Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games With Apps!

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There’s a fairly new breed of board and card games, where an app on a phone or tablet (or sometimes computer) provides content for a physical board game! To be clear, the board or card game is unplayable without the app! Note that this is not the same as playing the game online … the physical boards/cards still sit in front of all the characters around a table!! (See a very different lists here for that: Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online). This hybrid experience uses an app to augment a physical play of an in-person physical board game. Although some people don’t like apps spoiling the “purity” of their board games, apps augmenting games are here to stay. Over the past few years, there have been enough games released that we can can make a list of cooperative games that fit this bill. Today, we take a look here at the Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games with an App!

Honorable Mention: Descent: Legends of the Dark Edition
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So, Descent has a sordid history for me. At the end of the day, I hated the 1st and 2nd Editions of Descent because they were one-vs-many games! One player played the “DungeonMaster” (DM) trying to kill the rest of the players. Here’s the thing: I hated that. It reminded me too much of early Dungeons and Dragons games with a vindictive DM trying to kill the players. And that was never fun. And the rules for Descent were too complicated. And because of the one-vs-many nature, you couldn’t question rules without creating a hostile environment. I really despised the game. When I heard there was to be a 3rd Edition (well, not a third edition per se, but a new version) that was fully cooperative (where the app took the place of the DM), I was in! Unfortunately, Descent: Legends of the Dark has been very divisive: some people love it, some people hate. it I didn’t love it myself, but it’s so interesting in a different way, it needs some recognition on this list. Take a look at this review by Tom Vasel of the Dice Tower to see if you might like it: this is a very thorough and well-thought out review which might help you decide if you like it. Another interesting review from the Shut-Up and Sit-Down people paints it in a more negative light.

10. X-COM: The Board Game 

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X-COM The Board Game is probably the oldest game on this list (but see #9): it’s an older Fantasy Flight game that you can’t seem to really get anymore.   This is a cooperative, real-time game about researching tech, protecting locations, and completing missions with your team.  The game has a push-your-luck mechanic as you decide how much to roll and re-roll as well.  This game was surprisingly fun, given that it was a little bit of a bear to get into.  In the game, there are 4 positions which must ALWAYS be populated, which makes it difficult to play at most player counts except for 4.  Players “commit” resources during the real-time phase, and then you “resolve” the resources with some dice-rolling (researching, protecting, missioning).  Real-time, resolve, repeat.  

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The rules are almost all in the app, which we all agreed was not the best decision, as it was sometimes too hard to look up rules.  Even though this is a real-time game, we chose NOT to play real-time as the game was more fun if we could just slow it slightly; luckily, the game allows you (in certain modes) to “pause” as you play.

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We didn’t love the game but we liked it! It was a bit random (because of the push-your-luck dice mechanic), we didn’t love the rulebook but we liked how it walked us through the game.  We probably wouldn’t play it strictly real-time, but we still had a lot of fun playing.  All of those caveats are why it sits at number 10.

9. Stop Thief!

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Stop Thief is a game from Restoration Games, resurrecting the old Parker Brothers game from 1979.  (Yes, you read that right, 1979!!) The original game was a one-vs-many game, where one player played the thief trying to get away from the other players.  The thief moves around the board “in secret” (hidden movement) stealing stuff, and it’s up to the other players to try to deduce where the thief is and (as a team) stop him!!! The newest incarnation uses the app to run the thief so the game can be played fully cooperatively (if desired: the original mode is available as well).  This hidden movement, press-your-luck game, and deduction works pretty well as a fully cooperative game.  The app is kind of cool because it uses sound to give “clues” about how the thief is moving.  It’s a bit light and it plays in about 20 minutes.

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8. Last Defense

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Last Defense is a light, cooperative real-time game I got at Target for under $20 (I think it was $15 on sale). The app and the game are very colorful.  Unfortunately, the app didn’t seem to get the margins right on my ipad, so some of the graphics were cut off.  

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This was an “end-of-the-night” game: it’s simple, only takes 20 minutes (as you explore the board in real-time and gather tools).  The app is used mostly for “announcing” where monsters attack the city, but it definitely is thematic and really contributes to the mood of the game.  

