Top 5 List of Components for the Gameroom!

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

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

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

Number 5.  Plastic Baggies and SharpiesIMG_7492

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

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

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

Number 4. Rubber Bands

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

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

Number 3. Kallax Shelves

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

Number 2. A Copier/Printer

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

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

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

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

Number 1. Knee-High Tables for Drinks

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

A Review of Disney Sidekicks (the cooperative board game)

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

Components

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There are player helper sheets!  And they are good!

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

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

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Rulebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And each hit does one point of damage!

Impressions

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

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

A bigger problem might be complexity versus intended audience.

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

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

Poorly Labelled Components

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

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

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

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

Tiny Tokens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The hero cards and hero minis are really fantastic:

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

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

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

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

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

Fragile Building Punchboards

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

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

Take a look at some of the pieces:

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

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

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

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

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

The Rulebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo Rules

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

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

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

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And then set-up appropriately:

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

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

Gargoyles: Awakening can be played solo two ways:

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

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

Gameplay

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Impressions

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Addendum: Putting The Game Away

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

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

Just another caveat emptor on this game.

RichieCon 2021 and Top 10 “Interesting” Cooperative Games

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

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

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Day 0: First Game … Kapow!

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

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

Day 0 … Nighttime: Las Cruces House

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

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Day 1 … Morning: Rec Center

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

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Lords of WaterDeep, 6 Player game!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wait, they are STILL playing Lords of Waterdeep?

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

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

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

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

Day 0 … Dice Throne Tournament

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

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

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

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

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

 

Day 1:  Water Games

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

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The water games played at RichieCon 2021:

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

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Day 2

Day 2 was just more games!

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

A Review of Paleo, Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and Initial Impressions

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Paleo is a cooperative game for 2-4 Players: it’s set in a “paleolithic time” (read: era of cavemen or stone age).  It’s currently up for the  Kinnerspiel Des Jarhes (see here) award in 2021.  (EDIT: It won).  Interestingly, especially in our cooperative blog, that all three entries for the Kinnerspiel are cooperative games! Micromacro and Robin Hood (the other two: see here) are also cooperative games!  What a glorious era to love cooperative games!

We’ll take a look at Paleo here!

Unboxing

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Paleo has a really nice minimalist aesthetic with lots of white space: see above.

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The basic resource components are pretty nice (just not Lost Ruins of Arnak nice) with wood components for the wood, food, and stone. The wood dice, however, seem extra cool. See above.

A lot of this game is in the cards, but it’s not a legacy game (usually the STOP! cards are reserved for legacy games). In this case, the game is all in the cards, but you never “destroy forever” cards. During gameplay, you will however discard cards to the graveyard so they out of the deck for the rest of the game. See the graveyard below.

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Paleo is all about combining basic cards and two modules to form a “deck” of cards. These cards are what the players will be “exploring” and turning over.

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See the cards above: the backs of the cards give you “hints” about what the cards will do, and you turn them over to see what you can actually do! Since the game is all in the cards, you want to be careful not to look at too many cards at the start of the game … you don’t want to spoil the surprises on the cards! Note that the cards are very nice linen-finished cards!

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Everything else in the game are cardboard components: See the three main boards above! See the heart, skull, and tool tokens below.

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Overall, the components are nice enough. They are all very easy to read and have the same minimalist look/feel with the white theme.

The workbench, although it looks cool (see below), is one of the most annoying components when it comes to set-up and tear-down!

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Sure, it looks great above, but building it was messier than it should have been. It barely had a 10th of page to describe how to put it together:

You can barely see what it looks like! The next page has a completed picture, but its still not great at showing it:

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That’s fine, because once it’s built … it does look cool. But wait! How do you put this away? I am pretty sure they thought about it (because it does fit in a very particular way), but did they document it? Nope! Are you supposed to take it apart to fit in the box????

No, you just have to make sure you put the rules UNDER the insert, and NOTHING else on the right side and it just BARELY clears the lid!

You might think this is a minor thing, but when you are putting it away, it can be very frustrating! So, learn from my experience: pull the bottom part off of the workbench, put the rules and extension rulesheet under the insert, clear the bigger part and make sure the workbench sits JUST SO (see picture above).

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Overall, the game looks good and has a consistent look-and-feel: the cards are linen-finished and easy to read, the tokens are easy to read, and the wooded resource tokens are nice. The workbench looks cool, but is annoying the pack back into the box.

Rulebook

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All the rules are there and the rulebook works fine. But I feel like they skimped in a few places. The components list is just a sliver at the stop of the 1st page:

The set-up is next and works well enough:

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The rest of the rulebook works okay, but again, I feel like they were skimping. This game has a lot of iconography: where do you go to see iconography? Isn’t there usually a summary on the last page with the iconography? Usually on the back page. Nope, somewhere in the middle.

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Look, it’s not a big deal, but I felt like the rulebook has “let’s cram as few pages as possible into the rules so we can save some money”. That’s fine, I understand, but I felt the rulebook could have been better.

Like I said, the rulebook worked and it was fine. This is just a minor nitpick, but since Lost Ruins of Arnak (see here and here) and Ares Expedition (see review here) had such wonderful rulebooks, it’s a little harder to deal with. Especially since The Lost Ruins of Arnak is ALSO up for a Spiel Des Jahres award!

