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Unlock Epic Adventures is the seventh box in the Unlock Series and contains 3 ‘Epic Adventures’: The seventh screening, The dragon’s seven t...

Unlock: Epic Adventures Unlock: Epic Adventures

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

companion app



Unlock Epic Adventures is the seventh box in the Unlock Series and contains 3 ‘Epic Adventures’: The seventh screening, The dragon’s seven tests and Mission #07, each one harder than the next. If you’re familiar with the Unlock games, then nothing more needs to be said (apart from Mission #07 is my favourite of the lot). If you’re not then read on. No spoilers were harmed in the making of this review...

Gameplay

Each adventure is contained in a deck of 60 cards and a companion app which is necessary to play the game. Each of the 60 cards has a number (or other identifiers) on its back which are pivotal to how the game works. The top card in the deck contains the introduction on one side and the initial location on the reverse. There is almost no setup time (just place the deck of cards on the table and start the app) and the rules can be explained in about 5 minutes. If you’re playing for the first time, each box also contains an additional tutorial deck of 10 cards which can teach the rules by playing through a mini-mission before starting one of the adventures.

Easy to follow rules

Once you’ve read the starting card and flipped it, you’ll usually see some obvious numbers and/or letters in grey circles. This is the primary mechanism of the game and it tells you to find the corresponding cards in the deck and put them face-up on the table. Sometimes there will be hidden numbers on the cards, which also permit you to take the corresponding card, don’t forget to inspect every card if you get stuck.

The story is told in the text and images on each card and the designers of all the Unlock games have done a great job in telling very different (and interesting) stories across each adventure. There are also object cards, whose numbers should be combined, the sum of which will indicate another card in the deck that you’ll be allowed to take. For example card 14 (a magnifying glass) can be combined with card 65 (a marble statue) to take card 79 (14 + 65) that reveals a new clue hidden on the plinth of the statue (this is not a spoiler as I just made it up).

A 'machine' card being used in the app

There are also machine cards which will require the app. I’ve not played all the Unlock boxes but I am always surprised at just how much variation you can get out of one deck of cards. It is certainly true that the designers are not limited to ‘you’re stuck in a room and you have to get out in 60 minutes’. This variety ultimately comes from how you interact with the machines (using the app).

The app will also provide hints if you get stuck. Which I recommend using fast and often if you’re unsure what to do next. Instead of taking hints you could guess at what cards join together but doing this or many other guesses (by adding cards together or guessing on a machine) will often result in a penalty card, these take 1 min of your overall time from the countdown timer in the app.

These games try to recreate the experience that you’d have if did a real escape room, there is a timer counting down and you do feel the pressure of completing within the time.

77 minutes to solve the Dragons Seven Tests

I found that sometimes the cards or even the solutions were quite obscure and even after being told the solution or stumbling upon the answer, we weren’t quite sure how we got to that stage or even how the answer works. This was a bit disappointing as you’re robbed of the ‘ah-hah, I’m such an idiot!’ moments that make deduction games shine. After you complete an adventure you’re given a rating out of 5 stars, (disclaimer - I’ve not got more than 3 stars). But the best thing about these games, as opposed to the Exit: The Game series, is that nothing is destroyed and you can freely give it to some friends to try or trade it away.

I see this screen a lot, taking a hint

There is a good mix of puzzles and different ways to use the app and cards in this box. I am continually amazed at the imagination of the designers of these games. There is one section in the Dragons’ seven tests where you’re instructed to work in two teams (hence its a 2-6 player range not the usual 1-6). Having said that, the solutions do start to feel a bit repetitive, after-all there’s only so much you can do with a single deck of cards. However, Mission #07 did stretch what was possible and has easily been my favourite Unlock mission so far.

