A Dispatch: On the Run Review

Dispatch: On the Run

Publisher: Breakout Games
Players:
 1+
Playing Time:
90-180 Minutes
Campaign Mode:
7 boxes, each shipped monthly via subscription 
MSRP:  $124.99 for entire series, or $24.99 per box
Logged Plays:
Played and completed all 7 boxes
Copy Purchased By Reviewer

A growing niche within the tabletop hobby has been what could best be called “narrative tabletop puzzle experiences,” to steal the term from PostCurious.  Part tabletop escape room game ala the EXIT/Unlock! series, part mystery game ala Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, part alternate reality game, these kind of games aren’t meant to be rushed through in an hour, but instead worked through at a more leisurely pace.

Breakout Games, the tabletop gaming branch of Breakout Escape Rooms (a large escape room company with locations all across the eastern United States), launched a subscription service in 2017 called Dispatch.  Every month, Breakout Dispatch will send you a small box about the size of a book, filled with documents and objects that you must read through, find hidden clues, and solve puzzles within.  Each box eventually leads you to a website where you typically must answer questions related to the mystery or puzzles contained in the box.  Upon answering those questions correctly, a short video is played summarizing what you did in that box and sets up the plot for the next box, which you then anxiously wait another month to receive and play through.

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THE FIRST BOX IN THE SERIES

 

“On the Run” is Breakout Dispatch’s first series (they are currently on their third series at time of writing, but you can still purchase/subscribe for any of them).  Your best friend James has been wrongfully accused of murdering his wife (and copper mining heiress/socialite) Victoria on their honeymoon in Hawaii.  Over the course of 7 installments, James will hop across the globe escaping authorities, sending you packages that you must decipher and solve to help get to the bottom of who killed Victoria.  Some components and documents contained in earlier boxes may not make much sense at the time, and may be referred to in later boxes to solve puzzles, so make sure not to throw anything away.

I found that boxes took typically around 2 hours to work my way through solo.  Some were a little shorter, maybe clocking in around 90 minutes, and some packages took closer to 3 hours to work my way through, depending on the amount and difficulty of the puzzles in a box.  If you get stuck on a puzzle, you can email a character in the game, a private investigator, and he will give you hints/solutions in-character.  They got back to me within pretty quickly during normal business hours, but if you were to get stuck during a game night, you might need to pack it away and come back to it another night.

Components are made to look and feel authentic.  Newspaper articles are printed on newspaper, magazine articles are printed on magazine stock, etc.  Over the course of the subscription, you will get props made of actual metal, wood, and more.  Some of the props you could probably keep as souvenirs and/or use outside of the game when you are done.  Compared to escape room games that are almost entirely just cards (EXIT, Unlock, etc) or even ones that may have some cardboard props in them (Escape the Room, Escape Room: The Game, etc), it was nice to play a game with higher prop quality.

Each box will also have you going online to looking for clues.  Most are fictitious websites, but there are times where you’ll need to visit a character’s social media profile on Twitter/Instagram, research Wikipedia, or use other online resources to solve puzzles.  There are even points in the story where you will need to make phone calls and text/email in-game characters (they’re just pre-recorded messages or bots).  I enjoyed the blend of physical, digital, and augmented reality elements.

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CONTENTS OF THE FIRST BOX IN THE SERIES

 

There are definitely puzzles in every box, but the quality and quantity per box varies.  The first box in particular is very light on puzzles, and the shortest box to work through, as it focuses more on the backstory and narrative of the series.  This may unfortunately give some players a false impression of what the game has to offer.

The game series relies a lot on using cryptographic messages that you will need to decode.  Once you solve how to decode a message, it can be a bit tedious to actually decode the message.  There is one cryptography puzzle in a later box that is incredibly slow and tedious to decode, and then they use the same exact cryptography puzzle in later boxes!  This felt more like busywork than solving an actual puzzle in later boxes, and kind of lazy design on their part to re-use the same puzzle multiple times.  But aside from those cases, I found the quality of the puzzles to be pretty good.  I was able to solve all the puzzles on my own or with a few hints, I never had to brute-force my way through a puzzle or accidentally solve a puzzle without actually knowing the logic behind the solution.

The story for On the Run is serviceable.  I think they were going for the feel of a globe-trotting thriller, but instead feels like the plot of a soap opera.  This isn’t a turnoff for playing the game, as I was playing primarily for the puzzles, not the narrative, but it’s just a little unfortunate that sometimes puzzles took more of a backseat to the narrative in some of the episodes.  You also have to suspend your disbelief a bit that your friend would go through all the effort of hiding his messages behind a series of puzzles that take the average person an hour or two to solve, as if that would be sufficient to prevent people besides you from decoding/intercepting it.

I should also bring up the cost of this game series.  Given the production value of the props, and the fact that these boxes are probably assembled by hand by the Dispatch crew, the resulting costs are going to run higher than your average hobby game mass-produced overseas.  Buying the entire 7-box series outright will cost you $125, or you can pay for a month-to-month subscription of $25/month.  There are Groupons to get the first two months cheap and 6-12 month subscription packages that can bring down the monthly cost, but ultimately I can see the price point being a turn-off for some people. That said, the price-per-hour is comparable to hour-long escape room games that cost $12-$15.

I played through the whole series solo.  I think it would work for couples to play together, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it as a group experience unless you are playing it as a group to split the cost.  Like many other escape room games, the more people you play with, the few puzzles each individual is going to experience, and there may even be times where some players are sitting around doing nothing.

 


FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, I really enjoyed my experience going through On the Run.  It scratches a similar itch to escape room games, but introduces a narrative/deduction element that a lot of escape room games often lack.  I also appreciated working through the box at my own pace without any sort of artificial time limit that similar escape room games impose.  The high price point might be a barrier to entry for some people, so I would suggest trying the first month or two at a discount on Groupon and see if it’s something you enjoy before investing any more money into it.

Since finishing On the Run early this year, Breakout has released a 2 box mini-series called “Marlow’s Game”, and is in the middle of their next series “I, Spy” which will last a total of 5 boxes/months.  I have played through Marlow’s Game, it was more puzzle-heavy than On the Run, so you may want to start with that series if you are looking for more puzzles and less narrative.  I have not started I, Spy yet, but I can’t wait to get my first box in a couple of weeks!

