This is Part 2 in my series of posts about all the news and updates coming out of Gen Con for Kingdom: Death Monster. You can read Part 1 here where I speculate when we might realistically expect Wave 3 with the delay.
Adam has said that with the Strain System, he is now able to work on smaller pieces of content for the game that still can have a meaningful impact. Kingdom Death had two strain-related Gen Con releases this year, which will be available on the store likely any day (minute?) now. The first is Echoes of Death 2, a followup to last year’s Echoes of Death 1. It introduces an additional 4 strain milestones and unlockable fighting arts, similar to the first EoD. Adam did make a slight rules tweak to strain fighting arts, you can now only have a maximum of 5 in your fighting arts deck at a time to avoid your game getting bloated with crazy strain fighting arts (you do get to choose which ones to keep in).
Some of the new minis, strain milestones, and fighting arts in Echoes of Death 2
The even bigger news was he released a new monster, the White Gigalion. Adam had teased an early version of the sculpt for this monster at the end of the video in the Black Friday update, started production on it in January, and managed to have it ready in time for Gen Con. This is the first new monster to be released for Kingdom Death since the 1.5 release of Gold Smoke Knight (almost 2 years!), and it is the first in what will presumably be a series of “Vignettes of Death” promo monsters sold on the store and/or Gen Con. It is a standalone showdown that comes with 4 survivors (along with gear grids and stat cards) that you can play outside of a full campaign, making feasible to demo and play this at a game night with friends without the 30-lantern year commitment.
Remember this tease from Black Friday?
THE VIGNETTE SHOWDOWN
The White Gigalion is a variant of the White Lion that uses the White Lion’s AI and HL decks, but has a few slight tweaks. The sculpt is on a 100mm base, so it takes up more space on the board. It has two new trait cards make its Grab a little more deadly (it grabs all adjacent survivors with a 20% chance of a bleed effect), and it always runs away from survivors at the end of its turn making it tricky to catch up to and attack. It’s life, damage, toughness, etc are the same as the Level 2 White Lion, but has +1 additional movement, probably to compensate for the larger base. It has one additional hit location with a nasty reflex, has a beefed up variant of Sniff if it can’t find a valid target, and always starts the showdown by playing Smart Cat (meaning that you will likely have 2 moods in play from Turn 1).
New traits and hit location
It plays like a White Lion mixed with a Screaming Antelope. It’s going to behave more-the-less exactly like a Level 2 White Lion would, except that at the end of a turn it will grab all adjacent survivors, and will run away from remaining threats regardless of whether or not it grabbed somebody. I went back and forth on whether or not the White Gigalion would run away if it grabs nobody, but the Vicious trait card as written doesn’t have an “if adjacent to at least one survivor” qualifier like Cunning does, and also Rule of Death (NOTE: I was merely invocating “Rule of Death” in my phrasing here to keep my summary brief, but there may have been some confusion that I was using Rule of Death in the incorrect context. To be clear, the rules as written for Gigalion would dictate it always moves, no ambiguity that would necessitate a Rule of Death ruling mid-play). If you find chasing a Screaming Antelope around the board annoying, you are going to hate this fight. Starting the showdown with 2+ moods right off the bad can be nasty, especially if Enraged is one of them, but you can also luck out and just get a single mood, or incredibly lucky and no moods at all.
White Gigalion having a Gadrock for lunch.
The four survivors that you use in the vignette showdown are pretty well-geared for the fight. They come from a settlement known as Deadrock, which two narrative sculpts in Gambler’s Chest also come from, so I presume this is Adam’s personal/pet settlement name. All the survivors have rock-themed names, and one of them even has a lovelorn rock. Gadrock has a full White Lion armor set with bone knuckles and Gorn, works well as a support class for this fight but can pounce in himself and do some decent damage. Hungry Basalt has a full Gorm set, a shield, and an axe, so can take on the roll of a tank or can do reliable damage. Breccia has a full leather set and whip, so she can be used to try to remove moods. She also has slotted monster grease, so can potentially evade tank in the tall grass. The Rock Knight, my favorite of the group, doesn’t have a complete armor set, but is wearing entirely bone gear plus the Bone Earrings, so she starts the showdown with +2 speed and +2 strength! She also has bone darts, and she is clutch for sniping the kitty when he gets far away (hopping on top of the Stone Face will give her additional accuracy and range). Note that for Hungry Basalt, while you don’t need to own the Gorm expansion to play this, you will at least need to know that the Gorm armor set bonus is that if he is to take two or more severe injuries in a single attack, he only takes one.
Rock Knight’s pre-printed gear grid sheet
I’m no expert on fighting the White Gigalion, I’ve only done the fight a couple times and lost most, but my suggestion in this fight at least is to save your survival for dashes to catch up with the White Gigalion and attack it. This means that you will need to just take hits and grabs if it’s not going to cause a severe injury to the head or bleed you out. If you are lucky, you might be able to burn it down in 3 turns before you likely run out of survival and have to get more creative with catching up to it. Using Gadrock as a support role to boost Basalt and Rock Knight’s damage may be a better use of his survival than having him chase after the lion as well. If things start going south after a round or two, just reset it and try again. I won’t judge. Unless of course you are playing it in the campaign.
STRAIN MILESTONE AND CAMPAIGN INTEGRATION
The White Gigalion comes with a strain milestone that if you defeat it in the vignette showdown, you add the White Gigalion to all campaigns that have the White Lion in it going forward. I won’t spoil the flavor text, but it explains why this is the case. It doesn’t fully replace the White Lion, you can still choose to fight the White Lion in most cases (and there is no Level 1 White Gigalion, only Levels 2 and 3), but the Dead Antelope event will always trigger a White Gigalion going forward.
So why bother choosing to fight a White Gigalion? For the gear of course! Aside from dropping a few more resources, White Gigalions drop a Hooked Claw strange resource that lets you craft a couple additional gear pieces, all of which are pretty awesome:
Hooked Claw Knife – When your wound causes the monster to react by moving, it causes an additional wound. You will tear lions and antelopes to shreds with this.
Lion Slayer Cape – Reduces all damage suffered by 1 (to a minimum of 1) if wearing fur armor
Oxidized Beast Katar – Deadly paired katars that get +4 on a perfect hit (with a base 5 strength)
Dense Bone Arrows – You never run out of these arrows, and they are sharp!
Some pretty cool builds you could make with all this gear, and in my opinion make the White Gigalion very much worthwhile going after, as long as you have Dash!
VIGNETTES AND VARIANT MONSTERS GOING FORWARD
Vignettes of Death will likely be a big hit on the store, probably sell out its initial print run quickly, and will probably be an on-going series he releases at future Gen Cons. In the update, he teased that the next vignette will be the Nukealope, a Screaming Antelope that ate a Nuclear Scythe (and likely the Gen Con 2020 release).
I’ll go over this in more detail when I talk about Campaigns of Death (which probably will be my next post), but it sounds like variant monsters like this will be more common as part of the Strain system. Adam is very much interested (obsessed?) with the ecology of the Kingdom Death world, and the Strain system is the representation/manifestation of survivor’s actions having a direct impact on that ecology. As a result, expect to see a number of mutations/strains of existing monsters, some of which might just be introducing new trait cards, while others may introduce new models/sculpts like this one, or even entirely new campaign story arcs (once again, more on that to come in the Campaigns of Death post).
I’m not terribly worried about vignette and/or variant monsters becoming an easy cash-grab for Kingdom Death. They’ve already proven they have tons of original monster ideas in the works, and so far these variant monsters have been in addition to what was initially promised in the Kickstarter. Now that Kingdom Death is capable of releasing a monster on their store without going through Kickstarter, this does raise a question about whether or not Adam will return to the Kickstarter model on future endeavors, which I will also discuss further in a later post about the future of Kingdom Death after Wave 4.
SO IS IT WORTH THE $75?
If you’re new to Kingdom Death and are looking to pick up expansions, this would not be at the top of my list of expansions to get. In terms of plastic, this expansion seems on par with what you would get in a single-monster expansion at a similar price, but the it lacks the amount of content that the existing monster expansions have. I would suggest getting Gorm, Flower Knight, Dung Beetle Knight, Sunstalker, Dragon King, and Spidicules first before getting White Gigalion, as all of those expansions will give you new quarry monsters with brand new AI and HL decks, new Fighting Arts, Disorders, Terrain, and tons of new gear to craft. Once you start getting into the nemesis and special monsters (Lion Knight, Manhunter, Slenderman, Lion God, Lonely Tree), it gets a little more debatable which to get first, as those expansions will provide you fresher experiences and more content overall, but you will probably get more mileage out of having the White Gigalion as a quarry monster. Depending on what changes to some of these monsters come in Campaigns of Death, I might even push some of those ahead of White Gigalion when we have Wave 3.
