A Review of Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars. Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

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This Kickstarter just arrived Tuesday, just two days after Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion came out  (see our review here)!  What a great week it’s been! Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars is a cooperative graphic novel adventure (from Van Ryder games) for 1-4 players. It’s very much like Crusoe Crew (which we reviewed here and here).   I picked this up because me and my friends liked Crusoe Crew for the most part, and I love the Sherlock Holmes theme.  So, this was an instabuy!

Unboxing

One of the Kickstarter extras was some bookmarks.  Which is cool, but you can’t put the bookmarks in the box?

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Bookmarks

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So, I have to store the bookmarks externally. Weird decision.

Like Crusoe Crow, Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars have a cool magnetic clasp for holding the box together.

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Magnetic Clasp on box!

The game comes with 4 Graphic Novels (1  for each character) and a Mission Log.

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All 4 Graphic Adventure Books

Each player who is going to play will take one of the books, and we all start reading the book cooperatively!  Again, this is VERY much like Crusoe Crew!

Rulebook

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The rulebook .. is more like a pamphlet. They fit the ENTIRE directions on the one page above (in the Mission Log) with a teeny-tiny font.  You may have to get your glasses out!  But it explains the game pretty well.  There’s not too much to jump in.

And like any good Sherlock Holmes adventure, there is a map: it’ s on the back cover of the Mission Log.

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Binding and Margins

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Hard to look at part close to spine!

So, there were two major complaints we had with Crusoe Crew in our original review:

  1. Margins are too close to the binding (harder to make out text/icons towards the spine of the book: see picture above)
  2. Binding is terrible.  Pages were falling out of the book after just 1 or 2 plays (and it wasn’t just me: other friends had this problem)

So, what about Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars?  Did they fix this?

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The Binding: Pretty good, better than Crusoe Crew?

The Binding: Yes.  It appears better.  I have only played it a few times, but the glue/binding “feels” better than Crusoe Crew.  We’ll revisit this when we do Part II, but our first blush is “yes: the binding is better”.

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Margins?

The Margins?  Are a little better, but I still think they could have simply shifted it a bit more.

Short Answer: It appears Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars has better quality control. The binding and margins are better than Crusoe Crew, but time will tell.

Solo Rules

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Saunders’ Law? The solo rules work pretty well.  Just take a book (the rules recommend Wiggins above) and go through the adventure by yourself.  Here’s the thing: I’ve played a lot of adventure/story games by myself, and a lot of them are decent with 1 player (Robit Riddle and Crusoe Crew), but not great.  I came home and was just SO EXCITED to play, I played through the first mission of Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Irregulars myself.  I was engaged, I solved puzzles, I kept a map, I took notes.   I had a BLAST.   So far, I think this is better solo than Crusoe Crew!

The Fonts and Typeface Size

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So, one complaint is that the font and some of the text was too small.  I already said that the rulebook page was too small.  Also, there were a couple of puzzles where I couldn’t read the text!  See the picture above!  I had to take a picture of the panel with my camera and ZOOM in it to see clearly see it!!! I guess this is thematic (like taking a magnifying glass to the book), but just something to be aware of.  You WILL need something to magnify the text!!!

Conclusion

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All the components!

So, at the end of the day, I am very excited to play through the rest of this! I am loving it so far!!  Now, there appear to only be 4 Missions in this book, so the game will definitely be done once we’ve played through all 4.  (Much like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective).

You may have noticed that a lot of our reviews here at CO-OP Gestalt have been Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions because it’s hard to get a lot of games to the table WITH MY FRIENDS!!! (Darn COVID virus).  THIS ONE WILL BE DIFFERENT!  You should see Part II much sooner!!  Why?   Because I can pass out the books to my friends and we can play ONLINE!!!  We all have to be reading a different book anyways, so it’s just as easy to read the books cooperatively online (over Discord) as being together.  Our plan right now is to play next week.  The only thing that will be slightly awkward is that there is only one map (on the back of the Mission Log).  I can take a picture and text everyone .. actually … I think I will refer them to my blog (see picture below) … stay tuned for more thoughts ..

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Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. An Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

So, this morning, my YouTube feed was jammed with 3 major YouTubers discussing Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.   Oh ya!  The end of the “media blackout” must be today!  (A lot of times, very popular games have a media blackout where they can’t discuss the game until some predetermined date).  The fact that Rahdo, Watch It Played, and the Dice Tower all talked about this today tells me “this is the day it’s released“.

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So, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is a Target exclusive for the first  month, then it will be available through other channels.   Today, June 21st, 2020 is the day it was released! Upon seeing the 3 major YouTubers talking about it, I checked and saw that my local Target had it in stock: namely 4 of them.  The store wasn’t open yet, but I convinced my wife to get there right at 8am when it opened.

Here’s the thing: there was a line at the store when we got there a 7:55!  About 8 deep!  Gulp!!!  Is everyone here the get  Jaws of the Lion?  It turns out, today some video game was released and MOST people were there for that.

Just like my Wonder Woman game, I had to ask an associate if the game was in the back (it was: the game wasn’t out on the floor).   Apparently,  two other people were right behind me.   So, at 8:05am, I had the first copy and copies two and three were already spoken for.  I’ll bet the last copy was gone by 9am.

It was $50.99.

What’s Gloomhaven and Why Is This a Big Deal?

Gloomhaven is the Number 1 game in the world, according to BoardGameGeek. It’s a cooperative dungeon crawler (ala Dungeons and Dragons) with a ton of content and beautiful art/design.   But it is a very heavy game and a lot of people would be turned off by its heaviness.

Gloomhaven: the Jaws of the Lion is a big deal because it attempts to bring the Gloomhaven experience to more people by slimming it down and making it more accessible.  It’s available at Target!!  It’s not quite as daunting!   Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion attempts to bring Gloomhaven (the wonderful game that it is) to more people by making it more “tractable”.

Unboxing

There’s a lot of stuff, but the rulebook takes you through it pretty well.  See all the pretty pictures above to get a sense of what’s in the box!

Mini Review

Here’s my review of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion in one word: Gloomhavenito

What do I mean by that? If you know Spanish, you know that adding the “ito” suffix to a word makes it diminutive and slightly cuter while still retaining all the characteristics of the base word.  Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion is still Gloomhaven, but smaller, cuter and a little simpler.  (My one word review took 50+ extra words to explain).  The box is smaller, the amount you get is smaller, the number if characters is fewer … everything’s smaller.  But it’s still a big box! (see below)

Here’s my review in three words: Gloomhaven with onboarding.

That’s probable more accurate as a review.  At it’s core, JOTL is still Gloomhaven.  All the mechanisms are still there, all the great combat is still there.  What the JOTL rulebook does is walk you step-by-step through the game, slowing expanding a very simple base game.

The first page give you a ‘sense’ what’s in the game.  Then there’s a rulebook for your first play.

By the end of the first 4  games, you have the majority of the rules of a standard Gloomhaven experience.

And it works, really well.  I wish this had been my first Gloomhaven experience!  But, like a dummy, I had to learn the original game the hard way by reading the original huge rulebook.  (It was 52 pages!)

What’s Good?

This is all the goodness of Gloomhaven … with onboarding.  By the end of a few games, you are playing the base rules of Gloomhaven.  And there are more scenarios!! Plenty of content!!! (And if you like it, later, you can jump to the big boy: Gloomhaven).   JOTL is all the goodness of Gloomhaven in a smaller package, if not quite as much content.  There’s nominally 25 scenarios in JOTL, compared to 99 in the original Gloomhaven.

Arguably the best part of JOTL: no hunting for cardboard!  The original Gloomhaven was a bear to set-up: you had to go hunting through reams of cardboard looking for all the scenario sheets you needed.  It was cool and thematic, but set-up and tear-down took forever.  JOTL fixed this by eliminating most of the cardboard hexes and introducing us to the storybook!  All the scenarios are in a storybook!  See above for first set-up!

This one innovation above makes the game much more playable.  You don’t sigh inwardly (dreading the set-up) when people want to play.  Set-up for a scenario is “open a book!”  Tear-down is “close a book”!

Loot: My Least Favorite Rule

My least favorite rule in Gloomhaven was that you had to spend an action to pick up Loot during combat.  And the same for a treasure chest.  This makes NO thematic sense most pf the time! ” I just killed the last monster and I can’t pick up the Treasure chest that’s right next to him???!!”    It’s SO unlike my games of Dungeons and Dragons (the prototypical dungeon crawler) or ANY dungeon crawler.  The worst part?  THIS RULE IS NOT FUN.

Here’s the thing: we ignore the Loot rules completely.  We have our own set of house rules for Loot and Treasure! Spoiler Alert!  We allow ourselves to pick up the treasure at the end of the combat, … usually.  If it DOESN’T MAKE SENSE to get Treasure, we won’t.    For example:

  • Is the scenario an unending stream of orcs?  Then we only get the Treasure if we loot it explicitly, as the unending stream never stops (so we we don’t have time to get it)!!
  • Have we routed all goblins so there’s none left?  Then we get the Treasure at the end!  There’s nothing to stop us!

It would have made sense if each scenario specified the rule.  Ah well.

Unfortunately, the Loot rules survived to JOTL.  I suggest you house rule some Loot rules for your group that make the game more fun.  Everyone I know who plays this has “some version” of house rules to fix the Loot rules. Caveat Emptor.

Solo Play: A Missed Opportunity

The game box says very clearly that JOTL plays 1-4 Players.  Like original Gloomhaven, one solo player plays by working two characters.   So, this works fine in the original Gloomhaven and it works fine here.

Here’s the thing: I think this is a missed opportunity.  If JOTL is trying to onboard us to a simpler experience, a solo game playing two characters really ratchets up the complexity.   I think the first time for a lot of people will be as a solo game, and I wonder if the onboarding experience could have been made even a little easier with allowing true solo rules: 1 player plays 1 character.

Here’s the thing: I played out the first two scenarios with exactly one character. I “eyeballed” the complexity rating and scaled it back for one charactter. (I have played quite a number of base Gloomhaven games, so I have some sense of this).  I did this because I wanted to keep the complexity down.  Basically, I reduced the number of monsters by a few.  And you know what?  It still worked.  In both games, I just barely won.

