by Mrs. Saint
The world is ending. The technology meant to save the world is spiraling out of control, creating a miniature black hole and humanity’s suffering continues to worsen as the end draws near. Hope is flickering out. There is only one man who can save us but he’s in a coma. The only way to save the world, save Martin. How do you save someone who is trapped in their own subconscious? You go into their mind.
Comanauts is a cooperative adventure book game for 2 – 4 players. It can be played as a campaign or each play may be played as an individual session. Each game session’s goal is to enter Martin’s mind to find and defeat the Prime I.D. for that session, in the hopes that it will wake him up.
Dice are what drive the action economy in Comanauts. There are 38 dice total that come with the game. Each different color dice allows players to take certain general actions like move or unequip an item, but each color also has specific actions tied to it. For example, Green Dice may be used to traverse certain terrain, or they may be used for range combat. Purple dice are the exception as they may be used in place of any of the other dice, except for Black or the Inner Child Die. Black dice are used to fill the threat track. If you fill the threat track, you’ll activate the enemies for that Comazone page. There is also one unique pale translucent blue color dice which is the Inner Child die (more later on the Inner Child). At the start of a game session, all 38 dice begin in the dice bag.
The Adventure Book which holds all the maps, individual story instructions, as well as the story itself, is the center and main focal point of Comanauts.
Each player has a player sheet with a unique default status. At the start of a game session, players are given two random avatars facedown and then choose their starting avatar, which will be face-up. Each avatar begins with three Life Force (unless otherwise indicated on their card) and their starting items. When one avatar loses all three of their Life Force, you then discard that avatar and their items. You then flip over your top facedown avatar and gain their starting items and that avatar will also begin with three health (again unless otherwise indicated).
For each session, your avatars will know at the start of the game which five “Comazones” you’ll be visiting. There are 11 total Comazones, each with their own unique card and flavor text for the location. Each Comazone represents a part of Martin’s mind where he has had some kind of trauma that could be why he isn’t waking up. The five chosen Comazones are always lined up to the left of the Adventure Book and referred to as the Nexus. You also know as you enter Martin’s mind that the starting Comazone is never your Prime I.D.’s location.
Opposite the Nexus, on the right side of the Adventure Book, you have the sideboard. The sideboard has seven parts to it. On the left side of the storyboard is the Group Task Track, a column that provides space for up to ten dice. As labeled, this dice track is for when the Adventure Book indicates a task requires a high numbered completion that would be almost impossible for one player to easily manage, so then each player may use the chosen color of dice, to roll and contribute to meeting the task requirement. An example of a Group Task, there could be a strength requirement to move/break something of 20. If the current player only has one red die and they roll a four, then you still would need sixteen more from other players’ red (or purple) dice.
The middle portion of the sideboard has five parts. The first is the space for the Inner Child die. The next space is the Morass. The Morass is where your avatar goes during the current Comazone, if your previous avatar lost all of their health. The third portion of the middle of the sideboard is for the discarded dice that have been spent. The final portion is for insight tokens. Insight tokens are collected as you play, when you get three tokens, you are given a clue card. Each Prime I.D. has individual clue cards which hold a memory from Martin’s past that give you hints as to what the Prime I.D. may be.
Gaining a clue card normally lets you gain a Totem Card as well. Totem Cards transport the avatars to another Comazone. Totem Cards are the fastest way out of a Comazone, if you don’t think the Comazone you’re in is the Prime I.D.’s. Otherwise, you can only leave a Comazone by finishing it/beating the Hostile I.D. for that Comazone. If you beat a Comazone that is not the Prime I.D.’s, you’re put back into the Nexus and then your avatars select which Comazone you want to try next.
The final portion of the middle of the sideboard, is the situation indicator. Is the Comazone currently “Safe” or is it “Hostile”. This is either dictated by the Adventure Book or from the final portion of the sideboard which is the threat track. The threat track has five dice slots. Only black dice go on the threat track. If there are no enemies on the map, then once the fourth spot on the threat track is pulled, typically the enemies arrive.
