Top 10 Cooperative Dice Placement Games

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One of the cooperative mechanics that seemed to stand out this last year was the “Cooperative Dice Placement” mechanic. Quite a number of cooperative games in our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021 use Cooperative Dice Placement as a main mechanic! Note that this is a little different from our Top 10 Cooperative Dice Games: those are “generic” games with dice as the main component. The games on this list (cooperative dice placement games) use dice as “workers” to perform actions, acquire resources, or fulfill missions. Players work together and place dice to get stuff done! (Note that some games from our Top 10 Cooperative Dice Games “kind of” fit this description: we chose to not consider real-time games and ones that aren’t quite dice placement).

Interestingly, Board Game Geek doesn’t have a “Dice Placement” Category for games: the closest category is “Worker Placement With Dice Workers”, but that’s a more limited view of Dice Placement.

10. Assault on Doomrock

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Assault on Doomrock is a cooperative adventure game about fighting and leveling up adventurers.  The dice placement is used for combat (a main part of the game).  This is an adventure game with lots of exploration and leveling up, but it’s not purely a cooperative dice placement game.  The cooperative dice placement is used as the combat mechanism: dice are placed to activate abilities. See below.

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I have only played the edition above (I believe that is the second edition): it was a bit long and a bit random, but I still enjoyed it.

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At the time of this writing, the Ultimate Edition is on Gamefound and I am currently backing this new edition! I am hopeful it will fix some of the problems and move this further up the list!

9. Star Trek: 5-Year Mission

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This is a really light game.  The component quality wasn’t great, but the game was simple and fun.  Dice are placed to fulfill missions:

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This felt like a game we could play with gamers and non-gamers.   We enjoyed it enough and would pull it out for non-gamers.  But the component quality and simplicity keep it down near the bottom of this list.

8. One Deck Dungeon

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One Deck Dungeon is a cooperative game for 1-2 players.  Dice placement is used to defeat the monsters in the dungeon. See below.

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This is fairly light and simple game which has had a lot of expansions and additions.  It’s pretty fun!

7. Deep Space D6: Armada

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Deep Space D6: Armada is a cooperative dice placement game set in an “almost Star Trek, but legally distinct from Star Trek” universe.  The game has great components and looks fantastic on the table.

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Dice are rolled and placed to activate abilities and regions on your ship.

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It’s a bit of a table hog! The game has some minor problems, but with a few house rules, this game really shines!  See our review of Deep Space D6: Armada here to see if this is right for you.

6. Dice Throne Adventures

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Dice Throne Adventures is an expansion for the original one vs. one Dice Throne game.  The expansion adds in the ability for  a party of adventurers work together to explore and fight monsters on the way to the big bad boss.

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Players use dice to activate special abilities for attacks and defenses: strictly speaking, you don’t “place the dice” on a specified space, but you can only use each die once and you still need to “place the dice” to notate it has been used.  So, we’re going to call this Dice Placement: Come at me.

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Take a look at our review here to see if Dice Throne Adventures is right for you. 

5. Endangered

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Endangered has a very tumultuous history in my game group.  Some people love Endangered, and some people hate it!  The people who love it point to the amazing production, gameplay, components, rulebook, and game presence! See below.

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The people who don’t like it get too involved in the game and say “there’s something depressing about failing as the creatures die!  And the game can be too random!”.

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Take a look at our initial review of Endangered to see if this is something you might like.  The production is amazing and the game looks good, but the randomness might scare you away.  This was originally higher on our list, but got pushed down by the next entry.

4. Automated Alice

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Automated Alice is a curious game, on so many levels!  Me and my group struggled to learn the rules (the rule book isn’t great), but once we did, the game seemed much more fun than expected.  This game was actually a lot lower on this list originally, but the quick game play and simple play style (once you know the rules) elevated this light-weight dice placement game:  my group has taken a bit of a shine to it.

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Players place dice to try to fulfill missions on cards: once a mission is done, a card has a special ability which can be used later.

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Take a look at our review of Automated Alice here to see if this is something you would enjoy.

3. Intrepid

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Intrepid was a Kickstarter game that I found really fascinating: it’s uses Dice Placement mechanics to run a space station.  The game was surprising cheap, considering how great the components are:

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The solo game needs some work to fix, but the game really shined as a cooperative experience. It also took up an entire table!  It’s huge on the board!

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I liked this a lot more than my friends, which is why it’s only #3, but take a look at our review of Intrepid to see if it’s something you would like.  It also made our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021!

2. Roll Camera!

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Roll Camera! was a bit of a surprise that it was so good!  The game has a great rulebook, a great sense of humor!  It also worked really well as a solo game.  Take a look at our review of Roll Camera! to see it’s something you would like.

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All of my groups embraced this game: it was surprising how universal it was.  The idea of making a movie seemed to engage everyone, and the dice placement mechanics were interesting.

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The game looks great, plays great, has a great rulebook, and just seemed to engage all my playgroups.  It also made our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021!

1. Roll Player Adventures

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In our original review of Roll Player Adventures, I couldn’t recommend this for a solo game, as there weren’t enough dice mitigation mechanics.  But after playing the cooperative group game, there was no question what dice placement game would be #1! My group and I have been enjoying this game thoroughly: so much so that it made our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021!   The story is engaging, the components are fabulous, and the art is gorgeous. 

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I might call this a storybook game with a dice placement mechanic, so this could also make our next Top 10 Cooperative Storybook Games list.  

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A Review of X-Men: Marvel United Days of Future Past

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

X-Men: Marvel United Days of Future Past is an expansion that requires Marvel United or X-Men: Marvel United to play. See below: one of the games in the bottom row is required to play Days of Future Past (you probably want the X-Men version). It probably also makes sense to have characters from the X-Men: Marvel United expansion (top left) for more thematic characters.

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Bottom row is required to play top row

This was an expansion to the gob-smackingly large set of Marvel United expansion games that appeared at my door step about 3 weeks ago. See our previous blog entry on this here. Two weeks ago we reviewed The Fantastic Four Expansion and really liked that. Let’s take a look at this one.

Unboxing

In some ways, this is a very light expansion. It only comes with one new hero, Logan, and one new Master Plan villain, Nimrod.

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Logan’s Hero deck
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Nimrod’s villan deck and Thread Deck

In other ways, it’s also a very heavy expansion: it comes with the giant sentinels and rules for them.

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The game feels pretty minimal:

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The rulebook for this a 4 page leaflet describing all the new rules.

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There’s also a very scenario specific matte:

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The insert is pretty great and holds the amazing minis.

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There’s some extra challenge cards and a few extra tokens.

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Token identify the sentinels: each one os distinct and numbered

Overall, this looks nice and consistent with the original Marvel United.

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Interestingly, this feels both underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time: only 1 new hero and 1 new villain, but the sentinels are so large and daunting!

The Minis and Maxis

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When are miniatures mini and when are they maxi? The miniatures in this game are pretty phenomenal. Those Sentinels are pretty daunting on the table, especially in front of Logan!

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The Hero Logan s just a “future” version of Wolverine who’s not “old”, but “battle-hardened”. (He takes one less damage when he takes damage).

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Nimrod is the “more sophisticated” Sentinel/Bad Guy that you have to take out to win.

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The Sentinels themselves are just amazing minis? maxis?

If you look closely, you’ll see that each one is numbered: they are distinct and can have distinct abilities in challenge mode.

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Each Sentinel has different abilities in Challenge mode

One of the things we discovered is that Sentinels were made to pick up the heroes!! Take a look at the rule for Sentinel III (see above) and the picture below! That’s so cool!

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These Sentinel minis/maxis are just great.

Days of Future Past

During the early 1980s, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin were producing some amazing content for the X-Men. A few issues earlier, we had seen arguably the best X-Men story ever: The Dark Phoenix Saga. A few issues later, they introduced us to Days of Future Past in issue #141. See above. Although a lot of people associate this title with the 2014 film of the same name, issue #141 was where this was introduced.

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Days of Future Past Part

In this two part story, Claremont/Byrne/Austin brought us to the past, as Kitty Pryde inhabits her future self’s body (Kate Pryde) to see the devastation the Sentinels have wrought in the future. The Sentinels are a huge part of this story as they (spoiler) destroy the future X-Men. See above for the two issues.

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Interestingly, Nimrod (the more sophisticated Sentinel) doesn’t make his appearance until 1985 in issue #191 at the very end.

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So, even though The Days of Future Past doesn’t strictly include Nimrod, it still makes thematic sense. Logan is the future battle-hardened self, the Sentinels are the imposing Bad Guys that you must defeat before Nimrod comes out, but Nimrod is the final Sentinel you must defeat to win.

Solo Play

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For solo play, I decided to play as a two player game playing two Heroes. (as I’ve discussed many times: the solo mode for Marvel United is not as simple as it could be, so it’s better to just play two Heroes). From a story sense, it seemed to make sense to play Logan (from this expansion set) and Shadowcat/Kitty Pryde (from the Marvel X-Men expansion).

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scenario specific mat

If you look at the set-up from the player mat, you’ll see you can play 2 Heroes and the game scales down to that: this just means we’ll have one less Sentinel (we won’t have all 3 out).

Here’s Logan and Kitty’s cards:

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All set-up, my solo game looked like this:

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Although not 100% thematic to Days of Future Past, Kitty also has Lockheed with her (as there was no “Kate Pryde” hero to play). Lockheed allows extra actions away from Kitty, as an independently controlled figure that can’t be harmed (I think).

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The solo game plays, in many ways, like the main game: you have to defeat all the Sentinels before Nimrod can come out.

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Up until Nimrod comes out, there are no Master Plans coming out, just the Heroes with the Sentinels having their own special rules. Once Nimrod comes out, then the standard Master Plan starts.

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In the finale, Logan and Kitty took down Nimrod on the same place they took out the Sentinels! You can still see the Sentinels corpses on the location!

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You’ll notice the story board looks a little weird until Nimrod actually comes out.

