A Review of The Stygian Society. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions


The Stygian Society is a Kickstarter game that arrived Friday, September 25th, 2020. This is a cooperative, exploration game where the cube tower is center stage.


This is a game by Kevin Wilson, one of the developers/designers of Arkham Horror, Second Edition (along with Richard Lanius). Arkham Horror, Second Edition is a favorite game around my gaming table (it comes out every Halloween), so Kevin Wilson’s name evokes a good feeling! That’s why I Kickstarted this!

The Game


So, the game delivered from Ookoodook (which longtime readers of the Order of the Stick may recognize as OOTS’ delivery company). This actually seems very apropos: The Stygian Society game is “essentially” a dungeon delver, where players explore dungeons, fight monsters, get treasures … just like Order of the Stick.


You’ll notice the Kickstarter version comes with a slipcover (notice the black cover above). Do they really protect games? I don’t know. It’s seem cool because it’s premium, but are slipcovers really useful?


This is a BIG game. The game has lots of components. The game comes with a fairly extensive backstory (see above) that you don’t need to play the game, but it adds to the theme.

The board is where most of the action will take place: it’s where cubes will be and most importantly, the cube tower.

The most important thing in the game is the cube tower: you can see the directions for building it, and they are a little daunting.

The parts for the cube tower are just underneath and are heavy cardboard punchouts.

The status board (see above) allows the players to track experience, party health, default actions, luck, peril, and treasure. It seems fairly confusing at first, but it quickly becomes easy to figure out.


Every player takes the role of a character, and each character has a unique deck of “abilities” that’s just theirs. Each player starts with a level 1 power and can add a new ability as you level up (see experience tracker from the status board above).


Like many dungeon delving (tower climbing) games, there is a Big Bad Boss (the Wizard: dark purple boards) you fight at the end of the game: to win, you must make it to the top level and fight the Big Bad Boss.  Interestingly, there is is a “mid level” baddie you fight halfway through the game (the light purpose boards). 

In between the Wizard at the end, and the mid-level Boss, you will be fighting lesser bad guys on the lower levels of the tower. The little plastic miniatures represent the bad guys you fight.

The tower is divided into 6 levels:2 lower levels, the mid-level big bad, 2 upper levels, and the Wizard (big bad boss). The lower levels are represented the by the light purple cards (see above) and the upper levels are represented by the dark purple cards (see above).

There’s a lot of cards: treasure cards (above left), status cards (above), and chest traps cards (above right). The cards are nice and readable, but there’s not a lot of art: the only cards that really have unique art are the treasure cards. The cards aren’t linen finished, but they are nice enough.


In general, the components are nice. The cards could be nicer, but there is a lot of heavy cardboard. If I were to make one change, I would have made the cards linen-finished.

The Elephant in the Room: The Cube Tower


Normally, the first thing I do it start looking at the rulebook. Nope! The first thing I expect EVERYONE to do first is start building the cube tower. The directions are … okay. I had to really look to see “exactly” what pieces go where.

There were a lot of pieces, a lot of plastic, and a lot of cardboard.


But, in the end, it went together. It was generally “fun” to build the tower, but I wish it had “another pass” to the directions. Eh, they were good enough.


The final result: The tower! Where Cubes Go! The crypt! Where some cubes will fall! The field! Where most of the rest of the cubes will fall! I gotta admit, it looks pretty cool. It fit together pretty well and it seems pretty sturdy. (It even goes back into the box all made!!)

Oh, in case you’ve never played with a cube tower, one of the reasons they are kind of cool: YOU THROW CUBES IN THE TOWER! It’s a cool kinesthetic experience!! Cubes fall through the tower, making noise!!! And even cooler: SOMETIMES CUBES GET STUCK IN THE TOWER AND DO NOT COME OUT UNTIL LATER! There is some “history” left in the tower! You throw cubes in a tower (fun) and occasionally, you get some leftover cubes from the previous turn (funner)! It’s a gimmick. But it’s a FUN gimmick!

The Rulebook


So, after building the cube tower … boy, that cube tower looks cool … oh, sorry … The rulebook!

The rulebook is about what you expect these days: the first few pages show the main components (above for cube tower and below for cards and boards).


The game shows set-up mid book:


The set-up works pretty good. Once you leave this section, the game is pretty text-heavy: there’s not a lot of pictures afterwards. It works … fine. I had several rules questions as I played, and I missed a bunch of things as I played the first few times. There’s no index, but you can “usually” find what you need. The rules are “just enough” to play, but not much more. There are some issues:

  • How is Luck used? Answer: it’s hard to find: it’s buried in a picture in the first few pages when it talks about the status board. That was the only place I found that talked about luck!
  • What do you reset? Answer: it’s kind of split into two pieces “entering a floor” and “exiting a floor”. Answer: you reset peril, and clean the field and crypt but NOT party health and NOT the cube tower!! It wasn’t clear: the game could have really used a reference card.
  • Status questions: Answer: take your best guess.

The game rulebook is … complete, but an index OR a game summary cards would gone a long way. Look, I have seen a lot of terrible rulebooks, and this is not one of them. The answers are all in there, it just needed another “push”. I got through it, I never even really raised my voice, but I was slightly frustrated at a few points.

The rulebook is fine.

Solo Game


So, the game works great solo: you can see they absolutely have solo rules (thank you for adhering to Saunders’ Law)!  In this case, the solo player plays 3 characters from the game. 


I played the Knight, the Burglar, and the Doctor for my first solo game. Although I am nervous about playing three distinct characters as a solo player (“Yikes! is there too much to manage?”), it worked fine. Each character describes its rules succinctly, and was easy to manage. The solo rules worked well. There is a way to play just two characters (outlined on the very back on the rulebook), but it involved changing enough rules that I prefer to play the main rules so I don’t have to apply too many exceptions.

It looks like main balancing for the game is that there should always be 3 or 4 characters in play: the rulebook alludes to the players needing the balance and cooperation of numerous players to win. And you know what? I needed all three of my characters to win! I needed the knight to do most of the damage, I neede the Burglar to help keep bad cubes under control, and the doctor to heal us … at one point, our party wounds were so bad, we almost lost before the end! As any veteran of D&D knows, the cleric (the doctor here) is critical to party success!

Set-Up and Gameplay

So, set-up wasn’t trivial. I had to do it in two stages: get most of the components OUT (see above) and then actually put them in the right place (see below)!

The gameplay is actually pretty simple. Each character plays a turn and that’s it! There’s no notion of Bad News (typically in a cooperative game) or the “Bad Guy turn”, as the Bad Guys are activated by the BAD cubes that come out of the tower! A character turn looks like:

  1. Pick a support ability
  2. Choose an active action (usually puts GOOD cubes in the tower)
  3. Throw GOOD cubes  and BAD cubes into the tower (your current location in the tower tells you how many BAD cubes to put in)
  4. Activate the Bad Guys  based on how many BAD cubes are out (activate rooms if cubes left over)
  5. Activate character abilities using GOOD cubes


Basically, BLUE, WHITE, and GREEN cubes are good cubes used by the characters. The RED, YELLOW, and BLACK cubes trigger Bad Guys abilities. Cubes that land in the crypt (the white cube above) are worth 2, everything in the field is worth 1 (the blue, red, yellow cubes above, just behind the crypt).


An example mid-level Bad Guy (see above, blurred so can’t see too much). Note that there are bad guys in the front row (2 yellows and 1 red) and the back row (2 yellows). When enough cubes are one the board (note the 5 red cubes), then you spend those red cubes from the board and activate that power! The game is all about bad cubes accumulating and just trouncing you now and then!!

See above for another example (from a low-level floor).



See above for my winning game!

In general, I really liked this game. I got to make decisions every turn that mattered: What support cards do I use? Do I need to mitigate the BAD cubes? Do I need to put in cubes to help my next character? Which action do I activate? Do I use one of my treasures? Then, I got to throw cubes in a tower! Whee! Arguably, the only “not fun” part was following the script to make the BAD cubes activate the bad guys: it’s necessary of course, but it’s ever so slightly tedious.


One of the best parts of the game was that we leveled up quickly!! It seems like we leveled up just about every floor of the tower!! Leveling up allows you to reset your support cards (cards gets tapped and can only be reset when you go up a level), and you get to add a new “more powerful” ability!!! It gives you new and better decisions to make!!! And the treasure was useful too!!!


The only thing that mighty give me pause to recommending it to others was the length of the game. It took me an hour to set-up (first time, also had to build the cube tower), about about 2 hours to reach and defeat the Mid Level Boss, and another 2 hours to reach and defeat the final boss!! I am sure this will probably become much quicker when we play again, but I am not sure. I like taking my time and making good decisions (I did win my first game), but the game length might be a bit much for other people.


The game flowed quickly when I played.   There were some moments when I really thought I might lose, but I had enough choices so I could make meaningful decisions to “not die”!   I was able to upgrade myself multiple times during play, so I felt like I was always making progress!!   There are a few fiddly moments in the game (status updating, updating the bad Guys), but there were overwhelmingly more fun moments of throwing cubes and making fun choices! 

As a solo experience, this was great.  I look forward to playing solo again!  I’m also hoping to get Part II of this review out soon: I really want to see how this will work with multiple players cooperating!  Expect Part II soon!  I was so very happy this game, I will “encourage” my game groups to play this with me!

