Brian M
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This review is part of my attempt to review as many co-op games as I can. All of my reviews are in the geeklist A Crazy Couple's Co-op Guide: 2013 and onward Edition

Our rating:

Modes: Co-op

Players: 2-4
You could play solo by playing as 2 characters; the real-time element might make this hard though.

Play Time: 1 - 1.5 hours

Difficulty: Not sure; seems hard, but a lot of the difficulty is very random.

Skill Factor: 2 This is a tough one to rate. I feel like there's a lot of skill in planning where to go...but then you draw a bad card or flub a roll and it wrecks everything you planned. Seems easier with fewer characters.

Individual/Group Play: Some group play - coordination is very much required, but the real-time and pre-planned elements mean you are also doing your own thing a bit.

Component Quality: Generally good. The overall art nicely evokes the Victorian theme, and token quality is solid. The card icons aren't all that clear; there's too much detail in them to make them nice visually distinctive icons, and most of them don't really convey what they mean; most are different animals, which reflect different attributes. It is a bit abstract.




Rules Quality: Generally clear with a lot of detailed explanations. There are a few confusing bits, mostly keeping straight the way similar looking actions are handled differently, but overall it is easy to learn.

Mini-Review
2016 saw several new co-ops that reminded me strongly of older games. That's not always a bad thing. London Dread seems heavily inspired by Space Alert, which is a favorite of mine, but fails to capture the things that makes Space Alert great, and adds things that I don't want.

The game aims for Victorian Horror. There seems to be a Lovecraft vibe, though there were no overt "monsters" in the first chapter. There is an evil ritual though! The players have 12 turns, which are programmed in real-time, to run around the city defeating challenges and investigating the story before confronting the final challenge.

Each player receives a clock board to program their actions on, using a limited set of tiles. You need to be careful with these tiles - you only have two of each number, and must use one face-down to move to a different section of the city. So if you move to location 2 in the East district early on, then use your other 2 as an arrow to move to the North district, and then want to visit location 2 in the North district, you have a problem - you don't have any 2's left! There's a supply of "common" numbers you can grab, but each one used advances the Dread track (which is bad!).



You are doing this program to move around the board and complete various "story" challenges, which you must defeat all of to proceed to the endgame and win the game. There are a lot of other cards on the board as well, and they all start facedown. You can freely turn them face up; usually you will want to turn up a lot of them. Each face down card will wind up advancing the Dread track, but each unresolved face up card will advance it more - so if you think you can't handle more stuff and have already found all the story cards, it may be better to leave cards face down.

So you run around the board completing various challenges. You can team up with other players. You can find items that give you boosts. You can draw cards from a limited Confidence to help beat challenges, but that can be pretty random - they are better saved for the endgame, if possible.

After doing all that, if you defeat all the story cards, you proceed to the endgame, where you face a number of challenges; each one you defeat gives another die, which are then rolled in a final attempt to win the game. The Dread track determines the difficulty of this final roll, so the higher you've let it go the harder it will be.

The planning phase is fun. It can be tough to juggle all the places you want to go and figure out the optimal path, though it seems like often you usually just want to (if possible) clear one quarter, move to another and then never move back.

Unlike Space Alert, a lot of the game takes place in the resolution phase. Once you have all your plans, you move around and need to resolve each card. If you have all the skills needed present, that's easy. If you don't, you will need to spend resources to overcome the challenge - or fail to do so. This might cause a chain reaction to later challenges. Perhaps you'll spend a token early that you were planning on having later. Which one do you want to succeed at?

You'll also have to roll dice to resolve the Story cards. This is far and away the part I like least about this game. Before rolling, each player draws a card from a personal deck of six cards. Four of the cards just provide extra skills. One provides a nice bonus and more skills. And one is the "ha ha you lose" Trauma card that not only provides you no skills, it cancels all of your basic skills and makes you roll a nasty die that can cause you serious problems for the rest of the game!

The personal decks are reshuffled each time, so if you draw the Trauma card a few times, it can totally kill you. And there's nothing you can do about it; there's absolutely no mitigation beyond "don't be unlucky".

A lot of people don't like the "one roll decides if you win or lose". I don't either, but I think the card draw and intermediate rolls bother me even more - at least you can build up a lot of dice for the final roll. The card draws just determine SO much about the game with so little control that it really felt like all the planning in the world didn't really matter next to getting a bad draw. This was one of our big problems with the game.

The other big problem was that dealing with the normal cards themselves is not particulary exciting - you match symbols. You probably don't have all the symbols you need so you need to pick up some up from other cards. In the endgame challenges, you actually get a hand of cards you can play - this is a lot more fun, but it isn't used for most of the game.

