Review: Too Many Bones Undertow

Undertow review

Too Many Bones has been on my wish list since I joined the 1 Player Guild on BGG a few years go. I can’t say that I’ve seen a negative review or mention of it anywhere. What constantly put me off was the price, including shipping to South Africa. Too Many Bones Undertow plus some extras went up on sale (2nd hand) and I thought why not, I’ll be saving a bit, the components are supposed to be strong and I’ll have a bunch of extra content for the KS that I’m expecting soon. It arrived last week.

Too Many Bones Undertow is a standalone expansion for the game Too Many Bones. It is a dice building RPG. This means that over the course of the game you build up a character give him skills and send he off to fight enemies and, usually, save the day.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the Box

Specs on the box

  • 1 – 4 players (there are only 2 characters in the box, so you will need to buy more to play with 3 or 4 players)
  • 1 – 1.5 hours (expect 2+ initially with 1.5 being the average when you no longer need the reference sheets)
  • Ages 12 and up

 

The person I bought the game from was nice. Since I was shipping internationally he packed the game plus the 2 extras he bought all into as few boxes as possible. It saves me some money, but I really have no idea if there was an insert. Not that is even necessary. Most of the components are in fantastic trays that you can pack neatly into the box.

The cards are a type of plastic, even their tuck boxes are the same material. All counters and tokens are weighted, plastic coated poker chips. The ‘boards’ are neoprene and the dice have the same heat bonded treatment that you find in Star Wars Destiny.

This means that they are extremely tough and even water proof!

Undertow review
The quality of the components and attention to detail is superb.

Sleeves

It’s not necessary, IMHO. Maybe you play with people who have greasy fingers and just don’t want to wipe the cards down. If so, then you can use these:

 

Theme

Too Many bones is set in the fantasy world of Daelore. The seven tyrants of northern Daelore have been defeated but now you have been accused of being one of them. You and your companions must venture down the Sibron river in hunting other tyrants in your quest to expose the truth about the council. Along the way you will have encounters which may or may not lead to battles. When they do it’s a turn based tactical affair with dice chucking, don’t worry even rolling badly is a good thing 😉

Undertow review
The art, though small, is so good.

 

Gameplay

Setup

I love the setup in this game, it’s just so easy. Each player selects a Character and grabs their play mat and dice. Then you place the battle mat and loot decks and the lock picking dice on the table.

I’ve got an adventure map which needs a day counter chip in it. This is an extra and it not needed for game play. It looks great, but I think I might just skip using it in favour of an even faster setup which just involves a card and the same poker chip.

The longest part of the setup is setting up your enemies and the encounter deck. First you decide which of the 5 tyrants you wish to hunt. They have various difficulties which impacts how long the game will be. Additionally, they bring along with them different enemies. So, you need to sort the baddies to select only the types that are on the tyrant chip.

Then you shuffle the encounter cards and select several them based on a number on the tyrant card, add in any tyrant specific encounters and then top this deck off with 1 random ‘day 1’ and 1 random ‘day 2’ encounter.

Undertow review
This far, I’m really enjoying Stanza.

It sounds like a lot but it’s not.

Turn Sequence

Each round in the game is a day in Daelore. You will have x days to finish the game before the tyrant wins, “x” is dependent on the tyrant that you select. You start a day by drawing an encounter card. This has a little story on it about what’s going on and then it leaves you with a decision.

Sometimes these decisions can lead to a peaceful resolution or it can lead to combat. These will have different benefits or penalties to your current situation. Often resolving an event will grant you loot and training points to level up your character.

Combat

Combat is a tactical, turn based affair that happens on a grid playmat.  Enemies and players get setup and act based on their initiative. For the enemies they will follow simple programming depending on icons on their poker chips.

The players have lots to ponder on their turns. Each character has 4 basic stats HP lists the characters health. Attack is the number of attack dice that is available to be rolled each turn. Defence is the number of defensive dice available and then there is Dex. This is the interesting one. You use Dex to move and Dex limits the total number of dice that can be rolled each turn.

If a character has 3 Attack, 2 Defence and 4 Dex then he can, for example, move 1 space then roll 2 attacks and 1 defensive die on his turn for a total of 4. Additionally, each character has 16 unique skills! Each one of these is a die that can be rolled/set/used as a counter.

Undertow review
I still remember getting clobbered in this game.

Dice, by their nature are random. This means that in combat they can hit or miss. Usually that puts people off but, in this game, misses are useful. Misses are called Bones and you can store them to spend at a later point in the combat. This will grant you additional abilities. One of which gives you’re a permeant character boost.

You cannot be complacent and just rely on your skills and stats to power through. Each combat will be tougher that the previous one. Even if it seems like the odds are all stacked against you there is usually some way for you to find an edge. I’ve found after combats that I had lost I could have won, had I acted differently. It’s quite the puzzle!

Successfully accomplishing encounters grants you loot and training points. Loot is useful for healing and in game effects while the training point can be used to improve your stats or gain new skills.

You win the game if you defeat the tyrant before the specified number of days is passed.

Conclusion

TMB: Undertow spent the entire first week that I received it on my dining room table. I played it 5 times in that week. The only reason I moved it was because we were expecting guests and Pria would have killed me if the table still had a setup game on it. (It’s back FYI)

Undertow review
I relegated the kids to the camping table for homework that week.

That means I love it. From the components to the game play it’s a marvel. Exploring the characters is like a game all its own. I had a bard named Stanza, she could play Emo music that made people feel bad. That meant that when they rolled a miss they would cut themselves! She could play energetic songs that gave her team extra movement or actions. She also had mind control music. BUT, she can only play so much at once, do you keep playing the same song to a crescendo or do you re-intro the song while starting up another? Should I juggle multiple songs or give up that dice to allow me more focus on fewer songs? Just explaining this one character would require reviewing this character.  All the characters feel fresh and original compared to other RPG games.

They are also very different from each other. While you get a lot of variability from the 5 different tyrants with different enemies to face, the stack of events, you will also need to learn different characters with multiple builds per character. There’s a lot of content in the box, including campaign rules. I’ve got no regrets at all on pulling the trigger on this game.

It’s expensive, I won’t lie shipping and customs is about the same as cost as buying the game itself. As far as I’m concerned, it’s worth it. It’s got that quick setup, easy to remember rules but engaging gameplay and interesting setting that I’ve been looking for.

Undertow review
Ronin is also enjoying the game and keen to play again.

How does it play solo?

TMB has a dedicated solo mode which is fantastic. It has events made specifically for solo play and each character is rated for difficulty in both solo and co-op. The solo is in no way half-baked or an afterthought. As good as it is when you play the pure solo, the game just gets better when you play 2 handed solo, i.e. with 2 or more characters.

Can I play this at a braai?

Only with great difficulty. I did play it while smoking some ribs on Saturday, but I lost track of what I was doing and forgot to spritz the ribs a few times (Luckily, they did not dry out). I cannot see myself having a braai while play unless I’ve got a timer to remind me to go and check on the meat.

 

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