Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 7 March 2019

Thoughts from The Yellow Meeple:- Comanauts

Game: Comanauts

Publisher: Plaid Hat Games

Designer: Jerry Hawthorne

Year: 2019

Comanauts is an adventure book game from Plaid Hat Games and designer Jerry Hawthorne. Their first adventure book was Stuffed Fables, which was aimed at the family audience, but Comanauts is aimed at adults, with the main character trapped in a coma and exploring many dark themes through the story line. Mice and mystics is certainly the first in this line of games and it was a game that we tried, but found it too mechanics light and story heavy. As a result, we avoided Stuffed Fables, expecting the same from a family weight game.

However, with Comanauts, we were anticipating a game for adults, and we were hoping this meant both mechanically, as well as in terms of its theme. We love cooperative games, but story driven games don’t often grip us with their narrative alone. With that said, there is something about delving into someone’s past and their regrets and successes that is almost morbidly interesting. We’ve enjoyed Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr for similar reasons because it is interesting to get to know a person and their dark past, so long as the story is convincingly put together.

In Comanauts you encounter Dr Martin Strobal, inventor of the Mobius Ring, lying in a coma. You play as a team of Comanauts, exploring Martin’s subconscious to locate the demons who are haunting him. The different locations in Martin’s memories can be found in the pages of the adventure book and are each associated with a different emotion, as well as a different significant time or event in his life. Each game your goal is to identify and overcome an unknown ID, or Inner Demon.

In a single scenario, which can be played standalone or as part of a campaign, you will be dropped off in one zone of Martin’s subconscious and will explore that zone until you begin to find clues as to the identity of the Inner Demon. Clues are given as a little snippet of story and based on this narrative you will start to get a sense of where you need to travel to next in order to bring about the end-game encounter. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find a discarded item that allows you to travel to a different area immediately, but at other times you’ll need to persevere and complete one zone before moving to the next. This certainly means that there is a chance that you’ll have to grind through at least one zone, if not more before identifying where you actually need to be. This process takes a lot of time, depletes your health and in one of the biggest flaws in the game, means that you’re playing through scenarios that you’re not supposed to see right now, thus spoiling some of the surprises you might see in future gaming sessions. In our sessions we chose to deliberately stack the location/emotion deck to ensure that there was no risk of replay, but over the full campaign it will be inevitable.

Comanauts is a long game. With two players, we've been playing for about 2 hours per session and in general I feel like we've got quite lucky and played on the short side. There are some 2 hour board games that fly by, because you're fully engrossed in the experience, but Comanauts is not one of them! Overall I would say that we spent about 40% of the time at the table doing things and the rest of the time was downtime - that's before even factoring in that you have downtime on other players turns. The main contributor here is fiddliness. Each page has quite a lot of setup, plus reading through the narrative. You need to find all of the correct standees and all of the correct tokens, plus you need to familiarise yourself with what each token does, which might be different from the last time you encountered that token or that type of mechanism. The variety is great, because at least things aren't predictable, but setting up all of the pieces, only for Amy to knock out all of the enemies in a single blow with a 'Huge Club', then to clear up all the pieces and turn the page, is not a good fun:admin ratio. 

For a non-narrative focused gamer, my opinion is that the story seems quite strong and it does have some emotional depth. It’s just not enough to keep me at the table for a 2-3 hour gaming sessions, dealing with fiddly tokens and grinding through some content that I don’t really want to see right now. For someone like me, who doesn’t immediately identify the emotions of others, it felt like a bit of a puzzle, whilst Amy seemed to know where we should go based on the first clue every time, which might have made her more impatient to move on.

I think that we generally got quite lucky in our game of Comanauts, but the dice mechanics could certainly be accused of being luck, piled on top of luck. If you're invested in the story, then who cares, but if your a mechanisms focused gamer, looking for a new and exciting cooperative experience then this might not inspire you. The dice in your bag never change, which seems like a missed opportunity - you draw at random, possibly not drawing anything you need. Then you roll your dice and you might get a bad roll. There are tokens that can be used for re-rolls and your player character might have a dice modification, but in general it's a lot of luck. One session ended really disappointingly for us after 10 or so consecutive rolls against the same boss.

More than being a game, I feel like Comonauts is an experience and it is one that I kind of enjoyed because of the theming and the discoveries along the way. However, in terms of experience, I was expecting a lot more, both in terms of its price point and by comparison to it's predecessor Stuffed Fables. Although the art is fantastic and very imaginative, even the 'bad guy' characters have repeated art and are inspiringly named things like 'Cowboy 1' and 'Cowboy 2'. Based on the fantastic minis in Stuffed Fables, I was kind of expecting minis in Comanauts too, and it would've been great, even to just have the IDs as minis.

Comanauts is definitely a game to tr before you buy. I think it has a niche market with people who love narrative games and want to engage with the theme. I glad I had the experience, but I don't need to extend that to a full campaign and there's a lot more exciting and innovative co-op games that I could fit into the same timeframe to have a better experience. For the Yellow Meeple, Comanauts is a 6/10.

Comanauts was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £67.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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