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Subject: Review of Skull Tales after a few Solo Plays rss

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James W
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Long time reader, first time reviewer. Please be gentle. Photos, if not visible, are awaiting approval.

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I recently received my Kickstarter reward for Skull Tales and have a couple plays in and wanted to express my thoughts on this game. I also purchased the two extra characters and the voyage phase miniatures.

Component Quality
Starting with the miniatures, it's worth noting that many backers complained of their miniatures being damaged, especially the two that were inexplicably packaged outside the large box. Being of soft plastic, some hot water bent them back. I had to straighten about half of mine in total. For those looking for this in retail and seeing the KS page, it says "resin" miniatures but they are soft plastic, not resin.

Overall, they look pretty good. When Compared to Wrath of Ashardalon and Mice and Mystics, I would say Skull Tales looks better. However, some of the newer games like Conan, Sword and Sorcery, etc. appear to have a lot more detail in them. Some of the ST faces are lacking detail and some of the figures have more detail than others. I'm speculating that part of the issues with some many minis being bent is due to the heavy bases, relative to the rest of the figure.


The tiles are thick with a high gloss finish and a lot of little details on each one.


Cards and artwork is pretty good. There's not a large variety of weapons or items, but what's there fits the pirate theme.


It also came with nice plastic coins for tracking wealth. These feel nice and look good and makes the plunder feel more satisfying. The plastic does have some molting, which while an imperfection, almost fits with pirate treasure. Still beats cardboard coins.


There's also clear, green, and red cubes for destiny points (re-rolls, and other heroic actions), prestige points (XP), and health (self-explanatory).

Game Play
In Skull Tales you select one or more pirates (either playing multiple Player characters or playing as one with some allies (who have simplified abilities but tend to die easily). Maybe they should've been called minions. Or fodder. Or minion fodder!

Skull Tales uses six-sided die rolls to solve most challenges in the game. As this is a dungeon crawl, most challenges involve combat, searching for items, evading traps, or overcoming some physical obstacle on the map like a chasm full of lava, because we all want to jump over those.

"You know what Bob, I'm good. I'm just going to head back and guard the boat. Let me know if you find anything cool."

Sometimes you're rolling to beat a value, other times as a confronted role where both the player and the enemy roll and whoever has more successes wins.

Combat feels a lot like Mice and Mystics and works pretty well with one exception. Close Quarter Combat (CQC) uses confronted rolls. Ranged Combat (RC) is a straight "to hit" number. This, to me, feels unbalanced. It does force you into some strategies like shooting at range and then moving in to defend yourself in CQC or hiding out of line of sight to force the enemy to advance. I may adopt some sort of house rule where you're allowed a defense roll to take half damage.

The campaign book tells you what enemies are on certain mission tiles and random dice rolls fill out the rest of the tiles. The campaign book also tells you to set certain tokens aside and as you reach the edge of a tile, you grab a token and then place the corresponding tile. You'll keep doing this until you reach your objectives. Each time the adventure track advances. If it gets to the end, before you get to your objective - you lose.

If you search a tile and fail, the track advances. Otherwise, outside of a few select specialized cases, there isn't really a timer that forces you to move quickly like many other dungeon crawlers. This allows you time to catch your breath and gather up before advancing, which is nice, but it can lengthen the adventure.

Enemies have a pretty basic card with stats. AI is simple but each enemy has one or two special rules to consider depending if you're playing "normal" (Left side) or "advanced" (right stats and both special abilities).


Kill an enemy, grab a fallen foe token. Pick it up to see the reward. It could be nothing, it could be gold, it could be an item, or it could be a trap or an ambush.

Complete a goal - take the appropriate goal token.

Hit in naval battle - grab a token to see where you're hit.

Find cargo at sea - grab a token to see what you found.

So, if you couldn't guess this game uses a lot of tokens. Many tokens. So many tokens. The fallen foe tokens are clear on the reward side, but the back is busy. It took me a while to see the wooden cross in the sand.

The cargo tokens also require some diligence to understand what you're looking at. They made a poor choice of using a lot of brown items on a brown background for those which make them hard to see, especially for anyone who's colorblind. [Edit: The image I took of these tokens was declined by BGG because it was over-exposed and blurry. The irony is that I had to over-expose the image so you could see the detail, which also made it grainy.]
 


