My Favorite Game Mechanics: Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock

There are so many things I could pick as my favorite mechanisms for Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock, but I’ll try to stay on task with the one I chose for this article: artificial intelligence.

Cooperative games pit the players against the game itself so almost any cooperative game has some version of artificial intelligence. Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock just happen to be two of my favorites in terms of AI.


Gloomhaven has a leveled system for its creatures, so players can adjust the difficulty to match their tastes, and each creature type has its own action deck. The action cards within these decks dictate how quickly each creature moves, how or if they attack that turn, and who they target when they do. It’s a simple but elegant way of making each creature unique. Players won’t know what the creature will do from turn to turn, but if they’ve faced a similar creature, they may know its habits and that does a lot for characterization.

I also like Gloomhaven’s card-based combat. Usually I don’t like it when a player gets knocked out when they run out of cards in their deck, but this game is so balanced that it works. Okay. I promise that’s the only time I’ll get off topic—with Gloomhaven.


Assault on Doomrock has a similar system for its creatures, but it adds a threat level for each player’s character (or hero). Typically, the hero with the highest threat level will draw more monsters and that allows for a mechanism in the game that functions a lot like a tank in MMORPGs—a tank is a player with a lot of health that serves as a punching bag for monsters to attack, while their teammates wail on the distracted monsters.

There are more things that may affect a creature’s aggression in Assault on Doomrock, but the inclusion of a threat system gives the game more depth. I also like Assault on Doomrock’s addition of time as commodity. T.I.M.E. Stories has a time system too, but Assault on Doomrock’s use of time made me more concerned about wasting the time I had and that increased tension. Alright. I won’t discuss Assault on Doomrock—that much.


I’d be remiss to not give a quick mention to Sentinels of the Multiverse. The villain decks behave differently, giving each character personality. Pandemic almost made this list for artificial intelligence and how the viruses behave, especially how the epidemic cards function with location cards that had been played (currently in the discard pile) go back on top of the draw deck, so diseases can get worse in cities already affected.

Like I said, most cooperative games have some form of artificial intelligence, and there are many other great examples. I could go on for another five or six games at least, but good old Uncle Geekly would like to hear from you.

What do you like most about Gloomhaven and Assault on Doomrock? Is there another game that uses AI in a great way? Error Code 220: Service ready for new user. Let us know in comments.

Getting Started with Cooperative Board Games

Let’s talk about cooperative board games—cause you’ve gotta have friends. These are games where the players compete against the game, not the other players seated at the table. It also happens to be one of your uncle Geekly’s family’s favorite gaming types. That could be due to a lineage of sore losers.

They’re sore losers, not me. No, really. They’re terrible. I have no idea what you’re talking about. No, you’re a stupid, doodoo face, and I don’t want to play with you anymore because you cheat. Cheater!

You don’t have to worry about cheaters as much with cooperative board games, and there are plenty of these games out there. The problem is that some of these games aren’t that good and others are too difficult to get into. Don’t worry. Your uncle Geekly will point you in the right direction of some good beginner cooperative board games.



I almost didn’t put this one on the list, but I’m sure tabletop game purists would cry foul if I didn’t. You made a list of great starter cooperative games and you didn’t include Pandemic? Shame!

Calm down. It’s on the list.

Players assume the roles of people trying to stop a global pandemic. The diseases behave like you’d think diseases may behave and that makes sense, since the game’s designer Matt Leacock happens to be a medical doctor. Come to think of it, I could use a physical. There’s a growth I’ve been meaning to have examined. I should give him a call.

Anyway. The game scales extremely well, meaning that it plays just as well at two players as it does at five, and there are varying levels of difficulty. You’ll see this in other Leacock games—spoiler alert: one will show up later on this list—and the inclusion of easier difficulties allows players to start small and go for something more challenging later. The theme is also one people can get behind. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen players name the various diseases, even though these diseases are represented by little more than cubes.