Last Defense has some problems (only 2-6 players: no solo mode) and the app could be better (needs updating), but for the price, it’s a pretty fun light real-time cooperative game.

7. Escape Tales

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The Escape Tales games are three separate Escape Room games that use an app to help you you through the adventure(s).  Each of the adventures is fairly hefty (about 3 game sessions to play) and kind of dark.  The app is necessary, but it generally isn’t too splashy: it just helps tell the story.  (There were a few cool puzzles here and there in the app itself).  The app generally helps you manage the state of your game.  We reviewed Escape Tales:  Children of Wyrmwoods here and really did like it. Most of the time, you want the app on your iPad (for real estate reasons), but I was able to use just my phone.

6. A Tale of Pirates

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A Tale of Pirates is a cooperative real-time pirate game that made our Top 10 Cooperative Swashbuckling Games!  I had originally gotten this game for my friends Charlie and Allison as a birthday present, and I fell in love with it after playing it!

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The app is fantastic, maybe the  best one on this list, as it is easy to run, easy to read, and plays thematic music as you play!  The game has amazing table presence (people will stop by and ask “What are You Playing?”).   There’s also an ongoing adventure for the pirates, which Charlie and Allison have finished because they loved this game so much!  Players take timers (this is a cooperative real-time game) and use them to “do things” on the pirate ship (load cannons, get cannonballs, scout, etc) and “new things” unlock as the adventure unfurls.

5. Rising 5

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Rising 5 was an early review (see here) we did here at Co-op Gestalt:  We liked it enough that it made our Top 10 Cooperative Space-Theme Games!  This is basically cooperative Mastermind (the old board game) with a beautiful redesign (see the Vincent Dutraite art above and below) and the app is giving clues to you.  With the app, you can play solo as well.

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One of the nice things about this game is you CAN play without the app, but then one person has to play the clue-giver (as per original Mastermind).

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4. Mansions of Madness: 2nd Edition

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Mansion of Madness: 2nd Edition has a sordid past with me (which I talk about in my Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games as well as my Top Cooperative 10 Creepy/Spooky Games), but we have started playing it every Halloween along with Arkham Horror: 2nd Edition!  Mansions of Madness is a cooperative adventure game where players explore an area, with the app guiding them to set-up pieces as they explore.

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The app does a great job of walking you though a spooky scenario, with appropriate music making it even more creepy!  (NOTE: Journeys in Middle Earth would probably also be here as well, as Mansions of Madness and Journeys in Middle Earth are two Fantasy Flight app games with a lot of similarities.  If you made me choose, which you have, I would choose Mansions of Madness because the theme is so strong).

3. Chronicles of Crime

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In this family of games (essentially all detective games), players use the app on their phone to scan QR codes on cards and locations to study items, investigate locations, question people, and explore the world.  It’s a simple app mechanism that the Chronicles of Crime family of games has used to very well.  This game made our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games and was quite a hit at RichieCon 2021.  The thing is: there’s a number of themes, depending on what appeals to you! 

  1. Scotland Yard?  Try the original Chronicles of Crime!
  2. 1400 and something like The Name of The Rose?  Try the standalone game: 1400: Chronicles of Crime!
  3. Noir?  Try the standalone game 1900: Chronicles of Crime or the Noir  expansion (which needs the original game)
  4. Archie Comics?  (I am not kidding here)  Try the Welcome to Redview expansion (which needs the original game)
  5. The future?  The standalone game: 2400: Chronicles of Crime is coming out soon!

2. Forgotten Waters

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Forgotten Waters is a fantastic cooperative storytelling game, where the app helps guide you through a (somewhat silly) Pirate Adventure!  The app (well, really a web-site) has voice-acting and sound effects that really escalate the storytelling experience.   Rather than reading from a storybook (like older games), all the story is in an App, and it is read to you!!! Players work together as a crew of Pirates searching for Big Whoop!  (Or was that Monkey Island II?… Forgotten Waters and the Monkey Island games share a lot of silly pirate DNA).  They sail the seas, search islands, and have adventures!  Forgotten Waters is so great,  it’s made numerous lists here: Top 10 Cooperative Swashbuckling Games, Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Storytelling Games, and Top 10 Cooperative Games With a Sense of Humor!