REVIEW SCORE: 8 out of 10 (Great)

icons8-plus-24 PROS

  • Nice blend of mystery, narrative, and puzzles
  • Prop quality is much better than a typical “escape room in a box” game
  • I look forward to getting my next package in the mail every month

icons8-minus-26 CONS

  • Expensive to pay month-to-month, really have to commit to a longer subscription to bring down the price to something more reasonable.
  • Repetition of some crypto puzzles from month-to-month felt tedious
  • Some months were much lighter on puzzles than other months, especially the first box
  • Plot was kind of cheesy

 

The Curse of Immortality: A Sword & Sorcery Review

Sword & Sorcery: Immortal Souls

Designers: Simone Romano and Nunzio Surace
Publishers: 
Ares Games
Players:
 1-5
Playing Time:
120-180 Minutes
Campaign Mode:
6 quests, branching narrative, replayable with no permanent modifications
MSRP: $79.90
Logged Plays:
10 games solo, full base game campaign completed as well as first two quests of Arcane Portal expansion
Copy Purchased By Reviewer

In 2017, we saw two high-profile fantasy dungeon crawlers hit the market: Isaac Childres’ Gloomhaven and Gremlin Project’s Sword & Sorcery.  While Gloomhaven in many ways revolutionized how we think about dungeon crawlers, Sword & Sorcery is at a surface level about as boiler-plate of a fantasy dungeon crawler as you can get.  You have your standard fare of humans, dwarves, elves, and orcs.  You resolve combat and skill checks with dice rolls.  Even the name of the game, “Sword & Sorcery”, is just the name of the fantasy sub-genre the game is an homage to.

DESPITE UNDEAD MONSTERS BEING FEATURED ON THE BOX ART, NONE ARE IN THE BASE GAME.

Perhaps “homage” is the best way to describe Sword & Sorcery.  It’s not necessarily trying to revolutionize dungeon crawlers, or trying to draw in a new audience to the genre.  It’s a dungeon crawler for gamers that like 3-hour long dungeon crawls.  It’s a dungeon crawler for gamers that like the swinginess of dice chucking.  It’s a dungeon crawler for gamers that like to track half a dozen status effects and wounds with a ton of little tokens.  But having played through the full campaign that comes with the base game, as well as part of the first expansion, I’m actually not sure if I’m one of those gamers.

Sword & Sorcery is the spiritual successor to Ares and Gremlin Project’s Galaxy Defenders, the 2014 fully cooperative campaign based sci-fi “dungeon crawler.”  The majority of Sword & Sorcery’s mechanics are a refinement of Galaxy Defenders’, including the red and blue D10’s with icons instead of numbers, enemy AI system, event deck, and more.  It simplifies the hex-based grids in Galaxy Defenders with interlocking tiles composed of larger areas, making it much easier to determine line-of-sight and enemy AI movement paths.  I know some people prefer the hex grid, but I found it too fiddly for my tastes to be constantly determining LOS and enemy pathing in Galaxy Defenders.  I appreciate how much easier it is to determine what an enemy will do on their turn and what player character they will target.

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EXAMPLE OF A SCENARIO IN PROGRESS.

Players take on the roles of ancient heroes that were brought back to life, and are effectively immortal. The base game comes with 5 heroes, each of which can be played with their Law or Chaos soul alignment, so you have 10 different hero classes in the box.   As an example, Thorgar the dwarf can be played either as a lawful Cleric or chaotic Runemaster.  Some of Thorgar’s skills are shared across both these classes, but their base powers, stats, and a few skills will be unique to each of the two classes.  Each hero and Law/Chaos variant feels unique.

When a player character dies, rather than be eliminated from the game, they revert to their spirit form.  Spirit form heroes can perform special spirit actions on their turn unique to their character/alignment, and/or can resurrect at a shrine at the beginning of a round if players spend enough soul shards.  What this means is that as long as you don’t have a total party kill, you can keep resurrecting heroes and bringing them back into the fight.  The drawback to this is that every time you die, you lose a level.  When you are Level 1 in the game, this is a non-issue, but as you level up into progressively more expensive levels, losing a level can be very costly in terms of lost souls shards (XP).  Death effectively becomes a currency that players will have to manage, as sometimes it is worth it for a hero to sacrifice themselves.

Sword & Sorcery uses an enemy AI system similar to Galaxy Defenders for how enemies act.  Each enemy type in the game has their own unique AI script that determines what they will do based on their distance to the nearest hero.  Gremlins may run up and attack, raiders may want to keep their distance and shoot heroes, orc shamans may heal wounded enemies, etc.  Harder versions of enemy types don’t just hit harder, they also have additional abilities and logic included in their AI scripts.  Enemies react intelligently to the current board state, providing a challenge for players.  Players know how precisely how enemies are going to act on their turn as well, so they can use this information to their advantage as they plan out their turns, providing some tactical depth to the game.  Enemy AI orders are also very clear and easy to execute, there’s little ambiguity in what an enemy will do on their turn.

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ADVANCED VERSIONS OF ENEMIE TYPES WILL HIT HARDER, DEFEND BETTER, AND TYPICALLY HAVE MORE NUANCED AI SCRIPTS.

As I eluded to earlier, Sword & Sorcery isn’t a quick or streamlined game.  It’s a beast of a game to setup, play, and teardown.  You’re looking at easily a 3+ long game depending on player count.  The rulebook is massive at 56 pages long (here is a link to it if you dare give it a read).  There are half a dozen status conditions that work differently depending on whether a player or enemy has them.  Individual enemies have their own unique powers and defenses that you will need to keep track of.  Scenarios, events, and story passages can introduce additional effects and triggers that you’ll need to keep track of, such as reading a later story passage when a certain monster on the board is killed.  Story passages may require you to place out new tiles to expand the map, spawn specific enemies, seed cards into decks, etc.  As a solo player, I found it to be a bit of an information overload to keep track of.


IMMORTAL SOULS

Sword & Sorcery: Immortal Souls is the first act in larger campaign that spans multiple expansions: Darkness Falls is the second half of the main storyline, Arcane Portal is an optional side-campaign that can be played between the two acts, and Vastaryous’s Lair is an optional epilogue to the campaign.  I should point out for retail customers that Kickstarter backers received all this content last year when their pledges shipped in 2017 and Arcane Portal is available in retail markets, Darkness Falls hits retail next week on Oct 23, but there is no official announcement/confirmation of a retail release for Vastaryous’s Lair at this time.

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LOTS OF PLASTIC.

All-in-all, playing through the entire thing will take you across a 12-to-20 quest campaign (depending on what expansions you get), but Immortal Souls is only the first 6 quests.  The base game comes with 7 quests, with the storyline branching in one of two directions for the final quest depending on choices and actions you take in the first five quests of your campaign.  I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t just boil down to whether you were playing Law or Chaos, and that smaller choices/actions I took in earlier quests caused a butterfly effect that led me to my ending (I ended up getting Quest VI for my final scenario).

I was less pleasantly surprised to see that at least in the base game and Arcane Portal, losing a scenario requires you replay it (either resetting back to the state your party was at the beginning of the scenario, or the state your party was in when you lost).  This can be frustrating if you lose 2-3 hours into a scenario near the end of it (and more often than not, if you’re going to lose, it’s going to be near the end).   I would have preferred if the game had a branching narrative for if you lost similar to games like SEAL Team Flix, or the story carried forward even if you lost like in Arkham Horror: The Card Game, or if the game provided some sort of checkpoint system through a scenario.  Better yet, I think a lot of these scenarios could have been broken into 2-3 smaller scenarios that were 60-90 minutes each with some minor tweaks.  In doing so, not only would have have made the game more accessible and losing more palatable, but they could have advertised having 2-3 times as many scenarios as they currently have!

