Thursday, June 16, 2016

GJJG Game Reviews - Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor - by ThinkFun

Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor
Designers: Rebecca Bleau, Nicholas Cravotta
Publisher: ThinkFun
GJJG Game Reviews - Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor - by ThinkFun

Game Overview:
In the last few years a new social experience has emerged in cities around the world.  Instead of meeting friends for a movie, rounds of miniature golf, bowling, or any one of other countless other group activities, people have been choosing to lock themselves in a room with several of their closest friends and then try to figure out a way to get out.  Usually these escape rooms are filled with puzzles that must be solved before the door can be unlocked.  There is usually a time limit as well, and sometimes a story to go with the experience. Sometimes the bonds of friendship are strengthened and sometimes those who went in as friends come out questioning everything they thought they knew about each other.  Escape rooms can be a great team building experience as well.

Well, ThinkFun wants to bring that experience to the living room for families to enjoy at a fraction of the cost of a real escape room experience.  Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor is the first in a planned series of self contained escape rooms in a box.  Instead of actually being locked in a room you are part of a narrative where the characters you and your fellow players represent are locked in a room they must escape from.  Through solving a series of puzzles you'll work your way through the story and hopefully escape before your time runs out.
The design veers from ThinkFun's usual blue and white color scheme,
but the game still fits well with their line of simple puzzle games.
The box states the game is for 3-8 players ages 10+ and takes two hours, although for me it played fine with two players (I'd actually recommend two or three players, and no more than four) and should be fine as a solo game as well.  The time estimate is very generous and really depends on how quickly players solve the puzzles - my wife and I finished in under an hour at a very casual pace.  The age is probably right if there are no older players, but with some adult guidance players as young as six should be fine (my six year old son played with his brother and friends, ages 9, 10, and 13, but felt left behind and lost interest after a bit).  MSRP for Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor is $21.99, however it can really only be played once by any one person (it can be passed on and played by someone else though).  I suppose if you happen to not escape in your first game you can try again, but a lot of the intrigue and mystery will be lost on a replay.

NOTE: To avoid puzzle spoilers I blurred parts of some of the images.  Your game won't have the swirly blue parts, but will have cardboard puzzle pieces instead!

Components & Packaging:
Escape the Room isn't designed to be a game that gets a ton of play.  You can really only play it once.  After that it will either sit on a shelf or get passed on to someone else to play.  Chances are it'll get passed on, hopefully to friends, but possibly to a thrift store.  At any rate, if one copy sees more than five plays it'll have had a pretty long life.  So the game components don't need to be super high quality.

And the box isn't super high quality.  It's a corrugated cardboard box that flips open to reveal the contents.  If the game was going to see a lot of play this box probably wouldn't hold up very long, but it does its job and is sturdy enough.
Inside the box is everything you'll need to host an Escape Room at home.
The rest of the components are pretty nice though.  They're not super high end, but they're not flimsy paper either.  Pieces are thicker cardstock (not quite chipboard, but thicker than standard playing cards) and the various envelopes feel strong enough to easily handle several plays.

And the artwork is very nice.  Again, not the best artwork I've seen in a game, but definitely better than it needed to be.  The nice artwork just added to the theme and fun.
Five envelopes contain all the puzzles needed to solve the mystery, and the artwork is pretty fun, too!
I only have two very minor components complaints.  First is the circle tape seals that keep each envelope closed.  They are very sturdy.  If you are not careful it's very easy to rip an envelope.  That's not a huge deal since that doesn't affect the game, but if you intend to pass on the game it's nice to not pass on ripped components.  We had a pair of scissors handy to cut the tape without tearing the envelopes. Perforated tape would have been great, or a resealable double stick tape, even better.  I've read that this is something ThinkFun will be at improving in future editions, though.
We used scissors to cut the tape seals to avoid ripping the envelopes.
My other component issue is even more minor.  One of the puzzles involves two small dowel rods that act as axles that other pieces spin around (don't worry, that's not a spoiler of anything).  But little plastic pegs with a mushroomed head would have been much easier to use.  The dowels kept popping out unless I held them in place.