1.  Unlock!  Escape Room Games

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At the time of this writing, there are 27 Unlock Games (see above).  These are little escape room games where an app (with some physical cards) guides you through an adventure. The original games came separately with one game per pack (and you can still get some of them that way), but now they come in packs of 3 (with three different games per pack).  The reason this game is the number one is because how much the Unlock games have pushed the envelope!  In 27 games, they have tried a lot of interesting things in the app!  Without any spoilers (because there are 27 games), I have seen: Shaking the app, listening to the app, blowing on the app, tracing on the app, talking to the app, passing the app!  The list goes on of all the things you can do in the app!  And some of my favorite escape room game experiences have been Unlock games with the app.  These games are fun puzzles that you can play solo or with a group!

We have reviewed a few of the Unlock games here and here.

A Review of Backwoods

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Backwoods is a cooperative bag-building, exploration game from Kickstarter back in August, 2020; it promised delivery in July 2021 (about a 1 year later). I received my Kickstarter copy about Sept 20, 2021, so it was a few months late. A few months late for a Kickstarter? That’s not bad, especially in today’s shipping climate!

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The back of the box (see above) show Backwoods for 1-4 Players, ages 14+ and plays in 1 to 2 hours. My experience with the game make me feel like this info is accurate.

Unboxing

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Backwoods is in a smaller box (smaller than a Ticket To Ride box, abut half the size), but it’s pretty full of stuff.

The most important card in the game is the summary card above: it outlines how the game flows and what the rules are in each phase.

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The rulebook looks like a survival/bird manual.

Included with the game was this very pretty little “woodsy” card. It didn’t really have a purpose (except to be art), but it did set the mood for the game: we are out in the backwoods! I almost feel like it might have made a better cover to the game.

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There are a BUNCH of punchout tokens: most of these are for the grab bag: this is basically a bag-building game; you will build and fill your bag with resources as one of the main mechanisms.

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I have the Deluxe edition which has dual-layer boards. These are really nice and easy to read and use!

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All the boards represent the same info, but there’s a different graphic on each board (see above). These boards are used to keep track of abilities and some key stats for each character. This is probably my favorite component in the game: they are linen-finished, dual-layer, and easy to use.

The rest of the box holds the cards, cubes, dice, and remaining tokens. See above.

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Another main component of the game is the bag itself: see above. This is a bag-building game!! You put the cardboard tokens (to the right in the picture) into the bag: The bag is big and easy to put your hand in to pull stuff out/put stuff in.

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The cards are all very well-marked with their type: see below. (I really appreciate that) They are also all linen-coated! The text is always big and easy to read. See above. I really really appreciate this feature!

The card art is a bit inconsistent and odd. The regions have a different flavor than the pioneers than the items than the night cards. It’s all “kind of” the same theme, but there seems to be an odd inconsistency to the art.

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The cubes (above) are used for the dual-layer Character board. The dice (below) are used for Skill checks.

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The final, pretty nice wood tokens are used to mark Locations.

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In general, the game looks and feels pretty nice. About everything is linen-finished which really adds a nice touch to the initial feeling of quality.

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It looks pretty nice! There’s a lot here for a smaller box.

The Rulebook

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This rulebook is really not very good. I sometimes rate rulebooks by how many times I yell “Grr!” when reading. This was at least a 5-“Grr!” rulebook. (Roll Camera, by contrast from last week, was a “0-Grr!” rulebook and one of the better rulebooks I’ve read in a while). I struggled greatly with this rulebook.

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The rulebook looks like it might “bird-hunting” manual (see above) which is quite thematic. And at the end of the day, “most stuff” is somewhere. But, it was a struggle.

Problem One: What’s the theme? What am I doing overall? The first few pages DO NOT DESCRIBE what we are supposed to be doing from a high-level persepctive!! Most rulebooks start with that! The only place I found it was on the back of the box:

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Problem Two: What were some the tokens? Page 2 does show the tokens (see below), but some tokens were no accounted for. (The brown tokens that seem to correlate to some of the animals .. what are they?)

