A Crazy Couple's Co-op Guide: 2013 and onward Edition
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For those who haven't seen my past Crazy Couple's Co-op Lists, Nightmare and I are two addicted co-op game players. These lists contain capsule reviews and quick info on all the co-op games we've managed to play.

Rather than keeping adding new content to the old list, since people rarely see old geeklists I'm making a 2013 edition of this list.

This time I'm going for a more compact format with key points. I'm also switching to straight alphabetical listing to make it easier for you to find a specific game.

EDIT 7/24: While I only want this list to be for true co-ops; ie, everyone wins or loses as a team, I have included some games that appear to be true co-op OR are often discussed as being true co-op OR can be incredibly easily played as true co-op with no real changes.
Games that are obviously 1 vs all or based around hidden teams are still not included.

EDIT 3/26/2014: I've decided that, while this list was fun and hopefully helpful, I'm not planning on redoing it anytime in the forseeable future. So this is now the 2013 and on list, and I will be adding more co-op reviews to it - still trying to play all the co-ops I can!

For each entry, I'll be describing:

Our rating: Average of my rating and Nightmare's rating. 1 to 10 stars. Please Note: We use the full 10 point scale! A '6' rating is average, not bad!

Addictive? and Long Term replayability were ratings I included early on indicating how often we played at first and how much we kept coming back to it. It became too hard to keep up with, so I no longer use these ratings on newer reviews.

Skill Factor: Estimate on how much of the game is skill versus luck.

Modes: Co-op, solo, competitive, etc.

Players: Listed player range and our recommendations.

With a couple: Comments on how this plays with 2, and whether you need special rules for a 2 player game.

Play Time: Estimated play time.

Difficulty: Does the game have scaling difficulty? How challenging is the game to win?

Individual/Group Play: A game that encourages group play favors discussion among players and team decision making. This can be great if you like planning things as a team, or very bad if you have one bossy player.

I'm just commenting on the actual mechanics here; some players are less inclined to give advice in a game that looks like an RPG, but I can't really take that into account.
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1. Board Game: 12 Realms [Average Rating:5.80 Overall Rank:9865]
Brian M
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 2 Low

Modes: Co-op, Solo

Players: 1-6

With a couple: Works great!

Play Time: 1 - 1.5 hours

Difficulty: Easy normally; several options for scaling up difficulty.

Individual/Group Play: Leans toward group play.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Component Quality: Very pretty but not very functional. The worst offender is that you draw a card which shows a nice picture of the enemy and indicates its special abilities, then replace it with a counter that is too small to really see the art on and doesn't show its special abilities at all! The realm boards could have been easily set up to just place the cards next to the regions, eliminating the need for the counters entirely.

Rules Quality: Pretty bad. 12 Realms is a simple game, but the rules are very confusing. The card iconography is even worse; it is almost incomprehensible, and even the multi-page reference sheet they later released for it is confusing and badly worded.
Example: "Defeat a random enemy" actually MEANS "defeat an enemy of choice". Whaa?

Mini-Review
Danger in a fairy tale land!

Players take the role of fairy tale and mythical characters such Snow White and D'Artagnan (who is, for some inexplicable reason, a anthopomorphic animal) and travel around fantastic lands defeating foes and finding the treasures needed to defeat the threat of the Dark Lords.


The Cherry Blossom Realm

The gameplay is straightforward. On each turn, a player draws several cards that add foes and treasures to the board, and then spends various action tokens to move around the board defeating the foes and acquiring treasures.

Defeating a foe normally just consists of spending the tokens specified on the foe. For example, to defeat a goblin you might need to spend a Sword OR a Heart OR a Star, while a much tougher Oni requires 2 Swords.

The iconography is quite baffling, virtually requiring a downloadable cheat-sheet to make sense out.


These cards have fairly simple and straightforward icons, by 12 Realms standards


Other than that, the game is easy to play and fast-moving. There's very little depth to it, but it is reasonably entertaining for a simple game.

A few house rules are pretty much required; for example, there is one artifact that gives infinite action tokens! (We limit that one to one use per turn).

There is also a very strange rule that a Dark Lord (who you must defeat to win) only shows up after the threat in a region reaches a high level, so you have to deliberately let the region take damage to get the Dark Lord to appear. In the PnP version, the Dark Lord would appear EITHER when the threat got too high OR when all 3 of the relics needed to fight the Dark Lord were out - I strongly recommending using that rule to prevent sitting around bored and using thematically backwards strategies.

Usually actions are pretty straightforward. The main interesting game decision is when to change realms; moving to a new realm takes more effort, and you need to coordinate when to have players team up in a realm and when to spread out.

Overall, there's just not much to say about 12 Realms. It is cute and amusing, but lacks excitement, depth or variety.

Negatives
* Not much to gameplay.
* Repetitive.
* Terrible iconography.

Positives
* Pretty.
* Simple core rules.
* Low downtime.

With thanks to MAGE Company and Andrew Tulley for the images, taken from the BGG Gallery.
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2. Board Game: The 7th Continent [Average Rating:8.42 Overall Rank:17]
Brian M
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Our rating:
I'd bump this up by a star or two as a solo game

Modes: Solo, Co-op
This felt like a solo game that sort of awkwardly fits in more people mainly by sharing the tasks of the solo player.

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Works kinda OK, except that it feels more like a solo game.

Play Time: Really long. At least 4+ hours, though it can be 'saved' at various points.

Difficulty: Hard to say; a lot of randomness, and we've effectively only played one scenario (though it took quite a few sessions to complete). Medium-hard difficulty maybe?

Skill Factor: Lots of trial and error and guesswork. 2 - 3

Individual/Group Play: All information is shared, many decisions are group oriented, though players take turns being 'leader'. This feels more like a solo game.

Component Quality:
High quality. Cards are nice thickness and the locations have good, detailed, evocative art.



The box is set up with a good divider system to make it easy to get to the cards you need, and has space for several expansions. Has both minis and standees.


My poorly painted minis

Rules Quality:
The rules are not well written and manage to make the game seem much more complicated that it is.

Mini-Review
7th Continent reminds very much of a text-and-graphic puzzle game (does anyone else remember the old Penguin games? Like, the precursors to Myst and stuff? I can't even remember the names of any of them anymore) converted into board game form. I think it does a clever job of managing that, but I'm not entirely sure that was a desirable thing to attempt in the first place.

Game play is reminiscent of a choose-your-own adventure book, except instead of paragraphs in a book you have cards that wind up arranged as a map on the table, each card showing exits and things you can find at the location. Each exit points has a number showing which card to place in that direction, so the entire map is fixed. One the upside, that lets them create a well-designed map that you can learn over time. On the downside, it means a lot of digging out cards as you move - there's substantial downtime for pulling out components in this game.

You start off on a quest to rid yourself of a curse. There are several curses included in the game, each with different places you need to visit and things you need to do, but you'll go over some part of the same island each time. So while playing one curse you may find some things that don't apply to you, but will matter with a different curse.

You move around the island drawing new location cards and meeting various obstacles that you need to overcome or avoid. Challenges are resolved by drawing from a deck of skills and resources to match symbols. Usually you need to decide how many cards to draw - more cards gives a better chance of success, but if your resource deck runs out, you lose!

Because your resource deck is limited, it is vital to find ways to refill your deck, mostly via food obtained by fishing, foraging and hunting. Finding good hunting spots is critical to your survival.

You'll also get build objects and learn skills that you can keep in play to help you out, but you can only have a limited number at a time and most of them get used up when you activate them.

There's some pretty engaging and interesting action going on with traveling around the island and exploring things and managing your inventory. However, much of the game is very 'trial and error' and guesswork - you have no idea whether an action is terrible, good or essential until you do it. Deciding how many cards to draw is also mostly guesswork.

Things get a bit odd with multiple players. Player usually travel as a group, though you can split up - however, this doesn't help with "timing" as players use a common resource deck and only one character can act at a time. You can, however, do a sped-up movement to another character, which can be helpful. You can decide to face challenges as a group, which involves slightly more risk (you all get a harmful card if you fail), but lets you pool your resources. It feels more like it was designed as a solo game. Deciding whether to team up and who was the primary player was exploring was often annoying - most of the time it doesn't matter, but you need to make a largely arbitrary decision constantly just for the few times it does.

A single curse can take quite a few hours of play to resolve. The game supports 'saving', but it can be inopportune to save at the "wrong" time as you will lose paths you have explored and established, so it can be hard to predict when you'll be at a good stopping point.

