You can’t seem to go down to your local Tesco these days without bumping into some superhero or other. They’re everywhere, flouncing about quashing hate and villainy. Ubiquity is an understatement. The Reckoners sets itself up with a slightly different premise: what if everyone given powers just used them for evil? This is a world established in a series of books by Brandon Sanderson and one that, fortunately for us, has spawned a pretty impressive board game.
In The Reckoners, you will take on the role of a character without powers, trying to work with your teammates to take down a range of supervillains on the way to defeating the big bad who goes by the name of Steelheart. You’ll visit a range of locations in Newcago (guess which city that used to be), each one populated by another ‘Epic’ or supervillain. You’ll use your dice and equipment to defeat them as a team. There are 6 Reckoners to choose from and each plays differently thanks to their unique dice and abilities. This gives you a range of variations in your team combinations and require you to work out strategies early on. In this game, communication is key.
Welcome to Newcago
Let’s start with the gameplay, because the Reckoners offers something a little different from your usual dice chucking. You’ll acquire your resources for the turn by throwing your dice up to three times. Each time, you’ll have to bank one of them, but you’ll be allowed to throw as many of the rest as you like until you’ve had your three attempts. You start with 6 dice: 3 generic white dice and 3 unique to your character. But there is the possibility to ‘buy’ extra dice from the market place. The more dice the better when it comes to taking the actions you’ll need to win. However, Steelheart can remove them too, so you’ll need to balance your play carefully.
Once everyone has rolled their dice, you use them to take actions against the Epics and Steelheart. You can pretty much resolve any dice in any order and across all player turns. This is where you come together as a group to work out how best to proceed. You may have abilities and equipment on cards for your character. These can manipulate or convert certain symbols on your dice into what you want or need at that time. This is something else to keep an eye out for when you’re establishing the weaknesses in your team. The way to defeat the Epics is clever: you can go for straight damage if you want, but each Epic also has a ‘research’ value.
Your dice can also allow you to research the villains. If you deplete their research number, their health drops significantly, since you’ve discovered their weakness. Some of the Epics even have infinite health until you research them. Interestingly enough, you can’t start to damage Steelheart at all until his entire research track is at zero, so the early game will be spent attacking that.
‘Epic’ turn, dude!
There’s always one Epic more than the number of players, so there’s a lot to keep an eye on. Damage limitation will play a big part of your turn. It’s easy to get carried away and lose sight of all the little fires that start to consume the board. Teamwork is absolutely key to this. There are minions to consider (these little red soldiers that help bolster the Epic’s powers), barricades, and your only real loss condition which occurs when the population of Newcago is completely wiped out.
When you’ve finished resolving your dice, the Epics go. You will travel around the board resolving their powers one at a time. They can do a range of things and if they aren’t contained or defeated, they’ll get progressively worse. They also boost Steelheart’s powers. Once the Epics are done, he will get his turn. This situation can spiral out of control quickly so you’ll need to think carefully about where the danger lies on each and every turn. This makes for some frantic and fast-paced interactions.
The Good Stuff in the Big Box
The Reckoners comes in a big box. And it’s full of stuff.
Really nice stuff.
All the components are pretty much fantastic, from the dice to the figures to the artwork. And you don’t get a board with this. You get trays. Molded plastic trays to lay everything in. So, you can lay your table out however you want and it looks great. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a cheap gam,e but when you’re playing it, especially with lots of players, you can really see where that money went. This is a really easy part of a review like this. It looks and feels like a fantastic experience.
Is it Superpowered?
There’s always a danger with co-ops. Do you have that one person in your game group that takes everyone’s turn for them? The Reckoners is very susceptible to that, so you’ll need the right group to play it. This is a fast, frantic game where the dice really lay out the options for the group. A game like Aeon’s End has a little more opportunity to ‘craft’ your character, since you’re building a deck as you go along. But your turn in Aeon’s End is clearly your turn and that slows down the game. The Reckoners sacrifices a little of that character definition for the good of the team dynamic, yielding an equally rewarding experience.
The fact that you can scale up and down the difficulty easily is an excellent addition. It protects the game’s longevity to some extent, while still keeping the game open to younger or less experienced players. And I do think that this game plays well with pretty much any group you would want to play it with. It’s straightforward, fast paced and easy to teach. It’s also a pretty quick game to blast through.
My only real criticism of this entire production is that I’m a little worried it might burn out too quickly. As a group of three, we worked out early on that certain characters were much more useful than others. We also saw the same Epics appearing on the board and the same equipment filling the marketplace in several consecutive games. And, as fun as the game is, the speed at which you can barrel through a few sessions means you’ll probably find yourself doing the same thing. That might not be what you want to be finding at this price point.
There is a rumoured expansion on the horizon and this would be welcome already. There’s some excellent design space still open that I would love to see exploited to add more depth and strategy on both the player’s and the Epics’ turns. It isn’t necessary right off the bat by any means, but knowing that it won’t be available for some time might influence your decision.
However, if you chose not to buy it for this reason alone, you’d be missing out on a solid and exciting tabletop experience. The Reckoners manages to capture the feel of an action movie with its frenetic turn taking and dynamic back and forth. Super fun for super friends. Enjoy.