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Problem Three: Where the set-up picture? I expected some sort of set-up picture in the Starting Out, but there wasn’t any.

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I did find a set-up picture, again, on the back of the box! … not in the rulebook where most rulebooks show them. (And I didn’t find the picture below until my third time playing).

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Problem Four: What am I supposed to be doing? How do I win? Immediately after Set-up, it jumps into the scenarios. And doesn’t describe “Freedom Mode” (which is what the “first set-up” is described with).

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Am I supposed to play Just A Scratch first? Freedom Mode (alluded to in the Set-up)? If you look all the way at the VERY END of the rulebook, you find some description of what you need to do to win:

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So, notice that the Freedom mode is described on the LAST page of the rulebook, as well as adjustments for the number of players. Shouldn’t that have been all at Set-Up?

Problem Five: Just poor organization. And not a lot of pictures, if any. I struggled reading anything.

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Overall, you can figure out how to play the game from the rulebook (well, mostly, see below). But this rulebook almost made me toss the game on the scrap pile.

After playing a few times, I found a “How To Play” set-up on the website. https://mosthighdesign.com/backwoodsgame/resources/

I wish I had known about that beforehand.

Set-Up

A picture of set-up (again, on the back of the box) goes a long way towards seeing what the game looks like. Once you see the game set-up, you forgive some of the grumpiness of the rulebook because the dual-layer board and linen-coated cards look nice on the table. For future generations, above is a picture of set-up!

Solo Play

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See a picture of a solo game, a few rounds in.

Luckily, the game has a solo mode (thank you for following Saunders’ Law): they basically just slightly adjusts the abilities for balance.

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Once you FIND the solo rules (on the VEEEEERRY last page), it’s a decent way to learn the game. I think you really to need to play the game solo before you present this game to anyone: it’s too much to try to learn this in real-time with a group because the rulebook is so bad. I have to admit that I was pretty grumpy with my solo game, but once I presented the game to my friends, it flowed a lot better BECAUSE I had already suffered through the rulebook.

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See a losing game (above).

After playing the game a few times, I think the solo game is significantly harder than the cooperative game because you can’t do quite as much per turn: a solo player will have to take 3 events before he can build three things (as he can only only build once per turn, so three turns have to pass), but a 3-Player game can build 3 times with only one event (in one turn). I think that is a correct assessment of how to play, but again, the rulebook isn’t clear.

Exploration

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The game is all about trying to stay alive while you look for the Fort (at least for the first “Freedom Mode” scenario).  Once you make it to the Fort (see below): you win!

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You can go out to a few Locations and can either (a) Scout it or (b) just head in there blind. It’s a simple explore mechanism, as you just flip a card (orthogonally) next to you from the Regions deck:

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When you are all done, you have explored a number of Regions which is kind of neat.  And each region has very different characteristics.

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By the end of the game, it’s kind of a cool little map you’ve set up. And every region has different explore effects.

Gameplay

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The most important piece in the game is the map above: it gives a VERY nice summary of how the game flows.  The little owl marks which “phase” of the game you are in, and a nice summary in on the edges of the card.  This card, this card saved this game from the scrap-heap: It’s a nice summary that can at least get you in to the game without HAVING to keep your nose in the rulebook. 

At it’s core, this is a bag-building game and resource management game.  To win, you need to find the Fort (usually), but along the way, you need food and water (and other things) to survive. You can get that food and water from the bag (see opportunity below) or trying other actions in the game (fighting animals, events, etc).  For example: If you defeat the “Barred Owls” below in combat, you get 2 Meat (lower left on card).

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You can place items in the bag for 1 opportunity (see lower left of player board) or pull from the bag for 2 opportunity.

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You can also use resources in the game for building items:

The fire above can be built for 1 WOOD, and it’s imperative, especially in the early game, as it allow you to fight hypothermia.

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There are TONS of ITEMS in the game. I didn’t realize it until the end of my first solo game, but building items is KEY to winning the game! You can choose ANY item in the deck to build, as long as you have the resources!!