Solo Rules

By default, Paleo DOES NOT follow Saunders’ Law: it has NO Solo Rules!  See the box cover above!  The main reason (I think) for lack of solo rules is that one of the main features of the game is that you can choose to “help” another player on your turn:

In the card above, the player can either choose to hunt the Mammoth (if he has the resources, which is unlikely) OR he can help out one of his neighboring tribe-of-cavemen!  The little “hands-shaking” symbol is the sign for “help your neighbor” in this game.    This is a central mechanism in the game (for balance, for fun, for winning), so you must play with it! 

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All this means for the solo player is that the solo player simply takes the role of two tribes of cavemen!  See above!  Tribe 1 has a Scout and a Guardian.  Tribe 2 has a Hunter and a Scout.  Each tribe plays a card separately, like it would in a 2-Player game (note the second tribe has just played “At Home” to the right).  The only difference is that the solo player must make all the choices himself. 

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It can be  little daunting to play 2 Tribes as a solo player, but you can really feel the need for the cooperation when you play.  (I tried playing a solo game with just 1 tribe … it was miserable and I immediately stopped).  

I really think the rulebook could have included a simple sentence:

A solo game of Paleo plays exactly like a 2-Player game,  where the solo player plays both tribes of cavemen separately

Initial Impressions

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The game looks good on the table.  The game really does feel like you are exploring: you choose a card based on the back of the card (like a hint from the environment) to play every turn.  After all players flip their card, then each player (in Player Selected Turn Order) chooses a card to play.  But there’s so much more to the game:

  • You can get Visions (which help you choose what you will do next)
  • You can get Ideas (for “tech” to build: wood and a rock? A spear of course!)
  • You can avoid Bad Cards!  All hands are “littered” with Bad News, and you have to know when and when NOT to avoid the bad news cards!
  • You can build tools!  Using the ideas you had earlier, you can make them real!  Make a REAL Spear!
  • You need to feed your tribe!

This is a Euro cooperative game.  What do you I mean by that?  The game is all about getting enough resources to get stuff done, but as a group.  Cavemen need to get ideas (one type of resource) to build tools (another type of resource) using wood and stone (yet another type of resource).  Where this game differs from other Euros is that it strongly encourages cooperation through the help mechanic!   Players work together to get resources.

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A “win” is getting the entire cave painting built!  A “lose” is getting 5 skulls (see above).  As the game progresses, there are many opportunities to get cave painting pieces: for example, defeating the Mammoth below gives a piece!

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 The game really does feel like you are exploring.  Since cards go to the Graveyard after you have “defeated them”, there is a clock running!  Thematically: you killed the Bull Mammoth (above), got his meat, and he’s not coming back!  At some point, you will run out of cards to keep the cavemen alive!!!  You must explore to survive, but a some point you must figure WHAT you need to do!! That’s part of the fun of this game: you don’t know exactly “what” you need to do to survive until you have gone through the deck a few times (in a typical game, you go through the deck many times).

You must explore to find out what you need.

Conclusion

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In the end, I liked Paleo as a solo game (even though it doesn’t have solo rules). It sometimes feels like you don’t have a of choices as you explore, as you can only see the backs of the cards and you don’t even know what you need at the start of the game! BUT, this was thematic as an exploration game! The more you get to know the modules you are playing, the more predictive your choices can be! And once you flip the cards over, there are still interesting choices to make! Are you a good neighbor or do you overcome your own challenges? And the game has some replayability, as choosing 2 of 10 modules (A-J) per game gives you (10 choose 2) = 45 combinations.

I see why this game was a Kinnerspiel Des Jahres nominee! It’s pretty fun, looks good, and has some unique mechanisms and ideas I haven’t seen elsewhere. And Paleo really does encourage cooperation with the way the cards are revealed and resolved with Player Selected Turn Order allowing players to choose (as a group) how to play! Paleo really captures the feel of cavemen exploring and trying to survive.

Addendum

We just finished RichieCon this weekend (full report next week), and I was hoping to get Paleo to the table with some groups.  It just didn’t happen, even AFTER I explained “Hey!! Paleo just won the Kinnerspiel!”  I’m not sure: I wonder if the theme was offputting?  Maybe the art on the cover wasn’t appealing?  Just a quick note that maybe you might have trouble getting people to play with this with you, despite the Kinnerspiel award …

Top 10 Cooperative Games With a Sense of Humor!

A lot of cooperative games have very dark and depressing themes: “Work together to save the world! Or everybody dies! AHHH!” (In fact, that’s exactly what we did to make Lost Ruins of Arnak cooperative last week!) We wanted to point all those cooperative games where a “sense of humor” permeates the game. What do we mean by that? Something that makes you laugh! As you read the rulebook, as you play the game, you notice little touches that tickle your funny bone. It may be flavor text, or the way a rule is expressed, or just some picture that make you giggle and not take the game (or life) too seriously.

To be clear, these are all real games (some heavier than others), and not just excuses for jokes!

10. Dungeon Lords

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So, we are cheating a little bit here:  Dungeon Lords is ONLY cooperative if we play with our rules from our Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Full Cooperatively.  This would probably be further up the list if the cooperative rules were better fleshed out.  (Hint, hint, Rich).   Dungeon Lords has one of the funniest rulebooks we have ever read, the art is silly and evocative, and the games mechanisms and cards reinforce this sense of humor.  The funniest bit in the game: the Dungeon room where, for 2 imps and a food, you can create another imp—we call this “The Romantic Dinner Room”.

