A Crazy Couple's Co-op Guide: 2013 and onward Edition
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For those who haven't seen my past Crazy Couple's Co-op Lists, Nightmare and I are two addicted co-op game players. These lists contain capsule reviews and quick info on all the co-op games we've managed to play.

Rather than keeping adding new content to the old list, since people rarely see old geeklists I'm making a 2013 edition of this list.

This time I'm going for a more compact format with key points. I'm also switching to straight alphabetical listing to make it easier for you to find a specific game.

EDIT 7/24: While I only want this list to be for true co-ops; ie, everyone wins or loses as a team, I have included some games that appear to be true co-op OR are often discussed as being true co-op OR can be incredibly easily played as true co-op with no real changes.
Games that are obviously 1 vs all or based around hidden teams are still not included.

EDIT 3/26/2014: I've decided that, while this list was fun and hopefully helpful, I'm not planning on redoing it anytime in the forseeable future. So this is now the 2013 and on list, and I will be adding more co-op reviews to it - still trying to play all the co-ops I can!

For each entry, I'll be describing:

Our rating: Average of my rating and Nightmare's rating. 1 to 10 stars. Please Note: We use the full 10 point scale! A '6' rating is average, not bad!

Addictive? Were we hooked at first and couldn't stop playing? In general:

thumbsdown thumbsdown Only played once or twice in the first few months.
thumbsdown Played once or twice in the first month.
- Avg - : Played less than 5 times in the first month.
thumbsup Played 5-10 times in the first month.
thumbsup thumbsup Played 11-20 times in the first month.
thumbsup thumbsup thumbsup Played 21+ times in the first month.

This isn't a precise guide; long games may be counted as more than 1 play each. Allowances may be made for getting a lot of games at once, which tends to diffuse game plays.

Long Term Replayability: How has this aged? Are we still playing it years later? In general:

thumbsdown thumbsdown Ignored after first few plays.
thumbsdown Dropped off after 10 plays or so.
- Avg - : Dropped off after 25-3p plays.
thumbsup Still playing regularly up to 50+ plays.
thumbsup thumbsup Still playing regularly up to 100+ plays.
thumbsup thumbsupthumbsup 300+ and still playing!

Like Addiction, this is a subjective rating.


Skill Factor: Estimate on how much of the game is skill versus luck.

Modes: Co-op, solo, competitive, etc.

Players: Listed player range and our recommendations.

With a couple: Comments on how this plays with 2, and whether you need special rules for a 2 player game.

Play Time: Estimated play time.

Difficulty: Does the game have scaling difficulty? How challenging is the game to win?

Individual/Group Play: A game that encourages group play favors discussion among players and team decision making. This can be great if you like planning things as a team, or very bad if you have one bossy player.

I'm just commenting on the actual mechanics here; some players are less inclined to give advice in a game that looks like an RPG, but I can't really take that into account.
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1. Board Game: 12 Realms [Average Rating:5.82 Overall Rank:9303]
Brian M
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 2 Low

Modes: Co-op, Solo

Players: 1-6

With a couple: Works great!

Play Time: 1 - 1.5 hours

Difficulty: Easy normally; several options for scaling up difficulty.

Individual/Group Play: Leans toward group play.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Component Quality: Very pretty but not very functional. The worst offender is that you draw a card which shows a nice picture of the enemy and indicates its special abilities, then replace it with a counter that is too small to really see the art on and doesn't show its special abilities at all! The realm boards could have been easily set up to just place the cards next to the regions, eliminating the need for the counters entirely.

Rules Quality: Pretty bad. 12 Realms is a simple game, but the rules are very confusing. The card iconography is even worse; it is almost incomprehensible, and even the multi-page reference sheet they later released for it is confusing and badly worded.
Example: "Defeat a random enemy" actually MEANS "defeat an enemy of choice". Whaa?

Mini-Review
Danger in a fairy tale land!

Players take the role of fairy tale and mythical characters such Snow White and D'Artagnan (who is, for some inexplicable reason, a anthopomorphic animal) and travel around fantastic lands defeating foes and finding the treasures needed to defeat the threat of the Dark Lords.


The Cherry Blossom Realm

The gameplay is straightforward. On each turn, a player draws several cards that add foes and treasures to the board, and then spends various action tokens to move around the board defeating the foes and acquiring treasures.

Defeating a foe normally just consists of spending the tokens specified on the foe. For example, to defeat a goblin you might need to spend a Sword OR a Heart OR a Star, while a much tougher Oni requires 2 Swords.

The iconography is quite baffling, virtually requiring a downloadable cheat-sheet to make sense out.


These cards have fairly simple and straightforward icons, by 12 Realms standards


Other than that, the game is easy to play and fast-moving. There's very little depth to it, but it is reasonably entertaining for a simple game.

A few house rules are pretty much required; for example, there is one artifact that gives infinite action tokens! (We limit that one to one use per turn).

There is also a very strange rule that a Dark Lord (who you must defeat to win) only shows up after the threat in a region reaches a high level, so you have to deliberately let the region take damage to get the Dark Lord to appear. In the PnP version, the Dark Lord would appear EITHER when the threat got too high OR when all 3 of the relics needed to fight the Dark Lord were out - I strongly recommending using that rule to prevent sitting around bored and using thematically backwards strategies.

Usually actions are pretty straightforward. The main interesting game decision is when to change realms; moving to a new realm takes more effort, and you need to coordinate when to have players team up in a realm and when to spread out.

Overall, there's just not much to say about 12 Realms. It is cute and amusing, but lacks excitement, depth or variety.

Negatives
* Not much to gameplay.
* Repetitive.
* Terrible iconography.

Positives
* Pretty.
* Simple core rules.
* Low downtime.

With thanks to MAGE Company and Andrew Tulley for the images, taken from the BGG Gallery.
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2. Board Game: Aeon's End [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:165] [Average Rating:8.06 Unranked]
Brian M
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Warning: we got the KS version of this game with two expansions included; it all was just mixed together in the box, so my review includes the KS content. While this added more variety, there's quite a lot just in the base game!

Our rating:

Skill Factor: 4 There's luck in which enemy cards come up and the order, but a lot of skill in your choices.

Modes: Co-op, Solo
Not entirely sure this would work great playing just one character, but we have not tried it that way.

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Plays quite well. I feel like it is a bit better with more than 2 characters, so that you can combo with each other more. This feeling was strongest with a nemesis that adds "bad" cards to a deck; with only two players that really jammed things up!

Play Time: 1-1.5 hours

Difficulty: Varies a lot! There are multiple nemeses each with different difficulty levels (listed on their card), and suggestions for both easier and harder modes. Normal mode was very suspenseful but quite beatable.

Individual/Group Play: While you have individual decks to manage, there is a lot of group play.
* Players have individual hands of cards, but communication and planning is freely allowed.

Component Quality:



Overall good. The card and cardboard quality is quite decent. I think the art is excellent, and has a very consistent style and tone through the cards. Spinner dials for the Nemesis and town life points are a nice touch.



As a side note, I love the diversity of the characters; there's a variety of appearances and ages and an excellent gender mix.

The one annoyance is that the box "insert" is not great, and there are only divider cards for big categories ("Spells", for example), which makes it hard to pull out and put away cards - we printed dividers for each specific card to make it easier to sort.

Rules Quality:
A bit confusing, mostly due to sometimes explaining things in a bad order. We had some rough spots learning the game, but it was well worth figuring out.

Mini-Review
2016 saw several new co-ops that reminded me strongly of older games. Aeon's End feels like it clearly builds on Sentinels of the Multiverse mixed with Shadowrift, but it combines the familiar elements in a well-done way to create an extremely engaging, deep and exciting experience.

