A Lovely Stroll

Today’s game is not one that should need much introduction with praise from reviewers all over the internet and a solid rating on BGG. It’s PARKS.

Just started.

The game has several things going for it from the outset. The first is its appearance. It’s a small, well presented game, with lots of colourful art from a wide variety of artists. I mentioned it a few weeks ago as an example of not wasting box space. That’s still true.

A neat package.

As always, I want to pick out a gameplay feature or two to discuss through the lens of a designer. This week it’s something that PARKS does well, and something that is, or should be, an important consideration in any design: layered goals and rewards. What does your game ask the player to do, and what do they get for their efforts? More importantly, how do these different goals interrelate?

Goals and rewards can interact with each other in terms of game resources or VP, extra actions, bonuses, and many other ways, but the most important part of the designed experience is how they layer in time.

For example, imagine we have a game with one goal of coming in first at the end of the race and that’s it. It would be better if there were several end goals, but that’s not as compelling as a game where you have a mini goal for every turn, and a medium one for each of three laps, as well as the final one. These intermediate, smaller goals are there to give texture and layers to the gameplay and keep the interest of the players throughout the duration. Distant goals feel distant emotionally. I might know that my actions are building towards a goal at the end of the game, but if I see no benefit during an hour of play then I may well lose interest before I get there.

PARKS does a very nice job of making you feel like you’ve (a) always got something you’re aiming towards and that thing is pretty close to doable now, and (b) you’re getting rewarded all the time, while always adding to your pile of VP for the end. The overall effect is to make it a game with a lot of positivity that feels like it’s being generous to you. Have some sunshine! Have some more! How about a new canteen? Trees? Mountains? Every move gains you something cool.

PARKS also avoids most of the negative elements which many games include. All of them. You never get punished for going somewhere or doing something; it’s endlessly upbeat. The worst that happens is you have to pay X to get Y, though it’s always a beneficial deal. It is as sunny a world as one in the posters for the parks you visit. Nobody in PARKS will ever get mauled by a grizzly or caught in a forest fire. In fact, you won’t even get ants in your picnic.

In a turn, I’ll usually add to my collection of tokens which I need to buy cards, or I’ll buy a card I’ve got enough for. I’m typically trying to collect X so I can buy Y. Once I’ve bought Y I need to save up to buy Z. Rinse and repeat. All those letters add up to VPs which win the game. As well as this very short-term aim, I’m sometimes buying gear which is a permanent boost (though no VPs), so I’m considering a medium timescale and a balance between utility and VPs. Which will help me most of the three on offer? And then I’ve got my secret year card. These are dealt at the start, you can’t get more, and they give you a small bonus if, at the end, you’ve collected what they ask for. They’re not a major part of the game, but it can give you a bit of an even longer goal to work towards.

Another aspect of the game which helps in this staggered goal approach is its basic structure. In PARKS you will go on four short hikes, moving along the board collecting stuff. It could just as easily have been one long hike, but by resetting and rearranging the board tiles each time, you get a frequently changing puzzle to unpick which avoids it becoming stale and gives you another timescale to play with.  

All told, the game balances these different layers of aim very well, and keeps you continually engaged, which is what we, as designers, should be trying to do. Nobody wants to play a game that bores them.

At the moment I’m looking at just this sort of thing in my own current project: Zombie Wars. In many ways it’s a very different beast, and bad things happen all the time in that. However, the core idea of having multiple levels of aim is still present. How does that notion fit into your work?

Posted in Board Gaming | Tagged | Leave a comment

I Need a Hero Too

And I don’t think that the one I need is among the Heroes of Tenefyr.

It’s not that HoT is a terrible game. It’s not. But nor is it a great one, and I think that’s pretty much what the bar needs to be for me to keep things these days.

The options for gamers have never been as good or as plentiful as they are now. This embarrassment of riches, coupled with a lack of physical space, means that I not only can be extremely picky, but that I must be so.

HoT is OK. I enjoyed playing with the strategy of it, and there’s more in there than meets the eye at first glance. That’s good. Starting with it in Hard level was an error in the end because I think that’s its weakest setting. For me, this reduction in time simply took away most of the interesting choices as it forced a formulaic approach – you cannot afford to be anything other than perfect with that little time to improve your hand before the Boss encounter. The difference between Hard and Normal modes wasn’t so much that I had time to be sloppy in Normal mode, but I did have time to try different approaches, and that was an area of amusement denied me in the tighter timeframe.

