Cooperative Exploration: A New Way To Learn Games?

Beyond the Sun, Rio Grande Games, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)
My friend and I wanted to learn a new board game the other night. Spoiler Alert (see above): It was Beyond The Sun. The guys at Shut-Up & Sit Down recommended this in one of their silly videos, so I wanted to check it out.

There seem to be three standard ways to learn a game:

  1. Read the Rulebook.  For me, this is the method I use 99%  of the time
  2. Watch a Video: You-Tube has tons of people showing “how to play a game”.  It’s not usually my preferred way, but a lot of people like to watch videos about how to play. 
  3. Have Someone Teach You The Game.  This is probably the easiest way, as someone learns the game and teaches everybody else.  (Historically, this has been in person, but I’ve recently been taught some games over Discord/Zoom)

My friend Junkerman and I had … other ideas.

Board Game Arena

beyondthesun

I called my friend Junkerman last Tuesday.

“Hey, you wanna play Beyond The Sun?  It’s now online at Board Game Arena.”  (See Screen shot above)
“Sure.  Meet you there in a few.”

After floundering around and logging into Board Game Arena, we also got on Discord so we could chat while we played.

“So, do you know how to play?”
“Nope, do you?”
“Nope.”
… silence …
“Let’s try it anyways!”

So, we read some really crappy minimal rules on  the site (there were videos and PDFs of the game, but we chose to eschew them) to get an idea of the game.  We still had no idea what we were doing.

“Let just start clicking and see what happens!”

Let’s Just Click On Things!

D E N N I S K . C H A N

Here’s the thing, Board Game Arena enforces the rules of the game strictly. So, it’s not a “free-form” scenario like TableTop Simulator can be. If you can “click” on something on Board Game Arena, this means it’s a LEGAL click, so you can do it! With Board Game Arena only letting us click on things “legally”, we just starting clicking.

Hilariously, it took us 10 minutes (I am not exaggerating) to start our first turn! (Hint, the basic actions are in the middle of the screen and really tiny. Ya, that’s our excuse). We just started clicking and hovering over things … Board Game Arena does a “really nice” job with showing rules when you hover over game pieces.

So, over the course of two hours, we tried to click on things, we hovered over things, we just explored! Our goal was NOT to win, but to figure out the game together!!

“Hey Joe, why don’t you attack me and see what happens!”
“Oh ya, I should attack you. I wonder what happens to my ships if I fail?”
“I dunno? Let’s find out!”

“COOL! The leftover pieces go the the black hole! Cool!

I think the funniest moment was when we realized “the grey blobs” on the cards (that we turned over) were UPGRADED spaces!

Post Lockdown Playing Priorities! | Board Games | Zatu Games UK

“See the grey blob next to PSIONICS RESEARCH (see above)?”
“Ya.”
“I think we can go there!”
“Really? Those grey blobs weren’t decoration?”
“I think they are new actions we can do!!!”
“Boy, are we dumb.  We could have been doing those new actions for the past hour!”

After about 2 hours of screwing around, we had an idea of the game! We had to be patient with each other: “What do you think this does?” “I dunno.” We had to click on things and just randomly try stuff. Board Game Arena was our teacher and our enforcer: we could only do things it would let us!

Cooperative Exploration

COOP COVER FINAL ART sized all

So, I came up with the phrase Cooperative Exploration to try to describe how Junkerman and I learned the game. Basically, because it sounds a whole lot better than “we just clicked around and saw what we could do”. Honestly, this as the funnest I’ve had learning a game in a LONG time! It was fun to laugh at each other: “What are you doing? I dunno?” “What’s that leaf thing? I dunno? Oh! I see it!” It was fun to just explore the screen and hover. It felt like Junkerman and myself embarked on an expedition to explore and fool around in this online world of Beyond The Sun. What works? What doesn’t? What does this do? It was a blast: a cooperative adventure exploring the world of Beyond The Sun.

We joked that we should have live-streamed our adventure: we were pretty stupid at times, and we thought other people might enjoy laughing at us because we were laughing at ourselves! I’ll be honest: I felt a little like a little kid again. I didn’t care if I won, I just wanted to figure out “this world” we were in! It was a freeing experience NOT being shackled to a rulebook! We just let Board Game Arena be out teacher and enforcer.

Precedence In Deep Learning 

Doom

As crazy as it sounds, there is some precedence for Machine Learning techniques using exactly this same idea: “Just try clicking stuff”.  This paper out of Carnegie Melon shows how an AI learned how to play DOOM using only the raw pixels on the screen.  The AI was trained by letting it “try stuff” and using the pixels on the screen as results to guide further exploration.  The AI plays thousands of games, keeping track of results of “try stuff and see what happens” in the pixels of the output.

It’s the same idea as our Cooperative Exploration, except that the AI tries stuff over many many many games to train itself. I suspect if Junkerman and I tried stuff over a million games, we’d be as good as the AI too …

Conclusion

Beyond the Sun set up for 2

I realize that Cooperative Exploration is probably a bit snobby of a term, but it captures (for us anyways) a new way to try to learn board and card games.  If someone put the physical board game Beyond the Sun in front of me, I think I know enough to play it from my Cooperative Exploration with Junkerman. 

I seriously recommend trying the Cooperative Exploration idea out with a close friend: it’s a hilarious, fun, and freeing way to learn a new board game.  I wouldn’t recommend this idea too many people, though.  You want someone you can laugh with and at!  You need to be patient with each other!  You will be making mistakes and you have to be with someone you feel comfortable making DUMB mistakes with! (Seriously, it took 10 minutes for us to find something in we could click on at the start of the game.  Boy, did we feel DUMB!).  You will also be laughing at yourself, so have a sense of humor!  

This was one of the funnest adventures I’ve been on a while.  

A Review of Agropolis

Agropolis was a cooperative game on Kickstarter back in October 2020. It delivered to me about 2 weeks ago (early May 2021). It had promised delivery Feb. 2021 and delivered in May 2021. That’s still pretty good for a Kickstarter.

IMG_7015

Agropolis is a little 18-card game about building a rural town. It’s considered a micro game and both the expansions (Combopolis and Invasion) add another 8 or so cards altogether. The entire game and both expansions fit in a little plastic wallet (see above). Notice the soda can above (used for scale) to compare sizes! (You can also see how small the little envelope was that delivered the game!)

I picked up Agropolis because I really liked Sprawlopolis! Sprawlopolis is another tiny 18-card cooperative game about building a city (instead of the rural area of Agropolis). Sprawlopolis made both our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games and our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2019. Will Agropolis live up to the promise of its brethren?

Components and Rulebook

The game’s components are … a plastic wallet and 18 cards (and the 2 expansions which add another 10 or cards) and a rulebook.

IMG_7018

And … that’s it for components. You’ll notice the 18 cards have 2 very different sides: one side has a scoring condition (see 3 of them below):

And the other side has a 2×2 town grid (a “block”, see instructions) which consists of a cornfield (yellow), orchard (red), vineyard (purple) and livestock (brown).

You start the game with 3 scoring conditions/cards. Your jobs is then to build a rural town using the remaining 15 of the “block” cards. See below for a completed town. Note that the cards can only be placed horizontally (“long” ways): either of two long orientations is fine, you just can’t turn them vertical.

There are a couple of other placement rules (see below), but they are pretty simple. The rulebook pamphlet does a very nice job of describing the placement rules and then showing a good example on a teeny tiny page. Other rulebooks could learn a thing or two from this rulebook. It’s tiny, and yet it manages to convey gameplay and edge conditions very well!

IMG_7031

Most of the rules for scoring are on the cards themselves, but there are a few other scoring conditions: See the relevant section from the rulebook below:

IMG_7020

  1. You lose 1 point for every “road” in your town: connected roads across cards only count as one road.  In the back of your mind, you are always trying to keep the number of roads down, but it’s not an overwhelming concern
  2. You get 1 point per block in your largest group of each zone type.

Usually when you are playing, the 3 main scoring cards tend to exert the most influence on your thinking, but the roads and largest group scoring rules are always in the back of your head.

For such a small game and even smaller rulebook, these components are great and easy to read. The rulebook is amazingly good considering how small it is! Other bigger rulebooks could learn a lot from this tiny pamphlet! I usually hate pamphlets as rulebooks, but this one does such a good job, I didn’t mind.

Set-Up

Set-up is easy: see the rulebook above and a sample solo set-up below.

How To Win

The win condition in Agropolis is a little wonky: it’s a “beat a score” condition.   From the three scoring cards you choose at the start of the game (see above), you add up the values in the upper left corner of scoring cards.  In the example above, you have 14 + 11 + 9 = 34.  In order to win, your  score at the end of the game MUST EQUAL OR EXCEED THAT VALUE.

Solo Mode

The solo mode is well described in the rulebook.

IMG_7020

Like we’ve said so many times before, it’s so much easier to teach your friends a game if there’s a solo mode to learn first (Saunders’ Law). In this case, the solo player takes three block cards (see below) at the start of the game (seeing the next block card coming out).

