A Review of Roll Camera!

Roll Camera! is a cooperative dice-placement game for 1-4 players (ages 10+) lasting about 45-90 minutes.

This game was originally on Kickstarter, but I didn’t pick it up there: I saw a copy of the game and it looked real interesting, so I went looking for it! The only place I found it was funagain.com and was luckily able to get the Clapper box edition:

As ridiculous as it sounds, the Clapper box version got us “into” the game: I can’t tell you how often we would open the box and say “Action!” with the little box (see above). At the time of this writing, the clapper version is sold out, but you can still get the standard edition.

Unboxing

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This game has really cute art with a … bean theme? The name of the company is Keen Bean …

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The components are very high quality! From the Clapper to the insides. The game is packed very nicely in the box (see below)

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The main components come out easily (see above).

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The little yellow plastic insert has the rest of the components. You can see the player boards are easy to read (and even have “spot” highlights to make it look a little nicer). Under the player boards are …

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The cards and dice (and the spinner) and in the rest of the box. All of the cards and components are easy to read and very thematic with beans making movies. (Not a sentence I thought I’d utter very often).

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The cardboard punchouts are mostly the bluish locations are for “set pieces”. There’s also some blocked pieces, and a … a bean.

The rulebook is linen finished and really easy to read.

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The spinner maintains two important notions in the game: the schedule (how many turns the games lasts) and the budget (how much money you have to shoot):

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The spinner is easy to set-up: when you turn it over, you see how to set the difficulty:

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The cards are very nice and linen finished.

Overall, the components for this game are lovely, consistent, and easy to read.

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I was pleasantly surprised how cute and how good the components were!

The Rulebook

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The rulebook is very good: it’s linen-coated! It is also incredibly thematic … it looks like a script with typewriter font! Luckily, that typewriter font is easy to read: see below.

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The rulebook follows the format of all good rulebooks: Overview (above), Components (below) and then Set-Up (further below).

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The next page (above) lists components: easy-to-read and easy-to-correlate pieces. Note the use of color to help distinguish pieces and cards.

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The Set-Up is easy to read and is well-notated. I had no problem setting up the game.

I freely admit our first look at this rulebook was intimidating: it has 22 pages!! (24 if you count back and cover). We were going to play at the end of the night, but we were too tired and intimidated to try.

Here’s the thing: this was a very good rulebook. There’s a lot of text, but it’s well-written and has enough pictures to illustrate it’s points.

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I read the rulebook and didn’t struggle at all. It’s a little long, but once you learn the game, it’s easy to teach others and you don’t really need the rulebook except for a few questions.

Great rulebook: linen-finish, big-easy-to-read font, and lots of illustrations. The rulebook looks more intimidating than it is, but it’s quite good.

Solo Game

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This game adheres to Saunders’ Law: it has well-stated solo rules! See the little blurb above! Once you learn the core rules, there’s just a minor change (discard 2P+ cards).

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The game is easy to set-up and play solo. I was able to learn the game well enough to teach multiple game groups. It’s also pretty fun solo.

Gameplay

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Roll Camera! is a cooperative dice-placement game.

On a player’s turn, they roll the dice and place them on the board, activating actions to help the movie to get made.

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To win the game, you need to film 5 scenes and have either a quality movie, or a movie so bad it’s good! You need to do this before you run out of time and money. The little meter at the right edge of the board represents the film’s quality.

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The worst thing you can do is make a mediocre movie, so if you do film 5 scenes, the quality needs to be out of the pink zone in order to win.

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In order to film a scene, you need to put out some set pieces (see above) and place dice appropriately on them.

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To film the above scene, we need some set pieces on the middle of the board with the dice (rotated in any way except mirror image):

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Note that we can only place dice if there are “blue” places on the set. Above, we have filmed the scene!

In general, the spinners have the basic flow of the game:

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The problem cards go at the top of the board and “mess with you” (like most cooperative games, it’s the Bad News deck):

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See above for sample problem. There are several ways to deal with problems, usually involved with placing you dice on space. The earlier you get rid of a problem, the easier it is to deal with.

Special Powers

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So, every player in the game has special powers depending on their role.  This goes a long way towards making this game more fun.  For example, I played the Cinematographer, and he can spend just 1 CAMERA die to discard any problem (the Cinematographer is a “problem solver”): can also turn any die to a LIGHT or CAMERA (at the cost of another die).  Each player has very different powers!   

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I wanted to point out that the player summary cards are specific to each player: this is fantastic! Usually, player summary cards are generic and describe the game, but Roll Camera! is specific! *Applause!* I think more cooperative variable player power games should do this!

Player Privilege

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And … each player also has a “Player Privilege”. This is a meta-game ability that has NO EFFECT on the gameplay but makes the game silly. The Director (side A above, side B is a different player privilege) “may request that other players express their emotions more theatrically”. This is a TOTALLY RIDICULOUS thing that you will either love or hate. Another example, in one game, the Production Designer made us all wear stupid hats:

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You know right away if you think this is the greatest thing ever or the dumbest thing ever. It really depends on the group.

Sense of Humor

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This game is a real and it is a challenging cooperative dice-placement game, but IT IS SILLY.  It probably would have made our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games With a Sense of Humor if we updated it today!   The art is silly (I didn’t know that Beans could make a movie):

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The Player Privilege obviously contributes to the silliness of the game: I had to wear a hat too …

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To be clear, this game is silly. But it is still a challenging game! Roll Camera! is much more than a party game, even though the art might suggest otherwise. In fact, I’d say this is about as difficult as Intrepid: another cooperative dice–placement game we reviewed a few weeks ago, but Intrepid “looks” harder because the theme is more serious (running a space station). Roll Camera! is a serious dice-placement game of the same caliber as Intrepid or Endangered (another cooperative dice-placement game we reviewed here).

Cooperation

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One thing Roll Camera! does really well: it keeps everyone involved when the Production Meeting happens. Generally, most players will call for a Production Meeting on their turn (it only costs one die of any symbol) and 2 other players can put ideas out!

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Each player starts the game with 3 ideas: see above! They are very powerful but allow you to make tradeoffs, depending on where you are in the game:

People!  We are running out of time!  We are in dire need of some extra time to film!! Does anyone have any ideas on how we can do this?  I have one involving monkeys … does anyone have a better idea?

When a production meeting is chosen, all players have to figure out if they should be involved (“Nah, none of my ideas help with time”) or not, and then 3 people share ideas during the Production Meeting!! The active player then chooses an idea!!

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This mechanism is clever because it allows all players to be involved, even when it’s not their turn (the active player rotates around the table). We found that this mechanism was critical to making this game fun and cooperative! It really promoted cooperative play.

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Making Movies

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This game is all about making movies!  You might think “Oh, this only appeals to people who want to make movies” or “people in the film industry“.  Not at all!  None of my friends are really film people (they are Engineers, English Majors, Teachers, Anthropologists, and Math Majors) but they all enjoyed this game.  It’s not a niche theme.  

One of the best parts of the game is interpreting your movie when the game is over:  See my first film above!!  It was a movie about a man who poisoned someone (scene 1), killed the victim (scene 2), has a confrontation with the family about the murder (scene 3), went to a clown birthday party (scene 4) and then finally went to the victim’s funeral (scene 5).  How does the clown birthday party fit in??  That’s what makes this game great!  

Conclusion

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I think Roll Camera! is a surprise hit! I have played it solo, and with three very different game groups, and frankly, everyone loved it! However, it really depends on the game group. All of my game groups have a sense of humor but they still play complicated board games! My game groups were able to appreciate the dichotomy of the serious, challenging, cooperative dice-placement game in direct opposition to the silliness of Player Privilege, Bean art, and crazy Idea cards of Roll Camera!

The production (no pun intended) of this game is tremendous, with a Clapper box, linen-coated cards, spot-coated boards, a linen-coated rulebook, and very cute art. The game looks like it might be a party game, but it’s not! It’s a difficult and challenging cooperative dice-placement game where the cooperative nature really is emphasized by the production meeting mechanism.

In the end, you will know if you will like Roll Camera! from this review: if the silly nature of the game makes you roll your eyes and think “that looks dumb”, then Roll Camera! is not for you. But, if you like the cooperative dice-placement idea and the silly nature seems like a benefit rather than a detriment, then I think you would really like Roll Camera!

As it is, I am pretty sure Roll Camera! will make my top 10 cooperative games of the year 2021!

A Review of Aliens: Bug Hunt

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Introduction: Growing up, my friend CC used to love the Alien and Aliens movies! I remember him seeing the theatrical release of Aliens many many times! CC loves cooperative games as much as I do, and he loves Alien/Aliens, so he seemed like the perfect person to review Aliens: Bug Hunt for us! This is one of three cooperative Alien type games out now!

Game Overview

Aliens: Bug Hunt is a cooperative game for 1-4 players which pits the players, as marines, against a growing horde of Xenomorphs as they attempt to enter an infested facility, complete their missions, and escape before they are overrun.

The Marines

Each player controls a “squad” of three characters, including one named character from the movie (like Ellen Ripley or Bishop) and two unnamed “grunts”. These characters can take wounds and be killed, and they also get “depleted” when they fire on aliens (or other effects cause it), which prevents them from taking some actions. The named characters all have special abilities, and there are more named characters than there are players, so you can “mix and match” teams for different play experiences.

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At the start of the game, you randomly draw three missions for the squads to try to accomplish. The marines win if they complete the three missions and escape. The missions are very simple in structure; each mission simply requires finding and claiming three objective tokens on the map. After you have completed each mission, you get three uses of a special ability it affords, so it helps to strategize which mission to complete first. As with the named characters, there are many more than you use in a single game, so randomizing these missions adds some variety to gameplay.

The Gameplay

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The gameplay itself is fairly straightforward. On your turn, you have three “movement points” to spend to move your squad around the modular tile board, and then you can take one action. It costs one “movement point” to move to an adjacent tile, unless there’s a barrier, in which case it costs two, and you usually can’t move out of a tile with aliens in it. If you move into a new, unexplored tile, you simply reveal the tile, add the aliens and objective markers shown on it, and end your movement.

There are only four actions your squad can take:

  •  “Breach” a barrier between two tiles so that it only costs one movement point to move between them.
  •  “Shoot” at aliens in your tile or adjacent tiles, by depleting one or more squad members.
  •  “Claim” an objective token in your tile and add it to a mission card.
  •  “Reload”, which refreshes all your depleted squad members.

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Combat is exceedingly simple. The Xenomorph aliens are represented as dice placed directly on the tiles as you explore. To shoot at an alien, you just roll its die. Some characters can shoot at more alien dice than others, so you typically only deplete as many squad members as you need to shoot at all the dice. Your baseline unnamed grunt can shoot at two aliens, with named characters deviating from that based on their role (for instance, Bishop cannot shoot at any aliens, but has other capabilities to make up for it). Depending on the outcome of the alien die roll, and whether you are shooting at the alien from the same tile or an adjacent tile, the alien is destroyed, survives, wounds you, or moves.

Gameplay turns are driven by a deck of cards. Each player has several cards in the deck that, when drawn, indicate it is their turn, so you do not know what order your squads will act in. There are also alien cards in the deck; when they are drawn, they increase a counter that causes new aliens to be spawned into the map, causes them to move and attack, and sometimes causes other effects, such as a “facehugger attack” that forces each squad to deplete a character or suffer a wound.

That’s about all there is to the game. You lose if the aliens overrun the complex before you can complete your missions and escape. You win if they don’t.

