1-4 players, Cooperative, Dungeon Crawling Mechanical Mayhem
Designer: Jake Thornton
Artwork: Aurelie Bouquet, Stéphane Gantiez, Catalin Lartist, Christophe Madura
Publisher: Mythic Games
Release Year: 2020
This one caught my eye early on due to my love for the old (and new) Wolfenstein video games. This is about as close to that series of games in boardgame form without using the name (other than the officially licensed one that’s due to be released later). For those unfamiliar with Wolfenstein, the theme of the game is set is an alternate WW2 reality where the Nazis have gained some extremely powerful mechanical creations and of course any alternate reality WW2 theme isn’t complete without mutated monsters. Read on the gain a deeper understanding of the gameplay as well as my thoughts on everything.
Overview of Gameplay
First off, this is far and away a dungeon crawler. You have the variable tiled map setups; you have the opening doors to reveal enemies and the variety of items that can be found throughout. Some of the biggest changes to this well-known system is the noise mechanic and the interesting card play for your actions. Let’s get to it!
The game can be played via a campaign mode that has players moving through different tiled maps and setups, unlocking new abilities and discovering new enemies. It can also be played in one-off “Raids” where you choose a couple different cards which mix and match map setups and enemies. Character setup has each unique character controlling their own plastic dashboard which contains their weapons and ability tokens. Each character will also have their own unique deck of action cards which are the main focus of the players turns. On a player turn you can take two basic actions and any number of bonus actions to play cards, use items or trade with players. Now personally I feel this is explained very poorly (more on the rulebook later) as this makes it seem that the basic actions are the meat of a turn whereas in reality it’s the bonus actions you want to focus on.
You see the basic actions are where you can do your basic movement, attacking, searching for stuff, opening doors etc. HOWEVER, you hand of cards will usually also allow most of those actions plus more AND they’re free! So, from my plays you want to ALWAYS focus on your hand of cards first and foremost and then round out your turn with your two basic actions. In any case players will run through a pre-setup map attempting to complete a particular mission, in most cases as quiet and sneaky as possible just to extend the amount of time they have before the alarm sounds and all hell breaks loose. Once that alarm sounds due to the noise your team is making, every enemy becomes alert and will swarm you. At that point it’s only a matter of time before the game ends, so you must escape with whatever you came to find!
The big thing in this game that sets it apart from other dungeon crawlers is the noise mechanic. When you open doors or search a room for items (amongst other things) you will roll a white die to determine if you make noise (you almost always do). Then you draw a noise card to determine if it alerted anyone or if you are still safe and sound. Now, over time due to regular rounds or alerted enemies the alarm tracker WILL progress regardless. Once this happens the games difficulty ramps up considerably with all the enemies being alerted to your presence and players turn order being randomized going forward. This will also increase the speed at which the noise tracker progresses to the end of the track and if it reaches the very end, the mission is failed.
The other main difference this game brings to the genre are the unique character decks. Now these are really fun as each one opens up a wildly variable play style in which players will want to discuss strategies to utilize each of their teammate’s strengths to their fullest. There are only twelve of these cards for each character but each one has two options on it. When playing these cards, you pick one of the two options to use and usually discard the card after use. Another fun mechanic behind the cards is that whenever you use up all your deck of cards you will remove one of them from the game, reshuffle and reset. So, over time your deck will get smaller and weaker which is a really cool thematic effect to show how your character is getting tired.
And that’s not all. There is an almost endless string of other effects in the game such as exploding dice (which I love), unique traits and abilities that you can acquire, a plethora of various card decks, line of sight, Heroic points that alter tests etc etc. I mean the variability is through the roof with this game, which, depending on what kind of player you are will either make or break this game. Read on to find out more about all these endless variations.
Components/ Game Board
The game board is composed of a bookoo of various sized tiles that you set next to each other in a particular order based on your selected mission, much like most other dungeon crawlers. These map setups can range from rather small in size to HUGE, taking up some serious real estate on your table. Once the board tiles are setup then comes the extremely arduous task of placing all the extensive tokens on the map based on the setup. This part is an incredibly painstaking task that takes FOREVER as there are an insane number of tokens in this game. And since the maps are usually rather large, you end up really having to doublecheck your work to make sure you got everything in each room.
