This week, we’ll be taking a look at another cooperative game we got at Target! A lot of our games have recently come from there: Minecraft: Portal Dash (which we are cautiously but optimistically recommending: see here), Star Wars: The Clone Wars Pandemic (which we really liked: see here) and Horizons of Spirit Island (which is basically a cheaper vector into Spirit Island: if you like Spirit Island, you’ll like this). Target has become somewhat of a Mecca for cooperative games for us: everything we’ve gotten (so far) has been quite good! Will this weird Clue game be any good? Let’s take a look!
Is This Clue?
NO! Clue: Treachery at Tudor Mansion is is not Clue! That’s why (I think) the games emphasizes the “Escape and Solve Mystery” on the front of the box!! See above. This is a combination Escape room/Detective/Adventure game set in the Clue universe. Yes, there’s a Clue universe. Yes, I know, that sounds weird.
This game reminds us a little of The Adventure Games The Gand Hotel Abaddon which we reviewed a few weeks ago. Clue: Treachery at Tudor Mansion is a game of exploring the Tudor Mansion (which looks surprisingly like the Mansion from the original board game Clue): See below. (This picture below is a little bit of a spoiler, as you will be slowly exploring the mansion to reveal the map as you play, so just glance at it quickly)
If there was ever any doubt you were in the Clue Universe (Cluniverse?): take a look at the characters below. Each player plays one of the fabled Clue characters:
I haven’t played the original Clue in quite some time, so I remember there used to be a Ms. White: I guess she’s gone.
And there’s not too much we can show! This is a one-shot mystery game: once you have played through the mystery of the game, you know the solution! And the game slowly adds cards and map pieces to the game as you play, so we can’t really show too much of that other than what you see when you open the box: see above and below.
Clue: Treachery at Tudor Mansion is a mystery game. Over time, players cooperatively explore the Tudor mansion and find objects, they find new rooms, they find new clues! It’s got a little bit of a “point-and-click” adventure game feel, as you have to combine objects to get stuff done.
As a group, you work together to find out who killed Mr. Boddy: It’s a cooperative detective game. This game would fit very well into our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games.
Clue: Treachery at Tudor Mansion says that it plays 1-6 characters and takes 90 minutes. That seems fairly accurate: we cruised through the game, but we can imagine a more ponderous group taking 2 hours if they wanted. We ended up playing 4 characters, which felt just about right. Too many characters can cause conflict as competing detectives strive to be heard, but too few characters can miss some obvious clues in the game. 3-4 Players seems the best player count, but I could see playing this 1-2 fairly well too.
One of the best elements of this game is that the game made sure to keep everyone involved: play rotated through the players, forcing everyone to read cards on their turn. The mystery is in the text of the cards: reading more cards exposes more and more of the mystery!!. The game forced everyone to read something on their turn to the group. It always felt like everyone was involved in the mystery.
As we played, we’d ALWAYS reveal more and cards from the box on our turn. So, it always felt like we were making some kind of progress!
It really did feel like something happened on everyone’s turn! There was never a dull moment!
The final mystery was pretty straight forward: you have to solve the who killed Mr. Boddy, where, and with what … okay, that does kind of sound like Clue. But in this case, there is a well-constructed mystery story already written! And it’s cooperative! And there’s exploration! And Reading! And object manipulation!! So, those things make it very different from Clue.
This wasn’t a hard mystery, but it was still challenging.
There were somethings you should be aware of: the game makes you do silly things. For example, “something happened” on my turn, poking me in the eye (in the game, not real life), so I had to put my hand over my eye for one full turn. A couple of things “like this” happen over the game. You can completely ignore this if you like, but as a group, you should make a determination as to whether you are playing “fully serious” (and ignoring the silly things like that) or “silly” (and embracing the silly things in the game). We ended playing silly and embracing it: it’s up to you. This is a simple enough mystery that you don’t have to be fully serious.
Just be aware: there is some silliness in this game.
I can’t call this a full review because:
We didn’t play it solo first. I think you could play this solo if you liked, but then the mystery is solved!
We can’t show too much. There would be too many spoilers!
But, we can share overall thoughts after playing through it.
This one-shot mystery was fun! It was only $15 I think. The Adventure games (like The Grand Hotel Abaddon from a few weeks ago) are a little bit better deal from a gameplay perspective, because you get three 90-minute sessions out of those games for the same price as a single 90 minute session from Clue: Treachery at Tudor Mansion. But, Clue: Treachery at Tudor Mansion is a better “light” mystery, as you are always engaged because you are always doing something: the game always seems to be moving forward. Some mystery or adventure games can be more plodding as you “think more” to solve the mystery: this game doesn’t quite have that vibe. You still have to think and solve the mystery, but the game reveals itself quite quickly.
I liked this and my game group liked this. We reset the game (nothing is torn up, so you can completely reset the game back to its original state) and I will be passing it on to Charlie and Allison: they like mystery games!