For people that already own the existing content and want something new, I recommend picking this up. But maybe wait until it goes on sale at Black Friday.
We did it, guys. We survived 8 months without a Kingdom Death update! There’s a lot to unpack from the big Gen Con update, comments he made on Kickstarter, and interviews he gave on the show floor. Initially I was going to write up a big mega-post myself, but as it got longer and longer I took a cue from Adam and will be breaking it down into smaller bite-sized chunks/posts. Over the next week or two, I plan (hope?) to write posts about:
Wave 3’s status, expected delivery timeline, and Poots’ communication going forward (that’s this post)
A mini-review on Vignettes of Death: White Gigalion
The Gambler’s Chest Expansion – People of the Dream Feeder, new monsters, Philosophies of Death theorycrafting
Campaigns of Death – Overview and speculation on the five campaigns announced, new monsters, and potential other surprises hidden in that expansion
Wave 4 and Beyond – Not a lot of news about Wave 4, but a lot of speculation on what’s next for KD:M after this Kickstarter is fulfilled
The post-Gen Con update – Depending if and when Poots posts a post-Gen Con update, I might have a followup post(s) just about that!
INTERVIEWS WITH QUACKALOPE AND TWIST
To date, Quackalope and Twist have posted full interviews with Adam Poots from Gen Con. There’s a lot of cool stuff discussed in both of them, so I suggest if you have two hours to spare, sit down and give these a watch/listen. If not, I’ll try to hit the key points in my posts:
WAVE 3 TIMELINE AND COMMUNICATION
Let’s start with the biggest question on everybody’s mind: When are we actually going to get Wave 3 in our hands? The short answer is, unfortunately, probably not until Q1 2021. Yes, Adam said the game was delayed a year in the update, and I also initially interpreted that to mean a Summer 2020-ish release, but Adam clarified in the Twist interview that a Gen Con 2020 release would only be a six month delay, meaning a twelve month delay would be a late January/early February 2021 release if you take that literally. What Adam is saying is that he’s going to continue development and design of Wave 3 for another year, so printing and assembly of the games probably won’t start until this time next year. Ideally it will take about 6 months total to do that like it did for his previous initial print runs of 1.0 and 1.5, which would have production wrapping before Chinese New Year 2021. Add another month or two for the slow boat, loading it into warehouses, and getting it shipped out to backers, and we are probably looking at copies arriving on backers’ doorsteps around March 2021. It could go even longer if they don’t wrap by Chinese New Year, issues with customs, or any other changes being brought about in the current or future political climate.
They await… well, really anything new at this point.
I suspect that the main reason Adam has been so silent for the past eight months was that he was hoping to have design wrapped on Gambler’s Chest now and announce at Gen Con that production had started, but Gambler’s Chest still isn’t at a place yet that he’s 100% happy with. Adam acknowledges that Wave 3 is long overdue, and while he isn’t going to sacrifice quality or his vision to get it out faster, he is making this his #1 priority for the next year and finding ways to free up more of his time to focus on Wave 3. He has hired somebody in the office to manage some of the more logistical aspects of running the company so he can focus more on the creative side of things. He is deprioritizing content not in Wave 3. New sculpts and minis for the online store will be less frequent over the next year. He’s moving into a new office space with a door that closes, which may allow him to focus more on his own design work and not get as distracted by what other designers are working on for Wave 4 expansions.
I think Adam’s office is the room with the toilet…
Adam’s not delegating communication/PR to the new hire, but by freeing up some of his own time, he theoretically will also have more time to post updates and communicate with the backers and community. An example he gave Quackalope during the interview was that by delegating an issue with broken booth displays during transit to Gen Con, he was able to sit down and answer backer questions for a couple hours. He’s going to try a new strategy of focusing an update around a specific topic so that he can plan to write an update for that, prepare art and photos for that topic, etc. He has confirmed in the Twist and Quackalope interviews that there will still be a post-Gen Con Kickstarter update later in August. He had originally said earlier in July that the post-Gen Con update would be more focused on Wave 4 content, but I think it may just be a summary of the convention with links to interviews and pics of the booth. In late September we are going to get more of a design diary update on the current state of Encounter monsters. On Black Friday we will have another mega update with a focus on Wave 4 content (hence why I’m not sure if that’s still the focus of the post-Gen Con update).
Going forward into 2020, he has said that until Wave 3 is done, he will post quarterly, possibly more often if he has important news to share, and of course possibly less if he gets busy and changes his mind. If I had to guess, I predict the communication timeline to be:
Q1 2020 – Valentines Day? (historically, this is actually one of the more regular holidays he posts an update on, and is roughly 3 months past Black Friday)
Q2 2020 – Memorial Day? (while not something he has regularly done, but he has posted a Memorial Day update once before, and it’s a nice halfway-ish point between Valentines Day and Gen Con)
Q3 2020 – Gen Con
Q4 2020 – Black Friday
2021 – Probably more frequent smaller logistics updates as games start getting loaded onto the boats, then back to radio silence until Gen Con 2021
Granted, a promise of 4 updates in an entire year isn’t actually much better than what we got in 2018 (4 updates) or 2019 (3-4 updates it’s looking like), but at least they will be a little more focused and evenly spread out throughout the year.
Memorial Day is KD:M canon, clearly.
All-in-all, it’s a bummer that we are still a year and a half (at least) away from getting Wave 3 in our hands, but it’s good to see that Adam is finally in the right mindset to actually finish the project, and has made some level of commitment to communicate on a somewhat regular basis with backers (yes, we have heard similar promises in the past, and he already heavily caveats that he makes no promises). He also announced a ton of new and cool exciting stuff for Wave 3 that should hopefully make it worth the wait, and even stuff that we will get sooner than that!
Speaking of new content, next post will be about the Vignettes of Death: White Gigalion. I have it, I’ve fought it, and I can give you my thoughts what I think about it and Vignettes as a whole.
I’m not sure if I’m going to have the discipline to write a post every week about what I’ve played, but I thought it might be fun to give some impressions of the games I am playing and may not write a full review of. Perhaps it was the excitement of Gen Con, but I got a lot of games played this week, including 4 new games I’ve never played, and I finished a campaign!
I played Game 7 of a 2-player Charterstone campaign. This is my second time playing through a campaign of Charterstone, the first time was a solo campaign with 5 automa opponents. My friend really wanted to try this game out after having a great time playing through The Rise of Queensdale (another legacy worker placement game). I had decided not to introduce any automa opponents in this campaign because I thought that would over-complicate things for my friend, but the game kinda feels pretty empty with just two of us playing, we we basically just do our own thing in our own charters.
My friend is playing the blue charter (which informal polling on BGG indicates is the most OP charter), and has a pretty good combo for generating money, so he uses that to unlock a lot of crates and make the games end really fast (and there are a lot of crates because of all the buildings that get auto-constructed for the 4 inactive charters every game). As a result, I don’t really have time to do much besides maybe build a single building and go for easy/quick points via the Cloud Port or Grandstand that really don’t set me up for future games.
Charterstone is a mediocre worker placement game with an OK legacy campaign wrapped around it. It’s not horrible, but we both agree we would have rather replayed a second Rise of Queensdale camapaign than have played this.
Four co-workers and I finished the final chapter (Chapter 13) of our Betrayal Legacy campaign this week! It was a five-player campaign that took us the better part of eight months to finish. I’ve always liked the concept of Betrayal at House on the Hill more than actually playing it. The haunts I have played in the base game and expansion have been a bit of a mixed experience for me. One time we spent more time arguing over the rules of the haunt than actually playing the haunt! Betrayal Legacy did a much better job at having clearer and more consistent rules, the haunt and story writing was better overall, and the themes of the haunts felt a bit more “serious” than the original and expansion (we did have one or two wacky haunts in our campaign!)
The finale was satisfying (we got the “best” ending), and this might be the first legacy game I will hold onto and actually want to play my copy of again. I do plan to write a more in-depth review of this in the future.
Unsolved Case Files: Who Murdered Harmony Ashcroft?
In addition to escape room games becoming more and more popular, there’s also a number of murder mystery games cropping up on Amazon and other places. One of them is Unsolved Case Files, in which you are trying to look through evidence of a fictitious cold case to try to solve it. In this one, Harmony Ashcroft was killed on the night of her wedding rehearsal and a man was wrongly convicted of killing her because he was found sleeping in a park with her engagement ring in his hand. You need to prove his innocence and find the true killer.
Unfortunately, this game fell short compared to other crime-solving games out there like Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Detective, Chronicles of crime, etc. The game is a folder full of documents that you can read through: witness and suspect testimonies, photos of the crime scene, newspaper clippings, etc. All the game ends up being is answering 3 questions on a website, and the way you answer them is by selecting two documents from a list that show a contradiction. The first question was a little clever, but I found the second one very poorly implemented, and the premise of how the answer to the third question would prove the real killer was shaky at best. All in all, it was a very short and unsatisfying experience, not worth the price of entry.