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Overall, the solo game was very satisfying and seemed well-balanced (which will talk about in a second).

Strategy vs Tactics

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The base game of Marvel United tends to be more tactical, as you have to make decisions based on random events as they come up during play. Some villains offer more strategy as you have to think in advance, but Days of Future Past adds some very interesting strategic decisions.

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First of all, the Sentinels actions are based on the last two Hero cards! See above! There is no randomness when activating the Sentinels! They just use the same actions you did (in order on the cards). In other words, when you act, you give the Sentinels their turn as well! There’s no randomness there! They do what you do (well, see the summary card above).

For example, if these were the two cards up so far to the storyboard, then the Sentinel attached to Kitty would move twice: one for Logan’s move symbol, one more for Kitty’s move symbol. Then (because the last card has a special ability), Nimrod’s Villainous plot goes up one!

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What tends to happen is that the Sentinels start following you around! When you move two, they can move two and follow you! It’s like a game of chess trying to figure out what you should do so as to minimize what the Sentinels can do! The main difference is that you can execute the symbols in any order, but the Sentinels are constrained to using the symbols in the order they appear.

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Somehow, this seems so thematic! The Sentinels are just robots that tend to copy what you do … but as a mutant, you can try to out-think them! This mechanic is so interesting, thematic, and surprisingly difficult! Sometimes, it feels like all a Sentinel does is undo your turn! So, every choice you make is strategic: what you do sets-up not only your comrade but your opponent.

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A Winning game!

Another strategic element is when to bring out Nimrod: if you bring him out too early, his Villainous Plot chart advances more quickly and that can cause you to lose unexpectedly! But, if you bring Nimrod out too late, the heroes won’t have enough turns to defeat him! So, you have to balance when you kill the last Sentinel vs bring out Nimrod!

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And don’t forget the Threats! Sometimes, your long-term decisions will change based on which Threats you can take out!

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Overall, Days of Future Past adds more elements of strategy than I have seen in Marvel United so far: the fact that your choices are used by the Sentinels against you is such an interesting, thematic, and strategic element!

Cooperative Play

The cooperative game worked really well .. but it did seem harder than the solo (as 2 heroes) play. Having said that, the amount of communication in cooperative play was very important: since my heroes symbols dictated what the Sentinels would do, we have had to chat a lot more about our actions. At least for my group, this did not seem to grind anything to a halt: there wasn’t an Analysis Paralysis. What we saw in our games is that we chatted and strategized about what to play.

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One of the things that really made the game shine was how we seemed to really used our special powers to make stuff happen. Logan would often end in a Location with a Sentinel just so he could take the damage (since he just ignores the first damage) for another player. Cooperation! Perhaps our best choice was using Dr. Strange (with his time gem)! We were able to keep Nimrod’s Master Plan under control because Dr. Strange could see the next Master Plan card, and this would help us figure out what to do! Again, more strategy!

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In the end, we won, but it was close. See the picture above, where you can see the points where we take out a Sentinel. Overall, this was a challenging but fun battle.

Nature of this Expansion

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This is not a “add more content” expansion: the Days of Future Past expansion fundamentally changes the way the game is played. We no longer have a control panel or missions: we completely skip that aspect of the game and the Sentinels start the game in play and you can immediately damage them. The randomness of the Master Plan is deferred until later, as you deal with set mechanics of the Sentinels: they do what you do! Gone is the “okay, let’s deal with threats and slowly wait until we can beat up the bad guy“. Nope! You immediately make important choices: do I get rid of Sentinels ASAP? Do I deal with threats so the Sentinels aren’t as bad? And when do I kill the last Sentinel to force Nimrod out?

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This expansion changes the nature of Marvel United: it can’t really be applied outside of this set (but see below). When you play with this set, you are playing a different game. Days of Future Past makes Marvel United into a more strategic game, a longer game, a more complex game, and a more challenging game. I probably wouldn’t recommend this expansion until you were pretty comfortable with the base game. To re-emphasize, these changes are limited to only this one scenario: fighting Nimrod and the Sentinels.

Sentinels Challenge

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Sentinels challenge cards

You can, if you really want to, add Sentinels to any game of Marvel United.

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Each Sentinel has different abilities in Challenge mode

The rules seem to imply that you take any base game and can add all three Sentinels, using the rules (above or on the cards above) to activate them. There seems to be a lot of questions around this, and it seems like it would make the game too hard? I frequently barely win my Marvel United games, so adding three Sentinels seems a bit much. I don’t know: you can add these to any game according to the rules, but it just seems like a prescription for too much challenge and complexity. So, I haven’t done it yet, and frankly I have no desire to.

Conclusion

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X-Men: Marvel United Days of Future Past is currently my favorite way to play Marvel United. This expansion takes a fairly tactical game and makes it more strategic, challenging, longer, and more complex … all in a good way! The original Marvel United game is arguably too light for a lot of gamers, but I think the addition of Days of Future Past would interest a lot of hard-code gamers. The fact that that Sentinels actions are not random, but based on what the players do is both thematic and interesting! I would argue this mechanism is probably the best addition to the game.

I strongly recommend Days of Future Past.

A Review of Cantaloop: Book 2 (A Hack of a Plan)

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

I reviewed Cantaloop: Book 1 (Breaking Into Prison) back here and absolutely loved it!  It made the top spot on our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021

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When I heard the newest book was due to come out, I made sure to preorder it as soon as possible!  It arrived a few weeks ago and I finally got a chance to check this out!

Get the Errata!

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If you have the First Edition, Conversation B needs a replacement page. Make sure you get that before you play!  I did!  I printed the extra page out and put in in my book.

See more information here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2839863/english-typo-warning

Unboxing

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This is pretty much like the original Cantaloop: 3 pouches with 72 cards total, another larger pouch with the map, combiner sheet, progress checkoff, and the red acetate.

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The game also includes a sheet of “progress point” that you need to mark off (E1, F1, G2, etc) to show your progress through the game.  The first thing I did (well, the second after I printed off the errata) was copy the progress sheet so I could play this again without harming the original sheet.

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I made a copy of the progress sheet so I didn’t dirty the original!

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As you can see, this is one of those games that uses the red acetate to “reveal” text in the sheets.

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The book itself is full of “hidden” clues you will have to reveal as you explore.

Overall, the game looks consistent: it has a silly sense of humor and the art and components belie that as well.

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Introduction and Gameplay

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So, this is a “point-and-click” adventure book game.  What does that mean? See the text above for one view, but essentially, you explore, talk to characters, try to do things and combine objects to get stuff done.  In this game, exploration and talking means turning to a page and following the rules there.

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The red acetate keeps most secrets hidden, but the game warns you to be careful.  In general, the rules get you playing and understanding the mechanisms right away.

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Trilogy

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This is Part Two of a Three part story.  If you haven’t played the original, you don’t HAVE to, it just makes the story make more sense.  I have played the original about a year ago (so I forgot a lot of it), but once I started it playing, it all came back.  I also didn’t need to have played the original: it just makes it easier to get into the story.

Much Like The Original

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Cantaloop: Book 2 is very much much like Cantaloop: Book 1. Seriously: you can take a look at our original review of Cantaloop here and almost everything we said still applies: it has a sense of humor, the art is consistently silly through-out, there’s a lot of page turning, there’s a lot of looking at text through red acetate, and there’s a lot of puzzles … some easy, some hard.  Generally, it’s great!

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One thing I want to give props to! One of my only complaints of the first book was that I thought the paper quality wasn’t great: I was afraid I’d tear the pages as I turned through everything so much.  The newer edition has better paper quality!  This is a great improvement because you turn the pages so much!

But how’s the game play?

A Dirty Secret

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I originally compared Cantaloop to the Monkey Island series of video games back in my original review (see here).  This analogy seems even more apt in light of the new Cantaloop: Book 2.  Why’s that you ask?  Because I have a dirty little secret about the Monkey Island series!  As much as I think the first Secret of Monkey Island is perfect, and as much as I adore the first 90% of the sequel LeChuck’s Revenge, I hated the last 10% of the game.  A lot of Ron GIlbert’s games seem to do that do me: I love the first 90% then hate the last 10%.  In Psychonauts, the first 90% of the game is exploring an interesting world populated by some fascinating kids, but the last 10% is just a joystick buster. No fun! In LeCheck’s Revenge, the puzzles in the first 90% are great!  The last 10% is so frustrating as LeChuck randomly just resets you back to a save point over and over and over and over …

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Too many programming actions

And I had the a problem with Cantaloop: Book 2. I hated the how the ending played out. The game sets-up these more and more challenging programming puzzles: players uses some cards to move “things” about a virtual world—they program the movement. The first 8 or so puzzles are fun and challenging, but then it just stops working as a mechanic.

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This is where I gave up: E2. I stopped caring

The initial idea is interesting: set-up all these programming puzzles to move further along in the book! See above. The first few are fun, the next few are challenging, and then … you just get tired of them. The last 90% of the game was miserable because that’s all the last 90% was: these programming puzzles. And they had stopped being fun. I stopped caring and just “solved the puzzle” using the hint (well, even worse, I just cheated and assumed I moved forward). I want to say it was puzzle E2 that I stopped caring.

Problems With The Programming Puzzles

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There were several problems with these programming puzzles in the game.   At its core, these puzzles were just “put cards in order to move pieces to solve a puzzle”—they kept building and building and building on the basic premise to make it harder and harder.  This build-up wasn’t an issue per se, but there were several problems around it.