In the end though, I think that I’ve had as much fun from HoT as I’m going to. It’s served its purpose, so I can thank it for its service and let it go.

Going back to the idea that things must be great to be kept, that’s not always going to be the case. Some things are useful for my work, others are kept because they can be played with non-gamers, or because I like the art and can’t get it in a book. I’m sure there are other reasons. However, these are all reasons which make the game great at that specific thing. In theory, I could play many games with my mum, but in practice there is a fairly narrow slice of my collection which she’d really enjoy. She plays so few, why not treat her to the cream of the crop within that narrow window? And, do so by keeping a game that I may never play with my gamer friends.

Some games are great reference examples of particular styles of design, or mechanics. While I can always read up on things like this, there are important aspects to a good design that are really only apparent in play. You have to feel them.

My collection is, therefore, a slightly eclectic and personal one, and that’s as it should be. Yours will be different, but no less personal. And that’s as it should be too.  

Posted in Board Gaming | Tagged | Leave a comment

Lovecraftian Limericks

There’s a Kickstarter running at the moment for expansions to the rather splendid AuZtralia game. As I’m a fan of the core set, I’ve backed it myself, which means that I get all the usual campaign updates.

Last time they got everyone involved writing haiku. I did a few, but I’ve no idea where they’ve gone. This time it’s AuZtralia limericks they’re after. There are loads over on BGG, but just to be contrary and keep all my poetry in one place, I thought that I’d put my offerings here. In no particular order:

A frenzied old cultist called Fred
Once attempted to summon the dead
But his failure was dire
And it raised Cthulhu’s ire
So he made Fred a zed in their stead

Yes, yes, I know. Zombies aren’t a major part of the original Lovecraftian mythos, although they are the central part of Reanimator. However, they are included in later embellishments and in AuZtralia, so…

The next one is based on the rhyming and scan problem that most Old One names have. Yig is nice and easy to rhyme. He’s also a giant snake, of sorts.

There once was an Old One named Yig
Whose shape stopped him dancing a jig
But he’d slither and slide
And he’d boogie and glide
So his fan base was really quite big

And finally, a lullaby of sorts for those whose nightmares are inspired by too much unspeakable horror lurking in the shadows. 

There once was an Old One who slept
In the blackness of undersea depths
And even in dreams
He can reach us it seems
So goodnight, little prince, and good rest

Posted in Poetry | Tagged | 3 Comments

They Need a Hero!

I’m still on the trail of simple, quick, fantasy games I can solo.

This week I’ve been trying my hand at more delving with Heroes of Tenefyr. I’m not really done with it yet, so it’s hard to come to many solid conclusions. What I mean by that is I’ve played it a bunch of times, and it’s slaughtered me each one. Granted, that will at least partly be to do with me stubbornly playing it on the hardest setting all the time, but, you know.

There is a shadow over the land…

Before we go any further, a couple of things you need to know so the following makes sense. First, you lay out all the possible dungeons and rewards (for completing them) before you start. This means that you can enter them in any order and ignore ones which don’t have monsters in you want, or rewards that help. When I say monsters you want, this is because of the second useful thing to know: each monster card you defeat is reversed and placed in your discard pile as an improvement over your basic cards. This is the deck builder part. There are five levels of dungeon, each with increasing difficulty and reward.

My overall impression so far is that it’s not as good as Unbroken, but it’s more engaging than either CtA or PG. Also, unlike Unbroken, it can be played multi-player, and that might be interesting too.

As some reviews have pointed out, the things you do within each turn is very simple, perhaps too simple. But I think that some have missed the bigger picture. This, for me, is where many of the more important and more interesting decisions lie. Sure, the draw three cards and keep or bin them turn is less than stellar. It’s like playing patience though; you don’t worry about the dealing because that’s not really the game.

The fun stuff is in managing the bigger picture: pondering which dungeon I go down and how far I push that. Which monsters do I fight, and do I just try to cherry pick the ones I want for my deck, or do I want to empty whole dungeons so I get the reward? Those reward cards can make a big difference.

Set up and ready to play. The dungeons are each represented by stacks of cards, two for each of levels 1-5. A reward for completing a dungeon is above or below it depending on which row it’s on. You can see the top monster and the reward for each dungeon, enabling lots of strategising.