Pros, Cons, and Tradeoff

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* PRO: Interesting onboarding. The way you learn this game is quite well done and evocative. Each of the four players has their own bifold that explains about a fourth of the rules, themed to a command position like Communications Officer. Each player is responsible for teaching and enforcing the rules on their bifold, which distributes the gameplay responsibilities and engages everyone in learning the game. If fewer than four are playing, the game recommends a setup, but of course each player has more overhead then. I played it solo, and it was fine, though, because none of the elements are very difficult. The rules are well-explained and clear. (The only down side to this approach is that when playing solo, you’re having to switch between different bifolds to reference rules, but honestly, the game is simple enough that it’s barely a problem past the first few minutes of the game.)

* PRO: Atmosphere. The art on the cards and tiles was evocative. The modular board that gets revealed as you go felt like you were really exploring a dark, mysterious facility. The minis looked nice (I imagine they’d be worth painting, because there are only four and you could reinforce the color coding by painting them with their relevant colors). The cards that spawn aliens into the complex are themed to the motion tracker devices, which was a particularly evocative design touch. And of course all the named characters are included, so you can play your favorite characters from the movie.

* TRADEOFF: Mission Variety. As mentioned above, there are far more named characters and missions than you use each game, which adds some variety between games. And the game board is a matrix of tiles that get shuffled for each game, so the layout changes with each playthrough. That said, there’s not exactly a LOT of variety here; they are different only by degrees, enough to make a small mechanical difference, but not enough to be particularly memorable or change your playstyle much. For some, it might be too little customization, but for others, they might appreciate different variations without making the game overly complex.

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* PRO: Small shelf footprint. There’s a lot of “spread” to this game and yet it has a very small shelf footprint. The game box has custom-molded trays for all the minis, the cards, the tiles, the dice, etc., and it all fits in the box comfortably. (Not sure if it would all fit as well with sleeved cards, but I suspect it would be fine.) I’d say it packs much better-than-average than most games I’ve seen; I’d expect this game to be a larger box from looking at the components. Despite that, setup and tear-down are quite quick. This is a very convenient game to store and play.

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* CON: Unnecessarily tedious exploring. Exploring the facility involved moving into a tile to reveal it, and then spawning aliens there. Since you can’t move when there are aliens where you are, you generally have to fight those aliens. If you don’t kill absolutely all of them, you’re stuck there again. This felt a little tiresome, because you never really had strategy for which direction you go. It also meant that you’re always fighting them in close quarters, which made some of the named character abilities seem largely useless (e.g., Vasquez gets to target +2 aliens if there are no aliens in her tile, but that was only rarely useful). I think I would have liked it better if you enter a tile and it reveals the adjacent ones, or if an action could reveal multiple tiles by “calling up complex schematics”, so that there were some strategy to how you proceed through the complex.

* TRADEOFF: Shallow actions. Quite often, you didn’t really have a choice what to do. If an alien is in your location, you can’t move. If your entire squad is depleted, you can’t do much unless you “reload” as your action. The rest of the time, you move into a location, shoot the things there, someone grabs the objective token if it’s there, and repeat. I would have liked to see more variety to the action, but again, this setup keeps the game simple and streamlined. For some users, this might hit the complexity “sweet spot”.

* CON: Tile variety lacking. You build the complex map as you go, but the tiles all look similar except for barriers. Apparently, this entire facility is just a bunch of corrodors leading to other corridors…? It seemed like a missed opportunity to bring in some locations from the movie, like the med lab, atmospheric processors, ventilation ducts, etc.

* CON: Missions are same-y. Every mission is completed the exact same way: find a room with the icon on it, and spend an action there to collect the icon. When you collect three, the mission is done. Whether you are “finding Newt” or “repairing water purifiers”, you’re just doing the same collect-a-token action, which wasn’t very evocative. I would have liked to see some variety here – perhaps hand in hand with variety in the tiles. “Destroy the sample: Find the medical lab, collect a token, and take it to the incinerator.”

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* CON: No Alien Queen! That’s right, the star of the show, the Alien Queen, simply is nowhere to be found in the game, despite it being the big image on the outside of the box! That struck me as a bit of false advertising – fans of the Queen specifically might feel bait-and-switched here. It’s a shame, really, because the game also feels like it could benefit from a “boss battle” climax; once you have got your missions done, it’s just a matter of running out the door, and a showdown with the Xenomorph Queen would be a fun way to end the game.

* CON: Also: No egg chambers! No chest-bursters! No cocooned colonists! No duplicity from Burke! Facehuggers and Newt only show up as flavor text on cards, and only if you happen to draw them. While the game does get in a lot of fan-favorite elements from the movie, there are some very notable omissions. This is almost certainly a concession to keeping the game simple, so maybe it was the right call on balance, but if you’re looking for an immersive Aliens experience, it falls down a bit in this area.

* CON: Inaccessible to colorblind players. The game relies on identifying many elements that are distinguished exclusively by color. There’s a “red” squad which you can only distinguish from the “green”, “blue”, and “yellow” squads by looking at the color of the ring on the mini or the color of their board or the color of their action card. Colorblind players might have a difficult time playing this game for that reason.

* TRADEOFF: Small tiles. The tiles are small enough that sometimes they cannot easily accommodate everything on them. One squad can fit comfortably on a tile, but all four squads cannot, especially if you also have several aliens, breach tokens, and an objective token there. (Perhaps the size is why they didn’t attempt to add specific locations.) Larger tiles would be nicer on the table, but the small tiles have one distinct advantage: they kept the shelf footprint small. For me, it’s a tradeoff I’m happy to make. It is seldom a problem during play, and it’s not like the game runs off the rails if a mini overlaps an adjacent tile a bit; it’s easily manageable.

* TRADEOFF: The game seemed easy (but maybe swingy?). My squad got in, completed all three objectives – saving Newt, restarting the water purifiers, and getting detonators – and got out without any casualties on the first try. I did not face significantly more challenge in my second game. I don’t mind cooperative games that are on the easy side if they have a good atmosphere – I’m content to relax a bit and enjoy the story and experience. And for young or inexperienced board gamers, this might be a spot-on difficulty. But I could see other gamers being a little disappointed at the lack of challenge. Also, the tile draws and attack rolls seem like they could drastically affect the overall difficulty of the game; finding your objective tokens near the entrance would make the game much easier than if they’re all bunched up at the far end. The way the game works, the aliens accelerate coming out over time, so I imagine some games end up with aliens overrunning the marines if you have to explore all the way to the back of the facility. So it seems like the game could swing fairly drastically between being easy and difficult. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it might really impact your first impressions of the game, which in turn can dictate how often it gets to your table.

Assessment

For me, the gold standard “Alien Board Game” experience is Task Force Games’ 1980 classic, “Intruder”. Intruder was a solitaire game that was essentially Alien with the serial numbers filed off. I found it on sale in a game store years after it was released and picked it up on a whim, and instantly loved it.

Despite being over 40 years old, “Intruder” still holds up. The production quality is quite poor compared to “Aliens: Bug Hunt”, with its folded paper board, little square cardboard chits, and a stapled rulebook that all come in a plastic baggie. But this modest game surprisingly manages to get in more story beats than “Aliens: Bug Hunt” does. Intruder has varied locations (like a specific engineering bay, where you can go to jury-rig flamethrowers, a freezer where you can try freezing the alien, etc.). The alien is terrifying and scary – you don’t know how weapons affect it (if they do at all!) until you try them. And it lurks hidden around the station, growing stronger while you hunt for it with your motion trackers. You use the terrain geography of the space station and motion trackers strategically to try to locate and confront the creature, and it is tougher than the aliens in “Aliens: Bug Hunt”. Etc.

So “Aliens: Bug Hunt” had an uphill battle for my affection. Sadly, it doesn’t quite live up to “Intruder” and failed to unseat it as the king of Alien games in my collection.

But it’s still a nice little game, and I will give it props for the things it does right. It’s far prettier on the table, easier to teach, more streamlined to play, and easier to win. And though I love “Intruder”, I can’t pull it out to play with friends on game night because it’s a solitaire experience.

The bottom line is that I would be happy to play “Aliens: Bug Hunt” with friends, which ultimately means it’s a thumbs-up from me; it evokes enough of the movie to be fun, is simple enough to get set up and playing quickly, and creeping through corridors fighting Xenomorphs with your smartguns is almost never a theme I’m going to decline. It’s not going to give the full “Aliens” experience, but it’s more than enough to scratch the itch. And it all fits snugly on your shelf.

A Review of Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write

Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write is a cooperative roll-and-write game (boy, there’s a sentence that repeats itself).  It’s for 2-4 players.   Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write is based on the original Escape: The Curse of the Temple: See below.

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The original Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a real-time cooperative game where players roll dice as fast as they can to escape the temple. The original game was cooperative partly because players can get “stuck” as they explore; players have to work together to “avoid stuckage” as the group explores the temple!

The interesting thing is that both games uses exactly the same dice:

In the original real-time game, each player gets 5 dice each. In the roll-and-write, there’s a pool of dice that gets passed to the active player: these are the same dice from the original game!! See above!! If you have exposure to the original game, there is a certain consistency in the two games (symbols, dice) that makes it a little easier to learn the roll-and-write.

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Let’s take a look at Escape: The Cooperative Roll and Write.

Unboxing

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One of the reason game studios like roll-and-write games is that they are so easy to produce. In our case, we just have some dice (just like the original Escape dice), some pads, some rules, and some meeples. See above. If you look closely at the art on the covers of the two games, you can see that the art was “reused”:

The pads do look very nice though! There’s two kinds of pads: one for all players to share in the middle of the board (see below):

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And then there’s the pads where each character will take a sheet during play:

These player pads are dual-sided: the front side is used for the normal game (see above). The other side is used is used for variants.

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There’s some meeples which each player will use to mark their location on their sheet:

And some rulebooks.

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There are 2 rulebooks: in both English and German. (There are other rulebooks in other languages on their website).

… and that’s it for components.

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The game is a roll-and-write with dice and pads. The pads are nice and colorful (maybe too colorful, see later) and the dice are just like the original Escape. Overall, it’s a decent looking roll-and-write.

Rulebook

Overall, this rulebook is not great. It shows the game components (above) and set-up (below) okay.

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The description of the rules is just not great. There’s a lot of text in a bunch of paragraphs that has no pictures: the rulebook just kind of “barrels” through the description, leaving a lot to be desired. See below.

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Luckily, the next section shows a turn in full detail: this saves the rulebook from being terrible. 

The font was kind of small in the rulebook, which didn’t help readability. My friends and I think the rules suffered from being translated from German as well.

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Overall, this really wasn’t a really good rulebook. We learned the game, but had lots of questions that the rulebook just didn’t answer. I had to play solo a number of times and then multiplayer a few times (resetting our very first game) before we finally felt comfortable with the rules of the game. If you can find a video to learn the game from, that might be better than trying to learn from the rulebook.

Solo Play

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There is no solo variant (boo for not following Saunders’ Law). In this case, since all knowledge is public (on the pads and on the dice), it’s easy enough to play as if you were playing a 2-Player game (alternating turns): That’s what I did.

During my first solo play, I kept the rulebook between the two “characters”. There’s no special asymmetric powers in this game, so there’s no distinguishing between the two characters other than their meeple color: Both characters just have a temple they are entering (bottom left and right). The pad in the middle denotes the state of the game and some shared resources players can use.

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The game then proceeds to have a number of rounds, depending on the number of players: 2 in this case (even though it’s a solo game).

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Each player has to choose a different side of the temple to enter. The green player chose the left, the red player chose the top. To win the game, there are two conditions that need to be satisfied:

  1. All players must be in the room in the middle of their sheet (the exit)
  2. The players need to have collected enough gems (see below)
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At the end of the last round, both conditions must be met or the player(s) lose as a group!

