Phil is a guy who has a game publishing company called 5th Street Games. Ben is a guy who is a game designer, and is also not me. A little while back, Ben released a game called Baldrick’s Tomb through The Game Crafter, and it got lots of attention. Phil saw it, liked it, and contacted Ben about publishing this game.
This is their story.
Actually, this is a review of a preview edition of Baldrick’s Tomb, which is currently being Kickstarted by 5th Street Games. But ‘This is their story’ sounds a hell of a lot more dramatic.
! @ k
This game is inspired by the old school, rogue like computer games. In these games, players (often represented by the ambiguous @ symbol) wander around randomly generated dungeons, delving deeper, gaining more stuff and searching for one, prime item. These games were brutal to players. There were no saves, no extra lives, and winning one was a true achievement. Baldrick’s Tomb seeks to replicate this experience in a quick to play board game. They’ve softened things up a bit – permanent, soul crushing death has been re-branded as “knocked out” and carries a much lesser penalty. All of the other aspects are here though, and they’re wildly appealing to both adults and kids.
Setting up the game
It should be noted that I’m reviewing a preview version of this game. Not all of the artwork is finalized and the bits and pieces of the game are not all of production quality.
The essence of this game is the game board. On this game board you will randomly place a bunch of rubble tokens, which when encountered by players are flipped over to reveal a number of different things. They could be scrolls, which give players interesting abilities. Pure, lovely treasure, which you need to win. Monsters, which can do some hefty damage to you but can also result in your character collecting more gold, or traps which are nasty affairs. If you’re really lucky, you may turn over a healing tile, which restores all of your character’s hit points. 10 of these rubble tokens are strewn about the board, with at least one board space in between each one. Also mixed in is one ladder leading down to the next level and at levels 2-4, Baldrick’s Gem – a hefty item worth 5 treasure.
Each player chooses one of four characters. These characters initially share all the same abilities, which is they can move up to 4 spaces and fight things. After choosing your characters, you’re dealt three skill cards. These skills are what make your characters unique. From extra hit points to collecting treasure when other players fail – all of your skills are helpful and make each character different every time.
Then each player is dealt two scroll cards – scrolls are also helpful and can do damage to monsters, help your character or hinder other players.
The clear red token shows how many Hit Points a character has, the clear green token indicates the character’s poison level. If ever the two should meet, or if the characters hit points equal zero, that character is knocked out.
Once you’re all set up, each player rolls the blue and red d8’s included in the game and uses the resulting coordinates to place their characters on the board.
The object of Baldrick’s Tomb is to be the one to make it out with the most gold in the end. The end happens after 4 levels of the dungeon are played through.
Game play is relatively simple, and quite fast. Each player can move up to four dungeon spaces (though not diagonally). The point to doing this is to encounter rubble tokens, flip them over and then do what they indicate. Trap, monster, gold or scroll you draw on of those cards to determine what happens next.
If you encounter a monster, you can either fight it or choose to flee by paying it’s level in gold. If you choose to fight it, each monster has a chart at the base of the card, ranging from 1-8. You roll a d8 and consult the chart to see if the monster damaged or poisoned you, or if you’ve damaged it. Keep rolling until either you’re knocked out or the monster is defeated.
Once a monster is defeated you get the gold indicated in the card. Skills and scrolls can help you either avoid fights, or get them over a lot quicker.
After every player has taken their moves and if possible encountered something in the dungeon, the Impending Doom track clicks up one. When this reaches 5 (or 4 or 6 depending on how hard you want to make the game) the dungeon floor collapses and everyone is dropped to the next level.
This is bad. If that happens, you immediately lose half your gold. The alternative to this is to discover the exit and take the ladder down to the next level. If you do this, you may lose a turn or two of exploring, but you will not lose half your gold.
