Review: Critical Role stumbles with its first board game, Uk’otoa

The attain of Critical Role is huge. What started as a bunch of pals sharing a love for Dungeons & Dragons has grown right into a multi-million greenback franchise with a deal for a streaming animated collection. Now the present’s attain is increasing with Uk’otoa, the first board recreation to be printed beneath its new Darrington Press model.

The excellent news is that, as a visually enticing curio, this product makes a terrific collector’s merchandise. The dangerous information is that the gameplay itself isn’t all that a lot enjoyable.

Critical Role started streaming in 2015, proper in the midst of the forged’s first D&D marketing campaign, which takes place in a fantastical world often known as Exandria. Led by voice-actor-turned-Dungeon-Master Matthew Mercer, the group has progressed via two campaigns and practically 300 livestreamed episodes. Critical Role has since raised greater than $11 million {dollars} on Kickstarter, and secured a two-season deal with Amazon Prime.

A game of Uk’Otoa set up for play, with a series of tiles with multi-colored sailor meeples on each one.

Photo: Darrington Press

The title Uk’otoa references Exandria’s serpent deity, an enormous sea monster whose long-standing aim has been to free itself from an elaborate, magical jail. The board recreation tells the story of a single calamitous encounter between the newly liberated beast and a completely crewed crusing ship. It’s a concise, 30-minute affair that’s fantastically illustrated and lovingly produced, however one which in the end feels a bit too tame and missing any sense of dynamism.

My preliminary foray into Uk’otoa started with an fascinating twist. As I began constructing the deck of the ship with the opposite gamers, tile by tile, I seen that the structure of the boat can assume an enormous array of shapes. Each one permits for a considerably completely different really feel every time. We elected for a easy concentric circle, an method which the rulebook suggests on your first outing.

As we alternated inserting sailors on the board and obtained our beginning hand of motion playing cards, a second pleasant realization sank in. Setting up Uk’otoa naturally creates a collection of semi-cooperative alliances between the gamers on the desk. It helped to raise the social friction on the coronary heart of the design. It’s achieved by randomly inserting a coloured disc between you and every of your neighbors on the desk. The coloration denotes the faction of crew members you and that individual should shield. So a inexperienced disc positioned to my proper related me with Jennifer, whereas a yellow on my left cast a workforce with Mark. It didn’t take lengthy for rivalries to emerge as this setup organized a number of overlapping groups.

Sample cards from the game, which feature a hand-written cursive font.

Photo: Darrington Press

Protecting your sailors is tough. A properly crafted, reasonably sized Uk’otoa miniature slowly trudges ahead, devouring the ship tile by tile. Anyone in its path will get swallowed and faraway from play. The mechanic places gamers towards the wall early, and forces you to spend everything of the sport maneuvering your crew members to security to be able to stave off their inevitable demise.

It wasn’t lengthy into the sport once I performed a tentacle card, an motion which causes Uk’otoa to lash out and slay a number of adjoining sailors. In this specific occasion, of carnage two blue sailors had been felled, but in addition a poor little yellow bystander. Of course Mark wasn’t happy, since our alliance misplaced a soul, however on my reverse aspect Jennifer couldn’t maintain again the laughter. Player company consists totally of utilizing motion playing cards corresponding to that tentacle. It’s a neat system the place you toss out a card to maneuver your individual sailors, push others round, and partake in bloodshed on the behest of the monstrous sea beast.

I latched onto the sport’s hand administration side instantly. If you play two duplicate playing cards of the identical motion then you might be can your flip going. This requires some intelligent choices round sandbagging choices and hoping to drag an identical motion from the deck. So we went forwards and backwards, taking turns throwing elbows and fists to be able to push one another apart. Already invested in a number of groups and, since I solely wanted one in all my sailors to outlive, every loss and dramatic flip introduced loads of laughs. I may really feel the sunshine and jocular nature of the sport creeping in, which overruled any sense of punishment.

As rapidly as we began, although, the tip recreation approached. Before lengthy all of us realized that the previous few items remaining on the board would determine the end result. These items had been seeded throughout the preliminary setup, sailors positioned on the coronary heart of the ship the place Uk’otoa would arrive on the climax of the violence. For the earlier 20 minutes we shuffled our sailors round and pushed others into hurt’s manner, however none of it had truly mattered.

Multicolored meeples wailing.

Photo: Darrington Press

The pure rigidity of the finale was lessened by the inconsequential expertise that led as much as it. As the as soon as jocular tone shifted, the ambiance turned dominated by a robust feeling of feebleness. This is as a result of once you pull off a promising transfer — corresponding to shoving an opponent into hurt’s manner whereas saving your individual piece’s plastic pores and skin — it doesn’t actually matter. The beast Uk’otoa will devour the whole lot ultimately, and maintaining one in all your sailors alive just a bit bit longer is in the end irrelevant. The totality of play comes down to only these previous couple of turns the place the stakes are lastly raised. That tends to sap the life out of the sport. Everyone on the desk is simply going via the motions till the ultimate few rounds. This isn’t altogether horrible design, it’s simply not very thrilling.

The Uk’Otoa miniature itself, rendered in gray plastic on a hexagonal base.

Image: Darrington Press

Another difficulty is that the sport suffers at larger participant counts. With 4 or 5 folks on the desk there are so few open areas on the board that the motion playing cards are of restricted utility. This leaves gamers principally pushing Uk’otoa ahead or lashing out with a tentacle in the event that they’ve gotten fortunate and top-decked one in all these choices. But, even these playing cards can provide little profit if the items that occur to be surrounding the monster are your individual.

My reminiscence of the victorious workforce in that first playthrough is non-existent. As I fell into the design and explored what it needed to provide, it left me chilly and detached. Further playthroughs solely exacerbated that drawback.

I hoped for a design that captured among the really feel of friction-heavy board recreation classics, corresponding to Lifeboats or Survive: Escape From Atlantis, dressed up within the trappings of Exandria. What I bought was a Critical Role bauble which may chew up a half hour of time. Sadly, anybody looking for out a very noteworthy tabletop expertise is healthier off trying elsewhere.

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