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9. Far Away

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This is further down the list because, although the sense of humor pervades the rulebook and the box and the components, its not quite as prevalent as we start playing: it’s a pretty heavy game.  We reviewed the game here  and it also made our Top 10 Cooperative Space Themed Games.  Overall, the game has an almost dark sense of humor!  My favorite joke: 

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Overall, this is a heavier game (see below) that uses a sense of humor to keep it from being too much.

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8. CO-OP: the co-op game

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CO-OP: the co-op game is a silly game where Hippies of all generations come together to stop Mondo Mart (which is nothing like MegaloMart or Walmart) from taking over the local CO-OP.   The rules encourage you to embrace the hippie vibe of the game and roleplay your characters.   The cards have funny little flavor text at the bottom,  but the best part are the ridiculous things you can buy at the shop such as 103% Dark Chocolate, Chaka Reversers, and the game itself (yes, you can buy CO-OP: the co-op game  in game).  It’s a silly but fun light-hearted co-op.    It also made our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2017.

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7. Unlock: Squeek and Sausage

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Squeek and Sausage is an Unlock Escape Room game (we’ve reviewed a few of Unlock games: Unlock Epic Adventures and Unlock: Star Wars).  This particular universe, with a silly professor who has “doomed us all”, has been so popular that he has spawned two more Unlock Escape Room Games: A Noside Story (from Unlock: Secret Adventures set) and Professor Noside’s Animal-O-Matic (from the Unlock: Mythic Adventures Set).  Squeek and Sausage is still my favorite, as it introduced us to this hilarious world.

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6. Agents of SMERSH

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I was a kickstarter of the very original Agents of SMERSH back in 2016!  (And I am kickstarter on the reboot in 2021 as well: this is a neat game).  This is a storybook game (as it made our Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Story Telling Games), where players roam around a world map trying to find and take out Dr. Lobo before he can “destroy the world!”.  But, this game is very much a love-letter to the silly 70s tropes of Secret Agents and James Bonds. The text that comes out in the storybooks is very action-packed, but still has decisions and a sense of humor. This game also made our Top 10 Cooperative Games “Off The Beaten Track”.  

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5. Spirit of 77

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This game almost didn’t make the list, because it’s a Role Playing Game rather than a board game, but the game is cooperative. It is also THE MOST RIDICULOUS GAME I HAVE EVER PLAYED.  In a good way.   We reviewed it here, and tried to explain how the game naturally encourages a sense of humor with playlists, twists, and other mechanisms.  The game is strongly dependent on the group itself having a sense of humor, so you have to make sure your group is in the right frame of mind.   I look forward to further plays with silly thing like Bigfoot jumping over 30 Ford Pintos in a Dodge Pacer.

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4. Forgotten Waters

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We initially reviewed Forgotten Waters here, but the game has just gotten better and better for us!  It’s a silly, pirate themed Adventure game with a great story!  It has some really silly jokes dressed up in an App that makes it that much more thematic!   Forgotten Waters made our Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Story Telling Games, our Top 10 Cooperative Swashbuckling Games, as well as our Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games of 2020.  It’s a real fun game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but still has a lot of good choices.

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3. Scooby Doo: Escape From The Haunted Mansion

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Scooby Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion is essentially a Scooby Doo themed Escape Room game.  The players, as a group, take the roles of the Scooby gang.  Each character has their own “verb” they apply to objects throughout the Mansion: Fred can investigate, Velma can research, Scooby can smell, and welllll, Shaggy can eat.  That’s right, Shaggy will frequently just pop things he finds around the Mansion into his mouth and try to eat them!   There’s a fun mystery to solve, and the interactions in the game are pretty hilarious.  This game really brings in that sense of humor from the Scooby Doo cartoon.   This game made our Top 10 Cooperative Creepy/Spooky Games as well as our Top 10 Cooperative Detective Board and Card Games!

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2. Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger

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This is probably the lightest cooperative game on this list, but maybe the funniest by itself!  It made the number 2 spot on our Top 10 Cooperative Storybook/Storytelling Games because of how easy it is to play and how ridiculous it is.  You can pick this up at Target for fairly cheap, and also play online fairly easily (see our Top 10 Cooperative Games You Can Play Online).   It’s a pretty simple story game, but the stories it tells are just hilarious and your choices do kinda matter!

 

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1. Cantaloop

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Cantaloop may be my game of the year for 2021! We reviewed it more deeply here. This game has the best sense of humor I have ever seen.  Jokes, throw-away and essential, permeate the game.  The art style is silly and works with the game.  And yet, for all the humor and silliness, this is still a fantastic point-and-click adventure game masquerading as a board game!  One of many throw-away jokes: “What’s the best time of day? 6:30 hands down!”  

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A Cooperative Mode For Lost Ruins of Arnak

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In last week’s entry of Co-op Gestalt, we discussed the Lost Ruins of Arnak, a 1-4 Player Worker Placement/Deck-Building game that is a competitive “get-the-most-victory-points” game. Some of my friends have loved this (beautiful production, lots of choices) and some of my friends hated it (too fiddly, bad online implementation, the “disparity of experience” problem). The conclusion of last week’s blog was simple: The Lost Ruins of Arnak needs a cooperative mode to help bring in the detractors.

So, I put my money where my mouth was. I mean, this is a cooperative games blog after all. Included somewhere below is a cooperative mode for Lost Ruins of Arnak. It’s only 18 cards and a page or two of additional rules.