Now that cooperative games have become mainstream, it’s easier to make many more directed Top 10 lists! This Top 10 list is for Cooperative Dexterity Games! Dexterity Games usually involve a silly physical challenge. There’s 4 main flavors of dexterity games on this list:
Flicking (where you flick items using your finger and thumb)
Stacking/Building (where you build structures of interest)
Balance (where you balance things while you move them around)
Other (which is anything else)
Let’s take a look at our Top 10 Cooperative Dexterity Games! The order of the games here doesn’t matter as much as other Top 10 lists: you know right away if you like flicking, stacking, balance, or other. The order here is more influenced by the opinions of my normal game groups and the game groups from RIchieCon 2022.
This is a war game that’s a flicking game. You know what it is when you see it!
There’s a LOT of stuff in this box, but there’s also a lot of work to set things up for a simple flicking game. And there are a lot of rules for a flicking game.
Despite all the work for set-up and rules (which is why it is #10), the game was thematic (“be quiet or else all heck breaks loose!”) and fun! We had a lot of fun with the flicking side games as well!
9. Space Cadets
Ages: 8+ Players: 3-6 Time: 60-120 minutes Type: Other (mix of flicking and other stuff)
Space Cadets is an amalgam of a lot of different games: each player plays a position on a starship (like the Star Trek Enterprise). Each position has a different challenge, and some of them are physical challenges: There’s a flicking position, reaching into a bag to “feel components” position, make dominoes, and some other odd things. This is a fairly strategic game, despite all the silly challenges (and thus the 60-120 minutes playing time). We found this game to be love/hate in general: you either loved it or hated it (which is why it’s #9 on our list). But it was definitely fun to watch! You should definitely try it at least once to make sure you like it before you buy it.
Flick ‘Em Up: Dead of Winter is a pure flicking game: that’s both bone and bane for the game. If you are terrible at flicking (which we were for some of the game), you will lose pretty badly! Even playing cooperatively! But, this game has an amazing presence and looks great on table: you can’t go wrong! See below!
There were a lot of rules for the different types of things to flick (guns, knives, shotguns, etc), so again that was boon and bane: it was cool to have all the variety, but it added a lot of complexity to a pure flicking game … this is why this is a little lower (#8) on our list.
For Science is a box filled with lots and lots of wood building blocks! There is a game here about building molecules for science, but really the game is just about playing with blocks. My game groups loved the blocks, but didn’t like the real-time part of the game (which is why it’s only #7). There are probably just a few too many rules too, but it’s just so much fun to play with the blocks!
This was an Interesting game from the designer of Spirit Island (a cooperative game we love here).
So Dungeon Fighters has a name that SOUNDS LIKE it’s a generic Dungeon crawler. Nope! Well, there is some dungeon exploring, but at it’s core, it’s a “throw dice” (and I mean “throw dice”)!!! It’s a wacky “physically throw dice at a board” while doing all sorts of silly physical challenges. Throw dice beneath your legs, off-handed, under your arm, and laugh the whole time. This is NOT a serious game.
Our first play of this game is a huge ongoing joke: my air conditioner was on the fritz, so we choose to play this (probably the most physically active game on the list) without A/C! We were huffing and puffing and downing water afterwards! Learn from our mistake, don’t play this of your A/C was on the fritz. But the game was still such a hoot!
This game is interesting because the box itself is a component of the physical puzzle! Each player moves a lever on each side of the box (see picture above and below) to help move some markers through a maze landscape into a hole. It reminds me quite a bit of those old wooden maze labyrinths where you would try to manipulate a metal ball through a hole.
Ghost Adventures is a really odd duck: you have to cooperatively move a top around a bunch of boards! Each player (usually) takes one board, shepherds the top (physically adjusting the board) through his/her board, then passes the top to another board! Passing the top from your board to your compatriot’s board is probably the hardest part! It sort of reminds us of Slide Quest (#5), but Ghost Adventures uses tops instead of a little roller ball dude. It was fun and goofy and the component quality was very good!
This is a light silly game where you flip “firepower” at the space invaders who are slowly descending down upon you ! This is a very lightweight flicking game that you can get from Target (currently) for pretty cheap! It’s silly fun.
Even though this is essentially a cheaper Flipships (see the next entry) with generally worse components, the little flipper is pretty cool! See red/white/blue plastic flipper above.
This is a silly flicking game, but the special powers on the ships that you flick give the game some interesting twists. Even though we were terrible flickers in general, the game was fun and silly and we were laughing the entire time. The ambigram (words with symmetry) on the cover also enchanted us. We also liked saying Flipship. Flipships. Flipships.
Sam surprised us at RichieCon 2022 by saying it was favorite game that he learned in the past year! He then he proceeded to teach it to everyone he could at RIchieCon 2022! This is a surprise hit which is why it’s so high on the list at #2!!!
Menara was described very aptly as “reverse-Jenga” by my game groups! Players cooperatively build a structure together, using the patterns and rules described on cards as they come out. There’s a surprising amount of strategy in this cooperative dexterity game, as you have to choose when-and-where to build, and when-and-where NOT to build! This is probably the “thinkiest” of all the games on this list, and is probably why we put it at #1. It was fun! And it was hugely popular at RichieCon 2022!