The one gripe I may have about Pandemic is that there can be a tendency for an alpha gamer (a player who tells other players what to do) but give them a few kicks to the cubes and they’ll stop. Pandemic is one of the games that put cooperative games on the map, and it’s easy enough to learn for new gamers.



Hanabi is the odd game on this list. It’s a simple card game for folks who don’t want a more complicated game, so it’s easily the most streamlined game here. It also encourages non-verbal communication. It’s like Freddie Mercury once said, give me your body.

Well, maybe not, but body language and positioning cards a certain way in your hand does come into play here. Hanabi uses a deck of cards numbered 1 through 5 in various colors or suits. Players must place these cards in order by suit, but the catch is that each player’s hand of cards is facing away from them, and the other players must give their teammates clues as to what’s in their hand.

Hanabi forces players to create their own language as they’re only able to give simple clues like “this is a 5” or “this card is yellow.” It’s up to the player receiving the information to figure out what was intended. While “this card is a 5” usually means don’t discard it, idiot, because there’s only one 5 of each color in the deck, “this card is yellow” could mean that the card in question plays on the communal play pile or if yellow is already finished (as in the 5 has already been played), “these cards are yellow” could mean that you need to discard those cards and get new ones.

No one can say anything besides short clues about cards in other players hands. I’ve never seen a more tense game where little is said.


Forbidden Desert

Yep, Forbidden Desert is the other Matt Leacock game. I also could’ve gone with Forbidden Island here, but it’s kind of a Pandemic light. Forbidden Island is worth the play if Pandemic or Forbidden Desert sound too complicated. Did I mention that Matt Leacock is the king of cooperative board games? Well, if he isn’t, he’s close.

Forbidden Desert adds moving location tiles and sand tiles to bring home the theme of a desert and its shifting sands. Players can lose four or five ways but can only win if they find the parts to an ancient, Jules Verne style flying contraption and escape. Anything is better when you add a steam punk.

Players also have variable powers like they do in Pandemic and these powers are based on occupation, and the flying contraption is one of the best implementations of a toy piece in a board game. I don’t know the last time I placed one of the pieces in the flying contraption. I usually have the task of dismantling. Your uncle Geekly’s a little salty about that.

Like Pandemic, Forbidden Desert is clever and finds a way to make the desert its own character. That’s always a strong point for a game. I can’t wait to see what Leacock’s third game in the trilogy Forbidden Sky will bring. It just came out at GenCon 2018.

Final Thoughts

Even if a cooperative game is more complicated than the ones on this list, it’s easy to teach new players because players join forces to beat the game. Players want their teammates to succeed so a cooperative game is a great place to begin for a new gamer, but the games on this list are very assessible. If you don’t think so, I’ll dump a bucket of cold water on Jim.

Know of any other great beginner cooperative games? Let us know in the comments.

My Favorite Game Mechanic: Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger

Sometimes you want a game that’s easy to learn. Sometimes you want a blast from the past. Choose Your Own Adventure: House of Danger happens to be both, and your uncle Geekly found a lot of enjoyment out of the game. So much so, that I can’t wait for the next game of the Choose Your Own Adventure series.

If you’ve ever read a Choose Your Own Adventure book, you’re seventy-five percent familiar with this game’s mechanisms. Seriously. House of Danger adds a simple skill check system, but the rest of the game follows the original book. Yes. R. A. Montgomery released a Choose Your Own Adventure book of the same name in 1982.


I think this game came at the right time. Many games borrow ideas from the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books (T.I.M.E. Stories and most escape room games), but House of Danger commits to recreating one. It’s simple, but it works.

Since the pages (of the novel) are split into individual cards, it’s easy to play the game as a family—and in saying you’re playing the game I really mean that a family or group of friends is reading a book together. I like how House of Danger draws the players’ attention to the Choose Your Own Adventure style of books.