  1. It’s too hard to look back and see the “last set of rules”.  Because Cantaloop is all about the red acetate, you have to look back and re-read the rules again—and that’s annoying with the red acetate.
  2. The rules are NOT on same pages as you are playing. Every time, the rules are NOT on the same page as your playing, which means if there are questions, you have to page BACKWARDS and disturb your board set-up (you have to put pieces on the pages).  The rules needed to be either (a) on the same viewable pages or (b) on a separate sheet you could refer to
  3. The rules were poorly specified.  I attempted to reverse-engineer and figure out what the rules were FROM the solutions.  The rules for the programming puzzles should have been better specified.  After seeing how many questions I had and directions I couldn’t decipher, I didn’t want to try to solve it! There were too many rules to get wrong! (I  attempt to fix some of that in the rules clarifications below).  There was no FAQ.
  4. The mechanism grew tiresome.  There were 14 of these programming puzzles!  That same type of puzzle over and over grew very tiresome.
  5. The state space is huge.  By the time you get to the later puzzles, the amount of ways the cards could be played together is enormous, and you just have to stumble your way into the right solution.  There might be some intuition, but generally the solution is to “keep trying over and over”
  6. The pieces of the puzzle are fiddly and maintenance-heavy.  In order to keep trying over and over, you have to do a lot of maintenance: get one wrong rule or forget a movement, and invalidate your solution which involved moving so many pieces around.  It was agony in the later ones to have to move so many pieces

All together, I stopped caring about solving the programming puzzles at about checkpoint E2.  

Rules Clarifications

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I spent an entire morning going through the proposed solution (from the back of the book) to the E2 puzzle. There were so many questions I had about how things worked that I had to reverse-engineer the solution. Presented below is what I think the under-specified rules are (based on the solution given by the book) what the interpretations for these rules are.

  1. Do Tracers start ON the board or OFF the board? Although this seems like a silly question, take a look at the notation: the tracer could start OFF the board, with it’s first movement being to appear in the space it’s connected to. The Tracer could also start ON the board, so when it moves, it moved away from its first space. This question makes a difference of 1 extra space, and that can be huge.
    The Ruling: Tracers start ON the board. See picture above. I think that was clear from the solution.

2. Do you have to use all of your cards?

The rule, somewhat obscured by the notion of elegance (some of use believe that fewer lines of code are more elegant), is highlighted in the picture above.

The Ruling: You always have to use all of your cards! It’s very clearly stated.

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3. Do Tracers obey Bridges and Gates? I am not sure, but based on my running the puzzle solution, I think they respect bridges but ignore gates? At least that’s what running the puzzle solution seemed to imply.

The Ruling: Tracers respect bridges but ignore gates. I think? Not clear?

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4. How do Tracers handle ends?

It seemed to not come up once you get the rules right, but I think if a Tracer hits the and and can’t move, then it just turns around. Still needs to be specified I think.

The Ruling: Tracers turn around: they move one space in and one space out.

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Too many programming actions

5. The tracers, on every turn, have to MOVE (M), DETERMINE DIRECTION (D), REORIENT THEMSELVES. (R) In what order does this happen? This is a huge deal which I spent an hour trying to make sure I understood. You need to understand this! The real question: when you move tracers, do you MDR or DRM?

If you MDR, then the above is the interpretation of the movement for the Tracer. (M) Move in the direction of your orientation (straight-up), (D) Determine direction to move (straight-up), (R) Reorient arrow in that new direction.

If you DRM, then the above is the interpretation for the Tracer. (D) Determine direction to move (to the right), (R) Reorient (to the right), (M) move to the right.

It makes a BIG DIFFERENCE, right? After running through the solution, the answer is clear: MDR. I am actually pretty sure on this: I ran through this solution over and over.

The ruling: MDR (Move in the direction of the arrow, the Determine where you’ll go next move, then reorient in that direction). Pretty confident in this.

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6. How do the Tracers follow the dotted lines?

The ruling: it seems that moving over the lock allows you to move. Veru unclear, but it didn’t seem to affect my play. So I’m still not sure.

There were TOO MANY QUESTIONS for me to even hope I got the rules right. I had to reverse-engineer the solution to this to even have a hope of getting this right. The book really needed many more clarifications, pictures, and examples of how things worked … maybe some cards showing this?

It was after this I sort of gave up. The rules were poorly stated, so I felt like I had no chance of getting the puzzles right anyways, so I stopped caring for the programming puzzles.

Where Does That Leave Us?

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Cantaloop: Book 2 (A Hack of a Plan) was great … right up until I hit programming puzzle E2. It was the 8th programming puzzle, and I was just getting tired of the programming puzzles. By the time I got the E2, I was “done” trying to interpret the poorly stated rules. Luckily, those puzzles come near the end of the game: The only thing left in the game was 4 more programming puzzles. So, to finish up, I simply “pretended” to do them and then I moved on, reading text as I went.

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And the end game had some interesting story fragments that re-engaged me: I want to see what happens in the next book!!

There is an easy mode in the game, but it’s not clear it would have skipped the last 4 annoying programming puzzles. If this were a video game, I would have looked up the solution on the internet and just finished off the last 4 puzzles just to get to the endgame and the conclusion.

So, I still care about the characters Hook and Fly and Alice and what happens to them. I do want to get the next Cantaloop book. So, here’s my recommendation for you:

  • If you want to solve ALL the puzzles, make sure you look online for a FAQ or clarification before attempting them.  I admit that a lot of my “I stopped caring” was because there were too many things underspecified.  Find out all the rules, then maybe those puzzles will be more fun!
  • If you want a lighter, more fun game, solve everything up to programming puzzle E2, and then just ignore the final 4 programming puzzles: pretend you solved all the programming puzzles as you go so you can see the end game.

Let’s be clear: except for the last 4 or 5 programming puzzles, I had a great time playing this!  There’s a lot of that fun that came with the point-and-click adventure solving!  All the humor and fun of the first Cantaloop was still there!  The programming puzzle pieces will easily be the most controversial pieces of this game: you know right away if that is something you will like or not.

Conclusion

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Cantaloop: Book 1 (Breaking Into Prison) made the Top Spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021! I gave it a 9 out of 10! I was very excited to get the next book Cantaloop: Book 2(A Hack of a Plan). I freely admit that I was disappointed by this somewhat: the programming puzzles had many problems and ended up detracting from all the goodness that is in Cantaloop: Book 2! If you want the super hard programming puzzles, make sure you find all the proper FAQs and clarifications before you attempt them. Otherwise, ignore all the programming puzzles after E2 and just concentrate on all the goodness of the rest of the game.

If we take Cantaloop: Book 2 as-is, I’d probably give this a 6/10. But, if we ignore the programming puzzles after E2 and just enjoy the rest of the story and experience for what it is, I’d give this a 7.5/10. There is a lot of humor and puzzles to like here.

I am still looking forward to Cantaloop: Book 3. Book 2 won’t make the top spot of my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2022 (like Book 1 did in 2021), but Book 2 will still make the Top 10 overall. Weirdly, Book 2 could also make my Top 10 Disappointments of 2022 at the same time it makes my Top 10. I hope that makes sense.

Review of Marvel United: Fantastic Four Expansion

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As we saw in last week’s blog, I recently got a ton of new Marvel United content! There was way too much to go through, so I thought I’d tackle it in pieces. This week, we’ll look at Marvel United: Fantastic Four: this is an expansion: you must have either the X-Men: Marvel United set (which we reviewed here) or the base Marvel United set (which we reviewed here and here).

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(Don’t worry, this blog won’t be taken over by Marvel United, we’ll have some Top 10 lists and other reviews coming soon!)

Unboxing

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This box is about the same size as the the original Marvel United box (but a little thinner). There’s no new instructions, but a little pamphlet that talks about what the expansion adds.

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This shows the components on one side … (see above)

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And some rules/explanations on the other side. Note that this set adds two new very interesting things. First, it adds The Takeover Challenge, which basically allows you to make the game harder if you think it’s too easy … we haven’t played it because we usually barely win! More importantly, it adds the Fantastic Four Card which is a new way to encourage cooperation. We’ll discuss that more below.

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There’s 4 new Locations (see above), 2 of which have bad effects even if you defeat the challenge on them …

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The Doombot tokens are “Doom’s thugs” and have special rules. The KO! tokens allow for representation when a hero is KOed.

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The inside of the box holds the rest.

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There’s two new villains: Super-Skrull and Doctor Doom! (although Dr. Doom can also be a hero … what you say? Can’t you imagine Dr. Doom teaming up with the Fantastic Four to fight Galactus?)

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The minis and cards look really great: they are kept in place pretty well by the insert.

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The minis themselves really pop, especially with all the different colors.

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All in all, the game keeps with the Marvel United traditions and looks pretty good.

Solo Play

I played a solo player game using just the characters and locations in the Fantastic Four box. I think the only thing I used from the main box were two other Locations and the tokens. I suspect, for this box, everything is balanced and play-tested pretty well for things in this box. So, for my review, I am really only looking at this box’s gameplay: Trying to combine this with all the other Marvel United content would be an explosion of combinations.

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For my first solo game, I played The Human Torch and the Silver Surfer.

And I chose to play against the evil Dr. Doom!

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I mean, these minis look pretty awesome on the board.

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In the end, my Heroes were victorious, taking advantage of the Silver Surfer’s Cosmic Awareness and Johnny’s Nova Blast. The threats made Doombots just appear everywhere: I almost lost a number of times as the Doombots threatened to overwhelm me.

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The game still works great solo: Doctor Doom adds a nice wrinkle to the equation. I still have no desire to play using the “official” solo rules: the solo character running two Heroes seems to work best for me.

Cooperative Play

So, one of the coolest new features of the Fantastic Four Expansion is the cooperative Fantastic Four card: see below.

When members of the Fantastic Four play certain Teamwork cards, they add tokens to the card: later Teamwork cards can then execute all tokens that used to be on the card! Early Teamwork turns are lame, but later Teamwork turns are awesome!

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You can see above, after a lot of previous Teamwork cards, the Fantastic Four card allows a member of the Fantastic Four to do so much! This card only works for the Fantastic Four heroes, but it really does promote teamwork for the FF: “I’ll play this okay card on my turn to add a token, but it will make the later turn for my comrade awesome!”

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In the final turn, Sue Storm (aka the Invisible Girl) played a Teamwork card! It allowed to her so many actions! She moved, moved, and punched, punched, punched, taking Dr. Doom down!