The “playing 2 characters” works fine as a solo mode, but it wasn’t great. I will be happy to admit that some of my “lack of enthusiasm” for a solo mode was that the rulebook was bad enough that it took away from my enjoyment of learning the game (one major reason for solo rules in a cooperative game). The mental overhead of hopping between 2 characters wasn’t a big deal: you could play this game solo as a 2 character game.

Gameplay

The active player takes the 8 dice (fewer if they get locked during gameplay) and rolls the dice two at a time. (The active player rotates every round). The active player decides whether to keep some, one, or none of the dice as they roll them. (See below). Some dice might get “locked” (see below: 1 die got locked: when the black totem symbol is rolled, it forces that die to be placed on the lock track).

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The dice taken by the active player are needed to to move through the personal temple! The cost to enter a room is in the upper part of the room! See below: Basically, the active player is trying to explore some room by rolling the symbols on the dice for the rooms adjacent to him. For example, if he rolls a torch and key, he can move to the room below him.

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The reward, is notated on the bottom part of the room. If the player moved to the room below, he would get a torch reward! That reward is then IMMEDIATELY MARKED on the shared sheet in the middle of the table. See the shared sheet below.

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A circle on the shared sheet means “it’s a symbol/reward the active player can use”. These symbols are useful because you are essentially “banking” symbols which the active player can use later to move through the temple. In the above picture, we have a key and unlock available to be taken, but we’ve used both the reroll and golden idol.

The active player needs to explore many rooms to get Gems (Gems are need need to win, remember? See the shared pad below where we have 6 Gems so far!)

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Remember that all players must end up on their personal exit space on the last round to win!

Now, what about the dice the active player DOESN’T take? This is a cooperative game, so the rest of the players can make use of the unused dice! The unused dice forms a pool where each “non-active” player make take a die (or two) and mark off some symbols on their “treasure map” (see above). If they mark off all the symbols on a single treasure map, they get the reward on the left (and potentially the gem on the right, if they mark that off too). That reward goes to the shared pad in the middle.

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In general, the active player rolls to move through his personal temple, and the unused dice are used by the remaining players to mark off their treasure maps (in hopes of getting some shared rewards).

When the remaining players take the dice, they are supposed to take them “one at a time, in clockwise order”. I think a better rule would have been “After discussion, the remaining dice are divided between the remaining players as they decide”. It adds more choices to the game and makes the game more fun (and that was exactly what we did: just choosing one die at a time around the table seemed anti-climactic).

Impressions

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Once you can get through the rules and figure out how the game works, the game flows pretty quickly. But, it may take a while to get to that point! One thing that really messed us up is that we didn’t figure that a round doesn’t end until every player has been the active player exactly once!! The rules aren’t clear on that. The game seemed way too hard until we figured that out.

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The multiplayer mode works much better than the solo mode, as the game simply feels more lively as players talk about the game: “What dice do we keep? What dice do I need? Can I take one of the rewards?” The game is richer than I originally thought, as there were a lot of decisions to make as a group. It definitely works better cooperatively, which might be why they didn’t add a solo mode to the game.

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As pretty as the pads were, sometimes it was hard to see what spaces you had already marked off. We used pencil in all of our games (see above) and it may have been better to use a sharpie or heavier marker. However, if you want to “re-use” some of your pads, the paper was good enough quality that an eraser worked on it.

My group had fun playing and ONCE YOU KNEW THE GAME, it flowed pretty quickly. We all said we’d play again, but we all hated the rulebook. (It got passed around a few times as we tried to figure things out). But this game didn’t quite resonate with us. We liked it, but we didn’t love it.

Special Powers

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One thing we all think the game needs: Special Powers! A cooperative game always seems so much more fun if the players can have special powers! One your turn, you might feel like you could do more: Here are some suggestions we had:

  • The Mapmaker: can fill out any extra space on his map when he maps
  • The Explorer: once per turn, only needs one of the two symbols to enter a room
  • The Lucky Guy: Can never get a locked dice
  • The Jeweler: Can get one extra Gem per turn if he gets a Gem

Making you feel special on your turn would have really livened up the game!  

Conclusion

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To our knowledge, Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write is the only cooperative roll-and-write game currently in the market!  It fills a unique space in the roll-and-write world.  We didn’t love the game, as the game seemed a little samey from play-to-play, but we think the addition of special powers might really liven up the game!  As it is, the game is good: it’s worth a look to see if you’d like it.  Just be aware that Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write doesn’t have an official solo variant (although a 2-Player solo game will work), but the game does work well as a multiplayer game.

Top 6 Cooperative Board Games to Grab Before IDW Games Disappear Forever! (Was Top 5)

Recently, IDW Media Holdings (which owns IDW games) announced that it would exit the board gaming business. See here for official announcement. They were in the middle of fulfilling a few Kickstarters, but they did say they would finish those Kickstarters, so as not to leave their customers high and dry.

Although Vasel’s Law says that “a good game will always be reprinted”, here’s a list of some cooperative games you might want to pick up before IDW Games disappear forever. EDIT: Was Top 5, just added another to make a Top 6.

1.Batman: The Animated Series.  Gotham City Under Siege

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Batman: The Animated Series. Gotham City Under Siege is a cooperative dice game for 1-5 people. It made the 2nd place list on our Top 10 Cooperative Dice Games as well as our Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games. It’s a dice game by Richard Lanius (of Arkham Horror fame) and Michael Guigliano. It has a real nice table presence with little cardboard buildings (see below) and some mechanics for going from buildings to the city.

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Each player takes the role of some hero in the game (Batman, Robin, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon), and each character has very different powers involved with the dice. It’s not just adding up dice, but activating special powers each turn to keep the crime under control. The game has been popular enough to spawn some expansions as well: Batman: Gotham City Under Siege – Masterminds and Mayhem Expansion (which adds more missions and a few new mechanics):

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If you only pick up one game from IDW before they disappear, this is the one I would get! It’s thematic and fun! (Oh, pick up the expansion too!) [[ NOTE: There is also another game in this same universe called Rogue’s Gallery, but it’s not cooperative ]]

2. Batman: The Animated Series Adventures. Shadow of the Bat

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We have to be careful here: Batman: The Animated Series Adventures. Shadow of the Bat (here) is a different game than Gotham City Under Siege (described above). Although they are both cooperative dice games, The Animated Series Adventures puts a little more emphasis on the adventure part of the game, and the game is a little more complex.

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The game also comes with 2 modes: a one-vs-many mode (the 3-5 player game) and a fully cooperative mode(for 1-4).

This is one of those games that is still in the middle of Kickstarting! It was supposed to fulfill earlier this year, but as of the time of this writing, it still hasn’t made it to backers yet. Some online places, like Miniatures Market and CoolStuffInc have this available for preorder, so you might still be able to pick them up. You might as well pick up the Arkham Asylum expansion (see below) when you do (it’s going to disappear as well):

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There were quite a number of expansions from the Kickstarter, but only the Arkham Asylum expansion seems widely available on major online sites.

Kevin Wilson (one of the designers of Shadow of the Bat) was a co-designer of Arkham Horror with Richard Lanius (one of the designers of Gotham City Under Siege). I guess to work on a cooperative Batman game, you had to work on Arkham Horror too?

3. Escape From 100 Million BC

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This is a cooperative pick-up and deliver game by Kevin Wilson. It didn’t do that well when it came out, but me and my friends enjoyed our plays of it. It’s a cooperative exploration game in the jungles of the prehistoric age!

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There’s some fun exploration mechanics as you run away or fight dinosaurs in this prehistoric world. It doesn’t look great on the table, but don’t let its looks deceive you! It’s pretty fun.

4. Planet of the Apes

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This is Richard Lanius design (I am noticing a trend here: Richard Lanius or Kevin Wilson). It’s a wonky game (based on the reviews I have seen) and it supposedly tends to be on rails (following the plot of the movie), but there’s some really neat ideas here. Check out the Dice Tower review for more discussion. It’s a weird little game you should check out before it disappears forever.

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Honestly, I just ordered it from Amazon! I have seen the reviews and have been wanting to pick it up for some time! I figure I’d better order it while I still can …

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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I freely admit I have never played this game and the theme does nothing for me. BUT, people really seem to like this game! Check out the coopboardgames review here! There is a ton of content for this game! There’s a Kickstarter bundle you can find on Amazon as well as “City Fall” (a standalone expansion) as well as tons of other stuff!

This game (also a Kevin Wilson game), is one-vs-many or fully cooperative (like Shadow of the Bat). Be careful not to confuse this game with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past, as Shadows of the Past is NOT a fully cooperative game! (It’s a one-vs-many only).

6. Wayward

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This one makes Honorable Mention because I just found out it’s an IDW game!! This cooperative game has always called to me: I love the art, that comic-book feel, and just the way it looks.  I have seen some good reviews on it.  I just never picked it up.  I struggled to find this: I looked at all the main places: CoolStuffInc, MiniaturesMarket, FunAgain, and GameNerdz and no one had it.  I finally got it for a decent price on Amazon and just ordered it about an hour ago.   Don’t wait too long if this one interests you…

A Review of Intrepid: The Cooperative Board Game

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Intrepid is a cooperative dice placement game for 1-4 players from Uproarious games. Players work together to keep the International Space Station running! (Well, it may not be licensed officially from the ISS, but it’s pretty clear that’s the vibe). I kickstarted Intrepid back in July 9th, 2020, and it delivered to me about a week ago as of August 27, 2021. It promised delivery in March 2021, but given the current state of shipping, COVID, and the fact that “it’s a Kickstarter”, 6 months late is really not bad.

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Intrepid impressed me by HOW BIG the game box was! I tried to put a coke can up for reference, but it doesn’t really show how THICK the box is, so see below!

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It’s thick and heavy! I vaguely remember this Kickstarter felt “smaller” when I backed it, but this was a bit of a monster box! I was actually quite excited to get this out! I played as soon as possible, both solo and with my gaming group.

Unboxing

The box art is absolutely beautiful. That cover is haunting. (It also most reminds me of the Comic Book Artist Alan Davis back when we was doing X-Men and Excalibur). And this is a heavy, thick, box.

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Opening this up, you can see that it’s stacked to the breaking point with stuff! They were very generous in the Kickstarter. There was only one pledge level for $60 and I got two extra expansions (see them squished into the box as flat boxes above). I normally don’t talk about price (partly because it’s embarssing how much I spend, and partly because it doesn’t matter on whether the game is good), but the amount of content I got with this box is phenomenal. Keep unboxing with us…

The first expansion (see above), Mission Critical, and some Kickstarter “extra” expansion is at the top of the box. To be clear, only the flattened BOXES and rulebooks for the expansions are at the top of the box. The different characters and other tokens from the expansions are all packed below this. Uproarious games made a concerted effort to make sure everything could fit in this box: expansions and everything!!! It all fits (barely) in the box!

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You can see the expansion boxes a little closer above.  The expansions are really just more cards and countries.

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The rulebook (see above) is gorgeous: we’ll take a further look at it below.

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The next thing under the rulebook are the resource boards! There are 4 really nice resource boards with plastic windows and a giant spinner. I was blown away when I saw the quality of these components!

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Check out that board: it’s also dual-layer on the right as well as a cardboard inlay for your country and role (the big empty space): your country and role will slot in there:

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Just amazing components … and more coming!

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There’s come cardboard tokens: easy to punchout and read.