There’s even some expansion content to keep the game fresh! (See The Tower Laboratory expansion above).

Seven House Rules for Cooperative Board and Card Games

Once you start playing a lot of cooperative board and card games, you find there are certain rules and/or situations where you wish things were different! Sometimes a small tweak in the rules can make all the difference between an uproarious fun time and a mind-numbingly boring one. Other tweaks just make the game more thematic and that much more enjoyable. I’ve paid good money for these games: why can’t I make them more fun for myself?

Some of you might argue “Well, that’s not how the designer wanted it to be played! He may have done it for balance!” Maybe, but after living in this hobby for nominally 40 years (yes, I played Starfleet Battles back in the early 1980s when it first came out), I can tell you that many games sometimes just don’t work, even if play tested extensively by a well intentioned publisher. A recent example is Tapestry from Stonemaier Games: it was a pretty big hit for this publisher, but just 6 months after it was released, they had released “balancing adjustments/rules” for the different factions in the game. If Stonemaier games (a high-quality publisher with fairly deep pockets and excellent reputation for quality) could have these problems, why not other games? Besides, at the end of the day, would you rather a game sat on your shelf unplayed because “we have to play it the way the publisher intended” or would you rather the game came out to the table with just a few tweaks?

I had originally written this list as the Top 10 Cooperative Games with House Rules“, but after getting into it, I realized a lot of those rule changes applied to more than just one game. So, I rewrote the list to concentrate on the type of rule changes itself!

7.  Adding Player Selected Turn Order to a Cooperative Game

Example Games: Marvel Champions, Sentinels of the Multiverse

Longtime readers of my blog know I adore Sentinels of the Multiverse (it made the top spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games), but one thing that always bugged me was that I could never set-up situations where the players could set-up a group combo (like Wolverine and Colossus “Fastball Special” from the X-men comics). What I want, in a cooperative game, is Player Selected Turn Order (PTSO) (see blog entry here), where the players get to choose their player order per turn. Unfortunately, in both Sentinels of the Multiverse and Marvel Champions (two games where I really want to be able to set-up group combos), you can’t do that according to the rules: you must play in player order (usually clockwise around the table). As a house rule, we allow players to play in any order they want per turn—I feel this gives us more choices and encourages more cooperation!! I want a game to feel like I have choices to do the best things I can!! I don’t want to be constrained by some arbitrary “clockwise around the table”. The only downside of PSTO is that sometimes it can hard to keep track of who has played so far.

6. Allow Sharing, If It Makes Sense


Example Games: The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game, Sidekick Saga, Shadows Over Camelot

I like the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game (see review here and here) and it made my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2017.  One rule of the game really turned my friends off: you can’t share what cards you have (you must keep all your cards hidden).  And I know why the game does that: to avoid The Alpha Player Syndrome. Some player groups can be taken over by an Alpha Player who tells everyone what to do.  By keeping the cards hidden, the Alpha Player can’t tell everyone what to do: he can’t see their cards.  That fixes the problem, but it unfortunately makes the game less fun.  So, for my groups (where we are pretty good at avoiding the Alpha Player), we tend to play with all cards showing and it makes the game a LOT more fun: we talk, we collaborate, we cooperate!   I put Sidekick Saga on this list because it’s the only game I know that addresses this specifically! In the rulebook, there’s a section called Open Hand vs. Closed Hand:

There are two ways to play Sidekick Saga: Open Hand or Closed Hand … Open Hand means all Sidekick cards are face-up and everyone can see what cards everyone else has in their hands.  Closed Hand means Sidekicks can’t see what other Sidekicks have in their hand…
If you and your group feel more comfortable playing Open Hand, feel free.  It makes the game easier, but it may really slow down the game!  Open Hand can lead to some analysis paralysis.

It’s a house rule because it really depends on the house you are in. 


5. Loot Rule


Example GamesGloomhaven, Frosthaven, Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion

This rule is very specific to to the Gloomhaven games.  It’s one of my least favorite rules in cooperative games, and one of the reasons for this list.  Rather than rant again, I will simply point you to my Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion Review.

House Rule: Players are allowed (if it makes sense) to pick up all the gold and treasure after a combat (and split it) without having to use the “Loot Action”.  This only applies if it makes sense for the Scenario.

  1. Are all Goblins dead?  Ya, You get all the loot. 
  2. Are Endless Elves still coming even after the combat is over?  No time to get leftovers! You only get what you loot!

4. Let Me Die If I Want

New FAZA Box Cover

Example Games: FAZA, others

I recently got a copy of FAZA in the mail.  It’s a good cooperative game, but I’ve had to house rule a few things to enjoy the game better.  Basically, you are forced to make Rebels take damage before you can (Rebels are helping you in the game), but you are required to use Rebels to destroy the Big Bad UFOS:  In other words, you must have a Rebel to destroy the Bad Guys!!   My game came down to the last turn, and I simply couldn’t win because I HAD to make a Rebel take damage before me (“Um, I throw myself in front of the Rebel!!  No, I can’t do that?  Even though it saves the world???”).  It didn’t seem thematic, and it wasn’t fun.  Similarly, the entire game is over if one player dies.  Again, this seems athematic:  I will ABSOLUTELY give my life on the last turn to defeat the aliens IF IT SAVES THE REST OF THE PLANET.  
House Rules: You can choose to take damage instead of a Rebel, you can keep playing even if a player dies.

Basically, death can have meaning in a cooperative game that it can’t in a competitive game.  Why take that away?  (See blog entry here)    

3. Don’t Use Some Dumb Rule to Decide First Player

Pandemic, Z-Man Games, 2013 (image provided by the publisher)

Example Games: Pandemic, honestly, just about any cooperative game.

In the current version of Pandemic,what player goes first?  The player with the highest City Population Card goes first.  Um, what?  Um, so I have to know the city populations?  I seem to remember the  original version was: “The first player is the person who had a cold last”.  I have also seen “The first player is the person who saw a King Fu movie last” and some other funny ones.  They are funny the first time you see them, but then they are just annoying.  What we’ve seen that makes sense: Let US CHOOSE who goes first!  

  1. In a teaching game, we let the teacher go first. That way, the other players can see “what a turn looks like” before they have to play.
  2. In a deep game, we look at the board and we decide who should go first to do the best for us: I.e., it’s a strategic decision.

House Rule: Let the Players decide who goes first.

2. Don’t Limit Shopping


Example Games: Arkham Horror (2nd Edition), Thunderstone Quest (with Barricades Expansion)

When you go shopping and have plenty of money, do store owners limit how much you can buy?  “I’m sorry sir, you can only but one thing today.  We have tons of stuff, but because of store policy, you can only buy one thing.  I think the owner is trying to go out of business!”.   In both Arkham Horror (2nd Edition) and Thunderstone Quest (cooperative with Barricades expansion), there are places you can go to buy things: In AH, you can buy magical items at the Magic Shoppe, or plain stuff at the General Store.  You are allowed to look at 3 things, but you can ONLY BUY ONE ITEM, even if you have enough money!!! Similar for TQ: you can only buy 1 lantern, or 1 food, or 1 potion.

“Look, I really need 2 Lanterns to go into the Dungeon!  The town will be destroyed unless I fight the big Bad NOW!  I see you have 100s of lanterns!!!” 
“I’m sorry sir, I can only sell you one”.

This is the most ridiculous limitation in both games and it is NOT THEMATIC and it is NOT FUN. We house rule you can buy as much stuff as your money permits in one turn (we still only allow 3 cards to be drawn from the shoppes in AH).

(In my last game of Thunderstone Quest: I couldn’t win unless I got 3 lanterns to get to the bottom level, but I couldn’t buy 3 lanterns, even though it would ruin the town!!! Dumb dumb dumb rule.  With the house rule, I was able to get to the main Bad Guy and I still lost, but at least I went out trying … not shackled by some beauracracy).

1. Curtail Excessive Randomness

Example Games: Aeon’s End, Aeon’s End: War Eternal, Aeon’s End: The New Age, Aeon’s End: Outcasts, Tiny Epic Defenders

I have to admit, the main motivation for this list was Aeon’s End and all of its brethren. I still like Aeon’s End: it made the top spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games (and see reviews of Aeon’s End, War Eternal and Aeon’s End: Outcasts). The main problem: the turns are randomly assigned between the players and the Nemesis. In each main round of the game, the Nemesis (the big bad you are cooperatively playing against) will go twice and the players will go four times. The problem: it is possible (and not completely uncommon) for the Nemesis to go 4 turns in a row!!! If the Nemesis goes twice at the end of a round and twice at the beginning of a round, the Nemesis gets off 4 attacks you can’t respond to. You just “watch” as you die because the bad guy gets 4 attacks which you can do NOTHING to respond it: IT’S NOT FUN. I became vaguely aware of this as I played the board game, but the app really pointed it out (as the solo game it’s even MORE likely, as the players only get 3 actions per turn instead of 4).

In the app, players only get 3 turns, the Nemesis gets 2 per round!

At the end of the day, we have a simple House Rule to mitigate this randomness: The nemesis is never allowed more than 2 turns in a row. If that would happen, we simply reshuffle. This one rule may have saved Aeon’s End from the scrap heap for me!! By just mitigating the random turns a little, the game become a lot more fun!