There were a few moments where die rolls took over the game—I’m looking at you, braving the underground maze—but the bulk of the game when I played with my family was engaging with the written material and making choices that went well or went horribly wrong. And yes, there are moments that make someone what to say that they never did that. Their finger was on the previous page the whole time.

It can be difficult to add a new element to something or manipulate how a story is consumed, but House of Danger does a good job of capturing the feel of a Choose Your Own Adventure, while making it feel new. The added die rolls and progress tracks don’t detract from the original fun.


Many gamers won’t like that House of Danger has limited replay value, but it’s cheap and like the novels, you can gift them to someone else when you’re done. Sometimes it’s nice to have a finite number of plays. Sometimes it’s nice to relive the past. It also doesn’t hurt that House of Danger is inexpensive.

If you don’t agree with me, go to page 472 or you can leave a comment.


Games I Hope Are Under the Tree

A certain holiday is right around the corner, and JK Geekly plans to take a break, but before we do your uncle Geekly will give into greed and list some of the games he hopes are under the tree. United States day of avarice, here I come.

I kept the term “games” vague because I’ll have some video and tabletop games on this list. No. I’m not changing beyond all recognition. Uncle Geekly may have a love of tabletop games, but there are plenty of video games coming out this year that can’t be ignored.


Batman: Gotham City Chronicles (Monolith Board Games)

Yeah, I’m all in with Batman: Gotham City Chronicles. I’m also at the mercy of when the game will be available in retail stores (Conan also made it into gaming stores), so this may be a pipe dream. There’s a reason Gotham City Chronicles surpassed its Kickstarter goal in less than a day. It’s excellent.

I’m not sure if I need to clarify more than that. Okay. The asymmetric villains (one) versus heroes (many) gameplay creates some great moments. Those moments happen to be classic Batman tales from the comics, not TV or movies. And there are miniatures. Lots and lots of high-quality miniatures of classic comic book characters.

spider-man ps4

Spider-Man (Sony)

I’m hoping the PS4’s Spider-Man does for the wallcrawler what Rocksteady’s Arkham series did for Batman. The web head hasn’t had a good video game in some time, and I wouldn’t mind taking on Green Goblin, Scorpion, or whoever the game has to throw at me. Plenty of reviews have been written about the game, but I’m trying to avoid them as much as possible. It’s gotten great reviews; that’s good enough for me.


The 7th Continent (Serious Poulp)

The 7th Continent is another Kickstarter board game, but unlike Batman: Gotham City Chronicles, this one most likely won’t see mass retail appeal. Players are stranded on an island and must find ways to survive. The features exploration and has great storytelling moments. It’s an event game. It’s also one that makes you talk about it well after game night.


Mega Man 11 (Capcom)

I don’t care if it receives good, great, indifferent, or poor reviews. I’ll probably look for Mega Man 11. It’s the first numbered entry for the Blue Bomber in over a decade, and it’s long overdue. Bring on Block Man, Fuse Man, Blast Man, Torch Man, and Impact Man.

Dinosaur Island

Dinosaur Island (Pandasaurus)

This one may be the most likely tabletop game to find its way under the tree, and I’m happy if does. Dinosaur Island is the board game version of Jurassic Park. The game mechanisms, of which there are numerous, blend together to make a great gaming experience. There are very few games that pack a lot of strategy in a small time frame (like Dinosaur Island), and Jonathan Gilmour is one of my favorite new game designers.

Your uncle Geekly could’ve added a few dozen more games, both board and video. If you disagree with a pick or two of mine, direct your anger at Jim. He likes hate mail that isn’t his hate mail. Or you could leave a comment.

Forbidden Desert FAQ: Terrascope

We’ve received a couple of questions about Forbidden Desert’s Terrascope equipment card, and at the risk of incurring Game Zeus’s wrath, we’ll answer your questions.


1) Does a desert tile need to be devoid of sand markers on top of it in order to peek at the tile?

A) No. The great thing about the Terrascope is that you can figure out where you need to go and whether ridding the desert tile of sand markers and excavating it is worthwhile.