IMG_7030

The solo player chooses a card to play, puts it in the grid (using placement rules we discussed earlier), then gets the next card on top of the deck. The game continues until all 15 cards are played (see below)! Then scoring happens: if you “beat the score” (which we described above), you win! Otherwise, you lose!

In the base game for multiple players, these three cards are “passed around” to the next player: the current player always should have three cards and other players should always have one card.

To be honest, the solo mode is easier to describe and play than the cooperative mode! I’d almost be willing to say this is better as solo game. It almost feels like the game started as a solo game and they “added” a cooperative mode which is just a minor extension of the solo game (like we did for a cooperative mode with Canvas).

Combopolis

One of the expansions that came with my Agropolis Kickstarter was Combopolis: With just a few cards (6?), it’s a way to combine the original game Sprawlopolis and Agropolis ! If you have both games, you get kind of a weird game that combines the two!

IMG_7045

The rules are pretty simple:

IMG_7044

You take 1 Agropolis Scoring Condition, 1 Sprawlopolis Scoring Card, and 1 Combopolis (from the 6 card expansion) Scoring Condition and then the rest of the cards from the two decks.

IMG_7049

Note that the starting card is from Combopolis has both Sprawlopolis and Agropolis areas on it!!! (Card in the middle).

As you play, you get to choose a card from EITHER deck to play! So, you get to choose which deck you are playing from. The game continues until BOTH decks run out.

And then you score! You can only score 4 “biggest block” types (as there are 8 now between Sprawlopolis and Agropolis), but otherwise scoring and winning is just the same!

I enjoyed this mode: it makes the game twice as long, but I enjoyed combining the two games. I almost think I enjoyed it more that the base games! It really does add new life to your Agropolis and Sprawlopolis!

Differences

Are there any real differences between Sprawlopolis and Agropolis?  Not really?  They are essentially the same game except one set of rules: the livestock spaces! 

  1. The livestock spaces can either have ONE pen or TWO pens: See belowIMG_7029
  2. The livestock can be pigs, chicken or cows (and that can make a difference in scoring): see below.IMG_7034
  3. There’s a built-in “expansion” that builds on the livestock rules called “Feed Fees” (see below)

Overall, Agropolis gameplay felt like Sprawlopolis gameplay, with the livestock spaces and scoring being a “nice” variant.  

Conclusion

IMG_7013

If you like Sprawlopolis, you will like Agropolis! It’s basically the same game (modulo the livestock changes)! You get to build a little rural town and make lots of interesting decisions as you play. Every game is very different because of the scoring conditions: you get 3 very different combinations of scoring every time you play, and that really changes how the game flows. Agropolis is a fun little cooperative game with lots of gameplay, but I think it works better as a solo game than as a proper cooperative game. But, it’s still good as a cooperative game.

Do you need both Sprawlopolis and Agropolis? Probably not. The games are so similar, it’s not really a necessity. If you have one, you probably don’t need the other unless you really loooove the game! I will say that the Combopolis expansion which combines the two might be my favorite way of playing the games together.

If you don’t have either Sprawlopolis or Agropolis, and a little building game sounds like fun, you should pick one of them up! They are both super cheap ($10?), super easy to carry around, and super easy to teach. I would say, choose the theme that appeals to you! “Build a city? Choose Sprawlopolis! Build a rural town? Choose Agropolis!” Honestly, the theme isn’t that deep and you won’t go wrong choosing either one.

Top 10 Swashbuckling Cooperative Board and Card Games!

In our last blog entry, we lamented the lack of cooperative Three Musketeers board and card games. After thinking about it for a while, we DID realize that there are a number of cooperative games in the Swashbuckling genre!! Swordplay! Adventure! Treasure! Pirates! Musketeers! Here’s a list of 10 really fun cooperative board and cards that are of a “swashbuckling” nature!

Honorable Mention

19: The Secret of Monkey Island – Death By Troggles

So ….. The Secret of Monkey Island is not even a board or card game, it’s a point-and-click adventure game for many platforms. We talk about it on this blog a bit, because it was one of the greatest adventure games of all time! Swordplay! Pirate ships! Treasure! Puzzles! You could play it cooperatively with your friends (as a shared adventure). Even though it had a short-lived resurgence when it was reissued a number of years ago, it’s a little harder to get a hold of. Right now, I think GOG (Good Old Games) is the best way to get it, but I have the PS3 disk, the Amiga Disk, the iPad and iPhone downloads (can’t be updated anymore, see here). It’s a great game that is just ridiculous fun and swashbuckly. I know, it’s not a board or card game, but it’s so great we have to give it a shout-out.

10.  The Pirate Republic

 

The Pirate Republic is a game from Kickstarter some time ago.  I picked it up a recently from FunAgain games.  It’s one of those games that has  both cooperative and competitive modes.  By default, the cooperative mode has the ability for players to  become traitors (which is very thematic and back-stabby like a pirate game should be), but you can get rid of all the mission cards that turn someone a traitor, so you can  play it as a fully cooperative game. 

3d Game Layout

Some of the ships had broken in our copy, and it was very hard to organize the game.  But, the piratey theme does shine through in the exploration of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.  It feels more like an “older” map game, with resource management (which is why it’s lower on this list), but it’s still very piratey and fun!

9. Dead Men Tell No Tales

Dead Men Tell No Tales was a cooperative game I got on Kickstarter some time ago.  It’s all about cooperatively raiding a burning pirate ship, trying to loot treasure off the ship before it (and the gunpowder) explodes!  It’s not a real-time game, but it does have a certain urgency to the game as you explore and try to keep the fires down.

High quality hand made prototype to show what the game will look like. Doesn't have the dice or wood cubes and the spinner is a crappy plastic one (the real one will be a cardboard one). But you get the idea.

The components and ship are all very thematic, with a “piratey” look and feel.  There’s even a Kraken expansion which ratchet up the adventure!  It’s more of a pick–up-and-deliver game, as you find and move treasure chests off the boat (which is why it’s so low on the list), but it’s a fun and thematic piratey game with “swashbuckly” components and feel (see above).

8. A Tale of Pirates

A Tale of Pirates is a cooperative, real-time adventure where players work together to operate a pirate ship.  It’s very different than most games on this list, as you physically move around timers (see below) to perform activities on the ship.  But, as you can see below, the game has great table presence!

IMG_9114

There’s a required app that really makes it easy to jump into and play: it’s very good and taking you through set-up and allowing you to explore the pieces (see below).

IMG_9112

This was probably the easiest Swashbuckling game to play and get into.   It’s a real-time game! The app plays music in the background (as it counts down a timer).  You move around your pirate ship, steering, raising sails, loading cannon balls, firing cannons, and fixing broken parts of the ship.  At first, It seems like it’s a little bit more about operating a ship that a swashbuckling adventure, but the music and the app really are quite immersive! And the longer you play, the more items you unlock!  This game starts evolving into a swashbuckling adventure as you discover the story underneath …

7. TIME Stories + Brotherhood of the Coast Expansion

TIME Stories is an adventure game meets escape room game.  In the game, you essentially play “Quantum Leap” where you jump into characters in a storyline and play an adventure.   The TIME Stories games are a framework for many styles of games (including an Asylum, Dragon Tales, Egyption to name a few), and, relevant to us: a Pirate adventure!  

Brotherhood of the Coast is a pirate-themed expansion for TIME Stories. See set-up above!  You cruise around the Caribbean, fighting ships, exploring towns, looking for treasure and pirates!  It’s a fun swashbuckling romp!  Like all TIME Stories games, once you have played through everything, you have seen everything that world has to offer.  We ended up playing about 3 to 3.5 hours to get through everything:  my group concluded that was just about the right length: we had a real nice time exploring this world.

6. Mousquetaires du Roy

We’ve talked about Mousquetaires du Roy quite a bit on our blog.  It’s a cooperative Three Musketeers game from 2010 from Ystari which doesn’t get much love.  It made our More Cooperative Games Off The Beaten Path here.

Presentation at Spiel'10 (Essen)

By default, the game isn’t cooperative, but it does come with cooperative rules (see here: Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively).  It’s all about the cardplay and rolling dice to get through some adventures.  The adventure is a little on rails, but it’s a very fun playing the Musketeers trying to take out Milady (the bad gal).  It’s very swashbuckly and was one of the first games I thought of when I made this list!

5. The Princess Bride Storybook Game

This is a very light cooperative adventure game we reviewed here.   Most importantly for a Swashbuckling list, one of chapters of the storybook is the iconic swordfight between The Man in Black and Enigo Montoya!

Finally, playing En Garde the way it was meant to be played—with figures from The Princess Bride Adventure Book Game.

This is a very light game that traces the plot of the movie.  If you like the movie, you’ll find yourself quoting the movie as you play (“I’m not left-handed either!“) which really helps immerse you into the game.  The game more swashbuckling than you might expect!

IMG_6883

4. Battle for Greyport + The Pirates Expansion

IMG_9063

This is a bit of a cheat, as the Pirates! is just an expansion for Battle for Greyport.  But we love the cooperative deckbuilder game Battle for Greyport!  We reviewed it way back here, and it’s made our Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilding Games!