Another cooperative game that has this problem is Tiny Epic Defenders: players simply flip cards from some deck, where Player Turn Cards are interspersed with the Bad News Cards: it’s possible you can lose the game before you ever even get the chance to go. I haven’t come up with a satisfactory solution that I can share yet, but a similar solution might be to only allow the Bad News XXX turns before players can go.

A Review of The Rise of the Red Skull. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

The Cover of Rise Of The Red Skull

Marvel Champions is a cooperative superhero card game based in the Marvel Universe. It’s a “Living Card Game” (or LCG) which means there are expansions, but you always know what you get. (In olden days, a “Collectable Card Game ” (or CCG), expansions were just filled with random cards: you didn’t know what you got)). I have been “secretly” collecting all the Champions expansions: Heroes and Scenarios for quite a while now: there are quite a number (see below).

Champions and all of its expansions, as of September 2020.

I am a huge fan of  cooperative superhero games (see my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Games), but Marvel Champions hadn’t been released when I put together that list about a year ago.  In that time, Fantasy Flight has made up that time and released tons of expansions (see picture above).

Back of the box

Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t like Marvel Champions. It’s very similar to the Arkham Horror: The Card Game (another LCG from Fantasy Flight) and that just didn’t work for me (see my review here). What’s different? I think I like the theme better, I like that there’s no randomness from chit pulls, I like that there’s no choose-your-own-adventure moments that kill you. Marvel Champions is all about battling the villains and keeping your deck going. It even made my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019 and my Top 10 Cooperative Fantasy Flight Games. What makes this particular expansion exciting? Rise of the Red Skull offers campaign play (an ongoing story)! How well does it deliver on that campaign? Continue reading…


The expansion comes with a Rulebook, 5 new Villains (Crossbones, The Absorbing Man, Taskmaster, Zola, and the Red Skull), 2 new Heroes (Spider Woman and Hawkeye), 4 New “add-ons”, some Expert Mode cards, and finally some upgrades you can earn in between campaigns.

The 5 New Villains!

Of course, the best part of this expansion is that you get 5 new Villains! Of course, you have to go through all of them in the campaign, but you can also fight “one-shot” scenarios with all of them after the campaign is done.

The Two New Heroes

Similarly, you can play Spider-Woman and Hawkeye in the campaign or standalone.

Expert Cards and Campaign-only cards.

In general, the cards look just like the rest of the game and fit in the Universe just fine. It’s Marvel Champions: you either like style or you don’t! I do.

The 4 Add-Ons used by the Villains.


The Rulebook

The Rulebook introduces some new keywords (Permanent, Piercing, Ranged, and Setup) as well as the new mode of play : Campaign Mode.

The first chapter of the Campaign

The Rulebook doubles as the Campaign book. There are 5 scenarios, where each scenario is introduced by a a few pages of comic art to introduce the story (see above)!

Scenario 1: Text description

Each scenario is then introduced formally, with rules for Set-up and Expert Mode (if you decide to go that route).

In general, the rulebook was easy to read, and it was easy to set-up for each scenario. The rulebook uses nice, big text, and I had no trouble reading it. I was very satisfied with the rulebook/scenario book (as they are the same).

Solo Play


So, Marvel Champions is pretty well balanced for 1-4 players.  Many of the mechanisms in the game are based on the number of players (the number of hit points of the Villain is usually a constant times the number of players, the amount of threat each turns is based in the number of players, etc).  So, the solo game works pretty well.

When trying “new things” out, I prefer to concentrate on “the new stuff”, so I am not overwhelmed with rules.  In this case, I played through the whole campaign with a single hero: Captain America (a hero not found in the base game: you have to buy him separately). 

The campaign game basically played like Marvel Champions, with a few new rules here and there.   It worked pretty well.

Campaign Play

Scenario 2

So, I was more excited about this expansion than all the others! (Well, except for Captain America) I like Marvel Champions a lot, but the lack of story was, well, limiting. The idea that a campaign would help direct a game was amazing!

So, to prepare for the campaign, I played a number of solo games with Captain America over the week before Rise of the Red Suill arrived. When it did arrive, I pretty much played all 5 games over the weekend. I messed up the rules on the first play (I won, but I cheated), so I replayed the first scenario again. I then proceeded to play all 5 scenarios!

I don’t know if I cheated, but Captain America walked through the scenarios. It was really easy! The only scenario that gave me difficulty was Zola: I barely kept his threat under control so that he wouldn’t walk all over me. Winning seemed to be: “Keep the threat under control and occasionally do damage”.

If you lose a game, you simply have to replay it. There were no upgrades or “helpers” for losing a game. If you win a game, typically a card or two gets added to your deck (see cards above on right), or a new permanent upgrade was added (later cards in the Scenario).

The upgrades weren’t great, but they were helpful. They just didn’t really change the gameplay that much. It was cool to get something that was a little helpful, but the core game was still Marvel Champions underneath. It didn’t feel like the campaign mode changed the game THAT much. For example, the first upgrade is something you use ONCE, then remove from the game! It’s really cool when you use it, but that was the ONLY change from scenario 1 to scenario 2.

What the campaign did do: it encourages/forces you to try all all the new Villains! That was the best part! The campaign mode was a framework to try out all the Villains, and a nominal story to motivate/immerse the players.

A Month of Campaigns

Over the last month, I have been playing mostly campaign games!

Hero Realms: The Lost Village (see review here)
Aeon’s End: Outcasts (see review here)
Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull (see review… oh, you are reading it)

And, I’ll be honest, none of them really “nailed” the story. They all augmented their respective games, but I never felt like the main game changed that much. The one I enjoyed the most was The Lost Village: the cards and augmentations evolved but I think the story was the most compelling. Overall, I think Aeon’s End: Outcasts had the best story/writing overall: I also liked that I got to “choose” a lot more stuff between scenarios (you can use the new upgrades you get or completely ignore them or use an old one). Marvel Champions was good, and I liked the story, and the comic book art, but I felt like it was the game that changed the least. That’s not a BAD THING!!! I still like Marvel Champions a lot, I just think it was changed the least by the scenario augmentation.

Fiddliness: Sentinels of the Multiverse vs Marvel Champions


A lot of people make comparisons of Marvel Champions to Marvel: Legendary. I think a much more apt comparison is to Sentinels of the Multiverse: In both games, players controls a deck that “is” their superhero and powers!  Both decks came out kind of randomly, and both have the heroes do damage to a big bad to win.   The weird thing to me: people seem very polarized on these games!  People I l know who LOVE Marvel Champions don’t care for Sentinels of the Multiverse. And vice-versa.  I’ll be honest: I don’t get it. They are both great games, especially if you like cooperative Superhero games!!! (I like SOTM better, but I still like Marvel Champions too).   Some players complain about the “fiddliness” of  one over the other … but, let’s be honest!!!  They are both fiddly in different ways!!  I like them both, but I the recognize fiddliness in BOTH games of having to follow effects, counting damage, building decks, interpreting keywords, managing villains, and so many other things.

The reason I bring this up: The Rise of The Red Skull adds more fiddliness to the game! Between new understanding new keywords, interpreting new rules, and sorting new cards, the game becomes even more fiddly. I personally don’t mind, but you should be aware the fiddliness level of Marvel Champions rises a little more in The Rise of the Red Skull. (Should it be The Rise of the Fiddliness of Red Skull ? Nah, that probably wouldn’t sell well)

New Keywords and new Rules


So, Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull is a good expansion: the best part (so far for me) is that 5 new Villains! All 5 Villains played very differently; they added a lot of variety to the Marvel Champions system. If you didn’t like Marvel Champions and you were hoping the Campaign Mode would change your mind, you will be disappointed. Campaign Mode doesn’t change the base game that much: it add a neat story and some variety, but Marvel Champions is still the same core game. Like I said in the Aeon’s End: Outcasts review, the best part of the Campaign Mode (in both games) is that it gives players a framework to play all the content of the box and discover the variety therein.

I like Marvel Champions: The Rise of the Red Skull so far. It’s good. I still need to play the new heroes (Spider-Woman and Hawkeye) to see what I think of them. We’ll do that in Part II of this review! We’ll also look at how the campaign plays cooperatively with with multiple people.

Review of Aeon’s End: Outcasts. Part I: Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions

Box Cover

My Kickstarter copy of Aeon’s End: Outcasts arrived just yesterday (September 3rd, 2020). For those of you who don’t know, Aeon’s End: Outcasts is a cooperative deck-builder for 1-4 players. It’s set in a fantasy universe with spell casting, gems, and artifacts. This is the fouth (!) big-box stand-alone expansion to the game (putting the grand total to five big box stand-alone boxes). I have kickstarted EVERY VERSION so far!! If you don’t know anything about deckbuilders or the Aeon’s End series, see my review here of Aeon’s End: War Eternal and the original Aeon’s End!!!


I think I have all Aeon’s End big box expansions AND small box expansions!

So, I almost didn’t back this expansion. I have to admit, I was experiencing some ennui with the Aeon’s End series. I mean, I have 4 big box expansions, and 10(?) small box expansions, plus the matte and Legacy recharge kit. Don ‘t get me wrong, I like Aeon’s End a lot (but see below), as it made the number 1 spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilders! BUT, a lot of my Aeon’s End games sit half-played, with a lot of content still in shrink-wrap. So, I almost didn’t back this expansion … in the end, I did because … I am a completionist?

