Too Many Bones (Chip Theory Games, 2017)

Basic details: 1-4 players; 60-240 minutes; cooperative; quasi-automa solo mode (have to control Baddies, which in fairness you would also have to do in a multiplayer game)

Dates played: May 25 & 27, 2021

Gist of the game: Strap in everyone. There’s a lot going on in this game.

You are a creature known as a Gearloc, tasked with successfully fighting a Tyrant within a specified number of days. You will work together with your fellow Gearlocs in the battles leading up to the Tyrant showdown, as well as in that battle, to rid the area of villains and make it safe for Gearlocdom.

To set up the game, choose a Gearloc and take their associated character mat, chip, health chips, reference sheet, and dice and place them in front of you. Place the battle mat in the center of the table, along with the lane marker chips, relevant Baddie chips (depends on Tyrant) sorted by point value, and health chips (above the battle mat) as well as the attack dice, defense dice, effect dice, and regular D6 (below the battle mat). The counter die for rounds is placed at the top of the initiative meter on the battle mat and is set to R1 (for the first round of battle). Select a tyrant and take its card, chip, and possible die and place them to the left of the battle mat. The day counter card and chip are placed immediately below the Tyrant card/chip.

Take the Tyrant Encounter cards and shuffle them in with a number of Encounter cards equal to the number of days indicated on the Tyrant card minus 3. Set this Encounter deck below the day counter card to the left of the battle mat. Place the Special Encounter cards 1-3 on top of the Encounter deck.

Loot and Trove Loot cards get shuffled separately to create 2 decks, placed facedown to the right of the battle mat. The 4 lockpicking dice for Trove Loot are placed nearby.

Baddies are sorted by type and selected for a particular game based on the types indicated on the Tyrant card. Baddies are stacked by point value into separate piles.

For the Gearlocs, place dice as appropriate in the skills area of their mat based on the skills they begin the game with (indicated on their reference sheet).

The game proceeds over a series of days. Each day consists of 4 phases. In the first phase, players advance the day counter 1 day (starting with day 2). Next, players draw an Encounter card. If the Gearlocs have accumulated enough progress points to be able to challenge the Tyrant, they can do that instead of drawing a new Encounter card. Players resolve the Encounter card, either making a choice and attempting to complete it, or otherwise carrying out the instructions on the back of the card. If they are successful, they proceed to the reward phase. If they are unsuccessful, they instead proceed directly to the recovery phase.

In the reward phase, players gain all the relevant rewards pertinent to their choice as well as any rewards that are general to the Encounter. Any rewarded Loot and Trove Loot cards are drawn. Any training points rewarded are used. Any progress points that are rewarded are placed with the number of points visible under the Tyrant card.

In the recovery phase, players may swap any Loot amongst themselves, or discard any unwanted loot. Players then make a lockpicking attempt on one locked Trove Loot. Finally, players choose one of 3 individual actions to perform: a) heal to full HP; b) discard 1 (Trove) Loot and roll 6 attack dice. For each bones symbol rolled, the player reveals a Loot card, choosing 1 overall to keep. The player must discard a card in order to search for more Loot; if they roll no bones, they cannot reclaim the discarded card; c) roll a D6 and reveal the appropriate Baddies: 1 pt Baddies for rolls of 1-3; 5 pt Baddies for rolls of 4-5; and a 20 pt Baddie for a roll of 6. When revealed, Baddies are replaced face up in their original position in the stack or flipped face down and placed on the bottom of the stack.

Encounters function as days, with each day revealing a new Encounter card. The front of the card describes the Encounter, and the back of the card provides a list of (up to 2) choices and the effects of those choices and the effects of those choices on the Encounter, as well as the rewards that can be gained from a successful Encounter. Players must collectively choose 1 choice, which will result in either a peaceful outcome or a battle. Choices must be successfully completed in order to earn rewards. Rewards specific to the choice are listed alongside the choice. Rewards general to the Encounter are listed at the bottom of the card. General rewards may include progress points, training points, Loot, and Trove Loot.