The underlying story for Sword & Sorcery is pretty generic, and largely forgettable.  You’re brought back to life to stop some bad guys from doing some bad stuff.  The most memorable thing about the story unfortunately is the designers’ constant pop culture references to movies and video games, which at best got an eye roll out of me, and at worst pulled me out of the experience.  Some of these are just throwaway lines, but some of these pop culture references end up being major characters in the storyline.

The story paragraphs are in their own separate book from the scenario book, which is a nice touch, as it allows for surprises as you play through a scenario for the first time.  You may know opening a door will trigger reading a paragraph in the Book of Secrets, but you won’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that occurs until you do it (no accidental peeking ahead as can happen in other dungeon crawlers’ scenario books).  The Book of Secrets also allows for more “choose your own adventure”-esque narrative moments in the story, such as asking NPC’s questions, visiting locations in a village, making story decisions, etc.

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LOTS OF PAPER.

Over the course of the campaign, your characters will gain soul shards (XP) that will allow you to level up and gain new abilities, allowing you to not only get more powerful but also customize your character further.  In the base game and Arcane Portal, you can level up to Level 4, in Darkness Falls up to Level 7.  Each level gets exponentially more expensive to level up to, so while going from Level 1 to 2 costs 4 soul shards, Level 6 to 7 will cost 49.  As mentioned before, you lose a level when you die, so it gets progressively more and more expensive to die in the game, and can be frustrating to see a lot of time and effort killing monsters lost.  I’ve had sessions where even if I won the scenario, I ended up losing more levels/shards than what I started with, Even though I was progressing through the story I felt like I was making negative progress with my characters.


FINAL THOUGHTS

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LOTS OF TOKENS.

Mechanically, this is a solid dungeon crawling experience.  The enemy AI is streamlined, yet intelligent.  Scenario design is varied and challenging.  Player character classes feel different from one another, and the differentiation between good and evil versions is a nice touch.  But having played through the full base game campaign and half of Arcane Portal (8 scenarios in all), I don’t think I’m going to be continuing any further into the campaign.  Between the amount of time it takes to setup and play through a scenario and the sheer volume of things you have to track (especially as a solo player controlling multiple characters), it just didn’t really feel like the game was giving me that amazing of an experience back in return, just an OK one.


REVIEW SCORE: 6 out of 10 (OK)

icons8-plus-24 PROS

  • Character progression and customization with skills and gear
  • Enemy AI system clear and easy to follow, each enemy type has unique behaviors
  • Challenging scenario design

icons8-minus-26 CONS

  • Game is fiddly and requires tracking a lot of information
  • Scenarios are too long for my tastes, have to replay from the beginning if you lose
  • Constant enemy spawns and the death/resurrection cycle of player characters feels grindy
  • Story isn’t memorable, full of unnecessary pop culture references
  • No retail plans currently to release final expansion of the campaign

Top 10 Anticipated Campaign/Narrative Board Games of Q4 2018

We saw a ton of amazing campaign, narrative, and legacy games released at GenCon 2018 this year, but even more are going to get release over the next 90 days.  So many, in fact, that I was able to populate a Top 10 of my most anticipated, and even had a couple more that didn’t make the list!


 

#10 – ADVENTURE ISLAND
Designed by Michael Palm and Lucas Zach
Published by Pegasus Spiele
Release Date: October 2018

This one could have potentially been higher on my list if we knew anything about it.  Based on the BGG entry and back of the box, Adventure Island is a co-operative narrative campaign game where players take on the roles of shipwrecked survivors on a mysterious island that must explore the island and make their way home.  It appears to primarily be a card-based game.  LudoCreatix has been teasing card art on their Facebook page, but no details about actual gameplay have been given (sounds like they will give more details this week).  I’m a big fan of games like Robinson Crusoe and The 7th Continent, so I’m hoping this scratches a similar itch.  The game is expected to release at Essen SPIEL at the end of October.

 

#9 – HOLDING ON: THE TROUBLED LIFE OF BILLY KERR
Designed by Michael Fox and Rory O’Connor
Published by Hub Games
Release Date: October 2018

Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr is a fully cooperative narrative game about an dying man in a hospital with a mysterious and troubled past.  Players take on the role of the nursing staff for Billy Kerr, a man who suffered a heart attack on a flight from Sydney to London, and has been diagnosed with only days to live.  Players must balance keeping Billy comfortable (and alive) while also trying to figure out more about him and his past over the course of a 10-scenario campaign.

It’s always interesting to see games try to tackle more “serious” subject matters, I’m hoping that Holding On is able to pull it off.  I have some major concerns going into this game regarding the treatment of the subject matter, the premise is a bit shaky (has anybody ever been diagnosed to only have days to live after surviving a heart attack?), and the whole mechanic of having to choose whether to keep a patient alive or pry into their past doesn’t sit right with me.  We’ll see.  The game is going to release at Essen SPIEL at the end of October.

 

#8 – GLOOMHAVEN: FORGOTTEN CIRCLES
Designed by Marcel Cwertetschka Isaac Childres
Published by Cephalofair Games
Release Date: December 2018 (hopefully)

Gloomhaven: Forgotten Circles is a “small” expansion for Gloomhaven that introduces 20+ new quests, 1 new character class, new monsters/bosses, and more.  Scenarios will contain branching paths, “choose your own adventure” moments, puzzles, and alternate endings.  I love Gloomhaven, but I still have like 60-70 unplayed scenarios between the base game and solo scenarios, so it’s not like I really need more Gloomhaven… but I’ll take it!

Originally planned for a retail release at Essen, the game is now expected to come in December, possibly January.

 

#7 – COMANAUTS
Designed by Jerry Hawthorne
Published by Plaid Hat Games
Release Date: December 2018

Comanauts is a fully cooperative narrative campaign game about an old man in a hospital with a troubled past… wait, is that you Billy Kerr?

Dr. Martin Strobal, one of the greatest scientists to ever live, has fallen into a coma.  One of his inventions has malfunctioned and threatens to destroy the world, and only Dr. Strobal can stop it.  The only way to revive him is to enter his subconscious and help him defeat his inner demons.  Over the course of a campaign, players will travel through various comazones based on Dr. Strobal’s memories and imagination.  The game is an adventure book game similar to last year’s Stuffed Fables, but aimed at a more grown-up audience.

Plaid Hat’s website switched its status to “On the Boat” last week, so it should be available sometime in December by my estimates.

