Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Sentinels of the Multiverse

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, I am an old school comic book geek and that includes the superhero genre, so I really don't mind playing the wink-wink-nod-nod non-copyright infringing version of superheroes. Also, while I like the modern version of grit-filled heroes, I will never deny that cheese isn't yummy.

Note: Since the expansions do not change the core gameplay at all, they are added into this review as merely a part of the entire Sentinels of the Multiverse gaming experience. And while this is primarily a review of the Enhanced Edition, mentions are made to the original first edition release.

The Overview:

The Enhanced Edition box. 

Sentinels of the Multiverse is a cooperative superhero game set in its own universe, but whose characters and powers feel familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a superhero comic book. Each player takes the role of one superhero and has their own deck of cards tailored to that identity which is used to aid their allies and combat the current supervillain and their henchmen and machinations. Numerous supervillains exist in the set, each having its own individually tailored villain deck. The players then put their characters against the supervillain and try to defeat him, usually by means of super-powered fisticuffs.

The game is for 2-5 players and generally will play in about an hour or a little more. Number of players does not necessarily add to playtime, but rather character choices and villain choices will. More support characters than attack characters may slow down the walloping, and not all villains are created equally. Some are direct and a quick fight ends it, while others may play out longer with more subtle strategies. The game is played out with individualized decks of cards for the heroes, villains and locations, and with more knowledge of the game comes more of an idea of difficulties and time constraints for each.

Skip to the next section, "The Theme", if you do not want to read a rules rehash.

Each player chooses a superhero character to play. They take the character card and that hero's deck of cards. The character card lists your hero's hit points as well as a starting power that will be available for your hero to use throughout the game. Each player then draws the top four cards from their deck to make their starting hand.

Players then choose a villain to go up against, taking that villain card and his or her deck of cards. The villain card lists that villain's hit points as well as it's attacks or effects that will occur each turn. Some villains list additional set up instructions, which may be to do something such as put certain cards from the deck in play at the start.

Finally, for set up, players choose an Environment deck in which they will be battling the villain. Environments may simply be in the streets of the technically-not-Metropolis, Megalopolis, or in the technically-not-Savage Land region of Insula Primalis, or the underwater public domain Ruins of Atlantis.

Actually gameplay follows a specific structure turn by turn, starting with the Villain Turn, then each of the Heroes have a turn, followed by the Environment Turn.

Villain Turn:

The back of Citizen's Dawn's Villain Deck. 

The Villain strikes first, recruiting aid or attacking the heroes or otherwise furthering his nefarious plot with cards from his individual deck.

1. Start: The start of the Villain's turn has its phase because certain card effects are resolved at the Start of the Villain's turn.

2. Play: The top card of the Villain's Deck is drawn and then resolved. These cards vary in type according to the specific Villain's deck. But the cards include things like Minions which are minor bad guys with their own hit points and effects and need to be attacked by the heroes to remove them, One-Shots which have effects that are resolved and are one and done, and On-Going Effects which remain in play and are usually not removed by typical means such as attack. Other cards may have other titles (such as Device or Drone), but they have similar effects, but are titled as such for the calculation of other card effects, such as a bonus for every Drone in play and so on.

3. End: Like the start of the Villain's turn, the End has its own phase because certain card effects are resolved at the End of the Villain's turn. Often the Villain's special attack listed on his character card is resolved either at the Start or the End of the Villain's Turn.

Hero Turns:
Each Hero completes his full turn in order, then the next player resolves his full turn.

1. Start: Any cards or effects that need to be resolved at the start of a Hero's turn are resolved now.

2. Play: The player now has the option to play one card from his or her hand. Similar to the Villain's deck, cards in the Hero's deck consist of one and done One-Shot effects and Ongoing Effects which often either have a lasting effect that effects the Hero or it lists a new Power which can be played by the Hero later in the turn. Also like the Villain Deck, each deck may have other cards with different names that play similar to one of those, such as Equipment (which stays out like Ongoing cards) and Relics (which also stay out). They are titled as such for other game effects that may specifically effect Equipment and so on.

3. Power: The player now has an option to use one power and resolve its effects. Each hero card has one power listed on it that can be resolved. However, new powers may be available to the hero by other cards that have been played. Many Ongoing and some Equipment cards that stay out in play for the hero offer other powers that the player may choose to activate.

4. Draw: The player draws one card up into his or her hand.

5. End: Any cards or effects that need to be resolved at the end of the Hero's turn are resolved now.

Environment Turn:
Now the area in which the Heroes are battling effects the scope of the battle, sometimes aiding them, but often hindering them. However, while the heroes are often more vulnerable to the environment (they need to be more wary of collateral damage), the Villains aren't necessarily immune to the negative effects.

1. Start: Any cards or effects that need to be resolved at the start of a Environment's turn are resolved now.

2. Play: The top card of the Environment Deck is now revealed and resolved. Many cards have effects that may linger and need to be resolved by the Heroes in some inconvenient fashion (by attacking the card, discarding cards, or skipping your turn) and if they are not resolved, the negative effect of the card will remain in play and continue to effect the battlefield. But, like most decks, there are creatures that are put out and remain out until their hit points are reduced to zero or Ongoing effects that remain in play affecting the scope of the battle.

3. End: Any cards or effects that need to be resolved at the end of the Environment turn are resolved now.

Play continues in this fashion until either all of the Heroes are Knocked Out (their health reduced to 0) and the players lose or the Villain is defeated (usually by reducing his or her health to 0) and the players win. There is no distinction or ranking for the Heroes. Either they all win or they all lose as a group.

The Theme:

Sentinels of the Multiverse does a good job of creating a superhero universe. Although back stories are included for each of the Heroes and Villains, the theme really comes from the collective consciousness that popular superheroes have installed into our culture. There is no problem with drawing upon this, because we all know and love the Marvel and DC heroes. However, when I introduce the game to new players, I don't offer them Hero options by saying, "Do you want to play Bunker, who is really Lt. Tyler Vance who wears a suit created from the government's Ironclad Projet, or would you rather play Tachyon, who is really Dr. Meredith Stinson the physicist who gained her powers working on the Particle Yield Enhancing Wavelength?" No. Instead I'll say, "Do you want to play Bunker, he's kind of like Iron Man, or would you rather play Tachyon, who is sort of like the Flash?"

So in that way, the universe in Sentinels is really just an approximation of all of the comic book heroes and tropes.

Like Superman? Well Legacy flies around with super strength and fights for truth and justice.

Would you rather play a rich socialite whose tragic past has caused them to focus their fortune on fighting crime and becoming a super detective? Well, the IP for Batman would cost an arm and a leg, but the Wraith fits the bill fine.

Are you a Punisher fan? Well, Expatriette may have breasts, but she also has the firepower to rival Frank Castle and is only missing her own version of Chip.

Are you a big fan of secret-identity possessing janitors who are masters of Kung-Fu? Well, Hong Kong Phooey may be out, but Mr. Fixer will be your number one super guy.

So, yes, while it is set in its own universe, the superhero collective bleeds through well enough and you get the fulfill your childhood fantasies of seeing the (sort-of) Submariner and (a rough equivalent of) the Flash joining forces with (a not exactly) Superman and (an equivalency of) Iron Man battling (a very similar to) Thanos in the (very much like) Savage Land.

The only thing that takes away from the narrative, however, is the playing of the decks. It seems a little odd that the greatest superheroes are gradually building their powers and strength through the game. Bunker (Iron Man) doesn't begin with a weapon and needs to wait to draw and play one before he can use its power. So, in that sense, the game loses some narrative as you are left wondering my Bunker didn't show up with his cannons ready to fire. But then again, I also come from an era of yelling at the screen as a kid of wondering why the hell they didn't just form Voltron and draw the goddamned Blazing Sword right from the start or why the hell they didn't just shoot the Wave Motion Gun the moment the threat started. So I suppose it's thematic in the sense of returning my childhood frustration as Bunker doesn't shoot his cannons at the bad guys until half-way through the battle when you goddamned know it's what he should be doing from the start.

Learning the Game:

Not included in the game: An easy way of tracking health. These are croquet loop counters, purchased on Etsy. 

If you have the option of choosing between the regular version of the game and the "Enhanced Edition", go for the Enhanced. This game is fiddly. Very fiddly, as you have to track the damage of heroes, the villain and sometimes up to six or ten minions all at once. The original edition of the game didn't have any of this. Fortunately, I come from a gaming-heavy house, so we had a lot of dice to use as facings for how much health each card had. But I pity the poor player who didn't have such resources. Honestly, the first edition of Sentinels is the perfect example of the problems with Kickstarter. It is a great game and idea, but going through a traditional publishing house, the problems with the game would have been caught and it wouldn't have been released in its initial form. The original edition didn't scale and you had to track everything by hand.

By contrast, the Enhanced Edition scales the Villain characters better and also gives a lot of tokens to track the health. It's still fiddly as hell, but at least you're not expected to record everything with pen and paper.

Other than that, the game play is really easy and simple. Each hero has a different deck and some of them are a lot more straightforward than others. So it ends up being a game about learning the individual decks. If you grab Legacy, you won't be dealing massive damage. You are a support and damage mitigation. If you're playing Tachyon, you'll learn that you want to get a lot of your cards quickly into your discard pile to help her best attack effects.

