Full disclosure: A preview copy of Unbroken was provided by Altema Games. Some gameplay, art, and components may change between now and release, as this is a preview of an unreleased game.
I don’t really … do solo games. I’ll play them occasionally, but I generally only do them when I have nothing else to do or there’s nobody around. I play them even less than I used to, now, as I spend most of my time playing the Switch when I have a free 30 – 60 minutes, or I spend time on here writing. That said, don’t pass up the opportunity to try something new, yeah?
Unbroken is a game where you’re the sole survivor of a dungeoneering party that went horribly wrong. Monsters attacked, wounded you, killed (and probably ate, to be fair) your friends, and now you’ve got to escape. You’ll need your wits about you as well as your strength, and probably … some wood? I guess? That’s one of the resources. Anyways, will you be able to make it out alive?
So, you’re gonna find a bunch of stuff in the box. The first thing you should deal with is the display sheets:
You’ll want to set those out in front of you since that’s what you’ll be interacting with the most. Place a token on the 7 space under time (it should have a I symbol of some kind on it, symbolizing that that’s how much time you get on the first level). You can, if you want, place tokens on the 0 spaces for all the other stuff. Might save you some bookkeeping later on. There’s also a die, but it’s too small to take a useful picture of. Maybe I will, anyways.
Next, pick a character:
They all have different strengths and weaknesses. Put a token on the I space on the Character card as well.
Now, set up the rest of the play area. You can shuffle the Skill cards:
Set them somewhere nearby. Shuffle the Encounter cards, as well:
DO NOT shuffle the Condition cards. Just leave them in some ordering (I usually do alphabetical):
Don’t shuffle the Monster cards, either. Sort them by level and set them aside:
Finally, go through the Weapons cards and pull out Bare Hands:
That’s all you’ve got to fight with, currently, but you might be able to make better weapons later on. Once you’ve done all that, move the token on the “Effort” tracker (for me it’s a fist icon; no idea what it’ll be for y’all) to the 13.
- If you would like to play an easier game: Also gain a Skill card (draw two; keep one and discard the other) and roll the die to gain one resource of the type specified:
- 1: Metal (the knife)
- 2: Wood (the … wood)
- 3: Food (the drumstick)
- 4: Cunning (the fox)
- 5: Medium Effort (the aura fist)
- 6: Treasure (the chalice)
- If you would like to play a harder game: Start at 10 Effort, rather than 13. Also, monsters will attack first during Combat, but more on that later.
Either way, you’re ready to get started!
The game is broken up into two phases: Travel and Combat. I’ll cover each in turn.
During the Travel Phase, you try to get to the next level of the dungeon, only to realize it’s blocked by a monster. Well, you don’t quite know that yet. During this phase, you basically take “turns” where each turn proceeds as follows:
- Prepare. You can take any number of Travel Actions or General Actions, provided you can pay the resource cost for them. There may be additional actions on your Character Sheet, but you can only use Character Abilities X times per level, where X is the current level that you’re on. One Action in particular you may be interested in using is Scouting, which allows you to reveal the Monster that is blocking your way forward. This allows you to prepare for them and might give you an edge, at a cost.Once you’ve used as many actions as you’d like to (or as many as you can afford), you may proceed to the next phase. If you’ve spent all your time (and are at 0 time), you are Ambushed by the Monster! Proceed immediately to the Ambush Step of the Battle Phase. You don’t get to do the other fun stuff, sadly.
- Decision. Now, you get to choose. If you want to fight the Monster, go immediately to the Battle Phase (note that if you fight the Monster this way, it doesn’t ambush you). If not, go to the Encounter Phase. Note that if you chose “Commit to Next Encounter” in the previous Encounter Phase, you uh, have to do the Encounter; you can’t go fight the Monster.
- Encounter. If you chose “Commit to Next Encounter” in the previous Encounter Phase, draw the top card of the Encounter and immediately resolve it. More on that in a second. Normally, you’ll draw two Encounter cards (that’s the base amount, but other effects may change that) and decide if you want to do any of those Encounters. If you’d prefer not to, you may Rest instead by picking one of them and gaining Effort equal to its time cost. You cannot Rest if you chose “Commit to Next Encounter” previously. When you resolve an Encounter, you spend the resource on the left (sometimes that’s none) and gain the resources / effects on the right. You also spend the time in the middle of the card. If this would put you at 0 time or less, proceed immediately to the Ambush Step of the Battle Phase after resolving the card.
- Restart Phase. If you still have time left, you restart the Travel Phase and keep doing this until you either choose to fight the Monster or you get Ambushed.
Combat also has a few steps. Either way, if the Monster hasn’t been revealed yet, roll the die and flip over the Monster corresponding to that number for your current level. Also, move the Time marker to the next level’s starting value. Certain actions Monsters can take will cost you time, and if you’re really unlucky you might get immediately ambushed again! If you’re fighting the Monster of Level IV, remove the Time marker from the board. This is your final battle.