Out of the Box Experience

Intro experience

One of the things that Aeon’s End does better than most games: the unboxing and jumping into your first game is VERY PLEASANT! And Aeon’s End: Outcasts continues this tradition! See the picture above! The starting leaflet tells you what decks to get out, how to organize them, and how to start. I admit to some trepidation/”worries of ennui” before I opened the game, but I forgot how easy it is to get going!

The intro cards to buy from

The art looks great (see above) , and the newer cards are a little different. Because there are so many predecessors to this Aeon’s End, the newer cards are necessarily more complex and you have you to think a little more how to use them.


Showing first few pages of rulebook

The rulebook is quite good, just like all the other versions.


In general, I had no problems with the rulebook. They showed the components, demonstrated set-up, and discussed rules clearly, just like the other Aeon’s End rulebooks. Aeons’ End: Outcasts DID show new rules by highlighting them in yellow (the most interesting new rule being curses that will clog your deck).

Solo Play and House Rules

First solo set-up!!!

So, to be clear, there are straight-forward solo rules to play Aeon’s End: Outcasts. They are covered very well in the book: you take the role of one mage playing through the game (with a very minor rule clarification: allies include yourself)—This is outlined on the last page of the rulebook. BUT, there is something that differs from the app! Something I HATE in the app, but the main rulebook don’t cover!

Screenshot from iPad version

An easy way to LEARN Aeon’s End is to pick up the Handelabra implementation of Aeon’s End. It has the original game and a some extra content at the time of this writing. It’s a decent implementation, and it works pretty well. There is one rule that the APP enforces that the ruleboook doesn’t cover: In the solo game, how many turns does the solo player have per round? See the little bar at the very top row of the screen above. First off, the Nemesis (the bad guy) will always have TWO turns per round (in both the app and the board game). IN THE APP, the solo player only gets THREE other turns per round! IN THE BOARD GAME, it’s implied/deduced (because it’s not clear) that the solo player gets FOUR turns per round!!!

I kind of hate the app because of this! Often enough (it’s not uncommon), the Nemesis will get FOUR TURNS A ROW (two at the end of the round, then another two at the start of the next round) without the player doing anything!!! This can be completely devastating and random and you just lose, especially in the later game. I hate this as you just watch yourself lose.

In the board game, it’s less likely to happen (as you have FOUR plays to TWO of the Nemesis), but I have a house rule that the Nemesis can never go more than twice in a row. If he were, I just reshuffle the round deck and try again. I can enforce this house rule because I control the round deck. I have actually stopped playing the App because of this … even though I love Aeon’s End.

What’s Different?


To be clear, although this an “expansion”, this is also a stand-alone big box game you can play WITHOUT any of the other content.   Aeon’s End: Outcasts doesn’t change the rules TOO much: it mostly just adds new content (like the new monster above).


It adds new spells, artifacts, and gems (see above for some examples).


It adds new characters (like Taqren above).

Whereas both Aeon’s End and Aeon’s End: War Eternal were just standalone deckbuilders with no story, Aeon’s End: Outcasts adds a campaign (very much Aeon’s End: the New Age) with a story. There’s a little storybook (which is much better than Aeon’s End: The New Age, where the campaign was on hard to read little cards) and a bunch of envelopes to open at the end of chapters. After each chapter, new content gets revealed, and a story emerges (nothing is shown to avoid apoilers)! It’s also completely resettable! (It’s a not a legacy game).


A winning solo game!

So, although I have some Aeon’s End ennui (say that three times fast), I am glad I got this version (Aeon’s End: Outcasts).  The storybook and chapters make me look forward to playing it.  The new characters and cards are interesting, even though they take a little more thought than the base game (because they have to mix it up to create new content).  The art is great, and the game is consistent with all the other Aeon’s Ends in terms of quality: the quality is quite high. See the discussion of high quality in my other review of Aeon’s End: War Eternal.

I think Aeon’s End: Outcasts might be the best Aeon’s End so far?  The campaign gives the game direction (so it’s not just a mish-mash of 100s of cards), and the fact that’s it resettable makes it easy to bring back to the table.  The new storybook also makes it easy to manage the story: the original Aeon’s End campaign game (Aeon’s End: The New Age) had the campaign text on CARDS, and it was too much/too fiddly to keep track of.   If you could buy only one Aeon’s End, I’d say pick this one.  If you love it, there are tons of expansions to make it bigger …

Review of The Lost Village: Part I. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impressions


About a week ago (it’s Aug. 29, 2020), I received Part II of the Ruin Of Thandar Campaign: The Lost Village in the mail.  It was originally a Kickstarter, but I ended up ordering it from Miniatures Market and got it as soon as it came to retail.  There are a lot of Kickstarters that have already gotten their copy, so I am late to the party, BUT it also seems to be sold out already at most online stores at the time of this writing.

What Is The Ruin Of Thandar Campaign?

Hero Realms and the needed components and expansions to play the Ruin of Thandar campaign!

The Ruin of Thandar is a cooperative expansion campaign for Hero Realms The Lost Village itself is Part II of that campaign  (with more obviously planned).  For those of you who don’t know, Hero Realms is a competitive, 1 vs.1, deck-building game.   I liked the original Ruin of Thandar cooperative expansion so much it made #4 on my Top 10 Cooperative Deckbuilder Games (and  it probably should have made my Top 10 Games That Can Be Played Fully Cooperatively, since the base game REQUIRES these expansions to be fully cooperative).

The new expansion is smaller: it doesn’t quite has the same amount of cards

Besides the base game of Hero Realms, you also need the Character Packs (see below).  The Character Packs give you a little more specialization (almost but not quite Variable Player Powers), and a little more flavor to the game: Each Character Pack has 18 cards (replacing the base starting cards, and adding two “ability” cards).

Character Packs

Hold on, we’re not there yet.  In addition to (a) Hero Realms and (b) The Character Packs (one pack for each player), you also need (c) The Ruin of Thandar expansion Part I.


Why do you need the Part I Ruin of Thandar expansion?  In the campaign game, you “level up” as you play (getting new cards, new Skills, new Abilities, and new Treasure).  Once you are done playing the Ruin of Thandar, you will have a lot of cards from that expansion explicitly for your character!!  These cards are needed for The Lost Village!

SO: you will have to have played all the way through Part I, saved/remembered what new cards you upgraded to, and THEN you can finally play The Lost Village!

Unboxing and Components


The Lost Village comes with a bunch of new cards and two books.

Nice Linen finished cards: these are Villain cards with a color in the upper left corner! This color activates one of the Big Bad’s abilites!

One book is the “rulebook” (although not quite, see below) and the other is the Adventure Book. The Adventure book outlines the adventure the players will experience.   The Adventure book is broken into “Chapters” and depending on whether you win or lose, you go to a different “Chapter” (kind of like Choose Your Own Adventure games).

The game is cooperative because all the players work together to take down “the Big Bad”.  In the base Hero Realms, you damage to each other.  In the cooperative, you do damage to the “the Big Bad” or the Master.

The first Big Bad!

As the bad news cards come out (this is a cooperative game, so bad news cards HAVE to come out), each card  (see below) will activate one of the special abilities of the Master: the color in the upper left of the bad news cards corresponds to the ability on the Master card(s).

Bad News cards! Note the colored icon in the upper left!

If you get 3 of the Mastery cards (see diamond picture above), you can flip the Big Bad to the other side which is Level 2 and harder!

There are “essentially” 3-4 Scenarios/battles/adventures you will play through, and the bad news cards related to each scenario are labelled on the bottom left (4,5,6 since this is PART II of the adventure which already did 1,2,3).

Bad News cards from Adventure 6



The rulebook for the Lost Village is … okay.  The game doesn’t make it 100% clear up front, but YOU NEED THE RULEBOOK FROM The Ruin Of Thandar TO PLAY THIS GAME!!  Since this is Part II of a campaign, all the Lost Village rulebook does is “augment” the Ruin of Thandarr rulebook.  IT IS NOT A FULL RULEBOOK!

You need both rulebooks to play The Lost Village!

The text is a little small.  I wish it were bigger, but since the boxes are pretty tiny,  I guess they had to make it fit.  It was still much better than the Disney Shadowed Kingdoms rulebook though! Eh, the rulebook was ok.  I got through it.

The original Ruin Of Thandarr rulebook seemed … better.  It felt like it had better editing, better layout, better examples.  I guess since The Lost Village was just an expansion, they didn’t have to do as much?

The Game

A Set-up for Adventure I!

The game is really just the deck-building game of Hero Realms or Star Realms.  You buy cards from the market (upper part of the picture above) and add them to your hand.  The object is to do enough damage (cooperatively) to the “Big Bad” in the middle to win the game.  Cards start simple, giving you either coin (to buy new cards) or swords (to do damage).  As the game progresses, your deck gets better and better as you buy better cards, allowing you to cull, draw more cards, etc.  It’s a deck-builder!

What makes it little more interesting is (a) your special powers (see the left part of the picture above) and (b) you are playing a campaign where you can “level-up” and get new skills, abilities, treasure and (c) you are playing cooperatively.  When playing cooperatively, you can help out characters adjacent to you around the table!  Notionally, each player has his own “Monster Area” and there’s also “The Master area” (where the Big Bad lives).  You usually can’t attack the Master (Big Bad) until you clear your area first.