Overall though the components were good enough and the artwork was nice.

Score: 7/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
This game was super easy to get going.  When you open the box there's a small booklet that you can start to read before your guests arrive.  The assumption is that you will make an evening of the game, much like a murder mystery.  The first few pages of the booklet tell you a little bit about the game, tells a bit about what escape rooms are, and gives you enough background of the story for you to set the mood for the evening.  There is a web address listed where you can go to find suggestions for mood music (links to Spotify albums and playlists), costumes, and more.  After that there's a message that you shouldn't read any further until your guests arrive.  Since my first game was with just my wife and she was already there, we just jumped right in (after starting up some period music - we skipped the costumes though).
Music all set and ready to begin!
Once you move on to the section to read with your guests the game starts.  There are about two pages that instruct you to remove the envelopes and puzzle wheel from the box, teach you how to use the puzzle wheel to see if you have solved the puzzles, and begins the story of the Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor.  

So, the rules and setup are super simple, super fast to get started, and get you into the fun fight away.

Score: 9/10 x2

Well, one thing is for sure... The player count on the box is completely wrong.  ThinkFun recommends three to eight players.  Two players works just fine, and even playing the game solo would work OK.  The only thing you lose with lower player counts is the social aspect of the game, however I'm not really sure the game would work well with more than four players.  The puzzles in the game are very linear and serve well to tell the story, but they don't allow for much teamwork.  There's no opportunity for part of the team to be working on one thing while another part of the team works on something else.  Instead the players are presented with one puzzle at a time.  So I think two or three players is the sweet spot for this game.  Four can work with younger players, but more than that would feel like too many cooks in the kitchen.  This is fine (I actually prefer to play this type of game with just my wife), but is at odds with the bigger social experience that ThinkFun seems to want for the game.

So, how did the game play with two adults?  It was actually pretty fun.  The game starts out with a story.  You were, until your recent dismissal, the caretaker for an eccentric astronomer.  But a short time ago he fired all his staff and locked himself in his manor where strange sounds and lights have recently been seen.  Out of concern, you decide to gather a few friends and see if you can determine what the old astronomer has been up to.  Shortly after entering the mysterious manor you get trapped in a room with no apparent escape, except through the heavy door that just locked behind you.
The first card introduces you to the story and guides you through the first super simple puzzle.
And thus begins the adventure of trying to figure out how to escape the room.  You are instructed to start a timer at this point and must figure out how to escape before time runs out.  Depending on the number of players you have either two hours or 90 minutes.  Since we had only two players we set the time for two hours and were off.

The story guides you through the first very simple puzzle, which is really just a means of demonstrating how symbols on the game components are used in conjunction with the puzzle wheel to determine if you solve the various puzzles.  It also allows you to open the first envelope, which contains a continuation of the story and the pieces of the first real puzzle.  Solving the first puzzle allows you to open the next envelope, which contains more story and another puzzle.  This continues until you reach one of several conclusions to the story, depending on how successful you were at solving the puzzles.  

Some envelopes contain additional envelopes with other puzzles, so it's always a surprise to see what you're facing next.  It was pretty neat how the story allowed for these subcomponents to really keep you unsure how far from the game end you were.  You have some idea how far you've progressed by how many main envelopes you've opened, but you're never sure if the next envelope is going to have another envelope inside it, or maybe two!
As you solve puzzles you get to open envelopes and find more puzzles to solve!
Overall the story is very linear.  You only have one puzzle at a time to work on and for the most part none of the puzzles built on each other.  The puzzles did seem to increase in difficulty somewhat, but there was no sense of the puzzles building on each other.  Not until the last puzzle did we have to go back and use any of the previous components, and even that was pretty basic.  It would have been cool to have puzzles that relied on using components from a previous solution.  Or even puzzles that might have two possible solutions, but only one actually fits in the context of the story, so the incorrect solution leads you to a dead end.  There was never any uncertainty about if you solved the puzzle correctly or not.

