By: Mr. Saint
Note: Review originally published on BGG January 2019.
What if Superman was evil? What if the entire Justice League was evil? What if super powers existed and everyone who obtained them was inevitably corrupted? In the world of the Reckoners, the answers to these questions have led to a world in which incredibly powerful Epics (super-powered individuals) lay claim to entire cities, imposing their terrifying will onto the defenseless general populace. In the ruins of Chicago, a virtually indestructible being known as Steelheart rules unchallenged. As a Reckoner, you have taken it upon yourself to research Steelheart’s weakness and put an end to his reign.
The Reckoners is a cooperative dice rolling game. Play occurs over a series of phases, with all players acting simultaneously. Players roll their dice up to three times, keeping at least one die per a roll, then players spend their dice in any order. The results on the dice determine the actions each Reckoner can take in a given turn, and generally, each Reckoner can only effect the city district they are in. These actions include things such as researching the weaknesses of or damaging Epics, removing Enforcement officers from a city district, and gaining resources to use on future turns. Dice are also the currency used for moving between different Districts and removing Barricades, so even a “bad roll” will usually have a use.
Each player takes on the role of a specific Reckoner, and while any character is capable of any action, some characters are more suited to a specific task than others. This is accomplished both by the specific dice color each character starts with as well as a special ability unique to that character. Need to reign in an out of control city district? Megan’s red dice, featuring double Attack Enforcement symbols, and her Checkmate special ability make her well suited to carving through enemies. Need to research the weakness of an otherwise invulnerable Epic or earn money for some sweet gear upgrades? Tia or Cody are better suited to the task.
Once the players receive any rewards for Epics they’ve defeated and purchased any equipment they think will give them a fighting chance, the Epics get to act. Steelheart sends a new underling to any city district where the Reckoners were successful in assassinating that Epic. Then the Epics activate, wielding a variety of abilities to make the Reckoners’ lives a living hell. These abilities include things like boosting Steelheart’s powers, gifting power to Epics in neighboring districts, adding Enforcement to the board, or ruthlessly attacking the city population. Finally, each Epic grows in power, creating an escalating threat in any district the Reckoners are unable to contain.
Once the more softcore Epics have acted, Steelheart goes absolutely metal on the city of Newcago. The game really drives home Steelheart’s incredible power, as his activation usually takes a sizable chunk out of the Population Track. But that’s just the start. Steelheart also attacks Reckoner bases, potentially stealing dice from the players, robbing you of the very tools you need to defeat him! He then dumps a handful of Enforcement onto the various city districts, boosting the rate at which Epics in those districts grow in strength. Finally, he finishes his activation by placing barricades in a handful of districts, making it harder for the Reckoners to move to areas that need their attention.
From there, play transitions back to the dice rolling phase. The players win if they can defeat Steelheart before the Population Track reaches 0.
There is a lot to like about the Reckoners. The simultaneous play nature of the game keeps things moving at a brisk pace, and even at higher player counts most of our games finished well before the 75 minute length stated on the box. The game’s design is very approachable. The basic gameplay actions and iconography are easy to grasp, but there is definitely room for meaningful decisions and the somewhat random nature of the appearance of the various Epics and equipment, along with the different playable characters, keeps things fresh from game to game.
The game also looks beautiful on the table. All the components are top quality. We purchased the standard Retail edition, which still comes with plastic miniatures and Game Trayz holders for use during gameplay. The minis are great quality. The Game Trayz keep the game looking sharp on the table while also helping players parse the resources available to themselves and their teammates. Understanding the options left for a given player during the Reckoner Phase is as simple as looking at location of their dice in and around their player tray.
This is not to say that the Reckoners is perfect. As the titular Rocky IV quote would suggest, sometimes defeating Steelheart seems completely impossible. While the Reckoners does have scaling mechanics for changing difficulty, the game definitely seems most difficult at smaller player counts. At two players, it is very easy for a random series of events to completely derail your progress. The “Gifter” type Epics seem to be particularly powerful with the reduced number of city districts that a two player game uses, as their activation will effect both of the other Epics on the board. This can lead to some truly crazy snowballing of the Epic and Steelheart activations if two are ever in play at the same time. There is something to be said for this effect however, as even when things feel completely under control, there is tension created by the possibility of drawing a dangerous pairing of Epics. While this situation can occur at higher player counts, our experience was that there was significantly more stability, as the players have a greater number of possible actions and resources and the impact of the “Gifter” ability was also proportionately less powerful when there were more city districts in play.
My next point is something I am conflicted over. I almost didn’t include it in the review at all. Overall, I am very happy with the Reckoners. I would highly recommend it to others and consider it well situated as a gateway game, hitting that sweet spot between accessibility and complexity while also being a very fun time. Or I would, were it not the production structure that Nauvoo Games has adopted. The baseline, Retail version of the Reckoners costs $100. Speaking as someone who is already invested in board gaming and views participation in board gaming as a luxury hobby, this is a price I’m willing to pay. And I like the Reckoners enough that I want to drag people to my table to show it off. The accessible game design makes it ideal for gaming with players who are less invested in the hobby overall. But I dread the inevitable follow-up question, “where can I buy a copy?”. If a version of the Reckoners existed at a more entry level price point, it would probably be my go-to introduction to cooperative board games. As it stands, I worry about the sticker shock associated with the production choices. I’ll be keeping the Reckoners in our collection and playing it frequently, but I can’t help but feel an opportunity was missed to get such a fun, accessible game onto more tables.