Cooperative Mode

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The cooperative mode adds two new sets of cards:

  1. 14 Shadow Creatures Motivations
  2. 4 Character Cards

The basic premise is that the players must work together to defeat some Aliens threatening the Earth! From the Introduction:

Some strange, shadowy creatures have been spotted in major metropolitan areas across the globe! These strange creatures, dubbed “The Shadow Creatures” have been dealing chaos, havoc, and damage everywhere they appear! What do the Shadow Creatures want? What are their motivations?

With the world in chaos, major governments have shared all their intel on the Shadow Creatures. Synthesizing this collective intel, the world’s top researchers have gleaned that the Shadow Creatures have some connection to the Lost Ruins of Arnak. But what is that connection?

The answer lies nears the site of the Lost Ruins of Arnak! The researchers must travel there to find the answer! Using research, exploration, smarts, and a little luck, the researchers will work together to discover the Shadow Creatures motivations and the appropriate response!

Can the researchers figure out the Shadow Creatures motivations before time runs out and the Earth is destroyed? Can YOU help them?

To win the game, players must together discover and satisfy the Shadow Creature Motivations to save the Earth!

At the start of the game, the players choose two Motivations cards (called Characteristics in the original 3×5 card version) which will set the victory conditions for the game.

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At the end of the 5th round, the players must collectively be able to satisfy BOTH conditions to win the game. The rest of the game essentially stays the same, but all the victory points are unused as the Shadow Creatures Motivations (see above) take over for deciding victory points. No one cares about victory points when saving the Earth.

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There aren’t any rule changes, but a couple of additions:

  1. Players can share resources at the start of round
  2. Players can do “research” to flip the Shadow Creatures Motivations up early.

The Shadow Creatures Motivation cards are face-down at the start of the game: they get flipped face-up at the start of rounds 4 and 5.   It can be too late to do what’s necessary, so there are mechanics for “Researching Motivations” so you can flip the Motivations earlier.   See the picture below for the original rules for how Researching Motivations work.  The full rules are available in the PDF at the end.

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Essentially, players cooperatively have to choose when to use resources to build engines or research motivations.  This is one of the things the players will have to discuss!

Characters

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One of the things the cooperative mode adds is a unique character card for each player.  Why?  Firstly, because variable-player powers in cooperative games tends (for me anyways) to make co-op game more fun!  Do you want to play “MoneyBags” Thad or “Sky-King” Cooper or “Deal-man” Kerns or “Inspirational” Allison?  More fun!  However, more importantly, the addition of variable players powers helps balance the game:  the Research Motivations actions costs extra resources and by giving characters extra resources, we are preserving the original balance from the original game. 

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Solo Mode

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The cooperative mode essentially adds a couple of new solo modes to the Lost Ruins of Arnak! The cooperative mode scales from 1 to 4 Players, so you can play solo by playing the cooperative mode with one player controlling 1 character. For a harder solo mode, a solo player can control 2 characters in the cooperative mode.

Alpha Version

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So, directly below is the PDF that describes version 1.0.0 of the cooperative rules. This is the Alpha version of the rules: they work, we’ve play-tested them, and we like them, but there are still some rough corners. We are releasing this partly so we can get feedback. Was any Motivations too easy? Too hard? Do certain actions require clarification?

Lost Ruins Of Arnak Cooperative Mode (PDF)  Version 1.0.0 

Please feel free to send us email at returnfromsubroutine@gmail.com.

Conclusion

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I’ve really enjoyed my competitive and cooperative plays of The Lost Ruins of Arnak. Hopefully, the addition of the cooperative mode will bring in some of friends who didn’t like the original game.

Exploring The Lost Ruins of Arnak and The Disparity of Experience: Why We Love Cooperative Games

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We will having our next RichieCon 2021 very soon (see here for previous RichieCon 2019 and RichieCon 2018 highlights)! This is our yearly (modulo last year) event where we get together and play games for two to three days at the Rec Center at the top of the street! This year, we have people coming from all over! Tucson AZ! Las Cruces NM! Phoenix AZ! Madison WI! Fort Hayes KS! It’ll be fun to get together with friends I haven’t seen in a long time!

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Unfortunately, my friend Nevin can’t join us this year, so he went ahead and sent me an early birthday present for RichieCon 2021! The Lost Ruins of Arnak! (See above). This is a hot new Euro that’s currently up for the Kinnerspiel des Jahres 2021 award and it won the BoardGameGeek Medium Game of the Year for 2020! I love the theme (kind of an Indiana-Jones-exploration thene) and I think it would be great for the “hot games” table at RichieCon 2021! So Nevin, in all his magnanimity, went ahead and gifted a copy of Lost Ruins of Arnak to RichieCon 2021! You’ll note that this is not a cooperative game, it’s a stone-cold Euro. So why are we talking it in this cooperative games blog? Keep reading dear reader …

Components

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I think one of the reasons this game is up for the Kinnerspiel is because it looks so nice! The components and art are fantastic! See above and below.

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The art on the cards, board, and locations is downright gorgeous. The plastic components (arrowheads, gems, tablets) are top-notch quality and fun to manipulate. Overall, the game looks gorgeous on the table.

Solo Mode

The solo mode is pretty good: it’s how I learned the game. There’s deck of about 12 cardboard cards (see above) which basically are the deck of a second “automated” player. There are very special rules for what the automated player’s cards do: you basically alternate turns between the automated player deck and your “normal” turn. The solo player plays like a normal player would, and the automated player usually blocks spaces and take resources/spaces before you can sometimes. The automated player represents another player “blocking” you.