At one point, toward the end of the story after you've unlocked the door you are given the opportunity to end the game or keep working to solve another problem.  If you choose to keep going you have 30 minutes to complete the last portion, regardless of how long the first part took.  So it's possible to spend about 2.5 hours to play the entire game.  My wife and I took about 54 minutes, working at a very leisurely pace to complete, including pausing to take a few pictures and a few interruptions from the kids.  We never felt challenged or pressured and the longest we spent on a single puzzle was less than ten minutes.  So while we had fun, we definitely didn't find it challenging.
Though simpler than we expected, we did have fun with the game and my sons had a blast.
My original plan was to play the game with my whole family.  My boys are six and nine and both are avid gamers, so I was really looking forward to playing this with them.  But they asked to have their very own game day with some friends of theirs, so that's when my wife suggested we play Escape the Room with just the two of us and let the boys play later with their friends.  This sounded like a great idea and an opportunity to see the game played a second time and by younger players.  

So a few days after my game, my sons' friends came over to play.  The group consisted of four boys, aged 6, 9, 10, and 13.  I got them started and explained how to use the solution wheel and set them off to play.  Initially they were excited, but quickly it became less of a cooperative game and more of a taking turns trying to solve the puzzle game.  And then shortly after that it turned into just one boy (the 10 year old) working to solve the puzzles while the others lost interest or got frustrated because they didn't feel like they were contributing.  They did make it through five of the eight total puzzles (only seven are required to escape) in about 90 minutes, but the Steam Panel puzzle was the straw that broke the camel's back.  They spent about 30 minutes on just that puzzle before finally quitting for the night.  (To be fair, my wife and I also found this one to be the most challenging puzzle of the batch.)  I offered a bit of help when they asked, particularly with the Steam Panel puzzle, but it wasn't enough to salvage the evening.

I think the combination of the wide age range and too many players wasn't the best idea.  They all seemed to like the idea of the game, and even said they enjoyed the puzzles, but the collaboration part of the game just wasn't working for them.  I felt the same way when I played with my wife, although with just two it wasn't as big of an issue.  But even when we played there were plenty of times where I would see a solution and do the puzzle, or she would figure out the answer and wrap up the puzzle.  In our case it was because the puzzles seemed pretty simple, but in the boys' case it was because the puzzles were challenging but didn't offer enough parallel tasks to keep four players busy.

I think the game would have worked well for two boys roughly the same age.  But four was too much (even though my 6 year old was mostly an observer).  I think the game could work well as a family game, too, but only if the kids run the game and the parent(s) mainly observe and help the kids as they need it.  Too much disparity in puzzle solving ability is going to frustrate some and alienate others unless those that are good at solving the puzzles are willing to take a step back and only provide assistance as needed.

Overall though, each boy said they did like the idea of the game and liked the game itself, just not how it was being played.  So it's something I think they're all willing to revisit, just on their own terms instead of as a group.
The game started out enjoyable, but quickly devolved into just one boy working
on the puzzles and the others getting frustrated or losing interest.
Score: 7/10 x3

Escape the Room is not meant to be played multiple times by the same person.  Once you've solved the puzzles and completed the story the mystery is gone.  If you have a really bad memory I suppose you could play again in a few years, but the puzzles are so simple that it'd be pretty unlikely that they'd pose any challenge, especially after you've solved them once.  Or, if you fail to escape the first time you play you can try again, but in that case you'll already know the answers to all the puzzles you completed previously.  There's no puzzle generator or anything, so every time it's played the puzzles are exactly the same.

But it is pretty easy to pack the components back up so that the game can be passed on.  This isn't a game like Pandemic Legacy where components are altered or destroyed throughout the course of the game, so there's no reason the game can't be passed on to someone else.  So even though one person won't likely play the game more than once, the game is able to be enjoyed again by someone else.
Once everything is packed back up you can put it all in the box and pass the game on to a friend.
Score: 4/10 x1

General Fun:
Overall we found the game to be pretty fun.  It wasn't as challenging as my wife and I would have preferred, but for kids the difficulty was perfect.  I wouldn't highly recommend this for just adults, but I also wouldn't tell adults to avoid it either.  Adults should just be aware that this isn't going to be two hours of brain burning puzzles.  But if you are looking for a casual set of puzzles and a fun story experience that can be completed inabout an hour, this fits the bill.

