “expected” unboxing work (punching cardboard, taking plastic wrap off), but Adventure Tactics seemed to be a lot harder to unbox than most games for one reason: the cards.

There are a LOT of cards. There’s all the cards in the first section (see avove) and all the cards in the second section (see below) …



So, it took me several hours to unbox the game. After you do the normal unboxing, you have to take the cards and sort them by type (Basic Moves, etc like the dividers above). The game comes with nice dividers, and a good number of the cards are labelled BUT NOT ALL OF THEM!

The first page of the rulebook (see above) talks about how to sort the cards, but the cards aren’t always clearly labelled. It’s perhaps more frustrating because some of the cards are! I spent an hour and a half pouring through the cards trying to discover where they all went (see picture below). Even after all that, I’m still not convinced I got them all in the right spots. As annoying as that was (I won’t say frustrating, just annoying), it was probably important for me to see/handle/sort all the different cards so I would know all the cards in the game.



The rulebook is big with big fonts.  The first few pages do what’s expected in modern rulebooks: components first!

Interestingly, set-up is NOT the next section: we start into rules!

So, you should be able to see that the rulebook is big and friendly and warming: there’s a lot of pictures, and the font is actually quite big! (I like bigger fonts in my rulebooks!)

But this rulebook … has some issues. It doesn’t “really” help you get into your first game very well. This game really needs a tutorial/first play set-up.

The game is all about fighting and levelling up you character: that’s very clear from the first few pages of the game. If you enjoy that, this is your game.

In general the rulebook was “good enough”, and I found all the rules I needed (for example: see above for a nice description). I have played a LOT of Dungeons and Dragons and other board games in my life, and I had trouble setting this up and getting going. I think a first-time set-up/tutorial would go a LOOONG way towards making that first play more fun.

Solo Play


The game always requires that there be 3-5 characters in the game (see above).  This means that the solo gamer will be playing 3 characters right away.   I remember when I was first setting up, I sighed inwardly when I read this rule.  I was barely getting through getting one character set-up and going, and now I was going to have to play 3. 

I don’t think this would be so bad if I didn’t feel like every step of my first play-through and set-up was a fight.  The thought of playing three characters just seems very daunting, especially for the first play-through, which will probably be a solo game for a lot of people.

First Set-Up

My first set-up went poorly.   I had to find all the cards that each player needs and that was more difficult than expected: the rulebook isn’t very good at showing pictures of that first set-up.   For example, the only real picture the rulebook shows is this:


BUT … the extra slots are only filled after you’ve found all the cards!!!!  It’s not clear (again, this is the first-set-up) that all the cards in the player set-up picture HAVE TO BE EARNED IN THE ADVENTURE.  You start out with practically nothing.   And what cards do you start with?  The CLASS Guide shows one set of cards, and the STARTER card shows a slightly different set! See below!

I made a decision that the starter card is probably the extra cards I start with, but the rules didn’t say anything about it and the cards/CLASS GUIDE were inconsistent.

Once I got through everything (which took sometime as I had to keep correcting things), it looked good.

… or did I?  Oops! See above! the CLASS FEATURE card (which is not marked) goes INTO your deck, and ONLY comes out to the center position when it is played.  Again, not clear.

In the end, it took me just as long to set-up as it did to unbox.   I was moving from annoyed to grumpy, BUT I realize this is a one-time thing!  Once I’ve gotten through the set-up and unboxing once, I don’t think these will be issues in the future.  The game does look nice when it’s all set-up.




The nicest components of the game were the initiative tokens!  They kind of work like the initiative cards in Aeon’s End: players shuffle the really nice tokens and spread them out.  The monster gets 2 tokens, and the players get “however many characters they are playing”.

Recall that we HATED this initiative system in Aeon’s End! Why?  Because it’s possible the monsters can go 4 turns in a row!  We house ruled this in Aeon’s End (see Seven House Rules in Cooperative Games) so that the monster can never go more than 2 turns in a row, and I suspect you’d want a house-rule like this.   The thing is, there are actually at least two mechanisms to mitigate this in Adventure Tactics:

  1. The Archer can move up or down one in the initiative order with the Passive Skill
  2. The Revive potion can be discard to re-shuffle the initiative order

Since there is SOME mechanism to mitigate this turn order thing, maybe you and your group don’t need the House Rule.  But I suspect the House Rule will the game more fun.

Deck Building vs. Deck Advancement

When I first was playing Adventure Tactics, I was thinking “this is a deck-building game”.  But I don’t think that’s quite accurate.

I reviewed Etherfields here a few weeks ago here, and I called Etherfields a deck-building game at its core.  While I think this is technically correct (as Etherfields calls itself a deck-builder), I think it’s more of a deck-advancement game.   The following question that differentiates the two: How fast can you add new cards into your deck?  If the answer is “during main gameplay” (like Dominion or Aeon’s End or any game from my Top 10 Cooperative Deck-Building Games), then I would call that a deck-builder.  If you tend to make your deck “better” after you play (like adding upgrades for the NEXT game you play), then I would call that a deck-advancement game.   This is, of course, a continuum, as some games have elements of both! 

So, Adventure Tactics  (and Etherfields) is a deck-advancement game, as you level-up your character (much like Dungeons and Dragons) and add better equipment and better attacks after you have completed an encounter.


To be clear: this a campaign game.  The campaign book that comes with the game is quite large and it looks there is quite a bit on content.  The Kickstater also comes with a SideQuest book:


This game is pretty much all about the campaign and levelling up your characters.  If you enjoy the long game and upgrading characters as you go, this is the game for you.

The game even comes with little boxes to keep your upgraded decks in (see above)!