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If you look online (see above for web site), you’ll see there is a Solo Campaign available to play as well. I haven’t played it yet, but you can either print out the solo campaign or play online with it.

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Overall, I enjoyed the Solo mode okay. I didn’t love it, but it really did teach me the game.

In Person vs. Online

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So, at this point, I’ve played 1 solo game in person and 2 4-Player in person games.

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I have also played 2 4-Player online games on BoardGameArena (see above). The experience has been very interesting. Simply put, people who have played Lost Ruins of Arnak in person have liked it, and people who have played it online have not. One of the players even said he think he’d love the game in person, but he hated the BoardGameArena implementation. Me and someone else played both online and in person, and we liked both experiences.

I think that because the game is so big and sprawling, Lost Ruins of Arnak can be fiddly and intimidating online: you’ll notice that BGA had to squish the whole board into a small computer screen that you have to scroll a lot (Recall that most online games seem lesser games if you have to scroll too much) . But, if you play in person, you can see the whole grandiose board and focus easily on the areas you need to.

I think the lesson here is simple: play Lost Ruins of Arnak in person first, and then, if you like it, then try it online. Once you know the game and like it, the BGA implementation is good. My experience has been that people don’t seem to like this game if they are introduced to it online.

Disparity of Experience

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So, after each play of the game, I asked people what they liked and didn’t about the Lost Ruins of Arnak. One of the things that came up is a criticism of many games: “Anyone has played the game more has an advantage”. I trounced my friends online (I didn’t mean to: it’s hard to keep track of points until the very end) because I have played more times than them. This led to discussions of “This is like Lords of Waterdeep: I’ll never play that game with Kurt because he’s played like 100 times and he just destroys us! It’s fun, but I don’t like to be destroyed!” Games like this suffer from a disparity of experience: the more experienced players (at that game) tend to beat soundly the less experienced players. It’s not like me and my friends have to win, but it’s usually no fun to watch someone do so much better and take away options (especially in worker placement games like Lost Ruins of Arnak and Lords of Waterdeep).

It’s pretty clear that half of the people I played Lost Ruins of Arnak with will probably never want to play this game again. The disparity of experience (both the first game and future games) really soured them to the game.

(I guess you could argue it’s my fault that I soured the game to my friends, but it was clear to everyone in my group that this was just a first play/learning game. The point was that me and Teresa both had an advantage as we had played more than them. And as long as we all play this game together, we will continue have that advantage. On the same note, I will never play Lords of Waterdeep with Kurt because our disparity of experience is so wide).

Why We Like Cooperative Games

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And this is why we like cooperative board and card games: they don’t tend to suffer from disparity of experience nearly as much as competitive games. Even if one player has played a cooperative game significantly more than the other players, everyone is a cooperative game can usually still participate and contribute! It’s a group effort and you can still feel empowered contributing to the shared victory or commiserate with your friends in a shared loss. Either way, all players are part of the group.

You can still have Alpha Player Syndrome, where a cooperative game can be co-opted by an aggressive player, but this is orthogonal to the disparity of experience problem. An Alpha Player tends to be an Alpha Player regardless of their experience. As an example: I remember teaching my friends a game and we had playing for about an hour. The Alpha Player walked in, and after after 10 minutes, started telling us what to do! He didn’t know all the rules AND he had never played before. The Alpha Player is just an Alpha Player. But usually the problem is pretty easy to solve: don’t play with Jerks. (There are other ways to mitigate Alpha Player Sydrome: see here for some suggestions).

Conclusion

You may or may not like Lost Ruins of Arnak: you will probably have a decent idea of your interest level after reading this. The solo mode in the physical board game is good for learning the game, and there are even solo campaigns (online) to extend your solo experiences! I strongly suggest playing the physical board game in person first to get the best experience! The online experience on BoardGameArena is decent, but that online experience seems to have soured many of my friends on this game.

Unfortunately, Lost Ruins of Arnak definitely suffers from the disparity of experience problem, which tends to make certain groups of people dismiss it. I think the disparity of experience problem does go away over time, but it’s definitely something that will sour certain people (as I definitely saw). The solution is obvious: we really need a cooperative mode for Lost Ruins of Arnak. EDIT: So we made one: see here

Top 10 Cooperative Space-Themed Games

This week, we’ll take a look at our favorite fully cooperative games that are space themed!  As per Saunders’ Law, we’ll address if there’s a viable solo mode included in the game!

Honorable Mention: Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition

Solo Mode?  Yes, included with the game

The entire inspiration for this week’s list is Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition!  It’s a very good game overall, but it’s cooperative mode is limited (see last week’s review of Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition).  It’s still worth picking up for the cooperative, solo, and competitive games as a whole, just not for JUST the cooperative mode. 

10. The Daedalus Sentence

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Solo Mode? Yes, included with the game (scales well with the original rules).

The Daedalus Sentence is a very cool looking game with a “toy factor!”  It has concentric rotating rings that presents a prison from which the players must cooperatively must escape!  

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The setting of the game reminds of the prison from The Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy!  Although I liked this cooperative game (which had some Player Selected Turn Order and a cool setting and some cool aliens), my friends didn’t like it as much as me (see our review here) which is why it makes our number 10 spot!