2) Do you need to excavate the desert tile you used the Terrascope on?

A) No. Think of the Terrascope as getting a sneak peek of the desert tile without the mess of having to excavate the tile. Now if the tile in question is one you want to excavate after seeing it, feel free to clear the tile of sand markers and excavate it. But the helpful Terrascope can let you narrow the number of tiles you need to worry about. And time is a valuable commodity in Forbidden Desert. It might be the single most important commodity.

We welcome any other questions about other tabletop games you may have and if you haven’t seen our review of Forbidden Desert, here’s a link.

Hope your 2015 is off to a fantastic start.

Stay Warm, Play a Game

Winter wipes its cold feet on our doorsteps next week, and the arctic chills have already arrived. To me, cold weather conjures thoughts of a particularly nasty Mississippi ice storm in the nineties, one that knocked out my family’s electricity for almost two weeks. We had to stay warm. We had to take our minds off how miserable we were without hot water, light, and heat. So naturally, we played a tabletop game.

X-Men had a cartoon on Saturday mornings, the comics sold record amounts of copies, and one tabletop game capitalized on the mania: X-Men: Under Siege. So, under the glow of a few flashlights, my parents, my brother, and I would hunker around a card table and play as our favorite mutants and sometimes our not-so-favorite mutants.
We’d play marathons. We’d track statistics for each mutant to see which one was the best. We’d find out later that the stats were skewed because we liked a certain character more than another, and it had nothing to do with who was the better X-Man. We played the game for hours on end until we had to climb into our frigid beds. We may have been cold, but we reconnected as a family.

So what if we didn’t have electricity? You don’t have to plug-in a tabletop game. Lack of electricity may have deprived us of conveniences most of us take for granted, but it also forced us to not watch television ad nauseam. We couldn’t spend all our time playing video games either. We had to sit and talk.

We found out what my brother wanted to study when he went to college. We made plans for summer break, which was the first time my brother or I had any real inputs. Dad told us he feared that he’d lose his job—which did happen the next year—and Mom said that if that happened, she’d go back to work, which she did. We learned more than everyone’s favorite X-Man. We learned more about each other.

If you find yourself needing to get warm, you could do a lot worse than playing a tabletop game.

Get a New One Out

“Get a new one out,” my grandmother—I call her Oma—screams in her thick Dutch accent and slaps the side of my wife Jen’s head. Jen drops her marble and it bounces on the kitchen floor before it rolls beneath my seat. “I’m sorry,” Oma says. She stands behind a seated Jen and her Asiatic eyes barely clear the top of Jen’s head. She pats Jen on the back. “I just get so excited.”

I almost tell Jen, “Welcome to the family. You haven’t been indoctrinated until Oma slaps you while you play Wahoo.” But I think better of it and give her a wink. I hand Jen her missing marble, and she almost puts it back in her starting area. She flinches, expecting Oma to hit her again, and then heeds Oma’s advice and places her marble on the board’s track.

Jen rolls another six and picks up the marble she just placed on the board, but she gets slapped again before she can move it. “No. Kill him!” Oma points to another one of Jen’s marbles that’s farther down the board.

“You don’t have to help her,” I say. “She’s played Sorry and other games like Wahoo. She knows what she’s doing.”

“You’re only saying that because that’s one of your pieces, Kyle,” Oma says. She waddles around the table and stands behind me. “Maybe I should help you.”

My grin turns to a grimace, but Oma’s threat is short-lived. On the next turn, my cousin Corey doesn’t make the best move. Oma slaps the table and yells no, no, no.

We spend the rest of the game watching Oma—an Indonesian woman at least half the size of anyone else at the table—more than the game itself. She helicopters around everyone, shouting out the best plays and usually remembering that she shouldn’t slap people.

Jen was shocked when Oma first hit her. She had to have thought what did I marry into and what kind of demon seed grows in me, but after a few rounds, she joins the laughter, making sure she ducks every time Oma passes her chair. And we love Oma for that. She can turn a board game into a spectator sport, and she wasn’t going to let a new family member stop her from being herself.

