A Review of Lost Ones: A Cooperative Interactive Adventure Game

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The Lost Ones was a cooperative game that was on Kickstarter back in November 2020. It just delivered to my house this week (January 22nd) after promising delivery in June 2021. I went in only on the base game, but there were also miniatures and an expansion for this game as well: we’ll just be looking at the base game here.

So, The Lost Ones bills itself as An Interactive Story Adventure from Dreams and Shadows (see above). What does that mean? The interactive story adventure part means this game fits into the cooperative Storybook Adventure games, as seen in our Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games: these are games where a storybook (that comes with the game or app) helps guide the players through an adventure. The closest analogue would be The Choose Your Own Adventure books, where you read through a story and make choices, turning through pages in a book.


The world of The Lost Ones is the same as the Dreams and Shadows world:


Gordon Alford designed The Lost Ones and a previous cooperative game, Dreams and Shadows (which I have yet to play, but I do want to: I mean, they still have their shrink wrap!), See above. The Lost Ones seems to take place in the Dreams and Shadows universe.


As should be obvious from the back of the box (above), The Lost Ones (and Dreams and Shadows) is a fantasy universe. The Lost Ones plays 1-4 players, ages 14+, in about 90 minutes. That 90 minute time is very squishy, depending on how you play. Let’s take a look below.

Unboxing and Discussion


The Adventure Guide, the book at the top of the box when you open, is both a rulebook and a partial storybook.

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Next in the box come the standees and tokens: see above. The standees and tokens are nice enough (apparently, there were miniatures for the deluxe version): the art in this game seems to be very consistent with the same art from the cover, which is saying a lot: that cover is pretty amazing!

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Below all the books and tokens are the cards and the “little storybook”.

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I call it “the little story book” because it’s kind of small! See the Coke Can above for comparison. One of the things that’s a little confusing is that there are two “text books”: the story book above, and the text blocks from the Adventurer’s Guide. We’ll talk more about this split later!

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The square cards form the terrain of the game: this kind of reminds me of Tainted Grail (see Part I and Part II of our review) or The 7th Continent, with numbers on the edges refer to the adjacent tiles and form the map. Below is a partial preview (don’t look too close, or you might spoil some story): this map looks fantastic when set-up!

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Players take the role of a character with individual powers, and each have a special card: see below.

The Nightmare (the black standee and card) will be a creature that follows the characters around the map: if The NIghtmare ever reaches a character, the game is over!

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The core mechanism in the game for “getting stuff done” is the discarding of Ability cards: see a sample card (back and front) above. Through out the game, you will find challenges that need those icons to pass a challenge. For example, from the “little story book”:

In the storybook pages above, you can see two challenges, and a place to rest: in order to “pass a challenge”, you have to discard enough Ability Cards to read the text from the Adventure Guide. When you rest in the game, you can refill your hand of ability cards: there’s not a lot of other ways to get Ability Cards so they are a bit precious.


When do you actually pass a Challenge, you read from the guide: see some pages above. (The first half of the Adventurers’ Guide is rules, the second half is Adventure Choices). The choices you make are choosing which challenges to engage: these come from the Story Book. The results of your choices come from the Adventure Guide.

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Of course, there are bad things that happen in the game: occasionally, you will explore a tile with a “Bane”: you flip a card from the Bane Deck and do what it says (always bad): See above!

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To balance the Banes are the Boons: you get these as permanent rewards during the game: see above for a sample.


You also have to fight monsters/foes in the game: those come from yet another deck. Note that when my character explores the tile with the crossed swords, he has to immediately fight a monster! See Will hit card 27 with the crossed swords, so he gets to fight the Changeling! See above.

Overall, this game looks fantastic! A lot of the reason I backed this game was the art: the cover is just phenomenal, and all the art assets (especially the tiles when set-up) just look first rate. My only real complaint about the production is that the cards are NOT linen-finished. A stupid complaint (this is just me) is I that hate using the little “token notches” in the insert:


Recall that I had this problem is Disney Sidekicks as well: I find that token notches typically have the tokens come loose and cause them to wander in the box. Above, you can see I put all my tokens in a plastic bag so they won’t wander. This is probably just me.

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Lost Ones looks beautiful.



The Adventure Guide is an odd beast. You might be a little distressed when you see the length of the Adventure Guide: it’s 28 pages! See page 27 below (page 28, the back wasn’t marked).

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The first half of the guide summarizes the rules, like a rulebook. The second half of the guide presents Adventure Choices, like a Storybook guide. Once you realize that, the 28 pages aren’t quite as daunting.


The game starts off with a table of contents. That’s nice, but I don’t think I ever looked at again after opening up the book. Honestly, I would rather have had an index to look up keywords: when we had questions when playing, certain indexed keywords would have more sense.


The Component List page (above) is nice: it let us easily correlate what we have. This worked great.


The Set-up worked fine: see picture above.



The rest of the rulebook did a “pretty good” job of explaining how the game flows, what the options are, icons, etc. The font was a little small, and the lack of index got in the way when we were playing (we looked up about 10 different things), but otherwise it was a pretty good rulebook for getting going and starting. Unfortunately, It wasn’t great ay answering edge case questions.


The Adventure Choice section was fine, but I thought the font was just a little small. Fine and easy to read otherwise.

Solo Play


So, congratulations to Lost Ones for following Saunders’ Law! Yes, there is a viable solo game contained within! Just like the base game, each player takes control of a single character, so the solo character only has to operate the one character. The only real change to the game (based on number of players) is hand size and how many Ability Cards each character starts with:

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From there, the game play proceeds normally!

I really enjoyed Solo Play.  It felt like I was reading a book, but with some choices (like a Choose Your Own Adventure book).  And I just loved building and looking at the beautiful map.  The game had a real simple flow: Move, Explore, Take Challenges.  And it was just kinda fun to move through this world, as if I were moving through a book.

Cooperative Play

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Cooperative play worked pretty well … at first.  The game seemed to go off the rails, especially after we reset (see below).  What happened was that a lot of the simplicity that seemed to shine playing solo didn’t quite translate to the cooperative game.  In a 4-Player game (see above), there seemed to be too long to wait for your turn, too little to do on your turn (you only have three action points), and since the decisions are sometimes a little “arbitrary” (this a Choose Your Own Adventure type choices, so not necessarily deep), coming to a quorum seemed harder?  Many times, it also wasn’t clear how the multiplayer rules interacted.  (See reset later).