- Ambushed! (Optional) If you got Ambushed, resolve the Monster’s Ambush effect. Usually these are pretty bad. If the effect is ” – “, well, nothing happens. Nice! You managed to get Ambushed by the right Monster.
- Trickery (Optional) If you want to do the Monster up a sweet bamboozle, you may instead opt to trick them with flashing lights, playing The Final Countdown at high volume, or by paying the resource costs under “Trickery” on the Monster’s sheet. Definitely one of those. Either way, if you do that, go directly to the Hunger Step, skipping the rest of the Battle Phase. You will not gain any rewards, but maybe the real treasure was the Monsters that didn’t kill you along the way?
- Your Turn. If you are playing not on Hard Mode, you can attack the monster, now, or perform any of the general actions (“General Actions” or “Combat Actions”) on the cards in front of you. You might have Conditions, which may affect your available choices. Be careful about that. Your options are thus:
- Attack with Weapon. So your weapon requires certain amounts of Effort to use, either small, medium, or large, or some combination of those. If you need to, you may always downgrade Effort and spend it as though it were a lower-level Effort. Not efficient, but hey, whatever keeps you alive. When you do that, you inflict damage to the Monster. However, if the Monster has Armor, then you can’t inflict wounds to the Monster until the Armor is broken, unless otherwise stated. Once you’ve broken the Armor, you can start inflicting Wounds. The more effort you spend (generally), the stronger the Wound you’ll inflict.
- Take an Action. Again, you can do any of the Actions available to you on your sheets, provided that they are not Travel Actions (which, as you might guess, is restricted to the Travel Phase). Certain Combat Actions let you get around the Monster’s Armor, which is also nice.
- Monster Turn. Once you’ve taken an action on your turn, the Monster gets to take a turn. Roll the die and perform the action corresponding to the action table on the Monster’s card. Some abilities let you change the value you rolled, though obviously it can’t go below 1 or above a 6. Some Monster effects will give you Conditions that affect you for the next level, which is unfortunate. If you would be forced to gain a condition you just gained already, reroll the effect. If it forces you to gain a condition you already have, well, you just keep it for the next level. What a treat! Some effects will cause you to lose time, so you just subtract that from the time you have for the next level, which is also a bummer. If you’re on the final level, well, you just lose Small Effort instead.
- Check for End of Battle. The battle can end one of two ways:
- You kill the monster. If you deal Wounds equal to the Monster’s health, then, you win!
- You run out of Effort. If you have to spend effort that you do not have, then, well, you kind of … die. Sorry! Better luck next time.
- Rewards! Let’s assume you made it to this point and you didn’t die. That would be ideal, for the narrative purpose of this review. When you defeat the Monster, you get the rewards on the bottom of the Monster’s card! Hooray! You also gain a new Skill, so draw two Skills from the Skill deck and keep one.
- Hunger. Well, now you killed a monster! You should probably … eat? You’re hungry, for sure. You need to eat food equal to the level of the Monster you just beat (1 for Level 1, 4 for Level 4, etc.) For each food you eat, you gain one Small Effort. For each Food you cannot eat (because you don’t want to spend it or you can’t), you lose progressively more Effort each time. (1 for the first food, 2 for the second food, etc.)As you might guess, if you run out of Effort and need to spend more, you uh, die of starvation. And you die. To death. You also lose the game.
- End Battle. Well, if the Monster you beat was Level IV, then you win! Congratulations the game’s over. Otherwise, it’s time to keep going:
- Place a marker on the next level on your Character Sheet.
- Return any and all active Conditions to the Condition deck, Move any current objectives (ones you gained in your last fight) to your Character Sheet area. They’ll be the active Conditions for the next round. Good luck with those.
- Remove the Monster from the game. Nice!
So the game ends in one of two ways:
- You cannot spend Effort when you need to. Well, you dead. You lose the game.
- You beat the Level IV Monster. You win!
If you won, calculate your score by looking at your remaining resources:
- Each Small Effort remaining is worth 0 points. Whoops.
- Each Medium Effort remaining is worth 3 points.
- Each Large Effort remaining is worth 5 points.
- Each Cunning remaining is worth 2 points.
- Each Metal remaining is worth 3 points.
- Each Wood remaining is worth 2 points.
- Each Food remaining is worth 3 points.
- Each Treasure remaining is worth 10 points.
When you’ve gotten your score, first, tell me what you got! I’ve only won like, once. Second, check this chart:
- 0 points: Prey.
- 1 – 10 points: Castoff.
- 11 – 20 points: Survivor.
- 21 – 30 points: Avenger.
- 31 – 40 points: Revenant.
- 41+ points: Nemesis! That’s the best one.
Player Count Differences
…what? No. Solo game.