In the end, the Adventure Tactics game feels like lighter cooperative Dungeon-crawl campaign game.  If I had to compare it to something, I’d say Adventure Tactics is a lighter Gloomhaven (recall, we reviewed Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion here).  The Adventure Tactics rulebook is sematically lighter (and has a bigger font), the box is physically lighter, and the art seems “lighter and airier” than Gloomhaven‘s dark world.   But in so many other ways, it reminds me directly of Gloomhaven: minis for the characters, standees for the monsters, boards and stuff to set-up like the base Gloomhaven!   If you are looking for something that feels like Gloomhaven, but maybe is lighter and easier to get into, Adventure Tactics might be a good choice for you. 

Be aware that your first play-through will be very rough as there is no tutorial or primer.  I warn you now: the lack of a tutorial may completely repel you, and I’d get it.  But, this is a decent game.  I don’t think I want to play it solo (as you have to play 3 characters), but I could see having a lazy Sunday afternoon with my friends and Adventure Tactics.  Of course, you could also just play Dungeons and Dragons

A Review of the Upkeep Board Game (Cooperative Mode Only)

Upkeep is a cute little board game from Kickstarter. It promised delivery in November 2020, but it arrived two days ago (Dec. 20, 2020). Note: A month late for Kickstarter games is AMAZINGLY GOOD! The designer ran a good Kickstarter, always keeping everyone up to speed. Upkeep is about keeping your yard clean! There’s a cooperative, solo, and competitive mode in the game: we will only be discussing the solo and cooperative modes, as this is a cooperative games blog.


Upkeep is for 1-4 Players, 30-60 minutes (see above); it looks like a lighter game for ages 8 and up.

Components and Unboxing

Upkeep is a fairly heavy box!  There’s a lot of stuff inside!  There’s a rulebook and an adventure guide (for more directed play once you learn the game). See above.

Each player gets a player board (his/her yard to keep clean): they are bright and cheery and easy to read (see above).

Each player gets 3 recycling bins for particular types of leaves (like the one marked with the leaf above) and one trash can for “leaves you can’t recycle”.  You want to fill the recycle bins because you get sunshine tokens (see below) for those! You still need to fill the trash can to get other unwanted leaves off your board, but you just don’t get any bonuses for those.

The little sunshine tokens (yellow markers above) are the bonuses you get for filling a recycling bin. The other tokens are for marking a “type” of your yard.

There are a tons of tokens in the game, and they are all pretty high quality (see above).  To be fair, I did the deluxe version of the game, so all the tokens were just super nice: real wood for some of them!

The little meeples (above) were just fantastic, and probably my favorite piece in the game.  Each player takes of one of these meepes (except for the purple one: that’s the round marker) and uses that meeple to keep track of the current toolbox on their player board.


The centerpiece of the game is the leaf bag: it contains a bunch of leaves that blow into your yard(s)!  The bag for holding the leaves is nice and big and the leaf components themselves are easy to read and nice wood tokens.  These are just very high quality.

The cards are cute, easy-to-read, consistent, and linen-finished (see above).  These cards are fantastic.

The boards are all easy to read, the insert holds everything well, and even the score sheet (for the competitive game) is really cute!

This game knocks it out of the park for component quality!  It is so good!  Everything looks good, feels good, and is easy to read! 



The rulebook, like the rest of the game, looks fantastic.  Tons of pictures and tons of examples.

The components page (above) is ok.  I had a little trouble correlating all the pieces (for example: the round marker is the purple meeple guy we saw above, but that’s not clear at all from this page), but in general it wasn’t too bad.  Unfortunately, this was the beginning of my frustrations with the rulebook.

To be clear: this rulebook looks great! It’s fairly well-organized, and it’s easy to find examples.   Here’s the thing: I really struggled with this rulebook.  For what looks like a kid’s game, this game is more complex than you think.   I had to read the rulebook at least 4 times all the way through, and I was still getting it wrong!  This game looks and feels like it should be a simple game, right?  A kids game with simple rules?  No, there’s a lot of subtlety, and the rules and components miss a lot of stuff.

Example: When the bins get emptied, you get some sunshine (which are used to buy upgrades).


After playing the game four times, I found this rule summary card (see below), which introduces a rule that the RULEBOOK DOES NOT ADDRESS DIRECTLY (see above).  The rule is that if you empty more than 1 bin at time, you get bonus sunshine!  The rule is IN THE EXAMPLE, NOT ACTUALLY COVERED DIRECTLY!  It’s vaguely alluded to!  I skipped by the example (above) until I realized that the card below had the REAL RULE for this:


The (above) picture above SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE RULEBOOK, not vaguely alluded to (and then sort of discussed in the example).  This rule makes a HUGE difference in play, as your sunshine tokens are key to getting upgrades to have a chance of winning!

There are other problems with the rulebook and components: In order to move leaves from your board into the bins, you have to have three leaves in a tower or stack.  Why don’t the bin cards show something for that?  This is THE MAJOR RULE in the game, and I think I found it in exactly ONE place.  The rulebook talks about a “complete” stack can be moved, but that’s the ONLY place in the rulebook it used the word “complete”.  After grumbling through the rulebook a few times, I “guessed” it meant a stack of 3.  This rule is important enough, so it should have been emphasized it multiple places; the bins should have emphasized it as well (with a label like “Bins can only be filled with a complete stack (3) at a time”).

These are just two examples that represented my frustration with the rulebook.  The rulebook also spent way too much time on “exceptional” activities up front (they list ALL THE BAD NEWS CARDS UP FRONT before the main rules), instead of concentrating on the main gameplay!   The rules puts an up-front cognitive load on the reader which, at best, distracts him, and, at worst, makes the reader skip sections (“Oh, this isn’t important”) which may have rules you need.  Again, the game looks simple, but it’s not.