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For example, poor Sara got stuck in the wilderness by herself and disengaged because she couldn’t leave the Fae Rings easily.  We had almost 12 turns where she did nothing: we were trying to avoid dying again!  If Sara moved, the Nightmare would activate and probably kill us.  So, Sara didn’t move and took one for the team.  But she didn’t have fun.  We won because of Sara’s sacrifice, but it seemed at the cost of her having fun!   We played “smart” and “munchkiny”, but at the cost of our friend’s enjoyment.  


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Without too much of a spoiler, you will probably die in your very first game.  And it’s honestly expected.  The game then directs you to reset and start again, retaining some of what your group has done/learned.  This is a very cool and thematic idea, especially since there is some notion that “this is just a dream”!  The problem is, what do you reset? See above as we reset from death!

After you die and have to reset, you have quite a bit of the map out!  Does reset mean put the whole map away?  And tokens?  And cards?  Strictly speaking, we interpreted the rules to mean “Yes, start the game completely from scratch!”  … which means putting away the map and tokens!  The problem is, that’s not fun.  You have to sort the tiles, put them back in order in the stack, pick up the tokens, and start over!  So, a ton of work.  We chose to leave the map out for our second game because … it was less work and more fun.  

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But then that changes the game!  With more tiles out, the Nightmare will move more slowly towards you, the rules about “Move vs. Explore” get fuzzy (All players can move together as a group, but the rules imply you can only explore as a single character), so we are cheating?  Strictly speaking, probably, but we wanted the game to be fun, so we chose to keep the map out but reset everything else.

The rules REALLY needed to have a discussion on “What it means to reset”.  The strict interpretation of reset is much less fun, but the more open interpretation of reset (“leave the map out”) way seemed unbalanced.  The rules were very unclear and this disparity bothered us.  Did we even play right after a reset?


This game generated a LOT of discussion after we played.  And I mean a lot! Some discussion was admiration of the art, some was suggested improvements, and some was actual complaints.  Most of the complaints seemed to be about the ambiguity of the rules in the multiplayer game.

I originally sold my friends on Lost Ones as “this game was Tainted Grail with the story but without all the grind“.  Recall from our review of Tainted Grail we liked it at first quite a bit (Part I), but we found the game too grindy even though we liked the story (Part II). And I expected my friends to love Lost Ones, because my friends loved the story in Tainted Grail but hated the grind!  But, both me and my friends were surprised when we didn’t like it as much as we hoped.  Why?  We spent a fair amount of time talking about this: stuff we liked and stuff we didn’t:

  • A lot of times, we would explore and spend resources to just “portent tiles”: the story we would read would suggest/imply certain things to do but without necessarily helping?  In other words, we would “waste” resources to foreshadow what was on the next tile, which we visited next turn anyways.  We didn’t love that part.
  • We came to the conclusion that our group likes story with purpose: we really embraced Detective: City of Angels (see our review here) and Adventure Games: The Dungeon, both of which are on our Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games.  Although there is some interesting stuff that happens along the way in Lost Ones, for some reason, it didn’t engage us.  And we think  the world was too open for us? “Escape home”.  That should have been a great purpose, right? Maybe it was too unguided?  Maybe your group will love the more open world concept of Lost Ones, but my group(s) seem to want more direction.
  • At first, we thought the world cards were too small.  But after building the world and seeing how big it was, we concluded they did a fine job on that!  Kudos!  We just wished our standees were smaller!
  • Edge Cases: this really killed us.  Between my solo plays and our cooperative plays, there were SO MANY places where we had questions.  The rulebook was decent to get into the game, but after we started playing, there seemed to be SO MANY QUESTIONS.  See Questions section below.  These questions kind of took us out of the scenario a little.  Maybe that was part of why we disengaged a little?
  • I liked the game more solo than cooperative.  Maybe there’s just too much reading for a larger group?
  • Why did we like Roll Player Adventures (RPA) so much more than Lost Ones?  (RPA made our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021 and See our initial review here).  We think it’s because the story in RPA was much more directed, but also RPA had a really good story!

We talked for some time after playing.  We liked talking about the game!  We thought it was okay, but we came to the conclusion it was probably best at a smaller player count.


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Lost Ones game surprised me, but in the wrong direction. I expected my friends to really like the story here, but the game just went over “okay” in my group. The art was fantastic, and the simplicity of the system was very appealing, but the group play wasn’t as engaging as we had hoped. Some of this was the ambiguity of the rules took us “out of the game” a few times as we played.

Having said that, If you want a lighter “world exploration” and “interactive story” to explore solo or with a friend, I think I can recommend Lost Ones. I enjoyed this as a solo game: it was a light, fun, “read and explore” game… it was almost like reading a book with a really cool map? The group agreed Lost Ones would probably be better in a small group of one or two people: Teresa talked about playing with her Mom for fun, Sara suggested we played as a two-player game the next time we have a small group, and I mentioned how much fun I had a solo game.

Lost Ones isn’t an unconditional recommendation, but we did enjoy it, just not as much as we expected. It just seems best at 1 or 2 players.

A Curious Review of Automated Alice (the Cooperative Dice Game)

Automated Alice is a cooperative dice-placement game that was on Kickstarter back in October 2020. It just delivered to me a few days ago at the time of this writing (January 16th, 2022), so I guess it has to count as a 2022 game.


Automated Alice is based on a novel by Jeff Noon … of which I know absolutely nothing, except that this has “something” to do with the Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland books.

I kind of blind-backed this cooperative game because I always like to try smaller games from smaller publishers. It turns out I really do like cooperative dice-placement as a mechanism (which is what Automated Alice is), as three of our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021 were cooperative dice-placement games! So, I was excited to get this little game to the table!



As a kickstarter backer, I got a little extra mini of Alice wrapped in bubble-wrap: see above and below.


The first thing you notice upon unboxing is the really nice dice bag!