Minecraft: Portal Dash is a cooperative game set in the Minecraft universe. Minecraft is a phenemonally popular video game for most platforms: PCs, Macs, and video game consoles. This game is obviously trying to capitalize on the Minecraft Intellectual Property (much like Star Wars: The Clone Wars did last week but for Star Wars).
In Minecraft: Portal Dash, 1-4 players cooperatively play as Minecraft miners running towards the portal trying to escape. All players must survive and escape together or everyone loses! It’s a cooperative game! Along the way, players mine, fight, move, upgrade, and uncover new areas. When players uncover the last room with the portal, they must fight the big boss! As soon as the big boss is dead, players win!
Mostly, this game is about fighting and mining, while trying to move to the portal at the end to fight the boss.
Unboxing , Components, and Gameplay
Minecraft: Portal Dash is pretty standard sized: see the game and components relative to the Coke Can.
Each player takes a token with a colored bottom and corresponding colored board and colored items.
I played my solo game with blue. Note that the character you choose has no special powers: there are no variable player powers here. (You only get better and different through the upgrades you get).
All players start with all of their items on the top row: they haven’t been used yet: See above. Once an item is used, it goes to the bottom row and has to be “repaired” to be used again. See below.
Every round of the game starts with rolling the Bad News dice (the white dice): there are two. (I personally call them the Bad News dice to note that they are advancing the chaos and badness in the game: Minecraft: Portal Dash just calls them the white dice, or the block die and MOB die).
The first Bad News die (left) strips a block from the Resource Cube. Which block? Whatever the die tells you! See below!
This is Bad News because the game ends when The Resource Cube (above) run out of blocks … either completely out of blocks or blocks at the appropriate level. So, stripping blocks from the Resource Cube is slowly bringing the game to an end.
The other Bad News die (the MOB die) activates the MOBS (the Bad Guys) in the game. Above, we can see two of them are activated! The upper right corner of each MOB character has a number from 1 to 3: you activate all MOBS with that number, which causes them to move towards the characters.
If there are no matching MOBS, you spawn a new MOB at the closest spawn point to a character on the board. The MOB at the front of the queue (see queue above) is what gets spawned. You can always see what’s coming next in the queue!
After the MOB move, they may attack! If the MOB bad guys do reach you, they do damage: above, the magma cube is adjacent and hits me for 2 (-2 on bottom right of the MOB) damage. The ghast is not adjacent, but has range (2 square) and does 2 damage! Above was the very first turn of my game and I lost 4 hit points!!
Hit points are at the top of your character sheet: I only took 3 damage because I had armor that absorbed the first hit.
After the Bad News is done, the active player (who rolled the Bad News dice) gets two actions of their choice:
Use One Item: move item from active part to lower part, invoking its upgraded action
It doesn’t sounds like a lot, but the mine 1 block is quite interesting. First of all, you can only mine blocks that are exposed: A block is exposed only if its top is visible and at least two other sides are visible. And then you can do cool things with the block!!! Geometry is important here!
You can use the mined block to help complete the piglin task (see below):
Recall that you can’t open the final portal until the piglin board is complete! And you can’t win if you can’t fight the boss by the portal! So, it is necessary to mine as you play to fill the piglin board.
The other thing you can do with the blocks: use a special power! See above! These special powers can be game-changing! Repair all items! Heal full hit points! Of course, mining a cube has a cost: remember that the game ends when you run out of cubes.
Using an item usually gives you an upgraded basic action, but at the cost of “breaking” the item so you can’t use it until its repaired.
For example, using the pickaxe would allow you to mine TWO blocks (instead of one).
Note that the sword and the bow are the only way to engage in combat with the MOBS! To take out a MOB, you have to be in range (swords can attack adjacent only, bows have further range: upto 3 spaces away for the bow above). When you engage in combat, you roll the number of dice as per the weapon:
Every X is a hit: MOBS need to be taken out in one shot: damage does not persist.
When you defeat a MOB, you get two upgrades: you keep one and discard the other.
If you can move to the final board with the portal (after completing the piglin board), you fight the boss: if you can defeat the boss, you win! If you run out of blocks at any point, or if anyone dies, everyone loses!
This is both simultaneously a good rulebook and bad rulebook. It’s a good rulebook because it is complete (all rules are here) and it teaches the game. It’s a bad rulebook because of poor organization and some glaring deficiencies (the inclusion of a few things would really flatten the learning curve).
First off, the rulebook is very daunting: when you first open the box and grab the rulebook, it’s very heavy! It’s 48 pages long and very big! Internally, I thought “Oh No! What have I gotten myself into?? This looks big and complex!!”
Well, the rulebook is large because it holds three translations of the rules: English, French, and Dutch (see above). So, that drops the “relevant rules” to 16 pages. Not nearly as bad, but it does seem long for a game aimed at ages 10+.
So, the first major deficiency was the lack of a components page: the game basically just “jumps straight in” assuming you kind of know what everything is. I don’t! This was one of the things that contributed to me calling this a “bad rulebook”. There are a lot of components in this game, and I don’t know “what-is-what”.
