A Review of Lord of the Rings: Adventure Book Game (A Cooperative Game)


Lord of the Rings: Adventure Book Game is a cooperative game for 1-4 Players, Ages 10+, set in the world of Lord of the Rings.


I ordered this online (from Target) in late January and it just got to my house yesterday (Feb 27th, 2023): I believe it was just released. This came from Target, and I believe this is a Target exclusive.


We’ve had some amazing luck with cooperative games from Target over the past year: Minecraft: Portal Dash, Horizons of Spirit Island, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars Pandemic! Let’s take a look and see if this game lives up to the Target hype!



Note: No shrink wrap on the game: the edges are all plastic sticker shut. It looks weird, but that’s the way other games from Target (Disney Sidekicks, The Princess Bride, others) have been! I suspect there’s no shrink wrap to save money.


It’s smaller than the standard Ticket TO Ride size box (see above with Coke Can for scale), but it’s the same size as the The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game we reviewed some time ago.


The rulebook on top is decent:


The Adventure Book is very cool and has thick cardboard:


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And there’s not a lot in here: some cards, some minis and some tokens.


Weirdly, we don’t have to punch out any tokens: they all come prepunched! So, it’s cheaper to unpunch tokens than put shrink wrap on a box? This seems a weird tradeoff to me, but what the hey: it’s easier to unbox when everything’s unpunched already!


The game is pretty decent, although I wish the cards were linen-finished: After playing all the way the game twice, I think the cards really should be sleeved! So, my main component issue is that the cards either need to be sleeved or be better quality.



The rulebook is good: it’s concise.


It’s only 8 pages! It starts off with a component overview and set-up:

The font is nice, the rulebook is easy to read, and it passes the Chair Test with a A.

There’s even a FAQ per chapter that crosses to the last page. This rulebook was easy to read and easy to consult when we had questions. It was good.

Components and Unboxing


The main component of the game is the Adventure Book.  The game is a light legacy game, where players progress across 8 “chapters” in the book to try to throw the ring into Mount Doom.


The book unfolds into a 2-page spread for each chapter: see above.


Each Chapter will have a very specific set-up: See above!  Note that this is where we decide what figures to place on the board: In Chapter 1, it’s the Hobbits and Aragorn.


Surprisingly, players do NOT take the role of one of the titular Lord of the Rings characters: instead, players collectively will be manipulating all the characters that come into play.


To the right of board are the Challenges: players will need to fulfill the preconditions of each challenge, then discard some cards (see the colored symbols).


The cards to discard are the Story Cards: see above.  There are 6 main types (above).


There’s also some Special Story cards which the players earn as they move through the game: these cards have really cool special abilities (or can be used as a wild card).


The Ring cards are powerful because they can either (a) be wild or (b) be used in special “per scenario” uses (see above: the ring can move the Black Riders). But everytime you play (or discard) on the rings, you cause corruption.


Corruption is kept track of at a special board at the top of the board. If your corruption ever makes it to slot 15, the entire game is over and you lose! If you hit any of the eye symbols along the way, you cause corruption cards to come out, which have bad effects: see below.


So, to be clear: this is a legacy game on many fronts! Corruption you gain will stay for the entire game! When you start a new CHapter of the book, you retain the Corruption track from the previous game! Use too many Ring cards, and you will lose the game before you ever get to Mount Doom!


The Specials stay as well: (as long as you win the game where you gained that special).


To remind myself of where I left off, I take a picture of the cards I gained and the current state of the Corruption track: see above.


This game follows the path of many cooperative games: Player does good news, then bad news happens. Next player does good stuff, then bad stuff happens. Repeat until you win! The good news is done by playing the Story Cards: see above.


The Bad News cards (called Plot Cards) are numbered 1 to 15, and cause bad News t happen, depending on the Chapter you are in!


See above: Plot Card 10 causes 1 Black Rider to move 2 Spaces in Chapter one.


This mechanism is a simple way to vary to bad news per chapter: the Plot Cards are just an index to the Plot Chart (see below).


If you can defeat all challenges in your Chapter, you win! If you complete all 8 chapters and throw the ring into the Volcano, you win! There are many ways to lose along the way, but usually that just means resetting the last chapter and replaying. Unfortunately, if the Corruption ever makes to 15, the game is completely over: you lose.


Solo Play


For a Mass Market game from Target, the Solo Rules are surprisingly well specified (thank you for following Saunders’ Law)! There’s one paragraph in the rulebook (see above). The only real change is that there is an “phantom hand” of 6 cards you can trade with.


See a set-up for a solo player above. My cards are just below the board, and the “phantom hand” of 6 is off to the side.


I had an absolute blast playing this solo. The rules are very simple, and the gameplay is very simple, but it feels like every action you take in the game matters! Without even thinking, I played through the first three chapters one night and finished it the next night!


What makes this so fun is that you are making interesting decisions: Do I use a ring, even though it will cause corruption? Who should I move to always progress? Should I discard now to defeat a challenge or wait until I have more cards? The game has an inherent timer (you lose the chapter if you reveal all 15 plot cards), so everything you do (especially in the later chapters) matters.


The other thing I started doing was keeping track of what cards have come out: I can probabilistically predict what Plot Card might come out next, and that can inform my play! See above as I have all the Plot Cards out by category!


One thing I noticed is that the “phantom hand” the solo player trades tends to fill up with Rings At least mine did: I play to avoid corruption, so I tended to pass all the Ring cards over the Phantom as I used his “other” cards. See above: the “phantom hand” has all Rings! As we’ll see in cooperative play, there is a very different dynamic with the Rings!


I had a phenomenal time playing this solo. I lost one chapter, but each chapter is short: 15-25 minutes! So, even if you need to replay a chapter, it’s quick!

Cooperative Play


Sara and I played through the entire campaign on a blustery Sunday morning (and into lunch). The game was so much fun, we wanted to keep playing! We wanted to get to the end and win! It was a ball!


Sara even brought her “Eyes of Sauron” water cup.


The main difference in our game is that Rings because more like “Wounds” in a deck-builder game: they took up space, since you can only have 6 cards in your hand! See above as I have 2 Rings taking up space in my hand. Again, we tend to play to only use ROngs when you have to, so the Rings (for us anyways) took up space. So, we ended up trading Rings back and forth as we played (I need a Sword: I’ll trade you a Ring!). This was a very different dynamic from the solo game, where the Rings just drifted into the “phantom hand”: we had to share/load-balance the Rings so we both had enough slots in our hand to do stuff!


One of things that completely saved our Bacon many, many times was Arwen’s love: that Special card (see above) was earned in the first chapter. It allows use to use Rings without their corrupting effect! This card was huge for us! It allowed us to do challenges and get rid of the “blocking Rings” from our hand! Both Sara and I wondered if we could have won the game without these.


We just barely won at Mount Doom: it could not have been closer. One fewer card, and we would have lost. As it was, we still had to play 4 Rings and take 4 Corruption to win on the last play!!! Luckily, we had kept the corruption down to pretty low in the game, so it wasn’t that bad. We won!!


What a fantastic time we had. Each Chapter was quick and very different, and we had a ball.