For families or kids though, this is a blast!
These five envelopes contain an abundance of puzzles!
Score: 7/10 x2

Overall Value:
Escape the Room sells for about $20, and compared to other $20 games you do get about the same number of components.  But replayability is where this falls short.  You'll probably get an hour or two of fun out of Escape the Room, maybe a bit more if you get two or three plays by different family members, but that partially defeats the social aspect and family friendliness of the game.  But then you'll get to pass the game on for anyone else to enjoy it.  Compare that to other $20 games that may take an hour to play, but you can play over and over and the value isn't that high, but you likely won't be willing to pass on those games to others either.  If you compare that to the cost of going to see a 90 minute movie for a family of four or the cost of an actual escape room experience, and $20 for a night of fun doesn't seem all that bad, especially if you can then pass that fun on to others at no additional cost.

Score: 7/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
While not the challenge I was hoping for, I did enjoy my time at the Stargazer's Manor.  I'm excited for the next installment in the Escape the Room series, Secret of Dr. Gravely's Retreat, coming soon.  I'd love to see a whole line is Escape the Room games with varying levels of difficulty.  And while the replayability of any one game is limited (which hurt the score in my rubric), the game can be passed on to friends so others can also enjoy the game. There is a ton of potential in this format that I really hope ThinkFun explores with future games.  
All ready for an evening of fun!
As a family game or for just a couple of kids, I think Escape the Room: Mystery of the Stargazer's Manor is excellent.  If you are looking for an excuse to have a fun, relatively cheap night at home, this is an excellent choice.  It would also make an excellent gift for tweens and younger teens.  I just caution against playing this with groups that are too big or that have a wide range of puzzle solving abilities.  A small group of one to four players is good with two probably being the best.  ThinkFun is on to something great here and I look forward to many more escape adventures!

Overall Score: 71/100

Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

Quick Review - Battle of Durak

Battle of Durak
Designer: Fedor Sosnin
Publisher: Disruptive, Inc.
Quick Review - Battle of Durak
Disclaimer - NOTE: I received this game for free through a contest, this is an unsolicited review.

It's been a while since I've posted a Quick Review of a game that wasn't a Kickstarter preview, but tonight I played a game that I won in a giveaway a few months ago (April, actually), and I just wanted to tell everyone about it because I thought it was pretty great.  That, and I'd like to get back to posting short Quick Reviews a little more often, in addition to the many Kickstarter previews and occasional Full Reviews I do.

Battle of Durak is a twist on a traditional Russian trick taking game called Durak.  Battle of Durak adds special character skills and battle events to the game, giving it more thematic elements than the traditional game that is played with a standard deck of cards.  Last August the game was successfully funded on Kickstarter and it was delivered to backers this spring. Battle of Durak is for two to four players and plays in about 15-30 minutes.
The nice, heavy box is about 8"x4.5"x1.25" - about the size of Tides of Time or Citadels, but not exactly.
In Battle of Durak the object is to empty your hand of cards first, or rather to not be the last player stuck with cards.  In Russian 'durak' means 'fool'.  The game is a combination of trick taking and hand management that plays very unlike most trick taking games I'm used to.  Each player has a hand of six battle cards (from four suits numbered 6-14), plus three skill cards for the character class they've chosen.  There are six character classes: thief, alchemist, necromancer, wizard, barbarian, and assassin.  Each character class has fiver skill cards and each game you get to use three of the skills for the character class you've chosen.

