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Subject: ToM: Recommended # of Players: 0 rss

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Mad Hatter Gaming
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Very simply put, Tower of Mystery is not a game for gamers. It feels like playing Life, Trouble or Sorry with elements of strategy games mixed in. While trying to make a cross-over game that may bridge both communities, the game unfortunately fails in both. The following review is rather lengthy, so let me make one thing perfectly clear early: We recommend that no one buy or play Tower of Mystery.

Players take turns moving their piece around a board composed of tower floors and staircases that connect them. Each square has a different event that happens when you land on it. Some of the events appear on every floor and some of the events appear only a few times on the whole board. Most of them involve moving your piece, getting or losing money, and drawing mystery cards. To win you must collect 5 specific mystery cards that spell "tower" and get 4 turret tokens which are typically gotten by visiting the 4 turrets in the tower. Each turn the player rolls two special dice that have numbers (1 and 2) on some of the sides, and colors on the remaining sides. If they rolled at least one number, they must move their piece that number of spaces. If they rolled all colors, they are teleported to a colored space on their tower level or stay where they are depending on the specific combination of colors rolled. Movement is incredibly frustrating. Prior to moving you must declare in which direction you plan to move and then see how far you moved or whether you were teleported. 25% of the time you roll two colors and have absolutely no control over where you were moved. Annoying, but not the end of the world. The other 75% of the time you are going to move between 1 and 4 spaces in one of two (possibly 3) directions. Although there is some strategy in choosing which direction to go(more later), you are typically trying to get to a specific place so the direction choice is obvious. Obvious not because its shorter, but obvious because it doesn’t matter. Almost never will you arrive at your destination by moving the standard method. In your vain attempt to get there some silly mystery card, space or turret card will change the situation such that you either don’t want or need to go there any more or the path has changed.

The mystery cards in the game are so unbalancing that any one can completely change the game. They are easy enough to obtain that you have a pretty good stream of them through your hand. I never felt that one player was dominating because he had a really great mystery card, instead we felt that nothing really mattered all that much because it could be made up for or erased with a mystery card. The cards are silly. Some may think that’s fun, some may just think its stupid, but that’s a matter of opinion.

The game claims some level of strategy, which I will concede there is a small amount of strategy in the game. Each turn you make a decision, which way to move. You may make a decision on how to play a mystery card. After 2 plays we devised a “strategy” that we thought would be the best:

You can buy the needed tower tokens except the top most tower turret by spending 10 bills on a colored spot (a non-key colored spot). The bottom level has the most non-key colored spots and a few good spots for making money. Our strategy was to stay on the ground floor making money, and buying all the turret tokens. The 5 tower cards never seemed to be a problem so we weren’t worried about those. After you have the three turret tokens travel through the secret passage to the top and get the top most turret token and then attempt to leave and thus win.

In effect our strategy is to subvert all the randomness by making most of our motion meaningless and rely on never having to travel anywhere to win. We never tried it because we refused to play a third game.

The components of the game are fine. They are what you would expect from an independent game with one exception. The Rulebook is an atrocity. It is non-stop text from page edge to page edge for 6 full size pages. There is one picture on the last page which does nothing more than show all the components. The layout of the rulebook is coupled with the incredibly nitpicky rules and mystery cards. If there is one thing that traditional board games excel at, it is simple generic rules that cover all situations. ToM has page after page of excruciating specifics detailing all the possible situations in the game. We found situations that the rules didn’t seem to cover, but to be completely honest, often we simply didn’t want to pore through the terribly laid out rulebook to find the answer, not because we weren’t interested, but because it didn’t really matter which way the rule worked. The mystery cards are laid out equally poorly. They are just a big block of text on a card--No title, No picture, just cramped text. Even if you’ve played the game before, you have to read every one of them. They are long, confusing, and far wordier than necessary. There is a space on the board that allows you to look at another player’s hand. Very few players actually used it because they didn’t want to be troubled in reading all those cards. It wasn’t because they weren’t trying to win, but because it didn’t really matter what they were holding.

There is a strong recurring theme in this review if you haven’t caught on yet. ToM is so random and chaotic that nothing you do really matters. Do you make decisions? Yes. Is there strategy? Yes. Choosing the most likely action that will result in a positive outcome and hammering the “lead” player with mystery cards is not very fun decision making. Equally, making those decisions over and over does not constitute real “strategy.”

Could some people like ToM? Absolutely, but if you are on BGG, the chances are slim to none. It is unfortunate to see an independent game do so poorly. We work hard to support independent designers and take it with a heavy heart when we have to hammer one. We may be off base with traditional board game players, they might like it, but we can all but promise strategy gamers will not.
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Nate Downs
United States
Granville
Ohio
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MadHatterGaming wrote:

Could some people like ToM? Absolutely, but if you are on BGG, the chances are slim to none. It is unfortunate to see an independent game do so poorly. We work hard to support independent designers and take it with a heavy heart when we have to hammer one. We may be off base with traditional board game players, they might like it, but we can all but promise strategy gamers will not.


I just saw this at Origins, and I thought it was great.

BGG users are not just Euro Gamers, a lot of us have families that we play standard games with, this looks like an excellent alternate to a MB or Parker Bros game. I am excited to play it!

And to be fair, the designer says basically what your review says on the website, and not only that but it is the first thing he says in person. "Strategy gamers, steer clear!" That is what caught my attention.
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Tim Wilcock
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Saw this one on the bargain shelf at my local brick'n'mortar for 2 bucks today, brand new. I passed.
 
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