 

#6 – DAWN OF PEACEMAKERS
Designed by Sami Laakso
Published by Snowdale Design
Release Date: October 2018

I know cute cuddly creatures fighting each other is all the rage in boardgaming in 2018, but what if instead they made peace?  Dawn of Peacemakers is a cooperative narrative campaign game set in the same world of Dale of Merchants (although about a thousand years in the past), where the armies of the scarlet macaws and ocelots are at war with one another.  Players take on the roles of adventurers attempting the quell the hostilities between the two factions by effectively weakening both sides’ morale so that they don’t want to fight anymore.  The game is played across a 12-chapter evolving campaign with unlockable content (not a legacy game, it can all be reset) that will introduce new rules, components, and other surprises.

Warehouses in various countries should be receiving their copies and shipping out to backers this month, so hopefully backers will be getting their copies by late October.  Not sure what the plan is for retail release.

 

#5 – AEON’S END: LEGACY
Designed by Kevin Riley and Nick Little
Published by Indie Board & Cards
Release Date: December 2018

Aeon’s End is a cooperative dark fantasy deck builder where players take on the role of “breach mages” trying to defend their home Gravehold from The Nameless.  The game and countless expansions feature various bosses each with their own unique rules and mechanics to them, something I always love in games like Kingdom Death: Monster and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

Aeon’s End: Legacy is, as the name would suggest, a campaign/legacy adaptation of Aeon’s End.  In the legacy version, players take on the roles of students in training to become breach mages.   Over the course of the 7-chapter evolving campaign, new rules and components will be introduced, and other aspects of the game will be permanently modified.  At the end of the campaign, you will have developed your own custom breach mage that can be played in normal games of Aeon’s End.  A number of other aspects of the legacy game can be integrated into the base game as well as expansion content.

The latest update is that the game will release in December 2018.

 

#4 – DISCOVER: LANDS UNKNOWN
Designed by Corey Konieczka
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Release Date: November 2018

Discover: Lands Unknown was teased by Fantasy Flight Games leading up to Gen Con, but strangely wasn’t revealed until a week after Gen Con wrapped.  The premise of Discover is similar to other cooperative/solo survival games such as The 7th Continent, where you must explore and scavenge the wilderness to survive, eventually finding a way to escape.  The game is a campaign played across a 4-chapter story, but also comes with a competitive scenario.

This is also the second title in FFG’s new line of Unique games, meaning that each individual copy of Discover has a unique combination of characters, enemies, environments, items, and even the story chapters themselves, making no two copies of the game the same.  Some people cracking open their copy may find themselves trapped on a deserted island, while others may find themselves stranded on a mountaintop.  I have been trying to keep most of the details of this game a surprise to me, so the thing I’m most excited about is cracking my copy open and seeing what I get!

FFG set the status for Discover to “On the Boat” in early September, so we should expect to see this game hit retail in November by my estimates.

 

#3 – THE WILSON WOLFE AFFAIR
Designed by George Fox
Published by Simulacra Games
Release Date: October 2018

I don’t know if I would define The Wilson Wolfe Affair as a “boardgame” in the traditional sense, but it is a tabletop experience that I’m super excited about.  Part puzzle hunt, part “escape room in a box”, part mystery, The Wilson Wolfe Affair is a giant box of memorabilia from a fictional 1920’s cartoon series that you must search through to solve an underlying mystery about messages hidden in the cartoons.  I love escape room games like Exit and Unlock!, but a lot of them lack the physicality you would get in a real escape room experience.  Wilson Wolfe has you digging through articles, books, photos, toys, and other memorabilia looking for clues and solving puzzles.  Everything looks gorgeous.  Promising 50-75 hours of gameplay at the full platinum level, this game is going to keep me busy through 2019 most likely!

The designer/publisher has finally gotten all components for the games, and is preparing to package all the copies of the game up and ship them out to backers.  It’s a lengthy process, but he hopes to have them shipped out in October.

 

#2 – GEN7: A CROSSROADS GAME
Designed by Steve Nix
Published by Plaid Hat Games
Release Date: December 2018

Gen7 is the long-awaited followup to Dead of Winter in Plaid Hat’s series of Crossroad games.  Rather than fighting off the zombie apocalypse and potential traitors in the frozen north, Gen7 is set on a interstellar colony ship in the far distant future.  Players take on the roles of officers in the seventh generation of a 13-generation journey to a new star system.  A mystery has emerged that threatens the entire mission, and the fate of humanity rests on the choices you make.  The game is played across a 7-episode campaign with a wildly branching narrative.  New elements will be unlocked as the game progresses, but can be entirely reset and played again.  The game uses the Crossroad card system where certain actions taken by players in the game will trigger story events that will require the player or group to make difficult choices.  Unlike Dead of Winter, the game is fully cooperative and has no hidden traitors, but players are given incentives to be greedy by completing personal objectives to gain merit points.

Plaid Hat’s website switched its status to “On the Boat” last week, so it should be available sometime in December by my estimates.

 

# 1 – BETRAYAL LEGACY
Designed by Rob Daviau
Published by Avalon Hill
Release Date: November 9, 2018

Betrayal Legacy is the much-anticipated legacy adaptation of Betrayal at House on the Hill, designed by Rob Daviau.  Betrayal Legacy plays across a 14-chapter campaign starting in 1666 and ending in 2004 (when Betrayal at House on the Hill was released).  The game comes with 50+ haunts, but in a particular chapter you will only encounter one from a subset of haunts specific to the time period of that chapter (ie, you might see a Frankenstein-inspired haunt in the time period when Mary Shelley was alive).  At the end of your campaign you will have a customized and fully-replayable copy of Betrayal, with a number of scenarios that can only be played post-campaign.

Besides being a legacy version of the game, it feels like Rob and JR took this as an opportunity to also improve some user experience elements of the game.  Clearer and better laid out rules and scenario descriptions, common terminology between scenarios, etc.

I have a group of co-workers ready to play through this campaign with me, and I am super-excited to get started on it.  The game hits retail on November 9th, so not that much longer of a wait!

News: September 2018 Edition

September, that month between Gen Con and Essen where we are so overwhelmed with all our new games to play that we have little time to hear about the news.  Thankfully, you have me!


REVIEWS (OR RATHER, REVIEW)

Still working on being more frequent with reviews, but it was a busy month for both work and games!  I did get one review done:

Duct Tape Won’t Fix It: A MacGyver The Escape Room Game Review (4 out of 10)


NEW GAME RELEASES

Not a lot of new releases this month, as most big titles either already came out at Gen Con in August, or are coming out in October at Essen SPIEL.  But there are a couple to report on.