So Long, My World
So Long, My World has a very peculiar premise: humanity is dying within the next couple of hours, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. In your final hours, you decide to reflect on who you truly are as a person, and the winner of the game is the player who gains the most insight points and highest state of self-awareness. The gameplay itself resolves around collecting feeling tokens and then spending them to play cards from your hand that are worth insight points at the end of the game.
The game also comes with a solo campaign mode in which you are inside a computer simulation experiencing other peoples’ emotions….or something like that, I’m not really sure. The game is weird, and I’ve only played the first scenario, the Path of Beginning. When you finish a game, you might be awarded a new “word” depending on what you did in that game and how it ended. Those words are collected across the campaign, some words unlock new paths/levels, while others give you bonus when playing that path again, or a bonus when playing any path. Figuring out what you need to do in a certain scenario to unlock different words is part of the meta-game. While the actual gameplay isn’t that deep, the campaign structure of needing to complete scenarios in different ways to gain “achievements” is really interesting, so I’ll at the very least play the next scenario in the campaign. The publisher is also going to release more scenarios as free DLC in the near future.
Escape Room in a Box: Flashback
I played Escape Room in a Box: Flashback, which is a sequel (prequel?) to Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin’s 2017 Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment. Similar to the first game, it has 19 puzzles you need to solve in an hour. The game is divided into three “paths” so that each player could work on a separate path in parallel. I just ended up solving all three of the paths on my own solo and didn’t bother with a timer (I typically don’t unless the game actually has things that happen at certain times, like some Unlock! scenarios). None of the questions were that challenging, which is understandable given that this is a mass-market game that is probably aimed at people new to escape rooms. That said, I think if I were recommending an intro escape room game to somebody, I’d still go with one of the easier games in the Exit line. I didn’t really get the premise of the game (something to do with going through the werewolf’s stuff as a kid in the 80’s?) and never really felt engaged in the process.
Pax Pamir (2nd Edition)
I played a solo learning game against the Wakhan AI. I was loyal to the Afghans while the AI seemed to be favoring the British. While neither faction ever took dominance, the AI was able to get all their cylinders out as spies/tribes/gifts, and was able to beat me by the second Dominance card for having the most cylinders out both times, resulting in a 4 point lead and auto-victory. Like all Cole Werhle designs, this game is fascinating, and Ricky Royal’s AI bot strikes a nice balance of being robust/smart without being too much of a bear to manage. This game is a keeper for sure for me.
No huge Gen Con news this year or in the weeks leading up to it, but we had some new campaign games/expansions announced, and some updates on some games I’ve been looking forward to:
Kingdom Death: Monster Wave 3 Delayed To 2020
After 8 months of (near) silence, Adam posted a lengthy Kickstarter update right before Gen Con 2019 for Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5. Wave 3 (Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death) is delayed another year to (summer?) 2020, but he’s adding a lot of cool stuff to it. I will be posting a much more in-depth article about the update and news/info that came out of Gen Con soon, I’m just waiting to see if any interviews with Adam get posted to YouTube in the next week or so.
Aeon Trespass: Odyssey Kickstarter Date Announced
Monkeys With Fire interviewed Marcin Welnicki, the creative director of Into the Unknown Studio, where he officially announced that Aeon Trespass: Odyssey will launch on Kickstarter September 9th. In the interview, Marcin talked about the lore and backstory behind the Aeon Trespass universe, gave a very high level overview of what the game is about and how player choice and narrative works in the game, previewed two new monsters, talked a bit of the Prelude experience (which will be incorporated at least partially into the main product), and more.
Marcin avoided talking about how combat works in the game, claiming that it is a “paradigm shift” for the genre that he doesn’t want to spoil quite yet. Marcin has promised to share more details about the game over the next month leading up to the Kickstarter, including a followup interview with Monkeys With Fire on August 22nd where he will demo combat for the first time. You can watch the full interview here:
Sankokushin: Five Sacrifices Announced
Axis Mundi Games announced their next game, Sankokushin: Five Sacrifices, which will be a story-driven cooperative campaign game set in a fictional medieval version of Japan. One half of the game is a dice and card-based dungeon crawler where players can customize their characters’ skills across 3 combat stances to fight AI controlled monsters that can learn and adapt to your strategies. Alternatively, players can try to be diplomatic with enemies when they feel fighting them isn’t the best option. The other half of the game is a city/hub management game where you will use resources gained in dungeon raids to build out your city. It’s by far their most ambitious design to date, and I’ll be keeping an eye on this one after seeing some of the interesting things they did with campaign progression and narrative in So Long, My World.
The Kickstarter for this project won’t launch until 2020 the earliest, I think they only announced it as early as they did was one of the characters in Sankokushin is a promotional cross-over character in the latest Middara Kickstarter. Axis Mundi Games has said they will post more details about the game over the coming months.
Fantasy Flight and Marvel Partner Up for Marvel Champions: The Card Game
Fantasy Flight Games announced Marvel Champions: The Card Game, a co-operative living card game where players take on the role of iconic Marvel super-heroes to fight super-villains. The core game is expected to come out in October 2019 and will have 5 heroes to play as and 3 villains to fight against. Fantasy Flight has promised that a single core set will have enough cards for up to 4 players to play with. A few more standalone heroes and villains will be released in the subsequent months, but in mid-2020 they will release the first campaign expansion. They didn’t go into details if campaigns will be cycles spread out across multiple monthly scenario packs, or just a single box purchase. I’m a fan of all of Fantasy Flight’s co-operative LCGs to date, so I will be keeping my eye out on this one, although I may not buy into it until some campaign content starts coming out for it.
Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated Announced (Again)
Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated was announced by Renegade Game Studios and Direwolf Digital. You heard me right, it was announced again, despite them originally announcing it at PAX 2018. This time there are some pictures, at least! C!L:AI is a standalone legacy adaptation of the push-your-luck deck-builder by the same name, with an additional thematic layer of a popular D&D podcast run by the Penny Arcade guys. From what little we have seen of pictures of components, it looks like you play at least part of the campaign on an open-world map as opposed to a dungeon. Don’t open that envelope with the “X” on it, double authentication required! The game will be hitting retail shortly in September.
Flamme Rouge: Grand Tour Announced
At the Dice Tower live show, Stronghold Games announced Flamme Rouge: Grand Tour, an expansion to the competitive bicycle racing game that allows players to play multi-stage campaigns/tours. It’s possible this is based on the free PnP Grand Tour expansion a fan of the game made a few years back. Campaigns can be as short as 3 games or as long as 21. The game will also come with new track tiles, special stages, and specialist riders that can be used in standalone and campaign games. I haven’t played Flamme Rouge, but it’s gotten good reviews, so it may be something I might check out in the future. Stronghold expects a mid-2020 release of this expansion.
Ongoing and Upcoming Kickstarters
Lots of Kickstarters running in parallel with or starting shortly after Gen Con:
Etherfields – A cooperative campaign-based narrative adventure “dream crawler” by Michael Oracz and Awaken Realms. It made my Top 10 most anticipated games list, and you can read more about it there. The Kickstarter has made over $3 million in funding, and has unlocked numerous free stretch goals, including two additional campaigns (there are even more campaigns as paid add-ons). The Kickstarter ends soon on Thursday, August 8th, and a base pledge is £75 (~$91).
Dice Throne Adventures – An expansion to Dice Throne that turns it from a competitve dueling game to a fully cooperative campaign-based dungeon crawler. While not a legacy game, sealed content will unlocknas you progress through the campaign, and beating the campaign will unlock new content that can be integrated into normal Dice Throne games. Being that this is an expansion, at least one 2-character pack of Dice Throne characters is required to play Dice Throne Adventures. The Kickstarter campaign has no stretch goals, but the Kickstarter edition does come with some free additional stuff not found in the retail edition. They are also offering a remastered version of all their Season 1 characters as part of this Kickstarter, and 2 new characters that can be purchased as a paid add-on. The Kickstarter ends soon on Thursday, August 8th, and a base pledge for this expansion is $69.
Trudvang Legends – A cooperative campaign-based narrative adventure using CMON’s new “legends system” to track persistent (but not permanent) changes from game to game, based on the Trudvang Chronicles RPG by RiotMinds. It also made my Top 10 most anticipated games list, and you can read mode about it there. Given it is a CMON product, the Kickstarter version comes with a number of free Kickstarter exclusive monsters, heroes, and sidequests as stretch goals (plus possibly the inclusion of a free non-exclusive Wildlands campaign). There are two additional campaign add-ons, one is a Kickstarter exclusive. The campaign has hit a bit of a funding wall at a little over $1 million dollars, so we’ll see how much further they unlock by the time it ends next Wednesday, August 14th. A base pledge is $100.