When the cards are face down you can only see the next number in the stack. Seeing any number can be gamed a little bit and if the object combinations add up to a number seen in the stack then you could guess… Initially I was annoyed that the stack of cards was not in numerical order. So I spent the first 5 minutes arranging, however I quickly learnt that you're not supposed to do this. The OCD in me struggles not to reorder them, but doing so will give you an uncalled-for advantage and cause other issues. A benefit of not sorting them is that the new location cards visible objects often appear just on top of of the deck.

Cards which are answers to the puzzles will never be on top of the deck. You and your team will have to search the deck for the card number you think is the solution. The rules suggest splitting the searching between the players, which keeps everyone involved (not just the alpha who just has to handle the cards). Splitting the card search amongst the team gives more eyes the opportunity to see the backs of all the cards. Which will probably help to solve later riddles.

A lot of empty space

The only criticism I have of the components is the size of the box. There are three decks of cards and a few bits of paper. And a lot a wasted space taken up by the plastic insert. I wish publishers wouldn’t feel the need to make boxes that belie the size of the components.

Conclusion

I will always sit and play an Unlock game and will enjoy it but due to the constraints of a single deck of cards to contain the entire game, I think they are limited in what they can achieve. I would recommend any of the unlock games but I would suggest, and prefer, Kosmos' Exit: The Game series instead. You can get two of those for the price of one unlock. Which I think is a good trade. If you can get an unlock in a trade or play a friends copy then they’re definitely worth your time, if not your money.

I’d like to thank Asmodee for sending this review copy. Many local game stores will have Unlock games if not this one, although they may not be open currently. You can use this link http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/ to find and use their online store during this difficult time.

Designer: Cyril Demaegd
Bgg page: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/294612/unlock-epic-adventures
Play time: 60 minutes.
Players: 1 – 6 players

Overview [This is a spoiler-free review] Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game pits you against a pre-determined story where you and...

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

companion app

Overview
[This is a spoiler-free review]

Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game pits you against a pre-determined story where you and your gaming buddies uncover clues, deduce events and find evidence to prove your theories across 5 inter-linked cases.

The game is more structured than Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, coming with a board and some pieces to track the flow of time and abstractly, your location. Each case has a deck of mostly double-sided cards which may provide more leads for your investigators to follow and hopefully will gradually reveal the crime. Your decisions determine which cards i.e. evidence are revealed to you.



At the end of the game you must 'write' a final report. This consists of answering a number of multiple choice questions about the case which determine your final score. This is automatically done by the Antares Database, which is a major resource for finding case information, matching evidence and tracking your progress through the 5 cases.

Gameplay
A few years ago I remember there being much more of a fuss made when boardgames required the use of a companion app to play. I think those concerns have now either disappeared or succumbed to the onslaught of technology. This game doesn't provide an app as such but it does require an internet connection to access the Antares Database. It is also very useful to search online for the context of significant events and places that are revealed to you.



This hybrid use of real-world information and game information provides you with a real sense of being a police investigator and cleverly immerses you into the story that unfolds through each case.

Prior to starting play each player and the unused consultant investigators will pool their abilities which can be used once per day, these abilities often will allow you to 'dig deeper' or press someone in an interrogation. This may reveal a major plot point or be a dead-end, the decision of what to do is up to the players to discuss.  However, any decision to act upon the current card must be made before any other card or activity is done.  This provides a real sense of jeopardy to your decision; if you don't do it then you'll probably never know what could have been revealed.



When you do collectively decide to 'dig deeper' you often will read a new card or turn the relevant card over onto the back-side. As you progress through the case any cards you've read are kept out of the deck, these cards can be reviewed at any time however you're not allowed to read the back-side of cards unless you've been explicitly told to e.g. by digging deeper.  Those you're allowed to fully read are kept to the left of the board and those you can only partially read to the right.

Although this is nowhere near a legacy-style game, the cases are linked by a single story arc and the evidence and clues you find in earlier cases do affect later cases.  This is handled by the use of plot cards being added to later cases which are reviewed prior to starting the next case (if you've revealed any).


