A Review of Hour of Need

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Hour of Need is a cooperative superhero adventure game for 1-4 players (5-6 with expansions). It was the #1 entry on our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games of 2021! That should also tell you how late this game is: it just arrived earlier this week (Wednesday, May 18th, 2002) after promising delivery November 2020! So, this is pretty late: about a year and a half! It’s still better than the 5 year delay on Sentinels of Earth Prime (which we reviewed here), but we were very happy to finally get this!

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All-in for Hour of Need!

Long term readers of this blog know I love cooperative Superhero games (Marvel United has been grabbing our attention a lot lately: the Days of Future Past and Fantastic Four expansions in particular), so when Hour of Need came up on Kickstarter, I went all in and got everything. We’re mostly just going to look at the base game, but we will show (in the Appendix) some of what came in the other boxes.

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Hour of Need is a game by the Sadler brothers, who did Warhammer Quest Adventure card and Heroes of Terrinoth! Those two games topped our Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games so we were very excited to get another one of the Sadler Brothers games (Hour of Need) to the table.

Unboxing

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There base box is pretty big.  See above with reference Can of Coke.

As we unbox, we see the two books on top: the Rulebook and Issue Guide.

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There’s quite a bit of content here:

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Let’s take a look at some of this up close!  It all looks pretty cool!

Rulebook

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This Rulebook is … okay.  I was able to learn the rules from this book, but there were some problems.

The first 8 pages were exemplary: It started with a tiny overview and with a list of components and pictures correlating those components:

The next two pages have a nice overview/anatomy of most cards: I would have preferred this later, but this still worked here:

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Next comes a Set-Up picture: That’s great!  A two page spread with set-up on one side and picture on the other.  I wish they have labelled the picture with letters/numbers corresponding to the steps, but that didn’t get in the way of me getting everything set-up.

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Next comes a discussion of the board, annotated with some great descriptive text.

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The first 8 pages were great: it was exactly what I wanted and needed to get going.  The rest of the rulebook makes some fundamental errors, unfortunately.

Take a look at further pages above: there is a lot of text!  There aren’t many pictures or annotations that could really be used to spruce up the explanations.

Another problem was the use of Comic Book font for some rules:

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I think Comic Book font is thematic and good for cards (it helps solidify the theme during gameplay), but in a rulebook, I think it’s a mistake.  The rulebook for Oblivaeon made this same mistake.  What’s even weirder is that Hour of Need MIXES the fonts!  Some rules are are in a more traditional font (see right page above) while some rules are in the Comic Book Font (page left above).

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Another mistake was putting critical rules in the parenthetical boxes. See above: it lists the rule for flipping the Scheme cards which we didn’t see our first couple of playthroughs! Generally, parenthetical boxes are outside the “main flow “of reading, so you might “skip” it thinking it’s just a further elaboration.  Nope!  This was a critical rule!  I understand wanting to “emphasize” a rule, but the boxes (like above) are kind of outside the flow.  Unicornus Knights had this rulebook problem (putting critical rules in parenthetical boxes) in their first edition rulebook (see discussion here), but they fixed that in their second edition rulebook  (see discussion  here)  by incorporating the critical rules into the main text flow.

My final complaint, and this is the biggest, is the lack of an index.  I had so many questions as I played, and I had no way to look up rules without having to search the whole rulebook.

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I want to be clear: I learned the game from the rulebook, so it was ok.  But it was harder than it should have been.  Some of my complaints (like the font and parenthetical boxes) are minor issues that are perhaps more personal opinion.  But the lack of annotated pictures and lack of a complete index really did make the game harder to learn.

Miniatures

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Some of the minis

The minis for this game are pretty good.  These minis are a little smaller than some games (like Tainted Grail which has bigger minis), and they aren’t quite as detailed, but they are pretty good.  Above are the good guys and bad guys.  Below are some Lackeys for the Bad Guys.  

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The Lackeys of Dowager are on the top row, and Lackeys for Curtains on the bottom row.

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You can see the scale of the miniatures: that’s the good guy Guerrilla (above) with the Coke Can just behind it for reference.

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The minis for the Good Guys

You can see the Good Guy minis a little more close up … (above) and the Bad Guy minis (below).