As each new level starts, each character’s hit points and poison levels are reset. Also, starting at level 2, Baldrick’s Gem is put into play and can be encountered just like any other rubble token. In addition to all this, you add in more powerful monsters as well. Monsters are divided into three decks, levels I through III. At the start of each new level, you add in harder monsters to the mix, shuffle the whole thing and take off playing.
Getting knocked out in this game isn’t the end of the world. There is no player elimination, which I like. Rather you lose half your gold (rounded down) and if you have Baldrick’s Gem, it goes to the person with the least gold, or the grumpiest 10 year old, depending. That last bit is a house rule. But then you reset your character and jump back into the fray!
This game is designed to play quick, and be appealing to both adults like myself who may be secretly craving that old rogue like feeling, and kids.
It certainly lives up to this design. My youngest was interested in it on the day it arrived and I pulled the game board out of the box to give it a look. We couldn’t play it for a few days due to prior commitments. When we did have time, she was right there at the table eager to get going.
It passed the real test though after our first play through. On the first level we were learning how to play. By the second level, my 7 year old had the basics down. By the 3rd level she was actively blocking me and finding all the neat stuff and by the end of the game she had won 20 to 11.
She begged me to let her stay up late and play again. When that didn’t fly, she extracted a promise from me to play the very next day, which we did. She won again much to her delight. It was a lot of fun for both of us, and a huge victory for her as she knew I wasn’t letting her win and it wasn’t random chance that led her to victory.
The game is billed as 8+ and my youngest is 7 and a half. She has a bit of difficulty reading some of the words on the cards, but once helped with this, understands the core concepts (and quite a lot of the less obvious strategies in game) without any issues. More importantly though, she loves to play this game. Winning that first game may have helped her opinion out a bit, but even after multiple plays, which she did not win every one of, she still asks to play.
From an adult, this game does several things for me. It gives me a fun game with lots of neat bits which I can play in a half hour. It allows me to play a (as my daughter says) ‘real’ board game with my kids. For me, I define this as a game I actually really enjoy playing. I’m as eager to break it out as they are.
My oldest at 10 years of age was slightly less enchanted with it at first glance, but got into it once her younger sister started pulling ahead towards the end of the second dungeon level.
Initially it looks a bit intimidated with four decks of cards and lots of tokens and skill cards. After the first set up though, I’d say each additional set up took perhaps 5 minutes of shuffling and sorting and was not intimidated to me or the kids.
Even without the final artwork in place for many of the cards and the bits not being finalized yet either, the game art that was present was excellently done. It’s got a slightly cartoon-like look which is appealing to kids but isn’t a turn off for adults. And it features a cultured, pipe smoking, monocled wearing werewolf which I find amazing.
The game play is fairly simple, as you’d expect from a game that runs 30-45 minutes in length with four players. Combat isn’t complicated and the game is not going to be as tactical as any of the ‘big box’ dungeon crawl games. For the price and aim of this game though, I wouldn’t expect it. If you go into this game looking for a quick, enjoyable dungeon crawl you’ll leave happy, even if your 7 year old beats the snot out of you.
I do like that there’s a fair bit of tension as the Impending Doom counter ticks closer to the collapse of the dungeon floor. You don’t want to lose half your gold! Are you going to go the extra distance to find out what’s under that unresolved dungeon tile? Will you make it back, or get hit by a trap that slows you down?
Baldrick’s Tomb is a lot of fun for the whole family. It plays fast and furious, captures a lot of that dungeon crawl feel while still being highly accessible to young players. It straddles that line between fun for kids and engaging for adults quite well, as do many of the games from 5th Street Games. This is another title I wouldn’t hesitate to break out for my gaming group as game to start off the night, or wind it down.
I would absolutely recommend getting into the Kickstarter if you’re looking for this kind of game. You can grab the instructions as well to get a closer look at the game play. At $25 shipped to the US for a copy, this is a no-brainer for me. I get another fun game that I can play with my whole family in a half hour, and a game I can easily bring to conventions, game nights or play solo if the mood strikes me.