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Subject: Gave the Print & Play a Spin - Don't Bother rss

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Brooks Child
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Arlington
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I have been intrigued by Penny Arcade's Eyrewood IP since they first started producing content for it and have therefore followed the Thornwatch game for quite some time via blog posts, newsletters and tweets. The new mechanics they created seemed at worst novel and potentially game changing. I was really excited when the Kickstarter was announced and had the game been priced at a reasonable amount I would have immediately pulled the trigger. A dungeon crawler for $70 that contained no minis seemed too expensive unless it was as fabulous a game as I had hoped it might be. Fortunately, the Kickstarter campaign offers a print-and-play version of the game so you can try it before you buy it.

I spent a few hours printing and cutting everything out and was really excited to get it to the table although I had started to have some reservations after reading over the rules. My hope was that it was one of those games where the majority of the game is in the components and not in the rulebook.

I am sad to say that this is not the case. There ultimately isn't much game to be found anywhere; rulebook, game components or elsewhere. Players, whether they are playing members of the Thornwatch or serving as the judge, don't have many decisions to make and those they do are not tough ones.

In Thornwatch the majority of the players take control of a member of the group the game is named after. Their hero is represented by a token on the board (not a mini) and a deck of cards. On their turn they play their cards as they see fit, move one space and perform one action. The moving and action are quick and rarely take to long. The bulk of the turn is the manipulation of the cards. Some cards have actions on them and others are resources to power those actions. Each action has a cost,a certain number of resources in the same deck. Actions cards can also be used as resource cards (any one resource in the card's cost). Each player has a playmat and can be building the necessary resources to power 4 action cards.

Action cards doubling as resource cards is brilliant. It is the mechanic that makes Race for the Galaxy such an exceptionally sleek game. But this game only half asses it. If you start down that route commit to it. Make every card in the hero's deck an acton card. That way the typical hand will be full of choices and opportunity costs instead of the obvious choice and the necessary resources to power it we saw while playing. Furthermore, four action card slots on the playmat is too many given the number of action cards in the deck. Very rarely does they player even have to consider dumping a partially completed action in favor of a more opportunistic one they just drew. In the end we found the lack of meaningful decision making led to a very boring game (we completed the first scenario and bailed half way through the second).

Thornwatch is billed as a light roleplaying game but that is not the case. It is a dungeon crawl with the most minor of roleplaying mechanics bolted on the side, seemingly as an afterthought. Even then the roleplaying mechanic is broken. Player's are given two traits cards describing their character. If they take actions that align with these traits they are rewarded with an special die that is more favorable to them. They can use this die on any future roll. It is very hard to role play towards these traits however when your actions are dictated by the cards you drew. "I am going to add resources to theses two actions and I am going to do it relentlessly...". Furthermore, it is up to the judge to determine if a satisfactory level of role playing occurred. That is a problem since the Judge is set up not as a Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master but as a Decent-esqu overlord. Meaning that the judge is not there to progress the story and "be the world" but rather the judges role is to be in direct competition with the players. Scenarios have different endings based on who won, the players or the judge, so clearly they judge is supposed to win some times. If that is the case why would the judge be the arbiter on the biggest boon to the Thornwatch players?

Thornwatch forgoes the traditional hit points mechanic in favor of a new mechanic called the momentum track. The momentum track determines both turn order and an enemies health. Successful attacks against an enemy move them down the track and if they are at the end of the track it kills them. I was really intrigued by this mechanic it seemed like a really cool way to simulate health. The problem with it is that it has no memory. The order of the track is determined at random at the beginning of each round. Meaning all the work you put in to hurting an enemy last round is lost and you are at the mercy of the fates. After failing to kill an enemy a few times players quickly learn that if a monster is placed high enough in the momentum track it is often not worth it to attach that monster and since players can only move one space each turn there is often not another monster they can hurt this turn. This leads to boring turns where all the player does is build resources towards their actions cards and not much else.

All in all Thornwatch is a snoozefest. Very few player decisions, conflicts in the role of the judge and a broken mechanic a the core of the game all lead to a game that is not very fun to play. Do not back.

Edit: Grammer
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Frank F
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I think the significant decision making aspects arise from the group collaboration about how to most effectively eliminate the enemies in any given round. If the players are not communicating and working together to achieve the objectives then yes, the game is not fun. But that's true for most cooperative games isn't it? And if you have an unreasonable or otherwise malicious judge, then yes there can be an obvious conflict in trait roleplay determination, but that is an interpersonal meta game problem, not a flaw with the game itself, I would argue.