End of Case I

The rulebook recommends the use of mind-maps and white-boards to keep notes of important clues. I thought a piece of paper would be fine, I was wrong.  Keeping notes is a vital part of this game, and the notes from an earlier investigation will also help in later cases. This really helped me to feel part of a detective squad with the other players, normally I had just 1 other player with me but for the 4th and 5th cases I played with 3.

Unfortunately, if you've not played the earlier cases you're not going to feel as involved as the cases all build upon each other. However, the newcomer to the fourth case still enjoyed it and came back for the fifth case so it can be done but I would recommend, as does the rules, that you play the cases from 1 to 5 with the same group of people.



The final thing I want to say about the gameplay is that your actions all have a time cost associated with them. Revealing a new card often entails travelling to a new location on the board which always costs an hour and the card themselves have a variable time cost as well. This quickly eats into your work day which is tracked on the board and completing 3 or 4 actions in a day will necessitate overtime, tracked through stress tokens.

All of these gameplay elements are very simple, easy to understand and thematic. It's very easy to explain to others, in fact, I think the best explanation may be to just start playing, new players will quickly pick-up and take-over the mechanics as they're so well designed to stay out of the way as much as possible. This game is friendly to non-gamers as much as it is to gamers and although I've played it through, I'm keen to introduce it to some of my family who do not play games regularly.


Components
To show you how excellent the components are, the only criticism I have for them is that the 'evidence bags' the case cards are meant to fit into are very snug and could lead to damaged cards if you're not careful. The rest of the components are all top-notch.

The artwork across all the cards, boards and rule-books have a thematic CSI-feel to them. The rule-book and case-book are clear and well laid out. I had no issues with the story-writing (which has been raised in other forums) nor did I have any rules questions - it's a mechanically very simple game but the challenge is all in the story. 


Criticisms
You won't like this game if you're not comfortable reading in front of others. There is a fair bit of text to get through and each player, in my experience wanted to see the cards and read any text for themselves, not necessarily immediately, but on some decision points everyone wanted to read the text. This trait could/does slow down gameplay with more players.

It is a bit challenging to drop in and out of this game as a player; you realy should keep the same group of players together for 5 sessions to really get the most out of the game. My recommendation is that 1-3 players is the sweet spot.  I did play the first case as a solitaire experience to understand the gameplay before I replayed it with my friend and two heads are definitely better than one in this game.




Once you've played the game 5 times, you're done. You can't really recreate the same experience as you already know the answers or will be prompted to remember crucial plot points without investigating them. The severely constrains its replayability.


Conclusion
This is an excellent addition to the detective story-telling genre of games. I personally preferred it over Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective primarily because it is more structured in terms of gameplay and the hybrid mix of the database and internet-use really added to my sense of being an Antares Investigator. Although if you've got that earlier game as a frame of reference I would say that this is an easier game.

The value of this game easily matches the price of the box and I would readily recommend this game to anyone with a consistent but small group of players.

This game is crying out for expansions and I am pleased to see that there are expansions in the works. The first has already been announced by Portal Games involving 3 new cases, linked as the first 5 were, but as I understand it completely separate from the first 5.

I would like to thank the distributors for sending this game for a review.  

Publisher: Portal Games
Players: 1 - 5
Designer: Ignacy Trzewiczek
Playing Time: 90 minutes +
MSRP: $50
Best price at time of review: £33.99 delivered to UK

Star Wars: Imperial Assault (SW:IA) probably needs no introduction here, but Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) have just released a compani...

Star Wars: Imperial Assault and Legends of the Alliance Star Wars: Imperial Assault and Legends of the Alliance

For your Wargamer, Toy soldier collector, MiniFig collector, military history nut. Reviews, interviews, Model Making, AARs and books!

companion app



Star Wars: Imperial Assault (SW:IA) probably needs no introduction here, but Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) have just released a companion app that allows full cooperative rebel play against the app-driven Empire. This review will cover both the game and the brand new Legends of the Alliance app.