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In the different phases of the game, you explore, build, heal, and fight as you look for the Fort. There are sort of two sets of Bad News cards (this is a cooperative game after all): The Events Cards feel like Choose-Your-Own-Adventure cards, and add an element of “adventure” to the game: The results can be good or bad, depending on what you choose.

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The Night cards, on the other hand, are more like the traditional Bad News cards in cooperative games: something bad happens.

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In general, the game flows through a bunch of days where you explore, build, heal, choose, and end with a Night card. Continue until you’ve found the Fort!

Religion

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One of the elements of the game is religious “Christian faith”. It is an optional rule, but the game acknowledges that 1800s in the USA was typically settled by religious (often Christian) settlers. I didn’t have a problem with this rule, because it felt thematic: in my USA History classes, it was very clear that a lot of Christian Settlers had come to the US for religious freedom during the early parts of American history. So, I didn’t have a problem with it.

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My friends, who tend to me more religious, had more problems with it. They argued that it was perhaps reductive to their faith (reducing Christian religion to just mechanisms with the Faith attribute) and some characters (like the Indian princess character) would probably have a different flavor of faith. So, rather than pigeon-hole the faith as “Christian” mechanism in the game, maybe it should have been handled more generically than the very Christian way it was dealt.

I don’t think anyone was offended, and it didn’t get the way of the game, but we all imagined some people might have a problem with the “faith” part of the game. Luckily, the “faith” rules are optional, but you should be aware of them in case it might rub you the wrong way.

Cooperative Play

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As a game, Backwoods worked better as a cooperative game than a solo game. We all worked together and made decisions about what Items to buy (an essential part of the game). The solo mode is essential for learning the game, but I think you would pull this game out to play it cooperatively more than solo.

Conclusion

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In the end, Backwoods strikes me as a cooperative bag-building version of Paleo! Paleo (a cooperative game that won the 2021 Kennerspiel des Jahres which we reviewed here) is all about managing resources and building the necessary things to survive. Backwoods has a very similar feel to Paleo, but Backwoods uses a bag-building mechanism to help manage resources. If you enjoyed Paleo’s resource management and exploration “feel”, I suspect Backwoods would be a game you might enjoy.

Some of the art and graphic design of Backwoods rubbed my friends the wrong way: they seemed to think that the art and graphic design seemed inconsistent (see above). Also, the rulebook definitely needs a major reworking (needing significant re-organization and rewriting), but once you have played the game a few times, however, the rulebook issues are less pronounced. The cooperative game is better than the solo game (as the solo game seems perhaps too difficult), with some interesting decisions made as a group.

My friends seemed to think that Backwoods needed more development and would give it a 5/10. I liked it more than they did, but I see their point. The game has some really neat ideas and the gameplay does flow pretty well once you get into it, but be aware of the potential issues (art, graphic design, rulebook, faith rules) before you buy: hopefully you can get a good idea of all that from this review.

A Review of X-Men: Marvel United. Part I-Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

X-Men: Marvel United is a cooperative super hero game where each player takes the role of an X-Man! Players work together to take down a bad guy! This was a Kickstarter back in May 2021. This essentially the same game as Marvel United (which we reviewed in two parts: Part I here and Part II here), but with characters from the X-Men Marvel universe (instead of the Avengers). To be clear, X-Men: Marvel United is a standalone game which can be played all by itself, but it also expands the original Marvel United.

My copy arrived October 1st, 2021 (see above). This isn’t widely available just yet: as part of the Kickstarter, I could spend an extra $10 to get the base game delivered early. I normally don’t like to do the Phase I/Phase II shipping in Kickstarter, but I was very excited to get this!

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By the way, is this X-Men: Marvel United or Marvel United: X-Men? Reading left-to-right on both the front of the box and the back of the box, it looks like X-Men: Marvel United, but the little text above the UPC symbol implies that maybe this is Marvel United: X-Men “formally” inside the system? We’ll be calling in X-Men: Marvel United because, you know, left to right.

Unboxing

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What’s in the box?