If you look VERY CLOSELY at bottom of each translation column on the back of the box, you can see a list of components. It’s tiny, almost imperceptible, and it doesn’t help you figure out “what-is-what” in the component sphere. It is NOT a good components list.
My next problem was perhaps more of a preference thing: I strongly prefer set-up on two pages with a giant picture showing the board and some correlating numbers/letters. This rulebook prefers to add components to the set-up incrementally without ever showing the final picture.
I think this is an okay method for set-up (incrementally vs. seeing the whole picture), but I still wanted a final picture showing everything. Again, this may just be personal preference. Included below is my final picture for set-up for your enlightenment.
The rest of the rulebook has the rules, but the Icons and special rules for a lot of items (The Netherite items, the Enchantments) are scattered through out the text. It’s hard to find some of the rules/icons: they are there, and you can find them, but it feels harder to look up rules/cons than it should be.
The summary in Part IV was pretty good.
The rules showed helpful pictures and examples (see above). That makes this a good rulebook. All the rules were there: that also makes this a good rulebook.
The lack of an Icon summary, the lack of components page, the approach to set-up, the lack of some other exposition, and some of the organization really made me grumpy. However, at the end of the day, I learned the rules. I just wish the rules had been easier to learn (especially for younger audiences).
Solo Play set-up
So, the game box says that the game plays 1-4 players. Interestingly, there is no real discussion of solo rules anywhere in the rulebook. This is mostly because you don’t anything special for solo play, except for choosing which side of the piglin task board to use. One side is 1-2 players, the other side is 3-4 players: See below for the 1-2 player side.
Still, the lack of any discussion of solo rules seems weird. A single sentence would have gone far:
The solo game proceeds just like the base game except that you use the 1-2 Player side of the Piglin task board and the solo player only operates one character.
However, this was consistent with our issues with the rulebook: The game doesn’t strictly need to tell us about solo rules, but a single sentence would have clarified that. So, Minecraft: Portal Dash does follow Saunders’ Law, but it’s just not 100% clear that it does.
How did Solo Play go? Very well! I was initially annoyed that the game used the white Bad News dice to mark your two actions, but I came to understand why. The game flows so quickly once you get into it, you forget sometimes if you are in the middle of your turn or the Bad News turn! “Wait, have I taken both of my actions?” So, even though the description in the rulebook is terrible about describing how to use the white dice for notating the actions, using the two white dice to notate your two actions per turn worked pretty well.
I kept the rulebook off to the side in a chair because I had to look up rules all the time … but the rulebook was just a little too big to keep on the table.
I won my first game, handily defeating the Wildfire (see above). My basic strategy was to get all the Piglin task board filled, then sprint to the end. It worked great!
I worry a little that all games will have this arc: solve the Piglin tasks then sprint to the final board. That strategy worked great for me and I am sure I would do that again.
One of the funner elements of the game is that you are always getting upgrades in the form of new items: every time you beat a bad guy (a MOB), you get two Items from the top of the Item deck: you choose one and discard the other. So, you are constantly moving new items onto your character board: See below.
I didn’t like one mechanism the game used at first: whenever you use an item, you “damage it”, moving it to the bottom row. See above. You have to “repair it” before you can use it again! I didn’t like this at first, but because there were so many ways to work with this, it became fun! You can:
Repair it with a basic action
Fix all broken items using a mine “grey” cube
Change out an item when you upgrade: the new item starts refreshed
Upgrade an item with an enchantment: that forces it repaired gain
There always seemed to be a lot of ways to do things: I felt like I had a lot of agency throughout my game. The solo game was good and absolutely essential to teaching me the game so I can teach my friends. Now that I have the rules internalized, I think the teach will go well: it just took a lot of work to get there.
This is a weird game. I am annoyed by the low quality of some components (the rulebook, the standees, some super thin boards), but fascinated by a lot of the mechanisms, especially the Resource Cube.
The rulebook is pretty off-putting, but it does teach the game. It’s possible that the three simultaneous translations (English, French, Dutch) contributed to that. If you put the effort into reading this rulebook, you can find all the rules you need, but it will require some work. That was frustrating.
Another major frustration was the lack of an icon reference. The game is pretty icon heavy, especially because it is for English, French, and Dutch players! So, the game leans pretty heavily into those icons, but the definition of those icons is spread throughout the rulebook: you have to go hunting. You can eventually find the definitions, but these searches can be cumbersome paging through the entire rulebook! A one-page icon summary would have gone a long way, especially since this rulebook has a lot of whitespace (and the back of the rulebook is so sparse).
Another frustration: I also don’t know who this game is for. The rules say 10+ on the box: I can’t imagine a 10-year old kid fighting through these rules unless he is really into Minecraft. To be fair, a lot of kids are really into Minecraft, but I feel both the rulebook and the complexity of the game will turn-off a lot of kids.
That’s not to say kids couldn’t learn the game: if you can get an older sibling or parent or relative to shepherd the kids through a game or two, then I think that kids could easily get into the game! Once you internalize the rules to this game, Minecraft: Portal Dash does flow pretty well: for kids or anyone! I just wonder how much work it will take to get to that point: this game may be too much for many people without having a shepherd.