The game sets the players as Breach Mages, defending the last survivors of some mystical apocalypse against the monstrous incarnations of evil that seek to destroy them. There's a lot of flavor text in the game, but none of it is intrusive; it is all on the back of character and nemesis cards. If you want to read it all and get a good idea of the world and characters, you've got it. It you want to just dive in and build card combos, you are good to go that way as well.




Like Sentinels, the main object is to wear down the Nemesis' life points, while contending with the many threats that it throws at you. (You can also win by running it out of cards, though that seems harder!). To do this, each player builds their own deck with gems (for power which is basically money) and spells to attack with. As one minor unique twist, you don't normally shuffle your deck; when it runs out you just flip the discards over and keep drawing, so the order is maintained; there can be a lot of strategy in how you set up your deck. I was worried this would be annoying to manage, but it worked very smoothly in play and I quite like it.

There is a HUGE variety of cards to use with a lot of different effects. Some spells may work better in some situations than others; some may work better when you can combo them with other cards. I find the deck-building in this to be rich in decisions with how to balance your abilities and which combos to pursue.

Each character has their own special abilities, starting deck, and starting breach conditions. The characters aren't going to differ as much as Sentinels since you don't have a totally different deck, but they each offer a nice twist. Choosing between powering your personal ability, buying new cards, and opening new breaches is a constant and challenging balancing act.

The different Nemesis enemies are all extremely different, attacking you in different ways and presenting unique challenges. There are maybe a few more "discard cards and basically miss your turn" than I would like, but not too many of them.

One big difference from Sentinels is that Aeon's End is easy to manage. There are no piles of modifiers or big stacks of cards to resolve at once. The villain will usually only have a few cards in play at a time; they generally do one big nasty thing instead of a lot of little things. Once you figure out the game, it is easy to play, letting you focus on the deck-building and action.

We were addicted to this and played through all the nemeses in short order and will be coming back for plenty more. We both consider it one of the top games we've gotten from Kickstarter and strongly recommend it!

We didn't like...
* The box insert/dividers.

We really did like...
* The diversity of the characters.
* The variety of cards to use.
* The balancing act of buying cards, powering up and opening breaches.
* The different challenges presented by each nemesis.
* The high amount of cooperation between players.

Images thanks to the BGG Gallery courtesy of Action Phase.
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3. Board Game: Apollo XIII [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:7558]
Brian M
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One-Play Mini Review

Our rating:

Skill Factor: 2 Seemed low. When cards came up seemed to matter more than skill.

Modes: Co-op
I don't see any reason this couldn't be played solo, though it might require playing multiple hands.


Players: 2-5

With a couple: I've only played this with 3. Seems like it should play fine with 2, but I'm not sure.

Play Time: around 1 hour or less.

Difficulty: Hard to say from one play; we won with some close calls. Other opinions have made it sound difficult.

Individual/Group Play: Generally group oriented, though a real-time element kicks in later in the game that makes it harder to plan together.
* Players have hands of cards but may discuss them. Later in the game a timer goes into effect that makes coordinating harder.

Component Quality:
Fine. The cards are nice, and the mission control board looks good and conveys all the tracks in a thematic way, looking like various control panels.

For an unusual change for us, we enjoyed the flavor text in this game. Normally neither Lisa nor I are very into reading flavor text, but the flavor text here was a nice length and fairly interesting.



Rules Quality:
We were taught this one and never read the rules, so I don't know. Most of the game was clear, but some cards were confusing; a few cards we just never bothered to play because we couldn't figure them out. And we had one card that stated it could only be played at a time when the letter code on it wouldn't allow it to be played. No idea how that was supposed to work!


Mini-Review
I think this is a great choice of theme for a game. Space exploration represents one of the heights of human science, achievement and curiosity, and the Apollo missions are a great showcase of ingenuity, genius and determination. For historical events, the Apollo 13 accident is a great combination of drama and tension to recreate in a game format.

The game places the players as "mission control". A deck sorted into sets defines the mission, starting with everything going well up until the explosion and then increasing the threat and dangers through the maneuvers around the moon back to the eventual landing - assuming the players make it that far!

Mechanically, it is all pretty simple. Cards generally move tracks "up" into dangerous zones; a track progressing far enough bumps the overall mission danger track, and if that gets too high, the ship is lost and the players lose. On their turns, players play a variety of cards to move tracks back down. You get bonuses for certain plays and combos.

We found it initially engaging, but it got a bit repetitive as the game went on and we learned the patterns of which tracks we should focus on.

Later on in the game, as the flight enter the final phases, a real-time mechanic kicks in which limits how long you have to take a turn. We generally didn't enjoy this, mostly because it meant we couldn't slow down and enjoy the flavor text!

We enjoyed playing this once, but having played once and won we just couldn't see a lot of appeal to playing again; there wasn't enough variety or enough interesting going on. There was nothing "wrong" with it besides a few confusing cards, it just didn't have enough "oomph" to match up with other co-op offerings. It felt more like the game was playing us than that we were playing the game. It may be better for family play, and it seems like a great game to teach kids (or even adults) about an exciting event in history.


Image thanks to the BGG Gallery courtesy of Rachel st
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4. Board Game: Arkham Horror [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:239] [Average Rating:7.31 Unranked]
Brian M
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Our rating:
Note: Our initial rating and enthusism was a lot higher, but that was partly dependent on house rules.

Addictive? thumbsup thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skill Factor: ? This is tricky to judge. With the base set, taking certain strategies virtually assured victory, and some choices are consistently better than others. So there's skill...but it's very straightforward skill. If you don't make those choices, it becomes very random.

Modes: Co-op
Can be easily played solo by controlling multiple characters.

Players: 2-8. For your own sanity, don't play with the higher player counts.

With a couple: Playing an investigator each works, but it means you've got very little freedom to explore and "play" with the game. It's also easy for one character to get "stuck" unable to do anything useful for a while. So we prefer how it plays with two investigators each.

Play Time: 2-4 hours.

Difficulty: Really easy. Can vary up through practically impossible with expansions

Individual/Group Play: No real slant either way.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
A group of intrepid (and sometimes doomed) investigators struggle to stop unspeakable evil from overtaking the town of Arkham. Fight monsters, gather clues, gain new items, and try to save the world.

Arkham is a big game in every way. It takes up a lot of table space, takes a long time to play, and has a hefty (and sometimes confusing) rulebook. There are a ton of decks of cards. Just setting up the game is an epic challenge.

Most of the gameplay elements are best suited to people who want to explore a game; travel around, draw different cards, see if you can get certain allies, and generally just see what you can do with the game. There is ton of stuff to do; you can find a wide array of items, recruit allies, fight monsters...the list goes on and on.

With several different 'Great Old Ones' to battle, each of which slightly change the conditions of the game, around 20 different investigators, and piles of cards, there's a lot of variety to be had.

So why the low rating?

We discovered early on that most of that huge pile of stuff to do...is a bad idea. There is a pretty limited set of things that you actually want to do; and if you stay focused on them, you are almost assured of winning. If you do lose, it's probably right at the start of the game; and you only really get time to explore at the end of the game when it doesn't matter much. The 'arc' and flow of the game was all wrong (to my taste); it's starts out in a panic and then gets less and less tense as the game goes on.

Also, the downtime with large groups can be painful. Even with just 2 players controlling 2 characters, we made rules for simultaneous turns.

