I ran two sessions of Thornwatch with people who had never played (and in some cases, never heard of) roleplaying games or Dungeons & Dragons. One had never played boardgames before. It was a blast.
I created a custom sheet with a brief role overview
for each Thornwatch class,
to help introduce players to the game.
Bold text credit: Lone Shark Games
I made up the remaining text.
None of the players were heavy boardgamers. I laid out the map and explained the basic concepts of moving pawns around the board, using a deck of cards for abilities, and rolling dice to kick monster butt. I had created a custom sheet showing the Momentum card art for each class, with a brief description of their role in the game (Blades deal damage, Greenheart heals, Guards protect, etc.). This seemed to help people get a grasp of the idea, and the Blade, Sage, and Briarlock players quickly chose their characters based on the description. It took several minutes to go over mechanics and discuss the goals and rules, but eventually everyone seemed to understand.
With flair, I read the intro flavor text and we dove in!
Scene One: The Singer In The Dark
5 players. Sage, Blade, Guard, Greenheart, Briarlock.
The scene was fairly simple - players fanned out to find enemies and protect the villagers. As the Judge I only set down two terrain effects - Animate Brambles (attacks heroes in the area) in a far off corner, and Thick Foliage (cover against ranged attacks) nearby. I wanted to give the map some interest and give the players something to think about, but not overwhelm them.
As the Judge, I had the Gliders focus on killing villagers to meet the objective. I did my best to avoid "correcting" any sub-optimal decisions about game mechanics and let everyone learn for themselves. For the most part this worked well and people got the hang of the game. I did make a pointed explanation of the Momentum cards and how a damaged enemy might change their place once the round was over. The idea that enemies might 'reset' their Momentum successfully encouraged some players to work together to kill enemies - for example, the Blade would check with others about what and where they could attack, and coordinate Feints (attacking on another player's turn) and Backstabs (extra dice when attacking around allies).
The downside of my strategy to attack villagers was that very few wounds were dealt to the party. Both the Briarlock and the Greenheart had a difficult time understanding how to use their abilities when the party had no wounds. If I ran an intro session again I would make sure to deal at least a few wounds right away, to help players understand the mechanics and so these classes had something important to do. One other interesting option might be to allow a special action on this map - letting players spend their action to move a Villager one space of their choosing. This would help players rescue villagers more easily, and also give them something helpful to do on their turn, if they felt they were out of options. (I'd want to playtest it though; it could make the scenario much too easy)
After a few turns the players had a good grasp on the game and were playing quickly. By the end of the game the players had discovered some abilities that could work together, and were coordinating to take down beasts. It was good.
Scene One Summary: Thornwatch wins. 85 minutes total: 15 minute setup, 70 minutes to play.
Scene Two: Hunted
The game ended after the first scene, and three players departed. The Sage and Blade were having such a great time, however - they asked if I could stay and run another scene to keep playing. It was a deal!
This time we selected Hunted, a 'reverse chase' scene where the party must defend innocent villagers as they run away, and prevent monsters from reaching the villagers for a certain number of rounds. Very nice concept for a scene.
For this scene I agreed to play the Greenheart as an NPC as well as being the Judge, so the Blade and Sage wouldn't feel overwhelmed without a healer.
This scene was fun because of the added mechanic: each time a player takes damage they are shoved back a space toward the monster's objective zone (and failure). This was a great way to add suspense, and since the map places all of the areas in a line you can really see and feel progress being made or lost as the players and monsters move back and forth. It was a great feeling.
We had some great moments in this scene. The Sage used her first status effect to freeze a monster. We had to reference the rulebook for the rules, but upon reading they were clear and made sense. I also got to spend lots of ebb to buy monsters and hurry after the party. And the Blade had a fantastic series of failures: he missed four out of six attacks with Trail of Blood and rolled two zeros, granting me further ebb to buy more enemies. He then spent a Hero Die on his last attack and *missed*, leaving the enemy standing XD It was climactic and satisfying.
The downside of this scene is that the players handled it easily. They were slightly wounded but never in danger, and took out all of the monsters before the time limit.
My concern about this scene is wondering whether it's actually possible to fail. I realized later I had set the map up incorrectly, and perhaps I was running the monsters suboptimally, but my math suggests that the monsters can't run fast enough to win in 5 rounds. I will have to review the map and my math. If I play this again I would try doubling the time limit to see how that felt.
Scene Two Summary: Thornwatch wins. 56 minutes: 10 minute setup, 46 minutes to play.
The game was a blast and very fun to play as the Judge. I enjoyed introducing new players to the idea of board games and roleplaying games. At least three of the players had a great time and asked if we could play again. I also learned to be more aggressive as the Judge because it can actually help people have more fun.
I really like that 2/3 of the scene setup page is art and flavor text. This really helps to set the mood and adventure. It gives you a great way to begin. It also means the rules are only 1/3 of a half-sized page, so they're small and easy to reference and set up. That makes the game nice and fast.
I was happy with how long it took to play each scene. Setup never felt like a bother; it was fast enough to keep players interested. And we were able to finish the scene before people lost interest.
Can't wait to keep playing and learn more about mechanic interactions in this game.