Peaceful outcomes are automatically successful unless otherwise specified. A battle is successful if at least 1 Gearloc remains conscious after all Baddies have been defeated.

There are 3 types of Encounters: Special Encounters, which are added to the Encounter deck only when specifically instructed, either during set-up or by another Encounter; Tyrant Encounters which depend on the Tyrant selected; and regular encounters, with different sets for solo games and games with at least 2 players.

Each Gearloc has an associated mat, which contains a significant amount of information as well as a landing place for dice during the game. Mats have 8 areas: 1) stat area; 2) exhausted dice area; 3) prep area; 4) skills area; 5) Backup Plan row; 6) active slots; 7) locked slots, and 8) loot.

The stat area contains basic information about the Gearloc: a) health points; b) dexterity; c) attack strength; d) defensive strength; e) type of attack (melee, ranged, or melee-ranged). Gearlocs have starting stats that are then augmented by dice through training attempts. The starting stat value + die value = maximum stat at any given time. A training point grants a player a training attempt; if the attempt is successful, the die increases by 1. Die values cannot exceed 6.

Health points (HP) indicate the number of health chips under the Gearloc. The maximum health stat cannot be exceeded, and losing all HP means the Gearloc is knocked out. An HP training attempt will always succeed. Dexterity indicates the maximum number of dice a player can roll during their turn (combination of attack dice, defense dice, and skill dice). Dexterity can alos be spent to move Gearlocs on the battle mat, which then subtracts from the number of dice that may be rolled during the turn. A dexterity training attempt also always succeeds. An attack consists of rolling the designated number of dice (with sword faces!) to deal damage to a Baddie or Tyrant. The attack stat is the maximum number of dice that may be rolled during a turn (and attack dice are not exhausted when used, meaning they can be used turn after turn within the same battle). In battle, each attack die costs 1 dexterity. A single target for the attack must be declared before the dice are rolled. Each sword face rolled deals that much damage (either 1 or 2) to the villain. Each bones face that is rolled may be used in the Backup Plan row and does not decrease the number of attack dice available in future turns. An attack training attempt requires players to roll a number of dice equal to their attack stat. If no bones faces are rolled, the training is successful and the attack stat is increased by 1. If any bones faces are rolled, the training is unsuccessful, but the training point gained from the attempt may be spent on another stat. The defense stat indicates the number of defense dice (with shield faces!) that may be rolled during a turn (and defense dice are not exhausted when used). In battle, each defense die costs 1 dexterity. Each rolled shield face may be placed in the active slots, and the number of shield points in the active slots is the amount of damage prevented. Shield points are then decreased by the amount of damage. Defense dice must be used for all damage (except “true damage,” which bypasses defenses) before HP are reduced. Each bones face rolled may be placed in the Backup Plan row (and doesn’t decrease the number of defense dice available in later turns). For a defense training attempt, players roll a number of dice equal to their defense stat. Any bones faces are re-rolled once. If there are no bones faces after the second roll, the training attempt is successful and the defense stat is increased by 1. If the training attempt is unsuccessful, the defense stat is not changed but the training point gained may be used elsewhere.

Gearlocs also have special skills, labelled as innate on their mat. These skills may be used throughout the game. The innate skill can be upgraded by using 6 dice with bones faces from the Backup Plan row. Upgrades last for the remainder of the game. Once the innate skill is upgraded, the Gearloc’s chip is flipped so the star side is up.

The attack type indicates where on the battle mat the Gearloc will be initially placed and whether/in what manner they will move once placed.

The exhausted dice area on the Gearloc mat is where skills dice are placed once they have been used in battle. Exhausted dice remain exhausted for the remainder of the current battle and become unexhausted once the current battle ends. Baddies may force attack or defense dice to become exhausted, which does decrease the number of such dice available for use in future turns in that battle.