One element of the game is that some tiles contain little hidden secrets to find. Like, visually find by looking very closely - there's a magnifier included even. That's kind of entertaining, but for a multiplayer game taking turns squinting at the tiles isn't much fun.

The exploration and 'see what happens' is fun, and there's not much like it available, but the gameplay is a lot of frustrating guesswork, and there's a lot of downtime finding cards.

We didn't like...
* Downtime finding cards (more entertaining for the one person looking through to find the cards)
* Trial-and-error gameplay
* Guesswork driven skill mechanics
* Getting stuck playing longer than we wanted because we weren't at a good save point
* Short on female characters (2/7)
* Lovecraft as a character...really?

We really did like...
* Strong feeling of exploration
* A few interesting to solve puzzles
* Well designed box that has room for expansions

Image courtesy of the BGG gallery with thanks to Nitrik

EDIT: A few corrections and clarifications based on feedback and checking the components again. For example, I thought there was a retail version that would not include some KS stretch goals; this is not the case.
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3. Board Game: Aeon's End [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:88] [Average Rating:8.06 Unranked]
Brian M
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Warning: we got the KS version of this game with two expansions included; it all was just mixed together in the box, so my review includes the KS content. While this added more variety, there's quite a lot just in the base game!

Our rating:

Skill Factor: 4 There's luck in which enemy cards come up and the order, but a lot of skill in your choices.

Modes: Co-op, Solo
Not entirely sure this would work great playing just one character, but we have not tried it that way.

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Plays quite well. I feel like it is a bit better with more than 2 characters, so that you can combo with each other more. This feeling was strongest with a nemesis that adds "bad" cards to a deck; with only two players that really jammed things up!

Play Time: 1-1.5 hours

Difficulty: Varies a lot! There are multiple nemeses each with different difficulty levels (listed on their card), and suggestions for both easier and harder modes. Normal mode was very suspenseful but quite beatable.

Individual/Group Play: While you have individual decks to manage, there is a lot of group play.
* Players have individual hands of cards, but communication and planning is freely allowed.

Component Quality:



Overall good. The card and cardboard quality is quite decent. I think the art is excellent, and has a very consistent style and tone through the cards. Spinner dials for the Nemesis and town life points are a nice touch.



As a side note, I love the diversity of the characters; there's a variety of appearances and ages and an excellent gender mix.

The one annoyance is that the box "insert" is not great, and there are only divider cards for big categories ("Spells", for example), which makes it hard to pull out and put away cards - we printed dividers for each specific card to make it easier to sort.

Rules Quality:
A bit confusing, mostly due to sometimes explaining things in a bad order. We had some rough spots learning the game, but it was well worth figuring out.

Mini-Review
2016 saw several new co-ops that reminded me strongly of older games. Aeon's End feels like it clearly builds on Sentinels of the Multiverse mixed with Shadowrift, but it combines the familiar elements in a well-done way to create an extremely engaging, deep and exciting experience.

The game sets the players as Breach Mages, defending the last survivors of some mystical apocalypse against the monstrous incarnations of evil that seek to destroy them. There's a lot of flavor text in the game, but none of it is intrusive; it is all on the back of character and nemesis cards. If you want to read it all and get a good idea of the world and characters, you've got it. It you want to just dive in and build card combos, you are good to go that way as well.




Like Sentinels, the main object is to wear down the Nemesis' life points, while contending with the many threats that it throws at you. (You can also win by running it out of cards, though that seems harder!). To do this, each player builds their own deck with gems (for power which is basically money) and spells to attack with. As one minor unique twist, you don't normally shuffle your deck; when it runs out you just flip the discards over and keep drawing, so the order is maintained; there can be a lot of strategy in how you set up your deck. I was worried this would be annoying to manage, but it worked very smoothly in play and I quite like it.

There is a HUGE variety of cards to use with a lot of different effects. Some spells may work better in some situations than others; some may work better when you can combo them with other cards. I find the deck-building in this to be rich in decisions with how to balance your abilities and which combos to pursue.

Each character has their own special abilities, starting deck, and starting breach conditions. The characters aren't going to differ as much as Sentinels since you don't have a totally different deck, but they each offer a nice twist. Choosing between powering your personal ability, buying new cards, and opening new breaches is a constant and challenging balancing act.

The different Nemesis enemies are all extremely different, attacking you in different ways and presenting unique challenges. There are maybe a few more "discard cards and basically miss your turn" than I would like, but not too many of them.

One big difference from Sentinels is that Aeon's End is easy to manage. There are no piles of modifiers or big stacks of cards to resolve at once. The villain will usually only have a few cards in play at a time; they generally do one big nasty thing instead of a lot of little things. Once you figure out the game, it is easy to play, letting you focus on the deck-building and action.

We were addicted to this and played through all the nemeses in short order and will be coming back for plenty more. We both consider it one of the top games we've gotten from Kickstarter and strongly recommend it!

We didn't like...
* The box insert/dividers.

We really did like...
* The diversity of the characters.
* The variety of cards to use.
* The balancing act of buying cards, powering up and opening breaches.
* The different challenges presented by each nemesis.
* The high amount of cooperation between players.

Images thanks to the BGG Gallery courtesy of Action Phase.
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4. Board Game: Aeon's End: Legacy [Average Rating:8.48 Overall Rank:649] [Average Rating:8.48 Unranked]
Brian M
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Our rating:


Two things on rating this:
* It is hard to rate a game specifically designed for limited plays by the BGG rating scale.* I absolutely hate many aspects of "legacy" games. * I hate stickers. I hate having to open up envelopes all the time. To me, these are all huge negatives to the game, but to others they are positives. If you enjoy legacy and stickers and all that stuff, you should count this rating as higher. (Lisa rated this an 8, I rated it a 5).

I'm not going to review the core gameplay here, as I've already covered that right above.

Modes: Co-op
Players: 1-4
With a couple: We played two characters each. Would probably play fine as 2 normal characters, but in the past some nemeses have been notably harder 2 player.
Play Time: 1-2 hours per game. Longer than regular Aeon's End as there is so much "maintenance time" of opening up packets and applying stickers.
Difficulty: Low to moderate.

Skill Factor: A lot of skill in building card combos and creating decks, but a lot of luck in how cards come up and especially turn order. 4
Individual/Group Play: Mostly group decisions, but each player has an individual deck and hand of cards.

Component Quality: Good. High quality cards. The stickers are problematic as they tend to peel off and make shuffling difficult.

Rules Quality: Reasonably clear, though a bit confusing since they keep changing the rules.

The rules are introduced gradually, so you start off with limited abilities and add more as the game progresses. I suppose this is maybe a good way to learn? I personally don't like it being hard to keep track of what the rules currently are, but that may be worse from a player already familiar with the game. A few times we were wondering "wait, have we added that rule yet?"

Mini-Review

AE: Legacy is a one-shot campaign in which you play through a series of games of Aeon's End, facing new threats and gradually building a customized mage.

The core gameplay is the same as Aeon's End, which is an excellent and exciting game with a lot of depth and variety. I'm not going to review that in depth here (see my other review linked above if you want to know what I think of that), but just discuss the differences in AE: Legacy.

The challenges provide good variety, and most of them were very interesting and fun. There was only one we really didn't like.

The evolution of the available cards and your mage is interesting, but it feels mostly disconnected from the gameplay itself. You don't really create a unique mage shaped by their experiences in play; you just play a game, then make some choices about how to improve your character.

Some of the abilities are much more useful than others; we wound up with one mage that was pretty terrible with abilities that were never useful.

I think it is a shame this isn't actual a "campaign" mode for AE; that would be pretty cool. Instead, it is just this very limited mode made as an excuse to use stickers and be gimmicky. They do offer reset packs, which is nice, but unless you are really really in love with stickers and not just writing things down you don't really need a rest pack to play again. Assuming you'd want to play again.

The cards and nemeses have lots of cool stuff and are good additions to the game, but there are balance issues mentioned with some of the cards for normal play, and you need to ignore some parts of your custom mages in normal play (which is just dumb - these parts could easily have been separate cards).

It is probably an interesting way to learn AE if you want to then buy one of the main sets. It is a good selection of new cards for an experienced player. I would not recommend it as your only Aeon's End product.

It's a neat, good game, that could have been great if it hadn't been Legacy.
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5. Board Game: Aeon's End: War Eternal [Average Rating:8.48 Overall Rank:266] [Average Rating:8.48 Unranked]
Brian M
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Our rating:

Mostly the same as the Aeon's End main review.

I'm not going to cover this in any detail. It is more content for Aeon's End.