My biggest concern for the Minecraft: Portal Dash is the game arc. I feel like most successful games will take a similar arc: fight a few combats, get the ABC pidlin task board done all at once, then sprint to the end. It makes the most sense to do the pidlin board done up front when there are fewer bad guys trying to get destroy you! It’s possible this strategy is a function of the boards that come out: perhaps different combinations of boards will help vary this game arc. We’ll have to see: my biggest worry is that the game arc will have no variety.
What I Really Liked
Once I got into the game, the game flowed pretty well. It was pretty simple: roll two dice for bad news, then take two actions. Repeat! There were a lot of little things to look-up (icons mostly), but the basic gameplay was straight-forward: I liked that.
What fascinated about the game was the dual-use blocks you mine from the Resource Cube! See above! One use of the blocks is as a resource to advance the Piglin tasks. In that case, you have to worry about having enough cubes available (in that color) because of the mining rules. See below for all three complete Piglin tasks and an almost depleted Resource Cube!
But you can also mine a block for a special power: see below.
The mining of a blocks is essential, because you have to mine to win the game (for piglin tasks). But every cube you mine brings you closer to the end of the game: if all 64 cubes are mined, you lose! Or if you can’t finish a Piglin task because you ran out of colors or cubes on a level, you lose!
And you will lose a cube (usually) every turn because of the bad news die! See below.
The bad news die force the players to remove one cube, their choice of color
So, the Resource Cube becomes a 3-D representation of the game’s state space! What choices are available? What choices can you reach? Which blocks do you want for Piglin tasks? What blocks do you want for special powers? What blocks can you afford to lose? What blocks can you not access because of the geometry?
This Resource Cube is fascinating and probably the best part of this game. It’s new and different and I haven’t seen it in any other game. I really want to explore this mechanism further: I find myself still thinking about it …
I know what Horizons of Spirit Island is and I know who should play it . Similarly, I know what Star Wars: The Clone Wars is even after just a few plays. I feel comfortable knowing what those games are: we may not need a Part II for those reviews because all my initial thoughts stand. But, I still don’t know what I think of MInecraft: Portal Dash.
Like Disney Sidekicks, I think Minecraft: Portal Dash might be too complex (especially the rulebook) for its suggested lower ages. Also like Disney Sidekicks, I think a shepherd could make this game much more accessible: if someone can just teach the game, I think younger kids can learn and play the game, but I think that shepherd is fairly essential. So, I can’t quite recommend it for lower ages.
But then the component quality is pretty substandard for a lot of pieces. See above. It’s hard to imagine hard core gamers wanting to play this: it looks like an old 80s board game.
Having said all that, the Resource Cube concept is so fascinating and deep, I think this one mechanism might make Minecraft: Portal Dash one of my favorite games of the year!? Or maybe it’s not nearly as deep as I think and I will become disillusioned with the Resource Cube? I don’t know, but I find myself wanting to play again and again to try out the Resource Cube! It fascinates me!!
As you can see, I am all over the place. I got the game for $39.99 at Target, so it wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t expensive. It feels like the components should be better for the price (especially after seeing Horizons of Spirit Island for $29.99), but that Resource Cube stands out as one of the better components.
I can say that, right now, I like Minecraft: Portal Dash, despite the rulebook and poor components, but I feel like I need some more time with this game before I can wholeheartedly recommend it. Currently, I would cautiously optimistically recommend it.
Never has one of my reviews been in such dire need of a Part II.
Didn’t we just go to Target last week to get Horizons of Spirit Island? Yes, we did: see here! While we were at Target picking up Horizons of Spirit Island, we asked about Star Wars: The Clone Wars. They said they had it in back, but it was under some palettes so I needed to come back. That was fine with me: I was too busy playing Horizons of Spirit Island! … see last week.
Well, a week went by and they still hadn’t put out the Star Wars: The Clone Wars game, so I had to hunt around Tucson and I found it at another Target across town: see above!
Horizons of Spirit Island was a cheap game from Target ($29.99), whereas Star Wars: The Clone Wars was significantly more expensive at $59.99! Target “usually” has some kind of sale for board games: in this case, I got it for $10 off (any Toy purchase over $50 was $10 cheaper). And then the Target card gets you another 5% off, so it ended up being about $47.99 of so: that price is significant, because GameNerdz and other discount online game shops have the game listed for $47.99 as well!
So, if you do a little bit of work (waiting for sale or looking online), you can probably pick this up for about $48. Interestingly, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is obviously NOT a Target exclusive, because I can order it now from online shops. GameNerdz has it on pre-order as coming out on October 7th, so you can either order it there or go to your local Target (as opposed to Horizons of Spirit Island, which is absolutely a Target exclusive).
What is Star Wars: The Clone Wars?
Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a cooperative game for 1-5 players in the Pandemic System (see the little Pandemic logo in the lower left corner?). This means that Star Wars: The Clone Wars shares a lot of DNA with the original Pandemic. In this case, though, I think a better comparison would be to compare this to World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, another game in the Pandemic System: see our full review here.