But that’s only organizational and some labelling issues: I would revisit the rulebook, emphasize WHAT THE PLAYER CAN DO UP FRONT (move the list of BAD NEWS cards to the back), label some cards better and re-emphasize a few points.  Those are forgivable errors that can easily be rectified in a new edition/update.

3-D Issues


This is a tile-laying game, where the tiles are leaves (and dandelions: see above).  There is a 3-D element to this game: you put tiles on the board and you can move tiles on top of other tiles (stacks) and sometimes when a board fills up with leaves, you have to place leaves on top of others. In fact, it’s essential to put leaves on top of other leaves, as your main goal is to get 3 in a stack so you can put them on your bins.

Here’s the problem: the game DOES NOT address some of the 3-D aspects of the tiles.  For example, when you get 3 tiles in an “L” shape, you can use one move to turn that into a stack.  Does the above (3 maple leafs)  count as an “L”? Do all the elements of the “L” have to be on the same level?  Maybe?  The rules don’t address this.

What about a 3-D “L”?  Two maple leafs on top of each other next to another (that’s a 3-D “L”).  And there’s so many questions about this!  Here’s my list of what I think the rulebook needs to cover.

  1. Can 3-in-a-row cross levels?  Do they all have to be on the same level?  Do the levels have to differ by 0 or 1, but not a combination?  Do you just look at the tops?
  2. Can an “L” be 3-D?  Do we just look at the tops?  Can they cross 3-D levels?
  3. What happens if we have to get a stack of 3 or more? (May happen if you fill the same area too many times)
  4. Are we allowed to move a token OVER a stack of 3? Am I allowed to move through it?
  5. How do I swap in 3-D?  Say I want the middle leaf on top of the stack … there’s no rules to swap IN a stack, only around a stack.  This feels like an oversight.

In every game I have played, I had to make a call, and I don’t know if I made the right call.  There is NO real discussion of 3-D token issues in the rulebook.  I was already getting grumpy when I read the rules, so this lack of rules addressing 3D- issues just put me over the top.

Cooperative and Solo Play


The rules for solo play and cooperative play are pretty simple.  Clean your yard.  That’s it!  If you have 1 player (solo with one yard) or multiple players, everyone just has to keep their yard clean.  There’s a FEW rules that make the game more cooperative (you can move your garbage bin waste to someone else’s bin: this might help you clean your board sooner), but essentially everyone is playing a solo game to keep their yard clean.

The game is essentially “timed” by the number of rounds until the BAD NEWS deck runs out of cards.  At the end of the BAD NEWS deck, if your yards aren’t clean, everyone loses.  Most of the BAD NEWS cards are calm weather cards, which don’t hurt you, but some of them (depending on the difficulty level) are BAD WEATHER that prevent you from cleaning an area, losing moves, etc.  Here’s the thing: I played on EASY mode (1 or 2 BAD WEATHER cards) expecting to do okay.    I lose miserably every single time I played.  “What am I doing wrong? ” I plowed through the rulebook again and found a rule or two I got wrong (“Ok, my fault”).  I’d play again and lose slightly less miserably.  “Am I still doing something wrong?”  I’d look through the rulebook again.  Maybe another rule I got wrong.  After 4 or 5 times, I feel like I finally got the rules right. And on EASY, I still lost … not even close to clearing my board.

I tried different strategies (getting Professionals quickly), opening up board with more actions, and all sorts of things.  I could not win the game on EASY mode. 


Part of the issue is that you put on 6-12 leaves PER TURN (see dice above).  The most you can EVER hope to clean up is 12 (maybe more if you have completely unlocked a toolbox AND have extra sunshine), and I don’t thing I ever had all 4 bins full.   And then the ONLY way to get rid of leaves is you HAVE to have stacks of three!  (One of the professionals allowed me to get rid of 1 leaf per turn: he was a godsend)   There’s two elements of randomness against you: HOW many leaves you get and WHICH leaves you get! You can mitigate WHERE the leaves go (which is part of the fun of the game), but you can’t mitigate WHICH leaves you get.  If you get the wrong leaves (“Crap, I don’t have 3 of them”), especially on the last few turns, you can’t dispose of them … and you lose. 


I am not convinced you can win the solo/cooperative game with the rules written.  (I played on EASY every time and never won).  Maybe I missed a rule, but I don’t think so.   I am so frustrated.

  • There needs to be some way to mitigate WHAT leaves you get (maybe a special power, a special professional, a way to trade leaves between boards during co-op/solo play)
  • There needs to be a remove single/double leaves from the solo/cooperative gameboard (maybe a special power, an incinerator with with no limit) 



Oh, the solo/cooperative mode for this game breaks my heart.  This game looks fantastic! The art is cute, consistent, and fun!  The components are really nice and the production is very very good.  Unfortunately, the cooperative and solo modes don’t really work.  If you are just buying this game for this cooperative/solo mode, then I’d give it a pass … or maybe wait for some rules clarifications/updates (especially for 3-D tiles issues) on BoardGameGeek. 

I suspect that Upkeep COULD BE A GREAT COOPERATIVE/SOLO game with some more tweaking! It’s cute!  The production is fantastic!!! There are a lot of fun decisions in the game, as you decide where leaves go and what things to move!!  There’s too many things that need to be fixed (especially related to 3-D tiling issues) currently.   As it is, I suspect this is actually quite a good little competitive game (modulo the 3-D tiles issues)! In the competitive mode, you don’t care as much about completely clearing your yard as much as getting points (whereas clearing your yard is the only goal in the solo/cooperative mode).