As with nearly all FFG games, this is dripping with theme. In fact, the theme makes this game stand out above all my other dungeon crawlers. If you enjoy the Star Wars universe then I feel pretty confident that you’ll enjoy this game. It really does feel like you’re playing as a small group of rebel operatives launching guerrilla raids on Empire outposts. The Story Starts just at the end of A New Hope with the remnants of the Death Star crashing down onto Yavin 4.
3rd Mission of the traditional campaign game.

SW:IA was released in 2014 and it is pretty much a re-skin of Descent 2nd Edition. If you know that game, this one will take you about 1 minute to grok the elegant line-of-sight rules and appreciate the subtle difference between the Overlord player (in Descent) and the Imperial player in this game. In my playgroup, it felt like there was a little less downtime between players.

The game can now be played in three different ways, the standard PvE-like (1 vs many) campaign game - which is where my jam is. The PvP skirmish game or now, thanks to the app, as a fully-cooperative (or solo campaign) game. In the UK the game has an RRP of £92.99 which hurts just a little bit. However, the app is free and it provides a completely different campaign for rebel players to play-through.
You get four rulebooks, count 'em four!
To get the best experience of this game I feel like you need to have a dedicated group of regular players that are also willing to spend the next dozen game sessions or so bashing through this campaign. My group weren’t willing to play this exclusively so we’re only about halfway through the main campaign and the side missions that are interspersed with the story missions. I have also played it in Skirmish Mode which is arguably the most popular mode and as of last week, I have played two missions in the app campaign.

The rules recommend that you also have someone familiar with the game to play as the Imperial player. There is hidden content revealed only to the Imperial player at the start of every campaign mission. As a rebel player, this is a great way to immerse yourself in an almost RPG-like experience. The hidden knowledge also provides a true sense of jeopardy and suspense, although that is tempered by the knowledge these missions have been thoroughly balanced to within an inch of their life to make them winnable by either side. I recommend that you have John Williams playing in the background to add atmosphere.

In my group, only 1 person had played this before, in fact, he owns the game and several expansions. I didn’t know this before picking Imperial Assault up as he is a new to my group, but he was perfect to give us a run for our money as the Imperial player. In our campaign, the rebels have won more than they’ve lost but if there was a consistent trend of one side winning then the game might become unwinnable for the losing side.

Your characters gain XP and access to new equipment and allies as they progress through the campaign. Unfortunately for those wanting to play as Luke or Han Solo they only appear as ‘allies’, appearing only to assist during particular missions. The Imperial player is not left without their own allies or ‘villains’, which may enter play as the rebels progress… There are a total of 12 ally and/or villain tokens in the base box. You can, of course, buy all the miniatures for these extra 12 characters but they’re not provided in the base box.
Some of the components... can you spot the AT-ST?

Worryingly, the base box does come with an AT-ST miniature which is one of the best core-game miniatures I’ve ever seen. It is solid plastic, or at least it feels solid, and it sits approximately 12 cm (or 4” ¾ for those used to old money). I say 'worryingly' because as a rebel player it’s not come out to play in our campaign yet and I feel like we’ll be woefully underpowered when it does. Maybe Chewbacca will come out to help us? Either way, as a player and Star Wars fan I’m excited about the experience and intrigued by the lure of expansions.

Of course, if you want to play with all the goodies straight away you can make up your own army in skirmish mode. Players (just two) will each take a side and build their army using a traditional point-based system. This is done in secret and before both of you know what the particular mission will be. The mission is decided after the players have finished army-building by drawing a card from the Skirmish Mission deck. This make’s an enjoyable and fair mission but for the wannabe-tactician in me, I would prefer to know what my mission is before building and outfitting my force. I’m absolutely fine not knowing the enemy disposition, but not knowing my mission before I select my forces does feel a bit strange.
Everything but the insert

The box and components are all glorious but I do have one niggle with the production. The stupid trench insert FFG insist on using in their big-box games. I didn’t mind it in SW: Rebellion (there were two trenches), I could fit everything back in ‘the trench’ in Mansions of Madness but in this, there is no way all of the terrain tiles, miniatures, tokens and card decks are going to fit back into the box. In the end, I just gave up and ditched the insert. I’m sure 80% of gamers will do the same. “Why bother FFG?” Please, either make the box smaller and ditch the insert, or the trench wider so that it can hold all the components that are in the box after it has been punched.