I’m sure Isaac Childres (the designer) is rolling over in his Gloomhaven grave (he’s not dead, I just probably shocked him) that I am playing like this.  Here’s the thing: I would pay for single player rules.  But that’s just me.

To be clear, the solo player rules (with two characters) are great!  I just think an onboarding experience could have been improved for one character.

Conclusion

There’s a lot of goodness here.

I have a confession to make: I was one of the few people on earth who didn’t get Frosthaven when it came out.  (If you don’t know what Frosthaven was: it was the successor to Gloomhaven and the biggest board game on Kickstarter ever as of this writing)  Why?  Because Gloomhaven still sits on my shelf, mostly unplayed.   I love the game, but it just doesn’t get to the table.  It’s too daunting.  So, I doubt I’d ever get Frosthaven to the table … so I didn’t get it.

Here’s the thing: I feel like I have a chance to finish Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.  It’s just small enough that I feel like I could get through it, maybe even solo.  And, even more so, the game set-up and tear-down doesn’t scare me like it does with Gloomhaven (because of the storybook).  The storybook is the real reason to get JOTL over Gloomhaven.  

If you want to try out the world of Gloomhaven but were scared of it, this is a fantastic way into that world.  If you already have Gloomhaven, this adds more content, more scenarios, more characters.  And they  all fit and feel like the world of Gloomhaven.

If you didn’t like the original Gloomhaven, well, this probably won’t change your mind … unless it was because the rules were daunting!  In that case, you might want to give Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion a try.  It’s a very good onboarding system.

 

Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games

Storytelling games (also known as story book games) are games with an adventure book full of descriptive text.   The prototypical storytelling game is Tales of Arabian Nights (TOAN).  TOAN has a huge book of text (see below):

The Book of Tales - all 300 pages worth!

On each turn move around the board, then make some “choices” which another player reads from an adventure/story book with the results.

You see a black pool of water.  Do you (a) drink it (b) cross it (c) ignore it?

This is very much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my youth: you make a choice and something happens: you can get married, sex-change, ensorcled, cursed, blessed, and so many things.  There is nominally a “game” underneath Tales of the Arabian Nights (as you have to get 20 points in Story points and Destiny points, then return  home), but it’s really just an experience where players read to each other out of a storybook after they make stupid choices (“I drink the black water!”)

Paperback The Cave of Time (Choose Your Own Adventure #1) Book

There’s been quite a number of cooperative games that take this story book idea and expand it, making it better!  We’ll take a look at the Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Storytelling games!  (My friend Greg would like to point out that Tales of Arabian Nights in almost a cooperative game, as you really are just all adventuring together and seeing who gets back first … there is not really much player interaction other than reading to each other).

As we discuss each game, we will qualify each entry.  For example, for Tales of Arabian Nights:
Tales of the Arabian Nights
(Does the game play solo?)
Playable Solo
?  Yes (you can, but it’s much more fun with a group)
(How much do the choices after a story block matter?)
Choices Matter
? Not at all
(Is there an ongoing story over multiple games?)
Ongoing Campaign
? No
(How much maintenance am I doing per turn to keep the game going?)
Maintenance
?  Some
(How is the text of the story book presented?)
Text
? In a giant story book

Let’s get to the list!

Honorable Mentions

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? There’s no choice on the cards: all choice is in which locations you go to
Ongoing Campaign? No
Maintenance?  Lots
Text? On the cards

Whaaaat?  Arkham Horror (2nd Edition) is a storytelling game?  Hear me out here: as you play the game, each player gets a lot of flavor text around a challenge: it’s almost impossible to separate the flavor text from the challenge when you visit a location!  You can play so that each player just reads to themselves (boring) !!!! OR!!!! You can play where every player reads their flavor text on Locations and is overly dramatic!!!

If you and your group are in the mood, you can turn Arkham Horror (2nd Edition), into a story telling game.

10. Robit Riddle

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? Somewhat
Ongoing Campaign? Sort of; there’s an overarching story, but games don’t continue previous sessions
Maintenance?  Some
Text?  In Three Books: players choose which book to play

I did a full review of Robit Riddle here (Part I and Part II).  Basically, it’s a storytelling game for families and younger kids.  It’s very cute, but it has some reasonable decisions. We enjoyed it for what it was.

9. The Legacy of Dragonholt

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? A lot
Ongoing Campaign? Yes
Maintenance?  Quite a bit as you keep track of statistics, keywords, turns, etc.
Text?  Scattered across seven story books: each book encapsulates one “adventure”

I mentioned Legacy of Dragonholt in Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games: It’s basically Dungeons and Dragons (with its character creation and fantasy setting) meets Choose Your Own Adventure books (with the choices and reading).

There’s quite a bit of maintenance per turn, as you have to keep track of what day it is, when time has passed, what keywords players have (such as persuasive, agile, etc.) and many other statistics.  Even though there is an element of luck in the game (“Are you persuasive?  Read entry 12 … otherwise read entry 200″), the game tells an Epic story over about 10 sessions.  You can save the game after a session, or you can keep going as long as you want.  There’s a lot of text to read.  I enjoyed it quite a bit solo.

8. Agents of SMERSH

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? A lot
Ongoing Campaign? No
Maintenance?  Definitely some
Text?  In a giant story book players pass around

Agents of SMERSH made my Top 10 Cooperative Games Off The Beaten Path:   It’s a neat game that feels like Pandemic (moving around a world map) meets Arkham Horrror (2nd Edition) (doing challenges) meets Tales of Arabian Nights (with its huge storybook).    Players take on the role of ridiculous 70s era spies trying to take down “the Big Bad” Dr. Lobo.    The rulebook’s a little wonky, but the game is a fun romp with a real game (albeit a bit light) behind the huge story book.

Our international team in action!
It’s unfortunate that 8th Summit is out of business: it’s unclear if you can get this game or if it will be reprinted.

7. Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (early campaigns can inform later ones…)
Maintenance? None required, but you should be taking a LOOOOT of notes
Text? In Ten (separate) case books

I have the YStari version (see cover above).   The game comes with a map of London, a directory, a rulebook , some newpapers, and ten case books: I would also recommend a pencil and paper to take notes.   Your job is to work together with your teammates to solve the mystery described by each case book.  Each case is about 60-120 minutes long, and once you have gone through a case, you are done with that case forever.

Getting ready to play case #1

During the game, players decide on places to visit around London (based on the information available), and players read to each other from the case book.  Reading about new Location is how you “discover” clues and information about the case.  Once you think you have “solved” the crime (in as few moves as possible), you turn to the end and see how you did (in the form of some questions).

One of my friends really doesn’t like the scoring mechanism: You compare your score (based on how many locations you visited) with what Sherlock Holmes did.   It’s usually ridiculous how few spaces he visits.  But, if you ignore the scoring and just see this as a mystery to solve, you can enjoy your time “embracing London and its stories”.

The major problem with this game is that once you are done with a case, you can’t really replay it because you know the answer.  Luckily,   later games (Jack the Ripper & West End Adventures and Carlton House & Queen’s Park) give more content (10 cases in each new standalone game).  There is even a newer expansion (The Baker Street Irregulars) due out soon, as the time of this writing (June 7, 2020).

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective series (2017 edition ...

6. Near and Far (with Amber Mines)

Playable Solo?  No (but you can scale the co-op rules to one, even though it’s not official)
Choices Matter? This is a game first with storybook second
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (early campaigns can inform later ones…)
Maintenance? Yes, quite a bit on each character sheet
Text? In a separate storybook (1 for each section in the game).

This also appeared on my Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively: You need the Amber Mines expansion to play cooperatively.

To be clear: this is basically a worker placement/resource gathering game first, and it just so happens to have storybook which augments the game.  There are 10 worlds you can travel through in the game, and each world has it’s own section of the storybook.

5. Adventure Games: The Dungeon and/or Monochrome

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes (there’s an ongoing campaign with 3 arcs)
Maintenance? Some
Text? In one fairly small storybook, but tons of text.  There is also an app which will read for you (but it wasn’t available at the time I played it).

This game made the #2 position of my top 10 cooperative games of 2019!

This game is probably the shortest of all the games on the list: it’s 3 arcs, and each arc is about 75-90 minutes.   It’s a pretty small box and pretty cheap ($15?) but it has so much story and fun!  We loved this! (And also the other one in this series: Monochrome Inc. which we liked almost as much) .

An arrangement for The Dungeon!

This is the closest thing to a point-and-click adventure game I’ve ever seen. Players combine objects (almost like an Escape Room game) and read the corresponding entry to the combined items: it’s like trying to “get torch; light torch” in the old adventure games.

This game was a blast and you might even play through it all in one night!  We ended up reading the text ourselves (with funny voices and amusing ourselves), but supposedly an app can handle reading it for you as well: the app has the advantage that you can’t accidentally read a passage you shouldn’t (as you are looking for your entry).

4. Mythos Tales

Box

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (early campaigns can inform later ones…)
Maintenance? None required, but you should be taking a LOOOOT of notes…
Text? In 8 (separate) case books

Mythos Tales is basically Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (see number 6 earlier on this list) meets the world of Arkham Horror!  Just like Holmes, it has a map, a directory, newspapers, and case books (only 8).   You are exploring the city to solve a mystery (like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective), but this mystery takes a macabre turn and may drive you mad!!!

The first Kickstarter edition is riddled with errors, but you can find the errata on board game geek.    Unfortunately, the company that made Mythos Tales (8th Summit) went out of business, but it looks like Grey Fox has picked up this game.

3. Forgotten Waters

Playable Solo?  Yes (but it’s more fun with lots of people).  The box says 3-7, but the app  comes with 1 and 2-player rules.
Choices Matter? Mostly, although you can still die easily
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (you can save the game and continue: some of the scenarios are too much for one play)
Maintenance? Quite a bit per turn!  The more people you have to deal with this, the better!
Text?  In the app: either on-screen or read by actors (with sound effects!)

I did the first part of a review here: This is light, pirated themed game with a Monkey Island sensibility.    There’s quite a bit of maintenance per turn, but the more people you have, the more this burden can be shared among the players.

Game Layout

The sounds effects and the app reading the text makes this game so much more fun!  Although me and my friends like reading aloud (with accents and silly voices), there’s something kinda cool about professional actors with professional sounds effects guiding your games.  If you really want to, though, you can read the text from the app.  (In fact, you can all be on the same web page and have multiple pads/phones on the same app so you don’t even have to pass around a storybook).

