Game Review – The Reckoners

Game Overview

Designers: Brett Sobol & Seth Van Orden
Artists: Ian O’Toole (Graphic Design) & Miguel Coimbra (Illustration)
Publisher: Nauvoo Games
MSRP: $99.99 (Base Game)
Players: 1–6
Play Time: ~90–120 minutes
Target Age Range: 14+
Published: 2018

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Alright, everyone, this is a review I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I’ve been a big fan of Brandon Sanderson for years now. (If you’ll recall, the first review I ever posted was based on Mistborn: House War, which is about his popular Mistborn series.) I even host a podcast about the Cosmere, the giant multiverse where his books take place, with a couple of friends.

And so when I heard there was a Kickstarter campaign for a board game based his YA series, The Reckoners, I knew I had to be a part of it. My roommate even surprised me by increasing the pledge to the EPIC level, which includes several upgraded components. I finally received my copy of the game, after waiting several months, and it’s beautiful. We recorded an unboxing video, so if you want to see exactly what comes in the box, you should check it out below.

But that’s not what you’re here for. The video does a great job of showing the components, but sparks, you came here for a review. So let’s get started, ya slonce. We’ve got a supervillain to overthrow!

Theme

As you might expect for a game based on a licensed property, The Reckoners is pretty heavy on the theme. While the game is named after the series as a whole, it actually really only covers the first book, Steelheart. I would hazard a guess that any future expansions for this game would start to delve into the second and third book of the trilogy, but I honestly have no way of knowing that for certain.

The basic premise of the series (and the game) is this: The books take place in the not-too-distant future. One day, a new satellite appeared in the sky, which came to be known as “Calamity.” When that happened, suddenly several people were granted superpowers—standard ones you see in comic books like flight, super strength, speed, and even invulnerability, as well as a few less conventional ones, like the ability to turn anything that’s not alive into steel. Suddenly, the whole world was filled with people with incredible abilities. There was only one problem.

Everyone who got superpowers was evil.

These new supervillains (or Epics, as they’re called) quickly turn the world upside down, toppling governments, causing mayhem, and carving out their own little mini-kingdoms in the wreckage of civilization. One of the most powerful, Steelheart, claims Chicago, turning enormous segments of it into steel and setting up less powerful Epics as his lieutenants. As time goes by, the city comes to be called Newcago.

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The players take on the roles of the Reckoners, a group of regular humans who have decided to work together to fight back against the Epics. Each Epic has a weakness that robs them of their powers, and your goal is to research the Epics to discover their individual weaknesses and bring them down one by one, until finally, together…

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…you take down Steelheart.

Gameplay (9/10)

The Reckoners is a cooperative game for up to 6 players. While the box says it can be played solo, the single-player mode is essentially one person playing as though they were two people. (The same way many co-op games can be played solo.) It works well enough, but it’s not really a fully developed single-player mode.

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Each round, all the players simultaneously roll a handful of dice. Each player starts with 3 neutral dice and 3 dice that doubles the effect of a particular ability. Over the course of the game, however, it’s possible for players to gain or lose their dice.

Players can decide which dice from their first roll they would like to keep, with the option to re-roll up to two more times, keeping and re-rolling dice in a similar manner to Yahtzee! or King of Tokyo. Players have to keep at least one die from each roll they make, and after three rolls, they must keep what they have rolled.

The point of the game is to work as a team to allocate resources to different tasks, such as earning money, developing plans (which can be used on later turns as a wild resource that can be spent in place of any other resource), clearing out Enforcement (Steelheart’s elite police), containing Epics to prevent them from doing too much damage to the city, researching Epics to discover their weaknesses, or attacking lesser Epics to take them permanently out of the game. Each Epic players defeat weakens Steelheart’s grip on the city, bringing the Reckoners that much closer to taking him down once and for all.

The key to success is teamwork. Players have to look at, not only their own resources each turn, but the resources of the team as a whole. Coordinated attacks, moving their characters at just the right times in just the right ways, are the path to bringing down the lesser Epics and, eventually, Steelheart.

Many Epics will be impossible to take down in one turn, so it’s important to manage your resources. Sometimes, the best play is to try to bring down an Epic in a single burst, but Epics get more powerful each turn they’re on the board. If you want to survive to defeat Steelheart, you’ll need to spend some resources to keep their abilities in check until you can attack them directly.

Visual/Physical Appeal (9.5/10)

Remember, I played the EPIC edition of this game, which came with upgraded components, so that’s what I’ll be talking about here. That said, I’ve seen the components used in the base game, and they’re still very high quality. The people at Nauvoo Games have really outdone themselves.