Sleeping Gods – A cooperative campaign-based narrative atlas book adventure by Ryan Laukat and Red Raven Games. This is also on my Top 10 most anticipated games list. Kickstarter goes live this Tuesday, August 6th, price point will likely be $50-$60 for the base game, based on historical pricing for previous Red Raven projects. Given an expansion (Tides of Ruin) is already listed on BGG, it will likely be offered as a strech goal or addon during the Kickstarter.
Dawn of Madness – A cooperative campaign-based narrative survival horror game that is the standalone prequel to Deep Madness. The game claims to be inspired from video games like Silent Hill and the miniatures look crazy, so I’m looking forward to seeing more. There is a Kickstarter draft page up for it with more information, albeit not a ton. The Kickstarter may go live at the end of August, but I’m guessing will slip to September. They will likely have some sort of 24-hour early bird pledge, so keep an eye out for when a launch date is announced.
Designer: Rita Orlov
Playing Time: 3+ hours per chapter
Campaign Mode: 4 chapters MSRP: $165.00
Logged Plays: Played and completed all 4 chapters solo Copy Purchased By Reviewer
Let’s cut to the chase: The Tale of Ord is the best “escape room in a box” style game I have ever played, hands down. It is also my favorite cooperative/solo game released in 2018. If you love escape room games, you owe it to yourself to buy a copy of this game. Buy a copy now, because there are only 100 copies left for sale. Once those are gone, there are currently no plans by the designer to reprint this game!
(Note: If and when this game is sold out, I will update this section of the review to reflect that. If you are reading this note, then there are still copies available!)
…Still need more convincing? OK, read on.
WHAT IS THE TALE OF ORD?
The Tale of Ord is best described by its designer Rita Orlov as a “tabletop narrative puzzle adventure”. Similar to escape room games like Exit and Unlock, you will work through a series of puzzles and riddles contained in documents, drawings, and artifacts that come packaged in the game. Unlike most escape room games, you are not under any time limit or pressure to rush through Tale of Ord, and it will likely take you 15-20 hours to play through the entire game over the course of several sessions (it may take less time if you play with more people, I played it solo). Since I was playing it solo, I often would work on the game for 30-60 minutes at a time leisurely while having my morning coffee, and mull over a possible solution for a puzzle I was stuck on as I went about the rest of my day.
Contents of the first chapter’s envelope
In The Tale of Ord, you play as private investigators hired by the dean of Emerens Institute to look into the disappearance of two of his professors. Professor Rose Woning had been researching Nordic runestones and a mysterious relic she suddenly vanished months ago, and just recently her husband Dr. Andres Woning has also gone missing. Over the course of a 4-chapter story, you will uncover what happened to them, research the origins of a relic buried in Norse mythology, and “unravel the secrets of fate and time” to quote the product page. That’s quite the claim! How many games do you own that let you unravel the secrets of fate and time? (Well, I guess T.I.M.E. Stories…)
WHAT MAKES IT STAND OUT FROM THE DOZENS OF OTHER ESCAPE ROOM GAMES OUT THERE?
By removing the time limit element that so many escape room games have, Rita was free to design more complex, challenging, and interconnected puzzles than you would normally find a typical tabletop escape room game. Puzzles in the game may have multiple steps to them, require you to crack codes and ciphers, do actual online research, and other activities that would probably be too time consuming to put into an 60-minute timed game. And the puzzles are tough! I don’t want to get into the specifics of any of the puzzles, but The Tale of Ord does things I’ve never seen done in an escape room game before. It fully takes advantage of the medium and does things that wouldn’t work in a traditional escape room, and likely would be too cost-prohibitive to include in a more mass-market game.
The Tale of Ord has a refreshingly original narrative to it that doesn’t involve escaping the lair of a serial killer, trying to find the cure for something in a lab, solving a murder mystery, or any of the other countless tropes used in escape room and deduction games. While the game deals a lot with Norse mythology, it isn’t a “viking game,” we have plenty enough of those already in tabletop! The game is very much set in modern day, and you approach the mythology more from an archaeological point of view. You actually might even learn some actual history and facts about Nordic culture and history from playing this game! The narrative ties very closely into a number of the puzzles and brings everything together in a cohesive manner, it doesn’t feel like a “box of puzzles” with a theme slapped on it like some other games out there. The writing in this game is solid, and the characters you interact with over the story feel fleshed out. And yes, I said “interact” with, this game has some augmented reality elements to it where you may be required to email and call characters in the game, so having a computer and phone will be necessary at times (they’re just bots and pre-recorded messages you are dealing with, not actual people/actors, if you had concerns about playing this at odd hours of the day and/or an aversion to talking to people on the phone like I do.)
Let’s not forget to talk about the prop quality in this game! One of the reasons there are only 500 copies of this game in existence is because each copy is hand-assembled by the designer herself. You can really see that a lot of thought, attention, and love went into preparing each and every copy of this game. Who knows, there might even be something in it personalized just for you! Paper documents in the game feel authentic, and props are made of actual wood, metal, and other things that I can’t mention without spoiling stuff. The wooden components in particular are very nice looking and make for excellent keepsakes of your experience when you are done with the game. The final big set piece of the game still sits on my desk in my office, and I’m tempted to put together a little puzzle of my own that uses it for co-workers to solve!
The first chapter’s puzzles are pretty straightforward, but later chapters are very challenging and will probably take longer to work through. For those that get stuck and need a hint, PostCurious has providing an excellent online hint system that not only will give you hints and the solution to every puzzle in the game, but also a way for you to confirm if you have the right answer to a puzzle or not without spoiling the actual answer if you aren’t correct. This was great for times were I was pretty sure I had done what the puzzle wanted me to do, but the actual answer I reached wasn’t obvious to me as being correct. Not to brag, but I actually completed the final chapter of the game without using a single hint. While it took me much longer to finish than previous chapters, it made my ultimate victory all the more rewarding. If you have the patience, I recommend using the hint system only as a last resort, as great of a hint system as it is.
…AND IT’S WORTH THE $165?
I realize that $165 is a lot for a single game, especially for a puzzle game that you can’t replay once you know the solutions. Like some of you reading this, I also was initially hesitant to buy into something so pricey from a new and unknown company/designer, but I took the plunge based on the positive initial reviews, and boy am I glad that I did! As I’ve mentioned, it will probably take you 15-20 hours to play through, so the price-per-hour comes out to be slightly cheaper than some shorter puzzle/escape room games out there, and definitely cheaper per-hour than an actual escape room. This is the most expensive game I have reviewed on my site, but I stand by my claim that it is worth every penny.
If you are looking to save a couple bucks on your purchase, you can get $5 off by signing up for PostCurious’ mailing list, or $10 off if you solve a puzzle! Shipping is also free in the US.
I know I’m repeating myself at this point, but as I said in the intro of this review, this is the best puzzle tabletop game ever made. It took me 9+ months to finish it, because I purposely paced my way slowly through it, taking long breaks between chapters, namely because I didn’t want it to end. But what an ending it was when I finally got to it! I’ll always cherish the time I had playing this amazing game, and will be the first in line to pre-order Rita and PostCurious’ next release.
Speaking of which, Rita is actively working on next game now! 14th century alchemy in Prague plays a big role in it, and her Easter Egg Hunt puzzle challenge (which you can still play, posts for it are on PostCurious’ Facebook page starting April 19) earlier this year was a bit of a teaser for it if you want to check it out. She has told me that she’s aiming to release it in 2020, so you have a little bit more time to work your way through The Tale of Ord first.
Rita’s next game will be heavily inspired by 14th century alchemy
REVIEW SCORE: 10 out of 10 (Amazing)
Challenging and unique puzzles. Really felt I earned it when I solved the final puzzle of the game.
Fresh narrative, that tied in well with the puzzles. I learned a lot about Norse mythology and history from this game!
Amazing prop quality, final set piece sits on a table in my office as a memento of the amazing experience I had
High price-point may be a barrier to entry for a lot of people
I actually started writing this list about two weeks ago thinking it would be a quick and easy top ten list to ease me back into writing more regularly, but it turns out I have a lot to say about games I am excited for. 5500+ words worth of excited, apparently. Hopefully you learn about a game or two you hadn’t heard of!
#10 – SLEEPING GODS
Designer: Ryan Laukat Publisher: Red Raven Games Status: Kickstarter launching August 6th
Sleeping Gods is a cooperative campaign adventure game where 1-4 players take on the role of Captain Sofi Odessa and her crew aboard the Manticore, a steamship lost in The Wandering Sea (some sort of alternate world/universe that you got sucked into) in 1929. In order to win, you need to find eight totems of the gods hidden around the sea and islands to return home. How you go about finding these totems is a mystery, and you will need to explore an entire atlas book of maps that comprise the Wandering Sea. You quest and adventure in an accompanying choose-your-own-adventure storybook, all while trying to survive and stay alive (spoiler: if you die, you have to start all over, and you will die).