2. House of Danger


Playable Solo?  Yes (but it’s more fun with lots of people)
Choices Matter? Somewhat, not really
Ongoing Campaign? Yes (there are 5 chapters to complete)
Maintenance? Not very much at all
Text?  On larger cards

This is a very light game.  You will make choices and die regularly.  Why is it so high on my list?  Because it’s stupid fun!  If you die, it is almost trivial to reset the game, so it’s not a big deal.
game layout

This was the ‘end of the night’ game for my game group when we wanted a game with very little thought.  We’d pull it out, make stupid choices and laugh at the dumb things that happened.  When we died, we’d laugh and immediately reset the game.

This game has worked great over Zoom and Discord: one person can read the cards or each person can buy a copy of the game.  Since it’s widely available (Target) and pretty cheap ($25?), a bunch of people can buy it.  I am currently playing this with my friend and his niece and family.  And this is AFTER I have already played it once!!!  It’s okay to play it multiple times: you won’t see everything the first time.

1. Detective: City of Angels

Playable Solo?  Yes
Choices Matter? It’s all that matters!
Ongoing Campaign? Yes and no (later games are informed by previous games)
Maintenance? Definitely a lot of writing, but it’s structured to a single sheet
Text?  In eight case books

The full game setup for Detective: City of Angels.

By default, this is not a cooperative game (see Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully  Cooperatively), but the fully cooperative mode comes built in.  I love this game!  It was my 2019 Game of the Year!!  (See my review here).  If you want a storybook game where every decision matters, this is the game for you.  Players work together to solve a mystery.  It’s kind of like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and Mythos Tales, but in a noir environment.  The game also structures the mysteries a little more.  You still move around the city, but the choices are bit more managable than Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective (which is much more free form).    Each players take notes very methodically on a grid paper (matching people and places and stuff) and it’s a very structured way to keep track of stuff (again, compared to the more free form notes of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective).

The box cover for the Smoke & Mirrors expansion for Detective: City of Angels.

Like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Detective: City of Angels has a limited life.  Once you solve a mystery, you are done with it (because you know the answer). Luckily, there are two more expansions available for more context (Smoke and Mirrors and Bullets Over Hollywood).

If you like the idea of Sherlock Holmes but want a simpler game in a noir environment, Detective: City of Angels is the right storytelling game for you.

Top 10 List of Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games

I was inspired by a recent Dice Tower Top 10 List (Top 10 Fantasy Flight Games) for this list.  My initial list had 9 cooperative games and only 1 game that WAS NOT cooperative (see below), so with just a minor tweak, this became a top 10 list of cooperative games … from Fantasy Flight.  Caveat Emptor: this is my opinion.

Honorable Mention

Ingenious ‐ Fantasy Flight Games English edition (2004)

This was the only FF game that wasn’t cooperative.  Ingenious is an abstract, competitive, tile-laying game.   It’s an older game, but it hit all my gaming groups by storm.  I know, it’s not cooperative, it’s not even published by Fantasy Flight anymore (Kosmos)! Ingenious is a great game that probably should have won the Spiel Des Jahres (2004), but it had the misfortune of being up against Ticket To Ride (the winner that year).  In any other year, Ingenious probably would have won.

On to the top 10 cooperative Fantasy Flight games!

10. Runebound 3rd Edition (with Unbreakable Bonds Cooperative Expansion)

Runebound (Third Edition), Fantasy Flight Games, 2015 (image provided by the publisher)

This is a relatively new game for me: I just recently broke it out of shrink and have been playing it.  This is a fantasy questing game, where players quest around the world of Terrinoth (you’ll see that world a lot on this list).  The players are buffing themselves up to fight the final boss monster.   My first few plays were of the base game, which is nominally competitive, but my experience was that this game could easily be cooperative (and it it, with the Unbreakable Bonds expansion).

Runebound (Third Edition): Unbreakable Bonds, Fantasy Flight Games, 2017 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

This expansion adds some new decks, replaces the competitive quest cards from the base game with new cooperative quest cards (adding two new ones, and replacing two from the base game and 1 from the Caught In A Web expansion).  The main change is that each “foe” has his own combat board (instead of having another player run him).  Overall, very fun.

Vs Vorakesh-Cooperative Mode

The only problem?  The cooperative expansion is almost impossible to get a hold of.

9. Elder Sign

Front Cover, English Edition, Actual production copy, High Quality

This is a dice game.  You chuck dice on “adventures”, trying to crack a challenge on some card (with appropriate benefits/losses). There are ways to mitigate the dice (spell and items help you reroll), but it’s all about the dice chucking.  The theme is a little lacking in the first base game, but the later expansions really ratchet up the theme, giving it more direction.

Back
 Cover, English Edition, Actual production copy, High Quality

For a lot of people, the app on iOS/Android has replaced the physical version (I actually learned itfrom the app), but there’s something fun about throwing dice (especially when you are angry) trying to win.  But, at the end of the day, it is just a dice game.

Elder Sign components on table.

7. Lord of the Rings (The Cooperative Renier Knizia version)

Box Front - Fantasy Flight Edition

This is called getting killed by Sauron by my gaming groups: I think we’ve only won this game once.

Many people attribute this Knizia version of Lord of The Rings to be the first modern cooperative board game!  LOTR (or getting killed by Sauron) is a epic game spanning so many double-sided boards!  Each board is major location from the book (Morder being the last board, see below), and the object is to work together to get all the way to Morder (by traveling through each board) so you can thrown the Ring into Mount Doom.

End of my solo game (two player) so close, yet so far!

The game is weirdly abstract: the events on the left side (see board above) have to be mitigated so you don’t take “too much bad news”, but you have to balance that with getting off the board (among other things) so you can make it to Mordor with the Ring.   The events are in line with the book, but their representation seems very abstract.  Nonetheless, this game still comes out in my game groups: “Who wants to get killed by Sauron?”

7. Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game

high quality image of front cover

This is a small card that fits into a fairly small box.  But it’s actually quite a big game!  Each player takes the role of platoon of Space Marines (each platoon has it’s own special abilities) and works with the other platoons to take out the Aliens.  (Well, there are obviously the Aliens from the Alien/Aliens movies, but they don’t have the rights to them, so they are legally distinct, but we all know what they are).

First game, all set up. Time to die in the name of the Emperor!

The game has a lot of rules and set-up (it took me a while to get going), but once you get going, the games flows well.  Each platoon plays one of it’s three cards (the only rule being you can’t play the same card as last turn) and tries to take out Aliens to get to the end Location so they can escape.  Combat is simple with a single die, and there is quite a lot of push your luck (with some mitigation mechanics with a SUPPORT token you can give your compatriots).

Death Angel is small, simple (once you get into), and fun.  The only problem with this game: it’s hard to get a hold of right now.

6. Mansions of Madness (Second Edition)

Mansions of Madness: Second Edition, Fantasy Flight Games, 2016 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

This one is a little odd for me: I didn’t like it at first.  I hated the First Edition: I played it with my friends and we hated the 1-vs-many nature.  The Second Edition makes the game fully cooperative, so I was willing to give it a second try.  But then I played my first game of Second Edition right after a very long trip (from the USA to Australia), and I think that did the game a disservice.  Recently, I have picked it up again and replayed it.  You know what?  That was fun!

Box 1

There’s quite a bit of plastic and cards and the game’s components are very thematic. The app (which is required) really stepped up the theme.  Now, at first, I didn’t like the app!  “Where do I draw the line between what I do and the app does?”  I think my expectations were set wrong: once I dialed that back, I was able to see the lines clearly and be able to just play the game.

General look

This is a fun, thematic game.  If you are like me, you need to give it a try a few times to make sure you “get” how it all fits together  (it needs to “seep” into you).  Once it seeps into your soul, it’s a fun cooperative game of movement, exploration and fighting for 1-5 players with very thematic music and an immersive app.

5. Legacy of Dragonholt

Legacy of Dragonholt, Fantasy Flight Games, 2017 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

This game was a big hit in my gaming circles when it first came out! I was able to play in the very first adventure, but then my friends played without me (to be fair, I lived in a different city than that game group).   They all seemed to love it at first, but had trouble finishing it.  I recently picked up the game as a solo player and loved the heck out of it.  It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure meets a simpler Dungeons and Dragons game.   Each player creates a character with stats (like Dungeons and Dragons).  These characters then adventure in the world of Terrinoth.   The adventure flows out of books of text with decision points (much like Choose Your Own Adventure games).  It’s simpler than Dungeons and Dragons, but substantially more complex than Choose Your Own Adventure, as you have to do some maintenance as you play.

Game components

At the end of the day, it was quite fun, but it may not be your cup of tea.  There is a LOT of reading.  But, if you like the idea of reading and interacting with a fantasy book (with tons of content), this would be for you.   I loved playing it solo, but you can play it cooperatively (as my game group did) by “passing” the reading/choosing responsibility around the group.

4. Marvel Champions

Marvel Champions: The Card Game, Fantasy Flight Games, 2019 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

This game is supposedly a re-implementation of Fantasy Flight’s Lord of the Rings LCG.  It’s different enough that the game stands on it’s own.  Players play 1-4 Superheroes (Spiderman, She-Hulk, Black Panther, Iron Man, Captain Marvel are in the base game) taking on some bad guys (Ultron, Klaw, and Rhino are in the base game).  Players build decks with different “aspects” (Justice, Defense, etc), but honestly the base game suggests perfectly valid decks to play.

Intro game Spider-man, Captain Marvel vs Rhino

The game is a fun as you attack the Bad Guys, go back and forth between Superhero form and Secret Id form, and work together to take down the Bad Guys scheme.

It’s a good game: not too complex, not too simple.    They are making tons of expansions: new Heroes (Spider Woman is on the way, Thor and Captain America are extra decks already available) and new Bad Guys (Green Goblin and the Wrecking Crew are also available).  Fun game with a Superhero theme.

3. Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game

Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game, Fantasy Flight Games, 2015 (image provided by the publisher)

Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop entered into some kind of partnership in the early 2000s that allowed them to share Intellectual Property.   One of these joint ventures gave us Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game! This cooperative fantasy card game (by the Sadler brothers) had a very simple mechanism for actions: each player has four cards with actions.  A card is tapped to activate its action (and one of those four actions was to heal all 4).  One of the four actions was to help your compatriots, so it really encouraged cooperation!