Probably the most complicated part of the game (and adds to the fiddlyness) is trying to go through all of the end of turn abilities for each of the villain's cards that are out there. When you are looking at a half-dozen minions or effects, it can feel like a long slog of going through everything and figuring out all of the effect modifiers.

Even with the Enhanced Edition, the game is not streamlined. If you love elegance in games, it is not here. You will miss effects that were supposed to be played or triggered. It's still a lot of fun and full of flavor, but I would never argue that this is a good game design because of that.

The Components:

The Enhanced Edition box also includes dividers and room for the expansions.

A LOT of tokens and bit... But still not enough.

Hero Cards for Ra and Tachyon. Each shows their starting Power that can be used. Character cards
look like comic book covers with the issue number being that character's health. 

The artwork isn't up to par with modern comics, but it has a charm to it.

And what would a comic book style game be without having promo cards that are difficult to get?

As I mentioned above, ignore the first edition of the game and grab the Enhanced Edition. The tokens are invaluable and save you from scrounging up every single d8 and d10 and d12 you've ever owned to try to track things.

The card quality is good. The artwork is a little cheesy and it doesn't feel like modern comic book art. Instead it has an amateurish feel, but ultimately reminds me of Silver Age comic book artwork. However, each card has its own artwork on it and after an original shrug at its quality, it grows on you and you understand the charm that it has. For me, who has followed the game from its Kickstarter release and through all of its expansions, upgrading the artwork now wouldn't feel right. It would be like Glory to Rome. It's kind of hip to bash the art, but when a new version comes out with brand new sleeker art, you realize how much of the charm of it was really in that original art.

The Enhanced Edition also comes with tokens to track increased and decreased damage modifiers, resistance types and immunities as well as a bunch of other things. There are a lot of tokens. However, there is so much to potentially track that it still isn't quite enough.

The Enhanced Edition comes a long way to improving the components, the playability, the scaling and the tracking of everything for the game, however, it does not stop it from being a very fiddly game.

Playing the Game:

Cooperative games often end up feeling like puzzles where a single optimal move needs to be done each turn in order to "solve" the game most efficiently. Sentinels, however, escapes that feel. Part of this is because each player has their own individualized decks that each play very differently, so you minimize the alpha-player syndrome that can often occur in a cooperative game.

Also, each player is optimizing their own hero deck's engine while trying to still be helpful each turn. Tachyon needs to burn through her deck because she had cards that benefit from more "Burst" cards in her trash. The Wraith needs to get out as much of her Equipment as soon as possible, while Ra's attack cards are much more valuable if he can first get out his Staff and other damage modifiers that he has. This actually helps to break the overall puzzle feel. It isn't quite immersion in a narrative, but as you learn the decks you realize how certain cards chain off of one another's modifiers. However, you ultimately do feel like a team working together. You have individual decks and abilities that you are managing, but you need to work as a team. Is Legacy going to use his "Heroic Interception" to mitigate damage this round, or is Tachyon ready to use her "Hypersonic Assault" to stop the damage. You feel like a team working together.

But ultimately, the game is fun. It is fun to be a superhero working as part of a team to battle a supervillain in some fantastic location. And as much as you have to track and move tokens and monitor when abilities trigger, it is fun to see it all happen and be a part of it.


Although the game is listed as playing from 2-5 players, it really plays from 3-5 players. If two players are playing, each should play controlling two characters. For experienced players, it isn't that difficult, but especially for new players, it means managing two separate decks and hands of cards and tracking all of the effects of each hero.

There is a bit of a sweet spot for the game. It probably plays best with four heroes, however, each of the villains have a different difficulty and as such, some are better suited for smaller groups of three heroes to fight, while others are more likely beat if you have a full table of 5 heroes battling them. With the Enchanced Edition, the villains all scale (such as they will do X-2 damage, where X=the number of Heroes). Still, the number of Heroes as well as the specific hero choices will make a big difference in how well the group fares. A group of five support and versatility characters, such as Legacy, Mr. Fixer, the Argent Adept, Visionary and Wraith may not do as well as a group of three heavy hitters such as Haka, Ra and Tempest.

Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She likes cooperative games. Don't get me wrong, she's subtlety cutthroat in competition, but there is a special place in her heart for cooperative games. That being said, she adores this game. No one knows Tachyon's deck better than my wife and she'll default to that character whenever we play. We will play the game two player and each control two heroes. This means she gets to play with a bit of variety and try something new, while at the same time keeping her core strategies with Tachyon well honed.

But she loves this game and it is one of her all-time favorites. Despite the fiddlyness and problems with it, I happen to like it as well, so it has made it to our table quite often and she'll always take the opportunity to suggest that we play it when we get together with our gaming group to the point where her suggesting it has become kind of a joke.

However, it had made things rather easy for me. Her birthday is coming up in February and normally, a husband should be worried about dinner reservations, flowers and other sentimental accruements. For me, should I fail to set up all of these, I know I can always just grab some candles at the last minute and offer to play Sentinels by candlelight and I'll be fine, because this time, it's me sweetly suggesting it instead of waiting for her to suggest it.

I just better let her play Tachyon, otherwise no sex for me.

The Pros:

*Great themed game that benefits from the popular comic book collective consciousness.
*Easy to bring new players into the theme by bringing up the hero equivalencies.
*Super hero theme is big right now, and it is fun to be an individual hero looking at your hand of cards to try to do the best you can to aid your allies.
*Good quality of cards and components.
*Dynamic artwork through all of the cards.
*The fun of the game shows through, making the fiddlyness and tracking worth the effort.
*Enhanced Edition makes huge steps to correct some of the errors of the first edition.
*Each Hero plays different with different strategies.
* A lot of versatility in play, as different combinations of Heroes can fight different Heroes in different Locations and you see the synergies that can ignite between each of them.
*Environment Deck is a stroke of genius to make the location you are fighting seem more dynamic and give other dangers to react to.
*Expansions are very accessible and add more variety without complicating and adding more bloat to simple rules.

The Cons:

*Charm in the artwork will not be appreciated by all.
*A more traditional release through an established publisher would have probably streamlined some of the tracking and rules, especially from the initial release.
*Hero types should be classified (Attack, support, versatility) so that new players wouldn't end up with a role that they didn't expect (Nothing can turn a first time player's experience sour more than thinking that they are playing a brutish man of steel only to find out that he's essentially the guy who takes the bullet shots while everyone else bashes the bad guy).
*A lot to track and remember, even with all of the tokens in the Enhanced Edition.
*The over-arching fiddlyness of the game adds a lot of complexity to an otherwise very easy to learn game.
*None of the Heroes carries around a shield to give me the approximation I am really craving. Come on, everyone would love Second Lieutenant USA.


Sentinels of the Multiverse is my guilty secret. I'm someone who plays a lot of game and really likes to delve into game design and understand mechanics. I see the flaws in Sentinel's design and the awkward bloat that is added by tracking everything from when things attack to how much damage is dealt after each modifier. However, despite all of these problems, I have a lot of fun whenever I sit down to play it. The game is challenging and once you are familiar with the decks, you can adjust the difficulty just by the set up choices you make (Want to have your ass kicked? Try Akash'buta in Insula Primalis.). If you are looking for an elegant design that refines game mechanics to its height, look elsewhere. However, if you don't mind moving tokens around and want to have a rowdy fun time with some friends pretending that you're superheroes as you bash on some bad guys, then this is the perfect game.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, Ignacy Trzewiczek is my favorite game designer and I have had some interactions with him. I'd like to think I'm on a first name basis with him, but that's just because I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce his last name.

The Overview:

The box cover.

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island is a scenario-based cooperative game about survival on a harsh island. Each player takes the role of one of the castaways on the island and beyond just survival, each of the six included scenarios gives other objectives that must be met. Objectives range from gathering enough wood to create a signal fire, to rescuing another of your shipmates trapped on a rock, to battling cannibals on the island.

The game is for 1-4 players and plays in about 2 hours. Number of players will decrease or extend time a bit, but this is primarily just from more discussion between players. The game is played out on a modular board and with a different assortment of available resources (starting items and inventions that can be built), which offers a lot of variation and replayability on each of the scenarios. However, the specific scenario will determine the specific objectives for each game.

Skip to the next section, "The Theme", if you do not want to read a rules rehash.

Each player chooses a character out of the four included (Cook, Explorer, Carpenter and Soldier), although the Soldier isn't available in games with two or fewer players. Each of the characters has four special abilities that they can spend Determination (an individually gained resource) to activate and each also has a specific Invention that they alone can build to assist the camp.

Set up may vary slightly depending upon the scenario, but typically each scenario gives the player nine standard Inventions that can be built for the scenario to aid the players. Then, five additional Inventions are added at random from the deck. Finally, two items are drawn from the Starting Island deck. These represent limited resources that were salvaged from your sinking ship. Each has two uses and once they are used, they are gone for good.

Some of the inventions that can be made. Missing is a radio made from coconuts. 

The starting Event Deck is created by forming a deck that consists of half of the cards with an Adventure Icon and half of the deck with a Book Icon (more on those later). The castaways begin with no Shelter, though it can be built during the course of the game. Also Roof levels and Palisades for the camp begin at level 0 and can be built during the game to protect from weather and wild animals respectively. The players' Weapons level begins at 0, but can also be built up during the game. And the Morale of the camp is set at 0 as well, and can increase or decrease throughout the game.