* There are a lot of really cool cards and enemies in this set.

* Some of the mages have very unique abilities, which makes them exciting and new to play.

* This set introduces some choice in when character's take their actions, which is a really good variant - I highly recommend it.

* The graphic design improvements are generally good, with brighter and more distinct art and card layouts.

* However, we've found a lot of the enemies in this game to be crazily brutal and have had several very unfun games, where we lose so fast we barely get to play. A lot of times this seems dependent on card setup and/or player count (one nemesis just dealt too much damage for 2 mages to absorb, for example), but it left a pretty bad taste in our mouths for this game.

I'd recommend new players go with the original set first.
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6. Board Game: Apollo XIII [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:7766]
Brian M
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One-Play Mini Review

Our rating:

Skill Factor: 2 Seemed low. When cards came up seemed to matter more than skill.

Modes: Co-op
I don't see any reason this couldn't be played solo, though it might require playing multiple hands.


Players: 2-5

With a couple: I've only played this with 3. Seems like it should play fine with 2, but I'm not sure.

Play Time: around 1 hour or less.

Difficulty: Hard to say from one play; we won with some close calls. Other opinions have made it sound difficult.

Individual/Group Play: Generally group oriented, though a real-time element kicks in later in the game that makes it harder to plan together.
* Players have hands of cards but may discuss them. Later in the game a timer goes into effect that makes coordinating harder.

Component Quality:
Fine. The cards are nice, and the mission control board looks good and conveys all the tracks in a thematic way, looking like various control panels.

For an unusual change for us, we enjoyed the flavor text in this game. Normally neither Lisa nor I are very into reading flavor text, but the flavor text here was a nice length and fairly interesting.



Rules Quality:
We were taught this one and never read the rules, so I don't know. Most of the game was clear, but some cards were confusing; a few cards we just never bothered to play because we couldn't figure them out. And we had one card that stated it could only be played at a time when the letter code on it wouldn't allow it to be played. No idea how that was supposed to work!


Mini-Review
I think this is a great choice of theme for a game. Space exploration represents one of the heights of human science, achievement and curiosity, and the Apollo missions are a great showcase of ingenuity, genius and determination. For historical events, the Apollo 13 accident is a great combination of drama and tension to recreate in a game format.

The game places the players as "mission control". A deck sorted into sets defines the mission, starting with everything going well up until the explosion and then increasing the threat and dangers through the maneuvers around the moon back to the eventual landing - assuming the players make it that far!

Mechanically, it is all pretty simple. Cards generally move tracks "up" into dangerous zones; a track progressing far enough bumps the overall mission danger track, and if that gets too high, the ship is lost and the players lose. On their turns, players play a variety of cards to move tracks back down. You get bonuses for certain plays and combos.

We found it initially engaging, but it got a bit repetitive as the game went on and we learned the patterns of which tracks we should focus on.

Later on in the game, as the flight enter the final phases, a real-time mechanic kicks in which limits how long you have to take a turn. We generally didn't enjoy this, mostly because it meant we couldn't slow down and enjoy the flavor text!

We enjoyed playing this once, but having played once and won we just couldn't see a lot of appeal to playing again; there wasn't enough variety or enough interesting going on. There was nothing "wrong" with it besides a few confusing cards, it just didn't have enough "oomph" to match up with other co-op offerings. It felt more like the game was playing us than that we were playing the game. It may be better for family play, and it seems like a great game to teach kids (or even adults) about an exciting event in history.


Image thanks to the BGG Gallery courtesy of Rachel st
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7. Board Game: Arkham Horror [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:271] [Average Rating:7.29 Unranked]
Brian M
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Our rating:
Note: Our initial rating and enthusism was a lot higher, but that was partly dependent on house rules.

Addictive? thumbsup thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skill Factor: ? This is tricky to judge. With the base set, taking certain strategies virtually assured victory, and some choices are consistently better than others. So there's skill...but it's very straightforward skill. If you don't make those choices, it becomes very random.

Modes: Co-op
Can be easily played solo by controlling multiple characters.

Players: 2-8. For your own sanity, don't play with the higher player counts.

With a couple: Playing an investigator each works, but it means you've got very little freedom to explore and "play" with the game. It's also easy for one character to get "stuck" unable to do anything useful for a while. So we prefer how it plays with two investigators each.

Play Time: 2-4 hours.

Difficulty: Really easy. Can vary up through practically impossible with expansions

Individual/Group Play: No real slant either way.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
A group of intrepid (and sometimes doomed) investigators struggle to stop unspeakable evil from overtaking the town of Arkham. Fight monsters, gather clues, gain new items, and try to save the world.

Arkham is a big game in every way. It takes up a lot of table space, takes a long time to play, and has a hefty (and sometimes confusing) rulebook. There are a ton of decks of cards. Just setting up the game is an epic challenge.

Most of the gameplay elements are best suited to people who want to explore a game; travel around, draw different cards, see if you can get certain allies, and generally just see what you can do with the game. There is ton of stuff to do; you can find a wide array of items, recruit allies, fight monsters...the list goes on and on.

With several different 'Great Old Ones' to battle, each of which slightly change the conditions of the game, around 20 different investigators, and piles of cards, there's a lot of variety to be had.

So why the low rating?

We discovered early on that most of that huge pile of stuff to do...is a bad idea. There is a pretty limited set of things that you actually want to do; and if you stay focused on them, you are almost assured of winning. If you do lose, it's probably right at the start of the game; and you only really get time to explore at the end of the game when it doesn't matter much. The 'arc' and flow of the game was all wrong (to my taste); it's starts out in a panic and then gets less and less tense as the game goes on.

Also, the downtime with large groups can be painful. Even with just 2 players controlling 2 characters, we made rules for simultaneous turns.

We houseruled this to our satisfaction. But then the expansions started coming out. The expansions recognized that the game was "easy", but rather than trying to change the arc, or encourage more exploration, they simply made the game harder. More cards to draw that randomly screw you. Cards to extend the game more. Our houserules didn't always interact well with these new elements; and we still liked our houserules better.

And then there's the sheer clutter factor. Just too many decks of cards. Too much table space. It got to where we just aren't willing to go through the effort to even set up Arkham Horror.

We keep thinking we should just pull out the Dunwich Horror stuff; bring it back to a more manageble place.

Get if for:
* Epic adventures.
* Tons of variety.
* A bit of an RPG feel.
* Spending lots more money on expansions.

Avoid it if:
* You're actually going to try to play to win.
* Space or game time are an issue for you. At all.
* You're averse to lots of rules.
* You don't like having to remember lots of assorted card modifiers and effects.
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8. Board Game: Assassinorum: Execution Force [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:4213]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skill Factor: 3 A lot of die rolling, but there's a good dose of skill as well.

Modes: Co-op
The game is based around using all 4 assassins. It should be quite easy to control all four even as one player. You can also just control one assassin; that is even a suggested "achievement", but it is going to be a lot harder!

Players: 2-4

With a couple: To play normally you will need to play 2 assassins each (easy to do). Or you can make it a lot harder by just playing one each.

Play Time: around 1 hour

Difficulty: Tense but not too hard to beat.

Individual/Group Play: Tends toward planning as a group.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Component Quality:



The minis are excellent, with a lot of detail. However, they all require assembly. The assassins and sorcerer lord will likely be a significant modeling challenge to people without miniature experience. And the models are all in a boring gray, so you probably want to paint them.
The board and tiles are thick and the colors are great.
The event cards are less impressive; a lot of text and no art.

Rules Quality:
Functional and generally clear. The rulebook has a lot of illustrations and there are good references on the back cover. The character cards for the assassins and the chaos forces are detailed and clear.


Chaos forces and their cards

Mini-Review
GW takes a break from stand-up fights to put you in command of a group of deadly assassins racing to infiltrate the command center of a sinister chaos sorcerer and destroy him before he completes a ritual that threatens the galaxy.

The assassins must search through corridors and rooms to find the teleporter and controls needed to access the main lair. The main board is static, but tiles are randomly drawn to fill it.

Player turns are straightforward; you get actions to move around and attack, with each character having a card showing how many dice you get to roll on an attack and describing special abilities.

Because this is a game of infiltration, the enemy pieces start off unaware of the assassin. Guards wander around on semi-predictable/semi-random routes. If they spot an assassin, they become active and will chase you down and attack - and sound an alarm, resulting in more dangerous event cards being drawn!

To avoid this, you can sneak past guards, circle behind them - and of course stealthily eliminate them before they raise the alarm!



