The Reckoners (2018) review
Designer: Seth Van Orden, Brett Sobol
Artist: Noah Adelman, Miguel Coimbra, Ian O'Toole
Publisher: Nauvoo Games
ages 13 and up
Written by Guilou
In the beginning, there was a series of books. The Reckoners is a trilogy of novels written by American author Brandon Sanderson. Steelheart (2013), Firefight (2015) and Calamity (2016) are the names of his three works. There is also a short story called Mitosis that takes place between the first and the second volume. I can only advise to you to read this very good trilogy. Sanderson has some fun with superheroes and turns them into our biggest fears.
But why am I talking about this series of books? The reason is simple, besides the fact that an adaptation is planned for the cinema, a game in this universe has also been published. The Reckoners received funding on Kickstarter and was released in 2018 by Nauvoo Games. The story of the game takes place during the first volume of the trilogy. David joined the Reckoners and they fight together against Steelheart and his underlings.
The game is playable from 1 to 6 players. You will have the opportunity to play David, Megan, Abraham, Tia, Cody and Prof. Each character has their own ability and their own dice. Once you have made your choice, you will take three special dice (which correspond to your color) and three generic dice. The difference between the dice types comes from the dice faces. For example, Abraham will favor the direct attack on the Epics, Tia will have more search symbols, etc. Armed with your six dice, you will be able to go on a mission to save the people of Newcago.
There is not really a central game board. The available areas are represented as District Trays where you will find all the data relating to the Epic’s defending (life points, research points needed to find Epic weaknesses, power points...). There is also a small place available to place the miniatures that are currently in this area. You have at your disposal no less than thirty Epics all different. Steelheart has his own tray with his own abilities (we will come back to this later).
Once the setup is completed, it is the turn of the heroes. There are not really any player turns. Everyone is free to perform their actions whenever he wants. But beware, the game is hard, very hard. Cooperating and reacting according to your teammates is essential. The slightest mistake can be fatal. The dice system is pretty simple. You will be entitled to three throws. At each roll, you will have to block at least one die. You will not be able to reroll it. Once all dice are locked, you move to the resolution of the symbols. As previously explained, there is no turn order. Players must agree to perform their actions effectively. A player can play a dice and then another player plays thiers, going back to the first one. If you're not used to it, it can be disturbing, but it is effective in the balance of actions.
Except in special cases, each player can only influence the area of the city where they are. Among the possible actions, you will be able to:
In addition to these actions, you can also sacrifice a die to influence neighborhoods where you are not present:
As in the book, all Epics have their own ability. Some are invincible ... unless you can find their weaknesses. Every Epic has a weakness. The action Search allows you to advance on the associated track. Once this is complete, the Epic becomes vulnerable. The choice is yours to go in mode "nag" (faster but more dangerous and sometimes useless) or in "observation" mode (longer but more effective). Every choice will be important. In addition to adapting to what the dice offer you, you will have to face the danger of the city. Nothing is free. Everything is paid and sometimes very expensive. Thus, each player theoretically has six actions (sometimes more, often less). It's up to you to optimize them.
Once all players are finished, you’ll look to see if any rewards have been won. Killing Epics will not only serve to let off steam or show your strength. Each Epic will bring rewards once dead. Most of the time, they will give you valuable information about Steelheart, allowing you to advance on his research track (I'll come back to that later). You will then be able to spend the little money you have on objects and other essential capacities. This time is over for the players, now it’s over to the Epics.
At the beginning of the Epic turn, Steelheart checks that each quarter has a "Guardian Angel". If there were previously deaths, they are replaced by new Epics drawn at random. Each newcomer starts the game with a little power. Then, all the Epics are activated. In turn, starting with the one in the area of Steelheart, each Epic activates their powers from left to right. Some will favor Steelheart by strengthening his powers, others will go in search of your hiding places, others will go directly to the population, others will call for reinforcements, others will heal ... Following the actions, the Epic becomes stronger. Advancing their power marker one step to the right (or more if security agents are present). The more powerful an epic is, the more damage it will do, if you leave it alone. There is always one epic more than the number of players, do the math, dealing with everyone is impossible. You will have to be effective and go to the nearest danger without forgetting the others.
Once the henchmen have shown their skills, it’s the turn of their leader. Steelheart has a role to play in the game. He is at the heart of everything (sorry for the word game). He has his own game board. Steelheart is invincible. It is a fact. At the beginning of the game it's a certainty. Then, as you investigate, you will see that there is a defect in the armor. In the game, this is represented by a search track available on its board. This is of course more important than those of the other Epics. Your heroes will have to look for more information about the tyrant and quickly. The more time passes, the greater the danger. To find information about Steelheart, there are two possible methods: using dice with symbols to search or kill Epics. Once the Steelheart’s secret is unveiled, you will be able to try to kill him. He has a health point number value (such as the number of search points needed) depending on the number of players. But he will not let himself go. Steelheart will hit hard at his location. He will attack the population, then will conduct raids to find your hiding places (if this happens, you lose one die per hideout found, they can be redeemed at the purchase phase). After calming his anger, he will deploy new forces to stop you: first security agents and second, new barricades. And this, not only in the neighborhood where he is. You will soon be overwhelmed, but do not worry. Finally, he will move. Rolling his dice and advance his miniature to another neighborhood (he can very well return to the same place). Heroes can only act with Steelheart if they are in his area.