If there’s an update or 2nd Edition that revisits the solo/cooperative rules as well as the 3D tile issues/rules, I will be happy to revisit this game.  I really like the idea of Upkeep and the general execution was great, but it just doesn’t work as a solo/cooperative game as written.  I am more than happy to eat crow and update this review If I got something wrong: I really really wanted to like this game.

Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2020

Here’s our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2020! These are cooperative games that came out in 2020.

Honorable Mention: Alice Is Missing

IMG_7167Alice is Missing is a weird little cooperative game where players play the game mostly on cell phones!   The rules are a little wonky (see review here), which is why it made Honorable Mention instead of the main list. At the end of the day, though, this was a unique experience that I did enjoy.

10. Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost

Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost, dV Giochi, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost is a small cooperative game where players solved a mystery set forth in cards.

interior view

This game is so engaging because you set-up up the scene of the crime (see picture above) and work through cards, trying to figure out which cards and useful and which aren’t. This was a fun, light cooperative detective game that made the Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games.

9. Solar Storm

Solar Storm! Straight out of the Kickstarter bag!

Solar Storm is a small, light cooperative game set-in space where players work together to repair the ship.  The game was easy to play, easy to teach, and easy to set-up, yet there were some interesting decisions in this smaller cooperative game that kept it interesting. 

A Solo Game (with 2 players) set-up!

Solar Storm fits the bill when you want a lighter cooperative game.  The game is in a small package, but the components are good quality and very readable (see above).  Fun game that doesn’t get enough love.

8. Forgotten Waters

Forgotten Waters: The New Plaid Hat Crossroads Game

We haven’t gotten this to the table nearly as much as we hoped, but we did really like it!    The production is fantastic (see below)!

Forgotten Waters is a storybook game (making the Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Storytelling Games) where players do some worker placement in a storybook game.  We tried playing over the Internet, but because there is so much state that has be shared between players, we couldn’t get it to the table unless we have camera on the board with one player maintaining the board (which was too hard to read).  Our initial plays were fun, but once we can actually play together, this game will probably go up!

7. Adventure Games: Volcanic Island

Adventure Games: The Volcanic Island, KOSMOS, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Last year, Adventures Games: The Dungeon made the #2 spot on our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019!  It was new and exciting and made us feel like we were playing a point-and-clink adventure game cooperatively!  Part of the reason it made #2 last year was because it was new and unique! The newest entry, The Volcanic Island is still fantastic, it’s just not as “new” this year.  This game makes the list because it’s more of the same!  Another feature of the game is that we can play this remotely over the Internet or in person!  We ended up playing remotely with two copies of the game: my friends correlated/copied my games and we made sure we were in sync.  Originally, we did this because we expected to alternate reading from the storybook, but then we found that Kosmos has an app that will read the text for you!  That made it that much easier to play the game over the Internet!  (See Top Cooperative 10 Games You Can  Play Online)

Fun game, fun story.

6. Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons was more “mass-market” game that was/is available at Target.  Players play Amazons from Themyscira (the Island: their home) working together to protect the Island from one of three Big Bads: Ares, Cheetah, or Circe.  Each player has special power, and each Big Bad plays very differently.  I had a blast playing this solo! Unfortunately, because of COVID, I haven’t been able to get this to the table with my friends.  Between Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons, Far Away (a 2-Player co-op), and Shipwreck Arcana, I explored into the Changing Perspectives idea.  This Changing Perspectives idea provides a way to solo in an imperfect information cooperative game: see blog post here.  

I like the components (see above), even though it’s a mass-market game.  It’s a superhero game that I really enjoyed, and if I ever update the Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card games, Wonder Woman: Challenge of the Amazons would definitely be on that list.

5. Unlock: Epic Adventures

Cover of the game

We reviewed Unlock: Epic Adventures here and really liked the first adventure, hated the second, and loved the third.  The third adventure is worth the price of admission alone!  It’s probably one of the my favorite escape room experiences of all time!  Recall that the Unlock series requires an app to run, and it’s still really doing some interesting things in that state.   This was overall, very fun.

4. Master Word

Master Word is a cooperative party game where players work together to guess the word of the Oracle: we reviewed it here.  What made this game work so well was that it was fun in person (in a group together) or over the Internet (over Discord or Zoom). 

Above, you can see a group playing in person, but see the review for how to play online.  Master Word is a fun cooperative word game best described as Mastermind meets Just One.

3. Escape The Room: The Cursed Dollhouse


We played this Escape Room game just after Halloween, and it probably should have taken the Top spot of my Top 10 Cooperative Spooky/Creepy Games!  We reviewed the game here and we had a fantastic time!  This creepy escape room game was one of the harder games we’ve ever played, but it worked so well because there were multiple puzzles that we could all work concurrently!  A frequent criticism of Escape Room games is that there’s only one puzzle and an Alpha Player tends to take over the puzzle, but this game did not have that problem!

Beyond the interesting puzzles, the toy factor was very high! When the little dollhouse is all set-up, it looks cool and creepy.  The game was hard and we definitely needed all 4 people to play the game well, but this is one of my favorite Escape Room games/experiences I’d ever had.

2. Marvel United

Wal-Mart version of Marvel United!

I think it’s a surprise to me that Marvel United ended up so high on my top 10 of 2020 list!  I reviewed the game Part I: here and Part II: here!  I liked it so much, I ended up synthesizing the “Best Heroes Awards/Stats” in Part II of the review!  I love Superheroes and I love cooperative games (see Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card Games), so this is not a huge surprise.  Marvel United is a gateway cooperative game: It’s easy to teach and learn, and it only takes 20 minutes to play.  Players really do work together using the storyboard system (where you reuse the previous cards symbols, so it takes some cooperative planning to use the symbols effectively).  The miniatures are pretty awesome (see below) for a $30 game you can get at Walmart.