Picture from first time playing Quest 1.
Picture 1

Players went on quests, fought monsters, and levelled up as they played.  It was quite fun and straight-forward fantasy game.  There was the promise of expansion (and there were two very small new character expansions), but the game ultimately was abandoned.   Why?  See Number 2 (below).

2. Heroes of Terrinoth

Heroes of Terrinoth, Fantasy Flight Games, 2018 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

This game is a re-implementation of Warhammer Quest: The Adventure Card Game (WHQTACG) (see above).   When Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop dissolved their games partnership in 2017, Fantasy Flight lost the rights to the Intellectual Property of WQTACG and thus could no longer publish that game.  They went ahead and re-themed the WHQTACG game engine in the world of Terrinoth (we’ve seen this world many times on their list) to give us Heroes of Terrinoth!

Contents

Heroes of Terrinoth is almost exactly the same game as WHQTACG, but with slightly different theming (more lighter Terrinoth fantasy than darker Warhammer fantasy).  The rulebook of Heroes of Terrinoth is better than WHQTACG and perhaps a little more accessible.  My hope was that we’d see some expansions for Heroes of Terrinoth, but as of the time of this writing, there hasn’t been any.

Which game do you want?  it depends on what you can find!  If you see WHQTACG for cheap somewhere, pick it up!  It’s a good game and almost the same as Heroes of Terrinoth.

1. Arkham Horror (Second Edition)

arkhamhorror

To be clear: this is the 2nd Edition of the game (not the 3rd).   This game shows its age a little (it’s a little long, and it’s structure is a little dated: see this blog entry), but it is a favorite of mine and a lot of my friends! We still play it every Halloween!!!  I think we like it so much because it gives us the RPG flavor (as each player takes the role of an Arkham character) without needing a Dungeon Master to run an adventure!  All players have to work together to explore the city, fight monsters, close gates, and (ultimately) defeat the final big bad Cthulu monster.    There’s multiple paths to victory (close gates or fight monster?), coordinated choices (“I’ll kill the monster so you can get to the Clue”), and even lots of flavor text in each of the challenges at Locations.

Arkham Horror at FFG booth, Origins 2005

We played this game to death over the years (it’s about 15 years old).  Arkham Horror  has tons of expansion (both big box and card only).   This is probably one of the games I have played the most in my life.  I love the game, I love the choices, I love the cooperative nature, I love the memories (We played it for my bachelor party).  This is easily my favorite Fantasy Flight game.

Appendix. Where’s XXX?

There are some quite a number of Fantasy Flight cooperative games.  If your favorite isn’t on here, it’s likely I haven’t played it yet or I didn’t like it, but here’s some comments about a few I didn’t mention.

  • Where’s Arkham Horror LCG? I played Arkham Horror LCG: It wasn’t for me (see my review here). I know a lot of people love it.  It’s just not for me.
  • Where’s Eldritch Horror?  I haven’t played it yet. It “promises” a shorter, stream-lined Arkham Horror 2nd Ed (AH2E) game, but every game I’ve seen of Eldritch Horror lasts just as long as AH2E, and it seems to have streamlined the game too much for me.  I’d rather just play AH2E (but I will play Eldritch Horror someday).
  • Where’s Arkham Horror 3rd Edition? I have it, but I haven’t played it yet: it’s still in shrink.  I haven’t heard great things about it.

A Review of Orleans Invasion: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, Cooperative Rules, and First Impressions

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Orleans and its cooperative expansion, Orleans: Invasion

So, this is a cooperative games blog.  Why are we talking about Orleans, a competitive, bag-building Euro game?

Orleans is a  game that came to my attention because it could have fit on two of my recent Top 10 lists: Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilding Games (bag-building is a dual of deck-building) and Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively.  There is a big box expansion called Orleans: Invasion that imbues this competitive, victory-point-scoring  Euro with cooperative and solo rules (and some campaign rules for a competitive game, but we won’t delve into that)!

I’m not sure why I picked this up: Was I curious how to make a Euro cooperative?  Yes!  Had I heard good things about the cooperative mode?  Yes!  Was it on sale!  Yes!  Oh, that’s why I picked it up!

Unboxing The Base Game

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Orleans: the base game!

Well, the expansion looks great .. but I can’t really get to it until I get into the base game!  I just want to say, there’s a lot in here.  A lot of cardboard, a lot of boards, a lot of tokens, a lot of rules (but not as many as expected).

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An ad for the expansion … all right No need to keep shilling!! I already bought it!
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Ah yes! This looks like the rulebook of a dry, soulless Euro!

This is a bag-building game.  Each player will have their own bag, and slowly build their own bad by adding tokens (soooooo maaaaany tokens ….)

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Blue Player board

Each player also has their own “action selection board” where they can play their tokens (see Blue Player board above).  The color is a little muted, but you can see that is the blue player’s board.

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Main Board with a map to travel around and a bunch of spaces …

There is a main board (see above) with a map (you travel around: this mechanic surprised me a little) and some spaces to do stuff.  And places to hold resources  on the left (wheat, wine, etc.) … I told you this was a soulless Euro!)

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…sooo maaany tokens…

There’s also an auxiliary board to do “side quests” as you play.

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Action spaces (on a global side quest board) that all players can activate

If you had any doubt, this is a Euro!!  How are they going to make this solo and cooperative?  Stay tuned … we are almost there …

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Resources! This is a Euro!

Main Rulebook

So, because the Solo and Cooperative modes are “add-ons” from another completely different expansion, you will have to go through the main rulebook to get the feel of the game.

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I’m not a huge fan of when games just “list” components and don’t actually show them (see page 1 above)!  I like the kinesthetic experience of matching the components from the rulebook with the components of the box; it helps me absorb the game.  A plain “list” mapping listed components to real components becomes that much harder. If I had one major complaint about this rulebook, I’d say it was the lack of component pictures.

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The first pages show the Set-Up

But, on the second page is a picture of set-up.  Ah!  With this, I was to at least have a better idea of what was going on just by setting up the game.  This was a good set-up, showing little boxes and arrows and what the game looks like set-up.  I will “forgive” the list of components on the previous page because this set-up page makes up for it!

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The phases of the game

The rest of the rulebook is good.  I was able to read through the rules and get a good sense of the game quickly.  There are a 7 major phases of the game (see pages above) and the main structure of the game comes across as pretty straight forward.

The rest of the rulebook elaborates on the main rules, main cards, etc. It was a good rulebook in general: lots of pictures, good explanations/elaborations.

What Do I Do Next?

Okay.  I’ve read through the main rulebook, and I have set-up a game of plain Orleans (or at least put tokens on the board).  What do I now?  Do I play the base game first?  Can I play Solo first? (That sounds hard! I don’t know the rules!!!!)

So, here’s what I did: In hopes that the solo mode was simple enough (this was a Hail Mary to be sure), I opened Orleans: Invasion expansion and started looking at the Solo Mode … gulp … here goes …

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Orleans: Invasion

Which Solo Mode?

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Back of the Orleans: Invasion box. Three solo modes and a cooperative mode!

So, interestingly, the game has not 1, not 2, but 3 solo modes!  The first two are simpler and the last one is more complex.  Which one to start with? The first one!

First Solo Mode

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If I were to repackage this game, I would put the first solo mode (The Dignitary) in the base game!  This seemed like the best way to learn the game!  It lets you learn most of the mechanics at your own pace and it’s quite fun!  (This solo mode also eliminates the resources as well, making the game easier to set-up and play).

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All you need are 3 things from the Orleans Invasion box! A token, the set events board, and the Stage Coach!

 

You only need three things from the expansion to play the Dignitary solo mode: a white token, the Stage Coach and the “set events” board (see above)!!! This isn’t too bad!

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The rule changes/elaboration are described in two pages. Basically, you make this game cooperative by collecting “Dignity” (the little dudes) before you run out of time (ie., the events play out).

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Collect “Dignity” (the little dudes) from the map and actions

You still play the base game fairly normally: build your bag, move your token around the map, and try to collect enough “Dignity” before times runs out.

This DOES mean you will have to have two rulebooks open  (the main Orleans and the Orleans: Invasion rulebooks) when you play solo or cooperatively: not a deal-breaker by any means, but not ideal.  BUT: the changes are minimal for this first solo mode.

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A Winning solo game!

In the end, I would recommend going through the first solo mode (The Dignitary) for your first play.   The changes from the base game were minimal … and most importantly, the changes weren’t daunting.

This is the way to learn the game! Your first play should be a solo game of The Dignitary.

Cooperative Mode

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All the stuff needed for the cooperative mode!

The cooperative mode is MUCH more complicated to learn and it has a lot more components needed (see above).  I strongly recommend playing the base game or the solo game before playing the cooperative game: there’s “too many rules” to just jump into this.

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A Two-Player Cooperative Game Set-Up!

How does the cooperative mode work?

The Story: The city is being invaded, and players have to work together to collectively “shore up” the city so the invaders can’t get through!  Like the solo mode, the game is over when the event deck runs-out … so we’d better get cracking on shoring up the city!

Players have to work together to fill up the Main city board (see below) with the proper type of workers, coin, and resources to defend the city!

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Left part of the city: required to man all stations!!

Each player also plays a unique character with a unique sub-goal:  All sub-goals MUST be completed to win!

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The Councilman  “subgoal”, fill up the Assembly Hall!

So, the cooperative game proceeds very similarly to base game: players build their bag with workers, sometimes having to sacrifice those workers to the City (to protect it) or their sub-goal (to fulfull their protection goals).  Although it seems “weird” to HAVE to complete subgoals to win the game, I’d like to think the sub-goals are important to complete because they represent the city being organized enough to fend off the invaders!  Ya, it’s my own rationalization.

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Finally, the players must fortify all the establishments around the map: this are an important cog in the defense of Orleans!  (Recall The Dignitary does not use resources, but the cooperative mode absolutely does! See the map above).

So, in summary, to make Orleans cooperative:

  1. Add sub-goals (where you lose workers from your bag)
  2. Adds a city board to be “manned”: Players fill up City Protection Positions (losing more workers from your bag)
  3. Move around the map collecting resources to fill the necessary stores in the City
  4. Other minor change (change the event deck, adding cards for each player)

In general, it works.  BUT:  It’s hard and it adds a lot of rules!