There's been a lot of effort to paste theme onto this game, in the form of art and long intro flavor text (which the app can read aloud for you). If you've been following my reviews, you know we aren't fans of flavor text. The text here is no exception; the long intro text tries to set the mood, but it isn't interesting and doesn't really tell you much. The game actual game itself, however, is very short on flavor. You go to a card, which might be, say a "Black Cat", and then you try to match some Lions or Goats or Snakes or something. I can't remember many examples of cards because they simply aren't very memorable. You just sort of go and match symbols; there's no real feel of an investigation or overcoming obstacles.

This isn't a bad game, but the combination of frustrating luck and weak theme just leave us wondering why we wouldn't just play Space Alert instead. However, there are some common complaints about Space Alert that, if you have, London Dread might do better for you:

* London Dread is easier to teach than Space Alert; this is its biggest advantage over Alert and could be a big deal to some groups. Now, a lot of being easier to teach is that it doesn't have nearly as much variety of stuff going on.

* London Dread does not require you to use "dummy" players with two players; in fact, the two player mods for London Dread are quite interesting and work well. I feel like...how to explain this...London Dread is more fun with 2 relative to how fun it is with 4 than Space Alert is. BUT, that's because adding more players in Space Alert adds so much craziness and fun to the game. Does that make sense?

* The resolution part of the game is an active part of the game in London Dread, with decisions and die-rolls included in it.

We didn't like...
* Strong luck factor of the card draws and dice.
* Weak theme in play.
* Not a lot of variety in gameplay; basically every card is just "match different symbols".
* Only 2 out of 6 female characters - and what the fnerp is one of them wearing?

We really did like...
* Good 2 player mode.
* Planning is fairly interesting.


Images thanks to the BGG gallery and 3EBC
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Asger Johansen
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Hi Brian,

Thank you for a fair review!

(I am happy you did not completely hate the game after all.)

Happy gaming!

Asger
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Ian Allen
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Hey guys. I agree with your negatives of the game. I tried it at GenCon last go round.
The positives about being ok for 2 players don't apply to me because I never get to play 2 player games.

The weak theme you mentioned really killed it for me.
I was hoping for something more immersive. I want someone to do a steampunkish/early London/Eldritch Horror type experience or some variant of that I can sink my teeth into.

I was left without the desire to add it to my collection despite it looking very interesting on the surface.

I can see some folks that like co-op puzzle solving challenges liking this game though.
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Paul S
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DARK IN HERE, ISN'T IT?
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Terrific review. This was high on my anticipation list, but I reckon you've settled that down. Not written this off, since I kind of like the not-quite-SA deal - but I'll definitely now try before I buy. So: thanks!
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Brian M
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Oh dear. I just realized I left the Rules Quality section blank! I'd meant to refresh myself on how the rules were before finished the review and forgot. (IIRC, Lisa read the rules and just taught me, so I have not actually read the rules). I'll try to remedy that shortly. blush
 
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Misha Nosiara
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Played this at BGGCON and was underwhelmed. None of the Houston crowd liked it either. Pass.
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Mark K.
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I wouldn't say that there is no way to mitigate the luck of the dice/draw in this game. First of all, you can pair up with mates for important plot cards so that revealing a trauma card does not automatically fail the mission. Even when tackling a plot card by yourself you should come prepared (items, virtue tokens and confidence) so that a trauma card does not thwart your plans unless you are not really planning on completing the plot card successfully anyway.

For the investigation deck you can plan ahead and solve missions with needed symbols for plot cards and thus to some extend make sure you reveal the necessary symbols from the deck when tackling a plot cord.

However, I do agree that revealing trauma card after trauma card or rolling blank dice all the time is disappointing. It isn't necessary a problem with game balance (since we beat all missions with a bit of experience quite handily) but a psychological one. "Failing" isn't a lot of fun.