The game is quick to set-up and fast to play. There's luck in the die rolls, but also a lot of real decisions about when to hide, when to attack, and where to explore. The tension ramps up as time runs out, and you must constantly balance moving quickly with the need not to alert too many guards.

Each assassin has a unique feel, and each one has limited use abilities that you need to judge carefully when to use.

There's a great feel of being both incredibly powerful and very vulnerable. You can easily eliminate guards left and right, but get caught out in the open by a cultist and a lucky shot could easily kill you. You can easily heal wounds - but that takes an action, and the race against time is tight and every action is precious!

I think the mix of stealth and combat is really well done. The game is tense, exciting and fun to play.

The only real complaint I have with the game-play is that there's not much variety; aside from the sorcerer, you only encounter 3 different types of enemies, and the board layout doesn't change much. Because of this, I think it's more fun for occasional play than for playing a lot in a row.

The only real complaint I have outside the gameplay is that Sorcerer lord, once assembled, doesn't fit back in the box, much less fitting back in with any sort of padding!

Also, this is game aimed at modelers and miniature enthusiasts. If you aren't into the miniature aspect, it is probably too pricey for the game-play, and the models won't look nearly as good unless you are willing to paint them.


LuisJoey is clearly an awesome painter!

If you are into the miniature aspect and don't mind the price, this is a gorgeous and exciting game that provides a different co-op experience from a lot of the usual fare.

Negatives
* Lots of assembly required.
* Possible player elimination.
* Low variety.
* Doesn't all fit back in the box!
* Only 1 female PC out of 4.

Positives
* Tense and thematic. I really think this one knocks it out of the park with the stealth and race against time elements.
* Fast to set up and play.
* Easy to learn and teach.
* Looks fantastic.
* If you are into painting, the models are great and look fantastic (even with my bad paint jobs)!
* The different assassins are distinguished with a few abilities that create strong differences.


Images thanks to the BGG Gallery and keithymonster, jfc1005, fatmax66 and LuisJoey
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9. Board Game: Atlantis Rising [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:2571]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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NOTE: This is for the FIRST EDITION of the game. There's a new edition on the way which may change the game significantly.

Our rating:

Modes: Co-op
* Could be played solo by playing as at least 2 players each; this would be easy to do.

Players: 2-6

With a couple: Plays fine. May be more fun to play 2 factions each, but it works OK with two.

Play Time: Medium; 1 hour plus. Doesn't vary a whole lot based on player count.

Difficulty: Moderate - tough on the basic level. There are several increased difficulty levels.

Skill Factor: An awful lot of luck in the rolls and how the sinking cards come up. 2

Individual/Group Play: Very group play oriented. No hidden information. Players occasionally have individual cards, but overall the players all make the decisions as a group.

Component Quality: Nice. Cards are high quality. The island board that fits together but is segmented to flip over tiles as they sink is both pretty and very functional. Blue glass tokens for mystic energy are nice. Cubes for other resources are functional if a bit dull.



Rules Quality:
Clear and concise. The player boards include good references for the turn order and options for using mystic energy.

Mini-Review
I've got a sinking feeling...

Can you turn a worker placement game into a co-op? So much of the essence of worker placement is balancing what you want to take now with what may not be around later in the turn. Given that, is it possible to make a co-op version?

While I think the answer is probably yes, and I give kudos to Atlantis Rising for taking an early stab at a tough challenge, I don't think it does it quite right.

Players need to escape sinking Atlantis by building a set of components, each requiring a combination of 4 different resources. Each round players send out their workers to gather goods, gain knowledge cards (one-time bonus effects), recruit more workers, fight the attacking Athenian fleet, and gather mystical energy. Spend the resources to build a component and you get a one-time bonus.

However, after you assign your workers but before they take action, each player draws a Misfortune card that inflicts various problems on the players, most notably sinking areas of the island.

Here's where the element of deciding where to place your workers becomes important - the outer spots of each island arm are better, but will sink first. If a spot sinks, the workers there can't do anything. So if you place farther out, you get better returns, but have a higher risk.

If everything sinks before you build all the components, you lose.

It functions, but we didn't find the worker placement all that exciting. The resource spots require a die roll to produce, with the roll depending on how far out; so, for example, a resource may have a 3+, then some 4+s, then a 5+ near the top of the island. White cubes are particularly hard to get, going from a 4+ to a 6+.

So do I want a 5+ or a slightly riskier 4+? Eh...to me that's just not an exciting choice. Nor do I enjoy spending resources than rolling to see if they mattered. At least in Stone Age adding dice together makes collecting more reliable - here you feel very much at the mercy of the dice. The knowledge card plays and when to spend mystic energy (which can boost die rolls and prevent tiles from sinking) is a more interesting part of the game.

Another element of the game that drags it down is the Athenian navy. Every turn the navy will attack, and unless players assign increasing numbers of workers to it, it will sink lands even faster. Because it is easier to build a component if one person has all the parts, it is best to divide up the work completely; i.e., if we need 6 workers to fight the navy, better for one person to spend 6 then for two people to spend 3 each. Since fighting the navy involves nothing but sending workers there, it is just sort of a "worker-sink" that isn't interesting to interact with.

Atlantis Rising is a pretty game with some neat ideas, but major gameplay elements don't involve interesting choices. It is one I would be willing to play, but just can't see being enthused about.

HOWEVER, the new version may be worth checking out. While I don't know details for sure, it sounds like:
* The Athentian navy will be gone, replaced by a more dynamic threat.
* Instead of giving a one-time boost, components will unlock new worker placement spots. That sounds like a neat upgrade!
* Players will each have a special leader meeple with extra abilities. Not sure how that will work, but it is more variety.

We didn't like...
* Athenian fleet being a constant sink of meeples doing nothing.
* Uninteresting resource gathering choices.
* Having resource gathering be up to random rolls.
* Back when this came out I might have complained about how silly it was to have to spend so much effort recruiting new works when the island is actively sinking out from under you...but in 2018 that just seems distressingly realistic.

We really did like...
* Feel of rushing against impending doom.
* Interesting decisions for what components to build and when to go for knowledge cards.
* Plays up to 6 players, and scaling seems simply implemented and reasonable across player counts (but we have only played with 2 and 4, so that may not be accurate).
* Flipping the board tiles over as they flood.

Image courtesy of the BGG gallery with thanks to: greyelephant
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10. Board Game: Bastion [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:5696]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Modes: Solo, Co-op

Players: Listed as 1-4

With a couple: Works fine.

Play Time: medium; 1-1.5 hours.

Difficulty: Hard

Skill Factor: Lots of control. Randomness in the order enemy cards come up. 4

Individual/Group Play: All information is shared and open. The second part of the game is entirely calculable; no randomness or hidden info after that point.

Component Quality:

Nice. Colorful tokens for mana, miniatures for the players and nice colorful cards for the monsters. It is a visually nice looking game.

Rules Quality: Generally fine.

Mini-Review

A castle defense game. Monsters arrive every turn, piling up around the castle. Collect various colors of mana to defeat the monsters, which then provide rewards to boost your abilities.

It all works, and I guess its sort of an interesting puzzle challenge, but it bored us. It feels very much like Ghost Stories if the only building you had was the Herbalist. Except unlike Ghost Stories, the way the monsters rush in to fill empty spots feels kind of "unfair" and gamey.

Once all the monsters in the deck come out, they begin advancing on the castle gate. Technically at this point the entire rest of the game (about halfway) would be completely calculable, should you want to do so.

Pretty but dull. Maybe good for people really into efficiency planning puzzles?

We didn't like...
* Lack of excitement
* "Unfair" feeling of monsters rapidly filling in empty space

We really did like...
* Nothing really stood out
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11. Board Game: Beyond Baker Street [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:1263]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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NOTE: Mini Review based on just a few plays; we're not likely to play this again.

Our rating:

Modes: Co-op

Players: 2-4
Cannot be played solo

With a couple: Plays fine

Play Time: Quick; under 30 minutes

Difficulty: Meduim-hard. There are variants to make the game easier or harder.

Skill Factor: Luck in order of the cards, but a lot of skill in how you play them. 4

Individual/Group Play: Players cannot see the cards in front of them and can only communicate in very limited, pre-defined ways.

Component Quality:
Good. Cards are fine, and the tracking board is useful for some reminders with playing the game.



Rules Quality: A bit heavy on jargon, but overall fine.

