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.
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.
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.
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?
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…
I live under a rock. I have never heard of this game or company so don’t know the controversy.
So I’m more interested in this game than many people who do know, maybe? 😆
Regardless, I’m going to go google it. Thanks for the tip!
I’ve played it three more times since i wrote this. Still not quite beaten it on hard level. And that’s a good thing.
The BGG link is in the first line of the article. Some useful videos in there.
😀 I noticed the link (thanks!) after posting and did use it to start my journey down that rabbit hole.
It seems that it comes down to the company: 1) Trying to save a buck the wrong way, and 2) not having a PR person to deal with the negative remarks.
And you’ll have to post when you do beat the game on hard mode. 🙂
The PR issue was someone pouring gasoline on a spark, then pouring more on as it grew, shouting at the fire to put it out, threatening it with lawyers, then pouring on some more gasoline. It was bizarre.
Most of the other issues seemed to stem from poor planning.
I’m supposed to be doing something else, but it is tempting to break Unbroken out again and have another go at the hard mode. The Vampire and the Basilisk are insanely hard to beat, but they aren’t the only level 4 monsters.
Speaking of playing this again, once you know the game it’s very quick to set up and play. Easily doable in under an hour, even if you ponder each move carefully. At speed you can play it in half that time. Less if you mess up badly 🙂
I backed this on KS too, and like you I didn’t pay too much attention to the furore in the comments section. Golden Bell clearly didn’t handle it well, not even remotely, but it always seemed I’d get the game one day so I was fine with waiting.
I played through the game once or twice over a year ago and enjoyed my time with it, after reading this I’m keen to dig it out and have another go. Cheers for the reminder! 🙂
I’m finding a couple of ways you can play. if you just treat is as a puzzle then you can bash through really fast. It would make a great lunch time game. On the other hand, if you read all the story elements and take your time with the choices there’s quite a bit in there, considering its size.
I remember the story sections being much more interesting than I’d expected, I suppose you’ll eventually see them all and stop bothering to read them but it definitely added a lot to the game for me.
I’ve just got done playing my first game of Bloodborne, it’s a really great game from a concept and mechanical point of view, though it left me with a list of over 20 rules question that weren’t satisfactorily cover by the rules. They went a little too far on the “streamlining” of the rules for my taste, but it’s a lot of fun and quite challenging.
Once that’s packed away I’m gonna break out my shiny new Solomon Kane delivery and check everything that should be there is, but I might play a round or two of unbroken as a palate cleanser before I dive into another crunchy game like SK! 🙂