9. Far Away

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Solo Play? Kinda, sorta, if you use our Changing Perspectives idea

Far Away is a very strange cooperative game for ONLY two players which we reviewed here.  It’s about a team of two space explorers who have landed on an alien planet to explore.  It has some interesting and difference mechanics for limited communication, but playing the monsters can be a little difficult.  Overall we liked the game, but it’s so hard to get to the table because it was really only for two players and the rules are a little complicated.

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8. Xenoshyft: Onslaught

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Solo Mode?  Yes, built-in.  This game probably works better with multiple players.

We liked Xenoshyft enough that it made our Top 10 Cooperative Deck-Building Games here!  It’s a deck-building game for 1-4 players, but it really works best with more than one player, as players really do work together well.The game very thematic as Space Marines fighting aliens.  It’s also extremely hard, as you truly have to embrace the culling of your deck to do well, which is why it’s only in the number 9 spot.

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7. Space Alert

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Solo Mode?  Yes?  But the game plays better with multiple players.

Space Alert is an real-time cooperative board game.  This is an older game (from 2008) and it comes with a CD!  Players listen to the CD and in real-time, players place cards to perform certain actions … and they hope they are doing them in the right order and at the right time!  Then, you “replay” you actions and you how well, or hilariously, how poorly you did as a group!   

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This game took over our game groups for a short time in 2009! We even talked about playing it at work during lunch (Jeremy, remember that?).  It seems to have gotten lost in our collection, but it’s still a real fun cooperative real time game set in a Space Station.

6. Star Wars: Unlock

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Solo Play?  Yes, but like most escape room games, more heads are typically better!

We reviewed Star Wars: Unlock! The Escape Game here  and enjoyed it!  It’s an Escape Room game set in the Star Wars universe and comes with 3 star spanning adventures in the Star Wars universe!   You have to download an app to your phone to play, and then consult the cards in the game to move forward.  (Note, the Star Wars: Unlock has its own app which is separate from the original Unlock games app).

Playing Star Wars: Unlock!
We don’t want to give away too much, but the game gives you that Star Wars/Space experience in three Escape Room style games!

5. Star Trek Panic!

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Solo Mode?  Yes.

This is a reimplementation of Castle Panic, a simpler cooperative tower-defense game, usually used a introductory cooperative game for kids.  Star Trek Panic ratchets up the complexity just a little bit and delves into the Star Trek theme!   In Star Trek Panic, Klingons and Romulons are attacking the Enterprise and their attacks whittle down the shields.  The game has stills from the original Star Trek (Kirk, Spock) and the explosions on the shields are so thematic (see below)!  Even though this is a retheme, this really embraces the Star Trek (space) theme really well!    

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4. Star Trek: Frontiers

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Solo Mode?  Yes, built-in

Star Trek: Frontiers is a re-imagining of The Mage Knight game in the Star Trek universe.    We reviewed it here!  It really encompasses the Star Trek of the Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: The Next Generation universes.  Star Trek: Frontiers is a big cooperative game (well, Cartman Cooperative) where you explore, fight, and make lots of tactical and strategic decision!  It’s a little hard to get to the table because it’s big and has lots of rules, but it really does embrace the space theme.

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3. Rising 5: Ruins of Asteros

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Solo Mode?  Yes

Rising 5: Runes of Asteros is a cooperative space-themed game for 1-5 Players.  It’s basically cooperative Mastermind, using an App to handle access to the hidden information in the game.  This is a simpler game that only takes about 20 minutes!   It’s one of the simpler games on this list, but it’s very easy to get to the table.  The art of Vincent Dutraite is fantastic and makes it easy to pull out and play with your friends!  We did a review here and really enjoyed it!

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2. The Crew

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Solo Mode?  No.

The Crew is a cooperative trick-taking game for 2-5 players: It’s a hidden information game, where players try to accomplish missions together in the course of a trick-taking game.  The space theme is a little weak, as it’s still a trick-taking with some “spacey” graphics (see below), but the game is very good!  It won the Spiel Des Jahres award for best game in 2020!   

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I have the original physical copy of the game, but I’ve only played one game of the physical copy by myself to learn the game!  I’ve played 99% of my games on BoardGameArena!  Having the physical copy has been very useful for teaching the game BEFORE we play on BoardGameArena, but the online version has been one of the “goto” cooperative games my online games group!  It’s been really fun.

1. The Captain Is Dead

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Solo Mode?  Yes, one comes built in, but we think we have a better one here!

There was no question what was going to be the number 1 Space-Themed game on this list!  The Captain Is Dead is a fantastic game which we discussed in 3 separate blog entries (Review: Part I, Solo Rules: Part II, Final Thoughts: Part III)!   It’s one of our favorite solo games, it also happens to be our “goto” cooperative game for 5 players!  It also works well at 2-4 player counts!  The Captain is Dead is a cooperative game set in a something-very-much-like Star Trek universe!  Players work together to get the Warp Drive working, while keeping the ship from being overrun by Aliens!

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The game is a very fun, just a little bit silly (as it makes fun of the Star Trek tropes a little bit) but one of my top 10 favorite cooperative games of all time!

A Review of Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (Solo and Cooperative Modes Only)

I didn’t expect to be writing this post so early. I was a Kickstarter backer of the Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition back in March 2021. I picked up this game originally because it promised a solo mode and a cooperative mode! And that’s all we’re looking at here (since this is a cooperative games blog after all). So, Stronghold games promised delivery from the Kickstarter in September 2021. But I got one early. But not like you’d expect.