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A losing cooperative game!

My first cooperative game: We lost, and we lost badly.  Here’s the thing: I kept thinking about it about I lost!!  “How could I have done better?  Should I have done that?”  That’s always a sign that you are really invested in the game!  And I do want to play it again.

Just remember, don’t play the cooperative version until you’ve played the solo or base game: there’s just too much (rules, components) to play cooperatively the first time.

Conclusion

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A wider view of the losing cooperative game!

If I had played this before I did my Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively or my Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilders, I think this would have made both lists.  The expansion is ABSOLUTELY worth getting!   The solo mode(s) are interesting, and good ways to learn the game, and the cooperative really steps up the game!  Even beyond the solo and cooperative mode, Orleans: Invasion adds scenarios and just tons of content.

In the end, Orleans and Orleans: Invasion really surprised me! I didn’t think it was possible to make good solo/cooperative modes for soulless Euro games, but you know what?  They did!   Is it worth getting Orleans and Orleans: Invasion JUST for the cooperative and solo modes?  I think so.  Hopefully this review will help you get a feel if it’s a good cooperative game for you.

 

Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively

The real title of this top 10 list should be “The Top 10 Board and Card Games that aren’t really fully cooperative games, but can be played that way with a few modifications”, but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue, does it?   Over the years, I’ve collected a number games that aren’t TRULY fully cooperative, but I’ve found there that was some way to play them fully cooperatively.   How? It might be as simple as ignoring some simple rule or as complex as adding a full-blown expansion whose sole purpose is to make the game cooperative!

Introduction

A few definitions before we begin: fully cooperative (or I might just say cooperative without the fully qualifier as we get into this) are games where all players in the game are invested in helping each other and working together as one team to win the game.   Other games types like team-vs-team or one-versus-many or semi-co-op or traitor games I do NOT consider fully cooperative!  There are elements of cooperation in those, but at the end of the day, at least one player is still “against” other players.

For each game, I give an overview of the changes needed to play the game fully cooperatively, as well as answer the burning question: can you play it solo with the newly formed fully cooperative rules? (I.e.,Saunders’ Law?)

These are the ones I have enjoyed the most.  If there is a game I’ve missed, please add it to the comments.

Honorable Mention: Runebound (3rd Edition)

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  You need the Unbreakable Bonds expansion.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes: the Unbreakable Bonds expansion adds solo play as well.

The base Runebound (3rd edition) is competitive.  You need the Unbreakable Bonds expansion to play cooperatively.

The reason this is Honorable Mention is that I haven’t played it enough yet! But I do know a lot of people who really like this  high-fantasy game.  It’s easy to get Runebound,  but it’s really hard to get a hold of Unbreakable Bonds at this point, so the lack of availability also slips this into the Honorable Mention.

10. Mage Knight

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How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  Ignore the victory points.  Play Cartman Cooperative.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.  The rulebook has rules for solo play, but I’ve found you can just play the game with one Mage Knight and there’s less maintenance and more fun.

I find that I enjoy the Star Trek: Frontiers version of Mage Knight better, but it’s still just about the same game.  See my review of Star Trek: Frontiers here.  There is more content for Mage Knight proper (a few more expansions and a Big Box version of the game), but there is a Khan expansion for Star Trek: Frontiers.

At the end of the day, this game is almost fully cooperative.  It’s a scenario based game where you either beat the scenario or not, so the players must work together partly to accomplish that. There’s a notion of victory points at the end, so each player tends to step on each other (especially near endgame) to try and get “more victory points to win!”.

Just ignore the victory points, play it as a fully cooperative game! At the end, revel in your shared win or commiserate in your shared loss.

The only reason this game is so far down the list is that it’s hard to get to the table: it’s a big sprawling, long game.

9. Shadows Over Camelot

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  Don’t play with the traitor. And see below.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Maybe?  You can play two characters, but then you have to worry about accidentally sharing card info, and you’d have to use the Changing Perspectives idea.

Shadows Over Camelot is a hidden traitor game with hidden information.  In the set-up for the game, some cards are handed out dictating if you are a traitor or not.  It is very possible that no one is a traitor.  So, rather than rely on that, we simply eliminate the traitor completely.  Since none of the players are allowed to see the other player’s cards, you can still play the game normally. The hidden information still allows the game to be interesting (and you still have to work together with imperfect information).

Now, getting rid of the traitor makes the game significantly easier.  We’ve found we had to change the win condition to make it harder.

  1. Players have to place the last sword white.  Even if they have a (overwhelming) majority, the last sword must be white or the players lose.
  2. Players need a overwhelming majority of swords  to win:  (an extra 2 or 3 white swords over simple majority, depending on how hard you want the game).

This game is lower on the list only because it’s older and doesn’t come out to the table as much.

8. Dungeon Lords

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  Umm, this one’s pretty complicated.  See rule changes below.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.  There some solo rules on BoardGameGeek here.

This is a favorite game of my friend Junkerman and myself.  Strictly speaking, this is a competitive victory point game with agonizing worker placement decisions.  Each player runs their own dungeon and is trying to get the most victory points by keeping those pesky dungeon adventurers out.  At its core, players are competing hard for resources in the worker placement phase, because you need those resources!

As we’ve played over the years, we’ve realized the real goal is to keep the adventurers from infiltrating ANY of your dungeon.   As a cooperative game, if all players (we’ve really only played two players in this mode) can keep their dungeons pristine, we call this a cooperative win!  And we ignore victory points.

Unfortunately, making this cooperative is a lot harder than most games.

  1. The worker placement phase is very tight, and it too easy to mess each other up. There’s just not enough resources to really make this work.
  2. There needs to be some form of communication, but too much communications just makes the game “not fun” as you end up in analysis paralysis.

So what do we do?  We basically add two new rules.  One of them requires a new deck of cards and the other is a new ruleset.

  1. Add the DungeonLords Improvements deck and rules to the game.  See here for details.  The basic idea: when you would go to a place that’s blocked, you may play one of your SPECIAL cards instead.  Basically, you can still do something interesting, even when you get blocked in the worker placement phase.
  2. Added limited negotiation in a few places.  This one was tricky, because we didn’t completely open it up to “we can negotiate everything”, but just in a few places:
    a. You can do one negotiation/information at the start of the worker placement: “I really need that Monster, so just do you know”.  It was more like, I am telling you what I need and maybe saying what the alternatives are.  That’s it, just a little extra information.
    b. Offer places where our workers WON’T Go. Similarly, when we put away our workers, we kind of tell each other “.. these are the kind of places my workers WON’T GO today, would any of those help you?”

In the end, the game is still tight as both players have agonizing decisions to make.  On some level, this fully cooperative version is more of a stay-out-of-each-other’s way cooperative.  But, it’s a cooperative form of a game that has no right to be cooperative in any way!

7. Conquest of Planet Earth

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  It comes with the game: it’s an alternate way to play the game.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.  There are solo rules in the box.

This game has the players take on the role of aliens invading earth!  It’s a fun theme.  The base game is competitive, but the rulebook has a cooperative variant built-in.  The cooperative variant is easily the best way to play this game.

This game is a little harder to get a hold of these days.

6. CO2/CO2 Second Chance

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  It comes with the game: Depending on the version of the game you get, it’s either the base game or  an alternate way to play the game.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.  There are solo rules in the box.

This may be a cheat to put on the list, as the newest version of CO2: Second Chance has it’s base game as cooperative (with a competitive variant built-in as well).  The original version of C02 was a competitive game but there just happened to be some variant for cooperative play.    If you do pick up the original box, you can still play cooperatively.  If you have a choice, pick up the CO2: Second Chance instead.  This is a heavy resource management game where everyone is working to save the planet together by eliminating our dependence on carbon.  (Honestly, the theme cries out for a fully cooperative game).

5. Legendary

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  Ignore the victory points.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  There are a lot of ways to play solo on BGG.

We’ve talked about Legendary quite a bit on this blog (See “Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games”): it’s a fun, superhero based deck-building game.  Players “buy teams” of heroes to build their decks up, in hopes these decks will help them to take out some Bad Guys.   All players lose together if they don’t defeat the Bad Guy (and his scheme), but the player with the most victory points (cards he’s collected throughout the game) wins.

We ignore the victory points completely when we play.  We just rejoice in the shared win or commiserate in the brutal loss.

4. Near and Far

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  You have to buy an expansion: The Amber Mines
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  No, there aren’t solo rules, but see below.

Near and Far is a competitive worker placement, storybook game.  In order to play cooperatively, you need the Amber Mines expansion.

The Amber Mines has a bunch of modules you can add to the game: one of them is the cooperative module.  Basically, it adds as timer to the game: a new board is added to the game which “moves up a track by 1” after the 1st player goes.  If this track makes it to the last space (skull), the players lose.  Otherwise, the players are trying to get victory points: when the game is over (when the 14th tent comes out), players add up their victory points.  If that sum is greater than the “track number x number of players”, the players win!  It’s a little esoteric win condition,  but you still get to play the full goodness of Near and Far in a cooperative venue (Oh ya, you still need to kill some bosses to win too).

I am surprised they don’t have solo player rules!  The win condition has to do with “track number x number of players”, so obviously the winning condition can scale to a single player.  To learn the cooperative version of the game, I simply played one character in the cooperative mode and got as many victory points as I could.  If nothing else, this solo mode seems like a perfectly cromulent way to learn the cooperative game.

3. Mousquetaires Du Rey

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How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  At the very end of the rulebook, there are co-op rules.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes. The players takes the role of 2 chartacters in the co-op variant.

Mousquetaires du Roy is based on the novel “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas.  The base game is a one-versus-many game where one player plays Milady against the rest of the players playing the Three Musketeers.  At the very end of the rulebook are some rules for playing the game fully cooperatively.  Basically, in the cooperative version, all players play one of the Three Musketeers.  There’s an AI that controls Milady’s actions as she conspires against the players.

This game really surprised me!  When I played it cooperatively, I really had fun!  It’s too bad it didn’t too better: I never see it mentioned.  It even made my More Cooperative Games “Off The Beaten” Path List (see here).

2. Thunderstone Quest

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  You have to buy an expansion: Barricades Mode
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes.

Thunderstone Quest is a competitive deck-building, dungeon-delving, killing-monsters game.  See my review of the base competitive game here.  In order to play cooperatively, you need the Barricades Mode expansion.