Ultimate Werewolf Legacy
Designed by Ted Alspach and Rob Daviau
Published by Bezier Games
Players: 9-16
MSRP: $59.95

Ultimate Werewolf Legacy hit retail in early September after a couple hundred copies were sold early at Gen Con.  Ultimate Werewolf Legacy is, as the title suggests, a legacy version of the classic social deduction game Werewolf, co-designed by Ted Alspach and Rob Daviau.  Players take on the roles of villagers in a New England village in the late 17th century that is plagued by werewolves.  Over the course of the 16-game campaign, aspects of the game will change based on the win-loss ratio of villagers from chapter to chapter, as well as story decisions that villagers must vote on.  Due to the high player count, I don’t think I will ever get it played, but I did buy a copy and read through the diary to see how the campaign plays out and evolves.  I may do spoiler-free writeup of that in the future.

Fallout: Wasteland Warfare
Designed by James Sheahan
Published by Modiphius Entertainment
Players: 1-8
MSRP: $79.99

The core set and several expansions for Modiphius’s Fallout tabletop miniatures game finally hit retail in late September.  The game can be played competitively or solo/co-op against an AI opponent, and can be played in a campaign mode where you build up a settlement from game to game.  The base game comes with a scenario book including 5 scenarios that link together, but it feels like for the most part its up to the players to build out their own campaigns and storylines.

Folklore: The Affliction 2nd Edition
Designed by Will Donovan and Nick Blain
Published by Greenbrier Games
Players: 1-5
MSRP: $69.95

The second edition of Greenbrier’s Folklore: The Affliction was shipped out to Kickstarter backers this month (along with the second edition of the Dark Tales expansion), and should hit retail soon.  Folklore is an DM-less “RPG in a box” boardgame in a gothic horror setting.  Players take on the roles of flawed anti-heroes and villagers trying to stop the supernatural afflictions plaguing the land.  The game is a hybrid of a pen-and-paper RPG game where you read through a story making choices and skill checks, and a tactical skirmish game for resolving fights in the story.  The game comes with 6 stories that players can make choices in how it plays out, and characters can be leveled up and carried from story to story.


 

CLOUDSPIRE FIRST DETAILS RELEASED BY CHIP THEORY GAMES

Chip Theory Games have been teasing their next game, Cloudspire, for months (including sending all Too Many Bones: Undertow backers with a promo chip with the Kickstarter launch date on it).  But up until very recently, little-to-nothing was known about the game aside from that it was going to be their take on tower defense games.  Chip Theory finally gave us a little more of a peak behind the curtain this month in their blog.

Cloudspire is inspired heavily by tower defense video games, and can be played competitively, cooperatively, or solo.  The game takes place in the floating realm of Ankar, featuring four unique factions that will have some degree of asymmetry among them.  The solo mode will feature a narrative campaign broken into episodes that follow each of the factions, telling the story from multiple viewpoints.

Cloudspire will be coming to Kickstarter soon on October 16.  Pricing details have not been announced yet, but they say this game is similar to Too Many Bones in its scope and depth, so it will probably be just as pricey.


 

ASSASSIN’S CREED: BROTHERHOOD OF VENICE SNEAKING ONTO KICKSTARTER NOVEMBER 2018

Triton Noir is re-envisioning their stealth WW2 co-op V-Commandos in the Assassin’s Creed universe.  Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood of Venice is a simplified and streamlined adaptation of V-Commando’s stealth mechanics, focusing more on short range and melee combat.  The game will feature a narrative campaign of 20 branching scenarios, including sealed envelopes that players will unlock over the campaign containing new content (not a legacy game, everything can be reset).  Between scenarios, players can upgrade their equipment and headquarters.  As inferred by the name of the game, this takes place roughly during the events of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and it is teased that Ezio will make an appearance in the story.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood of Venice will launch on Kickstarter in November 2018.

Duct Tape Won’t Fix It: A MacGyver The Escape Room Game Review

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game

Designers: Nicholas Cravotta and Rebecca Blaeu
Publishers: 
Pressman Toy Corp
Players:
 1-4 (theoretically can be played with any size group)
Playing Time:
30-60 minutes
Campaign Mode:
5 missions, not replayable once you know the puzzle solutions, components permanently modified
MSRP: $29.99
Logged Plays:
5 games solo, all scenarios completed
Copy Purchased By Reviewer


 

NOT SURE IF THEY WERE INTENTIONALLY TRYING TO MAKE IT LOOK LIKE A GAME FROM THE 80’S/90’S, BUT THEY NAILED IT.

I’m a huge fan of “escape room in a box” style games, and I have played pretty much every one that has been released to date.  When I heard that there was a Target-exclusive MacGyver-themed escape room game, I was morbidly curious.  Mass-market games based on IPs usually aren’t great.  Furthermore, it was designed by the same duo that made ThinkFun’s two “Escape the Room” games, which I wasn’t a fan of.  But my curiosity got the best of me and I bought it upon reading that the game came with five separate missions that had to be played in order, leading up to a grande finale against Murdoc.  A campaign escape room game?  I gotta try that out!

“Campaign” is overselling what the game offers (note: the game does not advertise itself as a campaign game).  Each of the five missions must be played in order because some components unlocked in earlier missions are reused in later missions.  There is no overarching storyline that carries through the five missions, it felt more like just five random episodes of the series.  In fact, the first mission is based on the pilot episode of the series, I’m not sure if any of the other missions are based on actual episodes or not.  Aside from a few physical props carrying over from game to game, nothing about your performance in previous games will affect future games.

EACH MISSION COMES IN A SEALED ENVELOPE, WHICH IN TURN CONTAINS SMALLER SEALED ENVELOPES.

Each mission consists of six puzzles that you must complete in a fixed order.  I found for the most part the puzzles weren’t that challenging to solve.  The majority of them were actual puzzles where you had to arrange some tiles in a certain arrangement, and required little thought aside from just moving pieces around until you reached the solution.  Some were a little trickier, some were a bit obtuse even with the hint system, but none of them ever made me say to myself “that was really clever” like other escape room games and actual escape room games have me do.  Even worse, none of the puzzle felt like stuff MacGyver would do to solve problems.  Instead of combining items together to make gadgets to solve problems like MacGyver would, you’re just trying to solve codes to enter into an a webform.  I admittedly am not a die-hard MacGyver junkie, so I can’t speak for how frequently MacGyver spent solving codes on the show, but it feels like he’s much more iconic for his DIY skills, and the fact that the game failed to capture that essence of the character and the show in the game is a huge misstep.

I should point out that the game requires an internet connection to use a website that serves as your game timer, hint system, and how you enter answers to the puzzles.  The website will also instruct you on what envelopes to unseal as you progress through a mission.  I’ve played a couple escape room games now that use apps and websites for similar purposes, so I had no issues with it, but just something to keep in mind if you’re looking for a purely analog experience or won’t have an internet connection.