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Next is the board: it’s HUGE! I put the Coke Can and laptop and player board next to it to give a sense of how huge it is! It’s also got plenty of 3D plastic goodness so you can slide tiles in there.

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Below the board are the next big components: the Gametrayz holding each of the 10 different countries! I think the base game comes with 5 and the two expansions move that up to 10 countries total!! Each player takes a country and plays that country throughout the game. What’s in the Gametrayz?

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First you get board to “plug in” (it’s thick cardboard) into a resource tray. You also get a bunch of tiles (19: 3 starters, 4 Tier 1, 4 Tier 2, 4 Tier 3).

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Notice the font on the tiles is VERY BIG AND READABLE. Thank you for that!! I am so tired of tiny fonts.

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Once you know how the game works (by the end of your first round of your solo game), you’ll also appreciate how easy the iconography and layout facilitate the tiles purpose.

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In the BOOST tile above, you need two dice to activate it. When you activate it, you take the benefit (lower left). If the tile has been activated, you’ll get the resources (lower right) in the “gather resources” phase. That little blue light in the upper left will be important too. You can probably also guess that Tier1, Tier2, etc. are tiles you can buy as the game progresses. And you’d be absolutely right!

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And we’re still looking at components! The dice are very nice 6-sided dice in their own little trays (with some cubes each player needs). It’s a pretty cool storage solution actually.

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Intrepid has variable player powers: you can choose your “career badge” to place in your resource board (see above).  Another 4 (not shown) are included for some more variety.

Below the dice are all the cards. The above are the Bad News cards (all cooperative games have to have a Bad News deck, right?) Notice how well they are marked for difficulty (green to red) and how beautiful the art is!

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The cards are also linen-finished. The lower right cards are the “mission cards”: you need to complete 3 missions to win the game.

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Overall, the components for this game are FANTASTIC!!! I was so blown away when I was opening this up. I paid $60 for this??? This is an amazing deal! I was in a little honeymoon period after I opened this up: I was just so happy at how pretty it looked and how much stuff I got! Everything is readable and intuitive, and it looks beautiful.

The Rulebook

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The rulebook is nice and big: see below for a Coke can for scale.

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In general, this rulebook was good.  I had a few problems with it, which we will discuss later, but in general this rulebook was readable and well-organized.  Notice, the rules has a table of contents, then immediately discusses and shows the components.  The components list is over a couple of pages:

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And like most good rulebooks, the set-up is next.  This set-up is fairly elaborate and covers a lot of pages.  You can see that the set-up is well-labelled and is very easy to read.

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Seriously, there are like 5 pages of set-up.  That’s a lot!  It does a good job of walking you through everything, but it was definitely intimidating.  Whew! After set-up, I was exhausted!

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The rulebook then moves into key concepts and rules discussion (see above).

I know I’ve shown a lot of this rulebook, but I wanted to point out how big and sprawling it is.  It’s actually intimidating, but it’s quite readable.  Just long.  One you know the game, the game moves fairly quickly and you don’t need to look up rules in the rulebook too much.

I do have some issues with the rulebook, mostly with the solo rules.  I will discuss those below in the Solo Play section, but one thing that was irksome: They mixed up the notion of column and row.  Not a big deal, because they show a picture of it BEING A COLUMN, but refer to it as the offer ROW.

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As someone who has been converting Matlab code (column-major matrices) to C++ (row-major matrices), this was a huge annoyance to me, as it makes a big difference!! The game BARELY fits on the table, so when I hear “offer row” and see a picture of the “offer column”, it makes a difference on how you set-up the game.  Real estate is at a premium in this game!  It was a minor thing that really irked me: it probably won’t bother you at all.  (Look, I know, it’s silly.  It just bothered me).

In general, the rulebook was good: it did it’s job of teaching me the game and stepping me through the set-up and gameplay.  There were some annoyances, mostly with the solo rules, but in general, it was one of the better rulebooks I’ve read in a while.

Solo Play

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The game comes with solo rules built-in: thank you for following Saunders’ Law! As you read through the rulebook, there are a few places with annotations with “changes for solo play”. Most of these changes are encapsulated on the last two pages of the rulebook: see below.

The game looks really nice set-up, and rules are “okay” at setting up the solo game.  This really the only major place that the game needs a little more clarification.  A set-up showing the solo game (like below) would have gone a lone well towards helping set-up the solo game.

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(Notice my use of the Knee-High tables for displaying the rulebook.  I ran out of space on the table!  Yet another reason the Knee-High side table made my  number 1 spot on the Top 5 Components for the Gameroom!)

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I have had some time to reflect on the solo mode.  It’s not great (see Overall Impressions below), and I struggled with the solo play and the Rulebook to the point that I almost put the game away.  With a little perserverence, I was able to get through and learn the game.  But it took some work.  I think it is worth it so you can play the Multiplayer mode (spoiler, the game shines like a star in multiplayer mode), but I didn’t love the solo mode.  It’s good enough.  

My friend Andrew points out: “How many games even HAVE a solo mode?  You should be happy that Intrepid even has a solo mode! It addresses the solo issue, and it has rules that are good enough!!”  Andrew speaks the truth.  

Gameplay

This is a cooperative dice placement game: you roll dice, and place them on the tiles (only yours!) activating an ability which gives you further dice and some resources you need to keep the space station going.  As a group, you have to make sure that the space station “alive” as well as completing some missions.  To win, you must complete 3 missions: 

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To “accomplish” a mission, you need to place a 1 die on a mission.  Once you’ve done that, you’ve set the wheels in motion!  At the end of the round, you will lose some resources, depending on what the die is set to.  The further along the mission is, the more resources you lose!!!  Only if the die makes it to 5 can you say you’ve “completed” the mission.

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To “stay alive” every turn, each of the 4 resources has to be out the red area.  Above, the power is in the white area, so the power is good on that turn.   Staying Alive is the most important part of the game!

As you play, you place dice on some station tiles:

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You can only place dice on YOUR tiles (there is no tile crossing between players).  As you play, you can buy other tiles to make your resource production better, but at a cost!  The cost is in the upper left corner: you DRAIN permanently that many resources on the resource board of interest!  And it’s very hard to bring those back up.

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As you play, you have to decide when to upgrade, what to upgrade, when to buy new tiles, when to start missions (because missions can be very expensive from a resource perspective), and when to help out your neighbors because without enough resources, everyone dies!

The game is all about placing those dice and generating resources for survival and missions.  Intrepid almost sounds like a dry Euro (“generate resources”), but the game is definitely a cooperative experience outside of that.

Multiplayer Play

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Once somebody knows this game, it moves pretty quickly.  I (as someone who had learned the game) was able to shepherd my group into playing this game without any issues.  Given how much pain I had with the solo game, I shudder to think how much work Intrepid would have been to learn and set-up as a group! But, once someone has learned Intrepid, there’s not too many problems.

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There’s a lot of portions of the game that play simultaneously (moving the game along). For example, when you are rolling and placing your dice on the board, you are “mostly” playing a solo game simultaneously with your friends.  Having said that, the mechanism for sharing dice with your compatriots worked really well!  While you are placing your dice, you might realize “I need a 5 really bad!”  You announce to your friends, and one of them, maybe who can’t use as many dice, can share it with you.  The middle area of the board (see above) gives you four opportunities to share a die with someone.

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After you have placed all your dice (see above), you count up how many resources you have produced as a group, and the appropriate player updates their player board appropriately.   You have to make sure you have enough of the four main resources or everyone dies!! I think, thematically, this happens because either we starve (not enough Nutrition), suffocate (not enough Oxygen), freeze (not enough Climate), or just generally shut-down (not enough Power).  Although the theme is apparent in the components, it doesn’t really grab you until you start thinking about it: at first, it just feels like a dry Euro with resources you have to get.  

The offering over on the left lets you think about advancement.  Do you spend your capacity to research, buy a new tile, use your special ability, or buy an augmentation?  There are a lot choices you make as a group, because when you buy a new tile, you DRAIN one of the 4 resources!  You want to buy new tiles to have better capacity, but that eats into the “limited resources” of the Space Station!  If everyone just “buys what they want”, the DRAIN on the capacity will go too low, and some resource will cause each other to die!

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The cooperative portions of this game worked really well: the dice placement sharing mechanism worked well as a cooperative mechanism, and the discussion that ensues when players have to buy stuff (tiles, etc) is very engaging as a cooperative activity.   Everything you do in the game has a consequence! Players have to work together or they will lose.  At first, Intrepid seems like a “multiplayer solo” game , as players can only roll-and-place dice on their own tiles.  Once players realize how interconnected everything is, the game unfurls as a really nice cooperative experience for multiple people.

Overall Impressions

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Intrepid was a bit of rollercoaster for me!  I wasn’t expecting too much, but I was blown away by the quality of the components when I first opened it! It looks so amazing! And see above for how cool it looks set-up!  I was so happy to get into it!

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But then, I started into my first solo set-up.  The solo rules were okay at first, but the more I tried to learn the solo game, the grumpier I became (see full list of issues down below).  And then I couldn’t find the BOOST tiles and I almost put this game away to never see it again: that’s how grumpy the solo play made me.

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Then I left my game set-up for a few hours while I ate dinner.  When I came back, the resource boards were warped!  Pretty significantly!! See the picture above!  Not just one, but all four.  This really bummed me out.

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Then I found the BOOST tiles (SPOILER: they were in the JAPAN box) and I started playing.  I was back in the positive mood again.  I was able to get through a full game (I lost) and see how everything worked.

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Finally, I taught this game to my friends and we had a great time as a group!  The cooperative elements were so well done!  I was back in the positive!   

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I don’t think Intrepid has a great solo mode, but it’s good enough to teach the game.  The cooperative experience is where this game really shines.

What Needs Clarification/Fixing

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I took some notes on some issues that need clarification or fixing.  Most of these are for the solo mode.

  1. BOOST 1 and BOOST 2 tiles need further elaboration in the components page: it looks like each country should have 2 BOOST tiles: nope, there’s only 2 boost tiles in the entire game.  That needs to be clearer on the Components page
  2. And where are those 2 BOOST tiles?  In my game, they were in the Japan box.  How did I know that?
  3. BOOST 1 and BOOST 2 tiles are used mostly in the 1, 2 and 3 Player game for some balance.   Maybe some further elaboration on that when they are introduced.
  4. The rulebook says “stash” and the boards say “cache”.  It’s clear they are the same thing, but they need to use the same word for consistency
  5. The resources boards are warped pretty significantly. They are still playable, but barely
  6. During Solo Set-Up, it needs to be clear that you still have to open 4 country gametrays  to get the little cubes out.  Maybe there should be a picture of solo set-up?
  7. In the solo game, does each resource board have capacity or just the main board?  (Probably the main board, but it’s not clear)
  8. The “Offer Row” for the upgrade tiles is a column, not a row.  Either the picture or the name should be fixed.
  9. There are a lot of BAD NEWS cards that say something like “Disable Climate tile”, but they don’t have a picture of the resource:  everyplace the word “climate” is used, they should have the little  pink symbol.  It confused us for just a second.  
  10. Do you drain if you have to consume resources?  If something says “lose -10” (say, from a misson) and the resource cube can’t move 10 spaces left, do you drain until it can?  Or just bottom out?  

While these are all real concerns that need to be clarified/fixed, the game still works fine without them.

Conclusion

Intrepid is a nice surprise.  The components (except for the warping boards) are very good quality, the value for the money (at least the Kickstarter version) is amazing, the rulebook is good, and the gameplay is fun.  The solo rules needs some clean-up and clarification, but it has a decent (if not great) solo mode.  The base multiplayer mode really shines as a cooperative game: players share “info and dice” even as they essentially play their own boards solo.  It’s that sharing of responsibility and dice that makes this game work very well cooperatively.  