Next in the box is a letter from the author (Jeff Noon) of the book Automated Alice. It’s a nice little emotional journey through what Automated Alice means to him. To be clear, the designer of the Automated Alice dice game is another fellow: Robb De Nicola.

The rulebook is next: you can see (above) that it’s quite readable.

The punchouts come next: Alice represents where the players are on the board and the “snake lady” is the bad guy (Civil Serpent) chasing Alice around the board. The clock is used for multiple things: timer (not real-time timer, but “number of rounds until game is over” timer), “good dice” pool, and “bad dice” pool.


The majority of the action is around the 6 Case Files (I would have just called them boards)? These are the 6 boards that Alice will be exploring.

This is a cooperative dice-placement game, so there are a ton of pretty colored dice: these are the dice that go in the dice bag. There is also a single die (the MRS Minus die) that determines where the “bad snake lady” will go (you roll: she goes and blocks one of the 6 Case Files).


Last by not least are some really pretty linen-coated cards: there are the missions that Alice will go on! See above. The players (as Alice) will have to place dice on these cards matching the color, order, sum, even/odd, and/or other conditions. It’s a dice-placement game!

Overall, the game looks pretty decent: I really liked the linen-finished cards! I think one of the reasons I picked up this game is that I liked the comic-booky art. There’s not tons of art, but the art on the cards was a lot of the reason I backed this game.


Overall, pretty decent components.  I still like the art.



The first page set-up and components are okay: they don’t actually show a picture of set-up unless you look on the box. Sigh. I had this problem with Backwoods: the rulebook should ALWAYS show a picture of the game set-up! But, the back of the box shows the set-up: see below.



The rulebook is a little light on content: it doesn’t handle a lot of edge conditions.  I think there’s some things that need to be spelled out in the rulebook.   For instance:

There should a page describing, in more detail, all the special powers of the each of the case files.  What does the above mean?  “Blind swap a dice”?  Any die?  Green die?  From the bag?  From other locations?  It probably means from the bag, but I don’t know if green dice (which are “place blockers”) are in the category.  Help?

This wasn’t a particularly good rulebook.  It was just barely enough to get me going and playing.  I guess that’s good enough?  We need to talk more about the rulebook, but first let’s take a look at the solo game.

Solo Play


The rules seem to get this right: the box says 1-4 players and there are set-up rules for each player count: the game just really changes in (1) how many clue cards are out and (2) how long you have until the game is over (what the timer is set to).


A solo player has 12 rounds with exactly 1 clue card on each case file: see below.


To win, you have to “solve” all cards, which means putting the proper dice on it: this is a dice-placement game after all.


On your turn, you draw 4 dice from the bag: if you can match the color and conditions, you can complete a card!  See above for a completed card!  If you complete all 6 before time runs out, you win!


Part of the problem are green dice: they just are “blockers”! If you pull a green dice from the bag, you MUST block one of the spots on the card you are on! The only way (besides special cards) to get rid of these is to sacrifice a die of the needed color (and same or bigger number) to cancel it out.  


Worse, as you go, the dice bag gets leaner and leaner as dice YOU COULDN’T USE go the Dice Hold (middle of the clock)!!! Above, you see a “mid-game” dice hold with lots of dice I couldn’t use!  Green dice are a little different: If you can’t place them (the evil awful bad green dice) because spaces are filled, they go to the Civil Servant Threat track.  At 6 spaces, you lose the game.


Every turn, the Civil Servant (evil snake lady) moves to some location (rolls the white dice) : she is a blocker!! The player(s) can’t travel to the Case where she is.  So, Alice must choose an unblocked location and moves there.  She draws 4 dice.  She MUST place the green dice first, then she can try to place the rest. Anything she can’t place goes on the clock.  If she “solves” a card, she gets to keep it: each card has a special power!


In the picture above, Alice has solved the card so she can keep it! (Yes, purple dice are wild). Later in the game, she can discard the card to (in this case) turn any die to odd.


The game continues until time runs out, the dice bag runs out, or all 6 spaces of the Threat Track are filled.

Cooperative Game


The cooperative game is very similar to the solo game: you start with more clue cards (see above) and have less time on the clock.  The other difference is that the Civil Serpent only moves after everyone had had a turn.


I’ll be honest here, without the cooperative game, I would have hated this game.  My friends and I re-read the rules and had an interpretation that “seems” inline with how we were supposed to play.  I liked the way we chatted, talked about where to move, and what to do with dice as a group.  We had fun with this game, but only AFTER we, as a group, figured out some poorly specified things. See “The Curious Case of the Comma” below.  Seriously, we had to cooperate to figure out the game!

The Curious Case of the Comma


This rulebook isn’t very good: the basic game play is summarized on one of the last pages of the rulebook.  My first solo game went so badly, I almost threw this in a bin.  These rules are really poorly-written.  There are three main things that aren’t clear, and come from these 2 lines in the rulebook:


Issues here:

  1. The comma on instruction 5 seems to imply you have to roll the dice you have moved or stayed.  Without the comma, it sounds like you can only re-roll if you move? 
  2. How many times are you allowed to move?  We think you can only move once, even though line 6 makes me think we can move up to 2 times and re-roll 2 or 3 times?
  3. But the total number of rolls is 3.  I wish they should have used the word “re-roll” instead, because line 6 almost implies you get 3 re-rolls “after” the initial roll?  We think they mean, like Yahtzee, you get 1 initial roll and 2 follow-up re-rolls.

Without further clarification, we misinterpreted these rules many times.  In my first solo game, I didn’t even think I could move after I rolled or re-rolled!  So I was completely slammed.  After me and my friends played cooperatively, we tried a few things and below “seems” like the right interpretation of these rules:

  1. You get your first roll.  Place dice (green must be placed first) as appropriate.
  2. You can (stay and re-roll) OR (move and re-roll).  This is second roll (1st re-roll).
  3. You can’t move again, but you can do a third roll (2nd re-roll).

With this interpretation, the game seemed playable and fun.


I think Lewis Carrol and Jeff Noon might find it funny that a comma can make the difference between the game being fun or not! Lewis Carroll liked to play with language and meaning like that…

Where Are The Choices?