This game has obviously been inspired by The 7th Continent, and shares some similar elements of exploring and surviving in an unknown (but not random) land trying to figure out how to undo some sort of curse (it also plays like The 7th Continent in that it’s not so much a campaign as much as it is a single very long play session that you can quick-save your progress at any point and start back up where you left off). Unlike The 7th Continent, the world of Sleeping Gods appears to be inhabited by other characters that you will interact with, and the storybook choose-your-own-adventure elements will add more narrative than The 7th Continent had. The core gameplay also seems to be a bit more rooted in Euro-style strategy games, with a major focus being on building up an engine/tableau of items and allies that synergize well together, and a combat system focused around covering up spaces in a grid on an enemy’s card.
Another interesting twist about Sleeping Gods is that while it is not a legacy game, the designers are encouraging players to actually write and take notes on the atlas maps themselves (although I’m sure you could just as easily write notes in a notepad instead if you want to keep your copy pristine, but what’s the fun in that?). You will not beat the game on your first try through it, and much like TIME Stories and The 7th Continent, remembering where things are and taking notes will give you a leg up in subsequent playthroughs.
A writer on the team confirmed that there is 100+ hours of content in the game, and that there are many more than eight totems in the world, so there isn’t a fixed path you need to follow to win. It sounds like there is some amount of replayability in the game after you beat it the first time, and Red Raven also has at least one expansion planned for the game, Sleeping Gods: Rising Tides, that will extend the world further with a whole additional atlas book to explore.
Sleeping Gods will likely be on demo at Gen Con next month, and will launch on Kickstarter the week after on August 6th. Man vs Meeple already has a first look preview up on their YouTube channel that does a good job explaining the game with a lot of pretty visuals:
#9 – TAINTED GRAIL
Designers: Krysztof Piskorski, Marcin Swierkot Publisher: Awaken Realms Status: First act shipping to backers around September, expansions in mid-2020
Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon is a cooperative campaign adventure game where 1-4 players take on the roles of broken anti-heroes in a grimdark re-envisioning of Arthurian legend, exploring the secrets of a tainted island (presumably Avalon?). The island comprises of 60 tarot sized cards that fit together to form a cohesive landmass as you explore it, similar to how exploration works in The 7th Continent. Each card/location has unique story encounters that you can trigger and are read out of a choose-your-own-adventure style journal. Combat and diplomacy encounters in the game are played out with card gameplay where players try to chain actions together by linking up symbols on cards, which seems interesting. The game has a heavy emphasis on narrative that is told across a 15 chapter campaign, with a lot of branching in the story based on players’ choices in the game. Choices made in one campaign also have an effect on future campaigns/expansions as well (more on that in a bit).
Because of the $6+ million it raised on Kickstarter, Awaken Realms was also able to procure enough funds to produce the entire trilogy of games they envisioned for this series. Act II: The Last Knight takes place 400 years after Act I, and Act III: Age of Legends takes place 1000 years in the past, and the choices you make in previous acts carry over to future acts (they have said they have some clever plan so that the choices you made in the first two acts somehow affect the third prequel act). They also have a standalone expansion, Echoes of the Past, that adds a quasi-legacy element to the game, allowing you to unlock memories of the heroes by completing personal achievements in one campaign that unlocks special abilities for that hero in all future campaigns, which seems to imply they also envision people replaying this campaign multiple times to try different story branches.
Tainted Grail has the honor of potentially being the only game on this list to actually release this year, with the first act (The Fall of Avalon) slated to arrive to backers around September 2019, the rest of the content in mid-2020.
#8 – ETHERFIELDS
Designer: Michal Oracz Publisher: Awaken Realms Status: Kickstarter live now until August 6, base game expected to arrive to backers in March 2020
Awaken Realms’ next big project coming up after Tainted Grail is Etherfields, another big epic cooperative campaign “dream crawler” adventure game. 1-4 players take on the roles of dreamers (I suspect they are actually meant to represent you, the actual player of the game) trapped in some sort of dream world. They start off with no idea of how they got there or what they are doing there, and presumably will uncover this mystery over the course of the multi-chapter campaign. From what I have gathered, each chapter requires you collect a certain amount of keys, and a key can be obtained by traveling around the world map completing one of many scenarios/scenes in a chapter, each scenario taking about an hour or two to complete, factoring in random encounters you may also have while traveling to scenarios. Choices you make in a scenario can have lasting effects on the world and world map, and your character’s deck will grow and change over the course of a campaign.
Since this all takes place in a dream realm, all the scenarios are going to be wildly different from one another, feature all sorts of surreal environments and entities, and they can all introduce new rules/gimmicks specific to that scenario. The core gameplay focuses around deck-building and using cards in your hand to complete various skill checks, fight, and perform actions in a given encounter/scenario, and the publisher has said increasingly complex cards will get introduced over the campaign that you can add to your deck. The game also claims it will test a player’s “intuition, deduction, and emotional intelligence” in interesting ways. The example they give right off the bat is when you start the campaign, you are asked to pick two masks (which are represented as big cardboard tokens with beautiful artwork) based purely on their artwork/name, and it’s only after you pick them that you are allowed to actually see what benefits they give your character.
The base game appears to come with a 4-chapter base campaign and 2-chapter campaign centered around a character/creature named Belshazar. Each of these chapters consists of around 4-6 scenarios, and the core game comes with around 30 scenarios total. Additional campaigns have been teased as stretch goals and/or paid add ons. The Harpy campaign, which will be included for free as a stretch goal, focuses around building up a base. The Sphinx campaign, which sounds like it will be a paid add-on, focuses around navigating a labyrinth, both sound very cool.
Etherfields is live on Kickstarter now until August 6. For more details on gameplay, Rahdo has run through where he avoids going into any scenario/story-specific content to remain as spoiler free as possible:
#7 – TRUDVANG LEGENDS
Designers: Eric Lang, Fel Barros, Guilherme Goulart Publisher: CMON Limited Status: Kickstarter launching July 23rd
Trudvang Legends is a cooperative overworld adventure campaign game for 1-4 players that is based on the Trudvang Chronicles RPG. Set in the Norse mythology-inspired land of Trudvang, players take on the roles of aspiring heroes across a multi-story campaign that spans generations in a “living world”. While it isn’t a legacy game, the game allows for players to make persistent changes to the world over the course of a campaign via sleeved pockets on the world map and sideboard (CMON is calling this their “legends system”). As a hypothetical example, if you burn down a village, you slide in the appropriate “burned down village” card into the sleeve on the map for that village, and it will have lasting effects on all future games in the campaign. Monsters can evolve on the bestiary sideboard. Characters can reach a legendary status and retire, giving a permanent bonus to future characters on the sideboard. Even new rules can be unlocked and tracked on the sideboard. The game comes with 30 stories (scenarios), and the choices you make and the outcomes of these stories will unlock and close off future stories in the campaign. Going back to my hypothetical village, you burn it down, you’ll never get to play the story that starts out of there, for example. Combat in the game is diceless, and uses a push-your-luck chit pull system where you want to pull runes to activate abilities from your bag without drawing too many demonic runes.
I have always been a fan of legacy games, but it’s cool to see companies finding clever ways to emulate the things we love about those kind of games (persistence from game to game, choices made in a game session affecting future game sessions, evolution of rulesets, surprise sealed content, etc) without the need to actually permanently alter contents, allowing for easier replayability. If legacy games are hamburgers, then ideas like this are the Impossible Burger, and it’s cool to see CMON branch out and try new things besides dungeon crawlers and skirmish games with a ton of minis.
CMON just announced the Kickstarter will launch this upcoming Tuesday, July 23rd, so we will know more details about the game (and inevitable KS-exclusive stretch goals) then. Eric Lang did a bunch of interviews with board game media at CMON Expo last month, Tantrum House’s interview was one of the better ones if you want to give it a watch:
#6 – SAGA
Designer: Cole Wehrle Publisher: Leder Games Status: More details to be shared about this project in late summer and fall
Following up on the success of Root, Cole Wehrle’s next project with Leder Games is “Saga” (working title), which has been described as an economic legacy game that explores the concept of history, specifically exploring the concept of what stories get passed down from generation to generation (and which get forgotten).
From what little details I was able to glean from an interview Cole did with Heavy Cardboard, it is a legacy game with no scripted narrative/story/campaign. It sounds like each game you play represents a generation of history, and each game builds a new layer of history that carries over to all future games in some tangible way related to the gameplay. No details yet on how the game plays, except that it’s competitive and described by Patrick Leder as being an “economic” game. Based on Cole’s excellent design pedigree of deep and engaging strategy and economic games, I have high hopes that Saga will also be a great game at its core with the meta-campaign/legacy aspects on top of it.