I originally thought that the Star Wars: The Clone WarsPandemic game would just be a “slight re-skin” on the World of Warcraft Pandemic game. Although these two are probably the “closest” relatives of all the games in Pandemic world, there are still enough changes to differentiate the two.
Unboxing and Components
The box is an odd shape: it feels thick and thin at the same time.
But in general, the components look really nice, especially since this is a mass market game! The miniatures are especially nice!
Each Villain has its own special deck!
To play, each player takes the role of the one of the main Heroes from Star Wars: see below.
Note that each player has a special power that’s unique to their Star Wars hero!
To win, the Heroes have to take down of one four Villains:
Players choose a Villain at the start of the game, and each Villain comes with their own Villain deck!
That means each Villain has a unique play style!! The game recommends starting with Asajj Ventress:
Like Pandemic, “bad things” come out on the board as the game progresses. In this case, it’s Droids! Droids are invading the system!
Like Pandemic, they slowly accrete on the planets, as a few Droids get added to the board at the end of each player’s turn:
Droids are like Pandemic disease cubes. In this case, there are actually multiple different models!! Very cool!
If a fourth Droid would hit a planet, you get a Blockade there: There’s no spill out to adjacent planets. (The Blockades are more like the Abominations in Wrath of the Lich King than disease cubes from base Pandemic).
A Blockade on a Location means you must fight the Blockages before you fight anything else on the space!
To get rid of enemies on a planet (Droids, Villain, or Blockades), you have to roll the big 12-sided die! Every circle/star is a success and does 1 damage to the enemies. Blockades need two damage to take them out, Droids need one damage to take them out, and Villains vary. The explosions are how many hits the Hero takes!
The Grand Hotel Abaddon is the fourth in the Adventure Games series from Kosmos Games: Yes, that’s right! There are at least 3 more adventure point-and-click card adventures!!! This particular adventure is for 1-4 players and plays over 3 sessions of 90 minutes each. To be clear, this is a “one-and-done” game: once you’ve played it, you’ve seen all the puzzles and solved them. You can still easily pass this box on to some friends to play (you can still reuse the game, as you don’t destroy any components). You can also come back to it in a year or two when you’ve forgotten all the puzzles. I frequently replay my old point-and-click adventure video games (The Monkey Island games, Thimbleweek Park, to name a few), so I am in the category of re-enjoying and re-playing games.
So, Is The Grand Hotel Abaddon good enough to replay in a few years?
Components and Gameplay
The game is mostly cards and an Adventure Book: see above. The Adventure Book (above right) has the story and and interactions all baked in … and lots and lots and lots of text!! The big cards (labelled A) are Locations you travel to in the game, the numbered cards are objects to interact with, and the tokens are for noting things. Below, you can see all the objects the character Yu Heng Zhu holds (a bunch of cards).
The Big Cards sit out and form the map you explore:
Each player takes the roll of one of four adventurers in the game.
I ended up playing the Dr. Susan Pendergast. Throughout the game, each character has a minor subplot that unfolds within the main plot. You actually get pretty invested in your character as you play! We ended up playing 3 different sessions over about 2 months. We always enjoyed coming back to the character we previously played.
The Adventure Book is the most important piece in the game. If you want to explore, put two objects together, try something in a Location, or generally “do anything”, the adventure book tells you “what happens”. Generally, the game works by combining two numbers: objects have a 2 digit number and Locations have a 3 digit number. You quine the numbers together (the smaller number first then the bigger) and lookup that number in the Adventure Book. If an entry with that number is there, you read it and “something happens!’ If there is no entry, that means that interaction doesn’t do anything.
Each place you can explore in a Location has a 3 digit number in it.
Players basically work together to explore the map and try to figure out what’s going on! The story is quite interesting! Play proceeds clockwise, as each character “tries something” (explore, combine, other) to see what happens.
Why a Mini-Review?
Why are we doing a mini-review and not a full review?
We didn’t get a chance to play this solo: the game gives you rules to play it solo by operating two characters (yay, thanks for following Saunders’ Law), but we didn’t play this way. We played the game with a full complement of 4 people. And we think this is the best way to play: each player then gets to play their own character and feel ownership/kinship with that character and the backstory. You also get to see all the arcs of the game that way.
It’s difficult to avoid spoilers. It’s hard to talk too much of the game without giving away too many spoilers. This particular game also has a lot of spoilers: it’s much more fun to see what happens as you play.
App vs. Text
So, you can play this game with an app or without an app. We played the original Adventure Game: The Dungeon without an app because it didn’t exist yet when we played! In that play, the Adventure Book was passed around a lot as each player would read out of the book on their turn. We had a lot of fun reading out loud and talking in silly voices when we played the first one!
You can also play The Grand Hotel Abaddon without an app as well. That’s very satisfying: if the company ever goes belly-up and stop supporting the app, you know you can still play this.
In the end, though, we ended up using the app to read the text. Partly because it was less work, and partly because it was less tiring: we could all concentrate on what was being said and just solve the puzzles.
We preferred using the app to read. But we would have had just about as much fun reading from the Adventure Book ourselves.