The picture of the Gearloc on the mat is also the prep area. The Gearloc chip will be placed here while not in battle, as will any Buff HP and some skills that are being staged prior to use.

The skills area of the Gearloc mat is a 4×4 grid where dice can be placed. At the beginning of the game, skills the Gearloc starts the game with are placed on the mat and the remainder of the 16 skills dice are kept in their storage tray. Skills are learned through the use of training points. When a skill is trained/unlocked, it is placed in the correct slot of the skill area. The specific die face showing does not matter in most cases, as the die will be rolled when used in battle. Skills can be used once per battle unless otherwise noted. Rolling a skill die does not mean that die must be used. After being used, the skill die is exhausted. Once trained/unlocked, a skill can be used throughout the game. Applying damage to Baddies via a skill die does not constitute an attack. Each face of a skill die has a specific function, and the icon also indicates where on the mat the die should be placed after being rolled (e.g., locked or active). A skill training attempt is always successful.

Each Gearloc possesses collections of skills that group together into a profession, listed in the stat area of the mat. These skills are linked together with lines and/or arrows in the skills area. Skills with a star next to them are always available for training. Other skills, with no star, must be learned in order, reliant on previous skills. There are also some skills, called consumables, that cannot be gained via training and require loot or Backup Plans to unlock. When a consumable die is acquired, that die is placed in the skills area unless instructed otherwise. Once a consumable die is used, it is not exhausted, but instead placed back in the storage tray.

The Backup Skill row can hold up to 5 bone faced dice and can be used to gain skills. Bone faces are “failed” rolls on the various dice. When used to execute a Backup Plan, attack and defense bone faced dice are removed from the row while skill bone faced dice are exhausted. Any bone face dice rolled by the player can be placed in the Backup Plan row. Dice are placed and used in order from left to right/ Bone faced dice remain in the Backup Plan until used, or at the end of a battle, or if the Gearloc is knocked out. To upgrade the innate skill, a 6th bone face will temporarily be placed in the Backup Plan row next to the 5th slot.

In the active slots, players place the defense and skill dice they roll. Active dice remain in those slots until used, or until the end of the battle, or the Gearloc is knocked out. Skill dice in the active slots are exhausted when used unless otherwise noted. In the locked slots, locked skill dice are placed, and remain in the locked slots from battle to battle until used or if a Gearloc is knocked out. Skill dice from these slots are exhausted when used.

Finally, the Loot area of the Gearloc mat is where players place loot or Trove Loot that their Gearloc has gained. Gearlocs can hold up to 4 pieces of (Trove) Loot. Locked Trove Loot always takes 1 space, while unlocked Trove Loot and regular Loot may take up more than 1 space.

Baddies are the workhorse opposition encountered during the game. Baddies are represented by chips, which contain a variety of information: a) HP; b) initiative (their starting position in the initiative meter on the battle mat during a battle); c) attack style (ranged or melee); e) number of defense dice they roll; f) number of attack dice they roll; g) skills; h) Backup Plan skills (used if the Baddie rolls at least 1 bone face); i) which Gearloc is targeted in case multiple Gearlocs are equidistant from melee Baddies or the type of target for ranged Baddies (either the strongest or weakest applicable Gearloc); j) whether the Baddie draws additional 5 point Baddies into the battle queue; k) whether the Baddie can move diagonally and, on the back of the chip; l) the point value of the Baddie.

Beating the chosen Tyrant is the ultimate goal of the game. Tyrants have both a card and a chip (that operates like a regular Baddie during the final battle). Tyrant cards provide information about what types of Baddies are used in that particular game, the number of progress points needed to challenge the Tyrant, and the day number by which the Tyrant needs to be defeated. The Tyrant card also serves as the Encounter card for the day in which you challenge the Tyrant. A failed tyrant battle functions as a failed Encounter battle, but can be tried again if there are days left to do so. Some tyrants also have a special die that is rolled alongside the attack and defense dice. There are also additional Tyrant Encounter cards that get shuffled into the Encounter deck.