We houseruled this to our satisfaction. But then the expansions started coming out. The expansions recognized that the game was "easy", but rather than trying to change the arc, or encourage more exploration, they simply made the game harder. More cards to draw that randomly screw you. Cards to extend the game more. Our houserules didn't always interact well with these new elements; and we still liked our houserules better.

And then there's the sheer clutter factor. Just too many decks of cards. Too much table space. It got to where we just aren't willing to go through the effort to even set up Arkham Horror.

We keep thinking we should just pull out the Dunwich Horror stuff; bring it back to a more manageble place.

Get if for:
* Epic adventures.
* Tons of variety.
* A bit of an RPG feel.
* Spending lots more money on expansions.

Avoid it if:
* You're actually going to try to play to win.
* Space or game time are an issue for you. At all.
* You're averse to lots of rules.
* You don't like having to remember lots of assorted card modifiers and effects.
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5. Board Game: Assassinorum: Execution Force [Average Rating:6.68 Overall Rank:3930]
Brian M
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skill Factor: 3 A lot of die rolling, but there's a good dose of skill as well.

Modes: Co-op
The game is based around using all 4 assassins. It should be quite easy to control all four even as one player. You can also just control one assassin; that is even a suggested "achievement", but it is going to be a lot harder!

Players: 2-4

With a couple: To play normally you will need to play 2 assassins each (easy to do). Or you can make it a lot harder by just playing one each.

Play Time: around 1 hour

Difficulty: Tense but not too hard to beat.

Individual/Group Play: Tends toward planning as a group.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Component Quality:



The minis are excellent, with a lot of detail. However, they all require assembly. The assassins and sorcerer lord will likely be a significant modeling challenge to people without miniature experience. And the models are all in a boring gray, so you probably want to paint them.
The board and tiles are thick and the colors are great.
The event cards are less impressive; a lot of text and no art.

Rules Quality:
Functional and generally clear. The rulebook has a lot of illustrations and there are good references on the back cover. The character cards for the assassins and the chaos forces are detailed and clear.


Chaos forces and their cards

Mini-Review
GW takes a break from stand-up fights to put you in command of a group of deadly assassins racing to infiltrate the command center of a sinister chaos sorcerer and destroy him before he completes a ritual that threatens the galaxy.

The assassins must search through corridors and rooms to find the teleporter and controls needed to access the main lair. The main board is static, but tiles are randomly drawn to fill it.

Player turns are straightforward; you get actions to move around and attack, with each character having a card showing how many dice you get to roll on an attack and describing special abilities.

Because this is a game of infiltration, the enemy pieces start off unaware of the assassin. Guards wander around on semi-predictable/semi-random routes. If they spot an assassin, they become active and will chase you down and attack - and sound an alarm, resulting in more dangerous event cards being drawn!

To avoid this, you can sneak past guards, circle behind them - and of course stealthily eliminate them before they raise the alarm!



The game is quick to set-up and fast to play. There's luck in the die rolls, but also a lot of real decisions about when to hide, when to attack, and where to explore. The tension ramps up as time runs out, and you must constantly balance moving quickly with the need not to alert too many guards.

Each assassin has a unique feel, and each one has limited use abilities that you need to judge carefully when to use.

There's a great feel of being both incredibly powerful and very vulnerable. You can easily eliminate guards left and right, but get caught out in the open by a cultist and a lucky shot could easily kill you. You can easily heal wounds - but that takes an action, and the race against time is tight and every action is precious!

I think the mix of stealth and combat is really well done. The game is tense, exciting and fun to play.

The only real complaint I have with the game-play is that there's not much variety; aside from the sorcerer, you only encounter 3 different types of enemies, and the board layout doesn't change much. Because of this, I think it's more fun for occasional play than for playing a lot in a row.

The only real complaint I have outside the gameplay is that Sorcerer lord, once assembled, doesn't fit back in the box, much less fitting back in with any sort of padding!

Also, this is game aimed at modelers and miniature enthusiasts. If you aren't into the miniature aspect, it is probably too pricey for the game-play, and the models won't look nearly as good unless you are willing to paint them.


LuisJoey is clearly an awesome painter!

If you are into the miniature aspect and don't mind the price, this is a gorgeous and exciting game that provides a different co-op experience from a lot of the usual fare.

Negatives
* Lots of assembly required.
* Possible player elimination.
* Low variety.
* Doesn't all fit back in the box!
* Only 1 female PC out of 4.

Positives
* Tense and thematic. I really think this one knocks it out of the park with the stealth and race against time elements.
* Fast to set up and play.
* Easy to lear and teach.
* Looks fantastic.
* If you are into painting, the models are great and look fantastic (even with my bad paint jobs)!
* The different assassins are distinguished with a few abilities that create strong differences.


Images thanks to the BGG Gallery and keithymonster, jfc1005, fatmax66 and LuisJoey
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6. Board Game: The Big Book of Madness [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:651]
Brian M
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A group of apprentice wizards tries to learn new spells and winds up unleashing a bookful of madness causing monsters that they must recapture to win the game.

Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsupthumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skil Factor: 4

Modes: Co-op

Players: 2-5
No reason you couldn't play solo by playing as multiple characters, though that would require controlling two decks of cards.

With a couple: works great! The game is a bit different with two; you can't set up quite as big combos but you get to build your decks more and each get more spells.

Play Time: Listed at 60-90 minutes, which seems about right.

Difficulty: Several difficulty levels. Fairly easy with a little practice on level 1, but they ramp up; level 2 is a solid challenge, and we haven't tried level 3 much.

Individual/Group Play: A lot of group coordination required, though you are mostly playing attention to your individual hand.
* Players have hands of cards, but may freely share info. Game plays fine with hands of cards face up.

Component Quality: Absolutely lovely! The art is very nicely done and has a gorgeous vibrant color palette like so many of Iello's games. The cards are very good and the book token to move around the track is a nice touch.

I really like the added touch that the monster cards are placed in a stack and turned over to look like the turning pages of the book.



Rules Quality: I didn't real these rules so I'm not sure; Lisa read them before the con and was able to review just a little and get us playing with no trouble, so I assume they were pretty clear.

Mini-Overview
The core of the game is managing a deck of magical energy used to power various spells and to defeat the "curses" that the monsters are putting out. Players can spend energy to beat the curses, add higher power cards (much like buying higher currency in a deck-builder), power spells, and learn new spells.



Defeating a curse is a simple matter of spending the right amount of energy, but it tends to be hard for one player to do at the right time, so you need to use the spells that let you share cards, give other players actions out of turn, trim your deck, cure madness, and do all sorts of other things.

The game operates on a tight timer; the group has only five turns to defeat each monster. You don't HAVE to beat each monster (just the last one), but defeating one has a reward and failing to beat one has a penalty.

Each player gets a character with a unique starting mana distribution and special ability.



There's also a large deck of advanced spells, only a few of which are available each game, so there's some nice variety in the set-up of the game.

Some turns are simple, but there are a lot of moments of needing to combo several spells and actions by several plays to defeat curses. Coming up with a good combo to get out of a bad situation feels like quite an achievement!

Negatives
* There is a at least one "a player misses a turn" random effect that's a bit of a downer in a game where players only get 6-7 turns.
EDIT: To clarify, the card is actually "discard your hand", which means you can't do anything for the entire round.

* The game is somewhat abstracted. For example, the curses don't have "names" or thematic explanations for why they are having their effect. That may bother some people.

Positives
* The game is fairly easy to teach and play. Its not "non-gamer" accessible, but it is on the easy end.

* Well done tension with a building threat but occasional short respites when you can take a moment to build up power.

* Tough choices between defeating threats in the short term and building up power in the long term.