Play then begins. Each turn is broken into six phases, which are resolved in order.

1. Event Phase: The first player draws the top card of the Event Deck. Each Event Card is broken into sections. The top of the card dictates the Event's effect that needs to be resolved immediately. And Adventure Icon on the card means a mandatory Adventure Card will need to be resolved for the action type depicted later in the turn if the action is taken. A Book icon has specific scenario effects depending upon the Scenario. Once these are resolved, the card is placed in the Threat Action field. The bottom half of the card depicts the action that needs to be taken during an Action Phase and the needed resources to complete it. It also depicts what bad effect will occur if the Threat listed on the card is not resolved in time. If there is already a card on the Threat Action field, then it is slid to the next space on the field. If there was already a second card there, it drops off the track and the negative effects of the card are resolved.

Morale Phase: The first player then checks the current Morale of the Camp. If it is high enough, he or she gains a number of Determination listed, or even possibly heals one wound if it is high enough. However, if the Morale is too low, the first player loses the number of Determination tokens listed. If he or she cannot pay, then they take a number of wounds equal to the amount they cannot pay. Note: This is a common theme of the game. Whenever you cannot pay a specific resource, either you or everyone in Camp takes a number of Wounds equal to the resources you are in deficit.

Production Phase: Players gather a number of resources based upon the tile their camp is on. This will usually be one Food and one Wood, but it is possible to move your Camp to tiles that produce fewer resources. Also, certain Inventions can increase the what is gained. For example, creating a Snare increases Food Production by one on the Camp's tile. Events and Adventures can also modify what is gained either temporarily or permanently.

Action Phase: The Action Phase is broken into a Planning subphase and a Resolution subphase. Planning is essentially just placing each player's pawns on their intended action space. Each player has two pawns (actions) to place during this phase. After all of the pawns are placed, then each of the actions are resolved. The seven actions that can be taken are:

1. Threat Action: Remember that Event Card you drew at the start of the turn? Well, you have the option to take actions to try to resolve it. Sometimes this action will provide a minor boon, but usually this action is taken simply to discard the Event Card from the Threat Action field , otherwise if it drops off of the Threat Action field during the Event Phase the negative Threat Effect is resolved.

2. Hunting: If there are any cards in the Hunting Deck, a player can place two pawns on this space to hunt. They flip over the top card of the Hunting Deck and resolve it. Hunting is always successful, but can easily result in wounds. The Beast's strength is compared to the Weapon level of the players. If the Beast's strength is higher, the Hunter takes the difference in Wounds. The card will then indicate if the players lose any Weapon levels (if it cannot be lowered by this amount, the player takes the amount in Wounds that it cannot be lowered) and how much Food and Furs they gain from the beast.

3. Building: A player taking a Building Actions places their pawn (or pawns) on the Invention or Structure of their choice. With this actions, Shelter can be built, and levels can be added to the Roof, Palisades and Weapons for the Camp. If two pawns are placed on an item or structure it is automatically built, but at the cost of an extra action. If only one pawn is placed on any item or structure that is to be built, then three dice are rolled to see if it is successful and if there are any further events. The first die is the Wound die. Succeed or fail, if a Wound marker comes up on the dice, the player takes one Wound. The second die is the Success die. If a success is rolled, the Item or structure is created and the appropriate resources are discarded (if any). However, if the action is unsuccessful, the Player instead receives two Determination. The third die is the Adventure die. If a blank facing comes us, nothing further happens. If the Adventure icon comes us, then the player draws a card from the appropriate Adventure Deck and resolves it. These are circumstances and situations that occurred while performing the action and each action type has its own deck, so the Adventures are fitting and thematic. They are also usually bad for the players. Sometimes good effects can happen, but often bad things happen. Many cards give a short term boon, but instruct that the card is then to be shuffled into the Event Deck. When it comes up and is drawn, a bad effect is then resolved.

4. Gathering Resources: A player taking the Gathering Resources action collects one resource from an adjacent tile for the camp. Like Building, if two pawns are put on the Resource to be gathered, it is automatically successful. If only one pawn is on the action, the action dice must be rolled to see if it succeeds and sees if a wound is taken and resolves an Adventure Card if the dice indicate that it needs to be done. If a player wishes to Gather Resources past the adjacent tiles, they will need to expend more pawns to travel further.

5. Exploration: A player taking the Exploration action explores an adjacent empty space and places a tile drawn from the stack onto it. As with the other actions, two pawns means an automatic success, while one pawn means dice will need to be rolled to determine success, wounds and Adventures. A revealed tile shows a number of things. First is the terrain type. Certain Inventions can only be built after the proper terrain type is discovered. It also shows any resources (Food and/or Wood) that can be gathered from the tile. Some tiles have a symbol indicating that an animal of some type has made its lair in the area and you need to add a card to the Hunt Deck. Discovery Tokens may be listed on the tile, which would result in the player drawing that number of tokens to return to Camp with. The Discovery Tokens provide useful benefits and boons to the camp, some of which are Scenario specific. Finally, there are Mystery Icons on some of the tiles. If one is present, then the Scenario must be referred to in order to see how they are resolved.

6. Arranging the Camp: A player taking this actions gains 2 Determination and increases the Morale level of the Camp by 1.

7. Rest: Anyone taking the Rest action recovers one Wound.

The weather dice are unforgiving to the unprepared. 

Weather Phase: Each Scenario describes which of the weather dice need to be rolled during each turn. There is a Rain Die, a Winter Die and the Hungry Animals die. For the weather, the icons and number of clouds are important. For each snowflake rolled, one wood needs to be discarded (to keep warm). If there is not enough wood, each player takes one Wound per wood they are in deficit. Afterward, the total number of clouds are added together and compared to the Roof level. If the Roof level is higher than the number of clouds, then the Roof was sufficient in protecting the players from the elements. However, if there are more clouds than roof levels, then the players must discard one food AND one wood per Roof level you are deficient (as the players need to stay warm and healthy as they are rained upon). For each that they are unable to discard, everyone takes one Wound.

The Hungry Animal die has several results. The players may lose one food (as the Beast stalks the camp and steals from it), lose one Palisade (everyone taking one wound if the Palisades are already at 0) or Fighting a Beast with a strength of 3 (each player gets one wound per Weapon level they are below 3).

Night Phase: During this phase, the players need to eat. One food is discarded per player. If there is not enough food, then the players have to decide who does not eat that night. Anyone without food loses two health. Also during Night, the players may opt to move their Camp to an adjacent tile (perhaps for better reach of resources). However, moving Camp means the player loses half of their Roof and Palisades in the move, so it is usually wiser to move your camp early unless you absolutely have to. If the players have not built Shelter yet, they each suffer one Wound from being out in the elements. And finally, unless the players have an Invention or something else to protect their extra food, any extra food is discarded from the Camp as it spoils. The players will have to gather food all over again the next turn.

The first player token is then passes to the left and the turn marker is moved forward one space.

The game ends immediately if the players fulfill all of the Scenario's objectives and the players win. However, the game ends immediately if any of the players die or if the last round is completed and the Scenario goals are not completed.

The Theme:

Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island is dripping with theme and, moreover, gives an excellent narrative. The game tells the story of the castaways trying to survive on an unforgiving island. As a word of warning: the game is difficult, so often that story ends in the death of the castaways. However, each and every time, you will have a great and engaging story being told before your eyes.

One of the things that I love most about the game is the characters. Each are made to feel very different for a number of reasons. First of all, each character sheet is reversible to either a male or female side. This has no impact on abilities or stats, but is such an easy way to make one's character more relatable and therefore makes it easier to draw you into the story to make it feel more personal.

Each character's abilities are designed around a specific role (the Carpenter, for instance, has abilities focused on Building), however, it requires determination to use these abilities. Regardless of if you have Determination to use your abilities or not, you will still find yourself arguing over what actions should be taken. There is something innate that when you are playing the Soldier, even if there is nothing to Hunt at the moment, you argue against using your actions to build a lowly shovel.

We played one Scenario three times (trying to beat it) with three players. We used the same three characters and rotated after each game. It was funny that when I was the Carpenter, I would argue against the point of wasting my actions to build weapons and would rather build a Snare or other trappings for the Shelter. However, when I was the Soldier, I adamantly argued for the effectiveness of raising our Weapon level instead of building the other things that now looked like comforts instead of necessities. The game made us perceive our characters through their roles. This is the sign of a well-crafted theme. It didn't matter which of the three of us was the Soldier, weapons seemed like the best idea. The Carpenter was always more worried about Roof levels and Inventions to use in Camp and our Explorer always argued that exploring and finding Discovery Tokens might give us an edge for the upcoming threats.

Finally, all of the characters have the same health, however, as a character takes Wounds, it may drop below a Morale point. If it does, the Camp's Morale is lowered by one as the character begins to complain about his or her Wounds and brings down his companions. This is another wonderful touch. The Soldier and Explorer are more hardened and have fewer Morale drops. However, the Cook is a whiny little bitch. This doesn't mean that the Cook isn't useful--the character's abilities may just be the only healing and extra food sources you may find. But it is something else that differentiates the characters and you'll see the Soldier try to take Wounds to defend the Cook if, for no other reason, so as not to hear him bitch about his pain and misery back at Camp.

Learning the Game:

The downside of the game is that in order to create such a dynamic and changing story that tells so many things, the game is fiddly. Very fiddly.

