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Brian M
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This review is part of my attempt to review as many co-op games as I can. All of my reviews are in the geeklist A Crazy Couple's Co-op Guide: 2013 and onward Edition

NOTE: This review covers both the City of the Ancients and Swamps of Death sets. It does not cover any of the expansion content.

Our rating:
This is a really hard game to rate.
It's got some elements that work REALLY badly, or are even outright broken.
It's got some elements that are a lot of fun.



Skill Factor: 3 There's a lot of luck between the die rolls and card draws, and some skill in when you use abilities and items, and how you upgrade your character.

Modes: Co-op, technically solo (though you would likely want to play multiple characters).
If the players like, they might compete to get XP; it is also possible to work together to make sure XP is spread evenly. That is entirely up the players, though if players "compete" it will make the game harder overall.

Players: 1-4, up to 6 with both core boxes.

With a couple: While you can play with just 2 characters, you aren't supposed to use 'Epic' threats that way, and it is very easy for a few bad rolls or a single nasty card to wipe you both out. I think playing 2 characters each works better.

Play Time: 1.5 - 3 hours.

Difficulty: Usually low, but there's a lot of variance by player count, characters used, and just how cards come out.

Individual/Group Play: Depends on the players; some players see "players score individual XP" as a competitive element. Whether you treat it that way or not is really up to you. If not, you probably want to plan your overall actions as a team a bit, but there's not much in-depth strategy to play as a group on.

Component Quality:


My painted City of the Ancients set (plus one Reaper Gunslinger, not included in the game).

The figures are nice, though the hero figures are a little weak on facial detail and the monsters don't always fit together well. I'd count the minis as pretty good, but not spectacular.

Note that the models do require assembly, which will need glue, a way to cut them off the sprues (I recommend a sprue cutter) and likely a file. For an experienced modeler, these are fairly easy to put together. For a new modeler, some of them may be tricky. Start with the simple two pieces models to get some practice before moving to the more complex figures.

The figures are all basic grey and really benefit from at least base painting.



The tiles are extremely nice looking and very thick; great quality there.

The counters have the nice glossy finish common to Flying Frog games, they feel nice and look fine, if not being particularly creative.

The cards are good quality. The different backs are easy to tell apart, and many cards have nice art on them.



The monster cards are a mixed bag; overall they present the information in a useful way, but there's some awkward parts where there's dark text on a dark background that is hard to read, and the text on the Elite abilities is pretty small.

Rules Quality:
The explanation of the rules is good, but there's a lot of stuff tucked around in different places in the rulebook and cards; it can be hard to find a particular rule if you forget one.

The tiles have no numbering or names on them; the cards don't even indicate which of the "mine" tiles pertain to which base set. As such, finding the right tile for an exploration card can take some time.

Mini-Review
Yes, this is Warhammer Quest set in "totally not Deadlands".

Players control groups of Western-themed heroes fighting against sinister monsters crawling out of portals in mines, and trying to make their fortune finding gold and the corruptive-but valuable ghostrock ahem...darkstone.

Gameplay is straight-forward old school dungeon crawl. Move figures around, roll dice to attack monsters. Gather new treasure, level up and get more skills. Draw a lot of cards that have have you roll dice to randomly decide what happens.

The party must explore through a dungeon to reach their goals, discovering new tiles as they progress. There's a "Darkness" track that acts as a timer; if the players take too long, the darkness escapes and the party fails the mission.

There's a lot I like here, and more than a few problems.

Played as a single-one shot game, I think the game works very well. You can just each grab a character card, start delving pretty quickly, and have a fun delve against the forces of darkness. Most of the problems come in with campaign play.

Campaign play allows you to advance characters across multiple games, gaining experience and loot and visiting towns in between adventures.

Good Stuff
* The character classes each have their own neat feel and skills.

* There's a lot of different gear and loot to find and use.

* The monsters are each distinct.

* The race against time is exciting.

* There's a lot of potential material to explore in between adventures. Characters can visit several town locations, get corrupted by the darkstone, have enounters while traveling, etc.

* Most of the mechanics are simple and keep the action moving.

* The game system has monsters 'level up' via gaining 'Elite Abilities' at higher levels, letting you use the same monsters through multiple levels of challenge and adding variety to the monsters at higher levels.

* The flavor of the worlds, characters and monsters is all good.

Problems
* Balance is a problem. Some characters really outdo others; we've had party members who were often not even getting a turn in play! They have had some errata to tone down some character's, but I'm not sure it helps enough.

* Balance problems also extend into the skills. Some skills and skill paths are really bad compared to others; some skills are practically useless - even skills at the top of a skill chain!

* Keeping track of everything is a real challenge. It takes a lot of counters to track wounds, madness, darkstone, side-bag items, etc, etc, and many game elements have no provided counters at all. You'll need to decide how to track XP and money, skills gained from leveling, and all the many accessories you can purchase and customize your gear with.

* The XP system is messy. You get XP constantly, and often in convoluted increments. Injuring a powerful monster, for example, is worth X (varies by monster) per hit +5 per hit for each Elite ability + 5 per wound you do. That's an annoying bit of calculation to have to figure out on every single hit!

* Gear problems. First, there aren't enough artifact cards; we wound up running out decks entirely! You get a lot of artifacts over the course of a campaign, and the decks aren't that big. Second, gear advancement doesn't match up well with level advancement. We were often having all the best gear by level 4-5, out of 8 possible levels.

* There are lots of locations, but aside from shape there's no inherent difference between them. An advanced rule has a special encounter for some locations, but that involves searching through the encounter deck every time you draw such a location, which is tedious and interrupts the game. And these encounters often amount to 'roll a die and see if you gain loot or take damage'. I would far prefer if each 'advanced' location card just had a special rule printed on it that changed up the game a little in that room.