Controversy

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As of yesterday, June 20th 2021, Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition was available at Target (see above). When I picked it up, it was $39.99. A lot of people from the Kickstarter were VERY upset that the game was available from Target BEFORE it was delivered to Kickstarter backers. The rationale is something like: “We helped back the game with our hard-earned dollars, shouldn’t we be put first?” There is also some grumpiness because Stronghold only told the Kickstarter backers A DAY BEFORE the Target release. A lot of Kickstarter backers have stated that they would have been a LOT more forgiving if Stronghold had been more up front about this.

If you look at the current ratings of Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition on BoardGameGeek, you will see a LOT of ratings of 1.0/10.0. This is a “civil unrest” way for Kickstarter backers to show their displeasure. At the time of this writing, the rating is all the way down to 5.1/10.0. (There are also some people who give it a 10.0/10.0 just to balance the 1s). We’ll take a look at the game and see what we think, orthogonally to the controversy.

There are differences between the Kickstarter version of the game and the Target version. See the graphic below (directly from the Kickstarter) for differences. I can’t comment on these differences until September (when I receive my Kickstarter version), but I can say the Target list seems accurate.

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Unboxing

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Let’s see what’s in the box!

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The rulebook is of SUPER high quality paper (linen paper) just like the Canvas rulebook. The paper quality is really nice! (If you look closely above, you’ll see some of the texture).

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There’s a nice quickstart guide (see above). Perhaps more importantly, it discusses the difference between Terraforming Mars (the big board game) and Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition. A lot of people will probably be coming to the table with experience with Terraforming Mars, so this really helps!

The Player Boards (see above) are just cardboard sheets: this is one of the bigger differences between the Target version and the Kickstarter version! The Kickstarter version will have dual-layer boards, with indentations so the cubes don’t move around.

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The cardboard tokens and nice and readable (see above).

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And the rest of the game (the majority of the game) is cards and cubes (see above). They all fit nicely in the box.

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The cubes are nice, if nothing super special. The resource cubes are nice in that the copper cubes (representing 1 resource) are smaller than the silver cubes (representing 5 resources) which are smaller than the gold cubes (representing 10 resources). That’s a nice touch that’s make it easier to “make change” in resources as you play.

But, of course, the focus of the game, the major component, are the cards. There are really nice linen-coated cards (see above and below).

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If you look closely above, you can see the linen-coated cards. And look at how nice the cards are! Easy to read! Very colorful! Consistent art and consistent layout! One major complaint of the original Terraforming Mars was that the art was very inconsistent and something not great. Ares Expendition does NOT have this problems. These cards look great!

Weirdly, the dividers and the player summary card are NOT included in the rulebook summary of components? But they are very nice!

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Overall, the components are absolutely fantastic. The art on the box is really nice! The art on the cards is amazing and consistent with the rest of the game! Perhaps the only complaint someone might have is that the player boards are too easy to bump and cubes go flying … oh wait, that’s why the Kickstarter version has dual-layer player boards…

Rulebook

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I don’t want to focus too much on the rulebook, except to say it’s fantastic! It’s a very high quality paper! It’s very nice to the touch.

The font is big and readable. The components page lists the components AND shows their pictures. Very easy to read! See above!

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Right away, the game discusses the card layout: see above. (Recall, a minor complaint about The Phantom: The Card game was that the card layout was near the end of the rulebook where it was less useful). Right after we see the components, and they are fresh in our minds, we can correlate what’s on the card with what was JUST in our head/hands!

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This is always a tricky line: Do you discuss the game components first or the game set-up first? If you show the game set-up first, you know how the components fit together in context of gameplay. If you show the components first, you get an idea of what the components are before you get too far. Both ways can work: I personally tend to prefer Set-Up immediately after the Components list, but the way Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition (discussing components before Set-Up) works very well in this rulebook. I also remember this way working really well in the rulebook for Code 3.

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Again, everything is easy to read, the font is big, and the Set-Up is very clear!

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So, halfway through the rulebook (where the staples are), we finally start discussing Gameplay. You know? This technique of Components picture, Components exposition, Set-Up, then Gameplay worked really well.

This was a great rulebook! It was easy to read and easy to set-up. Ironically, I don’t think the game needs the “Quick Start Guide” set-up pamphlet because the rulebook is great for your first time! But, I can see the “Quick Start Guide” pamphlet being good for later plays when you already know most of the rules.

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Overall, fantastic rulebook.

Gameplay

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I want to touch on the gameplay elements a little before we discuss the solo modes and the cooperative modes.

Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is a cross between the original Terraforming Mars (the big board game) and Race For The Galaxy.

The original Terraforming Mars is essentially an engine-builder game where you are buying cards and resources to help terraform Mars. This game, Ares Expedition, keeps that feel!

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See above for a set-up! You start with some cards you can buy, and these cards help you get plants, MegaCredits (MC or money), heat and more cards. Just like the big brother, to win you have to:

  1. Raise the heat of Mars to an acceptable level
  2. Add enough oxygen to Mars (planting Trees and other methods).
  3. Add water to Mars (via lakes)

You need to do ALL THREE in order to win.  The cards you buy give you an engine to “add heat”, “grow plants”, “get bucks” and all sorts of other tools which you use to terraform Mars.  By the end of the game, you have will a huge tableau of cards representing your engine!  See below!

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Notice (see above) the engine of the solo player with so many cards helping out.

