Ever watch the show, 24 hours? Well I haven’t either, but from what I understand is that the main characters must resolve the problem of the episode within 24 hours. When I first picked up London Dread and pulled out the clock component which is used to program your actions, this TV series came to my mind. In this game you must solve a mystery/mysteries within 24 or 48 hours (depending on the length of the scenario).
If you would like to see a tutorial on how to set up for your first game, please check out my Channel One Stop Co-op Shop where I provide details on how to set the board up for your first game, as well as have a runthrough of the first Scenario. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLrSwu7NfI3qcyu3UCvogN...
The game is broken up into 3 different phases, with the final phase having 2 parts:
1. Real Time Programming Phase
2. Story Phase
3. End Game Phase: (Challenge Phase & Final Showdown Phase)
During the first phase you will have 12 minutes to plan with your fellow cohorts the actions you will take during the story phase. To plan your actions you will be using the clock component and number tokens to depict which section of this city you are planning to visit and investigate. To start, you will be determining which Dread cards you want to flip face up and which you leave face down, hopefully finding all the necessary plot points per the specific scenario. The rest of the 12 minutes will be you working with your cohorts on determining which locations you can go to eliminate dread cards and clear all the necessary plot cards.
After completing the 12 minute real time phase, you will use your personal clock and go through each hour and act out your indicated moves. For most dread cards, you will simply be matching the traits you bring vs. the traits needed to investigate the card, taking into account any items, virtue tokens or Confidence cards you choose to play. Each card you fully investigate (with the exception of the plot cards) will be placed into your Confidence deck to be used for another investigation or for the End Game.
For the plot point cards, the game starts to get interesting. First, each character has their own personality deck, and each character that is at the plot location will need to draw one of them. These cards can either provide additional traits for your use to investigate the plot card, or you could have pulled your trauma card (more details on this below). Regardless of what you draw from your personality deck, you then count up how many traits you bring to the investigation that match the traits on the plot card. For each trait that matches the plot card you receive 1 die. This die will be rolled and if you roll a fist, you have a success. If you roll a blank, well you are out of luck. There are 4 blank sides and 2 fist sides for each die. So bringing as many traits as possible will be beneficial as you will get to roll more dice.
At the end of this phase, you count up all the dread left on the board (Face-up dread cards not investigated and face-down dread cards) and increase the dread track by the appropriate amount. If ever you exceed 50 dread you automatically loose. Also if you do not investigate the final plot point the trail goes cold and you lose the game.
If you survive the Story phase, it is time to move to the End Game (unless you are doing a story with 2 chapters then you move to chapter 2 and repeat steps 1 and 2.)
To start this phase, you will take the Confidence Deck and deal the cards out to each player as a hand of cards they can use during this phase. You will also give one die to each player to place on their character card. This die will be used in the Final Showdown.
Each player will face up to 3 random challenges that come with the specific story (you can bow out at any time in order to not get killed). Each challenge must be completed individually and you will start by drawing from your personality deck. After adding what traits you bring to the challenge from your basic traits, items, your personal Confidence cards and virtue tokens to the traits on your personality card, you check to see if you passed the challenge. If you have enough traits to pass the challenge, you receive a benefit such as adding a die to your character sheet for use in the Final Showdown. If you fail, well you could potentially die, become injured or unhinged, or hurt all players by making them discard confidence cards.
Final Showdown Phase
Finally you each will take your dice you earned during the challenge round, roll them (using any items you have for re-rolls) and compare your successes to the successes you needed based on the dread chart.
My favorite component in this game is the clocks. They look so cool and are easy to understand how to use them. The board itself is pretty bland, but when you add the dread cards etc. to the board it really livens the board up.
There are a lot of punch-out pieces in this game and they are of solid quality. Instead of using general pawns for the players we have punch-outs and standees so it is easy to differentiate the characters while on the board.
The board is quite big, and in my opinion unnecessarily so. It is difficult to fit on a small table and have all the clocks on the table at the same time. This is only a minor gripe, and as long as you have sufficient room to play the game (NOT on a card table!) you should be fine. I do really like that the dread track is around the border of the game board. A neat way to keep the dread level on the main board but not have it take up too much room.
The art – just wow. Awesome, just enjoy it. Although there is blood in a lot of the pictures, it is not overly gory and it portrays the Victorian style quite well.
In my opinion, the app really brings the theme to life! The narrator sounds British, uses phrases like “the sky is pregnant with rain” (who says that now!) that makes you feel you are in London in Victorian England. There also is background music in the app which I HIGHLY suggest you leave on as you complete the story mode etc.
Gameplay Mechanics: 8/10
When it comes to cooperative board games, I am a sucker for Real Time. The reason being I hate waiting for my turn. I play with some people that are incredibly analytical, and that is all well and good, but when I play a game I want to be having fun the entire time. Sitting and waiting for you to make up your mind over which location you want to visit next does not sound fun to me.
OK over-exaggeration here, but you get my point. The fact that you are all flipping cards over, trying to determine where you need to go to investigate at the same time prevents someone quarterbacking the game. Also if you have friends that are engineers and want to analyze each situation for hours on end, this is a great way to get them to JUST MAKE A DECISION! The best part is you have to communicate with each other. Now I have played this with my wife 2 times now and I have to say it helps that we have worked on communication in our personal life because it shows in how well we play this game (see playthrough video for details).
I digress, the 12 minute real time is my favorite part of the game as you are working plan how to investigate every card you can, but the time length is long enough to provide a decent amount of strategy, yet not too much time that your friends cannot sit there for hours analyzing the best situation.