We do think that 2-Player is optimal: players can strategize closely to keep challenges under control. Much like Pandemic is easier with two players, but more chaotic and harder with more players, Lord of the Rings: Adventure Book Games is probably best at 2 players, and not quite as good at 3 and 4 players.

Two Issues


Issue 1: In general, the components are pretty good (especially for a Mass Market game from Target),  but the cards really need to sleeved, or should be better quality.  After playing solo and cooperatively all the way through a couple of times, the card are starting to get a little grody: you touch them and shuffle them all the time.  Consider sleeving your cards before you play (if you pick this up).


Issue 2: There is an element of Luck. I lost one game (see above) horribly because I could not get a sword for like 4 turns in a row, and that just caused wasted turns. I couldn’t have done anything to mitigate it, I couldn’t skip my turn to draw extra cards or anything like that. Bad Luck as only been an issue a handful of times (and I have played it quite a bit), but it is possible you could get completely screwed on card draws. Luckily, the games are quick: a typical game is 20 minutes, and you can reset quickly. I’ve had many of game of Pandemic go bad because of bad card draws, so it can happen in any cooperative game. The good news (based on my many plays) is that Bad Luck doesn’t seem to happen very often: mostly, you just have toi make smart decisions.

Adventure Book Games


There are currently three Adventure Book games: The Princess Bride (which reviewed here), The Wizard of Oz, and Lord of the Rings (whose review you are reading now). There are all very similar: players cooperatively play cards to move characters around the board and fulfill challenges, and bad news comes with the Plot Decks and Plot Charts. It’s a fairly simple system which seems to work really well for putting on top of a Intellectual Property.

I think The Lord of The Rings Adventure Book Game is my favorite of the three: it slightly evolves the mechanisms of the original Princess Bride and has just a little more content. But, I like them both.

The Oliphant In The Room


So, if given a choice, which cooperative Lord of the Rings board game would I play? The Renier Knizia Lord of the Rings (2001) game has a lot of nostalgia, and I do enjoy playing it, but it is too hard: it would have to be the right group and circumstances to play. I thought the Fantasy Flight Lords of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth was just okay: you couldn’t just open it up and play, you had to always be in the middle of a campaign. (And I like Mansion of Madness a lot more if I want that system: you can always just jump into a game).


Lord of the Rings: Adventure Book Game is by far the lightest and easiest to get into. You also can easily “cheat” and jump into any chapter for fun. It’s also incredibly thematic, given how simple it is. It may be too simple for some gamers: you may prefer the complexity of Journeys in Middle Earth, but I think the simplicity of Lord of the Rings: Adventure Book Game is very appealing. I think it’s my favorite?


One question you might ask: how replayable is this?  I’ve played through the full campaign twice already (once as a solo player, and once as a 2-Player cooperative play), and I still want to play again!  Each chapter is different enough to give some variety, and there are 8 chapters: so that’s quite a bit of variety.   I am also interested in seeing how the Specials you get as you advance affect the game: Arwen’s Love made a huge difference for us: will other Specials be as useful?

At some point, of course, you might get sick of this system and the chapters.  But I think it’ll be a while before you do.

Age Range


The Age Range (according to the rulebook) is 10+. I’d say that’s accurate … at first. The game scales up in difficulty and complexity as you play. I think having an older player needs to be available to either play with younger players or just shepherd younger players through the game. Each Chapter has a lot of rule changes, and I think an older player needs to be around to helper younger players.



I did not expect to like Lord of The Rings: Adventure Book Game as much as I did. I’d probably give it an 8 or an 8.5/10 as would Sara. This works fantastic as a solo game: I still want to replay through the whole campaign even though I’ve already played once before! And this is easy to take out for a cooperative game. My only reservation is that the 2-Player cooperative game is probably optimal (for fun, for winning): A 3-Player game would be okay, but I worry that the 4-Player game might bog down.

This light legacy cooperative game is thematic, fun, quick, and easy to play. It’s my favorite game in the Adventure Book series of games.

A Review of Deck of Wonders


Deck of Wonders was #8 on my Top 10 Cooperative Anticipated Games of 2021! It is running quite late: it was a Kickstarter that promised delivery in November 2021, but it just delivered on February 1st, 2023 (a few days ago).


This is a solo or cooperative legacy card game for 1-2 players. It doesn’t label itself as such, but Deck of Wonders is “essentially” a tower defense game where you defend your “tower” (yourself) with your “troops” (minions). It also has some cool story and legacy mechanics: as you play, a story advances and you get to upgrade your cards with little stickers! It’s very cool! Let’s take a look.




What’s in this huge box?


This tiny box was in the huge box!  I think they overpacked it!


But you get a sense of how big this game is!


The components are actually quite nice.



Remember how we said this was a legacy game?  Part of the legacy cone part comes from the stickers above! The sticker sheet contains little stickers you can put on your cards to upgrade them!


The vast majority of this game is cards: see all of them in the box above.



The bottom row is a bunch of little card packs. As you unlock parts of the story, you get to open some of these packs and add new cards/rules to the game!


The middle section of the box holds the 3 main Villains.


The final box at the top: it’s a box of the player cards.


The cards all look fantastic: they have two sides!  When the text is normal, it’s your side. When it’s upside down, it’s for the villain.  Every card in the game can be used, depending on whose turn it is!


The components are pretty nice for a little box!




The rulebook is .. okay.  I think there were three main issues:


The first complaint: the font is too thin. I understand it has to be small to fit in this size, but it was so thin I had trouble reading it!  I think this may the first time I have ever had this complaint!


You can actually see how much more readable the font is in the other sections when it’s fattened up! See above.


The second complaint: there’s no FAQ.  I think my very first round of the game I had a question (does destroy count as an attack? Do shields stop a destroy?), but there was no place to go to look it up.


Having said that, they did have an “Easy rules to miss section” at the back. That was really helpful!



The final complaint was that the start of the game was under-specified in the start game.  Normal flow is that you draw 1 card on the bad guy turn, and 1 card on the good guy turn.  But in the beginning of the game, how does that work?  The villain plays 3 cards … are they consecutively? Do we do battlelines each time? Does the first card being a minion mean he gets to attack 3 times?   This really sets the timbre of the game if you take 4 damage three times from a really bad minion who just happens to show up.  A little more help here would have gone a long way.


Oh yes, the game completely fails the Chair Test!  There’s no way I can use the chair next to me to “just look” at the rulebook! It’s much too small!  See above. It MUST go on the table!  See below.


It’s not a terrible rulebook, it mostly taught the game.  It needed fatter fonts, a FAQ (especially with some keyword elaborations), and better startup directions.  There’s also some house rules I think should be in here (see discussion later).

Solo Play


By default, this is a solo game.  (There is a cooperative mode, but it’s not really that different).


At the start of the game, you mix two decks: your hero deck and the bad guy deck: there are about 28 cards in each deck.  This is the Deck of Wonders!  All gameplay comes from this deck, both good guy (you) and bad guys (the game) plays.


Both the good guy and the bad guys have a little hit point tracker.  (The game doesn’t come with any tracker tokens: I had to get my own).  To win, you have to take the bad guy to 0 hit points.  You lose if you are ever knocked down to 0 hit points.