Now this isn't as fiddly as Shadows of Brimstone. But, really, what is? It is, however, much fiddlier than Mice and Mystics and the Dungeons and Dragons board games.

As you complete goals and shoot and stab your way through your enemies, you gain prestige. This is a valuable resource for buying new skills and for running for Captain. It's a popularity contest including your charisma. Really.

Besides the Adventure phase, there's also a voyage phase and a port phase. Port phase is like the town in Shadows of Brimstone, except with less to do. AdeptusAce posted a file here on BGG https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/134554/crooked-hook-taver...to try and round out that portion of the game.

The voyage phase
This is what pirating is all about. Unfortunately, this phase is a bit of a mess. Each player is actively trying to sabotage the captain, so they can become captain. But when not trying to screw your compatriots, you get to battle sea monsters, other ships, and might even need to out run a ghost ship or avoid a whirlpool. There's a lot of potential here, but it needs some work. And by work, I mean fan variants.

That leads to an interesting mechanic in the Voyage phase. When you're rolling dice for movement, the number of dice you roll is based on the number of sails you have (up to 5). You can get a 6th die with the Sailing skill that the Sea Dog has or that you can purchase with gold and prestige.

If you roll a 1 or 2, you draw an event card. It could be good. Chances are, it's bad. Every d6 has a 33% chance to roll a 1 or a 2 on a single roll. If you're rolling 4,5, or 6 dice - you're probably going to get an event. Taking 12 rolls with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 dice, I ended up having 4, 5, 8, 8, 10, and 10 events in 12 rolls. Which, why I couldn't find the statistics equations to get me to that place, and ignoring the small sample size, you can see this mechanic needs some sort of variant. Like you can ignore a 1 or 2 for every "success" you have. Otherwise, more dice equals more drama on the high seas which means you're going to end up shipwrecked and needing to get a new boat and a new crew.

I'm not sure why they went tokens here instead of minis. I picked up the minis and I think it makes the voyage phase feel more substantial. The boats (both minis and on the tokens) are pretty similar looking so it can be hard to discern which is which at times. Yours has a cute and barely decipherable little skull and crossbones on the flag at the top of one of your masts.

Theme
This game is all about theme. From exploring damp jungles and dark caves looking for treasure to insulting your opponent to give yourself an extra defense die, this game exudes theme.

As a warning, one type of cargo you can pick up to sell later is slaves. This is, obviously, something that shouldn't be celebrated or romanticized in this day and age, and if someone in your group would be offended, just remove those tokens or allow them them to be used interchangeably with the pirates, like you picked up some slaves and they became part of your crew.

Conclusion
Skull tales is a fun dungeon crawler with some pros and cons.
Pros:
+ Pirate themed dungeon crawl
+ Good components (minis, coins and detailed tiles)
+ Simple rules
+ Tons of potential
+ Character growth through new skills
+ No timer mechanism to force you to move quickly

Cons:
- Some rules/phases need some tweaks
- Some bad art/color choices
- Fiddly
- Not super deep strategically
- Game can drag on if you randomly pick tiles poorly

If you love pirates, especially romanticized pirates like the first Pirates of the Caribbean film and swashbuckling adventure tales, this game is fun and scratches that itch. It's fiddly for its depth but pretty easy to get the basics and start playing. And, it gives you the excuse to talk like a pirate.
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Chris Leigh
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Leighton Buzzard
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Really appreciate you chipping in with your thoughts, I've been umming and ahhing about this for a while, but it sounds like Shadows of Brimstone scratches the same sort of itch with a bit more depth to it.

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Fluid Karma
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Thanks a lot for this comprehensive review!

I am thinking about grabbing the game at Essen Spiel, but I'm still on the fence because there are lots of questions regarding rules and phases, and the internet has not much to offer to clarify that... No third party reviews, no gameplay videos of all phases... So your review is even more valuable.