The main choices in the game are the following:

  1. Use the Special Power on the Case Board you are on.  Above, Zenith o’Clock can add 1 to a die.
  2. Roll the dice up to 3 times.  Once you have pulled the dice from the game, you can re-roll them (like Yahtzee) up to two times
  3. Move.  You can go to any Case Board (except were Mrs. Minus is)
  4. Decide when to use special powers.  When you solve a case, you keep the card.  In the card above, you can discard the card to change a die to odd.
  5. Take a card from the Dice Hold, but advance time.  

In general, these are the main decisions.

First Impressions


This game AT FIRST was just too random.  Notice above: I drew 4 dice and 3 of them were green!!! I have to place them on the card and block 3 spaces now!  Which will cost me at least 1 or 2 more turns to clear!  The solo game only gives you 12 turns to play, and if you have even 1 bad draw like above, you are almost certainly done!! You just won’t have time to clear the card and still satisfy the card conditions! Remember, you have to sacrifice a die AND it has to be greater AND it has to be the right color!  So, it may take 2 turns to just clear the space!

The “green snake lady” mechanic also adds more randomness: you roll a six-sided dice to see where she goes every turn!  She may stay out of your way completely, or she may block your progress at the worst possible time!


I like the art, but this game AT FIRST was just way too random.  I never felt like I had any way to mitigate if I drew the wrong color!! 


It turns out, moving AFTER your first roll of the dice allows you to mitigate what dice you pulled!  You pulled all yellow?  You can move to a Case File with some yellow dice!  AND THAT ONE CHANGE (which I had missed in the rules) MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.  I went from hating the game to having a nice time with my friends! 


This became a light-hearted romp with dice as we moved around the board.  Granted, the randomness still hangs in the air a little (it’s a dice game after all), but the game opened up after that.  Should we leave a green dice to lower the green dice count in the bag?  What dice should we leave up? When do we use our special powers?  Where should we move so we don’t have to throw away a dice?  The game became a much lighter fare after that one rule: you can move after your first dice draw and placement! 



This is a complete rewrite of my original conclusion: I originally thought this game was too random and couldn’t recommend it. After deciphering the rules with my friends, we came to the realization that this is a fun, light-hearted, dice-placement romp. There are some good decisions to make during the game, even if there is a bit of randomness. In fact, even though I liked the cooperative dice-placement games Intrepid, Roll Camera!, and Roll Player Adventures better than Automated Alice, that was not the case with my friends! They liked the simple (once you know the rules), quick (30 minutes), cooperative dice-placement of Automated Alice better! (To be fair, they still liked Roll Camera! and Roll Player Adventures better for in-depth cooperative dice placement games)

I do think this game needs a lot of clarifications, either in a rulebook rewrite, a player’s aid, or a FAQ: we had too many problems to gloss over this issue. Make sure you double-check our interpretations of the rules before you buy this! I’d hate to think recommend this game when I’m still not 100% sure we played it right.

If you like the Automated Alice world and just want to roll some dice in that world, this might be for you. Or if you want a light-hearted, quick, cooperative dice-placement game, Automated Alice might be for you. I liked the art. We had fun … after we figured out the rules.

If you are looking for some alternatives for cooperative dice-placement games, I urge you check out our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2022! See our reviews here: Roll Camera! is a sillier cooperative dice-placement game about making a movie, Intrepid is a heavier cooperative dice-placement game about running a space station, and Roll Player Adventures is an adventure using dice-placement as its main mechanism.

A Review of Valeria: Card Kingdoms and the Cooperative Expansion: Darksworn

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Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a competitive victory point card game that’s been out for some time (it original came out 2016). Back in 2021, Daily Magic (the publisher) put together an expansion called Darksworn that adds a cooperative mode to the game: they also made a 2nd Edition of the original game. So, Daily Magic put Valeria: Card Kingdoms (2nd Edition) and this new expansion Valeria: Card King Kingdoms, Darksworn (seriously, that’s it’s full name) on Kickstarter back in March 2021. They fulfilled fairly quickly and it arrived at my door in early December 2021, but it’s taken me a while to get the solo mode, the group mode, and the cooperative mode played to get a sense of this game!

This will be a fairly longish review: we need to get a sense of the base game Valeria: Card Kingdoms before we jump into the cooperative expansion! After playing all the many ways (base solo, cooperative solo, group competitive, group cooperative), it was pretty clear we needed a sense of the base game before jumping into the cooperative mode.  Luckily, it was pretty easy to do that.

Unboxing and Discussion of Valeria: Card Kingdoms


So, when I kickstarted this, apparently I got the 2nd Edition of Valeria: Card Kingdoms. I have never played the original, so I have no sense of what’s changed (apologies). I can only offer a look at the current edition. At its core, Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a card game.


The cards are all linen-finished and have the same art style: that consistency works in the games advantage as it looks really good on the table when it’s all set-up (see below).

There’s some nice dividers to help “sort” the cards. Incidentally, there are a lot of cards in this game! Setting up and tearing down the game reminded me of many deck-builder games … so many cards to choose from and set-up!



But the cards organize pretty well into the box above. When it’s all put away, it looks like the below.


Here’s a bunch of the cards, starting with the Dukes! Each player takes on the role of a Duke in the game!



In the game, each player gets to choose between two dukes to play: I chose Isabella the Righteous. This card is hidden until the very end: basically, it may shape your play as you get “extra” victory points at the end of the game depending on your duke.


Throughout the game, the main goal is to fight Monsters: see some sample monsters above! You have to have enough strength and or magic to defeat a monster; For example: the goblin only requires 1 strength to defeat, but the dragon requires 6 magic AND 12 strength!). If you defeat the monster, you get the card and it will count as victory points (the purple badge: 1 victory point for the goblin and 7 for the dragon) at the end of the game. Whoever has the most victory points at the end wins!


To help you gain strength and magic and gold, you must recruit citizens along the way! Each citizen costs gold (very much like a deck-builder) as you hire them. See a bunch of different citizens above,


For example, the Miner citizen above costs 1 gold, but when he does an activate (on an 11 or 12: the activation number at the top left), he gets you one of two benefits, depending on whether you are primary player on not. Usually, being primary player gets you the better benefit (on the bottom left) or the alternate benefit (on the bottom right). In the citizen above, activating the Miner gives you all sorts of gold!