To play this, you really need both the expansion and the base game.  Here’s the thing: you can ALMOST just play with only the expansion to get a true swashbuckling experience!  You need at least one more monster deck from the base game and a few more cards to expand your deck … but that’s about it!! I played my first game with JUST the Pirates! game, and I realized I needed just a few more pieces.  But this is really thematic!  There are new rules for ships!  New locations by the docks!  New rules for fighting Kraken!

I’m very surprised this ended up as high as it did.  The base game plus the Pirates! expansion gave a very thematic Swashbuckling experience!

3. Unlock: The Tonipal’s Treasure

This is a little Unlock game … and it’s my favorite Unlock game of all time!  It’s very thematic and “reeks” of pirate theme, with frequent oblique allusions to the Secret of Monkey Island!   I don’t want to say too much, in fear of giving away too many puzzles, but the very last puzzle of the game is one of my favorite experiences in a Escape Room game … and is very thematic for a Pirate game.

Final progress on a zero star score. But it was fun getting there

… just a reminder, you need an App on your phone/pad to play Tonipal’s Treasure!

2. Forgotten Waters

Forgotten Waters is a game we reviewed (and really liked) here! It also made both of our Top Cooperative Games of 2020 and our Top 10 Storybook/Storytelling Games Forgotten Waters is a simple worker placement game in the guise of a storybook game!  The app that comes with the game has voice acting and music that really makes the game thematic!  

Game Layout

The game has top quality components and tells a thematic, immersive story in a piratey, swashbuckling universe.

1. Gascony’s Legacy

IMG_8895

There really wasn’t a question what was going to be the number 1 on this list: We loved Gascony’s Legacy! See our review here! It was a fun cooperative game that tells a story, but has rules for rolling barrels on your enemies! Switching hands during swordplay! Swinging from chandeliers! Dropping chandeliers on your enemies! The game really captures the swashbuckling nature of the The Three Musketeers!

A Review of Gascony’s Legacy, Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Gascony’s Legacy was on Kickstarter back in April 2017. (Wait, is that right? Check around update 8 here: yup). I missed this Kickstarter somehow, but I was able to pick it up from Miniatures Market fairly recently (April 2021). I am pretty sure this JUST came out, because I was waiting for this particular game from my Miniatures Market order. I don’t have any idea if the backers are grumpy (4 years between Kickstarter and delivery?), and I don’t want to know. I just wanted to try this cooperative game!

Gascony’s Legacy is a cooperative game for 1-4 players set in the world of Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers! For the record, the title is a bit of a misnomer: this is not a legacy game (in the sense that you tear up cards and put stickers on the board), but it does have an ongoing campaign with minimal saving of state between games. I have to admit, I am a sucker for the swash-buckling theme of the The Three Muskeeters! I was even thinking of doing a Top 10 Cooperative Three Musketeers Board and Card Games! Here’s the problem, I know of only two that I really like, so this would be a very boring and short Top 10!

  • Gascony’s Legacy: by Lynnavander Studios (2021). See more discussion below.
  • Mousquetaires Du Rey: An old Ystari game (2010).  

We have actually mentioned Mousquetaires Du Rey a few times here in the Coop Gestalt blog: Recently, in the Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively and a while ago in  More Cooperative Games Off The Beaten Path.  We really like Mousquetaires Du Rey ! The only question is, do we like it more or less than Gascony’s Legacy?

boxFront

Unboxing

The game starts with the rulebook (see above). It’s a fairly lengthy rulebook of about 28 pages. Under the rulebook, you find a ton of cardboard: see below.

IMG_8897

IMG_8899

There’s a bunch of cardboard for the tokens, rooms, and character cards. Even some barrels and braziers? What kind of wacky game is this? It looks like we will be setting up rooms and encounters with the punchouts …

This is definitely a dice game of some sort: there’s a lots of decent six-dice dice with some specialized (!) dice as well (see below)! Most of the challenges in the game will involve rolling dice, but luckily there are tons of ways to mitigate this.

IMG_8903

IMG_8902

There’s some really nice little metal coins in here. These represent the gold in the game!! They are super nice, but there’s only 6 of them and they pretty small. Still, they are nice …

There is a quite a bit of game in the cards (see above): all the stories and campaigns are on cards, all the weapons/equipment is one cards, the bad news deck, the bad guys: most of the content of the game is here in the cards.

IMG_8910

The cards are, unfortunately, not linen-finished. But they are pretty good and easy to read (see above).

Overall, the components are good but not great. I like the way the game looks, although I have to admit I don’t love the cover: I think the cover needs a chaotic, swashbuckling 3D scene to really show off it’s Three Musketeer’s theme!

Rulebook

IMG_8896
Unboxing! You see The Rulebook first thing!

This rulebook starts off similar to most rulebooks, then takes a different tact when approaching the game. It starts with an overview (pretty standard):

I’ll be honest, that Table of Contents gives me some confidence that this will be a good rulebook. The next page is the standard list of components (it works fine):

IMG_8914

Then the rulebook deviates a little. Instead of jumping into a set-up, it goes over all the components in the game.

IMG_8916

You know what? I think this works. It helps me get a sense of what all the components are: this is helping immerse me in the game.

IMG_8917
More descriptions of components

And finally we do get to a set-up!

IMG_8918

I think this rulebook worked really getting me into the game and familiar with the components. The font was readable, the choice of layout and a few fonts was still suggestive of theme but not so much that it robbed me of readability.

Overall, this was one of the best rulebooks I’ve read in a while. The rules were presented logically, the text was terse but not unclear. There could have been a few more pictures, and the rulebook was a little long, but overall I was very happy with rulebook. I learned the game and had no problem looking up rules when I needed to. The rulebook did not get in the way of me learning the game.

One of the things that gave me the most confidence in this rulebook was that the glossary/index seemed very complete:

IMG_8977

 

Solo Rules

IMG_8919

The Solo Play is very clearly defined: see above.   It even leaves the door open to play multiple characters for some variety!  I dream and wish rulebooks will do this!!  Recall, I was a little perplexed that Burgle Bros 2 had NO MENTION of Solo rules even though the game clearly states 1-4 players on the box … so I was glad to see Gascony’s Legacy very clearly puts forth the solo rules. 

Having said that, there was something mystifying during set-up: if you NEVER play fewer than 2 characters, why does the set-up seem to allow for 1 character?   (See set-up card below).  If you are playing two characters for the solo game, it seems (for balancing reasons) that you should play with just as many bad guys as 2 players!  So, I played the solo game as a 2-player game.  This oversight seemed like a rare misstep in the rules.  

IMG_8972

Set-Up

IMG_8949

This is a Three Musketeer’s game, so of course you have to control of some of the characters from the book! I decided to play my solo game with 2 characters: Athos and Porthos (see above). Each character has a talent (upper part of part) that can be activated by the “wreath” face of the die, and they also have a support (lower part of the card) that can be activated by the “crown” face. The starting equipment is listed under the name.

As you get set-up, you get your standee (with stance token: we’ll get to that) and life, equipment, and “destiny” tokens. Notice the player reference cards off to the right: very helpful!

IMG_8956

Let’s talk about the equipment: Gacony’s Legacy has a real interesting idea: when you equip an item, you either (a) equip it on the left (b) or the right. How you equip your sword has a real impact on what spaces you can attack on your turn! The light blue squares (see above) indicate where the Royal Epee can attack, depending on how you equip the sword!! Later in the game, you can get two weapons so you can attack on the left AND right! This is really thematic! And you can only change how your grip by using your action during your turn (which is different from you fight)!

The game set-up is controlled by the story cards: the first one is above. You can play through a full campaign, lasting 40? 50? cards if you like!

The story cards show you what terrain tiles come out. Yes, there are barrels. Yes, they can be rolled over your opponents (but we are getting ahead of ourselves).

IMG_8932
All the different “base” enemies you can fight

The story card will show where to put your enemies: at the start of the game, you are just fighting some of the “base” enemies (see above). Later, as you progress into the campaign, you will see the named villains .. they have their own decks!! (See below)

.. but we don’t get the big bad guys until later.

Following the direction on the story cards, you set-up the game! You put barrels, enemies, your standees, and the terrain tiles out to form your battlefield! En garde!

The set-up on the story cards works ok, but it would have been nice if the terrain cards were labelled and the story cards indicated which terrain tiles we needed. It’s not a big deal, since the game doesn’t have a large number of components, but it’s a little thing that could have made the set-up go just a little faster.

Overall, set-up was fine.

Gameplay

IMG_8964

The game is all about the swashbuckling sword play!  The way you face and the way you equip your sword (left or right-handed) matters!

IMG_8980

In the first game, we see Athos is equipping his rapier on his right and Porthos is equipping his broadsword on his left.  The front of the character is the red and blue “stance” token faces. See below: when you see the characters from the side, you can see the stance token and how they are equipped.  The “blue” side is the primary side where the weapons are equipped!