The good guy (you) starts with 4 cards: notice that they text is right side up on the Title!  This means we are using the cards for the good guy side.   You can play as many cards as you like on your turn, as long as you have enough cards, and can pay the costs (some cards cost other cards to play them).  You start the game with 4 cards.


The bad guy starts by playing 3 cards from the Deck of Wonders.  When you are playing the bad guy turn, you always play the card with the title text upside down!  See the Forest Troll as a bad guy minion above!


Essentially, play alternates between good guy/bad guy until one side wins!


Most cards that get played are minions that “stay in play” until they are killed.  


There are also some one-shots: See Lightning Strike above.


Before you get into the game, three legacy decks are turned up: they show “conditions” to try for to unlock the decks! For example, the first deck requires us to defeat Cullin and still have 10 health remaining!  In order to fully defeat Cullin, we have to fight him until we can open his third and final deck (see above) and defeat his final “Fated Form”.    These deck conditions inform what you are trying for in the game.


Over the course of 2 or 3 three nights, I ended up playing about 10 games.  I won 3 of them and lost 7. Every time you win, you get to add an upgrade sticker to a card!

The game really is about 15 minutes.  Even though I lost 7 games, the game moves pretty quick.  The worst part of setting up a game is all the shuffling.


The solo game moves pretty quickly.  It was fun adding upgrades to cards (but see below).   As you unlock more and more decks, it was cool to see the story.



I love the art in this game: it was one of the reasons I backed it.


The cards are very readable, and the artist, Lauren A Brown, did a fantastic job.  Since the cards are the main component you look at as you play, this art is just captivating the whole game.



There is an interesting story that unfolds as you play.  The game starts with a brief back story ….


… which you can have read to you by the Foreteller app!  Now, I don’t know if the story isn’t quite done, but the only narration I found in the app was for the Intro.  There are a few other places in the game that narration would make sense: perhaps I just needed to unlock it with a code, or perhaps it’s not quite done yet.  Either way, I only heard the intro narrated.  It was cool.

After that, story comes out as you unlock story packs on cards.  Below is the intro for Cullin, the first villain to fight.


As you unlock more packs, more and more story comes out!


Honestly, I really did enjoy the story that came out as I played.  The new mechanisms it introduced seemed consistent with the story.  Hopefully by the time you read this, all the story will be in the Foreteller app.

Luck and Legacy


I love the idea that this is a “little legacy” game, where you can upgrade cards and put stickers on them to make the game better.  That’s a really great idea!  You can choose “how to upgrade” your deck!  The problem is that, statistically,  your upgraded cards will almost never appear, especially at the beginning!


Let’s look at the first set of decks you are playing: you start with 56 cards (28 from bad guys, 28 from your deck), but then immediately add 4 upon advancing: let’s call it 60 cards for ease of math. 


Whenever you win, you are allowed to add exactly 1 sticker to 1 card to upgrade it!  And that’s it!  Most of of the games I’ve played only made it through about 40 cards before the game ended. So, you have about a 40/60 or 2/3 or 66.6% chance of seeing your upgrade.  That’s not bad, except you have to consider that the upgraded card may be played by the enemy upside down!  About half the cards will be played the wrong way causing you to miss your upgrade! So, that cuts your chance of seeing the upgrade in half!  Your chances are now 1/3 or 33.33%! So, a single upgrade has only a 1 in 3 chance of ever even being played.  And the upgrades are pretty minor too: +1 here, +1 there, so they aren’t THAT helpful.


It’s cool that you can upgrade cards, but I think the upgrade path is too slow.  I played three winning games, and I don’t think I ever saw any of my upgrades … well, I did, but it was played by the enemy (which was infuriating).  In the meantime, the bad guys advanced much, much faster!  Cullin (the bad guy) gets 4 cards in the first upgrade which are pretty significant! By the third upgrade, he was doing two damage to everything on his turn: me, my minions, everything!  I was lucky when I did any damage to him.  I was getting massacred.

The legacy thing is cool, but the upgrades come out way too slow.  The odds of you seeing your upgrades  were very small.

Too Much Randomness and Possible Fixes


This game is too random for me. I played ten games, and every single one was completely unbalanced … either for me or against me.  It’s great when it’s for you when you are winning (for three games), but the ones I lost (seven)  were incredibly frustrating.  I never felt like I could do anything to fix my loss.  I just watched as the cards came out, with no chance mitigation on my part.  I could tell quickly whether I would win or lose. And that was it.   I mean, at least the game is quick and over in 15 minutes.

But I think a few minor fixes might make the game much more palatable and less random.

  1. Speed up the upgrade path!  When you win a game, allow the user to choose 3, 4, or even 5 upgrades! I don’t know what the right number is, but I think if you saw your upgrades actually coming out and helping you, you would find the game more engaging.
  2. Card Choice: The most frustrating thing is that you only draw one card per turn.   I watched over and over as I drew useless garbage  on my turn as the villain drew amazing cards!  Give me some choice: maybe I draw two cards, and keep one and discard one? This would also give the upgrades a better chance of appearing! And then I feel like I have a choice!  It would  keep me more engaged, rather than just randomly flipping cards.
  3. Battlelines: Weirdly, I am forced to arrange my minions is priority order: I get choices on ties only!  Why?  This seems to just take away choice from the game.  This might be a balancing mechanism initially, but it’s so frustrating: my only choice on BattleLines is on ties and the order the bad guys attack!  I would rather be able to arrange my Battlelines the way I want!  Thematically, it almost seems like the bad guys should use the priority to attack, not me? The Battlelines seems reversed!  The choice seems intuitively and thematically in the wrong place.  I don’t know.  I feel like this mechanism needs a revisit.

I think with some of these changes, I might like the game more.  I was just overcome by the randomness and didn’t feel like I had much agency when I played.  Maybe these fixes would alleviate that?


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Deck of Wonders has a lot going for it: wonderful art, easy-to-read layouts, compelling story, interesting upgrades, nice components, and straightforward gameplay.  Unfortunately for me, it was far too random, as I feel I didn’t feel like I had a lot of agency when playing.  Over the course of about 10 plays, I saw a very swingy game depending on what cards were drawn.  I wanted a little more mitigation of luck: maybe some of the possible fixes I mentioned (above) would help that.


I do, however, have to remind myself that many games of “plain Solitaire” with 52 poker cards are just as random! In “plain Solitaire” (such as Klondike, above), the hands of fate may conspire against you and you can’t win.  But it’s over quickly and you can try again.  The same can be said of Deck of Wonders: even if you lose, you lose quickly and can reset again!  And the art and story of Deck of Wonders are so much more compelling than a deck of cards!  


If you are looking for a solo game with about the same randomness of “plain Solitaire”, Deck of Wonders might be what you are looking for: it’s got great components, great art, great story, and some really interesting ideas.  In the end, it’s far too random for me, but you may enjoy this.

A Review of Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, and Crisis Expansion (Emphasis on the Solo and Cooperative Modes of Crisis)


The Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis Expansion arrived at my house Feb 12th, 2023. This was on Kickstarter back in April 2022. The Kickstarter promised delivery of the expansion in December 2022, and just delivered to me: so about a month and half late. That’s actually quite good by Kickstarter standards! This is an expansion for the card game called Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition which came out about two years ago (which we reviewed here).

