This weekend we’ve been playing a bunch of co-op games and it gave me an idea for a new article format, Keep, Play, Trade. Basically I’ll pit three games from the same field against each other and see which one I would add to my collection, which I’d like to play but not own and which I’ll ultimately leave on the shelf.
For this week we have three co-operative games, Freedom Five, Last Bastion and Just One.
Keep - Just One
Just One is a party game for all intents and purposes but unlike most party games it is a co-operative experience where all the players win or lose together. The game is played over 13 rounds and each round players are trying to get one of their number to guess a word by writing clues on erasable whiteboards. If two players write the same word those clues are omitted and the guesser can see only the unique clues that were written down.
Just One was an easy pick for the Keep section, it feels like a game everyone should own, an evergreen that you can pull out in any situation, teach in minutes and play for hours. It is a simple concept that provides a laugh out loud experience, while still having some crunchy cerebral thought behind it.
The nature of the clue giving in Just One also works to create a deeply tailored experience. When played with a group of like-minded individuals who know each other you can create clues from in jokes or shared experiences, whereas played in a group of strangers you can generate conversation and foster an atmosphere of co-operation where the players get to know each other through the medium of play.
Play - Last Bastion
Last Bastion is a re-implementation of Ghost Stories. Ghost Stories came out about the same time I got into the hobby, but back then I was buying fewer games, so despite hearing good things I never picked it up and as time marched on and game mechanics got better I felt less and less of an urge to go back and check it out. However when I heard that Last Bastion was a largely better and more streamlined version of Ghost Stories with gorgeous production values I knew I wanted to check it out.
We’ve now played the game four times and I like it, I wouldn’t turn down a game of it but I don’t feel I need to own it. Ultimately I feel that the game is very punishing in terms of its difficulty and that partly is due to its reliance on luck. We lost our first three games and only won our fourth by having all four players active and playing on Novice. Even during the last game where we had the game sewn up, we knew we could guarantee victory in two turns time, we got screwed over by a bad card draw that meant we could not spend tokens and had to dash about the board like headless chickens trying to fix it!
I’m all for hard cooperative games, but too often in Last Bastion we felt like we lost because we drew the wrong card or fluffed a dice roll at a pivotal moment, rather than we made a mistake. Last Bastion then provides a solid and engaging puzzle, but ultimately isn’t different enough game to game or from other co-op offerings that I felt the need to add it to my ever bowing shelves.
Trade - Freedom Five
Freedom Five is currently funding on kickstarter and a digital prototype has been made available on Tabletop Simulator. Freedom Five is a reimplementation of Defenders of the Realm and it shares not an insignificant amount of DNA with Pandemic.
This version of the game smashes up the Defenders of the Realm mechanics with the Sentinels of the Multiverse universe to create a superhero game about fighting villains, rescuing bystanders and saving the world. Beyond the demo the Kickstarter is offering a wealth of gameplay options, including a campaign with unlockable content, possible side stories and ways of crafting and upgrading your heroes to fit your own particular playstyle.
All of this makes me want to love the game, I love SOTM but struggle to get it to the table with others due to the fiddly nature of the game and so I hoped that this might be a way of playing in that universe with simpler mechanics. However, our experience was generally not a positive one. The game is not Tabletop Simulator friendly, between the number of different cards and token and figures it all takes a lot of management and resulted in the game clocking in around the two hour mark.
On top of that we didn’t even come close to winning. The scenarios in the game have a fail forward mechanic, meaning that win or lose the first chapter you move on to chapter two where the game ramps up the difficulty but you’re already behind so making it harder doesn’t help you catch up. And after that the writing is on the fall and the dominos are already falling.
The game is also heavily luck driven with dice rolls galore. Had we played the game before we certainly could have mitigated our rolls better I admit, but the game does rather beat you around the head out of the gate. We went after one villain, rolling dozens of dice and she was healthier after we hit her than before!
My final worry with the game was the lack of scaling. So far as we could see there was nothing beyond the main villain’s health that scaled with the number of players. This meant that with two players we were taking on just as much stuff as with four but we could cover far less of the board. Ideally I would probably play the game with four so it’s not so much of a worry, but when the box says 1 - 5 it should really be playable at those player counts too.
All in all the game had more admin than I would have liked and by the end we were both glad when it was done. Of course, although I put this as my Trade entry, I haven’t actually yet cancelled my pledge!
What did I get wrong? Which would you keep, play and trade? Let me know in the comments!