* Needs a lot of teamwork and coordination between players.

* Has some really awesome moments when you manage good combos.

* Great art and presentation.

Images thanks to the BGG gallery and TheKillShirt and henk.rolleman
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7. Board Game: Break the Safe [Average Rating:6.01 Overall Rank:4620]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown

Skill Factor: Low, though there are a few tricks to learn.

Modes: Co-op.

Players: 2-4
Can easily be played solo by playing two characters.

With a couple: Plays fine.

Play Time: 30 minutes or less (timer based)

Difficulty: Varies based on number of players - it is much easier with fewer players.

Individual/Group Play: Leans toward individual play, but there's not a lot of skill.
* No hidden info, but there is a real-time limitation that reduces discussion. Not actually many decisions to make!

Mini-Review An old fashioned mass market co-op that's fun to play anyway. In Break the Safe, you are a team of spies breaking into an evil organization's vault to find (and foil) their evil schemes.

The game is played in turns, but the entire game is under a time limit - run out of time and you lose - so you want to play fast. Each turn consists of rolling a die and moving that far, unless you roll a 'Guard' or 'Dog' symbol, in which case the guard or dog (respectively) enters play. Once in play, they move around the edge of the board via another die and try to stop you. Luckily, they are typical low-grade evil organization goons, and just throw you in a jail from which you can escape.

Not a lot of decisions here; you need to search several rooms to find the keys to the safe, so mostly you are just trying to use the movement rolls to get to the next room in the most expedient way while avoiding the guards. This is harder with more players, as the guard and dog move much farther between each player's turn.

It's got a lot of luck and is basically a roll and move, but there's fun and excitement to be had anyway, and the simple rules and visual appeal of the game would probably make it a good choice to play with kids.

Get if for:
* An assured quick game.
* Simple gameplay.
* Playing with kids who can't handle Escape yet.
* Roll and move gameplay.

Avoid it if:
* You don't like roll and move gameplay.
* You don't like time limits.
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8. Board Game: The Captain Is Dead [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:956]
Brian M
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Thornton
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One play mini-review

Our rating:

Modes: Co-op

Players: 1-7

With a couple: Unknown; we've only played with a group

Play Time: 1-2 hours

Difficulty: Not sure with just one play. There are multiple difficulty levels.

Skill Factor: 4 Seems like a lot of planning and control

Individual/Group Play: Mostly group play. Lots of coordination and planning together.
* Players have hands of cards, but they can freely discuss them.

Component Quality:
Nice. The game uses standees for the characters, which have a graphic on a clear back. A bit neater than normal standees.



The board is a bit busy, but it contains a lot of information used in play.



Art is a little odd; its got a slightly abstract vibe to it, but it is consistent across the characters.



Rules Quality:
No idea; we were taught this rather than reading the rules.

Mini-Review
Take on the role of the crew of a spaceship under attack!

Each player is a crew member of a spaceship. The ship is under attack; enemy ships attacking from outside, invaders teleporting aboard, and strange anomalies causing havoc. The team needs to keep this ship alive and repair the Jump Core in order to escape.

While the theme is quite like Space Alert, the game-play is very different. This is a turn based game. You take actions to repair systems or fight invaders. Many actions will require skills, which come via cards. You must play cards to use skills, and you can also trade them among the other players. Getting the right skills to the right players can be very important, though its more efficient to draw cards than trade them.

As you play, you'll need the find the right balance between fighting the threats, repairing the systems, and drawing new skills.

After each player's turn, you draw a threat card that inflicts some nastiness on the ship. The cards come in three difficulties so the game gets harder as it progresses. We finished our game (a win) a little ways into stage 2; apparently the level 3 cards are super-nasty, so you better escape before then!

We found this a solid game, but it just didn't thrill us. It was fun to play, but didn't really do much new and exciting. If you want a spaceship crew survival adventure (and don't want to go real time with Space Alert), this is a good one to try!

We didn't like...
* A bit slow paced. No standout flaws.

We really did like...
* Variety of different characters.
* Lots of teamwork and coordination.


Images from the BGG Gallery with thanks to AEGTodd, n8biangel and Mad Scientist
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9. Board Game: The Cards of Cthulhu [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:2967]
Brian M
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skill Factor: 2 Low skill; more luck of the draw and roll. But there are meaningful choices.

Modes: Solo, Co-op, Competitive (which is just co-op with counting points)

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Plays very well. However, you need a way to keep track of wounds; usually these are tracked by discarding dice, but with more than 1 player you need to share dice (or buy extras).

Play Time: Listed as 1 hour, but I think it usually plays in 30 minutes or less for us.

Difficulty: Reasonably easy as a co-op. We've started playing with the suggested 5 card per turn variant for greater difficulty; still not too hard, but puts it at a nice level of tension and suspense.

Individual/Group Play: Encourages group play.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Component Quality: Great. The art is well done, the dice are engraved and quite cool, and the coins in the game are nice solid metal pieces.


Rules Quality: Straightforward and easy to learn. There is a nice reference sheet that summarizes most of the rules needed during play.

Mini-Review
A dice rolling struggle to survive against unspeakable forces!

The Cards of Cthulhu is a very straightforward game. Each turn, you draw several cards, most of which are monsters that are added to four different faction boards. You then pick a board to attack and roll dice to try to defeat some of them.



If a board fills up too much and you can't clear it, you lose. Different combinations of cards will also awaken 'Horrors', which require certain die combos to defeat and attack you each turn.

To help out, you get a player special ability, and some of the cards are helpful items that you can either purchase or trade in for XP coins, the currency of the game.

While the game is very simple and mostly just die rolling, the variety of options for spending XP add a nice feeling of excitement to the game. There's usually a brisk flow of XP going back and forth, and tough choices as to whether to spend the XP on an extra attacks, or extra dice, or closing a gate.

There are also tense choices about which board to attack, as the risk and difficulty of various boards changes a lot as cards come out. One board might be close to filling up, while another has a nasty Horror that is about to awaken, and another has an annoying gate. Which one to try to stop?

The difficulty can depend on lot on card order; if several minions of a color and a horror of that matching color come out at once, life gets a lot harder!

This is an excellent filler or "over-lunch" game. It is easy to learn and teach, and results in a fast playing game with some nice swings of tension and excitement.

Negatives
* Limited variety; you go through the whole deck every game.
* Not a lot of actual cooperation; you can't do a lot to help other players.
* Nicer to have a set of dice for each player. We picked up one extra die set to play with two players, and have found it well worth it. Plus, as mentioned, the dice are great - I'd probably pull them out of this box to have handy for, say, Arkham Horror.
* Fairly shallow gamplay.
* Takes up a surprising amount of table space for a simple card game.

Positives
* Easy to learn and teach.
* Fast playing.
* Great components.
* Nice amount of tension.
* Decisions, while simple, are fun.

Thanks to Ex Nihilo and the BGG Gallery for the images.
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10. Board Game: Castle Panic [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:814]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Castle Panic

Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 1 A four step script could play about as well as a person.

Modes: Co-op, Solo, Competitive, 1-vs-all

Players: 1-6

With a couple: Plays very well.

Play Time: 30 minutes

Difficulty: Random; usually low.

Individual/Group Play: Not enough skill to matter.
* Players have hands of cards. Can't remember how much you can discuss them, as doing so is totally irrelevant.

Mini-Review
The monsters are coming! Play cards to kill them.
Monsters attack you tower from several different sections. You each have a hand of cards, and on your turn you can play a card matching the color and range of a monster to do damage to it.

