I ran a two-player Thornwatch session and it brought up some interesting differences with a small party.
2 players, Guard and Blade. Neither player had played Thornwatch before, but both were quite familiar with other board games and card games.
I placed 4 terrain cards out of 6 allowed. Something to make the map interesting, but not enough to overwhelm new players.
Scene: The Singer In The Dark. Players must defeat all of the monsters before monsters kill all of the villager NPCs.
20 minutes to set up and explain the rules.
30 minutes to play.
No Hero Dice for an easier learning curve
As I was explaining the rules the players seemed a bit distracted by other life events. I wasn't getting the vibe that adding another rule for roleplaying and Hero Dice would be well received, so I skipped it. I left out the mechanic of trait cards and Hero Dice entirely.
At first I felt bad for denying the players the ability to earn better dice. However, after the session I brought up the rules and showed them the trait cards and how they worked. Both players commented that they thought the mechanic seemed neat, but they were glad to not have one extra thing to learn during their first session. They felt like there was enough to learn as-is, and they'd be happy to add it in the future.
Previously I ran a session with five (different) players and they really enjoyed the trait cards, so perhaps it's just something that depends on the group. It's good that Thornwatch can still work when customized.
Players won easily, but I have no complaints
This was an extremely easy scene for the players. With only two Thornwatch present only two Glider enemies spawn onto the map. The Thornwatch killed one of them fairly quickly, after which it was very difficult to kill any villagers.
Villagers use the same enemy mechanics for death, needing two hits to become "on the edge" and then killed. This makes it difficult to kill any Villagers with a single Glider and one attack; the Villagers must be randomly dealt last on the Momentum track when the round begins.
In this case I was running the game for the first time with two new players, so I had no problem with the scene being easy and them winning. Perhaps this scene is intended as the new player intro? But I'm still curious about future sessions.
How should Thornwatch work with few enemies?
What should the Judge do if there is only one monster left in the scene and the goal is to kill NPCs? Is all hope lost and the players have basically won at that point? For the Singer In The Dark scene with two players it feels easy for the players to win - they only need to kill a single Glider to have one enemy left on the board. I changed my tactics to have the monster deal maximum damage to the players, which was nice because they had to experience the wound system. But it's a bit unsatisfying to be denied victory so easily.
Perhaps it's possible to add a rule for the last enemy to 'go berzerk' and gain an extra attack. This feels a bit inelegant, but I'd like to playtest it and see. Perhaps it would be useful to have more Gliders in the scene and weaken their stat block. e.g. the scene could start with Gliders = (# of players + 1).
For the Swamp Choir boss scene and other battles I'm not concerned about games ending in this way, since the main goal may be to deal so many wounds to the party that they are overwhelmed and fail. The Swamp Choir has powerful attacks and three Momentum cards, allowing them to dish out wounds nicely.
Momentum cards - an elegant system, but difficult to kill NPCs when you only have one monster attack!
Art by Mike Krahulik, copyright Penny Arcade / Loneshark Games
Momentum Track - Pushed players to coordinate
During setup I explained the Momentum mechanic and how enemies usually required two hits to kill. The players caught on right away. Twice each they held and saved their attack for the next round rather than just damaging a monster for 'no reason'. This helped their success a lot.
Player view - actions feel fun
Both players enjoyed using their special moves - the Blade whirring around the battlefield with Trail of Blood (multiple attacks and moves), and the Guard smashing enemies with Push Back (shove an enemy, damage it, and move into its space). When players say "I just have to try this because it looks so cool!", that's a good sign
After the session both players said they would be happy to play again.
Judge view - Terrain cards rock
As the Judge I like the variety of terrain card mechanics supplied in the print-and-play. I can't wait to see more, and I'll likely print off some of my own custom cards. A magic portal to teleport from one side of the map to the other? An ancient, broken turret that lets you fire it once per scene to hand out wounds or trap monsters in a net? A beehive that has a random chance to grant a buff or deal wounds? Thornwatch's modularity and customization is fantastic.
What I learned as the Judge
Play the pack hunters as a pack Keep them together and hound the villagers until they are dead. Don't separate them.
Overall this was a fun quick game: I learned more, and I have new things to try for next time. To me that's the sign of a good game.