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The cooperative play seemed a little more pronounced in this session of Marvel United, as the Teamwork cards really seemed to promote “do a lesser action on my turn to promote an awesome turn for my comrade”. The only problem is that if you play one member of the Fantastic Four, I think you want everyone else to be a member because this Teamwork power is so awesome and ONLY works with the Fantastic Four.

Conclusion

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If you like Marvel United and you like the Fantastic Four, this is a great expansion. The Teamwork cards really inspire cooperation, the minis are Fantastic (no pun intended), and the new Villains and Locations add more to a great game.

X-Men: Marvel United and the Expansion Absorption

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So, just yesterday (April 15th, 2022), all of my X-Men: Marvel United Kickstarter Expansions arrived. Holy Cow! What have I done?

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The reason I backed this was because I really loved Marvel United! The original Marvel United made the #2 spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2020! I originally DID NOT back the original Kickstarter because I wanted to see if I liked the game before spending way too much money. Well, I got my copy of Marvel United off of e-bay (see Part I and Part II of my review of Marvel United here) and proceeded to love it! Marvel United is a light (20 minutes) but fun cooperative superhero game for 1-4 Players!

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Thus, when CMON did a second Kickstarter for X-Men: Marvel United, I went all in! The base game arrived a while ago, and it was just as good (if not better because it had more modes: some villains could be heroes and vice-versa): see our review of X-Men: Marvel United here! I mean, we liked it so much it made the #1 spot on our Top 10 Cooperative Expansions of 2021! It was pretty great!

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I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how interesting it is to take a look at all of these expansions these in my blog? My plan over the next year is to take a look at a lot of the expansions in more detail, but there’s just no way I can talk about everything here. So, we’ll take a look at one of the main boxes so you can get a sense of what’s here, discuss Expansion Absorption, the end with showing some other boxes.

Some Unboxing

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The first box contains only X-Men: Marvel United expansions.

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The second box contains mostly expansions from the first Marvel United Kickstarter, plus the X-Men: Marvel United Blue Team and Gold Team Expansions.

X-Men Expansion

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One of the reasons I was so excited for this expansion is the number of characters from the X-Men and overlapping universes! The box above has characters from Excalibur, New Mutants, the Mojoverse, and Alpha Flight! These were some of my favorite comic books growing up.

The outside wraparound of the box shows you just how many characters are in the box!

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The box of miniatures is pretty huge.

The cards and boards fit in just like the Marvel United:

There is just so much in this one box. I am going to start by playing a two character game, reminiscent of old New Mutants: Warlock and Magik versus Emma Frost. Emma is one of those new characters that can be either a hero or a villain (we are playing her as a villain like early New Mutants books).

Set-Up For A First Game

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See the minis for Magik and Emma Frost and Warlock above! Pretty cool.

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The cards for Warlock

The cards for the characters look great: I never thought I’d like the Chibi art, but it has really grown on me. I really like Warlock’s art.

My first set-up was a solo 2-Character game. See above. (Recall from our X-Men: Marvel United reviews, we tend to prefer the 2-Player solo mode).

First Game: An Inauspicious Start

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My first game was a dismal failure. I never got to play. This is arguably the worst game of anything I have ever played. Because my heroes started on the location above, Emma got to put 2 crisis tokens down at every BAM, which means she put down the next storycard to the storyline. So the next play is Emma, who activates the BAM who puts down a storycard to the storyline. Continue Forever until you lose. EDIT: I got a rule wrong!!! (See update after conclusion)

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All Emma Frost story cards (see below) have a BAM so I would never get to play!

Really? Did anyone playtest this? Seriously: I never got to play a card

Second Game: Not Much Better

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So, I moved Warlock and Magik to a different starting Location (I think there you can’t start the game on the Illusional Sebasatian Shaw card or any adjacent Location or you just lose): that made it so only 3 Locations were valid starting Locations.

So first turns sucked: I could almost nothing as the Location reduced my activity by one.

I made it one whole round before I lost.

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Emma actually killed both characters.

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Really? I got to play 3 cards and the game was over.

A Little Worried

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I did not expect to win my first game. But I also didn’t expect to get to do almost nothing. These were the worst two games of Marvel United I have EVERY PLAYED. My Heroes literally didn’t get to do anything on my first game … I am not even sure if that counts as a game!

Now, I know from playing Sentinels of The Multiverse (see our Review of the Definitive Edition here) that sometimes you have to choose the right hero team to take on a particular villain: some hero teams are just ineffective. So, I just chose a very bad team. I hope.

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I am a little worried right now … I have all this content and it may suck because it’s poorly playtested. Or it’s too hard?

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I am going to take the attitude “I am just going to have to find the right team to defeat Emma Frost” and start looking at the Heroes to see what I can do: what team can I build? What abilities do I need?

I have to have a positive attitude, otherwise I would be worried I may have just invested a whole bunch of money into a game that wasn’t properly playtested …

Update: I Played a Rule Wrong!

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I played a rule wrong! When Emma Frost goes upside down, you DO NOT turn her over and resolve her. I think.

So, I have been thinking a lot about my two plays over the last day: I think I played a rule wrong.  Basically, when the number of crisis tokens gets large, you  have to put a new card in the storyline FACE DOWN.  I simply thought that meant “you don’t see it until you turn it up and resolve it”, but I think this is wrong.  I think the intention of the FACE DOWN (see picture above) is to simply clog up the storyline so they heroes get one less play.  The new FACE DOWN card does not resolve.  And I think that makes all the difference.  So, I set-up and played again.

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This time, the game was more more what I expected.

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I was able to keep Emma’s special ability under control until the very end, and it only delayed the inevitable.  See above.

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See a winning game above, where Magik used her movement tokens and Warlock’s movement to get to Emma Frost and do the final blow!

So, I felt relieved.  Whew.  One instance of a the game is not broken.

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Starting Hand cards

One rule I used was that the Mystical Armor and Techno-Organic Lifeform abilities stopped crisis tokens from going to the dashboard.  I wasn’t sure if this was right: it feels like the armor and lifeform only stop crisis tokens going to the characters themselves, but then otherwise these abilities felt completely useless!  Thematically, Magik’s armor protects her and Warlock’s weird nature protects him, so thematically it made sense that they protect from crisis tokens.  Yup, I just argued rules via theme.

Expansion Absorption

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I have picked up every expansion for Sentinels of The Multiverse (2nd Edition) that has come out over the past 10 years: see above. Each expansion contained a few new heroes, a few new villains, and a few new environments. Here’s the thing: because all these expansions came out over a long period (one expansion every 2 years over 10 years), they felt like they were playtested pretty extensively with previously released content! They felt thought out, and I felt like I could absorb them … slowly.

I am very nervous for my X-Men: Marvel United content right now. Especially after those first games.

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I’ve actually gotten to the point were I look at expansions skeptically, even for games I enjoy! Aeon’s End (see above) is a great cooperative deckbuilder (see our Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilders) that has so many expansions!! But I have Aeon’s End ennui: the expansions came out too fast and I couldn’t absorb them. I was just getting into the base game when War Eternal came out, then the Legacy game, then New Age, then the Outcasts … so many expansions! I have officially given up buying Aeon’s End because they are just spraying new content out there and I can’t follow it! I can no longer absorb Aeon’s End expansions.

At what rate can you absorb expansions? Sentinels of the Multiverse did it well, I think: one expansion every two years seemed to work. It gave the manufacturer sufficient chance to playtest new content with old content, and it gave me a chance to absorb the new material into play. I fear Aeon’s End did it too quickly: I can no longer absorb Aeons’ End content and I have ignored the last few Kickstarters.

Conclusion

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What about all the stuff I got for Marvel United? I really like the base game: I have had many good plays of the original base Marvel United and the base X-Men: Marvel United. Can I absorb all the new expansions? Was this new content playtested well? We’ll see over the next few months. Watch here for more info: I really hope I can get it to work without getting too frustrated!

EDIT: Now that I have played Emma Frost right, I feel a little better about things. The problem was that I had no FAQ to go to for Emma Frost because she is so new. I wonder if I am one of the first few people to play her? The lack of FAQ is another indicator of Expansion Absorption problems. Regardless, I do feel better about all this content and I look forward to more.

Appendix: A Quick Look At The Boxes

There’s really a lot of stuff: take a look at the front and back of a lot of the X-Men: Marvel United boxes!  We’ll be delving into more of these in the future!

 

A Review of Tokyo Sidekick

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Tokyo Sidekick was on Kickstarter back in September 2020, promised delivery in March 2021 and delivered to me just about a week ago (mid March, 2022). It’s a year late. Let’s hope it was worth the wait. We were definitely looking forward to this: Tokyo Sidekick made the #2 position on our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2022!

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I went full-in on the Kickstarter, getting the deluxe edition of the game with slipcover, Kickstarter extras, decorative little pin, and the acrylic standee kit (40 characters from the game). It’s actually a lot of stuff.

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What is Tokyo Sidekick?  Take a look at the back of the box (above): Tokyo Sidekick is a cooperative game for 1-4 players, where each player plays a team consisting of a Superhero and Sidekick.  It’s a boss-battling game with deck-building, character upgrades, and some elements of Pandemic.  To my knowledge, this is a not an established Intellectual Property: I believe this is just a home-grown bunch of heroes created just for this game.  As you can see from the box, it embraces an anime vibe.

Acrylic Standees

I mean, come on, the first thing I did was assemble the standees.  You know you would too. So, that’s where I’ll start.

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I was really on the fence on whether or not I should get the Acrylic Standees for for Tokyo Sidekick: the game was already a little more expensive than I expected (Japanime Games had to re-launch their Kickstarter a second time because I believe the original game prices chased a lot of people away). In the end, I decided to bite the bullet and buy the Acrylic Standees. SPOILER ALERT: I absolutely loved them!

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This kit essentially replaces all the cardboard standees from the original game with clear Acrylic Standees.