The English version of the rulebook is a little scattered and sometimes a little less than intuitive to follow. This seems to be mostly an issue with translation being a little weak from the native Polish. However, Z-Man games has the US release and reprint license, and I imagine that they will touch up the language of the rules to make it more clear.

The first game will take longer as you will need to figure out some of the icons and get used to all that is going on. However, after a couple of games all of this melts away and you see the intuitiveness of what you are doing as everything really does make sense as far as what the mechanics are doing to tell the story.

The rules make the game seem more intimidating and overwhelming than it really is. I would suggest reading my summary before reading the translated rules as it might help get an idea of what is going on before reading deeper into the technical aspect. But again, the mechanics make sense, so it is easier to remember. Not enough food for everyone to eat? Whoever doesn't eat takes Wounds. There is a snowflake on the Winter die? We need to keep warm and burn a wood.

Games that have abstract mechanics to make a challenge against a game make these rules harder to remember. However, the theme of each of these mechanics tells a narrative and it makes them much, much easier to remember.

The Components:

The board is beautiful and functional.

Tokens for the game.

The characters are the same on either side, except for the sex.

"You feel like in London..." Personally, I find some of the clunky translations charming.

Example of a Scenario. Our late Navigator unfortunately misread the map and thought this was Cannibus Island. 

The artwork for the characters is beautiful. It makes me wish that there was more of it throughout the game. The tiles have a bit of iconography on them, but it is kept to a minimum, allowing the top half of the tile to show scenery reflecting the area found.

The tokens are a little flimsy, but sufficient and the wooden bits to track resources are wooden bits. They're fine. A few more black markers and white markers for tracking scenario effects or unavailable resources would have been nice. Hopefully, Z-Man Games will add a few more into their release. Ultimately, however, it isn't a big deal.

The board is beautiful. However, more than that, it is a combination of beauty combined with effectiveness in design. Once you are familiar with the game's structure, everything that you need to know is right there on the board, even numbering each of the Phases to walk through the turns from the board. The only complaint that I have with the board is that it is thin. The cardboard itself is fine, but the material along the back to allow for folds is thin and mine tore, so I now have my board in two segments. Again, this is something that I hope Z-Man Games will fix in their release.

Lastly, the cards also carry some of the awkward translation from Polish. Personally, I find a certain charm in it. I smile to myself when I read aloud the Storm card which says, "Ocean is in a bad mood today." The effects of the cards are very clear, however, the flavor text shows a little difficulty in the nuances of English. It doesn't affect gameplay at all and I find it a charming quirk of the game. Still, it is something that I think Z-Man should definitely fix.

Playing the Game:

Play in progress; seeing the components working together.

The first time I played the game it was just my wife and I. Like most first games, it was broken up with a few breaks to look up rules and a little hesitation and confusion on how to actually accomplish our objectives efficiently. As a result, the narrative wasn't fully felt with the pauses and we lost terribly. I wasn't certain how I felt about the game. We cleaned it up and we went on with the evening.

However, as I ate dinner that night, I started to think, "Maybe if we try to stockpile wood earlier, we could get enough to get us in a better position before the harsher weather hits." Then when I was getting my daughter ready for bed, I thought, "We should've probably explored more quickly and moved our camp to the center of the island to give us more gathering options." And while in bed with my wife that night, well, I thought about her. But then when we finished I thought, "Maybe if we go for a quick hunt and suck up the Wounds, we could get fur to make a roof and that would leave us more wood for our signal fire."

When my wife got home the next day, the game was set up and she barely had time to take off her coat before I asked her to play again.

And, thus, my uncertainty for the game was gone. I spent the entire evening afterward thinking about what we needed to do. If it wasn't obvious then, it was once I started to play the second game with a better idea of what needed to be done; I loved this game. We still lost in our second game. But not as horribly. Just... almost as horribly. But we started to learn the structure of what needed to get done. We beat the scenario on the third game.

Feeling confident, we started the second Scenario. And we lost horribly. We had to approach it with another way of thinking. We eventually introduced the game to another friend of ours and played three player and the game was completely different again. It took a few tries and we finished the first Scenario and moved onto the second with him, trying new paths each time.

And one of the nice things about the game is that there are different valid avenues to complete what you need. The Soldier will argue for the effectiveness of hunting for food and fur, but the Cook will argue for a more reliable Gathering attempt to get what is needed. I don't think that the game eliminates the problems with an alpha player in a cooperative game, but the different avenues of success make it feel less puzzle-like and more natural as you decide as a group what to do.


The game plays from 1-4 players. The scaling is just a hint clunky, but ultimately still offers a challenge without changing gameplay. With two players, you'll only have 4 actions a turn, so you have an NPC (Friday) who can lend a pawn to assist, giving the group 5 pawns. It costs fewer resources to build Shelter and the Roof and Palisades. Also, the Soldier is restricted in the two-player game. Three players seems to be the intended number and really is the game's "sweet spot". Nothing alters in the three player game. Four players increases the resources needed to build Shelter and such further and also lowers the effectiveness of the Arranging Camp action a bit. I haven't played the game's solo variant, but you draw one character and have extra pawns by adding Friday and the Dog and your Morale always moves up by one at the start of a turn. I might instead play a solo game and control three characters.

However, I don't think I'll play it solo. First of all, I'm not much of a solo-gamer to begin with. But secondly, I think this game really thrives on playing with multiple people. It doesn't feel like a puzzle, so the fun isn't in "solving" it. The fun is in the narrative. And, as I said, something innately happens where you become your role. There's something to be said about everyone arguing over why they should be the one who gets to eat tonight.

Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She likes cooperative games. Don't get me wrong, she's subtlety cutthroat in competition, but there is a special place in her heart for cooperative games. That being said, she really enjoys the game. You may not know it from watching her play. She's essentially the C-3PO of our gaming group as she'll cry out, "We're doomed!" by the end of turn two and constantly point out the most pessimistic result that could happen by any actions we plan out. Normally, it isn't that bad to get around. As she recites that if I only put one pawn on my build action, there is a 1 in 3 chance that I'll fail and not build the Shovel. I can just grab the dice and grit my tell and tell her, "Never tell me the odds". It just stinks when I fail because, unlike C-3PO, my wife has "I told you so" programming.

But, pessimism aside, she really does enjoy the game and she'll eagerly suggest it for an evening game before I have a chance to.

The Pros:

*Immersive theme that has a distinct and strong narrative in its storytelling.
*Challenging cooperative play that doesn't simply feel like you're solving a puzzle.
*Mechanics all make sense; there are no artificial mechanics to increase difficulty. Everything you do, you do for a reason and it makes sense why you do it.
*Character cards have a male and female side it increase immersion.
*Difficulty can be altered for any player level (adding Friday in a three-player game, drawing a random set-up card, etc.)
*Beautiful artwork and a beautiful board that is completely and intuitively functional.
*Roles have an effect on gameplay, making each feel different.
*Tons of replayability; each scenario plays differently, plus the random set up and nature of the game create a situation where you may play the first Scenario multiple times, but depending on what Inventions are drawn, your approach may be different each time.

The Cons:

*A few minor component issues and wording issues that will hopefully be cleared up in the Z-Man US release.
*Elegance is sacrificed for fiddlyness, but with the gain of storytelling narrative.
*English translation of the rules is clunky and some of the card narratives show a lack of understanding of the nuances of the language (again, Z-Man should fix this).
*The game's scaling is a little clunky. The sweet spot is three and all other variations are adjusting the game to the three-player difficulty.
*While there is replayability for each Scenario, only have six still feels light.
*You risk anyone making a Gilligan's Island reference or quote at any moment while playing the game.


Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Curse Island is without a doubt, the best cooperative game that I have played. Unlike many cooperative games, it does not feel like a puzzle, nor do you feel like the actions required are dictated by the events before you. There are valid arguments at any time for any number of different routes to take to get what is needed or what must be done. The narrative is immersive and everything happens for a reason. After each game I find myself thinking about what we could have done better. This is exactly what I want in a game: one that immerses me while I am playing it and one that makes me think about what I did afterward.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. And, as for my biases, I'll just leave this here:

The Overview:

Box cover art. 

Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game is, in fact, a Marvel deck building game. It is a semi-cooperative deck building game set in the Marvel comics universe and hosts a number of familiar intellectual properties (hereafter referred to as "characters"). Players each takes the side of the heroes, building decks with hero characters to battle numerous villain characters who appear and ultimately try to defeat the villainous mastermind, whose tactics and win conditions alter based on the current scheme that he is employing.

The game is for 2-5 players and playing in less than an hour. There is also a solo-player variant for the game as well, which also plays in about the same amount of time. The number of players does not have a great impact on the game length, however, more players will generally cause the game to run a bit longer since there is more time in between moves for everyone to "toughen" up their decks for the endgame. It is a semi-cooperative game, meaning all of the players can lose together. However, if the Mastermind is defeated, then the players compare their scores to see who is the ultimate winner.

Skip to the next section, "The Theme", if you do not want to read a rules rehash.

The game's four Masterminds. 

The game is actually very simple and it familiarity of other recent deck building games helps with the learning and flow of the game. The game is most similar in design to Ascension and knowledge of that game will help understand the flow of the game.

