Endangered Orphans of Condyle Cove: Preview

Today class, we learn that Fairway is a terrible person. In this Kickstarter preview, he picks up enDANGERed Orphans of Condyle Cove, a horrifyingly, creepy card game coming to Kickstarter. It features the art of Jesse Labbe and the creepiest themed game he’s played.  The game is coming to Kickstarter Monday, August 22nd.

Note: the theme isn’t rainbows and lollipops. Be warned, but keep reading anyway.

Endangered Orphans of Condyle Cove is a two- to three-player hand management, strategy, and area movement game in which players are orphans of limited options trying to both survive and avoid being taken by the boogie man. And, I enjoyed it.  Yep. There it is.

Initial Impressions

  1. Wow, this theme is dark and amazing at the same time.
  2. The art is going to be a huge selling point for this game.
  3. Setup and game play is quick and easy.  It’s teachable in a few minutes time.
  4. The mechanics and theme are well integrated.

Game play

In Endangered Orphans, players are those endangered orphans living in the nightmare-inducing town of Condyle Cove. The gist of the game is you’re an orphan with “limited options” trying to be the last to survive. If you run out of options first, you lose. If you have too many Options, you lose. If you are captured by the Boogie Man, you lose. It’s really hard to say that anyone actually “wins,” but someone will survive.

The game centers around the orphans’ “options” which are represented by a deck of “Option” cards. Over the course of the game, each players’ deck of Options dwindles forcing the player to make more and more desperate actions.

At the start of the game, the deck of “Options” cards is divided equally among the players and placed face-down in separate draw piles.  Each player then draws two cards from their Options deck to form their starting hand.  The players also shuffle and layout an array of “Acts of Desperation” cards which are like Options cards, but only for the really desperate — you’ll see why.

The players create a starting “Condyle Cove” map placing four starting locations around a central “Kiddie Corner” card. Condyle Cove features some creepy town locations. Each location is depicted on a Cove card. Each Cove card features some special ability, but many are matched by any number of typically-tragic consequences on Options cards. The rules say the more advantageous the location, the riskier it is to be there.  Players will add more creepy town locations during the course of the game.

Now, players will take turns that will eventually lead to one player running out of cards in their Options deck or being snatched by the Boogie Man.

At the start of each turn, you can move their orphan and play Option cards from your hand. Strictly speaking, neither is required. What is required is that at the end of your turn, you must draw two more cards from your Options deck or, if any are available, from the Cove deck. And if you have more than four cards in your hand at the end of your turn, you’re out of the game. Since you can’t have more than four cards in your hand, players are often forced to play really bad Option cards. (Hilarious).

Most of the Options cards all have special effects that, when played, are immediately resolved.  These can be things like stealing cards from other players, moving other players, restoring some of your options, etc. There are a few Defense cards which are played to counteract the effects of another player’s Options (e.g., can’t be moved, cards aren’t stolen).  And there are “Detours” which, when played, let the player move around the Cove cards–super helpful when you’re a long ways away from a Cove space you need.

Condyle Cove contains one special location: Kiddie Corner. In Kiddie Corner, desperate orphans running dangerously low on options can draw from one of six “Acts of Desperation” cards.  Five of those Acts of Desperation provide some relief to the orphan (mostly providing you more Option cards), but one contains the Boogie Man. Draw the Boogie Man and you’re out of the game.

On the green

For a game about endangering orphans, there was a lot of great game play paired with amazing visuals.

The art.  There is a very dark and cute feel to the entire game. You could almost imagine if Tim Burton tried to imagine a game, it’d look like this one. The orphans are just amazing and each card has so much emotion and expression.  For fans of Jesse Labbe, snatching up the game just for the art is a no-brainer.

The theme.  I would not ordinarily pick up a game where you’re causing terrible things to happen to orphans, but everything about the theme is well-done an integrated with the game mechanics. Does it make me a terrible person for enjoying it?

The Options deck.  The use of the Options deck is great. It serves multiple purposes: as a way to enforce a strict game length, as a way to make players choose bad options, and essentially as a life tracker. I loved that game makes you draw cards and forces you to play cards to reach your hand limit. In the game, it’s a brilliantly executed design.