What really excites me about this game is the idea of a sandbox legacy game that has no fixed storyline it’s trying to play out, and instead is effectively a board game that remembers what happened in previous games. Risk Legacy is probably the closest legacy game to date to achieve this, but even that sorta had a “story” that got told through the sealed envelopes. At a very high level, Saga also reminds me of the concept behind Chronicles, the “not officially cancelled but it’s been 3+ years since we’ve heard anything about it” legacy game series by Artana that was going to be about the history of mankind. I am sad those games never materialized, as the concept sounded amazing.
Patrick Leder said that we will probably start hearing more about this game in the late summer and fall, as Cole always writes excellent design diaries for his games. In the meantime, you can check out his interview with Heavy Cardboard for any additional details I may have missed:
#5 – SEVENTH CROSS
Designer: D Brad Talton Jr Publisher: Level 99 Games Status: Kickstarter launching in October
Note: This game has been in development for several years, and designer D Brad Talton Jr has kept a design blog going for it since early 2017, but there hasn’t been an update since late 2018, so it’s highly likely some details I have about the game are out-of-date.
Seventh Cross is a cooperative adventure/dungeon-crawler-esque game for 1-4 players, heavily inspired by games like Castlevania, Bloodborne, and Shadow of the Colossus. Players take on the role of inquisitors of The Church, a secret organization that goes around keeping the world safe from monsters and magic in some sort of alternate universe gothic horror 1929 (side note: both Sleeping Gods and Seventh Cross are both set in 1929, that is oddly specific). Players traverse through various haunted castles, making their way to the end of it and defeating the big boss monster. The game will have a heavy emphasis on narrative, as you explore rooms in the castle you will encounter and talk to NPC’s, find clues, solve puzzles, and read numerous story beats from the corresponding adventure book. And of course you will fight monsters and big bosses. Like other Level 99 games, combat will be all card-based, and each boss/monster will have its own unique AI. Monsters are very deadly and can kill a player in just a couple of hits, so a key part of the gameplay is planning your moves to avoid getting hit by bosses. Oh, and the combat takes place on a vertical board to emulate a 2D platformer. And you can transform into a monster yourself.
The game is expected to come with around 7 castles, each castle being its own self-contained campaign with its own unique monsters and combat mechanics, each taking around 7 play sessions each to get through. Players will start a character from scratch at the beginning of each castle, and will gain new skills and level up through that castle/campaign. I’m not sure if there is a meta-campaign or story that carries over from castle to castle, but the idea is that each castle/campaign is its own self-contained experience, and you would only need to play with the same group of players for a given castle. Given that campaigns are self-contained and “relatively” short (I mean, 7 play sessions can still be several months of planning game sessions with friends…), characters can die in a campaign, you can get a bad ending, or even lose mid-way through the castle. Castles will have multiple physical paths you can take through it, and there was talk of unlocking a hard mode to the castle, so there may be reasons to go back and replay a campaign again. One of the reasons may be Heirlooms, weapons and relics that you can unlock for use in all future campaigns by completing certain achievements/goals in castles!
Level 99 has been delaying launching a Kickstarter for this game for a while, but the last we heard was that it would be demoed at Gen Con 2019 with an October Kickstarter launch.
#4 – OATHSWORN: INTO THE DEEPWOOD
Designer: Jamie Jolly Publisher: Shadowborne Games Status: Kickstarter launching October 8th
I knew nothing about Oathsworn: Into the Deepwood about a month and a half ago, and now it’s my #4 most anticipated release! Oathsworn is a cooperative legacy RPG adventure game for 1-4 players, set in a dark fantasy world where players take on the role of the Free Company, mercenaries sworn to an oath to defend humanity from big scary monsters and reclaim the Deepwood. The game is effectively two games in one: half of the game will be a narrative adventure (which they call a “twisting tales” game), the other half will be big boss fights, and I love me some big boss fights!
Bosses will be 3-phase fights with unique AI decks, with the triggers for each phase being different for each boss (ie one boss may require hitting some damage threshold, another boss may require you perform some specific action to trigger the next phase). Bosses will have different hit locations and reactions based on what you hit/damage, so this is all sounding very Kingdom Death-ish (yay!). Player combat will be card driven. I’m not 100% sure how it all works, but a key focus of the cardplay is cycling cards in and out of your hand. Actual damage mitigation is determined either by the roll of dice or drawing cards from a fixed damage deck, your choice how you want to play, and you can even use both in a single attack!
The game will feature a large narrative story with legacy elements. Before you go out on a fight, you will explore locations on a map, resolving story events out of a storybook. Depending on how you traverse the map and the choice you make, the story will unfold in different ways. It sounds like there will be several locations/maps in this game, and they’ve hired a professional map artist to draw all the maps. The one we’ve seen so far looks gorgeous! Also, for those that don’t want to read, there will be a companion app fully voiced by James Cosmo (Jeor Mormont from Game of Thrones).
Shadowborne Games’ website has a countdown clock for their Kickstarter set to launch on October 8th. Until then, check out this interview the designer did with Beasts of War:
#3 – AEON TRESPASS: ODYSSEY
Designer: Marcin Welnicki Publisher: Into the Unknown Status: Kickstarter launching Q3 2019, likely September 9th
Aeon Trespass is set in the Greek mythology-inspired Ancient World where The Eschaton happened (think Ragnarok, the Apocalypse, etc) and all the gods on Olympus died. Players take on the role of the Argonauts aboard the Argo, adventuring and battling Primordial monsters with Titans (effectively giant monsters that you enslave/control). The Argo will serve as your base of operations, and you will be able to build it up via a tech tree over the course of a campaign. The game feels very inspired by Kingdom Death: Monster, at least the monster battle portion of it, but the designer assures us it isn’t just a straight clone. Aeon Trespass will have branching narrative, personal stories for player characters, adventures, questing, exploration, ship combat, allying with factions, and more. The game is set to have multiple campaigns, called cycles, each lasting about 40-50 hours long. The first one, which I assume will be part of the base game is called The Truth of the Labyrinth, with others being teased. They apparently have designed or are currently designing a standalone 6-8 hour long Prelude campaign to send to content creators for Kickstarter previews, not sure if that will be made available to backers or not.
The art and model design for the game is gorgeous, and I love the world-building they have done in all the lore they have written up for the various monsters and creatures in the world. Details have been pretty sparse on actual gameplay so far, which if I’m being honest is a little bit of a red flag for me, but they’ve started to tease some of the card art and the battle board on a more regular basis. They promise that we will have a much better sense of the actual gameplay when the Kickstarter launches.
The Kickstarter is planned to happen sometime in Q3 2019, and an exact date will be announced on or before next Friday, July 26th. The designer/publisher had hinted previously that they would announce the Kickstarter launch date a month out from launch, and the publisher has historically launched their Kickstarters on Mondays, so my best guess is that the Kickstarter will go live Monday August 26th. Hopefully as we get closer to the Kickstarter we’ll learn more details about the game (apparently a big interview about the game is going to be released on July 26th as well), and it will live up to the hype it has built up in my head!
Update 7/19 – The King of Average posted a preview video that has some additional details about the game, along with new card and title art we haven’t seen before! Also as part of this video is a puzzle for the launch date of the Kickstarter. If I’m solving the puzzle correctly, twelve points in the video are timestamped with a number from 1-12, and the timestamps are also listed in the description of the video. However, the timestamp for “9”, which is at 8:07 in the video, is mistakenly listed as 9:09 in the description, which leads me to believe the Kickstarter launch date is actually going to be September 9 (which still lines up with my theory that their Kickstarter would launch on a Monday)!
#2 – KINGDOM DEATH: MONSTER – GAMBLER’S CHEST
Designer: Adam Poots Publisher: Kingdom Death Status: In development, expected to get a status update the week of Gen Con 2019
My #2 most anticipated game actually isn’t a game, but an expansion to my favorite board game of all time, Kingdom Death: Monster. The Gambler’s Chest was part of KD:M’s 1.5 Kickstarter campaign in late 2016, and was effectively a “stretch goal box” where every day a new item was revealed for it. A lot of the reveals were just narrative survivor sculpts and promo sculpts, which are nice to have, but don’t add anything to actual gameplay. There were also some new gear cards, disorders, fighting arts, etc also sprinkled in with these minis, but the big gameplay additions boiled down to three things:
The Gambler nemesis monster
Atnas the Child-Eater nemesis monster
Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster rulebook
Let’s talk about the two new nemesis monsters first. The Gambler is the namesake of this chest, and is effectively a god in the KD:M universe. One can only assume this is going to be a tough fight, based on both his god-like status and his ridiculous god-like model. That’s 250+ humans sculpted in that ball!