IMG_8970  If you want to switch hands, you have to use your “action” during your turn.  (On every turn, you have a move, actions, and attack which you can do in any order).  So, you might move to engage an enemy, switch hands, then attack!! 

Now, the enemies have a simple set of rules to follow and attack.  They aren’t quite as complicated as, say, Gloomhaven, but the enemies are no slouch.  When they move to you, they TRY to stay out of your attack zone!  Full rules are well described in the rulebook.

The core of almost everything the players do is a dice role.  4-5 counts as 1 success, 6 counts as TWO successes, and 1-3 fail. The number of dice you roll depends on your character and other factors, but it’s usually about 3 or 4.  There are many things that give the players more dice and re-rolls: Most importantly are the “stones” in the middle of the board which players can use/share when needed:

Even though the dice are pivotal to getting stuff done, (defending, attacking, etc), I never felt I was a slave to the randomness of the dice: there were just so many ways to mitigate them!

Impressions

IMG_8991

I really like Gascony’s Legacy.  There are some similarities to Gloomhaven (the set-up, the movement, the feel, the advancement), but Gascony’s Legacy is a smaller game with smaller feel.  But here’s the thing: I think I’d rather play Gascony’s Legacy than Gloomhaven!  Because it’s so thematic and fun!!  I actually giggled reading the rules when I realized there were rules in the game for:

  1. Jumping on a crate!
  2. Rolling a Barrel towards your enemies!
  3. Throwing a Brazier on your enemies!
  4. Hiding from attacks behind statues!
  5. Gliding from a chandelier!
  6. Dropping a chandelier on your enemies!
  7. Helping your fellow Musketeers (the Support abilities)!
  8. Changing Hands of your sword!  (“I’m not left handed either!”)
  9. Fighting 1 or 2-handed!

There are so many places in Gascony’s Legacy where the theme shines through like a bright light!  It’s fun, it’s silly, but the rules are still very clear and very consistent.   Even though this is a dice game, there are so many ways to mitigating the dice roles! Your equipment helps, you can spend destiny tokens, you can get support from your fellow Mustketeers, you can take a “stone” dice!!  You can still be strategic in your actions, but have the elements of luck give the game “spice!!!”

I realize that part of my enjoyment of this game is the theme: the game captures the theme so well.  The campaign seems ok (I was annoyed that you have to get rid of all your coin between campaigns), but I’ll be curious how far I get!

 

Conclusion

IMG_8943

Gascony’s Legacy is a good game! I like it a lot! I think the theme radiates from the box! It’s fun jumping onto crates, rolling barrels over my enemies and strategizing with my compatriots of how to attack! The campaign itself isn’t totally immersive, but the gameplay is! The rulebook is very good, if a little long, but it presents a game that I really enjoyed.

Is it better than Mousquetaires du Roy? Mousquetaires du Roy is a simpler, card based game that unveils a Three Musketeers story: it’s a different game. I like them both, but Gascony’s Legacy theme shines so brightly I think it elevates it above other Three Musketeers games! Having said that, if you want a simple cooperative Three Musketeers game, Mousquetaires du Roy is the right choice. If you want a fun, thematic, cooperative romp with slightly more complex rules, Gascony’s Legacy is a fantastic choice!

A Review of The Dead Eye: A Solo, 3D Gaming Experience

The Dead Eye was a solo card game on Kickstarter back in July 2020. It promised delivery in November 2020, but it just fulfilled this last week (April 20, 2021). Honestly, I was never worried because the team was very open and transparent about everything going on. A Kickstarter only 6 months late in a COVID year? That’s still excellent! Seriously, these guys ran a nice little Kickstarter.

 

The Dead Eye is a solo card game … for only 1 person (see back of box above).  There is no multiplayer mode.  

IMG_8891

But of course, the main reason I picked it up: it’s got 3D cards and glasses!

IMG_8858

Let’s hope it has a good game behind the 3D gimmick!

Unboxing

IMG_8816
Kickstarter and extra cards (3 only)

As a Kickstarter backer, I got some extra content … 3 extra cards. Not that much, but it was 3 extra cards (see below). Better than a sharp stick to the eye …. (which is kinda funny in a game where things are 3D, really). The cards below really give you a sense of what the art looks like in the game.

IMG_8866
The 3 expansion cards

The game box opens to …

… some plastic baggies. These will be used later in the game to “save your state” (some cards get retired, some cards stay) because it’s a basically a 3 stage game: You have to reach 3 Home Bases (in order) to win the game.

Underneath the plastic bags are the three most important things in the game …

IMG_8824

The red and blue 3D glasses!

IMG_8848

You get not one, not two, but THREE pairs of glasses! And in fact, they go out of they’re way to give you two different styles of glasses! Little clip-ons (if you like put them on your glasses or just look at the table like a monocle) like above or more “glasses” like that fit over your ears (see below).

I have a big head (no comments please) and the glasses fit fine on my head.

Next comes a 3D comic book. It’s not very long at all, but it has a 3D story and gives you a flavor of what the theme and the 3D visuals will be like in the game. We’ll see more of the comic book below when we talk more about the 3D experience in the game!

IMG_8829

Next is the rulebook: we’ll discuss the rulebook a lot more below (foreshadowing).

Next comes your main player board. You can see it folds out.

IMG_8833

IMG_8831
Front Side of Player Board

The Front Side of the player board has a bunch of Icons that tell you where cards will be placed.

And finally, the cards (see above). They are NOT linen finished.

The cards look pretty cool and the art style is consistent throughout the game. As is the 3D.

There’s one last thing: the plastic slider which will be used to notate where you are in the game (there are 3 stages to the game).

IMG_8835

I’ll be honest, it’s a pretty cheap little device and it kinda dents the card when used. It’s used on the SATMAP (below) to make which stage you are on.

But overall, the game has a really unique and thematic art style that permeates every component of the game. The game components (besides the little plastic marker) are really neat.

And we haven’t even talked about the 3D experience yet!

The 3D Experience

IMG_8854

Normally, I would go to the rulebook here, but we all know the first thing you will do when you get this game is put on the glasses and look at everything!!! (C’mon, it was the first thing I did). How does everything look in 3D?

IMG_8847

So the title on the cards and some of the Icons kind of “float” (see card above) and the background pictures all have some element of 3D to it.

Here’s the thing, this came out MUCH BETTER THAN I EXPECTED. I expected a lot of “red-blue” cards, and there is SOME of that, but the color scheme works really well with the 3D. EVERY CARD in the game has a neat little 3D effect. In the picture above, the little rocket bursts out of the card when you have the 3D glasses on!

IMG_8883

Once you are into the game (and know the rules and don’t have to look anything up), the 3D really is fairly immersive!! You can play the whole game WITH your 3D glasses on and read the cards: they are quite legible even with the glasses on. I also recommend keeping the box art up too (see picture above for a game in progress) because that cover picture REALLY POPS with the 3D glasses on!

Let’s be honest here, you are either going to LOOOOVE the 3D or HATE it. And you probably know before you even buy the game (some people get headaches from the red-blue 3D glasses). I was hopeful that the 3D experience would be good. And you know what? The 3D effects on the cards and boards REALLY DO WORK. AND You can still read everything! Once you are playing the game, the 3D effect is very immersive and thematic.

The Comic Book!  More 3D!

The Comic Book works pretty well with the 3D. If I had one complaint about the 3D is that it sometimes it doesn’t span the pages of the comic book very well. The first page looks great, and has a haunting 3D galaxy behind it!

But the next page doesn’t seem to pop because it spans two pages and doesn’t fold down very well. I think the 3D kind of breaks down when it crosses a fold.

IMG_8827

But the next page this is probably my favorite scene from the little comic book! 

IMG_8826

Overall, the comic book was fun and add a little flavor to the game.  It wasn’t really needed but I’m glad it was there.  It gave me more 3D!!

The Rules and The Rulebook

IMG_8829

The rulebook has made some nice graphic design and the font choices are good. You can read it just fine and it’s pleasant to look at. See above.

Continue reading “A Review of The Dead Eye: A Solo, 3D Gaming Experience”

A Solo Mode for Incoming Transmission

Last week, we did a review of Incoming Transmission, a space-themed cooperative game for 2-7 players which is fun game with a logic puzzle feel. The game works by having one player (Mission Control) give information to the other players who are trying to interpret said information (which is garbled in some way). I said in that review that there’s not really a way to have a solo mode in Incoming Transmission. And I was wrong! Let’s take a look at how we can play Incoming Transmission solo!

Changing Perspectives

Shipwreck Arcana

We said previously that “there’s too much implicit information” to do a Changing Perspectives idea for Incoming Transmission. But we were wrong!! The main idea of the Changing Perspectives idea is that the solo player simply changes roles in the game, and plays each role “pretending” not to know any information from the previous role. For example, in the case of Shipwreck Arcana (a game which readily embraces the Changing Perspectives solo idea), the solo player alternates between a clue-giver role and a clue-guesser role. In the clue-guesser mode, the solo player “forgets” everything the clue-giver knew! This is feasible because all the information needed for the clue-guesser is on the board! The state of the board is the ONLY information given to the clue-guesser! See below.