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The packaging is a little weird: there are three trays on top of each other, haphazardly floating around. When I first got this, a few of the bases actually fell out of the box before I even opened it! If I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have lost some of the bases! Be careful!

I’m not going to mince words: getting these Acrylic Standees out of the plastic packaging was a HUGE pain. Some of them popped right out, some of them had to be coaxed, and a bunch of them I felt like I would break as I tried bend the plastic.

I might encourage you to take pictures of the trays after you take them out, because you will NEVER fit them back in.

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… but luckily, you won’t need to put them in the plastic trays. The game box (mine, which was I believe the deluxe version) has a storage solution for all those. There’s some pre-cut foam with space for the standees. See below.

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Space for the acrylic standees in the box.

You can put two standees per slot:

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In general, putting the standees together went okay, but one of the bases actually broke! See below! I broke a blue base!

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I was a little surprised by this! I have sent an email to Japanime games (go to their website: www.japanimegames.com and go to the contact area if you have this problem). What I ended up doing, in the meantime, was taping it.

It seems good enough for now, but I am curious if anyone else will have this problem. I mean it only happened once out of forty standees, so that’s not too bad? (Note: It only took a bout a week to get a new blue stand (after I sent them a picture): Thanks Japanime Games!)

Overall, these standees are pretty fantastic.

In general, the bases of the standees correspond to the outer rims of the cards: White for Villains, Black for SuperVillains and Gold for Menaces (but the Menace bases for those are black, I am guessing so you don’t confuse them with heroes?). See below.

Some of the characters will end up being Villains AND Heroes (Cool Guy ends up being a SuperHero OR SuperVillain, and Jinx Cat is either a Sidekick or a Villain), so they end up with the Villain bases (black and white, respectively).  I wasted at least 15 minutes of my life trying to figure out why I didn’t have enough SuperHero and Sidekick bases … it’s because two of the characters can also be Bad Guys!  Caveat Emptor!  See below.

In the end, this is probably my favorite expansion I have ever gotten for a game! I loved the silliness and looks of the Foil Cards for Sentinels of The Multiverse: Definitive Edition, but the Acrylic Standees looks really make the game stand out on the table: see below.

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In the end, I am so glad I got the Acrylic Standees! They are totally worth it! They pop on the table and work even better than miniatures (at least in this context, where the “color and shine” of Superheroes needs to stand out).

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Recommendation: Absolutely get the Acrylic Standees! Just be aware that they can difficult to pull out of the packaging, and they may break (during assembly) if you aren’t really careful!

Unboxing

The components are pretty first rate for this.  As you open the box, you get a comic book AND a rulebook.  We’ll discuss those further below.

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The game box is bigger than it looks: see the Coke can (below) for scale. This is a big box. (Not as big as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns from last week, but still pretty big).

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The board itself s pretty huge: there are two sides!  One for a 1-Player/2-Player game and the opposite side for a 3-Player/4-Player game.

Underneath the main boards are some player boards:

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Player boards: each player gets one.

Below the boards and rulebooks are everything else: a lot of cards and punchouts.

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Note: the punchouts that have already been punched out for you!

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The cardboard standees: already punched out for you!

The rest of the content of the game is cards. 

The art is quite good and the cards looks quite good.

In general, I was very happy with the quality and look of the game.

Comic Book

The game comes with an actual comic book that gives a sense of the universe you are playing in:

The art is great and it’s just so neat that this is in here! It really gives the game more thematic gravitas since the superhero universe is home-grown.

Rulebook

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This is a really, really good rulebook. It does just about everything right.

The first page starts with a quick intro:

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The next page has great pictures with annotated count and list of components (Deep Space D6: Armada could have really used a page like this to help correlate components). I really appreciate these pictures because of the kinesthetic experience of seeing and touching the components while associating them with their names.

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Immediately after this annotated pictures of components is the set-up across two pages: it’s so important that (1) it has a picture of set-up and (2) the instructions for the set-up and still visible while the picture is visible! This is great.

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Following the set-up is an immediate description of the Sidekicks and Superheroes and which ones fit together (see below). I think this is important because it avoids “bad combos” (each player chooses one Sidekick and Superhero to play) right up front, while still having a quick thematic discussion.

The next pages talk immediately how to win and how to lose and a discussion of the rules.

These (above) are VERY GOOD discussion of rules! Any fact that is “tangential but still important” appears in red, to let you know this is an “exceptional” piece of information, but doesn’t require quite as much processing from the read just yet (it”ll be more important when you are looking up exceptions).

The next few pages then discuss combat with some VERY GOOD examples:

Then finally, after playing actions, it discusses the end phase:

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The rest of the rulebook has a FAQ for all characters … since this is a variable player power game, where each player has very different powers, it is really nice to have someplace to look up the special rules for each character!

And that’s it for the rules! The rest of the rulebook is thematic dicussion: each of the characters has a lot of “flavor text” and flavor stuff:

You’ll notice we spent a lot of time on this rulebook!  We did because it was so good!  This is one of the better rulebooks I have read in a while.  And like all good rulebooks, it ends on the back cover with a quick reference guide.

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Set-Up

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The game, with that great rulebook, was really easy to set-up!  See above.

The one thing that’s important for set-up is that you might actually need all your standees (whether they are cardboard or Acrylic) because you will be randomly drawing a Bad Guy and you could need any of the standees.  So, you’ll notice Tokyo Sidekick takes up my entire table: The left side has the box and standees “ready to go” and the right side has the game board and components.

Solo Game

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Congratulations to Tokyo Sidekick for following Saunders’ Law!  Tokyo Sidekick has a viable solo mode.  It’s essentially “play like there are two players playing, where the solo player operates two teams of Sidekick/Superheroes”!  There’s not a lot of changes: in fact, the only real change is that you have to use the 2-Player side of the main board (as notated in the lower left corner, see below).

When we reviewed Disney Sidekicks, we lamented the lack of a solo mode, but we were able to make a go at it with a “play as if 2 players” solo mode: that means operating two teams in the game.  That seemed harder in that game for some reason than here!  Even though Tokyo Sidekicks is arguably more difficult than the mass-market Disney Sidekicks, it seemed easier to play two teams!  I would argue that part of this was simply the rulebook: The Disney Sidekicks rulebook was not good, but the Tokyo Sidekicks was great.  Knowing what the rules are and how to find them makes all the difference.

In my first solo game, I played the teams on ONI/Jinx Cat and Sumauriman/Kevin Park.  See overall picture above and separate pictures below.

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Team of ONI and Jinx Cat!

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The game does take up a lot of space on the board, but it was managable.

My very first solo game of Tokyo Sidekick was absolutely fantastic! I initially raced around the board cleaning up little Incidents.. this part reminds me of Pandemic: most turns, some bad news (Incidents) comes out that pollutes a Location and players need to (eventually) deal with them. Dealing with these like the Medic in Pandemic was necessary for three reasons! One, if you don’t keep the Incidents under control, you can lose. Two, I wasn’t strong enough to take on the villain yet so I had to do something, and Three, I needed the EXP (experience points) from the Incidents to advance!

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Above, you can see one of the Incidents you have to clean up! If you go to Meguro and discard two S (speed) energy, you make that go away AND get 2 EXP!!

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The upgrade board (above) allows you to continually upgrade your character through the game.  You can get better cards, better multipliers, better team bonuses, activate specials, and all sorts of things!  

As the game progresses, you deal with 2 Villains, then 2+ SuperVillains, then finally the big boss at the end, the Menace!  In my game, the final menace was Godzilla!

I just barely won on the very last action of my last turn!  I was able to take advantage of ONI’s teleport power to get enough heroes and sidekick there.  Then, we did a final massive assault to take down Godzilla on the last turn!

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What made this so great was that the game rewards heroes teaming up in combat with Sidekick bonuses, and the Family Bonus!  The only way to stop the final menace was to throw everything at it as a team!  And there were enough rewards to working AS A TEAM to pull off the final defeat (barely)!

Cooperative Play

Cooperative play worked really well: we had to talk about when to take care of incidents, when to fight, when to team-up, when to cull, how to upgrade.  There was a lot of talk at the table: in a good way!  “How are we going to get this?  You have to take this incident or we lose!”

Advancement

I think one of the best parts of the game is the advancement or upgrade as you play.  Most things you do gives you EXP (experience points):

  1. taking care of an Incident (2 EXP)
  2. shattering defense of an enemy (3 EXP)
  3. killing enemy (3 EXP)

This EXP can be spent in some many ways to make your character better!  As you play the game, YOU get to decide how to make your character better!

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The upgrade board shows the cost of all the different upgrades on th right hand side:  Better energy cards!  Upgraded special abiltities!  Upgraded multipliers on energy cards!  Upgraded Sidekick bonus!  Upgraded Sidekick!

In general, as you are playing, you are always spending your EXP to make upgrade choices!  This is fun (and necessary) making your character(s) strongly for the final confrontation!  I just had a blast choosing how to upgrade as I played.

Deck-Building

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We alluded to this earlier in this review, but the game also has some deck-building to it.  Your player starts with mostly “single” energy cards, but can upgrade to the double or even triple energy cards during upgrades!  

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There’s also Damage cards (see above) that will go into your deck (like Wounds in Legendary or other deck-builders): all they do is clog your deck up so that you may have fewer energy cards on your turn.

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One of the fundamental actions you can do is Brush-Up (or cull) your energy deck: see above.  Basically, there is a somewhat of a notion of deck-building in this game.  What kind of deck-builder are you? A culler?  Get best cards as fast as you can?  Do you want a light/fast energy deck?  It’s just another way you can make choices in the game: How do you build your energy deck.

Little Touches

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There are just so many little touches that make this game good. Take a look at the incident card above.  One of the problems I had initially in the game was that I couldn’t find cities easily on the map (there are a lot of cities on the map and I don’t know Japan very well). But if you look closely at the Incident card, it shows a little map on the card with a red dot showing where the city is on the map!   That’s a little touch that makes the game that much easier to play! A nice touch.