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The minis for the Bad Guys

I’ll have to admit that I had a little trouble correlating the minis to the good guys and bad guys: I had to use the first pages of the rulebook to make sure I got them right:

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The only problem I have with the minis is that they are smaller, so it’s harder to see the features across the table! Frequently, I would mess up which character was which. I really wanted some way to help distinguish them.

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If you look behind Guerrilla, you’ll see some colored disks for the bottoms of the minis! But those aren’t for the main Heroes or Villains! Those are ONLY for the Lackeys, which come out much less frequently! An old principle of computer design is to “optimize for the common case”. In this case, Heroes and Villains are on the board more MUCH MORE than Lackeys, so maybe we should be using those for the main characters instead. If I were to redo this game, I would use the colored disks for the Heroes and Villains and some minor mechanism for the Lackeys! Something like …

  • Each hero gets a different color.  Maybe the hero cards should be somehow keyed to those colors?  I understand that the primary colors are used for other things in the game (peril spaces), so maybe a different palette for the heroes (pink, cyan, purple, orange).  Something that is visually distinct so I can make them out across the board!  (EDIT: After some scrutiny, I am thinking Majesty gets some flavor of orange for her Orange hair, Guerilla gets metallic green for his green/Army motif, Micro Man gets cyan/light blue as it matches his costume, and Slide gets either silver or dark red for her costume?):
  • The Villain gets black.
  • The Lackeys keep their primary colors (since the cards are already keyed to those colors).
  • The Minions get grey (if you have the Kickstarter extras): grey for bad, but not totally bad.
  • The Bystanders get white (if you have the Kickstarter extras): white for innocent

Although I liked the miniatures, the game board looked like a sea of grey with the minis on it. I frequently got confused as to which mini was which. See below.

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Admittedly, some of the problem here is that I used the Kickstarter extra: minis for bystanders and minions: (You might say they put the mini into Minions … hahaha. I’ll see myself out).

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This Kickstarter extra adds more grey figures. So, there are some solutions to distinguish the minis:

  • Paint the minis. Some people love doing this: it’s not for me.
  • Go on Etsy and find 25mm colored miniature bases (I found one site that would fulfill the order and get 30 bases of the colors I mentioned, but it would be about $27)

Out of the box, it can be hard to distinguish the characters. It caused me consternation when playing: I am strongly considering the Etsy solution to get some bases!

Hybrid: “Best of Breed”

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Hour of Need is a modern cooperative Superhero game, taking elements from many Superhero games (cooperative and non-cooperative) that came before it: Marvel Champions, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Sidekick Saga, Batman The Animated Series: Shadow of the Bat, and even the older Heroes Wanted game!

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Hour of Need and some of its “influences”
  • Individual Threat Area: Each player having his own Threat Area is straight out of Marvel Champions
  • Modular Deck System (MDS): The MDS is essentially the cardplay from Sentinels of the Multiverse: the cardplay and basic structure of the game mirrors Sentinels of the Multiverse closely
  • Hex-Based Movement: Not that hex-based movement is anything new, but I remember the board, with all the peril tokens and problems, being reminiscent of Heroes Wanted.  The board also had some overlap with Batman The Animated Series: Shadow of the Bat
  • Attack and/or Solve: On your turn, you can Attack or Solve much like Attacking or eliminating Threat Tokens from Marvel Champions.
  • Story: Much like Sidekick Saga and Batman The Animated Series: Shadow of the Bat, there is a story that helps guide the play.  Marvel Champions has also attempted with their expansions (such as the Rise of Red Skull expansion which we reviewed here) with limited success
  • Dual-Use Clue cards: Much like Sidekick Saga’s Lead cards are dual-use, the Clue cards in Hour of Need are dual-use.
  • Exploding Dice: The Sadler Brother’s also used exploding dice in Altar Quest
  • Dice for Combat:  Interestingly, a lot of modern super hero games don’t use dice for combat: Sidekick Saga, Sentinels of the Multiverse, Marvel Champions all use deterministic combat based on cardplay. Batman The Animated Series: Shadow of the Bat does use dice for combat, as does Hour of Need.
  • Hidden Villain: The Villain remains “hidden” until the players reveal him somehow.  In Sidekick Saga, you have to work through the Protection Hierarchy: Hour of Need has a simpler mechanism combining with the SOLVE mechanism.
  • Types of Cards: Sentinels of the Multiverse and Sidekick Saga have Ongoing and One-Shot hero cards, Hour of Need has (resp.) Constant and Instant hero cards.