Thunderstone Quest makes the players work together to keep the town safe.  The base deck-building game is still there: at it’s core: this is a deck-building game where players can build themselves up in town (buying equipment or stuff to build their deck) or can head to the dungeon to fight monsters.  The Barricades Mode makes the game a lot more complicated, adding dice and experience boards and other stuff (see my review here).

Even with all this complexity added by the Barricades Mode, cooperative play was really fun!  There’s a lot of decisions to make, a lot of beautiful art, and a lot of monsters to fight!  Players work together to save the town from being overrun with monsters. There is also a ton of content from 3 (maybe more at this point) kickstarters.

 

1. Detective: City of Angels

Cover for Detective: City of Angels. Art by Vincent Dutrait.

How To Play Fully Cooperatively?  At the very end of the rulebook, there are co-op rules.
Can You Play Solo with fully cooperative play?  Yes, there are solo rules built-in and they are quite good.

Detective: City of Angels is a storybook game where players solve a mystery. The base game is  one-versus-many as one player plays as the Chisel and “runs” the mystery, sort of like a DungeonMaster running the game.  The Chisel “runs” the game, knows the solution to the mystery, but still wants the players to “fail”.

Luckily, Detective: City of Angels has a great cooperative mode built in.  The rules for it are in the second half of the rulebook (belying that it’s a variant of the game and not the default way to play), but the rulebook does a great job of showing set-up and describing the full cooperative mode.  It’s really fun and the co-op mode made my favorite cooperative game of 2019 (see here).  You can also see my full review of the game here.

 

Player Elimination in Cooperative Games

Player Elimination

Many competitive games have abandoned Player Elimination as a mechanic for one simple reason: it’s not fun.  I was reminded of this when we played a 6-Player version of King of New York and I was eliminated fairly quickly in the game.  After being eliminated, I just sat there and watched the game.  Whee … that was fun.  I was reminded of all the fighting game like Risk or Diplomacy or Monopoly where you win by eliminating all other players. And I remember I hated being the eliminated player … watching and not playing.

Cooperative Games

Defenders of the Realm cover

Here’s the thing: one of the reasons I was drawn to cooperative games is that they almost never have the Player Elimination mechanic.  I am thinking of games like Defenders of the Realm, Pandemic, Codenames Duet, and many many more (!) where there’s not even any way to be eliminated.   And it doesn’t seem like the mechanic is even missing: I am  fighting monsters, but I don’t worry about dying!! I don’t miss it at all.

Hit Points or Limited Resources

I’m actually lying a little bit: these games have Player Elimination, it’s just that ALL players are eliminated at once and lose the game!!!   Consider the losing rules for Defenders of the Realm:

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How to Win or Lose Defenders of the Realm!

If you look at Pandemic or Defenders of the Realm, you’ll notice there’s a losing condition if you “run out a global resource”  (cards or disease cubes in Pandemic or minions or crystals in Defenders of the Realm).  If you squint, it’s almost like they are “shared hit points” among all players: if all those “shared hit points” are gone, the players lose.  Said another way, all players are eliminated at the same time!!

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Losing condition: the game is over immediately if ANY SINGLE character “dies” (tokens on all abilities on a single row)

There are games (like The Master’s Trial: Wrath of Magmaroth, see above) where all cooperating players lose if just one of you dies!  So, players have to make sure to keep everyone alive as during play!  If just one of you dies, game over and you lose!   Really, this is another way of preventing the grumpiness of Player Elimination:  If any player is eliminated, the game is over so that the eliminated player doesn’t have to “suffer” through a continuing game where he is not playing.

This seems like a good thing: I disliked the Player Elimination mechanic and I was glad to see it was rarely an issue in cooperative games.

So why did I add it to Sidekick Saga?

Take It For the Team

Sidekick Saga is a cooperative superhero game for 1-4 players.  As long as at least one Sidekick  is still alive, the game continues.   Any Sidekick who dies is:

  1. eliminated (in Dark Legacy mode) or 
  2. continues in reduced utility (normal Legacy mode).

And the game still continues.  Either way, the Sidekick who dies suffers the same problems seen in Player Elimination in Competitive Games!!  Why on earth, after arguing earlier for hating this mechanic, would I add this back in?

Dark Phoenix's ending is a far cry from the original X-Men comic ...
Jean Grey dies: her death is soul-wrenching and meaningful

In a phrase, because death has meaning!  If, as a superhero, I choose to “take it for the team” in the late game so that we can win, my death has meaning!!

The only way we could win was for Blackbird to run into the Ice-a-cane!  His sacrifice made it so we could take down the Villain in the last turn!  Without his sacrifice, we would have lost!

It is VERY thematic for a group of superheroes to continue after their compatriot has chosen to die to save the team: it’s what superheroes do!! They make the ultimate sacrifice!!

And there’s also the choice factor in the game: by removing the ability for the player to “take it for the team”, the game has fewer choices.   By adding the ability to choose Player Elimination, players can choose to make the painful, tortured choice if they think they have no more options.

It’s a very human thing to do the right thing, to make the ultimate sacrifice for your group.

Other Games

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Set A Watch is another game where play continues even if another player is “eliminated” (in this case, all players are exhausted).  Players are given a choice of who will “exhaust an ability” card, and players may realize the only way to win is for Fred to completely exhaust himself so that the team’s remaining abilities can take out the bad guys.  Like Sidekick Saga, it’s the choice that matters.

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Marvel Champions is another game where players can continue even of their compatriots are eliminated.  Very thematic for a superhero game!

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Gloomhaven is another game where play continues even if other players are exhausted. Again, it’s the choice that matters.

Conclusion

In the last turn, Delphi appeared and made the ultimate sacrifice, taking all the damage from the Bad Guys.  This left Epsilon Wave open to open the portal and banish the evil villain at the last minute …  Delphi’s death was not in vain: only her sacrifice allowed Epsilon Wave to do what was needed.

At the end of the day, Player Elimination in a cooperative game can be useful and interesting  as long as it is a choice and it has meaning.  It’s when the elimination feels arbitrary (preventing you from playing after you are booted from the game) that  Player Elimination is a undesirable mechanic.

Of course, you have to make sure you aren’t being bullied by an Alpha Player to make the ultimate sacrifice, but that’s a different issue …

Part I: A Review of Forgotten Waters. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

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Forgotten Waters: The New Plaid Hat Crossroads Game

Let not mince words: I picked this game up because Tom Vasel raved about it on the Dice Tower (and gave it a 9.5/10).   It’s a cooperative storytelling game, set in a Pirate universe.  It seems to be “fun” pirates (corsairs? like Julio Soundrel in Order of the Stick) instead of dirty, grumpy, filthy pirates.   Recall that The Secret of Monkey Island is my favorite game of all time,  so this was an instant buy!  It came out in the beginning of April and I picked it up (ordered it online) immediately from the manufacturer. EDIT: At the time of writing this review, it’s already sold out!

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Special Swag by ordering directly from the manufacturer!

I also got some “Special Swag” (basically a card and token holder, see below) by ordering directly from them.

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Special Swag: ARH! It Holds the cards and tokens!

Components

The game looks fantastic.

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Rulebook and stuff
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The Core Adventure Book

The core of the game is an Adventure book: each pair of pages has a beautiful and thematic picture on the left and “some actions” on the right when playing.

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More pages from the Adventure Book
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Cardboard!

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There’s quite a bit of cardboard … (see above) …

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There’s some dice and cards (1 12-Sided for each player and some standees) and not too many mini cards.

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Player Sheets

There’s some player sheets: WARNING!  You only get so many, so it usually makes sense to print characters sheets from the web site rather than use the pristine ones (or copy the pristine character sheets).  There is EXACTLY one character sheet for each different type of pirate, so you might not want to use these out of the box…

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Logs

And some logs for how far along you get.

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My crew for the 1-Player game!

Overall, the game components look really nice.

The Rulebook

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I think  that manufacturers are learning: the last few games I have looked at have had excellent rulebooks.  This one is no exception.    The first page(s) have lists of components, so you can know the names of components as you set-up the game.

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The Set-Up is pretty good, although it is a bit complicated by the fact that there are no solo rules in the rulebook (but see below).

In general, the rulebook is excellent overall.  My only complaint is that it is a bit spartan: it barely fits in 8 pages and a few times I needed some rules clarifications.  But, you get through it.

You Need An App To Play The Game

App Home Page

This may be a sticking point for some people: you need an app to play the game.  Well, it’s not even an app: it’s a website.   So, just point your phone or your pad to it.  The app (sorry, website) is decent.   The coolest thing is that the first scenario has “acting”, “sound effects”, and lots of great content.   At the time of this writing, they only have these little touches for the first scenario.  After that, one of your players will have to read a lot of text from the screen: it’s a storytelling game after all.

So, I found the app (sorry website) to be a bit clunky.  You can’t “go back” in the browser, you have to go back in the app (website) itself: there’s a button at the top. Many times, I wasn’t sure what to do next from the app.   At one point, I pressed the wrong button and went “somewhere”, but I couldn’t back arrow to get back to where I was!

Here’s the thing: there’s not THAT much state stored in the app (website), so you can usually just reset the whole thing and start over if you ever get to a weird spot.  So, I was able to get around and use it, and when I was really into it: the voices and sound effects were totally on point!  Every so often (more often than I care to admit), I’d just press the wrong thing, or forget something on the previous page … and couldn’t go back. So, I’d just start over.  And it was ok.  A little clumsier than I expected.

Solo Rules?  Sorta?

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Solo game set-up

The game, when you buy it, says 3-7 players on the box.  If I had seen that, I wouldn’t have bought it!! I only got it because Tom Vasel raved about it so much.  But, here’s the thing: When you open the app (sorry, website), you get both solo and 2-Player rules!  And these are rules provided by Plaid Hat, so they are “official” rules.    I think Plaid Hat is doing themselves a disservice by putting 3-7 on the box, because, like I said, I probably wouldn’t have bought it if I just saw the box.  They totally could have put 1-7 on the box.

The solo game worked well.  I wish they had a way to PRINT out the solo rules!  They are ONLY IN THE APP!  So, whenever I had solo rules questions, I had to “break” my flow and find it in the app (sorry, website).  I probably should have just opened two tabs in my browser, keeping on the solo rules in one tab and the app (website) in another.  Listen, the solo rules are good, but they are more complex than you might expect.  I think I ended up writing down the major rule changes ON A PIECE OF PAPER so I could have that in front of me as I played.