Another way to get victory points is to buy domains: see above. They tend to cost a lot of gold.


As the citizens get you more gold, magic, and strength, you have to keep track of your resources using the boards above (each player gets one). Note the +10 token which you drape along the right of the card to keep track of amounts above 10.


When everything is all set-up, there are 5 monsters at the top row, 10 citizens in the next 2 rows, and 5 domains in the last row. You recruit citizens to get resources (strength, gold, magic), you kill monsters for victory points, and you buy lands (domains) for victory points. See above.


The markers for the boards are nice wood components (see above). The two dice are quite nice and chunky! They are also the main thing that dictates how resources flow in the game! When you roll the two dice, you activate every citizen that matches the exact number on the dice OR the sum!


You always start with 3 citizens (Hearld, Peasant, Knight: see above). In my first turn, I rolled a 5 and 6, so the Peasant (5) activates and the Knight (6) activates. If I had already recruited the Miner (11/12 from above) he would also activate! The Peasant activates to give you 1 gold and the Knight activates gives 1 strength (bottom of card for benefits!). See below for a more focused look at the starter cards.


One of the more interesting mechanisms of the game is that EVERYONE who has a citizen that matches the die roll activates! The primary player gets the benefit on the LEFT, everyone else gets the benefit on the RIGHT. For the starting citizens (Herald, Peasant, Knight), there’s no difference, but notice the Cleric! The primary player gets 3 magic while everyone else only gets 1 magic!


The game flows pretty well: everyone stay involved as you play, but the primary character gets the better benefit.  Usually, people spend the first part of the game recruiting citizens and building their army so they can fight monsters and/or buy land in the later game.  Once a certain number of stacks are exhausted, the game is over and you count victory points!


The game has real nice components (see below) and looks really fantastic all set-up (see above).


Rulebook for Valeria: Card Kingdoms, 2nd Edition


I spend at least a little time every review talking about the rulebook. This rulebook was pretty good.

There were lots of pictures for set-up, lots of annotations of the different cards, and the rules seemed fairly complete. There was even a elaboration section at the end.


For some reason, I didn’t love this font: the font seemed to make this harder to read for me? I didn’t love the font, but it was readable: it just seemed to demand “more” from me as a reader. Maybe I’m crazy on this one. The rulebook was good enough for me, a complete newbie to this game, to learn it from scratch. It also seemed complete and handled a lot of edge cases (either as a quick sentence or sidebar). Except for the font, I was happy with it.

Solo Game from the Base Game

So, interestingly, there are two ways to play Valeria: Card Kingdoms solo! Thank you for following Saunders’ Law! The base game comes with one way to play solo, and with the Darksworn expansion, there’s another way to play solo! Since we knew nothing of the game before getting everything, we decided to start simple and play the solo game from the base game.


The solo mode takes about 1.5 pages at the end of the book.  The game flow does change up a little: you still roll dice, recruit citizens and kills monsters, but there’s this new notion of a monster phase, and you also activate the secondary benefit on your citizens (after everything else happens that turn).  The premise is that you are fighting against a “bad” duke (The Dark Lord) who controls the monsters! You either have to kill all the monsters or have to get more victory points than he does to win.  When you roll, you still activate your characters like normal … but in the monster phase YOU USE THE SAME ROLL to activate some column(s) of monsters on the board!  If there’s a monster in a column, the monster either kills a citizen in that column or a domain if both citizens are dead!

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If the Dark Lord has completely decimated a column so there’s nothing left to take out, the Dark Lord wins unequivocably! If you, on the other hand, kill ALL Monsters before he can exhaust any cards, then you win! Otherwise, it becomes a victory point counting game: when 5 card stacks are exhausted, you compare victory points. The Dark Lord adds victory points from monsters in the monster stacks and captured lands, and you compute victory points as normal. If you beat the score, you have a minor win.

I really liked that (in my words) there is a major win (kill all monsters), minor win (more victory points), minor loss (fewer victory points), and major loss (column decimated) in the solo mode!!! Multiple win/loss modes really adds a lot more “flavor” to the game! See the text below:

The minor/major win/loss conditions were also an impetus to come back and do better! I had minor wins in my first few games, but I still kind of want to try for a major win!


To be clear: the solo game is more complex than the base competitive game: the solo game has you keeping track of columns, capturing citizens, and adding some new rules. But, I don’t think the new rules were too much: they were pretty straight forward and made sense. There were always interesting decisions, much like the base competitive game (When do I recruit? When do I kill monsters? When do I buy lands?), but the added element of citizens dying was really interesting!!! I liked the included solo mode, and I look forward to playing it again. It’s “simple” enough that I feel like I could play this as a relaxing solo game, but just challenging enough to be interesting.

Unboxing and Discussion of Darksworn Expansion


The second way to play Valeria: Card Kingdoms solo is to play using the Darksworn expansion. I chose to jump straight into Darksworn expansion without playing Valeria: Card Kingdoms competitive. When I would finally teach my friends the cooperative Darksworn expansion, I would teach them the base competitive mode THEN jump into the cooperative mode. But, for now, I am jumping straight in a solo player into the Darksworn world!

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That tiny little box hold a lot of content! See above!


The rulebook uses the same font as the base game (so at least it’s consistent) and lists all the content: see above.


There are new Monster Events, Domains, and Citizens that WEREN’T listed in the components list: see above. I think these are just new content you can add to the base or expansion if you like.


The tuck box, above tells us one thing: this will be a game that requires “saving the game” after a session. (Note, if you build the tuck box, it doesn’t seem to fit back in the base game?)


The tokens are for a few new mechanisms. First, the numbers are used to notate columns because monsters will be attacking columns in the game (sounds familiar?) In other words, just like the solo game, but now we notate the columns explicitly. Because monsters attack columns, there are the walls to hold off the Monster attacks for a few rounds! The first time a monster attacks a column, it flips it over, then is only destroyed next time. The walls defer the monsters destroying citizens right away.


The tokens are for balance: depending on the number of players, you will need more or less of these!