That’s something I love about tabletop games too. You can try to hide who you are for a while, but eventually, your true personality shines through. Sure, you might not be as open or as much of a fiery ball of energy like Oma, but games can reveal the way you think, the way you problem solve, and the way you read situations.

I’m sure Oma’s still in Port Arthur, Texas slapping tables—I hope she still is—and my Aunt Sjonneke gave us a homemade Wahoo board for Christmas last year. My kids still slap the table and yell at each other to get a new one out.

Never Judge a Game by Its Cover

Most of us have heard that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the axiom holds true for tabletop games, too. Let me take it back to the early to mid-Nineties. I went to a Mississippi high school, and my family and I saw every one of the traveling displays at Memphis’s Pink Palace.
One year we took in the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire exhibit. My brother Ben—after much poking and prodding of our mother about how much he’d wear it—convinced our mother to buy him an Ottoman hat. The hat cost $30. I didn’t see anything that I liked at the Pink Palace, so my mother told me I could get something at Waldenbooks (back when there was a Waldenbooks). It didn’t take long before I found a board game for $30. I showed the game to my mother, and she told me that the game looked boring, put it back. I ended up not getting anything, but that’s not important. What’s important is that the game I showed her was Settlers of Catan.

Yes. The same Settlers of Catan that introduced a lot of Americans to the German board game industry. The same Settlers of Catan with game mechanics so inspired that it sparked a tabletop game renaissance. Settlers of Catan the game that my aunt—my mother’s sister, Sjonneke—would call her favorite game of all time fifteen years later. Settlers of Catan the name my mother would drop every Christmas time phone call and say, you know your Aunt Sjonneke has played a game that she really likes, and you should try it. It’s called Pioneers of Qatar or something.

I wouldn’t mind playing a game titled Pioneers of Qatar, and I don’t judge a game by its cover and neither should you. And you shouldn’t be scared of playing games that have premises that sound boring either. Power Grid may have its players constructing utility poles and laying electric lines, but it’s a heck of a fun game—the same goes for the trains in Ticket to Ride.

A tabletop game can look cute but have devilish strategy components like Antoine Bauza’s Takenoko. Don’t let the fluffy panda fool you; it’s a fun game, but it can be tough. And movie or TV show tie-ins like in video games—think of the E.T. the Extra Terrestrial game that almost doomed the industry in 1983—often fall way short of the original source material. If you’re wondering what that fetid smell is, it’s The Walking Dead Board Game.

Never judge a game by its cover. A game can look great but stink or look like a snooze, and it’s anything but a bore. You should always leave yourself open to new experiences. When you do, you let the fun in.

What Makes a Great Tabletop Game?

Of course the game needs to be fun and fun is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it in the gut? Anyway, we won’t go too far down that rabbit hole today. Specificity is key, so let’s narrow the question. What makes a great competitive game versus what makes a great cooperative game? Great competitive games need multiple ways for the player to win, while great cooperative games need multiple ways for the players to lose.
Sure. You can find fun in a non-complicated game with only one way to win or lose, and there are many games of this ilk. In fact, I enjoy countless simple, fast, and fun games, but we’re getting real specific with this question. Let’s say you have thirty minutes or more to play a game. You’ll want something with some complexity. In that case, you’ll want your competitive games to have multiple ways—or at least multiple strategies—for you to win.

I’m a fan of the Civilization video game series, and this series boasts the multiple ways to win banner. While Civilization: The Board Game (produced by Fantasy Flight Games) did a great job of converting the video game to the tabletop (perhaps too well as it takes at least three hours to play), I prefer Antoine Bauza’s 7 Wonders. 7 Wonders is a great example of a competitive game with multiple ways to win. You can dominate by means of culture, technology, economy, and military as well as eke out a victory with a combination of some or all four. Since you have so many ways to win the game, each time you play 7 Wonders changes, depending on how you intend to win and how your opponents choose to play.