Overall, I think Hour of Need represents a hybrid “best-of-breed” approach, incorporating some of the best mechanisms from modern superhero games.  The question is: how well does it do amalgamating all these different systems?

Steep Learning Curve

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As you might guess from the previous Hybrid: “Best of Breed” section (which lists many of the mechanisms and influences of the game), this game is hard to learn because there’s a lot to it! The learning curve for this is very steep! I had to play Hour of Need three times (twice solo and once in a group) before I got all the rules right! There are so many rules, so many conditions, so many little devices, that this game is very daunting to learn. To be clear: I have previously played and loved all the games Hour of Need is based on! And I still had all sorts of issues getting through this!

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One of the major problems is that the flow is interrupted in a lot of places. The game embraces Player Selected Turn Order (PTSO) (which we love: see our post on PSTO here), but that can mean it’s little harder to see “who’s next” and the flow isn’t necessarily clear. (To help mitigate that, Hour of Need does have 2 Action tokens per player). Also, when a player finishes his second Action, he immediately have to deal with his Threat Area, regardless of the fact that other people still need to go. The flow of control gets interrupted frequently: once you get used to it, it’s not so bad. Unfortunately, as you are learning the game, the context switching overhead of all the flow control changes just really throws players for a loop! Frequently they ask “Wait, what? What’s next? What are you doing?” That jump really affects people learning the game because it throws them out of the flow.

Another major blocker for learning the game is the rulebook.  While this rulebook is not bad, it’s not great.  Never have I ever seen a rulebook as in need of an Index as Hour of Need (The obvious joke, which I chose not to make, was “It should be called Hour of Need of an Index!“.  But I like the game, so I don’t want to make some stupid joke like that.) There are so many things I wanted to look up as we were playing (“Wait, what’s a cunning ploy icon?”  “Where is showdown described?”), but without a good index, I have to search the rulebook linearly for terms!!! (And didn’t find them sometimes …)  There seem to be a lot of terms that are consistently used, (which is good: the nomenclature does seem consistent), but those terms really need to be defined in a Glossary or cross-referenced in an index … or both??  Why not a Glindex  in the Rulebook: A cross between a Glossary and an Index which defines the terms and indexes further elaborations of those terms in the rulebook???  That would really go very far in making this game easier to learn.

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Between quite a number of rules and mechanisms, many jumps in control flow, and the lack of a good index, this game is very hard to learn. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn it, (as I was able to), but you might find yourself very frustrated. After my second game (where I still hadn’t gotten everything learned), one of my friends said “Ya, I don’t need to play this again. Too any rules.” That was an ARGH moment.

I think this game really needs a First Play Starter Guide much like Tainted Grail’s exceptional First Play guide (which we discussed here) or Sleeping Gods First Play Guide (which we discussed here). I mean, the game does suggest a first scenario::

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But given the complexity of this game, that little blurb above is not enough!! A First Play Starter Guide would help you learn the game, guiding you though the rough edges and more confusing rules! It would have gone a long way towards making the learning experience more palatable. I mean, it took me three games to get it. Most people probably won’t be that patient to learn the game.

Gameplay

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Hour of Need shares quite a bit of DNA with Sentinels of the Multiverse (which we reviewed here).  The basic gameplay structure is just like Sentinels of the Multiverse:

  1. The Villain plays first: it plays card(s) from its deck
  2. Heroes each play a card(s), perform some actions, draw a card
  3. Environment (or Issue) plays card(s) from its deck

And each hero deck feels very much like a Sentinels of the Multiverse hero deck: you get a deck, and start with 4 cards.  Each player has a certain number of hit points (as indicated on their hero).  If you “blinked”, you might think you were playing Sentinels.  See Majesty’s first set-up of her deck below.

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There are even Instant and Constant types of cards (much like One-Shot and Ongoing cards)!  

And this is where the game diverges.