Mini-Review
Beyond Baker Street is essentially a Hanabi variant with a Sherlock Holmes theme (which is very light and has low effects on play). It adds some new mechanics on top of Hanabi, such as needing to reach a certain value in the discard pile (the "Impossible") to win and the ability to remove cards from a played pile. It offers players a bit more rules options and modifiers to mess with, but doesn't quite have the deductive depth of Hanabi.

There are character cards that players can use; a character might have advantages or drawbacks. By choosing which set of characters you can play with, you can make the game easier or harder.

We didn't play this much; for us it just doesn't compete with Hanabi, and the two are similar enough that we saw no need to have both.

If you like the (mostly pasted on) detective theme better and enjoy having a few more mechanics to mess with, pick this. If you like straight clue giving and deciphering, go with Hanabi. I think only the most die-hard fans of the genre will need both games in their collection.

We didn't like...
* Some of rules about reaching values in the discard and case felt fiddly and arbitrary.
* Having to figure out what balance of characters we wanted to play with.
* Overall, this is a fine game...its just not Hanabi.

We really did like...
* Brain stretching clue giving and interpreting.

Image courtesy of the BGG gallery with thanks to Aleka80
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12. Board Game: The Big Book of Madness [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:708]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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A group of apprentice wizards tries to learn new spells and winds up unleashing a bookful of madness causing monsters that they must recapture to win the game.

Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsupthumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skil Factor: 4

Modes: Co-op

Players: 2-5
No reason you couldn't play solo by playing as multiple characters, though that would require controlling two decks of cards.

With a couple: works great! The game is a bit different with two; you can't set up quite as big combos but you get to build your decks more and each get more spells.

Play Time: Listed at 60-90 minutes, which seems about right.

Difficulty: Several difficulty levels. Fairly easy with a little practice on level 1, but they ramp up; level 2 is a solid challenge, and we haven't tried level 3 much.

Individual/Group Play: A lot of group coordination required, though you are mostly playing attention to your individual hand.
* Players have hands of cards, but may freely share info. Game plays fine with hands of cards face up.

Component Quality: Absolutely lovely! The art is very nicely done and has a gorgeous vibrant color palette like so many of Iello's games. The cards are very good and the book token to move around the track is a nice touch.

I really like the added touch that the monster cards are placed in a stack and turned over to look like the turning pages of the book.



Rules Quality: I didn't real these rules so I'm not sure; Lisa read them before the con and was able to review just a little and get us playing with no trouble, so I assume they were pretty clear.

Mini-Overview
The core of the game is managing a deck of magical energy used to power various spells and to defeat the "curses" that the monsters are putting out. Players can spend energy to beat the curses, add higher power cards (much like buying higher currency in a deck-builder), power spells, and learn new spells.



Defeating a curse is a simple matter of spending the right amount of energy, but it tends to be hard for one player to do at the right time, so you need to use the spells that let you share cards, give other players actions out of turn, trim your deck, cure madness, and do all sorts of other things.

The game operates on a tight timer; the group has only five turns to defeat each monster. You don't HAVE to beat each monster (just the last one), but defeating one has a reward and failing to beat one has a penalty.

Each player gets a character with a unique starting mana distribution and special ability.



There's also a large deck of advanced spells, only a few of which are available each game, so there's some nice variety in the set-up of the game.

Some turns are simple, but there are a lot of moments of needing to combo several spells and actions by several plays to defeat curses. Coming up with a good combo to get out of a bad situation feels like quite an achievement!

Negatives
* There is a at least one "a player misses a turn" random effect that's a bit of a downer in a game where players only get 6-7 turns.
EDIT: To clarify, the card is actually "discard your hand", which means you can't do anything for the entire round.

* The game is somewhat abstracted. For example, the curses don't have "names" or thematic explanations for why they are having their effect. That may bother some people.

Positives
* The game is fairly easy to teach and play. Its not "non-gamer" accessible, but it is on the easy end.

* Well done tension with a building threat but occasional short respites when you can take a moment to build up power.

* Tough choices between defeating threats in the short term and building up power in the long term.

* Needs a lot of teamwork and coordination between players.

* Has some really awesome moments when you manage good combos.

* Great art and presentation.

Images thanks to the BGG gallery and TheKillShirt and henk.rolleman
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13. Board Game: Bomb Squad [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:2632]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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This is a mini-review. Played it several times, but that was quite a while ago.

Our rating:


Modes: Co-op
* Not solo playable.

Players: 2-6

With a couple: Didn't work so well. I wouldn't recommend this for just 2 players.

Play Time: Short. 1/2 hour or so.

Difficulty: Didn't play enough to judge.

Skill Factor: Seemed like a lot of skill, though largely speed of figuring things out. 4

Individual/Group Play: All based on trying to communicate information under strict limitations, so actual decisions must be made individually.

Mini-Review

Program a remote-controlled robot to defuse bombs and rescue hostages!

Bomb Squad blends Hanabi and Space Alert together - you program a robot using cards, but can't see your own hand and need to use clues to tell other players what cards they have.

This seemed like it should have been a perfect fit for us, as Space Alert and Hanabi are two of our favorite games, but instead it fell totally flat for us.

Hanabi is all about trying to come up with clever clue to convey as much information with a single clue as possible. In Bomb Squad, time is the only limiting factor on clues. Trying to think about your clue is wasting time. Better to give the simplest, most straight-forward clue possible to minimize time.

Space Alert is about trying to decide, in limited time, how to use limited resource to challenge a variety of threats. There are lots of approaches to take, and much of the fun is in deciding what to do. In Bomb Squad, the routes are fairly straight forward. So you are just trying to get the cards in the correct order.

I'm sure it is a fine game for a speed-memory-programming game, but it just completely missed out on appealing to us, not only not being what we wanted, but feeling enough like it should have been what we wanted to make the lack more noticeable.
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14. Board Game: Break the Safe [Average Rating:6.06 Overall Rank:4720]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown

Skill Factor: Low, though there are a few tricks to learn.

Modes: Co-op.

Players: 2-4
Can easily be played solo by playing two characters.

With a couple: Plays fine.

Play Time: 30 minutes or less (timer based)

Difficulty: Varies based on number of players - it is much easier with fewer players.

Individual/Group Play: Leans toward individual play, but there's not a lot of skill.
* No hidden info, but there is a real-time limitation that reduces discussion. Not actually many decisions to make!

Mini-Review An old fashioned mass market co-op that's fun to play anyway. In Break the Safe, you are a team of spies breaking into an evil organization's vault to find (and foil) their evil schemes.

The game is played in turns, but the entire game is under a time limit - run out of time and you lose - so you want to play fast. Each turn consists of rolling a die and moving that far, unless you roll a 'Guard' or 'Dog' symbol, in which case the guard or dog (respectively) enters play. Once in play, they move around the edge of the board via another die and try to stop you. Luckily, they are typical low-grade evil organization goons, and just throw you in a jail from which you can escape.

Not a lot of decisions here; you need to search several rooms to find the keys to the safe, so mostly you are just trying to use the movement rolls to get to the next room in the most expedient way while avoiding the guards. This is harder with more players, as the guard and dog move much farther between each player's turn.

It's got a lot of luck and is basically a roll and move, but there's fun and excitement to be had anyway, and the simple rules and visual appeal of the game would probably make it a good choice to play with kids.

Get if for:
* An assured quick game.
* Simple gameplay.
* Playing with kids who can't handle Escape yet.
* Roll and move gameplay.

Avoid it if:
* You don't like roll and move gameplay.
* You don't like time limits.
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15. Board Game: The Captain Is Dead [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:976] [Average Rating:7.24 Unranked]
Brian M
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One play mini-review

Our rating:

Modes: Co-op

Players: 1-7

With a couple: Unknown; we've only played with a group

Play Time: 1-2 hours

Difficulty: Not sure with just one play. There are multiple difficulty levels.

Skill Factor: 4 Seems like a lot of planning and control

Individual/Group Play: Mostly group play. Lots of coordination and planning together.
* Players have hands of cards, but they can freely discuss them.

Component Quality:
Nice. The game uses standees for the characters, which have a graphic on a clear back. A bit neater than normal standees.



The board is a bit busy, but it contains a lot of information used in play.



Art is a little odd; its got a slightly abstract vibe to it, but it is consistent across the characters.



Rules Quality:
No idea; we were taught this rather than reading the rules.

Mini-Review
Take on the role of the crew of a spaceship under attack!

Each player is a crew member of a spaceship. The ship is under attack; enemy ships attacking from outside, invaders teleporting aboard, and strange anomalies causing havoc. The team needs to keep this ship alive and repair the Jump Core in order to escape.