On your turn you will attack the player to your left by playing a battle card from your hand.  Your opponent can defend by playing another card of higher value from the same suit, or any card in the trump suit.  If the attack is successfully defended you can press the attack by playing another card that is the same value as one of the cards already played (by either the attacker or defender), but in any suit.  Again your opponent can defend.  This goes on until either the attacker can't or doesn't want to attack again or until the defender runs out of cards (a successful defense) or can't defend (or chooses not to) and retreats.  If the defender is successful all the battle cards are discarded to the graveyard and if the attacker is successful the defender has to take all the battle cards into his hand and then loses the opportunity to attack his neighbor.  After the battle everyone draws up to a hand of six battle cards again.  Once the draw deck runs out the game continues without drawing back up, until everyone except for one player has emptied their hand.

Throughout the game Battle Events will appear in the draw deck.  These shake things up a bit by affecting all players.  And don't forget about each player's unique skill cards.  These can also be used when appropriate to get you out of a jam or inflict havoc on your opponents.  Used wisely they can be the turning point in a battle or even the entire game.

At first this sounds like a recipe for beating up on a loser, but it quickly becomes apparent that losing a battle isn't always all that bad.  Losing lets you gain a lot of cards, but that gives you control.  With a large hand of cards you'll have lots of choices for directing how a battle will proceed and you can exhaust your opponent's hand of good cards.  It's only in the end game, after the draw pile is empty, that retreating from an attack is risky.  But even then a strategic loss can put you in a position to win.
After a long battle, the Trump 13 of Stars has the win!
NOT!  The Thief uses his skills at bluffing to defend with a 7 of Crowns!
I really, really enjoyed Battle of Durak.  I found it fresh and exciting.  It played quickly, felt familiar and new at the same time, and had a deceptive amount of strategy.  This is definitely going to be a game I play a lot more of and also one I introduce to friends that are only familiar with classic card game.  Battle of Durak is a winner!  Go grab it today.  It's available for only $15 (on sale with free shipping) from

Preliminary Rating: 8/10

Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

GJJG Game Reviews - Emergents: Genesis - by Urban Island Games

Emergents: Genesis
Designers: Anthony Conta,
Brian David-Marshall, Matthew Wang
Publisher: Urban Island Games, LLC
GJJG Game Reviews - Emergents: Genesis - by Urban Island Games


Game Overview:
In December 2014 a new deck-building game about superheroes hit Kickstarter.  You might think that with games out there like Marvel Legendary and DC Deck-building Game that there wouldn't really be room for another.  And with Sentinels of the Multiverse having a pretty firm hold on the non-DC/Marvel superhero market, can another set of characters be compelling enough to garner attention?  Well, Emergents: Genesis rose to that challenge and was successfully funded by nearly 140%.  Now, a year and a half later the game has been out for a while, holds a respectable 7.88 rating on Board Game Geek, and is ready for retail.  But is the game ready to take on the established superheroes?  Let's find out.

Emergents: Genesis is a superhero deck-builder for two to four players age 10+. It plays in about an hour and is available from the Urban Island Games website for $39.99.  In Emergents: Genesis each player takes on the role of an Emergent and does battle with the other players' characters.  So, what is an 'Emergent'?
Emergents: Genesis comes with 225 cards.
In this game's super hero filled universe there are people, called Emergents, that have newly discovered super abilities, like strength, speed, telepathy, or control of the elements.  Four of these Emergents were once brought together by Aloysius Zeroth and formed the Genesis Squadron to defeat an alien invasion.  Shortly thereafter they defeated the first villainous Emergent named Phaeton (one of the four Genesis Squadron members' son).  After this battle, Zeroth and the members of the Genesis Squadron formed the Phaeton Project, a school where they could train other Emergents to use their powers for good.  Zeroth, along with Helios (Phaeton's father), Moxie, Billy Stopless, and The Abyss, began to search for, recruit, and teach other Emergents at this academy.  

This sounds a lot like the X-Men, however the back story is really superfluous to the gameplay.  In fact, it's even somewhat contradictory.  Each player takes on the role of one of these Emergents, learning and developing their abilities.  But instead of working together to defeat bad guys, or go on cooperative training missions, or anything that even remotely fits with the story, each player is trying to defeat their opponents.  It's not explained anywhere why the Emergents are battling each other.  But let's look past the weird story inconsistency and see if the rest of the game is any good.