Another game in this “cooperative dice placement” space is Endangered (we reviewed Endangered here): I think that Endangered, as a game, is “tighter” with simpler rules, but that game is a bit too random for me and my game group.  Alternatively, Intrepid can be “on rails” sometimes on your turn, as each country tends to play the same to getting that dice-placement engine going.  In a single game, a player won’t tire of his engine, but over a few games, the play style for a particular country can get  repetitive.  Luckily, every country in the game plays very differently, so players can simply alternate countries to get more variety.

Overall, Intrepid is a good cooperative game.   The theme seems a little pasted on at first until you realize what the tiles and resources represent, and then it hits you: you are trying to survive in an International Space Station!

A Review of MicroMacro: Crime City

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MicroMacro: Crime City is a cooperative game from Germany for 1-4 Players that recently won the Spiel Des Jahres Award for 2021! This is a lighter game for 12+. Because of it’s “award winning status”, this game has been impossible to find! I just happened to find it at my local gamestore a few weeks ago (“Oh, we just got that in stock!”), and picked it up.

 

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Where’s Waldo?

MicroMacro: Crime City is a combination of something like Where’s Waldo (see below) meets Detective: City of Angels.

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If you don’t know what Where’s Waldo is, (I believe it’s called Where’s Wally in the UK), it’s a book of intricate pictures where you are looking to find the character Waldo. See below for an example:

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Where’s Waldo is really more of an activity: “look at this picture and see if you can find something”. Luckily, MicroMacro: Crime City is more of a game. It’s s detective type game, where you are trying to notice small things (micro) in the large city (macro).

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This is very much a limited life detective game like Detective: City of Angels (or many detective games, see our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games). There are a limited number of cases in the game, so once you solve them, you are done with the game. Luckily, expansions have been announced, so if you love this game, there will be further content.

Unboxing

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There’s not a lot of components for MicroMacro: Crime City. The first thing you see when you open the box is a leaflet saying “Warning; Spoiler Alert!”. See above. Between the cards and the map itself, you don’t want to look at anything too closely for fear of ruining a later game. Notice all the different languages! The main game map itself is pretty much language independent: the cards will have to be in the language of interest.

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The rulebook is nice. See above.

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The main piece of the game: the map. It’s huge! We’ll see it folded out below. It really is a old-school map with letters along the bottom and numbers on the edge for cross-referencing locations in the city. It also has the same fold-up problem that most maps have .. “Wait, how does this fold up again?”.

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The map looks very cool all unfolded on the table!!! It’s huge!  I included a coke can to the left for a sense of scale.

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The rest of the game is in the cards.   They are all fine quality with black and white art just like the map.   There are a number of cases in the game: each case is made up of a number of cards.  You can see “The Top Hot” case, the introductory case, is 5 cards long and really easy (1 out of 5 stars), whereas the “Without a Trace” case is 10 cards long and pretty hard (4 out of 5 stars).

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The game also comes with a magnifying glass: see above. It’s cheap and plastic but it works. See below.

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“Hidden” in the game are some envelopes: I say “hidden” because in my game, the envelopes were somehow “inside” the map and I didn’t find them at first! I actually thought they were missing! I had to unfold the map and then the envelopes fell out! It was kinda weird they were stuck in there. Anyways, the idea is that you are supposed to sort the cards and put one case per envelope. “Your first case: find the envelopes!!” (It was an easy case).

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Overall, the components are nice. See above. They aren’t elaborate, but everything is very functional and readable.

Rulebook

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The rulebook is fine. It commits the cardinal sin of white text on a black background, but otherwise it’s a good rulebook. It does a great job of emphasizing key points: For example, see above: “Again: bright light is extremely important!”

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Once you learn the game, you almost never come back to the rulebook except for the list of cases.

Even after all the cases are over, the game has little easter eggs and puzzles hidden (described on the last page of the rulebook).

Good rulebook: you’ll read it once, then the game just flows and you never need it again.

Solo Play

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The game works really well solo. It is nice to see a cooperative game just work with one player (thank for you following Saunders’ Law). In fact, when you first pick up the game, it has a “mini-case” on the front of the box!

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You can get a sense of the game when you pick it the box at a game store. Here’s the thing: I don’t think you really capture the magic of this game (spoiler alert! I like it!) until you lay it out the map in front of you on the table and are engaged in the game. So, although the little puzzle on the front of the box is “neat”, it’s not really indicative of whether or not you’ll like the game. You NEED to get that map in front of you!

The solo play works fine for learning the game, but honestly, you don’t need someone to learn the game ahead of time to teach the game (one of the main reasons to learn the game solo)!    The game is really easy to learn when you pull it out.  

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Honestly, I didn’t think I would like this game because:

  1. I usually don’t like games where you have to find hidden pictures (my least favorite part of the Unlock game series: they always have some hidden pictures: See Unlock! Star Wars Review and Unlock Epic Adventures).
  2. I’ve found games like this (like Robit Riddle, Crusoe Crew, and Baker Street Irregulars and games with a story) significantly better with more people. 

I am totally surprised I liked this game solo.  It was fun, it was simple, it was engaging. I played the first three cases in quick succession and had a blast.

Gameplay

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The game is straightforward: you look for elements on the map, while trying to answer questions on the case cards.

The little guy on the front is the “person of interest” you will be looking for on the map. The game starts when you flip that card and read the case. SPOILER ALERT: skip to the end of the next section if you don’t want to see anything else and want to be completely surprised by the rest the of game. I am just showing a little bit of the first case so you can get a sense of the game.

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So, you start looking on the map in the east part of the city. Below is “some part” of the city.

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You get a sense of what the city looks like zoomed in.

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As the game gets harder, you will be using coins to make “places of interest”.

In general, the game is about finding the people/places of interest (maybe marking them using coins), using a little bit of deduction, and trying to answer some of the questions on the cards. And that’s it!

It’s Where’s Waldo with a story/mystery!

Player Count

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The game says 1-4 Players. And it works great at all player counts. The reason the game “tops out” at 4 is because you can’t fit around the table at more than 4!

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You can see a 2-Player game “taking over the table”, but it works!

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Above is 3 Players (I am behind the camera so you can’t see me), and you can see we are already starting to get a little cramped!

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We figured that 4 Players is the absolutely maximum that can play: the fun in the game is crowding around the map and looking for stuff. If you can’t fit around the table, you aren’t playing, and you aren’t having fun! 2-3 Players are probably the best player count, but solo works fine as does 4 Players.

There’s only one magnifying glass in the game, which makes it a limited resource. Although it wasn’t a problem for my group having only one magnifying glass, other groups might “fight” over it. Easy solution: you can use your phones.

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Thoughts

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I did not think I’d like this game as much as I did! I mean, we’re just looking at a map, right? The art was cute so it was fun to look at, but more importantly, it was precise. The little expressions on the little people’s faces were easy to see! At first, I though the black and white art was “lame”, but I came to appreciate it was easier to see things. Compare that to the colored art of a Where’s Waldo:

The color, while beautiful in the above picture, is more distracting. The visual clarity of black and white was the right choice for this game.

Even though this game has a limited life, there are quite a few cases:

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So, with 16 cases, this game can last quite a while!

Ages

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Oh, one more thought: the reason this game is 12+ for ages is some of the content is experienced differently. I am from the USA and have a very good friend from Italy. She once remarked “Americans have no problem with violence, but problems with nudity. Europeans have no problem with nudity, but problems with violence”. And I think she was right. One of the first few mysteries in the game has some “cartoon nudity” (very very mild), but it might be something that would cause alarms for some. The violence in this game is also quite mild. But people die. So, I think the 12+ rating is a realization that young kids will really want to play this game, and probably would be able to, but their parents might have trouble with the mild violence or very mild nudity.

The best solution here is simple: play the game before your kids and make sure you are comfortable with it.

Conclusion

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MicroMacro: Crime City was a fantastic cooperative experience. It’s also a great solo experience. I did not expect to like this game as much as I did! The combination of Where’s Waldo with a mystery story detective game was a great combination that works better than it has any right to. Even the limited nature of the game helps you savor your plays! I wished the game worked with more people, but physical limitations make this really a 1-4 player game. And be careful with kids: they will really want to play this cartoony game, but there is some content some people might find questionable for a younger crowd. Caveat Emptor.

My friend Teresa said “I was still thinking about MicroMacro the next day. I want to play again!” That pretty much sums up the experience I had. MicroMacro: Crime City is a great game that deserved to win the Spiel Des Jahres for 2021. Be on the lookout for more expansions!

Top 5 List of Components for the Gameroom!

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I’ve been gaming (board games, card games, RPGs) for a quite a while. Once I hit mid-school in 1979, Dungeons and Dragons was a big deal among my friends. I was also introduced to a place called Wargames West on Central in Albuquerque: this was the first Friendly Local Game Store I knew of, and it was the early 1980s! That was a very special and rare thing.

Wargames West was very popular, as every Friday night, the would have open gaming where one side of the store was open for games, and the other side stayed open to sell games. I heard they stopped open gaming at some point because there was too much shoplifting, but I don’t know if that story is true. In those days, Starfleet Battles, Gamma World, and Steve Jackson games were very popular with my friends.

I took some time off in grad school (I lived in the lab and had no time), but I continued gaming most of my life. So, suffice to say, I have SOME experience with components that could be helpful to a gamer.

Number 5.  Plastic Baggies and SharpiesIMG_7492

It’s weird how some games have tons of plastic bags (most of which you don’t use), and some games have no plastic bags (when you need them).  I have accumulated tons of bags from different games and placed them in my drawers.  See below.   I also a supply of sandwich bags and smaller bags from Ziploc on hand.  See above.

At the end of the day, there are some games that really need some plastic bags to help pack them back up.  I refer you to Disney Sidekicks (the cooperative game) from last week where we needed some small plastic bags to hold the tiny tiny tokens.  It’s just always nice to have extra bags.   

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It’s also nice to have Sharpies to write on those bags (see above).  I didn’t include Sharpies as a separate item because I pretty much only use them only with my plastic bags.  My CO2 game (a cooperative game we looked at here)  has so many components in so many plastic bags, it’s nice to have all the bags marked .. with a sharpie.

Number 4. Rubber Bands

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Some people don’t like rubber bands.  I think it’s because they use them wrong!  A lot of people use rubber bands to “bind” the cards together as tight as possible, double wrapping with the rubber bands.  This “tight binding” can ruin the cards (by bending edges or ruining card sleeves).  I put to you that they way to use Rubber Bands is as a “Zen” binding: find the rubber band that holds the cards together, but not bind them.  Usually, you just want the rubber bands to (1) keep like cards together (2) separate from other cards.   There’s no requirement to pack them tightly!!!  If you have LOTS of different kinds of rubber bands (see above), it’s easy to find the rubber bands that are “tight but not too tight”.  I actually am very careful with my games: I try really hard to keep them in good shape, and as long as you use the “Zen touch” with your rubber bands, they work great.

As an aside, I don’t like using plastic bags for cards.  I strongly prefer rubber bands over plastic bags!  Why?  Because larger plastic bags encourage cards to “roam” in the bag, which can lead to bending as cards don’t line up.  Smaller plastic bags are too tight of a fit, and you can tear the cards as you “force” them in. I’ve never had a good experience putting cards in bags.

Number 3. Kallax Shelves

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We did a full review of putting together some Kallax shelves here.  Suffice to say, Kallax shelves are fairly inexpensive and a very nice way to store your games.  Can you use other shelves?  Sure.  The price point and usefulness of the Kallax shelves makes them a gaming favorite.