Because you get to redraw your entire hand, and there's no real difference between the monsters, there's almost no real choice involved. Play all the cards you can, except one or two special cards that you might want to save for big monsters. Sorry, I just spoilered the whole game for you!

With 4 or more players, you can't even plausibly plan ahead to your next turn; every single monster that is currently on the board will be gone (one way or another) by then.

There game's main "mode" is competitive; while all the players want to destroy the monsters, you win by killing the most of them. There's also a variant where one player controls the monsters. I've never played either of these.

I've seen this get a lot of praise as a kid's game; we have played it with kids, but it didn't generate nearly the excitement that Forbidden Island or even Ticket to Ride did.

Still, it's OK for an occasional mindless but fun play.

Get if for:
* Playing with kids who really want to fight monsters and can't handle more complicated games.
* Mindless relaxing.
* Playing kingmaker between real players and a pile of tokens (in the competitive version).

Avoid it if:
* You want decisions in a game.
* You don't like knowing that you could be replaced with a monkey.
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11. Board Game: Countdown: Special Ops [Average Rating:5.24 Overall Rank:14267]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating: (In this case just my rating - Lisa didn't rate it based on one play)

Modes: Co-op, Solo, Campaign

Players: 1-6

With a couple: You need to play 2 characters each. Easy to do.

Play Time: 30 minutes. One variant includes playing against an actual timer as well as a turn timer.

Difficulty: Based on one play, fairly hard.

Individual/Group Play: Very group oriented.

Quick Overview
Command a special forces team in a deadly mission to eliminate terrorists, rescue hostages or disarm bombs.

You set up a map built out of cards (based on random location and objective draws). Each location will have several cards on it. Enter the location, and you draw the cards and try to defeat the enemies that you find, which is mostly a question of rolling dice. You try not to get your operatives killed or let a timer run out.

We went into this with enthusiam, but spent most of the game feeling like we were playing it wrong without actually being able to find anything we were playing wrong.

Each character has 'energy'. You need energy to take any actions, start with 2*, and get 1 per turn.

That's just not enough energy. Yes, I know, 'not enough' is often a key component of games. Not enough actions, not enough resources, so you have to make tough choice. I'm not referring to that kind of 'not enough'. I mean not enough to be fun.

For example, in our play, we needed to go in and find and defuse bombs. Only the demolitions expert* character could defuse bombs. The demolitions expert would, over the course of the game, have 7* energy before time ran out.

As it turned out, there were 7 energy worth of bombs and traps we needed to disarm. Disarming a bomb, incidentally, consists of moving into the space and spending X energy.

So, as we fight our way through the terrorists around the bombs (side note: I'm getting nervous that this review is going to wind up me up on NSA watchlists!), the demo expert can't fight them. If he fires a shot, there goes 1 energy and we don't have enough. Disarming the bombs doesn't actually involve any choices or even a die roll. So, essentially, the demolitions expert isn't playing a character at all. They have no choices to make, no game to play. They're just there to be lugged along and track their energy meter.

In addition, there are traps. To disarm a trap, the Intelligence Agent* has to spot it, and then the demolition expert has to move in and disarm it. The IA spots it by spending 1 energy to flip over a card in an adjacent sector. There are something like 15 cards on the shortest optimal path, and, again, the IA will only get 7 energy.* Oops. Guess the IA better not do anything else either.

Speaking of that 'shortest path', why does our board have side branches that don't lead to the objectives or exit? There's simply no reason to go there (OK, technically you get a point bonus if you explore the whole map, but you get a BETTER point bonus by just finishing the mission faster), and not enough time to take anything other than the shortest path anyway.

* It's been a while, so I may not be getting exactly the right role titles or energy counts, but the general idea holds.

Why we didn't buy it:
I won't rule out that we misplayed something horribly (though several rulebook checks failed to find what), but as was this simply wasn't a good game. Random and pointless, without even a lot of excitement.
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12. Board Game: Cthulhu Mash [Average Rating:5.48 Overall Rank:13001]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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--- WARNING: Not enough play experience to put much solid here ---

Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown thumbsdown

Skill Factor: Never played enough to find out. Probably low.

Modes: Competitive, Solo, Co-op. Sorta.

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Works about as well as with any number.

Play Time: 1 hour

Difficulty: Never played enough to find out. Probably moderate.

Individual/Group Play: Not much to gain with PbC.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
A random monster bash with Cthlhuhoid monsters. There's some sort of premise about dead souls having to confront the horrors they encountered in life to escape the underworld, or something like that. Basically, you set up a little board and move around it trying to defeat monsters and monster generators.

There's some nice touches in the forms of leveling up characters and having different skills for different characters.

While it claims co-op play, it's not really a co-op; in the normal, competitive, mode, the opponent on your left controls the monsters. This has no replacement in co-op or solo play, so you just have to try to play both sides.

I wouldn't mind giving this another try, but it didn't impresss us enough to bring it readily back to the table.

Get if for:
* Vaguely Cthulhu themed monster fighting.

Avoid it if:
* You don't want vaguely Cthulhu themed monster fighting?
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13. Board Game: D-Day Dice [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:885]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 3

Modes: Co-op, Solo, "Semi" Competitive

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Plays great, no special rules.

Play Time: 30 minutes or less.

Difficulty: Easy.

Individual/Group Play: Balanced. Overall decisions are best made with a group, but your die rolls are more individual.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
Storm the beaches of Normandy Yahtzee style!

Each player controls a squad of soldiers. As a team, the players battle their way through enemy fire and minefields to destroy the bunker at the end of each map.

The game is based around the typical "roll up to 3 times" gameplay, where you try to accumulate sets of matching symbols. The dice come in 3 colors (red, white and blue), and getting three symbols in each color has an extra bonus. You use the rolls to gather more troops, equipment points, officers and 'courage' to keep moving.

Equipment and officers are represented by decks of cards that vary from map to map, so there's more variety than in many dice games.

After each set of rolls, the squads take damage which varies from map area to map area; a squad reduced to 0 soldiers is destroyed, which ends the game for all players.

It's a simple game, and it's not terribly deep. Mostly you roll and look for good combos. While it has quite a few scenario boards, they are all pretty easy. However, he found it very addictive and a lot of fun. It makes a great 'over lunch' game as it is quick to play and you don't need to manage hands of cards.

Get if for:
* Lots of die rolling fun.
* A variety of scenarios to try.
* A light, enjoyable game.

Avoid it if:
* You want a deep challenge.
* You aren't into dice.
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14. Board Game: Dead Men Tell No Tales [Average Rating:7.18 Overall Rank:886]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: Early to say; probably thumbsup

Skill Factor: 4 There's luck in the card draws, but quite a bit of the game is decided by good action management.

Modes: Co-op
Can be easily played solo by playing multiple characters.

Players: 2-5

With a couple: Plays very well.

Play Time: 1 - 1 1/2 hours

Difficulty: Multiple levels; the easiest is challenging but beatable.

Individual/Group Play: Encourages group play.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Component Quality:



Very good. The physical quality is high, and the art is excellent. There are lots of small touches that give this a great aesthetic; like mottled red and yellow dice for fire levels, the little skull tokens for the deckhands, the nice drawstring token bag, and the shaped pirate meeples.



I also appreciate the thin box (shelf space is valuable to me), but it is a little hard to fit the player boards back in nicely; due to the spinners they don't stack well. That's a pretty minor complaint though.

Rules Quality: Generally clear, and there's a pretty good reference card, though it omits a few rules that we had to look up or forgot in the first game or two but had pretty well memorized by the third play. We also constantly forget to add a new tile at the start of a turn.