Components & Packaging:
The components in Emergents: Genesis are just average.  The artwork is excellent, but the card quality is a bit lower than most games, particularly for a deck-builder.  They are fairly thin and the printing was scratching off a little bit on a few cards before I even played the game.  You'll definitely want to sleeve these cards if you intend on playing a lot.  Overall though they were fine, but not excellent.
With the black borders on the cards and thin, white core cardstock, the edges are going to get dinged up pretty quickly.
You may want to consider sleeving these.
The box is good and sturdy.  Not the best box I've seen, but far from the worst.  The box comes with an insert to hold the cards in two separate stacks.  The box is quite a bit bigger than is necessary though.  There's a lot of empty space.  Also, the artwork on the box is in landscape format, which, while I personally prefer landscape for games of this size, isn't very retailer friendly.  Retailers like to see smaller boxes with the artwork in a portrait layout so that they take up less shelf space.
The artwork on the box, like the cards and rulebook, is really top notch!
I do have a few bigger issues with the components though.  First is a matter of the graphic design.  Overall, the artwork is fantastic.  But there could have been a few tweaks that would have made everything just a bit better.  There are several types of cards in the game.  Since this is a deck-builder most of the cards need to have the same backs.  But there are a number of character cards that players have each game.  These aren't shuffled with the rest of the cards, but they still have the same backs.  It would have been nice if they had a different back to differentiate them easily.  The card fronts have a similar issue.  Most of the cards used in the game are shuffled into the main deck, called the 'Book'.  These get shuffled and become available for purchase from the marketplace, or 'Page', throughout the game.  But there are four smaller decks, called the 'Panel' that are always available.  Each of these decks contains fourteen copies of one card.  Like the cards from the Book, cards from the Panel will get purchased and shuffled into the decks throughout the game, but the problem comes at the end of the game when you have to sort out all the different types of cards again.  There is no quick way to see which cards are from the Panel compared to the cards from the Book.  It's a minor issue, and once you get familiar with the game and know the four card names it's not too bad sorting them out, but having an icon or some kind of graphical indicator to make the cards easy to identify would be nice.  Both of these issues are minor, though, compared to my biggest complaint.
The four cards on the top are Panel cards and must be separated out at the end of the game.
The bottom four are cards from the Book.  It would be great if there was a fast way to tell them apart for easier cleanup.
There are components missing from Emergents: Genesis.  That's right, you need to add some of your own components to play the game.  The game includes health tracking cards, but no tokens or clips to use on the cards.  I ended up using plastic clips that I had, but you could also use cubes, coins, or any other little markers, or even a score keeping app.  You really shouldn't ever be required to add stuff to a game just to play, but I might make an exception if it was just a means to track HP.  But those aren't the only missing bits.  Several cards in the game (including the Moxie character's special ability) mention 'Willpower Tokens'.  Nowhere in the rules are these mentioned (aside from a picture of the Moxie character card).  But it is obvious from the description of the tokens' benefit described on the cards that you do need a physical bit to use in the game.  I used centimeter cubes I had, and coins or peanuts would work just as well, but it's annoying that nothing was included with the game.  A few plastic cubes or cardboard chits would have solved both missing component problems.
Instead of providing clips with the game you'll have to find your own way of tracking HP.
I had these plastic clips lying around and they work fine, but so would cubes or paperclips.
A few of the cards reference Willpower Tokens, however there are none included in the game and they're never
mentioned in the rules.  Basically, if you pay a Willpower Token it'll Charge your next attack +1.
I used centimeter cubes I had lying around to stand in for the missing Willpower Tokens.
Score: 5/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Emergents: Genesis is a fairly typical deck-builder.  So if you've played deck-builders before you'll be up and playing in no time.  The combat mechanics are a little different, but nothing complex.  I was able to explain both the concept of deck-building and the rules of the game in just a few minutes to a friend that had never played a deck-builder before.  Overall, the rule book was very well laid out, had good graphics, and covered just about everything, except the aforementioned Willpower Tokens, although their function is clearly explained on the cards.
The rulebook looks like a comic book and is colorful, easy to follow, and well laid out.
Setup, on the other hand, isn't quite as easy.  It's not very difficult, but you do have a number of different sets of cards to sort and prepare.  First there are the health tracking cards - each player gets one, along with whatever bits you add to the game to track the health.  Then there are the character cards that must be passed out.  If a player is Professor Helios they get five special Construct cards that they'll use throughout the game.  Then the starting decks must be created for each player - three Punch and nine Focus cards.  Then four decks of cards (fourteen each of four cards) are set up to become the Panel.  Finally the remaining cards are shuffled and become the Book and six of those laid out to become the Page.  If everything is sorted ahead of time, setup isn't too bad, but all the sorting has to be done at some point. Usually during cleanup, but whenever it gets done it's a  bit longer than many games.  Not much more than Dominion though, and less than Marvel Legendary , but this isn't a quick, two minute setup (or cleanup).
Cards become the Panel, Page, Book, and Gutter (for the Erased cards).  There are a lot of separate piles,
but it's an average setup for a deck-builder.
Score: 6/10 x2