Number 2. A Copier/Printer

The printer is, of course, obvious, because you frequently need to print something from online for your games.

“But?” You might be asking?  “A Copier?”  That’s right!  There have a been a number of times when we wanted to copy something for our game groups, and we needed them quickly!  Some examples:

  1. Player Sheets:  Forgotten Waters (see our review here) has some great player sheets (and you can print them out), but sometimes its quicker to just copy what you already have in the game.  And not all games have PDFs of player sheets online.  A copier can save your game night!  “Oh no, my friends will be here soon and I don’t have any extra sheets!”  You do if you have a copier …
  2. Roll-and-Write Sheets: Escape: Roll and Write (the cooperative dice game) (which we’ll review soon we hope) has lots of little sheets. I hope you don’t run out of sheets, or you can’t play anymore!  Or you could copy them.  EDIT: these sheets can be pretty colorful and will drain your color ink, so it’s usually best to save these copies for an emergency
  3. Note Sheets: The game Detective:City of Angels (which we love), has some specialized sheets for taking notes in the game.  You pretty much need these to play.  No reason to use the originals if you can make a copy.  EDIT: these sheets are pretty much black and white and simple enough that you can use copies without having to worry about draining your color/bw ink wells in your printer.
  4. “Different Perspective”:  Sometimes you want to have multiple copies of a card, part of the board, rule, etc to share with multiple people around the table.  We were recently playing The Initiative, and needed to make a copy of the card so we could look at it to solve something on the card (not too many spoilers).  Because of the perspective on the puzzle on the card, it made a lot of sense to copy the card and essentially have two copies of the card.  It made that puzzle much more fun to solve.

I have found that in life, in general, it’s good to have a copier nearby.  You’d be surprised how often you need it.

Number 1. Knee-High Tables for Drinks

Most of the stuff on my list, I am sure you have or have seen on other lists. This one? I have never seen anyone else talk about these, and they are the most important piece in my gameroom! (Well, except the games. And the people).

Over the years, I have collected lots of little tables for my friends to put their drinks on. Knee-high tables are the ultimate game room accessory! Why? You can have a drink, have it close by in a very reachable space, but with no chance of spillage ON THE GAME TABLE! By having the drink tables decoupled from the gaming table, you can avoid any spillage accidents.

If you knock over your drink (and we’ve all done it), at least you do not have the drink spilling anywhere near your game. It’s amazing the peace of mind the little tables can you give you too: “Drink, be Merry my friends, for I have Knee-High Drink Tables!”

I have seen some of these little tables pretty cheap when they on sale ($10?) or they are still pretty cheap at Costco ($20?). Never worry about spilling drinks on the table again: equip your gameroom with knee-high drink tables.

Conclusion

What did I miss any components you depend on? Feel free to comment! 

A Review of Disney Sidekicks (the cooperative board game)

The jabber on the Internet is that Disney Sidekicks was supposed to come out August 1st, 2021 at Target, about the same time as Gargoyles: Awakenings. When I went to Target last week, only Gargoyles: Awakenings was there (see last week’s blog entry). So, I went looking, and I found that I could order Disney Sidekicks online from Amazon and from Target: I chose to pay the extra $2.99 on Amazon to get it delivered quickly because my niece is here this week, and Disney Sidekicks seems like the kind of game we could play together!

Components

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Most of the components in this game are very nice.  The graphic design of the box is very readable and enticing!

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There’s a nice how-to-play video referenced above.  I kept this piece of paper for another reason (see the Tiny Tokens section below).  The board is pretty nice looking! It has two sides: a 2-3 Player side and a 4-Player side.

The 4-Player side has more spaces for the larger player count.

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There is exactly one punchout sheet of tokens. Again, like last week, the game comes WITHOUT shrink wrap on the box, but it comes with shrink wrap (well, plastic in this case) on the tokens?  This seems like a new trend in mass market games?

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The insert for this thing is quite nice.  It seems everything has a decent place in the insert! And the miniatures are better than average, if not great. See them closer below:

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 I mean, this looks very appealing!  I want to play this game because it looks cool and colorful!  There’s even a little castle to set up! See below.

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It turns out this castle isn’t that useful in the game: it  really just “looks cool” and holds places for 5 guards (a game ender), but it still contributes to the overall vibe of the game.  (The castle also houses the heroes you are trying to rescue).

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See above for another looks at some of the miniatures: note that both the sidekick and their nemesis are color-coded to couple together!  Tinkerbell and Captain Hook are greeeennyeellow, and Jafar and Abu are piiiiinkkpurrrple.  They aren’t great minis, but I like them.

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There’s a set of 7 “bad news” cards for every nemesis in the game, and they (usually) have a still from the Disney film on them.  They look nice: see above.  You can also correlate the colors (piiiinkpurple) decently well so you know which cards go to which Villains.   The cards are “generally” readable and are nice enough to be linen-finished.

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Villain cards for all 5 Villains in the game. Depending on which Sidekicks you choose, you get a different set of Villain cards.

Similarly, the good guys have cards: these are “powers” (notice the spaces: these powers are activated by villagers).  Each player gets a set of 3 random “powers” at the start of the game and the rest go back in the box.

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We will discuss the tokens more, but there are a lot of little tokens needed to play the game: the guards, the “die” tokens, the stars.  Note the villagers are the little white heads: these come out on the board usually every turn, and they “activate” the 3 “power” cards each Sidekick has.

Each player takes one of the Sidekick cards (see above) for the player they chose and for the corresponding nemesis (see below).

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Each player has a special ability, and their nemesis has some special set-ups (on the back of the card) as well as some special abilities of their own.

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There are player helper sheets!  And they are good!

I will say that the player aids HAVE to be good because the die, although it’s a quite nice die (and there’s only 1), needs a little bit of description about what the symbols mean, but the player aids really do work well for that.

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In general, the components are very welcoming and make me want to play the game!

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Rulebook

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On the surface (foreshadowing), this rulebook looks nice.  It has a great graphic design, and the font is easy to read.  See the intro above!

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The next page is components! Yay! Lots of pictures, but I am starting to see cracks already in content. What’s the “Action Card” referred to in the “5 Sidekick Sets”?  I have no idea: there’s no picture and no arrow.  And this happens a lot in the rulebook: it’ll just refer to something with any indication of what/where it is.  At the moment, though, I am still happy: the components look great and I know what “most” of them are.

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See set-up above: Again, this looks like it is good, but there are questions that come up already: do I turn the villagers face up or face down when I place them?  How many do I place out?  The villager tokens are SO SMALL, it’s hard to tell from the picture where to put them! (I think you put the villagers upside down so you can’t see the color of the villagers until you get there?)   And the only place in the rulebook I found a reference to “region” is the last bullet on the right … and this still didn’t help me decipher the Pirate Ship rules (see later discussion).   

This is a good picture of set-up, but I feel like the rulebook is lacking …  I think my set-up is right?

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The discussion of gameplay starts in the middle of the rulebook.  Incidentally, I don’t know if ANYONE ELSE will notice this, but the rulebook is held together with STRING and not staples!!!  Is this a new trend??? Why did they do this??  I only noticed this because I have a friend who works in a youth juvenile detention center (using board games to help teach), and they have to remove staples before they can give them some books!  So, that’s kinda cool: Disney Sidekicks can go straight in!  (Well, the plastic minis might still be an issue …)

There are a lot of rules here, and the cards for each villain are NOT consistently made!  The villain cards come out in the Danger phase:  some cards have the “3 sections”, some don’t. This is very confusing when you are first playing the game.  Another thing that I didn’t see until my second or third time playing the game: sometimes the bad guys move more than 1 space … this is denoted by the number of arrows.  BUT IN THE EXPLANATION, THEY ACTUALLY USE NUMBERS WITH THE ARROWS!!  Why not use both?  If I see the number 2, it’s very clear to me “move 2”, but if I see just two arrows, maybe I think it’s just the icon for movement.   This is first of many examples in this game I call Poorly Labelled Components (see section below). 

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See above for some discussion of what the Sidekick can do.  But the mechanics are a little wonky.  In move, you can cause yourself to be attacked by guards!  By how do guards come out?  Where do guards go?  Turns out you lose if 5 guards comes out!  The guard rules are scattered all over the rulebook and are not consistently in one place.  It wasn’t until my second game that i realized guards can come out in the middle if a second guard is to be placed on a location with a guard.  Argh.  I had to search the rules.

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This is a personal thing, but I want to know the “GAME END” conditions right up front!!  This rulebook puts them at the very end!!! (See above) As I read the rulebook, I want to have in mind what I need to do and things that can kill me!  If I leave the “GAME END” conditions to the end, the rules being communicated have less efficacy because I don’t have any usage context.  

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The rulebook ends with a bang, though! It puts a summary on the back!!! Thank you!!!!  

I suspected I would like this rulebook, but I was wrong.  It looks great, and the graphic design feels like it should flow easily, but I found the rulebook to be poorly organized.  Some of the rules in the game were wonky, and hard to look up.   Even after playing a few times, I still felt like I was missing stuff, and it was hard to lookup rules because the organization was unclear.  (Another example: “skipping” spaces … what does that mean?  It was brought up earlier in the rules, but what does it mean?  After reading through the rules and seeing all the places this mentioned, it seems clear you don’t even count an occupied space on the board, so “skipping” over occupied spaces means you move faster! It’s not just “you can’t land there”, you don’t even count the space! This felt VERY unintuitive to me: the topography and movement changes because of occupied spaces?  An example describing this when it first brought up would have helped). 

Solo Play

There are no solo rules (thus violating Saunders’ Law).  Last week in Gargolyes Awakening, we suggested two solo modes: one with the solo player playing just one character, and another with the solo player taking the role of two characters and alternating between them.  This week, I think we HAVE to play two characters!  Why?  Because the maps are geared towards either 2-3P or 4P:

So, we are stuck with the 2-3 Player map, so we have to play two characters.

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The game worked fine for me with two characters. See above for first set-up.  I learned the game, and even won my first game using Abu and Tinkerbell (see below for winning game).

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The game seemed to flow okay, but I found out later I screwed up a lot of rules:

  • How do guards get placed?  
  • I forgot to put out more villagers initially
  • I didn’t move the Villains fast enough (see discussion in Rulebook about Villain movement)
  • I am pretty sure I screwed up the Pirate Ship

    So, I may have cheated, but I learned and had a decent time playing.  I did get mad that I couldn’t find a rule in the rulebook a few times. Grrrr.

The 2-Player solo mode seems fine.  There is an extra amount of intellectual overhead to run two sidekicks because it also means you need to run two villains!  So, maybe that extra intellectual overhead (running 2 villains AND 2 sidekicks) was deemed “too much” for a mass market game?  So maybe that’s why there’s no official solo mode.  It worked fine for me, but I can see it being too much (as a solo game) for a frazzled Mom or Dad trying to learn the game with the kids in the background saying “when are we going to play”?

Gameplay

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Disney Sidekicks looks like it might be a Castle Panic type game, but it’s not really. I’d say it’s more of a cross between Sidekick Saga (a cooperative superhero game) and Disney Villainous (a competitive Disney villains game). The theme (Sidekicks of the the heroes work together to save the heroes) as well as a lot of the cooperative mechanics are reminiscent of Sidekick Saga: each player controls a sidekick that moves around the board collecting good things (the Villagers) to help them defeat the villains in combat. The notion of the player-specific villain comes from Disney Villainous, where each sidekick has their own nemesis who stalks them around the board. The Bad News cards control what the villains do, as well as where Villagers (good things), and Guards (bad things) spawn.