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Each Hero gets two actions: some actions are used when you play a card:

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The little action token in the bottom right tells you it costs an action to play this card

Otherwise, you can also use actions to DRAW 1 CARD, MOVE, PLAY 1 ACTION CARDS, ATTACK, or SOLVE. Every hero gets two actions.

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There’s a MOVE action because you must move around a board! See above.

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There’s a straight up ATTACK option you can do if a Bad Guys is nearby and has hit points: See Dowager above with 15 hit points, and I’ve already done 10 damage!

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To deal with this Bad Guy, you need to SOLVE (rather than ATTACK)

The WidowMaker above has to be dealt with using “brains and finesse”, and using your SOLVE ability.

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Each Hero has Hit Points (in red circle ), ATTACK power (in yellow explosion) and SOLVE ability (in pink bubble): See Majesty’s abilities above. Majesty is good at ATTACK(3), but not so good with the SOLVE (1).

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Those numbers (3 for ATTACK, 1 for SOLVE) refer to how many dice you get for a roll! Now, these dice are very interesting, because every die gives you a success of some sort: The plain explosion gives you one SUCCESS, the mask gives you one FOCUS (which you can spend in a future dice roll to turn a mask into SUCCESS), both (SUCCESS and FOCUS) and a BURST! The BURST is really cool because it gives you a success, but then allows you to keep re-rolling that die! You can keep re-rolling that die as long as you roll more BURSTS! It’s theoretically possible to roll 100 SUCCESSES with one die … it’s not likely, but it could happen. These are called Exploding Dice. (Important safety tip: the dice do not actually explode)

To defeat the WidownMaker, you need 4 SUCCESSES (SUCCESSES persist, so it can take more than one turn to defeat him) as you SOLVE. To defeat Dowager, she’s down 10 hit points, so you only need 5 SUCCESSES.

This Exploding Dice is the main mechanism for resolving the two main activities in the game: ATTACK and SOLVE.

There’s a lot of other interesting ideas in the game: Heroic Feat Icons, Scheme Spaces vs. Scheme Panels, Showdown combats, Bystander Rescuing, Ally Cards, Clue Cards, Crisis Cards, Issue cards, Focus Tokens, Revealing the Villain, Issue tokens, and more! There’s just not enough space to go over all the ideas in here!

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The basic idea: move around the map, ATTACK bad guys and SOLVE problems with Exploding Dice on your way to cooperatively taking out the VILLAIN! If you defeat the VILLAIN, you win!

Storytelling Optional

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The game really does enforce the idea of story more than most Superhero games: there are Issue Cards (see below) and an Issue Guide (see above) which together presents a story. At the end of each round, an Issue Card (below) comes out which advances said story: these cards are typically more for in-game effects.  The Issue Guide (above) typically augments the story with more flavor text.

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Issue card area

While most of the issue conditions and story come out on the cards (see the issue area above), the Issue Guide also helps in two ways: (1) giving clarifications and (2) Story Moments.

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See the Issue Guide (above) open to the current issue: The right hand side of the Issue Guide presents text that the players may “optionally read” called Story Moments. The left hand side (in yellow) offers clarifications to rules on the cards (most of the issue’s rules are on the cards that come out: See below for some more Issue cards).

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Hour of Need was interesting because it offers these Story Moments as “things you MAY read, but don’t have to!”.

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Some gamers love the storytelling elements in games, and some gamers hate those elements. My game groups tend to prefer “extra exposition” of the storytelling game, but I thought it was interesting that Hour of Need gave players a choice!

Solo Play

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Solo play works well in the game: Thank you for following Saunders’ Law! See above for a solo game set-up. You can play just one Hero and that solo experience is simple and works well: There’s no need to play multiple Heroes (unless you want to, but that’s more for experienced players). So your first play can be simple as you only have to learn one hero.

There’s a three mechanisms for scaling the game to the proper number of players:

  1. Some decks (like the Villain deck) need cards removed that say “1P” on them.  You’ll have to go through the deck at Set-Up time and get rid of certain cards
  2. The number of “Villain Cards” that gets drawn during the Villain turn is the number of players:  Each player has to take a villain card. So, at the start of a 3-Player round, the Villain gets 3 chances to act. In a solo game, there’s only one Villain card per round.
  3. If there’s ever a little “Player Icon” on a card, you have to multiply that attribute by the number of players. See Dowager example below.