I love this mechanic. For each dread card we investigate, it becomes a part of our Confidence deck. We become more confident as we investigate! AWESOME!! If we investigate poorly, the Confidence deck will be smaller and we will have less to work with when facing the challenges of the antagonists. Just a genius mechanic.
In a game using random card layouts, how do you make a coherent story? Insert plot cards. These cards provide you with a story so that you are not just moving from place to place to investigate random events. Instead these plot cards provides the game with an overarching story.
I also enjoy that plot cards utilize dice. This means that you cannot guarantee that you have programmed a perfect story. I could bring six dice to the plot point and fail with each die roll. Although this would stink (and my wife would tell me is statistically unlikely) it adds just enough variability to make the Story Phase fun instead of a practice of moving the characters on the board checking of completed investigations.
Along the lines of the plot point cards is the personality deck. Such a simple mechanic, yet so much fun! In the personality deck you have 5 cards that provide a random assortment of traits. 1 of the 5 cards is your “ultimate card” and usually will provide something in addition to icons (more confidence, more virtue tokens etc.). One of the cards however, is your trauma card. This trauma card makes you provide no traits to the investigation (including your base traits!) and you have to roll the trauma die (trauma die = bad). This means every time you are drawing from this deck you are taking a risk. Having to draw this for both the plot cards and the challenges provides the game with even more variability and uncertainty, and in my opinion fits the theme of the game quite well as you feel each player is not a perfect person, but a regular individual with positive and negative traits.
If Only. . .
The hard part for me in the story mode is that, outside of the plot cards the story mode becomes an icon matching game. I wish there was more story here than just the excerpts from the plot cards. (Why am I going to investigate a bloody gutter, or a madman in the streets etc.) The plot cards are done really well here, I just feel like the other dread cards are filler’s and did not add to the story too much.
I wish the final showdown was more than just dice rolling. If you have excess confidence cards I wish you could use them to add more dice, or something like that. Or maybe the antagonists’ fights back and you lose dice etc. The most dice each player can have is 4 (in a 4 character game). I am not honestly sure what I would want here, but with the real time phase, story phase, and challenges all to lead up to just rolling dice? I want more!
The traits are all pictured as animals (Bull = strength, Lion = courage etc.). I have finally learned them after 4+ plays but when I play this with new people we just yell to each other “I need lions and bulls at this location, anyone got ‘em?” This is fine and is quite funny, but it took us out of the game a little. I would of preferred words or something like an arm for strength instead of an animal picture. Small nit-pick here though!
Play Again Factor:
I have played the first story 4 times, and I could do it again in a heartbeat with no issues whatsoever. The dread cards change, where the plot cards end on the board is different etc. The story may be the same but the game is completely different. Also there are 4 stories and I am hoping more to come!
The difficulty in this game for us was understanding the flow of the game (ex. what happens in which phase etc.). Once we understood the rules, we felt the game was around the medium level of weight (this is no Mage Knight!).
I have played this game with gamers and non-gamers alike and everyone was able to keep up. The real time aspect may freak some non-gamers out (however if they have played Escape, Fuse, Space Alert, Project Elite, or Wok Star this real time aspect is nothing compared to the adrenaline flowing in these games!), but for my group this was not an issue.
This is not a kid’s game. The art has blood in it and it is an adult story. Please keep that in mind.
Final Thoughts: 8.5/10
I really enjoy this game! If you are looking for a game which provides a coherent story, has a real time aspect and some random dice rolling and is in the Victorian theme, this game is for you. I played this a bunch right around Halloween and that was a perfect time. This game combines great story with quality game play better than any other game I have played to date. I also really appreciate it has replayability that a game like Time Stories does not. A “tip of my hat” to the designer Asger Johansen for a well-balanced, fun, and thematic game experience! Now when do expansions come out
A "tip of my hat" for a solid, in-depth review.
Good luck with the rest of the stories.
I wonder if the conclusion was a mega plot card with different results based on the number of successes that would solve what seems to be a common sticking point on the anti climactic endgame. Personally I think it very hard to maintain tension when you start with a real time component then transition to something else. The something else is almost always going to feel less exciting. XCOM for example takes you on the ride of real time tension -> a moment to breathe -> real time tension.
If I were to guess I think the designers were trying to create a stand up die roll at the end for that exciting finish but IMO this is very hard to engineer and best when it's something that organically happens at various point in a game not just the end when everyone has big expectations anyways.
Ryan - Appreciate the comments! I completely understand losing tension when the first portion of a game is real time, and the second portion is not. However, I felt with this game this worked quite well actually.
I think the reason this worked for me was that the real time portion of the game is 12 minutes long. This means that although you are trying to work quickly, you do not have the same type of tension a game like XCom brings to the table. During the programming phase no one is frantically drawing cards and trying to make decisions in split second intervals.
The real time aspect of this game is used more to prevent AP or quarterbacking, and to express the urgency that you only have one "day" to investigate. Each time I have played this, we have been able to program our actions and have 30 seconds to a minute left on the clock. Much different than XCom.
I really like the idea of the mega plot card with different amount of successes meaning different things. However, the issue I see with this is each time you play the game, the amount of "successes" is based off of the dread tracker. If instead your successes were based off of a card, it would mean the entire first section of the game was not that important, as it does not decide what your required successes are. I am honestly not sure how to make the ending more "tension" filled, but even without changing the game it is still a fun one to play.