Playing Emergents: Genesis is where the game really shines though.  At first the game may seem like any other superhero deck-builder, particularly Marvel Legendary - there are two resources, Skill let's you buy more cards and Attack let's you fight opponents.  The core of the gameplay is mostly typical for a deck builder (draw cards, play cards for effects, buy cards, and so on), but combat is where things get interesting.

In Emergents: Genesis you play Attack cards one at a time.  They generally do one or two damage, but occasionally more.  Then you decide which opponent to direct the attack at.  The opponent then has the opportunity to react to the attack by playing one card, if they can.  This is called a Tactic and not all cards have a Tactic ability.  Tactics can either Defend or Counter against a certain amount of damage.  Defend just negates that amount of damage, but Counter both negates that amount of damage and does that damage back to the attacker (who then has the opportunity to use a Tactic in response, if possible).  The health tracker for each player is used to tally the resulting damage after combat.  You start with 30 HP, and when you get reduced to 0 you are eliminated.
The battles seemed pretty well balanced overall, but the player elimination aspect
of the game results in a bit of a ganging up on the loser strategy.
Because of the focus on combat and reacting to attacks there is very little downtime between turns.  It feels like you always have to be interacting with the other players.  And when you do have a few moments where you aren't involved in combat you'll be trying to plan your own strategy with the cards in your hand.  Because you play one card at a time the order you play them in can have major and lasting effects.  So you'll want to plan each move carefully.  With the pace of the game your turn will come around quickly, and while there is quite a bit of depth to the game I didn't find analysis-paralysis to be a problem.

You are being attacked by an opponent.  Do you want to keep this card for it's Flurry ability to heal you on your turn?
Or use it to defend against this attack and a potential future attack as well?
There are a number of other card effects that let you do all sorts of super heroey things, like heal, charge your attacks so they are more effective, look at opponents' cards, etc.  One of the coolest effects is Spread, which let's you attack all of your opponents at once.  In a two player game this is pretty much a standard attack, but in a multiplayer game it is a powerful, yet risky move.  There is also a Flurry ability, which lets you perform an action once for each card value you play in a turn, which is pretty fun.  Throughout the game you can also Erase cards, which is essentially trashing them, to either refine your deck or prevent opponents from gaining cards.  There is also an ability called Forge that gives you benefits that increase if you Erase cards in a turn.  
Even the basic Panel cards have cool abilities and don't feel like a wasted purchase.
There are also Gear cards that, like bases in Star Realms, constructs in Ascension, or locations in DC Deck-builder, remain in play after a player's turn, until opponents manage to destroy them.  Each player also has a special character ability that is unique to the character they are playing for the game (there are 13 different characters available).
Gear cards stay in play after your turn and provide ongoing abilities.
Overall I found the card interactions very interesting and engaging.  Nothing felt overpowered on its own, but there were definitely some very powerful combinations.  Like most deck builders, the more you understand these interactions and synergies the better you will be at building effective decks.  I found the game very fun and interesting to play and look forward to getting it to the table a whole lot more.
Card interactions allow for some pretty awesome combos.
I think the only complaint I have with the gameplay is the player elimination aspect.  It's not an issue with two players (although with two players you lose the awesomeness of a Spread attack), but with three or four players, getting eliminated is kind of a bummer.  The game can easily go on for 15, 20, or more minutes after someone is eliminated.  That's just not very fun.  I'd recommend playing until one player is eliminated and then declare a winner based on who has more HP left.  This would discourage gaining up on the loser and end the game at the same time for everyone.  There is no official variant, for this, but the designer acknowledged that it is fine to play that way if players prefer no elimination.
Once you are down to zero health you are eliminated and must watc the other players duke it out.
A simple solution is to just play until one player is eliminated.
Score: 8/10 x3