For example, Notice Dowager’s Villain card below.

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It has a 5P for the SOLVE: this means it takes 5 SUCCESS per player to SOLVE this problem. In the solo game, that just means 5 * 1 = 5 Total. (This is very reminiscent of the HERO Icon on Sentinel of the Multiverse cards for scaling).

I’ve played several games solo and had a great time. The solo rules are “easy” to integrate into your solo play, as they are just part of the main flow! Once the game is set-up and the 1P cards are eliminated, the game just plays normally. And it’s fun! Playing only one Hero works great: You aren’t overwhelmed by having to run multiple Heroes!

Cooperative Play

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Cooperative play works: but only if someone really knows the rules well, especially when teaching. This game can bog down too much if you don’t know the rules. I hate to say this, but I lost Sara after we played a cooperative game. The game just appeared to be too much: too many rules, too many mechanisms, too much.

All I can think was that I did a poor job explaining it to her and lost her, but I thought I knew the rules well enough to explain them. Apparently I didn’t.

Teresa, on the other hand, had fun.

Why I like This Game

There’s a lot of complexity in the game: so much, that I almost stopped learning the rules once. It took me three plays to get the rules right, and along the way I lost a player who said she doesn’t really want to play the game again.

But once I internalized the rules, once I understood all the choices I had along the way, I was in! There’s so many ways to be heroic: Do you save the Bystanders? Do you solve the mystery? Do you beat up a Minion or Lackey? And every choice seems to have some kind of reward on the form of Clue cards:

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Succeeding at a task in game (vanquishing a bad guy or solving a riddle) gets you a clue card: these little rewards are multi-use cards to use later: do you want the ability on the card? Or do you just want more dice later? This just allowed me to be more heroic later: I got to choose when I needed to be heroic! I liked that I had that choice.

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The exploding dice were a bit of surprise to me as well: I’m surprised how much I liked them given that I prefer deterministic combat of games like Sentinels, Marvel Champions, and Sidekick Saga. I loved that these dice were designed to always gave you some kind of success, even if it’s just a “future” success (in the form of a FOCUS token)! I also loved the BURST which could allow you to keep rolling! Every so often you get on a roll (pardon the pun) and just really roll well!

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I like a lot of choice in trying to get stuff done. I realize that some people will find “all-the-ways-to-get-stuff-done” overwhelming! And to be fair, I was overwhelmed by my first few games. But I was able to get to a point where I had internalized the rules so I could enjoy the game. I felt like a Superhero, exploring the map, attacking bad guys, solving problems, saving Bystanders, and having to make those hard decisions that Superheroes make.

Sentinels Replacement?

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Has Hour of Need replaced Sentinels of the Multiverse for me? No, Sentinels is a lighter game (I never though I’d call Sentinels “light”) and Hour of Need is a more of a complex experience with a story and more strategic choices. When I want lighter game, I’ll play Sentinels. When I want a longer experience, I’ll play Hour of Need.

Replayability

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Once major problem is that Hour of Need only comes with 4 Issues to play through, 4 Heroes, and 2 Villains: this can limit replayability. Luckily, there are a number of expansions already available. See Appendix A at the end for more elaboration on expansions.

Conclusion

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Hour of Need is a modern cooperative superhero game, representing a hybrid: “Best of Breed” approach, incorporating mechanisms and ideas from a lot of cooperative superhero games. But this approach has created a very complex game with a steep learning curve. The rulebook needs some reworking (and it really needs an Index), but it can teach the rules: it will just take you a while to get through them. Once you have the rules internalized, the game flows really well. And the gameplay offers a myriad of choices: it really makes you feel like a superhero!

After all is said and done, Hour of Need is a contender for my Top 10 Cooperative Games of the Year! But probably only for me. This is a game which I really can’t recommend to everyone. If you think you’ll like Hour of Need, even after all my discussion of complexity and modern cross-breed mechanisms, give the game a try. Realize that some of the people I played this with don’t really want to play Hour of Need again (because of the complexity), but others in my group seemed to really like it.

