Review: Thanos Rising by USAOPOLY

Review: Thanos Rising by USAOPOLY

Thanos Rising is a winning cooperative game for 2-4 players that has garnered BGB’s highest rating. Read on to learn more:

Gamers, both video gamers as well as board gamers, have been disappointed for so many years so many times when a great movie or TV show gets turned into a terrible play experience.

As somebody who worked in the video game industry for many years and made games for many Disney properties, I know that there are additional challenges that are faced when you have to work with a licensed product. Sometimes you don’t know the exact story and you still have to make a game anyway. At other times there are restrictions put into place by the IP holders. Yet sometimes it’s just a lazy publisher or designer figuring they don’t need to work that hard because the property is so popular. This happens A LOT, particularly with one publisher in particular.

Thank goodness this didn’t happen with USAopoly’s enjoyable, thematic Thanos Rising.

Thanos Rising
What’s the big deal, scrotum-chin? I’m holding them in my BARE HAND.

I don’t think I’m in the minority when I say that Avengers: Infinity War was a great cinematic experience. I’m baffled by the naysayers (presumably DC fanboys and people who just hate fun). I call myself a fan but not raging fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of the films are fantastic, others definitely fall short of that description. I was never a serious comic book reader but I’m impressed with the way Marvel has put out fairly consistent films in the last 10 years and Infinity War is probably the best of the lot. So I came to this game wanting to enjoy it and, frankly, a little fearful that it would fall short. I’m glad to say that didn’t happen.

Taking on the Mad Titan

Thanos Rising is a cooperative game that plays in about 45 minutes with 2 to 4 players playing on a three space board around an awesome Thanos statue. Players take on the role of a leading Marvel character who’s responsible for gathering at team of heroes and defeating villains (your pick of Captain America, Black Panther, Gamora or Dr. Strange). Thanos himself is far too powerful to actually defeat so you aren’t going to be asked to actually take down the mad titan in the game. Instead, you win the game by defeating seven or more of his villains while working to save and recruit other heroes to your team.

Thanos Rising

That’s the only way to win the game, but there are three different ways you can lose. First, Thanos can defeat 10 heroes in the game with his strikes that happen before each player around. Two, he can defeat any one of the players entirely by wiping out their team. Lastly, he can collect all six of the Infinity Stones. I am fond of the deep theming here and how it adds tension to the game.

Roll For The Multiverse

The narrative of the game is created through a series of die rolls each turn, in the style of many cooperative games where the players and the game each get a turn. In Thanos Rising, the big purple baddie goes first, with two die rolls determining his progress on collection of an Infinity Stone and some other element. For the stones, he needs to roll that same one five times and then he gets the stone, making future rolls for that stone cause grief for the heroes. The latter die has him an attack heroes, activate villains or make another step towards acquiring a stone.

Player turns are quick but provide simple options about how to contain Thanos. You deploy to one of the places on the board and then get your own dice to roll and act. You begin with a few dice depending on your character and you can improve your dice pool by acquiring other heroes. In this way, the game borrows a bit from Quarriors, a game I thought was a good idea that never really worked as well as I would have liked. To acquire a hero, you need to roll the right icons on your dice.

We Have A Hulk

Bigger heroes like the Hulk or Iron Man are tougher than pushovers like Hawkeye, so it behooves you to acquire the easier ones first. With three cards in each vector, there is bound to be someone who can help, especially since many of the characters are complementary. This is maybe the heart of the design working; USAopoly’s design team didn’t cop out and just say, “They’ll want to acquire Black Widow because Scarlett Johansson is on the card.” Instead, they made the abilities make sense for the character. This is not too much to ask, but it is often overlooked by lazy people who spend a lot of money on licensed games.

Back to it – so, if you recruit heroes, they add to your team in the future, offering you their special ability. These can range from extra dice to special powers to affect the collection of the Infinity Stones. It is definitely worth adding to your team and discussing with the other players which hero should join which team.

There is another reason to recruit heroes. When Thanos hits a vector, he hits all the heroes there waiting to be recruited. If they die, they are out of the game and that helps Thanos win. If you recruit damaged villains, you get them back at full power. Thus, it makes sense to let them take a little fire and then pull them out before they are defeated…if you can do it. I really like this factor that makes you take chances with the heroes’ lives.

Say Goodbye To The Villains

The other main option is to defeat villains from Thanos’ team (since you can’t just knock Thanos Risingout the guy himself). Similar to the way you recruit, you use your dice to roll enough to defeat the villains. Some are generic villains you can knock off with one or two rolls. Others need enough firepower that you had better recruit some help before you go. There is a very real gameplay reason to defeat them, too. When they activate, their abilities range from annoying to devastating. So, that element may play into which ones you target. You also get bonus tokens when beating villains, which helps motivate their defeat (against endlessly adding to your team).

As I said, this is also how you win the game and you can set the difficulty of the game for between 7 and 10 villains to defeat to win. Experienced gamers will want to set it high for a real challenge. I like the easy variability of that setting, which calls back to Pandemic, one of the classics in the genre of cooperative games.