Perhaps the most complicated part of the game is the set up. Each player begins with the same set of 12 cards, 8 S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents used for recruiting (purchasing) more cards and 4 S.H.I.E.L.D. Troopers which are used for weak basic attacks. Then, the players set up one Mastermind to go up against (currently four are present in the base game). A scheme is chosen for the Mastermind, which may dictate further set up rules and will give victory conditions for the Mastermind. I'll describe Schemes a little later in more detail.

The Villain Deck is then created. This will be the main deck of cards that the players will be attacking and contending against. The deck is created by adding Villain groups (which are moderate to high power bad guys who work for the Mastermind), Henchman groups (which are low level chumps and lackeys working for the Mastermind) and Bystanders (which are innocents that can be captured by the bad guys and rescued by the players). The number of these groups is based upon the number of players in the game. Finally, five Master Strike cards (which result in the Mastermind resolving his special attack) and a number of Scheme Twist cards (which result in a effect based off of the chosen Scheme being resolved) based on the Scheme's description. All of these are shuffled together to create a single Villain Deck that will be drawn from.

The Hero Deck is then formed. This will be the cards that are available for the players to purchase to add to their decks to increase their ability to purchase more cards and attack the villains. Five Heroes are chosen and the 14 card decks of each of these Heroes is shuffled together. Playing with 5 players, however, you add a sixth Hero deck and the solo-variant only uses three Hero decks. Once the cards are shuffled together, five cards are dealt out to the "HQ" section of the board. These cards are available for purchase by the players.

Finally, several other stacks of available cards are added to the board. S.H.I.E.L.D. Officers are always available for purchase. They increase the recruitment (buying) power of a player if they are in their hand and are an upgrade to the starting S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents. Wounds are left on the board and certain cards or effects may cause a player to add them to their deck. Wounds essentially just take up space in your hand, forcing you to go through more cards before you get more useful cards into your hand to play. And Bystanders are also placed on the board. While some are already present in the Villain deck, certain effects may require you to add a new one from this stack to somewhere on the board.

After all of that, you are ready to play.

A player's turn is simple and is broken into three steps.

1. Play the top card of the Villain Deck: The current player turns over the top card of the Villain deck. Depending on the type of card it is, it is then resolved.
*If it is a Villain group or Henchman group card: It enters the City, which is a five-space section of the board which tracks the available bad guys that can be fought by the players. If there is already a card in the first space, then it bumps over the existing card (or cards) along the track if it needs to make room for it. If a card slides off the fifth space along the track, then the villain "escapes". Certain cards have specific effects if they escape. However, the standard effect is that the players must discard one of the cards in the HQ every time a villain escapes. This cycles through the Hero Deck quicker, which can allow the villains to win, or at least stalemate. Also, some cards have an Ambush ability, which is resolved as soon as the card is added to the track. Others have special abilities if they are on a specific location along the City track or a special ability that is resolved if they escape off of the track.
*If it is a Bystander card: It is captured by a villain. It slides under the nearest Villain card along the City track and will move with this villain card if it is bumped forward along the track. If there are no Villains along the City track, then it is added to the Mastermind instead. If a Villain card "escapes" off of the end of the track with a bystander, then each player needs to discard a card. If a Villain with a Bystander under them is defeated by a player, they claim the Bystander for their victory points.
*If it is a Scheme Twist card: The player refers to the active Scheme card chosen in the set up of the game and plays the effects listed on the card. Scheme Twists represent the villain advancing his plot and usually pushes him closer to his win condition.
*If it is a Master Strike card: The player refers to the Mastermind card and resolves the Mastermind's special attack.

Bystanders, Scheme Twists and Master Strike cards do not advance the cards along the City track.

2. Play cards from your hand: The current player then adds the Attack points and Recruit points for each of his cards to create an Attack Pool and a Recruit Pool. Many of the Hero cards that can be purchased have Superpowers which can activate to increase one or both of these pools, and most of the cards work off of icons on other cards. For example, Thor might be able to add his bonus, but only if another Strength icon was already played. While many of Captain America's abilities increase depending on the number of different types of Hero cards played.
*Recruiting a Hero: Each card in the HQ has a recruitment cost listed on the card. A player can spend their Recruitment Points to pay the cost of one or more of these cards. The card or cards are then placed in that player's discard pile. As soon as a card is purchased from the HQ, a new card from the Hero Deck is put out in its place.
*Fighting a Villain: If your Attack Pool is equal to or higher than a Villain on the City track, you can fight them. The Villain (and any Bystanders under their card) are added to your Victory Point pile. If the card had a "Fight" effect listed on it, it is then resolved. Any remainder left in your Attack Pool can then be used to fight another villain. Alternately, a player may decide to attack the Mastermind if his Attack Pool is equal to or greater than his strength. It is resolved in the same manner, but one of the four cards under the Mastermind card are taken and resolved and then put in the player's Victory Pile. If it is the fourth card under the Mastermind that is taken, then the Mastermind has been defeated and players tally their Victory Points.

3. Discard and draw up: The current player discards all of the cards from their hand--they cannot hold any cards for later rounds. The player then draws up to their hand limit (usually 6).

Play then continues with the next player.

Play ends when the last card under the Mastermind is defeated (the players win and each player tallies their victory points to see who is the ultimate winner), the Hero Deck runs out (the players and the Mastermind are considered to have a draw with neither side winning), or the conditions on the Scheme are met (in which case, the Mastermind wins and all of the players lose).

The Theme:

The Legacy Virus scheme does force decision points at purchasing certain cards. 

Legendary is a game that holds all of the right components to build great theme, but ultimately fails to really create any narrative. This isn't to say it is a bad game--it isn't. The game is very good. But the game doesn't fully tell a story--at least not from a player's perspective.

The first problem in theme is with recruiting heroes. I like the idea of playing your S.H.I.E.L.D. Operatives to recruit Heroes to engage the threats to the city. However, when I recruit Captain America, I am only recruiting one out of 14 Captain America cards. So there are 13 others that can be recruited by other players. So I never feel like I've build my team when I then see "my" teammates then played by the other players. The end result is that it feels like we are all playing essentially the same team, but when he shows up in my hand Cap is out recruiting and while he's in the player to my left's hand, he's throwing his shield around at baddies.

I also think that the City track is genius underused. I love the idea of bad guys beginning in the Sewer and moving up to the Bank, fleeing over the Rooftops and then through the Streets and the last chance to stop them is on the Bridge before they escape. It is genius and is ripe to set a narrative. However, too few of the cards use these actual locations in any meaningful way. Some Schemes make use of the locations, but it would be better if more of the Villain cards referenced the locations that they were in to make it "feel" like they were moving through the Bank, rather than just moving to the second space on the City track.

Now, what works well for theme are the Scheme cards. Or at least, they have the potential to bring in more theme and narrative. Each card sets up the Scheme Twist cards to have a different effect. Such as the "Midtown Bank Robbery" Scheme means that a Scheme Twist card will make any Villain in the Bank capture two Bystanders and the Mastermind winds if 8 Bystanders are carried away. The "Negative Zone Prison Break Out" Scheme, in contrast, causes the top 2 cards of the Villain Deck to be played if a Scheme Twist card is drawn and the Mastermind wins if 12 Villains escape. So, this offers variety in victory conditions and in some play, even if ultimately it does come down to just beating the Mastermind four times in a game.

Another point where theme is thought through well is with the effects of the cards--especially the Villains. Each of them play well and are thematic to their character. I have no complaints with the intent and use of the cards. It is, however, just that they are cards available to everyone. I would get the theme more if we were all S.H.I.E.L.D. agents trying to vie for a promotion by organizing the most efficient team to handle a crisis, but even that narrative falls apart when Thor's on each of our teams.

Learning the Game:

The game is very easy to learn. The actual gameplay itself is really simple and the set up is really the most complicated part of the game.

There are a few things in the game, however, that could have been a bit clearer in order to help early plays. For example, using the term "color" heroes, instead of Hero Class, as it can cause confusion over the borderless hero cards as to what "color" they are. Also, a game that has to clarify what "Your Heroes" and "Heroes You Have" means in the rulebook probably should realize that there might be some clarity issues with the wording of a few of their cards.

However, that being said, the game is easy for non-gamers and younger gamers to pick up with little difficulties.

The Components:

The board is very efficient and the Cityscape track is genius.

The artwork in the game is beautiful, if unfortunately repetitive over 14 cards of different powers for each hero. 

An example of a villain group card. 

The artwork for the game is beautiful. Each of the character cards have well-drawn pictures of the characters on them and the only complaint that I have with the artwork is that the same picture is used for every card. Again, it doesn't detract from the gameplay at all, but it does represent a missed opportunity to build theme. For example, purchasing Captain America's "Perfect Teamwork" attack card has the same illustration as his "Avengers Assemble" recruit card. Granted, it's paying for more artwork, but I would have loved to see the "Diving Block" card have Cap diving and blocking with his shield, which his attack card showing him throwing his shield and his recruit card showing him trying to sell war bonds. Instead, the only differential of the card effects at a glance are from the color borders.

However, that is not to say that I am disappointed in the quality of the artwork I am not at all. It is beautiful and stylistic.

The cardstock is a little thin and wears at the sides easily, though there a lot of cards for those who want to go the sleeving route. However, the stock isn't that bad and less obsessive players should have no real problem with the bit of wear the cards will likely receive.