And that brings me to undoubtedly the biggest thing I don’t like about this game. The sheer amount of stuff that has been crammed into this game to make it one of the most overwhelming games I have played. Component-wise this mostly has to do with the items in which there are 97 in the game! Now, I know that sounds amazing coming from the variability standpoint, but the WAY these are expressed in this game is so so so so poor. The items are all on these tiny little cardboard tokens which need to be separated into multiple different groups based on what kind of item they are AND they need to be placed face-down in multiple piles to draw from during each game. Beyond the item tokens there are cardboard ability tokens and weapons and armor tokens. EACH different token having their own special keywords that are 100% unique from the rest. Again, sounds awesome on paper but in reality this creates and EXTREMELY complicated experience that will takes many, MANY plays to memorize everything, if at all.
Now, as far as quality goes the miniatures look great (of which there are TONS). The carboard components are all pretty standard and the cards have a nice finish to them to give them that premium feel. The dice are also excellent with the standouts being the Vril dice that have this kind of translucent red look to them. The game board tiles are of ok quality as I have experienced some warping with the larger tiles. The plastic player boards are amazing! These things hold any items you pick up in specific spots as well as any new ability tokens you may acquire. Overall, an excellent production of what is in the box, just TOO MUCH.
Which brings me to the box and storage solution. This walks hand in hand with the amount of stuff and really brings down the score. Everything is literally crammed into this box in a very unorthodox manner. The vast majority of the box space is taken up by the huge miniatures side box in a box. Apart from that it’s up to you to figure out this puzzle of getting the immense number of tokens and cards back into that box and getting the lid to close all the way. For my part I own the “Cargo Hold” Kickstarter extras which comes in a second box and have to fit everything in both boxes BUT it is possible to get everything in. You will have to bag up all those hundreds of tokens yourself as there are no supplied baggies. Overall, not impressed in the least with the box and storage solution, or the lack of one I should say. That said, this is pretty par for the course with Mythic Games as I own a few of their other games and they are all packaged similarly.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Now this is where the game really shines! If you are a fan of the Wolfenstein videogames then you will undoubtedly be in familiar territory here. The artwork is excellent through-out on the players cards and in the manual. The board tiles all have interesting features about them and I especially love the fun room cards that kind of blend in with the room they are placed in such as the gurney card, what could be under that sheet? For those not accustomed to the videogames the theme revolves around an alternate world war 2 era in which the Nazis have some incredibly advanced technology such as robots to use against the allies. In this game there is the additional Vril mechanic which is a potent substance that alters and manipulates weapons and monstrosities alike. Making them much more powerful but with a deadly side effect. Overall, this game shines extremely bright with the visual and thematic ties.
Oh, this rulebook. I mentioned earlier how the sheer number of tokens made this game very complicated. Well, that is compounded by the fact that this rulebook does nothing to help it at all. If anything, the rulebook makes the game MORE difficult. Let’s just start at the very beginning with this rulebook. Right off the bat there is a written component reference list, ok that’s great! BUT for some unknown reason they opted to put the component picture list clear in the back of the book? Not the end of the world though just odd placement. Setup for each mission is different so there is a completely different setup manual for the missions which is nice and to be honest isn’t too bad! Took me a minute to figure out what the noise level tracker was supposed to be until I found a picture of it randomly placed on the opposite page but again, not a deal breaker.
Now however, is where the rulebook turns nasty. It goes into the basic actions of which there are SEVEN! And yes, at first glance that just sounds nuts, ESPECIALLY since the basic actions are not nearly as important as the bonus playing card action which should have been first and foremost in the rules. So the book lists the actions and immediately stops you and says that before we learn these, let’s learn some other “concepts”. And this is the basis for this entire book. The back and forth nature of teasing you with some information and then pulling a bait and switch with other “concepts”. This will have players flipping back and forth throughout the book trying to find pertinent information with almost every explanation being broken up into a couple different parts in different areas of the rulebook.
There are seemingly random tidbits of info spattered all over this book in no discernable order. The format wouldn’t even be THAT bad if it wasn’t for the way in which they just vomited all the information randomly onto the pages. BUT even with all the information there are still massive gaps of missing important information. As it stands this rulebook has climbed the ranks of the 3rd worst rulebook I have ever read and TRIED to learn from (for those wondering the first two are Conan from Monolith and Batman Gotham City Chronicles also from Monolith).