Play is balanced by having “Bad News” happen (which causes one villain or the other to do something bad), and then the current player may do a few things. There are number of similarities to Pandemic here as well! For example, the Bad News cards (below) cause Villagers and Guards to spawn (kind of like in Pandemic for disease cubes).

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Also like Pandemic: this is an action point game: Abu (above) gets 4 action points on his turn (lower left number of Abu’s card). On his turn, he can do the following (described quite well on the player summary aid) durting the Action Phase.

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During his turn, Abu can move, attack, unlock, rescue, or rest.  Then the next player goes.

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Players move around the board and fight any of the Villains or Henchmen!  Above, Abu is adjacent to Jafar and can attack him if he likes!!  If the heroes trapped in the middle are saved AND at least one villain is killed, players win! See Jafar all down to zero hit points below!

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The game is all about trying to save the heroes (locked in the castle in the middle), retreating when necessary, and fighting the villains!   All combat is done with the combat die!

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And each hit does one point of damage!

Impressions

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The game was too random for me.  In one game, I was mostly healed (only down 1 hit points) and I went down to the castle to save my hero. After a bad draw from the Bad News (Genie trounched me for 2 hit points) and some bad rolls from the Villain attacking me (he hit every time), we just lost!  I couldn’t mitigate the dice rolls either or the Bad News deck draw.  We lost in one move and there was nothing I could do about it.

Lucklily, the game is fast enough (40 minutes seems fairly accurate once you have played a few times) that this may not be a showstopper for you.  

A bigger problem might be complexity versus intended audience.

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My niece and I played a game.  There’s no way she would have muddled through the rules and complexity to play this without me.  She COULD have (she’s a very smart girl), but I’m not sure she’s want to!  This is supposed to be fun for her!!  Because I had learned the game beforehand, I “made the game flow easily”.  So, she enjoyed that. I think this means: someone (Dad, Uncle, Mom) has to learn the game beforehand to make sure the game flows well for the younger or less experienced groups.  If the intended audience is 8+, then I am assuming one of the 2-4 players is an experienced hand who can shepherd the players through.  

I can’t imagine handing this to an 8+ year old kid and saying “Go play!”   This game is much more complex than that.  I think Gargoyles: Awakening last week would be easier to play, and it was rated as ages 10+ !! 

Poorly Labelled Components

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There’s a lot of components that should have been labelled better: either to emphasize mechanics in the game, or just to be more readable.  Consider the card above:  

  1. I can barely read what the icon is in the first sentence.  Spoiler: It’s a star!  That seems weird, because that is a bad news card, so I didn’t expect a star (a star is a good thing).  So, I had to take a picture of the card to zoom in and see it! 
  2. Why are villagers labelled with a “!” (an exclamation point)?  It doesn’t seem thematic, so it’s not really suggestive of what the piece does.  I think it’s supposed to a “!” when it contributes to a power (but THAT doesn’t make sense, because you need to see what the color of the villager is). 

Another example: The term region is used quite a bit in the game, and there is a blurb in the rulebook that talks about “inner and outer” regions, but a lot of the pirate ship text is a little confusing. See below.

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I finally did get it, but it didn’t feel like it was well explained.  And the rulebook had very little on edge cases, and there was no FAQ. 

Tiny Tokens

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The tokens, stars and guards and villagers, ARE TOO SMALL.  See above for a picture of scale!  I can barely pick them up!  They are hard to see across the table!

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Another issue with the tiny tokens is that they are a nightmare to put back in the insert.  You can see in the insert above, that there is space for all the tiny tokens.   They are so tiny and so fiddly, I have no interest in trying to spend the end of my game doing a “dexterity game” trying to fit all the tiny tokens into the insert slot!

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Also, if you try to take the tiny tokens OUT of the insert slot, they fall out below the box! See above.

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Of course, the reason the tokens are so tiny is so that they only need ONE token sheet: see above.  (Which weirdly came in its own plastic bag?  Can we get rid of the plastic bag and add another token sheet with bigger tokens please? See below).

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In the end, I got some plastic bags and just put the little tokens UNDER the insert (the insert is good for most of the other components) with a NOTE that there were components underneath!  (The note is for my future self as well as others: you know people might miss that there were tokens underneath).

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I am making a big deal out of these little tokens because they were very hard to play with, very hard to manipulate, very hard to see, and very hard to store.  I would have been much happier if the tokens were twice as big. I think it would have gone a long ways towards making the game more playable.  ( I am considering putting in something else in the game to take the place: cubes?  The problem is, you aren’t supposed to know what the colors are, so you need tokens you can turn over. I think.)

Conclusion

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I really wanted to like this game, but ultimately it was too random for me. The game says ages 8+ on it, but the game is far more complicated than it seems. There are just too many edge cases when playing: the rulebook didn’t do a good job of synthesizing gameplay, and the components weren’t well-labelled to emphasize a lot of the in game mechanics. Ultimately, this game looks really good: the components are nice, the minis are pretty good, the cards are linen-finished, the art on the cards is nice …. and that may be enough for you, as the game does play fairly quickly. If you liked Disney Villanous, but wanted a cooperative game, then this might be a good fit for you. If you wanted a simpler Sidekick Saga, this may still be a good fit: just be aware that the rules aren’t very good and there’s a lot of randomness.

For me, the game was too random to want to pull out very often. My niece thought it was pretty good. I’d play it again with her, but ultimately, there were a lot of other games she’d rather play. This week alone, I introduced her to Disney Sidekicks, Canvas, Century Spice: Golem and Splendor, and she preferred all the other games over Disney Sidekicks.

A Review of Gargolyes: Awakening, Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Gargolyes: Awakening is a (mostly) cooperative board game for 2-5 Players. It’s “mostly” cooperative because the game includes 4 scenarios, and 3 of them are fully cooperative and the last one is a 1 vs. all scenario.

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Gargolyes: Awakening just “officially” released today (August 1st, 2021) in Targets across the USA (see picture above). It’s a mass-market cooperative game from Ravensburger using the Gargolyes IP. I had friends who used to love the cartoon and tell me it was one of the best-written cartoons there was. But I personally have never seen the show, so I don’t have any “nostalgia” going into this game. I liked cartoons, I liked the look of the game, but I have no connection to the show.

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We know it’s mass market by a bunch of things; It’s debutting at Target, the age range is 10+ (see above), the box has no shrink wrap (it uses the stickers), the cards aren’t linen-finished, and there are only 4 scenarios in the box. Hopefully, it will still be good!

Unboxing

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The game box looks really nice: the rulebook is the first thing we see upon opening.

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The board is next: it’s a single-sided board. The city is on one side (see below) and the main gargoyles are on the other (see above).

Next in the box are SOME of the cardboard: there is a lot of cardboard in this game!

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Is it weird that they will shrink wrap the cardboard (there are 2 large sheets, see below) but not shrink-wrap the box?

Look above and you can see the two sides of the cardboard. These are SOME of the cardboard pieces needed to build the city. The sides with the colored letters are supposed to be “hidden” when the city is built.

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There another plastic bag of cardboard (!) inside that you need to build the all the city models.

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The rest of the box fits the rest of the components: cards, minis, dice, plastic holders, and plastic notaters (see above).

Above are the hero cards: there are 6 heroes, and each hero has 10 unique cards with unique art! That was actually pretty cool seeing that: they really thought about how different each character could be. The only thing that would make this better is if the cards were linen-finished. Each hero has its own color, so it’s easy to pick out which cards belong to which hero just by the color. Seriously, really nice.

The villain cards (grey bordered) look good too.  It’s not clear until you get into the game, but there’s a different pile of villain cards for each scenario: take a look at the backs.

 

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You’ll notice how the backs correlate to the symbol at the top of the scenarios:

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Each game, you choose one of 4 scenarios: Notice how big and readable the scenarios are!

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Only the Battle With The Steel Clan is competitive: the other 3 are cooperative.

The hero cards and hero minis are really fantastic:

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The Hero cards are easy to read and its very obvious by color and look which mini corresponds to which gargoyle. Seriously, we’ve played some games where that’s not 100% clear: here, you can tell very easily just by looking. And you can see this is a variable player powers game as all gargoyles have a SPECIAL power and special skill (the 4-sided cross).

The tokens are pre-punched (which is odd in a mass market game: it must have been done to save money by using less cardboard). The tokens above are minions, objects, and skill tokens (with the little 4-sided crosses). They are nice and readable: see then sorted below.

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Upper left: Minions. Upper right: Skill Tokens. Lower Left: Bad guys. Right, objects for scenarios.

The game runs on dice: attacks are with dice and slashes hit and blanks miss. The little lightning bolts activate special powers.

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Overall, the components look and feel FANTASTIC. They feel very thematic and just look beautiful on the table. BUT, see the next section for a big warning!

Fragile Building Punchboards

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As part of setting up the game, you have to build the buildings: there are 5 buildings (see it built above). And it looks really cool when it’s built! The instructions are in the booklet (near the back, an odd choice).

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Here’s the problem, you have to be VERY CAREFUL punching out the building pieces! If you get nothing else out of this review, BE CAREFUL WHEN PUNCHING OUT THE BUILDING OR THEY WILL TEAR.

Take a look at some of the pieces:

Notice how tiny some of the junctures are: if you aren’t very careful, they will rip on you! I accidentally ripped one on punching these out.

Notice that I tore the little piece! See above left! Using some tape (above right), I was able to salvage it. “Ok, I’ll just be careful for the rest and it won’t happen again”. WRONG!

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Even KNOWING to be careful, it’s still hard to punch these out!!! See above.

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In the end, I used a knife to carefully hold/cut around the problem edges. That seemed to help.

Overall, I think I tore 3 pieces and almost tore a bunch more.  The punchouts seem EXTREMELY fragile, so learn from my mistakes and be extra extra careful punching out the buildings!  Consider using a knife!

The Rulebook

This rulebook will win no awards from me. It just isn’t great.

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The first two pages do a good job of showing set-up and discussing components, but notice how small the font is? And the color choice not great for readability: I frequently complain about white text on black backgrounds (Hexplore It: The Forests of Admiron and Bethel Woods both had this problem) because it smears easily and tends to be harder to read.

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The rules could be better: they seem to be cramming as much as possible in a few pages. Again, tiny font.

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The Villain phase pages are frustrating because the discuss the moon track before they discuss how it comes about: it’s an ordering issue .. how do you discuss something you don’t know about?

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They show all the scenarios over two pages, but you know what? I didn’t need this! All the text is on the scenario cards themselves! This is extraneous! I’d rather reclaim these two pages for the rules, clean them up, add more pictures, and add a bigger font. Take the scenarios OUT of of the rulebook because most of the rules are already on the cards!!!

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They did do something right: they put a summary on the back of the rulebook. Thank you! That was actually very helpful in getting through the game!

This rulebook wasn’t good but it wasn’t bad. It made some poor readability choices (font, color), wasted space (scenarios), and organized some things poorly. I was, however, able to learn the game from the rulebook, and it did discuss some edge cases in the rules. I do think, as a I play more (spoiler alert: I liked the game enough to want to play more), I suspect the rulebook will miss some edge cases. Ah well. It was “good enough”.

Solo Rules

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Unfortunately, there are no solo rules for the game.  At all.  (See Saunders’ Law).  There are usually two choices when trying to play a game solo:

  1. Try playing a single character solo, and see what might need to change for balance
  2. Play Two Characters solo (alternating between them), and adjust balance if there’s any hidden information

The main balancing mechanism in this game for multiple players is that when player has a turn, then the villain has a turn.  So, a player turn will always be balanced by a villain turn, so there’s no need to do anything special.  Similarly, there is no hidden information in the game so all information can be shared.   Either way would probably work for solo rules: I went ahead and chose to play a single character (Goliath).

