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Asaf Fabbi
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The Tweet
"Retreat to Darkmoor is like an evil version of combat solitaire for gamers"


The Story
You play a group of defeated overlords whose massive hordes are in retreat from a ragtag fellowship of Tolkien esq heroes. As the stragglers of the horde get picked off one by one the grim realization you come to is that your minions don't have to outrun the heroes to escape, they just have to outrun the slowest minions in the horde.

The Preamble
Retreat to Darkmoor is a simple card game where you try to get as many of your minions into designated safe havens as possible as heroes chase them and kill of the stragglers.

The Breakdown

Components and Gameplay

4 decks of minion cards
Each player has their own colored deck of minion cards. At the beginning of the game they each get 5 cards from the deck and maintain 5 cards in their hands throughout the game unless a card rule changes the game state. Both sides of the cards are colored so that players can easily keep track of which minions are their's. The contents of each deck appear to be identical (minions are minions are minions). The anatomy of the cards is straight forward. The top left corner shows the red shield with crossed swords designated "peril" value. The middle bottom yellow circle wreathed in green laurels represents total VPs the minion is worth when it is scored. The lower middle portion indicates the type of creature it is (skull icon, bat icon etc) and the special rules of the card such as Ongoing (effects that are persistent) and immediate (effects that occur right away) card effects.


Safe Haven Cards
At the beginning of the game, a number of safe haven cards are flopped in the center of the table equal to the number of players plus one. The cards are two sided and have a VP value and typically also a special rule associated with them. These cards represent the "finish line" for minions trying to escape from the forces of Middle Ea... the generic fantasy realm of good. During play, each player places a minion card underneath one of these safe havens, when the sum of the peril values of all minions in the column meets or exceeds the defined peril threshold of the active hero, the minions in that column begin fleeing. Any surviving minions retreat to the top of the safe haven card where they remain until the end of game scoring. New minions would then be able to be played and scored again in subsequent rounds. During end game scoring, players sum the peril values of the minions that escaped behind each respective safe haven, apply any special condition rules, and the overlord with the highest summed peril scores that safe haven's vp value. Then, all players score each surviving minion's individual vp value. It should also be noted that any remaining minions that have not escaped when the end game state is triggered also escape into the safe haven of their respective columns.

Hero Cards
Hero cards are even more straight forward than minion cards. They consist of a peril threshold in the top left corner and a description of their one time attack ability or their ongoing effect that alters the game state while they are in play. The hero's peril threshold indicates the number that a minion column must sum to in order to trigger an attack from the hero. Heroes like to pick their fruit when it is ripe and low hanging so when a hero attacks a column of minions, unless a special rule overrides it, the hero attacks and slays the minion at the bottom of the triggering column (the furthest fleeing minion from the safe haven). If the slain minion is not one of the current players minions, that player also earns a 2 vp token. Then, the hero is discarded and a new one is drawn and placed face up. In this way the hero deck also serves as the game clock. The game end condition is met when the last hero attacks and is discarded.

Peril tokens
During play, some special rules require additional peril tokens be placed on minions. These do the job just fine.

VP Tokens
Yup. VP tokens.

The Review
Retreat to Darkmoor has hints of other mechanics and games in it. For example, there is definitely a fingerprint or two from Colossal Arena and Cheaty Mages! where you are building up runs of creatures and trying to control things for points but it is distinctly its own game and I cannot recall a game that I have played, (and I have played a lot of games) that is exactly like Darkmoor's game state. On the one hand you are building up columns of minions and resolving their powers to influence other players and vie for position in the hoard so that you can live through the hero attack. On the other you want to work together a little with the right people so that it is in their best interest to trigger an attack or at least maneuver them into a position where they have to do so. Then, you have to consider that the game state can be changed by ongoing hero effects and some minion effects such as reduced hand sizes, zero peril values for specific types of minions in a column and so forth. Finally, there is this whole resolution end game where you are hoping to have enough accumulated peril to claim more safe havens than other players and further distance yourself from your opponents scores. There's enough going on in the game to keep play interesting but it is also a game that is relatively simple mechanically and thus easy to teach or learn and play quickly. People usually are up to speed within the first 5-10 minutes as most of the complexity isn't in the core mechanics but the cards themselves so once people have read the cards in their hands and the safe havens and the hero they are mostly processing one new card a round and thus play picks up quickly and moves at a decent clip after the first round or so. It is too soon to say, but I do wonder if the limited complexity and relatively narrow paths to victory may lead to less replay value, it is also possible that the game will get plenty of plays as a light weight pre and post heavy game sort of play. The components are all decent quality though I have some concerns about the card stock over the long term and the art while good is a tad generic and not as varied as I would like. However, for the price point and small space foot print it takes up on my shelves and in my game bag, I certainly feel it is worth owning and playing.