The Shipwreck Arcana on Tabletopia
All information needed by the guesser is on the board!

The key to this idea working is that there’s no critical implicit information: the clue-giver tries to deduce what to do based solely on the state of the board. In case there is a need to make a random decision, the clue-guesser rolls a die.

See this post for more information on Changing Perspectives.

Incoming Transmission has a similar model to The Shipwreck Arcana. there’s two roles: Mission Control (the clue-giver) and the Cadet (the clue-guessers). And it turns out, all information that the clue-guesser needs is either (a) on the board or (b) in the cards.

The state of the board (see above) has the information the clue-guessers need: no more, no less. So, this Changing Perspectives idea can easily be applied!

Too Many Permutations?

The real reason I think I didn’t think this Changing Perspectives idea would work is just how many different permutations there are for the clue-guesser. Mission Control gives 5 cards (“the transmission”) to the Cadet and the Cadet has to arrange the cards in the proper sequence to execute “some plan”. Strictly speaking, that’s 5! = 120 possibilities! And later in the game, “the transmission” can be garbled further by the addition of a random card. That’s puts the possibilities to 6! = 720 outcomes!! Thinking about this, that just seems ridiculous to have to try as a solo gamer!

BUT what makes this idea possible is that only certain cards can be played at certain times! For example, you can’t move off the edge of the board, you can’t swap an item with another item.

If you have a “fix-it” card, you deduce that Mission Control “probably” wants you to fix a broken device or station. (At the start of the game, many of the locations are “broken” (on their red side)).

So, when you start arranging cards, there is only subset of permutations that are legal and a further subset of permutations that are logical. (“Why would you give us a fix and there’s nothing to fix? This must be a garbled card…”) Putting all this together, there are usually only a few permutations that make sense. Once the Cadet has the solution down to just a few, he can role a die to have the choice made.

Solo Rules for Incoming Transmission

To make it easier to enforce the idea of Changing Perspectives, we suggest putting the Mission Control and the Cadet on opposite sides of the table. When it’s time for the Mission Control to give a clue, the solo player moves to the Mission Control side of table and does everything Mission Control does normally. When it’s time for the Cadet to interpret the transmission, the solo player moves to the Cadet side. It’s not strictly necessary to change sides of the table, but we found it really helps to change perspective if you are “pretending” by physically switching sides.

Set-up Incoming Transmission normally, putting Mission Control on one side of the table and the Cadet on the opposite side of the table: Put all Mission Control cards (the mission cards and the transmissions cards) on the Mission Control side of the table. See above.

Set-up the Cadet so the station tiles face the Cadet (and away from Mission Control side). See below.

When it’s time to play, play proceeds normally with the solo player simply alternating sides of the table as he changes roles from Mission Control to the Cadet and back.  In the Cadet role the Cadet is ONLY allowed to use information available on the board to make a decision!   As a Cadet, if there’s multiple permutations of the cards that make sense, the Cadet must randomly chooses a permutation and move forward.   The Cadet can assign value from 1-6 for each possibility and then roll a die.

Conclusion

This isn’t a great solo mode for playing Incoming Transmission, but it’s still pretty fun.  It gives you a way to learn the game solo before teaching the game.    It also is a nice little logic puzzle for a solo player.  In my plays of this as a solo game, I don’t think the Cadet mode (the clue-guesser) ever had to choose between more than 4 different card arrangements, so the game never felt too random.  It was a nice little puzzle.

HOWEVER, this solo mode is NOT for people who like to take wild swings at luck.    Some Mission Control players really like to take wild swings with optimal transmissions that will win the game if the players choose right, but would give the Cadet waaaaay too many other arrangements that could fail miserably.  It can become too hard to count “how many ways can we permute the cards?” and just make the game miserable.  The game only works with this solo mode if the solo player is really trying to restrict the number of permutations.  And that’s why it’s not a great solo mode, it tends to pigeon-hole the solo player into playing a certain way.

A Review of Incoming Transmission

Incoming Transmission was a smallish cooperative board game on Kickstarter back in Februrary 2019. It promised delivery in February 2019 but it only delivered last week (March 2021). It’s about 2 years late! These days, a year late isn’t that bad, but two years late is pushing it a little.

IMG_8506

I am still very excited to get Incoming Transmission! It made our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2021! Incoming Transmission is a smallish game for 2-5 people lasting 10-30 minutes. This qualifies it for our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games! Would we have put it in that list? Let’s check out the game below!

Unboxing

The box is a fairly small box (about the size of Solar Storm, another smallish game we looked at).

IMG_8515

The game comes with plenty of plastic bags (too many? I suspect I will steal some of these for other games) and some really nice little wooden meeples. The orange meeple is the “cadet” one team will move around the space station. The green meeple is for an expansion that comes with the game.

IMG_8517

The rest of the game contains two types of components: tiles or cards (see above).

IMG_8519

The tiles are thick cardboard and very readable.  You can see that the game has really embraced the 8-bit computer art aesthetic!

IMG_8520

The cards aren’t linen finished, but they are easy to read and decent (see above).. Again, the game really embraces the 8-bit theme.

IMG_8525

Overall, the game is very consistent in the 8-bit theme. Assuming you like that look (I do), the game looks pretty.

Rulebook

IMG_8508

The rulebook is pretty good. It was readable and I was able to learn the game pretty well. It is a fairly simple game.

IMG_8509

The font is legible and the pages are very readable.  

IMG_8510

We see the  components list on one page (pretty good: it shows all the components with pictures so that always help) plus some gameplay overview.

The next page (not shown) has the set-up and into the rules.

It’s a simple game and the rulebook was good enough.  I am actually fairly happy that I didn’t have any big issues with the rulebook: in the last few months, a few rulebooks have been less than stellar. 

Set-Up

IMG_8625

The game sets-up quickly to a 5×5 grid with the cadet starting in the middle. (Strictly speaking, the green “hat” is for the expansion that comes with the game, but we thought it was so cool we put it on the cadet for our game).

Some locations are in red (which means they are broken and need to be fixed), some locations are in green (which mean they work), and some locations are just empty.

Solo Play

IMG_8516

There is no solo play! (Boo for not following Saunders’ Law). This game is a hidden information game with two types of players: the clue-giver and the rest of the players trying to interpret the clues! The premise is that the Space Station is malfunctioning and the lone cadet on the station (being controlled by most of the characters) has to fix things on the station. The communications are ALSO malfunctioning, so Mission Control (the clue-giver) can only send bits of information on what needs to be fixed and sometimes that information is garbled! It’s up the cadet (and the players playing the cadet) to figure out what the Mission Control (the clue-giver) needs!

It’s hard to offer a solo mode in the “clue-giver/clue-receiver” situation. For games like Shipwreck Arcana, where all information needed in available on the board (and there’s no “connotations”), a technique like Changing Perspectives can work. That idea won’t work here because there’s too much implicit information. So, you pretty much always have to have at least 2 players to play: one clue-giver and (one or more) clue-receivers. So, Incoming Transmission has no solo mode.

!!!!! EDIT !!!!! I was completely wrong!!! There is a nice solo mode in Incoming Transmission!!! See a later blog post here!!!

Gameplay

The object of the game is for the cadet to complete 3 missions before the transmission deck (7 cards) runs out. (The 3 mission objectives are hidden from the cadet players). Each mission needs the cadet to fix “something” on the ship. Fixing something means two things: (1) Turn item(s) to the green side (so they are operational) and (2) moving the fixed items/locations next to each other. In the example above, you need to move the Android item next to the Comlink module to complete the mission.

IMG_8522

The missions have a lot of “flavor text” but the idea is to get card A next to card C in the 5×5 grid.

The clue-giver character gives 5 cards to the cadet characters every transmission. These 5 cards tell the cadet how to move arround the station and what things to pick up and fix. The only problem IS THAT THEY AREN’T IN ORDER! The clue-giver has to give directions (move n, fix, pick-up, drop) in such a way that he gives enough information to fix what’s broken but still “imply” what needs to be done! This is a logic puzzle where the clue-giver tries to “imply” things or make it clear what needs to be done! The 5 cards (in some random order) are the ONLY informations bits given to the players!!

The players have 7 turns to complete 3 missions. The missions don’t have to be completed in order, and in fact, you NEED to be completing multiple missions at the same time to win! There are ONLY 7 turns (“transmissions”). If you haven’t completed all 3 missions at the end of the 7th turn, the space station blows up and everybody loses.

Thoughts

IMG_8629

This is a puzzle game. It’s pretty straight-forward. The clue-giver has to figure out the best way to give info to the players, and the players have to decipher what the clue-giver meant. It’s fun. It’s not super-deep, but it’s also not a light filler game. There’s just enough depth to make this a challenging little puzzle without frying anyone’s brain too much.

Our first play was 3 people and we think that either 2 or 3 people is the right number of people: the game says you can play up to 6, but it probably be boring for a lot of players who aren’t right next to the cards (the 5 clue cards). If you have some younger kids, they could probably “help”, but at the end of the day, 1 clue-giver and 1 or 2 clue-receivers seems to be the right amount. It’s nice to have a second clue-receiver “verify” and “bounce ideas”, but too many more would muddy the waters too much.