Mini-Review
Avast! There be treasure! And the treasure be on fire!
Dead Men Tell No Tales is a strange crossover of fantasy pirate action with firefighting. Your ship has blasted a dreaded undead pirate ship, the Skellit, and now needs to board the enemy vessel and get the treasures off it, before the flames consume it.

To get the treasures, you need to manage several elements. You must:
* Keep the fires under control so they don't hurt you too much or destroy the ship.
* Smash the endless hordes of skeletal deckhands before they overwhelm you.
* Fight the crew and treasure guardians.
* And get the treasures off the ship!

The core of the game is pretty standard Pandemic/Flashpoint type gameplay; spend 5 action points per turn to move around and fight threats while completing large objectives. However, it incorporates a few twists, such as:
* A tile-laying element as you build the ship.
* The ability to swap between items, effectively changing your special abilities.
* Two different external threat sources to manage.
* Plus having to manage your fatigue meter.
* The ability to pass your actions to the next player.

The result is a tense and entertaining challenge. The tension builds in very natural way; as the map grows, you find more hatches that spawn deckhands and more fires and simply can't keep them all under control. There are quite a few options for what to do to manage the threats, so you've always got a few important things to choose from. You even have some interesting options like letting a room blow up to get rid of a deck hatch.

Overall, the game is an action management puzzle, trying to maximize your actions to keep the dangers under control. Expect a lot of conversation about who should handle which danger and how the team can best work together. There is a dose of luck in the order of card draws (Drawing a 'red 3' followed by 'red 4' is much worse than the other way around!) but there's a lot control and skill as well.

This isn't groundbreaking, but it is a very solid co-op. Great looking, easy enough for new players and with enough variety and challenge for veterans.

Negatives
* Few female characters.
Really not much else to say here; there's some quibbles like one or two things that would be good on the reference card, fairly minor character imbalance and some thin theme points but nothing major. Overall this is very well done.

Positives
* Very nice artwork and components.
* Quick to set up.
* Lots of variety of actions to take.
* Nice feel of tension and excitement.
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15. Board Game: Defenders of the Realm [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:375]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: - Avg -

Skill Factor: 3 - 4

Modes: Competitive. Trivially easy to play co-op.
Can be played solo by playing multiple characters, but each character has a hand of cards to manage.

Players: 2-4

With a couple: Plays ok with just 2 heroes. We find it a little more fun to control 2 heroes each.

Play Time: 1-2 hours

Difficulty: Usually low, though bad card draws can make it much harder on occasion.

Individual/Group Play: Slightly encourages individuality, but some decisions need to be well planned as a team.
* Players have hands of cards and individual quests, but may discuss them freely.

Mini-Review
It's Pandemic with orcs and undead! "You orcs are a disease. I'm da cure".

I said this list would be for true co-op only, but I'll give Defenders a pass since it's very easy to just ignore the competitive rules. Normally you are supposed to count points to determine a winner at the end, but ignoring those rules has no negative impact on the game, and seems to be how most people play it.

A horde of assorted evil creatures led by four deadly generals threatns a fantasy land. The players take control of the brave heroes who go out to fight them. You need to defeat all four generals before their minions multiply out of control or (more often) one of the generals reaches the capital city.

The gameplay is heavily copied from Pandemic. You draw cards each turn and move around the board fighting minions while you try to build up enough cards of one color to defeat the corresponding general. Cards can also be spent for extra movement and occasionally for special effects. There are some twists on the Pandemic formula. You need to roll dice to defeat minions. You can't trade resources, but you can combine to fight a general. Characters have individual quests that they can undertake to gain assorted bonuses.

There's a lot of luck and inconsistency when it comes to the challenge of the game. A general might barely move, or might move three turns in a row. A lousy set of rolls fighting a general can be devastating.

There are a few poor design choices; the cards that place minions don't give you any sort of map key reference as to where the minions are being placed, so you can spend a lot of time searching the board for a spot. The quests are almost inversely balanced; with the most time-consuming quest in the game being the least rewarding.

Overall though, the game is pretty fun. There's a nice variety of character abilities, and the quests spice up the basic gameplay nicely. Despite the many mechanical similarities, it feels fairly different from Pandemic. It isn't as carefully designed a game, but it's still fun, and I'm sure the fantasy theme is more appealing to some players.

Get if for:
* Pandemic with a fantasy theme.
* Cool characters to play.
* A reasonably epic game with lots of things going on.
* A "semi-cooperative" game in which one player can effectively hold the rest of the team hostage by hoarding a set of cards of the right color. (But, as I said, you can easily ignore that part. )

Avoid it if:
* You prefer a clean, well designed game with clear rules.
* You don't like a sub-game of trying to find which one of the similar looking numerous green spaces spread all over the board is Wyvern Forest (as opposed to Griffon Forest, Raven Forest, etc etc).
* You don't like lots of die rolling.
* You're going to think too hard about the theme. (Wait, why do I need 6 green horses to fight the general?)
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16. Board Game: Dragonriders of Pern: The Book Game [Average Rating:5.13 Overall Rank:13624]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 6 Sorta. Technically, it's all skill. But until you figure out the system, it sure doesn't feel that way.

Modes: Co-op, Competitive. Cannot be played solo.

Players: 2

With a couple: It's a 2 player only game.

Play Time: 15-20 minutes

Difficulty: Hard while trying to figure the system out, easy afterwards.

Individual/Group Play: Tough to rate. With the spoiler, probably encourages group play.

Mini-Review
The theme is going to be really strange if you haven't had the Dragonriders of Pern series! Players take to the air on dragons, to burn down falling Thread - a deadly parasite from another planet.

Borderline co-op. Normal play has you competing for points, but you can also just play to stop all the falling thread.

The game consists of two books. One player takes each book. Your book shows a dragon-saddle view from your dragon. You'll see both your wingmate (the other player) and a tangle of thread. You both pick a maneuver, and the combined results has you turn to a new page showing the results of the maneuver. Maneuver well, and you can line up the thread and burn it. Maneuver really bad and you can get burned by thread or accidentally scorch your wingmate!

There's a threadfall track that decreases each turn and resets when you flame a piece of thread; go too many turns without flaming a piece, and the thread hits the ground. Too many hit and you lose.

There's a pattern to how all this works. In fact, there's a "spoiler" section in the back of the books that explain this. DON'T read the spoiler. It kind of ruins the game (I was a kid back when I first had these, I was impatient, I eventually read the spoiler).

Not much to it, and the game gets way less interesting once you know the pattern. It is very portable, and it has a campaign where you can level up and learn new maneuvers, which is kind of cool. The campaign even takes into account the different kinds of dragons.

Get if for:
* Playing with huge fans of the Pern series.
* A highly portable co-op.
* Campaign play.

Avoid it if:
* You won't be able to resist reading the spoiler.
* You want variety in your game play - it's all pretty samey.
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17. Board Game: Dungeon Fighter [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:787]
Brian M
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Thornton
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 5 But keep in mind that's almost entirely physical dexterity!

Modes: Co-op, Solo

Players: 1-5

With a couple: Works great! No variants needed.

Play Time: 45 minutes

Difficulty: High at first, until you get some practice. We've never played enough to get practice. Offers several scaling levels of difficulty.

Individual/Group Play: Most of the game is dexterity, which encourages individuality. For the actual choices, it lends towards playing by commitee.

Mini-Review
A dungeon crawl where you actually need to hit the monster!

The players embark on a typical dungeon crawl adventure, trying to fight their way through a horde of monsters and defeat the final boss at the end. The twist is that instead of rolling dice and checking stats, you are tossing the dice at a target shaped board on the table. To hit, you actually need to hit. You do more damage the closer you get to the bulls-eye of the board.