Now, this may sound a lot like the original Terraforming Mars, and it is.  Here are the “official” differences:

The biggest difference is that each player only gets to execute one “phase” of the game per turn. There are 5 phases:

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On your turn, you “choose” one of the phases to do (Development, Construction, Action, Production, or Research).

When you choose a phase to execute, ALL PLAYERS get to execute that phase, but YOU get an extra bonus during that phase! For example, if you select Development, every player can buy and play a green card, but YOU get a discount on how much that card costs!

If this sounds familiar, it should! It’s essentially what Race For The Galaxy does! (And to a lesser extent, Puerto Rico). In the original Terraforming Mars game, you played all phases. But, by making this “phase” breakdown, PLAYERS CAN PLAY SIMULTANEOUSLY. This can really help speed up the game! The original Terraforming Mars can take 3-4 hours to play a full game! Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition drops to an hour (in real life, it took us 1.5 hours in a 2-Player game) because of this simultaneous play.

In general, this is an engine-building game with some simultaneous selection. It moves fairly quickly, even with players who tend to be analysis paralysis players.

Solo Mode

So, one of the many reasons I backed the Kickstarter was that this includes a solo mode. To win, you have to terraform Mars in a timely matter (you only have a certain number of turns to finish the terraforming). See rules below: it’s just one page in the very back of the rulebook.

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The main difference between normal play and solo play is that there is a “dummy” hand of phases. This means the solo player usually gets to execute 2 phases per turn: the phase the player selected and the phase the dummy hand selected.

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In the picture above, the “dummy” hand has selected the Production round and the solo player has selected Development.  Thus, on the solo player’s turn, he gets to do Development (with the bonus, because the solo player selected it) and then Production (without the bonus, because the dummy hand selected it).  The only real maintenance for the solo player is to shuffle the dummy action phase hand every 5 cards! In general, there’s not a lot of maintenance!  This makes the solo game flow pretty quickly, or as fast as the solo player wants.

I found the solo mode easy to understand, easy to play, fun to play, and a great way to learn more about the game.  There are even different difficulty levels as you get to know the game better!  

This was a very good solo mode.

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Cooperative Mode

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Really, the main reason I backed this: It has a cooperative mode! Unfortunately, the cooperative mode is a little lame for two reasons. First of all, the cooperative mode ONLY plays two players! Second of all, it is a “reach a victory point” level to win. You still have to terraform Mars completely to win in the cooperative game, but you also have to have a shared score of 80 victory points. See rules below.

Like the solo game, you only have a certain amount of time (15 rounds in this case) to terraform Mars! The mechanism for countdown is a little wonky: you have 27 “copper cubes” and 3 “unused player color cubes”. At the end of the turns, both players take a cube: if a player takes a copper cube, it goes straight to the MC (money), if a player chooses an “unused player cube”, the two players can trade a development card instead. When all cubes are gone (15 rounds), it’s the end of the game. If you have terraformed Mars AND gotten 80 shared victory points, the 2 players win! Otherwise, they lose!

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Even with the wonky countdown mechanism, the cooperative mode worked pretty well. In the game above, you’ll see that Mars was terraformed, but with only 64 Victory Points, so it was a losing game. I really think there should have been a gradation in winning:

  1. A “major win!” You terraform Mars AND got 80 shared victory Points!  Your team terraformed Mars in style!
  2. A “minor win!” You terraform Mars, but not enough shared victory points.  Your team succeeded, but Mars still needs a little more work
  3. A Loss: You didn’t Terraform Mars!  Um, sorry.

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In general, the cooperative mode worked well enough. We lost, but we think we knew some of the things we needed to do to play a better game: Mainly, make sure EVERY PHASE, both players need to be doing something useful! A few times during the game, one of us chose a phase that wasn’t mutually advantageous to BOTH players.

It was still a little lame that the cooperative mode only worked for 2 players.

Replayability

The core of Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition was the deck of development cards. See the huge deck above! To win, you tend to need to get a very large tableau going:

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You can see how BIG the deck of development cards is in the picture above!

Between 10 different corporations you can play and the HUGE deck of development 180+ cards, there is a ton of replayability here. After I finished playing both the solo and cooperative modes, I and my friend were still thinking about ways to have done better. I lost my first few solo and cooperative game, but I still wanted to play more!

I will also bet you $10 that Stronghold is planning expansions for this.

Conclusion

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Terraforming Mars: Ares Expedition is a card game in the Terraforming Mars universe that is significantly shorter than the original Terraforming Mars game! It’s quicker to play and it also looks better than it’s original big brother. The solo mode is very good, but the cooperative mode needs some work: there really should be cooperative rules for all player counts of the game. If you were thinking of getting this game JUST for the cooperative mode, I’d say there are better cooperative games to get. If you where thinking of getting it for solo and cooperative modes, then I’d say that’s the tipping point! The solo and cooperative modes combined make this worthwhile to get. Now, if you factor in the competitive mode, then I’d say this is a no-brainer to get! Overall, Terraforming Mars:Ares Expedition is a fantastic game with fantastic components and a fantastic rulebook.

Some people love the 3-4 hours games of Terraforming Mars. Some peop;e don’t. If you love the gameplay of Terraforming Mars, but not the time commitment, Terraformform Mars: Ares Expedition might be a good compromise for you.

It will be curious to see if the controversy of the Kickstarter game and the Target deal adversely affects the game’s reception. It’s too bad that controversy had to exist: this is a good game.