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Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Nate Weisman
Artist: Gunship Revolution
Publisher: IDW Games
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 30-45 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


Rules and Setup:

Stephen: For setup, shuffle all the cards specified in the rules and deal each player fifteen. Deal each player three Contract cards, as well; you can discard up to two of them before play starts.

The game revolves around the actions on the cards, so you can learn as you play. The basics of each round are:
1. Pick two cards from your hand to add to your crew, and place them face down in front of you.
2. Select an action from one of your crew. You can scan it with the app or slide it forward to show you are going to use it. Alternatively, you can take a new Contract card.
3. Everyone's selected actions go off at the same time.
4. Complete a contract by discarding crew (optional).
5. Pass your hand, then repeat steps 1-5 until cards are depleted.

Nicholas: Setup allows for some variety in gameplay based on player count. If you have the maximum of five players, you shuffle all the cards together and deal out five piles. With fewer players, you can choose which character sets you want in your game, which is a nice way to mix up the feel of each game.

The feature that sets this game apart from most of its kind is the companion app. If you're choosing to play with that, you'll want a mobile device or tablet. Download the app and enter in names for all the players. You also assign a house to each player, which doesn't seem to have any discernible effect on gameplay. The app will keep track of player actions throughout the game.

Game Play:

Nicholas: Subrosa is, at its heart, a drafting game. All of the cards in the game are dealt out to the players right away. The goal of the game is to use the mercenaries represented by the cards to complete contracts worth wildly varying points. Contracts are secret information, so you're never quite sure just how close your opponent is to scoring. 

Play happens all at once, so there's very little waiting around for someone else's turn. You select two mercenaries from your hand of cards to become part of your crew. Each one of your crew members belongs to one of the five great houses and contributes their house's resources to your contract(s) as needed. They also each have an ability which will help you subvert other players' efforts, redouble your own, or generally make life harder for everyone.

Once everyone has selected two crew members, you can either push one of them forward to signify that they will be performing their action this turn, or you can forego activating a crew member to draw two new contracts, keeping only one of them. Once everyone has made their choice, play proceeds in order, with character abilities undoubtedly messing with everyone's plans. 

After the round ends, you can attempt to fulfill your contracts with any crew left in front of you that weren't dispatched or removed from the table. Remove the required number of crew members (specific crew members don't matter here, as long as they belong to the factions you need) and score the contract by placing it and the crew in a scoring area. This obviously means you can't use the same crew card to fulfill two different contracts, though you can score multiple contracts in a single turn. Once everyone has scored, pass your hand (not your crew in front of you on the table) to the next player and begin again.

The game ends whenever anyone has fewer than two cards in their passed hand at the beginning of the round. Everyone counts up the contracts they've completed and subtracts half the value of the contracts still outstanding.

Stephen: Nicholas wrote a great description. All I would add is that there are five color-coded classifications of crew: red cards kill other players' crew, green defends or brings crew back from the grave, orange provides intel, blue helps you recruit, and purple swaps cards around. There are 25 different card actions.

Artwork and Components:

Stephen: This is a sharp little game. IDW Games' work always looks fantastic, and Subrosa is no exception. The character cards are beautiful and high quality. The first player token is very nice, but the app makes it superfluous. Sadly, the inside of the box is one large compartment that isn't deep enough for all the cards to be in one stack, so they need to be bagged to keep them from getting shuffled together or messed up.

The simple, straightforward app looks great and works most of the time. It will occasionally freeze or have trouble scanning a card, but apps always have a few bugs when they first come out.

The app concept is what makes this game stand out to me. It scans the action you want to take, then randomizes all the actions so nobody can be sure who is attacking them. You can kill your enemies' crew, make opponents give each other cards, etc., pitting them against each other so they will leave you alone to complete more contracts. Sadly, it feels like they wrote the actions before they thought of implementing an app.