Battles occur on the battle mat. Like the Gearloc mat, the battle mat has a few different areas. The initiative meter tracks the round of battle (using the round-counter die) and the order in which Gearlocs and Baddies take turns. After Round 5, all actors on the battle mat lose 1 HP at the start of each round (this damage cannot be defended against). Baddie chips reveal their initiative level, which is represented in the initiative meter by the die corresponding to the lane number of the Baddie. There are 4 lanes total, each with spots for ranged and melee Baddies. Baddie and Gearloc order is determined in descending order, with the highest initiative levels going earlier in the round. Players roll their Gearloc’s initiative die and place them in order in the initiative meter. When Gearlocs are involved in a tie, players decide what specific turn order each involved actor will go in. If Baddies are tied, they are placed in order of Lane number (e.g., a 6 Initiative Lane 1 Baddie is placed above a 6 initiative Lane 2 Baddie). After the first round of battle, the starting initiative placements may no longer be relevant, as skills can modify the order of dice in the initiative meter. Actors who enter the battle mat after the first round always begin in the first or last position of the initiative meter. All late-coming Gearlocs, Tyrants, and 20 point Baddies enter at the top of the meter, with their specific initiative value disregarded. All late-coming 1 and 5 point Baddies enter in the bottom position. Actors whose initiatives were changed during the round will change places only after the round ends.

The battle mat has 8 colors circles where Baddies are placed: 2 spots per lane, for attack styles of ranged and melee. Lanes are filled in ascending number order (lane 1 is not the left-most lane). The chip for the lane number a Baddie enters on is placed under the Baddie, as they may change lanes during battle. There are also 8 grey circles where Gearlocs are placed based on their attack style. Gearlocs can be placed in any lane with up to 2 Gearlocs per lane.

Unless otherwise noted, actors can only move to orthogonally adjacent spaces, and cannot move through spaces with other actors or be in the same space as another actor.

To set up a battle, a battle queue populated with Baddies is created. Baddies are taken from the active stacks (stacks of appropriately typed Baddies). Except for any Baddies that have been revealed and are face up through scouting during the recovery phase, the battle queue is created face down. Higher value Baddies are placed on top of lower value Baddies. Encounter cards specify the number of Baddie points players will need to encounter, and is often equal to the number of Gearlocs multiplied by the day number. Baddies are selected so that the highest possible value Baddies are used (e.g., for 26 Baddie points, a 20 point Baddie, a 5 point Baddie, and a 1 point Baddie are used, rather than other combinations like five 5 point Baddies and a 1 point Baddie).

Before building the battle queue, “before battle” effects and skills are triggered. After building the queue, populating the battle mat, and setting the initiative meter, “start of battle” effects and skills are triggered. During battle, if there are more than 4 Baddies in the queue, later Baddies are placed in the lane of the Baddie that has just been defeated and removed from the mat.

In battle, Gearlocs proceed as follows: each turn, if a melee Gearloc wants to move, it uses x dexterity to move orthogonally x spaces and attacks an adjacent Baddie. Ranged Gearlocs can spend x dexterity to move orthogonally x spaces and target a Baddie anywhere on the mat. There are no line of sight requirements. Unless otherwise noted, Loot can be used at any point during a Gearloc’s turn. To start their battle turn, a player triggers an effect dice that have been placed on top of their Gearloc chip. Then the Gearloc moves. After moving, a target Baddie is chosen for battle. The player then chooses which and how many dice to roll, rolls all dice simultaneously, and resolves the roll by performing the following actions in any order: a) resolve target damage and effects; b) resolve non-target damage and effects; c) allocate active, locked, and Backup Plan dice; and d) use Backup Plan dice. After the dice have been resolved, any Baddie skills that have been triggered are performed. After this, the Gearloc’s turn is over.