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There’s a little pamphlet with a code, which my phone immediately went to! It went to a web site with some extra content: see here (basically a downloadable achievement book, rulebook, and super villain book). The rulebook is immediately under that (the same size as the box).

The rulebook has the same art as the cover. As an aside, I didn’t originally like the “chibi” style art of the game, but it has really grown on me.

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There are two sheets of cardboards tokens: the ones of the left are mostly actions you can “save” between turns (Punch, Wild, Heroism, Move), while the markers in the right sheet are for thugs/civilians (top), Crisis tokens (middle) and Damage tokens for bad guys (bottom). The card is pretty thick and punched out very easily.

The game has a very nice insert! There’s a little plastic cover that holds down the minis so they stay in place: see above.

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The minis look really nice and are color-coded for your convenience! The blue ones are the heroes, the orange ones are villains (which were RED in the original Marvel United?) are villains, and the purple minis (Magneto and Mystique) can be either a hero or a villain, depending on the scenario! This is very thematic for Magneto and Mystique because sometimes the X-Men would team up with those Villains to “help” the mutant cause!

This is one of the reasons to get this game! The minis are very nice!! You get Juggernaut and Sabre Tooth (villains), Magneto and Mystique (villains or heroes), and then the X-Men proper: Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops, Professor X, Beast, and Jean Grey (Marvel Girl, but the game calls her Jean Grey).

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These little minis are SOOO thematic and cool looking! See above for some close ups!

The rest of the game is either little cardboard sheets (with stats) or cards. The cardboard sheets feel a little thin and cheap, but they look good. For example: the Villain Cards:

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Each Villain has a Villain Card which describes their gameplay effects.

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The game contains 8 city Locations in the same thin cardboard (see above) : you get to choose 6 per game that you put in a circle. These are different locations than the original game. The Villain Dashboard is also in this thin cardboard.

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To be fair, the Kickstarter allowed you the opportunity to upgrade some of these thinner components, but some of these base cardboard cards feel a little cheap. I guess this is the price we pay for getting X-Men: Marvel United in the mass market stores! (At least, I think this will be available at Walmart like the original Marvel United …)

The rest of the game is in the cards: they are NOT linen-finished, but they are otherwise nice and readable and have nice art.

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There are 8 Hero decks: one for each hero!

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Each Villain also has their own deck (see above).

There are also some cards for a 1 vs many mode (the Super Hero and Super Villain cards), some “Challenge” cards (which make the game harder), and some goals for heroes to move forward (the first three are the same, the Cerebro one is new).

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Overall, the same looks really nice. The lack of linen-finish on the cards and the cheap cardboard boards are a minor criticism of a game that looks and feels very thematic! At the end of the day, those little minis are probably what sell the game!

Rulebook

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This is a fine rulebook. The Intro page has a nice intro with a good table of contents. See below.

The component page is great! See above! (Everything is easy to correlate and collate).

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The set-up works fine as well (a little texty, but it has some goods pictures).

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I feel like the set-up should have spanned two pages and ONLY been set-up, but in the interest of saving space (and maybe a few more pages), the set-up is condensed a little bit! Again, probably the product of a mass-market game. Note! The winning and losing condition is right up front!!!

This is a fine rulebook. I didn’t really have any major problems.

Set-Up

The game looks good set-up: See above for a 2-Player (which was actually a 1 player) set-up.

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Wolverine is one of the characters being played: shockingly, he has a lot of attack! The player starts with 3 cards to choose from.

As the game progresses, players will be putting out their cards in a tableu representing the history of actions: here’s a starting tableau after a few turns (notice the villain starts):

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And here’s a tableau after a full game!

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The game needs a lot of space available for the little history/tableau, so just be aware and preallocate the space!

Solo Play

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The game follows Saunders’ Law and comes with a solo mode, so that’s great! Here’s the thing: The X-Men: Marvel United solo mode has the same problem as the original Marvel United solo mode: Too much intellectual overhead! The Marvel United solo mode is the canonical example of a game that tries too hard to have a solo mode: see previous discussion here In “How To Play a Cooperative Game Solo?” The essence of the problem is that there are too many exceptions to the main rules (which are fairly straight-forward): see the half page of rules for just the solo mode above! It’s very daunting!