If you are looking for a game that takes Sentinels of Multiverse (SOTM) and expands on it in story, strategy, and choices, all while keeping SOTM base flow, Hour of Need is a great pick. But if you find Sentinels of the Multiverse to be fiddly (like some of my friends), there’s no way you will like this: Hour of Need turns the fiddliness and complexity of SOTM up a notch.

The base game of Hour of Need doesn’t have a ton of replayability (there’s only 4 Heroes, 4 Issues, and 2 Villains), but if you do like the game, there are several expansions: See the Appendix below.

Appendix A:  Kickstarter Expansions

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All-in for Hour of Need!

There’s quite a number of boxes of extra content.  Let’s take a look below.

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Gem and Ice (above) is a standalone expansion (yes, you don’t need the base game).  It comes with 2 new Heroes, 2 New Issues, and 1 New Villain.  With this expansion, you can play the base game at 5-6 Players.  This includes a new board, new minis and a new issue guide.

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Judge and Jury (above) is a standalone expansion. It comes with two new Heroes, 2 New Issues, and 1 New Villains.  This includes a new board, new minis, and a new issue guide.

The Jade Kid (above) is a new Hero.  She comes with 2 minis.  I believe she’s a Kickstarter extra.

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Redemption takes some of those Villains (One Liner from Judge and Jury, and Curtains and Dowager from the base game)  and turns them in Heroes.  There’s 3 decks and 3 new minis.

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The Stretch Goals Box includes a new Villain (Acrid) and a new Hero (Fault) plus some minis and cards.  The minis are cool because they are clear and clear green! 

Altogether, that’s 4 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 = 13 Heroes, 4 + 2+ 2 =10 Issues, and 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 5 Villains. That’s enough content to keep going for a while!

A Review of Paint The Roses

Paint The Roses is a light cooperative deduction game for 2-4 players. This was on Kickstarter back in November 2021. They promised delivery in April 2022, and you know what? They almost made it! I think I got my copy a few weeks ago in early May 2022. Given how many Kickstarters miss their delivery dates by months and years, I am going to count this as a win! Good job Northstar games!

Paint The Roses is a tile-laying game set in the world of Alice in Wonderland. We are seeing a lot of these lately: there was Wonderland’s War, and the cooperative Dice Placement game Automated Alice which we liked (see review here), and some others on Kickstarter.

Unboxing

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This is the deluxe version of the game with plastic tiles.

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The little plastic tiles are super nice. See below.

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Each tile has a color (rose color) and shape (heart, diamond, club, spade).  This two pieces are what players will be matching/guessing.

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The little plastic container contains both the tiles and some minis (!) and clue tokens.

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The red queen chases us around the board trying to chop our heads off.  The bunny represents points in the game where the queen accelerates.  We (as a group) are the little painter.

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The queen “chases us” around the board (see above).  Whenever we pass the the bunny, the queen speeds up and adds a rose (which increases her speed by one!).

If the queen ever catches us, we lose.  

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We win if we fill the garden with roses without dying.  See above for a full garden!

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During a turn, we get to choose one tile: the 4 choices are placed in the offering.

The board is truly nice, with indents to place the tiles (see above).

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Below the tray and boards are a bunch of cards and pads.

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Most of the cards above are expansions.

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The other main cards are the “queen’s whim” cards. See above.

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The cards are all nice and linen-coated (see some of the reflection above on the whim cards).

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SInce this is a deduction game, the game also gives you some pads to take notes with. See above with more whim cards.

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Overall, the component quality is very high, and this looks good on the table.

Rulebook

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Well, there’s sort of two rulebooks.  There’s the base rulebook (above) and the expansions rulebook (below).

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We’ll come back to the expansions later.

The base rulebooks is fine: it does what we expect, components, set-up, how to play pretty nicely.

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Overall, I had no trouble learning the game form the rulebook.  

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The rulebook evens ends with a player’s aid.  Yay!  The game doesn’t have a summary sheet per se, so this back of the rulebook was nice.

Basic Gameplay

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The premise is that players are gardeners and must paint the roses in the garden to match the mad queen’s whims! Each player has a secret “whim” card which represents one thing the queen wants in her garden! But players (as fellow gardeners) can only obliquely communicate, lest they anger the queen!