Would you say that the flaws are surpassed by its positive aspects, and all in all recommend to buy? We like to play with two players, love campaign based games, mainly full coops, but semi coop may be fine, do not mind fiddlyness as long as the game reflects that by giving back depth or a thematic experience, like a story unfolding during the adventure or something like that.

What do you think? Should we try it?
 
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James W
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Fluidkarma wrote:
Thanks a lot for this comprehensive review!

I am thinking about grabbing the game at Essen Spiel, but I'm still on the fence because there are lots of questions regarding rules and phases, and the internet has not much to offer to clarify that... No third party reviews, no gameplay videos of all phases... So your review is even more valuable.

Would you say that the flaws are surpassed by its positive aspects, and all in all recommend to buy? We like to play with two players, love campaign based games, mainly full coops, but semi coop may be fine, do not mind fiddlyness as long as the game reflects that by giving back depth or a thematic experience, like a story unfolding during the adventure or something like that.

What do you think? Should we try it?


You and your gaming partner can be as cooperative or competitive as you like, which makes the game the way you want to play it.

There is a 10 adventure campaign included and I hope fans will make up additional ones. So far the adventures have been fun and there's been some interesting variety. The dungeon crawl aspect of this game feels more like exploration than Mice and Mystics and is on par with SoB and the DnD games.

I backed this and then wondered if I made a mistake as I noticed a lack of information about the other phases. So far, playing solo, it's been fun. I'm actually more excited to play with a friend and see how the interaction improves the game.

You can allow another player to pass through your square. But let's say there's some loot from an enemy you just took down but you don't have the action points to get it. You can not let the other player pass. They can either accept that or try to shove you out of the way. You both want the treasure. I think the interactions like that and the insulting to gain more defense dice will make this game better with 2 or more people than solo.

$85 (assuming the price didn't change post KS) isn't cheap for 46 minis (9 different types of enemies and 6 hero/pirates). Compared with Monolith's Conan that has 74 mini's (4 heroes, 14 different enemies) for $90 it feels expensive for the content.

As just a dungeon crawl with a on-going story - it's good fun and especially if you like to replay games like this, you'll probably get decent value from the game. If the Voyage Phase is critical to your decision (it's a pirate game, high sea adventures is pretty important) - that, in my opinion, needs some work. But there's a foundation (and parts!) of a game there that feels like it's on the cusp of being fun too.

Cheers!
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Thanks a lot for this more in depth info!

The voyage phase is indeed critical to us, as we love campaign games with thematically different phases. And, you are absolutely right, being a pirate game this phase is superimportant thematically, so ideally should just work and not need adjusting.

Talking of replaying, the question remains if after 10 games the story is basically told, or if through lots of randomness it it still fun to put on another 10-game-campaign.

The price did actually rise to 101$ right now, if there will be no additional discount at the Essen fair. I do not hesitate to invest such a huge sum in a board game (heck, I never even summed up what I shelled out for Kingdom Death Monster, as I feel it is worth even more to me funwise and $-per-gaming-hour-wise), but I would hope for a well-rounded experience.

So, it's kind of a shame they did not put out more gameplay videos, or that lots of them are just available in Spanish. I want to love this game, as really most of it seems right up my alley, but at the moment it's a risky investment of 101$.

I hope I am right with this, being no native speaker... But reading your review, if I had to put it in numbers, I would read a score of 7 out of 10. So, by far not a bad buy, but also no huge enthusiasm about it. Would that about nail it?

One last question: If you say the game is not that deep strategy wise, which comparable game would you rate better concerning strategy? (We like that aspect a lot, that's why I ask)

Thanks again for your really great review and for sharing your thoughts!
 
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James W
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Fluidkarma wrote:
Thanks a lot for this more in depth info!

Talking of replaying, the question remains if after 10 games the story is basically told, or if through lots of randomness it it still fun to put on another 10-game-campaign.


KS versions have a second 5 mission campaign and this game screams for user created content. You'll know the story after one play through. Multiple play-throughs might just to experience different characters, but so far, just talking about the base ones, they don't feel super different, except for the Voodoo Shaman.

Part of that is they're all using the same basic equipment and each has a skill but not a lot of special abilities to activate.