Easy to teach and play.
  The game is easy to learn and lets you jump right into the game. The game is deceptively simple, but there’s clearly lots of room for strategy in trying to keep your orphan out of Kiddie Corner, and with enough Options, but not too many, to outlast the other players. There’s real joy (for real!) in lining up a combination of Option cards to utterly destroy your opponent.

New players are definitely disadvantaged in the game, though. During our first few plays, it was hard to know which Cove cards had which sorts of terrible Option cards associated with it or the frequency with which those locations are targeted.

Game length and size.  Set up, play and clean up is easily under 30 minutes.  The game is also relatively small: few dozen Option cards, a handful of Cove cards and a few miscellaneous other bits. You could easily play this game anywhere. I wouldn’t suggest playing the game in the dark, though.

Where it comes up short

The copy I played is clearly a pre-production copy. There were a few typos and some rules clarifications are needed. Neither of those detracted from the game experience, though. There are a few things that came up during game play.

Kiddie Corner.  Kiddie Corner is meant, I take it, for only desperate player-orphans. But since some Option cards let you move another player around the board, they can also be used to force a player to Kiddie Corner. That means the targeted orphan could be out very quickly with an unlucky draw from the Acts of Desperation cards. It could even happen as soon as the first turn of the game. This would not be a huge issue for two-player games as it just means the players start a new game quickly. It might make for an annoying result in a three player game for one of those players.

One solution was that Kiddie Corner was to change when you drew the Act of Desperation card to the end of the turn.  That means, if you end your turn on Kiddie Corner, you’d draw at least one of the two draws from the AoD rather than your own deck.  You can then move off that card if you were put there by another player. It also makes using KC and the Acts of Desperation a more viable strategy for a player having to run to KC to avoid running out of Option draws (see below).

Acts of Desperation. None of the Acts of Desperation cards seem really worth the risk of ending the game early. Most of the cards would only extend your game a turn or two anyway by adding only a couple more cards to your deck. One card benefits all players so, it’s “helpful” but extends everyone’s game. And one card ends the game for a player. A turn might be enough to outlast another player, but it’s probably not the case.

Runaway leader. Pun somewhat intended. A few of our plays resulted in some really uneven results: one player with substantially more Options by virtue of nothing more than good draws which allow him to defend some really nice locations with advantageous perks.  Because some of these perks drain another players’ option decks, it makes it very difficult for the drained player to ever make it back to even.

Typography. The thin, horror-appropriate font works for most cards, but there are times it’s hard to read. This is especially true on the Acts of Desperation cards.

Special note

There was one other thing worth a mention, but could go be an advantage or disadvantage depending on your perspective. But even if you view it as a disadvantage, games are really short it probably wouldn’t matter too much.

Too much Luck? Thematically, the hard luck of the game fits the orphan-theme well (or maybe you’d prefer this version). There is a lot of luck though: every draw, every location, whether you can defend, whether your Option is usable, drawing from the Acts of Desperation, and so on. On its face, there’s very little luck mitigation. This feature add to the complete feeling of danger, distress and desperation of your orphan. The only exception seems to be if you happen to know all the cards in the Options deck. Yet the idea of a well-seasoned, omniscient orphan able to pick out strategic Cove locations based on that knowledge is pretty anti-thematic. Would I have put my little orphan on the Creek if I knew that I could lose my entire hand in the first game?

In the hole

Endangered Orphans is a horrible game in an absolutely terrific way. There’s no mercy for the orphans of Condyle Cove, and players feel no remorse when inflicting terrible fates upon them. The art, theme and the production value are all very high. What’s more, the designer combined the art, theme and game play in a fantastic way which will likely make this an extraordinary Kickstarter game. I worry only that some of the early game play quirks will bother some more seasoned game players unless corrected. Nevertheless, this game will be a hit especially if you’re looking for a short filler in a horror-themed game night.

Endangered Orphans gets into the hole with a two-putt. It’d be birdie if some of the game play quirks are fixed up, which I think is likely to happen.

Fairway was provided a review copy of the game to write this preview. He was not otherwise compensated for it.

 

 

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