The board is very functional and the only issue that I have with it is that the City track is just a busy for a background (it should be faded back a bit more) and the cards, especially Bystander cards underneath of other cards, tend to blend into the busy background with a quick glance. But this is really a very minor complaint on what is an otherwise incredible functional board. Many card games would forgo the board and let you set up your areas on your own, but I think the board helps contain ease and flow of the game.

The biggest complaint that I have with the components, however, is a lack of randomizer cards. This is almost standard in deckbuilder games now as it makes for ease of choosing random heroes, villains and henchmen.

Playing the Game:

Game play is simple and it is easily picked up and learned, especially if you are familiar with Ascension. Strategies are somewhat dictated by the Scheme in play, however, most games are still essentially just a race to bash the Mastermind four times.

As with many deckbuilders, the game finds itself with a slow creep in power at first and then suddenly players hit a turn where they are able to do 14 damage in a single turn and the game has a sudden fevered pitch to its conclusion. I know that there are players out there who do not like this. However, it is the nature of deckbuilders.

I would also suggest playing with the "Final Showdown" variant. Basically, after the fourth Mastermind card is defeated, the Heroes each pit off against the Mastermind one last time with the victor getting the actual Mastermind top card to add to their Victory Pile. Basically, everyone plays one last hand, though in this battle, recruitment points count toward attack. Whoever has the highest total gets the last card. Since the person who just beat the fourth Mastermind has to draw a new hand, it means that a very lucky stack of cards is likely to be countered by this variant. Also, it gives recruit heavy decks a chance to still be competitive. It's just my opinion, but I think it adds just a bit more balance to the end game competitiveness since everyone has a chance for one last card and turn order isn't a factor.


The game plays from 2-5 players (not including the solo rules), but each of the Schemes has a sweet spot. On the whole, the fewer the players, the easier the game will be. For example, both players will have had a chance to go through their entire starting deck and will be drawing up their stronger recruited cards before the first villain can make it to the fifth space on the City track. However, in a five player game, each player will only have gone through one hand (of two) from their starting deck by the time a villain could reach the fifth space on the City track. More Bystanders in the five player game slow the progress of villains, but there is definitely a noticeable difference. So fewer players will allow the players to prepare their decks better before the City track is a threat.

A few cards (such as Rogue's) are more powerful with more players, but ultimately that isn't an issue because anyone has the option of buying that card.

Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She isn't quite the comic book geek that I am, but she's still involved in geekdom and has more than a superficial knowledge of most comic book characters. That being said, she likes the game, but isn't in awe of it. She, like me, likes theme in game, but more than that, likes narrative in a game. Unfortunately, the game is missing narrative. I think I have more appreciation to play the game and enjoy the game's mechanics while looking at pictures of the superhero characters I really like than she does. It isn't to say that she doesn't like the game; she would likely play it whenever I suggested it, but I do not think it will ever be one that she would suggest herself.


I think that this game will likely draw comparisons to two other current games: Ascension and Sentinels of the Multiverse.

The comparisons to Ascension are very apt. Most deckbuilders are working off of a familiar mechanic and adding to it. Legendary was very influenced by Ascension. However, what Legendary does is separate your purchase cards and villain cards. And the City track really is a stroke of genius, just currently under-used (expansions may hopefully take full advantage of the villain visiting locations while escaping narrative). Ascension has a couple of expansions that have fleshed out the original game and I think that it has some advantages for that. However, I think that if you are comparing vanilla games, Legendary has it beat. Still, Ascension really lacks in theme and narrative as well. I really enjoy the game because I find the mechanics of it fun (though I prefer playing it on iOS). However, given the choice between the two, I would probably play Legendary over Ascension. This is likely because of the appeal of playing with familiar comic book characters, but it makes for an overall more enjoyable time at the table.

Sentinels of the Multiverse is one of my guilty pleasures. The game has a bunch of flaws to it, but I don't care, I love the hell out of it and it is a lot of fun despite its warts. Being a superhero card game, there will be comparisons. Sentinels is not a deckbuilder. Each hero has their preset deck of cards and you play against a villain with a preset deck of cards. So the mechanics of the game are very different. However, the superhero theme will draw comparisons. I think overall Sentinels carries a better narrative--you are playing one hero with your teammates fully cooperating to defeat the bad guys. In Legendary, you might let a villain go to screw over another player (a hero) for points. Plus you are all playing Hulk, so the narrative theme suffers. However, Legendary has familiar and known characters. Legendary is also a much more refined and elegant game. My wife will definitely prefer Sentinels over Legendary, but for me, it will depend on how the mood sets me. The games are different enough that they each satisfy a different craving.

The Pros:

*Captain America is in it.
*Other, less important, but known characters from the Marvel Universe are also in the game.
*The card effects fit the theme of the characters they are representing (such as Storm has advantages when fighting on open spaces in the City track and Rogue being able to temporarily steal other player's powers).
*The City track is a genius design to potentially build a narrative about villains escaping the city.
*Lots of variety and combinations.
*Schemes change the lose conditions and can change the strategies of the players.
*Great artwork and very functional board.
*There is a lot in the game box.
*The game reeks of potential from expansions, but is still very solid in and of itself.

The Cons:

*Theme is there, but the game is sorely missing any form of narrative.
*Superheroes represented offer variety, but the many of their cards are simply offering a bonus to attack or recruit, making them feel less dynamic and more of just mechanics on a card. Individual decks feel more theme-centric (such as Hulk getting wounds and getting angry and then casing massive damage), however, since you do not play a specific hero deck and anyone can buy these cards, the theme and variety is lost to mechanic functionality of your deck.
*City track is under-used to establish narrative. There is much more potential in it than what appears in the base game.
*Scheme cards offer variety, however, the game essentially still ends up being a race to beat up the Mastermind.
*There are some minor problems with scaling for players. Fewer players means a quicker opportunity to ready their decks before the City track becomes a threat.
*No randomizer cards to help determine set up.
*A little terminology/symbology vagueness in the card text ("Each different color hero").
*Gambit's inclusion in the game means that on occasion, I may be forced to include him in our set up and have to deal with the X-Men's big "trying too hard to be cool and liked" character in our games.


The Marvel Universe is a very popular property and any attempt at a game to include the characters could have been a quick, easy money grab with the license. Legendary, however, delivers a solid, fun and mechanically sound game with the license. Most of my complaints are merely just in that despite solid mechanics, the game is still a little abstract in that it doesn't present a fully comprehensive story. I love theme, but really, I love narrative more. It is a game with expansions in mind, but, unlike the track that some publishers take (*ahem* Fantasy Flight), the game delivered doesn't feel like things were intentionally taken out of it to be made into expansions later, but rather it is a solid game in and of itself. I believe that Legendary is an excellent game that will be improved by expansions if they add to the potential that is already there in the game. I would have ultimately preferred a game where the narrative was that I was Captain America helping Spiderman to defeat Doctor Doom. Instead I have a game where me and the other players are all Captain America and Spiderman sometimes screwing each other over on our way to defeat Doctor Doom. But at the end of the day, I'm still playing a solid game that involves many of my favorite comic book characters.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Discussion: In Which My Daughter Makes Me a Proud Gamer Dad

My six-year old daughter's current obsession is with the game Dungeon Fighter. She calls it "the Party Game", because we are an adventuring party. Anyhow, the game is still relatively new to us and we are not good at it. We've been playing on the easy level and have not ventured on a higher difficulty yet. My daughter plays Lady Mary and will almost always use her no-damage-on-a-miss die in hopes of getting the special so that her constant misses cause her no damage.

Anyhow, we've played it a half-dozen times and made it to the end boss once with no white dice and were thoroughly stomped.

But last night, we made it to the end boss with a small handful of white dice. Using my weapon, I lowered myself below the table level and tossed the die blindly and got this on our first attack against the big bad guy:

So, it was our first win and one by (literally) blind luck.

But as soon as the die landed and we won, my daughter let out a cheer and said the one thing that would make any gamer parent proud; she immediately cheered and said:

"Yay! Now we can play on a harder level!"

That's my girl.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Discussion: In Which I Discuss the Industry's View on Girls in Gaming with the Perspective of Having a Young Gamer Daughter

I have a six-year old daughter who is determined to grow up as a geek. She loves board games and she loves video games and also enjoys comic books and we'll watch every superhero popcorn movie that comes along and she'll stay up late on Saturdays to watch Doctor Who with us.

However, she also very much enjoys the color pink, wearing skirts every single day she can, and princesses and every saccharine Disney offering that comes along.

Now, as her father, I fully encourage her to get into whatever she wants. I cringe when the choice is Barbie, but if that's what she wants to play with or watch, that's her choice.

But what I've noticed is an on-going trend where the very male-dominated gaming industry has made it very difficult for young girls to fully appreciate the hobby. With this initial friction, I think many young girls are turned away and, as a result, the hobby remains very male-dominated.

You would think that Disney would understand the little girl market better.

When my daughter was three, I took her out for a daddy-daughter outing while her mother was busy. We had just inherited a Wii and while wandering around in our local mall, I decided to see if there was anything that might appeal to her. She saw the Disney Princess: Enchanted Journey game and quickly wanted it. So, we went home, turned on the Wii and set up the game. There is a two-player cooperative mode, so I made my avatar princess, picked out my dress style, chose my jewelry and hair style and set off to help her learn her first real Wii game, ready to read any text on the screen for her. Fortunately everything was voice-over. But my daughter picked up on the game quickly. It really was easy, and instead of a "traditional" shooter, you were using some sort of magic wand to turn the bad guys into butterflies. You know, because Disney saves their violence for whatever horrific thing happens to the soon-orphaned child's parents. But anyway, soon she was doing well enough on her own that I bowed out to watch her.