This expansion adds three new modules/sets to the game:

  1. Discovery: Adds  new card mechanics, Awards, and Milestones
  2. Foundations: Adds enough resources for a 5th and 6th player and a slightly new mode of play
  3. Crisis: Adds a solo and cooperative expansion


This review will concentrate on the solo and cooperative modes with the Crisis module, but we will take a look at the other modules as well on our way there.



Something weird happened on the way to my unboxing:


I got Astro Knights AND Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis all in the same box!  And yes, they were Kickstarted completely separately!  I think Stronghold games owns Indie games, so they consolidated the shipping to save some money.  I had been hearing that Astro Knights has been out for a while and I was surprised mine hadn’t arrived yet … now I know why! 


I think to appease me for making Astro Knights so late, they gave me the Sherlock Files demo deck!


Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis is bigger than the base box.



One thing about this expansion is that it’s very daunting up front.


There are three expansions is here … what goes for what?  It’s really not clear … until you look at the rulebooks for the individual modes.  Each rulebook (there are three: one for Discovery, one for Foundations, and one for Crisis) has a very clear list of annotated pictures of components describing what’s in each.  However.  You do have to spend some time sorting through this.

Discovery Mode


Discovery mode is the most “just add new stuff” expansion to the game: it adds mechanics for Awards, Milestones, wild tags, and upgraded Phase cards.


There are multiple sets of phase cards which “look upgraded”.  There are multiple versions of upgrades and you can choose.



There are mechanics for upgrading your phase cards in the new expansion.  These phase upgrades are also used in Foundations.


There are two sets of upgrades, and you can choose between them when playing.

Foundations Components



The Foundations expansion is mostly about adding a 5th and 6th player (and components) to the base game, which only takes 1-4 players.  It adds more sets of phase cards, players boards, player aids, cubes,  and a new supplemental infrastructure board.  The infrastructure board add a new resource that needs to be upgraded before Mars is considered terraformed.  From a gameplay perspective, the infrastructure board just gives the 5th and 6th player other things to concentrate on.  Otherwise, it’s essentially the same game (modulo the new upgraded phase cards).

Crisis Mode Components

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The Crisis mode adds probably the most new components for a new solo and cooperative mode.

Common Components


There are some components that cross all expansions: there’s 4 new trays.  Why?  So each module can store its own components!


There’s a bunch of extra cubes, which works with all modules … although arguably they are a necessity for the Foundations module (5/6 players) so there’s enough cubes for 5 and 6 players.


There’s also some oversized boards.


One complaint from the base game was that the Terraforming Rating track was always too narrow, as the first column was just wide enough for one cube!  They’ve now widened the track!  See above.  This new board, with wider track, will make it easier to play Foundations and DiscoveryCrisis Mode has its own board, but it also has the wider track.


There’s a lot of stuff in this box.

Crisis Mode Rulebook.


The Crisis mode (and the others) were all very good rulebooks.  They had lots of good, annotated pictures, super nice paper (linen paper), and easy-to-read fonts.


All rulebooks gets an A on the ChairTest: it easily fits on the chair next to me.  See the nice pictures of set-up above.


My only complaint about the Crisis rulebook was that the Detriments were poorly explained.  When do they go into effect? How long is that effect?  Does the effect happen immediately when the oxygen.oceans/temp changes to a yellow/red zone?  


We think the detriments only take effect during the “check metrics” phase, but we just needed one or two more sentences to elaborate.

But overall, this was a good rulebook for this expansion.  The pictures in each rulebook were CRITICAL to unboxing this thing!!!

Crisis Mode Gameplay


Congratulations to Ares Expedition: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis for following Saunders’ Law and having a solo mode for this cooperative expansion (Crisis mode).

Solo play and Cooperative play are intrinsically linked in the Crisis expansion. The rules are about the same for both mode, which a few minor changes.


The key to the Crisis mode are the Crisis cards: see an example above. They are essentially the “bad news” cards you see in most cooperative games: they come out at the start of the turn, and (usually) cause bad things to happen. These cards will persist, with continual bad effects, unless you remove all the crisis tokens from the card. Each Crisis card describes the instant bad news, the continual effects, and what’s needed to banish the card.


The other interesting thing about Crisis mode is that the Teraforming is turned on its head: At the start of the game, Mars is already terraformed! Some meteorite has crashed into the planet and is causing the terraforming to revert! To win the game, you must keep Mars terraformed … but Crisis cards will conspire to dry out oceans, lower oxygen, lower temperature, and many other bad things.


At some point, the Dwindling Supplies Crisis card will come out, and you have just a few turns left to get Mars back to fully terraformed, or you lose!


This solo/coopeartive game still feels like Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition! Each player is still building their engine, figuring out which phases to play, and trying to get most resources to get stuff done! The core gameplay doesn’t change that much.

But now, you cooperate together. You figure out what phases to play as a group!! The victory points become a shared resource to eliminate crisis tokens!


If you like the base game play, you will like Crisis mode adds. You may prefer the competitive or the cooperative mode, but the game, at its core, still feels the same: build the best engine you can can, and choose the best phases for you.

Solo Mode


The solo mode worked well. It gave a me chance to learn the game so I could teach my friends. I generally felt like I had a lot choices, but I did feel just a little at the mercy of the cards I got (see more discussion below). My first solo game was a loss: I couldn’t keep the oxygen level up. After losing, I realized that the solo player really needs to do a little bit of everything to make sure he wins. My second solo game was much more balanced and I was able to secure a victory.

In many ways, the solo game reminded me of Agricola! Why do I say that? Because to do well in Agricola, you have to do a little bit of everything well: cattle, sheep, carrots, plots, house… everything! You can concentrate one one thing, but you will probably lose: the scoring system in Agricola is structured in a way that the best scores comes from doing a little bit of everything.

In the solo Crisis mode, the solo player must make sure to do pretty well in everything: oxygen, oceans, money, temperature. All must kept under control, or the solo player will lose. Just like Agricola. I hate to say it, but that makes the solo games a little samey: you must always played a balanced game to win.

Cooperative Play: Crisis Mode


Cooperative play went surprisingly well. Sara had never played Ares Expedition before, but she was able to jump in to the cooperative Crisis mode without any previous experience. From Sara: “The cards were well labelled, and I had very few questions as a I played. The text on the cards was easy to read and understand”.


Andrew had played the two-player only cooperative mode from the original base game Ares Expedition with me about 2 years ago: see our review here. Recall that the base Ares Expedition has a very limited/very simple 2-player only cooperative mode built-in: it kind of works on victory points but just doesn’t seem very thematic. According to Andrew: “This new cooperative mode is significantly better!”


Basically, the new cooperative mode is much more thematic: the Crisis deck really adds to that theme, as you are “dealing with things” (oxygen lowering, temperate lowering, etc) as you try to keep Mars terraformed. It feels like the things you are doing fit much more the idea of the game (as opposed to some generic victory point goal for the co-op mode of the base game).

The rules don’t change too much from the Crisis solo game to the cooperative game: instead of the Crisis solo mode dummy hand (where you get two cards per turn AND you get to choose which side you use), you get the Crisis Dummy Cards (where the number of cards you get depends on the number of players). See above.