This is a really fun game with lots of different character combinations.  I am definitely interested in playing a lot more.  The card interactions are interesting and should provide a lot of strategic options to explore.  The theme is one that should interest most gamers and many non-gamers as well, and with the fairly simple rules it should be pretty easy to get to the table.  I think Emergents: Genesis should have quite a bit of replayability.
13 different playable heroes, each with a unique ability, add to the replayability.
Score: 8/10 x1

General Fun:
Overall I had a lot of fun playing Emergents: Genesis.  I really enjoyed the player interaction, card synergies, and depth of strategy combined with the simple rules.   The artwork on the cards is great and the overall comic book theme is fun (in keeping with the comic book theme, areas of play are called the Book, Panel, and Page).  
Everyone agreed that the game was fun and they'd be willing to play again.
The only thematic issue I have is with why I'm battling the other players at all.  In the story-line we are all supposed to be on the same team, just learning about and developing our powers.  So why we are fighting each other is beyond me.  But that doesn't really change the gameplay and enjoyable time I had playing.
Why is Billy Stopless battling The Accelerant?  Isn't he supposed to be her teacher?  Oh well, Attack for 3 Damage!
Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
You can buy Emergents: Genesis from the Urban Island Games website for $39.99, plus shipping.  That seems a bit expensive for what you get, especially with the few missing components.  I really did enjoy the game and think it brings some interesting gameplay, but for only cards, $40 seems steep.  DC Deck Building Game has about the same number of cards and has an MSRP of $40, but can be found just about everywhere for under $30. To be fair, Emergents: Genesis is available on Cool Stuff Inc for just $27, but that's the only third party site I was able to find it at for a discount.   So while the game is fun, it loses a few points for overall value because of the price.  But as distribution increases you should be able to find this at actual prices comparable to similar games.
The MSRP is comparable to similar games, like DC Deck Building Game, but the DC Deck Building Game
can be found for a lot cheaper pretty much everywhere.  And with Emergents: Genesis missing a few components $40 seems a bit steep.
Score: 6/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
Emergents: Genesis is definitely a contender in the genre of super hero themed card games.  It holds it's own against the big Marvel, DC, and Sentinels games.  The Emergents characters are well thought out, the artwork is fantastic, and the universe story works well, even if it is very similar to the X-Men and feels at odds with the gameplay.  There is a lot of room for expansion material, other games, and other media set in the Emergents universe, and some real compelling characters and stories. 
Fantastic artwork, tons of cool abilities, deep card synergies, and very interactive gameplay
will keep me coming back to Emergents: Genesis.
There are just a few things that keep this game from being great (although it does squeak into a top tier): the missing components, a few poor graphic design choices, and a high price.  The story of Emergents banding together being at odds with the gameplay mechanic is also awkward.  But none of these ultimately affected my enjoyment of the game.  If these issues don't bother you then you'll find Emergents: Genesis to be a fun, interactive, fairly strategic foray into the super hero genre.  Hopefully a second edition someday can fix these minor issues.  I look forward to seeing expansions and more stories to come in the Emergents universe.

Overall Score: 71/100

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.