But how do you win? Easy. You must kill Steelheart. How do we lose? Even easier. You will lose if the city's population reaches zero. It goes quickly. I’ll say it right now, the game is absolutely not easy. As in the book, you feel the inevitable power of the Epics. They are more numerous, better organized, more powerful than you will ever be. And yet, desperate but proud, you start the battle with undisguised pleasure. Yes, the game is very difficult but this difficulty offers you a challenge more than appreciable.
Thematically it's a success. The designers of the game Brett Sobol and Seth Van Orden (Stockpile) have managed to bring alive the universe of the book. Whether in the actions or attitudes of the Epics, fidelity is required. Fortunately, even if you do not know the series of books (but what are you waiting for? Run to read it!) You can easily enjoy it. There is not really a spoiler and, even if there are references to the universe, there are no thing incomprehensible for neophytes. Illustrators Noah Adelman (Grimm Forest), Miguel Coimbra (7 Wonders) and Ian O'Toole (CO2 second chance) also did an excellent job. Even without real board, you’ll are immersed in this universe, this unique atmosphere. Some small references allow those who know to say "oh yes! Without ruining the immersion of others.
The game is not revolutionize by its gameplay. There are things used here and there. But the designers managed to fuse the whole thing together. Beyond the big box, the game is extremely simple to play and explain it. When you know how , the set up is not too long. The turn are linked relatively quickly and the choices are sometimes crucial. Every mistake can be expensive, so cooperation is essential to win. As often in this type of game, the alpha player effect can occur. However, with the presence of chance, a very strong replayability due to the number of Epics and different objects, this effect is a bit counterbalanced. Not to mention that the rolls of dice must normally be done simultaneously, suddenly the leader can theoretically not monitor everything (unless they is also an Epic?)
The difficulty is very important. This can put off more than one person. Defeating the Steelheart can sometimes be impossible. It seems that the more you are, the more you can get there. Let's say that the number of players can possibly counterbalance the negative effects that can be linked, very quickly (maybe too quickly!). With two players, this aspect can hurt a lot. But is it an evil? The duration of the game allows to play and chain games without much trouble. The challenge for a cooperative is, in my opinion, essential or we get tired very quickly of this type of games. A co-operative that is too easy comes down to a puzzle that is resolved too quickly that you leave out and do not come back. The Reckoners offers a good balance between impossible challenge and fun game. The game is very enjoyable to play. We have fun without problems. It really feels like being opposed to a titan. This aspect plunges us even more into the theme where our heroes seem completely overwhelmed by this surge of power. We suffer yes, but we suffer from pleasure.
The material is of irreproachable quality. I have the Deluxe version and everything is beautiful. In addition to the illustrations that have already been mentioned, the plateaux are well made. All parts and dice fit easily, it's convenient, well thought out. And in addition it's beautiful. The figures are quite well produced. In the pre-painted version, without being of exceptional quality of painting, they are pleasant to look at and pass very well once in game. The cards, like the dice, are good qualities and pleasant to handle. Everything seems really well thought out. It's very nice to see this concern for detail. It is however a pity that all the neighborhoods of the city are alike and are totally lambda. A little customization at the characteristic level (and not at the level of illustration) would have been a plus (but hey, we are in the quilting).
Is this game a rare pearl? In a sense yes. Rare, it is. It is very difficult so far to be able to acquire a copy of the game. It is a pity and certainly detrimental to its success. But fortunately, a second Kickstarter is planned soon, with the inclusion of an extension and reprint of the base box. When I see the quality of this game and the fun it represents, I am inevitably disappointed that it is not more available or put forward by its publisher.
The Reckoners is really a success. Whether in terms of play or material, it deserves to be successful. Simple but not simplistic. Easy to play but not easy to win. Fun but not devoid of reflection. Demanding but not complex. A lot of material but not too long to install. It's a real pleasure to play and replay there. A very good surprise, a very good adaptation, a very good game.
Technical Score 10/10
Abundant material and excellent quality. Everything is coherent. Everything is well thought out. Faultless (even if we could quibble for the neighborhoods).
My BGG Score 9.5 / 10
(Excellent, always have fun playing it)
It's hard, it's simple, it's breathtaking, it's beautiful, it's fun, it's faithful to the universe. A success. Too bad it is not so easy to find.
Combined Score 9.75 / 10
And now, it's your turn...