The Good

thumbsup Simple, relatively unique card game that is easy to teach and play.

thumbsup Portable/Small footprint so you can bring it out to warm up or come down from a longer heavier game.


The Bad

thumbsdown Symmetrical decks. Other than color, the four player decks all have the same types of minions and identical art.

thumbsdown Too few heroes. I would have liked more heroes than what we have to add to the flavor of the game a little.

thumbsdown The safe havens seem a little lack luster. The artwork is a bit too uniform for my taste. e.g., the names of each are varied and humorous but the same art is used over and over again on the havens and it feels a bit too generic.

The Ugly (Things I would fix)

trade More asymmetry. I feel that the game could have been taken to the next level with a little more distinction between player decks. e.g., rather than the same minions in each deck, having distinct tribes of creatures in each with their own strengths and weaknesses would have added more meat on the bone for the complexity of the game and improved replay value. Even if each deck had a unique "champion" with a distinct ability that would have been cool and a nice touch. I do understand that of course there are monetary and other resource limitations as to the why and obviously this may have been a option that was not possible at the time. Same disclaimer for the next item.

trade Varied art for the safe havens. These are the regions of Darkmoor and a opportunity to make the games character stand out even more. The artwork was a little too similar with the backgrounds and I think it would have benefited the look of the game to have that be more varied as well.

My Conclusion
Retreat to Darkmoor is a very competent straight forward card game that possesses a unique mechanical game state that compensates the relatively uniform artistic choices made in the illustrations of the game cards and components. It's price point and relatively small footprint make it an easy low commitment purchase that will provide an easy return on investment in play time before and after heavier games. While it is too soon to say I have the feeling that this game is good but not likely to be great. It is almost there but I don't know if it will stand the test of time like some of my other card games like Clubs, The Dwarf King, No Thanks!, Nyet! and so on. Either way, I am still happy I picked up a copy as I have already been able to get it to the table and I have enjoyed it well enough.
My Game Night Group's (aka The Cult of The New's) Conclusion
Often times whether I like a game or not only has so much of an impact ultimately on if it is played a lot or not. More important is how well it is received at my local game store by the regulars who are a vibrant and great community of very very diverse and often critical/jaded tastes when it comes to new games. They are an awesome open bunch of people always excited to try new games which also means it is a very crowded and competitive place for games to get repeated plays. The ones that do I consider truly great/timeless. I decided this would be a new and interesting addition to my reviews going forward and will not only include their views in my reviews as much as possible but also plan on looking into other ways to incorporate their experiences and opinions into my work as I can think of. My reasoning is that this is a even better representative sample of how the game is received and honestly a lot more complete of a picture as to why some of my games are more successful/liked than others (because my friends also like to play them and ask for me to bring them over and over again). After all, what good is a game I love but no one wants to play with me?

So far, I have brought Retreat to Dartmoor to game night twice and played with 6 different people and so far the response has been neutral. Neither high praise nor a declaration to never want to play it again. These individuals were more analytical and less casual in nature and that may have influenced the mood and reception so perhaps the game will gt more enthusiastic responses from a lighter/more casual crowd. For now though, I will take that as good news but it does make me wonder how the game will fair with the new competition coming down the pipeline like Lotus, Grimslingers, and so on. Many great card games struggle to not be pushed aside by The Cult of The New and only time will tell if Darkmoor will make it or become another statistic.