She played the hell out of that game that first night until bedtime came around and then she played the hell out of it the next morning. And she beat it by herself. In four hours.

There is some replay value on the game, I suppose, as she then continued to play and beat it, but this time with a different hair color, or a slightly different styled dress (though always pink).

Now, it is true that it is a kid's game, but there was no real challenge or difficulty to it. If it were a kid's game with the planned market base being boys, there would be a challenge and rising difficulty to the game. But because this was a "girl's game", there was not.

This game was actually marketed for eight year old girls. My three year old beat it with no problems in four hours. How bored would and eight year old be after getting it for her birthday and playing this? She would probably see it as a dull, easy game and it would add to her perception that video games aren't that interesting or fun and she would not pursue other titles. Thus, the video game industry keeps from expanding their audience. But more importantly, most girls are denied the entry point to finding out how interesting and fun the genre can be.

Like I said, my daughter is attracted to girly things. I could get her games that are more "boy" marketed, but if the main character is a boy, she won't be that interested. She doesn't relate to playing boy characters in games.

One of the other offenders to the video game genre was the Monster High Wii game that she got for Christmas which is definitely marketed towards girls. She really likes Monster High and the Wii game was a natural choice for her. First of all, the game is written text rather than a spoken voice track, so it required me to sit next to her and read it to her while she played.

However, the game was abysmal. The "missions" were things like finding one of your friends crying in the bathroom because someone wore the same outfit as her, so you had to go out and find her new clothes to change into so that she would look her "ghoulish" best.

Beyond the terrible level and mission design, I have to say that all of the missions were of this caliber and were just plain insulting.

Now, fortunately, there is a small trend of more "gender-neutral" games out there. Kirby, for example, is pink, but a boy (I think?), and offers good level design and gameplay. And Skylanders, for example, carries a large range of characters that are male and female (and some that I am just not sure). My daughter will still gravitate toward the "girlie" characters on Skylanders, but it is at least giving her a gateway into more complex games and level design.

This is not a new trend and, sadly, females have always been the black sheep in video game history. Sure, Samus was female, but in picking up a game for your little girl, you couldn't tell from the box. But the majority of games in history have always treated females as rather helpless or objectifiable goals to reach. Really, how many games are out there where you are a hero trying to rescue a princess compared to how many games are out there where you are an abducted princess who gets tired of waiting to get rescued and escapes herself?

Tomb Raider was a step in the right direction. You had a female lead character. The games were more than simply mindless violence and shooting everything. But you had boobs. Teeny tiny waist and big, big boobs. So one step forward, but two steps back for creating body issues to young female gamers.

But most of this is prelude. We actually play more board games than video games in our house these days. I think the board game industry has a bit of a better handle on it than the video game industry, but it's still nowhere near perfect.

One of the first "grown-up" games that my daughter played with us was The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac. It was simple and she got the concept with next to no coaching through the game. At four and a half, the idea of the runes and lava were too much for her, so she would always skirt around the lava tiles and just steal treasures instead along the hallway. She, of course, gravitated toward female characters, but at four-and-a-half when looking at the character card for Lea Rice, the first thing she commented on was the size of her "boobies". There are four female characters in the set and only one of them is not showing off massive cleavage or side-boob. Of course, the one not showing it off, her curves are still plainly visible through her tight, tight, skin tight heavy winter jacket.

Even a four-year old girl notices these boobs.

Seriously, I'll give you one scantily-clad female character with big boobs as a Tomb Raider homage. But that was over the top, unnecessary and, in some ways, disheartening and another easy way to keep female gamers at bay by creating female characters, but objectifying them at the same time.

The thing about board games compared to video games, however, is that so many games (even at the gateway level) tend to give a more macro role to the game and you don't have a single character to control. So a lot of games innately bypass this.

Plus there are numerous non-human character games that she can play and enjoy, even while still being drawn innately to the "girliest" of the options, such as playing the bunny in King of Tokyo.

Who knew that destroying Tokyo could still be so girlie?

Now, while there are exceptions, I still think that board games has created a much more female-friendly atmosphere and I love that. Comic books have taken a horrible turn by doing things such taking Starfire (a sweet, innocent, but kick-ass girl portrayed in the cartoon series that my daughter loved to watch) and rebooting her into a bubble-headed boob-slut sleeping with tons of men in a single day (something that I would encourage my daughter not to read).

We went from this... this.

One of the best examples of a very positive trend that I have seen in the board game industry has actually come from my favorite designer, Ignacy Trzewiczek. He designed Prêt-à-Porter, which while not a gateway game, is of a decidedly more "female-based" theme with it taking place in the fashion industry. And the game is by no means a "dumbed-down" girl game. It is easily among my favorite Euro-style games (firstly because it is a solid game, but secondly because it defies the Euro stereotype and has strong theme in it).

But what I am most eagerly awaiting now is to see Ignacy's Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island game. I eagerly await to see the mechanics and fun of the game, but the most minor detail that I love about the game is that the sexes of the characters are interchangeable. You can play your character as a male, or flip it over, and play it as a female. This has no impact on gameplay, however, it has a HUGE impact on how much a player can relate to their character and therefore get into the theme of the game. This is such a simple, minor thing, but it is something that should be out there in more games.

More of this!

So, I ultimately don't know if I had a point in this long ramble. But I just wanted to say that after having a daughter and viewing the gaming hobby through her young eyes, I've seen a lot more than I used to. Video games are slowly getting better, I suppose. But essentially they are still caught up in their own self-imposed loop. They market games for boys. Therefore more boys play games. Therefore they market more games for boys. Extra revenue may get thrown out to develop a small game designed for girls with little gameplay and poor design. Therefore, girls don't enjoy video games and follow deeper into the hobby. As a result, the production companies feel vindicated that they continue to market to boys.

Board games are better than that currently. And, while it still has some missteps here and there, I am content with my daughter always playing Lady Mary when we play Dungeon Fighter because "she's wearing pink and dressed like a princess".

For my daughter, this is the perfect blend of pink and complete violence.

And, for the record, I am eagerly awaiting getting her into roleplaying games once she can read past her current first-grade level. While there are misogynistic groups out there for sure, here at home, her first experiences with the genre, at least, will be that the character of her creation of the sex of her choice can be whatever she wants.

So, yeah, roleplaying games have the least problem in this regards (other than the chain-mail bikini objectification). But it comes down solely on the attitude of whoever it is who is running the world to supply an engaging or disengaging message.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Review: Last Night on Earth: Timber Peak

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Although I fully understand that it is roll and move schlock, I am a fan of the Last Night on Earth game and expansions and have reviewed them before. Also, I am a big fan of Twin Peaks and Walking Dead and I suppose in the back of my mind, was always mildly curious what would happen if the two crossed paths.

The Overview:

While, granted, a less cluttered cover recycling in-game art, it still really fails to evoke much other than schlock. 

Last Night on Earth: Timber Peak is a standalone expansion for the Last Night on Earth game which divides the players into teams to play out a survival story set in the vein of a zombie movie. One side controls the Heroes, some of which are "upgraded" survivors of the base game. The other side controls the mindless zombies out to eat and infect as much as they can. The game is played with scenarios, each one defining the victory conditions for each side in a particular game.

The game is for 2-6 players and plays in about 90 minutes, though a bit of luck and skill may cause one side to reach the victory conditions early, but most games will reach at least the 60 minute point. More players does not mean more turns, as the number of Heroes is static at four, but more players may mean that more time is taken strategizing and discussing plans of action.

The gameplay is essentially the same as the base game, which I described in my original review. If you want to see how the mechanics work, check out that review here. I'll just be describing the changes and additions to the series in this review.

The biggest change in the game is the addition of Experience and Upgrades for the Heroes and Zombies. Each time a Hero wounds a Zombie he or she gets an experience point that goes on the character who dealt the wound (they are not pulled between characters, no matter how many Heroes you are controlling). At any point, the Hero player may "buy" an upgrade card with their gained Experience. The cost is 3 Experience, +1 for every upgrade the character already has. So in most game, each player should probably be able to get one or two upgrades. The Zombie player also gets Experience for each wound they cause to a hero as well, though the Zombie player pools it rather than an individual Zombie.

The Hero Upgrades come in three types: Melee, Ranged and Special. And when an Upgrade is purchased, the Hero draws a card from the deck of his choice. Melee and Ranged Upgrades each help with that particular attack form, while Special Upgrades run a miscellaneous gambit of abilities. The Zombie Upgrades only consist of one deck and are essentially just powerful one-use cards.

Fires now affect a space on the board and can damage any figures that try to move through them. Also, they have a chance of spreading and going out on their own. This mechanic is new to Last Night on Earth, but was previously introduced in LNoE's sister game, Invasion from Outer Space.

Also, all of the scenarios now have the "Zombie Heroes" and "Heroes Replenish" tags on them, which really does make them more fun and interesting.

