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!

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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!

Unboxing

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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.

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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.

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

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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:

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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:

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

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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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Components

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The components are pretty fantastic.

Rulebook

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

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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.

Miniatures

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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 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!

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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”.

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

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

Randomness

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.

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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!):

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

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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.   

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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.

Conclusion

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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!

One thought on “A Review of Townsfolk Tussle (a cooperative game)

  1. Thanks for the review. I was ambivalent about this after watching the Dice Tower and your review has helped to clarify that… somewhat. I’m still ambivalent. The production and clear rules make we want to try it but I think I’d want to do as you suggested and remove the first battle; the length could be a deal breaker for me!

    Like

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