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And then set-up appropriately:

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And you know what? This seemed to work fine for a solo mode! I later learned there ARE cards that require muitiple players:

But it looks Goliath is a character that can be played solo, as none of his powers or cards require other players. One thing I DO worry about is the number of hit points. Two characters in the game have twice the number of hit points of a single character. It seems like something some play testing might have to bear out. So, here’s what I might say for solo rules Gargoyles: Awakening:

Gargoyles: Awakening can be played solo two ways:

  1. Have the solo player play the single character Goliath, but add 5 Hit Points
    (or)
  2. Have the solo player take the role of any two characters, alternating play between them (essentially playing a two player game)

This game seems like it would have been really easy to add solo rules to.

Gameplay

 

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This is an action points game(like Pandemic is an action points game): each Gargoyle gets 3 action points per turn. You can do base actions for one point each: move, glide, or attack:

The glide action is interesting: it takes advantage of the cityscape and tall buildings! If you go from higher building to lower buildings, you can “glide” and move further!

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The cards you have are more powerful and allow you to do more, but require more action points:

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The “Heroic Charge” (see above) requires 2 action points but allows you to move AND attack slightly better! The “Growl” (above) is a REACTION: you can discard it and use it at the appropriate time.

After the Gargoyle plays, then the Villain has a turn, drawing a Bad News card: these usually cause some bad guys to move and attack our heroes:

If you have enough 4 New villain cards with a Moon on it (the above has an empty moon, so doesn’t count), then Day Stuff happens. These are on both the Scenario card and the Hero cards:

And then everything starts over! If you can achieve the scenario’s objective, you win! Note that the win and lose conditions are described very clearly on the Scenario card.

First Impressions

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So, I either wildly won or wildly lost my first game, depending on how you look at it. As Goliath, I moved straight to Demona and took her out in 2 turns. Then, as Xanatos moved to me, I took him out “mostly” over a few turns, with him doing minimal damage to me. I need to turn Coldstone to blue side, so I took two turns and rolled 18 DICE to try to roll just 1 lightning (each die has only 1 lightning symbol). I failed! (Really? 18 dice and not a single lightning????) … and ColdStone “killed” me … if I only had 8 Hit Points … BUT, if I had 13 Hit points (because I am playing solo), then I won after letting him chase me around the board (I was waiting for Day so I could heal).

It was pretty easy. But it was fun. I think this game is meant for families and younger players, so the fun part of the game is moving around the buildings and attacking the Demons and Gargolyes! I mean, the game DOES say 45 minutes, so it is a shorter game.

I may have cheated since I used my “made up” solo rules. But I don’t think so! I had fewer parallel actions and fewer hit points as a solo player, so the solo game was definitely harder than a 2-Player game. And it was still pretty easy. But, it was fun moving around the city, “gliding” from building to building, and beating up demons.

Conclusion

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This is a light co-operative game. It’s pretty easy: there’s not a lot to it. The best part of it is playing in this 3-D city, gliding around and fighting demons. I liked this enough that I want to play it with my game group and see how it goes as a cooperative game (ignoring the one non-cooperative scenario in the game).

The gameplay is a little limited, as there are only 3 (4 if you count the competitive) scenarios, but I suspect you can play them multiple times and just use different scenarios to mix it up.

There are some warnings here: if you get this for your family, probably punch it out by yourself VERY CAREFULLY. Nothing spoils a game night more than torn components! Similarly, Dad or Mom should learn the game by themselves first because the rulebook really isn’t great (and it’s not fun to watch someone try to lookup rules during gameplay). Once Mom or Dad knows the rules, the game can flow pretty quickly. Also, be aware that you will have to rebuild the game everytime you open the box (see below).

For a mass-market game, this looks great on the table and is pretty fun. Just be aware of the potential issues.

Addendum: Putting The Game Away

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How do you put this away? There’s no way all these buildings will fit in the box! Yep, you have to take it apart ALL THE BUILDINGS every time you put it away.

It’s actually kind of a lot of work. But it will all fit back in there.

Just another caveat emptor on this game.

RichieCon 2021 and Top 10 “Interesting” Cooperative Games

RichieCon 2021 has come and gone this last weekend and was a success! We had to suspend RichieCon 2020 (for obvious reasons) but we “remembered” RichieCon 2020 with a C++ post-increment on this year’s RichieCon token (see above). 20++ is 21 … if you look at it after the sequence point.

RichieCon 2021 continued the traditions of RichieCon 2019 and RichieCon 2018 with a record number of people attending from all over the USA! Attendees were from Austin TX, Hays KS, Phoenix AZ, Tucson AZ, Sonoita AZ, Las Cruces NM, Albuquerque NM, Madison WI, and Ft. Collins CO! See some attendees below helping with clean up.

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Day 0: First Game … Kapow!

The first game of RichieCon 2021 was played innocuously in the mancave! I usually can never get 2-Player games to the table, but with Joe (aka Junkerman) here, I was able to play Kapow! Longtime blog readers know I love superhero games (see the Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Card and Board Games here), and even though this one wasn’t cooperative, it was a blast!

In Kapow!, you build dice and buy new “faces” for the dice or just new dice! The mechanics worked really well, it was fun and pretty quick! It’s a 2-Player dice game that looked good, played fast, and had some really neat dice. Great way to start!

Day 0 … Nighttime: Las Cruces House

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One of the bigger groups from Las Cruces rented a “group” house for playing game when we couldn’t get to the Rec Center. We affectionately called this “RichieCon After Dark”. See the Las Cruces contingent playing (to no one’s surprise), 7 Wonders. The first night of RichieCon 2021 was spent playing games there!

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Day 1 … Morning: Rec Center

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Some of the first attendees playing the Reckoners (one of my favorite cooperative Superhero games).

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Lords of WaterDeep, 6 Player game!

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Come back later … still going? That’s a long game!

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Century Spice Road, Golem was a hit! I think I played it 3 times and I saw it played MANY times!

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An Intro game of Dice Throne for a bunch of people!

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Defenders of the Realm! A Richard Lanius game: Pandemic meets D&D!

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Nathan and Caroline and Anders teach CrossTalk: designed by a friend of theirs!

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Rescue Polar Bears! A cute cooperative Pick-up-and-deliver game with little Polar Bears! It’s s deceptively hard co-op!

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Wait, they are STILL playing Lords of Waterdeep?

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Aeon’s End! The original! With the ORIGINAL art! It made our Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilding Games!

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More Century Spice: Golem Edition! I had to give up my seat to teach …

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CO-OP: the co-op game! A silly cooperative game that made our Top 10 Cooperative Games With a Sense of Humor!

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Hope, Chris, Will, Cassidy (not pictured) and Max saved the CO-OP from Mondomart!

Day 0 … Dice Throne Tournament

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There was a Dice Throne Trophy made by Teresa! Unfortunately, the Dice Throne tournament was one game: Kevin vs. Caroline. Caroline has yet to claim her prize! She must bring it back for RichieCon 2022 to see if she can win again!

Day 0 … Top 10 Interesting Games We Discovered During The Bad Times

Our Top 10 list this year was 10 interesting games that we found during the last two years.  My top 10:

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  • 10.  Umbrella Academy.  Stay away: this is the worst cooperative game I ever backed on Kickstarter!  It was unplayable out of the box, and barely playable with BGG rules updates.  We reviewed it here!

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  • 9. The Crew.  I have the physical game, but I think I have played it exactly once with the physical components.  On BoardGameArena, on the other hand, me and my friends have played this multiple times.  It’s a great little cooperative game that made our Top 10 Cooperative Space-Themed games and it should have made our Top 10 Cooperative Games That Can Be Played Online!  This was a great game that we played over discord that kept me and my friend connected.  (It also won the Kinnerspiel Des Jahres for 2020)
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  • 8. Just One.  I have never had this cooperative party game NOT work.  It worked online with Discord, it works in person.  It works with gamers, it works with non-gamers.  See the Top 10 Cooperative Games That Can Be Played Online!
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  • 7. Tainted Grail.  We played this beautiful, well-written game over 40 hours!  It has one of the best Intro Play Guides, and some of the best writing I have seen in a storybook game. And we stopped playing because it was too grindy.  Teresa has plans to repurpose it for a D&D campaign.  I had to tell people about it: it’s interesting.  See our saga documented here and here.
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  • 6. Gascony’s Legacy.  This game has gotten no love as far as I could see, but I really enjoyed it!  It’s a cooperative game in the swashbuckling world of the Three Muskeeteers!  See our review here!  It also was so neat, it inspired a Top 10 list: Top 10 Cooperative Swashbuckling Games!
  • 5. Pandemic: Hot Zone — North America.  This is a weird little game: It made our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Games, but it is interesting for what it is.  I think the original Pandemic is still better, but this might be a good way to introduce people to cooperative games without the “full” overhead of Pandemic.
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  • 4. Detective: City of Angels.  This game has become an evergreen in our group: we love playing it!  It’s interesting because the base game is NOT cooperative, but we ALWAYS play it cooperatively.  It made many, many lists here, including Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games and Top 10 Cooperative Storybook Games.
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  • 3. House of Danger.  This is a game that we have been able to play online with friends and family to keep us connected.  It’s ridiculous and fun.  You can get it at Target, and Junkerman and I played it ONLINE with his niece and sister online for her birthday!  This game has made many top 10 lists, but the reason it was interesting this year was because it made our Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online.
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  • 2. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. So, I have played the first 4 cases online (over discord) with my friends.  It was a full-time activity to keep me and my friends connected during COVID.  It’s “interesting” because it’s so hard and Sherlock Holmes is SUCH a jerk in the game.  Some friends still want to continue playing and some don’t, but it has been an interesting ride playing this online.  It made the #1 spot of our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games. 
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  • 1. Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars. This game was so interesting because were able to play this online over discord and it worked just as well as if we had been in person!   Someone buys the game and then shares the books physically (there are 4 distinct book: each player takes one of the books).  Players then play online cooperatively (each with their own book).   Follow our Journey here and here.  It made our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games, Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2020, and Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online.

 

Day 1:  Water Games

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Junkerman went on a crusade this year to make games you can play in the water! Unfortunately, it rained and thundered most of the weekend! Finally, Saturday night, the thunder and rain let up so Junkerman could try out some of his games!

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The water games played at RichieCon 2021:

  1. Walk The Plank (thanks to Sam for this one: copied/laminated cards and wood meeples)
  2. Quarriors (dice and copied/laminated cards).  See Joe drying the dice above!
  3. Martian Dice: just dice and some laminated rules.
  4. Uno (plastic cards)

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Day 2

Day 2 was just more games!

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Chronicles of Crime! Made our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games! Lexey, Linda, and Greg play the intro with their phone!

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Detective: City of Angels! Played after it made my Top 10 Interesting Cooperative Games!

Conclusion

There were so many games played over 3 days and people had a blast! We’ll do RichieCon again next year! Some lessons learned:

  • Wear Nametags: “Who the heck are you?”
  • Put out some healthy snack options: “That was a LOT of sugar!”
  • Keep Jeremy’s BBQ: The Vegan and Omnivore BBQ went over fabulously!
  • The RichieCon Token is silly, but people still like it!  Thanks to Josh for designing it and Max for printing it!
  • Move the Top 10 Earlier so people have some game recommendations before they start playing!

Thanks to everyone who came and we’ll see you next year!