Atnas started off kind of a joke encounter, the KD:M equivalent of Santa Claus that went around eating naughty children, but Adam has assured us that this will be no joke of a fight. In fact, Atnas may be the deadliest encounter we’ve ever faced, so deadly in fact that his body has been chopped up into pieces that you have to re-assemble over the course of a campaign in order to fight him. And you will deeply regret doing so.
Finally, we have Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster. Adam has kept most mechanical details about Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster very close to his chest, apparently even employees in his office knew very little of what he was working on, as he took all of the design and development work on for it personally. During the Kickstarter campaign, he teased out only a few details/subsystems, the two big things being what he was calling Philosophy of Death and Scouts of Death. Philosophies are an overhaul to Fighting Arts, allowing settlements to “level up” an ability for the entire settlement (ie, Timeless Eye doesn’t just get better for Zachary, it gets better for every survivor that has the Timeless Eye ability), to put more of an emphasis on the settlement and less on specific survivors. Scouts are an additional character that go along with the survivors on a hunt, allowing you to do things like reveal hunt events on the hunt track, pick terrain for a showdown, or even participate in the showdown as a fifth survivor (at the risk that if there is a total party kill, the party loses all their gear since the scout can’t bring it home!). Adam’s hinted that there may be some sort of tech tree system related to the scouts, but details are scarce. There was also going to be a new innovation tree related to cooking, and two new encounter monsters you might encounter during the hunt phase: Bone Eaters and Smog Stalkers (encounter monsters also show up in some Wave 4 expansions like Oblivion Mosquito). All the individual pieces sounded interesting, but it all sounded like a giant mish-mash of disparate sub-systems, it was never clear how it all integrated into the game.
In his Black Friday 2018 update (and just this week in the Kickstarter comments), Adam teased more details about Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster that make it clear that it’s entirely new way to play the game. Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster is it’s own unique story arc campaign that tells the story of an advanced settlement of survivors with super-charged brain cells. To earn the right to even play Advanced mode, you have to hit some sort of milestone/achievement in the core game to unlock it. Advanced KD:M might not integrate with all expansion content (ie, you may be able to add some quarry monsters to an ADKM campaign, but you likely can’t combine it with other campaign variants). The Fighting Arts deck is completely replaced with two new decks, Character and Knowledge decks as part of the Philosophy system, and there is a system of leveling up and unlocking new cards to these decks as you work your way through an advanced campaign. There’s some new game system called Collective Cognition that deeply incentivizes you hunting higher-level monsters, possibly used as a currency to unlock cards in your Knowledge and Character deck. There’s at least one new monster, the Crimson Crocodile, who has been confirmed as a Node 1 replacement to the White Lion. There are teases about further changes to monsters in the core game beyond what was in the 1.5 update. Based on how personally invested Adam is into AKD:M, and the fact that he is willing to delay the release of the Gambler’s Chest indefinitely until AKD:M is perfect, makes me think this could be the coolest campaign mode to come to Kingdom Death.
In the Black Friday 2018 update, Adam let us know that Wave 3 of the 1.5 Kickstarter (aka the Gambler’s Chest) wouldn’t be released until it is ready. Just this week in the Kickstarter comments, he said he was hoping to have had Wave 3 on the boats by now, but they aren’t yet. We’ll know more details about the status of Wave 3, what Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster is, what Atnas looks like, and more when he posts a big Kickstarter update in late July or early August (no later than August 4), so there is a possibility we may actually get it this year if it’s at the printers already.
#1 – KINGDOM DEATH: MONSTER – CAMPAIGNS OF DEATH
Designer: Adam Poots Publisher: Kingdom Death Status: In development, expected to get a status update the week of Gen Con 2019
I had a hard time deciding which of the two upcoming Kingdom Death Wave 3 expansions I was most excited for, but I am giving the #1 spot on my list to Campaigns of Death, if only because we have a little bit more concrete information on what it is, and I can confidently say that if it delivers on what it promises, it’s going to be amazing! Maybe it really shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody that the guy obsessed with campaign games is most excited about the expansion all about campaigns.
Campaigns of Death is a rulebook with three new 30-year campaign storylines, similar to the People of the Stars and People of the Sun that came with the Dragon King and Sunstalker expansions. These new campaigns introduce unique rules, story events, milestones, innovations, etc to the game, adding a lot of variety beyond the default People of the Lantern campaign that comes in the base game. Adam has revealed the names of two of the new campaigns, People of the Eclipse and Slaughterhouse (sounds easy!). The expansion comes with only one new model, the Ancient Butcher, which I presume is the final encounter of Slaughterhouse. It also comes with two mini 3-5 year campaigns, perfect for introducing groups to the game without committing them to a huge campaign. Another big feature it comes with is the Node System, a formalized rules set for integrating expansions into campaigns.
Since this expansion wasn’t very heavy on plastic, a lot of people weren’t excited about it and passed over it initially, but not me! I love new campaign variants, so this was always one of my more anticipated expansions to come out in Wave 4. But then something happened that got people a lot more excited for Campaigns of Death…
Campaigns of Death has grown significantly in size and scope since the Kickstarter. In his Black Friday 2018 update, Adam revealed that Campaigns of Death would also contain 1.5 updates for all 12 original expansions. Examples of what this included:
Balance tweaks to monsters and gear
Cross-expansion content, such as gear and items that require multiple expansions to craft
“God Class” AI deck for Lion God on tarot-sized cards
Four different breeds of the Lonely Tree
Improvements to People of the Sun campaign
Adam only teased a couple examples from about half of the existing expansions, so there’s plenty more we don’t know about, but this all sounds very exciting! This will hopefully breathe new life into some expansions that don’t get a lot of love, like Spidicules and Lonely Tree.
Arguably the even bigger reveal Adam made about Campaigns of Death was the Strain System, an evolution of the initially pitched Node System. The Node System as envisioned gave players a framework for building custom campaigns, which assigned a number value of 1-5 to each monster and gave players some basic guidelines for building out a campaign such as “you can have at most one Node 5 monster in a single campaign”. The Strain System replaces this with a card-based system of procedurally (or deterministically) populating a story arc template in (ala Mad Libs style) with quarry monsters, nemesis, story events, milestones, etc by drawing/choosing cards from randomizer decks.
The Strain System also adds a quasi-legacy element to the game in the form of Strain milestones, which are optional challenges and side-stories that once achieved have a permanent impact on all future campaigns in some way. These campaign-to-campaign changes will be tracked via a sheet of paper called a “death world”, no actual permanent changes to components if you ever wanted to revert everything. This could be as small as adding a new Fighting Art to the game, or as big as unlocking a new campaign story arc (I actually suspect that unlocking Advanced KD:M is a Strain milestone). This aspect of the Strain System had actually been soft-launched as part of the Echoes of Death promo at Gen Con 2018, which added 4 new fighting arts to the game via Strain milestones. It sounds like the existing expansions will be retrofitted with some Strain milestones as well, as will all new expansions going forward. This reminds me a bit of the Heirloom system I talked about in Seventh Cross, and sounds very cool!
With three new 30-year campaign story arcs to play through, it’s likely going to take me years to fully experience everything that this one expansion has to offer, and the introduction of new cross-expansion content and the Strain system will add additional variety beyond that. If I could only buy one expansion for Kingdom Death Wave 3 and 4, this would be it, and for that it’s my #1 most anticipated release.
Given how much it enhances existing expansions, Adam moved the release of Campaigns of Death up from Wave 4 to Wave 3 alongside Gambler’s Chest. As I mentioned in the Gambler’s Chest entry, we should hopefully have more details about the status of both these expansions and more details on Campaigns of Death as part of the big Kickstarter update the week of Gen Con.
OK, I probably could have just ended this article with these 10 games, but I just wanted to briefly mention a few more games that I am very excited about, but left them off the list for one reason or another:
Kingdom Death: Monster Wave 4 – I am all-in on my 1.5 pledge, and am absolutely pumped to one day get to play through all of that (I’m most excited for the Abyssal Woods and Inverted Mountain campaigns), but given that we still don’t have Wave 3, it feels premature to get hyped about the next wave of content, which could be years away.
Pandemic Legacy: Season 3 – We know it’s happening. We can pretty safely guess it will release the first day of Essen Spiel, October 26. It will likely get announced at Gen Con 2019, or in the week leading up to Gen Con. This will be a must-buy and must-play for me, but given we know absolutely nothing about it, I left it off the list.
Post Curious’s next project – I’m currently finishing up the last chapter of The Tale of Ord by Post Curious, and I will almost certainly write up a review of it, but I will just spoil my thoughts a bit right now and say this is a 10/10 experience for me, hands down the best puzzle/escape-room-ish game I’ve ever played. Rita is currently working on her followup project, and has teased out some artwork for it, and this also will be a day-one purchase for me when it is available, but until I know a little more information I’m leaving it off this list.