The solo rules work pretty well, especially as a way to learn the game.

Gameplay and Expectations

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A losing solo game …

I lost my first solo game.  I had fun, but I was kind of annoyed.  And that’s MY FAULT that I was annoyed: I didn’t set my expectations properly.

So, here’s the thing: the game is JUST A STORY TELLING game!  At some point, you’ll make choices that seem fine and something dumb will happen.  Or you’ll just die.  BUT THAT’S THE WAY STORYTELLING GAMES GO.

I really liked the Tales of Arabian Nights Game (another storytelling game), but only after I set my expectations.  It’s just an experience (not a game) where stupid stuff  happens to you and you don’t really have a choice (you “choose” things in the game, but the choices never correlate with the results).  Our three main complaints with Tales of Arabian Nights:

  1. It was too random (your choices don’t really matter)
  2. It was too long (we always set it up to be half the length)
  3. The gamebook was full of so much reading, should have been an app

Forgotten Waters fixes (most) of these!

  1. You have choices that boost your stats, and the choices matter much more.
  2. The game has scenarios which you can save halfway through and come back if they are too long (save it by keeping track in the log book)
  3. There is an app for the text, and even better, it adds effects and reads it for you!

So, I am very happy that Forgotten Waters fixes a lot of these problems.  But …

Choices vs. Fiddliness

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A Monkey Island flavored character

The game has Mad Libs section at the start of the game: this really makes the game silly and invests you in the game.  I, of course, went with Monkey Island references.

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As you play through the game, you get to make  choices to “up your stats”: Exploration, Brawn, etc (see above).  At certain points in the game, you also get to fill in your constellation (the star cluster above) and when you get to a !, something happens which is very peculiar to your character! Very cool!  The actions you make in the game help you choose “which stats” you up.

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More pages from the Adventure Book

The main way you up your stats is when you take actions: on the right page of the adventure book are 6 actions you can take, and each one has its own effect: some advance the plot, some advance your stats, some clean up the ship, some add hull, some add crew … there’s a lot of things you can do!

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Here’s the thing that I had trouble with.  The game has a lot of fiddliness.  Look at all the things you have to maintain!

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There are boards for each position: see above: Cooper, First Mate, etc.  There’s 6 roles, i.e., 6 pieces of maintenance per turn.  Then there’s the choices of actions (where to put the 4 pirates in the rulebook), where to sail, which hexes to put out, etc…

So, putting all this together, it feels like you all your choices should be making your way towards a final game!  And there’s a lot of choices!  But, at the end of the day, YOU ARE SIMPLY BEHOLDEN to some random events.  That may kill you.  Or something worse.

I was annoyed because I was making “choices” throughout the game, doing lots of maintenance and upkeep as I played, and then I died because I turned over the wrong card.  The End.

IF you put your brain into the mindset “THIS IS A STORYTELLING GAME”, then this will be real fun: the movement, the stories, the app (website), the flavor text, the mad lib games ALL make the game full of flavor!

The choices you make still help the game flow, but at the end of the day, you can just die and totally destroy your game.   If you think you can out-think the game, nah, then you are playing the wrong game.   This is a Storytelling game.

Conclusion

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Solo game set-up

At the end of the day, this is a fun game.  It fixes a lot of the problems with a lot of Storytelling games (like Tales of Arabian Nights), and the game has a fun sense of humor.  Although I had problems with the app (I mean website) and the basic “fiddliness” of the game, I really did like it.  I think this game will work best with a group who can laugh with each other/at themselves while they play.  The solo experience was good enough to learn the game, but I think the game will really shine when played together as a group.

Appendix: Choose Your Own Adventure

My game group really enjoyed the first Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger game because it was stupid fun.  When I played, I set my expectations: we made choices as a group and read through a dumb adventure.  We died a few times, but we didn’t care because it was so easy to reset and continue.  Forgotten Waters is like that, but the set-up and maintenance is a bit heavier, but you are rewarded with a more customized game with prettier graphics and effects.  If you are looking for a game with a storytelling where your choices distinctly matter, then you should look at Detective: City of Angels:  It’s a murder mystery with limited replayability because once you have played through it, you know the answer!  Some other games with story books (that have a real game underneath) are Agents of SMERSH and Near and Far.

Endangered: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and Initial Impressions

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Endangered is a cooperative board game about endangered animals: You all work together on a “global scale” to help save (in a conservation sense) some endangered animals.  This game was on Kickstarter in April 2019 and successfully funded.  It delivered to me about a week ago (April 7, 2020).  It promised delivery in March 2020: given the current state of the corona virus, a month late is actually pretty good.

I won’t be doing a full review until I can get this played with multiple people!  Multiple people playing is really difficult right now with Social Distancing.  So, you may be waiting a while to see Part II of this review.   I can tell you my initial thoughts from my first solo play.

Components

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The game looks real nice: the back of the box shows some of the components and does a good job describing the game.

Upon opening the box, you see lots of cardboard (well, not too much) and lots of little wooden bits.

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Foam to hold board firmly in place

The board is packed interestingly: notice the foam around the edge!  The foam holds the board firmly in place.

The little bits in the game are good quality: the orange wooden tigers pieces are especially nice, as are the brown otter pieces.  The dice are interesting …

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The main board

The main board is two sided: one side is for the Tigers (pictured above) and one side is for the otters (not pictured).

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The main cards

The cards are all linen coated.  For some reason, the iconography and pictures remind me of Pandemic …

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Summary Cards!

I am always so happy when the game has summary cards!  One for each player (2-sided, both sides shown above).

The components, overall are very nice.

The Rulebook

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The first few pages of the rulebook: It shows all components

This is one of the better rulebooks I’ve read in a while.  First of all, it starts with the components VERY CLEARLY labelled, so you can go through the game and find everything (see picture above).

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Set-up

The set-up is right there on the next page, describing general set-up and player set-up.  There’s very nice pictures showing everything.  This was a really good start!  I had no trouble diving into the game.

Overall, the rulebook was excellent!  The rules were described well, the pictures showed what was needed, the art was very nice, and the book had big fonts (I don’t like rulebooks with small fonts).  In general, I wish all rulebooks were this good.

Again, for some reason, this rulebook reminded me on Pandemic: it had a vibe like Pandemic.

Set-Up For First Game

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The game set-up pretty quickly: see picture above.  It looks nice on the tabletop.  I was able to keep the rulebook open while I played the game (lower left).  I did need the rulebook open much of the game, even though the summary cards are good.

The first major decision during set-up: do you save the Otters or Tigers (or, if you have the expansion, the Pandas)?    I chose “Tiger” because that’s what the Rulebook defaults to for the first game.  By choosing “Tiger”, I choose side A of the board (green jungle in the middle), a certain deck of Bad News cards (called IMPACT cards, on the left side), some “Tiger” minis  (in the jungle board) and the “Tiger” dossier, which describes how the “Tiger” game is different from the main game.

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Each player then chooses a role: each role has special abilities.  The Zoologist above has a special ability for Migration Paths.  Each role has a different special ability.

Solo Play

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Solo game: Mid-game

So, this cooperative game has dedicated solo rules (Huzzah! They follow Saunders’ Law).  It’s a very straight-forward solo game: the solo player takes the role of two roles who alternate play.   It seemed to work pretty well, although there was a lot to learn on your first play.  I am always a big fan of solo rules that only make you use one character, but there’s a reason you have to have two characters: this game is (among other things) a dice-placement game, and you need the tension of having some of the dice locations unavailable when your character plays.  That seems to be a core mechanic in the game, and taking this away this tension for a one player/one character solo play would immensely change the game.

First Play

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A bunch of actions available

The object of the game: You are trying to convince a certain number of nations to enact laws to save the Tiger, and each nation has a different “victory” condition (usually, you just need more influence)!  You win if you can convince enough nations to save the Tiger!  To accomplish this, you perform actions.  You perform actions by playing dice.

The game, at its core, is a dice-placement game.   The game starts with a few Locations in play, but as you play, you can add more action cards.  The game is interesting, because each role has a different set of action cards!  On your turn, you have to make the hard decisions!  You have three dice, and each die is placed on a card to perform an action.  NOTE: you can only place a die on a card if it is GREATER THAN all other dice already on the card!

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All the actions cards the zoologist COULD play, but hasn’t yet!

The game is replete with conflicting decisions:

  1. Do you spend an action to help the Tigers (in the jungle) mate so their numbers soar?
  2. Do you get spend an action to get money?  (Money is important for so many things)
  3. Do you spend an action to gain influence?  (Influence is spent on some ambassador/nation to try to get them enact protection laws)
  4. Do you spend an action to put out an action card?   (At the start of the game, there’s only a few actions out, so you have to spend actions to put out more actions)
  5. Do you spend an action to stop the encroachment of society into the jungle?  (This is represented by tiles in the jungle, blocking places where the tigers can go or mate)
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In the end game: only two tigers alive and the encroachment has taken over most of the map!

Every action is precious.    In the early game, you tend to try to put out actions to try to get better actions out.  In the late game, you are doing everything you can to keep the Tigers alive!

Bad News/Impact Cards

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Bad News/Impact cards

Like many cooperative games, there are Bad News cards which make the world worse for the tigers.  In this game, they are called IMPACT cards (see above).  Each animal type has its own IMPACT deck (above is the Tiger).  Some of the IMPACT cards are persistent, (which means they stay out the whole game (unless you do something)) and some are one-shots (one and done).  After each character plays a turn, an IMPACT card comes out.

End of First Game

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A losing first game!

In my first game, I lost.   There is only one way to win the game: Get 4 or more Yes votes from the Ambassadors in either of your two Voting Years.

There are three ways to lose the game:

  1. If the Animal population on the board is ever reduced to 1 or 0 Animals, the group immediately loses the game.
  2. If the group is ever required to place a Destruction tile on the board and there are none left in the supply to place, the group immediately loses the game.
  3. If the group fails to get 4 or more Yes votes from the Ambassadors in the second Voting Year, the game is over and the group loses the game

I lost because I ran out of time: I didn’t have enough Yes votes from the ambassadors.  It was a rough game.