The whole game is about managing your deck to give you a chance against the Boss, and there are a number of ways to improve the cards. At least, that’s what I’ve bene doing, but on the shortest timer I’m getting run out of Dodge pretty swiftly. Those Bosses all have really nasty special rules, and roar through your deck at a scary pace. That’s bad because you can only go through it once when you’re fighting all 4 cards of the Boss deck. So, on the one hand, you want more cards to give you more draws and so more time. But low value cards aren’t much help as they won’t kill the big scary stuff, and so you want to purge them, or avoid them in the first place. But you can’t take the tough monsters to add them to your deck without building up some momentum first by duffing up the smaller ones. So there are some choices to mull over.

One nice thing about HoT is that the pace is entirely down to you, and this is where the strategic options come in again. I’ve still got a bunch of approaches yet to explore, but so far I’ve tried mining the whole of the lower dungeons in order, dotting about to cherry pick the monsters I wanted to add to my deck, and focussing on a few specific rewards. Still losing. I’m not giving up though. There’s a winning strategy in there somewhere.

In fact, while I think about it, perhaps the simplicity of the basic turn is designed to give you the space to focus on the strategy more. Not to get you bogged down in the details. That would be a nice bit of design.

Anyway, I’m coming back to Heroes next week. Then I’m sure I’ll have more to say. And, I hope, I’ll have a victory or two to report.

Posted in Board Gaming | Tagged | Leave a comment

Proof

There’s not a lot I feel like saying about Proving Ground other than it’s not for me. See you next week.

I was looking forward to this being a fun new series of solo games.

Hmmm. Can’t really leave it like that.

OK.

In a word, disappointing.

I like the premise, and the introductory story is one of the better ones I’ve read in a game (barring the peculiar and anachronistic use of the term klick for distance). If you do get the game, it’s worth reading this story to set the scene. Unfortunately, there are some discontinuities between this tale and the game itself which are odd and a bit unnecessary. That was strange.

Anyway, how does it play?

Basic set up with no extra modules. I’d not normally leave the dice pool in the middle; that was to get it all in the photo.

The game rather unsportingly pits you against six enemies at once in an arena battle, and each time you cut one down they are replaced. If you kill a total of eight or more before you lose all your wounds, you win. If you lose all of your wounds, you die and you lose the game too. Like I said, I’m happy with that premise.

Structurally, the game is presented as a “training” core version that teaches you the basics. Learn that first. They then have six modules that you can add in any combination, all of which add complexity, and all but one of which make life harder. Again, not a bad approach. The rules too are clearly written.

Mechanically, the core of the game is a timed Yahtzee variant, and here is where things come unstuck. It’s just not fun.

However, as always, I can pull a game design lesson from this, so the time isn’t entirely wasted.

In this case, the lesson is an old one: make your core experience engaging, and if you can’t then make it very quick. The absolute worst case combination is to have a boring experience that drags on for a long time. If you rely on the chrome to provide your entertainment then it had better become the vast majority of your playing experience.

Proving Ground makes the mistake of increasing the complexity of the dull core game with every piece of chrome it adds, while never allowing you to enjoy the challenge. The potentially interesting gameplay experience of navigating an increasingly complex resource management puzzle is utterly wasted because you have no time to think when you’re rolling.

I’ll explain that a bit more. The core mechanic is rolling a bunch of normal D6s in a timed minute. You generally want sets of the same number, and you can re-roll some dice and not others. It’s all fairly straightforward, and as far as that goes it’s OK. Not very hard, quickly reduced to a rote approach to survival. You see, as there is no round limit, the best strategy is to take as few risks as possible during each minute – there is absolutely zero incentive to do things quickly. You will attrit the enemy as a by-product of surviving, so you don’t need to pay any attention to offence per se. Playing to minimise my losses like this, I went through a dozen games without losing a single one, including against various combinations of modules. More modules made it longer, but I still won every game by just aiming to survive.

I kept hoping that each new module would add some new twist that would pick the game up, but it never happened.

Going on the trade pile.

Posted in Board Gaming | Tagged | 3 Comments

Pop Quiz!

Something different this week.

I’ve been rummaging in a lot of different games this week, and thought I’d ask you guys about a topic that I feel rather strongly about. It’s going back to an old hobby horse of mine: that the whole end-user’s experience needs (ideally) to be considered as a single piece and should be seamless. Often your client won’t let you do this, but it’s worth pushing for.