While the theme is quite like Space Alert, the game-play is very different. This is a turn based game. You take actions to repair systems or fight invaders. Many actions will require skills, which come via cards. You must play cards to use skills, and you can also trade them among the other players. Getting the right skills to the right players can be very important, though its more efficient to draw cards than trade them.

As you play, you'll need the find the right balance between fighting the threats, repairing the systems, and drawing new skills.

After each player's turn, you draw a threat card that inflicts some nastiness on the ship. The cards come in three difficulties so the game gets harder as it progresses. We finished our game (a win) a little ways into stage 2; apparently the level 3 cards are super-nasty, so you better escape before then!

We found this a solid game, but it just didn't thrill us. It was fun to play, but didn't really do much new and exciting. If you want a spaceship crew survival adventure (and don't want to go real time with Space Alert), this is a good one to try!

We didn't like...
* A bit slow paced. No standout flaws.

We really did like...
* Variety of different characters.
* Lots of teamwork and coordination.


Images from the BGG Gallery with thanks to AEGTodd, n8biangel and Mad Scientist
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16. Board Game: The Cards of Cthulhu [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:3162]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsup

Skill Factor: 2 Low skill; more luck of the draw and roll. But there are meaningful choices.

Modes: Solo, Co-op, Competitive (which is just co-op with counting points)

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Plays very well. However, you need a way to keep track of wounds; usually these are tracked by discarding dice, but with more than 1 player you need to share dice (or buy extras).

Play Time: Listed as 1 hour, but I think it usually plays in 30 minutes or less for us.

Difficulty: Reasonably easy as a co-op. We've started playing with the suggested 5 card per turn variant for greater difficulty; still not too hard, but puts it at a nice level of tension and suspense.

Individual/Group Play: Encourages group play.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Component Quality: Great. The art is well done, the dice are engraved and quite cool, and the coins in the game are nice solid metal pieces.


Rules Quality: Straightforward and easy to learn. There is a nice reference sheet that summarizes most of the rules needed during play.

Mini-Review
A dice rolling struggle to survive against unspeakable forces!

The Cards of Cthulhu is a very straightforward game. Each turn, you draw several cards, most of which are monsters that are added to four different faction boards. You then pick a board to attack and roll dice to try to defeat some of them.



If a board fills up too much and you can't clear it, you lose. Different combinations of cards will also awaken 'Horrors', which require certain die combos to defeat and attack you each turn.

To help out, you get a player special ability, and some of the cards are helpful items that you can either purchase or trade in for XP coins, the currency of the game.

While the game is very simple and mostly just die rolling, the variety of options for spending XP add a nice feeling of excitement to the game. There's usually a brisk flow of XP going back and forth, and tough choices as to whether to spend the XP on an extra attacks, or extra dice, or closing a gate.

There are also tense choices about which board to attack, as the risk and difficulty of various boards changes a lot as cards come out. One board might be close to filling up, while another has a nasty Horror that is about to awaken, and another has an annoying gate. Which one to try to stop?

The difficulty can depend on lot on card order; if several minions of a color and a horror of that matching color come out at once, life gets a lot harder!

This is an excellent filler or "over-lunch" game. It is easy to learn and teach, and results in a fast playing game with some nice swings of tension and excitement.

Negatives
* Limited variety; you go through the whole deck every game.
* Not a lot of actual cooperation; you can't do a lot to help other players.
* Nicer to have a set of dice for each player. We picked up one extra die set to play with two players, and have found it well worth it. Plus, as mentioned, the dice are great - I'd probably pull them out of this box to have handy for, say, Arkham Horror.
* Fairly shallow gamplay.
* Takes up a surprising amount of table space for a simple card game.

Positives
* Easy to learn and teach.
* Fast playing.
* Great components.
* Nice amount of tension.
* Decisions, while simple, are fun.

Thanks to Ex Nihilo and the BGG Gallery for the images.
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17. Board Game: Castle Panic [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:880]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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Castle Panic

Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 1 A four step script could play about as well as a person.

Modes: Co-op, Solo, Competitive, 1-vs-all

Players: 1-6

With a couple: Plays very well.

Play Time: 30 minutes

Difficulty: Random; usually low.

Individual/Group Play: Not enough skill to matter.
* Players have hands of cards. Can't remember how much you can discuss them, as doing so is totally irrelevant.

Mini-Review
The monsters are coming! Play cards to kill them.
Monsters attack you tower from several different sections. You each have a hand of cards, and on your turn you can play a card matching the color and range of a monster to do damage to it.

Because you get to redraw your entire hand, and there's no real difference between the monsters, there's almost no real choice involved. Play all the cards you can, except one or two special cards that you might want to save for big monsters. Sorry, I just spoilered the whole game for you!

With 4 or more players, you can't even plausibly plan ahead to your next turn; every single monster that is currently on the board will be gone (one way or another) by then.

There game's main "mode" is competitive; while all the players want to destroy the monsters, you win by killing the most of them. There's also a variant where one player controls the monsters. I've never played either of these.

I've seen this get a lot of praise as a kid's game; we have played it with kids, but it didn't generate nearly the excitement that Forbidden Island or even Ticket to Ride did.

Still, it's OK for an occasional mindless but fun play.

Get if for:
* Playing with kids who really want to fight monsters and can't handle more complicated games.
* Mindless relaxing.
* Playing kingmaker between real players and a pile of tokens (in the competitive version).

Avoid it if:
* You want decisions in a game.
* You don't like knowing that you could be replaced with a monkey.
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18. Board Game: Codenames: Duet [Average Rating:7.72 Overall Rank:113] [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked]
Brian M
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Our rating:

Modes: Co-op
* Can not be played solo by humans.

Players: 2 (or more)
* You can add more players, but it is very clearly designed for 2.

With a couple: Works great!

Play Time: Quick - 15 minutes to half an hour.

Difficulty: Variable difficulty levels. The easiest level is usually challenging.

Skill Factor: There's luck in what words are available, but there's also a lot of skill in coming up with clever clues. 4

Individual/Group Play: With 2: Individual play with only specific and limited communication allowed.
With 3+, some players will essentially be playing the part of a single "player" and will need to agree on their moves.

Component Quality: Nice, though simple. A big deck of cards with words. Good high quality cards. Colorful cardboard tokens for marking guesses.

Rules Quality:
Clear and good. The rules are very simple. I may not be the best judge since I was already quite familiar with Codenames.

Mini-Review
Tense spy action! Drama! Deceit! Errr, OK, no, ignore all that. It is actually a word guessing game. an AWESOME word guessing game.

The original Codenames is a team-based clue giving game where one player from each team gives single word clues to get their team to guess cards from a grid. This, by the way, is great fun, and well worth getting on its own. Now, Codenames actually included a 2 player co-op variant which was quite entertaining, but Duet takes it to a whole new level with a few simple changes.

The players sit with a 5 x 5 grid of cards with words on them in between them. They draw a double-sided card that shows each of them which set of words they need to get the other player to guess.

You then take turns giving clues consisting of a single word and a number. The word is a clue, the number is how many cards pertaining to that clue are out there.

Three of the words you need to guess overlap between players. Three of the words on each side of the card are assassins - guessing one of them ends the game.

Simple, right?

Or is it?



I can give you 'General 2' and you can get King Arthur and Napoleon, right?

But what if I said 'Leader 3 - then maybe you can also get Governor'!

Assuming I want you to get Governor. What if I'm on my last clue and really need you to get Arthur, Napolean and Fiddle? Fiddle doesn't fit in, doesn't it?

Well, let's stretch - how about Nero 3? Nero is famous fiddling, and he's a famous personality like Arthur and Napoleon! It could work!

Here, try some...

EDIBLE 3
Spoiler (click to reveal)
EGG, POPCORN and CHEESE


HALLUCINATE 3
Spoiler (click to reveal)
DREAM, FEVER and FOG...more of a stretch!


SPACE 4
Spoiler (click to reveal)
ASTRONAUT, EARTH, BLACK HOLE, CHEESE
Because the moon is made of cheese, right? RIGHT?


Sure you can often get your partner to guess 1 word at a time easily - but then you will run out of guesses! On harder difficulties, you may need to average 3 cards per clue, so you need to be clever!

With a huge variety of words that are well-designed to work well, there's an incredible amount of brain-bending puzzling of coming up with fun clues to be had.

To add some spice, the game includes a "campaign" - a simple world map with some major cities, each showing a different difficulty rating, giving you a different number of wrong guesses allowed and a different number of total guesses allowed. You can check these off as you go, gradually facing a variety of challenges. It isn't a big deal, but it is a fun way to increase the difficulty.

