…now I have done my fair share of adventuring and dungeon type crawling (especially in passageways with low ceilings) but this has to be the very first time I have ever started off without a single thing. Nothing! Not a bean! Not even clothes…I have my fists but have to craft everything else, even underwear, and that will take a Large Energy, I can tell you!
So to scavenge bits of wood and metal from the detritus of this tomb, I can upgrade my delicate fisticuffs to a sharp stabby knife! So, look out you evil Wyvern, you! No I really mean business…although I have no idea how to negate your poison condition. Now that is just sneaky and underhand, I have to say!
“Venturing into this darkness was folly and you knew it. You went anyway, the promise of riches and glory seducing you and your companions. A hardened band of adventurers — or so you thought. The collapsed tunnel left you trapped. The monsters were ready, waiting. It was not a battle; it was a massacre. You were wounded, severely enough that your assailants didn’t bother with a killing blow.
They murdered your friends and took your possessions but they didn’t kill you. Big mistake. Teeth clenched, you patch up your wounds as best you can. A desire for revenge is smoldering inside you. There will be a price for the blood they spilled. You have nothing left to lose as you struggle to free yourself from this cursed place. You stand up — wounded, lost, desperate. Your spirit, however, is unbroken.”
*passage taken from the rulebook backstory*
What’s All The Fuss About?
Buckle up folks, you may be in for a rambling ride!…
I don’t know about fuss but there has most certainly been a lot of ‘buzz’ on the multi-media internet highways. A large number of solo gamers/reviewers and the like have been chatting enthusiastically about the game. Unbroken is a solo (take note here), solo card game of survival and revenge. We take on the guise of an unfortunate adventurer who was left for dead in the most treacherous and disgusting, monster-infested of caverns. We have a singular, all consuming goal; to collect enough resources to defeat four progressively more cunning, devious, and most vile of monsters on our way to freedom…oh, and of course, vengeance.
If we, the ill-fated hero, are to succeed, we will need to gather every bit of our resolve, every bit of our feeble packed lunch and be intuitively smart with the meagre resources we are likely to find in these here catacombs. I have to be honest, the prospect does lot look bright (I have had the advantage …or perhaps, disadvantage, of seeing these unpleasant monsters up close and personal)
Immersion or Subversion?
There is an incredibly interesting back story, not only about the lumbar regions of the participating heroes, but also about the game’s setting. This is not just a solitary dungeon crawling venture, that sees us merely seeking treasures, robbing poor monsters of their inheritance and slashing all and sundry who dare stand in our way. Not at all. This is a post dungeon-crawling dungeon crawl. “What?” I here you spurt out, “Are you chatting bubbles?”
Not at all. I mean it. This dungeon adventure picks up the hero of our choice long after a sever beating (and having been left for dead by the beasties, more fool them). Yes, having had everything unceremoniously ripped away from us, we are vowed to seek our ‘re-wengy’…that was my foreign accent saying revenge! We have nothing but the shirt on our backs and, using any detritus we find on our travels, we have to fashion, craft and fabricate all that we need to exact our revenge on the foul beasts that wronged us in the first instance. The current graphic presentation, back story and interesting game mechanics all come together to once more plunge us nostrils first, deep into a pool of dungeony ambience! Right from the off, this feels a dark and foreboding act of survival drawing upon our wits and cunning.
I don’t intend dwelling on the mechanics too much as Adam from Rolling Solo has an excellent video showing how the game works (linked below) but I will touch upon the best two features for me, within the game.
Our usual experience with dungeon games gives us X number of action points, X number of health points and both get ever higher as we are rewarded for engaging in near death battles…a lack of reality, me feels!
- Unbroken has the notion of Effort as the principle currency…Small Effort, Medium Effort and…as one would guess, Large Effort. The Effort tally equates to our health and our action points so, as one would surmise, do something that uses vast amounts of energy and your health will be significantly diminished. Balancing the effort spent on tasks and health become a very tricky customer that really build tension in the game. Damage incurred from combat reduce this total so choosing wisely when to engage is important. Add to this the need to eat at the end of a round and, if we were unable to scavenge food (or more worryingly were not able to eat a previously defeated foe), hunger and starvation deplete our energy supply further…and if this gets to zero, it is game over
- Time is the second mechanic I like. Each level of monster has a finite number of time increments…these are spent when we undertake actions such as crafting new gear from the junk we find or exploring the immediate vicinity. The more involved an activity is, the more time is consumed so choosing wisely which tasks are the best use of our time is paramount. Linger too long and we run out of time and have to face an ambushing from the foe, leaving us unprepared and at a significant disadvantage…similarly not spending enough time preparing/equipping ourselves will leave us equally disadvantaged when tackling the unpleasant inhabitants of the catacomb.
These two driving forces create the tension, decision making and excitement that gives this small game a big game feel
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
As this is pre-kickstarter campaign and I have only a print & play version to play-test, I could not comment on the components final size and quality (a visit to the campaign page linked below would be recommended for that) but the art, iconography and overall look of of the game is pretty special.