That's not all there is to it though. Different rooms and different monsters offer different dice throwing challenges. Fighting a medusa? You have to throw with your eyes closed! Battling in a labyrinth? You have to bounce the die over an obstacle. You can power up with weapons that do extra damage, but they'll also require extra skill to use - use a bow and you need to take a step back from the table.

You have some special abilities, and different abilities are triggered by different colored dice. A given die can only be used once per set of throws, so if you use the Blue die, the next player can't.

Really, it's a very straightforward game, and I suspect most people will have a good idea of whether or not they'll like it just based on their impression of "bouncing dice at a target". For us, this is fun to play, but not a game we'll be bringing out often; it's a good "occasional" game.

Incidentally, the game includes scaling difficulty. We've never played with the same people enough to go past the easiest difficulty.

One stray complaint, however, is that some of the throwing interactions are very unclear; we don't know how to physically combine some of the throws!

Get if for:
* Bouncing dice at a target!
* Laughing at other players as they try to throw a die under one leg while hopping without looking.

Avoid it if:
* Bouncing dice at a target doesn't sound fun.
* You don't want people laughing at you while you try to throw a die under on leg while hopping without looking.

(Like I said...pretty straightforward).
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18. Board Game: Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:625] [Average Rating:6.98 Unranked]
Brian M
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 2 Some skill, but mostly it's luck of the die and draw.

Modes: Co-op, Solo.

Players: 1-5

With a couple: Works poorly. One character each is a bit dull (and the game doesn't scale well). Two characters each is hard to manage due to the huge glut of cards.

Play Time: 1 hour

Difficulty: Depends on scenario and character count. Usually easy with 4 characters. Some scenarios are virtually impossible (and not in a good way) with 2 characters.

Individual/Group Play: Not really enough skill to matter.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
A fast paced co-op dungeoncrawl with tons of cool minis. This sounds so awesome. How could it go so wrong?

The rulebook is a mess, the scenario book even more of a mess. Be prepared to have no idea how to play some scenarios. If you have no idea what to do with a component, it's probably just not used in this scenario. Probably. Or they just missed explaining it. Or you missed it in the rules and should probably go back and re-read. How do you know which situation is which? Beats me!

You control a party of adventurers battling against the forces of a vampire lord in a variety of scenarios. You can choose from 5 different heroes, each with different abilities. Like, one character will have a +7 to hit instead of a +6 to hit. Ok, ok, they do each have some unique abilities, but overall they wind up feeling pretty much the same after a few plays.

You wander through the dungeon in a mostly random manner; it doesn't matter which way you go (usually), you'll find the end eventually. Along the way, you meet monsters. Monsters attack you (roll a die) and then you attack them (roll a die). Monsters have a 'script' on their cards that they follow. While there's some interesting variety (spiders web you, burning skeletons attack everyone in a room, etc), they tend to show up, attack and die almost immediately. This wound up feeling to us like "draw a card, see how many hit points you lose".

To keep time pressure on, if you don't explore, you draw an Event card. If you DO explore, about half the time you draw an Event card anyway. The Event cards are, for the most part, "draw a card, see how many hit points you lose."

We loved this for a few plays. We really did. Our excitement was very high. But the illusion of anything interesting going on dropped off very fast. Draw a card, see how many hit points you lose. Roll to hit. Draw a card, see how many hit points you lose. Roll to hit. Over and over.

Get if for:
* The minis. Pretty much worth it if you want a bunch of fantasy minis even if you then toss the rest of the game in the trash. Just look at that Dracoliche!
* A quick playing dungeon crawl.
* A game that's easy to get new players into the action on once you know how to play.
* Some good excitement for a few plays.

Avoid it if:
* You try the following exercise and shudder:
1) Draw a card and see how many hit points you lose.
2) Roll a die.
3) Repeat steps 1-2 ten times in a row.
* You want to make sense out of your rules.
* You want interesting, meaningful choices in gamplay.
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19. Board Game: Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of Ashardalon Board Game [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:536] [Average Rating:7.20 Unranked]
Brian M
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This is going to be almost identical to Castle Ravenloft. In fact, it's almost a copy paste. I have highlighted the differences in red.

Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown NOTE: Might have been thumbsup had we not already played Ravenloft.

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 2 Some skill, but mostly it's luck of the die and draw.

Modes: Co-op, Solo.

Players: 1-5

With a couple: Works poorly. One character each is a bit dull (and the game doesn't scale well). Two characters each is hard to manage due to the huge glut of cards.

Play Time: 1-2 hours

Difficulty: Depends on scenario and character count. Usually easy with 4 characters. Some scenarios are virtually impossible (and not in a good way) with 2 characters.

Individual/Group Play: Not really enough skill to matter.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
A fast paced co-op dungeoncrawl with tons of cool minis. This sounds so awesome. How could it go so wrong?

The rulebook is a mess, the scenario book even more of a mess. Be prepared to have no idea how to play some scenarios. If you have no idea what to do with a component, it's probably just not used in this scenario. Probably. Or they just missed explaining it. Or you missed it in the rules and should probably go back and re-read. How do you know which situation is which? Beats me!

You control a party of adventurers battling against the forces of a dragon in a variety of scenarios. You can choose from 5 different heroes, each with different abilities. Like, one character will have a +7 to hit instead of a +6 to hit. Ok, ok, they do each have some unique abilities, but overall they wind up feeling pretty much the same after a few plays.

You wander through the dungeon in a mostly random manner; it doesn't matter which way you go (usually), you'll find the end eventually. Along the way, you meet monsters. Monsters attack you (roll a die) and then you attack them (roll a die). Monsters have a 'script' on their cards that they follow. While there's some interesting variety (spiders web you, burning skeletons attack everyone in a room, etc), they tend to show up, attack and die almost immediately. This wound up feeling to us like "draw a card, see how many hit points you lose".

To keep time pressure on, if you don't explore, you draw an Event card. If you DO explore, about half the time you draw an Event card anyway. The Event cards are, for the most part, "draw a card, see how many hit points you lose."

We loved Ravenloft for a few plays. We really did. Our excitement was very high. But the illusion of anything interesting going on dropped off very fast. Draw a card, see how many hit points you lose. Roll to hit. Draw a card, see how many hit points you lose. Roll to hit. Over and over. Wrath was just more of the same. However, I suspect we would not have liked it as much as Ravenloft even had we not already gotten bored of the game.


What it does different from Ravenloft:
* The rulebook is better. In fact, some clarifications in the rulebook only apply to Ravenloft. This in itself may be a little confusing.
* The treasures are much more interesting. In fact, we felt a bit overloaded on treasures in Ashardalon!
* Wrath has "campaign" play. Campaigns consist of playing the same scenario with a different random monster at the end over and over, with a few upgrades carrying over between games. There's a short campaign and a long campaign. We could barely make it through (interest wise) the short campaign, and the long one looks almost exactly the same, but longer.
* There are some doors and "long passages" to make exploring a bit more interesting. We never opened a door while playing.
* The scenarios are a bit better explained than Ravenloft. Apparently, having decided that clearly explaining scenarios was a weakness of theirs, all the scenarios in Wrath are virtually identical, aside from a card you draw at the end to determine exactly which boss monster you meet.
* They have some new traps in the event cards that take you out of the game until you roll a 10+ on a D20. In a 4-5 player game, since players may only get 4-5 turns each, that can easily be "out for the rest of the game".