The other thing that changes is that the Crisis decks are built differently for the number of players: see above. Basically, the more players, the harder the Crises are to dismiss. The balancing for the number of players seemed to work very well: I appreciate that the decks are very different for different player counts. It really feels like they went out of their way to make the cooperative game work well for ALL player counts!


Cooperative mode was a big hit! In the three player game, we collaborated to figure out many things: how to get the Crisis cards under wraps, how to get the most useful phases for everyone, what things we can do to help each other, and generally discuss how to move forward. At the same time, each of us had our own engine that we were building! So, we all felt engaged in our own board AND with each other! This is something we struggled with when we tried to add a cooperative mode to Arc Nova: how do you keep each person engaged with their own tableau as well as everyone else? By using the “everyone plays during the chosen phases”, Crisis mode seems to have solved that problem! Turns move quickly enough, because everyone is engaged, but at the same time we are still building our own tableau AND collaborating!


Our first 3-Player cooperative game took 2 hours and 15 minutes, but nobody cared about the length. Everyone was having fun the whole time.

Solo vs Cooperative


The Crisis solo/cooperative mode reminds me of Roll Player Adventures in one way (see our review here): hear me out.


The solo game of Roll Player Adventures doesn’t work very well: you frequently don’t get enough cards to do what you need to do. The solo play is much more at the mercy of the cards you draw for dice mitigation. The cooperative mode works better in Roll Player Adventures because more players means significantly more cards! So, someone will typically have the right cards to get something done. The number of cards in play (over all players) really changes how much you can do! The solo player just doesn’t have enough cards.


The solo player in Crisis mode has the same problem, if less pronounced. My first solo game was lost because I never got enough cards to mitigate the Oxygen issues. I was at the mercy of the cards to a greater extent, because the solo player brings out fewer cards in play (compared to a 4 player game which would have 4 times as many cards moving through the system). Now, as I said, this phenomenon is much less pronounced in Crisis mode vs Roll Player Adventures, but it still causes me to ding the game a little. I like the solo game, and I would play it again, but the game is better in cooperative mode … because there are significantly more cards in action to mitigate the randomness that comes out.



Ares Expedition: Crisis Mode had an astoundingly positive reception by my group. They all like the game, the theme, the choices, the cards, the components, the gameplay. Andrew and Sara are talking about buying their own copy. They would both give it a 7.5 or 8 out of 10.


I’ve played a few more games, so my score is slightly more nuanced: I’d give the solo game a 7/10 and the cooperative game an 8/10. I like the solo game and would play it again, but this game is better played cooperatively (with each player building their own tableau).


Is it worth getting the Ares Expedition Expansion: Discovery, Foundations, Crisis for just the cooperative mode in Crisis? Yes, I think it is. Is it worth starting from scratch and getting the base Ares Expedition Terraforming Mars game and then the expansion JUST for the cooperative game? I almost think so, if only because you get so much other great content at the same time.


And finally, the cooperative mode in the Crisis expansion blows away the lame 2-Player-only cooperative in the base game: Crisis mode so much more thematic. You’ll never play that lame mode again (but you might play the solo mode from the base game).

Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Expansions for 2022!

Just as we saw in last year’s list (Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Expansions of 2021), the expansions this year seem to come in three varieties:

  1. Stand-Alone Expansion: Some games you thought might be on the Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2022 might have just ended up on this list because they are stand-alone games that can be played without a base game, but at the end of the day they also expand a base game!
  2. Makes The Game Cooperative: Some expansions take a competitive base game and make the game fully cooperative with the expansion! We saw a number of these type of expansions on the Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively!
  3. More Content: Some expansions just add more content (more cards, etc.) to the base cooperative game!

Honorable Mention: Grand Hotel Abaddon


Expansion Type?  Stand-Alone Expansion

Plays Solo:  Yes 
Player Count: 1-4 (it’s best at 3 or 4)
Ages: 12+
Length: 90 mins per session (there are exactly 3 sessions)

We have absolutely loved the Kosmos Games Adventure Games series.  The Dungeon made our Top 10 Cooperative Games in 2019 and The Volcano made our Top 10 Cooperative Games in 2020.  The problem with The Grand Hotel Abaddon is that we aren’t “quite sure” when it was released in the USA! (Darn COVID).  It absolutely came out in Europe much earlier than 2022 (according to BoardGameGeek, it was 2020), but I don’t think we got it here in the USA until 2022.  That’s why this is an Honorable Mention: although we played it in 2022, it’s unclear when it came out in the USA. (It’s also an Honorable Mention because maybe it should be in our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2022 instead of here in the expansions?)


This campaign game spans three 90 minute sessions, as players traverse an adventure together, interacting with objects and rooms like the old  point-and-click Adventure video games!  Once you have solved the adventure, you are done!


This is a great adventure game experience! Check out our of The Grand Hotel Abaddon review here and see why we love this adventure game so much!

10. Cantaloop 2: A Hack of a Plan

Cantaloop: Book 2. The second book in a trilogy of point and click adventure book games

Expansion Type?  Stand-Alone Expansion

We absolutely adored the first Cantaloop (Breaking into Prison) (see our review here), and in fact, it made our #1 position in the Top Cooperative Games of 2021!  It turns out that Cantaloop is just the first game in a series of three games! The second one, Cantaloop 2 (A Hack of a Plan) (see our review here) came out this year (2022), and a third one is coming soon.  This expansion is a stand-alone game that can be played by itself, but you really should play the first Cantaloop first!

Starting set-up

Cantaloop 2 is just more of the same!  It’s the equivalent of a point-and-click adventure game, but in board game form!  You explore a map, find objects, solve puzzles, all while laughing at the silly jokes hidden in the game using red acetate.


This would have been higher on our list, but some of the last few puzzles were a bit too much, and there were some printing problems (the first edition absolutely needs an errata sheet).  We still loved this game, but these problems brought the game down: that’s why it’s only #10 on this expansions list.  We are still very excited for book 3 in 2023 though!

9. Thunderstone Quest: Enemies Among Us


Expansion Type? More Content

Thunderstone Quest goes back a long way for us: We have been following it on Kickstarter for years!  The original Thunderstone Quest was NOT cooperative (see our initial positive but grumpy review here), but then AEG Kickstarted The Barricades mode making it cooperative (see our reviews here and here)!   And they keep adding more and more content to the game! 


The Enemies Among Us kickstarter gave us a new box, two new quests (Darkness Rising and Miricelle’s Return), more Prestige Class Boards and Guardian boards (for the cooperative mode), more dungeon tiles, and just more stuff!  This expansion also gave us plastic dividers, which we completely unnecessary, but very cool. 


This is a true expansion: it just adds more content to a great game.  I think one of the reasons it’s a little lower on the list is that it’s so hard to get to the table! There are three huge boxes of content to unpack to get a game going: the base Thunderstone Quest game, the Barricades Mode expansion, and the Enemies Among Us expansion!

8. Marvel Dice Throne (+ Dice Throne Adventures)


Expansion Type? More Content (+ Makes The Game Cooperative)

“Wait, wait, wait…” I can hear a bunch of you saying … “Marvel Dice Throne isn’t cooperative!”  True: but with the Dice Throne Adventures expansion, players can take the role of Dr. Strange, Loki, Thor, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, or Captain Marvel and travel solo or cooperatively through the adventures of Dice Throne Adventures!