Conclusion

IMG_8630

We waited 2 years for Incoming Transmission … was it worth the wait? Yes. This is a fun little game that probably would have made our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games had we gotten it earlier. It’s not a super deep game, and it probably won’t come out all the time, but it’s a light cooperative puzzle for 2-3 people (too many more is probably not recommended) that’s a fun 10-30 minutes of gameplay.

A Review of Burgle Bros 2: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Play, and First Impressions

We will avoid the major controversy of this game and just call it Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers rather than Burgle Brothers 2 (with “brothers” spelled out). I am sure the designer had a good reason to call it that!

Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers was a game that was up on Kickstarter and promised delivery in May 2020. It delivered about a week ago as March 28th, 2021, so it’s about a year late. We have been looking forward to this game, as it made our Top 10 Anticipated Cooperative Games last month! The original Burgle Bros was quite a hit at RichieCon’s 2018 and we have been playing tjhe original online via TableTop Simulator (see our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games You Can Play Online). You can see below that the new Burgle Bros 2 is substantially bigger than its predecesssor!

Honestly, Burgle Bros (the original) probably should have made our Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games from a few weeks ago.  As you can see above, Burgle Bros 2 does not really fit into the “small” category anymore.

Unboxing

Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers comes in a very different box.  It is supposed to look like a Las Vegas Hotel!  See below:

The box is also weird in that it’s “held together” by the cardboard insert at the bottom.

When you open it up, you see a lot of stuff!

IMG_8543

Above, you can see 4 plastic tubes: these tubes will be used to make a 3-D hotel!  There are also two mats in the game (rolled and held by rubber bands).  A few cardboard punchouts also adorn the top (see above).  Below all that mess is a Gamez-Tray with the majority of tokens and cards:

IMG_8545

You can see above that the pieces kind wandered around during shipping.

IMG_8546

You see a lot of plastic cubes (red used for markers, orange used for “heat”), some wood sticks (used for walls in the casino), and a bunch of wood tokens (mostly for user tokens).  All the cards are also intruded in the tray (above right) and a bunch of space for the cardboard tokens.

There’s still more stuff below the red Game-Trayz!

IMG_8550

Although this isn’t a legacy game, it includes some stickers and special envelopes for a campaign mode.  There’s also a Heist Log (for the campaign game) and a discussion of differences between the two games.

Last and not least are the tiles. These form the two floors of the hotel and will be flipped as the players explore.

IMG_8560

Altogether, the components look super good and thematic. They have the same ‘feel’ as the original Burgle Bros!

IMG_8561

Mini-Game 1: The Legacy, Dexterity Game

IMG_8568

So, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers comes with not just one, but two mini-games! The first mini-game is a legacy, dexterity game where you try to put the stickers on the on the wooden markers! I am being silly here because it was very daunting to put the stickers on!! I call it a legacy game because if you screw-up putting the stickers on, they are like that forever! And putting the stickers on is very precise and “handsy”, so that’s why it’s a dexterity game!

IMG_8573

It was actually kind of hard to match the stickers to some of the wooden blocks! For example (below), the two “purplish” characters below both “kinda” fit!

IMG_8574

Also, make sure you DO NOT put the stickers on some of the wooden tokens. They look like they should, but the treasure stickers are for the heist log!

Here’s before:

IMG_8568

And here’s after:

I didn’t do that great at some of the stickers. Once they go on, they are on that way for life! (If you try to take them off, there’s a chance you may rip them). I think a second sticker sheet with “replicas” of some of the stickers would have helped this legacy, dexterity game!!

Setting Up The Table

IMG_8553

So, this game has a bit of cool gimmick. The box becomes the “second floor” of the hotel!

The yellow plastic is a little weak, so you have to be careful not to “shove” the little plastic tubes in too hard, but you still have to apply some force: see above.

Once you flip over the table, you put a mat on the first floor and a mat on the second floor. It’s a little bit shaky, but (after playing through a full game), it seemed to worked pretty well. It just doesn’t necessarily “look” particularly stable (see above).

But it does look cool! The table has a lot of table presence!

Rulebook

The rulebook … is ok. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. There were a lot of questions I had during game play that the rulebook did not answer. There were rules questions about some of the gear, some of the rules on the tiles, some of the final game rules. I was able to make educated guesses on most of them. It didn’t interfere too much with the enjoyment of the game, but I strongly suspect an online FAQ would go a long ways.

IMG_8564

The first page (see above) is a components page: that’s good! They just LIST the components without having a corresponding picture: that’s bad. Most of the components are labelled or “obvious”, so it wasn’t too hard to figure out what was what: that’s good.

The set-up page (above) is very good. I didn’t have too many problems getting set-up.

IMG_8567

The font is nice, the game is fairly well described, and it’s pretty easy to read (see above).

Overall, I learned the game from the rulebook and it was okay.  My real problem was there just seemed to be a lot of edge conditions that weren’t described too well.  I strongly suspect you will want to look at a FAQ online once you get going. 

Solo Play

IMG_8613

So, the box says the game plays 1-4 players. (Ya for following Saunders’ Law) Unfortunately, the rulebook has NO DESCRIPTION OF A SOLO MODE! Many cooperative games just have you assume two positions, so that’s what I did: I chose two characters and just played them both.

At the end of the first campaign, there’s some “rules” to follow to win the endgame (see above). You’ll notice they have descriptions for what to change in a 2 and 3 player game. If we assume the 4-player game is the default rule set, then the lack of “In a one-player game” implies that the solo player either takes control of 2, 3, or 4 characters. For ease, I just chose two characters (see below: The Acrobat and Peterman) and alternated between them.

IMG_8583

Set-Up

When setting up the game, you put the Manager’s office on the first floor and the safe on the second floor. There’s also a monorail and escalator on both floors to allow you to move between floors.

There are nine characters (see above) you could play (Ocean’s 9?). Each player chooses one character (except the solo player has to operate two) to play. Each character has a very specific set of gear (see below) that gives that character “extra abilities”. At the moment, you can’t pass gear around (but I suspect a later campaign rule game will allow passing gear to other characters).

IMG_8582

IMG_8586

Once the game is set-up, it looks very cool on the table! The 3-D second story is a gimmick, but it looks cool.

Gameplay

IMG_8587

Each character gets 4 action points. Using those action points, each character explores the casino, looking for the way up to the second floor (via Escalator or Monorail) or the Manager’s Office (on the first floor) or the Safe (on the second floor). As you explore, you flip over tiles and try to avoid the bouncer. If you are on the same tile as a bouncer (see above), you get 2 points of “heat” (see below).

If you get 6 heat (like Peterman above), you lose the game. Avoiding the bouncers is a big part of the game: they move around using little destination tokens that move as the game progresses. By the end of the game, they are hunting the players directly, so you want to get as much done ASAP!

IMG_8590

As you explore the floors, you encounter chip tokens (see the Mole and the Crowd above). Some of the chips do bad things, and some do good things. In the case of the mole, he gives you a die! Why do you need a die? Because to crack the safe, you have to get dice to the Manager’s Office so that the safe cracker can roll them!

IMG_8592

Above, the Acrobat has 4 dice on the safe space! To crack the safe, he has to roll ALL the numbers on the tiles of the columns and rows of the safe! You can see some “cracked safe” tokens above from a previous attempt!

(The Acrobat is wearing a fake mustache so the bouncer doesn’t bust him!)

Once the players crack the safe, it’s a race to get out! Draw the appropriate Heist Finale card (get that card from the envelope below), and it will tell you what you need to do to get out!

IMG_8558

As you play, you will roll dice (when directed by locations or cards), move, avoid bouncers, explore, peek into locations (so you don’t activate it: some locations are bad to activate).

First Impressions

IMG_8602

The game reminds me a lot of Burgle Bros. But I think it fixes two major problems I had with Burgle Bros:

  1. Outstays its welcome.  By having three floors in the original Burgle Bros, the original game always seemed a little too long.  By the end of the second floor, it always felt like the game should be over.   Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers seems to fix that problem by only having two floors!
  2. A little more variety.  By having the chips on the Locations, there is a little more variety as the chips cause a fgew more interesting things to happen.  Even with the exact same set-up of the Casino, the chips would make the game different.

The game is good.  There’s a lot of “discussion” (in a solo game, you plan with yourself) about how to avoid the bouncers and how to explore.  And the game is very tense in the end game as it seems the bouncers will get you!

One problem I had with the original game is still in Burgle Bros 2: a bit too much randomness. Between cracking the safe (rolling the dice, what if I don’t get what I need?), the bouncer’s track (if the bouncer goes there, we lose, but the card we draw determines that), the location of the moles in the chips.  There are ways to mitigate the randomness (get a lot of dice, try to stay away from the bouncer, use “peeking” to explore locations to avoid bad places), but there is still a lot of randomness in the game.  BUT, IT SEEMS MORE THEMATIC IN A CASINO?  