The game flows very quickly once you get set-up:  At its core, Hero Realms is one of the easiest deck-builders I’ve played.


The set-up can be a bit much.  In order to play The Lost Village, you’ve had to play through The Ruin Of Thandarr and remembered what cards you got!   It’s been quite a bit of time since I have played, so I went ahead and played all the way through The Ruin of Thandar again before playing the Lost Village.

So: set-up:  I strongly encourage you to keep cards related to each box next to each other!!!   It’s very easy for cards to get into the wrong box because we are essentially pulling cards from (a) the Hero Realms base game (b) Character Packs (c) Ruin of Thandar box and (d) The Lost Village box.  See my set-up below.

First, get all the cards that you need out of the base box.

Base game, you essentially just want the market

Then you want to get the Character Cards out:



Then the Ruin of Thandarr cards:

Ruin of Thandar cards

And finally the Lost Village cards.


Putting this all together, you can put out your very first play of Adventure 4 (the first Adventure from the Lost Village).

Adventure 4! The first adventure in The Lost Village!

If it seems like I am making a big deal about set-up … I am.  It was by far the worst part of the game.  Keeping cards and decks separate so that they don’t become unwieldy was a lot of work.  It was very fiddly and annoying.  HOWEVER, once I had it set-up, it wasn’t too bad.  Honestly, the best thing to do is to leave it set-up once you start playing … you DO NOT want to set this again and again!

Solo Play

A winning game of Adventure 4!

My first game was to play through all of The Ruin of Thandar (keeping all treasure/abilities/skills cards I got from that expansion).  Then I started into The Lost Village.  Solo play was easy: you basically alternate playing your deck, the Master’s deck, your desk, the Master’s deck… until someone wins.  The game seemed a little easy as a solo game, but there were some unclear rules (someone had to show a green card to stop something BAD from happening, but since I was the only player, I allowed myself to be able to do that).  It’s possible I misinterpreted those and it was too easy because of that.

But you know what, I wanted to keep playing and get all the way through the Adventure!  Usually, I do my first impressions review after just a little play, but I played ALL THE WAY THROUGH!  I was having a blast and I didn’t want to stop !!  Of course, life gets in the way, and I had to play this over 3 nights but I really looked forward to my plays.

It was fun and straightforward to play, it was fun to upgrade my character, it was fun to run the bad guy and see what he doing to me, it was to fun to see what craziness would come out, it was fun to explore and read the story!  Overall, it was  … fun!


A Winning Game of the final battle!

So, for some reason, this game reminds me of an Escape Room!  Not because of the puzzles (because this is a deck-building, damage-inflicting game NOT a puzzle game), but because of the nature of the The Lost Village.  In The Lost Village, there are 3-4 “episodes” in the box, much like 3 “episodes” in the Unlock Game:  Epic Adventures. You are probably just going to play each episode once (as they each tell a story) … once you’ve seen the story, it’s not quite as compelling the second time.  And the price point is about the same as the Unlock Game: Epic Adventures  (assuming you already had all the Hero Realms stuff) at about $20 for The Lost Village.  You get about 3-4 sessions of adventure with a story and are kinda done.

I had a blast playing through solo, but the replayability seems limited. The story was fun, but not particularly strong.  The scenarios themselves were a hoot, and the levelling-up and found treasure made each game something to look forward to.   I  will say the whole game is very fiddly ONLY because it’s so hard to keep the base game, Character Packs, expansion I and expansion II separate.  (If you don’t keep them separate, you may have trouble putting everything back together to play again).

I liked this a lot.  I will be playing through it again with my friends!  I look forward to the next expansion …

Review of Marvel United: Part II. Final Thoughts and Awards!

Wal-Mart version of Marvel United!

Recall that we did Part I of this review here.  Now that I have played a lot more (both solo and cooperatively with a group), I feel like I can talk about final thoughts on this review.

A 4-Player Game!  (Andrew ‘s knee pictured)

Marvel United has gone over like gangbusters.  I have liked all my solo plays (I have tried many different combos: Hulk and Iron Man, Captain America and Ant-Man are my favorites), and my friends really enjoyed the co-op experience.

Not much more to say: everyones like it!


A 4-Player winning game!

There’s a surprising amount of strategy because of a simple mechanism: saving your tokens.  If you can’t use one of your actions, you get a token and you can save it for a future round.   Most of the time,  people almost forget about this mechanism, but I think the ability to carefully save tokens for when you need them brings this game up a notch in strategy! Without it, this would still be a good game, but I think that the game gains an extra level of strategy with this mechanism.
EDIT: Oops! I think I have been playing this wrong because I have been playing Solar Storm a lot (see first part review here).  In Solar Storm, if you don’t take one of your actions, you can save it for a future turn (and get a token).  I think you can ONLY get a token if a Hero’s special card gives you one … I don’t think you can get one otherwise.  (The rulebook doesn’t say either way, but it would probably point it out it you could).  So,  I think we played a few turns wrongs.  This might, however become a house rule for us because I hate the idea of “turns where you can’t do anything” because your tokens just don’t make sense.

How To Take The Fun Out of a Game

Mail Order Monsters (Game) - Giant Bomb

Mail Order Monsters was a game (for the Commodore 64) that me and my friends adored back in High School.  (Yes, that was a long time ago. Shut up).  My friend Sloppy in particular loved it: He loved it so much he had a notebook called How To Take the Fun out of the Game! In this notebook, he wrote down all the stats of all the monsters, what their powers were, ways to cheat (you could add the FNE Ray to the players with a simple binary edit), and just in general a catalog of everything in the game.   It took the fun out because it listed all the stats: you didn’t get to discover them.

To that end, I present to you the chart to take all the fun out of Marvel United.  mu_cropped-0How do you read that?  On the left is the name of each hero.  Each hero has 12 cards: 9 “base” cards with no special abilities and 3 specials (endemic to that hero).  So the first 9 columns are are base cards, the next 3 columns are the special cards.  So, the cards are labelled with “Move”, “Wild”, “Punch” or “*” (for star, ie., Heroic).  For example, Ant-Man has 2 cards that have two “Heroic” symbols (**).     Ant-Man also has some combos: a Heroic/Punch (*P) and a Move/Heroic (M*).





4 of the 9 Ant-Man base cards

The special columns might be a little confusing.  Each special card has a “base” symbol that can be used by either the hero or the next hero.  The special ability (in parenthesis) can ONLY be used by the Hero.  For example, Ant-Man has a “Move” special card, which only he can use to move again and punch thrice: M(MPPP)

All 3 Special cards of Ant-Man

The last 5 columns are simply a summary of the stats on the right: How many symbols in the entire deck are “Move”, “Wild”, “Punch”, “Heroic”, or “Special”.  For example, Ant-Man has 4 Wilds total.  He also has 3 Punch but his specials allow him to do 6 Punch total (the value in parentheses).

A Few Thoughts About the Stats

Note that all characters have a Move, a Wild and a double Wild (Wild/Wild).  All characters also have 3 special cards and 12 cards total.  I suspect that in the expansions, these numbers will change more than they do here: these are only the statistics for the base Wal-Mart version of the game.


… but nobody cares about charts!  Everyone wants to know “Who’s the Best character?” Well, based on the stats, here are some awards:

Most Heroic!  Captain America and Ant-Man

Both Cap and Ant-Man have 7 total Heroic symbols!


Most Wild!  Tie!  Ant-Man and Captain Marvel. Honorable Mention: Captain America!

Both Ant-Man and Captain Marvel has 4 Wild symbols total.  Captain America’s base is 3, but with his specials, he can give up to 3 more Wilds to other players—Since his 6 is very specialized, we give Cap an Honorable Mention.



Most Punchy by Themselves!  Captain Marvel

With her special cards, she totals 13 Punch (!) total.  But only she can use 6 of those punches (and they have to be on adjacent locations).


Most Punchy for Everyone! Venom

He has soooo many punches that he and other players can use: 8 total (where as Captain Marvel only has 7 she can share).  With his specials, Venom has 10 Punch total!


Most Move! Tie? Iron Man and Venom

The chart makes it look like Hulk or Venom might be the best movers (at 5 and 5(6) respectively), BUT on one of Iron Man’s special cards, he can distribute another 2 Move to him OR his compatriots, effectively allowing 6 total for anyone!  So, it’s hard to call: we’ll call it a tie! (But Venom also has a special card to allow him to move anymore: it’s a not a Move symbol per se, so maybe he has 7 total?)



Most Doubles Total!  Captain America

If you count the specials, he has 10.  If you don’t count the specials, he has 7 total doubles.  Either way, Cap has the most doubles!


Most Damaging! Hulk!

If Hulk uses his special on a Location with the main Villain, A henchmen, and 5 Thugs, he can do 1 damage to each of them, effectively doing 7 damage!




A Four Player board with Cap, Cap, Ant-Man, And Black Widow!

After living with the game for a while, everything I said in Part I of this still holds:

  1. It’s a great intro game: I like it significantly better than Horrified as an intro cooperative game
  2. It’s a great gateway game into more complex Superhero games like Sentinels of the Multiverse, The Reckoners, and Sidekick Saga
  3. It’s a great value ($30 at Walmart)

Now that I’ve played more, do I regret not backing the CMON Kickstarter? Again, I am ambivalent: more content is good, but I am still happy with the base game.  It’s good to know there are expansions if I want them, but I still happy exploring the base game.  In fact, I’ve found that if I get an expansion I DON’T TYPICALLY PLAY IT!! I have sooo many games that when I pull out a new box, I usually have to remember the base game first!!  So, I am okay with not getting the CMON Kickstarter version (for hundreds of dollars).