One thing that often gets ignored entirely is what the inside of the box looks like. Fitting stuff in is simply thought of as a matter of packing, not experience. In reality, the first impression is important. Sadly, there are few people who do this well. Awaken Realm stand out here as people who plainly think that experience through and put a deal of effort into making it a good one. Hats off to them.

For me, and I suspect many others, just looking at a game in its box is the start of the session, and it can set up a great time or cause your heart to sink a little. Judging by what I’ve read online, I’m not the only one who’s opened a box, looked inside, and just put it back on the shelf. Sometimes games are great in spite of this lack of care, other times it’s the only place care has been taken. The really great games are ones that consider the whole experience.

The following are three entirely not random games that have a different vibes for me.

What I’d like you to do in the comments is to tell me how each of these initial impressions makes you feel. Elated? Impressed? Disheartened?

Here are the games:

A: Age of Dogfights WWI.

A recent arrival from the wonderful world of Kickstarter.
I was both hoping and fearing it would be like this 🙂

B: 1066, Tears to Many Mothers.

This is the first in a series from Tristan Hall. The third instalment is on Kickstarter now.
Seriously?

C: PARKS.

Half game, half art project.
I’m guessing that the trays being in the shape of a log is not an accident.

Note that this isn’t about how the games play. It’s all about the shallow, yet vital, first impressions and how the image makes you feel.

So you don’t feel embarrassed, I’ll go first.

A: Gosh! That’s a box full of stuff. It’s not slickly presented, but it speaks of passion and reminds me of the kind of painful detail I’d put in my own games when I was 18 and knew for a certainty that more detail always meant better. Lots of different materials used. Clearly some (over)enthusiasm involved in the making of this. It’s a bit daunting and I’ll need to put aside some time to get to grips with this. It’ll be exciting when I do though.

B: Where’s the rest of the game? FFS. This box is at least three times as big as it needs to be and that’s just rude. People have shelf space to consider, you know. Reminds me of the bad old days of early “German games” (before they were called Euros) when paying for a game and getting a box of air was commonplace. Nobody liked it then either. Inconsiderate. Not a good start.

C: Classy. Custom inserts that you can take out and use as the supply on the table. Not only is it a full box, wasting no shelf space, but it’s useful in game too. They’ve made it easier for me to get the game on the table and quicker to set up and pack away, saving valuable gaming time. I like these people. Very positive start.

So what do you think?

Posted in Board Gaming | Tagged | 10 Comments

Adventure Awaits

After my fun being Unbroken, I’ve heard the Call to Adventure, and have been off telling more tales of derring-do! Sadly, these did not go as well.

CtA has some very nice art and a generally attractive aesthetic.

My initial experience with Call to Adventure was a bit of a mess. The components list has wrong counts for some items, doesn’t show others, and the included FAQ also seems to be wrong in at least one regard (number of adversary quest cards). I’m still less than 100% sure my copy is complete. I think it is, but it’s just not clear.

If you start, as I did, trying to play the game solo without knowing the multiplayer game then you’re immediately confronted by the need for things which are not explained. Start by finding the Adversary cards (not listed among the components). When you’ve found them (they’re hiding within the level 2 and 3 decks) you can then start looking for your Hero marker. These are on the components list, but at less than 2mm in size I didn’t spot them at first. The layout guys like tiny icons: the skulls marking the adversary cards within the antihero deck are similarly small on the cards, and their placement among the other info is not shown in the rules so you have to find it yourself. None of this is particularly hard, it’s just unnecessary grit in the wheels of what should be a smooth process.

A poor first impression.

My first game included lots of looking through the pretty, but poorly laid out rules, and way too many WTF does that mean? moments. Far more than there should have been for a game this simple. In the end I just guessed a bunch of card interpretations as I could find little guidance. The game could really do with a reference of all the icons in one place. Currently it’s scattered across at least 3 pages, and I’m not sure that covers all of them. Nor do I especially want to be looking in the rules at all. Why can’t I have all this on a reference card?

The game is of a similar complexity level and play time to Unbroken, which is partly why I thought it might make a good comparison. But it’s no match. For solo play, Unbroken wins hands down. Easier to play, better explained, better referenced, and the things I dislike about the layout and graphics are no better done in CtA.

The end of my first game.

Despite all this, it’s not a complex game. So, after 3 games I knew the common icons by heart and knew where to look for the others, so I was fine. Unfortunately, by then I’d had enough. My third game was a bit of a slog and was not enjoyable. A big part of this was that I found the decisions less engaging than in Unbroken, and my objective far less clear. I could go for this or that, but it doesn’t matter a great deal and the randomness of the rune throw felt more powerful than my choices. The AI deck forcing redos and choosing different challenges on some results did not help me feel that my choices mattered.