I should also point out that in the envelope for the first mission, you are provided with a small mirror.  This mirror has a protective film cover on it that you need to peel off, I didn’t realize this until the final mission of the game and struggled using an incredibly cloudy mirror to try to solve puzzles with.  While I don’t think this knowledge would have noticeably improved my overall impressions of the game, it would have at least made solving a couple of the puzzles a little more bearable.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Unless you are a die-hard escape room junkie or an even bigger MacGyver fan, I recommend passing on this.  There are dozens of far better escape room tabletop games out there to try out.  If you want to combine items together to solve problems ala an old school adventure game, try checking out the Unlock! series.  If you want more a collection of challenging and interesting puzzles to solve, check out the EXIT series.  They are both fantastic and even the most mediocre entry in those series is better than any of the missions contained in the MacGyver box.


REVIEW SCORE: 4 out of 10 (Below Average)

icons8-plus-24 PROS

  • Five escape room scenarios for $30 is a decent value

icons8-minus-26 CONS

  • Scenarios are short, typically only take 30 minutes to solve even solo
  • Puzzle quality is weak
  • Puzzles don’t feel like things MacGyver would do
  • Disappointing grand finale

 

News: August 2018 Edition

Gen Con feels so long ago, but it was actually less than a month ago.  Sad, I know, but that means we have a lot of great games to play, and even more to get excited for in the future!


REVIEWS

This was the first month I started putting out reviews, be sure to check them out if you haven’t already!

Stacey and the Mystery at the Spooky Cabin – A Spy Club Review (8 out of 10)

A Demonic Magical Cat and His BFF Fight a Dinosaur Witch God –  A Grimslingers Review (8 out of 10)


NEW GAME RELEASES

Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame
Designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek, Przemysław Rymer, and Jakub Łapot
Published by Portal Games
Players: 1-5
MSRP: $50.00

Detective: A Modern Crime Boardgame was the big Gen Con 2018 release from Portal Games, and hit retail shortly after.  Detective is a cooperative mystery-solving game that requires players using the internet to research and solve aspects of the crimes.  The game comes with five cases that are played in order to form a larger story.  Initial buzz has been really positive, and I’m looking forward to trying this out myself.

The Rise of Queensdale
Designed by Inka Brand and Markus Brand
Published by Ravensburger and alea
Players: 2-4
MSRP: $80.00

The Rise of Queensdale is a Euro-style dice placement legacy game from Inka and Markus Brand.  The game has been out in Germany since March, the English edition came out at Gen Con and is available in retail now.  The legacy game is played across nine epochs, with each next epoch unlocking the first time a player has won 1, 2, 3, etc games.  The campaign ends when a player has won 9 games, so a 4-player campaign could last as many as 33 games!  Initial reviews have said games last about an hour and that the core gameplay is solid.  It also comes with a tiny plunger!

Scythe: The Rise of Fenris
Designed by Ryan Lopez Vinaspre and Jamey Stegmaier
Published by Stonemaier Games
Players: 1-7
MSRP: $55.00

The final and largest expansion to Scythe, The Rise of Fenris, features 11 modules that can be added to Scythe, similar to what Tuscany did for Viticulture.  Most importantly, the expansion also comes with an 8-episode narrative campaign that lets players unlock most of the modules over the course of the story and campaign.  Some of the content comes in sealed boxes, but there is no permanent changes to components and the entire campaign can be replayed infinitely.   The campaign includes an automa variant to support solo play.  One of the modules not used in the campaign is a fully cooperative variant of Scythe.

Too Many Bones: Undertow
Designed by Adam Carlson and Josh J. Carlson
Published by Chip Theory Games
Players: 1-2
MSRP: $84.95

Too Many Bones: Undertow is a standalone expansion for Too Many Bones, the “dice-builder RPG” from Chip Theory Games.  Undertow comes with a 3-game campaign mode that lets you build up your characters from game to game with campaign-specific rewards.  The game comes with 2 new gearlocs, which you can use in the base game or bring in gearlocs from the base game or expansions to play with up to 4 players.  Kickstarter backers are getting their copies now, and limited quantities are available for sale on Chip Theory Games’ webstore.

Too Many Bones: Age of Tyranny
Designed by Adam Carlson and Josh J. Carlson
Published by Chip Theory Games
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $24.95

Age of Tyranny is an expansion for the original Too Many Bones that links the 7 tyrants together into a campaign.  The campaign plays different from Undertow’s, you can fight the tyrants in any order you want, and characters can gain scars that carry over from game to game.  Kickstarter backers are getting their copies now, and limited quanities are available for sale on Chip Theory Games’ webstore.

Street Masters Kickstarter Bundle
Designed by Adam Sadler and Brady Sadler
Published by Blacklist Games
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $109.00

Blacklist Games has opened up their webstore with a limited quantity of Street Masters Kickstarter bundles from their 2017 Kickstarter campaign, and are selling them at the same price as the original Kickstarter pledge level.  The bundle comes with the core game, Legend of Oni Kickstarter-exclusive expansion, and all Kickstarter-exclusive stretch goals.  It’s unknown if the upcoming October 2018 Kickstarter for the Street Masters: Aftershock expansion will have these available or not.  Their online store has other expansion content available for sale as well.

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game
Designed by Nicholas Cravotta and Rebecca Blaeu
Published by Pressman Toy Corp
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $29.99

MacGyver: The Escape Room Game is part of Target’s exclusive line of board games, and came out around Gen Con.  It’s a series of five “escape room in a box” scenarios inspired by 1980’s MacGyver episodes.  Scenarios are played in a specific order, as some tools unlocked in earlier scenarios are saved and reused in future scenarios.

Kingdom Death: Monster – Echoes of Death
Designed by Adam Poots
Published by Kingdom Death
Players: 1-6
MSRP: $60.00

Kingdom Death had a surprise mini-expansion release at Gen Con, Echoes of Death, which introduced four new challenge milestones that players can attempt to achieve in their campaigns.  Achieving each of these milestones permanently adds a new fighting art to your game’s fighting arts deck for that campaign and all future campaigns.  Poots is calling this new system the “strain system”, and hinted we may see more of this in future expansions.  2400 additional copies of Echoes of Death went on sale on Kingdom Death’s webstore later in August and sold out within an hour and a half.


Root: Riverfolk Expansion
Designed by Cole Wehrle
Published by Leder Games
Players: 1-6
MSRP: $40.00

I would be remiss not to mention the hotness of Gen Con 2018, Root by Cole Wehrle and Leder Games.  The Riverfolk Expansion adds an AI opponent that players can play against in a solo, cooperative, and competitive mode.  In solo/coop mode, there is also a campaign mode where the AI opponent gets gradually more difficult every time you win.  It’s admittedly about as lazy of a campaign mode that you can tack onto a game, but Root is an amazing game, and this might just be a reason to get you to revisit this game multiple times.  Kickstarter backers have received their copies of Root and The Riverfolk Expansion, the base game of Root is currently for sale on Leder Games’ webstore, but The Riverfolk Expansion is sold out.