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This is something I alluded to in the Rulebook section, but the rulebook with it’s “red notes” was very well done.  The Brush-Up rule is described fairly well. (See Above)  The red section describes edge conditions and clarifications:  you probably won’t need it on your first read, but when you come back through the rulebook looking for exceptions/clarifications, the red text will make a lot more sense!  As a reader of the rulebook, I realized quickly the red sections aren’t super important on the first read, but later reads/lookups were critical!  It was a way to tell the reader “hey, this is a clarification/you can skip it until you need it”.   A nice touch.

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A lot of things were labelled on the board: the “Bad News” section (in red and yellow) notates how the Bad News works with just a few icons.  A nice touch.

The tokens and cardboard standees were already punched out for us.  A nice touch.

Min-Max Rule vs. Fun Breezy Rule

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I was ready to declare Tokyo Sidekicks my game of the year after my first solo play: I had so much fun!  The game is is so well put together!  The components!  The choices! The advancement.  Then, I brought it to my friends and I realized I had been playing one rule wrong AT THAT MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE!

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When I played my first game, I thought that the 2x multiplier for an energy type applied to ALL ENERGY TRANSACTIONS WITH THAT.  For example, ONI (above) starts with a 2X in Concentration (and can upgrade his Power to 2x, Speed to 2x, or even Concentration to 3x).  Well, it’s easier to see on the card zoomed in, but THE MULTIPLIER ONLY APPLIES TO COMBAT!  To be fair, the rules do say that too.

If you look at a player board above, they have a list of all the operations you can perform: most of them require energy.  I thought the 2x or 3x multipliers applied to any of those.  Nope, just the Combat.

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So, me and my friends ended up playing with the proper rule and got our butts handed to us: the Super Villain that came out brought 3 Red Incidents, and we already had 2 and we just lost about halfway through the game.  See above: the red Incidents were out of control!!!  With this one little rule change, our decks got clogged, we had trouble moving around the board,  we had turns where we didn’t do much, and we had very little agency to keep the incidents under control:  IT WASN’T FUN.   The ability to use the 2x/3x multipliers on movement and incidents made the game FUN, because you always felt like you were a powerful superhero who could do something.

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SO, we resolved to play cooperatively again with the simple house rule: the multipliers can be applied to any (of the appropriate) energy cards.  See us setting up above:

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.. and see us BARELY winning (above) on the very last turn.  Seriously, if we didn’t defeat Godzilla on the last turn, we were going to lose about 3 different ways: Godzilla advances too far, Damage Deck runs out, Incidents Track reached end.  This was so thematic: we saved the world at the last possible moment!!! That was fun! Heroic! So cool!  High Fives All Around!

We discussed this House Rule for quite a while after playing both ways: why does this make such a big deal? If we Min-Maxed, and watched every turn, counted every movement, preplanned for the upcoming incidents, preplanned for every combat, we might have been able to win.  My friends said straight up: “I don’t want to play this game if it’s a Min-Max game, but I liked it with our House Rule: That was much more fun!”

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I propose the following:

  • Min-Max Puzzle Game: If you want the hard-core, difficult game of Tokyo Sidekick where every single action matters: play with the rules as written.  I haven’t won yet, but could be an interesting and very thinky puzzle.
  • Fun and More Breezy Game: If you want a game where you feel like you are breezing around the board like a Superhero with a lot of agency and fun, HOUSE RULE so that the multipliers DO NOT just apply to Combat, but to all actions (of the appropriate energy type).

This one rule seemed to make all the difference to me and my group: the game seemed  too much without this one rule.

Conclusion

Tokyo Sidekick was my almost my favorite game so far this year … until I realized I had been playing it wrong.   I think the House Rule we proposed made the game more light and breezy and frankly more fun and is frankly necessary for me to recommend it.

In general, everything worked so well.  The rulebook was well-written and allowed the game to flow!  The components (especially the Acrylic Standees) just made the game pop on the table!  The gameplay was simple, but had lots of subtleties to learn over time!  The upgrade system made the game fun to play as you always felt like you were advancing your character as you played!  The teamwork bonuses were encouraging!  The battles at the end-game were Epic!  The final battle was always a  “stand-up and cheer” when you win!

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The thing is, I don’t even really like anime (I don’t dislike it, I am just not into it).  If you think I am recommending this game only because of the anime part, you are mistaken!  The game is just well-crafted (the rules, the little touches) and works so well.  If you like anime, I suspect you may even like even more.

I love this game and would give Tokyo Sidekick an 8.5 out of 10 … but only with our House Rule.  With that one rule straight up as written, this would probably be a 6.5: it was too hard and not fun.  I look forward to getting it to the table again with our House Rules.  I feel like this will be an evergreen solo game for me:  I just want to play it all the time.  There’s just so much good gameplay and variety.

Appendix 1: Putting Everything Away

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The box I had was great, because the little foam insert on the left (see above) allows the Acrylic Standees to go back into the box.  As you can, the game BARELY fits into the box: there’s only 32 spaces for the 40 Acrylic Standees, so they big ones had to be placed elsewhere in the box.

Luckily, the Kickstarter bonus stuff ALSO fits in the box.

What you have leftover is a tiny box and Arcylic Standee holder you don’t need anymore.

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Appendix 2: You Can’t Unsee This

Don’t read past this point unless you really want to …

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The slip cover of the game seems to suggest an older cartoon. The orange girl … looks like Velma. Then the purple girl looks like Daphne. The dog becomes Scooby Doo. The cute bear becomes Scrappy Doo, the serious guy with the gun becomes Fred, the mop-top guy is Shaggy, the apparition becomes the”ghost” (monster of the week), and the white-haired guy becomes the park keeper who “would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for the meddling kids”. (The fist fellow must be the guest star of the week).

Seriously: The slip cover strongly suggests Scooby-Doo. I told you not to read further, now you can’t unsee that!

Top 10 Cooperative Party Games

What’s a party game? A party game is usually a casual game you can pull out with a fairly large group of friends and jump right into! We’ve only recently (say in the past few years) been able to play cooperative party games! That’s right! Players work together in a big group! There’s now enough cooperative party games out there that we can put together a top 10 list!

Each party game below will show the Player Count, Ages, and Time, but Time is relative, as many party games you are “play until you get sick of them”! Most cooperative party games on here are of type Cooperative Guessing, but there are a few oddballs out (which we will note)!

10. Unlock: Escape Adventures

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Player Count: 1-6 (1-4 for some)
Ages: 10+
Time: About 1 hour for most
Type: Escape Room

Unlock: Escape Adventures are little mini-escape rooms that take about an hour to play.  They are pretty straight-forward and easy to jump into, as an App on your phone or tablet runs the adventure for the group.  They can be be great fun as players work together to solve all kinds of mysteries!  There are (at the time of this writing) 27 adventures over many sets (see above).  Unlock made the #1 spot on our Top 10 Cooperative Games With Apps here!

The only reason this is #10 on our list is that sometimes these escape rooms don’t work as well in larger groups: the clue cards are hard to share among many people, or some players may tend to take over and solve everything.  If your group dynamics allow, these Unlock games can be great party games!

9. Mystery Detective

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Player Count: 2-20
Ages: 14+
Time: ??? until you get tired of it
Type: Cooperative Guessing

Mystery Detective is the formalized version of a game I have played on many car trips: someone describes a situation, and you have to figure what it is.  For example: “Santa Claus is dead: what happened?”   Players ask open-ended questions trying to figure out why Santa died. In this case, there a little pictures on cards, and players asked questions about the pictures (see below).

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This is a silly, open-ended game that is really fun on long car-trips (because you just describe the scene) and everyone can ask questions.  It’s a little lower on the list because not everyone loves this open-ended questions game.

8. Fiesta De Los Muertos

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Player Count: 4-8
Ages: 12+
Time: 15 minutes (or until you get tired of it)
Type: Cooperative Guessing

Fiesta De Los Muertos is like a lot of cooperative games on this list: you write words on cards, trying to get everyone to guess the original word (which is always a person: the theme has to do with dead people in the Day of the Dead).  As you play, you erase the previous word and write a new word that makes you “think” of the word you just erased.  At the very end, the original words are presented, and players have to guess the original word that started everything!  

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In some ways, this is like cooperative Telestrations or “The Telephone game” you played as a kid.  It would be a little higher on the list, but it’s harder to get a hold of.

7. 5-Minute Marvel

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Player Count: 2-5
Ages: 8+
Time: 5 minutes per game (30 minutes for all 6 bosses)
Type: Real-time Pattern Match/Asymmetric Powers

5-Minute Marvel is an oddball on our party list because most cooperative party games have some word-guessing.  In this card game, players have special powers and try to play cards to take down the current villain: By matching the symbols on your cards to symbols on the bad guy (see below for example), players work together to try to take down said bad guy!

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It’s silly fun and easy to play up to 5 people!  And, you can keep playing, fighting bad guy after bad guy until you get to Thanos!

6. Muse

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Player Count: 4-12 (competitive) 2-3 (cooperative)
Ages: 10+
Time: 30 minutes
Type: Cooperative Guessing

Muse is a little different than most games on this list: it’s only cooperative at 2-3 players, but it’s still a great party game at 4-12 players!  We originally reviewed it here!  In this game, players try to guess the appropriate piece of art chosen by a chooser, but obscured by other pieces of art in the mix.

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There’s also some silly rules which govern what you can guess: “Strike a pose”, “Name a non-fictional sport or sport-team”, and other silly things.  The art on this game is fantastic and really helps bring you in.   This is a fun cooperative party game for the end of the night when you have a smaller group, still want a cooperative game, but want the casualness of as party game.

5. Master Word

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Player Count: 3-6
Ages: 12+
Time: 15 minutes
Type: Cooperative Guessing

We originally reviewed Master Word here and it also made our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2020!  This is essentially MasterMind meets a word game!  One player has to try to get the other players (working together) to guess the word he chose!

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The components are really nice, with the cards allowing them to written on with dry-erase markers.  We have also had some success playing this online over discord!  Only one player needs to have a copy!