- Scouting is almost always useful sometimes probably. Scouting is great when you need to know what you’re getting into, but is it always worth spending the effort and the time? I’d honestly argue no. I’ll generally do it at Level 1, but Level 4 is going to mess you up no matter what you do.
- You should try to accrue resources. You’ll need them for all kinds of things. Upgrading weapons, breaking armor, getting through different Encounters, etc. Plus, they’re worth points at the end!
- Don’t get too distracted by Treasures. Your greed will only end up getting you killed. Sure, you’re trying to score as many points as possible, but if you focus too much on Treasure and not enough on other resources, well, you will be the richest dead corpse in the catacombs, so that’s something.
- Use Character Abilities. They’re there for a reason. The Sage’s cunning will help you more easily trick your enemies; the Brawler understands that the best offense is a good defense, things like that. If you’re underutilizing those, then you’re going to … well, die. Probably.
- Use the Encounters to your advantage. You should be converting resources and preferably accruing resources so you’re entering fights at the top of your game, so if you’re launching Battles while you still have 4 or 5 time, you might need to take a few more risks. If you’re feeling risk-averse, just spent the Effort to draw more Encounter cards before you choose one.
- Don’t spend too much time resting, but you might need to do a bit. If you’re resting, you’re not gaining resources, but you’re gaining Effort, which you’re going to need, absolutely.
- Don’t get Ambushed … usually. If you’ve already Scouted and know that the enemy can’t ambush you (or that the ambush isn’t that big of a deal), well, then why not use the time you have to try and stock up for the fight? Do extra encounters, get extra resources, get as ready as you can. If you’re not fully prepared, well, then, you’ll probably still die. A lot of these end up with you dying.
- Upgrade your weapons! There’s one Monster in Level II that hurts you more if you have an upgraded weapon, but barring that you need an Advanced Weapon before the Level IV Monsters. If you don’t have one, well, uh, you can probably guess.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Pretty quick to play. It’s similar in length to Herbaceous, another one of my favorite solo games (mostly for how quickly it plays).
- Thoughtful play. It’s a tough resource management problem! As you learn more about what the potential outcomes are, you get better at planning how you can do certain things and avoid certain pitfalls, which is nice. It’s definitely got some elements of luck to it, but those can be mitigated by good strategy.
- Nice choice of characters. They’ve all got very different playstyles — I probably gravitate most towards the Sage, but there are characters for everyone. They’re also fairly representative, which I appreciate from an inclusivity standpoint.
- Also nice opportunity for expansions. You could imagine more Monsters, more Encounters, Skills, Characters — it’s a great fit for Kickstarter since a lot of that is expandable right out of the gate. It’ll be a fun campaign to watch if they choose to go that route.
- The art’s pretty impressive. It’d be kind of nice if all the Encounters had unique card art, but, uh, that’s crazy expensive, so I’m not really going to fault anyone for that. It is a bit … not to my personal thematic preference, but I would be lying if I said the art wasn’t impressive nonetheless.
- Doesn’t feel as luck-heavy as some solo games I’ve played. The obvious comparison is to One Deck Dungeon, since you have so much variance from rolling all of those dice as opposed to mitigating card flips, which feels less luck-dependent even though they’re both effectively random. I think the main advantage here is that you’re only ever rolling one die at a time, so this will be a nice game for people who are anti-dice.
- The card types being a bunch of different sizes is kind of frustrating. It’s not that they’re poorly cut; it’s that the Character cards are smaller than the Monster cards but larger than the Encounter cards and I understand why that’s the case, it’s just minorly irksome when handling the game.
- Having a bunch of tokens standing on cards that get moved around a lot is vaguely reminiscent of the things people didn’t like about Terraforming Mars. If you bump the table or hit a cube by mistake, you now no longer know how much you had of that type of resource. It’s not as bad as it is in TM, since this is a solo game and if you want to cheat nobody’s stopping you, but it is still something that’s a bit of a problem.
- A bit macabre for my tastes. Just kind of the survival-horror theme; not really my personal cup of tea. I prefer games about penguins or hedges or long-form roleplaying romantic relationships. Upbeat stuff, you know?
- It’s rather frustrating to get into an unwinnable state. I suppose that’s just the game, but it’s a bummer when you’ll have enough Effort to overcome the monster but you’ll still die of hunger (or you can see that you won’t have enough Effort to beat the monster before you even fight them). It’s a better-luck-next-time, but it can bum you out a bit.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, Unbroken is a solid and reasonably fast solo game! It’s a bit less space-conservative than Herbaceous (one of my go-to solo games), but it’s definitely a solid one, especially if you like dungeon crawlers or survival horror! Once you get it, you kind of immediately want to play it again to see if you can get a better outcome than you got the last time (though I won my first game and lost the subsequent four, so that didn’t work out), which is a great feeling when you’re playing a game. I can see this being a cool game with a lot of ways to expand outward, and if you or someone you know are looking for a good solo game to dig into, this might be a cool one to check out!