So it was awful, right?

No, it wasn’t.

Call to Adventure is a pretty game – prettier than Unbroken, I’d say. Its problem is that it feels like it merely tolerates solo play rather than embraces it. Unbroken is solo only, so of course it’s optimised. In CtA it’s not even its own section – it’s blobbed in with the co-op rules (hence the lack of care in clarifying what the cards mean for solo play). There could be many reasons why the solo variant turned out half-hearted, but that’s what it is.

I think the truth of it is that CtA may be a great multiplayer game. While I won’t bother trying to solo this again, I will keep the game as I can see that it could be a lot of fun with the right group. It wants to tell stories, and so the banter around the table and the telling of your hero’s tale at the end (which they say you should do), are a major part of the experience. At least, that’s how it reads. And I can see how that might work, and be enjoyable.

I also think that the rules would be clearer if you started with a multiplayer game. That’s what it really wants you to be doing, and I assume how they were written.

When the Dark Times are over and I can get it on the table with a group, then I’ll revisit it and let you know how it goes.

Posted in Board Gaming | Tagged | 2 Comments

Not Yet Broken

In the coming weeks I’ll dig out some of the other dungeon games I’ve got to see how they compare. For now though, I’m still Unbroken.

You see that carnage in the distance? That’s the rest of your party being slaughtered.

I’ve probably played over two dozen games so far, all bar one on hard mode. Of those I’ve won only five. But I have won.

Those wins have been with all four heroes, and against four of the six level four monsters (I’ve beaten the Ogre twice). I’ve fought all 24 monsters in the game at some point, and look forward to not meeting some of them very much more than others.

No great scores, but just getting out alive is a big win. I added the level 4 monster I beat as I thought that was interesting to track too. Still some who elude me.

Am I still happy playing it? Yes, and I’ll be keeping it. Having experimented with the various heroes and different strategies, I’ve not yet solved it. I did work out how to use the huntress though, after thinking more carefully about how to get the best of her abilities. She’s pretty effective now I know what I’m doing with her.

Note that I say “her” when I refer to the Huntress. Each of the four hero cards has a male and a female side with identical rules, but I only ever use one side of each. I think it’s because that’s the side I prefer the art for. If you’re interested, for me it’s the male Brawler and Sneak, and female Huntress and Sage. I’m not sharing things out evenly – it’s just how it looks to me.

The heroes I use.

After all these games, what can I say apart from the game is great value for money and has a lot of legs? Well, like most games, it’s not without its faults. So where do I think it could be improved?

Combat is a combination of deterministic attacks (mostly the player), and random results (the monster). This means that you can sometimes see at the start of a fight that you aren’t going to win. This is a mild case of the problem I found hugely offputting with One Deck Dungeon. It feels much less of an issue here because it’s not always as cut and dried and you can almost always tell that you’re in that much trouble before you get to the fight. You can see what potential damage output you have, and if you’ve been collecting the wrong things then you could set yourself up for failure really easily. The resource economy has no wriggle room for wasting your time on random stuff. You need to stay focussed. And be a little lucky at times. In the end, I think that’s a good thing rather than a bad one. Here, if I end up in a fight that I can’t win, I can usually track that back to some poor decisions on my part rather than something the game randomly threw at me.

Sometimes though, these seemingly desperate or impossible battles can be the most engaging. I fought against the Abomination earlier today, and that scrap would have been my last were it not for the monster’s ability to harm itself. It certainly looked an unlikely win, but in the spirit of the game I fought on regardless. In the end, its bizarre nature allowed me to scrape a victory against it with only 2 “life” remaining. Hard to pull yourself up after that, but possible. In that case, I beat the next monster, and only failed at the final hurdle. Close though.  

In general, I’m not a huge fan of deterministic games because of this predictability, but it works here most of the time. A minor con.

Some folk would consider the variation in lethality of the monsters to be a con. I’m not sure it is, and perhaps it’s worth engineering in as a concept just for the drama you get rolling for who you fight each level. Certainly, I’d rather not be fighting critters who dump loads of conditions on me to suffer through in the next level. And there are those who mess with you in the moment too. The Dark Elf’s infliction of Amnesia (you can’t use any skills against him) can be particularly crippling. I’d rather have an opponent who just had lots of wounds than someone who was easier to kill but crippled me for later. But you may see things differently.