Marvel United is not a hardcore cooperative game, but everyone I have played liked it.   There’s a lot more content coming, so if you like this game, there will be plenty more in 2021.

1. Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars

This is probably a surprising top spot! But, I adore mystery/detective shows and games (see Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games) and this one really hit it out of the park: See my review Part I: here and Part II: here. Players work together to solve 1 of 4 mysteries, following along in 4 distinct graphic novels (each specialized for a specific character: see below).

All 4 Graphic Adventure Books

Part of the reason this worked so well was that we were able to play this over the Internet VERY WELL: all I had to do was physically pass out a book to each player beforehand, and then we were able to play over the Internet. This game made my Top 10 Games You Can Play Online because it played so well! In the end, playing over Discord was a .. magical experience, especially the third adventure! The experience was engaging and I forgot my friends weren’t even really there! It felt like they were because the game encourages cooperation so well! In a wonky year like 2020, where everyone had to stay home, Sherlock Holmes: Maker Street Irregulars game me a wonderful experience of cooperation and deduction that made me forget how wonky 2020 was. That’s why it is number 1.

A Review of Etherfields — Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Etherfields is a cooperative “dreamscape” game that was on Kickstarter July-August of 2019. It promised delivery in March 2020. After learning my lesson with Tainted Grail (a cooperative Arthurian legends game from the same company Awaken Realms), I made sure I paid extra for Wave I shipping. With Tainted Grail, I just assumed I would get Wave I shipping because I only ordered the core box: Nope! Because the Stretch Goals were part of Wave II, I am still waiting for my Tainted Grail and Stretch Goals to arrive … but I’m not bitter … much … So, Wave I shipping for Etherfields arrived early December 2020 (about 9 months late), which isn’t bad for a Kickstarter in the year 2020.

(Oh yes, I also got the Creatures of Etherfields miniatures)

What is Etherfields?

Etherfields is a cooperative game for 1-4 players. Each player takes the role of a distinct “dreamer” character exploring a dreamscape. If that seems like an esoteric description, … you aren’t wrong. I am reminded a little of the old X-Box/Playstation game Psychonauts … not in overall theme or description or even environment, but in the “surprise” in the variety and plot that comes up in Psychonauts. You don’t really know what you are getting until you head into the game. And each episode you play is just a little different. And that’s kind of what Etherfields in like. The game evolves and changes significantly as you play different episodes.

In the end, Etherfields is a deck-builder game (your deck is influence cards: see picture above). Each character (I chose the Specialist) has their own fairly unique deck of cards. But, there’s a lot more to the game than just deck-building: there’s exploration, a storybook and campaign, resource management, and even a little press-your-luck if you want. If you forced me to come up with another game to compare this to, I would say it “kinda” reminded me of Direwild (which we reviewed here: an exploration and deck-building game). I have to be careful with that comparison because my group hated Direwild, even though I kinda liked it. But in both Direwild and Etherfields, I loved the art, the deck-building was unique, the world was full of miniatures, and there were elements of exploration and combat. As much as they have in common, Etherfields is still different.


There also also elements of The 7th Continent here in Etherfields: the exploration feels vaguely similar in both. Note that you bring out tiles with annotations and directions (see above), much like you do in 7th Continent.

This may also surprise you, but the game has elements of Marvel Champions in it as well, as you use the symbols on your cards (there are multiple different types of symbols on your cards, not just a standard deck-builder with one currency) to pay for things.  This mechanism feels very reminiscent of Marvel Champions.

And there’s a storybook (see above) that comes with the campaign!  There is an overarching story that is told over multiple sessions: This is also a campaign game, but it’s not a legacy game!  You don’t tear things up, but you do put cards in a “trash bag” that can’t be used ever again (unless you completely reset the game).

Altogether, Etherfields is a modern board game! It combines many different mechanisms into a cooperative deck-building, exploration, storybook, and campaign game. At it’s core: it’s a deck-builder.



Etherfields is a big box, chock full of stuff. There’s a storybook and rulebook (see above).

There’s a bunch of cardboard boards with punchouts (mostly oversized masks which come into play on the first adventure).

The 6-fold board in the box is huge! (See above) It barely fits on my table!

Underneath the board, we start to see even more stuff: including tons of miniatures in game trays for organization. You know what? These trays work really well.

You can see some tokens on the top, a bunch of miniatures in the middle, and just tons of cards!!! NOTE! Make sure you take a picture of your miniatures in the tray so you can put them back correctly (or, I guess look here).

See above for a closer look at the top-level miniatures tray …

… and below for the bottom-level miniatures.


See above for a closer look at a couple of the miniatures.

Continue reading “A Review of Etherfields — Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions”

A Review of Alice Is Missing

Alice is Missing is a cooperative role-playing game that was on Kickstarter earlier in 2020.  The game delivered to backers in two forms: (a) either as an electronic PDF or  (b) a box with components/cards/rules.  The PDF delivered earlier in the year (about October 2020?), but my physical copy delivered right at the end of November 2020.  It took a while to get people together to play this, as it requires 3-5 players (there’s no notion of solo rules to learn the game).


What makes this game interesting is that it plays over cell phones! In the year 2020, when we are supposed to be physically distancing, my friend Kurt and I were both intrigued by this game that can be played completely remotely. This idea of playing just over cell phones is unique and interesting! The premise of the game is that Alice’s friends are all concerned because Alice is Missing! (Thus the name of the game). The 3-5 players each play as one of Alice’s friends or relatives. The friends are all working together OVER CELL PHONES ONLY to find Alice and figure out what happened to her! Once the game is in swing, players sit somewhere quietly and only contact each other over cell phones. The game comes with a timer and a playlist (on a you-tube video: see here), so as the players text each other, a vaguely haunting collection of music plays. By the end of the game, the friends discover what happened to Alice.