But what’s the solo game all about? It’s a campaign! (It looks resettable, so it’s not legacy). There are 6 books (decks) to the campaign and one “side quest” for the heroes. Each book of the campaign is one leg of a “saga” the in which the player(s) collaborte! (And that’s why there was a tuck box, because you will have to “save status” at the end of each book: new cards, new tokens, etc.)

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Somehow, the expansion includes two boards! (Seriously, this barely fits in the box) You’ll notice that the boards have a hard time keeping flat. The bottom board is “where the book unfurls”: as the adventure described in your current book happens, you will keep the book on that board (along with citizens that will be captured). And like the base solo game, citizens will be captured. In Darksworn, however, you can bring some of the citizens back!


The other board is to hold the current “blessings” you can use! Since this game is now cooperative, victory points have no meaning as a winning means, so they are instead used to power the “blessings”! For example, for the last blessing, you can spend two victory points to rescue a citizen that was captured by a monster. So, you still accumulate victory points (immediately when you defeat a monster) but you use them to power blessings in the game!


Darksworn also comes with new monsters that “activate” when they replace monsters. These slowly come out over the campaign until all of them are out … they are more powerful monsters because they activate and do stuff to the players!


There are now 2 new actions (and buying Domains is GONE): You can “pray” (which allows you spend victory points on a blessing) or “share resources” (which allows you give resources to another player in a 2 to 1 ratio).


There’s also a new starter citizen (Explorer) which replaces the Herald citizen.

Putting this all together, the cooperative solo game looks pretty cool set-up with the boards! Just like before, we have 5 monsters on top, but these monsters are randomized (and replaced every turn from the monster deck to the side). The citizens are the same, but notice that there are no lands. Now, we have the “book board” at the top, keeping track of where we are in the book and the Aquila board at the bottom (where we keep track of blessings).

Gameplay of Cooperative Solo Mode


So, playing the cooperative mode as a solo mode was a lot of work! We had to keep both rulebooks open as we played (see above) and try to keep the components fairly separate so we didn’t mix them up … see below.


BUT, we did this right by playing the solo game of the base game first! The whole “basic framework” of the cooperative game in Darksworn is very much like the base solo game! Monsters attack columns (based on the die rolls) and you lose if too many citizens are killed! Unfortunately, there are no special powers in the game! This seems like a lost opportunity: shouldn’t each player take on the role of a Duke with a special power? The solo cooperative mode just has you play one player with one resource board (you DO NOT take on the persona of a Duke or anything special). The multiplayer mode has each player have a resource board. (The Darksworn solo mode has an extra rule, like the base solo, that you get secondary activations at the end of your turn).


Even though the Darksworn expansion has the “basic framework” of the base solo game, there are still a lot of other new interesting things the expansion adds: “blessings”, the walls, the current book (and challenges it offers) and some other things we don’t want to spoil.


So, I liked the cooperative Darksworn solo game … mostly. It was so much work to set-up and keep track of the campaign and the campaign rules, it sometimes felt like too much. It was, however, very important for me to play the Darksworn expansion solo first! I had to teach my friends Darksworn, and that teach was a lot easier once I had stumbled through the Darksworn expansion as a solo mode first: that was critical. I think I like the base solo game better, though! If I really want a campaign to play alone, I think that Darksworn can work, but I think having multiple players is better if no reason other than your friends can help with the shared maintenance of the new Darksworn rules!

Competitive ModeIMG_9386

I taught my friends the competitive game FIRST, then the cooperative expansion. Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a pretty simple game to teach: roll dice, gather citizens, kill monsters, add victory points. Even though this is a cooperative game blog, I have to give the base competitive game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms props! It’s easy to learn, quick to play (30 minutes?), and pretty fun. It doesn’t have huge depth, but we had a good time playing the competitive game, even though it was just a goalpost on the way to the cooperative game. (I think my friends would play the competitive game again if they wanted a light game).

Cooperative Game: Darksworn


Like I said in the solo section, Darksworn adds a lot of rules to the base game, using the base solo game as a “basic framework” for the cooperative game.  Here’s the thing: we really enjoyed the game a cooperative game!

  1. The extra load/maintenance of new rules wasn’t so bad!  Because we had multiple players to “share the load” of extra rules and  maintenance, the extra load didn’t seem so bad.  In the solo game, that extra load bogged the game down a little as only one player has to deal with everything.  Now, you may enjoy that, and frankly I would too.  But I think it was better in the cooperative game.
  2. There’s no “Take That” in Darksworn: Even though we like the competitive version of Valeria: Card Kingdoms, later in the game, we got annoyed at some of the “take that” Domains you can buy. That wasn’t a problem at all in the cooperative game
  3.  The game encouraged cooperation: The “Shares Resources” action, which is new in Darksworn, can be very useful.  It allows players who are doing better in certain resources to help out their brethren when they really need it!  
  4. Using Victory Points for blessings: we really liked how Darksworn kept the victory points, but could still use them for blessings
  5. Follow Action: the fact that when another player rolls the dice, he still activates everyone else’s secondary action was great!  This action, still in the cooperative game, keeps everyone involved


So the only reason not to love the Darksworn cooperative game is that you are tired on campaigns! There is no way to play this game cooperatively without the books, so you have to play the campaign. But, we really got into the story! See Teresa above really getting into the tales from the first book!

We liked it enough to want to continue playing through the campaign.



Should you get both Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Darksworn if you just want cooperative play? I think you should try out the base game to see if you like it first. The solo game in the base game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms is actually quite good and almost worth it as a game by itself! Although the competitive game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms is fairly light, fun, and easy to play, some of the “take that” in the base game can be annoying. But, if you like the base game, especially the solo game, and you want a campaign, the Darksworn expansion is a good choice! Darksworn is good as a cooperative campaign game, but there might be too many rules to play it solo: Caveat Emptor.

We liked Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Darksworn enough that it probably could have made our
Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively, and Darksworn will definitely will make the Top 10 Cooperative Expansions of 2021!