Get if for:
* The minis. Pretty much worth it if you want a bunch of fantasy minis even if you then toss the rest of the game in the trash. Just look at that dragon!
* A quick playing dungeon crawl.
* A game that's easy to get new players into the action on once you know how to play.
* Some good excitement for a few plays.

Avoid it if:
* You try the following exercise and shudder:
1) Draw a card and see how many hit points you lose.
2) Roll a die.
3) Repeat steps 1-2 ten times in a row.
* You want interesting, meaningful choices in gameplay.
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20. Board Game: Elder Sign [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:468]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? - Avg -

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown

Skill Factor: Low

Modes: Co-op, Solo

Players: 1-8

With a couple: Plays great playing one character each.

Play Time: 1 hour

Difficulty: Easy

Individual/Group Play: Not really enough skill to matter much. Picking adventures is maybe group oriented.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
Out-roll Cthulhu!
Elder Sign is the mini die rolling version of Arkham Horror. Apparently, the entire game takes place in one museum. Having every mythos monster around wind up in one city at the same time was odd. Having them all in one museum is the sort of thematic bit it's better to just not think about.

I've seen this compared to Yahtzee, or called a 'dice' game. Its not. Those type of comparisions assume that you will roll the dice, and then try to figure how to use your roll. Most gamery dice games, such as Alien Frontiers or King of Tokyo, will offer multiple possibilities for what you want on a given turn and how you will use your roll.

While Elder Sign LOOKS like those of type of games, the dice are really just a convoluted task resolution. You pick an adventure, and roll to see if you can resolve that adventure. Choices about how to use your dice are usually very straightforward.

You have a bunch of cards to improve your rolls, but most just give you an extra die.

The risk-reward balance on the cards isn't real strong, so usually it's obvious which adventure to undertake.

Overall, this is a choice-weak kind of mindless game. At 15 or 20 minutes, I'd enjoy this as a quick filler a lot. But it runs an hour or more, and for me it stretches its welcome at that length. There's just not enough there to justify that kind of time.

The game is very easy as is. Given the randomness, I don't mind that, but it's a common complaint.

A lot of fan effort has gone into making the game harder. Most of the ideas involve removing choices and making the game longer as well. Since our complaints are A) Too few choices and B) too long, these have not been good fits for us

It's still one we play every now and then though. The dice are cute.


Get if for:
* Mindless Cthulhu-themed die rolling.
* A game for when you don't want to think.

Avoid it if:
* You want choices.
* You want a challenge.
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21. Board Game: Escape: The Curse of the Temple [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:422]
 
Brian M
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skill Factor: 4

Modes: Co-op, Solo

Players: 1-5 (6 with expansions)

With a couple: Plays great. No special rules needed.

Play Time: 10 minutes.

Difficulty: Easy but scalable.

Individual/Group Play: Promotes individuality given the real-time element.

Mini-Review
Snakes, why did it have to...wait a minute, there aren't any snakes here!

A fast paced and fun dice game. The players try to activate the mystic gems to escape from the cursed temple before time runs out and they are sealed in forever. There are no turns; you roll dice as fast as you can, looking for various combos to move around the temple, explore, and activate gems. You can (and often must!) work as a team and save each other from the black mask rolls that block your dice.

The base game is pretty simple, but it's fast, crazy and fun. The game includes a 'module' to modify the game, with several more available as promos or purchaseable expansions. Adding the base game module gives you curses and treasures, which adds a lot to the game but can require glancing at a reference sheet the first few plays, which is inconvenient during a real time game.

Get if for:
* Fast, light action.
* A game that plays in 10 minutes even with 5 people.
* Lots of laughs and excitement

Avoid it if:
* You want more than an action packed thriller.
* Your group doesn't enjoy real-time.
* You are only likely to play one game with each group; it can be frustrating never getting to use the whole variety of tiles as you don't want to toss them all in to the first play!
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22. Board Game: Feurio! [Average Rating:6.14 Overall Rank:3885]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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Note: This also covers Vulkan!, which is played with the same components.

Our rating:

Addictive? - Avg -

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 3

Modes: Co-op, Competitive, Solo

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Plays great!

Play Time: 30 minutes

Difficulty: Moderate

Individual/Group Play: Very strongly encourages group play.
* This is basically a single player puzzle with players sharing the pieces.

Mini-Review
A puzzley fire-fighting game. You draw tiles and place firefighters on them following certain rules. In the co-op game, you need to place all of the firefighters by the end of the game to win.
This is very much a puzzle game, spiced up by the randomness of the tile draw. It's quick and easy to play and good for a filler co-op. The competitive game is also fun, and plays very differently from the co-op game.

The game Vulkan! is posted online and plays with the same components but different rules. Also very much a puzzle game. A completed game of Feurio will leave you with a board all set up for Vulkan, so it works well to play one right after the other.

Get if for:
* Puzzle solving fun.
* Quick and easy gameplay.

Avoid it if:
* You don't like puzzles.
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23. Board Game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:254]
Brian M
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup thumbsup thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skill Factor: 3 Good blend of skill in planning and picking good actions, but there's a lot of luck in the die rolls.

Modes: Co-op, Solo.

Players: 1-6.
We have had problems with more than 4; the fire usually spreads so fast we can't even begin to contain it. I do not have enough 4+ experience to know if this is normal, or was just the result of a poor string of bad rolls.

With a couple: Plays great! It's also easy to control 2 firefighters each for a somewhat more variety filled and different experience, but it's fantastic even with just 1 firefighter each.

Play Time: 30 minutes - 1 hour

Difficulty: Scaling with 3 difficulty levels that provide a nice range of challenge.

Individual/Group Play: Encourages group play.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
Highly thematic, very engaging, and easy to play.

Flash Point has strong "theme to mechanic" translation that makes it easy and intuitive to grasp; the excellent theme and easy play makes it a great choice for non-gamers, but it's solid enough for gamers as well.

The players are a firefighting team attempting to rescue victims from a burning building. Turns are spent spending action points to move through the building, extinguish fires, carry injured victims, chop through walls, clear out hazardous flammables and so on.

The fire is dice driven, which can make for a swingy game; a series of bad rolls can make things explode (literally!) out of control very fast, while consistent good rolls can make a given play much easier.

One oddity about this game: you win when you rescue 7 victims, but we (and we're not the only ones) never stop there; we keep trying to rescue them all or until we really decide we can't risk staying any longer!

Get if for:
* A strongly thematic game about real heroes.
* Accessible and simple game play.
* A lot of "oh no!" moments.

Avoid it if:
* You want a consistent challenge level.
* You want unique choices on each turn.
* You don't like a lot of "oh no!" moments.
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24. Board Game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue – 2nd Story [Average Rating:7.59 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.59 Unranked]
Brian M
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Improves the game: thumbsup
Get it when you want more variety.

The 2nd Story adds two new boards, both of which are two level houses. You need portable ladders to get directly to the second story.

We really enjoy these boards. The increased amount of options gives you a lot of choices for how to approach a situation.

These aren't something you need to have, but they are a great spice-up for the game.
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25. Board Game: Flash Point: Fire Rescue – Urban Structures [Average Rating:7.63 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.63 Unranked]
Brian M
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Improves the game: thumbsup
Get it when you want more variety.

This expansion gives two new buildings, each of which has unique features that make it different. The high rise is inaccessible from the ground floor, so firefighters must use the elevator or ladder to leave and enter. The split building has two halves that don't connect.

It also includes one extra firefighter specialist; the structural engineer. The engineer is tricky to use, but can be very, very powerful - possibly overpowered in some games.

None of these are essential, but the new buildings add a lot of fun variety and are well worth getting if you own the game.
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