With 3+, you'll need to split in teams and have each group act as a single player. This works, but the game is best with just two.

If you enjoy creative lateral thinking and words, this is a must-have. It is easy and quick to play and gives your mind a nice workout. And it often can be quite funny - and really awesome when you come up with a big word combo! If you are outside that interest group, you can probably safely pass; though it may be worth a try anyway.

As a bonus, you can easily fit Duet, Codenames and Codenames: Pictures all in the same box, and can easily use the cards from any of them for each game (though we keep our Duet and regular Codenames cards in separate piles as they are designed to work well as a set).

Note on other versions: Codenames and Pictures are great. There are also some more specific versions; Marvel and Disney and whatnot. We tried the Marvel version and didn't enjoy it; there just didn't seem to be as much interesting connections and appropriate differences between the cards. I suspect perhaps Chvatil didn't directly come up with all the content for those?

We didn't like...
* Sometimes can be very frustrating trying to come up with a good clue!

We really did like...
* Quick to play.
* Creative challenge.
* Easy to teach (though this is a bigger plus with regular Codenames)
* Huge variety of words.

Image courtesy of the BGG gallery with thanks to: geffizozo (big thanks, that was exactly what I wanted for an image!)
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19. Board Game: Countdown: Special Ops [Average Rating:5.23 Overall Rank:15921]
Brian M
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Thornton
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Our rating: (In this case just my rating - Lisa didn't rate it based on one play)

Modes: Co-op, Solo, Campaign

Players: 1-6

With a couple: You need to play 2 characters each. Easy to do.

Play Time: 30 minutes. One variant includes playing against an actual timer as well as a turn timer.

Difficulty: Based on one play, fairly hard.

Individual/Group Play: Very group oriented.

Quick Overview
Command a special forces team in a deadly mission to eliminate terrorists, rescue hostages or disarm bombs.

You set up a map built out of cards (based on random location and objective draws). Each location will have several cards on it. Enter the location, and you draw the cards and try to defeat the enemies that you find, which is mostly a question of rolling dice. You try not to get your operatives killed or let a timer run out.

We went into this with enthusiam, but spent most of the game feeling like we were playing it wrong without actually being able to find anything we were playing wrong.

Each character has 'energy'. You need energy to take any actions, start with 2*, and get 1 per turn.

That's just not enough energy. Yes, I know, 'not enough' is often a key component of games. Not enough actions, not enough resources, so you have to make tough choice. I'm not referring to that kind of 'not enough'. I mean not enough to be fun.

For example, in our play, we needed to go in and find and defuse bombs. Only the demolitions expert* character could defuse bombs. The demolitions expert would, over the course of the game, have 7* energy before time ran out.

As it turned out, there were 7 energy worth of bombs and traps we needed to disarm. Disarming a bomb, incidentally, consists of moving into the space and spending X energy.

So, as we fight our way through the terrorists around the bombs (side note: I'm getting nervous that this review is going to wind up me up on NSA watchlists!), the demo expert can't fight them. If he fires a shot, there goes 1 energy and we don't have enough. Disarming the bombs doesn't actually involve any choices or even a die roll. So, essentially, the demolitions expert isn't playing a character at all. They have no choices to make, no game to play. They're just there to be lugged along and track their energy meter.

In addition, there are traps. To disarm a trap, the Intelligence Agent* has to spot it, and then the demolition expert has to move in and disarm it. The IA spots it by spending 1 energy to flip over a card in an adjacent sector. There are something like 15 cards on the shortest optimal path, and, again, the IA will only get 7 energy.* Oops. Guess the IA better not do anything else either.

Speaking of that 'shortest path', why does our board have side branches that don't lead to the objectives or exit? There's simply no reason to go there (OK, technically you get a point bonus if you explore the whole map, but you get a BETTER point bonus by just finishing the mission faster), and not enough time to take anything other than the shortest path anyway.

* It's been a while, so I may not be getting exactly the right role titles or energy counts, but the general idea holds.

Why we didn't buy it:
I won't rule out that we misplayed something horribly (though several rulebook checks failed to find what), but as was this simply wasn't a good game. Random and pointless, without even a lot of excitement.
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20. Board Game: Cthulhu Mash [Average Rating:5.47 Overall Rank:14325]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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--- WARNING: Not enough play experience to put much solid here ---

Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsdown thumbsdown

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown thumbsdown

Skill Factor: Never played enough to find out. Probably low.

Modes: Competitive, Solo, Co-op. Sorta.

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Works about as well as with any number.

Play Time: 1 hour

Difficulty: Never played enough to find out. Probably moderate.

Individual/Group Play: Not much to gain with PbC.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
A random monster bash with Cthlhuhoid monsters. There's some sort of premise about dead souls having to confront the horrors they encountered in life to escape the underworld, or something like that. Basically, you set up a little board and move around it trying to defeat monsters and monster generators.

There's some nice touches in the forms of leveling up characters and having different skills for different characters.

While it claims co-op play, it's not really a co-op; in the normal, competitive, mode, the opponent on your left controls the monsters. This has no replacement in co-op or solo play, so you just have to try to play both sides.

I wouldn't mind giving this another try, but it didn't impresss us enough to bring it readily back to the table.

Get if for:
* Vaguely Cthulhu themed monster fighting.

Avoid it if:
* You don't want vaguely Cthulhu themed monster fighting?
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21. Board Game: D-Day Dice [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:994]
Brian M
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Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: thumbsdown

Skill Factor: 3

Modes: Co-op, Solo, "Semi" Competitive

Players: 1-4

With a couple: Plays great, no special rules.

Play Time: 30 minutes or less.

Difficulty: Easy.

Individual/Group Play: Balanced. Overall decisions are best made with a group, but your die rolls are more individual.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Mini-Review
Storm the beaches of Normandy Yahtzee style!

Each player controls a squad of soldiers. As a team, the players battle their way through enemy fire and minefields to destroy the bunker at the end of each map.

The game is based around the typical "roll up to 3 times" gameplay, where you try to accumulate sets of matching symbols. The dice come in 3 colors (red, white and blue), and getting three symbols in each color has an extra bonus. You use the rolls to gather more troops, equipment points, officers and 'courage' to keep moving.

Equipment and officers are represented by decks of cards that vary from map to map, so there's more variety than in many dice games.

After each set of rolls, the squads take damage which varies from map area to map area; a squad reduced to 0 soldiers is destroyed, which ends the game for all players.

It's a simple game, and it's not terribly deep. Mostly you roll and look for good combos. While it has quite a few scenario boards, they are all pretty easy. However, he found it very addictive and a lot of fun. It makes a great 'over lunch' game as it is quick to play and you don't need to manage hands of cards.

Get if for:
* Lots of die rolling fun.
* A variety of scenarios to try.
* A light, enjoyable game.

Avoid it if:
* You want a deep challenge.
* You aren't into dice.
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22. Board Game: Damage Report [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:4799]
Brian M
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Note: This was a KS game. The creator never delivered some stretch goals (extra character boards) and just dropped out of contact.

Our rating:

Modes: Co-op

Players: 2-6

With a couple: Works very badly. There is NO scaling by player count at all, so 2 characters is incredibly hard. Controlling multiple characters at once is possible, but tough in real-time.

Play Time: Short; under 1 hour

Difficulty: Varies a lot based on scenario and player count. Much easier with more players.

Skill Factor: Not deep skill, but more skill than randomness. 4

Individual/Group Play: Lots of need to plan as a group, but real-time requires individual thinking. All information is open.

Component Quality:



Mixed. There are 3D "bins" for tokens and resources, which is cool, but it all just seems a bit "off". Kind of amateurish? The tool pieces tend to roll around on the board, which is extra annoying with a real-time game.



You use tokens sitting on flat tracks for marking damage to systems; it is VERY easy to accidentally bump these off or around during the hectic-ness of real-time play.

As a small but irritating thing, the components are just millimeters too big to fit nicely side by-side in the box; shaving just a bit off the character boards would make the entire game much easier to put away.

Rules Quality:
The rules are fine.

Mini-Review
Let's rush around a spaceship in real-time trying to survive! Oh dear, this is competing directly with Space Alert isn't it? That's a tough matchup.

Damage Report puts you as the crew of a ship in peril, running around trying to repair its systems and complete your objectives to escape. There are multiple scenarios; perhaps you need to repair the engines and warp out, or use the blasters to destroy an enemy ship (or perhaps you can do both and need to decide what works better).