 

NEW GAME ANNOUNCEMENTS

 

Machi Koro Legacy
Designed by Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt, and Masao Suganuma
Published by Pandasaurus Games and IDW

Remember last month how I mentioned that Rob and JR were working on another legacy game?  They announced at the Dice Tower Live event at Gen Con that it is Machi Koro Legacy, being published by Pandasaurus with a Spring 2019 release.  The game is a 10-game legacy campaign that at the end of you will have a unique copy of Machi Koro that you can keep playing after the campaign is over.  People were a little cynical online about its announcement, but Rob said that he only took this project up because he had a good idea for it.   Rob mentions in an interview with Jason Levine that the storyline to Machi Koro Legacy is inspired by Japanese fairy tales and folklore, and is going to be cute, whimsical, and approachable for families to play.

Bloodborne: The Board Game
Designed by Michael Shinall and Eric Lang
Published by CMON Limited

Also announced at the Dice Tower Live was Bloodborne: The Board Game by Michael Sninall and Eric Lang.  This is a separate game from the card game also published at CMON, and aimed towards a more “hardcore” audience.  The game is a “really really hard” cooperative campaign game.  Players are trying to hunt down the final boss, and must defeat other boss monsters along the way to gain insight of who/what the final boss is.  Players will get to join one of the 6 covenants that will each have their own storylines, so the campaign can be replayed multiple times without getting stale.  A campaign consists of up to 5 games (4 “dungeons” and the final boss fight), with each game lasting around 60-90 minutes.  Bloodborne: The Board Game will go on Kickstarter in Q2/Q3 2019.

Discover: Lands Unknown
Designed by Corey Konieczka
Published by Fantasy Flight Games

Fantasy Flight was teasing Discover: Lands Unknown previous to Gen Con, but it wasn’t until over a week after Gen Con that they officially announced it.  Discover is a solo/cooperative survival and exploration game in which over the course of several scenarios are trying to survive and eventually be rescued.  Discover: Lands Unknown is the second in their line of Unique games (Keyforge, announced at Gen Con, being the first).  Each copy of Discover is unique from every other copy, your copy will have a unique combination of environments, characters, storylines, items, and enemies, making ever group’s experience unique.  I’m always a sucker for procedurally-generated stuff, so this is on my wishlist for sure. Discover: Lands Unknown will release in Q4 2018 witCheck out the announcement trailer here.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage
Designed by Babis Giannios
Published by Nice Game Publishing and White Wolf Games

Another legacy announced this month was Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage, a light card game based in the RPG of the same name.  The campaign starts in the 1300’s and ends in the 1990’s, with players taking on the role of ancient vampires trying to shape and influence historic events.  Players will be able to recruit vampires into their clan, and turn mortals to vampires.  All cards in the game come pre-sleeved (presumably with opaque backs), and you won’t know how a mortal will turn until you take the card out of the sleeve and flip it over to its vampire side. The game touts that it is quick-playing, 20-40 minutes, and supports 2-4 playes.  Heritage will be demoed at Essen 2018, crowdfunded in early 2019, and released at Essen 2019.

Outlaws in a Strange Land
Designed by Stephen Gibson

Stephen is going to be publishing a new game in the Grimslingers universe called Outlaws in a Strange Land.  Stephen has said this is a prequel of sorts to Grimslingers, and is a narrative-driven solo/cooperative adventure card game with deep character progression for 1-4 players.  The game uses a companion app.  At the moment the game will be independently published by Stephen, not Greenbrier Games.  Look at that art!

Defenders of the Realm 2nd Edition
Designed by Richard Launius
Published by Eagle Gryphon Games

Eagle Gryphon Games are creating a second edition of Defenders of the Realm.  Richard Launius is adding a number of new elements to the 2010 game, including a campaign/story mode.  EGG has slyly hinted there may be a legacy expansion as well.  Defenders of the Realm 2nd Edition will launch on Kickstarter in early 2019, no release date estimate given yet.


 

BURGLE BROS LEGACY?

In an AMA thread on /r/boardgames, designer Tim Fowers confirmed that Burgle Bros Legacy is still something he is exploring: “We have put a lot of work into it, but no official announcement yet. I want to make it something special, so I’ve been workshopping a lot of ideas and trying to pare it down.”


FEEDBACK NEEDED FOR SEAL TEAM FLIX EXPANSION

SEAL Team Flix designers Mark Thomas and Pete Ruth are already starting to work on a sequel expansion, and are looking for feedback from players that have played the base game at least three times.  Be sure to let them know what you think if you’ve played it!

 

 

A Demonic Magical Cat and His Robot BFF Fight a Dinosaur Witch God in the Weird West – A Grimslingers “Tall Tale” Review

Grimslingers (3rd Edition)

Designer: Stephen Gibson
Publisher: 
Greenbrier Games
Players:
 1-4
Playing Time:
60 Minutes
Campaign Mode:
4 chapters, linear narrative, replayable with no permanent modifications
MSRP: $29.95
Logged Plays:
4 games solo, full campaign completed
Copy Purchased By Reviewer


I remember in 2016 going through BoardGameGeek’s Gen Con 2016 preview list looking for hidden gems that might debut there, and one game on the list in particular stood out to me because of its box art.  On the box cover there was a dinosaur with horns, a cute lil’ robot, a cowboy with glowing eyes, some reptile(?) thing with a gun, and a bigger scarier robot.  No, I’m not talking about Smash Up!, I’m talking about Grimslingers by Stephen Gibson and Greenbrier Games.

Dat box.

Grimslingers is effectively two games in one box.  The first game mode, Versus mode, is a 2-6 player competitive card dueling game that can be played 1 vs 1, team vs team, or in a multiplayer free-for-all brawl.   The second mode, Tall Tale mode, is a 1-4 player co-operative narrative campaign-based adventure game.  This review is about the Tall Tale mode specifically (3rd Edition, even more specifically), but the game’s origins is in its Versus mode, so let’s talk about that a bit first.


HIGH MOON AND THE ORIGINS OF GRIMSLINGERS

Grimslingers initially started development as a competitive elemental dueling mobile game called “High Moon,” later renamed to “Grimslingers” to avoid potential trademark issues with a web comic of the same name.  The game had a pixel-art style to it similar to Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, but shared a lot of thematic and mechanical elements of what eventually became Grimslingers:

Designer and artist Stephen Gibson eventually moved High Moon to the tabletop space after having issues keeping programmers staffed on the mobile game.  His eventual goal was to use the profits from the tabletop card game to further fund the mobile game’s development.  When the Grimslingers Kickstarter launched in 2015, the competitive Versus mode was initially the only mode offered.  I won’t go into too much detail about how this mode plays, you can download the rulebook here, but to briefly summarize, each player simultaneously picks and reveals a card from their hand and then resolves the cards in a rock-paper-scissors fashion.  Rounds continue until all but one player/team is left standing.

20180821_135212

A sampling of the game’s gorgeous card artwork.