An example of how thematic this seems:I was getting frustrated when I almost lost: the bouncer was about to find Peterman, and his heat was too high: If the bouncer got in the same Location, game over!  Ah! I’m screwed!

It was the Acrobat’s turn, and I thought we had lost. So, in a panic, the Acrobat went to the Lounge and caused some trouble to “divert” the bouncer!

By having the Acrobat “share a drink”, he was able to get the Peterman out of the way! At this point, I was sold! This felt like a movie moment! I was scared! I did the only thing I could and was able to save the Peterman! That was sooooo cooooool and thematic! I can totally see that moment happening in Heist movie!

One more thing to note: the game has a series of 9 campaigns. It’s kind of cool, but you can completely ignore the campaign and just “randomly” choose one of the 9 chapters to play. I suspect my friends and I will try to play the first few chapters of the campaign. From what I saw, though, the campaign wasn’t “compelling” enough to encourage 9 plays! We’ll see in Part II of this review how much the campaign improves the game.

Conclusion

IMG_8602

You know what? I like Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers better than the original Burgle Bros game. BB2 is very thematic, it’s a good length, and even though there’s a lot of randomness, that’s very thematic! Luckily (no pun intended), there are ways to mitigate the randomness. The game feels like a heist! If you wanted Ocean’s Eleven in a board game, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers is probably your best best.

Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers is a good cooperative game. I strongly suggest you find a FAQ online because the rules skimp on a lot of edge cases. This looks wonderful on the table, doesn’t last too long, and has enough challenge to make an interesting game.

Appendix: Mini-Game 2: The Dexterity Game

This game is very hard to put back together. If putting the stickers on was the first mini-game, closing the box is a the second mini-game. For me, the tubes kept falling out when I tried to close the box, so I ended up having to use the punchout skeletons to hold the tubes in! See pictures below.

This is yet another reason (from a list of many: see here) to keep the punchout skeletons!

A Review of Flourish

Flourish was a game that was on Kickstarter back in September 2020. It promised delivery in March 2021, and you know what? I got mine in March 2021 (just a few weeks ago)!! It is really rare to have a game deliver on-time!

I picked up this game because it had a cooperative mode and a solo mode: this is a cooperative games blog after all.

Unboxing

This game is pretty.

There’s a lot of cardboard (that you don’t really need … see below)

IMG_8435

At it’s heart, this is a card game. The cards are gorgeous and linen finished.

IMG_8425

This is the signature edition, so it has some extra stuff in.

IMG_8426

The boards above are for making the box!

IMG_8427

You can see how the boards go in above (in English, French, and German).

Overall, this game looks really nice.

All packed up, it looks pretty cool (see above). You can see the counters (upper left) and a lot of extra cardboard …

Rulebook

The rulebook is ok. It’s more like a pamphlet of three pages (see above). It describes the base game (competitive), solo mode, cooperative, two player game and some challenges. It’s very terse.

IMG_8442

Like a good rulebook, it shows the set-up right away (see above middle). The overview and details come next (above right).

IMG_8444

You can also see a lot of the rules described above. Here’s the thing: the rules are a little too terse. The description of how to score is very weak. Only after studying the two examples above did I have a sense of how the game worked. This was an operational definition of the game with a very weak abstract definition of the game. Without that example on the right (above), I am not convinced I would have played the game right! Recall, I had a similar problem with some of the rules in Sleeping Gods (see combat rules in that review). Again, I am happy for the examples to clarify the rules, but I feel the rules as presented are incomplete without the example.

The rules, as they are, are readable. You can learn the game (barely). But the rules are too terse! And I believe they are incomplete without the examples. Make sure you look carefully at the examples to learn the game!

The Game

IMG_8477

If I were to describe this game in one phrase, I’d say “Seven Wonders with Flowers”.  This is a drafting game (for some definition of drafting)  where players pass cards to their neighbors and choose one card to play.  Players choose three cards per turn:  one to pass to the left, one to pass to the right, and one to play in your “garden”.  After three turns (called a round), you do some scoring.  After four rounds, you do some special final scoring add up the points.

Ultimately. this is a victory point game. You are playing cards into your garden and scoring at the end of every 3 turns, and then a special scoring round at the very end (after 4 rounds, where each round is three turns).

IMG_8451

The victory point markers are really nice and make it easy to keep track as you score throughout the game.

IMG_8469

The most important picture in the rulebook (above) shows an example card and indicates when you score parts of the game.

The game is very easy to play and get into.  My friends and I were up and playing very quickly after I gave them a rundown.  The phrase “Seven Wonders with Flowers” goes a long ways towards helping people into the game.

The scoring is basically encapsulated on some summary cards.

IMG_8465

 

Solo Rules

IMG_8478

Hurrah! The game has solo rules!  (Thank you for following Saunders’ Law).  You basically play normally, trying to build your garden and pass cards to your “neighbors”, but in this case you only have one neighbor who is just “randomly” building a garden (to my left, below).

IMG_8480

After you play through, you do some math and subtract your fake neighbor’s score from your score and compare it to a chart at the end of the rulebook (see below).

IMG_8481

As a solo mode to learn the game, it was pretty good. I didn’t think it was a great solo mode: I don’t have a burning desire to play this solo and try to “get a better score”, but I could see maybe playing it again solo. It is a fairly relaxing solo mode, which might be the main reason to play it solo.

Competitive Mode

IMG_8485

Out of the box, this is competitive game.   Again, think “Seven Wonders with Flowers”.  You try to build the best garden you can, all the while passing “junk” cards to your neighbors.  The strategy in the game is trying to figure out what’s best for you, and worst for your neighbors.

IMG_8487

We have played Flourish a number of times competitively and liked it.

Cooperative Mode

IMG_8489

The cooperative mode is similar to the solo mode: all players work together to get the best score (looking it up in the rulebook after you are done). You simply add your scores to find the “group score”. There is NO SHARING information when playing cooperatively, all you can do is look at your neighbor’s gardens to figure out what works best for them.

Here’s the thing: I think this game works best cooperatively! I know I am biased (as this is a cooperative games blog), but rather than the “hate-drafting” you do in games like Seven Wonders or the competitive mode of Flourish, in the cooperative mode, you look at your neighbor’s garden and get EXCITED! “Oh, I can’t play anything great, but I got something good for you!” There’s more excitement in the air as you are sharing cards! Sometimes, you don’t have anything great for your garden, but there’s a thrill you get helping out your neighbor!

We thought Flourish was pretty good as a competitive game, but was significantly more fun as a cooperative game!

Some Caveats

IMG_8461

This game, at it’s core, is a simple drafting game.  You pass 1 card to the left, 1 card to the right, and play 1 card in front of you.  Grab a new card, lather, rinse repeat.   This game, at least the signature edition is waaaaay over produced.  I spent an hour punching out the cardboard (see above).  I found out you don’t need them EXCEPT FOR THE EXPANSION. 

 

IMG_8432

IMG_8433

I am not convinced it was worth all that for the expansion.  I mean, the game is huge now! 

But, it’s just a card game. And then they give you these little cardboard trellis between players to help you keep track of when you have passed cards to your neighbors:

I’ll admit, it did help a little, and it looks real nice, but I could have easily done without it. Here’s the thing: I don’t think you need the signature edition of the game (which I have been describing here) which is more expensive, more complex, bigger, and doesn’t add that much.

At it’s core, Flourish is a simple drafting card game. I am not sure all the extras are worth it.

One Suggestion

IMG_8486

Although we like the cooperative mode best, trying to get the “best score” is not really the funnest objective. We were discussing it after we played a few games, and we think there should be a series of “mean neighbors” you have to try to “defeat” by having a better garden than them!

For example: Mean Mr. Green Jeans is extra proud of his roses, so he can grow them faster! He can redraw a card every turn if he has no roses! If you can grow more roses than Mean Mr. Green Jeans, you get extra points! If you get over 300 points, you can beat Mr. Green Jeans!

I think the idea of a “mean neighbor” would give the game more focus and make the cooperative game more fun! If players have a much more tangible and identifiable and personal goal than “beat 300 points”, I think it would made the game even better.

Conclusion

IMG_6961

This is a good game. The solo game is decent (if not great), but fairly relaxing. The standard competitive mode is good, but the game really opens up the cooperative mode! In the cooperative mode, you always feel like you can do something on your turn .. even if your garden stinks, you can still help your neighbors!

The rulebook isn’t great: Make sure you read the examples thoroughly as a I am not convinced you can play with the rules as given.

The production is beautiful, but I don’t really think you need the Signature Edition. At it’s core, it’s really just a card game. All the extra cardboard seemed to distract from the game more than help it.,

At the end of the day, Flourish will probably be played cooperatively by all my groups. If you’ve always wanted a drafting game like Seven Wonders but with a cooperative mode, Flourish might be what you’ve been looking for. The only other cooperative drafting game I know of is Sidekick Saga, but Sidekick Saga is much more complicated. Flourish is a simple cooperative drafting game that I think will appeal to a lot of people.