Play continues until you beat the Comazone with the Prime I.D or all your avatars are dead. If you win your game session, you are directed to the final text to read at the back of the Adventure Book for that Comazone.
Some games are works of art, where the graphics and design are stunning. Some games are narrative masterpieces, where the story is so good you get swept up in it. Comanauts is both of these. The artwork in the adventure book and on all the game components is so very well done. The story is, in my opinion, one of the best in any campaign game I’ve played. And if this was a graphic novel I was reviewing, I would give it ten out of ten and tell you to go purchase it at once. But this is a board game. Board games have more to them than just the art and the story and Comanauts, like many great works of art, has a few flaws we need to discuss in order to have a fair and honest review.
Comanauts is fairly easy to learn. Although, I feel the rulebook could use a little bit more love. It reads like one of the rulebooks that was written by someone already intimately familiar with the game. A few more passes from some blind playtesters or editors who were not familiar with it may have been beneficial.
The game is also easy to teach. Set-up is easy and does not take a long time, which is always a plus for us since we have limited play time with a toddler who is down to one nap a day. Everything fits in one box, which makes transportation easy. It’s a game for both veteran and newcomers to the board game hobby.
As I mentioned, the game mechanics are fairly easy. You pull your five dice from the bag (that’s included-bonus brownie points for Plaid Hat for providing the bag). Once you’ve drawn your dice, you take actions accordingly. However, the dice drawing can be incredibly frustrating. You may know exactly what you need to do on your turn to successfully push the story forward but you don’t pull any of the green or purple dice needed to do what needs done. Or worse, you kill off all the enemies and finally can breath again but then on the next turn round, you pull four black dice and they all respawn. For me, personally, my frustration with the dice drawing is when we don’t draw the Inner Child die quickly in the first Comazone. More times than not, we ended up playing through the first Comazone until we defeated the zone and the Hostile I.D.
What’s the issue with beating extra zones? You know the story and gameplay for that Comazone. This for me is probably the biggest issue with Comanauts: there is limited replayability. There are eleven Comazones, so once you’ve played through a given zone once, read all the zone’s text, it’s a little anticlimactic if you have to go back to a zone you’ve already played through before. The only thing you do not know is the successful completion text for when that zone is actually the Prime I.D.
Comanauts says it’s for 2-4 players, but after talking with some others who have played the game at higher play counts, I would probably recommend playing the game at two players. We found with less dice being pulled, the enemies did not spawn or activate or reactivate as quickly as others were experiencing in their game sessions. We also did not experience a single session failure or lose too many avatars with our playthroughs. I think throughout the entire campaign (which is six sessions) we only lost two total avatars. The lower player count also gives you the advantage of more use of an avatar’s focus action.
Despite some of these small issues, I love Comanauts, and even without having a lot of replayability the game is staying in our collection because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s one of the best narrative stories of any game I’ve come across yet. We have a little girl. She’s just a toddler now, but I’m hoping someday Little Miss will want to play board games with us. As she gets older, I want to be able to have conversations with her about life and world events. Without spoilers, there are Comazones like Washington D.C. where the story reminded me so much of the current political and social tensions in the United States this summer that at times I would be thinking to myself how this game would be a great communication tool if Little Miss was older to talk to her about the importance of protesting injustices and standing up for what you believe in. Each Comazone is focused around a powerful emotion, so I want to harness what’s happening in Martin’s mind, what events in his past caused these Comazones, to teach our daughter how to handle and openly engage in conversation with her dad and I or a professional if she ever feels the same way Martin does for any reason.
Despite a few game issues, Comanauts is a definite recommended game from me. There is a lot of fun in that adventure book. Each Comazone has a unique story, play mechanics and is fun to go through. I wish you luck, future Comanauts. I hope the story inspires you to self-reflect and moves you, as it did me. If you’ve played Comanauts, I’d love to know your thoughts and your favorite zones.
Check out more Comanauts reviews and information at the below links:
No Pun Included– check out Efka and Elaine’s thoughts and reactions to Comanauts
Plaid Hat Games – if you are interested in Comanauts, check out the publisher’s website to see what other great games they’ve made.