Always nice to see Armoured. The rest are horribly familiar and I could wish them less so.

While I’m talking about conditions, I think that they’re one of the most impactful aspects of the game. Several times I’ve lost a game because of one or other of those lingering problems. Sure, it’s bad facing the immediate issues of the wyvern’s poison or basilisk’s petrifying stare (I have killed both of them though), but what’s more crippling in the long run is Weakened reducing all your damage, or Cursed making all your actions cost loads more. I’m not saying they’re broken, they’re not; just that you need to be really aware of what they can do and, if possible, avoid them. There is one beneficial condition: armoured. That’s awesome, and is possibly the only card I always choose over its alternative.

So this game has kept me amused for a couple of dozen plays so far and I’m going to be trying some other dungeon games next to compare. This is unlikely to be the last time I play Unbroken though. Apart from anything else, an expansion is in the works. I’ve not looked at what’s being added because it will be a fun surprise. What would be the obvious areas to expand though?

There’s endless room to add whole new sections to the game to expand the scope, but if we assume that they stick within the current framework there are some easy wins in adding more to some of the card decks.

The basilisk is hard to beat, but not impossibly so. You just have to ensure that he never, ever ambushes you. The Dark Elf is a swine and a half, and as a level 3 monster can cripple your chances of beating the following level 4. With no skills to use against him, you’ve got to have set yourself up to kick out some damage really fast from your main weapon.

A fifth level of monster would be an insanely hard option, but a fitting one. That would also entail giving you rewards for the existing level fours (which I felt like they should have done anyway), but that just means replacing those cards so would be simple in production terms.

I’d like to see some more heroes with new combinations of abilities. That’s probably the biggest bang for your buck in terms of adding extra game play with a card or two. It also allows you to expand the story and the world.

We probably don’t need more encounter cards as the deck is already huge, and the same goes for skills and conditions. That framework of core mechanics is already well fleshed out. So, they’ll probably add something entirely new, which will be interesting. In the end, Unbroken doesn’t really need expanding. It works fine as it is. But gamers are gamers, and the new and shiny has an undeniable attraction. So, when this expansion comes out, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ll be getting it.

Posted in Board Gaming | Tagged | 2 Comments

Still Fighting

I’ve been playing Unbroken today. Yes, that Unbroken.

We hear a lot about Unbroken, and most of it’s to do with Golden Bell and their dubious antics. I wanted to step away from all that baggage for a moment and see what Unbroken was like as a game. I backed it on Kickstarter, and although I watched some of Golden Bell’s car crash of mishandling at the time, I wasn’t really paying enough attention to be very upset. The game was inexpensive, and I’ve had other Kickstarter creators fleece me for much larger amounts. However, all that shenanigans has had an undeniably bad impact on the way the game itself is perceived – you just have to look at the 5.9 rating on BGG to see that.

As a game designer, I understand very well the sometimes fraught nature of the relationship between creatives and money-men, and I really felt bad for Artem. It seemed to me that I’d be very wrong to dismiss his creation without giving it a fair chance. I’m very glad I did.

These comments are based on my first three plays of it, which I think is enough to get an initial feel. As usual, I’m not going to discuss the rules in detail as others have already done that. What I’m going to talk about is my experience and my impressions. 

Troll? What troll?

Game 1 – Into the Dark

For my first adventure I took the most basic sort of hero: a brawler. I chose to play on normal difficulty as this combination seemed about as vanilla an experience as the game would offer. Vanilla is usually a good flavour to start with.

I’ve checked the rules and I’m pretty sure I was playing as intended. However, it all went deceptively smoothly. I quickly crafted myself new weapon after new weapon and ended up fighting all four monsters successfully. As a measure of how well I was doing, I beat the final level four troll without taking a single wound.

It had been fun, but a bit too easy. If this was as much of a challenge as I was going to get then it would be on the way to eBay pretty quickly.

You see that space at the top left? That’s where all the cool stuff you need to fight level 3 monsters is supposed to go.

Game 2 – A Touch of Overconfidence

After the first game, I changed characters and upped the difficulty to hard. In hindsight, I think my lack of trouble on my first run was mostly down to the hero I used, together with perhaps fortuitous combinations of other elements. I’ll try him on hard mode in a bit. First, I wanted to see what the other heroes offered. First up was the Huntress.