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Artem Safarov
- Graphic Design: Alina Marchewka
- Illustration: Nikolai Ostertag
- Cover Illustration : Jacob Atienza
- Game Publisher: Altema Games
- Boardgamegeek Page: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/225885/unbroken
- Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1227872561/282020983?ref=443900&token=bda50c50
- Playtime: 15-25 minutes
- Gangs of One: 1player
- Age of Consent: 13+
- DOB: 2018
This is first, foremost and currently only a solo game. As no dungeon master is required, it is a fairly short but immensely engaging affair for one player…with a maddening number of difficult choices for us to make. Thanks to the backstory the game is not just a slash and bash festival, nor is it a glory hunting, treasure stealing, glory seeking unrealistic plastic adventure. There is a gritty realism built in and with just a few resource cubes both hero and monster stats are economically monitored by the solo player. Focus can, therefore, be directed almost entirely to strategy as book-keeping will not encumber us like a 30 metre high brass statue might…and good luck fitting one of those into a small rucksack.
The Real Nitty Gritty
- Winners and Losers: This isn’t one of those brain melting titles that make it nigh on impossible, as a solo affair, to beat but it does require some serious resource management and careful decision making. Wait too long crafting better weapons or exploring and the beasties will sneak up on us…some of their ambush effects, having crept up behind us, are pretty devastating and ought to be avoided if at all possible. Jump in too early and we will be woefully underprepared. These foes wont go down without a fight and it is likely we will be handed our arses on a platter! So, a skillful game, drawing upon our judgement call for many circumstances…winnable, yes, but not a simple victory (if we survive at all)
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The current set of rules are some fourteen pages or so and make a pretty decent job of explaining what is required of us to seek our revenge. There are numerous illustrations and examples of play to help clarify certain concepts. As the actual gameplay is quite straight forward, the rule complexity is to a minimum. The game’s complexity comes from how we guide our hero from encounter to encounter rather than adhering to a plethora of unnecessarily convoluted sub-rules. Much of the text is nicely spaced so no magnifying glasses required to read great essays and, as the game its self is predominantly language independent (relying on iconography beyond the rule book) explanations are given over to each icon and how they not only become applied to the game, but also to each other.
- Lucky Beggars: The encounter deck and Enemy deck is very much luck of the draw but as two encounter cards are drawn from the encounter deck each time we pass that way, some of that luck can be mitigated with which card we choose…or removed completely by using the card to increase our time track. Beyond that, and the occasional ill-fated condition card all combat/outcome resolution is down to our mismanagement and by this token, lies the games strength. Not a modifier crazed dice fest for sure, but a fine streamline process of resource management and tactical planning.
- Highs and Lows: Thematically dark, both backstory and illustration, the game portrays an element of gritty reality despite being set in a fantasy environment. This is not a leafy lane stroll in the park. The encounters pose a constant peril to our over zealous heroes but that said, it is a much more uplifting gaming experience. We do not come away from a game (even after significant failure) feeling down, depressed and unwilling to return. To the contrary, for me at any rate, I want to go back in, risk that backstory beating and pick the bones of my mistakes…to learn from those mistakes and try to improve my strategy….but as there is a constantly changing order to the foes we encounter and an encounter deck that is never the same, we still still have to have our wits about us.
Me, Myself and I:
I have to admit that on first opening the pack of PnP components I was a little skeptical. All too often have I, me and myself all stumbled across pint-sized dungeon crawl games which , well, let’s be honest, have been very trivial, watered down affairs. My experience of a dungeon exploration has been one of a zillion upgrades, treasured galore, tokens, modifiers, great lengthy stat sheets, giant back packs, kitchen sinks, and goodness knows what else. How could this meagre offering deliver a big dungeon feel?
Hah!…oddly enough it does. This is a very big game feel with a small footprint and fairly small component tally. The game has, in part, a clever back story which places us post-dungeon crawl. We have been left for dead and, with nothing more than our string undies and the shirt on our backs (although not even that for the musclebound oaf brawler…he doesn’t even have a vest), we set out to exact a dreadful revenge calling to arms anything we happen to chance upon within the catacomb. The energy system that equates to both health and actions sits firmly in the driving seat, so with the manipulation of a few marker cubes, we have all we need to record the welfare of our hero. I find this mechanic particularly engaging as, in the real world, the more energy we expend completing menial tasks, the less healthy we are.
This synergy…balancing act is what keeps us on our toes and really makes for an intense gaming experience. Link that to starting the adventure with just our hands, we have to make tough decisions about how far we scavenge, use the junk we find to improve our weapons and when we feel we are ready to challenge the monsters. Take too long faffing about in the dark and the sneaky baddies will sneakily sneak up on us and ambush us with dastardly special abilities…not something I advise…jump in to battle too soon and, as a woefully unprepared, misguided fool, we will be a monster lunch box.
Unbroken, without a shadow of a doubt sneakily ambushes its way to a BSoMT 1d8 die roll of (7)…and that is in its current pre-kickstarter campaign condition. I strongly advise you to head over to the Kickstarter campaign page and take a look.
…now where was I? Oh, yes! I shall put my weaponsmithing skills to good use now, by melding together these chunks of wood I found lying around with these old goblin toe nails, iron filings, novelty condom set and dried custom carved cheese dice I should be able to fashion myself a crude head cleaving axe….right you nasty little buggers, here I come!
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Something For The Weekend, Sir?
Unbroken on Kickstarter:
Atem on Twitter:
Beyond Solitaire previews:
Rolling Solo game setup:
Rolling Solo gameplay:
Altema Games runsthrough: