Review: Comanauts – saving the world while dreaming
The fate of the world is hidden in dreams. But Dr. Martin Strobel doesn’t sleep. He fell into a coma from which no one could wake him. The world of his memories is marked by an unknown type of radiation and is full of dangers. His subconscious is a game field now, that players in the role of comanauts will explore with the help of a top-secret device. They remain the last hope for saving the world, absorbed by the resulting singularity.
With this really interesting and novel story comes the new board game Comanauts, which was prepared by author of Stuffed Fables, Jerry Hawthorne. Its release was handed over to the experienced Plaid Hat Games. The final product of their endeavors was published at the beginning of 2019, including Jimmy Xia and Tregis illustrations. Distribution in Europe was provided by Esdevium Games.
In a box with a dreamy scene, there is a story book bound in rings. It belongs to the center of the table, because it opens to a map and offers players the world inside the head of the doctor. Next to the plan, players will prepare one more board, that remains empty for now. Each participant of this cooperative effort puts a hard paper card in front of him, fills it with one status card, but above all with a trio of avatars. He is allowed to know only the top one, while the cards below it remain a surprise. Player puts three life tokens (hearts) on the card of his active incarnation.
Players stack pile of cards and chips next to the map. Some of them require special setup, which always begins with the selection of random five I. D. Entities (I. D. means inner demon). According to the cards chosen, players will find the corresponding comazones and spread their cards into a column (thereby creating a Nexus). One of them must be chosen as the starting position for their team and will also be guide to reveal the corresponding page in the book, according to the chosen location. From these places, players randomly select one, where primary I. D. Entity will be hiding. But players will not know, which one and only receive a set of help cards. These cards are separated based on the seven-digit number on their back. Each location has several hints available, that will allow players to eventually deduce one of the available comazones.
Individual maps (and pages) require their specific preparation, in which players spread out some of the tokens corresponding to the events or items, that the heroes can interact with in their turn.
At the beginning of his turn, a team member draws five dice, and if he has a white one among them, he can immediately try to roll for one clarity token. Conversely, all black threat dice need to be immediately placed on an additional board, creating an thread line. Whenever their number reaches four, players must evaluate the attack paragraph of the current double page. In later stages, when the situation on the map is martial, adding the dice is giving the monsters a chance to act.
But players are still quite far away from that moment, because players can use all of their remaining dice and spend them on a variety of activities. Of course, it is all about moving, equipping items, performing tasks or supporting your teammates (by lending dice). There is also an attack option. Individual dice are used depending on their color, so for example with the help of yellow die, players can search space, where the character is standing.
But the whole game is about reading story, reactions and interacting with the map. Each page has a series of paragraphs, that respond to the current situation and offer some twists. Players must therefore be careful not to accidentally read any of the conditions by visiting the box with the symbol. Of course, exceptions are searches, where a player gets one of the prescribed items for a given page. However, this happens only, when there is a magnifying glass token on the visited map position.
Players must deal with individual tests, but also with group challenges. In addition, sooner or later enemies will appear on the plan, moving towards the closes opponent on the map and later attacking him. To retaliate, players simply select the type of attack (melee or ranged) and then use the appropriate dice and bonuses to get more attack points, than the enemy’s defense.
Conversely, attacked heroes in the enemy phase can defend himself with the help of a die set aside earlier. If the player has nothing to defend with (or is unsuccessful), then he will lose one heart. As soon as the last one of the three points of life is lost, the hero disconnects from the machine, disappears from doctors dream and the player must appear with his new incarnation (next card in his hero deck). But if this was the last of the three avatars, which has been expelled from the comazone, then the players lose as a team. The same thing happens, when a flatline card is revealed from the deck (the health package measures time). Heroes can only think of victory, if they reveal the primary I. D. Entity in its hiding location and defeat it.
Comanauts is a truly unique cooperative game, that retains the basic game mechanics of the popular Stuffed Fables. But its much more mature, and the game’s content does move with that change. In doing so, however, it retains whole simplicity, because here, too, gameplay is all about drawing dice and their deployment based on their values. For example, on a map, players can only move between certain areas with a specific dice color, because entry to that location requires skill, that the dice represents.
Players simply work together to explore their environment. But that means waiting for the next turn, when you’re not in the middle of the action. And these gaps can easily spoil the tempo, if the story has shifted and a new paragraph needs to be read. Especially for individual new pages, the text is quite long and it takes a while for the narrator to read this part to his teammates.
Whole campaign is therefore accompanied by an excellent story. Its reading is absolutely essential to enjoy Comanauts. In general, reading is main theme of the game and it is inseparable for playing this game. So if you don’t like reading or listening (or you’re having trouble with English), then this game probably won’t be for you.
Main focus is all about theme and experience. The development of the story within the pages is interesting and often unexpected. The feeling of players truly tracing the primary inner demon and having to reveal its location is great as well.
There are many other elements in the game. Above all, there are clue cards, whose feelings should direct players to the correct zone, where the primary enemy is hiding. The key to new indications is not only some places on the board, but also collecting key tokens or conversation with the inner child, that you can meet in every location.
However, because players choose comazones for each game from the whole offer, they will start to repeat relatively soon. And because you already thoroughly explored them in previous visits, their re-visitation spoils the discovery magic, you’d expect to see. And that’s why we can’t imagine repeating the game and campaign again in the near future.
In addition (unfortunately often), individual locations get to a deadlock, where players are just waiting to draw the right dice or roll the corresponding value. But they are being pushed by the time – until enemies appear and the heart of the brilliant doctor stops forever. The battle with time is omnipresent. The more disappointing is the fact, that the game itself will usually require up to two hours to complete, which is quite a lot. In addition, preparing the game is quite lengthy with the need to shuffle and prepare several card decks.
Processing is quite interesting as well. In contrast to the Stuffed Fables, miniatures disappeared (for obvious reasons, because this time there is much more bad guys to choose from, all made of cardboard in the plastic stands), but the illustrations are great and the quality of the components doesn’t lag behind. A single complaint can then be directed to rules, that are unnecessarily brief and do not explain a number of elements. Instead, you have to find them yourself or get them on separate cards from rule deck.
Comanauts is a game full of great experiences, that stems mainly from the story. Unfortunately, there are also a number of minor flaws, that may be a bit unnecessary. But with them, the Comanauts game is a good fun, which is an interesting enhancement of the children game of Stuffed Fables. It adds deduction, tension, and combat in an atmosphere, that won’t let you go.
Review: Comanauts – saving the world while dreaming
Comanauts is a game, that has a pretty long and detailed story, that will get your attention. However, a number of minor flaws will spoil your complete immersion into the game. You may not mind a longer playing time, but you will surely be disappointed by repeated visits to locations, that lose magic. It happens, although they are in a gamebook. Their other passages are simply just mechanical, which is a pity. Some rules aren't clear at first glance, and the handbook won't help you. Nevertheless, the game offers excellent cooperation, exciting development and above all a sufficiently long campaign. That is why, despite the greater number of problems, Comanauts is an interesting and quality game.