Comanauts by Plaid Hat Games
Players: 2 to 4
Playtime: 90 to 120 minutes
Perfect for: Players who enjoy choosing their own adventure, mystery, and collaboration
Comanauts is a game of cooperative mystery solving through fantastical narratives. Players work together using abilities and resources wisely to navigate stories and memories inside a brilliant scientist’s mind while he is comatose. Before we get into how the game is played, here’s how the publisher, Plaid Hat Games, quickly summarizes the theme for context:
Dr. Martin Strobal, the greatest mind of our generation, lies in a coma. His Mobius Ring invention promised to change the world, but has instead given us our greatest disaster. Meant to provide the world with unlimited clean energy, the Mobius Ring malfunctioned, bathing Dr. Strobal in radiation, and creating a singularity that threatens to consume the world. We need him back, and the only way to revive him from his coma is to enter his subconscious and free him from the demons found within.
Comanauts is the second installment in Jerry Hawthorne's Adventure Book system following Stuffed Fables. This game of exploration and danger builds on the mechanisms first introduced in that earlier title, providing a new experience for more mature players. Race against time to revive Dr. Strobal by exploring his tormented mind. As players work together to uncover the secrets of the doctor's subconscious, they will follow his inner child across eleven different Comazones. There they attempt to locate and overcome the Inner Demon that holds Dr. Strobal hostage. Assume the role of 22 unique avatars as you explore the dangers and secrets of each world locked inside the doctor's dream. Can you free Dr. Strobal from his own mind before it's too late?
In Comanauts, players assume control of various characters, each with unique abilities and skills. These avatars come from a range of genres as players might find themselves controlling a teenaged computer hacker, a 1940’s black and white film actress, or the lead from a sci-fi action video game series among many others. Players move and interact on maps contained within a large guidebook, and each space has a corresponding written text on the adjacent that explains what happens when a character enters that location.
The actions that players can perform are dictated through a dice drafting system. On their turn, a player will pull five random dice from the bag, and the colors signal what the player can do or attempt as part of their actions. For example, a red dice allows the player to perform a melee attack, whereas a yellow dice might allow them to search the area. Black dice accumulate on a tracker, and when enough have been revealed, Strobal’s subconscious attacks the players in the form of spawned monsters. The goal of Comanauts is to successfully navigate the dreams, amassing clues and avoiding dangers, to eventually discover (and destroy) the Prime Inner Demon—a randomly and secretly selected villain used for each game.
What works in Comanauts is the novel gameplay style and the intricate nature of the details influencing the narratives. The dice drafting system in Comanauts has a nice balance between risk and strategy. While pulling the dice from the bag is random, the game still offers some flexiblity on possible courses of action. For example, players can trade in any two dice for a dice color of their choosing within the discard pile, reserve a singular dice for a future turn, or gift a dice to another player. The latter is especially important each scenario requires succeeding a variety of tasks (through dice-rolling particular colors). This means that cooperation among players is paramount as each character has bonus abilities in particular areas so dividing up tasks optimally helps ensure success.
Creator Jerry Hawthorne has done an excellent job with creative storytelling in Comanauts especially considering all of the interworking pieces. To start, the individual representative narratives are incredibly clever. Take for example, the story where players must orchestrate Strobel meeting his future wife. While reality likely included Strobel simply strolling across a quad to speak to the young lady, the perceived memory has Strobel (escorted by the players) having to perilously climb floating islands to reach her. And the mix of characters available makes each gameplay even more interesting—certain avatars may possess special powers or accessories that make navigating the scenario easier, but they may also be suspicious meaning they are out of place within the environment, making them more likely to be targeted by enemies.
While Comanauts boasts some unique storylines and engaging mechanics, length and mature content may stymie some players. The length of games is somewhat determined by the team’s ability to ascertain which memory to jump to in order to trigger the appearance of the final boss. Each memory, or scenario, can take a while to get through depending on the number of players and their knowledge of the rules. As such, losing the path by the jumping to the wrong scenario can drastically (and perhaps frustratingly) extend the length of the game. There are a few mechanics to counteract this, but they too are a bit random. Also, parents should note that the material is really meant for adults, as the narratives include violent and mildly explicit storylines and events.
Comanauts is great for players who enjoy collaborative adventures with rich and imaginative stories at the core. Hawthorne has created a fairly unique experience through a balanced gameplay mechanic, and enough variables to keep engagement high.
Recommended if you like: Stuffed Fables, Gloomhaven
Final Grade: A
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