The cooperative Tall Tale mode was added later in the Kickstarter campaign as an optional add-on stretch goal.  Whereas Versus mode was already designed and developed before the game even went to Kickstarter, Tall Tale mode was just an idea Stephen had at the time of its announcement.  When Greenbrier Games eventually picked up the publishing rights for Grimslingers a couple of months after the Kickstarter wrapped, they gave Stephen the time to flesh out the Tall Tales mode more, and ultimately chose to package it in the core game.

Of the 7 written reviews on BGG (not counting this one), 5 of them are exclusively focused on the Tall Tale mode, and one only briefly mentions Versus mode in passing. Some of the video reviews cover both Versus and Tall Tale mode, but the general consensus from people seems to be that Tall Tale is the better and preferred mode of the two.  Grimslingers may have started as a competitive dueling mobile game, but it found its voice and its audience as a coop/solo tabletop adventure game.


TALL TALE MODE

Grimslingers’ Tall Tale mode can loosely be described as a “weird west” campaign-based cooperative adventure card game.  Players take on the role of Grimslingers, magic-wielding cowboys conscripted by Icarus the Iron Witch.  The campaign takes players (along with their snarky robotic anima sidekicks) through a 4-chapter story in The Valley of Death on a mission of hunting down and killing Icarus’s boss, The Witch King (correction from the designer: The Witch King is not his boss, he’s just a self-proclaimed “king” that thinks he’s the boss).  The world that Stephen has built around this game, The Forgotten West, is an interesting mix of western, magic, sci-fi, and fantasy tropes.  It’s a world where cowboys, bandits, robots, goblins, minotaurs, talking llamas, chupacabras, witches, and vampires co-exist, and it works.  Weird West is a genre that you surprisingly don’t see a lot of in boardgaming, so despite being a strange mish-mash of all sorts of genres, it feels fresh and unique.

Each chapter consists of a series of narrative entries with corresponding objectives that players must complete in order to advance the story and finish the chapter.  Objectives may have you traveling to locations on the map, collecting items, fighting monsters, etc.  The Valley of Death is represented in the game as a small node-based map that players move together as a group around with a single red meeple.  Attack nodes on the map require players to duel an AI opponent similar to how duels work in Versus mode, and reward players with character level-ups and items.  Event nodes have players resolving random events from a deck of event cards.  Landmark nodes give players location specific actions players can take, such as trading with shopkeepers or gambling at the saloon.  Despite being a small piece of cardstock you are pushing a little meeple around, it feels like an open world adventure game that you are free to explore at your leisure.  Between objectives, players are free to mosey about the valley, there is no in-game mechanism or timer forcing players to progress in the story, which is not something you typically see in a cooperative board game.  I found that individual chapters took me around an hour to play solo.

GBG-Product-Images_Grimslingers_3x3in_FINAL7

Example setup of a solo Tall Tale game.

The brisk playtime I had could be due to the fact that I avoiding traveling to attack nodes where at all possible, as I wasn’t a huge fan of the combat system.  Duels lengthened game sessions, they were more dangerous, and weren’t very satisfying to play through.  Across my entire 4-chapter campaign, I only dueled 8 times, most of which were mandatory fights to progress the story.  The combat in Tall Tale mode is similar to Versus mode in that you pick a card every round to play, but the AI plays instead with a custom deck of generic and creature-specific AI cards (6 normal creatures and 1 boss creature come in the game).  Creature AI cards don’t deal with the elemental rock-paper-scissors mechanics that PvP duels do, so for the most part it felt like I was just playing basic spell cards to do a couple points of damage per turn without any real insight into what the AI was going to do.  As you progress through the game and level up, you gain access to advanced spells and items that open up your options a bit, but not by much.

I should also point out that the game is already on its 3rd Edition of its rulebook.  Stephen and Greenbrier have continued to tweak and simplify the rules (as well as fix typos) in the rulebook between print runs over the past 2 years based on player feedback, going as far as stripping out entire sub-systems of the game that players found clunky.  Even in it’s 3rd printing, the rules are a little difficult to parse.  Each different node type on the map is resolved differently and has rules for what you can/can’t do at it.  Duels require learning a whole separate set of rules for combat, and have you flipping back to the Versus rules section for some things.  Player aids for this game would have been a huge help (it is my understanding that these are provided in first big-box expansion, The Northern Territory).

20180821_135647

Creatures, grimslingers, and anima.

Besides doing the art and design of the game, Stephen also wrote the story that goes along with the campaign.  The story is well-written, even humorous at times (sadly something I can’t say about a lot of narrative games on the market).  The characters you meet and places you visit are memorable and evocative of a much bigger and fantastic world that they inhabit.  Rather than spell everything out for you, Stephen’s writing and artwork sets the stage for your imagination to fill in (or question about) this strange world.  The story is linear, which Stephen has said was an intentional choice on his part to tell the story he wanted to tell.  There is only one moment in the entire campaign where players are given a story choice, and it’s a very minor choice at that.

20180821_135806

Examples of some archetypes you can play as.

Character progression in the campaign is pretty linear as well.  At the start of a campaign you will choose one of several archetypes for your character: vampyre, daemon, witchborn, etc.  This will give you a character-specific combat ability as well as your max health/energy values.  As you defeat creatures and complete story objectives, your character will level up, but rewards you get for leveling up are baked into the advancement track, you don’t get a lot of room for character customization over the campaign.  You are able to gain advanced spells as you level up, but a lot of them felt designed for and better suited for Versus mode.  While the campaign is replayable, you could potentially explore playing as different archetypes or taking different routes around the map to get to objectives, this feels like something you would play through once to experience the story and not revisit.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Despite the small package and relatively short campaign that it comes with, Grimslingers’ Forgotten West is actually one of the most interesting, beautiful, and fully-realized worlds that I’ve experienced in a boardgame space.  Fans of weird west fiction and/or gamers looking for a campaign with a unique settings should check this game out.   You can get this game for less than $25 online and a full campaign only lasts 4 hour-long games, so it’s not a huge investment of either your time or money to check out.  Who knows, maybe you’ll even get some mileage out of it as a PvP game as well if you find yourself enjoying the combat mechanics.

I have bought The Northern Territory expansion and look forward to exploring all that has to offer, be sure to come back and check out my review for that in the future!


REVIEW SCORE: 8 out of 10 (Great)

icons8-plus-24 PROS

  • Top-notch world-building, art, and writing, all by the same person!
  • Seriously, I want more games in this universe, Greenbrier
  • “Open world” feel in a small package
  • Games are quick to setup, play, and tear down

icons8-minus-26 CONS

  • AI opponents a little too random and lack of basic spell card diversity limits interesting decisions to be made during duels
  • Rules are a little difficult to parse, even with 3rd Edition rulebook
  • Linear story limits replay value a bit
  • Card stock is difficult to shuffle