Fluidkarma wrote:

I hope I am right with this, being no native speaker... But reading your review, if I had to put it in numbers, I would read a score of 7 out of 10. So, by far not a bad buy, but also no huge enthusiasm about it. Would that about nail it?

One last question: If you say the game is not that deep strategy wise, which comparable game would you rate better concerning strategy? (We like that aspect a lot, that's why I ask)

Thanks again for your really great review and for sharing your thoughts!

Thank you! This has been fun contributing to this resource that I use a lot for learning about games or making purchasing decisions myself. And you're English is excellent.

7/10 seems about right. I've been hesitant to throw a number out there as I play. A refined voyage phase and a couple tweaks is probably makes it an 8.

In terms of strategy it feels like Mice and Mystics - roll to attack, enemy rolls defense. Repeat. A lot. Unlike M&M, most players don't have special abilities to invoke. They either get a bonus in attack or defense all the time. This makes them feel similar to each other.

The Voodoo Shaman has spells, so he feels different. They have cool downs ranging from 1 to 3 turns, which makes you have to plan out when to use your best abilities. But starting with 4 spells, you can get engaged. He also has a ranged and melee attacks but he's not scaring many enemies with his blowgun.

For a deeper dungeon crawler - the DnD games like Temple of Elemental Evil (don't have it but it's more of a campaign than the others) give you a lot more choices with you abilities and Shadows of Brimstone has tons of options from abilities to pick as you level up to a lot of equipment.

I haven't played a lot of other dungeon crawlers. Folklore looked really cool while Dungeon Crusade looked like it could be interesting but could be a hot mess with trying to pack too much in at the beginning. The creator of Dungeon Crusade is super passionate about the game and I hope it goes well for him as he's the type of creator that KS are really meant for, much like 4Moon).

Some upcoming ones that have me excited include Sword & Sorcery and Gloomhaven. That game has a long campaign and deep tactical combat (with no dice!). There is a legacy aspect to it, but after 90 missions if I want more, I'll just go buy another copy.

The real test for Skull Tales is, how much does it hit the table when some of those other games arrive. Right now, it's cult of the new and I'm having a blast with it but with competition, it may have to wait awhile. I think that's why, even with tweaks, I don't see it hitting a 9 or a 10 rating.
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Thanks a lot – again!

Based on the insight you gave me and a few other facts, I have decided to skip this game... for now, at least!

Thinking and reading about it, Shadows of Brimstone indeed seems to be an adequate substitute for Skull Tales and therefore took it's spot on my Essen shopping list.

Reasons:
- There tons of reviews, almost all of it positive to enthusiastic.
- There are tons of gameplay videos, so we much more just know what we are getting and that we like the gameplay.
- There exists an established SoB-world with already a lot of expansions and still more to come.
- Setting is kind of a similar style – so if we need an excuse to "talk like a pirate", we may as well just talk like an outlaw or like a cheeky saloon girl.
- Playstyle is full co-op, which fits our style most. It seems Skull Tales would lose a bit of what sets it apart if the semi coop part is not played out.
- The expansion "Frontier Town" brings another huge phase to the game, not just leveling up and healing in the town, but having adventures there on it's own.
- Not knowing if Skull Tales is ever expanded, because the missing hype about it after the KS may lead to stagnation of sales. Not to mention that their shop, at the moment, does not deliver from Spain to Germany (so inside of EU), what is kind of weird. It's like they would not ship a package from Texas to Illinois.

It is really too bad, that 4Moon missed out on the opportunity to create more buzz about the game by giving us more run-throughs, explanation vids or third party reviews. I'll keep it on my radar, but for now the mines of the Old West will be one of the next travel destinations.

I will definitely preorder Gloomhaven at Essen, and also grab Perdition's Mouth, as it has a new an innovative spin on the dungeon crawling theme. Of Dreams and Shadows seems to deliver even more story on it's adventures. Sword and Sorcery is already on my watch list! And finally I will try to get Lobotomy at Essen... maybe a more typical crawler gameplay wise, but I am a sucker for the theme. All your other suggestions I will check out soon, thanks for that!

So thanks again for sharing your thoughts, you have been tremendously helpful and I really appreciate that!


 
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