Thus, I'd suggest two house rules:

a) When revealing a card from the personal deck, DO NOT shuffle it back in immediately but set it aside. Only shuffle this card back into your personal deck after revealing another card from your personal deck. This way, you won't reveal a trauma card twice in a row (or any other card from your deck for that matter).

b) For the final showdown it has already been suggested that instead of rolling the dice you just take the amount of dice to be rolled and divide it by three for the final result. I'd suggest skipping the final roll altogether if you have the necessary successes already (dividing available dice by three plus items that give success).
That way, if you did well during the chapters you probably deserve the win but if it went awry you still can take that final roll and maybe get lucky. It is a very minor change but it turns the final showdown around from a situation where you could possibly lose everything to a situation where you have nothing to lose and can only win

If that impacts game balance too much in your opinion then I'd suggest going with the suggested changes in the rule book: Starting with less cards in the confidence deck and/or doing the missions with less time available.
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Brian M
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der_mandarin wrote:
I wouldn't say that there is no way to mitigate the luck of the dice/draw in this game. First of all, you can pair up with mates for important plot cards so that revealing a trauma card does not automatically fail the mission. Even when tackling a plot card by yourself you should come prepared (items, virtue tokens and confidence) so that a trauma card does not thwart your plans unless you are not really planning on completing the plot card successfully anyway.

For the investigation deck you can plan ahead and solve missions with needed symbols for plot cards and thus to some extend make sure you reveal the necessary symbols from the deck when tackling a plot cord.

Teaming up is pretty much essential even assuming you don't get the Trauma draw; you need quite a few dice to have a reasonable chance of success! Items and virtue tokens are in very short supply - and often you need to defeat the story cards to get more of them!

You can get appropriate confidence cards in the deck, but what you draw will be random, so you may burn through lots of confidence cards to get the ones with the symbols you need, leaving you really short for the final challenge.

Quote:
It isn't necessary a problem with game balance...

Well, not really. If you draw and roll well, you'll win just fine. I just don't find it fun when luck makes up such a large part of whether or not you win.

Quote:
"Failing" isn't a lot of fun.

See, this is another "compared to Space Alert" thing; failing in Space Alert generally ends up being quite fun anyway; when you realize you've messed up and things go spiraling out of control, and you know it is because YOU messed up, so next time you need to play better.
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Mark K.
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StormKnight wrote:
Teaming up is pretty much essential even assuming you don't get the Trauma draw; you need quite a few dice to have a reasonable chance of success! Items and virtue tokens are in very short supply - and often you need to defeat the story cards to get more of them!


Well, teaming up is important on story cards you want to clear successfully at any cost. Some story cards being "in the clear" is enough and even failing is ok as long as you clear out enough other locaction cards so that dread doesn't spiral out of control. Story cards that give out items should be high priority as well as story cards that give extra success to subsequent story cards or remove successes on failure.

The decision where to go and when and what resources to use under time constraint is probably one of the big draws of the game for me. And this is probably also my main gripe with your review: in my humble opinion you are underselling the logistical aspect of the game to the audience. If you are able to find a good route through London and clear a lot of cards you will end up with a very low dread value which in return only requires very few successes in the final showdown and pretty much guarantee a victory. Heck, you can even fail several story cards as long as you clear a lot of plot cards!

Quote:
You can get appropriate confidence cards in the deck, but what you draw will be random, so you may burn through lots of confidence cards to get the ones with the symbols you need, leaving you really short for the final challenge.


Yeah what I am drawing from the confidence deck is random but I can control what goes into that deck. If story card 1 requires Owl and Dove symbols I can try and clear a few missions that have those symbols on them. Even when only clear one card before tackling the story card I have a chance of at least 25% to get a required symbol and that is not even considering that cards from the confidence deck feature 4 symbols which makes it very likely that 1 or 2 of the 3 starting cards feature a required symbol.

Of course you are right and you shouldn't just blow through the confidence deck just for fun. However, we also found that there is a certain limit of confidence cards above which they actually aren't very useful in the endgame.

Quote:
Well, not really. If you draw and roll well, you'll win just fine. I just don't find it fun when luck makes up such a large part of whether or not you win.


There more I played it the less luck was an issue for us since we discovered many of these small optimizations during the course of the games. Of course the final roll off can go very very wrong and thus I suggested the house rules above. The first two missions should be possible to beat with a high success rate with some experience.

Quote:

See, this is another "compared to Space Alert" thing; failing in Space Alert generally ends up being quite fun anyway; when you realize you've messed up and things go spiraling out of control, and you know it is because YOU messed up, so next time you need to play better.


I'd love to try Space Alert again but my only play from December had me messing up early and many subsequent commands fail. So I was sitting there resolving cards that whiffed and going through the motions until the inevitable defeat. Wasn't fun either but yes, it clearly shows you what went wrong and when you can go into the next game and have already a better plan on what to do!

I guess in the end it comes down to personal gaming style/preference? I can relate to the points you've raised and with many of them I am fine. Maybe I like playing the odds and/or "rolling with the punches"?
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Kirke Lawton
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The end of this game--the very last die roll--is such a let down. My son's theory is that the game designer was tired after all the great work that went into the rest of the game that he just said "screw it, roll a bunch of dice and see if you get lucky."