We has a grand old time playing this (no pun intended). We played the three different sessions over three different nights: the game seemed to be just the right length each time: not too long, not too short. We were able to explore, tease further plot points, do interesting things, and generally have fun.
I think we also enjoyed the game that much more because we each played a different character with different goals and backstories: we bonded with our characters. I feel like we didn’t get this as much in the previous Adventure games.
Overall, the Dungeon is still our favorite, but The Grand Hotel Abaddon is a very close second. The other two are still good, but arguably not as good. Some people didn’t like The Volcanic Island very much (it does have some weird things happening), but we did.
The current 4 Adventure Games
If you want a point-and-click adventure board game like the video game Return To Monkey Island, then The Grand Hotel Abaddon is a great choice: it gives you that exploration and puzzle-solving experience like The Monkey Island games, but in board game form.
And yes, this game is good enough to replay: I suspect we will replay this again in a few years.
Horizons of Spirit Island is a cooperative board game from Greater Than Games for 1-3 Players. It just came out today (October 1st, 2022).
I had to ask my Target associate to find the game in back because it wasn’t on the shelves yet.
Horizons of Spirit Island is one of those Target exclusive games: I believe it is “exclusive” to Target for a time (1-6 months?) and then can be found elsewhere.
Horizons of Spirit Island is a lighter stand-alone version of the original heavier game Spirit Island (see below). Spirit Island is a very complicated game of spirits cooperating to keeping explorers off your island: many people call this game a “cooperative euro” game because of its complexity. Despite the heaviness of this game, it has become very popular due to its unique gameplay and highly asymmetric powers. See the original version below.
Original version of Spirit Island from the Kickstarter: signed by R.E. Reuss!
Horizons of Spirit Island is an attempt to make a more “friendly” version of Spirit Island to widen its audience. It is only $29.99 at Target, as opposed to $62.99 for the original from Amazon. It’s cheaper for a variety of reason: it’s smaller (see below), supports fewer players (1-3 instead of 1-4), has crummier components (punchouts instead of wood or plastic), and the board is a more traditional static board than the weird shaped island boards of the original. See below.
Even though this is a cheaper version, you can use the spirits in this game as an expansion for the original: it just requires you have the original game.
Let’s take a look at this cheaper version of Spirit Island and see what we are getting!
Comparison of Components
You can skip this section if you don’t care about the original Spirit Island game.
Let’s compare the new game to the old game: they are essentially the same game! The newer Horizons is cheaper and has lesser components (the newer box is smaller, see above).
But the newer game has a Quick Start guide that will help newer players get into sooner: the original does not have anything like that.
The rulebooks are fairly equivalent: the Horizons rulebook is a few pages shorter, but the original rulebook is longer because it has some extra rules for some in-game expansions.
The newer Horizons has only 5 spirits you can play, whereas the original has 8 spirits …
… and the newer Horizons uses much thinner cardboard (left), whereas the original has thick, sturdy spirit cards (right).
The maps are very interesting: the newer Horizons (left) has a two-sided map: one side is for 1-2 players, and the other side is for a 3-player game. The original game has one sturdy but weird-shaped map for each player. It’s easy to scale from 1-4 players in the original game because that’s how many map pieces you take: it’s more modular. However, the dual-sided board of horizons has the advantage that it gives hints to layout and card placement, etc.
The newer Horizons does NOT need an extra board for fear and blight because it’s on the main board . The original needs an extra side board for those same fear and blight tokens.
Interestingly, the Horizons game makes the tokens compatible with the tokens from the original game by having different colors. See above: Horizons has three sets of different colors (orange, cyan, dark purple than the original player colors (yellow, blue, red, light purple). One of the goals of Horizons of Spirit Island is that it is compatible with the original game: if you find you like the simpler Horizons of Spirit Island, you can pick up the original game and use the spirits from Horizons with the higher quality components of the original Spirit Island!
The blight tokens are just cardboard punchouts in Horizons (left) and weirdly thematic plastic goops in the original (right).
The Dahan and the Settlers are all cardboard punchouts in the newer Horizons (left). The original (right) has the Dahan being wood tokens to represent a “natural” token, whereas the settlers and plastic to represent a more “unnatural” or “foreign” token. Furthermore, there is a system with the plastic tokens for notating hit points that I thought worked pretty well.
I think the fear tokens are EXACTLY the same in both: see above and below.
There are fewer cards in Horizons (partly because there are fewer spirits), but they are essentially compatible with the original. You might notice the fear cards are a slightly different color of purple (just different enough to be noticeable), but the power cards seem very compatible.
If you look closely (above), the Horizon’s cards (left) are ever so slightly lighter and have an ever slightly lesser sheen. I don’t think that’s noticeable. They look like they will work together very well.
Can you tell the difference on the other side? Not really, and that’s a good thing! But you can always separate the Horizons cards from the original cards by noticing the little Horizon’s emblem on the lower right corner: see picture below for a closer look.
The components of Horizons of Spirit Island are definitely of lesser quality and quantity than the original Spirit Island, but they are still pretty nice! And for the price point of $29.99 from Target, it makes it much easier to jump in and try the game out! I mean $62.99 from Amazon is more than twice as much!