OK, I’m done writing. Oh, what’s that, I finished Aeon’s End Legacy and should write a review for it? Back to writing…
It has been 237 days since we have gotten an official Kickstarter update for Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5, which is… a while… to go without an update for a project. After a very lengthy update on Black Friday 2018 (where Adam said that Wave 3 and 4 of the Kickstarter were indefinitely delayed until he was happy with them), Adam went more-the-less completely radio silent for the first half of 2019. What little communication we got from him via Twitter and Kickstarter comments was that he was focused on getting Wave 3 content done, and the next official update would be in early August to coincide with Gen Con 2019.
The average gestation period of a hippo is 237 days, just saying.
To my and others’ pleasant surprise, Adam actually logged on to Kickstarter a couple of days ago and ended up answering a bunch of questions people had. While he didn’t get into any specifics had about the status of Wave 3 and 4, he did confirm that the big Gen Con update was coming and what we should expect in it, as well as answered a couple miscellaneous questions people had about upcoming expansions. I went through each of them and categorized/summarized them here, and thought I would share them for your reading pleasure:
THE BIG GEN CON UPDATE
The Gen Con update is going to go live either right before the KD:M team leaves for Gen Con, or on the floor from Gen Con. The update will have details on the status of Wave 3 and why it’s taking so long. Adam said the update will have updates on every single expansion in Wave 3 and Wave 4, which by my count is 17+ expansions, more if you also include promo and crossover content. The update may end up being so massive that he may split it into two separate updates. If that’s the case, the pre-Gen Con update would focus just on Wave 3 content (Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death), and a second update in August after Gen Con would focus on Wave 4 (the 15+ other things).
Adam posted this picture as part of his anemic Kickstarter update the night before Gen Con 2018 opened.
At the very latest, we should expect the update by August 4, which is 18 days away (likely earlier), the wait is almost over!
Adam was hoping to have Wave 3 printed and on boats by now, but it’s not. He will give more specific details in the big update.
The Gambler’s Chest has been expanded significantly beyond what was initially pitched. Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster tells a specific story about an advanced group of survivors, it sounds like it is its own story arc campaign, and it may not integrate with all expansion content. The Crimson Crocodile is 100% confirmed as a new Node 1 quarry monster that is part of Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster and comes in The Gambler’s Chest. The previously to-be-revealed monster encounter that comes in The Gambler’s Chest is still a thing and they are called Smog Stalkers.
Not a joke, like many people thought
The Strain System will track campaign-to-campaign changes on a meta layer sheet called a “death world”, so you can theoretically reset everything if you wanted to (no permanent changes like a legacy game). The Strain system allows Adam to release smaller content that is more meaningful. Changes introduced by a Strain milestone could be as small as a new fighting art to as big as a new campaign story arc.
Prediction: Unlocking Advanced Kingdom Death: Monster is a Strain milestone related to eating Black Lichen
Adam feels that both Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death are must-haves, and set the stage for what’s to come. There is no plan to make 1.5 reprints of the original expansions, you will need to buy Campaigns of Death for the 1.5 updates to them.
Wave 4 may get broken up into smaller waves, with some of the smaller expansions and promo content coming sooner. Some expansions are close to being done, while others have barely been started on. The Abyssal Woods is the furthest out, but Adam has promised that it and every other expansion will get made. The Abyssal Woods is the expansion he is most excited about. There have been no major overhauls to what was pitched for the Wave 4 expansions, Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death were the biggest changes. They have gotten better at engineering for plastic production, so there may be additional models in some of the expansions.
Adam also answered some miscellaneous questions about some Wave 4 expansion stuff:
Campaigns of Death is not required for using Spidicules/Flower Knight/Dung Beetle Knight in the Abyssal Woods expansion
Super Saviors vs Perfect DBK takes place in a survivor’s dream, so it’s going to be more ridiculous than a standard showdown. Dung Beetle Knight does not integrate with this expansion in any way.
Parasite Queen is an optional encounter in the Screaming God expansion, but may end up becoming a final encounter
There is a story related to the Survivor Satan model in the Ivory Dragon expansion
Future projects beyond the 1.5 Kickstarter are not a top-priority for him at the moment. He might end up letting somebody else develop Kingdom Death: Titan (his deckbuilder) if and when that gets made. He might revisit The Lantern Festival at some point in the future (haha okay). No plans to make new dice variants. He wants to update the FAQ for the 1.0 expansions after Gen Con.
Adam acknowledged that he has been bad about updates and apologized for the lack of communication, but we’ve heard this all before, so don’t take this as any sort of promise we’re going to see more regular updates. For what it’s worth, he did log back on the following day and answer a few more questions.
WHAT DO I THINK?
I’m guessing that the update on Wave 3 will get posted the night of July 31, the night before Gen Con opens, so he can include a picture of the booth as part of the update. I do expect that he will split the update into two sections as he alluded to. I’m alright with that, as all I really care about at this point is the status of Wave 3. Given that he was hoping to have Wave 3 on boats by now, that gives me some sliver of hope that it may currently be at the printers and we might actually get it by the end of the year. I’m not holding my breath for any sort of release date announcement, but if he gives us some sort of status update as to where it is in production/assembly, that would give us some insight into when to expect to get it.
I’m not really sure what to expect in terms of gameplay and content details of the expansions, since Adam typically doesn’t spoil much in advance. He typically shows all the models in advance, so we should see renders/pictures of Atnas, Crimson Crocodile, Smog Stalkers, and any other monsters not yet revealed that are part of Wave 3. It would be nice to get some updated manifest of what is in The Gambler’s Chest and Campaigns of Death, since they have changed so much since the Kickstarter. It would also be great to get a high-level pitch of the changes being introduced to Spidicules, Dung Beetle Knight, Lion Knight, Dragon King, Slenderman, and Green Knight Armor, as he did with the other 6 expansions in the Black Friday update.
As for what’s beyond Wave 3, I fully expect it to get broken into smaller waves. I think this would be a good thing, as that means we may get some content sooner than we would if we had to wait until it’s all done. Specifically, I think it’s going to break up into 3 waves:
Wave 4 – This will be the promo/crossover content and expansions that don’t tie into the Inverted Mountain or Abyssal Woods campaigns. First Hero for sure will be part of this wave. I’m not sure if all of these would be part of this wave, but other candidates would be Screaming God, Ivory Dragon, Silver City, and Death Armor.
Wave 5 – Inverted Mountain, and all the associated expansions: Frogdog, Oblivion Mosquito, Nightmare Ram, Black Knight, Pariah, Red Witches, and Gryphon
Wave 6 – Abyssal Woods and Honeycomb Weaver
I’ll be sure to post my thoughts about the big Gen Con update and any other information we hear from the floor at Gen Con. We’ve waited so long, what’s another two weeks?
Things have been pretty quiet on The Campaign Log. Things got busy for me in real life, and the free time I did have I wanted to spend more on playing games than writing about them. I started to lose interest in this blog, and it eventually got to a point where I decided I wasn’t going to continue it going further. At least, it’s not going to continue as I initially envisioned it.
I started The Campaign Log because I love campaign/narrative games, and over the past couple of years we have seen an explosion of them. I wanted to start a blog to share my love of this sub-genre of the hobby, but I think I took the wrong approach to it. I came in treating this blog like a second job: I was going to release content on a regular basis, I was going to build up relationships with people in the industry, I was going to gain followers on social media, etc. Because that’s what content creators do. Unsurprisingly, it started to feel like a job very quickly. I felt pressured to release content on a regular basis, and felt guilty when I missed arbitrary deadlines I set for myself. And I was completely aware that almost nobody reads this blog.
Board game “content creators” (video/audio/written reviews, tutorials, playthroughs, etc) has become a more and more crowded space over the past 7 years. For every Dice Tower, Watch It Played, and Shut Up & Sit Down there are dozens (if not hundreds) of content creators out there making stuff that nearly nobody is paying attention to. Go to a popular game’s page on BGG, go to the “Videos” section for that game, and just look at the countless video reviews from channels you have likely never heard of. Some of those guys have been putting out content for years on a consistent basis, and don’t even crack 200 views per video. I imagine that bloggers get even less traffic than YouTube channels, but I don’t have any real solid data to back that up aside from general observations.
So why do these content creators (myself included) spend so much time on something that nobody is really following? I would hope the answer is “because they are having fun with it,” and that’s going to be my attitude going forward.
I’m going to keep going with the blog, but I make no promises about the frequency of the content or the kind of content. I might continue to post “formal” reviews and news articles if I feel like it, or I might just post about what I’ve been up to or what’s on my mind. Who knows, I might even talk about non-campaign board games, video games, books, etc.
So for those reading this, thanks for stopping by! For those that aren’t, I don’t blame you 🙂
Publisher: Breakout Games
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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
Designers: Simone Romano and Nunzio Surace
Publishers: Ares Games
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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