Marvel Dice Throne really re-invigorated Dice Throne Adventures for us!  Now, we can play Thor and/or Loki, travelling through dimensions and fighting together!  This is the best kind of expansion: one that reminds us how good the base game is!

Granted, the game we are reminding ourselves of is Dice Throne Adventures, an expansion you must buy to make Marvel Dice Throne cooperative!  So, Marvel Dice Throne is an expansion to the Dice Throne Adventures which is an expansion to Dice Throne Season 2 which is an expansion to Dice Throne Season 1!  Confused? Check out our review of Dice Throne Seasons 1 and 2 and Dice Throne Adventures here for some more clarity!

7. Valeria Card Kingdoms: Darksworn

IMG_9330 (1)

Expansion Type? Makes The Game Cooperative

This is an interesting choice because the solo game of the base game (Valeria: Card Kingdoms) was worth picking up by itself!  The cooperative expansion just took the ideas of the solo game and expanded them into a full cooperative game: Valeria: Card Kingdoms Darksworn. This is a lightweight card game with beautiful art by The Miko.


Although I think the solo game of base box is better then the solo mode of the Darksworn expansion, the cooperative mode of the Darksworn is pretty fun, especially if you are looking for a campaign game! It does make the game a little heavier, partly because of complexity introduced by the campaign.


Take a look at our review of Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Darksworn to see if they are something you might be interested in!

6. Sentinels of Earth Prime


Expansion Type? Stand-Alone Expansion

Although the timing of this expansion was very off (it took 5 years from Kickstarting to delivery: 5 years!), it delivered a very thematic and colorful expansion to the Second Edition of Sentinels of The Multiverse!   It’s luckily a stand-alone version, because the art really makes it its own thing: it has new heroes, new tokens, new villains, new environments: it’s basically is a stand-alone version of Sentinels of the Multiverse in the Mutants and Masterminds universe (an RPG universe by Green Ronin games).


The art just wowed us: this is the art and graphic design that I wish the original Sentinels of the Multiverse had!


Overall, the is a fantastic expansion for Sentinels of the Multiverse (Second Edition).  The unfortunate timing of this (the 5 years to production) meant that Greater Than Games has, in the meantime, released a newer version of Sentinels of the Multiverse called the Definitive Edition (see our review of Sentinels of the Multiverse: Definitive Edition here), and it’s still not clear if Sentinels of Earth Prime works with the Definitive edition!   Which is why this isn’t higher on this list …

Take a look at our review of Sentinels of Earth-Prime to see if this is something you’d be interested in!

5. Horizons of Spirit Island


Expansion Type? Stand-Alone Expansion

The Horizons of Spirit Island was an unexpected surprise for Spirit Island fans!  Although the main purpose of this game is to lower the entry barrier into Spirit Island (by making an inexpensive version with great components available at Target), it also happens to be an expansion to the original game! And it’s also stand-alone!


The game has some great new spirits that expand the original game: my favorite new spirit was Eyes from the Trees, who scare the pants off the settlers like in a Horror Movie!


This was a great expansion, and also an easier way to introduce people to the wonderful world of Spirit Island!  See our review of the Horizons of Spirit Island here!

4. Marvel United: Fantastic Four


Expansion Type? More Content

As part of the X-Men: Marvel United Kickstarter, there were a lot of Expansions for Marvel United and X-Men: Marvel United:  From that Kickstarter, The Fantastic Four Expansion was one of our favorite expansions from last year! The miniatures were really unique and different, with the transparent, fire, and silver parts! 


But what really made this expansion was the Teamwork card in the game: it created a very simple mechanism to encourage cooperation (well, more cooperation, in an already cooperative game).

IMG_1026 The Fantastic Four expansion really makes Marvel United a better game: more minis, more heroes, more villains, more teamwork!  See our review here to see if you might like it!

3. Marvel United X-Men Expansion: New Mutants, Excalibur, Mojoverse, and more!


Expansion Type? More Content

This expansion is a little bit of a cheat, because you could “mostly” only get it if you backed the X-Men: Marvel United Kickstarter! To be clear: this is NOT the X-Men: Marvel United expansion (which we reviewed here), this is an expansion to that expansion! That may be a first for us: an expansion to an expansion … but they all collapse down the being expansions to Marvel United.

There were so many new heroes and villains in this expansion! This is really what you want in a Marvel game: access to all your favorite characters.  There were so many characters, mostly from mutant-adjacent comic titles, that this expansion really makes it easier to play whomever you want from the Mutant Marvel Universe.


We were really excited to see the New Mutants (above), as well as characters (both heroes and villains) from Alpha Flight, MojoVerse, Excalibur, as well as some “lesser known” X-Men!

We talked about how much we loved this X-Men expansion in our post of Expansion Absorption here!

2. The Reckoners: Steelslayer


Expansion Type? More Content

In any other year, this expansion would have been our #1 Expansion.  This was a fantastic expansion!  It took a great game, The Reckoners, and added more content!  The one place that The Reckoners needed a little more variety was in the final battle, so this expansion added two new Boss Epics to the game: Regalia and Limelight!


What really made this expansion stand out was how modular it was!  There were essentially 4 new things you could optional add in to your game: new Reckoners, and/or new equipment, and/or new Epics, and/or new Boss Epics!


This is the best kind of expansion: one that reminds you how great the original game is.  See our original review of The Reckoners here, and the review of the Steelslayer expansion here!

1. X-Men Marvel United: Days of Future Past

The expansion (not stand-alone) Days of Future Past

Expansion Type? More Content

If Days of Future Past this were judged solely by the miniatures in the box, this expansion would probably still make the Top 10 Expansions this year!


But this expansion took the core Marvel United game and made it more strategic! It made the gameplay more interesting and different! X-Men Marvel United: Days of Future Past could have easily been my #1 game of 2021, regardless of it being an expansion! The game plays great, it has great twists and turns, it encourages so much cooperation, and it looks fantastic on the table.


This expansion is top-shelf, turning a great game (Marvel United) into a fantastic game! See our review here for more thoughts on why we enjoyed this so much!

A Review of Deep Rock Galactic (The Cooperative Board Game)


Deep Rock Galactic is a cooperative board game (based on the video game of the same name) that was on Kickstarter back in March 2022 and promised delivery in December 2022. I just received my copy last week (January 28th or so, 2023), so it’s only about a month late! Maybe this a new trend: last week, we saw Sentinels of the Multiverse: Rook City Renegades deliver on time, and this week we are seeing delivery within a month. That”s really great!


This is a cooperative board game for 1-4 players, ages 12+, playtime 60-150 minutes. Players become dwarves mining the galactic caves! I have never played the video game that this is based on, so I have no bias for/against the game going in. I just thought it would be fun to play dwarves mining in outer space! Let’s take a look!



This box is HUGE.


It’s even bigger than our Thunderstone Quest box!


Even with the Coke Can above, it’s still not clear how big it is until you put the can right next to the box!


This is a big box!  It’s a little intimidating to be honest!


The game box opens with two books:  a rulebook and a Mission Book: See above and below.



Next comes SO MUCH CARDBOARD to punch out. See above and below.



Also in that bundle of cardboard is the board.