The character action is driven by sand-timers. You flip a timer, and when it runs out of sand you move it to the next space on your little action track. When you get all the way down, you take your action and start over.

As you get injured or the ship's life support becomes damaged, you need more timer flips to actually take an action. That's conceptually a nice way to represent life support/injury, but in practice it means you have less to do and are more bored as things get worse. It also means that keeping the life support in good condition is absolutely critical, to the point that there's never really a choice between life support and something else; you'll always be overall faster fixing life support first.

Mostly what you do is run around the ship carrying parts to the systems that you'll need to repair them. A stack of cards shows what you need to make repairs; when you complete them, adjust the track up and flip over a new card.

This sounded exciting; coordinate to figure out what you need, running around grabbing the tools and parts you want to make repairs, right? Except it takes long enough to move around the ship that actually reacting to what is needed is really inefficient. Instead, the best thing to do is take big piles of parts and dump them on the floor so you've got whatever you need. Then its a bunch of set up followed by a bunch of repairs. That doesn't present interesting decisions or exciting choices, nor much of a puzzle.

There's also absolutely NO player based scaling to this game. More players means you get more actions and more people to carry stuff with no downside. As a result, the game is really hard as a 2 player game.

There's a charm to this game that makes me want to like it, but it falls badly short of its potential. It IS quicker to teach than Space Alert, but it takes longer to play so that's not much of an edge. I think Space Alert or The Captain is Dead are better choices for a spaceship-crew game.

We didn't like...
* No player scaling
* Long delays in taking turns when life support runs low
* Boring strategies
* Damage counters getting easily bumped

We really did like...
* The cute resource bins
* Different character abilities; though some are not very useful

Images courtesy of the BGG gallery with thanks to MyParadox and domosquawk
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23. Board Game: Dark Gothic [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:2942] [Average Rating:6.93 Unranked]
Brian M
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Our rating:

WARNING: TWO PLAY MINI REVIEW
Played this quite a while ago, but wanted to add it and note our thoughts for completeness.

Modes: Competitive, Co-op

Players: 2-6

With a couple: Seemed fine

Play Time: Around 1 hour

Difficulty:

Skill Factor:

Individual/Group Play: Leans toward individual play, with some decisions about what to do made as a group
* Each player has their own deck of cards

Component Quality: Cards are OK; odd size/shape makes them a bit hard to shuffle. Art is not great.

EDIT: OK, most of the cards don't have the long skinny shape; just the character and monster cards. Apparently the long skinny cards were what most stuck with me about the game.

Rules Quality: I remember learning to play OK, with a few rules questions.

Mini-Review
Deck builder. Play cards to generate various currencies to buy more cards and defeat monsters. We found it entertaining, but not as good as most other deck-builders out there. Because evil advances based on purchasing cards, there were ways to exploit the system (though we did not do this). Seemed primarily designed to be competitive, with a tagged-on cooperative variant.

If you really love the theme, probably an OK deck-builder; otherwise there are likely better choices.
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24. Board Game: DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Crisis Expansion Pack 1 [Average Rating:7.03 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.03 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.03 Unranked]
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WARNING: ONE PLAY MINI REVIEW
(And that's all it will get. I'd rather tug on Superman's cape than play Crisis again)

Our rating:

Modes: Co-op, Solo

Players: 1-5

With a couple: Didn't seem to have any problems specific to playing 2 player, but it wasn't good. Maybe its better with more players?

Play Time: Long - listed at 2 hours, which sounds right from our play. Feels much longer, as the gameplay is more of a half-hour sort of game.

Difficulty: We won our won play; seemed maybe moderate difficulty.

Skill Factor: Lots of luck in how cards come up. Due to the challenges, even good deck construction doesn't really help. 2

Individual/Group Play: Player have individual decks and hands of cards, but can freely communicate and plan together.

Component Quality: Fine. Just cards, which have fine comic-booky art.

Rules Quality:
I recall them being fine. It is a pretty simple game.

Mini-Review

The base DC Deckbuilder is a simple competitive deckbuilder. Very standard; buy cards to add to your deck, score points. It distinguishes itself from its predecessor, Ascension, by only having one resource instead of two, and by giving each player a starting 'character' with special abilities.

It is one of the lightest deck-builders around, but is solid fun, especially if you are a fan of the DC universe.

Then along comes Crisis to turn it co-op. How could it go so wrong?

Crisis mainly consists of "Crisis" cards that present the players with various challenges to defeat before they can fight the various super-villains, which all must be done before the game deck - acting as the timer - runs out.

These challenges are often random and frustrating, requiring specific combos of cards to come up. Even with an optimized and highly efficient late game deck, you'll often be just passing turns waiting for cards to come up in the right order.

Many cards don't work or don't work well as points don't matter and you can't have villains in your deck.

The game takes around four times as long as a normal game of DC Deckbuilder. That's bad, because the deck-building is still the same; it is very much a game that FEELS like it should take half an hour that instead takes two hours.

Just an agonizing slog of a game that sucks all the fun out of a light simple deck-builder. Stick to the competitive game.


We didn't like...
* Painfully slow and log
* Random and irritating crisis effects
* Passing turns with nothing to do
* Several of the new heroes seem very weak

We really did like...
* That you can get rid of Crisis and play the regular game.
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25. Board Game: Dead Men Tell No Tales [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:874]
Brian M
United States
Thornton
Colorado
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Our rating:

Addictive? thumbsup

Long Term Replayability: Early to say; probably thumbsup

Skill Factor: 4 There's luck in the card draws, but quite a bit of the game is decided by good action management.

Modes: Co-op
Can be easily played solo by playing multiple characters.

Players: 2-5

With a couple: Plays very well.

Play Time: 1 - 1 1/2 hours

Difficulty: Multiple levels; the easiest is challenging but beatable.

Individual/Group Play: Encourages group play.
* All info is shared; no hands of cards or communication limitations.

Component Quality:



Very good. The physical quality is high, and the art is excellent. There are lots of small touches that give this a great aesthetic; like mottled red and yellow dice for fire levels, the little skull tokens for the deckhands, the nice drawstring token bag, and the shaped pirate meeples.



I also appreciate the thin box (shelf space is valuable to me), but it is a little hard to fit the player boards back in nicely; due to the spinners they don't stack well. That's a pretty minor complaint though.

Rules Quality: Generally clear, and there's a pretty good reference card, though it omits a few rules that we had to look up or forgot in the first game or two but had pretty well memorized by the third play. We also constantly forget to add a new tile at the start of a turn.

Mini-Review
Avast! There be treasure! And the treasure be on fire!
Dead Men Tell No Tales is a strange crossover of fantasy pirate action with firefighting. Your ship has blasted a dreaded undead pirate ship, the Skellit, and now needs to board the enemy vessel and get the treasures off it, before the flames consume it.

To get the treasures, you need to manage several elements. You must:
* Keep the fires under control so they don't hurt you too much or destroy the ship.
* Smash the endless hordes of skeletal deckhands before they overwhelm you.
* Fight the crew and treasure guardians.
* And get the treasures off the ship!

The core of the game is pretty standard Pandemic/Flashpoint type gameplay; spend 5 action points per turn to move around and fight threats while completing large objectives. However, it incorporates a few twists, such as:
* A tile-laying element as you build the ship.
* The ability to swap between items, effectively changing your special abilities.
* Two different external threat sources to manage.
* Plus having to manage your fatigue meter.
* The ability to pass your actions to the next player.

The result is a tense and entertaining challenge. The tension builds in very natural way; as the map grows, you find more hatches that spawn deckhands and more fires and simply can't keep them all under control. There are quite a few options for what to do to manage the threats, so you've always got a few important things to choose from. You even have some interesting options like letting a room blow up to get rid of a deck hatch.

Overall, the game is an action management puzzle, trying to maximize your actions to keep the dangers under control. Expect a lot of conversation about who should handle which danger and how the team can best work together. There is a dose of luck in the order of card draws (Drawing a 'red 3' followed by 'red 4' is much worse than the other way around!) but there's a lot control and skill as well.

This isn't groundbreaking, but it is a very solid co-op. Great looking, easy enough for new players and with enough variety and challenge for veterans.

Negatives
* Few female characters.
Really not much else to say here; there's some quibbles like one or two things that would be good on the reference card, fairly minor character imbalance and some thin theme points but nothing major. Overall this is very well done.

Positives
* Very nice artwork and components.
* Quick to set up.
* Lots of variety of actions to take.
* Nice feel of tension and excitement.
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