One more thing: the co-op experience works great, and so does the solo mode (although, I’ve avoided the solo mode of the game and just played two characters: it works fine). This game has gone up in my estimation, probably to a 7.5 or 8 out of 10 and will probably break the top 5 of my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card games (if it ever gets updated).



A Review of Shadowed Kingdom. Unboxing, Solo Rules, and First Impression.

A Two Player (only) Cooperative Game only at Target

I was very excited when I saw this cooperative game mentioned in the Dice Tower news!  It’s a two-player (only) cooperative game, just becoming available at Target!  Currently, I think it’s a Target exclusive and you can ONLY get it online.   My wife ordered it for me online immediately and it just arrived the other day!  I have been pleased with most if not all of the Target (Wonder Woman, Jaws of the Lion) and Walmart (Marvel United) exclusive cooperative board games that have been coming out, so I was hopeful for this!


A small box

This was a surprisingly small box.  It was basically a little bigger than a dual-deck box.  There aren’t too many components:

Components: tiny rulebook

Locations (and other cards, about 24) for the Kingdom on the left and 6 Hero cards on the right.

The cards look nice, and the art is nice but they are definitely cheaper cards.  Mine had a little tear almost instantly.  But I do like the art: it’s very evocative.

Art and graphic design is very evocative


Hero Cards

The hero cards are decent.  I like that I can read all the text on the cards fairly easily.  But that’ll change once we get to the rulebook.

The Rulebook

Introduction .. I have no idea what it says because it’s so tiny!

This is one of the worst rulebooks I have read in a while.  There are a lot of mistakes, and the text is so tiny, I couldn’t read it!  I ended up taking a picture of the rulebook with my camera just so I could zoom in on it and read it!!  I think this this is the tiniest text I have ever seen.


The Components page was ok, but there aren’t a lot of pictures in the game.  I couldn’t “really” tell the cards apart BECAUSE THE ART WAS SO TINY. They are just all “purple”!


I couldn’t read this it was so small.  This is where I took a picture with my phone. See below the picture I took!


So, by zooming in on the above picture, I could read the rules.  One of the very first set-up had some confusion. Where’s the Zero on the Shadow/Magic Track?

Where’s the Zero? In the middle? The minus (-) seems to be the left, and the + the right …

There is NO ZERO indicated on the track, even though the rulebook says there is.  After reading through more rules, I figured out that the markers go all to the way to the left (you win if you get the Magic track to the right and you lose if you get the Shadow track all the way to the right).

I could forgive that, but this is just indicative of how bad the rulebook is.

More small text

This is the smallest text I have ever read and it put me in a really foul mood to play the game.  This was not a very good rulebook: possibly the worst one I have read this year.

Set-Up and Solo Rules

Set-Up for a Solo play using the Changing Perspectives idea

This is a game for ONLY two players.  (No Saunders’ Law here).  Each player sits across from each other in this game and alternates turns.  We can apply the idea of Changing Perspectives and play Shadowed Kingdom solo by playing both players (and swapping chairs a lot).   Recall, the Changing Perspectives idea is where you “ignore” the secret information of your compatriot(s) and make decisions solely on the information of your current role.  In this game, the roles are simply player one and player two.  When you switch to the other player, you can only make decisions based on the information available to that player. (Don’t forget to switch sides on the table too!)

Record the information I know for trying to play solo

Above, you can see I have a pad of paper with each player’s knowledge.  As the game proceeded, I updated the knowledge of each player independently.   There are times when there is no information (the two cards I pushed got taken out, and I have no idea what’s in there), so I usually just “pushed” in hopes of getting something good.

After a few plays, recording what information I know so I can switch perspectives

Theoretically, this idea should work for this game.  After all, there’s not much information to record for each side, and you can make decisions based SOLELY on the state of the board and your secret information (much like solo rules for Shipwreck Arcana).    It should work.  But, it doesn’t.  The game is simply too random.  There’s never really that much information available to make any useful decisions.


The only two things you can do in the game


The game is both way too simple and way too complex at the same time.  You can really only do two things on your turn: “Discover” a card (push a card) or “Dispel” a card (slide left or right).   The Kingdom area is a 2×2 grid: when you push card, you push a column towards the other player, and the other player has to read and so what the card does.  If you dispel, you have to use your oldest card (yes, your OLDEST card … of two cards) to push a card off one row (that card is discarded and your new one takes it’s place).  So, every turn you are either pushing to a column or sliding a card out of a row.  The Kingdom remains 2×2 for the whole game.

A losing game!

The complexity comes because there are a lot weird little idiosyncrasies: The card you dispel with HAS to be the oldest.  You can only have 1 or 2 cards, depending on whose turn it is.  If you get pushed to you take the card, do the action, put it in your hand.  If you dispel the card, you discard that card and randomly draw from the top of your deck.  The idea, I think, is that the current player (about to play) always has two cards and the other player has one card.

It’s just that, there are a LOT of little rules for such a small game.

The way you score is simple: your compatriot “pushes” magic to your side. You need to make it to 6 Magic to win the game.


If you unfortunately push Shadow, then the Shadow Track increases.  If it makes it to 6, you lose.

Shadow card: Don’t discover these!

The Magic/Shadow Track:



First Impressions

A losing game … I just wanted to get my game over with

The base strategy seems pretty simple: if there’s Magic, try to put it out so it can get pushed.  If there’s Shadow, don’t put it out unless you have to, and if so, immediately dispel it.

The problem: this game is just luck.  Every so often, you get a glimmer of information, but then something takes it away ALL THE TIME.  Magic and Shadow both make you reshuffle your decks and start a new deck.  You ONLY have two cards at any time you play, so you don’t have much choice.  You have even LESS choice when you dispel, as you HAVE TO use your oldest card.   When you dispel, you still have to RANDOMLY draw the top card of your deck and play it.  (You don’t really have any control over what’s the top card of your deck).  Many of the cards just randomize the Kingdom.

Just do what the card says: no decisions.

The problem: you have too few decisions and too much luck.

Oh, and I have heroes with special powers: I never used the special powers once in the game!  So, what’s the purpose?



I didn’t enjoy this game at all.  I thought it might be like the Mind with Special Powers (you aren’t supposed to talk or strategize).  It wasn’t: there’s no notion of “reading each other” … you just play cards.    I was hoping it might be like a simpler Shipwreck Arcana.  It wasn’t: there’s so much randomness.   There were no real decisions in the game, and there was WAAY too much luck.

For a while, I thought this might be a good game for kids, but I don’t think this after playing it.  There are far too many weird and confusing rules that “straight-jacket” kids into doing things a special way (discard your oldest card, push a card and make your friend read it and keep it, do the special text even though it’s not clear who they are referring to).  And there are rules that are unclear that infuriated me and would confuse kids.

This is a complete miss for me.  I may do a second part of this review if I can get my game group to play this, but I hated this game:  The tiny terrible rulebook, the lack of decisions, and the abundance of luck.  Stay away.


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

Wal-Mart version of Marvel United!

In March 2020, the CMON version of the Marvel United Kickstarter ended.  I had originally backed it full in (and even reported on it here), but got very annoyed as CMON kept adding more and more things for me to buy as the campaign went on.  At one point, I was in for $200+ for a game I didn’t know anything about.  I bailed: it was just too much  … even though this was a cooperative Superhero game, my favorite kind of game!


Fast Forward to Summer 2020: In July, Walmart “accidentally” released the retail version of Marvel United.  It was an “accident” because the Kickstarter backers had not gotten their version yet, and there was quite an uproar.   They (CMON and the Kickstarter) quickly close the loophole, and only a few people got the retail version (see the Kickstarter notes).

I tried to get one! I tried to order online (it was closed already), I went to the store (“We don’t have that”).  In early August, the Walmart site reported the GAMES WAS IN STORES (again, before the Kickstarter backers were getting theirs), so I drove across town to get one.  (“Oh, the website is wrong”).  Finally, my wife said “This is ridiculous” and ordered me a copy on eBay (for $34: $5 over the $29.99 cost at Walmart).  It arrived the first week of August.


Because I got it off eBay, I have no idea if the game had an insert.

eBay version: everything punched out and bagged! But no insert!

Everything was already punched out and in bags.  Basically, I paid an extra $5 for pre-punched and labelled version.


The game looks good, especially considering the price!

The Rulebook

Components Page

The Rulebook was good.  It had a nice components page (see above) and a nice set-up page.


In general, the rulebook was pretty good overall.  This is a simple game.  I got through the rulebook pretty quickly and it taught me the game.

Heroes and Villains


The miniatures that comes with the game are quite good.  You have to understand that I am not a miniatures person: if a game comes with miniatures, I tend to not lot like it. Let me be clear, I like the miniatures here—they are really nice .

Nice Miniatures!

You get seven heroes (Hulk, Captain America, Ant-man, Iron Man, Venom (?), Black Widow, and Captain Marvel (female version)) and three villains (Ultron, Red Skull, and Taskmaster).  Apparently, Venom DOESN’T come with the CMON base game: the Kickstarter backers get someone else.