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Here’s the thing: the solo mode of “let’s just play two X-Men and alternate between them like a 2-Player game” works great! It’s much simpler, it’s easier to get into, and it’s just as challenging! (The game above ends with a loss to Magneto). There aren’t a half page of exceptions to look up: you just play the game as it’s intended with normal rules.

The game above was SO FUN even though I loss! Play two-handed and ignore the solo rules.

Cooperation

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One of the best elements of the game is how it encourages cooperation between the X-Men: when a character plays a card to the tableau, he plays the symbols on his card, PLUS the symbols used by his compatriot on the previous turn!

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After Wolverine plays, Professor X plays a card in which gets to MOVE and be HEROIC, but also gets the two ATTACKS of Wolverine on his turn! On Wolverine’s next turn, he’ll get the MOVE and HEROIC …

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In order to win, players absolutely have to work together and discuss which cards to play so they can leverage each other’s symbols!

Extra Stuff

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The game also comes with a special one vs. many mode (which can expand the game from 1-4 players to 5): One player plays one of the villains, with the rest being X-Men heroes trying to take down the Villain! The Villains and Heroes get special cards for this mode: see pictures above and below.

Conclusion

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X-Men: Marvel United continues the trend of Marvel United: it’s a fun cooperative superhero game that should have made our Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games! The only question is: do you like the Avengers or the X-Men better? If you like the Avengers, you should get the original Marvel United. If you like the X-Men, you should be picking up X-Men: Marvel United. They are both stand-alone games and work just fine is isolation.

Should you get both? Only if you want more content! Arguably, the original Marvel United is a little limited since it only has 3 Villains, so adding X-Men to this adds a lot of content! You get 4 new Villains and 8 new Heroes, which gives you a lot more combinations to try! How would Captain America and Wolverine fare against Mystique? How would Ant-Man and the Beast fare against Ultron? (Wait, wasn’t Beast an Avenger AND an X-Man?) All the team-ups you always wanted to try, you can!

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I like Superheroes, and I really like X-Men: Marvel United. Granted, it’s a simpler game, but I still enjoy it. My only question now: will X-Men:Marvel United make my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2021 (see 2020 games here) or my Top 10 Expansions to Cooperative Games for 2021 (see 2020 expansions here)?

A Review of Roll Camera!

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

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

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

Unboxing

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

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

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The main components come out easily (see above).

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

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

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

The rulebook is linen finished and really easy to read.

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

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

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The cards are very nice and linen finished.

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

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

The Rulebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo Game

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

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

Gameplay

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Roll Camera! is a cooperative dice-placement game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Powers

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

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

Player Privilege

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

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

Sense of Humor

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

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

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

Cooperation

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

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

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

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

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

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Making Movies

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

A Review of Aliens: Bug Hunt

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

Game Overview

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

The Marines

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

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

The Gameplay

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

There are only four actions your squad can take:

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

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

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

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

Pros, Cons, and Tradeoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

A Review of Escape: Cooperative Roll and Write

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing

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

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

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

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

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

And some rulebooks.

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

… and that’s it for components.

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

Rulebook

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

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

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

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

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

Solo Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Impressions

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

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

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

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

Special Powers

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Escape From 100 Million BC

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

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

4. Planet of the Apes

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

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

5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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

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

6. Wayward

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

A Review of Intrepid: The Cooperative Board Game

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

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

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

Unboxing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just amazing components … and more coming!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rulebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo Play

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

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

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiplayer Play

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Needs Clarification/Fixing

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

A Review of MicroMacro: Crime City

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

 

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Where’s Waldo?

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

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

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

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

Unboxing

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

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The rulebook is nice. See above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rulebook

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

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

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

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

Solo Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Player Count

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

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

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

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

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

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Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Ages

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Top 5 List of Components for the Gameroom!

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

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

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

Number 5.  Plastic Baggies and SharpiesIMG_7492

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

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

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

Number 4. Rubber Bands

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

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

Number 3. Kallax Shelves

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

Number 2. A Copier/Printer

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

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

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

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

Number 1. Knee-High Tables for Drinks

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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