The first time I played 7 Wonders I tried for a cultural victory. Quickly, I found that I needed a military as my peace-loving city-state was surrounded by Carthage and Sparta. If you’re thinking of the 300 movie just now, so was my son who was playing Sparta. I hemorrhaged victory points as Ty screamed, “This…Is…Sparta!”

It didn’t end well. I was too focused on how I intended to win going into the game than see that Ty was sitting next to me rocking Sparta and Alexander the Great. It really didn’t end well. Almost everyone at the table tripled my score. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the game. 7 Wonders beats the pants off a game with only one way to win. But what about the competitive games that have one way to win but multiple strategies? These are the games that I tend to describe as deceptively complex.

Another Bauza game, Takenoko, does a great job of giving only one way to win a competitive game but countless strategies to accomplish the one goal. You still get variety in gameplay. I’ve played games of Takenoko where plot tiles went fast but not much of anything else, and other games where the community runs out of irrigation sticks but still has plenty of plot tiles. It works because of its variety. And this need for variety of gameplay extends to cooperative games.

Great cooperative games need multiple ways for the players to lose. How much of an accomplishment is a game where the stakes aren’t high? Not very. If you have more ways for players to lose in a cooperative game, victory tastes a lot sweeter, and you gain more variety in gameplay as you try to avoid the various ways of losing. Bauza has designed plenty of great cooperative games, but let’s concentrate on another great co-op game: Forbidden Desert.

Forbidden Desert buys into its theme of a relentless desert, and the players can die in many ways: thirst, massive sand storm, or getting buried by sand. Each player has a variable ability to help mitigate these ways of losing, but almost every game devolves into players adapting to what poses the biggest threat. If the sand dumps on you, start digging. If you don’t have a lot of time before the big sand storm hits, excavate fast. If you start to run out of water, dash to the nearest well. Since there are so many variables, no game plays the same twice, and the many ways to lose the game feed into those variables.
If variety is the spice of life, then multiple win or loss conditions are the spice of tabletop games.

Why Games should Reward instead of Punish Players

Tabletop games reward their players with intricate gameplay, but some games insist on punishing their players for things they don’t do or don’t do well as opposed to rewarding them for things they do or do well. Most people enjoy rewards. Getting rewarded for good deeds is a positive thing, and tabletop games work best when they reward their players instead of dole out punishment.

Often times you can turn a negative into a positive by a simple word change. I’ll use a common occurrence in pencil and paper RPGs as an example:

You’re an archer. You have a bow and arrow that has a max range of let’s say 100 yards (you can’t hit anything beyond 100 yards, so don’t even try—you’ll fail every time), and an optimum range of 20 yards. Now let’s say that you have to roll so many fives or sixes on a standard six-sided die (d6) to hit a target. You could express the effectiveness of your bow and arrow, and your skill by saying that you roll ten d6s if you’re within 20 yards of your target, but you’d lose two dice if you travel beyond 20 yards. Wording the ability this way punishes the player for not being 20 yards from their target.

Now let’s use the same example and make it a reward:

You’re the same archer with the same bow and arrow, and you still have to roll so many fives or sixes on a standard d6 to hit a target. But this time your base attack is eight d6s, and you gain two dice if you move within 20 yards of your target.

You still roll the same number of dice in both scenarios, but you’d be surprised by how many gamers would complain about losing two dice in the first version versus gamers who read the second version and think of it as a challenge. Now I have to sneak toward my target to gain two dice. But it’s the same thing. That’s the power of staying positive.

I’m not saying that there aren’t any good games that use punishment instead of rewards. Agricola comes to mind, and it’s an excellent game. But why do I have to lose points for not having a type of animal on my farm? Can’t you reward me for each type of animal I do have on my farm and give me a zero for each animal I don’t? Give us a pat on the back, not a boot in the rear.