* A lot of the enouncters are "draw a card which tells you which of several functionally identical stats to roll to see what happens". I really wish this mechanic would go the way of roll and move. Oh, wait...this has roll and move to.

* While the character cards are double sided with male/female sides, only one mini for each is included; 3/4 male in each set.

* There's some annoying racial stereotype type stuff in here.

Overview
There's a lot of fun here. If you've ever wanted a pseudo-RPG dungeon crawl, you can find a lot of adventure in the box.

I find the problems infuriating. I feel like we had to put a lot of effort into being able to track everything and keep everything organized for this game, and still haven't found a GOOD way to track most of it. And I hate how many weak or usless options there are.

I think the contents of one box may get a bit repetitive after a game or two; there's only 5 different monsters per box. Having both boxes ups this variety nicely.

The gameplay is simplistic; roll dice to move, roll dice to attack. Don't expect a lot of strategy. I don't mind that here; deep strategy isn't the fun of a game like this to me; the fun is in the feeling of adventure, finding cool new items and advancing the characters.

If you want to roll dice and kill monsters, and don't mind a lot of clutter, this is a solid bet.

If you want to engage with a deep game system with clever mechanics, or are averse to clutter, pass on it.

If the balance issues were smoothed over and the "clutter" was reduced, I would absolutely love this game.

Which set to get?
If you just want to get one base set to try the game, you'll be good with either. I'd slightly suggest Swamps of Death, as that set has a "spellcaster" class that is quite different from the other characters.

Image thanks to the BGG Gallery courtesy of Klutz and Nezrul.
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Drake Coker
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This is my tank for Combat Commander
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I like this review format. Thanks!
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R.P. Kraul
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Undoubtedly, one of the biggest drawbacks of SOB is that it takes a lot of effort on the part of gamer to support the game as an RPG in a box--this includes organizing material, keeping character stats updated, etc. When I was younger, I wasn't so averse to constantly using fresh character sheets, but now, for SOB, I think there's just got to be a better way. I almost wish FFP had nixed some of the enemy packs in favor of better materials (useful inserts, laminated character sheets, etc.). On the inserts, however, it isn't as though even Fantasy Flight have provided a useful insert, ever. So there's that. But as far as tracking characters, FFP could have done more.

The reason there isn't a bigger outcry is that most games, out of the box, aren't ready for primetime anyway. Look at the number of threads on storage solutions for various games. You add SOB's RPG nature, and the issue triples. I don't have much experience with RPGs in a box, so I'm not sure if anyone else has done it better. On storage, FFP's lack of effort is inline with the overall gaming market--unless we start comparing games to something like Mechs Vs Minions, which was developed with these sorts of issues in mind.
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Deon Beswick
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The only house rule for balance I use is the Warhammer Quest favourite, shared money and XP. Keep a running tally, then divide it by the number of players when you reach town. Gear can be pooled the same way.

Played like this from the get-go, and character balance has never come up with the group (some skills being not great remains, but hey).
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Brian M
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GiantLocust wrote:
The only house rule for balance I use is the Warhammer Quest favourite, shared money and XP. Keep a running tally, then divide it by the number of players when you reach town. Gear can be pooled the same way.

Played like this from the get-go, and character balance has never come up with the group (some skills being not great remains, but hey).


I don't think this helps with the problem much (we also did some XP splitting). Some characters are simply so much more powerful as to totally eclipse other characters. For example, we had a Gunslinger that could wipe out most or all of the monsters, and usually went first. Even when she failed to kill them ALL, there usually wasn't anything left by the time the character with lowest initiative got to go.
 
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Brian M
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Drpretorios wrote:
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest drawbacks of SOB is that it takes a lot of effort on the part of gamer to support the game as an RPG in a box--this includes organizing material, keeping character stats updated, etc.

Yeah, we went through a lot of effort to get this more playable, including:
* Lots of plano boxes.
* Lots of counter tubs.
* Trays for the minis.
* Card stands to keep the cards more organized during play.
* An expanding file folder to store/sort the room tiles.
* Typing up a reference sheet to be able to easily reference any rules.
* Typing up the traveling encounters, mutations, darkness roll events, etc. into an easier-to-reference sheet.
* Making counters for things that need to be tracked frequently, like wanted posters, specimen bottles, ammo types.
* Making individual character sheets for each character class, with all the skills listed and checkboxes to mark which skills you have (this is also an easy way of integrating houserules to balance skills).
* Find tokens to use for tracking XP and money.

There's still a lot more I could stand to do, which leads me to feeling like I've basically had to remake an entire game worth of content.

I think there are quite a few things that could have been done to cut down on the clutter and/or make the game easier to play, such as:

* Put the Low/Med/High events on a single card, like the other-world encounters do; there's plenty of space and this would cut out two whole decks of cards.

* Label or number the board sections to make it easier to find the section shown on a card. This would also mean the graphic on the card could be smaller, and free up room on the card to put special rules for the room directly on the card, instead of having to go find another card.

* Simplify the XP system to make for less calculations and tracking during the game.

* Ditch any monetary increments less than $25; such values are used too rarely to have value to the game, but it makes tracking money more cumbersome.

* Increase the font size on the elite abilities.
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Oleg Port
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Why you rate it 2, but in the review rating is 5?
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Brian M
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P0rt wrote:
Why you rate it 2, but in the review rating is 5?

As I mentioned, this is a hard game to rate. I consider some of the balance flaws and difficulties to play the game to be nearly catastrophic flaws, but I'm aware that most players don't seem to have a problem with them.

Also, my BGG rating is lower due to the anger at Flying Frog over their terrible treatment of their KS backers, but that doesn't seem like a useful criteria for this review of the game.
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