Top 10 “Small” Cooperative Board and Card Games

What do we mean when say a board or card game is small? We mean one of of many things:

  • How much does it weigh? (weight)
  • How difficult is is? (complexity)  This is taken from the “complexity” metric on BoardGameGeek
  • How long does the game last? (length)
  • How big is the box? (dimensions)

Of course, some of these metrics are closely related (weight and dimension), but they are all different ways to measure “how small” is a game.  The 10 Games below are our favorite small cooperative board and card games. 

10. Pandemic: Hot Zone

Pandemic: Hot Zone – North America, Z-Man Games, 2020 — front cover

Weight: 1.05 pounds
Complexity: 1.92/5
Dimensions: 9 x 5.88 x 2 inches
Game Length: 30 Minutes

Victory!
Pandemic: Hot Zone is a game that was developed by the designer (Matt Leacock) as a way to demo Pandemic (the bigger and more complicated parent) in game stores: it was a way to give a Pandemic-esque experience in a shorter time frame.  For those of you who don’t know, Pandemic (and so many spin-offs) is a fantastic cooperative game that’s taken the world by storm since it’s release in 2008.   Pandemic: Hot Zone is a simpler, smaller version of the game with fewer rules.  There are fewer roles, only 1 research station, only 3 diseases (which you can’t eradicate), and a few other differences.  The game is fun and only lasts 30 minutes.  The thing is, it isn’t THAT much shorter that Pandemic (officially 45 minutes) and it’s just different enough that anyone who knows the original Pandemic might get tripped by a few differences.  The Pandemic: Hot Zone box is smaller and it is still all the goodness of Pandemic in a smaller package, but if I had a choice, I would probably always play Pandemic instead.  This is best used as a welcoming game that’s good to introduce someone to the wonderful world of Pandemic without overwhelming them.

Print n Play version. Lost one card from victory!

9. The Grizzled
box cover

Weight: 10.6 ounces
Complexity: 1.94/5
Dimensions: 5.51 x 5.51 x 1.97 inches
Game Length: 30 Minutes

Game setup

The Grizzled is a “mostly cards” game in small-ish box.  It’s played in silence as players cooperatively try to survive a war in the trenches.   It’s very thematic and tense as players will take “bad stuff” or other effects for each other so they can survive the war.  The goal is to survive and try to get peace to win.  The game is mostly about matching patterns on cards (or rather, not matching too much) and trying to deduce your comrades cards/patterns (based on what they play).  There are special abilities and negative personality traits and threats that add to the theme.  This feel very much like war: “We are stuck in a trench: we have to be quiet to survive but we still have to do something!  Comrades in arms work together!”  The game has an even further thematic twist, as the artist of the game (Tignus, a French cartoonist from Charlie Hedbo) was killed in a terrorists attack not long after this game came out.

The Grizzled

8. Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game

high quality image of front cover

Weight: 11.9 ounces
Complexity: 2.42/5
Dimensions: 8 x 4.5 x 7.5 inches
Game Length: 30-60 Minutes

Setup for solo play

Space Hulk: Death Angel – The Card Game is a small card only (and 1 die) game that really nails the Space Marine motif.  For a small little card game, there is a lot of complexity and choice here!  It even made our Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games!   It’s unfortunately hard to find this game these days, but offers interesting tactical and strategic choices as Marines kill bugs.  This would probably be higher on the list if it wasn’t so hard to get a hold of these days.

Action cards for Brother Claudio & Brother Goriel

7. Mint Cooperative

Cityscape Tin

Weight: 0.007 ounces 
Complexity: 1.43/5
Dimensions: 3.94 x 1.18 x 2.36 inches 
Game Length: 15-30 Minutes

Mint Cooperative Kickstarter... Early Christmas Present!

Mint Cooperative is a tiny little game that fits in a mint tin!  We reviewed it here.  It’s probably the second smallest game (yes, there is one smaller)!  It’s got a little die and lots of little cards.  Given how small this game is, it’s surprisingly easy to read and see!  It’s a decent game you can just plop into you pocket and bring out any time.

Components

6. Unlock!

Amazon.com: UNLOCK! Squeek & Sausage, The Formula, and The Island of Doctor  Goorse Card Game Set: Toys & Games

Weight: 6.4 ounces 
Complexity: 1/5  to 3/5 (varies on the game)
Dimensions: 3.6 x 1.2 x 7.1 inches
Game Length: 60 Minutes

The Unlock! games are a bit of cheat to put on here.  The newest Unlock! games are only available 3 adventures per box: see our review of Unlock!  Epic Adventures here for more discussion of the game and this issue.   However, you can still find the “little mini Unlocks” for the first 15 or so adventures.  They are board games answer to an Escape Room game, where the box contains a full escape room adventure!  Your smart phone and the cards in the game help guide you through many puzzles and mysteries.  If you can still find the “one adventure per box”, they are a nice form factor (a small game) that’s easily portable to your friend’s house.  And very fun! Although we won’t rank all of them, we can give you our top 5 Unlock! mini boxes:

  1. The Tonipal’s Treasure
  2. The Adventures of Oz
  3. Expedition: Challenger
  4. Squeak and Sausage
  5. A Noside Story

5. Solar Storm

Solar Storm box cover

Weight: 6.2 ounces
Complexity: 2.12/5
Dimensions: 4.96 x 3.78 x 0.98 inches
Game Length: 30-60 Minutes

A few turns from defeat in my first solo game.

Solar Storm is a (mostly) card game that we reviewed here.  It reminds us a lot of Pandemic with a lot of it’s mechanics, but it still feels different.  I’d honestly rather play this than Hot Zone (#10) if I wanted a smaller Pandemic experience.

Solo action!

4. Sprawlopolis
The cover image

Weight: 0.089 kg
Complexity: 1.83/5
Dimensions: 4.50 x 3.00 x 0.25 inches
Game Length: 15-20 Minutes

First game with all expansions: Beaches, Construction Zones, Interstate, Points of Interest, and Wrecktar. Final score after all that: –1.

Sprawlopolis is, without a doubt, the smallest game on here by almost any metric!  It’s just 18 poker-sized cards that fit in a tiny plastic wallet and some some, foldy rules.  And that’s it!   The cards are two-sided: One side has “scoring conditions” and the other side has 4 blocks in a city.  Choose 3 cards using the scoring side, then build a city with the rest of the 15 cards to build a city (trying to “maximize” the points)!  And that’s about it!  There’s a lot of variety, it’s easy to take with you, the game doesn’t take up much space on the board, and the game play is quick and fast!  

Supposedly, a newer version is coming out that’s more the size of, say, The Grizzled (see above) since this game has done so well.

Wallet edition

3. Decktective

Decktective - Bloody-red roses Second Edition
Weight: 6.2 ounces
Complexity: 1.17/5
Dimensions: 4.96 x 3.78 x 0.98 inches
Game Length: 60 Minutes

3D Crime Scene

There are currently two Decktective games out:  Bloody-Red Roses and The Gaze of The Ghost.  Both of these games made our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Games!  There are small little card games, but with interesting little mysteries and mechanics for solving some crimes.  Part of the thrill of these games is setting up the scene of the crime (see above) using the box and cards are elements!   These games are fun and light and easy to take with you, but they are a little longer (60 minutes) than most games on this list. 

Decktective: The Gaze of the Ghost, dV Giochi, 2020 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

2. Deckscape

Deckscape - 7 Games To Choose From

Weight: 7.9 ounces
Complexity: 1.61/5
Dimensions: 1.1 x 3.6 x 5 inches
Game Length: 30-90 Minutes
Deckscape: Der Test, ABACUSSPIELE, 2017 — box and sample cards (image provided by the publisher)

The Deckscape games are small card games that offer the Escape Room experience in a tiny little box!  There are currently 6 of them (with a 7th coming soon).  You can easily fit them in your pocket and take them with you.  The time and complexity varies quite a bit between different Deckscape games.  Here’s our current favorites, ranked:

  1. Behind the Curtain (so good it made our Top 10 Cooperative games of 2019)
  2. The Mystery of El Dorado
  3. Time Test
  4. Heist in Venice
  5. The Fate of London
  6. The Curse of The Sphinx (by far my least favorite)

Deckscape Mega Review - Small Box, Big Experience | Meeple Mountain

1. The Shipwreck Arcana

The Shipwreck Arcana boxart

Weight: 7.9 ounces
Complexity: 2.15/5
Dimensions:
Game Length: 10-30 Minutes

shipwreckarcana Instagram posts - Gramho.com

The Shipwreck Arcana is an odd little cooperative game that has generated much interest here at Co-op Gestalt! We first reviewed it here, and it’s really grown on us! We have used it as the model game for playing cooperative games (with hidden information) as solo games: see our discussion of Changing Perspective here. The Shipwreck Arcana is a quirky game where each player has a hidden number, and players are trying to give clues to each other using only the cards on the board to guess those numbers. It’s very logical and almost feels like a logic puzzle. If that doesn’t scare you away, then I think you’d love this game. It’s quirky, different, logical, mathematical but it’s a small game (on every axis except complexity) you can take with you everywhere. It is one of the most complex games on our list!

Game components