The Heroes!

Each hero has their own deck of 12 cards.  Each Hero will start the game with 3 cards (drawing 1 more on every turn) and play a card every turn.  The cards represent your hit points: if you are every reduced to 0 cards on your turn, you have to lose a turn to recover and then you heal back up to 3 cards.  This is friendly game: Heroes can’t die.


The Villains!

Each villain has it’s own card, with its own victory conditions, and its own “BAM” special attack.  You choose one villain to fight at the start of the game.

Each game goes the same way: you have to overcome two challenges before you can even damage the main villain



The game has 8 Locations (you choose 6 and put them in a circle when you play).  Each Location has its own special ability you can use IF the ability is not covered by a Villain Threat card.

Set-Up and Solo Play

Set-Up for a Two Hero Game

The game set-ups pretty quickly.  Each player chooses a hero to play and takes the mini and deck for that hero; Set set-up above.  For a solo game, you are SUPPOSED to play 3 Heroes and there are some “special rules” for Solo play—I didn’t want to deal with that! I played solo by playing two Heroes.  (I’ve done this a lot lately: I prefer playing two positions rather than playing the “official” solo rules: I did that for Solar Storm as well as Star Trek: Frontiers.   Why?  I think it’s because there are “exceptions”  that you have to remember when playing the solo rules; rather than learn the exceptions, I want to just play.  Remember, I had to write down the solo rules for Forgotten Waters on a piece of paper … I didn’t want to deal with that!  I just want to play.)  And you know?  This Two Hero Solo mode worked great.  THE GAME IS SIMPLE ENOUGH IT’S VERY EASY TO PLAY TWO POSITIONS FOR SOLO PLAY.

City Circle

Interestingly, the city set-up reminds me of the  Rebirth DC-Deckbuilding Game, where you can move around the city in a circle.  Note that when you start the game, each City Location has a “threat” covering the special power of the City Location, and you can only get the special power if you clear the threat on the Location (see below).

The “threat” at Central Park is Bob, Agent of Hydra



The gamplay flows pretty quickly: each player takes a card, plays a card (choosing from among his 3 or so cards) and activates the actions on that card PLUS THE PREVIOUS PLAYER’S card!   Every 3 turns, a Bad Guy plays a card causing Bad News (see Red Skull cards above).  This is a nice self-balancing mechanism for any number of players: Bad Guys ALWAYS play after 3 Hero cards, no matter now many heroes!  (Later in the game, the Bad Guy plays after only 2 Hero cards).

This is a real simple mechanic and moves quickly.  It forms a “comic book storyboard”: See above.

Your little symbols allow you to do one of 3 (4) things:

  • Move: move via adjacent Locations
  • Punch: do damage to a Villain, Thugs, or Henchmen (you can’t do damage to the Villain until you’ve taken out enough threats)
  • Heroic Action: either save a civilian or help remove a threat
  • Wild: one of the above three

The cooperation in the game comes from working with your compatriots to figure out what symbols to put out on your turn BECAUSE THE NEXT HERO GETS TO USE YOUR SYMBOLS ON HIS TURN!

There are other mechanics (depending on the Villain), but usually your game involves saving some civilians (which kind of has a Pandemic disease cubes vibe), punching thugs, and removing threads and doing enough so you can punch the big bad and WIN!


My eBay version … is there supposed to be an insert?

So, you’ll notice I went out of my way to get this game.  But you’ll also notice I choose not to back the Kickstarter.  I feel very ambivalent about this game!  I love Superheroes!  BUT I don’t like the FOMO (“Fear of Missing Out”) that Kickstarters foster where I have to get everything.

Here’s the thing, I kind of wanted to dislike this game, so I could justify that I didn’t back it !

“See?  it’s a bad game!  It’s a good thing I didn’t back it!”

But, it was a good gameI had a good time. I’ve played through two of the villains now and I will probably play through Ultron this weekend.  I like this game.  I had fun.

Do I regret not backing the Kickstarter?  Maybe a little bit.  I think more content would be nice, but the base game is good.   Here’s my only real complaint with the game:  I don’t really feel like I am playing a unique super hero. Each hero has some special powers sprinkled through out the deck, but there’s not very many: I don’t get to use my unique special power very often.   On the other side of the coin:  the little miniature, the back of the deck, the occasional special text definitely contribute to making me feel like Ant-Man! But at the end of the day, I feel like I am just playing the symbols.  Which is fine: it is a good game.  It’s a simple game.  I can teach this to just about anyone.

I almost feel like this is a good gateway game for  heavier Superhero games like Sentinels of the Multiverse, The Reckoners, or Sidekick Saga (see my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card Games).



This is a good cooperative game for 1-4 players.  You can teach it quickly, and you  can play a game in about 20 minutes.   I know a lot of people really like Horrified as a good mass market intro cooperative game, but I think this is a significantly better gateway game than that!  This game is fun!  The minis are great!  For $29.99, this is a great deal!    It will probably make my next Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Cards games next time I update that list, but it probably won’t break into the top 3.



How Do I Review Cooperative Escape Room Games? A Review of Unlock! Epic Adventures


Recently, (last week: July 2020) I received the newest Unlock box of Escape Room Games: Unlock! Epic Adventures. I played through them all solo (sigh, it’s still hard to get a group together these days) and decided to put up a review.  Sooooo … how do you put up a review without giving away too much?  And still give the reader something to think about?


English Edition (Back of Box)

So, I’ll give a quick overview (with my thoughts) and discuss some related issues.

There are three adventures in this box:

  1. The Seventh Screening: An easy (their rating and mine as well) adventure set in a older movie.  It’s a light hearted Horror Movie.  It’s fun, thematic, easy, and has one of my favorite puzzles I’ve seen in a while in an Escape room game.   After I finished it, I immediately called my friend (who loves cheesy horror movies) and said “You have to play this one!”.  This is probably in my top 5 Escape Room games.
  2. The Dragon’s Seven Tests: A medium (their rating: I think it’s harder) adventure with a Zen-like theme as you solve puzzles to become a disciple of the Master.  After I played this one, I said to myself “I hated that”.  I thought the puzzles were unrelated to the theme, I thought they were obscure, and I hated the real-time puzzle.    There were 1 or 2 puzzles that made be smile, but in general, this is one of my least favorite Unlock! games of all time.  It’s possible the theme didn’t resonate with me, so maybe you’d like it.  I also played it solo: maybe it plays better with a group where different minds can offer different solutions.  I didn’t like it.
  3.   Mission #07:  A hard (their rating: I think it’s easier) game. Can you find the spy that infiltrated your organization?  This is probably in my top 3 Escape Room games of all time!  The game moves quickly, it’s immersive, the theme shines through, the puzzles are (mostly) interesting.  The very last puzzle was absolutely fantastic.  I had a blast playing this, to the point that I look forward to playing it again (in a few years after I have forgotten the puzzles).

In general, really liked the first, hated the second, and LOVED the third game.  In general, I’d recommend this Unlock! box of 3 puzzles, even if I didn’t like the second Escape Room!  (Okay, so review over?)

Unlock Games: 1 Game vs. 3 Games

Unlock! The Adventures of Oz, Space Cowboys, 2018 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

In the last few years, the Unlock games were available separately: A favorite was the Unlock: The Adventures of Oz.  And you could buy it separately … and you still can for about $14.99 (MSRP).

Unlock! Secret Adventures, Space Cowboys, 2017 — front cover

BUT, newer Unlock releases make you buy all 3 from a set (to be fair, they have been doing this in Europe for while).  These are typically $29.99 (MSRP) for all three.  To my knowledge, you cannot buy the newest games individually anymore.  In other words, I can’t tell you: “Just get the Seventh Screening and Mission #07 game, ignore the Dragon game”. You have to get all 3.  (To be fair, the two good ones make it worthwhile).

Bang For The Buck

So, let’s do a cost-benefit analysis from the three major types of Escape Room Games: Unlock, Exit, and Deckscape.

Unlock! The Adventures of Oz, Space Cowboys, 2018 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

  1. Unlock games require an app to play them: the games could become unplayable in the future if the company doesn’t keep the app in maintenance.  With that proviso , the games are completely replayable.  The MSRP for a single game (for those you can get single, not all of them are) is $14.99.  Miniatures Market and CoolStuffInc usually have them for $12.99.  If you have to buy 3 in a set (like the Epic Adventures of this review), the cost is $29.99 (MSRP) or $23.99 at MM/CSI.  Games typically last an hour to 90 minutes.  Let’s call that 75 minutes on average.

       Cost  per hour:  ($23.99/1.25 hours)/ 3 Games ~= $6.40 per hour.  (for package)
    Cost  per hour:  ($12.99/1.25 hours)/ 1 Games ~= $10.39 per hour  (for singles)

    Exit: The Game – The Secret Lab, KOSMOS, 2017 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

  2. Exit games can only be physically played once (as you rip/tear cards/boxes), and then they are done.  You don’t need an app: everything comes in the box.  There is one game per box (with one exception).  They are dozens of Exit games, usually about $14.95 (MSRP) or $10.99 (MM/CSI) each.  Games typically last 60-120 minutes.  Let’s call that 90 minutes on average.