Other reviews by me. or the blog, "Cult of The New" Finally, follow me on twitter where I tweet my logged plays and reviews as well at @AFABBI.
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Travis R. Chance
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Thanks for the very in-depth review! Great stuff! As a note, even though the decks have the same cards, players never draw through their decks in a game. This means that players will draw different cards providing an assymetrical experience each game, essentially. We tried to have different cards in each deck in development and it just didn't add very much in terms of enhancing play. With heroes, locations, and minions having abilities, we wanted to try and minimize the need for constant scanning--if that makes sense.

Just some insight from the Dev side of things Keep up the awesome work!

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Asaf Fabbi
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Action Phase wrote:
Thanks for the very in-depth review! Great stuff! As a note, even though the decks have the same cards, players never draw through their decks in a game. This means that players will draw different cards providing an assymetrical experience each game, essentially. We tried to have different cards in each deck in development and it just didn't add very much in terms of enhancing play. With heroes, locations, and minions having abilities, we wanted to try and minimize the need for constant scanning--if that makes sense.

Just some insight from the Dev side of things Keep up the awesome work!



Thank for your response and your encouragement. I really appreciate your taking the time and enjoy hearing from developers and designers etc about their work and their side of things. It is a good point you mention about never going through the entire deck adding some more complexity. I think I understand what you mean about scanning if you mean that it reduces the amount of time players spend looking at and reading cards played as opposed to playing? One thing I did notice was my fellow players were taking a while to process their first turns doing just that so I imagine that this would increase a lot with more varied cards etc.
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Travis R. Chance
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Indeed. It was a very conscious decision. The designers, having played the game far more, were very confident this was not needed. Upon development, they were right. Same with the heroes--there are only so many vectors before you have to start making things up and bloating the system for the sake of more content.

And to your concerns about art, alas, we would have loved to have more haven art, but for a $20, this has a ton of unique art. If we were to go back, I would more so wish to have a different cover than anything else.
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Isaac Shalev
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Thanks for the review! This is the kind of game that rewards multiple plays, since not all interactions and combos are going to surface the first time you play. I hope you and your group will get a chance to explore the game some more.
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Travis R. Chance
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Isaac is correct. The game has a lot of depth for the box that holds it. Lots to consider: which minion to play, when to push to score, majority in havens, which hero is out and how best to use them.
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Andrew Watson
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Thanks for the review.

I found the use of the world "solitaire" in the subject misleading. RtD doesn't have a solitaire (1-player) mode. I'll see if I can come up with one, but the box says 2-4 players.
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Asaf Fabbi
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AndAgainMA wrote:
Thanks for the review.

I found the use of the world "solitaire" in the subject misleading. RtD doesn't have a solitaire (1-player) mode. I'll see if I can come up with one, but the box says 2-4 players.


You're welcome! It was a tweet during play. The mechanic of trying to move all your suits above the regular play area reminded me a little bit of how you played cards on aces in solitaire but yes I can see how the correlation is tenuous and misleading. Glad you liked the review that came after the tweet though!
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Andrew Watson
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Yes I did like the review. I should have made that clearer.

I probably overreacted to the "solitaire", since I do some of my gaming solo, and would really like RtD to have a solitaire mode.

I like designing 1-player variants. If I come up with one for RtD, I'll post it here.
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Asaf Fabbi
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AndAgainMA wrote:
Yes I did like the review. I should have made that clearer.

I probably overreacted to the "solitaire", since I do some of my gaming solo, and would really like RtD to have a solitaire mode.

I like designing 1-player variants. If I come up with one for RtD, I'll post it here.


No worries I understood your meaning but thanks for saying you did enjoy the review. It is most appreciated by me when I see that there was value for others that came from my efforts I put in.

In regards to your attempt to make a solitaire variant, best of luck. I look forward to your post should you succeed
 
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