Set a Watch (Rock Manor Games, 2019)

Date played: April 25, 2021

Basic details: 1-4 players; 60 minutes; cooperative

Gist of the game: A group of adventurers, having recently slain a dreaded monster, are now confronted by the possible reincarnation of that monster. The adventurers must visit the various locations where this reincarnation might occur and defeat any ancillary monsters as well as any respawned hellbeings and prevent the whole world from being traumatized by the creatures.

Players play as one or more adventurers (there are always 4 adventurers regardless of player count) trying to stop all of this from happening. On the way to any location, 3 of the 4 adventurers will go to fight while the remaining adventurer stays at camp and attends to tasks to help the group out. [Note from M: or maybe they’re worthless layabouts. It is hard to keep track of them when you are in a battle for your very survival.]

There are 6 possible adventurers (I think the Kickstarter edition has 8, because that’s what our package had, although the instruction manual refers to there only being 6) and 4 are selected for any given game. Each adventurer has a player board and 5 ability cards unique to them. Each adventurer will battle using either 6- or 8-sided dice.

A creature deck with at least 1 Summon card is created, with the difficulty level of the game flexible and based on the number of Summon cards in the deck. Summon cards spawn an Unhallowed Creature, which tend to be a bit more powerful, so the more Summon cards, the more Unhallowed Creatures, the harder the game. A location deck is also prepared, with 8 regular locations plus a final location. The remaining locations are set aside as an unused locations deck which may be utilized using some Camp actions.

At the start of each round (9 rounds total), adventurers will roll their dice and determine who is going to remain in the camp and who is going to go off adventuring (“on watch”). The adventurer in camp can allocate their 3 dice in some combination to chop wood (increase the number of monsters revealed at a time); scout ahead (draw and rearrange the top two cards in the creature deck, which might include putting the creatures at the bottom of the deck); check map (die value of 4 or more) (draw a card from the locations deck and unused locations deck, placing one on the top of the locations deck and the other at the bottom of the unused locations deck); heal (die value of 6) (refresh 1 exhausted ability of any adventurer); or equip (swap one of the player’s ability cards with one of their unused ability cards). Adventurers also refresh an ability of their choice upon entering camp. Each adventurer also has a special task they can perform at camp using a die of any value. Each adventurer will go to camp twice during the game.

In the Watch phase, the current location card indicates how to adjust the campfire (and how many creatures are revealed at a time) and how many creatures will be dealt initially. That many creatures are drawn from the creature deck and placed in a line near the board. The appropriate number of creatures are revealed. Creature abilities are resolved in order based on any “reveal” conditions or “first position” conditions, depending on the card and the placement of the creature in the line. Players use their dice and abilities to combat and defeat the creatures.

Each creature has a value that must be reached or exceeded to defeat it. If defeated, the monster is placed in the graveyard. If, by the end of the round, there are undefeated creatures, cards are exhausted based on the damage dealt by the creatures and they are placed in a pile called the Horde, where they will wait to reappear at the final location. Once dice values have been assigned to defeat creatures, they cannot be reused, and the value of a single die cannot ordinarily be split between multiple creatures. Adventurers may also use an ability card. Players can allocate a die to an ability card to activate it (once per round) and/or exhaust it by using that ability a second time or for a first time without allocating a die. An adventurer cannot participate in combat if all their ability cards are exhausted at the start of a round, and should perhaps be sent to camp instead, if possible.

Once the line of creatures is clear (through defeat or placement in the Horde) and if the adventurers are not all exhausted, the round was completed successfully. In the final round, all adventurers go on watch; no one stays at camp. Creatures are added to the line as usual and then the Horde is placed face down at the end of the line without being shuffled (an Unhallowed creature will be the last card revealed). During the last round, monsters may be placed in a new Horde. Adventurers can win without defeating all the monsters in the final location so as one adventurer has one ability card left unexhausted after creature damage is dealt.

Players win by completing all rounds. Players lose if all players on watch become completely exhausted by the end of a round or if a Summon card is revealed and the Unhallowed deck is empty.

Color commentary: We tried, valiantly, to fight the horrid creatures (and not-so-horrid-but-still-mean forest creatures). I think we became exhausted in the 5th round following the activation of a Summon card and the invocation of an Unhallowed creature. I’m torn on how this game would work best: I feel like either as a solo game, where one player then controls everything, or as a 4-player game, where each player is only responsible for one adventurer. It’s fully cooperative, so table talk and open coordination is fine and allowed, but playing with 2 players still seemed like it made it more complicated to keep everything straight. I also wonder if playing exclusively with melee or ranged adventurers would make a difference, as it was also sometimes difficult to keep track of which dice could be allocated to which creature in the line based on who could attack just the monster in the first position and who could also attack the monster in the second position. Having the option of both created some interesting strategies, as some creatures have especially unpleasant first position effects, while others sometimes take the value of defeated monsters into their own health value, making it possible that you won’t want to just defeat the monsters in order straight down the line.

It was a kind of fun RPG-esque experience, though, which let you get some combat in that didn’t involve attacking another player but that also didn’t require a dungeon master, so that perhaps if you find yourself in a semi-new town in a pandemic without having yet had the opportunity to make any friends, and if your dwelling is too small to accommodate the presence of any friends even if they existed, you could enjoy the experience without all the pesky logistics of friends and space.

I thought that incorporating the box into game play as a partial board was interesting, though it would have been more convenient to have a playmat or something that provided a space for everything, instead of having some things nicely regimented and other things laid around the table as space allowed (which, admittedly, will differ based on table size, how many Lego creations are on the table, etc.), especially the game did take up a fair amount of space for being in such a compact box.

It also occurs to me, as M and I were discussing the game some more while he was reading through this post, that if the goal is to have fun, and winning makes the game more fun, there wouldn’t really be any barriers to simply adding more adventurers. The only real impediments would be managing to keep track of them all, recognizing that not everyone will get to camp twice (unless you wanted more rounds, though I don’t know if that would completely offset the more adventurers, since it would be that many more creatures overall, and the fact that the game already doesn’t come with enough dice for the Kickstarter edition, with only 3 sets of each kind of dice. The dice problem, at least, is easily overcome, and the others could probably be manageable if you were playing with several players and each only had to keep track of 2, as opposed to 1 player keeping track of 6 or 8 or even 2 players keeping track of 3 adventurers each, since, as I noted above, 2 sometimes proved to be a challenge.

Thoughts from M: This might be a fun game, but I would have to play it multiple times to find out, and I am not sure I want to do that after playing it once. (Note from Petra: M has since been informed that we have backed the sequel on Kickstarter based on rave reviews, increasing the likelihood that we play again to see if we’ll want to keep the sequel).

M rating: 3/10

Petra rating: 5/10

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