There’s really not a lot to the components tothe game (which is why a PDF delivery of the game is even feasible). The box, 72 cards, and the rulebook. The cards are nice.


One complaint with the components are the cards: the only place they cards are labelled is on page 5 of the rulebook. I really would have appreciated each type of card being labelled: The art is cool and thematic, but the art is general enough that the correlation between (say) suspect cards and their name wasn’t 100% clear. I know everyone is on a kick to make things “iconic” and “language-independent”, but that makes it harder to distinguish components. Look, we figured out what all the cards were (see picture above), but it would have helped the first play through to have cards labelled!

The other thing that was slightly annoying is that we still had to print out some components! The Character Records (which I had each player print out separately), the Wanted Posters (which have different incarnations of Alice), and the Game Guide (summary) all had to be printed even after buying the physical box! I can forgive the Character Records (because we mark them up and are done with them), but the Wanted Posters and Game Guide seem like they cheaped out. And as a foreshadowing of sorts, the Character Sheets (as referred to in the rulebook page above) actually print out as Character Records (not sheets), so they couldn’t even get their terminology consistent.


Oh, so this rulebook wasn’t very good. I was chatting with my friend Kurt, getting ready for one of our games, and I told him I have read it all the way through twice and still didn’t quite get it. He commented “You are a better man than I! I haven’t been able to get through the rulebook once!” Frankly, this rulebook was poorly written. By the time I had set-up for our first play, I had to read through the rulebook six times to make sure I got everything! What makes it poorly written? I think the rulebook is so busy focusing on a bunch of low-level details (which you don’t know why you care about yet), that it misses a high-level overview. There’s a number of high-level overviews it misses:

  1. What’s the purpose of the game?   There’s no clearly stated purpose up front.  We are trying to find Alice, but what does that mean?  Are we solving a mystery (like in our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Board and Card Games)?  Do we have a quest?  Are we trying to avenge her death?  Alice is Missing … so what are we supposed to do?  We just text each other?  Are we possible suspects in the game? 
  2. What are we as characters trying to do?  As stated, we text each other in the game.  Do we suspect each other and that’s why we are texting each other?  What else can we do besides text?  Are we texting to try to meet up?  Do we do something else?
  3. What’s the overall structure of the game?  How do all the pieces fit together for gameplay?

It’s only after going through the rulebook multiple times that the purpose, structure, and player activities reveals itself.  This game seriously needs a rulebook rewrite and a summary card.  (Side 1 of the Summary card would describe Character Creation in high-level bullets, Side 2 of the Summary Card would describe game structure in high-level bullets).  The Game Guide attempts to do some of the summary, but it tends to focus on tips for playing the game NOT how the game works.



So, what is this game? It is NOT a Detective/Solve-A-Mystery game. It really is more of a collective story-telling game. A collaborative story is developed over time: the players works together creating the story and reacting to story points. These main story points come up in cards that are revealed every 10 minutes or so:

The story point cards (the blue cards above) come out at the indicated time on the 90 minute timer. These cards are distributed over the players evenly so that each player gets (approximately) the same number of story points. When the timer hits that point, the player will read his/her story card and perform the actions. Story point cards cause a few things to happen: First, a Suspect or Location card is revealed (which becomes a potential final Suspect/Location). Second, the card indicates a story point and the player needs to reveal organically in the cell phone chat. Here’s a sample story point: “The (Revealed Suspect) just posted something creepy on Social Media! What was this?” You have to be creative, and then somehow reveal this new information in the cell phone chat. The story points are the main device to move the story forward.

By the end of the game, the players will discover what happened to Alice. But what it really means is that the players have crafted a story around these story points.

Set-Up: Local Play vs. Remote Play

Besides the unique “play over cell phones” angle, the other reason I picked this game was that it offered a chance to play over the Internet.  The base game describes rules to play locally (Locally: all players in the same room around the shared table), and then alludes to changes to make the game work remotely.  The game’s solution is to use the Roll-20 Guides/On-line platform.  Although my groups are fairly savvy with technology and role-playing games, none of us have used this platform.  The Roll-20 solution was a non-started in many ways: some people were new to role playing altogether, and even the RPGers among us didn’t use the online Roll-20 platform at all.  So we had to improvise!  

Basically, the faciliator had to “text” story points cards to characters at the appropriate times.  Normally, the players would just take cards from the table and do that themselves, but since only the owner of the game has access to all the cards, he had to be the facilitator.     This basically made the facilitator’s job a little more difficult, but it did work remotely.

The Facilitator

If you want to get the game, be aware that the person running the game (the facilitator) will have to work hard!!!  The facilitator will have to know the game, set-up the game, and run the game. The rulebook states that Alice Is Missing does not need a DM (DungeonMaster) to run the game, but this isn’t really true: The facilitator needs to work hard to run the game! It’s still fun as the facilitator does play a character in the game, but he’s more like an NPC (Non-Player Character) than a full participant. 

The Facilitator is especially important if you play remotely, as he/she has to text pictures of cards to the players as the game unfolds. 


So far, this review has been pretty negative: rulebook issue, structure issues, component issues, set-up issues. BUT, in the end, we all enjoyed this game, as it was a unique experience. We played for 3 hours on a Friday night, most of us in different cities around the USA. There was tension as a story evolved! Being alone with your cell phone as creepy things happened was evocative! We inhabited these characters and this world on our cell phones!