Most of the cardboard forms the terrain that you will be putting on the board.


In that cardboard punchout pack is the Hostile Creatures sheet: this is critical because it’s the only place that describes the monsters! (Even the rulebook doesn’t describe the monsters).  You’ll be referring to this a lot.


Underneath the cardboard are the dwarf boards: there are exactly 4 dwarves in the game.  These are really nice dual-layer boards, and they show a lot of the rules ON the board:


Finally, underneath all that cardboard we get three trays.


The top tray holds the cards, dice, and minerals (I mean, you are dwarves mining for minerals).


The tray under that holds a bunch of miniatures.


The third and final tray holds some of the bigger miniatures!  Pretty cool.


When you see everything on the table, you see why this box is so big!  It’s chock full of pretty cool components.



This is not a miniatures game per se, it’s just a mining game with dwarves that happens to have lot of miniatures! But the minis are really nice:


Most of the miniatures are bad guys aliens the dwarves will be fighting in the caves.


The dwarves themselves have pretty nice miniatures!  See below.



Overall, the miniatures really enhanced the theme.  They look really cool: and they even match the pictures pretty well!


See the Scout above with his miniature: his picture matches his mini.


My only complaint was that the labelling of minis (which mini is which) and where they go (into the trays) was subpar. I made very sure to take a picture of all my miniature trays before I took anything out.  

The minis are pretty distinct, but I thought they could have benefitted from some colored bases or rings at the bottom to help distinguish them (like we saw for Hour of Need in our Comparison of bases for Hour of Need).



So, the rulebook wasn’t great.  And it seemed to get worse the more we played (as we had to look stuff up).  But it seemed to have a lot of good intentions, and it did do a number of things right.


It starts with an introduction that has a little bit of a sense of humor: that goes a long way.  But, the Index seems more like a Table of Contents (?): A Table of Contents outlines major sections and where they are, whereas an Index is typically more comprehensive and allows reference to minor points.  So, it’s weird that this first page is labelled as an Index when it should be a Table of Contents.  But, again, at least their heart is the right place: they are trying to organize!


Great!  The next two pages describe the components!  I wish they had labelled a few more things (there are a lot of tokens and bad guys), but this was pretty good.  At least they showed a picture of most components with a label!


The gameflow/overview description was great!  The set-up could have been better, but again, at least it was “mostly” labelled and its heart was absolutely in the right place. 

This rulebook has its heart in the right place: it’s showing lots of tables, it’s showing pictures of things.  I can appreciate it is really trying to do the right thing.

The rulebook just felt like it really needed another pass or another rethink.  Even though Combat initiating from the Dwarves well-documented, the combat initiating FROM the Hostile Creatures was really not specified very well (“Hey, roll the Chompy dice … where was that in the rules?“). The Hostile Creature sheet is absolutely critical to playing the monsters, but I also never got a breakdown of that chart.  See below.


This chart above, THIS CHART is critical to the game, and there was never a  breakdown of it.  You kind of have to infer that the diamond is the hit points.  R is range, M is movement. And how do you notate that per creature?  We have a similar problem we in Batman: The Animated Series Game notating hit points for the bad guys (see our review here). When you have a bunch of bad guys, how do you individually notate their health?  The game says something like”put health tokens next to the creature“, but what do you do when you have  lots of them?  And the creatures move?  

This was a 1-or-2 GRRR rulebook, but the humor and a lot of other things done right helped quell too much anger.

I didn’t love this rulebook, but I forgave it a number of problems, at least in the beginning.  It’s kind of, mostly, all there, and there is lot of good stuff (good charts, good examples), but it really needs another pass: some rules seem either left off or very poorly specified.  It got more frustrating to look stuff up the longer we played.



Once you get past the daunting nature of the box, the minis, and the “not-great” rules, the game actually moves pretty quickly.  It’s not a super complex game from a gameflow perspective.


The back of the rulebook gives a nice summary of play: action/event/action/event/…. until players win or lose!  Once you get going, the game does flow well.


The End of The Game can come about in many ways: see the rulebook page above. The Dwarves generally win if they complete their mission (usually mining and getting back to the start position).  If all dwarves fall unconscious, then they lose.  If the little swarm track reaches the end, dwarves lose. See the Swarm Track below.


Each player takes the role of dwarf:

The dwarves all very very different powers and different weapons for fighting in the mines!


Each dwarf also gets to choose a secondary weapon from the group above.

You can see some of the sense of humor in this game: the secondary weapon can be upgraded to “overclocked” when you turn it over (obviously a nod to the video game).


Each dwarf also gets two one-shot cards: a Throwable (usually a grenade):


… and a Rock and Stone (a fun one-shot card).


These cards form the tools and weaponry of the Dwarf.


The Set-up from the mission Book (above) shows you how to set-up the mission, and what the objectives are.


Dwarves generally get three action points to do what they want: in three words, they can Move, Mine, or Fight.  IMG_5551

MINE: When the dwarves mine, they get shared resources to the MULE (middle space above) or carve spaces out or grab stuff.


MOVE: When the dwarves move, they move around the board trying to get to minerals scattered about.  Stalagmites and pits block the way, but they can be mined through.


FIGHT: Finally, the dwarves can fight!  Each of their weapons has a range and a set of dice they roll.



For example, the Bulldog Heavy Revolver above has range 5, and you roll the blue die to see the effects.  Empty rolls usually mean miss, other symbols typically denote hits with other effects.


Damage persists, so it may take a few tries to take out some of the bigger hostiles.


After a dwarf goes, they flip an event card (The Event deck is the “Bad News” deck): typically the swarm track advances and other stuff happens. See above for an example Event card.


When the Swarm track lands on a creature (see the lit bug above), you must draw a Swarm card!


Typically, the Swarm card (above) adds creatures to the board.

Then the next dwarf goes!  That’s basically it! Dwarf activates, Event Card, next Dwarf activates, Event Card, … until the game ends!  

The game looks very daunting (size of the box, size of miniatures, rulebook length and grumpiness, amount of components, mission set-up), until you get to the core of the game.  At its core, it’s a very straight-forward game.

Solo Play


Luckily, Deep Rock Galactic follows Saunders’ Law and includes several variants for solo play.  The obvious variant is to take two dwarves and alternate  playing between them.  The second variant involves choosing just one dwarf, but also playing a simplified robot known as BOSCO.


BOSCO is a robot who helps you!  See above, left.  Frankly, BOSCO is almost like another dwarf, but can’t be killed (unless he revives you) and can’t run out of ammo. Basically, BOSCO is a simplified dwarf.  The rules for solo play and BOSCO were about a page a half in the rulebook.  Usually, I choose to alternate between two characters, but each dwarf is fairly complicated to operate, so I chose to use the “simplified” rules for BOSCO. 


Look at the rules for a dwarf: the Scout (above) has extra rules for Light-Footed, Grappling Hook, Flare Shot, primary weapon and secondary weapon.  Honestly, I forgot to use a lot of my special abilities until the very end, and I only had one dwarf to operate!  The simplified rules for BOSCO worked pretty well, especially for a first play.   I could have easily gotten by with alternating between two dwarves for solo rules, but I am really glad the publisher included the BOSCO rules.