We have played Thanos Rising a half dozen times and it has been tense and fun each play. The richness of the character collection weighing against the villains containment and the stone gathering is just right for a game that plays in 45 minutes. Like the best thematic games from films (looking at you, Star Wars: Rebellion), Thanos Rising unfolds like your own version of a story you enjoyed. We expect to play it for many years to come.

End Game

Look, if you are a Warner Brothers apologist that tries to convince your friends that the DC movies aren’t THAT bad just because Gal Godot is magnificent as Wonder Woman (she really is), you may not like Thanos Rising for reasons that have nothing to do with this very fine game.

But if you’re one of the zillions who loved Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, this is a worthy addition to your game collection. Thanos Rising is snappy cooperative game that will engage with both theme and nice design touches that keep the game clean. This is on a shelf with go-to games this year. I expect it to make my dime list for sure.

The components are solid, with quality cards and all but it is that massive, cool Thanos figure that makes this production. We love it so much, it’s on a coveted shelf in our game library.

Thanos Rising

Thanos Rising has been a huge hit with our gaming group, from casual gamers to serious folks that saw it as a pleasant super-filler. The game has staying power, I’m sure. Here’s hoping that USA-opoly gives us an expansion when Avengers: End Game comes out.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Thanos Rising

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

REVIEW: SECTRE from Peter Mariutto and Freshwater Game Company

REVIEW: SECTRE from Peter Mariutto and Freshwater Game Company

SECTRE is a new abstract strategy game from the Freshwater Game Company, an organization with a credo to admire. Freshwater is committed to environmentally sustainable games sourced from local businesses and assembled by hand. This Minnesota company has the right idea and Boardgame Babylon certainly supports their effort to create games in this kind of format. After horror stories about mass-produced games with mildew in them, Kickstarter campaigns with copycat titles, and the environmental record of some of the companies producing gobs of plastic for our amusement, Freshwater’s mission is a worthwhile one.

SECTRETheir first game is here: SECTRE

So, great company and vision but how is SECTRE? The video on their Kickstarter page won’t tell you very much. What is clear is that it is a tile placement game with domino-like cards players use to form patterns and score points on a grid. Players are given a hand of these domino cards (in that they have two ends with different colors) and receive a solid distribution of variants from subtle markings on the cards (nice abstract art, by the way). These are the cards you get for the game; it ends when you have played them all. I can also tell you that the game plays with 2-6 players and is over in maybe 20-30 minutes, from our experience. We’ve played with 2, 4, and 5 players so far.

Each turn, players place one of their cards on the grid board, taking up two spaces and potentially claiming one of the scoring cards available to players. These score cards (which range from 5 to 15 points) are acquired by building certain patterns using the cards. While some are just about a certain number of spaces of a color being diagonally connected, others are specific patterns that players need to cleverly get on the board without the other players noticing and potentially grabbing the scoring card before them. These score cards are limited as well, so there is a bit of a race for who can score the cards first. Notably, a single play can lead to multiple cards being collected.

Of course, you can’t just place cards anywhere. They must be placed so that the color on each side of the card is not orthogonally adjacent to the same color. In this way, it helps build the patterns while also providing some restrictions to guide placement. Again, if you create a pattern that matches what is on offer, you can claim it. Also, after the first turn, a little stacking can take place. As long as you follow the other placement rules, your cards can cover other cards. Breaking a previous pattern doesn’t matter; once a card is claimed, it is owned by the player who scored it.

The game ends when all players have played their hand of cards. The player with the most points wins.

SECTRE

Components

SECTRE does feel handmade, which is pleasant. The cards are cardboard and feel good in the hand, but I do wonder about durability of them after manyplays of SECTRE. I welcome the lack of plastic in the game, but it could affect the length of time enjoying the game (although we’re talking decades, not just years). While I was looking at a prototype copy, the principles of the game company suggest it will feel similar. Nice to know your fun isn’t doing terrible things to the environment.

Thoughts on SECTRE

SECTRE is lighter, but still an abstract strategy game. Casual players sometimes won’t take to this kind of game, but ours mostly did. Of course, they were challenged by this GIPF-loving gamer, who won every game. Some players were frustrated when I would claim multiple cards with a single play, so this might be house-ruled away as a handicap.

The game operates on ground that is widely covered in the abstract strategy world, with the use of domino-style pieces and a grid board. At times, I thought of patterns from Hanging Gardens, the old game M, and a few others that wanted to do something new with this combo. Serious gamers will probably prefer something like Tash-Kalar for a game of placement and patterns, or maybe Kris Burm‘s GIPF project for a little less detail than one gets with Vlaada Chvatil’s work.

Yet, SECTRE works as a very light, almost party-level game that plays closer to traditional abstract strategy games like checkers and chess than with modern gamer games. Not every casual gamer is as grumpy as the crowd I schooled. Played quickly, SECTRE is an enjoyable pastime that handles up to six people, and that might be a hole in your collection. How many times can you play Tsuro in one night?

SECTRE comes to Kickstarter on November 15 with attractive pricing, free shipping and no guilt over another game being added to your shelf (and carbon footprint). For more information ahead of the Kickstarter, check our Freshwater Game Company on Facebook.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for SECTRE

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Publisher Freshwater Game Company provided a pre-release prototype for independent review.