My group all enjoyed Alice Is Mission, but we recognized the flaws. This game is fragile. Everyone in my group was open to the experience, but noted it was too easy for the game to go “off the rails” because there’s no “purpose” other than creating a shared experience. The game is incredibly group dependent.

One player noted that the game was fun once: she wasn’t sure we would/wanted-to play again, even though the story points do change every time. I think that’s a fair observation: part of the fun of the game is the uncertainty on what’s happening. Once the game unfolds once, it’s not as interesting the next time. I suspect we will be able get 2 to 3 more plays out of the game. Once all my game groups have played once, then we’ll probably be done with the game. But, that’s not a bad thing! Escape room games (like Unlock: Epic Adventures and Star Wars Unlock) can only be played once. Between Escape room games, Detective games, and legacy games, there’s plenty of room for one-shot experiences like this.

Be aware of what this is before you play/purchase: It is NOT a detective game where you solve Alice’s mystery!!! Alice Is Missing is a unique storytelling experience you and your friends play on your cell phones. It’s potentially a lot of work to get going (especially for the facilitator), but if this sounds interesting to you, it’s probably worth a try.

EDIT: One of my players contacted me and wanted to point out the following:

  It’s a good overview, but your review sure felt more negative than my own impression of the game.  I really liked it.  Perhaps it’s because I didn’t have to deal with any of the “down sides” of having to get through the rule book, figuring out the game, fiddling with the cards, etc., but the game seemed pretty straightforward, friendly, immersive, and accessible.  (Thanks for facilitating the game, by the way – it sounds like it was pretty frustrating for you, but it was certainly a success from my perspective.)

  By the way, apparently there’s a reason this game reminded me of “Kids on Bikes” – it’s the same publisher!  I checked out the site and their Twitter feed, and apparently they’re working on an “Alice is Missing” mobile app which will facilitate play, dropping the cards automatically and stuff.  Sounds like a great way to play the game, frankly, since the setup we had was a bit fiddly for you.

Top 10 Cooperative Detective Board and Card Games

Some of my favorite games have been when we solved a mystery together!  There are quite a number of cooperative detective games now available.  These automatically include a deduction element, but they all have slightly different flavors of deduction.  In the end, most, if not all, of these games are “play once, and you’ve solved the mystery”, so they are very much “one and done” games—which almost gives them more tension, as you want to do the best you can because you know you can only play it once! 

Here’s our Top 10  Cooperative Detective Board and Card Games. We also rate how well each game follows Saunders’ Law: “Does this cooperative game have a viable solo mode?”, as well as expansions, complexity, and number of cases per game.

Number 10: Unlock! Sherlock Holmes-The Scarlet Thread of Murder

Unlock! Heroic Adventures, Space Cowboys, 2018 — front cover

Solo Mode? Yes, you can play this solo
Expansions? N/A
Complexity? Easyish
Cases Per Box?  1 (the other 2 aren’t strictly detective games)

This detective story is one of the Unlock! games from the Heroic Adventures box (3 games in one box).  Strictly speaking, this is more of an Escape Room game with puzzles in a Sherlock Holmes universe than a straight-up detective story, but it did a pretty good job of capturing the atmosphere of a detective story.   There’s no dilly-dallying, because Unlock! games are timed, and usually you find yourself reaching for Hints to move the game along.  (The Hint system is quite good and will help you if you get stuck).  If you prefer your detective games to be ponderous, the Unlock! Sherlock Holmes is probably not for you. It also requires an app.

Number 9: The Sherlock Files

The Sherlock Files: Elementary Entries, Indie Boards & Cards, 2019 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)
Solo Mode? Yes
Expansions?  Volume II- Curious Capers, Volume III- Puzzling Plots
Complexity? Easyish
Cases Per Box? 3

The Sherlock Files is a detective game in cards.  The first installment comes with 3 cases (Last Call, Tomb of the Idol, and Death of the Fourth of July).  If you can get past the fact that we are Sherlock Holmes in modern times (with jets flying around), then this is a nice little mystery.  Cards come out, the games are pretty quick (about an hour), but you can take as long as you wish to explore the cards that come out.  It’s not super deep, but it is fun.

Number 8: Exit: Dead Man on the Orient Express
EXIT: The Game – Dead Man on the Orient Express, KOSMOS, 2018 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Solo Mode? Yes (probably better with more)
Expansions? No
Complexity: Medium to Hard
Cases Per Box? 1

This is an EXIT-style escape room game in an 1940s Agatha Christie Poirot-esque universe: It’s a murder mystery on a train!  The game is quite difficult and has many elements of exploration and deduction, but it sometimes feels a little too much like an Escape Room game (with wonky puzzles). Sometimes, these puzzles take you out of the detective parts of the game. The art is great, the game is challenging, and there’s no “timer” (so you can be an ponderous as you need).  I had fun playing this solo, but I think more brains would have helped because this one was quite hard.  Luckily, there is a good hint system to help you if you get stuck.

Number 7: Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost
Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost, dV Giochi, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansion?  No. But there are more games in the series (Bloody Red Roses and Nightmare in the Mirror)
Complexity? Medium
Cases Per Box? 1

So, this is a tiny little card game of 60-80 cards.  It’s just a card game.  What makes it unique is that you actually set-up cards to show the “scene”: cards stand erect in the box (by being propped up by the edges of the box) and form a “crime scene” for you to investigate.  As the game progresses, you will replace cards in the scene with “newer” cards as the scene unfolds.  The game is weird and unique as you try to guess what cards are important and what cards aren’t: you have to throw away cards to play for other cards: this unique mechanism represents your time and you bypassing things that may or may not be relevant.  It’s not a pure deduction game per se, but you definitely feel like a detective trying to figure out what happened. 