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See above for a whim: the queen has told me she wants to put a red rose next to a red rose!

This is a limited communication game: each player can only communicate by putting out their tiles and then putting clues down. The choice of tile and number of clues are the ONLY pieces of information that a player can communicate on their turn!

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After putting down my red rose tile (see above) and putting my purple clues out, the other players guess what the whim was. The number of clues tell you how many things you matched on the tiles around you. (I made an error: there should only be 1 clue above, as there was only one red rose adjacent to the tile I put out). After that, the players try and guess what the whim was! In this case, if the players guess red rose/red rose, we get 3 victory points!

Solo Play

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There is no solo play in this game (in spite of Saunders’ Law). To be fair, since this is a hidden information game (with the whims hidden), it’s hard to make a solo game. We did try the Changing Perspective’s Idea (see here for more discussion) and it kinda worked. I played solo as a two-player game, keeping two whims. The two player mode has a few changes (see below).

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Using “only the information on the board”, I alternated between players, trying to guess what the current player’s whim was. This means I have to “pretend” I don’t know what the whim is and ONLY USE THE INFORMATION ON THE BOARD. The problem is, this becomes very mechanical and you have to calculate the odds quite a bit: “In this configuration, there is a 1 in 3 chance I can guess the whim: each of the three possibilities is likely!” So, I’d pull out a dice and roll: a 1-2 is option 1, 3-4 is option 2, and 5-6 is option 3. If the odds were ever better than 50% for possibility, I would just guess the more likely outcome. 50% or under, I’d calculate the odds and roll a 6-sided die. (Note: no die is included with the game).

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Unless you really like computing the odds yourself and rolling, you probably wouldn’t like this way of playing. I could see this as being a good way to teach “how to compute odds” (for younger kids), or at least practice “computing odds”, but I suspect most most people wouldn’t really enjoy this way of playing.

Anyways, this game doesn’t come with a solo mode. This was just me trying something to learn the game so I could teach my friends.

Cooperative Play

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The game works much better as a cooperative game! At 3 and 4 players, the game really does seem to work well! I struggled a little with the 2-Player game (because it has weird rules to try to scale it back), but it worked ok. I think this game is probably best at 3 or 4 players.

Most games start with just trying to guess from the basic clues given, then more and more negative information tends to sway the players.

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Negative and Positive Information

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It’s very easy to play this as a light game: “Oh these are my clues, here’s what I guess!” … and make it a light simple game. You can also make it as complicated as you want by noticing both negative information and positive information! By positive information, I mean “what information is gleaned from a tile choice/tile placement”: the direct information that follows from that choice. By negative information, I mean the “indirect information that is gleaned from tiles not chosen and tiles not placed”. If a player does not play a tile, that can be as much information as the tile the player chose!

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Or, where does a player play a tile? If they had played a tile in one place it’s telling, but they played ELSEWHERE, it would have been more telling, so they must have the other one! This game can be a deeper deduction game if you want … or not. If the group you are with really wants to “go down the rabbit hole” (ugh, did I really just make that joke) of noticing which tiles/spaces weren’t played, this game can become much deeper.

The game lasts about 20-35 minutes: 20 minutes if you play light, 35 minutes if you play deep.

Expansions

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So, this game comes with 9 (10 if include the Caterpiller expansion from the Kickstarter) expansions! I’ll be honest, I think this is a little ridiculous. Paint The Roses is a very simple deduction game that sings because of its simplicity. These expansions are all over the over place from different designers (some big names too) and they change up this game in different ways, but just a little.

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I tried a couple, they were ok. They added a little more randomness, but they added some fun new cards. I mean, we liked the expansions ok.

In the end, If Paint The Roses were my favorite game, I can see enjoying the expansions as a way to add life to the game. Or, this could be a good game for a couple: they can go through the whole game over a few months, with each expansion bringing new life! Theses expansions provide a conduit to play new content in a familiar environment.

In the end, I think most people will probably ignore the expansions and just play the base game. But maybe I’m wrong.

Conclusion

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A Winning solo game

Paint The Roses is a nice cooperative deduction game with beautiful components that I can recommend.  It’s not great, but it’s very enjoyable.  It’s easy to bring this out if you just want a simple 20 minute game.  It’s also easy to bring this out as a  more complex game (35 minutes) for  game groups that wants to follow up on both positive and negative information.