In the end, she didn’t fit my play style well and I ended up wasting her abilities much of the time. That was my fault; it’s down to playing style. As it stood, I struggled to make headway, and had to duck the second monster by sacrificing a weapon upgrade. I would never have beaten it. Then I couldn’t rest (Afraid condition), and by the point I’d run out of time and had to confront the third level monster I was in no place to fight it either.

In the end, I lost the game trying to kill a minotaur within my bare hands. Not entirely surprising.

This felt like a mismatch between me and the hero’s style rather than a problem with the game itself. It was still fun to play though, if a little frustrating, especially after using the very straightforward brawler in the previous game. You might even call him simple (just not to his face). For future games I’ve set myself the challenge of getting competent with all the different characters.

This is not a good look.

Game 3 – It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Not to be beaten, I set the game at hard mode again for my third outing. This went much better with the Sneak character proving much more of a natural fit for me. I thought I had it in the bag till I slipped up and got ambushed by a Basilik on level four. That ambush took a difficult opponent into the realms of a really, really dangerous one, and when I managed to fail my save vs being petrified every single time I sealed my own fate. Eventually it turned me completely to stone, which was bad. It was a tense fight though, and didn’t start out as a guaranteed loss. Average rolls would probably have been a loss too (once I’d been ambushed) but given the other toys I’d collected it felt like it would have been close.

It was one of those games where I was noticeably really lucky at the start and had noticeably terrible luck at the end. Overall it balanced out as these things always do; it was just strange to get it all sorted into sections like that. Even so, rolling dice and drawing cards, mean that these things happen occasionally, and it didn’t stop me enjoying the adventure.

Was it fun?

Absolutely.

Unbroken is pretty quick and straightforward to play. There are several small gaps in the rules where implementing specific powers and so on are a little unclear. However, I just took the least advantageous interpretation each time and carried on. It all worked out fine.

I’d compare Unbroken very favourably to One Deck Dungeon. Both fill a similar slot of light, fast dungeon game. Having played ODD half a dozen times I’ve put it in the pile to trade. I didn’t like it at all. Unbroken gives you way more agency, has more interesting and more meaningful choices, and tells a better tale. I’ll be keeping it.

Are there cons? Sure. But in my view the flaws are ones of layout and production (eg poor choice and use of icons, tiny font for colour text, some flimsy cards) rather than the rules, so I’m going to ignore them here.

Overall, my experience with Unbroken as a game has been very positive. The fact that I’m trying to slim my collection and yet I’m still keeping it should tell you enough.

It’s a real shame that Golden Bell messed up the management of it so badly as that’s detracted from what I think is a cracking little game. The BGG rating seems to be a reflection of GB’s poor handling rather than the game itself (though it’s also a black mark against BGG. Because their rating system is heavily exploited and generally not fit for purpose in other than the crudest sense. That’s a rant for another day though.)

Today, I just wanted to flag up the fact that Unbroken, as a game, deserves way more love than it gets. So now you know.  


If you’d like a second weekly dose of all the game-related wisdom you didn’t ask for, this time focussing on the designs I’m working on myself, then you can find it over on my Patreon. Otherwise, I’ll see you back here next Tuesday for another exciting episode…

Posted in Board Gaming | Tagged | 8 Comments

Money, Money, Money

I’ve got a trapped nerve in one shoulder, and tennis elbow in the other arm, so it’s painful to type lots. But, rather than leave you waiting, I’ll pose a short question for you to ponder.

$100 games. These used to be the rarest of rare, but now we see them quite often on Kickstarter, and increasingly bleeding into retail. In fact, for the larger games, $100 is now looking like not enough. The costs of materials keep going up, and 2020 did a real number on shipping costs. Margins are tighter than ever, and so prices must rise, or the contents must shrink. So, which is it?

Do prices just keep going up till we’re looking at $150 or $200 core games, with extras on top? Or is the $100 price point so important that the contents shrink to fit under that for all but the biggest companies?

What do you think? Do you have an upper limit on spend per game

There’s always a handful for whom cost is no object, but production minima need a thousand or more to keep the costs sane. So, where is the upper limit for the mass market?


If you’d like a second weekly dose of all the game-related wisdom you didn’t ask for, this time focussing on the designs I’m working on myself, then you can find it over on my Patreon. Otherwise, I’ll see you back here next Tuesday for another exciting episode…

Posted in Random Thoughts | 11 Comments