Number 6: Decktective: Bloody Red Roses

Decktective - Bloody-red roses Second Edition

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansion?  No. But there are more games in the series (The Gaze of the Ghost and Nightmare in the Mirror)
Complexity? Medium
Cases Per Box? 1

Like Number 7 on our list (The Gaze of the Ghost), this is yet another game in the Decktective series.  This was the first game in the series and opened the door to this unique but very small way to play detective games.   They are so easy to play: you buy a small deck of cards (not too much investment), but there’s literally a scene of the crime and a interesting story underneath.

Number 5: Scooby-Doo: Escape From the Haunted Mansion
Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion – A Coded Chronicles Game, The OP, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansions? Not at this time (but the Shining will be another game in the Coded Chronicles series)
Complexity? Easyish
Cases Per Box? 1

This maybe the easiest detective game on this list: it is more of a mass market game, and it is marketed towards families.  It’s also has the feel of an Escape Room style game.  But you know what?  This game stands uniqely as a silly (Shaggy “eats” things to interact with them), fun, but still thinky detective game where Scooby and the gang explore a haunted mansion to solve a mystery! 

Number 4: Chronicles of Crime
Final Box Art

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansions?  Yes.  Quite a few, Noir adds a Noir version of the game, you can buy some expansions in the app, and Welcome To Redview adds an “Archie Comics” module.  Currently, there’s 3 new expansions that just came off Kickstarter called The Millenium Series.
Complexity?  Easy to Hard, depends on the case!
Cases Per Box? 1 Tutorial, 5 Scenarios (and you can actually buy more on the app!)

Chronicles of Crime made my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2018!  This game requires an app on your phone: you scan cards in the game, and things change as time goes by.  You may visit a location and see nothing, and come back later to find a pivotal clue!  All your interactions are done by scanning cards and locations (and people/helpers) as you try to solve a mystery!

There’s a quite a bit on content: it’s only major flaws is that this requires a phone and app and sometimes just one player can “hog” the phone (Of course, this is just Alpha Player Syndrome) .  Great game, great detective stories await!

Number 3: Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street Irregulars

Solo Mode? Yes to start, but requires multiple people for Adventure 2.  Really should be played with 4 players
Expansions?  No
Complexity? Easy to Medium
Cases Per Box? 4

I am surprised how much I liked this game!  See Part I and Part II of my review!  Players each take a graphic novel for one of 4 characters (one of the 4 Baker Street Irregulars), and players read their books simultaneously, playing through one of four adventures in the game.   The game is a little light-weight, but my friends and I particularly enjoyed it.   It fostered cooperation more than most detective games, and it played very well over the Internet (see my Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online).  This may be my favorite game experience of 2020!

Number 2: Detective: City of Angels
Cover for Detective: City of Angels. Art by Vincent Dutrait.

Solo Mode? Yes
Expansions?  Yes. Smoke and Mirrors and Bullets Over Hollywood.
Complexity?  Medium
Cases Per Box?  8

The game went over on my gaming circles like gang busters! It took the top spot in the Top 10 Cooperative Game of 2019,  it made the Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively, and the Top 10 Storytelling/Storybook games!  Players play as hard-boiled detectives in the Noir era of detectives.  Players can “shake things up” when they question people to get more info, with the risk of alienating them in the future!  Although the game isn’t cooperative by default, it’s the way me and my friends prefer to play this.  There’s plenty of game in the first box (8 or 9) and too more expansions which add about 5 more cases each.  There’s enough of a rules framework to make it easy to get around and try stuff, but there’s still a mystery that needs to be solved!   This is a longer, ponderous, game (usually 2-3 hours), but we enjoy the heck out of it.  Even though we can take the time to “think” as much as we want, it’s still not too heavy; yet the cases are still interesting and challenging.

Number 1: Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective: The Thames Murders and Other Cases, Space Cowboys, 2017 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Solo Mode? Yes.  You can solve the mystery by yourself! No changes
Expansions? Yes, there is Sherlock Holmes: Jack The Ripper and West End Adventures, Sherlock Holmes: Carlton House and Queen’s Park, and Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars
Complexity? Hard
Cases Per Box? 10

Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective is the grand-daddy of all the cooperative detective games.  What makes it great is that the world is fairly open-ended: you can explore the world at your own discretion and frankly there’s not “a lot of rules” behind the game.  Players work together to try to solve the mystery presented to them (with Sherlock Holmes himself having the insufferable perfect solution you compare against), exploring the city as they wish and reading entries from the storybook.  The storybook presents the characters and locations, and you simply explore this world trying to solve this mystery.  The mystery is definitely NOT spoon fed to you!!!  For example, the game comes with 10 newspapers, and each newspaper has 20-50 articles that may or may nor be relevant!  Even worse (?), you may may to look at earlier newspapers to find information you need!!!  It’s very much like an interactive mystery, with text of the storybook and the newspapers being your primary mechanism to discover the world.  (There’s also a map and address book).

Some of my friend HATE that Holmes is so smug with “the perfect solution”! They hate him so much they hate the game!    If you ignore Holmes and just concentrate on the mystery itself (using Holmes solution as simply a metric), then there’s nothing closer to a real interactive detective story!  This is probably the hardest of all the Detective games on this list, but if you invest the effort, you will be rewarded with a deep, interactive mystery.   

Although I think I like the framework that Detective: City of Angels sets-up to make the mystery easier to grapple with, there’s something about the open world of Consulting Detective that’s just a pure detective story … and that’s why it’s number 1 on this list.