And I mean there is already a frankly absurd number of things to learn and remember in this game. To have a rulebook as poorly put together as this is just unacceptable. I fully believe if this game had a better rulebook that taught the game better, I would have enjoyed the game much more. The struggles of reading this and going back and forth and having to keep the rulebook on the table for EVERY GAME and pass it around when anyone has a question about a particular ability. Which brings me to the insane number of keywords! Everything has a keyword! The weapon tokens, the ability tokens, the 97 items, player powers on their cards, all the enemies. Now to be fair there is a nice index of all the keywords in the back of the book but holy crap man! Good luck remembering to activate ALL your keywords at any given time. It’s just too much. Overall, an extremely poor showing that only goes to make the game MUCH more challenging (and stressful) than it should be.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
Now, this is where the game redeems itself. Player interaction is HUGE in this one which lends itself into increased fun! Once every player has a solid grasp on the rules (which is the true challenge of the game) this game turns into a fun filled cooperative blast. Discussing strategy and then finally opening that door and drawing an enemy card to see what populates is exciting. But working with your team in the thick of it is where the true fun lies. Deciding who goes in and what cards to play from your hand and in what order is so much fun! The items are interesting and add some twists and turns to the game. The campaign mode is extremely exciting with how the story unfolds and you unlock more characters and new powers as you progress. And even though I would fully rank this as a more action style game, the story isn’t terrible to follow along with as it adds to the flavor of what you and your team are trying to accomplish. Overall, this is a good dungeon crawler with some intense player interaction.
Optimal Player Count/Replay Value
The game is designed to be played with four. You can play with less with each player controlling extra characters though. Because of the massive amount of player interaction, I would only recommend playing this with four different players though. I have tried soloing it and due to the overwhelming number of keywords, this game quickly becoming a test of memory more than anything. On top of that, the game drags if trying to solo four characters. With four full players though it hums along at a nice pace and keeps the fun factor super high.
I would rank the replay value very high due to the large variety of missions. Beyond the campaign mode there is an included Raid mode that mixes and matches maps and enemies to create unique maps every time. I would suggest starting with the campaign mode however just to learn the basics. Some of the Raid missions toss you into a strange mission right off the bat and you will come out the other side very confused on exactly what you need to be doing. On top of the mission variety, each character plays differently as well so going in as a different character opens up new play possibilities. AND, even though I consider the number of keywords a negative, you cannot deny that all those unique keywords do vastly expand the variability and replayability of each game.
Positive Final Thoughts
An extremely fun coop dungeon crawler with an interesting noise mechanic that allows for different playstyles. I really love the unique deck of cards per character and the theme is excellent. The player interaction is one of the best things about the game as you have to work with everyone playing if you want to succeed. I really enjoyed the way the campaign mode was setup and it really pulled me into the story.
Negative Final Thoughts
The rulebook is horrendous and needs a complete redo. Between the massive number of keywords you need to learn (oh and no keyword player aid) mixed with the mind boggling layout of the rules, this is a game that is far more challenging to learn than it is to play. The box and lack of a storage solution are also big misses with this one. Even the individual boxes to hold the minis are not well done, as if you remove all the minis for a couple games, good luck figuring out how to place them back in.
The Bottom Line
This is such a borderline game for me. On one hand I really enjoy the cardplay and the player interaction and theme. On the other, learning and teaching this game is a nightmare. This game is the epitome of “Too much”. Trim down the number of keywords and fix the rulebook and you would have an excellent dungeon crawler that I would love to bring out. As it stands, the amount of setup that has to be done, mixed with the keyword checking and then the time it takes to put away makes this a game that I have very little desire to bring out.
HOWEVER, the player interaction and theme REALLY shine in this one. I would say if you are on the fence, if you love this theme and have a dedicated squad of 4 to play with this would be an excellent purchase. Otherwise you would probably want to stay away. I can’t say I dislike the game though, as it does have depth which I like about games, it’s just that there is too much depth and in a bad way. As it is, I am giving the game The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence.
The Fuzzy Llama Bronze Seal of Prevalence