My first solo play went pretty well.  It felt like it was a little story.

“Me and BOSCO beamed down to the planet.”


“Our first priority was taking out the Grunt spiders at the front.”


A well-launched throwable (SOIL SMASHER) did what we needed and took them (and some Stalagtites) out!”


“Our next priority was to start finding the things we needed to accomplish our mission!”


“BOSCO can’t pick up stuff, he can only mine it for me so I can take care of other things.  So he went out ahead to start doing some mining while I searched for the Apoca Blooms we needed.”


“That worked well, until some really snarky creatures appeared!”


After we had a few more firefights, we raced to the exit: we choose NOT to fight the Spitfall Infector and just ran to the exit!”


“Me and BOSCO made it out of there alive … I wonder how we would have fared if we fought the Spitball…”


The solo game was quite fun: BOSCO was easy to control, my turns were fun, and the Bad News deck was well-specified with minimal maintenance. Everything moved quickly, mostly.  The rules are terrible on a few axes, so they game did have to come to a grinding halt a few times as I tried to look up some rules.  This delay will go away (I hope) with further plays, but I also just had to make some calls a few times (“I think this means that: let’s just move forward“).  I really really wish the rulebook were better.  


It was fun playing a Galactic Dwarf.  I think I’d play again solo.  

Cooperative Game


Unfortunately, the rulebook issues became even more glaring as we played cooperatively.  Every time we did something, it would seem like clarifications were needed!  Something I had perhaps glossed over in my solo play became glaring when exposed to the light of the group!  We’d frequently say: “Pass me the rulebook while you take your turn, and I’ll try to find that rule!


We enjoyed how each Dwarf was very different and had lots of different powers: Teresa chose the Engineer.


With three players, we fit pretty well on the table.  See above and below.  I think a fourth player might have caused us to rearrange significantly.  It may not have even fit?


See Sam above finding out “There’s no player reference cards!!!”  So, without any player reference cards, the rulebook got passed around A LOT.  I remember thinking “I wish I could sleeve the rulebook: it gets touched more than any card does!!!


But Deep Rock Galactic looks pretty cool when set-up for a 3-player game.


See Sam again consulting the rulebook while Teresa waits for a rule clarification.


And that was kind of the summary of our experience with the game: play should have moved quickly, but we kept burying our noses in the rulebook looking up clarifications.


In the end, we had some fun, but it took us three hours to play Scenario 2 with three people!  Granted, it was a learning game, but I had played it before and was able to teach most of the core flow, and my friends are smart/experienced gamers.  


I asked my friends straight-up: “Would you play this again?” The answer from both was “sure, but I wouldn’t suggest it”.  Most of that hesitation was from the frustration with the rulebook.

Dwarves, Dwarves, Dwarves


So, Deep Rock Galactic is a thematic game: it’s not a complex miniatures game, although the miniatures in the game enhance the theme quite  bit.  This is a dice-chucking, thematic, “pick-up-and-deliver” game with lots of combat. The combat is based on dice: with so many dice, there are bound to be bouts of randomness that will make the game not fun.


We did review a different dwarf game a few months ago: The Siege of Runedar by Reiner Knizia.  See that review here.  One of my main complaints of the game was that there might be too much randomness from the dice there.  I think after seeing Deep Rock Galactic, I have a little more appreciation for the more controlled randomness in Siege of Runedar verus the more chaotic randomness in Deep Rock Galactic.  I still think Runedar should allow players to keep cards between rounds (to help mitigate the randomness), but Runedar seems much less random by comparison now.


Deep Rock Galactic is a thematic dice-chucker.  It’s light, fun, moves quick, and just a fun little romp. It’s supposed to be a little random!


If I want a lightweight, dice-chucking romp with dwarves, I choose Deep Rock Galactic.  If I want a more strategic game with dwarves, The Siege of Runedar is the better choice (with our one house rule of keeping cards).


What I really want is a way to use some of the very thematic miniatures and mining elements from Deep Rock Galactic in the Siege of Runedar!  I would love to see some crossover mode where you could get the best of both games!



I am kind of all over the place for Deep Rock Galactic: it really depends on what mood I am in.  If I want a lightweight, dice-chucking, mining, and fighting experience, Deep Rock Galactic is good game to play!  The game has such cool miniatures and components: it’s very thematic. It will be a 7/10 when I am in that mood! The game has a real nice flow once the rules are absorbed.

But when I want something more strategic with better rules, Deep Rock Galactic drops to a 6/10 … “It’s just too random and the rulebook should have been much better“. Then I’ll go play The Siege of Runedar and lament its lack of thematic elements:  “I wish Siege of Runedar had some awesomeness from Deep Rock Galactic“.

Decide for yourself: what are you in the mood for?

I’ll end my conclusion with a direct quote from Sam: he texted me after he digested his play!


I’ll rate deep rock galactic a 6 – I had fun as the gunner and spraying bullets at the enemies but wish the rules were better organized and clarified. I like that everyone was unique and specialized even if we didn’t use our abilities to the fullest.

Would bump up to 7 if there was a good faq/errata/reference. Would play again if others were inclined (and might suggest it if we found a good faq/errata/reference)

(Incidentally, Teresa independently told me the same thing: “6, maybe would upgrade to 7 if rules were better”)

Appendix A: Game Mat Discussion


For this Kickstarter, I got the game mat.  


It looks great on the table: see above.  You can tell it’s a mat by the rounded corners.


But the game also comes with a board.


You can tell the board by the square corners.


The board and the Game Mat are virtually identical!  See above:  the board is on top of the mat with the Mat peeking out at the top.

I like it when Game Mats do “something different”, but this Mat is just a replica of the main board. The only real difference is that you can have the board off-the-table slightly, whereas the Game Mat must fit completely on the table.

See above as the game board can “slightly” be off the table to give the players more room.  I like the Game Mat, it’s good quality, and it looks cool, but I don’t think it added a whole lot to my experience: in fact, I think forcing me to use the Mat gave me less table space.  I like Game Mats that give me something “extra”.  For example, I love the Game Mat for Aeon’s End because it really helps me organize all the cards! See Below.


I don’t think you need the Game Mat for Deep Rock Galactic. Sure, it’s cool and spongey, but it doesn’t really give you anything extra.   The board that comes with it looks exactly the same, and it can enable more table space!  This is a big game!  That little extra space you get from putting the board over the edge can make a big difference!!  I dunno.  If you like Game Mats better, it’s still nice.

Appendix B: Repacking


How do you fit everything back in?  I had a little trouble fitting everything back in, until I decided to reuse the Punchout Skeletons to hold the bigger terrain pieces! Not the small ones: just the ones with about 8 hexes or more. See above and below.  


By placing the terrain pieces BACK IN the Punchout Skeletons, all the original pieces fit back in the box in a controlled and snug manner.  


Without the Punchout Skeletons, the extra terrain pieces just flop around and do not fit in well.


In the end, I found that it was just a little bit of extra work to use the Punchout Skeletons for the terrain pieces. This also allowed me to keep the rulebook and mission book flat in the box.

Caveat Emptor. I am a proponent of keeping Punchout Skeletons: see our blog entry here. This is just another reason to keep all your Punchout Skeletons: controlled storage of larger terrain pieces.