Nicholas: The artwork on the cards is excellent. The whole game has an Art Deco vibe to it, and each of the five houses has a very distinct feel. There's crazy-no-rules doctors, sky pirates, gentlemen military, and even floofy aristocracy. As you can tell from the card and box images, that theme is pervasive across all the game components, which are mostly very good. The current player token is a gorgeous wooden disc with an embossed rose. The box itself snaps shut with invisible magnets. 

My only complaint is with the companion app. The app is touted as being able to streamline gameplay, but it is both too invasive and not comprehensive enough to actually take over the game for you. The rulebook makes mention of the fact that each player can use the app to play their own actions, or you can have one device that is passed around. Perhaps the app isn't quite ready for prime time yet, because the first option doesn't appear to be a choice. The only way we could get the app to function in a game was to have it passed around. This is actually clunkier than just playing the game. When it's your turn, you have to have the app scan the card you want to play. This actually works pretty well, getting the card right every single time in my experience, but it did sometimes take a while to actually get the card to be recognized by the camera. It doesn't help that the app isn't passing through what the camera sees to the screen, so you have to blindly move the phone or the card around, hoping that sooner or later, it will see what you want it to. 

Once everyone has scanned their cards, the app will instruct each player what to do in order to actually take the actions on the scanned cards. This seems helpful, but the cards are pretty clear themselves, and all the app does is serve to slow down gameplay by taking away the simultaneous nature of the design. Until the app is improved, my recommendation is to pass on it altogether. Fortunately, the game doesn't require it and is great on its own.

The Good:

Nicholas: The gameplay here is top-rate. Drafting games in general start with a higher baseline for me, and this one doesn't disappoint. The art is flavorful, evoking almost a Bioshock-esque world of science and intrigue. The added benefit of games not dragging due to almost no player downtime means there's not much to hate here.

Stephen: Interesting combination of set collection and skirmish mechanics. Lots of variety in actions and strategy; for instance, once you use a crew member on a contract, you lose the action they provided, so even the timing of your contracts requires careful consideration. There are three of each crew member, making it easy to take a certain card out of circulation so it's not used on you. However, doing so might make it harder for you to hire who you need for your contracts. Gameplay is very tight. You really have to strategize to meet your objectives, so it's not a Munchkin-style murder-fest. This could be considered good or bad, but it's pretty hard to fulfill your second contract. Getting a third is very risky (since you lose points for incomplete contracts), but it might save you in a pinch. Quick to play, as well; games can be under 30 minutes with fewer players.

The Bad:

Stephen: Thematically, it fell a little flat. There's a ton of flavor text in the book about the different houses that makes it feel like there should have been variable player powers; the houses each draw power from daemons they've captured, but none of the characters have anything to do with them. The box says 2-5 players, but I wouldn't recommend it with less than 4, as the fun builds exponentially with each new player. The app, while innovative, is still buggy, and it needs a way for the attacker to pick which card they are attacking. If the actions were worded better, the real attacker could be kept secret, making this one of the most interesting clandestine backstabbing games on the market. This could be twice as much fun with a few minor tweaks. 

Nicholas: The only thing I can gripe about right now is the app. Not only does it completely lack any added value, it actually gets in the way of playing the game. It's buggy and hinders game play. I honestly don't know why I'd use it, even if it worked great. Just play the game.

Final Thoughts:

The execution (especially where the app is concerned) could be better, but it's still a fun, light game with a lot of depth.

Players Who Like:

Recommended for sneaks who enjoy skullduggery or Munchkin fans who are looking for a next-level gaming experience.

Check out Subrosa on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/231112/daemon-trilogy-subrosa   https://idwgames.com/shop/daemon-trilogy-subrosa/   https://www.facebook.com/idwgames/   https://twitter.com/IDWGames   https://www.instagram.com/idwgames/  

About the Authors:

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.

Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa Review Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa Review Reviewed by David J. on February 22, 2018 Rating: 5

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