I agree that the price is overly expensive. I would back the game if it were reasonably priced. The campaign is also not being run well in my opinion. The focus on acquiring more backers is really just a naked cash grab, encouraging people to chip in three bucks for nothing in return essentially. They do know that the PA fandom is tenacious and they probably just figured that they could squeeze all the money they could from us at this point. PA has always succeeded at every Kickstarter they've run and often receive ridiculous amounts of money beyond their goal. I sense that a lack of Robert Khoo has made this effort distinctly different from previous efforts and it may suffer for it.

I've played the game at GenCon, but have yet to play the pnp. It is a solid game with a solid group of players and will be a good base for the rest of the series I believe. I just hope the price becomes reasonable sooner than later.
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Nate F
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Thanks for your thoughts. I was like you, eagerly following Thornwatch news for a long time. I really wanted this game to be good. I had decided not to back for my own reasons, and instead wait for retail. Now, I will wait for retail AND some more reviews. But I am not hopeful about it being worth buying any more.
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Ponder Stibbons
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The Broox wrote:
...It is up to the judge to determine if a satisfactory level of role playing occurred....Scenarios have different endings based on who won, the players or the judge, so clearly they judge is supposed to win some times. If that is the case why would the judge be the arbiter on the biggest boon to the members of the Thornwatch players?

LightRider wrote:
...if you have an unreasonable or otherwise malicious judge, then yes there can be an obvious conflict in trait roleplay determination, but that is an interpersonal meta game problem, not a flaw with the game itself, I would argue...

sounds a bit like if your restaurant waiter filled out the "how was my service today?" survey for you while telling you how much a 40% tip comes out to be. we should do this again soon! have a nice day!
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Ukko Kaarto
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Thanks for the PnP review. I was intrigued by the game and the idea and the setting look lovely. Upon further inspection and gameplay video the game started to look more and more shallow and your review confirmed my fears. It is like Pathfinder card game, loads of prettyness but very uninspiring and boring gameplay.

It is a pity. Such a pretty game
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Sean Franco
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I also followed this game from its C4rD \/\/4rI0rZ roots. There were some parts that thrilled me. I loved the concept of the momentum track when it was announced. It seemed like such a unique and clean way to express so many moving parts. I'm dismayed to hear that it's just not successful. I'm also saddened that the game seems to have moved from its heavy role-playing roots; a tactical deckbuilder doesn't excite me at all compared to the original mesh of role-playing with win-cons.
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John Paul Messerly
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I printed this out and played with my group a few weeks ago and I thought it bombed. After the game my group complained about the lack of role playing elements or story choice yet they keep asking to play it.

The theme is extremely rich and the core mechanics flow well. I love how quick it is to setup and how little book keeping there is (thanks to the health/momentum system). It's definitely not a role playing game and it's not perfect but there is something magical about it... something about it has kept my group coming back for more. I agree with all your criticisms of the game yet I'm still excited about it.
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Julien Marr
Australia
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Cheers for this.

I was sold on theme and art. Lost me on gameplay. I think I'll redirect this cash at something else now.
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Aaron Silverman
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Rumbelow wrote:
The Broox wrote:
...It is up to the judge to determine if a satisfactory level of role playing occurred....Scenarios have different endings based on who won, the players or the judge, so clearly they judge is supposed to win some times. If that is the case why would the judge be the arbiter on the biggest boon to the members of the Thornwatch players?

LightRider wrote:
...if you have an unreasonable or otherwise malicious judge, then yes there can be an obvious conflict in trait roleplay determination, but that is an interpersonal meta game problem, not a flaw with the game itself, I would argue...

sounds a bit like if your restaurant waiter filled out the "how was my service today?" survey for you while telling you how much a 40% tip comes out to be. we should do this again soon! have a nice day!


Judge Goodell vs. the Patriots of the Thornwatch!
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Brian Lelas
Ireland
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We built a PnP version last week as well and I agree. This game is awful.

The rulebook was absolutely useless as well. One sentence that stood out for me as a perfect illustration of how bad the rules are was:

Construct the map using the arrangement of any map tiles in the arrangement of the storyboard tile’s map icon.

Yep. Great written English there, guys.

Seriously, this game is not good. It's pretty. That's it.
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Johan Haglert
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I can't even find the print & play.
 
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Nate S
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Yeah, I agree with the OP. There doesn't seem to be much game here, with shallow decisions and lackluster mechanics. I think there are a lot better games out there to spend your money on. The Penny Arcade fandom will still throw over $500k at it, however.
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Steve Jakab

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aliquis wrote:
I can't even find the print & play.


You have to sign up with their newsletter, and they send you the link to the PnP.
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Mycroft Stout
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Thanks for the info, sadly not surprised.
 
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