In Comanauts, the story centres on the curious mind of Dr Martin Strobal. Dr Strobal is the inventor of the Mobius Strip device, capable of producing unlimited free energy. However, this is currently in meltdown, threatening to blow up the planet.
But, oh no! The good doctor is in a radiation-induced coma and is being held there by his inner demons (he has a lot of those...). It’s up to you and your fellow comanauts to enter Martin’s subconscious and find a way to wake him so he can fix his temperamental device.
Playing Mind Games
This is a 2-4 player game with a strong narrative theme from designer Jerry Hawthorne (responsible for Stuffed Fables) at Plaid Hat Games. As it’s a cooperative game, a single player can use two or more avatar setups to play the solo version of this twisted tale.
Players travel across different zones in Martin’s subconscious as dream explorers (comanauts) to influence his behaviour, Inception-style.
The overall aim in Comanauts is to awaken Martin from his coma. Players work together to solve puzzles and fight Martin’s inner demons. They must first, however, find his inner child. The inner child provides clues to the location of the Doctor’s prime inner demon. Once you have defeated the demon, Martin will wake up.
Comanauts uses the pages of a spiral-bound adventure storybook as the board of the game (similar to Near and Far). These pages link to specific memories in Martin’s past. The memories can relate to real places, such as the house where he grew up, or imaginary places, such as pages from his favourite comic book.
To win Comanauts, players must work together to defeat Martin’s prime inner demon. Only then will Martin come out of his coma so he can fix the Mobius Strip and save the world.
If players don’t find the prime demon in time, Martin will ‘flatline’ and the game is over.
Comanauts spans several campaigns, with five locations per campaign. You can also play in standalone mode, focusing on one part of the story at a time. A game lasts approximately 60 - 90 minutes. Each campaign will take you to related locations to gather clues, fight off an inner demon, and identify the next location to visit.
There is a huge choice of avatars; from a sharp-suited investigator to a talking gorilla. As you unravel puzzles and hone in on his prime inner demon, Martin will become aware that his mind is being invaded. This causes his inner demons and other enemies to attack.
In Comanauts, play moves forward by drawing and rolling dice. Each player draws five dice from a bag, and differently coloured dice enable particular actions. A yellow dice aids a player’s search for clues, a green dice gives the ability to move across barriers, and the translucent blue dice calls forth Martin’s inner child.
Black dice, however, are bad news. Accumulating several of these allows hostile forces to attack. Players can bank a dice for use in another round, swap two of their dice for one in the discard pile, or gift a dice to another player. These options avoid players getting stuck if they lack a particular coloured dice.
At certain points in Comanauts, you draw cards from the vital signs deck. This acts as a timer. Stable vital signs have no effect, critical vital signs may have an effect, and if the flatline card is revealed... then Martin is beyond saving.
Dreamer, Awake! Some Final Thoughts
The narrative in Comanauts is extremely well thought out. The way the different locations link together is truly imaginative. I loved the design of the storybook and the artwork was striking and witty.
Our group really became immersed in the story, which mixes solving puzzles with combat to great effect. There are eleven different scenarios to play through, consisting of three playable pages each, which gives thirty-three potential areas to explore.
A negative aspect is that, like any narrative game, there isn't a lot of replayability. Sometimes players get stuck for a turn or so, due to the gameplay being dependant on dice rolling.
I look forward to more games from designer Jerry Hawthorne. His way of intertwining stories and board game mechanics is highly imaginative and compelling. Comanauts was so much fun to play and worked equally well cooperatively and solo.