Let’s start with the artwork. Holy cow, guys. The visuals for this game are stunning! They’ve really done a great job of capturing each of the Epics from the book, as well as additional Epics that were created just for the game. DSC_6749-shopped(In fact, one Epic—The Hotness—was created specifically as a Kickstarter bonus goal based around getting the game to rank on BoardGameGeek’s popular games list, also known as The Hotness, before GenCon.)

The game even includes a booklet called “Untold Epics,” written by Brandon Sanderson himself, which gives some nice details and backstory for each of the Epics. The booklet is written in the style of David (the viewpoint character from the books) taking his copious notes on the various Epics. It talks about their abilities, where they came from, and sometimes, even what they were like before they were granted their powers. Sometimes, it shows their weaknesses, while other times, it’s left a mystery. It’s a really nice bit of flavor for the game.

One nice little touch my friends and I noticed was the inclusion of one particular Epic who goes by the name “Quicksand.” Take a look at his card, below:

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Does he look a bit familiar? Those of you who have read Brandon Sanderson’s books may notice a bit of a resemblance to the author himself. In “Untold Epics,” he is listed as entry #16, which is an important number within his Cosmere books. In the brief bio, it mentions that the only record they’ve been able to dig up on Quicksand mentions him studying pre-med outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, Brandon Sanderson’s hometown. And the Epic is described as “Usually seen wearing glasses and a suit coat over some kind of T-shirt.”

Sound familiar?

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The Innkeeper getting a book signed by his favorite author

Plus, for an author who writes as prolifically as Brandon Sanderson, putting out multiple books most years, the name “Quicksand” seems… fitting.

The incredible illustrations don’t end with the Epics, though. Every piece of artwork in the game, from the player portraits to the equipment players can buy to the locations the Reckoners visit during play is visually stunning.

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One of the most satisfying things about the game, though, is the player and location trays. While this sort of player aid is typically something you have to buy outside of the normal game, these organizers, created by GameTrayz, come as part of the base game. But beyond keeping everything in place, they also serve as a great physical reminder of how each turn proceeds. I will admit that, while I love the trays, they’re also the main reason this game didn’t get a perfect 10 on components, and it’s for an admittedly nit-picky reason. The trays themselves feel light and a little bit cheap. They’re actually still very durable, but I found the lightness off-putting.

Okay, yeah. That’s too persnickety.

Visual/Physical Appeal (9.5 10/10)

Happy now?

The player figurines, which you can see in the above slideshow, are also really high quality. These are one of the main differences between the different Kickstarter versions of the game. DSC_6783-shoppedMost of the plastic components in the base version of the game (except for the dice and most of the figurines) are upgraded to metal components in the DELUXE and EPIC versions. In the EPIC version, the miniatures of the Reckoners and Steelheart are prepainted.

Seriously, though. The components in this game are nice.

Setup Time (4–5 minutes)/Play Time (90–120 minutes)

Because of all the player trays, setup for this game is pretty quick. Everything locks into place, and the game even comes with a removable storage bin for all the extra side pieces you’ll be using during play.

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It’s pretty easy to take down for the same reason—everything stacks up neatly inside the box, and there’s a spot for each piece. It’s really well designed.

The game can take some time to play, but the game includes a system to adjust the difficulty level, which can increase or decrease the necessary play time, which I’ll talk about at the end of the next section.

Complexity (Rank 6)/Teach Time (~15 minutes)

It takes a little bit of time to learn (the Watch It Played video for the game clocks in at just over 25 minutes), but the actual play for The Reckoners runs pretty smoothly. Also, the game comes with a great player reference card to help streamline the rounds.

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The game boards are modular, allowing different setups for a variety of player counts and difficulties. Ranging from “Easy” to “Sparks!” and allowing for up to 6 players, you can adjust the game to match the sort of game you’re looking for.

Replayability (8.5/10)

Because the game relies on so many different factors, each game is going to play differently than the last. There are lots of different Epics with different abilities that can throw a wrench into the game just as it seems you’ve got everything in hand. The dice-rolling mechanism adds an element of chance without taking it too far. Each reckoner has his or her own specialty, including a special ability and dice with one resource doubled, so the team that you choose at the beginning of the game can have a massive impact on how things go.

Overall (9/10)

I’ll admit it. I’m biased. Brandon’s been my favorite author for more than 10 years now, so I was already really excited about this game before it even came out. But if I’m being completely objective, I still would have to say that I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to playing it many more times in the future. Even though the box is enormous, it’s earned its spot on my shelf. To put it simply, it’s a great game.

You might even say it’s… epic.

—The Innkeeper