For Baddies, skills will trigger at specific times during the battle, depending on the skill. Ranged Baddies do not move and can attack any Gearloc, regardless of location. Melee Baddies can move orthogonally up to 2 places per turn, always toward the closest Gearloc. If 2 Gearlocs are equidistant, the Baddie chip indicates whether the Baddie will move toward the strongest or weakest Gearloc. To start a Baddie’s battle turn, start of turn effects trigger and any applicable dice on the Baddie chip are resolved. The target is determined, at which point the Baddie moves. Any skills without specified times trigger, and then the Baddie’s attack and inactive defense dice are rolled. The dice are resolved, starting with defense, then attack, then bone faces, then lastly the Tyrant die. The Gearlocs react, and the Baddie’s turn is over.

If a Gearloc is knocked out, the Gearloc’s chip and initiative die are removed from the battle mat and placed in the prep area of their Gearloc mat. All dice in the active slots, locked slots, and Backup Plan are removed, with the skills dice becoming exhausted. Loot remains, but is unusable while unconscious. If all Gearlocs are knocked out, the battle immediately ends, and players proceed to the recovery phase for the day. After an unsuccessful battle, any undefeated Baddies are placed facedown at the bottom of their respective active stacks.

If a battle is successful (ends with at least 1 conscious Gearloc), all dice from all Gearloc’s active slots and Backup Plan row are removed. Locked dice can stay. All exhausted skill dice are placed back in the skill area of the Gearloc mat. Any Buff HP are removed. All Gearlocs, with their stack of remaining HP, are moved to the prep area of their mats. Players proceed to the reward phase of the day.

After successful battles, players will likely receive Loot and perhaps also Trove Loot. Trove Loot will need to be lockpicked to be usable. There are 4 lockpicking dice, and each Gearloc will have one attempt per day during the recovery phase to pick the lock on Trove Loot. Partially unlocked Trove Loot will remain so, giving players a jump start on the next turn.

The difficulty of the game can be adjusted by manipulating Gearlocs’ HP stat, training points, and knockout effects as specified in the rule book.

Color commentary: I may have done this to myself somewhat by buying everything associated with the game and then mixing everything together (which is fine, in theory, because everything is compatible) before trying the base game by itself before adding more components. That said, I ended up playing with at least one Gearloc that was not included in the base game, and had to be bought separately as an expansion, and that was the Gearloc I liked best, so maybe it was a wash.

In the first game, my Gearloc was Nugget and the Tyrant was Kolossum. I lost, pretty badly. I succeeded on the first 3 special Encounters, which seem to be meant to gently ease you into the game, and earned 4 of the necessary 5 progress points that way. But then I lost every encounter after that.

I think I did a lot of things incorrectly, though I also lost track of what those things might have been. I had to keep referring to the rule book and reference guides (both for the Gearloc and the general reference guide) to figure out what specific symbols means, or what a particular Baddie skill meant. Not having anything feel intuitive was frustrating, and while the Baddie skills and flow of combat might be easier to remember with repeated plays, having to look everything up discourages me from playing again because I’m spending so much time away from the actual game trying to figure out how to play the game.

Per previous habits, it was really hard for me to remember to adjust the counters, especially the round-counter during battles, which was especially bad because some Encounters require actions during particular combat rounds. And I’m not sure hot to make myself better at this, honestly, since it’s been a perennial problem.

The battle lanes not being in numerical order from left to right was hard for me to get used to, and it’s not clear why they couldn’t be, since everything was pretty much determined by initiative, anyway. It was just one more thing that didn’t feel intuitive. I also struggled with the initiative thing, and keeping track of who was taking a turn when, but some of that is probably just lack of experience with traditional RPGs like D&D, where these things are routine. If only I had been cool enough to plan D&D in my youth!