4. Letter Jam

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Player Count: 2-6 
Ages: 10+
Time: 45 Minutes
Type: Cooperative Guessing

Like so many other games on this list, this is a cooperative guessing game with words!  In this game, a player chooses a word, only now letters of the word are missing!  

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The poker chips that come with the game are surprisingly hefty and kind of make the game just a little better!

3. So Clover

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Player Count: 3-6
Ages: 10+
Time: 30 minutes (or until you get tired of it)
Type: Cooperative Guessing

So Clover is another word guessing game.  Each player puts cards on a clover, and has to write one-word clues to try to connect two words together.    

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The cards are then shuffled, leaving only the “one-word clues” and players have to guess how the cards fit together on the clover!  Everyone gets a chance to be the clue giver, and everyone else has to try to guess!  This is silly fun that has become very popular in my game groups!

2. Cross Clues

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Player Count: 2-6
Ages: 7+
Time: 10 minutes
Type: Cooperative Guessing

Cross Clues is another cooperative word guessing game where one player gives a clue trying to tie together two words in a grid (on the edges), and the rest try to figure out where in the grid it is!

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This is a timed guessing game, but we almost never never play with the timer.  This has been a lot of fun and an interesting twist on cooperative word guessing games, as the words are in the edges of the grid!

1. Just One

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Player Count: 3-7 (officially), 2 – 10 (unofficially)
Ages: 8+
Time: 20 minutes (or until you get tired of it)
Type: Cooperative Guessing

Just One is a party game that has worked for me in just about every party situation!  It’s worked with gamers, non-gamers, family, and even over Discord and Zoom!  It’s by far my most favorite party game: It also made our Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online!

This is another word-guessing game: Players work together to try to get the “guesser” to guess the word!  One player (the guesser) chooses a word (without seeing it) and all other players come up with words to try to get the guesser to guess the word!  The twist is that any clues that are the same cancel out, so you end up having to think “different” to come up with clues.

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We just played Just One last night with a group of 10 people: a couple of people paired up and all seven guessing boards were used every round (the guesser simply passes his guessing board to someone who doesn’t have one).  Doing this, you can expand the player count out just a little bit more!

A Review of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (The Board Game)

So, let’s be clear here: this is a review of the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns The Board Game (from Cryptozoic Games); this is not a review of the seminal work by Frank Miller.  The Dark Knight Returns is arguably some of Frank Miller’s best work (along with Ronin and his runs on Daredevil).  The Dark Knight Returns (originally a 4 issue mini-series, but usually found in full graphic novel) follows an aging Batman as he strives to protect an older Gotham from his main villains.  It’s a very dark and very graphic re-imagining of the Batman universe, and it’s strongly recommended for very mature audiences.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns The Board Game takes the story from Frank Miller’s work and turns it into a game. The game is broken up into 4 issues (see above), paralleling the original release of The Dark Knight Returns. In each issue, you play through the corresponding story from the original issues of the mini-series.

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This is a solo adventure game with a 2-Player versus mode included (tacked-on?).

Unboxing

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This solo game is enormous! Now, granted, I am showing the deluxe Kickstarter version (see above for scale with a coke can), but wow. Wait until you see the whole thing on the table later.

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It almost looks like a bookcase game or a World Atlas! It’s in a giant hard slip case and contains two boxes.

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It’s hard to tell from the pictures above, but the main box has some neat detail on it (see below):

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This is truly a deluxe package.

Now, what’s in the two different cases?  The first box has the miniatures (if you get the non-deluxe version, you get cardboard standees instead, see later).

These are pretty nice miniatures. They reflect Frank Miller’s style, which is a little messy, so maybe they don’t make the greatest miniatures. But they are very thematic.

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As usual, I encourage people to use their phone to take pictures of the layout because once you take out all the minis, it’s a pain to get them back in.

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Helpful tip: the game has a lot of components and doesn’t fit back in the box well, so I took advantage of the extra space UNDERNEATH the miniatures and put the plastic bases (for the cardboard) underneath so I can always find them if I need them. I also put a reminder in my box so I know there is stuff underneath the minis.

The second box comes with the rest of the game.

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I’m trying desperately to indicate HOW BIG these rulebooks and boxes are with another Coke can for scale! The main rulebook (on top) is enormous! The main rulebook doubles as Issue #1, then Issues #2 , #3, and #4 come out as well as a one-shot scenario/PVP mode book. Overall, there are 5 very large books! See below.

Underneath the books are the game board and the punchouts.

Some of these punchouts will be unnecessary since we have the miniatures (basically the minis are the characters and a few cool items).

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3 Pages of punchouts (see above)

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One enormous board … it barely fits on my table! Again, Coke can included for scale. See above.

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Underneath the board and punchouts are the cards, dice, plastic bases, dice bag and … a dry-erase marker? Yes, the game board itself is for dry-erase! This is a “soft” legacy game where you will be drawing on the board and changing Gotham city (with your marker) as you progress through the 4 issues. It’s “soft” legacy because you can always reset everything by erasing the marker (and resetting the decks).

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Underneath the dice bag are (shockingly) a bunch of dice. See above.

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Perhaps the coolest component in the game are the solo player’s little “bat-dice”! They are 6-sided dice with little bat-wings (so bat-dice). They function essentially as 4-sided dice, but they look a whole lot cooler with the little wings! The blue dice are the base dice and the other colors are upgrades you can earn/buy as you play through the four issues of the game.

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What’s a little weird is the symbols on the dice feel more “Adam West” kitschy Batman with POW! BLOCK! and RAM! symbols. I mean, The Dark Knight Returns is arguably the darkest Batman and these kitschy symbols feel a little out of place in the Dark Knight game? Or am I being too picky?

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There are a lot of other dice in the game, but each issue chooses which ones are apropos (see upper left: notice that I am storing most of the dice in the place where the plastic bases were …)

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Most of the rest of the components are card decks. The first four are for issues 1, 2, 3, 4 (see the little number in the lower right). The other two decks are shared decks for all games (VS decks for the 2-player versus mode and S cards for shared cards for most games).

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Each issue has cards with Frank Miller art apropos to that issues. See above for some cards from Issue 1.

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Finally are some large cards and plastic stands. The large cards are summary cards and story cards for each issue.

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Overall, the components for this game look really nice and thematic (as long as you like Frank Miller art: his art can be polarizing).

Rulebook

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The rulebook is prettty good. But it’s not great.

The first page, the table of contents, belies the complexity of this game: this is a complex game. See all the rules and sections?

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The next page shows the Components, but it suffers from the same problem as Deep Space – D6: Armada from last week! It DOES NOT label the components!! In a game full of components, you have to guess what components are what. It’s a little better than Armada in that at least the named components are on the same page as a picture, but they don’t correlate them!!! Which is which? It’s not the end of the world, but it was slightly annoying.

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The next page is actually incredibly helpful, as you see what components and what dice correspond to what issue! They aren’t all labelled (grumble) but at least it does help you figure out what issue will need what.

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Above describes the steps to take to get going …

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AH! Finally! A full two-page spread on what everything looks like! Okay, this helps put everything together.

From here on out, the rulebook is pretty good: lots of examples.  There are still questions I have even after playing through (What do you do if you get press on your Location?  Does something bad happen? Do you have to move away immediately?), but in general most of my questions were answered.

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Rulebook was fine but I want to reiterate HOW LARGE IT IS! See above. It’s harder to keep this at the table while you play. See below.

Keeping 2 pages of the rulebook open while trying to play took up almost my entire table: see above.

Rulebook overall was pretty good.

Set-Up

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Set-up was a bit of a bear as I tried to have the rulebook open and set-up everything. Note that the above is a FAILED attempt to set things up .. why? Because I have to put cards to the right and left of the board! I need space on both the left and right edges!

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The set-up above is a successful attempt! I have the rulebook, and minis on the left side of the table, tokens in the middle, and the game board with cards along all edges off the the right. Make no mistake about it: this game will take up all the space you give it!

Solo Play

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This is a solo adventure game. (Well, there’s a tacked on VS mode, but I doubt I’ll ever play it). Batman needs to survive all 4 issues to win. Ya, the rulebook is a bit of a downer: the game is not about winning but surviving until the end. There are many ways to lose:

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One: If any of your health/grit/sanity reach 0, you lose (see above, I’m not doing so well at the end of the issue 1).

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Two: If the doomsday clock ever hits 12, you lose.

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Three: If you haven’t found and defeated the main villain (see above) by the end of round 16, you lose. See the round tracker (called GCPD Track) below.

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At the end of your game, you KEEP everything the way it was: your health/grit/sanity, the set-up of the board, the paths you have created, and some things on the GCPD track.  

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As you play, you can achieve some goals which help you: the goals above allow you to upgrade your “bat-dice” to get better ones. These upgrades follow you as well.

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As you explore the city, you move to locations and activate “one” of the three symbols on the location you land on. For example, above, Monolith Square has 3 actions: heal 1 health (red heart), heal 1 sanity (green cowl), or 1 grit (blue figure). Selina’s Apartment has 3 actions, but 1 is blocked by a COP (blue police badge), so you can’t do anything on that space until you fight the COP (using your bat dice). If you do get rid of the COP, you can either use Selina’s Apt. to get rid of 1 press token (green TV, a bad guy) or get rid of 1 mutant (red figure, a bad guy).

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You might also notice there are lots of “connecting lines” on the board: when you first start the game, the track around Gotham is VERY linear! As Batman “explores” the city (after every 4th round or special actiobs), he can draw find a new path (represented by the solo player connecting any two city Locations). There are some limiting rules for those connections, but in general, it allows you to make Gotham easier to get around. This is the “soft” legacy part we talked about in the Component Section.

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns The Board Game is an exploration game as you explore the city and looks for things: (new goals, routes, scenario-specific items). It’s also a combat game (with dice for combat). It also feels a little like Pandemic (in some ways) as every turn, some bad guys will appear somewhere on the board and cause mischief.