A Review of Townsfolk Tussle (a cooperative game)

Townsfolk Tussle is a cooperative boss battle game that appeared on Kickstarter in November 2020 and promised delivery in September 2021. It appeared at my door “sometime” in the last week or so? (Today is January 4th, 2022) Strictly speaking, I think it made it to my door before 2021 was over! So, just a few months late? That’s fantastic!


For the purposes of our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2021, we’ll count that Townsfolk Tussle made it in 2021 … barely! But, for the purposes of “good games of 2022”, we’ll probably count Townsfolk Tussle as a 2022 game. Oops! Did we spoil what we think of the game? Well, this is a good game, but there’s some nuances and issues you need to be aware of. Let’s dive in!



What is Townfolk Tussle?  You’ll notice the art is very retro, kind of reminding us of 1920s Mickey Mouse Steamboat Willy, with a dash of Ren and Stimpy or Rick and Morty.  You’ll also notice how huge this game is!  See Coke can and #2 pencil for scale above.  

Townsfolk Tussle is a game for 2-5 players (but there is a notion of solo play, which we’ll see later).

Players work together to take down 4 bosses (called Ruffians).  See the 12 Ruffians boards below.

Some 4 Ruffians are chosen randomly at the start of the game, and you reveal them one after another as you play.


Each Ruffian has their own card describing them.  Each Ruffian also has their own deck!  The decks are very different and make each boss battle very different.

The set-up for each Ruffian is on the back of the card: notice that each Ruffian has a very different board set-up for Terrain.


Each piece of terrain (there are always 7 pieces of Terrain) has a card that describes the rules for the terrain: see below.


In general, each boss battle plays very differently and looks very differently.  Those two things right there give this game an immense about of variety!

As the game goes on, players are allowed to shop to get upgrades and heal themselves:


Note the little touches that the rules are described ON THE PLAY BOARD!

Each player takes the role of a Townsfolk with VERY different powers and abilities!

There’s a little story on the back:


But that’s just flavor.  The front is dual-layered (!) and describes all your special abilities:


Players set-up the board, each taking a Townfolk character to play! Then they work together to take down 4 Ruffians!

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The components are pretty fantastic.



The rulebook was good and one of the better ones I’ve read in a while.


The rulebook was a bit long, but don’t let that scare you! Part of the reason for the length was that 8 or so pages have some “story” you read out when you win or lose your epic final battle.  Also, the rulebook is “longer” because it uses lot of pictures and big fonts so it’s easy to read.  Really! I liked this rulebook!

The Tables of COntents was good, the components list was ok (there was a lot of stuff it punted on and didn’t show a picture), and the pages describing set-up were great!  See above.

Easy rulebook to read, easy to get to the table, easy to lookup stuff during gameplay.  Solid rulebook.



Normally, I don’t take a whole section to discuss the miniatures, but holy cow!  I really liked these miniatures!  They are so … different from other miniatures!  And they look great!  They really contribute to the theming of the game as they are all done in that odd 1920s meets Ren and Stimpy look.


The bosses are all the bigger miniatures on the outer sides (12 in total).  The good guys (7 of them) are in the middle of the box (see above).

These minis are just SO interesting and well done.  See above for some of the bosses (the bad guys) in isolation.


The minis overall look great and have a lot of detail: they just don’t look like any other game, and I think that really contributes to how much more theme they give the game.  Really great minis.

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Interestingly, there is still a sheet of standees “just in case”?  I suspect a later retail version of the game WILL NOT have the miniature, and players will use the standees above.  As an aside, my friend Andrew said “Oh, let’s just play with the standees these are great!”  … until he saw the miniatures … “Wow, those are great miniatures.  Ok, let’s play with the minis”.

Solo Play


So, according to the box, there is no solo play! See above. So, the game doesn’t follow Saunders’ Law?


But according to the rulebook (see above), there is a solo mode!  Note that it wants you to play 3 characters! And … I played 2 characters instead: see below.


The good news is that the only real difference between solo and cooperative mode is getting rid of the “Secret” Town Events cards, see below.


I’ll be honest, I am kind of glad I didn’t have to deal with the Secret Town Events cards because they add yet an other element of randomness and upkeep to a game that teeters on the edge of too much randomness (see “Randomness” section below).

My only complaint about the solo game is that I do think 2 characters is the right choice for the solo game, not 3.  Why?  We’ve talked about this subject quite a bit in many blog posts: How To Play a Cooperative Game Solo? and my review of Marvel United and Solar Storm.  The basic idea: play with the simplest mode that has the least mental overhead.  Context switching between 3 characters is a lot harder than context switching between 2 characters.

If nothing else, we recommend 2 characters for your first solo game: I started my first play at 8am in the morning and ended at noon!  It took 4 hours to get through 4 boss battles!  I can’t imagine how long it would have taken had I had 3 characters to go between! There is a cost to context switching between characters in a solo game: that would have elongated the game.  Maybe once you know the game better, 3 characters  is better for solo. I just suggest you use 2 character solo mode to learn your first game.


For the record, the solo game was fun!  I approached it as a puzzle and had a great time learning the game and interacting with the terrain.  If I only had to play it solo, I would probably give it a 7.5/10.0, because it felt like a neat (albeit long) puzzle.

Cooperative Play

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So cooperative play was good: my team and I worked together well and were able to beat the bosses/Ruffians.  But, there were a few things we didn’t like:

  1. You couldn’t share stuff!  There is an official variant in the rulebook that allows you to share gold and items, but it seemed like it was “frowned” upon AS IT’S NOT the default mode!  We played our first round without sharing, and it seemed less engaging to NOT share!  After the first rounds, we went ahead and shared, strategizing about what we needed.  The *absence* of sharing made the game seem less cooperative.  We strongly recommend you play with the sharing rules!
  2. Turns where nothing happens seems worse in cooperative mode! When I played solo, I had a number of turns where all I could do was move one character a few spaces and nothing else.  It didn’t matter as much, because I was controlling the 2 characters as a solo player, and usually one of the characters always did something (or at least set-up the other character). But I watched my friend Teresa do NOTHING but move the entire first battle … and then she died immediately on her first engagement.  Her first game would make most people walk away: “I couldn’t do anything: I hate this game”.  But Teresa persevered and we made sure she got gear that helped her movement next battle (with a little help, see above about sharing)!