The Theme:

Last Night on Earth: Timber Peak is a schlocky game that by the simplistic mechanics, should not work. However, it is the theme that holds it all together. Roll and move and an artistic styling that, at its best, is nothing short of cheesy could very easily be the death knell for a game. However, the series has done a good job of embracing camp and taking on faux zombie-movie stereotypes and creating a fun game that tells a story. Timber Peak does not offer much new in the way of mechanics, but it does still satisfy in creating fun times.

It had been a while since my wife and I played LNoE and when Timber Peak arrived, we broke it open and played our first game of it vanilla, adding in nothing from the previous releases. We played the "Radio for Help" scenario, in which the Heroes must protect the generator at the Radio Station, while at the same time finding two parts in town to fix the Radio Station to transmit their distress call.

Through bad luck, my wife's Heroes had gone through six of the eight possible locations for the parts she needed to repair the station and time was running out. Two of the surviving veteran characters from the original game were protecting the generator in the center of town. With only a couple of turns left and the parts still not found, a horde of Zombies had just reached the station led by a converted Zombie Hero. A fire broke out and had spread to two of the squares adjacent to the generator they needed to keep running. The Heroes stood back to back on the generator with both fire and Zombies threatening the square that they were in.

I stopped the game for a moment to admire it. It was a beautiful moment that just the board itself told the story. Schlock, cheese and luck of the die aside, this was exactly the reason why I game sitting tangibly on the board in front of me.

This is "Big" Ed Hurley Baker. He's a mechanic lumberjack.

Female Bush Pilot? Shouldn't this character be saved for the expansion set in the small, zombie-plagued, rural Alaskan town? 

Learning the Game:

The game is easy to learn, and takes no time at all to adjust to the small variations if you are at all familiar with the LNoE series. In fact, the rules this time around clarify a few things, such as actually defining the "Start of the Turn", so that there is no confusion as to when certain cards could be played.

The Experience system is pretty clean and intuitive and only gets clunky once you start adding all of the other things from the previous expansions to the mix.

The Components:

Good mini sculpts.

More bits to try to wedge into a box.  

You know, I used to once believe that the only people who had stockpiles of sandwich and snack baggies were drug dealers and boardgamers. Now that I've been gaming for a few more years and matured as a collector and hobbyist, I need to amend that. Now I believe that the only people who have stockpiles of Plano boxes are fly fishermen with tons of lures and boardgamers.

Basically, what I am saying is that you get a lot of pieces in this game.

The components of the game are, like most Flying Frog games, well-produced and sturdy. They are the same quality as Last Night on Earth's components. The Scenario and Hero Character sheets are printed on thick cardboard with a glossy finish. It uses the same modified photographic art style that has become a staple of Flying Frog Games, which seems to divide the community on its stylistic choice. I happen to not mind it, but many people are rather vocal about not liking it.

The figures are beautiful sculpts and flexible, which means sometimes you have leaners, but rarely will you have weapons or such randomly break off.

The game's cards have the same problem as LNoE's cards; they are too thick of a stock with too much gloss on them. It is like trying to shuffle roof shingles that stick together. But still, consistency of quality is important for an expansion and, for that reason, I'm glad that they have kept up the quality in cards.

And, finally, the board themselves match the base game's boards well enough. At least for me. But then again, I didn't really care and wasn't a part of the great "my grass is slightly greener than the old grass" color-matching OCD controversy from back in the day with expansion and replacement boards.

Seriously, Mädchen Amick isn't doing much these days. She probably would have posed for this card. 

Playing the Game:

Game play is simple and the game is easily picked up and learned, especially if you are familiar with any of the other LNoE's games in the past. It is the same game. Strategies are dictated by the specific scenario being played, but it isn't an issue to figure out what the most obvious choices are.

We played one game with my six-year old daughter controlling two Heroes, with her mom helping a bit, but mostly in the form of reading card effects for her. My daughter had no problem understanding the structure of the game. Granted, she's been raised on a healthy diet of games since she was two, but she's only just moving into the "grown-up games" as she calls them. It wasn't difficult for her to figure out how to play or what to do for the scenario at hand (search buildings and find Explosives). Fortunately I didn't have any "This Could Be Our Last Night on Earth" cards in my hand to play during our game because it would have been an awkward time and place to have that discussion.

Randomness (or luck, for players who think that their own personal being directly affects die-rolls and card draws) is a big factor in the game. Personally, I don't mind it, but if that kind of things turns you off from a game, then that is something to consider here.

With 177 cards in the Hero deck with everything combined, I only need to play this 23 times to deplete their deck. 

The only carry-over from the original games I would have liked to see addressed was one of the always present Zombie win conditions, where the Zombies win if the Heroes discard the last Hero Card from the deck. While in a vanilla game this is very unlikely, it becomes an impossibility once you add in all of the cards from the expansions. While not a huge problem in and of itself, there are Zombie cards that force the Heroes to discard cards from their deck which, in theory, could push this as a viable win for the Zombies. But add one expansion and it just isn't the case. Add all of the expansions and it just isn't happening. At least this time the Zombie card allows the Zombie to remove one card discarded in this manner from the game completely, but still, since Heroes can pick up cards from the discard pile with Location and Character abilities, these cards ultimately aid the Heroes since there is no real chance to win by forcing the Heroes out of cards.

Also, something to be aware of: This is the Heroes' game. What that means is that the Hero players really get the majority of the interesting choices and interactions and do most of the strategic planning through a scenario. The Zombie player is really setting the mood and theme for the other players in a sense. Yes, you are playing to win. But ultimately, you are the Dungeon Master in the game and you are controlling the monsters in the dungeon. The Zombie player's role is much less strategic, with limited movement and little planning for future turns since Zombies die easy and it's a random roll to see if more arrive. It's still a fun role (and the one I prefer), but for some players it might not feel as meaty as you are really just setting the scene for the drama that the Heroes will face. Another analogy: The Heroes are the stars of the movie. And, like in the Walking Dead or any other Zombie movie, the Zombies are just scantly paid extras used to establish the theme and tension portrayed by the stars of the movie.


The game plays from 2 to 6 players, but it definitely has its sweet spots in my opinion. I think the Zombies play better with a single player controlling all of them. I think then it breaks down to being best with 2, 3 or 5 players, since it just comes down to how to break up the Hero characters. While you can play with 6 players, it forces the Zombies to be played by two separate players. And, frankly, the Zombies are rather simplistic and basic to play. You are essentially just there to tell the Heroes story. And to break up your already minimal activities in half with half as many cards in hand, the role is rather bland.

As the Zombie, you learn to hate this shotgun. 

Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She's a big fan of the LNoE series and over the last year or so, it's slipped out of our weekday night games rotation. So having Timber Peak was a welcome reason to bring the series back into our rotation. You see, she's a gamer, but she's also a roleplayer. So her character choice isn't based on ability and tactics, but rather the backstory of these characters that she has constructed in her head.

Seriously. I can tell which of her characters have secret crushes on the others because of the non-strategic way they might go to defend one another. Sometimes I wonder if playing "This Could Be Our Last Night On Earth" on the wrong male/female combination is creating long-term emotional repercussions between imagined relationships of make-believe characters. I mean, I might look at playing that card as a tactical means of occupying the sheriff because he has a shotgun and Amanda being in the same space as him would have given him extra Fight dice. However, sometimes I am left to wonder if all I am doing is creating a further rift between Billy and his father caused by a momentary lapse in judgment induced by intense fear. What of the awkward shame of betrayal it creates in Amanda will give her years of self-doubt and break her changes of being a strong woman as she begins to objectify herself? And what of Billy's loss of trust in women? And what of the Sheriff having to put aside the feelings of his son to do the right thing to try to save the town after his moment of indiscretion?

But usually I just think it's a good tactical move because he had a gun and leave the worrying like that to her.

The Pros:

*A light fun game that gives a good feel of faux zombie-movie stereotypes.
*Excellent components and figures.
*Good gateway game potential with a readily known (and overused) theme.
*Plays in 60-90 minutes.
*Fits the original LNoE games well with little adjustment.
*Experience and Upgrade system is intuitive and frankly, quite fun.
*Lots of fun Twin Peaks references hidden throughout (for those of you too young to know, "Twin Peaks" was a great, but short-lived series. Now get off my lawn!)
*It was refreshing to actually play this game "vanilla" without all of the expansions added. This release is a perfect excuse to do that again.
*No music CD to awkwardly listen to, then lose.

The Cons:

*Sweet spots are readily evident in the game. Four players means one player has two Heroes while everyone else has one and Six players means breaking up the Zombies into two groups which really diminishes the role's already limited options.
*Some people could easily be turned off by the seemingly more limited Zombie role.
*Lots of luck (movement dice, drawing random cards and dicey combat).
*Completely Silent Drape Runners are not in the game as an improvised weapon.


Last Night on Earth: Timber Peak doesn't offer much in the way of new and exciting for the LNoE series, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Expansion after expansion has really cluttered the game and made it a fiddly nightmare for a beer and pretzels game, so it is actually kind of refreshing for fans of the game to actually delve a bit more into the base mechanics again. It stands well as its own game before cluttering it up and stands as a good entry point for new players. Old fans will see a repeat of a lot of old card mechanics and so forth, but if you are a fan of the series, it is a no-brainer to pick it up. Even if they did miss out an opportunity to have a quirky FBI agent and a lady wielding a log as a weapon for characters.