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Where do the “bad guys” come out? This is where Batman: The Dark Knight Returns The Board Game is different: you know HOW MANY and WHERE the bad guys will come out! The round marker (above) shows where the bad guy come out: In round 13 (above), 2 mutants come out in the Upper East (UE) part of the map. You can use this forward data to inform how you play!

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There are a lot of complex rules for combat (how gangs come out, how they affect combat, how adjacent bad guys affect you, etc), but at the end of the day, it’s about rolling dice based on the number of enemies on your (and adjacent) locations. BAMs do damage, but BLOCKS will block a BAM and there are some other rules. In the above combat, Two-Face has 5 hit points as Batman has to POW him 5 times to win the issue! But of course, Two-Face gets his own dice which does dastardly things too …

Again, you don’t “win” this game, you survive to the end. You explore the city, find paths, keep the city under control (by limiting Press, Cops, Mutants, and Gangs), and fight bad guys. And sometimes you have the help of some allies. In Issue #1, Commisioner Gordon is VERY useful at keeping the Press under control (see below).

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Choices

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There are a lot of weird and interesting choices in this game.  And I mean that sincerely.  Some of them I really liked and some just seem weird/random to me.

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A choice that’s weird happens during set-up and bad news: Whenever you put a bad guy (Cop, Mutant or Press) on the board, you get a lot of “choices” where to put it.  In Pandemic, you know EXACTLY where a disease goes!! But in Batman: Dark Knight Returns The Board Game, you are just told “a region”.  Something like Upper East. Midtown, Lower West.  Not the “Selina’s Apt” Location, not the “Gotham Police Station” Location, but a region? You choose where in a region.  So you get a lot of choice.  And it freaked me out a little at first.

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Even weirder is that if there are multiple slots open on a Location (remember, there are three slots per Location), you choose which of the three slots!  So the Cop above went in “one” of the Spots on Coventry, but I got to choose?

I am not sure if this is brilliant or lazy.   

It could be brilliant because it lets players have “so much more choice” when they place bad guys.  Players control where Bad Guys go, so it’s their fault if they lose!  They had the choice!!  That’s cool, right?

But it also seems lazy as it seems very athematic: “I am the solo player choosing where Bad Guys go? Wait, I am fighting these guys!!  Shouldn’t the engine of the game do this?”  The designers don’t have to come up with some complex mechanism or AI to place the Bad Guys: they just point to  region.

I honestly don’t know what I think of this.  It just seems weird to me.

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One choice I really like, however, is choosing Bad News/Good New Cards! See above!! The game gives you 12 cards per turn: the top portion of every card is GOOD NEWS (helps the Hero) and the bottom of the card is BAD NEWS (hurts the Hero). Four of these cards must be chosen for the Bad News parts and the other eight are chosen for the the Hero’s Good News part (Detective or Fight). You get 3 cards at a time, keeping 2 as good news, 1 for the bad news. See above.

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This mechanism is really cool because it forces the solo to choose which Bad News and Good News you get during the game!! Of course, each issue has its own notion of good news and bad news cards (as well as some standard), so every game will be very different.

This mechanism seems thematic for The Dark Knight: a dark Batman knows that every action has consequences (both good and bad), and choosing the best path forward will require dealing with both sides of the issue. Sometimes Batman will have to embrace a very harsh reality to save the world.

And I think that’s why I love the “choose Bad News/Good News” cards and not the the “choose Region for Bad Guys” mechanism. The former seems thematic, the latter does not.

Still, both mechanisms are very interesting and force the solo player to take responsibility for their actions. Like I said, weird choices.

Reaction

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It took a while to get into this. There are a lot of rules. There are a lot of choices. There is a lot of set-up. There is a fair amount of maintenance per turn (but not too much). And the combat is pretty complicated once more and more bad guys come out.

In the end, however, there are were some interesting decisions. I remember in my first game: I choose to wait until the VERY LAST turn to fight Two-Face because I had to make sure I had one last Goal/Upgrade for my “bat dice”. And you know what? I think that made all the difference! I beat Two-Face on the very last turn!

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As I played the game, I felt I could generally do something interesting/helpful every turn; so I always felt like I was making progress. And everything I did (both the weird decisions and other decisions) seemed to be important.

It was fun to agonize over decisions, knowing they all would have some effect, but knowing that we needed to move on!

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The nice thing is, as a solo game, you can have as much Analysis Paralysis as you want!  If you wish to try to play the perfect game and make the perfect decision, that’s your choice.  But the lesson of the game—the lesson of The Dark Knight Returns—is that sometimes you have to make decisions that you don’t like or even hate … just to move forward.  And that was really the coolest part of the game. That theme really came out.

Legacy and Color Palette

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As we’ve alluded to several times, this is a “soft” legacy game.  There are 4 issues to play through, and you save most of your state between issues.  The game recommends keeping everything set-up.

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As I’ve tried very hard to tell you, this game is huge and it completely takes over your table!  See above!  I think you can only leave it set-up for further plays if you have a very dedicated space.

The other alternative is to take a picture of the board (that’s what the rules say) and set it up later. See below.

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Heres’ the issue with that: it’s kinda hard to see where the bad guys are! Sure, it’s not too bad, but the little triangle bad guys don’t “jump out” on the board.  They seem to blend into the board.

This is actually a minor criticism I had of the game.  The color scheme seems … off.  I don’t like the colors they have chosen and how they all fit together.  The Dark Knight Returns comic has a very clear color palette and I don’t think this game embraces that palette very well.   It kind of looks like a mess on the board.  It’s functional, and I can get stuff done, but I feel like this could have been better. What do you think?  See below.

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Having said that, I do like the fact that this is a continuing story, every choice matters, and I really like the “Batman finds paths though the city” (by drawing on the board) as you play.  I think that drawing on the board, with a dry-erase marker, worked well as a legacy mechanic.

Conclusion

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns The Board Game is a massive game: it will take over your table and take over your life! It’s a solo game that will bring you into the agonizing world of Batman: the difficult (and sometime morally grey) choices of Batman in the The Dark Knight Returns comics are reflected here in this solo game.

I don’t love everything about this game (there’s a lot of weird decisions and a lot of rules), but I do love the theme. I don’t always want to visit the dark, depressing world of Batman from The Dark Knight Returns, but when I want that challenge and that world, this game really delivers.

A Review of Deep Space – D6: Armada

Deep Space – D6: Armada is a cooperative dice placement game that was on Kickstarter back in January 2020 and fullfilled to its backers fairly recently (today’s date in March 19, 2022) … I think.  Strictly speaking, I didn’t back this on Kickstarter: I ended up getting it from one of the Kickstarter backers who got it pretty recently.  I have really been enjoying cooperative dice placement games lately (see our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021), and it has a Star Trek theme, so I thought I needed to give it another look.

This is a cooperative game for 1-4 players based somewhat on the mechanics of Deep Space:D6, the solo game. Deep Space – D6: Armada is the fully cooperative game for 1-4 players: it’s a cooperative dice placement game where each player takes control of a ship and crew and explores/fights around the very small galaxy.

Unboxing

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Deep Space – D6: Armada is a beautiful game!  The stark white graphic design is very eye-popping.

There are a lot of tokens to punch out: see above.

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Each player takes control of a ship with 6 stations you can upgrade: notice how nice the dual-layered boards are (above and below):

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There are quite a number of cards for events, ships, and away missions:

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Above, you can see the crew cards (crew upgrades for your ship at the far left), enemies (middle) and away missions (far right).  The crew give you extra dice for fighting and away missions: note the away missions are very much a dice placement thing!

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Each ship has a nice little wood token.  The red tokens are pairwise tokens for notating what planets have what fleets.

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But the cornerstone of this dice placement game: the dice.  The white dice are “basic crew dice” that each ship starts with, and the colored dice are crew upgrades which give more dice!

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Overall, the components are pretty amazing: lots of cardboard, cards, and dice!

There are a lot of components for this game, some of them don’t come out until later!

Rulebook

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The rulebook for this game … needs work.  

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The first page has a table of contents and a list of components.

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But take a look at the list of components!  There is NO picture!  There are SO MANY components in this game and I have no idea what’s what!  At some point, the only way I figured out what the components were was by COUNTING THE NUMBER OF TOKENS!  This is a major misstep in a game with so many components.

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The next page was okay, talking about the components a little further.  But is doesn’t say WHAT to set initially shields and hull to!  Do you start at 0 or full?  We guessed they were full up?

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The next two pages are the set-up!  This is probably the most important two pages! You get to correlate what some of the components are, you can see how everything fits together. If I didn’t have these two pages, I might have thrown this game away.

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So, the next few pages give you an overall sense of the game.   They are okay.

It’s just … so many times, we had questions about issues in the game, and we couldn’t find elaborations or clarifications.  I mean, most of the rules seemed to be in the book.

There’s even a nice back page:

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There is however, a FAQ here that helps: https://www.tauleadergames.com/armada-faq

And another errata on BGG: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2740145/official-faq-game

Look, I got through the rulebook.  I was grumpy when I couldn’t find a clarification, but I was able to get through some solo and cooperative games.  I think this rulebook needs another pass.

Solo Rules

Congratulations on following Saunders’ Law and having a solo mode!

Warning! The Solo Rules card do not correspond to the rulebook!

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You are supposed to have 2 Threat Detected Cards Per Turn, not 1!  The rulebook says 2 (and it’s correct according to the FAQ) even though the “solo rules” card says Just 1 Threat Detected.

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When all set-up, it looks pretty cool on the table.    I spent about 3 to 3.5 hours playing the AG-01 ship. It seemed a bit long and bit random (foreshadowing), but I had fun.  The first few turns weren’t as fun, because I couldn’t do as much as much (because I was weak, fewer thing were out).  Once the game got going, it was fun!

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Once I got the 4 microchips collected (above: these are prizes from success on Away Missions), I triggered the endgame … In order to win, you collect 4 of them and depending on what you collect, you trigger a different endgame!