So, there are definitely turns when all one character does is move: they can’t reach the Ruffian boss, they can’t fire, and if that happens too much, it can be frustrating.  Once you realize you can mitigate some of that by buying better equipment (with movement in Teresa’s case), it’s not as bad.  But I think the cooperative game is much more likely to have some characters have boring turns.

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But, with the sharing mode on, we had a great time playing cooperatively  We strategized about what all our characters could do, how to beat the bad guy, what to do.  Overall, it was a fun cooperative game.

What I liked


There is a lot to like here.  The components, by themselves, contribute a lot to my liking of the game:

  • The cards: easy to read, nice little thematic pictures, linen-coated
  • Player Boards: dual layer, easy to read, cool thematic pictures
  • Game Board: Big and easy to read and set-up
  • The miniatures: so cool and thematic
  • The Rulebook: one of the better ones I’ve read lately

There’s a lot of variety in this game:

  • 12 bosses to fight, and each fight is very different!  Each boss has it’s own deck!  And it’s own terrain!
  • 7 characters to inhabit, again, each very different!
  • Terrain: Each boss fight really mixes up the terrain and each piece of terrain has its own rules


 I think this was when I knew I’d like the game: when a boss comes out, 7 pieces of terrain come out and completely change the way the characters interact with the world!


In the boss fight above, there’s 6 (supposed to be 7) pieces of terrain and each piece of terrain really changes how you think about the map.  This kind of reminded me of one of my favorite mechanisms in Agricola, where each player has 7 occupations to choose from.  The fact that each scenario has very different terrain which affects the game just gave the game a feeling of “wow, there’s a lot of variety here”.


The game had a nice presence on the board: it looked creepy and kitschy at the same time: see above.


The way the bad guys (Ruffians/bosses) were handled was very clean: each boss has its own deck, and you just draw 1 card and do what it says.  The boss turns were clear and clean and moved very quickly: see a sample boss card below.



Set-up also worked really well as the components were well-labelled with how to set-up the board!  See above for setting up terrain for Will Barlow!

In general, all components seemed to be well-labeled and easy to read.  

The rulebook taught the game well, and the components were well-labeled to help move through the game: a lot of documentation was on the components themselves.  Take a look at the player board below (dual-sided):

At the top of the player boards is a description of what you need to do in the appropriate phases.

Overall, the variety, the component quality, and the easy-flowing gameplay made this a game I really liked.

Game Length


The game length on the box is really completely wrong! This is a VERY long game. There are 4 boss battles in the game, and I wanted to say each boss battle lasted 20-30 minutes per player. This is probably the furthest off I’ve ever seen an approximation of time! It’s probably off by 2x! For example: a two-player game took 3 – 4 hours (180 – 240minutes); that’s 90 minutes per player at best!


There are 4 bosses per “full game”: See the 4 bosses ready to go above. It feels like the right way to play is to play 1 or 2 bosses in one sitting, and leave the game set-up for your next session, then continue the next boss(es) in the next sitting! This game is really long! BUT, even though the game is stupidly long, the game moves very quickly as you play: the boss moves are very quick with one card, and the player turns are quick. It’s just that the game just has a lot of moving parts you have to keep track of.

This is probably the biggest negative of the game: it’s just way too long. Some of that length goes away as you become familiar with the game, and the game turns move pretty quickly on your turns so it doesn’t necessarily drag or feel long. But the full 4 bosses battles seems too long.

We suggest a house rule to maybe mitigate the length: skip the 1st battle entirely, and just upgrade as if you had beaten the first Ruffian. This brings the game from 4 Ruffian boss battles down to 3.


Another potential knock against the game is the randomness: the dice decide everything in the game.  If you roll poorly, you will die.  As you play more and more, you get bonuses to dice rolls via equipment, but you are still at the mercy of the dice at some level, even after upgrading.


In my very first game, the bad guy took away a lot of movement and moxie quickly, so my characters had a number of turns where they couldn’t do much.  In my first cooperative game, the dice conspired against my compatriots in the first battle until I was the only one left!  We beat the boss and were able to get some supplies, but again, we were at the mercy of the dice for the whole first boss.   Advancement in this game seems to happen “pretty quickly”, so you can choose all sorts of supples to mitigate your dice rolls: either from the Peddlar (below: you get 10 cards, quite a variety when you are ready to buy!):


… or from beating the Ruffian boss him/herself! (Each Ruffian has 3 random gear … see below).


As you play, you get more and more things (equipment) to help your odds, and you get to choose what things you get (when you buy from the Peddler).  So, despite the randomness of everything being a dice roll, I think that the abundance of equipment and choices mitigated the randomness just enough so that the randomness didn’t feel overwhelming.   


Another place where the randomness can be overwhelming is the Town Events cards: each player gets an event: some are good, some are bad, some just stink.  Like I said, I was happy in the solo game to get rid of the “Secrets” that come up in the Town Events, because it got rid another source of randomness/upkeep.

Your mileage may vary of course, but I usually don’t like too much randomness in games! And I think there was juuuuuust enough mitigation of randomness to make the game fun.  It’s something to be aware of: you may still find the game too random, but I think this is a case where the randomness makes the game interesting and not overwhelming.   Be aware.



So, I liked Townsfolk Tussle quite a bit! It was very fun! I didn’t quite love it, but I almost did. I think the main problems were that the games were just a little too long and that there was just a touch too much randomness (from the die rolls). But overall, the quick moving gameplay, the constant feeling of upgrading, and the variety in settings/equipment made this a fun game to play! Weirdly, I enjoyed it solo slightly more than cooperatively! I would probably give it a 7.5/10.0 as a solo game and 7.0/10.0 as a cooperative game. The quality of the components (linen-finished cards, nice boards, nice dice, amazing miniatures) probably contributed to a lot of that score. Don’t discount the rulebook: the rulebook was pretty darn good and taught the game: I liked it.

My friends had similar ratings:

  • Andrew: 6.5/10
  • Sara: 6.5-7.0/10
  • Teresa: 7/10
  • Rich: 7.5/10 for solo, 7/10 for co-op

In general, we liked the game and had a fun time!