As you can see from the picture above, once you've ditched the waste-of-cardboard-insert, you have room for lots of expansions...
iOS Screenshot

I’ve only played two missions with the app, but that wasn’t without some teething issues. I should caveat this with I tried this in the very first week it was released so I fully expect the problems I experienced to be ironed out. I initially attempted to run it on stock Android, albeit quite an old version and it hung on the splash screen. The app does say that if this happens. you should restart your phone. After restarting I could never start a mission, so I switched to an iPad which had no problem with the app.

If you’ve played the Road to Legend app, (for Descent 2nd edition) you know what to expect here. Legends of the Alliance is a slick and highly-professional app that makes an already great game even better, by allowing for solo play and fully cooperative modes. This may not be of interest to you but in this free app, it adds a completely new dimension to the game. If you own IA and didn’t know about the app, do yourself a favour and try it out. I am loving it so far and can see myself completing the campaign in it before my group finishes our traditional campaign game.
Whoops!

Another benefit is that the app allows me to play a 2 player game with my son, who is just a bit young to fully control a group of rebels against his merciless father to enjoy it fully. With the app, we get to play together and in the Star Wars universe so it gets two thumbs up from him. Although there are far fewer faux-tortured breathy “... I am your Father!” quips. (He didn’t laugh the first time, I’m not expecting a laugh anytime soon, but I won't stop doing it).

Unlike the Descent app, I don't think the app changes the missions or encounters based on your collection yet. FFG has said that they will be implementing that soon as you expand your collection those additional figures and items will possibly turn up in the app-campaign. This is a great feature which provides a great reason to pick up the base game and some (affordable to you) expansions. However, I should mention and warn those of us who suffer from a completionist disorder that you’ll be spending the best part of £1200 to complete your Imperial Assault collection. Buyer game collector beware!
Shut up and take my money!

The game comes with the expected plethora of tokens and different card decks, when it is all out on the table it is a bit bewildering for new players but the basic rules take about 30 minutes to fully explain (if you've got an attentive group) and after half a dozen or so activations there will be very few rules that require look up.
So many card decks
FFG do an excellent job of writing their rules these days and SW: IA is no exception. The game comes with a basic rules book that consists of 5 pages of basic rules and 1 page of advanced rules. There is a separate Rules Reference Guide that contains every single rule in an a-z format. Each entry has a super useful ‘Related Topics...’ at the end which lead to other sections. I wish all publishers did this. You also get a short Skirmish guide and a much more extensive Campaign Guide rulebooks.
My own token storage solution

I love Star Wars and this game is a fantastic implementation of a great combat system in a universe I would like to visit. I’ve often wondered how good (and long) a grand-strategy and tactical game in the Star Wars universe could play out with all the different and individually excellent FFG Star Wars games we have today.

For example, you could play Star Wars: Rebellion as your over-arching strategy thread; Break out X-Wing the Miniatures Game or Star Wars Armada (I prefer X: TMG) to resolve the space battles; Then break out SW: IA to resolve any ground battles; While dressed in your finest Rebel fighter gear (of course).

If anyone is interested in a very long weekend of Star Wars gaming, full of theme music and tired jokes then let me know...maybe the day after watching the imminent Episode VIII - Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

You can pick up Star Wars Imperial Assault from nearly any Friendly Local Gaming Store and just in time for Christmas...

Amazing fact: FFG own 17 different Star Wars game titles, take that EA! (I have no idea how many current Star Wars games EA have released)
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