My tl;dr first game impression is that I did a lot of things wrong. In combat that may or may not have hurt me, I honestly don’t know. There’s an overwhelming amount of stuff to keep track of and I never felt like the game flowed from one action to the next – there was always something to look up or check or verify. Also, if you’ve been losing encounters in the early days of the game, you’re pretty much doomed during later days, since you’re missing out on training attempts and Loot that you would acquire through victories, which is basically what happened to me. It seems like once you lose an Encounter you’re pretty much doomed because you’re facing increasing numbers and/or strength Baddies without any prior gains to help boost your chances.

It was hard for me to know what to train for and in what order, because a lot of the skills seemed generally useless. Granted, this was also mostly moot because I kept losing encounters, and so didn’t get to train/unlock much of anything. But I also honestly don’t know what I should have focused on if I had been given the opportunity – attack, defense, or skills, and if skills, which ones?

For the second game, I made myself a one-sided reference sheet that had all the Baddie effect information, plus reminders about battle turn orders, and the flow of the game in general. That helped a lot, and even though I had to hold the sheet close to my face because it was in 6-8 point font, knowing where all the information was on the sheet was really helpful, and I didn’t have to keep flipping it over and back to try to find what I was looking for. So the reference sheet was a success. I didn’t really like the Gearloc I used in the first game, so I tried Duster in this one, but kept Kollosum as the Tyrant because he was designed for a relatively short game, which is nice while I try to get the hang of things. Duster was nice because she seemed to have more combat-useful skills, plus a companion wolf who could fight Baddies, which was a much needed and appreciated boost in battle. I also definitely messed up using dexterity points to move, although in my defense Baddies largely came to me without my having to really seek them out. I also feel like I might have forgotten to implement a couple Baddie skills because I was piling them high with defense dice, though I’m also thinking they just would have maintained their single defense die if they didn’t need it, rather than rolling a new one each time. So that mistake definitely made things harder on me, because they were up to like 7 points of defense or whatever and were thus basically untouchable except through a skill that I rolled really lucky on that dealt them True Damage each turn, which they couldn’t defend against. So I think I won this game, which did make it more enjoyable, though I still made some mistakes. And even though it was more fun, still having to constantly reference what Gearloc dice icons meant and what Baddie skills did still made things feel tedious. The other parts of the game (Encounter, battle, reward, recovery cycle) required less referencing this time. Perhaps the key is to always play with the same Gearloc (and maybe Tyrant) until you can remember what everything means without having to check? But with 16 skills dice per Gearloc, it seems like it would require a lot of regular playing to get everything to stick. And that would also take away from some of the excitement and enjoyment that variety usually brings.

Since I bought basically everything for the game, I have a material interest in enjoying the game, and I think I’m going to play it a few more times before making a final judgment, but I will say that I wasn’t immediately dazzled by the game the way a lot of reviewers seem to have been. I don’t know if I’m not a sophisticated enough gamer or what, but the times that felt like a grind seemed to vastly outnumber the times that felt like I had a handle on what was happening and I was able to develop a rhythm.

Thoughts M might have had if he had played: The components of this game are fantastic: approximately 9 million dice and weighted poker-style chips that you get to stack together. The actual game, though is not just too many bones, it’s too many everything. Too many different dice faces with non-intuitive symbols to keep track of. With all the expansions, too many Baddie chips to sort through to identify the correct ones, too many Tyrants to choose from, too many possible Encounters. Just. Too. Much. I can’t really envision myself playing this game based on the description here and the brief moments I was able to watch Petra playing. Not that I’m inclined to play solo games anyway, but I would definitely not play this one solo, as I think it would be too overwhelming to try to track everything. I suppose if Petra promised to be what amounted to a game manager and make sure everything proceeded in an orderly fashion, I might enjoy choosing which combinations of dice to use to try to optimize my attacks and defense, but it would be because she really wanted me to, and not because I really wanted to.

Petra rating: 6/10
M rating: 2/10

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