We've only played once (last night) and were learning as we were going. When we got to the final resolution, I was dead (thanks to drawing the unlucky card twice on three opportunities), and we had a grand total of 6 dice to try to roll 6 skulls. We rolled none. Obviously we didn't deserve to win, but the fact is that we could have won and a team that had accumulated 12 dice could have lost. That's not fun, that's just anti-climatic.

I'm not sure that making the final part deterministic (no die roll at all) is the solution, but less completely random is essential (in my opinion). Frankly, I'm surprised that this complaint isn't featured in every review. Perhaps we just did really poorly and we should have only needed 2 or 3 successes (instead of 6) at the end?

Rather than a house rule to "fix" this, I wish the game had a more thematic resolution that involved the character attributes one last time, making it real like a real "boss battle" and not a crap shoot.

Hopefully I can get my family to play this again sometime, but our opinions went from "this is an amazing game" to "it's too random; what a disappointment" in the last minute of the game.
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Melanie Maguire
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I just got this game last week and have yet to play it with other people. I decided to learn the rules etc by playing by myself and playing 2 characters at the same time as a 2 player game.

The results:

I think this is workable as a 1 player game (taking 2 roles and doubling the planning phase time), although that kind of defeats the "co-operative" element and is a bit sad!

I played "The Letter" 3 times on Normal.

Each time, my characters ended up with hardly any items. There's a huge pile of juicy item cards but there doesn't seem to be much chance of acquiring them (or the Virtue tokens).

The Dread cards don't seem to be tied into the story in any way. I bought this game because I was attracted to the Victorian/steampunk theme and the story driven gameplay. I was disappointed with the story element it seemed extremely weak and pretty much irrelevant. The gameplay was mostly about matching symbols and rolling dice.

The random elements spoiled my enjoyment somewhat. For each plot point it was a random outcome drawing a "Personality" card and rolling dice. Drawing from the Investigation deck is another random element - it's easy to burn through cards and still fail your investigation. And as mentioned by everyone above, the final outcome of the game is totally dependent on a final dice roll.

The first 2 times I played it I lost the final roll. The 3rd time I won it. In each case I needed 4 successes. When I finally won on the 3rd play through, I felt no elation at all. I'd had a pretty bad game with one of my characters who'd failed virtually all of their investigations (just the way the cards fell, not due to bad planning), yet I'd won the final showdown.

Maybe I was expecting too much from a board game. I come from a background of pc adventure games where there is virtually no randomness and merit in solving puzzles etc is clearly rewarded by achievement/rich story progression. I don't know.

Having said that, I played it 3 times, so it definitely has some allure and stimulation. Games I don't like don't get finished the first time through!

There've been a lot of comments and criticisms of the female characters in the game - particularly the "starlet". I'd like to make my own observations. The term "starlet" is associated with movies and Hollywood in the 20th century. It doesn't translate to Victorian England. The outfit Jacqueline is wearing (described as "burlesque" by some) doesn't resemble burlesque artists of the time and is an anachronism (see [url] http://mashable.com/2014/11/11/victorian-burlesque-dancers/#... [/url] - the costume that J is wearing is more 80's showgirl.

Finally, some suggestions for better female characters - perhaps as an expansion pack?

Scientist
Doctor
Suffragette (hee hee)
Pickpocket
Russian emigree (not sure I've spelt that right)
Author

And yes I'm going to play it again! I'm thinking of altering the set up and rules to make it easier to get items - I'm sure this is deprecated in the board game world, but what the heck.

Just my thoughts and experience with the game...
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Brian M
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Wow Melanie, I think you should post this as a review or session on its own, not just a comment on mine - a lot of good detail and thoughts!

 
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Melanie Maguire
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Thanks Brian. You did a great job in your much-more-detailed review, so what I've written is just an addendum describing my personal experience. I'm not sure it's worthy of a separate review!

Re the nun and starlet, it's very easy to point out what's wrong with the female representation in London Dread, but more productive (I think) to suggest some better alternatives and ways of improving the characterization. And that *would* be worthy of a separate thread...

...BUT...

...there has been so much vitriol about the female characters (and lack of them or their clothing) that I would hesitate to re-open that can of worms and risk drawing fire from angry people.

I'm a bit of a fragile flower when it comes to vicious word-wars online and avoid them like a bubo.

But please feel free to start another thread yourself with suggestions for improvements and feel free to draw from my post.

Best wishes,

Melanie

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