If you find you love the game, you’ll find there are many many expansions that come with the game, but I don’t see most people playing them: they will probably only be for people who resonate deeply with the game.

Top 10 Cooperative Dice Placement Games

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

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

10. Assault on Doomrock

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

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

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

9. Star Trek: 5-Year Mission

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

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

8. One Deck Dungeon

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

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

7. Deep Space D6: Armada

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

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

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

6. Dice Throne Adventures

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

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

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

5. Endangered

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

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

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

4. Automated Alice

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

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

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

3. Intrepid

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

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

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

2. Roll Camera!

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

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

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

1. Roll Player Adventures

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

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

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

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

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

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Bottom row is required to play top row

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

Unboxing

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

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

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

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The game feels pretty minimal:

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

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There’s also a very scenario specific matte:

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The insert is pretty great and holds the amazing minis.

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

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Token identify the sentinels: each one os distinct and numbered

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

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

The Minis and Maxis

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

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

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

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The Sentinels themselves are just amazing minis? maxis?

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

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Each Sentinel has different abilities in Challenge mode

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

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These Sentinel minis/maxis are just great.

Days of Future Past

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

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Days of Future Past Part

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

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

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

Solo Play

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

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scenario specific mat

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

Here’s Logan and Kitty’s cards:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategy vs Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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A Winning game!

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

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

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

Cooperative Play

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

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

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

Nature of this Expansion

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

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

Sentinels Challenge

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Sentinels challenge cards

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

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Each Sentinel has different abilities in Challenge mode

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

Conclusion

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

I strongly recommend Days of Future Past.

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

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

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

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

Get the Errata!

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

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

Unboxing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Introduction and Gameplay

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

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

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Trilogy

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

Much Like The Original

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

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

But how’s the game play?

A Dirty Secret

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

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Too many programming actions

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

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

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

Problems With The Programming Puzzles

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

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

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

Rules Clarifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4. How do Tracers handle ends?

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

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

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Too many programming actions

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

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

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

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

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

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6. How do the Tracers follow the dotted lines?

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

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

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

Where Does That Leave Us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Review of Marvel United: Fantastic Four Expansion

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

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

Unboxing

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

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

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

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

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

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The inside of the box holds the rest.

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

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

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

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

Solo Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooperative Play

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

X-Men: Marvel United and the Expansion Absorption

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

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

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

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

Some Unboxing

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

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

X-Men Expansion

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

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

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The box of miniatures is pretty huge.

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

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

Set-Up For A First Game

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

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The cards for Warlock

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

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

First Game: An Inauspicious Start

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

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

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

Second Game: Not Much Better

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

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

I made it one whole round before I lost.

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Emma actually killed both characters.

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

A Little Worried

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

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

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

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

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

Update: I Played a Rule Wrong!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Starting Hand cards

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

Expansion Absorption

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Appendix: A Quick Look At The Boxes

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

 

A Review of Tokyo Sidekick

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

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

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

Acrylic Standees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Space for the acrylic standees in the box.

You can put two standees per slot:

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

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

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

Overall, these standees are pretty fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing

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

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

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

Underneath the main boards are some player boards:

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Player boards: each player gets one.

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

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

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The cardboard standees: already punched out for you!

The rest of the content of the game is cards. 

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

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

Comic Book

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

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

Rulebook

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

The first page starts with a quick intro:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Set-Up

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

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

Solo Game

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

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

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

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Team of ONI and Jinx Cat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooperative Play

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

Advancement

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

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

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

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

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

Deck-Building

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

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

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

Little Touches

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

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

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

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

Min-Max Rule vs. Fun Breezy Rule

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I propose the following:

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Appendix 1: Putting Everything Away

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

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

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

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Appendix 2: You Can’t Unsee This

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

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The slip cover of the game seems to suggest an older cartoon. The orange girl … looks like Velma. Then the purple girl looks like Daphne. The dog becomes Scooby Doo. The cute bear becomes Scrappy Doo, the serious guy with the gun becomes Fred, the mop-top guy is Shaggy, the apparition becomes the”ghost” (monster of the we