Sources of Randomness

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Five persistent IMPACTS!!

I was frustrated in my first game because I lost so hard.  At the end of the game, there were so many persistent (5!) IMPACT cards, it was a bit of a slog dealing with the Bad news every turn!!!  I was thinking about why I was frustrated: there were a number of sources of randomness and I had trouble mitigating those.

  1. IMPACT cards.  The persistent IMPACT cards didn’t seem to have a way to mitigate them.  After I finished, I realized that SOME of the IMPACT cards allow you to spend money to get rid of a persistent card, but those didn’t show up for me in my first game until after ALLL the persistent cards came out.
  2. Tigers Mate.  To see if the tigers mate, you roll a 6-sided die.  The more tiger-pairs that there are, the better your chances  (Basically, you have to roll under 1+n, where n is the number of tiger-pairs).  You can mitigate this by keeping the Tiger numbers up.
  3. Action cards.  At the start of the game, you only have two of your action cards from you deck available. After every turn, you get to draw another one, but the action cards from the decks tend to come out very slowly.  (Some of the decks have actions which allow you to draw 3 action cards instead of one as a mitigation technique).
  4. Destruction tiles.  Each turn, you have to place a destruction tile.  You choose a row (or column) and you roll a die.  If the destruction covers a tiger, oh well!  (You lost that tiger).  The mitigation technique is basically you get to choose a row/column (that has a tiger).  But you still have to roll.

Although there were ways to mitigate the randomness, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of control over that.   Now that I know the game, I think the most important thing is to get some better actions out quickly.  I realize that I had bad luck: my action cards weren’t great in the beginning, I rolled terribly in the “Tigers Mate” and the “Destruction”,  and I drew all the persistent cards without the mitigators.   So, I was frustrated.  I suspect my second play will go better … it has to!  I am a little  worried about there being too much randomness, but now that I know the game better, I’m hoping the next game will go better…

Conclusion

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In the end, this game reminded me a lot of Pandemic with perhaps a little more randomness.  The rulebook was excellent, the game looked great, and there were lots of interesting decisions.  In general, I had fun.   My only worry is the amount of randomness in the game might be frustrating: we’ll have to see with future plays.

In general, this a good game: I am glad I kickstarted it, and I look forward to playing this with my game group(s) to see how it goes.

Concurrency in Cooperative Board and Card Games

arkhamhorror

One of my top 3 games of all time is Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition.   My friends and I played the heck out of it when it first came out, and we still play at least once a year for Halloween (I have at two copies for two groups)!  It seems to be a real crowd pleaser in my game group(s), but it’s not for everyone: it has a lot of rules to absorb and a lot of components to manipulate.  My game group(s) have absorbed it and know the game quite well.

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The Game Turn Overview from Arkham Horror: 2nd Edition

Something happened as we played Arkham Horror more and more:  we started to “streamline” the play.   The rules (above) dictate that play proceeds from the first Player (clockwise), and each player must finish their phase COMPLETELY before moving on to the next player.

To quote the rules (see complete rules here, page 5):

During each phase, every player, starting with the first player and continuing clockwise, performs the actions that take place during that phase

When we are playing strictly by the rules, our game play is sequential: every player action has to finish before the next player action completed.

We noticed this was taking waaaaaay too long!!! So what did we do??? We all started taking our turns at the same time!  Basically, everyone gets tired of waiting for “their turn to come”, but since this is a cooperative game (and we are all working together), we can all go at the same time!  We all perform UPKEEP at the same time.  After that’s done, we perform MOVEMENT at the same time, and so on.

In this mode, we are play each phase concurrently: players all act at the same time!

Visualization of Sequential and Concurrent Play

One way to think of the sequential play is to visualize it as a line of actions: Player 1 performs UPKEEP, player 2 performs UPKEEP, (UPKEEP complete), player 1 performs MOVEMENT, player 2 performs MOVEMENT, (MOVEMENT complete) and so on.

seq

In concurrent play, you can think of each phase as a giant bubble of activity: all players perform UPKEEP concurrently (waiting for each other to finish).  Then all players perform MOVEMENT concurrently (waiting for all other players to finish), and so on. See below.

con

This particular concurrent method SIGNIFICANTLY speeds up gameplay, as there is much less waiting!  In fact, this very idea is used in Computer Science to make computer programs go faster!!! You take a computer program and parallelize it, causing a bunch of work be done!  In Computer Science circles, this idea is expressed in many ways: the Scatter-Gather, Work Crew, or Map-Reduce. (See here for reference)

Parallelism - Multithreading - Scatter Gather — GATK-Forum

If you can do this, this is an easy way to parallelize, or make gameplay faster!

Sequential Consistency

Game night. Frsutation, despair, anguish. A normal night in Arkham.
Playing Arkham Horror 2nd Edition

The problem with all of us acting at the same time was that were times  when two (or more) players collided in their actions!!  For example; What if we both drew from the same deck?    Since this is a friendly, cooperative game, the order we might draw from the deck doesn’t matter: we just both draw and one of us just happens to go first.  If we were feeling pedantic, we would draw in player-turn order, but most of the time we didn’t care: it was better to be moving quicker through the game than care about “who-got-which-cards”.

If we were pedantic in our play, we were ensuring that the game was playing EXACTLY the same way as if we had played WITHOUT the concurrency.  In other words, if everything happens in the exact same order as the game had played WITH THE SEQUENTIAL RULES.  If we can do this with our concurrent play, we are ensuring sequential consistency.

In other words, as long as we are pedantic in our concurrency, we are ensuring that the game plays out in exactly the same way: it is sequentially consistent.

Relaxed Sequential Consistency

Recto des cartes FR
Some of the many decks of cards from Arkham Horror, 2nd Edition

In Arkham Horror, the decks (see above) we draw from are meant to be a source of randomness: the card we draw is meant to be “a random card”.

If that’s the case, does it matter if we are pedantic in the order we draw cards?  We just want a random card!  If that’s the goal, the order shouldn’t matter as long as we are (nominally) getting a random card!

If there are things that really don’t really matter the order that they occur (i.e., , two players drawing from a deck at the same time like above), then we have relaxed consistency.

In the end, this was how we played Arkham Horror 2nd Edition: Concurrent turns with relaxed consistency.   This model helped the game move much faster!

(In fact, the game even says that’s okay …)

Screenshot from 2020-04-07 21-17-21

Seven Wonders and Simultaneous Action Selection

English first edition box cover

It’s funny: 7 Wonders has weird place in my game groups: people love it or hate it! (It turns out, it’s just my game groups, see here).  But one thing everybody seems to like is the Simultaneous Action Selection!! This is very similar to what we ended up with in Arkham Horror (concurrent play with relaxed consistency), but the concurrent play  in 7 Wonders is much smoother.  Frankly, there’s only two main phases (passing cards concurrently and then playing cards/effects concurrently, see below)! 7 Wonders has been designed to avoid the consistency traps we saw in Arkham Horror!  Arguably, that’s Simultaneous Action Selection’s greatest feature: simple concurrency with no need to ensure a consistency model: that’s just the way it works.

If you squint, you can visualize the two concurrency phases in the main play:

  1. All players select 1 card and then pass the rest (ALL HAPPENING CONCURRENTLY)
  2. All players reveal and “act” on their card (buying it, putting it under wonder, etc) (ALL HAPPENING CONCURRENTLY)

That’s why 7 Wonders works so well with a large group: large amounts of concurrency!

Sidekick Saga and Concurrency

The goal of Sidekick Saga was to achieve the amount of concurrency in 7 Wonders, but in a world that must be explored (like Arkham Horror).  Sidekick Saga was designed to be a Simultaneous Action Selection game …  but, it turns out, concurrency is hard.

Originally, the Sidekick Phase (see above) was meant to be purely Simultaneous Action Selection: players strategize together at the start of the phase, then each perform their entire Sidekick Phase completely concurrently!  But several things got in the way:

  1. There was the matter of the Lead cards: they are obtained at the end of the turn and can’t be shared that turn (thematically, you spend your whole turn running down a Lead so you can’t share it just yet).  Can I pass newly minted Leads when I get them?  (Answer: no)
  2. When you can pass cards?  Can I pass a card I got this turn? (Answer: yes, but only if it wasn’t passed to you this turn! Only if you picked it up!)
  3. What happens when two players draw from the same deck?  (Similar to Arkham Horror, but now order can matter if you have the X-Ray Specs)

Addressing each of these is simply a matter of making sure you ensure sequential consistency, but there’s just enough edge cases/rules that it can be confusing, especially as players are learning the game.

So I backed off Simultaneous Action Selection to a Concurrent with sequential consistency model  … like Arkham Horror.  At least players would getting SOME parallelism.  Recall, however, that model was achieved ONLY BY EXPERTS AT Arkham Horror!!  Playtesters, even with experienced players, got confused by the model.  So, I had to introduce a purely sequential mode: Novice!

Screenshot from 2020-04-07 21-49-13

In an ideal world, there would be three modes of Sidekick Saga:

  1. Novice (as players become familiar with the actions): sequential play
  2. Normal (once players are comfortable with the actions): concurrent play with sequential consistency
  3. Advanced (players know the interactions very well): concurrent play with relaxed consistency, approaching Simultaneous Action Selection.  (For this to work, we have to be sure to have rules to deal with of the few edge cases we identified above).

The problem is that Novice was a bad word to use (and what Rahdo picked up on his “Final Thoughts” video).  Novice implies someone who is perhaps not used to modern board games: that’s not at all what I meant!  I meant someone who is new to THIS GAME!!  So, that’s my fault.  What I should have used:

  1. Normal (sequential)
  2. Advanced (concurrent play with sequential consistency)
  3. Expert (concurrent play with relaxed consistency)

The Second Edition of the game will fix this (and there will probably be an updated rulebook on BoardGameGeek).

Conclusion

Concurrency is hard to think about.   In Computer Science curriculum, concurrency is so hard, it’s typically an upper-level college or graduate level course (When I took it, it was a graduate level class). SOme of the lessons I have learned here:

  1. Don’t introduce concurrency unless it’s very simple concurrency (like 7 Wonders and Simultaneous Action Selection)
  2. Realize that concurrency can be hard (and name modes that use it appropriately)
  3. If you are going to introduce concurrency, make sure your rules explain it well and have lots of pretty pictures