So, Horizons of Spirit Island supports solo play (thank you for following Saunders’ Law)! Unfortunately, the Quick Start Guide only discusses quick start for a 3-Player game, NOT a solo game! See more discussion in theQuick Start Guide section below.
Playing solo is relatively easy: you use the 2-Player side of the board and use the Fear markers to cordon off one side of the island: see above and below.
There’s some scaling for Fear and Blight tokens just for set-up (only 4 Fear and 6 blight), and some powers can’t be used in solo mode, but in general, the base rules for solo are exactly like the base game. This is great, because there are almost no exceptional things to keep track as you learn the game: all the rules you learn for the solo game apply to the multiplayer game.
I’ll be honest, the original Spirit Island is one of my favorite solo games. It is such a fun puzzle to solve solo! And each spirit in the game plays so differently! In my first solo game (above), I played the Eyes from the Trees, which are a creepy spirit!! Their main strategy is to scare the pants off the Settlers!! I almost felt like I was playing a horror movie as I played! I generated so much fear that I scared all the settlers back to the main city!
And then on my last turn, I played the Jungle Hungers (see above) and pretty much decimated the main city location. It was so cool and thematic as I scared the settlers back to the coast and then reached out from the Jungle to completely trounce them!
To be fair, it was a very close game: I almost ran out of blight. Had I not complete devastated the coastal town, the Settlers would have polluted my island and I would have lost! It was a close, fun, thematic game. And SO MUCH FUN!!!
Let me be very clear: it took me two hours to get through this game. This is a very thinky game and prone to Analysis Paralysis … even this newer “simpler” version .. because this game is still Spirit Island. I took my time and thought long and hard about my decisions. I like playing solo games like this, and I don’t mind doing this by myself. But if I were with a group, I would make sure I moved much faster.
In the end, this was everything I loved in the original solo game (and that still applies to the multiplayer game as well). Horizons of Spirit Island gameplay is still Spirit Island gameplay: it was fun but thinky.
Quick Start Guide
The Quick Start Guide is .. okay. We were expecting something more like the onboarding experience we saw in Gloomhaven:Jaws of the Lion: Gloomhaven (see our review here). Jaws of the Lion was another very similar product to Horizons of Spirit Island. The original Gloomhaven is a giant, complicated, expensive game and Jaws of the Lion was an attempt by Target to bring the Gloomhaven experience to the mass market. Similarly, Spirit Island is a giant, complicated, expensive game and Horizons of Sprit Island was an attempt to bring the Spirit Island experience to the mass market.
Although the Quick Start Guide does a great job guiding a 3-Player game through the first few turns, it’s not really an extensive onboarding guide: it just discusses set-up and play over a few turns. Jaws of the Lion was a lot of more extensive: it would start simple and slowly introduce more and more rules (over the first few games), to slowly onboard players into the game.
For example, my first play of Horizons of Spirit Island was a solo game (see previous section), not a 3-Player game. I know how to play Spirit Island, but it’s been a while since I played, so it was nice to go through the rules from the Quick Start Guide. The problem was that I had to scale everything for a solo game. In the end, the Quick Start Guide was an okay help, but not nearly as helpful as the equivalent Quick Start Guide in Jaws of the Lion.
I always recommend learning a game solo, especially a big complicated one like Horizons of Spirit Island, so you can you can teach your friends and facilitate their plays. I would have preferred a solo Quick Start Guide rather than a 3-Player guide (or at least one that covered both).
Horizons of Spirit Island is still the same game as Spirit Island, but it has a cheaper entry price, cheaper components, and fewer components (fewer spirits, fewer cards). Horizons of Spirit Island also doesn’t have some of the in-game expansions that Spirit Island has: I assume they were elided to keep the price down. The Quick Start Guide in Horizons is useful to help new players, but it’s not as helpful as I was expecting or hoping; it works okay.
In the end, even though Horizons of Spirit Island is pretty much the same game as Spirit Island, it does feel easier to get to the table! The original Spirit Island has a pretty big box chock full of components and is rather daunting.
The smaller Horizons of Spirit Island just “feels” smaller (and strictly speaking, it is) and that seems to make it easier to get to the table.
If you ever wanted to try Spirit Island, but were afraid of the price or the daunting box or the complex rules, Horizons of Spirit Island is a good entry point. Horizons is pretty cheap at $29.99 at Target, but even with the lesser components, the game still looks really good: see above.
The Quick Start Guide (see above), although not great, is still pretty good and it will help you get into this fairly complicated game.
If you decide you like Horizons of Spirit Island, you can still purchase the original Spirit Island (with the exceptional components) and use the Horizons of Spirit Island game as an expansion! All of the spirits and cards from Horizons of Spirit Island can be used in the original game as extra content! More spirits!
Horizons of Spirit Island makes it easy to tryout Spirit Island. Horizons is pretty cheap, and you can decide if you like it before spending money on the bigger Spirit Island and it’s myriad of expansions.
I like it. I will keep Horizons of Spirit Island to introduce new players to the Spirit Island experience! And also for the extra spirits!