        Cost  per hour:  ($10.99/1.5 hours)/ 1 Games ~= $7.33 per hour

    English first edition cover

  3. Deckscape is just a deck of cards.  You don’t need an app.  You also don’t destroy the games: they are completely replayable.  There are about 6 out right now. The MSRP is $14.90, $10.99 at MM/CSI.  Games typically last 30-90 minutes: let’s call it an hour.

      Cost per hour: ($10.99/1.00 hours)/ 1 Games ~= $10.99 per hour

The best bang for the buck are the Unlock games (with three games per box):  it only costs about $6.40 per hour to play.  And you can pass the games onto your friends, as they are completely replayable.  BUT, Unlock games may be obsolete in the future if the app isn’t maintained.

The Deckscape games look the worst bang for the buck (at $10.99 per hour), but they will never be obsolete and you can easily share the game (and the cost) among several groups of friends to bring the cost down to just $3 or $4 per hour.

The Exit games, although they aren’t replayable, have an excitement to them, as you bend, tear, destroy cards as you play!  The Exit games tend to be very immersive, but once you are done, you are done. $7.33 per hour is sunk cost: you can never get it back.


First image from app

In general, it seems like the major Escape Room games cost (on the order of) $10 per hour to play.  You can usually only play them once. Is that a good deal?  Only you can decide that.  Was Unlock! Epic Adventures good?  For me, Epic Adventures has two of my favorite Unlock adventures of all time … and one I really didn’t like (possibly my least favorite).  So, do the math: is that worth it for you?   For me, the two hours of sheer joy and immersion from my two favorites here was totally worth it.




Top 10 Cooperative Board and Card Games You Can Play Online

Over the last few months, my normal game groups have changed character quite a bit … because we can’t get together to play!  We have played around and discovered a number of ways to play card and board games “online”!  By “online”, we usually mean “over the Internet”, but we could mean with just a three-way call over the phone with audio only! Even “over the Internet” takes a on a few meanings because we discovered a number of ways to “play online”!  So, this Top 10 is organized by “how we play online” rather than by our favorites.  Below, we categorize the games into several ways to play.


Physical Games That Have Components That Need to Be Shared Beforehand

Requirements: These games have physical parts that need to passed out to all participants before the games begin online.


Baker Street Irregulars
How to Play? Over Discord/Zoom (or multi-way phone call) with audio (video helps, but not required)
Video Feed? Not required, but helps non-verbal communication
Requirements? Physical Copies of the book must be passed out (the base game comes with 4 books, so you can share those): Each player must have exactly one book to play
Chat Necessary? Will be useful for Episode 2, otherwise not necessary

This is a fantastic game in the Sherlock Holmes universe that we reviewed very recently here and here!

The Crusoe Crew!

Crusoe Crew
How To Play? Over Discord/Zoom (or multi-way phone call) with audio (video helps, but not required)
Video feed? Not required, but helps non-verbal communication
Requirements? Physical Copies of the book must be passed out (the base game comes with 4 books, so you can share those): Each player must have exactly one book to play
Chat Necessary?  Not necessary

This game started the Cooperative Graphic Adventure game, and to be honest, this game has gotten better the more we have played it.  We have reviewed it here and here, and this game made our Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019 as well!

Games over BoardGameArena

Requirements: Someone must have a BoardGameArena (boardgamearena.com) account to invite everyone to play

Box front of the English first edition of Hanabi.
How To Play? Inside your browser (BoardGameArena.com)
Video feed? Not required, but helps
Requirements?  One player must have paid to have a board game arena account.  That person can invite others to play.
Chat Necessary? Either Zoom/Discord or chat for communications can be useful, but not required.  Since this game is all about “limited communication”, it may make sense to ONLY use the browser (each play has his own browser) and have no external comms.

Games You Can Play Over Tabletop Simulator

Requirements: Someone must have bought a Tabletop Simulator License (played over Steam).  That player must share their screen with everyone over Zoom/Discord. That player ends up doing all the maintenance to run the game in Tabletop Simulator while the other players talk over Discord/Zoom (and communicate what to do via Discord/Zoom).

To get steam, go the https://store.steampowered.com/  From there, you can get Tabletop Simulator.

Note: These games (below) CAN ALSO BE PLAYED WITH PHYSICAL COPIES OF THE GAME! Just One player just has to share a copy of the board/cards over a  feed (like he would be “sharing the screen” of Tabletop Simulator over Zoom/Discord). To do this streaming, you may have to be clever to stream the video over a different stream than your discord/Zoom set-up: it depends on your set-up/equipment. Similarly, the person with the physical copy will have to do all the maintenance of the game over the stream while the others tell him what to do.

Just One, Repos Production, 2018 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)
Just One
How To Play? Over Discord/Zoom
Video feed? Required
Requirements? See below
Chat? Can be Essential: depends on how you play

There are two ways to play.  In both ways, the beginning plays the same: The guessing player looks away as the other players look at the card/word over video.  The players then think of Just One word as an answer.  From here, how you play changes:

  1. If you are playing completely electronically,  then, chat is essential: when people write their  “Just One” word, they write them in chat! The guessing player doesn’t look a chat until players have cleaned up the chat and written ONLY the non-matching words.
  2.  You can write answers on paper, chalk boards, etc. if you have multiple
    copies of the game, those players can use the built-in pens/boards.  Then, share answers (as appropriate) just like Just One in person!

There’s almost no maintenance if you are the player running the game: the player with the physical copy just shows a card to the video feed every so often.

(If you want to be very clever, you could play this only via texting, where you text clues and answers exclusively over your phones.)

Yggdrasil, Ludonaute, 2018 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

How To Play? Over Discord/Zoom
Video feed? Required
Requirements? Share video over Discord/Zoom
Chat? Helpful, not required if you have audio

This game works up to 6 players: we have played 4 in chat and it worked extremely well. The amount of maintenance by the player “running” the game wasn’t too bad.  This game made our Top 10 Cooperative Games Off The Beaten Path some time ago!

Box art for Burgle Bros.

Burgle Brothers
How To Play? Over Discord/Zoom
Video feed? Required
Requirements? Share video over Discord/Zoom
Chat? Helpful, not required if you have audio

The game only plays up to 4: we have played 5 in chat and it worked decently (one person was the “the consultant” and “the cheerleader” and each other player took the role of character). The amount of maintenance by the player “running” the game isn’t too bad.

Games You Can Play Over the Internet Where You Have a Physical Copy

Requirements: At least one player must have a physical copy of the game (multiple copies among other players helps).
Legacy of Dragonholt, Fantasy Flight Games, 2017 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Legacy of Dragonholt

How To Play? Over Discord/Zoom or possibly multi-way phone call
Video feed? Very, very nice to have, you strictly only need audio
Requirements? A glass of water: there will be a lot of reading!
Chat? Can be very useful for sharing info, but not required

This is an adventure game with a lot of text! This game works because it’s mostly reading from the books, and each player maintains their own state (each character in the game will actually be maintaining quite a bit of information for the character they play). You will get sick of hearing the same person read the books over and over, but multiple copies of the game can help alleviate that.  This game made our Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Games!

Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger, Z-Man Games, 2018 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger
How To Play? Over Discord/Zoom or possibly multi-way phone call
Video feed? Very, very nice to have, you strictly only need audio
Requirements? A glass of water: there will be a lot of reading!
Chat? Can be very useful for sharing info, but not required

Like Legacy of Dragonholt, this is an adventure game with lots of text, but much simpler. We played with my friend’s niece for her birthday!  It worked really well because we all picked up a copy of the game (it’s like $25 at Target) and that way we could all read text.  This is a fun, silly choose your own adventure game.  See the Top 10 Cooperative Storytelling/Storybook Game here!

Adventure Games: The Dungeon, KOSMOS, 2019 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

Adventure Games: The Dungeo
How To Play? Over Discord/Zoom
Video feed? Required to see the board
Requirements? A glass of water: there will be a lot of reading!
Chat? Required

This is the only game I haven’t played online (I have played it with friends before the Pandemic): my friends assume me this works well over the Internet as well.  I love this game!  It made my number 2 spot on my Top 10 Cooperative Games of 2019!
This is an adventure game that’s very reminiscent of point-and-click adventure games of early days.  There’s a lot of reading, and you need to share the share of board (either via Video preferred, some other way).

Games on IPAD/Computer

Requirements: Everyone must have a digital copy of the game on their own device.

The cover art for the Enhanced Edition of Sentinels of the Multiverse, which will be released at Gen Con 2012!

Sentinels of the Multiverse
How To Play? Over your device
Video feed? Nice to have, audio is all you really need for comms.
Requirements? iPad, iPhone, or Android device.
Chat? Can be very useful for sharing info, but not required

So, all players need to buy the game from Handelabra (it’s a fantastic version of the game).   Then, everyone plays over the Internet.  The nice thing about the game is that each player can be on different kinds of devices: iOS (Apple) iPhone or iPad, or Android device AND THEY STILL WORK TOGETHER!!!   Handelabra has done a fantastic job on this app, and a fantastic job so people can play together on their own devices.

The only thing to look out for: Make sure everyone has the “same set of Heroes/Villains”: there is the base game, and then there are expansions (“Season 1” and “Season 2).  It’s better if everyone has everything, but there is some good play in the base game if you want to give it a try.

This game made the Top Spot of my Top 10 Cooperative Superhero Board and Card Games!  I still love the physical game, but the app really does make the maintenance easier (and gets rid of the fiddliness that some players don’t like).